Animals at war

Since the beginning of military conflicts between humans, animals have been used to support or rescue their own soldiers or have been used as weapons themselves. Over the millennia, not only the warfare continued to develop but also the use of animals in the war has been adapted to this day.



Animals accompany humans since the beginning of civilization. Already at the time of the first primitive humans animals served as food source or supplier for raw materials like skins or bones. With the emergence of modern humans, the animals began to domesticate and use them as domestic or farm animals.

As with many civilian developments, it was not long before animals became interesting for military purposes. It was looking for properties that would bring advantages to their own soldiers against the enemy and thus increase the chances for a victory. There were hardly any limits to the creativity of the military leadership, neither in its possibilities nor in moral terms. To date, the basic purposes have hardly changed, for which animals are used in the military:

  1. transport purposes
  2. campaign purposes
  3. communication

There are also the secondary purposes as food and for the moral stability of soldiers as mascots or lucky charms.

For transport purposes, animals were used to transport weapons, equipment, ammunition or even later guns from one point to another. Horses, mules, oxen or even camels were predominantly used for this purpose.

For combat purposes, the animals were either used to support a soldier or used directly as a weapon. The best known example of this use is the knight or the cavalry. The Enlightenment and scouts fall under this point of view, although they rarely participated in combat operations.

The communication purposes involved the transmission of messages and commands between the units or the military leadership. This area was introduced very late because most of these tasks were performed by humans. The most well-known examples of this were the dog dogs or the pigeons.

In deciding which animal to use for military purposes, the final effect of the use was already considered in antiquity. In summary, over time, three factors came together to classify an animal:

  1. Effectiveness in combat or support
  2. Strategic advantage in use
  3. Psychological effect like intimidating

Then there were the costs that had to be incurred for the training and care of an animal.

Thus, over the millennia, the following animals were finally used militarily:

  • horses
  • mules
  • camels
  • elephants
  • swot up
  • dogs
  • pigeons

In addition, there were other species that were used either in smaller numbers or only experimentally. In total, around 32 animal species are said to have been used militarily.





Horses are among the best known and most used animals that have been used for military purposes.

Already 2,000 years before Christ, horses were used as draft animals of chariots. The first tradition for this use dates back to the time of the Hyksos, who had conquered large areas in the Middle East. This included today's Egypt. After the expulsion of the occupiers and the independence of Egypt, the rulers of the time made use of this technique, adapted it to their requirements, and set up a force from the well-known Egyptian chariots. At this time, no horse saddles had been invented, so that stable riding a horse was hardly possible.

These chariots were made of wood and leather and were designed for speed and maneuverability due to the lightweight construction. It was pulled by two horses and could reach back to a small turning radius due to its far rear axle with its widely spaced storage wheels. Manning the chariots were usually with two men. One served the vehicle as a driver, the other performed the attacks or defense by attacking the enemies with a bow and arrow or spears or defending himself and the driver with a shield against attacks. It also happened that these chariots were accompanied during the campaigns of armored runners and could fully dedicate themselves to the attack.

A particular conspicuousness was that the state did not provide and pay for the chariot and the horse, but that they were paid by the owners themselves. Thus, only wealthy people, and especially the nobility, could only afford these chariots, a peculiarity that was maintained until the end of the Middle Ages.


Egyptian chariot


The principle of chariots later took over the Assyrians, who enlarged these and occupied instead of two with four men. Over time, however, the Assyrians went over to exchange the heavy chariots for individual horses with an armored rider and thus lay the foundation for today's known cavalry. These cavalry were taken after the collapse of the Assyrian Empire by the Persians, which no longer had so many mounted units. Only the Macedonian kingdom rebuilt the light cavalry strong again, which especially Alexander the Great used to found the hitherto largest empire of history.


Unlike the wealthy before, the Roman Empire relied more on its foot soldiers than on the cavalry. Although the Roman legion had mounted soldiers from the beginning, these were composed almost exclusively of the upper classes of the empire. Since horses did not serve as food suppliers in the Roman Empire, ie they were eaten, they were in competition with humans for the distribution of food. Thus, the rearing and keeping of horses was considered a luxury and thus available only to the upper class. The Roman legionaries were responsible for their equipment, including the purchase, repair and replacement. This principle applied to both the ordinary soldier and the officers. Horses were therefore a very high cost factor, which was not only limited to the rearing, but also for the maintenance in military campaigns.


Early Roman cavalry


In the early phase of the Roman Empire, when the total troop strength was only 3,300 soldiers, the cavalry with 300 cavalry provided a very small part of the army. In the course of the Roman Republic, not only the Roman Empire but also the army grew. From an initial legion, 25 legions were created up to 27 BC. Under Emperor Augustus and his army reform from the former volunteer army became a standing army and he used the auxiliary troops from all parts of the Roman Empire. The Roman cavalry was thus reinforced especially with Gallic and Germanic horsemen, later replaced more and more. However, the number of 300 riders per legion was maintained. Until the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Roman cavalry was assigned more and more tasks in the reporting system and in the Enlightenment, the battles were carried out almost exclusively by the auxiliary troops.


The next big jump in the development of cavalry and horses was made with the Frankish armored riders. These were the answer to the Arab Moors, who conquered with their light cavalry within a few years, large parts of Spain and then threatened the Frankish Empire. The armored riders were specially trained and heavily armored riders armed with a lance. The development of the stirrup also ensured that the heavy rider came easier on the horses, sat more stable in the saddle and the power of the horse could be indirectly transferred to the lance and thus gained in clout. The introduction of the Frankish armored riders also justified the development of the Knights, who dominated and shaped the Middle Ages decisively.


Frankish armored rider with dragon standard, miniature painting, Golden Psalter of St. Gallen, abbey library St. Gallen, second half of the 9th century


During the Middle Ages, however, not only the armored rider continued to develop into a knight, the handling of the horses received a hitherto unknown form. Four aspects shaped this time:
- The emotional bond between horse and rider
- Horses are first considered victims of wars
- Horses are regarded as a valuable asset
- Horses are considered a weak point of the enemy

The emotional bond between a horse and its rider is based on the sometimes years-long common path of these two parties. Since the raising and maintenance of horses is still very expensive, this is only possible for the wealthy population. Almost all of the knights are from this group, because Ritter could only be whoever had the financial resources to equip himself accordingly. Therefore, the horses were usually in the hands of their future rider from birth, with whom the animal also carried out his training. Thus, rider and animal were not only a well-rehearsed team in the fight, but it also connected them with a very intimate and personal bond. Not infrequently, the horse's death plunged the rider into an emotional hole or led to depression.

Another point in dealing with horses was the emerging role of the animal as a victim, which was present exclusively in the Middle Ages. The main reason for this were storytellers or minnesingers, who moved from place to place and sang or told stories about battles. Over time, the horses were included more often or even put in the center. These were stories of battles in which injured animals lay on the battlefield, screaming deafeningly in pain or performing unbelievable heroic deeds on their riders, but this usually had more to do with the narrator's imagination. But despite the many fantasies or embellishments, a certain amount of compassion was felt in the majority of the population and also in the soldiers, which caused the handling of the horses. For the first time these were recognized as suffering creatures, who felt as much pain and anxiety as humans. This was also possible because of this, because there had been no mass use of horses in the respective armies, only when the horses were used in large numbers, these were again regarded more as a military means rather than an animal.

In the time of the Middle Ages, the horse was also increasingly regarded as a war-important good. Already in the previous centuries, it was customary for the victor to acquire and take advantage of all the equipment of the defeated enemy that was useful to him. In the course of the Middle Ages, the horses were more and more often regarded as important to the war effort, and thus it was tried after the defeat of the enemy as many horses as possible by himself to take over and thus equip his own army.

A complete contrast to the aspect of the war-important good was the realization that horses could also offer a serious vulnerability of the enemy. As the armor of the knights became increasingly difficult, they were inevitably immobile if they had to walk. Thus, during a battle, the foot soldiers first tried to attack the knight's horse and either injure or kill it, forcing the knight to fight without the animal and thus be easier to defeat. With the development and the use of halberds and hooks, it was later the knight to tear from the horse without this hurt or even kill.


Knight with lance



With the advent of the first firearms, the cavalry developed further. The heavy armor was eliminated for both the rider and the horse, so that more and more evolved again the light cavalry. However, the main weapon of the riders was still a lance, which was supplemented by rifles, pistols or sabers. This branch of service, often referred to as lancers, was used by almost all the armed forces until the outbreak of the First World War.


Ulan regiment "King William I." (2nd Württemberg) No. 20

Ulan regiment "King William I." (2nd Württemberg) No. 20


A decisive turning point in the use of horses for military purposes is blatantly World War I. Although the weapons developed steadily at the end of the 19th century until 1914 and were improved, but the warfare remained basically the same, including as far as the use of the cavalry. At the outbreak of the war, the German Reich alone had 110 cavalry regiments, plus the reserves. The proportion of cavalry was between 8 to 10%, which was true for almost all major European powers. At that time, the horses were the only armed force of the armed forces that was fast and agile. In the first weeks of the war, these qualities could still be used on all fronts, but as the war of movement became a war of positions in the West, it turned out that the cavalry was far from prepared for a modern war. While on the one hand fortified positions of the enemy were waiting, the riders stormed in old approach with drawn saber to the positions. In the open field, these provided excellent targets for the enemy machine guns, the losses were accordingly high. Thus, the cavalry, at least on the western front quickly lost importance and the regiments were either given to other fronts or were assigned to the logistics, where they served as draft horses for the guns.


German cavalry in the First World War


Royal Scots Greys cavalry regiment


A British Mark V tank drives past a dead horse, the contrasts between old and new warfare are particularly clear here


In the course of the war, the handling of the horses had some special characteristics that had a negative as well as a positive effect:

  • The medical care of the animals was kept at a very high level throughout the war. Veterinarians were subordinate to the military from the beginning and accompanied the armed forces. Behind the front, entire medical practices for the care of wounded animals were set up and set up. This was in addition to the horses for other species used in the war
  • However, feeding the horses with food was critical throughout the war. Since according to the Schlieffen Plan the war was to last only a short time and the army from the enemy country was to supply itself, there was accordingly no supply for a longer time. Shortly after the beginning of the war, the German population had to collect leaves from the forests and hand them over to the war department so that the horses could be cared for at the front
  • In addition to the food, diseases were also a major problem for the horses, this affected all the armed forces involved. Due to the mud, filth and the general unhygienic conditions, diseases often occurred and were able to spread quickly
  • With the first deployments of chemical warfare agents on the Western Front, it was not only soldiers who were protected by the development and introduction of gas masks against these substances, but also ways of protecting and introducing protection for animals, especially horses


In a strapped horse, a gunshot wound is operated


A soldier and his horse equipped with gas mask


Dead horses at the roadside


During World War I, between 10 and 16 million horses were deployed by all those involved. It is estimated that around 8 million animals were killed, probably much higher. After the war, many of the horses were emaciated, exhausted or ill. After the surrender there were mass shootings of animals at the front, who were too weak or too sick to travel home. British soldiers often sold their horses to French butchers, which was heavily condemned in the UK by animal welfare organizations. After some protests, at least 60,000 animals were brought back to the United Kingdom, where they were mostly housed in specially furnished retirement homes for animals. In 2004, Princess Anne inaugurated the Animals in War Memorial in London, a memorial to animals used in wars.


Animals in War memorial

The memorial bears two inscriptions under the words "Animals in War":

„This monument is dedicated to all the animals
that served and died alongside British and allied forces
in wars and campaigns throughout time“

„They had no choice“


Between WWI and WWII, most of the forces reduced their cavalry units and replaced them with motorized units and tanks, though the horses did not completely disappear. With the outbreak of war, despite the onset of motorization, many infantry divisions relied on horses. This had technical, tactical and economic reasons.

  • Technical reasons was the limited capacity in the production of motorized vehicles, fuel and tires for the military vehicles, so it was not possible for economic reasons at this time to own a fully motorized force
  • Tactical reasons were to be found especially in the reconnaissance, the surveillance of large areas and the rapid transfer of troops, equipment and guns
  • Among the economic reasons fell the lower cost of horses in contrast to trucks and their life expectancy. Thus, the German High Command of the Army had calculated that the life expectancy of a horse was four years, that of a motor vehicle but only one year

During the campaigns in Poland, Denmark, Norway and finally France fewer horses were used. This was partly due to the fact that both the Polish and French armies of the German Wehrmacht and their strategy of a lightning war had little to oppose, on the other hand horses could not keep up with the tanks or could not be used in Norway.

For the campaign in Africa, no horses were provided for, as they would not have coped with the climatic conditions, here they used rather the camels. Also in the Balkans and in Greece hardly horses were used during the campaign, only after the conquest of the areas these were eligible for security tasks.

The situation was completely different in the Russian campaign. While the German Wehrmacht again set on a quick victory and thus planned only with a few horses, were in the Russian army significantly more horses of the cavalry available. This failure of the German army leadership showed after a few weeks, when the used and captured vehicles were no longer sufficient to supply the troops. Even the onset of sludge period ensured that cars and tanks got stuck and only horses were still suitable for transport. Although the Wehrmacht received a large number of Russian horses they captured, but the demand could not be met.


German infantrymen with horse in the Soviet Union


Soldier and horse in winter, Russia campaign


Especially for reconnaissance in the wide of the tundra and in the fight against partisans, the horses were used on the Eastern Front, as they could perform the tasks as well as vehicle, but were cheaper and did not consume essential war materials such as gasoline. However, the animals as well as the soldiers had to deal with the weather conditions and the poor supply. So it was not uncommon that because of lack of food the soldiers had to slaughter the horses and then ate them.

During World War II, not nearly as many horses were used as was the case during the First World War. With around 2.8 million horses only on the German side, it was still a very high number. About 1.56 million horses did not survive the war. With 90% loss, it was the worst on the Eastern Front for the animals.


After World War II, almost all the armed forces went about using only tanks and vehicles for their soldiers. Horses finally lost their military importance and were used only in a few conflicts, usually by partisans, terrorists or because the area did not allow vehicles and tanks. The horses still used in the armed forces are used only for ceremonial purposes, such as by the British military at parades or royal weddings.


In addition to the use of horses directly and indirectly as a weapon or support of a warrior or soldier, the animals were also often used as draft animals. Already with the Egyptians the horses served to pull the chariots, for this one or two horses were stretched in front of the car and steered by one of the two soldiers.

In the Roman Empire horses were used in a few cases as draft animals for carts, since horses were generally expensive and used by the officers who had the necessary funds in the majority. As in the later Middle Ages, oxen or donkeys were used to transport the carts.

When the knights disappeared with the Middle Ages and the riders again sat on the horses without heavy armor, the speed with which the cavalry could bridge long distances increased accordingly. Since oxen and donkeys did not have the same speed as horses, horses were often used for the carts to carry the supplies and the equipment with the soldiers. In addition, with the development of gunpowder and the first guns, logistics faced the task of bringing them to the front. Here, too, the horses were best suited because they were sufficient in speed and strong enough to pull the increasingly heavy guns.

The function as a draft animal for guns was also preserved during the first and second world war, in addition to the guns also other variants of the carts were added, such. Hospital carts or field kitchens. Horses were also used for the transport.


German soldiers and a horse on which a specially built frame with a Russian Maxim M1910 machine gun is mounted


An artillery bombarded German patient transport with dead horses


Horse-drawn German artillery


German draft horses in the mud of the Russian campaign


Covered German units at river crossing


After the Second World War, the horses were no longer used for transport as well as for the cavalry and replaced by trucks.





Camels were the equivalent of the horse, but were used only in the Middle East, Africa and some parts of Asia.

The advantages of the camels were their adaptation to the climatic conditions, which had added significantly more to horses. They were perfectly equipped for use in deserts, could live without water for a long time, and their hooves did not sink into the sand as fast as other animals.

Disadvantages, however, were the lower speed and the difficult training. In addition, camels could not be used directly as weapons, because they could not run around people like horses and break their bones with their hooves, but with a few exceptions, this technique may have worked.

Like the horses, camels also served during the First and Second World War, but were then hardly used for military purposes, since vehicles were taken for this purpose.


An Ottoman soldier and his camel


The australian camel corps in the first world war


Camels at their drinking station


For the transport of equipment or guns camels were rather less used than the horses. Only light luggage could be taken by the animals, but for other equipment they were too weak.




Donkeys and swot up:

Donkeys and oxen have been used for civil purposes since antiquity, be it in agriculture or in the transport of goods. Although the animals were much more stubborn in their characteristics and thus more difficult to train as horses, they were nevertheless irreplaceable.

Early on, these animals were used for military purposes and served either as draft animals of carts and thus the equipment and supplies for the soldiers, or had strapped lighter luggage and were directly with the fighting units. Since these had only a low speed, the animals were not used as mounts, only in the First World War, some donkeys were the messenger as a substitute for horses.


Unloading a mule from a German ship in World War I.


A Serbian messenger at the artillery in the First World War


Mule with war weapon and ammunition in the first world war





Dogs have been used for military purposes since antiquity, as they could attack enemy soldiers or protect their owners. Such missions, however, were very rare. In the Middle Ages, dogs were first used as detectors.

Only at the beginning of the 20th century did the military begin to use large numbers of dogs for their own purposes. From 1908 Lieutenant Jupin began in France with the introduction of service dogs in the French army, the armed forces of other states quickly followed the French example. The tasks of the dogs were classified into the following categories:

  • Watch and guard dog
  • Medical dog for detection of wounded
  • explosive beagle
  • As a draft animal for light sledges (only in the First World War)
  • signal dog
  • Antitank dog (experiment in the second world war)
  • Drug tracking dog (after the second world war)

The first predominantly used breeds were collies and shepherd dogs.

During the First World War, dogs were used almost exclusively as loggers, for the laying of communication cables and for the transport of light equipment. Since on the fronts the tasks for the soldiers were usually too dangerous and these gave a larger and thus for the enemy marksmen a better goal, to the transmission of messages gladly used dogs. These were faster, harder to hit and could get through the difficult terrain better. The same was true when laying cables for communication.

Especially by the Belgians dogs were stretched before light sleds and transported so equipment and supplies to the soldiers. Dogs were also used for transport by the British, but mainly cages with the reporting pigeons were transported.


A signal dog is dispatched by German soldiers during the fight


A dog brings bandage to a wounded British soldier


A dog spans a communication cable between the front sections


Belgian civilians use a dog to transport their belongings


A German soldier and his dog


How many dogs were actually used during the First World War and how many died is still unclear.


In World War II, dogs were also used in larger numbers, with the tasks limited only to reporting duties and on watch duties, as draft animals dogs were no longer used. As a new task, however, came the mine search and the search for injured under rubble, since both mines were laid large areas and cities were massively bombed.

A particularly perfidious mission had some dogs of the Soviet Army, which were trained as anti-tank dogs. These should be loaded with explosives crawl under German tanks and explode there, destroying the tank. In the first missions, however, showed that on the one hand the dogs could not distinguish between German and Soviet tanks on the other hand, that the animals were often too afraid of tanks and ran away from them.


Training of Soviet anti-tank dogs


Companion dog of a Wehrmacht soldier


A German soldier and two of his dogs


In the years after the Second World War, dogs initially lost their tactical characteristics in the armed forces completely and were only used for guard duty.

This only changed with the conflicts in Vietnam, where jungles made the use of tanks almost impossible and dogs were needed to track down enemies. Even in the subsequent conflicts with guerrilla fighters who did not follow the classic mode of warfare, dogs were incessantly on the lookout for hiding places and ambushes. Today, more and more modern systems are taking over these tasks, so that dogs are rarely present in such operations, but guard services continue to be performed with them.





Elephants were initially used primarily as elevated command posts, later serving as a platform for archers and javelin throwers. Even the animal itself was sometimes used as a weapon, because in addition to the shock effect of its size in the battlefield, it could trample enemy infantry or seriously injured. However, the fact that elephants themselves are easily panicked and could cause heavy casualties by breaking out in their own ranks, they were rarely used in the front row in a battle.
First elephant taming took place in the early Indus civilization about 4000 years ago. Elephants were not bred with a few exceptions, but always captured and tamed in the wild. The first use of elephants for military purposes took place around 1100 BC. It was first mentioned in ancient Sanskrit hymns. From India, the elephants were imported into the Persian Empire and used in several campaigns such. also during the invasion of Xerxes in Greece.


War elephants


Already around 400 BC The Egyptian pharaohs built the city of Ptolemais Theron, the seaport of Meroe, on the Red Sea coast in present-day Sudan, which became a transit point for imprisoned elephants. In the Meroitic Empire elephants were also used in wars, presumably they also served as a mount of the king and for ceremonies. On the west wall of the lion temple of Musawwarat a train of war elephants and prisoners are depicted in a relief.

Also in the later Roman Empire war elephants were used.
The first encounter of Rome with war elephants took place in the battle of Heraclea 280 BC. Chr. Against Pyrrhus instead. The best-known general, who used war elephants against Rome, was the Carthaginian Hannibal. His crossing of the Alps with 37 mainly African, but also at least one Indian elephant in 218 BC became famous. But after the lossy crossing of the Alps and the Battle of the Trebia he had at the Battle of Lake Trasimeno only one elephant available. He commanded the battle of this Indian elephant by the name of Suru, but of which during his further campaign in Italy, no more should be. His brother was to bring some war elephants from Spain to reinforce, but was defeated in the Battle of the Metaurus. In Hannibal's last battle, the battle of Zama in 202 BC. BC, again on African soil, but it became clear that the used here, not yet trained elephants of the Carthaginians shy away from the Roman fanfares. In addition, their use was ineffective, since the Romans formed lanes for the elephants and thus only a few soldiers were trampled. 156 years later, in the battle of Thapsus on February 6, 46 BC BC, Julius Caesar armed his Legio V Alaudae with axes and gave instructions to beat on the legs of the animals. The Legion was victorious and henceforth chose the war elephant as its heraldic animal. The Battle of Thapsus is considered the last major use of war elephants in Western culture.

In late antiquity, Ammianus Marcellinus, Prokopios of Caesarea, and Arab authors, especially the Sassanid war elephants, tell us, among other things, in the battles against the Romans. In the battle of Avarayr (451 AD) they were used by the Sassanids against the Armenians, in the Battle of Kadesia (636 AD) against the Arabs.

For the Aksumitische Reich located in the north of the today's Ethiopia the employment of war elephants is occupied up to its downfall in the 7th century. Nonnosus came from Constantinople to Aksum as ambassador of Justinian in the middle of the 6th century and estimated the number of wild elephants in the Ethiopian highlands at about 5,000. Sura 105 in the Koran ("The Elephant") is based on a campaign of the Christian king of Aksum at 13 Elephants against Mecca in the year of Muhammad's birth around 570.

In the Middle Ages, elephants in the military completely disappeared in Europe. Only in Asia, especially in India elephants were still used for military purposes, which was set after the advent of gunpowder but also there.

In the First World War, however, a few elephants were reinstated. These were, however, exclusively animals from the zoo, which were used for cleanup. For example, some animals from the Hamburg Zoo were subordinated to the German military and were involved in the removal of rubble and roadblocks in Belgium and France.


An elephant from the zoo in the service of the German army





Domesticated pigeons have been used since ancient times to transmit messages over long distances. Only with the invention and introduction of telephone cables and radio pigeons were superfluous.

The first attempts to use larger numbers of pigeons to transmit messages had already begun by the Sumerians, who recognized the pigeons' special ability to find their own nesting places even from far away places. This circumstance made it possible to send small notes with messages from the whole empire to a certain place, whose journey with humans would usually take days or weeks, became much faster with the help of the pigeons.

This type of communication later took over both the Egyptians and the Roman Empire, although the Romans used the pigeons mainly for their military and less in the civilian area.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the pigeons disappeared from Europe, only in the Middle East, this form of communication remained widespread. It was not until the Crusades that pigeons were brought back to Europe and used there again.

From the middle of the 19th century and the development of the telegraph system, a competing messaging began to build up. With the outbreak of the First World War, however, and the susceptibility of the lines fall under fire or sabotage, the pigeons were again a very high priority and were used by all involved forces in large numbers. It is estimated that up to 100,000 pigeons were used throughout the war. For their transport and accommodation partially mobile dovecotes were made from buses or strapped to horses and donkeys. Not a few pigeons were also equipped with cameras at the beginning of the war and dropped over the enemy positions where the cameras took pictures of the front and these were then evaluated. However, with the improvement of reconnaissance aircraft, the pigeons lost this task after some time.


A pigeon with strapped camera for reconnaissance


A message reaches British soldiers at the front


A mobile dovecote from a converted bus


Despite the further development of the telephone and radio transmission, pigeons were also used in large numbers in World War II, the number exceeded even with the 300,000 animals even those of the First World War. The main reasons for this were concern about listening to the enemy's communication and the sabotage of the infrastructure and thus the failure of the communication. Thus, pigeons, especially in the British army as incessant and important for the war were valued. In contrast to the First World War, however, the pigeons were used predominantly at night to complicate their shooting. The German Wehrmacht, however, relied predominantly on the new wireless technology instead of pigeons. To catch enemy animals even griffins were specially trained to hunt the pigeons.


After the Second World War, the pigeons largely disappeared from the armed forces, which used almost only modern means of communication. The last major deployment took place in the Korean War, when covert US troops had to communicate behind the enemy lines with other parts of the US Army. Thereafter, the pigeons finally disappeared in the US armed forces.




Other animals:

In addition to the animals mentioned above, some were added for military purposes over time. These were either used in very small numbers or served only for experiments.

Actively used for military purposes were, among others:

  • Pigs
    Pigs were used by the Roman Legion when they encountered war elephants in their campaigns. As the elephants were afraid of the animals' unknown grunts, they were confused. When this tactic stopped working, the pigs were doused with oil, lit and driven in the direction of the elephants. When the pigs arrived, the elephants panicked and either went through or could be fought by the legionnaires
  • Cats
    Cats were used purely military only in the first world war. Due to the conditions in the positions and the trenches, mice and rats multiplied there in an uncontrolled manner. Because of the many bodies that could not be recovered, the animals had enough food and got used to the soldiers very quickly, so that they were often plagued by mice or rats during sleep or damaged food and equipment. The cats should find and decimate the rodents, which ultimately benefited the soldiers.
  • Dolphins
    Dolphins were mainly trained by the US Navy and the Russian Navy to find or rescue maritime mines or distressed seamen. There were also experiments with dolphins to attach detention mines to enemy ships and detonate them by time or remote detonator.

For experimental purposes were used, among others:

  • Bats
    Bats were used by the US Army during World War II for experimental purposes. These were to be equipped with incendiary bombs and set fire to Japanese buildings. After a few failed attempts, this project was abandoned.
  • Sea lions
    Sea lions have similar intelligence to dolphins that they are used for similar tasks. Although there were some experiments with these animals, there were no actual missions.


In addition to the direct or indirect use in the military, there were quite a few animals that was used only for the morale of the troops. These animals were either to cheer wounded soldiers, accompany a psychological therapy or served as a mascot for a single soldier or a whole unit. Even today, animals are used for this purpose in the modern armed forces.


A koala bear serves as a lift in an Australian military hospital in World War I


A cat serves as a mascot on a British warship


A soldier of the Waffen SS strokes small kittens






You can find the right literature here:


Animals in War

Animals in War Paperback – 2000

Pigeons carrying vital messages to and from the beleaguered city during the Siege of Paris; horses and mules struggling through miles of fetid mud to bring ammunition to the front in the Great War; dogs sniffing out mines for the British invasion force in the Second World War - countless brave animals have played their part in the long, cruel history of war. Some have won medals for gallantry - like G.I. Joe, the American pigeon who saved 100 British lives in Italy, and Rob, the black and white mongrel who made over twenty parachute jumps with the SAS. Too many others have died abandoned, in agony and alone, after serving their country with distinction.

Jilly Cooper has here written a tribute to the role of animals in wartime. It is a tragic and horrifying story - yet it has its lighter moments too: a hilarious game of musical chairs played on camels during the Desert Campaign; and the budgie who remarked, when carried from a bombed-out East End tenement, 'This is my night out'.

Re-published to coincide with the launch of The Animals in War Memorial Fund, this is a vivid and unforgettable record of man's inhumanity to animals, but also an astonishing story of courage, intelligence, devotion and resilience.

Click here!



Sgt. Reckless: America's War Horse

Sgt. Reckless: America's War Horse Paperback – August 10, 2015

From the racetrack to the battlefield—dauntless, fearless, and exemplar of Semper Fi—she was Reckless, "pride of the Marines."

A Mongolian mare who was bred to be a racehorse, Ah-Chim-Hai, or Flame-of-the-Morning, belonged to a young boy named Kim-Huk-Moon. In order to pay for a prosthetic leg for his sister, Kim made the difficult decision to sell his beloved companion. Lieutenant Eric Pedersen purchased the bodacious mare and renamed her Reckless, for the Recoilless Rifles Platoon, Anti-Tank Division, of the 5th Marines she’d be joining.

The four-legged equine braved minefields and hailing shrapnel to deliver ammunition to her division on the frontlines. In one day alone, performing fifty-one trips up and down treacherous terrain, covering a distance of over thirty-five miles, and rescuing wounded comrades-in-arms, Reckless demonstrated her steadfast devotion to the Marines who had become her herd.

Despite only measuring about thirteen hands high, this pint-sized equine became an American hero. Reckless was awarded two Purple Hearts for her valor and was officially promoted to staff sergeant twice, a distinction never bestowed upon an animal before or since.

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Silent Heroes: The Bravery & Devotion of Animals in War

Silent Heroes: The Bravery & Devotion of Animals in War Paperback – April 1, 2010

Animal lovers and history buffs will delight at this marvelous collection documenting the fearless creatures that went beyond training and duty to display selfless acts of devotion to man during wartime. Compiled from eyewitness accounts, each chapter reveals a startling act of heroism performed by a wide variety of mammals—including dogs, cats, a bear, and a donkey. Ranging from the Afghan wars of 1879 through World War I and World War II, maps and a wealth of archive photographs are used to place each inspirational tale in the context of the battle or campaign in which they occur. Uncovering new research and featuring previously classified material, these memorable accounts embrace history while celebrating the valiant deeds of man’s many, furry friends.

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Animals in the Great War (Images of War)

Animals in the Great War (Images of War) Paperback – June 26, 2017

Animals in the Great War throws a spot light on the experience of creatures great and small during the First World War, vividly telling their stories through the incredible archival images of the Mary Evans Picture Library. The enduring public interest in Michael Morpurgos tale of the war horse reveals an enthusiasm for the animal perspective on war, but what of the untold stories of the war dog, the trench rat or even the ships pig?

Through unrivaled access to rarely seen illustrated wartime magazines, books and postcards, discover the sea lions who were trained to detect submarines, and witness the carcass of the 61ft mine-destroying wonder whale. Meet the dog that brought a sailor back from the brink of death, and inspired a Hollywood legend. See how depictions of animals were powerfully manipulated by the propaganda machine on both sides, and how the presence of animals could bring much-needed and even lifesaving companionship and cheer amid the carnage of war.

As the centenary of the Great War is commemorated all over the world, take a timely journey via the lens of Mary Evans' wartime images, and marvel at the often overlooked but significant contribution and experience of animals at war. By turns astonishing, heartwarming and occasionally downright bizarre, Animals in the Great War champions the little-known story of the bison, the chameleon, the canary et al in wartime.

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