“Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war...” ~ Mark Antony, Act 3, Scene 1 Julius Caesar by Shakespeare
When we consider how much is given to keep our country and world safe by our troops, the more we realize just how much a debt is owed to so few by so many.
While our men and women in uniform are truly exceptional, there are other warriors who have displayed exceptionalism too however, and I’d like to introduce you to a few who for so long were considered ‘equipment’ and never given recognition they deserved except by those who worked with them.
Of course, I am talking about animals which have served our troops since before World War 1.
Before we get to some of the more ‘famous’ warrior animals next week, a little ‘did you know’ is in order.
For instance, dogs have been used in warfare for centuries- In a place called Lydia, which was in modern day Turkey, the first written account of using dogs in war was recorded. Alyattes, the first ruler of the small kingdom reportedly used packs of dogs on Cimmerian troops in a battle sometime around 600 BC and reportedly the dogs were particularly effective against enemy cavalry.
The Romans also routinely deployed their own war dogs. The Molossian was the legion’s preferred breed and was specially bred for combat.
Spanish conquistadors favored a mixed breed of deer hound and mastiff and even outfitted the dogs with padded armor and spiked collars for use in the New World. The Spaniards would typically release the dogs once an enemy formation was just about to break as Native American tribes were terrified of the large and ferocious dogs. The dogs were so feared that Ponce De Leon reportedly used a pack of them to put down a slave rebellion in Puerto Rico.
Did you know that the Navy still uses trained dolphins and sea lions ?
From it’s inception in 1965, the Marine Mammal Program has gone through many changes and with the end of the Cold War, the government reduced the budget for the program, and in the 90’s, the program was declassified, but they are still in use to help and protect our Navy, Marines and other forces.
With the cutbacks and the declassification of the program, the Navy considered returning the dolphins to the wild but found it more harmful to the dolphins than captivity. After numerous attempts to find marine parks or sanctuaries for their retired dolphins, they have kept them at their own facilities, caring for them for the rest of their natural lives.
Even though drones are being used more and more, dolphins and sea lions are still trained over a number of years and then deployed in vulnerable harbors, marking the mines and even scuba divers to either clear or capture. They mark divers by attaching devices to their scuba tanks or limbs which brings them to the surface and mark mines by attaching a cable or buoy to the mine.
These mammals have been deployed in the past to Vietnam, the Persian Gulf to protect US Flagships from enemy divers and mines. They also escorted Kuwaiti oil tankers through dangerous waters. Dolphins and their handlers can deployed ahead of an amphibious landing group and indicate safe routes for our forces.
Dolphins were also used in Operation Enduring Freedom to guard ships against enemy swimmers and locate and mark mines. The Navy also uses whales and sea lions in their programs
Elephants have been used in warfare since ancient times. Elephant units were first incorporated in militaries in India, but throughout history many famous generals including Hannibal and Alexander the Great used elephants to terrify and crush their enemies.
War elephants were used to carry heavy artillery and other equipment before tanks and helicopters were used. For battles, they were usually deployed in the center of the line, where they could charge at up to 20 mph toward the enemy. They were also used to carry heavy materials across difficult terrain before tanks and helicopters were an option.
One advantage of using elephants over horses is that elephants could navigate infantry lines bearing spears much better and weren’t afraid of them. Enemies were more likely to break lines flee from elephants as well-who’d want to face a charging elephant?? Canon fire was the only threat which made elephants impractical for war. Their thick hides could repel most musket fire, but made them a huge target for cannons in more ways than one.
Elephants have been used as recently as 1987 when Iraqi troops allegedly used them to transport heavy weaponry for use in Kirkuk.
Pigs have been recorded in ancient sources as one of the best weapons against war elephants. Romans and Alexander the Great made use of them in campaigns when enemies had elephants, because the speed and squealing hogs terrified elephants.
In 266 BC it was recorded that pigs were doused with combustible pitch, crude oil or resin and set on fire then loosened on elephants. The elephants supposedly turned in terror from the flaming, squealing pigs, killing large numbers of their own soldiers by trampling them to death.
Now I bet folks didn’t know that bats were used by the US against Japan during World War II. They made bat bombs. Each bomb would contain 26 trays that each held 40 hibernating bats. Each bat was meant to be outfitted with an individual incendiary device that was set to detonate after a specified amount of time.
The bombs could deploy their own parachutes, giving the bats time to fly out and look for places to roost. The US was planning on dropping hundreds of the bombs over Japan’s industrial cities causing wide spread fires of the country’s paper and wood buildings. Thankfully for the bats, but not for Japan, the project was ultimately scrapped and they used the atomic bomb instead.
Horses of course, and of course most horse units were transitioned in the lead up to World War II when machines could be used, and almost every U.S. horse unit has been shut down. But, there is still an active horse patrol in the U.S. Air Force. At Vandenberg Air Force Base, police have to clear launch pads and the surrounding area during missile launches and some of the area is too rough for ATVs.
Also, horse patrols cover both the rough mountains and environmentally sensitive beaches where ATVs and other vehicles can’t go. The U.S. also trains Marines and Special Forces to ride horses and other animals for certain operations.
Next week we’ll salute some very special four footed & hoofed Soldiers!
God Bless all our troops and Veterans. Thank you for our freedom.