Monday, January 15, 2024

Lions and Tigers and Bears! OH MY!


If I were to ask you what kind of animals served in the military what would your answer be? Dogs? Horses? Maybe some would think of Pigeons? You'd all be right, but you may be surprised by how many different kinds of animals have served in the military all over the world.

The title of this post may be a wee bit deceptive. The only tigers I could find that served (unofficially) was the Flying Tigers, a volunteer group of pilots who helped oppose the Japanese invasion into China.

I am a true-blue animal lover. My husband is the only thing that keeps our farm from being a zoo. So, saying that, I want to warn that some of these stories from history are a bit disturbing. I'll go through those quickly for all of us animal lovers.

History tells us that in 2500 BC a type of mule was used to pull war chariots.

Dogs have been used in war for thousands of years as well. In ancient Rome, dogs were used in battle. They were adorned with spike collars, given armor, and even trained to know their place in attack formations. They were trained to kill the enemy. In medieval times large dogs like the Great Danes and Mastiffs were used in battle to frighten the enemy's horses, causing them to throw their rider and making it easier for the knight to make his kill.

Painting depicting Ramses and lions
Ramses II lived in the 13th century BC. It is believed he had a pet lion that fought alongside him in the Battle of Kadesh. The Abu Simbel Temple has a relief statue of Ramses and his lion in the battle.

Large amounts of cattle and oxen have been used to stamped into the enemy's line, causing confusion and trampling.

In the year 266 BC it was reported that pigs were covered in a combustible material such as pitch, then lit on fire and sent into the enemy's camp. The armies used elephants in their warfare, and the squealing, flaming pigs frightened the elephants causing chaos and sending them trampling over their soldiers.

In 944, Olga of Kiev had her enemies pay her with three sparrow and three pigeons per household for killing her husband. The people thought they were getting off quite easily and willingly supplied her with the birds she'd asked for. Olga had her army tie a piece of sulfur and cloth around the leg of the birds. She then had her men set fire to the sulfur and release the birds. The birds were said to have flown back to their nest in the village starting fires throughout. There were so many fires it was impossible to extinguish them all. The people fled the burning village. Olga had her men kill many of the fleeing people and those they spared were given as slaves to her people.

Around 1000 AD the Chinese, fighting within, used monkeys as incendiary devices. They lit the monkey's tales on fire and sent them into the enemy's camp causing chaos and setting their tents on fire.

In WWII the Soviets strapped bombs to dogs to try and deter tanks. This proved to be an unsuccessful mission.

WWI the Germans saw Bill the goat. Bill was given to a soldier as a good luck charm. Mascots weren't allowed but he snuck him on anyway. The soldier took the goat wherever he went, eventually both of them seeing battle. Bill butted three soldiers into the trenches just seconds before a bomb exploded. Bill was wounded several times and even sustained shrapnel wounds which he survived. He was granted the rank of sergeant and was given several medals and commendations for his service.

Pigeons were used as surveillance in both WWI and WWII by using cameras attached to the birds. However, pigeon photography never proved to be successful.

But that doesn't mean that pigeons were of no use to the war efforts.
In 1918, 
while World War I was raging, a carrier pigeon who served for the U.S. Army flew an instrumental flight that saved lives. His name was Cher Ami and he was serving in France. He was part of Major Whittlesey's regiment of 550 men. It was October 3rd and the regiment was trapped in a low area on the side of a hill behind enemy lines, surrounded by Germans. But what was worse was they started taking on friendly fire by allied troops that didn't know they were there. Many were killed or wounded by the Germans bringing down their number to 194. A carrier pigeon was sent out with a first message, "Many wounded. We cannot evacuate." The first bird was shot down. A second pigeon and message was sent out, "Men are suffering. can support be sent?" This bird too was shot down. There was a miscommunication on where these troops were and they were thought to be on the north side of the ravine when in actuality they were on the south. This led to the friendly fire coming in thinking they were protecting Major Whittlesey's troops when in actuality they were firing on them. So, a third attempt at a carrier pigeon was sent. Cher Ami had a canister attached to his right leg and a note written on onion paper stating, "We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven's sake stop it." Unfortunately, as the bird took off out of the brush, the Germans saw him and shot him down. But Cher Ami would not be deterred. He succeeded in taking flight with his wounds and flew 25 miles to headquarters in just 25 minutes, saving the lives of the remaining 194 men. Cher Ami was a true hero, completing his duty even with his injuries of being shot through the breast, blinded in one eye, and a leg hanging on by a tendon. Medics worked to save the pigeon's life and when he recuperated enough to travel, he was sent by ship home to the United States. Sadly, Cher Ami ended up dying from his injuries. He was awarded several medals and was inducted into the Racing Pigeon Hall of Fame.

I did mention bears, there were actually two I found who served. One served as a mascot, but the other, Wojtek was purchased in 1942 by Polish soldiers from a young boy. The soldiers loved the bear and played with him like he was one of the troops. He was brought aboard a vessel headed to Italy during the Battle of Monte Cassino. They ran into a problem when the British were against keeping pet animals. So, they promoted Wojtek to Corporal making him an official soldier. This also meant that his meals would be provided for as one of the troops. Wojtek carried his weight and served faithfully. Besides being a morale booster, he helped the Polish Second Corps carry crates of missiles and delivering them to artillery batteries.

The military isn't limited by just land animals and birds of the sky. They also use dolphins, sea lions, beluga whales, and seals. The United States and Soviets have trained marine animals to rescue lost naval swimmers, guard ships against enemy divers, locate mines, and recover lost equipment.

Circus Elephants moving debris

So many different types of animals have 
been used by the military. Elephants were used in World War II to clear bomb damage. Mules and Donkeys have served in transportation. Dogs have been used in many different compacities, from sniffing out bombs, to finding wounded, to recovery of corpse. 

A homeless stray in London, Rip was used to sniff out people trapped under rubble after air raids.

One German Shepherd, Nemo, who served in the Vietnam War was credited with sniffing out an enemy hiding in their camp and saved his handler by killing the enemy. Nemo lost his eye in the battle but survived his injury. 


Cats, monkeys, ducks have all been used as mascots, helping to keep up morale. The list of different kinds of animals that have served in some compacity is really rather staggering.

I would be remiss and in trouble with many of my horse friends if I didn't mention
Sergeant Reckless Retirement Picture
a horse. So, I'll end this with Sergeant Reckless. She was purchased by the Marine Corps during the Korean War, taking her from her previous profession of racehorse. She was to serve with the Recoilless Rifle Platoon Antitank Company Fifth Marine Regiment. Sergeant Reckless's duties were to carry heavy ammunition and weapons, and lay down communication lines. She also trained for heavy combat. A horse who loved attention, she was left to mingle freely with the other troops. She was

said to eat anything given to her but her favorite was scrambled eggs and coke. She eventually made staff sergeant and retired with full honors.

Sergeant Reckless in the heat of battle.

What do you think? Did you learn anything from today's post? What did you find was the most unique animal that served? Did anything really shock you? 

Kirsten Macleod is in a bind. Her father’s last will and testament stipulates that she must either marry, lead the plantation into a first year profit, or forfeit it to her uncle. But marriage is proving no easy option. Every suitor seems more enamored with the land than with her. Until her handsome neighbor sweeps into her stable to the rescue… of her beloved horse.

Silas Westbrook’s last year at veterinary school ends abruptly when he is called home to care for his young orphaned sisters. Troubles compound when he finds an insurmountable lien on the only home they’ve ever known, and the unscrupulous banker is calling in the loan. The neighbor’s kind-hearted and beautiful stable girl, Krissy, provides the feminine influence the girls desperately need. If only he had a future to offer her. But to save his sisters from poverty, he should set his sights on Krissy’s wealthy relative Kirsten Macleod, the elusive new heiress. Surely this hard-working and unassuming young lady and the landowner could not be one and the same?

Debbie Lynne Costello is the author of Sword of Forgiveness, Amazon's #1 seller for Historical Christian Romance. She has enjoyed writing stories since she was eight years old. She raised her family and then embarked on her own career of writing the stories that had been begging to be told. She writes in the medieval/renaissance period as well as 19th century. She and her husband have four children and live in upstate South Carolina with their 4 dogs, 4 horses, miniature donkey, and 12 ducks. Life is good!


  1. Thank you for posting today, and Happy New Year to you and your family. I had no idea that so many and such varieties of animals and birds were used in battle. The idea of the pigeons setting fires boggled my mind a little! And flaming pigs isn't a picture I will soon forget.

    1. Hey Connie! Happy New Year to you as well! It was quite an enlightening research post for me as well. Amazing what so called civilized people come up with.

  2. This was really interesting! Thanks for posting.