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16th-century manual shows 'rocket cat' weaponry


PHILADELPHIA (AP) - You're a 16th century German prince plotting to crush a peasant rebellion, or perhaps you're leading an army against the Ottoman Empire or looking to settle the score with a rival nobleman. What's a guy looking for a tactical edge to do?

Bring on the rocket cats!

Fanciful illustrations from a circa-1530 manual on artillery and siege warfare seem to show jet packs strapped to the backs of cats and doves, with the German-language text helpfully advising military commanders to use them to "set fire to a castle or city which you can't get at otherwise."

Digitized by the University of Pennsylvania, the unusual, full-color illustrations recently caught the attention of an Australian book blog and then found their way to Penn researcher Mitch Fraas, who set out to unravel the mystery.

"I really didn't know what to make of it," said Fraas, a historian and digital humanities expert at the Penn library. "It clearly looks like there's some sort of jet of fire coming out of a device strapped to these animals."

So were these unfortunate animals from the 1500s really wearing 20th-century technology?

Fraas' conclusion: No. Obviously.

The treatise in question was written by artillery master Franz Helm of Cologne, who was believed to have fought in several skirmishes against the Turks in south-central Europe at a time when gunpowder was changing warfare.

Circulated widely and illustrated by multiple artists, Helm's manual is filled with all sorts of strange and terrible imagery, from bombs packed with shrapnel to missile-like explosive devices studded with spikes - and those weaponized cats and birds.

According to Fraas' translation, Helm explained how animals could be used to deliver incendiary devices: "Create a small sack like a fire-arrow . if you would like to get at a town or castle, 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 go, so it runs to the nearest castle or town, and out of fear it thinks to hide itself where it ends up in barn hay or straw it will be ignited."

In other words, capture a cat from enemy territory, attach a bomb to its back, light the fuse and then hope it runs back home and starts a raging fire.

Fraas said he could find no evidence that cats and birds were used in early modern warfare in the way prescribed by Helm.

A good thing, too.

"Sort of a harebrained scheme," Fraas said. "It seems like a really terrible idea, and very unlikely the animals would run back to where they came from. More likely they'd set your own camp on fire."

'Rocket Cat' Weaponry Plans Found In 16th-Century War Manual

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jdwilleford March 08 2014 at 10:20 AM

Not as hare-brained as we might think. The US developed a "bat bomb" to attack Japan during WWII.


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guitarmaui March 08 2014 at 6:01 PM

Disgusting! How cruel, he should have it done to himself and see how he likes it. ONe has to eventually answer to the suffering of others.

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2 replies
Larry Lang guitarmaui March 08 2014 at 6:06 PM

He's probably dead by now.

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1 reply
phuchu Larry Lang March 08 2014 at 6:28 PM

Dead?? I didn't even know he was sick.

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meflouis guitarmaui March 08 2014 at 6:24 PM

Did you forget about the suicide bombers, the muslim terroists

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almasearch March 08 2014 at 11:11 AM

They didn't have HSUS or ASPCA back then....

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guitarmaui March 08 2014 at 6:00 PM

disgusting to say the least! They should have it done to themselves, one has to answer for the cruelty done to others!
It's like a "Kama Kazi" death or terrorist plot!

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2 replies
phuchu guitarmaui March 08 2014 at 6:29 PM

Clearly a case of the Kamikaze Kitty.

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juststeve35 guitarmaui March 08 2014 at 6:34 PM

More like Kamakatzi, if you ask me...

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1 reply
chaparita0728 juststeve35 March 08 2014 at 7:00 PM

Or Katakazi

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loamylam March 08 2014 at 11:22 AM

UGH! There were no limits for the Merchants of Death in those times as there are no limits for them today. They're as evil today as they were then. Simply different titles, names and positions, but they all make their imaginary empires using their wicked ploys of destruction.

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abcaid March 08 2014 at 5:44 PM

katzen raketen ja...das ist gut.

The stories about life stock used in combat are abundant in military history, no surprise here.

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rwilliamhoward March 08 2014 at 11:25 AM

Can this be a 15th Century SIFI book? Everything written down then WAS NOT religious or war based. We tend to place great stock in old, OLD writings. Just think... They will WORSHIP Izac Azimof in 500 years! If there's any of his works left. Todays' PAPER self-destructs with the only acceleant needed being TIME!

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2 replies
vgulch rwilliamhoward March 08 2014 at 11:41 AM

I think you have the answer here. I found a SIFI book from the early 1800's by the name of "Rocket to the Moon." It was profusely illustrated and detailed.

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stevfrly rwilliamhoward March 08 2014 at 11:42 AM


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kastmaster2105 March 08 2014 at 5:23 PM

The book is where ''Jet Pack Man'' got his idea

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sghenry4 March 08 2014 at 11:27 AM

I believe the Russians invented the dog mine during WWII when they trained German Shepherds with bombs on their back to run under tanks. The problem was that they used Russian tanks in their training and, therefore, forced a battalion of Russians in retreat on the first day in practice. The idea was abandoned.

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1 reply
PamieJune sghenry4 March 08 2014 at 11:56 AM

Seriously? That's hilarious.

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Steve March 08 2014 at 5:19 PM


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