Since the dawn of man, animals have played a critical role in the advancement of our species and civilization.We have used them for transportation, food, their bones as tools, pelts as clothing, and even look to them for friendship. We have also managed to drag them into our human conflicts and into battle. Here’s a list of how some animals have been used during wartime.
Casualty Dogs, Man’s Best Friends
In World War I, some dogs doubled as medics, carrying packs on their backs filled with bandages and supplies. They were quicker than any human medic and could navigate and fit through small places to reach their destination. Commonly known as casualty dogs, they were trained to seek out wounded and dying soldiers to supply them with the materials necessary to either bandage themselves or ease their suffering. The dogs were also trained to stay with the fallen soldier to keep them company and provide support. There’s a reason they call dogs man’s best friend.
As the Pigeon Flies
Surprisingly, pigeons played a major role in delivering critical messages, especially in World War I. They were recorded to be 95% reliable, and were much harder to track and shoot down than any human or plane. Since pigeons are known to always fly home when released, the military made sure to place the pigeon’s nests where they needed the messages sent. Over 100,000 carrier pigeons were used throughout the war and were kept in military bases and London buses that were transported from England.
The Terrier Rat Hunter
In the trenches of World War I, there was a sever rodent infestation due to the amount of trash and decaying bodies that could not be disposed of. However, the soldiers took advantage of this and turned to the dogs for some help. Since rats are technically edible, they used terriers to track them down and kill them for food. They would then cook them up which was surely a treat for the starving soldiers. Above is an image of soldiers showing off the work of their trench terrier and his kills for that day. Dinner is served, boys!
Jackie the Baboon
This special soldier baboon by the name of Jackie was brought onto the French line by South American soldiers as an alarm of sorts. With her exceptional eyesight and hearing, she could detect enemies coming from far away, way beyond the capabilities of any human soldier. She would then warn the soldiers by making sounds and tugging on their clothes. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t mind having Jackie on my side. Not only is she cute with her uniform and stick, but she just might save your life.
A Foxy Companion
Although some animals were used for strategic and battle purposes, lets not forget about the animals that were companions for soldiers and accompanied them during their service. Above is a Royal Air force fox mascot with his pilot during World War I. These little guys were considered good luck charms, as well as a nice respite from the war for soldiers who often kept them as pets to lighten up the mood around the airfield or other military bases. Having a pet fox around is sure to make anything at least a little better, especially when they look like that.
Friends With Benefits
Back in the trenches of World War I, it was common for soldiers to make makeshift chicken coups not only to have as companions, but also in order to have fresh eggs everyday. They also did not house strictly chickens but other animals as well such as rabbits both for food and companionship. These British soldiers seem to have a pretty good operation going in their trench, so hopefully they don’t have to rely on terriers to kill rats for their dinner. Eggs and rabbit sounds better than a trench rat any day.
Glow Worms, The Unlikely Helpers
The European glowworm was yet another non-human organism that played a crucial role in the trench warfare of World War I. Through bioluminescensce, these insets could give off light, and when collected by the thousands and put into jars worked as a makeshift lantern for soldiers to navigate through the dark trenches. Less detectable and more safe than a torch or lantern, it allowed soldiers to live a more comfortable life in the trenches and at night. This enabled them to read and write letters, go over battle plans, and even socialize, keeping a more upbeat energy in the trenches as opposed to complete darkness.
Camels were a very versatile animal that has been utilized in war for centuries but most recently in World War I. They were incredibly low-maintenance, requiring little food or water and were primarily used as pack animals to carry supplies across desolate deserts for long periods of times. However, in some regions of World War I, camels were also used as a form of cavalry. Soldier would ride them into battle as opposed to a horses depending on the region. The use of “camelry” is most associated with Lawrence of Arabia and his participation in the revolt against the Ottoman Empire during World War One.
Navy Sea Lions
With the advancement of technology, we have begun to use animals as tools for warfare less and less. However, sometimes animals still surpass our technology with their natural abilities. In this case, for over 40 years the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program has been training sea lions to dive hundreds of feet while attached with sonar technology to investigate and find suspicious objects, as well as guard ships and harbors from enemy divers and technology. These highly trained marine creatures have served in Vietnam, the Persian Gulf and here in the U.S.
In ancient Roman warfare, Roman commander Pliny the Elder learned that the squealing of pigs or hogs would terrify the enemies’ elephants more than anything. Discovering this, the Romans began to cover pigs in flammable substances and drive them towards the enemy, lighting them on fire letting them run through the enemy lines. This would spook the elephants causing mass confusion and destruction. They would also use them as a defense when their walls were under siege. They would take pigs and throw them off the walls to induce squealing and forcing the elephants to run away from the battle.
The Ancient Tank
Long before the invention of modern tanks, armies relied on elephants as a way to impart fear and trample through enemies lines. Originally used for transportation and building, eventually they were added to the ranks and proved to be very useful instruments of war. Often, these war elephants were armored and mounted with platforms to hold soldiers who shot arrows and threw spears at the enemies making them all the more formidable. This form of warfare known as elephantry which originated in India and eventually spread across South-East Asia and into the Mediterranean.
The Original Automobile
Since man first learned how to tame and ride horses, they have been used for warfare. Although they are extremely useful for other tasks such as travel and carrying cargo, they proved to be more than effective on a battlefield, making them a key component to most military conquests. The creation of the cavalry in which a group of mounted riders would ride into battle fighting on horseback changed warfare entirely. This was a popular tactic in ancient times and the middle ages. This practice of fighting on horseback carried all the way up until World War One when over 8 million horses were killed.
The Friendly Soldier
Along with sea lions, dolphins are also a part of the once-secret U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program. They are smart, fast, and interact with humans incredibly well. In their training, they are taught to discover and mark underwater mines since they are too lightweight to trigger them. They rely on their powerful echolocation abilities to spot them from a safe distance. Dolphins have also proven to be incredibly intelligent and easy to train, so it was no surprise that they stood out above other marine mammals during their training. They’re also probably the happiest looking soldiers around.
During the Spanish Civil War, a group of Nationalists retreated into the monastery of Santa Maria de la Cabeza. Here, they stayed sheltered and fortified the monastery in preparation for attack. However, the troops needed to be resupplied, so when they were airdropped supplies, their comrades attached live turkeys onto the parachutes along with the supplies so that the soldiers had fresh food as well as supplies to continue defending the monastery. Not the most traditional method to resupply soldiers but it worked and the soldiers had a thanksgiving dinner every night. Who said that turkeys can’t fly?
Simon the Cat
During World War II, a member of the British frigate HMS Amethsyt found an abandoned kitten wandering around the dockyard of Hong Kong. The seaman smuggled the cat aboard the ship and named him Simon. The cat quickly gained popularity for killing rats and sleeping inside of the captain’s hat. During a battle on the Yangtze River, Simon was severely wounded yet survived. Later, Simon was awarded the PDSA’s Dickin Medal after surveying her life-threatening injuries, eliminating a rat infestation on the ship, and raising the troops morale.
Not As Dumb As We Think
In World War I, although they were not used as combat animals, Donkey’s were key in the moving and transfer of supplies, and the wounded. They can carry over 3x their body weight through all kinds of different terrains and had incredible stamina for in all conditions. One particular donkey named Jimmy was born at the Battle of the Somme and spent the next two years caring equipment and wounded soldiers. He also acted as a distraction from the horrors of the war and even learned to salute along with the troops.
Our favorite little Australian critter the kangaroo also did their duty in World War I. They were shipped across the globe into war zones to comfort and distract wounded soldiers. They also would help to raise morale and were considered the official Australian mascot. The soldiers would take care of them, giving them a sense of responsibility by carrying them around and letting them roam around from soldier to soldier. The kangaroos were especially important to the Australians fighting because it was comforting, reminding them of their homeland and reminded them what they were fighting for.
The Guard Rooster
In Egypt, during World War I, a group of Australian soldiers adopted a rooster chick and and gave it the name Jack. It turns out that Jack was better than any guard dog around and would aggressively attack any stranger that came close to their lines. Although an unusual pet, Jack is a testament to show the diversity of animals used during the war and how some of the strangest animals make the best companions and and even double as soldiers too. We’re sure the whole camp was thankful for Jack whenever he crowed as a warning.
Using Canaries for Caution
In World War II, canaries were often used to detect poisonous gas or bad air. The soldiers would send them down tunnels where they were digging behind enemy lines. If the canary didn’t come back, it usually meant that they died from poison so the soldiers knew if they needed special equipment or to not go down at all. They used canaries because they are particularly vulnerable to poisonous gas, as with most birds because they are continuously inhaling to support their flight. Although it is a bit of a harsh method, better safe than sorry.
Catching A Buzz
From the Greeks up until the Vietnam war, bees have been used a a way to detour and inflict pain upon one’s enemies. There was even an instance in which the Heptakometes from Turkey poisoned bees honey and gave it to the Romans, then proceeded to lay siege on the castle while the Romans could not defend it. In the middle ages, those defending a castle would catapult bee hives over the castle walls onto the enemy troops below creating panic and confusion among the enemy soldiers. These tactics used in the middle ages continued throughout history up until today when scientists have learned to used bees to detect land mines.