Book Club: The Extraordinary Dogs of War

By on June 18, 2015

Dogs have fought alongside man in combat since at least the 7th century BC, when the War Dogs of Magnesia helped battle the invading Ephesians. During WWII, the number of dogs that saw service ramped up considerably, as did the variety of roles they played. Among other duties, dogs sniffed out enemy ambushes, detected mines, guarded sensitive areas, and hunted for survivors. There was even a battalion of British dogs, nicknamed the “Luftwoofe,” that dropped from the air as paratroopers behind the front lines, says Robert Weintraub.

One dog, the heroine of my new book, called No Better Friend: One Man, One Dog, and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage and Survival in WWII, was an English Pointer named Judy. Incredibly, she was held as a prisoner of war by the Japanese for nearly four years. She also twice survived being attacked and sunk at sea, along with making it through a slew of other dangerous situations.

Judy, pictured above, sits up and listens to a sailor's commands on the deck of HMS GRASSHOPPER

Judy wasn’t trained for combat. Neither was Rip, a mongrel Terrier who became famous during the Battle of Britain. The plucky little dog’s own home was bombed, and he simply tagged along with Civil Defence crews. Rip proved invaluable, finding more than 100 survivors buried in the rubble, earning him the Dickin Medal, the top commendation an animal can receive (Judy also won the Dickin upon liberation).

Rip, photographed here, by By Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer via Wikimedia Commons

Chips, a mixed breed (a little Husky, some Collie, and some German Shepard), was part of the first War Dog Detachment to be sent overseas with American troops. One of his first duties was to stand guard outside the rooms in Casablanca where President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill discussed strategy in 1943. He then travelled from Africa to Italy to France and to Germany, seeing combat at every stop.

It was in Sicily in 1943 when Chips spotted an enemy pillbox, broke away from his handler, and attacked the machine gun crew inside. He seized one man and forced the entire four-man crew to surrender. In recognition of his service, Chips was awarded several medals, including the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.

Chips, pictured above

But after the war the Pentagon decided that awarding citations to dogs was “contrary to Army policy,” and stripped Chips of his medals. This is the going explanation as to why Chips reacted to meeting General Dwight Eisenhower by biting him.

Other dogs paid the ultimate price for their service. Wolf, US Army War Dog T121, was a Doberman, and a brave one. He was leading an infantry patrol in the mountains of Northern Luzon in the Philippines when the scent of an enemy patrol wafted past his powerful nose. His warning allowed the patrol to take favourable positions on a hillside. In the ensuing fire fight, Wolf took shrapnel wounds, but stoically stayed quiet, not allowing the Japanese to lock in on where the soldiers were located. Wolf then led the withdrawal, sniffing out ambushes three different times. At last, they made it to headquarters, where Wolf was rushed into emergency surgery.

Alas, his wounds were too severe. Wolf died on the operating table.

Then there was Gander, a massive Newfoundland from eastern Canada. He went with his Royal Canadian Rifles regiment to try to prevent the Japanese from taking Hong Kong in late 1941. To flush out the Canadian troops, the Japanese infantry tossed bushels of grenades at their positions. A 'pineapple' landed in the centre of a group of Canadians. Suddenly a streak of black fur dashed in and seized the sizzling grenade. It was Gander! The dog ran off with the grenade, getting about twenty yards from the men.

Then the grenade went off.

It took more than fifty years, but Gander’s sacrifice was at last recognized in 1996, when he too was awarded the Dickin Medal.

Gander, pictured above, with his troops

Like Judy, Rip and so many other brave war dogs, Gander certainly earned the award.

About the Author

Robert Weintraub is a frequent contributor to the New York Times, a columnist for Slate, and the author of the acclaimed books The House That Ruth Built and The Victory Season.

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