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Military animals are non-human creatures that are used in warfare. They are used as working animals to aid in combat related applications or weaponized. Domesticated animals such as dogs, pigs, oxen, camels and horses are used for functions such as transport and bomb detection. Elephants, pigeons and rats were also used during wartime, and dolphins, dwarf orcas and sea lions are in active use.

For transport and hauling

File:US forces Operation Enduring Freedom.jpg

Photo released on November 12, 2001 claiming to show "the first American cavalry charge of the 21st century"[1] in league with Northern Alliance forces in the Battle of Mazar-i-Sharif.[2]

  • The horse was the most widely-used animal throughout the recorded history of warfare. Early mounts could pull a chariot or carry lightly armored skirmishing forces. With the appearance of heavier mounts and the invention of the stirrup, the horse-mounted cavalry became the most prestigious military arm in Europe for several centuries. A knight's warhorse was trained to bite and kick. The combination of the horse-mounted warrior armed with a bow made the steppe people's armies the most powerful military force in Asian history. With the appearance of modern ranged weapons and motorised vehicles, horse use for military purposes fell into decline. However, the horse and the mule are still used extensively by various armies today for transport in difficult terrain.
See also: Horses in warfare and War elephant
  • While elephants are not considered domesticable, they can be trained to serve as mounts, or for moving heavy loads. Sanskrit hymns record their use for military purposes as early as 1,100 B.C. A group of elephants was notably employed by Hannibal during the Second Punic War. They were employed as recently as World War II by both the Japanese and Allies. Elephants could perform the work of machines in locations where vehicles could not penetrate, so they found use in the Burma Campaign.[3]
  • Camels have typically seen use as mounts in arid regions (Camel cavalry). They are better able to traverse sandy deserts than horses, and require far less water. Camels were employed in both world wars. Camels are used by the Indian Army & Border Security Force for patrolling in the desert regions of Rajasthan.
  • Mules were used by the U.S. Army during World War II to carry supplies and equipment over difficult terrain. Pack animals that are innately patient, cautious, and hardy, mules could carry heavy loads of supplies where Jeeps and even pack horses could not travel. Mules were used in North Africa, Burma, and in Italy. They are also used for transporting supplies in mountainous regions.
  • Oxen have been used widely in war as beasts of burden, especially to transport heavy or siege artillery through heavy terrain.

As weapons

As fighters or mounts

See also: Dogs in warfare
File:Dog with mask WWI.jpg

A dog employed by the Sanitary Corps during World War I to locate wounded soldiers. It is fitted with a gas mask.

Dogs were used by the ancient Greeks for war purposes, and they were undoubtedly used much earlier in history. During their conquest of Latin America, Spanish conquistadors used Mastiffs to kill warriors in the Caribbean, Mexico and Peru. Mastiffs, as well as Great Danes, were used in England during the Middle Ages, where their large size was used to scare horses to throw off their riders or to pounce on knights on horseback, disabling them until their master delivered the final blow. More recently, canines with explosives strapped to their backs saw use during World War II in the Soviet Army as anti-tank weapons. In all armies, they were used for detecting mines. They were trained to spot trip wires, as well as mines and other booby traps. They were also employed for sentry duty, and to spot snipers or hidden enemy forces. Some dogs also saw use as messengers.

  • Pliny the Elder wrote about the use of war pigs against elephants. As he relates it, elephants became scared by the squeal of a pig and would panic, bringing disaster to any soldiers who stood in their path of flight.[4][5]
File:Dürer - Rhinoceros.jpg

Dürer's Rhinoceros, a fanciful 'armoured' depiction.

  • It is unsubstantiated that rhinoceros were used for war functions[citation needed]. Analyzing Albrecht Dürer's famous 1515 woodcut, it is possible that the liberties taken with the rhino's design were in fact designs for a suit of armour created for the rhinoceros's fight against an elephant in Portugal.[6] However, rhinos' apparent "thick" or "plated" skin is actually very sensitive and the animals have poor eyesight, limiting their ability to run in any particular direction. Their tendency to charge anything within 10 feet would make them impractical for domestication.
  • War Elephants were used by India, Burma, Persians, the Hellenistic kingdoms, Carthage, the Numidian Kingdoms, and Rome.

As living bombs

  • Anti-tank dogs - a Soviet, World War II weapon that had mixed success.
  • Project Pigeon - a proposed U.S. World War II weapon that used pigeons to guide bombs.
  • Bat bomb, a U.S. project that used Mexican Free-tailed Bats to carry small incendiary bombs.
  • According to Pr. Shi Bo, in "Trente-six Stratagèmes Chinois" (in French, ISBN 2-911858-06-9), monkeys were used in the beginning of the Southern Song Dynasty, in a battle between rebels of the Yanzhou province and the Chinese Imperial Army, led by Zhao Yu. The monkeys were used as live incendiary devices. The animals were clothed with straw, dipped in oil and set on fire. They were set loose into the enemy's camp, thereby setting the tents on fire, and driving the whole camp into chaos.
  • Animal-borne bombs have been used by modern terrorists and insurgents in the Middle East, who have affixed explosives to animals, sometimes left wandering alone,[7] and other times ridden by suicide bombers, in modern insurgent attacks in the Middle East.[8]
  • A fictional example is in The Day Today, which featured an item on the IRA using bomb dogs (dogs as living bombs set loose on unsuspecting streets).

To conceal explosive devices

  • Exploding rat - dead rats were prepared for use by the British Special Operations Executive in World War II against Germany. Rat carcasses were filled with plastic explosives, to be left in locations such as factories where, it was hoped, the stoker tending a boiler would likely dispose of the unpleasant discovery by shoveling it into the furnace, causing it to explode.[9] The rats contained only a small amount of explosive; however, a puncture of a high-pressure boiler could trigger a devastating boiler explosion.
  • Animal carcasses have been used to camouflage roadside improvised explosive devices during the Iraqi insurgency.

In communications

See also: War pigeon

Homing pigeons have seen use since medieval times for carrying messages. They were still employed for a similar purpose during World War I and World War II. In World War II, experiments were also performed in the use of the pigeon for guiding missiles, known as Project Pigeon. The pigeon was placed inside so that they could see out through a window. They were trained to peck at controls to the left or right, depending on the location of a target shape.

For morale

There is a long-standing tradition of Military mascots - animals associated with military units that act as emblems, pets or take part in ceremonies.

Other specialized functions

Beginning in the Cold War era, research has been done into the uses of many species of marine mammals for military purposes. The U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program uses military dolphins and sea lions for underwater sentry duty, mine clearance, and object recovery.

On land, the Gambian giant pouched rat has been tested with considerable success as specialised mine detecting animals, as its keen sense of smell helps in the identification of explosives and its small size prevents it from triggering mines.[citation needed]

Cats were used in the Royal Navy to control vermin on board ships. Able seacat Simon of HMS Amethyst received the Dickin Medal.

During the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), Nationalist pilots attached fragile supplies to live turkeys, which descended flapping their wings, thus serving as parachutes which could also be eaten by the defenders of the monastery of Santa Maria de la Cabeza.[10]

Notable examples

  • Many famous generals had renowned mounts, including Julius Caesar's legendary horse with "toes" described by Suetonius,[11] the Duke of Wellington's famed charger Copenhagen,[12] Napoleon Bonaparte's Marengo, Alexander the Great's horse Bucephalus, and Robert E. Lee's horse Traveller.
  • In The Guns of Navarone, a German soldier gingerly removes a rat from a huge cannon. It emits smoke and a distinct squeaky noise, and the soldier breathes a sigh of relief.
  • The movie Wanted features rats strapped with explosive devices, used in a similar manner to the bats of Project X-ray during World War II.
  • The 2010 British film Four Lions has one of the main characters attaching home made bombs to crows, in an attempt to commit a Jihad.
  • The EA game Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 features the Allies using dolphins, the Soviets using giant squid, and both sides using dogs.
  • Wojtek, a Syrian brown bear cub, served with the Polish II Corps, and famously fought at the Battle of Monte Cassino

Alleged military use of animals

A migrating vulture fitted with GPS transmitters by Tel Aviv University was regarded with suspicion when captured in Saudi Arabia[13]

In another case, Indian police expressed suspicion that a recently captured pigeon from Pakistan might have been carrying a message from Pakistan.[14]

In 2007 in Basra, Iraq a rumor spread among locals that the British army had released Killer badgers in the city to terrorize the population.[15]

See also

  • Animals in space
  • U.S. Camel Corps
  • Dogs in warfare
  • Horses in warfare
  • Animal-borne bomb attacks


  1. Rumsfeld, Donald. "Annual Report to the President and the Congress", 2002
  2. Independent Online, US, Taliban both claim success in offensives, November 8, 2001
  3. War Veteran Elephant Dies
  4. Pliny, (VIII, 1.27)
  5. Aelian, de Natura Animalium book XVI, ch. 36
  6. Suggested by Glynis Ridley (2004), Clara's Grand Tour: Travels with a Rhinoceros in Eighteenth-century Europe, Atlantic Monthly Press, ISBN 1-84354-010-X, a study of Clara the rhinoceros; however, there is no mention of this in Bedini.
  7. Explosives-laden donkey
  8. One example of a mule used to carry a suicide bomber with an IED.
  9. British Special Operations Executive (SOE): Tools and Gadgets Gallery. BBC. Retrieved June 7, 2005.
  10. Antony Beevor, "The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939", (Penguin Books, 1982.)
  11. "He rode a remarkable horse, too, with feet that were almost human; for its hoofs were cloven in such a way as to look like toes. This horse was foaled on his own place, and since the soothsayers had declared that it foretold the rule of the world for its master, he reared it with the greatest care, and was the first to mount it, for it would endure no other rider. Afterwards, too, he dedicated a statue of it before the temple of Venus Genetrix." Suetonius, The Life of Julius Caesar 61,*.html
  12. The Wellington Statue, Aldershot. URL accessed on 2012-07-24.
  13. "Saudi Arabia 'nabbed Israeli-tagged vulture for being Mossad spy'" (January 4, 2011)
  14. "Fowl play: alleged spy pigeon held in India" (May 28, 2010)
  15. "British Blamed for Basra Badgers" BBC, (July 12, 2007)

Further reading

  • Cooper, Jilly (2002). Animals In War, Guilford, Connecticut: The Lyons Press.
  • Chico, The story of a Homing Pigeon in the Great War Lucy M Blanchard, Diggory Press, ISBN 978-1-84685-039-4
  • Ben, the Battle Horse Walter A Dyer, ISBN 978-1-84685-038-7

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