The Reader's Companion to Military History
edited by Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker
Dozens of experts contributed articles on
Joan of Arc
Women in war
Alexander the Great
Animals have been humanity's wartime allies since the dawn of historyand probably before. A surprisingly wide range of specieshorses, elephants, dogs, and birds among themhave served in a variety of roles: as beasts of burden, mounts, guards and alarms, messengerseven as weapons.
Doubtless the most important animals of war have been the least remarkable: the necessary legions of pack and draft animals. Before the internal combustion engine, armies depended on animals in staggering numbers. In the seventeenth century an authority calculated that a modest artillery train of 15 cannon required 490 horses to pull the equipment alonemore would be required for the 239 wagons carting powder, shot, odd tools and supplies, and the officers' personal effects. And these horse-drawn wagons represented only one-quarter of the 944 needed by even a small European army of 15,000 men. In 1799 a joint Anglo-Indian army traveled with at least 85,000 bullocks, their route of march covering an area of eighteen square miles; in 1897 another British force in India, of 44,000 men, still required 60,000 draft animals. And what was an army's single greatest supply item by volume? Fodder for all the animalsa logistical fact through World War I.
But animals have also served on the front lines. Before the medieval invention of the horse collar made it an efficient draft animal, the horse was bred almost exclusively for war, hunting, and racingthe horse was considered the war animal par excellence from the end of the Bronze Age (when the chariot revolutionized warfare) through the nineteenth century. Armies only grudgingly gave up horses after World War I and still retain them for crack ceremonial units. Other animals have carried men into battle. The armies of the Arab conquest found that strong-smelling camels spooked opposing Byzantine cavalry horses and could carry them through deserts impenetrable to their enemies in order to deliver surprise attacks. Elephantsaggressive as well as huge with crews of archers, javelin throwers, and pikementerrorized the battlefields of the ancient world from Numidia to Burma. Their mahouts often carried a hammer and spike to pierce the animal's spinal cord should the beast, maddened by wounds, dust, noise, and strange smells, swerve from the enemy and plunge toward friendly ranks.
The dogs of war have been more than a phrase. Ancient Greeks occasionally used dogs in battle, and Spanish conquistadores hunted Peruvian Indians with mastiffs. In World War II the Soviet army trained dogs, with antitank mines strapped to their backs, to seek out Nazi tanks; but when released on the battlefield, the dogs indiscriminately aimed for Russian tanks as well. Dogs have been more successfully trained to sniff out land mines and have most often been used as guard animals. During the Peloponnesian War the barking of a dog named Sorter alerted Corinth to a sneak attack: the grateful citizens erected a monument to Sorter and forty-nine other canine guards, all civic heroes.