Thursday, May 22, 2008

Animals at War - Cats

So, we've touched upon the role of horses, mules, donkeys and elephants, but did you know the part that cats played?

Persian forces brought cats with them when they fought the Egyptians. Knowing the reverence Egyptians had for cats, the Persians "littered" the battle field with them, forcing the Egyptians to choose between harming a deity or winning the war. The Egyptians laid down their arms.

Cats are not known for being open to much training, but one Russian cat named Mourka spent the better part of the siege of Stalingrad relaying messages about German troop movements between Soviet scouts and headquarters. How they managed to make Mourka such a reliable messenger is unclear, but in a time when food was scarce and many people starved, making Mourka's "home base" the kitchen at headquarters, may have been a factor.

Trench warfare was a miserable truth in WWI and WWII. Breeding grounds of disease and death, the wet, the smell and infestations of rats and mice made the experience even more unbearable. In hopes of mitigating some of the unpleasantness, Britain shipped more than 500 to the trenches of France. Their primary role was to keep down the rat and mice population, but they were also used for a "canary in the coal mine" purpose. The cat's acute sense of smell would quickly alert them to the presence of deadly or debilitating gases. If the soldiers saw a cat high-tailing it, they knew to go for the gas masks. Cats in the trenches happened to serve another purpose which the British High Command may not have planned for. They gave comfort and companionship to the war weary men they served with.

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