In my book series, there is a planet called Ryu 108 that has domesticated mammoths. Here are some things to consider:

  • Due to the fact that space travel is done via magic instead of via technology, most of the galaxy is still technologically in either the classical, medieval, or renaissance eras, with even the most advanced civilizations only capable of using derpy muskets and primitive cannons.

  • Ryu 108 is based on Viking-age Scandinavia culture-wise and technology-wise

  • Unlike war elephants, these mammoths have been fully domesticated for thousands of years, meaning the temperament problem that real life war elephants suffered from has been greatly reduced

  • Mammoths used for war have been selectively bred to have 3 pairs of tusks (one long pair under the trunk like normal mammoths, with 2 shorter pairs on the sides and top of the trunk), as well as slightly less blubber and wool than their wild counterparts. They have also been selectively bred to resemble the steppe mammoth in terms of size, even though they are descended from wooly mammoths

  • Mammoths often wore giant suits of chainmail into battle (plate armor is too expensive to produce on this scale), though this had to be substituted for cotton or leather in warmer climates to prevent overheating

  • Mammoths were also used as beasts of burden and as livestock (but these are generally different breeds than the ones used in battle)

  • Although easier to acquire than elephants were in real life, war mammoths are still quite expensive to equip for battle as well as feed

Would these war mammoths be more useful than their real-world war elephant counterparts, or would they be just as much of, if not more of a cumbersome double-edged sword?

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    $\begingroup$ Have a look at this post. worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/125973/… $\endgroup$
    – Shadowzee
    Oct 19, 2018 at 1:58
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    $\begingroup$ Mammoths were exterminated in prehistory by small hunting parties that which were far less sophisticated, organized, and wealthy than the armies you propose. Like war elephants (and most other superweapons), they are good for one or two uses...then lose their advantage as the enemy adapts. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Oct 19, 2018 at 3:25
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    $\begingroup$ War elephants were one of the most formidable assets an ancient or medieval army could have. Had they not be so horrendously expensive to maintain, they would have been as common as horses. And like horses, they were used for logistics as late as WWII (in the Pacific theater) - again like horses, this may be their best use in many cases. If those mammoths are lower on maintenance cost than elephants, they will be a must-have. $\endgroup$
    – Eth
    Oct 19, 2018 at 9:43
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think chain mail is a good idea. In humans, it is because we need an extraordinary range of motion with a relatively limited weight. But for quadrupeds, it isn't necessary and it's too expensive. The best protection is padded armor. Leave the rest to the natural skin and the layers of fat of the mammoth. Add a few large plates in vulnerable places sewn into the quited armor. Plates are less expensive than chain mail. Plate armor was very expensive due to the little articulated pieces and the high-quality steel (strong even in thin layers). But you can use almost iron for your beasts. $\endgroup$ Oct 19, 2018 at 10:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Eth Elephant forces were not all that effective against formed infantry. The elephant looks at the spears and decides to avoid them. They frightened horses, and so were very effective against cavalry. $\endgroup$ Oct 19, 2018 at 21:30

5 Answers 5


I am surprised that a distant planet Ryu 108 could have a population of mammoths descended from extinct wooly mammoths (Mammuthus primigrnius) that lived on Earth. But I will ignore that.

It is often said that mammoth tusks were useless as weapons because they were curved and thus useless for stabbing with. Of course people could attach long straight blades to mammoth tusks like they often did with war elephant tusks. But mammoth tusks were typically much larger than average modern elephant tusks. Mammoth tusks weighed tens and often hundreds of pounds. Would you like to be whacked with a hundred-pound club?

It may be noted that present elephants are very strong in their heads, shoulders, and necks. It is speculated that mammoths used their tusks to sweep sideways and sweep snow from off grasses to feed. Thus mammoths should have had very strong heads, shoulders, and necks, like modern elephants.

If the society is based on "viking age" society one of their main tactics would be an infantry shield wall. So war mammoths could charge up to the enemy shield wall and plow into it, sweeping their tusks from side to side to toss enemies out of the way (probably with broken bones) and infantry could pour into the gaps made by the mammoths. When the war mammoths reached the back of the enemy formation they could turn around and attack the enemy fighters in the formation from the back.

There were a lot of famous sea battles in medieval Scandinavia. The long ships would take down their masts and row and fight by boarding. And often the ships of one side would be lashed together to make a sea fort.

Maybe during a sea battle near the shore a war mammoth could swim out toward an enemy ship from the shore and toss a grappling hook onto the ship. The war mammoth would swim back to land and a bunch of war mammoths would pull on the rope attached to the grappling hook and pull the enemy ship to the shore with more power than the rowers could use to row away. When the enemy ship is pulled onto land warriors on the land coould climb onto it and fight the warriors on it.

The enemies on a grappled ship would try to detach the grappling hook. So maybe the war mammoth would have a warrior on its back with a large crossbow who would shoot the enemy ship with a harpoon, and the war elephants on land would pull on the line attached to the harpoon.

And if they harpooned a ship that was on the end of a line of ships lashed together, maybe the war mammoths could pull one end of the line of ships ashore. Then the ships in deeper water could be attacked by the fleet, while warriors waded out to attack the ships in shallow water. And war mammoths could wade out to attack the ships in shallow water, perhaps pulling them apart.

In classical Mediterranean society war elephants were popular for only about a century, though the Romans continued to use them on and off for a few more centuries. But in South Asia war elephants were used for about 3,000 years, so you should look up how they were used by South Asian armies, even though that was a very different culture than medieval Scandinavia.


In reality, if the enemy were prepared for them, not so much but when used against an enemy that had never seen one before, they would create fear.

See war elephants

The best way to take them out is caltrops as elephants have sensitive feet and I don't know how they'd take to wearing shoes. Set pike walls would also work.

What would be cool and would make them really dangerous is the handlers feeding them pain killers so they would be run away trains through the enemy ranks in a battle. Low survival rate but could really break an enemy's ranks.

  • $\begingroup$ Don't really know how a viking-age society could muster painkillers but I'll give it some thought. $\endgroup$ Oct 19, 2018 at 1:41
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    $\begingroup$ Opium poppies? Many natural plants that act as pain killers. $\endgroup$
    – Thorne
    Oct 19, 2018 at 1:43
  • $\begingroup$ Good thinking. I'll be sure to put this in the book series when I actually get to writing it. $\endgroup$ Oct 19, 2018 at 1:45
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    $\begingroup$ This is already covered in the Wikipedia link, but It's worth mentioning here that elephants remained in use for logistics/supply transport long after they had stopped being used as heavy cavalry. $\endgroup$ Oct 19, 2018 at 8:27
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for berserker mammoths $\endgroup$
    – Eth
    Oct 19, 2018 at 9:45

Totally Effective BUT Do not try to seige a castle!

Here is where I think War Elephants (or Mammoths) are best suited for war, because well, they are big! And will trample both friend and foe (but please focus on foe)

Charging through enemy ranks will not be a problem, however, some notes to truly make your war elephants the Key to victory.

1) War Formations

Most of the time, war movies during the medieval period has 3 main formations, the infantry, the archers, and the cavalry, while roman movies show a fourth, the siege engines(trebuchets, Catapults, Ballista, etc..).

Since you have not indicated your war formations, I'll be using the mammoths for siege transport. A plus for having mammoths.

2) Battle points

While most of the time the enemy would REALLy prepare for your mammoths, do take note that YOU SHOULD have prepared more than them. That's why most of the time, infantry are "sacrificed" in the battlefield, they march first because of this reasons

  • If the enemy launches an arrow barrage to your infantry, the time the cavalry attacks, the enemy would have less arrows. Most of the time, cavalry is more expensive because of the war beasts, and infantry men are more equipped to protect themselves on a arrow barragge.

  • Your infantry will step on the traps the enemy has prepared for your cavalry. Since Infantry men can be slaves, or soldiers wanna be to disposable footmen, you'll have plenty of mine sweepers so that your mammoth will pass through in a clear path.

  • Your infantry shall push or destroy any obstruction for your cavalry. What's the point of a cavalry charge if you already know that there are traps or spike protruding in the battlefield and you didn't even removed them? It will be costly to launch your cavalry to their deaths, launch the infantry, make them remove those things, then let the charge begin.

  • Your infantry's strength shall determine who launches their cavalry first. This will be your support for your mammoths, sure they can be expendable, but making them under armored, under armed, untrained and inexperience will seriously affect your battle plans. If they fall down really quick without accomplishing the two aforementioned tasks to them, you are seriously in danger, and the enemy general will just wait until your forces whittle down.

3) War strategy

  • War asset position: Your infantry will spear head your army, bring them up front. Followed by the archers at the rear. Siege machines will be behind archers, followed by the Mammoths.

  • Rain hell with your siege machines only, this is to avoid lots of protruding arrows on your side, so that your mammoths will gain enough acceleration to smash through enemy ranks, if they stepped on the arrows early on, then they might turn away from the charge.

  • Infantry to march towards the enemy, this is to remove or activate the traps on the field, step on any obstructions or spikes, and remove the spike walls that are around.

  • Archers will fire as Infantry support only IF they are engaged by enemies, this is again, to lessen the obstructions that your war mammoths will step on.

  • Your "Elepantry" SHOULD be lead by a very experienced commander. He has to evaluate the war, weather a full frontal charge from your cavalry, or a wave charge where your cavalry are divided into squads, charging wave after wave to the enemies, or an indirect attack where the cavalry will charge at the sides. The commander has to evaluate the situation that's happening in the battlefield since he holds in his command your highest valued asset, and strongest weapon.

All these is possible and yields the highest percentage of winning in all the situations during a war, but during a castle siege, your mammoths are no good and will just become work mules.


There are many strategies that could make use of them. most were covered by Mr.J so i won't repeat them here, just upvote his answer for the information he provided.

Pros assumed

  • Very Strong
  • big curved pointy things on the front
  • Tall
  • Reasonably quick for its size
  • Comfortable in colder climates where other mounts require more care
  • Quite thick skinned

Cons assumed

  • Needs a capable handler
  • easily outpaced by other smaller mounts
  • Needs to constantly eat (if anything like real life elephants)

These are very basic pros and cons. and I'm basing them mostly on modern elephants

When trying to figure out how effective a strategy or combat unit would be, I find it easier to think of how easily you could defend against them. in this case i'm looking at the mammoths themselves, not the strategies that they are used in. and going from the perspective of an experienced multi-planetary expeditionary force. not a band of thugs.

Charge Fodder

A huge angry beast has been sent charging towards us, how do we defend against it. well similar to regular cavalry, get out of its way, a beast that big and heavy cannot stop and turn quickly, so let it charge past us, and it will probably keep going. and if we can get a few spears and arrows into it as it passes means it will weaken as each soldier it passes gets a shot into it. yeah we'll lose a few that get caught by the tusks and trampled but for the most part it shouldn't cause too much of an issue and we'll reform the line fairly quickly.

Obviously if the enemy troops were running directly behind the mammoths then that would mean they could get behind our front line which if that is pike men would mean the couldn't turn easily and cause a fair bit of damage

Siege Engine

They could work as a battering ram fairly well and drag the seige towers into place but... as others have suggested, Elephants have fairly sensitive feet. so simple spike traps and caltrops would cause huge issues for them

Once in range of defense catapults or balistas then they are a large target to hit and unlikely to take the damage injured, and an injured mammoth is more likely to turn and ran trampling their own troops so they would be target number one for our bigger weapons.

But also once they got close to the walls then use fire... lots and lots of fire, Mammoths are hairy beast, the hair would catch alight and it would panic and run again damaging the enemy troops.

Armoured Elevated Archer Platform

Its hanging back and its archers are taking shots at us, we try and hit them and hit the mammoth, which is armoured and the shots aren't inflicted much damage, but to be fair, its only a couple of archers up there and they are fairing from a moving platform, so they are not as accurate, so just keep wanging arrows at it and eventually we'll get the archers, and providing we are not a densely packed force then the elevated archers will not be that effective


This would be fairly similar to both the charging and elevated platforms, but they wouldn't be that effective here either. we have horses. which are more agile and faster, we can literally run rings around the mammoths while the riders stab and shoot the driver, or go for the eyes of the mammoth. again, if we can panic the beast (not easy with a well trained beast but still possible) then they'll likely do as much damage to the enemy as to us.


Theoretically capable of dragging very heavy loads compared to horses, means the enemy can transport huge amounts of goods and equipment, apart from laying traps there is nothing we can do to stop them, even the traps would probably be found by the soldiers in front.

If again we assume they are similar to Elephants in terms of diet, then this will be the biggest drawback to them as an effective mount in a lot of environments. so the only decent defense would be to strip the land or burn in ahead of the invading force so that the mammoths don't have enough food to eat.


They would be most useful as beast of burden as opposed to actual combat units

  • $\begingroup$ Wrath "well similar to regular cavalry, get out of its way, a beast that big and heavy cannot stop and turn quickly, so let it charge past us, and it will probably keep going..." Obviously you never had to flee from an angry elephant. Perhaps you should look at videos of elephants using agility to play soccer or to chase people. It seems to me that the elephant lanes at the Battle of Zama would never have worked if the mahouts had been eager to attack the Romans. $\endgroup$ Oct 20, 2018 at 17:39

Think of Hannibal. He had war elephants and mammoths are literally the same thing, just bigger. Now, the biggest problem that poor Hannibal ran into was that when he wanted to walk on narrow paths where every misstep meant tumbling into a certain and very painful death, many elephants tended to die. But the surviving ones were very dangerous for many reasons: First, their skin was hard enough to fend off arrows. They were really large, could trample humans with armor and all and were literally impossible to climb. Also getting them to fall is almost impossible as their center of mass is way closer to the ground than the ones of AT-ATs. So now imagine elephants, just BETTER. In, like, every aspect. Just please don't make them walk over mountains.

  • $\begingroup$ The ancient sources say absolutely nothing about the numbers of elephants that might have died crossing the Alps. Since real elephants are very surefooted, the idea that any elephants died crossing the Alps using paths broad enough for tens of thousands of men, horses, and other animals is just an assumption. $\endgroup$ Oct 20, 2018 at 17:06

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