The date was April 27, 1945, just 11 days before the Germans’ surrender in Europe would be announced. Even so, the troops were far from being idle. One of the last operations of World War II commenced that day. It was a vital rescue mission and a special covert operation approved by General George Patton. The rescuees? Horses. They were not just any other ones, but as American author Elizabeth Letts called was, a breed of “The Perfect Horse.”

Hitler’s Horses

We know Hitler had this crazy concept of creating what he called an “Aryan master race,” a racist ideology of biological superiority that resulted in an attempt to annihilate all the European Jews in what we now know as the holocaust. Six million people fell victim. His whole “master race” ideology did not only apply to humans. Perhaps when he said that it was “the sacred mission of the German people…to assemble and preserve the most valuable racial elements…and raise them to the dominant position,” he also meant the best breed of dogs, maybe cats, birds, and horses.

With that, he entrusted the breeding of the most superior horses to the hands of Gustav Rau. The latter was provided with a stud farm in the town of Hostau, Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. The village had been known for breeding cavalry horses. There, Rau gathered all the finest horses Europe could offer— mostly Lipizzaners to Arabs. According to Letts, his idea was to “develop a German breed of military horse that was as clearly associated with Germany as the thoroughbred was with England.”

With how the events were unfolding, it was clear that the tide of war was turning against the Nazis. Rudolf Lessing, a veterinarian, appointed by Rau to look after the horses at Hostau, was worried not for himself but for the horses that were at risk of being turned into a stew by the advancing Russian forces. Desperate, he turned for help from the American troops to save these horses.

“Get Them Fast”

On April 27, 1945, a German intelligence officer surrendered to the US 2nd Cavalry Group and brought numerous photos of the finest horses. Colonel Charles Hancock “Hank” Reed received these photos. He also happened to be a horseman from Virginia, so he knew how valuable and impressive these horses in the pictures were. Reed recalled,

We mutually agreed that these fine animals should not fall into Communist hands and the prisoners should be rescued.

The spy, known only as Walter H., looked at the photos with him. Immediately, he contacted General Patton to let him know of the situation. Patton, also a horse enthusiast, responded with, “Get them. Make it fast!