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he Medieval era is without a doubt the most interesting time in history due to the very strange creations from which many have been forgotten for good reasons. In an era where war became something quite standard, every nation was trying to develop new military tactics and weaponry that would give them the edge towards conquering their enemies.

In the early 17th century a new type of weapon was created that had the idea of attaching explosives to animals, but during the trial phase, it seemed that cats and birds were the best at suicide missions.

Who came up with the concept?

The man behind the sick concept is Franz Helm who was a master of explosives and early artillery from the 16th and 17th centuries. He fought in the armies of Roman Carol V, Albert V, Ludovic X, and William IV. This represents that he had a lot of combat experience during a period of time when combat was starting to evolve from the classical sword and shield to more advanced combat using early period fire weapons.

In 1535 Helm actually published a book based on his experience and expertise with the war of besiegement entitled “Buch von den probierten Künsten” (translated from German: Book of arts Practiced). In this old book, we find evidence of cats and birds being used as weapons during that contemporary era.

A page from Helm’s book representing cats and birds being used to destroy castles (Source: Atlas Obscura)

At first, modern historians didn’t really understand exactly what was the purpose of the rocket cat within medieval warfare, that was until Mitch Frass took a better look at the manuscripts left behind by Helm. Mitch Frass is the director of special collections and research services from the University of Pennsylvania.

Animals as explosive devices

The Rocket cat isn’t actually a flying rocket, but it was used to set castles and settlements on fire. The way it would work is a cat from the settlement you want to burn would be taken, then a bag would be strapped on its back and filled up with incendiary material. A longer fuse would be attached so that the cat would have time to reach the settlement before it would burn alive. Once the cat would catch on fire it would spread the fire all around the settlement, causing a major fire, enough to distract the guards from any potential foes attacking the settlement.

Here is the paragraph from the manuscript that sort of explains the process mentioned above:

“Create a small sack like a fire-arrow … bind the sack to the back of the cat, ignite it…and thereafter let the cat go, so it runs to the nearest castle or town, and out of fear it thinks to hide where it ends up in barn hay or straw it will be ignited.” (taken from Buch von den probierten Künsten)

A page from Helm’s book representing cats and birds being used to destroy castles (Source: Bizzarrobazar)

Besides the cruelty of the concept, from a military perspective, the tactic is ingenious. The same thing was done with birds, but they were more difficult to control and a lot less effective. If we take out the idea of a rocket flying, it is sort of like a rocket cat without the propulsive effect but only the explosive effect.

Although Helm may not actually be the creator of this concept, as within historical records there have been texts describing such a “rocket cat” from biblical times. In those times the cat would be dressed with around 300 tails of foxes which would be set on fire for the same effect.

The whole idea of using animals as explosives was also very prominent during the 12th century in China where bulls would be set on fire in order to burn down bridges and other structures. Birds were also used by them too in order to set fire to defensive forts.

We cannot call this ancient technology as it was used during the Second World War. Germans would strap explosives on dogs which would be detonated once they would get near a tank or any defensive structure. There is no hard evidence as far as it goes that cats were actually used like this, but knowing mankind and our gruesome history whilst taking into consideration the use of animals in war within modern history, I would say that this seems very true.

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