May 5

The Elephant in the Archive

Thursday, May 5, 2016 12:01 AM


It was in 218 B.C. that the Carthaginian commander Hannibal famously marched some 30 elephants across the Alps and over the Rhône River by boat to attack Rome during the Second Punic War.

Hannibal Barca crossing the Rhône, a photograveur print by Henri Motte, 1878.

Hannibal Barca crossing the Rhône, a photogravure print by Henri Motte, 1878. (U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

In the millennia that have followed, the use of elephants in naval warfare has not accounted to much — certain films, of course, excepted. But that has not stopped pachydermous photographs from appearing in the Naval Institute’s Photo Archive for one reason or another.

The selection that follows shows some of the interactions naval personnel have had over the years with the elephants they’ve encountered in their travels.

Naval Institute Photo Archive.

In the photo above, personnel from USS Rendova (CVE-114) can be seen riding atop elephants during a goodwill visit to Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) following the delivery of a load of AT-6 “Texans” to Turkey in May 1948.

Naval Institute Photo Archive.

Not all elephants were for fun, some, like the famous Lin Wang, were working elephants, like these elephants engaged in road building in Ceylon.

Naval Institute Photo Archive.

Other elephants were used to raise awareness. Here, Captain Guy E. Stahr, USN, commanding officer of the Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, Japan, greets an elephant leading a parade for the March of Dimes.

"Not My Camera." Photograph by PH3 Paul D. Kaiser, USN. Naval Institute Photo Archive.

“Not My Camera.”

The Iraqi invasion and occupation of Kuwait in 1990 propelled Commander Terry Pierce, USN, to write “Teaching an Elephant to Swim.” That invasion also saw extensive damage done to to the Kuwait Zoo in Farwaniya near the capital Kuwait City. Following Operation Desert Storm, a number of sailors from the USS L. Y. Spear (AS-36) volunteered to help rebuild the zoo—including Photographer’s Mate Third Class Paul D. Kaiser, USN, whose camera caught the attention of the zoo’s elephant.