Man and beast have fought side by side in many conflicts over the years. From Hannibal using elephants to cross the Alps to carrier pigeons being used to relay important information, the Animal Kingdom has come to the aid of humankind many times throughout history.
Below, we have taken a look at five examples of animals being utilised, some of which may surprise you:
First of all, we look at man’s best friend; the dog. Although they make great companions, they also make formidable enemies. The first dogs of war were probably hunting dogs that joined their owners in combat, but since then, large dog breeds have served on the battlefield. Everyone from the Ancient Egyptians to the Native American peoples has used dogs in different roles, such as defensive sentries or scouts.
One of the earliest accounts of dogs fighting in battle comes from around 600 B.C., where a pack of Lydian war dogs overpowered and killed a number of invaders. The Romans were also known to breed their own war dogs from a mastiff-like breed known as the Molloser. They were mainly used for scouting or as watchdogs, but some were equipped with spiked armour and collars and trained to fight in formation.
In today’s day and age, dogs are mainly limited to battlefield roles of scouts, sentries or messengers alongside their human handlers – whom they always outrank, so that any mistreatment of the dog by their handler will result in severe disciplinary action being taken. They are also used in military policing tasks, such as bomb sniffer dogs who have been prominent in Afghanistan and Iraq.
There are also examples of dogs being used for more civilian occupations, such as pest control, where the dogs can be used to sniff out bed bugs and rats! If you are looking for your own brand of pest control, Daystate are known for their pest control qualities, and the Daystate Pulsar PCP air rifle is one of their finest models on the market at the moment. Why not check it out on our website?
The Ancient Greeks and Romans are among some of the ancient peoples who have been known to use bees as miniature weapons of war. Beehives have been known to be catapulted over the walls of besieged cities, while the people of Themiscyra – a Greek town famous for its honey – used bees in the defence of their city in 72 B.C. by sending swarms of bees through the mines that the attacking Romans had dug beneath their walls.
This isn’t the only time that the Romans have fallen foul of the winged minibeasts. In 69 B.C., the Heptakometes of the Trebizond region in Turkey left hives filled with poisoned honey along the marching route of the Roman soldiers, who were under the command of General Pompey. Chemists now believe that this poison was a grayanotoxin which can form in honey. Although it is very rarely lethal to humans, it can make them very sick, which probably led to the Heptakometes defeating the vomiting Romans with ease!
Bees have even been used in warfare as recently as the Vietnam War. Viet Cong guerrillas were said to have carefully relocated the wild hives of the Asian giant honey bee along the trails used by enemy patrols. One fighter would wait near until a patrol approached, and let set off a flare or firework near the hive to aggravate the bees into attacking the enemy soldiers.
As if the Romans didn’t have enough trouble with bees, they faced an enemy even worse when they attempted to besiege the Atrenians at the city of Hatra, near modern-day Iraq. According to ancient accounts, the Atrenians managed to perfect a method of handling scorpions without endangering themselves, which allowed them to fill clay pots with dozens of the creatures and drop them onto the attacking Romans.
Herodianus of Syria wrote of this defence style early in the third century A.D., recalling how the Atrenians used scorpions to their advantage:
"The insects fell into the Romans' eyes and on all the unprotected parts of their bodies, digging in before they were noticed, they bit and stung the soldiers."
Historian Adrienne Mayor of Stanford University has published a book about ancient tactics, including the scorpion bombs, and has stated that the Atrenians spat on the tails of the scorpions, which allegedly put them out of action and allowed them to be handled. Modern researchers who have created the bombs, however, found that putting the creatures in the fridge for a few minutes was a far more effective way of putting them out of action.
It is often noted that dolphins are extremely intelligent creatures, and for this reason, the U.S. Navy has been training bottlenose dolphins to carry out marine patrols since the 60s.
U.S. Navy dolphins are deployed with teams of human handlers to patrol harbours and other ship areas to look for underwater threats, such as marine mines or limpet bombs which may be attached to the hulls of ships.
A dolphin’s main asset is its precise echolocation which allows it to identify objects underwater that would otherwise be invisible to the naked eye. The dolphins are trained to seek out these objects and report back to their handlers with a type of “yes” or “no” response. The handlers can then get the dolphins to follow up on a yes response by sending the dolphin to mark the location of the object with a buoy line.
These minesweeping abilities were of particular use during the Persian Gulf War and the Iraq War, when dolphins helped to clear mines from the port of Umm Qasr in southern Iraq. Navy dolphins are also trained to help people who are having difficulty in the water and to locate enemy swimmers and divers. However, the Navy denies rumours that dolphins have been trained to attack or use underwater weapons…
Finally, we have come to our personal favourite; bears! They have appeared multiple times throughout history, but there is one bear in particular who became famous for his exploits against the Germans during World War II.
In the spring of 1942, the newly formed Anders Army left the Soviet Union for Iran. They were accompanied by thousands of Polish civilians, who, following the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939, had been deported to the gulags.
During a rest stop, the soldiers stumbled upon a young Iranian boy who had found a Syrian brown bear cub after the cub’s mother had been killed by hunters. One civilian in the travelling party was very taken with the cub which prompted the troops to purchase the cub.
In August, the bear was donated to the 2nd Transport Company - which later became the 22nd Artillery Supply Company - and was given the name Wojtek (also written as Voytek) by the soldiers, which is derived from an old Slavic name which means "he who enjoys war" or "joyful warrior".
The bear grew up drinking condensed milk from a vodka bottle, smoked cigarettes, drank beer and wrestled with his fellow soldiers. When the Polish troops were moved around as the war progressed, Wojtek went too; in battle zones in Iraq, Palestine, Egypt and Italy.
Before long, Wojtek was over 6 feet tall and weighed over 400 kg. He was enlisted as a private soldier in the supply company, had his own rank, serial number and pay book; he was even promoted to the rank of corporal in the Polish army.
In 1944, Voytek was sent with his unit to Monte Cassino in Italy, during one of bloodiest series of battles of World War II. He was used to carry crates of ammunition, and he didn’t drop a single crate. In his later years, Voytek lived at the Edinburgh Zoo, where he became a popular public figure in the UK until his eventual death in 1963.
These are just five examples of animals in military situations throughout history. Technological advancements may have benefitted us all over the years, but it just goes to show that, sometimes, there just isn’t a replacement for Mother Nature!
Which of the above is your favourite? Let us know on our social media channels!