It’s not just men and women that brave the frontlines of war – it’s dogs, rats, dolphins and even bears, too!Share
THE FURRY PRIVATE – VOYTEK THE BEAR
Voytek, a bear found by Polish armed forces as a cub in the 1940s, is likely the only ursine on record to have served as a member of military! Voytek was trained to carry equipment and artillery for Polish soldiers, and was officially enlisted as a private in the artillery. Voytek would survive WWII – and spent his retirement at Edinburgh Zoo for almost twenty years.
BLOWHOLE IN THE WALL – THE SPY DOLPHIN
As ludicrous as it sounds, dolphins have been used to aid the US Navy for decades. Not only are they able to locate mines with the help of attached sonar equipment, but they’re also excellent at busting swimming enemies. A number of gadgets can be attached to a dolphin, such as a strobe light or inflatable - and all they need to is swim up to the target, bump them, and the gadget is attached – either giving the target’s location away or floating them up out of the water!
THE WICKER HUMP – FIRE CAMELS
When faced with an army of 100-strong armoured elephants and all you have is camels, what do you do? If you’re the Mongolian war chief Timur, and it’s 1398, you stack your camels up with wood and hay – and set fire to them. Encouraging the burning beasts towards the terrified elephants, Timur succeeded in his invasion of Delhi as the pachyderm infantry retreated! Everything’s worth a try!”
HOG FIGHTERS – WAR PIGS
If history teaches us anything, it’s that animals have been used in war since records began – particularly pigs! Porkers have been let loose on enemies since the earliest centuries of human civilisation, be they crazed and hungry, making ear-splitting squeals, or… set on fire. The Romans were particularly keen on this last one!
NOCTURNAL NIGHTMARE – BAT BOMBERS
One of the most bizarre – and most unsuccessful – animal trials during battle came from US forces towards the end of World War II. With the US still fighting tooth-and-nail with Japan, American forces were keen to strap bombs to bats, haul them up in crates, and fly them to Japan. On opening the crates, the bats would fly off to find structures to hide in, before eventually exploding and causing fires. The project failed after several tests, and several fires on US soil.
WHISKERS AT WAR – MINE RATS
While many animals can be trained to sniff out bombs and mines, the use of rats is extra special – they’re used to locate landmines in some parts of war-torn Africa, and as they’re not heavy enough to set off any traps, they can be trained to not only sniff out any danger, but also give a signal to their controller to diffuse the device!”
MAN’S BEST BOMB? – TANK DOGS
One of the more horrifying examples of animals in warfare comes from a Soviet Union experiment. During World War II, Soviet dogs were starved and taught to find food under tanks – and with bombs strapped to their backs, once under an enemy tank, the vehicle – and the dog – would be destroyed. However, this plan failed miserably when it transpired that the dogs weren’t used to gunfire, running scared back to their masters – sometimes blowing them up!”
HOMING HEROES – WAR PIGEONS
Undoubtedly the most famous (if not the most successful) war animals in history are the homing pigeons used by British and US forces in both World Wars – not used for weaponry, but used to deliver intelligencesuch as maps and photos – and for the most part, they were extremely successful, with only 10% of correspondence said to have gone astray. German forces would copy the tactic in WWII, though allied forces would respond by training birds of prey to intercept enemy communication!
BOMBLE BEES – BOMB-SNIFFING BEES
In a similar way to how dogs are trained to sniff out drugs, honey bees are being trained to suss out bomb threats! All bees are born with an incredible sense of smell – so some militaries are encouraging the plucky buzzers to recognise the ingredients of standard explosives of chemical bombs – and the bees will flick their tongues (their proboscis) to give signal. They’re very quick to learn, too.