The subject came up in a discussionwith a friend and since its always been a favorite of mine I’d thought I’d post on the horses and mules of the German mountain troops. The Bundeswehr, has one brigade of true mountain troops, Gebirgsjager, who are expert skiers, climbers, and cold weather soldiers. As part of the brigade headquarters, they maintain the Gebirgstragtierwesen (Mountain Pack Animal Detachment) 230.
230 is a logistics unit that utilizes a combination of Halflinger mountain horses and Mules to move heavy equipment and supplies over mountainous terrain in support of the mountain brigade. The unit has approximately 60 mules and 20 horses. They are stationed at the General Konrad Kaserne (formerly the Gebirges Artillerie Kaserne), in Bad Reichenhall, Germany –in the heart of the Bavarian Alps. During the Cold War the kaserne was the home of the German mountain artillery battalion and mules were an important part of that unit as well –used to transport disassembled light howitzers in support of the gebirgesjager.
A great video on their training can be found by clicking on the below picture:
The “Muli” and Halflingers have a long history with the German and Austrian mountain troops that goes back to before World War I. A superb discussion with great pictures of the mountain troops and tragtier in particular was posted at the Society of the Military Horse discussion boards .
Military packing was once an important military craft. The U.S. army made extensive use of mule pack trains up through and including in World War II. Tens of thousands of mules were employed by the U.S. army as pack animals in the mountains of Italy and in the China Burma Theater.
To my knowledge, three European countries maintain active tragtier units; Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. Austria and Germany use Mules and Halflingers while the Swiss army uses Freiberger Swiss mountain horses. The German mules have been employed on active operations in Kosovo –though I have not heard yet of a deployment to Afghanistan.
The below video, though a little long (9 minutes), demonstrates the animals and equipment of the gebirgesjager and, if you can follow the German, tells you a little about them.