You hear stories about heroic military dogs, homing pigeons, and even the unique story of Wojtek the military bear, but even lowly pigs have left their mark in wartime. Here are the stories of three of them.
1. Tirpitz, the Swimming German Pig of World War I
Tirpitz was a pig carried on the German warship SMS Dresden in 1914 as a food source. The Dresden was sunk in battle with the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Glasgow off the coast of South America during the Battle of Más a Tierra. Tirpitz managed to escape the sinking ship and swam towards the Glasgow. The crew brought him aboard and adopted him as a mascot, named him after German admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, and awarded him the Iron Cross for bravery.
After a year aboard the Glasgow, Tirpitz was transferred to the Whale Island Gunnery School in Portsmouth. Tirpitz was eventually auctioned off as pork, but in his final act he raised £1,785 for the British Red Cross. His head was mounted and can be seen at the Imperial War Museum in London. Tirpitz's trotters (feet) were made into handles for a carving set that traveled with the Glasgow in World War II, giving Tirpitz the dubious honor of serving aboard the British ship in two wars.
2. Pig 311, the Nuclear Survivor
In 1946, the United States conducted a pair of nuclear weapons tests in Bikini Atoll under the name Operation Crossroads. To test how nuclear explosions would affect ships at sea, 22 ships were moored at different distances from the blast, loaded with guinea pigs, goats, pigs, mice, and rats to test the effects of the blast and fallout on Navy personnel. A third of the animals were killed by either the explosion or by radiation. Most of the others died of radiation sickness over the next few weeks. The animals were secured in their positions, but some of the ships were destroyed in the blast. Recovery crews found a test pig that had survived the destruction of her ship and was found swimming in a nearby lagoon. That was Pig 311.
Pig 311 became famous not only because of her escape from the ship, but because she survived the radioactive fallout that killed most of the other test animals. After three more years with the Navy (as a subject of study), Pig 311, along with another survivor, Goat 315, were given to the Smithsonian National Zoo. Pig 311 was given the opportunity but never produced any offspring. Speculation is that she was rendered sterile by the radiation of the nuclear test. Pig 311 lived at the zoo until her death in 1950.
3. King Neptune, the World War II Fundraiser
Photograph by Eric Crowley.
A pig named Parker Neptune was born on Sherman Boner's farm in southern Illinois in 1942. Don C. Lingle, a Navy recruiter, acquired the pig and renamed him King Neptune. Lingle collaborated with auctioneer L. Oard Sitter to auction the pig for war bonds. The auctioneer dressed the pig in a Navy blanket as a gimmick. Bidders pledged $11,200 in war bonds for various parts of the pig by the time the auction was over—then the buyers donated the pig back to be auctioned off again! It was all in the spirit of supporting the war effort. King Neptune gained local fame through the stunt, and was auctioned off again—for $50,000. And again, for half a million. As word spread, King Neptune was driven from town to town, selling war bonds and escaping the butcher's cleaver every time. He arrived at auction dressed in a Navy blanket, a crown, and jewelry befitting his regal name. At least once, his squeal was auctioned, and a single bristle was sold for $500. The governor of Illinois once bid a million dollars on the pig on behalf of the state. Before the end of World War II, King Neptune had raised $19 million—equivalent to over $200 million today.
In 1946, Lingle saved King Neptune from a planned trip to the slaughterhouse and arranged for him to retire to the farm of Ernest Goddard in Illinois. There he lived until his death of pneumonia in 1950. King Neptune was buried with military honors, and a memorial was erected in his memory.