Following up on yesterday’s post about the Taliban’s dastardly plans to pit monkey mettle vs. the infidels, I got thinking about humanity’s tendency to enlist our animal friends in human wars. While animals were absolutely vital to pre-modern combat–war horses, Hannibal’s elephant, pack mules, homing pigeons–the advent of mechanized warfare has made animal contributions to human conflicts somewhat more rare. Still, the 20th century and the early 21st have seen their fair share of attempts to ace the enemy in hand-to-paw/flipper/wing combat. Dig, if you will:
The U.S.’s Bat Bombs – In the midst of WWII, someone got the bright idea to try to make a wide ranging cluster bomb out of hibernating bats, an empty bomb canister and small, bat-sized incendiary bombs to burn down Japanese villages. Yeah. Never got beyond the testing phase, due to it being a largely Rube Goldberg approach to a tactic that Curtis LeMay was having a lot of fun with in a more conventional, war-crimesy sort of way. Murdoc Online gives a nice summary of the book Bat Bomb that details the project.
Fake Ghost Foxes – In another effort to use animals to mess with the Japanese, American psy-ops (allegedly) went so far as to release ghostly dyed foxes off the coast of Japan with the aim of alarming the superstitious Japanese. Word has it the dye washed off before the foxes could stir up too much fear.
Post-Katrina Killer Dolphins – As if the storm surge, crumbling levees and marauding trigger-happy cops weren’t bad enough, rumor went around that some of the Navy’s dolphins got loose, dolphins that may or may not have been trained to kill with fin-mounted poison dart guns. Says accident investigator Leo Sheridan:
My concern is that they have learnt to shoot at divers in wetsuits who have simulated terrorists in exercises. If divers or windsurfers are mistaken for a spy or suicide bomber and if equipped with special harnesses carrying toxic darts, they could fire,’ he said. ‘The darts are designed to put the target to sleep so they can be interrogated later, but what happens if the victim is not found for hours?
Snopes rated this tale a ‘probably not’ but the Navy does acknowledge that it has trained dolphins for mine detection and port security. Just maybe not underwater assassinations. Check out our valiant fighting sea mammals at their 1996-tastic home page.
Anti-Panzer Dog Bombs – To combat the German’s speedy armored attacks, the Soviets came up with low-cost, low-tech guided bombs: dogs. In training, dogs were starved, then released to find food under Soviet tanks. In true Pavlovian form, the dogs began to associate the underside of tanks with food. From there, it was a simple matter of strapping a bomb to the dog and taking them out to the battlefield to assault the undersides of Nazi tanks with their suicide attacks. According to Damn Interesting, this tactic managed to take out 300 vehicles by 1942. The practice came to an end in that year, though, when a squad of dogs forced a Soviet division’s retreat when they, basically, went nuts. With bombs attached. Quite a mental picture.
This tactic has since been used, with less success, by insurgents in Iraq.
Stalin’s Ape-men – This is a bit of s a stretch because it unlike the bat bombs and the monkey gunner, it wasn’t even possible. Still, in the 1920s, a directive came on high to Soviet scientist Ilia Ivanov to create a race of half ape sorta-super soldiers. The orders called for human-ape hybrids that would possess “immense strength but with an underdeveloped brain” that were less susceptible to pain and hunger. As you might imagine, the attempt to create such ape-men was a little more than creepy:
His archived reports show the Pasteur Institute in Paris let him use a research station in Guinea, West Africa, for ape-breeding research.
And he wrote to the ruling Politburo: “The biggest problem is to catch living females.” Researchers learned to torch trees and chase apes into cages as they scampered down.
Ivanov reported that African women had been seized to be impregnated with ape sperm, but no pregnancy resulted. Female gorillas were set to receive human sperm. (via the Free Republic)
As you might recall, the ’20s was a time when Soviet science made a mad giddy break from the accumulated years of “capitalist science”, leading to other such innovations as devastating famines and a lot of real scientists getting shipped off to Siberia.