Welcome to American Dogs of WW2, the History of the First K9 Unit. Sit comfortable, have your doggo near and enjoy.
Dogs, with their cute faces, were extensively used during the Great War and their help proved invaluable on so many levels. But do you know that, throughout the centuries, the canines joined kings in battles and that during WW2 the British began relying on dogs quite late (after the Germans)?
What happened across the Pond, in the United States?
Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor the US citizens were not interested in joining the war in Europe, but the US Marines knew that one day soon they will have to fight the Japanese (remember the “island-hopping” in the Pacific) and so they began training military dogs.
“Dogs for Defense” – the US Military Dogs
After the December 7 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the US declaring war on Japan on 8 December 1941, followed closely by Germany and Italy declaring war on the United States, “Dogs for Defense” was formed and dogs were formally trained for the military for the first time in the US history.
Dogs For Defense was the appointed agency for canine recruitment and training. They started with 200 dogs… and soon became the nick-name of the military dog training operation in the US became K-9 Corps.
In July 1942 the Secretary of War specifically asked Digs for Defense to include training of dogs in the following categories: sentry dogs, patrol dogs, messengers, and mine detection dogs. But very soon the Navy, the Coast Guard and Marine Corp became training their own military canines…
The US Marines were some of the first to show interest in training war dogs as they had experienced losing ground against enemy using sentry dogs in Haiti and other “Banana Wars” in Central America during 1914 – 1934.
The Devildogs – the US Marines’ dogs
The dogs trained by the US Marines were soon nicknamed “Devil Dogs” a nick name the Marines earned during WWI while fighting against the Germans. However, Dobermans weren’t the only breed that the US Marines used, but since the DPCA (Doberman Pinscher Club of America) was the one organization recruiting canines for the Marines, the initial emphasis was placed on this breed…
The first US K-9 Corps unit assigned to a tactical operation went to the Pacific
So a few War Dog Platoons soon appeared. Eight war dogs, six scouts and two messenger dogs were part of the first K-9 Corps unit. A report on their activities read:
“Patrol led by the dogs were never ambushed and suffered no casualties.”
The scout dogs were very good at alerting the Allies of incoming Japanese or spy local warriors and at guarding during the night. The messenger dogs were not disturbed in the bit by the local flora, so different in size and scents from what they knew from home, during training. The messenger dogs proved invaluable at keeping contact especially during heavy rain when electronic communication was cut off.
The dogs were held in such high regard, that they were allowed to travel in the officer’s plane, from one island to another. It is said that during a turbulent landing two dogs started a fight soon followed by the officers’ evacuation of the plane in a hurry, through the escape hatch.
Indeed, the War Dog Platoons proved invaluable to the US Marines during the Battle of Guam in July of 1944. See landing image below:
Three War Dog Platoons worked alongside US Marines on Guam Island. Here, the war dogs guarded the US camps, rescued wounded Marines, delivered messages, searched through caves for Japanese soldiers in hiding and alerted the Marines to the presence of landmines or booby traps set by Japanese.
A true story: Cappy and his handler, PFC Allen Jacobson
One night Cappy alerted 250 sleeping Marines of a vast force of advancing Japanese, saving their lives. Sadly, both Cappy and his handler, PFC Allen Jacobson, were injured in the battle that followed. True to his partner, Jacobson refused to leave the battle area and receive treatment until Cappy had also been evacuated.
Next, the US K-9 unit fought in the jungles of Papua New Guinea and on the beaches of Cape Gloucester, supporting either the Australian or British Marines against the Japanese forces.
The Doberman War Dogs could eventually outrank their handlers.
While training to become War Dogs, the Dobermans began their training as Privates and were promoted based on the length of service. Thus, after three months the Dobermans became a Private First Class, after one year a Corporal, after two years a Sergeant, after three years a Platoon Sergeant, after four years a Gunner Sergeant, and after five years a Master Gunner Sergeant.
Is it good for a Military Dog to outrank its human handler?
Today, this is often a custom that ensures the handler treats the Military Working Dog with the respect it deserves, while still giving it some freedom to behave like a dog if they ever disobey an order.
The first US K-9 patrol to help in Europe
Again, even through deep snow,, the dogs proved to be of invaluable assistance, and not only military. In March 1945, when communication was cut off, the messenger dogs kept the information going until another canine member carried a telephone on his back to the isolated unit.
True stories: Chip’s independent spirit and Daisy’s loyalty
Chips was a dog with a great personality and an even bigger heart who saved many lives during WW2. Perhaps it was his mixed blood, Chips being part shepherd, part collie, part husky, that gave him a keen sense of smell and hearing. Perhaps it was his love for humans that got him to show great bravery in battle… What is certain is that the more he ventured, the more his nonconformist spirit didn’t go well with his superiors… We need to remember that canine psychology was not so well understood back then.
For example, while his division – exhausted and soaked after pulling ashore on the seemingly deserted beaches of Sicily – retrieved behind an abandoned outpost to regroup, Chips chose to dash over No Man’s Land…
Typical canine behavior, right? Not quite.
Soon after a machine gun was heard, then a crippling silence embraced Chips’ division. Of course, they dashed over to investigate. They discovered Chips holding tight onto the throat of a German gunner, while five other German soldiers had already surrendered to the brave military dog.
Had Chips sniffed the gunpowder? The uniforms? Had he heard whisper or the click of the machine guns? What is sure is that he saved the lives of the men in his division. Yet he did not escaped unharmed; he received a wound to the scalp and burns to his mouth and left eye.
Although he showed his bravery many times, Chips was never decorated because of his tendency to act on his own, thus breaking the rules, and because, sigh, he was “only a dog”. Nevertheless, his comrades presented Chips with a Theater Ribbon. On the ribbon were an arrowhead for the assault landing at Sicily and a star for each of the eight campaigns during which Chips served.
The arrowhead would denote participation in amphibious landing in Chips’ case. It would have looked something like the ribbon above, but with eight stars.
Eventually, Chips received the Silver Star in 1943 for bravery in combat and in 2018 Chips was awarded the Dickin Medal, the highest honor for wartime bravery by an animal.
True story: Daisy’s loyalty, even in frigid waters
Daisy was a golden retriever and the mascot of a Norwegian merchant ship that in 1944 was accidentally (or not) torpedoed in the North Atlantic. During WW2 the Nortraship (The Norwegian Shipping and Trade Mission) operated some 1,000 vessels and was the largest shipping company in the world, operating outside German-controlled areas. Nortraship made a major contribution to the Allied war effort.
After the torpedo sank Daisy’s ship, all throughout that night Daisy swam from one survivor to another, licking their faces, warming up their noses with her breath, in a desperate attempt to keep them awake – and alive – in the icy waters of the North Atlantic until help arrived, the following day.
Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring – it was peace.Milan Kundera
Next time we will look at the Soviet Union, German and Japanese War Dogs of WW2 and then at Para-dogs of WW2, but until then you can browse some of my books – and see if you can identify their common denominator…
Silent Heroes, is a work of fiction about the Military Working Dogs and the amazing Marines and local people caught in the War in Afghanistan.
Take home an unbelievable and humorous true story of an incredible dog and how he found his true, yet unexpected calling, Joyful Trouble.
Celebrating the simple things in life as seen through the eyes of our old time favorite furry friends, “As Good as Gold” is a volume of poetry revealing the talent and humor we always knew our dogs possessed.