The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Daily Blast

March 7, 2014

Ottoman Empire looked to rocket cats for tactical edge

— PHILADELPHIA — 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."

Text Only
Daily Blast

Ask Izzy
Pet of the week

Oddly Enough
Going Dutch

Fantasy Front Office
Guess Who
  • Guess Who! Week 29!

    There he was, this 66-year-old grandfather of four, hanging 200 feet above the jungle canopy, under which may have been slithering boa constrictors, Burmese pythons or the odd tarantula. “If I fell down,” this resident of Montour County says, “I’m in there dealing with bugs and snakes and whatever.” His goal earlier this month was to hang on

    Continued ...
    Anonymous The Daily Item Fri, July 18
    Jul 18, 2014 1 Photo
  • Guess Who! Week 28 ID'd!

    1, 2, 3 ... . This Lancaster County native’s job was to count every Allegheny Mountain dusky salamander he saw in every square yard of that expansive swamp off Interstate 79 in Crawford County.

    Continued ...
    Anonymous The Daily Item Mon, July 21
    Jul 18, 2014 1 Photo
  • Guess Who! Week 28! Jul 11, 2014 1 Photo
  • Guess Who! Week 27 ID'd! Jul 11, 2014 1 Photo
  • Guess Who! Week 27! Jul 4, 2014 1 Photo

Headline This! - Contest

Outshoot the Experts! - Contest

Watch This