animals served in the first world war

Which Animals Served in the First World War?

This article is about animals served in the First World War. Humans cannot take on every task during war, because some things are beyond the limits of humans’ abilities. For example, flying or running at 30 km/h. That’s why, as in all wars in history, animals performed tasks that were impossible for humans in the First World War. Armies used animals to transport equipment, supplies, people and messages over rough terrain. Animals also performed sacred duties such as finding missing people, helping to save lives, and unfortunately many suffered and died during the war. The surviving animals continued to serve in the army as veterans.

One of the Animals Served in the First World War: Pigeons

Animals Served in the First World War Pigeons
German unmanned camera pigeon (probably aerial reconnaissance in World War I) | Image Source: Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-R01996,_Brieftaube_mit_Fotokamera.jpg: o.Ang.derivative work: Hans Adler, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons

Pigeons have a great role in warfare. Because of their hard work and their instinct to find space, they can transmit messages between troops. Pigeons can fly long distances quickly without stopping. The Australian Corps used pigeons to transmit messages on war-related situations. A pouch was hung on the pigeons’ backs or a container was tied to their legs. Notes were placed in these pouches and containers. Important information in one battalion was sent to the other battalion by pigeons.

Sometimes pigeons could not transmit messages. The main reasons for this are that pigeons work hard and die of exhaustion and thirst, they are hit by the enemy, and they can get off course and lose their way in bad weather conditions.

Dogs as Animals Served in the First World War

Animals Served in the First World War Dogs
Sergeant Stubby [Mascot of the 102nd Infantry Regiment (United States)] | Image Source: Stubby: Terrier Hero of Georgetown, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Dogs, man’s best friend, stood by people during the war. Soldiers who taught dogs to distinguish an ally from an enemy often used them as spotters. Dogs that served as lookouts for the wounded also served on other missions. Dogs catching rats on the battlefield also served as messengers, sentries, and carriers. The French army formed a service devoted to war dogs in December 1915.

Some dogs had fled the battle and the trenches. The British Royal Air Force collected stray dogs fleeing the war and took them to the animals in the country.


Members of the Royal Scots Greys near Brimeux, France, in 1918 | Image Source: Taken by an “Official British war photographer”; hence, taken by an employee of the British government, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Of course, the first animal that comes to mind when talking about war is horses. Nearly 140,000 horses served in the Australian Defense Force alone in WW1. The armies of the countries searched many places in the country to find horses suitable for war service. There were even articles outlining the requirements for military horses. A service number was stamped on the front hoof of horses used for the Light Horse. The garrison number was stamped on the rear hoof.

The first duty of horses in war is to carry supplies and ammunition to the front. Horses served as supply wagons, transporting artillery, reconnaissance, messengers, and ambulance duties. The cavalry units were charging with horses.

Other Duties of Animals in War

Image Source: The photographer is assumed to be Thomas Aikten, IWM, catalogue number Q 10949.

In the First World War, some countries used poison gases during the war. The armies that tried to neutralize the enemy soldiers with poison gas were responded with canaries and rats. During the war, troops carried with them plenty of small cages. Rats and canaries kept in these cages were capable of detecting poisonous gases that could not be detected by humans. Animals used as gas detectors have saved armies from poisoning many times.

Other Animals in War

More than 15 million animals were involved in WW1. In addition to horses, camels were also used in desert expeditions on the Asian fronts. Mules and donkeys helped the soldiers carry ammunition and food. Cats, on the other hand, hunted mice on the battle fronts. Animals were not found in war just to work. Military armies found it difficult to maintain morale during protracted wars and bad war conditions. Pets and mascots were also used to increase the motivation of the soldiers and provide them comfort.

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