Rocket Cat, 17th century (Source: Wikimedia Commons / Folger Shakespeare Library, Vb311, f. 129r)
“In a war, all means are good … if only they lead to victory” – This is how many commanders-in-chief once reasoned and still reason. Although this article will not raise the question of the justification or fallacy of such a concept, but will only demonstrate special cases of its manifestation in antiquity, in the Middle Ages and even in the recent past.
The Middle Ages were undoubtedly a very interesting period in history due to very strange inventions, many of which for reasonable reasons were forgotten. In an era when the state of war was considered completely normal, each nation sought to develop new military tactics and weapons that would give it an advantage over the enemy.
In the 16th century, one of the next inventions was a special type of weapon, which implied the attachment of combustible or explosive substances to animals. During the tests, it was found that cats and birds are best suited for such suicide missions.
Who invented this?
Behind this whole unhealthy idea was Franz Helm, an artilleryman and explosives specialist who lived in the first half of the 16th century. He fought in the armies of the Romans Carol V, Albert V, Louis X and William IV, which speaks of his rich military experience at a time when battles were already moving from the use of classic swords and shields to the then still simple, but already more effective firearms.
In 1535, Helm published a book based on his experiences in siege combat tactics, which he called Buch von den probierten Künsten (Book of the tried arts). In it you can find clear evidence of the use of cats and birds as weapons in those days…
Page from Helm’s book demonstrating the use of cats and birds to attack castles
At first, our modern historians did not understand what exactly was the point of using “cat-missiles” in medieval battles. It was possible to clarify this issue Mitch Frass, who more carefully studied the manuscripts left by Helm. Mitch is the Head of Special Collections and Research at the University of Pennsylvania.
Of course, the rocket cat is not actually a rocket, but they were nevertheless used to set fire to castles and settlements.
For this, a cat was abducted from the village, which had to be set on fire, and a bag with flammable material was then attached to its back. At the same time, a long wick was brought to the incendiary bag, which was enough for the cat to have time to return to where it was taken from. Upon its return, the animal caught fire and began to spread fire throughout the area, striking vast areas with fire, which was quite enough to distract the guards from the attack that followed.
Here is the relevant paragraph from the manuscript:
“Collect a small incendiary arrow-style bag … tie it to the cat’s back, light the fuse … and release it. She will run to the nearest castle or town and, under the influence of fear, hide in a barn with hay or straw, causing a fire ”(excerpt from“ Buch von den probierten Künsten ”).
Page from Helm’s book representing cats and birds used to attack castles
If you do not take into account the extreme cruelty of this concept, then from a military point of view, such tactics can be called ingenious. The same was done with birds, but it is more difficult to control them, and the effectiveness is significantly lower.
Why a rocket? If we do not consider the rocket as an unconditionally flying object, then we get something like a rocket cat without jet propulsion, but with an explosive effect.
Although the idea itself may not belong to Helm, because in historical records there are descriptions of such “cat-missiles” since biblical times. In those days, the animal was equipped with about three hundred fox tails, which were set on fire, making similar sabotage.
The idea of using animals as explosives was also implemented in the 12th century in China, where bulls were already set on fire to destroy bridges and other structures. The Chinese also used birds to set fire to defensive forts.
This tactic of battle cannot be attributed to the ancients, as it was also used in World War II. The Germans tied explosives to dogs, which detonated when approaching a tank or any defensive structure.
With all this, there is no iron evidence of such a use of cats in military tactics. However, knowing human nature and many chilling historical facts, as well as the fact that animals were used in military operations not so far from modern times, this can be considered true.