The War Dog

Photographed Feb.27, 1945. Credit: NARA original

Messenger dog, Prince, runs from the rear of the Army Battalion to the front. Dogs were trained to run from one master to the other, and completed their missions, despite weather, terrain, and gunfire. 

In peacetime we know of their service to the blind, and of their value in search and rescue, as recently displayed in the Haitian earthquake recovery operations.  Man’s best friend may become even more indispensable after a study showed that dogs have ability to detect lung cancer with a high accuracy.

Some breeds of dogs are highly prized for their unique, sharply tuned instincts and the ease with which they can be trained for combat operations. The German Shepherd proved to be excellent choice for sentry duties and also for laying lines of communication from the reels strapped to their backs. Germany had 6,000 dogs in service at the outbreak WWII.

Here a Red Cross dog has located a body and howls for assistance from the medics. Incidentally, the Airedale is claimed to be the best type of search dog.

Dogs of all shapes and sizes, mixed breeds and purebred, have been used by man in combat operations since 400 BC. In the Middle Ages the ferocious mastiff-type dogs that were unleashed upon the enemy must have been extremely unnerving.

In Korea, we had scout dogs that went out with the patrols. The dog’s keen scent, 40 times more acute than humans, alerted the patrols to the presence of the Chinese. The diet of the Asians produced a different scent from that of an occidental. And you may also know that in the Afghan war, sniffer dogs were used for mine detection.

World War 2: Three Airedale dogs wearing their special gas masks at a Surrey kennel. They are being trained by Lt Col E. H. Richardson. 1939. Picture: Keystone/Getty Images

In WWI, dogs were fitted with and wore gas masks when required, so that they could continue to function in a chemical environment. In addition to the gas mask, today’s equipment is full of ‘bells and whistles’ to make dogs more effective in war. There are body armor vests for dicey situations. The vests are equipped with video cameras for entering danger zones, as in the case of the raid on Osama Bin Laden. Some dog vests are fitted with goggles for night vision; other vests have built-in transmitters and receivers; still other vests are coupled with attachments for rappelling and parachuting. 1,917 messenger dogs became part of the Pigeon Service overseen by the Signal Corps.

Image from The National WWII Museum, Inc., Digital Archive courtesy of The National Archives

Let me tell you about Rob the dog parachutist who made more than 20 drops while serving with the Special Air Service in 1941 on top-secret missions in Africa and Italy. On a personal level, as a parachutist, I remember my heart racing just prior to a jump. Rob may not have understood the commotion as the troopers responded to the commands, “Stand up—hook up—go!” and yet he did not hesitate as he bailed out of the AC with them. What loyalty!

Here is another story of faithfulness and loyalty. Prince was an Irish terrier belonging to James Brown of Hammersmith, England. James, a WWI soldier, was posted to France and left Prince with a friend. One day Prince went missing. He cunningly attached himself to troops crossing the channel, and by some sixth sense managed to track down his master in the front lines at Armentieres.

1917 messenger dogs became part of the Pigeon Service overseen by the Signal Corps.

- Lloyd Swick

Image from The National WWII Museum, Inc., Digital Archive courtesy of The National Archives

Image from The National WWII Museum, Inc., Digital Archive courtesy of The National Archives