It may look like those animals are wearing jetpacks, but the truth is considerably grimmer. The history of warfare is rich with terrible ideas, but perhaps none are as out-the-gate disastrous as strapping an incendiary device to an enemy house cat and only praying it dutifully runs headfirst back to your foe’s fortress.
That’s precisely the tactic offered by the author of the 16th-century German manuscript Feuerwerkbuch ( Firework Book ), who optimistically assumed a cat will sit still long enough to allow you to attach a flaming pouch of doom to its back. German cannon expert Franz Helm described such a tactic in 1530( translation via The University of Pennsylvania ):
If you would like to get at a town or palace, seek to obtain a cat from that place. And bind the sack to the back of the cat, ignite it, let it glow well, and thereafter let the cat run, so it runs to the nearest castle or town, and out of fear it supposes to hide itself where it aims up in barn hay or straw it will be ignited .
As you can see from the illustration, bird bombs were also indicated. It’s unclear whether anybody ever attempted this uniquely depressing kind of war, but we’d like to think that someone willing to engage in such animal cruelty was rewarded with a cat who, upon being armed with flame, immediately freaked out and ran down the closest tunic.
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