The Wolves That Fought in World War I

The #wolves that fought in World War I #WWI

War can bring about some uneasy alliances. In the right circumstances, opposing forces can sometimes be persuaded to stop killing each — for a little while, anyway. This happened on Christmas Day, 1914 when British and German troops paused their fighting long enough to play a few matches of soccer. It also happened a couple of years later. This time, it wasn’t to engage in some friendly athletic competition; it was to fight a common enemy that was stalking both sides of the struggle.

1916-17 brought the third winter of World War I. In the region between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, German and Russian forces fought each other in brutal conditions. The subzero temperatures and unrelenting snowfall played havoc with the soldiers’ supply lines, bringing serious food shortages.

It wasn’t just the soldiers who were struggling to fill their bellies. The wolves that are native to that region found it increasingly difficult to hunt their typical prey. In desperation, the normally-shy wolves began to venture into areas populated by humans.

Rural villages bore the brunt of the wolves’ change in behavior. They feasted upon goats, sheep, and calves. In a couple of cases, they even attacked children.

The wolves, now strengthened and emboldened, started to focus their attention on the soldiers of the front lines. Showing no partiality toward the soldiers of either the Allied or Central Powers, the wolves preyed upon wounded soldiers and devoured the casualties of battle.

The wolf attacks grew to be so fearsome that the German and Russian troops called a temporary cease-fire toward each other and formed a brief alliance to jointly fight the lupine threat.

As reported in the February 15, 1917 edition of the Oklahoma City Times, “Parties of Russian and German scouts met recently and were hotly engaged in a skirmish when a large pack of wolves dashed on the scene and attacked the wounded. Hostilities were at once suspended and Germans and Russians instinctively attacked the pack, killing about 50 wolves.”

The New York Times edition of July 29, 1917, added, “Poison, rifle fire, hand grenades, and even machine guns were successively tried in attempts to eradicate the nuisance, but all to no avail. The wolves—nowhere to be found quite so large and powerful as in Russia—were desperate in their hunger and regardless of danger. As a last resort, the two adversaries, with the consent of their commanders, entered into negotiations for an armistice and joined forces to overcome the wolf plague.”

The uneasy alliance succeeded in its goal. The wolf population was sufficiently culled and once again driven away from human habitats. Or, quite possibly, they were so disgusted by what they saw humanity was doing that they decided they would rather face hunger than witness further carnage. Either way, with the wolves no longer giving the opposing troops a common enemy, they declared an end to their cease-fire and got back to work killing each other again.

Read more fun facts about World War I.

Read more stories about animals that shaped history.

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