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October 7, 2015

#ThrowbackThursday: Emus Rout Australian Army

Emus excel at soccer, war. One in his enclosure at the Serengeti Park in Hodenhagen, central Germany on April 13 (Peter Steffen/AFP/Getty Images)

Emus excel at soccer, war. One in his enclosure at the Serengeti Park in Hodenhagen, central Germany on April 13 (Peter Steffen/AFP/Getty Images)

Back in 1932, emus were overrunning Western Australia to the point of plague. The military was called in to help. The emus pwned the military, the subject of this week’s Throwback Thursday.

It’s actually called “The Great Emu War,” which rivals “The War of Jenkins’ Ear,” as war names go. That’s because it turns out that emus are formidable enemies.


Major G.P.W. Meredith of the Royal Australian Artillery found himself leading two regiments of battle-hardened soldiers, complete with some big-ass heavy machine guns, to unleash hell on a bunch of helpless birds.

This did not go well.

The entire tale is a series of failed tactics against a crafty foe. When shot at, the emus dispersed. Ambushes didn’t work. Nor did a bid to mount a machine gun on a truck — the emus were faster, the soldier didn’t even get off a shot and the truck crashed into a fence. Sometimes, even when the bullets hit their target, they didn’t slow the birds.

Meredith came to respect his enemy, as a result.

“If we had a military division with the bullet-carrying capacity of these birds it would face any army in the world. They can face machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks,” he said.

The emu population was eventually thinned by a bounty system, but not before the farmers again sought military assistance three more times. By then, having learned from 1932, the Aussie armed forces didn’t want any. No medals were awarded in the Great War of ’32, although it was suggested that the emus deserved them, if anybody. Good luck trying to catch them to actually drape the medal.

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