Ghost Riders: When US and German Soldiers Fought Together to Save the World's Most Beautiful Horses in the Last Days of World War II.
Ghost Riders, Mark Felton's captivating book, tells the history of soldiers from enemy nations who worked together to rescue prized horses from becoming a feast for the advancing Soviet military at the end of World War II. Felton's prose often reads more like a historical fiction than an academic monograph, yet the incredible story he tells is firmly grounded in true events. Although he admittedly recreated sections of dialogue, this only increases the readability of the narrative, making it appealing to a wider audience.
With suspenseful flair, Felton traces the fate of the famed Lipizzaners of the Spanish Riding School and other priceless horses during World War II. During the last months of the war from March 1945 to May 1945, German and American soldiers worked together to save the horses. Although Felton begins by focusing on the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, the heart of the story centers on Hostau. Roughly eighteen miles behind the German line in Czechoslovakia, this facility housed the Lipizzaners and other valuable horses of renowned bloodlines. During the 1930s and 1940s, hundreds of horses had been collected there to undergo breeding experimentations to create the perfect Aryan horse. In addition to stabling horses, Hostau housed many Allied POWs who took care of them.
As the Soviet military advanced on Hostau in April 1945, men who cared for the horses became concerned for the animals' safety. Through a series of intense and treasonous meetings with American soldiers, the men at Hostau secured agreements for the horses' safe passage. General George S. Patton granted U.S. soldiers under his command unofficial approval for the operation, while soldiers of Nazi Germany secured a pledge from the Wehrmacht that they would not attack in the immediate area. The Americans successfully claimed the stud facility on 28 April 1945, but shortly after that the SS attacked. However, Americans, Allied POWs, and trusted Germans successfully defended the facility against the SS. After the fighting, preparations for horse evacuation had a higher sense of urgency, since the Soviet Army was fast approaching. The Soviet Army began to arrive on 14 May 1945, the day before the horse caravan was to leave, but it was halted from entering Hostau. In the end, the hundreds of horses and POWs were rescued through international cooperation from Hostau and crossed into American occupied territory.
Felton frames the actions of the main characters as performing potentially treasonous and dangerous acts because of their love for horses. For these men, he argues, "the love of horses transcended even love of nation" (243). Ghost Riders is organized chronologically, though it contains many smaller vignettes and side accounts that eventually contribute to the main narrative. His dialogue is based on his correspondence with veterans and their relatives as well as personal accounts written by the horsemen who were involved in the rescue. Overall, this fast-paced narrative of soldiers and horsemen from different nations working together is a well-written study for anyone with a strong love of horses or an interest in World War II.
University of South Florida
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2019|
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