The story of Wojtek: the 440-pound bear that drank, smoked, and carried weapons for the Polish army during World War II

During World War II, the 22nd Artillery Supply Company of the 2nd Polish Corps had an unusual soldier among its ranks, a 440 pound Syrian bear named Wojtek.

Wojtek first came to the company as a cub, but over the course of the war he matured and was given the rank as a corporal in the Polish army. 

Here’s Wojtek’s amazing story below.

After being released from a Siberian labour camp during the Nazi invasion of Russia in 1942, the 22nd Polish Supply Brigade began a long trek south towards then-Persia. Along the way, they bought an orphaned bear.

'He was like a child, like a small dog. He was given milk from a bottle, like a baby. So therefore he felt that these soldiers are nearly his parents and therefore he trusted in us and was very friendly,' Wojciech Narebski, former Polish soldier told the BBC.

As he grew, his diet changed, but he remained friendly.

The bear became fond of drinking beer, as well as smoking, and even eating cigarettes. 'For him one bottle was nothing, he was weighing 440 pounds. He didn't get drunk,' Narebski said.

The bear became a major morale boost to the troops.

The company was fond of boxing and wrestling with Wojtek, as seen in this footage.

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While he was still small enough, Wojtek would hang out of the passenger side of trucks, until he eventually grew so large he had to be transported in the back of cargo vehicles.

By 1943, the Polish company had reached Egypt and were preparing to reenter the war zone in Italy. The army had strict rules denying pets passage to war zones, so the company did the only thing they could -- they made Wojtek an official soldier.

Because of his fearsome size and strength, Wojtek carried crates of munitions much easier than his human comrades. He inspired the emblem for his company.

The badge of the 22nd Artillery Support Company of the 2nd Polish Corps.

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After the war, Wojtek spent his days in the Edinburgh zoo, where he was a beloved attraction. Wojtek died in 1963.

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