Horses, Camels, Bees, and Pigeons in Animal Warfare
Horses were probably the first animals to experience war in ancient times. Since then camels, carrier pigeons,elephants, mules, bats, and bees have all seen combat in some form. Part II of The Bats and Bees of War examines the roles of snakes, dogs, bottlenose dolphins, seals,squirrels, monkeys, snakes, and biological warfare.
Horses and Mules
Humans first domesticated horses in modern-day Kazakhstan 5,500 years ago. As horses spread across Eurasia, armies found ways to use them in warfare. The ancient Chinese and Egyptians used horse-drawn chariots as stable fighting platforms long before stirrups and saddles were invented.
Mules were also important in carrying supplies, food, and weapons for the armies. The ancient Roman legions marched with one mule for every 10 Roman legionaries. Napoleon Bonaparte rode a mule across the Alps and also used them in his baggage trains. During World War I, the US army used 571,000 horses and mules in Europe. About 68,000 of those were killed in action. Even today, US Special forces and marines use them as pack animals in the remote Afghanistan outposts in the mountains.
The sheer size of these animals has long been an intimidating force against enemy armies. Elephants can cause devastation on enemy troop formations by trampling and impaling soldiers with their tusks. Armies often mounted their archers and javelin throwers on these living tanks. Alexander the Great first encountered elephants during his conquests and eventually their use spread to the Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans.
The Arabs found camels useful in the desert climes of North Africa and the Middle East. Their stench reportedly spooked horses. Arab warriors used camels during the Muslim conquests. The British general, Lawrence of Arabia, and the Arab forces used them during World War I.
The ancient Greeks and Romans catapulted beehives over the walls of towns under siege. During the Middle Ages, attackers continued to launch beehives over castle walls. The same technique was used as recently as World War I and the Vietnam War. Most recently US scientists have trained bees to search out land mines.
The homing ability and navigational skills of carrier pigeons made these birds heroes of both World War I and World War II. The Allies used as many as 200,000 pigeons during the first World War, and one of these birds named Cher Ami earned the French “Crois de Guerre” for delivering 12 messages between fortresses in the Verdun, France region. During the D-Day invasion of the second World War, Allied soldiers maintained radio silence and relied on another group of 32 pigeons to send messages. This birds also became decorated heroes with the British Dickin medal for animal valor.