Science and Tech


'Rocket Cat' Weaponry Plans Found In 16th-Century War Manual

The manual depicts images of cats with burning sacks attached to their backs. The plan was that they would run into enemy territory and start a fire.
Posted at 8:37 PM, Mar 06, 2014

There were lots of nasty ways to do battle in the 16th century — spears, cannons, flaming arrows — but here's one idea that thankfully didn't take off.

"We're talking about rocket cats. Illustrations from a circa-1530 manual on artillery and warfare seems to show jet packs strapped to the backs of cats and doves." (Via KARE)

"Jet packs strapped to the backs of cats. University of Pennsylvania digitized the pages. Researchers from the school have been trying to figure out what these images mean." (Via WBAY)

Yeah, we'll give you a minute to let the concept of "rocket cats" sink in.

The manual was reportedly written by German artillery master Franz Helm in the early 16th century. Time quotes the papers describing exactly how the devious plan would work: "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."

According to a writer from Jalopnik"You were a sick dude, Franz Helm."

We'll second that. Of course, for the plan to work, cats would have to do what you want them to, which, as we all know, happens almost never.

The Independent, which went with this gem of a headline, quotes the researcher who translated the text and proposed a more likely scenario. "It's sort of a harebrained scheme. 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."

Now for all you cat lovers out there, you'll be happy to know there's no evidence cats were ever used in the way described in the manual. But the idea of strapping things to cats for nefarious reasons has stuck around. 

For instance, this cat was caught near a Brazilian prison with a drill and a saw taped to it. The theory was it was sent to sneak in and help a prisoner escape. (Via RT)

And another cat was caught attempting to sneak drugs into a prison in Moldova just last year. (Via CNN)

And "Saturday Night Live" reintroduced the idea of the weaponized kitty with a skit called "Laser Cats." Thankfully, that idea hasn't caught on, either. (Via NBC / "Saturday Night Live")