The Unsung Canine Heroes of World War II

Jayen Henderson, Going Postal
Professional surfer Makua Rothman participates in a military working dog demonstration, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Follow CC BY 2.0

In 1945, a Collie-German Shepherd-Siberian Husky mix called Chips returned home to Pleasantville, New York. He’d seen North Africa, Sicily, France, and Germany, but he was not on a tour or a vacation, he was America’s most decorated dog of war. So brave were his exploits, including helping take out an Italian machine gun nest and taking 10 soldiers captive, that he was awarded a Purple Heart and a Silver Star.

Dogs in the Second World War

Sadly for Chips, pooches were not allowed to receive such high honours and they were later revoked, but he won them in spirit. However, Chips was not alone. Across all the fronts of the war, in all the nations taking part, dogs played a vital role.

Overall, 7,000 dogs took part in the second world war in some role or other. We should not be surprised by this. Humans have worked well with dogs for tens of thousands of years, hunting together, guarding properties, and even today dogs help children learn to read, and even improve working environments.

The UK’s War Dogs

In the second world war, however, they served both on the front line and at home. In the United Kingdom dogs played a vital role looking for survivors during the blitz. In 1941, the British government sent out a call for canine volunteers and 7,000 dog owners volunteered their pooches for active service. They were trained in Hertfordshire.

One of the dogs who joined the war was called Texas. In 1945 he took part in Operation Plunder, a mine breaching assault as part of the epic Rhine crossing of March 24th. He ignored gunfire and mortar blasts to clear areas around Rees and Groin on the enemy side of mines, so the allies could advance into Germany.

American Canines in WWII

In 1941 the American military only had a few sled dogs used in arctic regions, but a group of American civilians thought they could do more. They formed Dogs for Defense (DFD) and set about proving it. Endorsed by the American Kennel Club, the DFD sought recruits to be trained in border security as sentries and spotters. In time, dogs were trained by the DFD and the American military on more and more duties including mine removal and active duty on war fronts.

Deep in the jungles of New Guinea, during the darkest days of the Pacific War, American soldiers stumbled across an abandoned puppy – a Yorkshire Terrier who they called Smoky. In time Smoky would save countless lives by sniffing out and warning her fellow soldiers of incoming shells. At an airstrip in Luzon, The Philippines, Smoky pulled a telegraph wire through a narrow, 70 ft pipe speeding up construction time and keeping soldiers safe from enemy fire. She lived until 1957 and was immortalised in William A. Wynne’s “Yorkie Doodle Dandy.”

It was not just dogs either

While cats may have sat this one out – probably on account of dogs taking part, our canine friends were not the only ones to serve in World War 2. Churchill’s rather fanciful plan of bomber pigeons may have failed to take off, but Gustav the pigeon was one of six birds given to Reuters correspondent Motagu Taylor to send back news of the D-Day landings on June 6th, 1944. Then there was Wojtek the bear, who was the official mascot of the Polish II corps, but also carried supplies to frontline troops and after the war he settled in Edinburgh zoo until his death in 1963.

© Jayne Henderson 2019

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