Germany Used Circus Elephants to Clean Up Following the Allied Bombings of Hamburg

Photo Credit: WATFORD / Mirrorpix / Getty Images
Photo Credit: WATFORD / Mirrorpix / Getty Images

The image above features Mary from Burma and Kieri from Ceylon, elephants who were brought to the Hamburg Zoo to train for the circus. At 25 and 35, respectively, they were no young ladies, but still worked hard to help with the reconstruction effort after the Allied bombings during World War II.

Elephants are incredibly strong, which made them perfect for this difficult task. While it may not look like much, the wrecked car they’re pulling was full of bricks and used as a barricade during the bombings of Hamburg. This photo was captured in November 1945, and the two animals pulled the vehicle onto a truck bed, so it could be taken away.

Circus elephants Mary and Kieri moving a demolished vehicle onto a truck bed in Hamburg
Circus elephants aiding in the reconstruction effort following the Allied bombings of Hamburg, 1945. (Photo Credit: Sgt. Carpenter, No. 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit / Imperial War Museums / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

As can be seen above, Kieri got to work on this strenuous task, while Mary moved on to other things. Supposedly, they were given more food in exchange for their hard work.

Despite being an odd sight, this wasn’t the first time elephants were used as part of the war effort – they had a purpose in Europe and the United Kingdom during the First World War. Farmers were forced to give up their equines, which were sent to fight on the Western Front. Still needing to plow their fields and work their farms, some replaced these livestock with elephants.

More from us: These Nurses Had a Front Row Seat to the Battle of Monte Cassino

In both world wars, elephants were also used for pulling and moving things, such as artillery, logs and, just like Mary and Kieri, rubble. Their ability to carry these large and heavy loads made them extremely useful, especially because they could often move through terrain that man-made vehicles couldn’t.

Rosemary Giles

Rosemary Giles is a history content writer with Hive Media. She received both her bachelor of arts degree in history, and her master of arts degree in history from Western University. Her research focused on military, environmental, and Canadian history with a specific focus on the Second World War. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her degrees, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history, and war history, especially researching obscure facts about the Second World War. In her spare time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her partner, her cats, and her horse, or sitting down to read a good book.