In times of war, these animal soldiers defy themselves

When we imagine animals mobilized against their will in wars, we naturally think of horses that are essential for the transport of soldiers and ammunition, but also for pulling heavy cannons. Historians estimate that 11.5 million horses (donkeys and mules included) participated in World War I, all armies combined.

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Dogs, cats, pigeons … Horses were not the only ones walking in front. “These animals, essential to the war effort, made it possible to save many lives”Florentin Letissier insisted during her speech to the city council in the 14th arrondissement of Paris in 2018, a few days before affixing a memorial plaque to war animals in the district.

A military medal was specially created in 1943 in England to honor war animals. A total of 68 medals have been awarded since the start – one cat, five horses, 30 dogs and 32 pigeons. Most of the decorations were awarded to farms during World War II.

Today, war animals in Europe are fortunately an endangered species. GEO takes a look back at five animal species that have become soldiers and that through times and wars have fought – and still fight – for humans.

Dogs, multifunctional soldiers

Fight, guard, courier, tracking, even anti-tank dogs … In addition to keeping soldiers company, dogs are true allies in the front line. The first traces of war dogs go back to antiquity.

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During World War I, messages and medicine were hung on their backs and they carried certain light weapons. The dogs have civil status, military booklet, identity badge and equipment. They are also particularly useful for finding buried people, thanks to their hearing properties. During the Great War, nearly 100,000 dogs would have perished.

Dogs fire machine guns of the Belgian army during the First World War. Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Today, dogs are still used by the military. The largest military kennel in Europe is also in France, in Suippes (Marne), where the 132nd Infantry Regiment has trained dogs since 1794. However, some of these dogs are used by the customs administration and some municipal policies, note. The world.

According to 30 million friendsIn 2016, there were almost 500 dogs engaged in the various dog units – 450 in the Army, 12 in RAID and 4 in GIGN.

The spy cat, half cat, half machine

In the midst of the Cold War, all means are good for US intelligence to spy on the USSR. Make yourself a spy cat, remembers the American monthly newspaper Atlantic Ocean. Code name: Acoustic Kitty or Acoustic Kitty.

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This multi-million dollar CIA project, developed in the 1960s, consisted of implanting microphones in the cat’s ears and radio transmitters in its tail. The cat then had to be released at strategic locations.

But the first test was not conclusive: the spy cat, which was unleashed near the Russian embassy in Washington, was run over by a taxi. The project ends up being abandoned after a few years. “Our last review of the trained cats convinced us that the program would not be suitable in any practical sense for our highly specialized needs,” reads a declassified official note. “The work done over the years is an honor to the staff who performed it, whose energy and imagination could serve as models for pioneers in science”.

Dolphins that detect explosives

Sea animals are also used in wartime. The dolphins were trained by the USSR and the United States, still during the Cold War era, especially to detect underwater mines and suspicious objects near ships, and even to plant explosives.

“Dolphins have the most sophisticated sonar known to science. They find lighter mines and other potentially dangerous objects on the ocean floor that are difficult to detect with electronic sonar.”, explains on its website the Naval Information Warfare Center, which administers the U.S. Navy Mammal Program. Launched in 1959, this program is in the final stages of completion: “One day it may be possible to carry out these missions with underwater drones, but for now the technology is not up to the animals.”writes the U.S. Navy.

In Russia, there was never any talk of stopping the training of dolphins. When Russian forces annexed Crimea in 2014, they monopolized the Sevastopol base, where the Ukrainian army trained these marine mammals for military missions.

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In 2016, Moscow bought five new dolphins, which joined this center, and in 2019, a beluga with a harness stamped “Saint Petersburg” was found in Norwegian waters.

A soldier trains a white whale at the Marine Mammal Training Center in Sevastopol, Ukraine, on April 15, 1992. Wojtek Laski / Getty Images

Pigeons, messengers, suicide bombers, spies

Letter pigeons played a significant role in communication during the First World War. If the estimates are inaccurate, France would have used 60,000 pigeons, the British 100,000. Many succumbed to gas and enemy fire.

These birds could also serve as spies. They were then equipped with a harness on which a camera with automatic firing of shots was hung every 10 seconds, France 3 Grand Est explains.

British soldiers release a carrier pigeon from its basket during World War II, October 25, 1940. David Savill / Topical Press Agency / Getty Image

During World War II, when Americans sought to design bomb control systems, they naturally thought of … pigeons. Project Pigeon, also called Project Ocron, consisted of installing these birds in the warhead of bombs. By means of specific training, a sight and a control device, they would be able to steer the missile towards a specific target and would therefore be “kamikaze pigeons”.

The Pigeon project will never succeed. It was abandoned in 1944 when new technologies such as radar were developed.

Elephant making, an ancient martial art

War elephants have stood with man on the battlefield for thousands of years and have been an important, if not common, weapon in military history. They terrorized the opponent, trampled him and carried heavy burdens.

They were mostly used in antiquity. In Asia, the Chinese and Indians used it on the front long before Hannibal crossed the Alps in 218 BC. AD, during the Punic Wars. A testament to its success, the use of war elephants in Eastern and European armies continued for at least a thousand years, writes The Thread of History.

Illustration published in 1942 of war elephants fighting during the Burmese-Siamese war, between 1568-1570. Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

As warfare became mechanized and the power of firearms developed, the use of war elephants gradually declined in the 20th century. Pachyderms are still used in Asia to transport loads, whether it is ammunition or building materials, especially during World War II until the Vietnam War.

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