United States 2nd Cavalry Rescued Rare and Noble Lipizzaner Stallions

This year, 2009, we proudly celebrate the 63th Anniversary of both General Patton and the US 2nd Cavalry's rescue of the Lipizzan breed.

The Lipizzaner Stallion has galloped boldly out of the pages of 400 years of European history into the hearts of millions of Americans. Walt Disney's motion picture, The Miracle of the White Stallions, depicting the rescue of the horses by General Patton's men during World War II, did much to publicize and to create sympathy and admiration for the Lipizzaners in the United States.

In April 1945, the heroic efforts of the 42nd Squadron of the United States Army's 2nd Cavalry were responsible for the rescue and ultimate preservation of the Lipizzans. The rescue of the horses was conducted under the orders of General George S. Patton and was carried out under the direct command of Colonel Charles H. Reed.

The story of the rescue operation is most dramatic. In early 1945, Vienna was under attack by allied bombers. Colonel Alois Podjahsky, head of the famed Spanish Riding School in Vienna, feared the valuable Lipizzaner Stallions would be destroyed and arranged for the stallions to be transferred by train to St. Martin's in Upper Austria, 200 miles from Vienna. Fodder was scarce and starving refugees attempted to steal the horses for food.

Coincidentally, elements of the U.S. Third Army moved into St. Martin's at the time Podhajsky had quartered the horses there at the estate of a friend. An officer recognized Podhajsky and the stallions, and sent word to General Patton's headquarters. Patton and Podhajsky had been old friends; they competed together in equestrian events at the Olympic Games.

Podhajsky arranged to show the Lipizzans to Undersecretary of War Robert Patterson, and General Patton the following day. Patterson and Patton were so impressed by the performance of these aristocratic white horses that the General, at the request of Podhajsky, promised to make the stallions wards of the U.S. Army until they could be safely returned to their home at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.

While the stallions were sheltered at St. Martin's, the mares and foals had been separated from the stallions and were being held at the German Remount Depot in Hostau, Czechoslovakia. American forces became aware of their location through Colonel Reed.

On April 26, 42nd Squadron captured a German general and his staff near Hostau. Reed and the General dined together and developed a friendship. The General showed Reed photographs of the Lipizzaner horses. When questioned further, the General confessed that the horses were being held at the German Remount Depot along with allied prisoners of war who cared for the horses.

Later that day Reed contacted Patton to ask permission to attack Hostau to liberate the prisoners and horses. Permission was granted. Later, an agreement was made with the Germans to allow American forces to go into Hostau and rescue the horses from the oncoming Russian troops. German officers, great admirers of the Lipizzans, willingly cooperated with the Americans fearing that approaching Russian troops would destroy the breed.

On April 28, members of Troops A, C and F of the 42nd Squadron attacked the German lines and accepted the surrender of the Germans at Hostau. The surrender, according to Reed, was "more a fiesta than a military operation, as the German troops drew up an honor guard and saluted the American troops as they came in."

The Americans found at Hostau a population of some 150 Lipizzans, including a few stallions, mares and their colts of two and three years of age. The first day was spent inspecting the horses. Two days later, German SS troops organized a counter attack on the 42nd Squadron as it moved eastward along the Czechoslovakian border. The Germans were driven off and a week later, the war had ended. Plans were then made for the disposition of the horses.

Colonel Podhajsky was flown in to inspect his horses. It was at this time that the Russian and Czech governments argued over possession of the horses. To prevent the horses from falling into their hands, the Lipizzans were quickly moved across the border to safety in Germany. Shortly thereafter, the Lipizzans were returned to the control of Colonel Podhajsky at Linz.

General Patton was not the first to rescue the Lipizzans from the exigencies of war. In 1781, during the Napoleonic Wars, 300 horses were evacuated in a forty-day march to Stuhlweissenburg. They returned to Lipizza after peace was established. In 1805 they were moved again to Slavonia, and in 1806 to Karad, a Hungarian village with a population of less than 4,000. They returned to Lipizza, only to flee the advancing armies of France.

 

 

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