World War II Weapons: Animals

World War II animals
Figure 1.-- This Amnerican Marine dog on Biak Island is straining at the leash.. Dogs were used on this island off the coast of New Guinea after it was taken to track down Japanese holdouts hidden in caves and the jungle fastness. This military combat photo was taken during July 1944.

A range of animals were used by the various beligerant powers during World War II. The principal animal used in warfare had for millenia been the horse. Horse calvalry had been proven obsolete in World War I. Even so there were calvalry units utilized to a minor extent. More importantly, horses were used as draft animals. Britain and the United States were the only two countries entering the War with fully mechanized armies. The German Wehrmacht despite its mechanized reputation launched the War heavily dependent of horses as draft animals. German industry did not have the capacity to fully mechanize the Whermacht. A mahor problem for the Germans was the inability of German horses to withstand the rigors of the Russian winter. As winter set in at the end of Barbarossa (1941-42), huge numbers of German horses died. Dogs were also important during the War. The United States did use mules, but only when operating in rugged teraine where mechanized vehicles coukd not operate. The Germans based on their World War I experiences trained an incredible 0.2 million dogs for the military. The fact that the Germans occupied many countries, meant they were operating in unfriendly bid not necesarily hostile territorty. The dogs proved useful in security duties. This included the vast system of labor and concentration camps established throughout NAZI-occupied Europe. The dog forces of other countries were much smaller. The United States did not begin to train a Canine (K-9) Corps until after Pearl Harbor (December 1941). This began with the civilian Dogs for Defence Inc. training nine dogs. Eventuially the U.S. military trained more than 10,000 dogs. As in World War I, the dogs were used for sentry duty as well as scouts and messengers. They also proved useful in finding mines and booby traps. They were deployed domesticlly, especially with Coast Guard coast waters. They were also deployed in both the European and Pacific theaters. Other animals were used. Carrier pigeons were used, although because of the developmednt of radio, were much less important than in World War I. The United States experiment with bats to use in an aerial weapon.

Species

A range of animals were used by the various beligerant powers during World War II. The principal animal used in warfare had for millenia been the horse. Horse calvalry had been proven obsolete in World War I. Even so there were calvalry units utilized to a minor extent. More importantly, horses were used as draft animals. Britain and the United States were the only two countries entering the War with fully mechanized armies. Dogs were also important during the War. The United States did use mules, but only when operating in rugged teraine where mechanized vehicles coukd not operate. The Germans based on their World War I experiences trained an incredible 0.2 million dogs for the military. The fact that the Germans occupied many countries, meant they were operating in unfriendly bid not necesarily hostile territorty. The dogs proved useful in security duties. This included the vast system of labor and concentration camps established throughout NAZI-occupied Europe. The dog forces of other countries were much smaller. The United States did not begin to train a Canine (K-9) Corps until after Pearl Harbor (December 1941). This began with the civilian Dogs for Defence Inc. training nine dogs. Eventuially the U.S. military trained more than 10,000 dogs. As in World War I, the dogs were used for sentry duty as well as scouts and messengers. They also proved useful in finding mines and booby traps. They were deployed domesticlly, especially with Coast Guard coast waters. They were also deployed in both the European and Pacific theaters. Other animals were used. Carrier pigeons were used, although because of the developmednt of radio, were much less important than in World War I. The United States experiment with bats to use in an aerial weapon.

Country Trends

The use of animals varied a great deal from country to country. The Germans made the greatest use of animals. The German Wehrmacht despite its mechanized reputation launched the War heavily dependent of horses as draft animals. German industry did not have the capacity to fully mechanize the Whermacht. A major problem for the Germans was the inability of German horses to withstand the rigors of the Russian winter. As winter set in at the end of Barbarossa (1941-42), huge numbers of German horses died. The Germans as in World War I also made extensive use of dogs, primarily for sentry duty. The Whermact bred large numbers of dogs. The Luftwaffe also had a breeding program as did the SS for its concentration camp system. Terrible attrocities were committed by the SS with their dogs in the camps. Herman Göring had a special intrerest in animals and hunting. He suppoted a breeding program to recreate the animals that ancient Germans once hunted in the forests of northern Europe. In essence this was a real lifevJurasic Park story. And Göring and his associiates had an ctualmpark in mind, at thr time plans began still in Poland. The United States launched a K-9 Corps, albeit on a far smaller scale thn the Grman program. Working with dogs had been discontinued after World war I. And breeding animals takes time. Thus Americans were asked to volunteer their dogs for military service. Dogs saved a lot of Lives in the Pacific as the military had to clear die-hard Japanese soldiers from many remote Pacific islands. The U.S. Army has a long history with mules. Mules were used variouslocations, including Italy and various Pacific islands. The United States experimented with the use of bats in the strategic bombing campaign. The Soviets made use of dogs, but only a relatively small scale, in part because kepping a dog as a pet was fround on for ideological reasons. And feeding pets became a problem during the War. The NKVD had some dogs. And the Red Army also had dogs during the War. Some were used against German tanks. The Japanese had a similar experience. Dogs were not very common as pets before the War. And during the War, the Japanese had trouble feeding its soldiers, let alone animals.

Pets

The issue of pets during the War is one of the many sad consequences of the conflict. Here we are taking about both pets kept by the soldiers and the much larger number kept by civilians. Besides their utilitarian purposes, a small number of amimals were also kept as pets by the soldiers. Here we are mostly taling about dogs which provide comfort for men spending years away from family and friends. Perhaps the most famous dog of the war was Ant, a German sheperd rescued by a Czech aviator flying with the British. Bobert Bozdech, Czech airman, was shot down in France during the German invasion. He came across an abndoned German shepherd puppy. He named him Ant and they began a dangerous treck to get to Britain. Their biographer writes, "The house now secured, it was time to get Pierre. The question was what to do with his newfound friend? Robert could hardly deposit him behind the chair again, for knowing puppies as he did, this one would likely start whining just as soon as he had disappeared. It was critical that he keep the liitle ball of fur happy and quiet, at least for now. He unzipped the front of his leather bomber jacket, slipped the puppy inside, and zipped it closed again." [Lewis] Bozdech and Ant made it safely to Britain and begn flying with RAF Bomber Command. Together they survived crash landings and parachute bailouts. Ant would ultimately save Boizdech's life. By the end of the War, Ant was a British war hero. The much larger number of pets were of course kept by civilians. Several of the major belligrant countries had populations with large numbers of pet owners. None of the belligerant powers as rartioning had to be introduced made ration allocations for pets. To the extent that the issue was considered, it was generally thought that that euthanasia was the most humane aooroach rather than watching a chrished pet die slowly and painfully from starvation or disease. Britain had the strongest pet ownership tradition. Large numbers of family pets were eutenized when war was declared. There wre also small animals children kept in their school classes. As the war exppanded, country after country was faced with this painful issue. Another problem was the bombing of civilian areas. There was a shortage of public bomb shelters. And pets were not permitted. And even those who attempted to save their pets, often when faced with food shortages and even starvation, had no choice but to kill and eat their treasured animals. This might mean horses and donkies in rurl areas. In the cities it mean dogs and cats.

Zoos

Europe at the outbreak of the War had many wonberful zoos with extensive collections of animals. Several zoos in Europe were destroyed by both bombings and land combat. Thousands of animals were as aesult either euthenized or killed in the bombing. Others died from injuries or disease resulting from food shortages and the lack of basic care. One account of Berlin at the end of the war describes what hd at the once magnificent Berlin zoo. [Ryn] The issue of German assaults on the art treasures of occupied countries is ell documented. Les well documented is the rare animals seized from the zoos in occupied countries.

Farm Animals

Tens of thousands of farms were destroyed thriyghiut Europe. Here the destruction was greates in the East. Here Stalin had already overseen a substantial reduction of Soviet livestock as a result of his assault on the peaabtry through collectivization and the Ukranian Fmine. The Soviets with theGerman invasion pursued a burnt earth stategy as it retreasted east (1941-42). The Germans added to the carnage both during the anti-partisan campaign nd s thy retreated west in the final years of the War (1943-45). Theresult was the destruction if millions of sheep, pigs, cattle and whatever other barnyard creature happened to be present.

Sources

Lewis, Damien. The Dog Who Could Fly: The WWII Puppy Who Took To the Skies (2014), 304p.

Ryan, Cornelius. The Last Battle (1966).







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Created: 2:28 AM 11/25/2010
Last updated: 2:49 AM 7/19/2017