Rockets, Grenades, and Cats

About a month ago Dr. Arthur Mitchell Fraas, at the University of Pennsylvania, found what may be the greatest discovery of the year so far: a sixteenth century manuscript that depicted a cat with a bag of flame strapped to its back for use in warfare.

Franz Helm, Feuer Buech (1584), 137r.

The original consensus was that this was a rocket cat. Dr. Fraas felt that this conclusion, while extremely tempting, was probably not correct. Instead, in his studies, Dr. Fraas found that the rocket cat was instead a grenade cat or more accurately a bomb cat. The original author, a sixteenth-century artillery master from Cologne named Franz Helm, intended for the cat (among other animals) to be an inconspicuous way to deliver bombs into unsuspecting cities. This method of delivery was very obviously flawed, as the animal used would most likely set your own camp on fire and not the enemy’s town. It does, however, represent the extremely imaginative ideas that people had for gunpowder, which, beginning notably with the use of cannons in the Battle of Crecy in 1346, was really starting to change warfare. The extensive use of gunpowder, such as that seen in this manuscript, could definitely be argued for as one of the main delineations between the Medieval and Renaissance periods in European history. Since there is no other evidence of this actually being done, though, hopefully cats weren’t really used in warfare.

The works of Franz Helm have all been digitized by the University of Pennsylvania at

The article from which this information was drawn can be found all over the internet, but I used the one at The Guardian, which can be found here:

Finally, as using cats for weapons is quite cruel, an image of a real rocket cat to end on a positive note.


One comment on “Rockets, Grenades, and Cats
  1. According to legend, the Persians captured the Egyptian city of Pelusium in 525 BCE by using cats in battle as well. The Persians lined up “dogs, sheep, cats, ibises, and whatever other animals the Egyptians hold sacred” in front of their army, and the Egyptians “immediately stopped their operations, out of fear of hurting the animals.” With less resistance, Cambyses II of Persia was then able to conquer Pelusium and afterwards enter into Egypt, conquering it for the Achaemenid Persian Empire (Polyaenus, Strategems 7.9

    Cambyses II of Persia capturing pharaoh Psamtik III after his conquest of Egypt. Image on persian seal, 6th century BCE (Wikipedia Commons)

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