The earliest examples of cats being used in warfare dates back to the Ancient Egypt during a war against Persia. The Persians, fully aware of the reverance that Egyptians paid to their felines, rounded up as many cats as they could find and set them loose on the battlefield. When the Egyptians were faced with either harming the cats or surrendering, they chose the latter.
During World War I, cats were used in the trenches as an attempt to keep the rat population down and some cats were used as poison gas “detectors”.
The most creative way to use a cat as a weapon happened in World War II. The United States’ OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the precursor of the CIA) needed a way to guide bombs to sink German ships. Somebody hit upon the inspiration that since cats have such a strong disdain of getting wet and always land on their feet that if you attached a cat to a bomb and drop it in the vicinity of a ship, the cat’s instinct to avoid the water would force it to guide the bomb to the enemy’s deck. It is unclear how the cat was supposed to actually guide a bomb attached to it as it fell from the sky but the plan never got past the testing stages since the cats had a bad habit of becoming unconscious mid-drop.
Not to be outdone by its predecessor, the CIA also attempted to use cats but this time as a bugging device during the Cold War. Although a disaster as a guided bomb, the CIA thought that a cat would make the perfect covert listening device in a project known as Operation Acoustic Kitty. They attempted to surgically alter the cat by placing a bugging device inside him and running an antenna through its tail. The project took five years and $15 million dollars before the first field test hit a slight snag when the bugged kitty was released near a Russian compound in Washington and was immediately hit by a car while crossing the street. The project was ended soon after.
You are headed into battle against an army that is using war elephants, the tanks of ancient times. They weigh several tons, are heavily armored and extremely difficult to kill. How do you stop them?
If you’re the Roman Army you may have used Incendiary Pigs also known as War Pigs. Pliny the Elder wrote about a method of covering pigs in tar, pitch, or other flammable substances and then setting them ablaze while attempting to drive the conflagrant swine towards the enemy.
The squealing and movement of the burning hogs headed toward the enemy army would cause elephants and horses to flee in panic. Besides Pliny’s accounts, there are no official records of war pigs actually being used in actual battle.
The earliest examples of using animals as weapons usually involves setting them on fire and pointing them at your enemy’s villages or camps. The obvious flaw in this method is that there is just as much chance that the burning animal may turn around and cause destruction to your camp as it may your opponent’s. Rats were used mostly in this capacity as living ambient torches until they became used in one of the earliest examples of biological warfare. In 1346, during the seige of the Genoese city of Kaffa by Tartar forces under Janibeg, plague was spreading among the Tartars outside the city weakening their chance at keeping the seige going. In a last ditch attempt, the Mongol army started catapulting dead rats and corpses of plague victims into the city in hopes to spread the disease. A few Genoese ships tried to escape from the spreading plague and made their way back to Italy where the Black Death than spread throughout Europe.
The latest use of rats in the military are in detecting landmines.. A Belgian company has trained African pouch rats, also called Gambian Pouch Rats, to locate buried bombs and landmines. The rats are trained to smell explosive material by associating it with a food reward. They have several advantages over the use of using dogs in locating landmines since they are cheaper to train and their small size will rarely trigger a mine as they find them. They are currently being used in Mozambique to clear the landmines from its civil war.
The use of dolphins for military operations didn’t start until the 1960s when the US Navy established the Marine Mammal Program which was originally used to design better torpedoes. Impressed with the dolphin’s intelligence, they started expanding the program and started training them in a variety of uses which ranged from helping them guide lost divers to killing enemy divers. Under a program called “Swimmer Nullification”, hypodermic needles containing compressed CO2 were attached to the snout of a dolphin which was trained to inject it into divers who were found in restricted areas.
Once injected, the compressed carbon dioxide would expand inside the diver which would kill him and allow his corpse to float to the surface. It’s claimed that 40 Viet Cong frogmen and two Americans were killed during the Vietnam War by dolphins in this manner
Currently, dolphins are being used in Iraq and in the Gulf region to search and find mines that can be marked so that ships can avoid them until a demolitions team can be dispatched.
Pigeons have been used as primitive form of airmail since the Middle Ages and during the seige of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War, they were one of the only lines of communications left open for Parisians trying to get messages out of the city.
Messenger pigeons were used extensively during World War One to carry orders from bases to the front lines where telephone lines had not yet been lain. One pigeon, Cher Ami, even received military honors by saving the lives of 194 American soldiers who were stuck behind enemy lines. Cher Ami was able to deliver messages from the stranded troops even after being shot in the chest.
During World War Two, American behaviorist B.F. Skinner attempted to use pigeons as the guidance system in missles. The program was called Project Pigeon and worked by placing three pigeons in the nose of a bomb with a special lens that displayed an image of the target on a screen. The pigeons were trained to recognize the target and peck at it if it moved off-center. The placement of the pigeons’ pecking would then move the bomb’s tail surfaces and direct the payload to the target. Skinner used three pigeons to control the bomb’s direction by majority rule which he felt would be more fail-proof than using only one bird. The military cancelled the project during testing because the idea was felt to be too radical.
The Romans found bees to be an extremely useful military weapon. They would collect beehives and place them on catapults and fire them into beseiged cities or an attacking army. Castle defenders adopted this idea during the Middle Ages and would drop an occasional beehive onto the heads of an attacking army.
During World War One, the soft light emanating from glow worms were used by soldiers to read maps of the battlefield in the trenches at night.
Spiders were used by weapons manufacturers to spin silk that was used for the production of crosshairs in bomb sights.
The Germans used the Colorado potato bug to destroy potato crops in France during World War One and allegedly dropped boxes of potato bugs over Great Britain during World War Two to starve the English into submission.
In 1963, experiments were done to train “guard bugs”. The hope was that mosquitos, fleas, and other insects would act differently when they encountered humans and could be used as an insect tripwire to alert when an enemy was near.
Currently, honey bees are now being used to detect landmines. Researchers have had success by putting trace amounts of target chemicals used in explosives into the honey bees’ food supply. The bees are then released and will instinctively forage for food where landmines are buried since their senses can detect the same chemicals that they are conditioned to believe is where the food is located. By observing the locations where most of the bees hover looking for food, the researchers are able to detect the probability of where landmines located. The bees are about 97% accurate in finding landmines in controlled situations.
After the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor, Americans were looking for revenge against the Japanese. Lytle Adams, a dental surgeon from Pennsylvania, had been touring caves in New Mexico and had observed bats in flight when he hit upon an idea of outfitting the bats with incendiary bombs and dropping them from a plane to wreak havoc on a city below. He wrote up a proposal about his bat bombs and sent it to the Whitehouse which accepted it and assigned it to the Army Air Force for research and development.
After experimenting with a variety of bat species, the free-tailed bat was selected because there were plenty of them available and they could fly with a one ounce incendiary payload which was attached to its chest by a pin and string. The hope was that a bat would seek a barn or building to sleep in at which point the timed-fuse would set the incendiary off which could cause fires in the buildings. Testing did not go as well as planned when some of the bats escaped with live incendiary boms and set fire to a hangar and a general’s car. Several more years of testing were needed and the project was traded between military branches until the idea was finally shelved due to time constraints.