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Pets General

Animals In War

Val Cairney November 27, 2020 44


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Hello and welcome to this episode of Val Talk’s Pets.  So, Remembrance Day has passed recently here in Canada and similar events around the world so it got my thinking about the role of animals in conflict.  My humane society for the third year has been offering pins for sale that commemorate animals in war.  The first year the metal ribbon had a dog on it and the second year it had a horse and this year it has a pigeon.  I was able to get the one with a dog two years ago.  I love this pin and that it has evolved with the different animals that gave their lives in war and their service to the military and policing units.  So let’s take a look at some of the famous animals in war and conflict.   

Animals of all kinds were used during war.  Most of us are familiar with the role of horses during war and conflict as far back as history will tell us.  Horses have been the steadfast steed to carry warriors into battle without hesitation, meeting hoards and weapons head on.  Horses have been used to haul supplies, and weapons, carry the wounded and the dead, as did their fellow equines the mules and donkeys.  These equines thanklessly hauled everything of need and were depended upon for their strength and endurance.  Horses being ridden by cavalry men could be lined up to instill fear into enemies and to push back attacks with their size, power and tenacity.  To this day, police horses being used in crowd control is a spectacle of harnessed power, amazing training and a legacy of loyalty.  During WW I, 8 million horses died, many at the front. On Nov. 11 2020, Becky Murray from Horse and Hound related, that at the height of the war, 1,000 horses a week were sent to fight. Alongside our equine heroes, in Britain, were other heroes, the RSPCA and the Blue Cross.  Both set up hospitals, sent inspectors to the front and raised funds for the care and rehabilitation of equines in war.  They even began paying for specialist veterinary lab equipment and isolation units for treating animals suffering from the effects of gas attacks and burns.  18 RSPCA inspectors were killed during WW I.  There are quite a few very famous horses throughout the history of war, but I chose to highlight, Sgt. Reckless.   As Murray relates, Reckless was a horse of Mongolian breed, owned by the US military. She was bought in 1952 and trained by the United States Marine Corps. The horse was used to carry supplies and weapons and evacuate wounded soldiers during the Korean War. She was known for her intelligence and ability to take solo trips. During the Battle for Outpost Vegas in 1953, she made 51 solo trips in a single day. She was made a sergeant in 1954 and retired. Reckless was once selected as one of the 100 All-time American Heroes by Life Magazine. She died in 1968.

A rather unknown and unsung animal hero of war was elephants. Elephants had been used in warfare to instill chaos and fear as they charged through enemy ranks. Once cannons were introduced in warfare the elephants were too big of a target so their role changed.   Elephants were used as military auxiliary workers. Because so many horses and donkeys were dispatched to the front during WW 1, elephants were vital help with war work as they could haul 8-ton loads. Due to the lack of horses, elephants were taken from zoos and circuses during WW1 and put to work.   Lizzie the elephant has gone down in history as a famous elephant that hauled scrap metal in Sheffield England.  She could pull the same weight as 3 horses.  Way to go Lizzie!  You are remembered.

Now here is an interesting animal participant in war. The U.S. Army Camel Corps was an experimental unit promoted by Jefferson Davis in 1855 when he was Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce. The desert of the American Southwest, so hard on horses and mules, was ideal camel country. A Navy ship was dispatched to the Turkish camel market at Izmir, returning to Texas with 21 animals and five camel wranglers, led by Hadji Ali (1828-1902), a Jordanian Beduin whose name was quickly Americanized as “Hi Jolly.” The camels proved successful in surveying expeditions, but they tended to spook Army horses and mules. With the outbreak of the Civil War, the Army lost interest in camels as pack animals. Surviving animals were released in the desert, where their descendants were spotted as late as the 1940s.

In 1916, the Imperial Camel Corps was formed in Egypt, with 4150 British, Australian, Indian, and New Zealand troopers, and 4,800 camels. It fought in Libya and Palestine as mounted infantry, and provided troops to support T.E. Lawrence’s Arab irregulars.

The U.S. military manual, Special Forces Use of Pack Animals (FM 3-05-213, June, 2004) states, reassuringly, “Camels are clumsy-looking, rather ugly animals, and have a lousy reputation because they are believed to spit and kick at people. This perception is not accurate, because well-handled camels are safe to work with and be around.” But it also advises troops to rely on “native handlers” whenever possible.  As the camels use for transportation and hauling was no longer needed many were sold and many were turned into the wild as stated.  The fact that there are no wild camels roaming the U.K and North America, tells you how well that turned out. 

Another animal used in military work is the dolphin. According to Slate.com, dolphins like a dogs’ keen sense of smell above ground, can use echolocation  which has been indispensable to U.S. troops in locating underwater mines. The Navy’s Marine Mammal Program has also employed sea lions and seals (not to be confused with Navy SEALs) for their ability to fetch objects from the ocean. The Navy even uses orcas and beluga whales for deep diving expeditions, and sharks and rays for testing the resistance of Kevlar diving suits.  The U.S. Navy trains dolphins and sea lions under the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program, based in San Diego, California; some 75 dolphins are in the program. Dolphins are trained for reconnaissance missions, such as locating enemy mines or swimmers and reporting back to their handler. Due to the secrecy of the program, some have speculated that specially designed weapons were developed and attached to the dolphins however, the U.S. Navy denies having used the mammals to harm humans or watercraft.  This sure conjures up memories of Day of the Dolphin.  “Ball on B’s back is bad!!)  

One dolphin that became quite well known was a Pacific bottlenose dolphin known as Tuf Guy or Tuffy.  Tuffy was involved in a project at Sealab II in La Jolla, California.  Tuffy was trained to carry tools and messages between the laboratory above ground and the underwater base and was able to undertake tasks that were physically impossible for human divers.  Another sea mammal that became famous was an Orca named Ahad.  Ahad was enlisted in the navy working off the coast of Hawaii.  Ahad was one of two orcas that retrieved decoy torpedos from the ocean floor,  

Our next famous animal in war is the pigeon.  Carrier pigeons were a huge asset to troops and as related by Slate.com, one pigeon has earned particular regard for saving almost 200 U.S troops despite being badly injured. Cher Ami, a carrier pigeon donated to the U.S. Signal Corps by Britain, served with the 77th Infantry Division in World War I. Stranded behind enemy lines, the 77th came under friendly fire from unknowing U.S. troops. After the first two pigeons sent were shot down by German troops, Lt. Colonel Charles Whittlesey wrote one last plea and attached it to Cher Ami’s leg. German troops shot at Cher Ami as he flew away, and despite being blinded, shot in the breast and in the leg, Cher Ami continued his 25-mile journey and successfully delivered Whittlesey’s message: “For heaven’s sake, stop it.” Cher Ami became an American hero, inspiring the writer Harry Webb Farrington to write a poem describing the harrowing flight that cost Cher Ami his leg (“It’s hard a-standing on one leg!” the poem ends). Today, you can visit a taxidermied Cher Ami in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. 

In 1943, the United Kingdom created the Dickin Medal to be award to animals who served in World War II. The majority of the 54 medal recipients were given to dogs and carrier pigeons, but one stalwart cat named Simon was awarded the medal for killing off a nefarious, ration-stealing rat population aboard a British naval ship, even after being injured by a cannon blast that killed 17 of the ship’s crew. Simon and 11 other Dickin Medal recipients are interred at Ilford Animal Cemetery outside London.

Well that leads to one of our biggest animal heroes of war and that is dogs.  To this day, dogs are members of many elite fighting forces and are seen as valuable military members. Dogs had so many roles during war and some of the more common roles as pointed out by History Learning were:

Sentry Dogs

Sentry dogs were trained to work with one specific guard, and would join them in a patrol on a short lead. These dogs were often trained to deliver a warning signal such as a growl or bark when they believed an unknown or unwelcome person was present in a specified area. Dobermans were commonly placed in this role.

Scout Dogs

Scout dogs were highly trained and often very calm in nature. Their role was to work with foot soldiers as they quietly scouted the terrain ahead. Unlike humans, these dogs were able to detect an enemy up to 1,000 yards away, and would alert silently via the pointing of its tail to avoid alerting the enemy.

Casualty Dogs

Also known as ‘mercy’ dogs (or ‘sanitathunde’ in Germany), casualty dogs were used across Europe during World War One and were specifically trained to detect wounded and dying soldiers on the battlefield. These dogs were trained to work with medical equipment strapped to them, which would make it easy for the soldiers to access the supplies they needed to get to safety or wait for help. The mercy dogs would also sit with dying soldiers in their last moments, providing comfort.

Messenger Dogs

Dogs were frequently used as messengers during the war, proving to be as reliable as soldiers. Trench warfare meant communication was often difficult and it was quite possible that messages could go missing on their way to headquarters or back to the trenches. This was particularly common when human messengers were used as they made very easy targets for enemies, particularly on the front line. Dogs made a very effectively alternative, being easier to train, smaller and able to travel across any terrain. Britain quickly established a dog training school in Scotland, which would prepare them for working in battle. One dog from the school was so good at his job that he managed to travel more than 4,000 miles over very difficult terrain in less than 60 minutes, delivering a message that had failed to reach headquarters via any other method.

Mascot Dogs

While most dogs were playing more active roles, mascot dogs were specifically trained to provide psychological comfort for the men trapped in the trenches. Even Adolf Hitler is thought to have kept a trench dog, and for him and many other people suffering through trench warfare it provided a momentary release from the horrors of war.

So let’s take a look at some of the most famous war dogs in history, starting with World War 1.  There are many famous dogs from WW 1 but the one that has been heralded as the most famous was Sgt. Stubby. Sergeant Stubby (1916 – March 16, 1926) the official mascot of the 102nd Infantry Regiment (United States) and was assigned to the 26th (Yankee) Division in World War I. He served for 18 months and participated in 17 battles on the Western Front. He saved his regiment from surprise mustard gas attacks, found and comforted the wounded, and allegedly once caught a German soldier by the seat of his pants, holding him there until American soldiers found him.[2] His actions were well-documented in contemporary American newspapers.[3][4][5]

Stubby has been called the most decorated war dog of WWI, and the only dog to be nominated for rank and then promoted to sergeant through combat.[6] Stubby’s remains are in the Smithsonian Institution.[3][4][6]

Again, there were of course many famous World War II dogs, but the one that stand out is ChipsChips was a Collie – German Shepherd – Siberian Husky mix who was the most decorated dog in World War II. This dog saw action in Germany, France, North Africa, and Sicily. Among the animal’s heroic exploits are his assault on an Italian machine-gun nest and helping take 10 enemy Italian soldiers captive.

We also have a famous dog from the Vietnam War.  Nemo A534, a German Shepherd, served with the Air Force in the Vietnam War. While on guard duty one night with his handler, Airman Robert Throneburg, Nemo sensed enemy soldiers approaching and alerted Throneburg. Thanks to Nemo’s alert, Throneburg was not taken by surprise and the two were able to put up a valiant fight.

Our next conflict is Iraq.  Lucca, a German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix, served for six years in the United States Marine Corps, completing two tours of active service. A specially trained explosive detecting dog, Lucca was able to work off-leash to find buried or hidden explosives and IEDs. During her two tours, she completed around 400 missions and saved countless lives by detecting explosive devices.

In 2012, Lucca was on her second tour in Afghanistan when she saved the lives of several Marines – but at a price. After finding one buried explosive, Lucca began the search for a second device in the area. An IED was set off, with Lucca taking the brunt of the explosion. Her handler at the time, Cpl. Juan Rodriguez, immediately applied a tourniquet to her front leg, and later stayed with her during her recovery. Unfortunately, Lucca’s leg had to be amputated due to the injury. That didn’t affect Lucca much, according to Rodriguez, who says she almost immediately wanted to get back up and start walking. She was granted the Dickin Medal by the PDSA and was (unofficially) granted a Purple Heart by a fellow Marine who had also received the medal.

So this is just a little journey through animals in war and I know there are so many more noble and deserving animals that I have not mentioned.  But, we know, that their service has been monumental, and for those who have served and passed on and for those still serving today, our respect and love to these wonderful serving animals is forever extended.  

So, to sum up this episode, we remember the wonderful animals that have given their lives in service and those who serve today.  These animals have our hearts.  And perhaps this is another place to look at to give a dog in particular a wonderful forever home.  Many military and police dogs when retire are in need of a home.  What a wonderful way to thank these amazing dogs.  And it is not just dogs.  Many police and military horses retire and look for wonderful new homes as well.  These horses are so well trained and calm and able to handle just about anything.  They make the most enjoyable riding horses for recreation so look into your local police forces if you are looking for a great riding horse and can provide a wonderful retirement for these amazing animals.  A little research into police or military dogs and horses that are retiring could mean an amazing future relationship.  And as I say, knowing is caring!

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Val Cairney

Hi everyone, and welcome to Val Talk’s Pets, the forum for pet parents and enthusiasts alike. So, I have been working in the pet industry now for almost 10 years and, on a daily basis, I handle a lot of issues and questions arising from pet parents. I am not a veterinarian but I do have certifications in Canine, Feline, Small Animal, Fish and Herptile and Avian Health and Nutrition from the University of California, Davis Extension, the Vet College.

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