“Green tracers, called Christmas trees, lit up the sky over the old city. A few moments later, a crushing roar rumbled above. The stallions squealed in panic, but soon the high-pitched sounds were drowned out by the unceasing roar of planes overhead……Unwittingly the men had ridden the horses directly into one of the biggest air attacks of the war: the Allied bombing of Dresden…..The entire bowl of the sky turned violent crimson orange. As flames engulfed the city, the horizon turned fiery orange-white and a thick cloud of black smoke obscured the sky. The stallions panicked, rearing and lashing out, crazily trying to escape the cacophony and intense heat. People lost their bearings, and the horses, too, wheeling as they pawed and reared, the whites of their eyes flashing and picking up the orange and crimson colors of the bone-shattering explosions. Men and animals fled in all directions, but the hellfire rained down everywhere—there was nowhere to run. “
The next day.
” Kristalovich, traveling with the mares and foals, was half a day behind. When his group arrived along the road just at the city’s outskirts he came upon the charred corpses of seventeen of his beloved stallions and began to weep.”
This is just one segment of the remarkable story of how the Lipizzaner horse was rescued during World War II. Elizabeth Letts book, The Perfect Horse, is a page turner. I would be reading at night and knowing I had to get up in the morning but I just had to read to the end of a chapter and then another.
Today the Lipizzaner is known as the white horses who can be seen at the Vienna Riding School performing in the beautiful arena. We would not be able to see these horses had it not been for a daring rescue mission carried out by the US forces near the end of the war. Elizabeth Letts book introduces us to the Lipizzaner horse and the places where they were kept in Europe before and during the war. As Germany began to fail it became clear that the horses were in peril. The Russian troops advancing from the east were starving and horses were seen only as food. Would the Americans be able to get the horses out in time?
Letts book puts the reader right into the thick of the action and gives us insight into the main characters involved, the Europeans: the Austrian leader of the Vienna Riding School Alois Podhajsky, Andrzej Kristalovich, the director of Poland’s stud farm, Gustav Rau, the chief equerry in charge of all horse breeding in the Third Reich, and the Americans, Colonel “Hank” Reed the commanding officer of the 2nd Cavalry, Captain Tom Stewart the intelligence officer of the 2nd Cavalry. And, of course, another leading actor in the drama was General George S.Patton.
When I first saw the title “the Perfect Horse” I thought it referred to how the Lipizzaner was a “perfect” horse for the advanced dressage movement of the Vienna school. But that was not it. The “perfect” horse was referring to the Third Reich idea of creating a “perfect” horse by breeding. Eugenics! If the Allies had not defeated Germany and Hitler’s Third Reich, the Lipizzaner would have been bred into a very different animal.
As you can tell, I thoroughly enjoyed this very well written and well researched book. Letts research included interviews with the families of veterans who shared their stories and their family albums as well as more traditional research of the war and the history.
You do not need to be a horse lover to enjoy this book. It reveals a side of the war, from behind the lines of battle, that draws a clear picture of the chaos and confusion that existed off the battlefields during the collapse of the Third Reich.
I give this book Five Stars and recommend it highly.