The manual was digitized by the University of Pennsylvania. Have the experts studying the manual uncovered a rather alarming use of felines and birds during the 1500s? The skilfully drawn cats and doves have jet packs strapped to them.
One of the manual’s most compelling images is a colorful drawing of a castle. The imagery shows a bird flying through the air toward the castle, seemingly being controlled by a powerful jet pack. On the ground below the bird is an equally out of control cat. The cat is bounding past the castle, also with a fiery jet pack strapped to its back.
Another thought-provoking image is a black and white drawing of a cat and a dove in close proximity to one another. Above the cat and the bird, two hooves of a horse also make it onto the picture. Both creatures have jet packs strapped to their backs. The devices are bellowing out smoke and look as though they are about to propel the bemused animals into another kingdom.
The purpose of the intriguing images seems to be clarified through the German text which advises military personnel to: “Set fire to a castle or city which you can’t get at otherwise.”
The manual was written by Franz Helm, an artillery master of Cologne. It is believed Helm fought in several battles in southern Europe against the Turks.
Weapon-born cats and birds are not the only strange illustrations in Helm’s manuscript. The treatise is thought to have been widely circulated with a number of artists contributing to the book’s illustrations. Other terrible imagery includes explosive devices studded with spikes and bombs packed with shrapnel.
These bright, playful and thoroughly unique drawings caught the attention of Mitch Frass, a researcher at the Penn Library. Bemused by the meaning of the drawings, Fraas admitted that he “didn’t really know what to make of it”.
The air-borne, jet-powered animal pictures have been associated with gunpowder. Gunpowder was deployed in warfare and effective artillery during the 15th century. By the 17th century, firearms had started to dominate early modern warfare in Europe.
In translating the text, Fraas Helm describes how animals could be used to deliver explosive devices. In a rather long-winded explanation, the 16th century artillery master spoke of how rebels could capture a cat or bird from the enemy, attach an explosive to the creature, light the fuse then pray it returns to enemy territory before the bomb goes off. Fraas also admits he could find no evidence that such practices occurred in early modern warfare.
As original as the 16th century drawings might seem, just two millennium later animals were being used in warfare. During World War II it is said that Russia used dogs to blow up enemy tanks.
It has been reported that in 1924 the Russian Military Council decided to use dogs to aid military operations. A specialist dog training camp was set up in Moscow. During the Second World War, Russia strapped explosives to the backs of dogs and then sent them under the tank where the bomb would be detonated.
Here at Top Secret Writers we like to cover stories about how ancient drawings help us gauge a deeper understanding of history and ancient cultures.
The 16th century warfare manual certainly provides evidence of how artillery experts were depicting the path warfare was going to take in the 1500s. What’s most worrying is the fact that the Russians actually went ahead and used animals laden with explosives to help defeat the enemy in battle. Could this happen today? What are your thoughts?
(1) Matt Rourke/AP