Animals are smarter than many people realize, and they can learn to do all sorts of stuff. That's why so many creatures have been domesticated — but it's also why people have tried, over and over, to send animals to war. Here's a history of animal soldiers, in pictures.

Pigeons As Photographers

This aerial photography technique was invented in 1907 by the German apothecary Julius Neubronner. He used pigeons to deliver medications for long time, so he had a simple idea: what if he fits the pigeon with a miniature camera on an aluminium breast harness? First he used the Ticka watch camera, but later developed lighter and better ones.

The double camera had two lenses pointing in opposite directions, but he made a stereoscopic camera and a panoramic camera, too.

The doves lived in a small carriage that combined a darkroom with a dovecote.

The Prussian Army was interested on the technique, so they made some tests with the flying animals, during the Battle of Verdun or the Battle of the Somme — but after WWI, the Prussian War Ministry didn't want to experiment any further.

Christian Adrian Michel's camera

In the 1930s, though, the Swiss Army and the Germans made more research: in 1937 a Swiss clockmaker, Christian Adrian Michel successfully made a 16mm film camera with a timer operated by a clockwork. During WWII, the Russian Army discovered abandoned German trucks with pigeon cameras that could take photos every five minutes.

During the 1970s, the CIA developed a battery-powered pigeon camera, and used it for a short time. On their first few flights, most birds would return with a film full of soft-focus, black-and-white shots of them and their mates pouting and holding cigarettes.


(via Wikimedia Commons, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, German Federal Archives, CIA, Novacon and Modern Mechanics, February 1932)

The Pigeon Post of Paris

In the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, homing pigeons carried up to 50,000 microfilmed telegrams per flight from Tours to Paris.

(via CIX and Microscopy UK)

Dolphin Defenders

These awesome creatures have been used since the Vietnam War by the American Navy, but the Soviet Navy had some until the fall of the Soviet Union, as well. In 2000, the Russians sold their military dolphin project to Iran.

These mammals can detect underwater mines, and some of them are also trained to apprehend waterborne attackers around military bases. Oh, and the Ukranian Navy just lost three of them back in March.

(via US Navy and Sergei Svetlitsky/Associated Press)

Operation Kuwaiti Field Chicken (KFC), 2003

The U.S Marines used a really low-tech detection device to find chemical weapons in Kuwait: chickens. This was the easiest way to keeping troops safe from dangerous gases. 41 or 43 chickens were deployed to the Gulf — but all of them died within a week.

(via Mink/Flickr)

Cats As Super Spies

In the 1960s, the CIA started the Operation Acoustic Kitty – they implanted a microphone into those little furry creatures' ear canals, a radio transmitter at the base of their skulls, and a thin wire antenna to their long fur. The CIA spent over $20 million, but the project failed. After the first spy-cat was released, it was immediately killed by a taxi.

The Acoustic Kitty project was cancelled in 1967.

(via A CIA Memo, 1967 and Today I Found Out)

Bat bombs

This idea came from a Pennsylvanian dentist named Lytle S. Adams in 1942. The bombs had Mexican Free-tailed Bats inside, with an attached small-timer bomb. The animals hibernated in the canister, and only woke up in the falling weapon. At 1,000 ft. above the ground, the bomb opened, and the bats were flying in a 20-40 mile radius to houses made of wood and paper. The first tests were successful, but the program was cancelled in 1944 by Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King.

(via Wikimedia Commons and UC Santa Barbara Department Of Geography)

Trained gerbils against terrorists

The Israelis placed gerbil cages at the security checkpoints of the Tel Aviv airport. A fan sent the scent of people into the gerbils' cage, and the small rodents pressed a lever if they detected a high amount of adrenaline. Later, the MI5 wanted to adapt the technology at British airports, but unfortunately, the animals couldn't discern between terrorists and passengers who were scared of flying.

(via Wikimedia Commons/Gophi)

Anti-tank dogs

Some dogs were trained by the Soviet and Russian military forces between the 1930s and 1996 to carry explosives to tanks, bunkers and other military targets. They were used in WWII against German tanks and bunkers full with Germans.

No question — the dogs died during the explosions. And there isn't any data about the efficiency of using these poor dogs. But Soviet sources wrote that circa 300 German tanks had been damaged in this way.

(via War Writing and Yuri Pasholok/Primeportal)

Wojtek, the Soldier Bear

A small Syrian brown bear cub was found in 1942 by an Iranian boy and sold to Polish soldiers. The bear named Wojtek liked beer, and loved eating and smoking cigarettes, too. He enjoyed wrestling and carried mortar shells during the Battle of Monte Cassino.