Who let slip the Dogs of War?
The fuckin’ Russians, that’s who.
As most of us might know from first hand experience dogs are loyal, almost to a fault. If handled correctly they can be trained to do almost anything. Search and rescue dog, guide dog, explosive sniffing dog, drug sniffing dog, you name it, they’ll do it. The only reward they ask is acknowledgement from their trainer in the form a playful pat on the head, a romp with their favorite toy and maybe a treat or two.
In the course of their duty they certainly don’t expect to be blown to smithereens. But that’s exactly what happened during World War II.
As the German blitzkrieg was bearing down on the Russian Front the Soviets were looking for a cheap way to destroy the oncoming Panzers. Land mines were always a good idea but the problem with them was that the tanks had to find the mines. What if we could devise a way to bring the mines to the tanks without sacrificing human lives?
Enter our canine friends.
Special training camps for these dogs were set up inside Russia. Inside those camps the dogs were starved for days. Plates of food were then placed under the idling Russian tanks and the dogs were then released. This seems innocent enough but once they deployed on the battlefield their backs were strapped with mines that were tripped when the dog crawled under the tank looking to satisfy its hunger. Estimates have it that upwards of 40,000 dogs underwent this kind of training.
What seemed like simple cost efficient solution soon ran into some major problems when put into practice.
First of all, the dogs were not trained to find their food under a moving target. That, along with the confusion that occurred on the battlefield would cause the dogs to return to their trainer with the mines still strapped to their backs. Many a trainer was killed when the dog jumped back into their foxhole.
Secondly, the Soviet tanks ran on diesel fuel. In contrast, the German tanks ran on gasoline. Since the dogs were trained using the Soviet vehicles they naturally recognized the smell and would wind up blowing up their own tanks. Many a wayward dog had to be shot by their own handler before this occurred.
Once the Germans figured out what was happening they began installing flamethrowers on board the tanks and would fry any dog that got close enough .
Once the war was over the Soviets claimed that approximately 300 German tanks had been destroyed by the mine carrying dogs. No one can vouch for that number and if I had to guess I’d wager it was just another case of war time propaganda designed to save face.
After World War II the use of anti-tank dogs declined rapidly however the Soviets still trained them as late as 1996.
Look, I know that all's fair in love and war but being a big fan of dogs I think they went way too far.
The Encyclopedia of Weapons of WWII (link to Google Books of relevant page)