Our Four Legged Troopers (Part 1 of a series)


Animals have been part of human history since the beginning of the human race. Since the first wolf was domesticated, people have relied on animals for a variety of purposes.  Dogs have unique genetic characteristics that allow them to be bred for many different characteristics. The physical appearance of dogs as well as their speciality in service traits have all been carefully selected for each breed of dog. There are different dogs for different jobs in society. Some dogs have been bred for hunting, others for guarding and still others to herd and protect other animals. The history of dogs serving man includes the heroic war dogs. Dogs have been used throughout history, from the Egyptians to the Greeks to the Romans, from the action in Korea to Vietnam both World Wars and the Gulf War in the Middle East. World War 1 was the first wide spread use of dogs during a military campaign. It is estimated that Germany used 30,000 dogs, while France employed 20,000 of the four legged troopers. These dogs were used for a variety of purposes. They were sentries, carried food and ammunition for troops, draught animals,guard dogs, ambulance dogs and even dogs for the injured.During the First World War, a variety of breeds were used. Now, the main breeds used in the military are the German Shepard/German_Shepherdand Labrador Retriever . The United States was a bit slower to start using dogs. During World War 1, the United States had no  organized dog units. They did borrow some dogs from their allies for casualty, guard and messenger services.

Mercy Dogs

Red Cross casualty dogs were also called “Mercy” dogs. These dogs were trained initially by the Germans in the 1800’s. Later, these dogs were also trained and used by other countries in Europe. These canines were equipped with packs carrying medical supplies. Their job was to seek out the wounded and gave comfort to the dying.They were trained to find the wounded and return to their handler carrying the helmet or some part of the uniform of the wounded that they had found. This way the handler knew that the dog had located a wounded soldier. A French Mercy dog named Prusco, was credited with saving 100 men in one day by finding them and even dragging them back to the trenches.Thousands of soldiers owed their lives to these Mercy dogs during the war.

Messenger Dogs

Messenger dogs were sometimes the only way for front line units to communicate with headquarters because of broken radio lines. These animals were equipped with a metal tube for carrying messages and had a colored ribbon on their collars to identify which unit they were with. Troopers were not allowed to interfere with these dogs while they were working. Dogs were well suited for this job. They are faster than humans and present a smaller target for enemy guns.These dogs had a tough mission. Not only did they have to run long distances, but they had to overcome obstacles like barbed wire and rivers.One of the most famous messenger dogs was Satan. Verdun was a small town, but an important. geographic position. A garrison consisting of several hundred French soldiers had orders to hold this position until they were relieved. The enemy managed to surround them and cut off their position from the troops to their rear.The pigeons were killed in a blast, so all lines of communication were gone.Duval was Satan’s trainer and he was in Verdun. Duval knew if the men in the rear needed to send a message, it would be sent with Satan. He kept looking for his dog to appear. Finally he could make out a black spot. The spot became his dog, running toward him wearing a gas mask, a metal tube with a message and a basket of pigeons on his back.As he ran to Duval, he was hit by a German bullet and went down. But, he managed to get up again and continued to come to Duval on three legs.He was greeted by many men who were happy to see him. His message told the soldiers to hang on because relief would be there in the morning. The officer wrote two notes, “Silence the battery to our left” and drew a diagram to show where the battalion was located. He put the messages on two pigeons and released them. One was hit, but the other made it through.The German garrison was destroyed and the remaining men were saved because of Satan.

Draught Dogs

For centuries, dogs had been used in Europe for the purpose of hauling carts for their owners. This skill was used to a huge degree in World War 1.These dogs were used to to haul machine guns on two wheeled carts as well as ammunition carts and water for the gunners. Their job was dangerous but simple.  An officer would go ahead and pick the positions for the firing line. At a signal, the dogs would go to their carts, jump into their harness and take to cart to the officer’s position. The troops would unload the guns and create the firing line while the dogs were taken back to shelter.Twelve companies of dog drawn machine guns were used in the Belgian army.500 dogs were used to haul these gun and ammo carts. Many of these animals were killed in the line of duty and many were injured. There were animal care centers set up to care for these heroic military dogs.

Other uses for Military Working Dogs

These animals were just stating to be used for sentry, guard and scout duties during World War 1. The job of sentry was to walk along on a leash with the guards. They would warn the guards if they smelled or heard a stranger.These four legged heroes started to be used as scouts also.They walked with their human counterparts ahead of the main units. If they smelled or heard the enemy, they were trained to signal by laying down of uttering a soft growl. This was the first time that scout dogs were used. The use of dogs as scouts and mine detectors would be used more extensively in future wars. Their value as scouts and mine detectors would save many troops.

Sergeant Stubby

Sergeant Stubby was the most decorated of the Military Working Dogs in WW1. Where he came from is not known. He appeared one day with a bunch of soldiers who were training at Yale Field in New Haven CT. He trotted among the tanks and stopped to befriend a soldier here and there. A special friendship developed between Stubby and Corporal Robert Conroy. When it was time for Conroy to ship out, he hid Stubby with him on board the ship.They sailed to France. It was Chemin de Dames that Stubby saw his first action. Stubby didn’t seem to mind the loud explosives  of artillery fire and he soon learned to follow the examples of the men and ducked down when he heard artillery coming. Soon, the men figured out that Stubby could hear the whine of the shells coming before the men could, so they learned to watch him. When Stubby ducked, they all knew to take cover. History was made one night in the trenches. It was a quiet night and the men were napping in the muddy trenches. Stubby was laying next to Conroy while Conroy was also napping. Suddenly, Stubby raised his head  and let out a low growl. Then, he took off down the dugout and around the corner. Conroy heard a scuffle and a cry. Conroy grabbed his gun and took off toward the sound. When Conroy arrived, he found a German spy who had been prowling the trenches and attached to the seat of his pants was Stubby. It only took moments for Conroy to disarm the spy, but  it was difficult for Conroy to convince Stubby to let go. Stubby saved his troops from attacks,  mustard gas and even located and comforted the wounded. Stubby was introduced to President Woodrow Wilson and was bestowed with medals , emblemed jackets for each feat of valor and even a wounded stripe for his grenade splinter. The Marines even made him an honorable Sergeant. General Pershing awarded Stubby a gold medal made by the Humane Society. He was hailed as a hero. At the end of the war, Conroy took Stubby home to live with him and his family.In 1921, Conroy went to Georgetown Law School. He took Stubby along and Stubby became the mascot for Georgetown. On April 4, 1926, Stubby became ill and died in Conroy’s arms.It is said that Stubby and his friends were instrumental in starting the Dog Corps just in time for World War 2.

At War’s Ending

At the end of World War 1, it was estimated that 7,000 dogs were thought to have lost their lives in the war. That number is disputed however and the United States Veterinary Corps put the total deaths at 16,000.In France after the war, 15,000 canine heroes  who had survived the battles,were destroyed. Dogs in the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Italy and Russia were also destroyed. The number of animals destroyed after the war is unknown. But it is a sad fate for these Military Working Dogs. It will be 1942 before dogs were officially inducted into the U.S. military. But, by 2010, there are 2,800 active duty dogs deployed , the largest contingent of active duty canines in the world. In part 2, we will learn how these animals were further used in World War 2. The use of these four legged troopers will continue to grow and more heroic stories will be discovered.

http://www.militaryworkingdog.com/history/ http://community-2.webtv.net/Hahn-50thAP-K9/K9History/ http://www.uswardogs.org/id10.html http://www.dogster.com/dog-breeds/German_Shepherd http://www.dogster.com/dog-breeds/Labrador_Retriever

Part Two of this Series

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