First question so go easy! I've been looking around for the carrying capacity of Elephants, hoping to extrapolate that to a Woolly or Columbian Mammoth. I know logging Indian elephants can lift half a ton with their trunks, and I know historical War Elephants (typically Indian) wore armor and carried small defensive structures on their backs, but I'm struggling to find specifics.

Does it at least seem plausible that a Columbian mammoth (twice an Indian elephant's weight) could bear armor effective against most hand held ballistic weapons? Crafted from salvaged human bulletproof vests, say, made of Kevlar and ballistic ceramic plating. How many armed men seems like a reasonable cap on an 11 ton mammoth? This hypothetical takes place in a post-apocalyptic Ice-age environment, with limited fossil fuels and airpower.

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    $\begingroup$ Here is some info on elephant armor: thevintagenews.com/2016/07/04/… Mammoth have hair, which adds to protection, If you have post-apocaliptic setting, I would highly recommend goggles to protect the eyes of the beast. $\endgroup$
    – Bald Bear
    Sep 25 '18 at 20:39
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    $\begingroup$ Does the enemy have guns? Because if the enemy has guns elephantry won't be of much use. Anyway, an elephant can easily carry a driver and four passengers in a howdah; for a mammoth, let's say 6 passengers. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Sep 25 '18 at 21:25
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    $\begingroup$ I think what will happen is you will basically make the mammoths tanks. $\endgroup$ Sep 25 '18 at 22:24
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    $\begingroup$ Weight ratios aside, elephants are not the most courageous creatures ever invented, and were historically often defeated by causing them to panic, trample their allies, and run away. Mammoths seem like they would avoid the sound of gunfire, and would not be happy about having heavy weapons firing off over their ears. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Sep 25 '18 at 22:54
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    $\begingroup$ Worth noting: the end of the era of War Elephants was the introduction of the War Pig. The War Pig, covered in oil and set ablaze, proved particularly effective at unseating the elephants' resolve. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Sep 26 '18 at 5:04

Don't think of your mammoth squad as armour. Think of them as tactical transport.

The problem you are hitting here is that a mammoth is like a tank in only the worst way - it is the most attractive target on the battlefield if you have heavy weapons. Unfortunately the mammoth has none of the advantages of a tank - it does not have:

  • a low silhouette,
  • angled plates of thick armour to deflect heavy weapons projectiles,
  • stabilised heavy weapons
  • protected compartments for the crew.

Taking a look at the Wikipedia article on mammoths a wild guess would be that a reversed "cloak" of barding that covered the front, top and sides of an 11 ton mammoth would require about 48 square metres of ballistic material. To achieve even moderate protection against minor fragments and small calibre rounds the article on body armour uses an example of 5.4 kg/sq m. So there goes about 260 kg of offensive payload. If the barding is going to give second chances against heavier rifle rounds, this needs to be doubled, at least. Now half a ton of offensive payload, or about 4 fully equipped troops, is lost, but the mammoth is still vulnerable to heavy weapons or multiple hits in the same spot. If the howdah (thank you AlexP) on the back of the mammoth is armoured to protect the troops then more weight is lost. With this much carrying capacity dedicated to armour, plus the weight of a driver, the mammoth can probably manage two armed troopers. The troopers would be limited to light weapons on even the best trained mammoth - 40mm grenade launchers would be my recommendation, used to designate targets from their elevated (and very exposed) place on the battlefield.

Now the situation is this - a mammoth with a terrified driver and a brace of grenadiers, struggling under the maximum weight it is able to carry, will attempt to to charge troops equipped with modern firearms. The outcome would be depressingly predictable and a reminder of why horses and elephants are not used to conduct charges any more.

A better option

However, the noble mammoth does have a place on the post-apocalyptic Ice Age battlefield. It grants tactical mobility to move larger loads than can be transported by human muscle-power alone. Provided they can forage, mammoths can pull sleds through the snow very efficiently. (If they can't forage then they are of very limited use, as much of their capacity will be required to carry their own food.) Assuming that a mammoth can tow a 2 ton sled over level ground, a couple of mammoths can be used as a means of transporting a mortar platoon's equipment (for example) into position quite efficiently and tethered some distance away while the platoon is firing missions. In short, they are far more valuable as a transport asset than as a front-line combat asset.

If you really want a mammoth charge in your story then it should be an encounter battle. One probable advantage of mammoths would be relatively quiet movement. Scenario could be that a body of troops are moving in a column (with the mammoths in the middle) through a wooded area. Enemy troops emerge on one flank at close range in an unplanned encounter. The troops friendly to the mammoths open fire first, this panics the mammoths into charging towards the slow-reacting enemy. With a short distance to cover and effective suppressive fire from their allies the mammoths could get in close and do some damage. (It would bring a new meaning to "stepped on" when referring to confirmed enemy kills.)

And if things go pear-shaped, a mammoth will feed a lot of troops for a long time in cold weather.

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you, I think you're getting back to second part of the original question, and the information about the necessary armor weight and thickness is useful. I'm still wondering what a reasonable carrying capacity on the animal's back may be, as it feels like we're still guessing on that. I've found that male asian elephants pull logs weighing up to 3 ton, so a mammoth (twice its size) with a sled on snow may be capable of towing much more than 2 tons. Perhaps the best use of mammoths would be a fort-building force, capable of efficiently moving logs and hauling tools. $\endgroup$ Sep 26 '18 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ I do think in terms of tactics, the mammoth charge is only usefully in a planned ambush against a fortified position. Enemy is at chow, unaware sentries have been killed. They hear a rumbling sound. Then, a mammoth knocks down the wall and the air is full of bullets. $\endgroup$ Sep 26 '18 at 17:15
  • $\begingroup$ This is not hugely different to the horse. Traditional cavalry tactics were obsolete with the invention of the repeating rifle in the late nineteenth century, but /mounted infantry/ remained effective in many subsequent campaigns, even as recently as Afghanistan. The big difference is that mounted infantry use their mounts to get to the battlefield fresh and well equipped, then dismount to fight on foot. $\endgroup$
    – Securiger
    Oct 3 '18 at 12:53

You have some misconception here. While body armors CAN protect your animal from being hurt seriously, you have to consider the following.

  1. Temperature: you're wholly mammoths are hairy, for the reason that they needed it due to cold weather conditions. Covering them with armor will increase their body heat, and if they don't cool for sometime, they will die of dehydration or heat stroke. You haven't given us the information about the climate of your post apocalyptic era, but its safe to say that, you should not be using your mammoths in summer.

  2. Psychology: different humans, different animals. Yes, soldiers are trained to hold their grounds during fights, but have you even asked these soldiers if they where scared when under fire? I assure you, even war veterans will tell you that, they will run from that fight if they could. Because we have lots to lose from death by war, but less to gain from it. Now enter an animals mind, he does not need money, nor fame, nothing, he only has his life. Do you think he will be stampeding towards the enemy on the first shot? Your animal will save himself INSTINCLY because he knows he only has one life. F*** human orders.

  3. Exlosives: Modern human best friend in war. Yes, we love it, explosives do short work on anything our enemies throw at us. Incoming tank? BOMB! A whole lot of infantry? BOMB! Your ex GF? BOMB! A cool looking enemy mammoth parade? BOMB! From missiles to land mines to hand held grenades and IEDs, humans will try to create bombs no matter what, because as I have said. Short work.

  4. A Whole lot of armor: So lets say you have negated heat, Psychology and Bombs in your story, you'll be giving too much armor for an animal which if you just used them for your infantry, would be more cost efficient, a fully armored wholly mammoth might have covered 10 or 20 Infantry men that are more mobile, more versatile, and more intelligent (and a whole lot of plenty) than your mammoth.

In conclusion, I would really like to suggest that you put your mammoths in parks where kids could see them and maybe ride them, best give your humans their armors and do what they have to do.

BUT if your really really want your mammoth squad in your story? Best switch to medieval setting.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks Mr. J! But, I think your points are mostly null. 1. I think it's reasonable to assume an animal already covered in a thick mat of hair would rarely be pushed beyond it's ability to thermally regulate by the addition of reasonably vented garment. 2. War Elephants were used in conflicts over a 1000 span, those generals tolerated elephant psychology in their risk assessments. 3. True, and now we have IEDs, but we still use vehicles in war. 4. Infantry men can't move effectively through deep snow. In an ice age, there could exist large theaters in which mammoths have superior mobility. $\endgroup$ Sep 26 '18 at 4:15
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    $\begingroup$ @IrvingWashington 1) You didnt mentioned ventilation, just armor, body armor is not well ventilated, assumings its heavy armor. 2, MEDEIIVAL RIGHT? 3. VEHICLES NOT ANIMALS 4. But you have stealth, have you considered taking on a .50 cal sniper? or a balista? or artillary? Its your story though, these are my realistic inputs. $\endgroup$
    – Mr.J
    Sep 26 '18 at 4:58
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    $\begingroup$ @IrvingWashington Elephants are big targets, and a fair marksman could easily hit their legs, knees, feet, eyes, or head and effectivly halt its progress. Hell, just pelting the same spot with a couple rounds of 30'06 would eat through armor really quickly. The minute that beast gets hit by a round of fire it will probably stop obeying its marching orders. $\endgroup$ Sep 26 '18 at 7:40
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    $\begingroup$ @IrvingWashington 3. The vehicles we use are specially designed (i.e. costly and time-consuming to develop) to survive explosions and still leave the passengers injured - flesh and blood would not stand up well to the concussion even if it survived the blast (i.e. why you fight a armored knight with a war hammer or mace not a sword). 4. Really study cold-weather warfare as infantry has been adapting to the cold for years and snow is actually a double-edged sword (advantages & disadvantages) $\endgroup$
    – LinkBerest
    Sep 26 '18 at 11:54

I note that there were many different species of mammoths. You would prefer one of the largest species for a fighting war mammoth. Different species of mammoths lived in different climates. Not all mammoths lived in snow covered regions.

Because most species of mammoths have tusks that curved a lot, most mammoth tusks were almost useless for stabbing. Thus it is often claimed that mammoth tusks were useless as weapons. But it seems to me that mammoth tusks would be terrifying war clubs.

So suppose that your battle involves two phalanxes of spear men facing each other. But one phalanx has several gaps in it. War mammoths stride through the gaps to reach the enemy phalanx.

Each war mammoth pushes the spears facing him to one side with a swing of his neck, head and tusks, steps forward and swings his head and tusks again, sweeping a bunch of men out of his way with many broken bones. The war mammoths step forward and sweep their tusks again, smashing away men deeper into the phalanx.

They are followed by sword men who attack the spear men at the sides of the paths the war mammoths cut through the enemy phalanx. The mammoths smash their way through to the back of the enemy phalanx and turn around to attack the undefended back of the phalanx. Etc., etc., etc.

So war mammoths would be very effective against pre-gunpowder opponents. And they would be useful against armies using primitive black powder firearms. Some war elephants have carried machines guns or cannons.


I'm going to make quite a few assumptions, and include a significant disclaimer to my answer.

First, the disclaimer: I will not list a practical carrying weight, or even an estimate of such, as I lack the mathematical skill and biology background to attempt that. But I believe I can contribute to the question anyway. Possibly useful comparisons here.

Now the assumptions:
1. "Hand held" I understand this to mean something intentionally designed to be primarily carried and used by a single person, as opposed to just anything someone can manage to pick up (like removing a mini-gun from a helicopter or a 50 caliber from a hum-v, etc).
2. "post apocalyptic" In any scenario I can imagine that could be termed an apocalypse, any militaries that were not immediately wiped out would be very active immediately following the event, and would therefore be actively using their resources, including weapons and ammo. So 'post' apocalypse, the amounts of specialized military equipment available, including more unusual firearms variations and the accompanying ammo (heavy caliber, tracer, armor piercing, etc.), would be negligible. This leaves only the weapon and ammo types that are available to either civilians or the 'run-of-the-mill' 'grunt' soldier, so something on the scale of a big-ish hunting rifle (or military equivalent) is about the most dangerous the mammoth would face.
3. "anything an elephant can do a mammoth can do better" at least as far as the desired information for this question is concerned.
4. "could be of a different temperament and intellect than the historical species" (from comments) To me this means my answer can disregard the animals' reactions to the chaos of battle as unrelated to the question and as a topic to be addressed by the OP some other way.

Now, there is a reason that "elephant guns" were called ... "elephant guns". Elephants don't go down easy (compared to most other animals), even with no armor at all. Granted that weapons technology has improved since the era of elephant gun use, modern hunting rifles can still have trouble with knocking down something as small as a deer with a poorly placed shot. And even a (eventually) fatal shot on a deer can leave it alive long enough to run for miles before collapsing. Accounts tell of elephants taking up to 35 rounds before going down, again with no armor at all.

So, a Mammoth would (theoretically) be even more resistant and durable, even without armor. The weapons it would be facing would not be specialized to the point of significantly overriding it's natural defenses (even a few well placed, body mass, but not brain or heart, shots on an unarmored Mammoth will not bring it down, and it may even make an effectively full recovery). So additional armor, such as salvaged Kevlar vests, would certainly help, but would not need to be particularly highly defensive by themselves. Rather they would complement the Mammoth's already significant defense. What would protect a human from only the smallest and slowest of calibers, on a mammoth would make the smallest and slowest rounds a non-issue (other than things like shooting out the eyes), it would turn medium 'level' rounds from a flesh wound in to a bruise or pinprick, and it would turn injuries from heavier calibers like hunting and assault rifles from severe internal trauma in to a graze.

So the armor intended to protect the mammoth itself would not need to be of (relatively) significant weight. If carrying a structure meant to protect driver and passengers, the armor there would be the heaviest weight requirement other than the passengers themselves (I imagine mounting the remains of an armored military vehicle, like a hum-v, on it's back). If an elephant can carry the weight of just the visible bodywork of a normal car and passengers, then a similarly structured animal should be able to carry just the armor portions (no motor, drive-train, wheels/axles, or other unnecessary heavy components) of a small derelict military troop carrier originally built with plenty-enough armor to withstand most small weapons discussed here.

And there you have it, no exactly defined weight, but certainly an answer to "is it plausible", and some useful points to consider along with it.

  • $\begingroup$ I believe you overestimate the difficulty of putting an elephant (and presumably, mammoth) hors de combat. Yes, they are difficult to drop with one shot -- but that isn't required, just a wound bad enough that its mahout can't control it. Evidence from historical battles is that this can be done with ordinary bows and javelins -- no elephant guns required. They could be sent berserk in their own ranks from a single arrow, hence why elephant armour was created. Modern poachers kill them with a fusillade from elderly .303s. They take days to bleed out, but are crippled immediately. $\endgroup$
    – Securiger
    Oct 3 '18 at 12:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Securiger I don't underestimate it (see my 4th assumption). The OP gave me a way out of overestimating it in their comments. I don't have to estimate it at all, since the OP's comments already indicate that it will be taken in to consideration by the OP themselves, as they see fit. My job, therefore, is to consider the armor itself and weight carrying, only. $\endgroup$
    – Dalila
    Oct 3 '18 at 13:56

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