Animals have contributed their blood, sweat and passion to warfare as long as humans have been waging war. Humans may have higher intelligence and advanced technology, but we are constantly reminded that the natural world develops predators and workers far better suited to certain roles than we’ll ever be. It may seem that throughout history these animals have been abused and taken advantage of, but the men and women who cared for these animals and trained this animals celebrated their lives and mourned their deaths with the same passion as they would for any other comrade.
There were over 16 million animals used in the First World War. That’s a staggering contribution. Dogs, Horses, Donkeys, Cats, Pigeons and a Fox Cub, who was the mascot for a squadron of fighter pilots.
Dogs are perhaps the first animal we think of when we think of working animals, it’s easy to see why. Dogs are intelligent, loyal, fierce and incredibly athletic. Huge attack dogs have been used all throughout history to reap terror in an enemy line. But in World War I dogs were also used to lay telephone lines, sniff out mines and act as companions for the soldiers.
While German Shepherds and other famous guard dogs get the historical credit. I wanted to give a special mention to a smaller hero, Smoky. Smoky was found during WWII in a Foxhole in the jungles of New Guinea. Smoky used her canine hearing to alert her fellow soldiers of incoming air-raids and her sense of smell warned of poison gas attacks. Smoky also pulled a telephone wire through a small 70ft long pipe. Meaning the engineers and soldiers didn’t have to expose themselves to enemy fire. Smoky survived the war, and died at the ripe old age of 14, a hero.
8 Battle Stars
150 survived air raids
12 survived combat raids
Certificate for Animal Bravery or Devotion
“An Angel From A Foxhole.”
Dolphins are highly intelligent, but they often fly under the radar when people think of animals in military service. The U.S. Navy has been studying and training Dolphins for around 60 years under The U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program. Dolphins are trained in mine detection, equipment recovery and swimmer safety. Dolphins are also used to protect harbours and ships by keeping away unwanted swimmers and divers. They do this by patrolling the waters and approaching unauthorized swimmers from behind and attaching a device to the persons air tank. This device sets off a buoy which not only means the person is stuck in one place, but the nearby authorities are also notified of their locations.
Glowworms were and under appreciated hero during WWI. This was a war where technology was still new, and advanced war-fare was being waged beside cavalry attacks. Electricity was bulkier and harder to set-up, needing more time, space and expertise than you need now. All of which were rare commodities on the front-lines. Enter, the glowworm. Soldiers would collect the glowworms and put them in jars or lanterns and hang them throughout their tunnels and trenches. The light wasn’t enough to give them away, but it was more than enough to read maps and orders. While it’s impossible to calculate their true contribution, it’s clear the glowworms played their part.
Elephants have a pretty stand-out characteristic, they’re bloody massive. Because elephants are so strong they were incredibly useful for warfare. Not only could they drag or carry more supplies than any man and most other animals, they also made for excellent warriors. Imagine standing in the front-line with your sword drawn and you see a line of 100 7-ton elephants running at you? What are you going to do? Nick them to death with your tooth-pick? No, you’re going to turn and run, which is what most men did.
Hannibal’s story is perhaps the most famous use of elephants in warfare. He led his army and his elephants across the alps. He had to literally build a new road for his elephants. Many of the elephants died on the journey but enough survived to give Hannibal a famous victory against the panicked Roman cavalry.
Side note: The Romans did eventually defeat the elephants in battle with a tactic of pure military genius. They simply got out of the way of the charging elephants. The Roman units were so well trained and cohesive that when an elephant was charging their ranks they could all move as one and let the elephant’s momentum carry it through without causing any damage.
Pigeons served an incedibly important role during WWI. This was a time when you couldn’t just call your commander to receive orders or share information. Homing pigeons were used to send these messages. These determined, amazing creatures saved countless lives during the war, the most famous of these heroic birds is Cher Ami. Cher Ami served with the 77th Infantry division, her division had been completely cut off by surrounding German forces and it seemed there was no hope for survival. Friendly artillery made the decision to start bombing the area, assuming that the division had either been destroyed or had surrendered. They had not. The Major ordered that their remaining 3 pigeons be released with a message for their headquarters. All 3 pigeons were shot down by German soldiers. But Cher Ami managed to take to the air once more, despite her leg being severed and having a bullet in her chest she flew all the way back to Headquarters with her message and saved the lives of 194 of those soldiers.
Cher Ami’s Honours:
The Croix De Guerre Medal
Racing Pigeon Hall of Fame
The Dickin Medal - For Gallantry
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