The war manual of a 16th Century German artillery master shows jetpacks strapped to backs of cats and doves.
The fanciful illustrations of the rocket cats in a manual belonging to Franz Helm of Cologne dates back to about 1530, when gunpowder was changing European warfare.
Strapped with explosives, the cats and birds could “set fire to a castle or city which you can’t get at otherwise,” says the German-language text.
A prince of Germany at the time was perhaps plotting to lead an army against the powerful Ottoman empire. Helm is thought to have led several battles against the Turks in south-central Europe.
His manual contains illustrations of devices that resemble missiles and bombs, some studded with spikes like a Naval mine.
University of Pennsylvania researcher Mitch Frass translated part of the text where Helm explains how animals could be used to deliver incendiary devices to the enemy.
“Create a small sack like a fire-arrow,” Helm wrote. “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.”
Fraas says, however, there is no evidence that animals were used in 16th Century warfare the way Helm described.
It wasn’t the greatest idea anyway, Frass explained.
“Sort of a harebrained scheme,” he 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.”