Yes, you’ve read it right – rocket cats. Or birds, it seems. This was an idea explored in the treatise of the “Feuer Buech” (1584) manuscript as a form of siege warfare weapon.
As per the manuscript, the idea was to strap bags of early explosives on to a cat taken from the city under siege, bring it close to the city walls, and set it on fire. The unfortunate, flaming rocket cats would try to hide, usually in a familiar home or under a pile of hay. In the process, they would ignite anything flammable on their way there. Needless to say, this rarely ended well for the poor rocket cats.
“To set fire to a castle or city which you can’t get at otherwise”. This section details how to use doves and cats loaded with flammable devices to set fire to enemy positions. On cats the text paints a grisly picture of attaching lit sacks of incendiaries onto the animals to have them return to their homes and set fire to them. In my awkward translation:
“Create a small sack like a fire-arrow … if you would like to get at a town or castle, seek to obtain a cat from that place. And bind the sack to the back of the cat, ignite it, let it glow well and thereafter let the cat go, so it runs to the nearest castle or town, and out of fear it thinks to hide itself; where it ends up in barn, hay or straw will be ignited.”
– Mitch Fraas
Although we cannot be certain if rocket cats were used successfully on the field of battle by the Germans who wrote the manuscript, there are multiple citations of incendiary-bearing rocket cats and birds: from a 3rd century BCE Sanskrit text, the Russian Primary Chronicle, early Scandinavian sources, and an early modern history of Genghis Khan. This makes it even more plausible that rocket cats, or at least the idea of them, have a long (if impurrfect) history as siege warfare weapons. Birds, too, seem to have been used similarly, according to the Russian Primary Chronicle:
“Olga requested three pigeons and three sparrows from each household. Upon their receipt, her men attached rags dipped in sulphur to the feet of each bird. When the birds returned to their nests, they lit the city on fire and the Derevlians perished in their homes.Olga’s vengeance was now complete.” The Russian Primary chronicle : Laurentian text, (Mediaeval Academy of America,1953), p.81.
Weaponised animals in recent history
Anti-tank dogs were intensively trained by the Soviet and Russian military forces between 1930 and 1996, and used in 1941–1942 against German tanks in World War II. Originally trained to drop bombs and retreat, many were simply blown up themselves. The U.S. military also trained anti-tank dogs in 1943 for use against fortifications, but never deployed them. Sounds ruff. ..
Rocket cats manuscript – extra pages
We thought that rocket cats were quite an interesting and unheard of siege warfare weapon, but we also enjoyed seeing the rest of the illustrations and wanted to share them with you. The gallery below has a small selection of the manuscripts’ pages. So, think of us next time its raining rocket cats and dogs, and don’t forget to share and subscribe…
You can see the whole of the manuscript the Penn Library’s website