War Dogs in WW II

In December 1941, at the time of Pearl Harbor, the sled dog was the only working dog in the Army. About fifty were assigned to military stations in Alaska, and another forty were used by the U.S. Army Air Corps Ferrying Command to rescue airmen forced down in Newfoundland, Greenland, and Iceland. As World War II started in Europe, and the U.S. Army began to prepare for its coming role, an estimate was made that 200 dogs might be needed. In actuality, about 10,000 dogs were trained for the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard by the time the war ended in 1945.

K-9 Corps German Shepherd aboard ship, enroute to Europe during World War II
K-9 Corps German Shepherd aboard ship, enroute to Europe during World War II.

Today in WW II: 15 Jan 1943 Pentagon building completed as US War Department headquarters after only 16 months of construction, costing approx $83 million.   

War Dogs Technical Manual TM 10-396, 1943
War Dogs Technical Manual TM 10-396 , 1943.

Military Dogs in World War II: Dogs for Defense

The first effort to procure and train dogs for the U.S. military was based on volunteers. A civilian organization, "Dogs for Defense, Inc." was formed in January 1942 to work with qualified civilian trainers, who offered their services without pay, to train dogs for sentry and guard duty. Under special arrangement with the War Department, officials of Dogs for Defense agreed to assume responsibilities for procurement and training of dogs, funded by patriotic individual donations and by members of the American Kennel Club.

Still working with an estimate of 200 dogs needed for fixed sentry duty, Dogs for Defense quickly procured about 100 donated dogs and training began in March of 1942. Few trained dogs were actually delivered for duty since the available instructors did not have the background for military requirements. In the Summer of 1942, a new training program was developed and responsibility for procuring, handling, and training dogs was placed with the Quartermaster Remount Branch.

The Quartermaster Takes Over

On 16 July 1942, the Secretary of War directed the Quartermaster General to broaden the scope of the War Dog Program to include training for roving patrol, messenger, and sled work in addition to sentry duty. Sentry duty itself was broadened to include Army Air Force needs for guarding air fields, and possible uses by other agencies. The Secretary of War also ordered the Army Ground Forces, the Army Air Force and the theaters of operations, "to explore the possibilities of using dogs advantageously in the various activities under their control."

The first War Dog Reception and Training Center was established at Front Royal, VA, in August 1942. Additional centers operated by the Quartermaster Corps were located at Fort Robinson, NE, Cat Island, Gulfport, MS, Camp Rimini at Helena, MT, and San Carlos, CA. Small, temporary mine dog training centers were set up at Beltsville, MD, and Fort Belvoir, VA. In the Fall of 1942, the Quartermaster Corps began procuring and training dogs for the Navy and the Coast Guard, in addition to the Army, although the other branches eventually set up their own programs.

On 1 July 1943, Technical Manual TM 10-396 was issued specifying the training, care and handling of War Dogs (cover, left). This manual is available from Amazon at the link or from other militaria or used book sellers.

Organization of Army K-9 Units in WW II

K-9 Corps German Shepherd training with MP, at Hampton Roads, VA during World War II
K-9 Corps German Shepherd training with MP, at Hampton Roads, VA during World War II.

The War Dog Platoon, although trained by the QMC, was a combat unit, not supply. The platoon was composed of:

  • a Lieutenant, commanding the unit
  • a Technical Sergeant , the platoon sergeant
  • an attached Veterinary Sergeant
  • three squads of handlers and dogs

Each squad contained eight dog handlers who trained and handled four scout and four messenger dogs. The squad leader was a Sergeant; the remainder of the handlers were Technicians Fifth Grade. The platoon sergeant was also qualified to train and handle dogs. This organization was specified in T/O and E 10-379T.

After training at a Quartermaster War Dog Reception and Training Center, a War Dog platoon was attached to Army, Corps or Division as determined by the theater commander. Its scout and messenger man-dog team were attached to lower units as needed for work with reconnaissance, combat, and security patrols, and as needed for communication purposes. The commanding officer of the War Dog unit advised the commanders of using units on the proper use of the handlers and dogs.

Fifteen War Dog platoons served overseas in World War II. Seven saw service in Europe and eight in the Pacific. The 1st Marine Dog Platoon with twenty-four Dobermans and German shepherds landed on Bougainville 1 November 1943, moving ahead of the main body, looking for snipers in the jungle (photo on War Dogs History page). Six dogs were recognized for heroism on Bougainville, with the 2nd and 3rd Marine Raider Battalions.

WW II Coast Guard Beach Patrol

The WW II Coast Guard Beach Patrol is featured on the linked page of Olive-Drab.com.

Find More Information on the Internet

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