Anti-tank dogs were used as part of Soviet army warfare against the tanks of Wermacht during World War II. According to the name, these dogs were used as expendables for battling light- and heavy-armored vehicles. Training of anti-tank dogs started almost 9 years prior to the beginning of the war in Europe, despite the actual use that took place occasionally between 1941 and 1942 when the Red Army was retreating from all fronts within the territory of the USSR.
Initially, the anti-tank operation including a trained dog would lead to leaving the charge under the vulnerable bottom of the tank and retreating to a distance, but the reality of the battlefield dictated to make anti-tank dogs sort of kamikaze – expendables, that resulted in a procedure during which the dog was killed. The U.S. forces also trained such anti-tank dogs in 1943 but actually never used them in the open battle.
The Revolutionary Military Council of the USSR approved the use of dogs for military purposes in 1924. These dogs were destined to deliver first aid, rescue, set up communication, track mines and people, and detonate targets. For these reasons, the first dog training military academy was established in the Moscow region. There were twelve schools opened, but only three of them later trained anti-tank dogs. In the beginning, the Soviet Army did not have special trainers other than hunters and police dog trainers. In order to set proper training programs, the government involved leading animal scientists who chose German shepherd dog for the program. Having natural physical abilities and being easy at training, this breed was used most out of all dog’s breeds. In 1935, the first anti-tank dog unit officially began serving in the Red Army.
Initially, the idea was to make the dog carry the bomb under the tank, leave the charge there and retreat. The bomb could be detonated by a remote control or a timer. To bring this idea to life, a pack of six dogs was used in early experiments and none of them showed any result. Actually, when that tank was alone in the open, a dog would perform the operation, but should the tank change the location/or there were more tanks, especially from both sides, the dog would return back to the operator, which could result in instant slaughter of both the dog and the operator. The idea was rejected and went simpler – now the charge was fastened to the dog and detonated upon contact with the target. Simple on paper and way too complicated in real: dogs were trained being hungry – their food was placed under tanks. At first tanks stood still, later their engines were running, after that sporadic blank fire was added thus to simulate the noise of the battlefield. Each dog would carry 25 lbs of TNT in two pouches attached to the body. The charge was not supposed to be disarmed. The charge had a lever that would detonate explosives upon contact with the bottom of the tank. But even this task was not a complete success… (see also Puppy training).
The use of anti-tank dogs began in 1941 when the Red Army was losing almost the whole Eastern Front. At this time, approximately 40,000 dogs were deployed. The first group of anti-tank dogs came to the frontline in summer of 1941. 30 dogs and 40 trainers had almost no success. Dogs were terrified and refused to dive under moving vehicles. Many of the dogs eventually fled, killed or even returned back to the trenches exploding and killing fellow soviet soldiers. It is reported that only 4 dogs of the group of 30 managed to reach the tanks and explode, albeit dealing unknown damage. Six of the pack returned to fellow trenches and exploded, killing soviet soldiers. Using dogs with no apparent success resulted in hurly-burly among both Germans (who thought that the russkie did not want to fight like men, which was portrayed later in the Nazi propaganda) and Soviets (who thought that the Army went on sacrificing not only men but dogs as well).
Later, the Soviets who criticized the program were persecuted by the military intelligence. Several dogs were shot and taken away for examination which showed that the practical use was completely ineffective (see also Todayifoundout.com/index.php/2013/12/anti-tank-dogs-world-war-ii/).
The use of dogs may be considered a success or a failure – we will never learn to know as the Soviet propaganda did not leave any evidence stating any conclusion. We have scarce info on the practical use of anti-tank dogs but what can be concluded is not great:
Many dogs were shot on their way back to the trenches or exploded under same side tanks.
There is some evidence from early documents provided by a KKVD archive stating that the use of anti-tank dogs did not show any efficiency and undermined the morale among soldiers.
In 1941 first 30 dogs were used in the open but most of them were shot on sight. The Wermacht saw these dogs as a desperate measure and the act of cowardice saying that “the Soviets send dogs instead of men to fight”.
The famous tank battle of Kursk shows moderate success of anti-tank dogs: 16 dogs blew 12 enemy tanks while both parties used more than 1,000 tanks altogether.
However, let’s not forget that propaganda worked both ways and from both sides. This is why we still have something to tell you about the use of dog warfare – the raw facts only:
Near Glukhov (Ukraine) the 160th Infantry Division damaged 5 tanks using 6 dogs.
Near the Stalingrad airport, dogs destroyed 13 tanks.
After 1942, all training schools qualified for producing mine-seeking dogs. But the program of anti-tank dogs remained active until June 1996
The Japanese army received 25,000 dogs from Germans and set several training schools all over Japan, one of them is located in Nanjing, China. Some dogs were used as explosives but they were pulling carts with explosive instead of wearing it. Due to poor training, the Japanese had little success.
Also, the US forces trained at Fort Belvoir and used dogs to blow up fortifications. Opposite to using them as live bombs, Americans would make the dog run inside the bunker, leave the bomb there and retreat. The bomb was detonated by the timer. Due to safety concerns, the whole program ceased to exist from December 17, 1943. Two years later, there were attempts to revive the program, but the reality showed that it was pointless: dogs would return with the bomb back causing casualties among friendlies. You should know that such poor results were shown during the field tests and should the actual war fight take place, the dogs will be terrified by the noise and constant firing so, their use would be completely ineffective.
In 2007, during the Iraq War, local insurgents tried using dog-bombs with remote control. However, one documented explosion did not damage the tank and local citizens criticized the act of killing the dog as sinful, because according to Islam it is forbidden to kill animals for any other reason than food (see also Wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_animal#As_living_bombs).
Nowadays the use of dogs as bomb carriers looks like complete barbarism, but more than 70 years ago during World War II, the Soviets were losing kilometers of their territory daily and all means possible for stopping the Nazi invasion were considered. Having paid with more than 25 million of lives for the liberty of the entire country and the continent, the USSR fear can be understood.
But today with the presence of such powers like PETA and preponderance of modern warfare, dogs still serve in the army but, as true specialists, not combatants.
They screen passengers in the airports, screen vehicles at check-posts in belligerent countries and sniff out packages of drugs and illegal substances. While wars still wage on and tanks play important roles in them, it is not easy to forget that there is always another sword to battle a sword – just like there is another heavily armored tank to battle another.