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Moffett's muted mules: the science of laryngology in the art of war

  • V Sekhar (a1), E Wong (a1), H A Elhassan (a1) and N Singh (a1)



Mules and other equine species have been used in warfare for thousands of years to transport goods and supplies. Mules are known for ‘braying’, which is disadvantageous in warfare operations. This article explores the fascinating development of surgical techniques to stop military mules from braying, with particular emphasis on the key role played by the otolaryngologist Arthur James Moffett in devoicing the mules of the second Chindit expedition of World War II.


The PubMed database (1900–2017) and Google search engine were used to identify articles related to devoicing mules in the medical and veterinary literature, along with information and images on the Chindit expedition.


This paper reviews the surgical techniques aimed at treating braying in mules, ranging from ventriculectomy and arytenoidectomy to Moffett's approach of vocal cordectomy.


Moffett's technique of vocal cordectomy provided a quick, reproducible and safe solution for devoicing mules. It proved to be advantageous on the battlefield and demonstrated his achievements outside the field of medicine.


Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: Dr Vimal Sekhar, Westmead Hospital, Australia E-mail: Fax: +61 2 9680 8822


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Dr V Sekhar takes responsibility for the integrity of the content of the paper



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3Browning, DG. Vocalization of Equus asinus: the hees and haws of donkey brays. J Acoust Soc Am 2004;115:2485
4Moffett, AJ. The silent Chindit mules. Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1983;287:1946–7
5Henning, H. Taking the bray out of the army mule. Popular Science 1918:82
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12Curing roaring in horses. Mount Ida Chronicle and St Bathans Weekly News 1910 July 29: 1
13Hobday, F. Specimens of equine larynx, and records of cases illustrating the results of the “ventricle-stripping” operation for the relief of the conditions known as “whistling” and “roaring” in horses. Demonstrations of instruments specially designed for this operation. Proc R Soc Med 1911;4:8792
14Stewart, CM. The muting of animals of General Wingate's force operating behind the Japanese lines in Burma. J R Army Vet Corps 1946;17:8792
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Moffett's muted mules: the science of laryngology in the art of war

  • V Sekhar (a1), E Wong (a1), H A Elhassan (a1) and N Singh (a1)


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