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British Dogs of WW2, the Amazing, the Cute and the Incredible

At the end of WW1, with the casualties of war, it was concluded that over one million dogs have been used on both sides, Allies and Axis Powers.

What happened next?

After the end of the Great War Germany, not surprisingly, went ahead, secretly training war dogs even under the harsh conditions of the Treaty of Versailles, while USA chose not to pursue further training of war dogs during peace times.

A German soldier reading a message while his German Shepherd dog keeps a watchful eye over the battlefield. Source: History Collection
A German soldier reading a message while his German Shepherd dog keeps a watchful eye over the battlefield. Source: History Collection

The conclusion?

It is estimated that by the time the United States got involved in World War Two, Germany had already trained 200 000 military dogs, while America had plenty of family pets and only a handful of  sled dogs – in Alaska.

Over the pond, in Europe, the Allies believed for a long time that WW2 will be a mechanized combat, some experts even saying that dogs, this time around, should remain in the doghouse. It took Colonel E. H. Richardson (the man who began training military dogs for the very first time) and Major James W. Baldwin a great deal of effort to prove to the British government (again!) that dogs would be of invaluable effort during the Second World War as they have been during WW1 – read some amazing, true stories here – indeed!

Edwin Richardson trained Airedale terriers for the police in Glasgow before supplying canine recruits for World War I. Source bbc
Edwin Richardson trained Airedale terriers for the police in Glasgow before supplying canine recruits for World War I. Source bbc

Using dogs during WW2, a slow start.

First to use dogs as sentries and messengers during WW2 have been the French and the Belgians.

The very first British War Dog School officially opened in spring 1942. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the National Canine Defence League and the Animal Protection Society of Scotland and Northern Ireland cooperated in recruiting dogs.

Since they started training military dogs so late and so many dogs had been already euthanized at the very beginning of WW2, when food was suddenly so scarce, in their hurry to catch up with the German school of dog training, the British saw themselves forced to use a wide variety of dog breeds: Alsatians (the name German Shepherd was avoided back then for obvious reasons), Airedales terriers (the breed Colonel E. H. Richardson first started dog training with), farm Collies (mostly as messenger dogs), Kerry Blue terriers, Boxers, Labradors, Bull terriers, and Labradors.

Soon enough, the RAF, Royal Air Force, used dogs to guard their camouflaged airfields.

This particular image is a page of history in itself as it was shot by Sgt Chetwyn deployed in North Africa, on the exact date of 15 August 1942, and depicts the Corps of Military Police training a Boxer dog to attack.

THE BRITISH ARMY IN NORTH AFRICA 1942 - training a boxer dog. Source Imperial War Museum
THE BRITISH ARMY IN NORTH AFRICA 1942 (E 15659) The Corps of Military Police training a Boxer dog to attack, 15 August 1942. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205203897

In contrast, look at this image below. A soldier forgetting all about war for a few moments.

WW2 - Tunisia 1943, an American soldier using his helmet to wash a puppy. Source History Collection
WW2 – Tunisia 1943, an American soldier using his helmet to wash a puppy. Source History Collection

The Royal Engineers, part of the British Armed Forces, used dogs with success in North Africa in 1943, when the Germans introduced non-metallic mines. The dogs were trained to sit when finding an anti-tank or anti-personnel mine. Sadly, these dogs’ skills were affected by the scent of bodies, the battlefield debris and the differences in weather.

Major Paddy Mayne, a Norther Ireland Officer and his dog
Major Paddy Mayne, a Norther Ireland Officer and his dog

It is worth mentioning that the dog’s ability to detect the chemicals found in explosives was only discovered and exploited after WW2.

During WW2 the dogs were merely trained to discover the soil that had been turned over by humans when a mine was buried. Surely the dogs still smelled the buried chemicals, but the whole method the dog handler used to teach them and the principle behind it was wrong – looking at it now.

North Africa campaign - two British tank men and a dog who was certainly not sniffing bombs
North Africa campaign – two British tank men and a dog who was certainly not sniffing bombs

What qualities were required for a dog to have, to be included in the military?

Perhaps the one quality that was often taken for granted and all canines possessed was their ability to empathize with humans, the millennial bond between man and dog.

A dog keeps watch over an exhausted soldier during World War II. Source History Collection.
A dog keeps watch over an exhausted soldier during World War II. Source History Collection.

Sentry dogs had to be willing and aggressive, able to work without a leash and not prone to barking.

Scout or patrol dogs had to be of medium size, strong and of quiet disposition and to prove they possess extra sensitive powers to discern, by smell only, if a soldier was enemy or not.

The canines working with the coast guard were trained to spot the stranger by his scent, not bark and to lead the sentry silently toward the intruder, even crawling on their bellies if necessary.

Soldiers and their pets, WW2, 1945, Japan, Okinawa. Source History Collection
Sometimes, togetherness was all that was needed – a soldier and his dog, WW2, 1945, Japan, Okinawa. Source History Collection

Messenger dogs were chosen from the most loyal dogs and they had to be super-fast runners and good swimmers, as well as proving great stamina. But if a dog was aggressive he would not make a good candidate as a messenger dog as choosing fight over the safety of the mission was not desired.

Mine dogs or M-dog were the first mine detecting dogs trained to find trip wires, booby traps, metallic and non-metallic mines. Sadly, these dogs struggled with real combat conditions such as excessive noise and weather changes.

It is worth mentioning here all those dogs who were not trained for the military but adopted by soldiers, dogs who brought along love and hope and a glimpse of home in the middle of a deadly war.

1945 - a puppy sleeping between two soldiers. Source: History Collection.
1945 – a puppy sleeping between two soldiers. Source: History Collection.

Interesting to notice that “British War Dogs”, the book written and published during WW1 by Lieut. Col. E. H. Richardson, the commandant of the British War Dog School, was by now a favorite with American Army officers involved in dog training.

British War Dogs, Lt-Col Richardson  -source ABC Australia
British War Dogs, Lt-Col Richardson -source ABC Australia

The first British dog killed in action

War records state that Bobbie, a brave Alsatian and a messenger dog, was killed in March 1940 while delivering a message to the front line, in France. Bobbie lost his life on the battlefield, so his sergeant major with three men from his battalion could only retrieve Bob’s body during the safety of the night. Bob was deeply missed, as he was more than just a messenger to his platoon mates. He was buried with full military honours.

Able Seaman Just Nuisance, the first dog to be enlisted in the Royal Navy

Able Seaman Just Nuisance, the 1st dog to be enlisted in the Royal Navy. Read his story here.
Able Seaman Just Nuisance, the 1st dog to be enlisted in the Royal Navy. Read his story here.

Just Nuisance served between 1939 and 1944 on HMS Afrikander, a Royal Navy shore establishment in Simon’s Town, South Africa. Read his story here.

Bob, the first British dog to win the Dickin Gallantry Medal

Although he was a white mongrel, Bob did excellent job as messenger and patrol dog in North Africa, prove that pedigree fades in front of a brave heart. Because of his white coat he had to be covered in camouflage paint during missions, but that did not stop him. Bob saved many British soldiers with his excellent abilities of sniffing out the enemy.

Tunisia, 1943, an American soldier washing a puppy in a helmet. Source: History Collection.
Tunisia, 1943, an American soldier washing a puppy in a helmet. Source: History Collection.

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Amazing Roles Dogs Played during WW1, part 2: Scouts, Sentries, Ambulance and Messenger Dogs via @patfurstenberg, #dogs #WW1 #history

During the Great War the military dogs first trained by military Scotsman Lt Col Edwin Hautenville Richardson proved invaluable as trench dogs. Other dogs of smaller size, did an amazing job as ratters.

Dogs used as scouts during WW1

These dogs were trained to point when an intruder was spotted (sniffed) and not bark since secrecy was the key to these missions. They could detect enemy scent up to 1000 yards away.

Scout dogs were trained to stiffen, raise their hackles and point their ail, thus indicated that an enemy was approaching.

Germans were the first to use scout dogs, sending them over no man’s land to spy on Allies’ positions.

Scout and dog patrol. Source metropostcard
Scout and dog patrol. Source metropostcard

Dogs used as sentries or guards

These dogs were invaluable especially during the night when they would prevent any night surprises coming from the enemy.

Either in the front lines, to guard against enemy incursions, or guarding important facilities or locations behind the lines together with their handler, dogs proved priceless.

A sentry dog watching after a soldier
A sentry dog watching after a soldier

They were trained to give a warning signal such as a growl, or snarl to indicate a suspect presence.

Sometimes dogs even worked alone in a trench, especially at night, to watch out for enemy activity while the humans rested.

Messenger dogs of WW1

Give their small size and speed, dogs soon proved to be much better at delivering messages than any human, especially when any other mean of communication was cut off or the battle was taking place in an inhospitable land, such as the jungles of Pacific Islands.

WW1 British messenger dogs and their handler
WW1 British messenger dogs and their handler

Dogs also braved the bullets, showing much determination in getting the job done.

The dogs were trained to ignore the fire of guns of all calibers, and were accustomed to the explosion of hand grenades near them.

A messenger dog during WW1
A messenger dog during WW1

Sometimes messenger dogs carried… other messengers.

Carrier pigeons in cages on back Airedales terrier WW1
Carrier pigeons in cages on back Airedales terrier WW1

Other dogs were trained as Ambulance or Casualty Dogs, Red Cross Dogs or Mercy Dogs

Although still informal, dogs helped a great deal during the Great War. It is believed that on both sides 10 000 dogs served in the Red Cross and these dogs undertook the most severe training.

A Red Cross dog trained to search for wounded soldiers while under fire, 1915.
A Red Cross dog trained to search for wounded soldiers while under fire, 1915.

One of my favorite pictures from the Great War depicts two canine buddies walking side by side, two Red Cross dogs.

The dogs were also trained to carry first aid and supplies for soldiers at the front - Getty source

Were they a team? One carrying medical supplies, the other one, with a gas mask on, trained to jump in the trenches, checking for the wounded soldiers? Were they taking strength from each other? Their body language tells me they were happy, determined on their task.

Germans were the first to begin training Ambulance Dogs, Sanitatshunde, in 1893.

A German Sanitatshunde - Red Cross Dog. WW1. Source Metropostcard
A German Sanitatshunde – Red Cross Dog. WW1. Source Metropostcard

“First Aid Dogs” were trained not to bark when they found a disabled soldier and to disregard dead soldiers. On locating a wounded soldier, the dog was trained to get close enough so that the soldier may open the first aid box the dog carried. Then the canine would tear a piece of the uniform or retrieve the soldier’s cap back to the kennel – to identify the fallen soldier.

A Red Cross dog taking a kepi from a wounded soldier back to the stretcher-bearer for identification of the wounded, The Great War
A Red Cross dog taking a kepi from a wounded soldier back to the stretcher-bearer for identification of the wounded, The Great War

Returned to the kennel the dog would bark and head back, showing he found an injured soldier.

Of course, this was in theory and real life situations forced a change in the way the Red Cross Dogs were trained as sometimes there was no cap and the loosest thing a dog chose to remove was often a bandage. Eventually dogs were fitted with a loose collar which they could grab and hold in their mouth as a sign they found a wounded soldier.

In the aftermath of a battle, the Red Cross dogs would localize the wounded and wait by their side for the stretcher bearers to arrive and pick up the soldier, transporting him to a hospital.

France, WW1. A training picture here shows a dog waiting for stretcher bearers where the wounded are lying. source doglowreporter
France, WW1. A training picture here shows a dog waiting for stretcher bearers where the wounded are lying. source doglowreporter

What is amazing is that dogs were indeed trained to recognize uniforms in order to tell friend from foe.

Mercy or Ambulance Dogs of WW1
Mercy or Ambulance Dogs of WW1

England, France, Russia and Germany – they all used military dogs trained for the the same purposes. And, true to their nature, the dogs often did more than it was expected from them.

Although some dogs were trained as messengers, when a buddy was in need they didn’t shied away from the task.

Prusco, a French dog that looked like a white wolf, is said to have saved more than a hundred men. On another occasion he dragged three wounded soldiers to a safe place, out of enemy fire, where they could wait to be removed from the battlefield.

The French war-dog Prusco was employed in carrying messages from a motor-cycle scout to headquarters. This dog and his companions penetrated the enemy lines on many occasions.
The French war-dog Prusco was employed in carrying messages from a motor-cycle scout to headquarters. This dog and his companions penetrated the enemy lines on many occasions.

Italians trained some of their dogs to carry ammunition over hard to reach mountain passes by means of a harness and strapped to their backs.

Dogs carrying ammunition strapped to their backs. Source metropostcard.
Dogs carrying ammunition strapped to their backs. Source metropostcard.

In France, WW1 saw the boom of the “Societe Nationale des Chiens Sanitaires” in France.

Allied soldier bandages the paw of a Red Cross medic-dog in Belgium, 1917.
Allied soldier bandages the paw of a Red Cross medic-dog in Belgium, 1917.

Of course, war propaganda was quick on picking up the civilian’s interest in war dogs, these silent heroes, and use it as this French postcards shows. This postcard (bellow) was banned in 1915 because censors felt its cruel spirit was demeaning to France.

French propaganda postcard of WW1
French propaganda postcard of WW1

So far we saw how the friendship between humans and dog started, some 26 000 years ago. we saw how dogs joined kings in battles and why dogs are so indispensable during war. We saw how dogs helped in the trenches. Next time we will look at dogs who pulled machine guns and sleigh and then at some mascot dogs of WW1 and WW2 as well as how the role dogs plaid during the Second World War changed. And we won’t stop there, so be sure to return and check new blog posts.

Do check out my book Joyful Trouble, A humorous read about an incredible dog and how he had found his true, yet unexpected calling. It is a book for all ages.

Joyful Trouble
Joyful Trouble, a book that reads like a movie

My adult fiction book, Silent Heroes, is a #1 New Release, a contemporary fiction novel,  filled with action and emotional twists and turns. “Silent Heroes” has a strong historical and cultural feel of the area when the action takes place, Afghanistan.

Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for
Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for – New Contemporary Fiction by Patricia Furstenberg
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