When we think of animals mobilized against their will for war, we naturally think of horses needed to transport soldiers and ammunition, and to pull heavy guns. Historians estimate that 11.5 million horses (including donkeys and mules) fought in World War I with all armies combined.
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Dogs, cats, pigeons… Not only horses went to the front. “These animals, necessary for military operations, have saved many human lives”insisted Florentin Letissier during his speech before the municipal council of the 14th arrondissement of Paris in 2018, a few days before installation of a memorial plaque to combat animals in the district.
The military medal was specially created in 1943 in England in honor of fighting animals. In total, 68 medals have been awarded since its foundation – one cat, five horses, 30 dogs and 32 doves. Most of the awards were given for heroic deeds during the Great Patriotic War.
Today in Europe fighting animals are fortunately endangered. GEO looks back on five species of animals that became soldiers and that through the ages and wars have fought and continue to fight for humans.
Dogs, multifunctional soldiers
Combat, guard, courier, tracker, even anti-tank dogs… In addition to keeping soldiers company, dogs are true allies on the front lines. The first traces of fighting dogs date back to ancient times.
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During the First World War, messages and medicines were hung on their backs, and they also towed certain light weapons. Dogs have civil status, military ID, badge and equipment. They are also especially useful for finding buried people due to their auditory qualities. During the Great War, about 100,000 dogs would have died.
Today, dogs are still used by the military. The largest military kennel in Europe is also located in France, in Suippe (Marne), where the 132nd Infantry Regiment has been training dogs since 1794. However, some of these dogs are used by the customs administration and some municipal politicians, note World.
According to 30 million friends, in 2016, about 500 dogs were employed in various canine units – 450 in the army, 12 in the raid and 4 in GIGN.
Spy cat, half cat, half car
At the height of the Cold War, all means are good for American intelligence to spy on the USSR. Even make a spy cat, like an American monthly newspaper Atlantic Ocean. Codename: Acoustic Kitty or Acoustic Kitten.
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This project, developed in the 1960s by the CIA for several million dollars, consisted of implanting microphones in the ears of a cat and radio transmitters in its tail. The cat then had to be released at strategic locations.
But the first check turned out to be fruitless: a spy released near the Russian embassy in Washington was hit by a taxi. In a few years, the project will be closed. “Our final review of trained cats convinced us that the program was in no practical sense suited to our highly specialized needs.” reads a declassified memo. “The work done over the years is the merit of the staff who carried it out, whose energy and imagination can serve as models for the pioneers of science.”.
Dolphins detecting explosives
Marine animals are also used in times of war. Dolphins were trained in the USSR and the USA back in the Cold War era, in particular, to detect underwater mines and suspicious objects near ships, and even to plant explosives.
“Dolphins have the most advanced sonar known to science. They more easily find mines and other potentially dangerous objects on the ocean floor that are difficult to detect with electronic sonar., explains on its website the Naval Warfare Information Center, which operates the U.S. Navy’s Mammal Science Program. This program, started in 1959, is in its final stages: “Perhaps someday these missions can be carried out using underwater drones, but so far the technology is not up to animals.”writes to the US Navy.
In Russia, there has never been a question of stopping the training of dolphins. When Russian forces annexed Crimea in 2014, they monopolized the base in Sevastopol, where the Ukrainian army trained these marine mammals for military purposes.
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In 2016, Moscow bought five new dolphins to join the center, and in 2019, a beluga was found in Norwegian waters with a harness marked “St. Petersburg.”
Pigeons, messengers, suicide bombers, spies
Carrier pigeons played an important role in communication during the First World War. If the estimates are inaccurate, the French would have used 60,000 pigeons, the British 100,000. Many died from gas and enemy fire.
These birds could also serve as spies. Then they were equipped with seat belts, on which a camera was hung with automatic firing of shots every 10 seconds, explains France 3 Grand Est.
During World War II, when the Americans were trying to develop bomb-guiding systems, they naturally thought of… pigeons. Project Pigeon, also called Project Ocron, was to plant these birds in bomb warheads. With the help of special training, a sight and a control device, they could direct the missile to a specific target and, therefore, would be “kamikaze pigeons”.
The Pigeon project will never be successful. It was abandoned in 1944 when new technologies such as radar were developed.
Elephant making, the age-old art of war
War elephants have stood next to man on the battlefield for millennia and have been an important, if not common, weapon in military history. They terrorized the enemy, trampled him and carried heavy loads.
They were mainly used in antiquity. In Asia, the Chinese and Indians used it at the front long before Hannibal crossed the Alps in 218 BC. AD, during the Punic Wars. Evidence of its success is the continued use of war elephants in Eastern and European armies for at least a thousand years.
As warfare mechanized and firearms developed in the 20th century, the use of war elephants was gradually phased out. Pachyderms are still used in Asia to transport goods, whether it be ammunition or construction materials, especially during World War II to the Vietnam War.
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