Soldiers on World War I's Eastern Front Fought a Common Enemy: Wolves

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World War I was a war of alliances. Some were natural, such as the one between Germany and Austria-Hungary. Others were less likely, such as Britain's alliance with the Russian Empire.

Even less likely is one between the Germans and Russians. That last one was not between the two countries and their leaders, but rather between two sets of soldiers fighting on the Eastern Front -- against wolves.

Russian soldiers on World War I's Eastern Front

As if Spanish Flu, chemical weapons and trench foot weren't enough to make the war especially miserable, the corpses that littered the battlefields attracted carrion eaters. Wolves in the areas near the Eastern Front were forced from their natural habitats by the war. The animals had to flee their homes and hunting grounds as the trenches ebbed and flowed across Eastern Europe.

Hungry and scattered, wolves took to eating the corpses of men slain in combat. Then, they began to target different prey. First, they came for the smaller livestock in towns and cities, then they started trying to take children.

"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 New York Times wrote in 1917. "For a short time, there was peace. And in no haphazard fashion was the task of vanquishing the mutual foe undertaken."

It wasn't just a single pack of wolves in an isolated incident. Throughout the forest of Lithuania and what is today Poland and Belarus, Russians and Germans fighting each other with machine guns and grenades would stop momentarily to turn on packs of wolves.

Even snipers agreed to the temporary cease-fire. If the regular infantry stopped attacking each other, the snipers would take a break. The infantrymen took to gunning down the oncoming wolves but, like respawning players of a video game, the animals just kept coming

"The wolves -- nowhere to be found quite so large and powerful as in Russia -- were desperate in their hunger and [disregarded] danger," wrote The New York Times. "Fresh packs would appear in place of those that were killed by the Russian and German troops."

As their hunger got worse, the wolves became braver in their efforts to kill and eat the soldiers. If a soldier wasn't fast enough with his weapon or in getting back to an aid station while wounded, he might have a close encounter of the canine kind.

For both armies, patience ran low with the wolves, and their constant threat made life even more unbearable than it already was. The Germans and Russians were eventually forced to go on the offensive against their mutual four-legged foes. Poisoning the wolves and booby-trapping the perimeters were not enough to stave off the desperate animals.

"The wolves were gradually rounded up, and eventually several hundred of them were killed. The others fled in all directions, making their escape from carnage the like of which they had never encountered," The New York Times wrote.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com.

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