Cats with jetpacks or something just as silly

Because if you strap something ON FIRE to a cat, he is obviously going to do what you anticipate…

16th-century manual shows ‘rocket cat’ weaponry.

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.”

Frass looked into the idea that they were wearing jetpacks, a 20th century technology – and not a good one. He concludes that no, they were not. The manual was by Franz Helm of Cologne and was full of such imaginative devices such as bombs and missiles along with weaponized cats and birds. The idea behind this was as follows: “…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.”

Or, it could run back to YOUR camp. In any event, it’s cruel and rather dumb. io9 likened it to the Nazi dead exploding rats idea. People have insane ideas.

More illustrations from the manual are available from BibliOdyssey.

Tip: Eve Siebert

Eve is going to do some addition investigating on this BIZARRE idea for next week’s Virtual Skeptics webcast. Tune in.

Animal incendiary devices - cruel and unusual

Animal incendiary devices – cruel and unusual

  9 comments for “Cats with jetpacks or something just as silly

  1. Altus
    March 7, 2014 at 3:13 PM

    Nyan Cat is so much more humane.

  2. John Nowak
    March 7, 2014 at 3:23 PM


    The idea of making animals deliver incendiaries has a long history.

  3. RayG
    March 7, 2014 at 3:46 PM

    HAH! beat me to it…

  4. Blargh
    March 7, 2014 at 3:49 PM

    I’ve seen the same concept in a work about a hundred and fifty years older – in Fontana’s Bellicorum instrumentorum liber cum figuris, written around the 1420s-1430s. It too is available online, courtesy of the Munich Digitization Center, and is well worth a read! Or a look at its illustrations anyway. 🙂

    Direct link to the page in question:,00078.html?prozent=1

  5. Paul Robinson
    March 7, 2014 at 3:51 PM

    Over the centuries hundreds if not thousands of poor animals have been used alive or dead to be infiltrated or flung into besieged towns, cities, forts,castles, etc, usually artificially infected with diseases, viruses, different insects & infestations. Like the good ole SAS, who when in the Western Desert in WWII, created the turd/crap bomb, made in many variants from camel crap to dog crap. On foot you’d avoid it, but in a vehicle you’d just run over it & get blown to eternity.

  6. Brian
    March 8, 2014 at 6:47 AM

    This week on Mythbusters– Ballistics Material jet propelled cats! I can see Grumpy Cat warming up……:D

  7. Chris Howard
    March 8, 2014 at 8:07 AM

    In the movie “Ironclad” (which is an awesome movie) Paul Giamatti’s character undermines the foundation of a castle, then sends pigs in, in droves, and ignites them.

    The idea being that pig fat, and what ever else they burned, burned so hot that it would weaken the foundation and raze the building.

    The movie is based on a true story (but we know how that goes) I always wondered if that was true that they did that?

  8. Maria
    March 9, 2014 at 4:09 AM

    However, at least two much earlier sources claim that it worked with pigeons. These are the 13th century Heimskringla by Snorri Sturluson and the 12th century Primary Chronicle by Nestor, an early Russian historian. The Heimskringla story is set in Byzantium, the PC story in Russia. Both stories, however, presumably had happened centuries before the respective authors were writing, so they may be legends.

  9. eddi
    March 9, 2014 at 7:00 AM

    Never heard of that really happening. Sounds too Hollywood to me. Usually the diggers just packed in flammables and touched them off. In a typical siege, pigs would be torched over an open fire as food not wasted as a dramatic gesture.

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