Thursday, 23 September 2010

The whole comedy smelled of the slaughterhouse

You may remember this summer's top story of weird animal cruelty, when an unfortunate Russian donkey found itself being towed through the air on a parasail as an advertising stunt. Well, to top that, here's a parachuting sheep.

This sheep was the victim of warfare, not advertising. During Mussolini's invasion of Abyssinia in the  mid 1930's Italian troops crossing Ethiopia's Danakil Desert were supplied by air drops. The rations dropped included fresh meat, in the form of live animals on parachutes. In all, seventy-two sheep and two bulls were parachuted to keep the hungry Fascist legions on the march.

There's an undeniable element of cruel comedy here although, as operation sheep drop was devised by evil Fascists, the whole comedy smelled of the slaughterhouse.* Even if you don't care about the fate of a terrified creature in what was not a naturally tenable position for a sheep, some of the other stuff the Fascists were dropping wasn't remotely funny - not unless you were Vittorio Mussolini, the dictator's son, who thought dropping bombs on people was hilarious:

We arrived upon them unobserved and immediately dropped our load of explosives. I remember that one group of horsemen gave me the impression of a budding rose as the bombs fell in their midst. It was exceptionally good fun and they were easy to hit as we were not too high up. They offered a perfect target.

Quick biographical note - Vittorio Mussolini scuttled off to Argentina after World War Two, returning to Italy after the all the fuss died down. He lived on until 1997, dying in Rome at the ripe old age of 81. His niece, Alessandra Mussolini, is currently a member of the European Parliament, and leads an Italian neo-fascist party. Memorials to the Fascist war criminals survive to this day.

By accident or design, the Fascist aviators also managed to bomb ambulances belinging to the Swedish Red Cross.
Not content with dropping convectional bombs, Fascist planes also dropped mustard gas bombs and powdered chemicals which blinded, choked and caused skin burns. About 15,000 people are estimated to have been victims of this chemical warfare.

In between dropping sheep, high-explosive bombs and poison gas, the ever-busy Fascists also found time to throw live human beings out of flying planes - unlike sheep, these human beings didn't have the benefit of parachutes. This was General Graziani's novel way of executing captured guerrillas.

 Parachuting sheep article from The Atlantic, via.

* phrase stolen from Josef Škvorecký's magnificent novel, "The Engineer of Human Souls".