A recently scanned book on artillery from the Middle Ages provided some bizarre images which appeared to show cats and pigeons with black powder rockets strapped to their backs. The truth is a little more mundane, if still quite, quite mad.
According to Fraas’s 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.”
The article says there is no evidence of feline fire bombs ever being deployed, but the idea of flaming animals as weapons has been raised in other eras. The Romans thought of doing a similar trick with tar-coated pigs. In the Second World War, the US considered dropping thousands of bats, each with a little firebomb strapped to it, over Japan. The intention was for them to rest in the eaves of the wooden houses and start lots of small fires. In a variation on the burning cat routine, the Soviets trained ‘dog mines‘ which were supposed to dive under advancing German tanks and destroy them, though the program was mostly a failure, with dogs diving under familiar Russian tanks and running back to their masters to explode.