Top picks of the week: ‘Rocket cats’ and the key 100 objects of WWI

A 16th-century manual reveals one of the more bizarre military tactics in history…


Artillery expert Franz Helm of Cologne, Germany, penned his manual on artillery and siege warfare in the hope of advising military commanders. His legacy however, may be to join the pantheon of cat-based memes on the internet.


The illustrations in his manual, written c1530, show cats strapped to devices that look similar to jet-packs being launched at towns under siege. The text underneath the image says these ‘rocket cats’ could be used to “set fire to a castle or city which you cant get at otherwise”. This seems to be along the same logic as the plot of Snakes on a Plane.

The best option, according to Helm, was to use cats from the town so that it will run back home once the bomb is attached, and there will be no need to catapult it. Moggies were not the only victims to Helm’s expert view, as he considered doves to be a suitable alternative.

The revelations come after researcher Mitch Fraas from University of Pennsylvania digitised the images. His confusion at what he found is clear: “I really didn’t know what to make of it. It clearly looks like there’s some sort of jet of fire coming out of a device strapped to these animals.” There is no evidence that Helm’s ideas were ever taken up, causing celebrations among the cat-loving community.

See the images here.

This coming week

We are looking forward to reading A History of the First World War in 100 Objects by military historian John Hughes-Wilson, in association with the Imperial War Museum.

Through examining 100 items from 1914-8, Hughes-Wilson tells the stories of World War I, from its causes to the Armistice. The bloodstained tunic of Archduke Franz Ferdinand commences the collection.

Other items include Lawrence of Arabia’s rifle, the secret diary of executed nurse Edith Cavell, tanks, letters to loved ones and a spade used to dig trenches. The excellent choice of objects uncovers some of the personal stories from the front, most poignantly captured by Billie Neville’s football that he had with him on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.


A History of the First World War in 100 Objects is published by Octopus Publishing.