10 Unique Ways Animals Were Used in Wars


Humans have been going to war since the beginning of our history. Because it has played such an important part of our lives (albeit not a very nice one), it is often there where we can be at our most inventive. Some of our most unique war-related ideas have come from the use of animals.

Horses and dogs carry out tasks or are used in ways which are universal and make perfect sense, like mounts or guard duty and bomb detecting. But in some cases, people have thought outside the box and used animals in completely different ways. Such as …

10. Cats Taken Into Battle


Cambyses II was determined to invade Egypt, to exact revenge over Pharaoh Psametik, who had sent him a random woman for the Persian leader to marry when it was supposed to be the Pharaoh’s daughter. When Cambyses found out, he formed plans to march on Egypt.

The Battle of Pelusium took place in 525 B.C. and proved to be the most important battle during the campaign. Psametik believed that his fortress was invulnerable and would withstand a siege with ease. Traditional fighting would not allow the Persian army to successfully take the fortress. So Cambyses had the goddess Bastet painted on his soldiers shields, and had cats and other animals march with the army towards the Egyptian position. The Persian king was aware of the strong reverence to cats by the Egyptian society and believed that their warriors would not attack them for fear of harming the animals.

The plan worked perfectly, as the Egyptian archers did not want to risk the punishment of death that injuring a cat carried, leaving Cambyses and his army to take the fortress without any fighting.

9. Camels Set on Fire


Timur, a Mongolian leader descended directly from Ghengis Khan, decided to invade India in 1398, a task that his famous forefather has failed to do. His campaign had been largely successful until he arrived at Delhi. Here he was met by Sultan Mahmud Khan, a 100,000 man army and 120 heavily-armored war elephants.

When faced with elephants with attached scimitars and barbed tusks, many of the Mongolian army began to retreat. Timur, however, was aware that elephants can be easily frightened and so ordered his troops to dismount their camels, load them with hay, and set them on fire. They then sent the camels straight at the oncoming behemoths.

Upon seeing the flaming animals charging towards them, the elephants instantly ran off terrified. Unfortunately for the Indian army, they were marching immediately behind the elephants, and so were very quickly gored. The entire Indian army was defeated in only a few minutes, which led to the successful capture of Delhi. Meanwhile, the elephants were rounded up so that the Mongolians could use them in future battles.

8. Sea Lions Find Mines in the Water


We all know that animals have been used for bomb detecting and guard duty. Dogs in particular have excelled in these types of job due to their keen sense of smell and obedience. However there are other animals that are able to be trained to do similar jobs, although some are more unusual than others.

Perhaps the strangest are the United States Navy Spec Ops team of sea lions. These mammals are being used to sniff out and spot enemy mines in the water. They are small and nimble enough to approach mines without setting them off, making them perfect for alerting ships to possible threats.

Even more impressive though is their ability to find and pursue enemy divers. Upon spotting an unknown diver, they’ll continually pester them in order to disrupt their work. They will even follow the diver over long distances and onto land while making as much noise as possible to alert Navy personnel to the intruders.

7. Snakes Bombs!


Hannibal is well-known for his use of animals in warfare. He is probably most famous for when he utilized elephants while crossing the Alps to attack the Roman Empire.  But throughout his military career, he also devised unique ways to use animals to his advantage when fighting with enemy forces.

While exiled, he took command of a fleet on behalf of Prusias I of Bithynia who was at war with several of Rome’s allies. As his forces were outnumbered by the huge Navy of his enemy, Hannibal loaded vases and pots with venomous snakes and loaded them onto his boats before heading into battle. Once he was within range of the opposing forces, he quickly identified the ship that held the enemy leader and bombarded it with the pots and vases. Finding his ship filled with deadly snakes, Eumenes II immediately retreated from the battle. Without their king to command them, Hannibal overcame his enemies relatively easily, winning a decisive victory.

6. Elephants as Living Tanks


Elephants have long been used in war due to their sheer size and strength. Often used as a forward line that would charge at an enemy and cause fear and panic, they were used to great effect in many battles.

What you may not know is that elephants were used by armed forces up until the 20th century. Armies would attach Artillery, Gatling guns and cannons to elephants, effectively making them living tanks. Their thick skin meant early muskets couldn’t harm them, making them incredibly valuable against foot soldiers. They were also incredibly useful in overcoming difficult terrain where vehicles had trouble. Their ability to reach places where horses and modern vehicles could not led to them becoming mobile command centers.

They’ve also played important roles in history. Hundreds of them helped to build huge numbers of bridges and transport goods in World War II, playing a large part in evacuating from particular areas. There are even reports of elephants being used in 1987 by Iraq to move heavy weaponry.

5. Starved Pigs Sent Into Enemy Camps


Pigs have been used in warfare for as long as humans have been fighting each other. The earliest recorded use of any animal in a battle is with pigs, and they have been used in many different ways, from scaring horses to unleashing large savage boars upon enemies.

One of the most inventive ways pigs have been used was in ancient times. Soldiers would starve them for days until they became completely ravenous, and then release them into enemy camps or strongholds. Pigs will eat almost anything if they are starving, so these war pigs would devour everything in their path, including food, supplies and even weapons.

Pigs also prove difficult to kill or fight off due to their large size and strength, making them a perfect tool for armies to disrupt enemy camps.

4. Chickens as Living Heaters


The Cold War led to a great fear of a Soviet invasion of Europe, which in turn led to many military leaders coming up with innovative and strange plans to help prevent such as occurrence. One failsafe that the British came up with was to bury a number of nuclear bombs in Germany that could be detonated to stop any Soviet army from attacking through the country.

This plan had a number of setbacks, chiefly among them was the freezing cold temperature that some parts of Germany reach during the winter. The cold conditions meant that the electronics that controlled the warheads wouldn’t work properly.

The best solution was to use chickens, according to the research team. Encasing them in the bomb would keep the electronics functioning as the body heat from the birds would keep the temperature at the needed level. The officials tested the plan by giving the chickens enough food to last until the warheads were detonated.

The plan was never implemented, as the British government (sensibly) would not sanction having nuclear weapons buried in allied land.

3. Beetles Used as Spies


Surveillance techniques are becoming ever more sophisticated as nations look to gather information on enemies. Devices like unmanned drones and satellites can provide excellent information about enemy bases and equipment but is ill suited for collecting auditory information from persons of interest. To combat this some intelligence services have turned to animals such as cats and rats to get up close and person to targets to record speech.

One of the oddest are micro-air vehicles: tiny drones that can be hidden in plain sight due to their small size. Rather than build robots however, the military is looking into using beetles that are implanted with recording devices capable of gathering both audio and video. As they are a living organism, they are much less likely to be picked up by monitoring equipment.

Even more impressive is the fact that the electronics used to collect the data can be charged by the movement of the beetle’s wings, by converting the kinetic energy into electrical energy. This eliminates the need for a large battery and helps keep all of the components needed to be implanted into the beetle small.

2. Simon the Cat Boosts Soldier Morale


During the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the frigate HMS Amethyst was under siege. As food stores were under threat from an infestation of rats, the ship’s cat was tasked with guard duty. Protecting the supplies from the rodents, Simon, as he was known by sailors on the ship, prevented the crew from having to surrender, and from the ship being captured.

Commander Stuart Hett noted the important role Simon played, saying, “Simon’s company and expertise as a rat-catcher were invaluable during the months we were held captive. During a terrifying time, he helped boost the morale of many young sailors, some of whom had seen their friends killed.”

The ship eventually made it back to safety, although Simon died several weeks later due to his injuries. Saving the lives of the officers on board the ship led to Simon being the first cat to ever receive the Dickins Medal, a bravery award for animals during war.

1. Geese as an Early Warning System


Rome came under siege by the Gauls in 390 BC. Their terrifying demeanor and unknown weapons gave them a tremendous advantage against the unprepared Romans. The defenders had to retreat to the safety of the Capitol where they could garrison themselves on the hill located there.

During the siege, a collection of geese were looked after continuously, despite the food supplies running low. This was due to the birds being sacred to the Romans, who believed they were the property of the goddess Juno. The animals were located at the top of the hill near a secret entrance used by messengers to travel in and out of the Capitol. The Gauls discovered the secret entrance and climbed up to it without alerting the guards and soldiers. However upon reaching the top they awoke the geese, who immediately began honking. This alerted the Roman soldiers to the Gauls. They were able to prepare for the battle and managed to push back their enemies over the hill.

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    • Timur was a Turk who married a descendent of Genghis Khan… Also the empire in which he ruled was Turko- Persian, not Mongolian.