TIL: Today I Learned, Dogs were used as Anti-Tank weapons in WWII
Anti-tank dogs were dogs taught to carry explosives to tanks, armored vehicles and other military targets. They were intensively trained by the Soviet and Russian military forces between 1930 and 1996 and used in 1941–1942 against German tanks in World War II. Although the original dog training routine was to leave the bomb and retreat so that the bomb would be detonated by the timer, this routine failed and was replaced by an impact detonation procedure which killed the dog in the process. The U.S. military trained anti-tank dogs in 1943 for use against fortifications, but never deployed them.
The original idea was for a dog to carry a bomb strapped to its body, and reach a specific static target. The dog would then release the bomb by pulling with its teeth a self-releasing belt and return to the operator. The bomb could then be detonated either by a timer or remote control, though the latter was too rare and expensive at the time to be used. A group of dogs practiced this for six months, but the reports show that no dogs could master the task. They performed well on a single target but became confused after the target or location was changed and often returned to the operator with the bomb unreleased, which in a live situation would have killed both the dog and the operator. Continual failures brought about a simplification. The bomb was fastened on the dog and detonated upon contact with the target, killing the animal. Whereas in the first program, the dog was trained to locate a specific target, this task was simplified to find any enemy tank. Dogs were trained by being kept hungry and their food was placed under tanks. The tanks were at first left standing still, then they had their engines running, which was further combined with sporadic blank-shot gunfire and other battle-related distractions. This routine aimed to teach the dogs to run under the tanks in battlefield situations. Each dog was fitted with a 10–12-kilogram (22–26 lb) mine carried in two canvas pouches adjusted individually to each dog. The mine had a safety pin which was removed right before the deployment; each mine carried no markings and was not supposed to be disarmed. A wooden lever extended out of a pouch to about 20 centimetres (7.9 in) in height. When the dog dived under the tank, the lever struck the bottom of the tank and detonated the charge. Because the chassis was the most vulnerable area of these vehicles, it was hoped the explosion would gut the vehicle.
The use of anti-tank dogs was escalated during 1941–1942, when every effort was made by the Soviet Army to stop the German advance at the Eastern Front of World War II. In that period, the dog training schools were mostly focused on producing anti-tank dogs. About 40,000 dogs were deployed for various tasks in the Soviet Army.
The first group of anti-tank dogs arrived at the frontline at the end of the summer of 1941 and included 30 dogs and 40 trainers. Their deployment revealed some serious problems. In order to save fuel and ammunition, dogs had been trained on tanks which stood still and did not fire their guns. In the field, the dogs refused to dive under moving tanks. Some persistent dogs ran near the tanks, waiting for them to stop but were shot in the process. Gunfire from the tanks scared away many of the dogs. They would run back to the trenches and often detonated the charge upon jumping in, killing Soviet soldiers. To prevent that, the returning dogs had to be shot, often by their controllers and this made the trainers unwilling to work with new dogs. Some went so far as to say that the army did not stop with sacrificing people to the war and went on to slaughter dogs too; those who openly criticized the program were prosecuted by "special departments" (military counterintellegence). Out of the first group of 30 dogs, only four managed to detonate their bombs near the German tanks, inflicting an unknown amount of damage. Six exploded upon returning to the Soviet trenches, killing and injuring soldiers. Three dogs were shot by German troops and taken away, despite furious attempts by the Soviets to prevent this, which provided examples of the detonation mechanism to the Germans. A captured German officer later reported that they learned of the anti-tank dog design from the killed animals, and considered the program desperate and inefficient. A German propaganda campaign sought to discredit the Soviet Army, saying that Soviet soldiers refuse to fight and send dogs instead.
Another serious training mistake was revealed later; the Soviets used their own diesel-engine tanks to train the dogs rather than German tanks which had gasoline engines. As the dogs relied on their acute sense of smell, the dogs sought out familiar Soviet tanks instead of strange-smelling German tanks. The efficiency of using anti-tank dogs in World War II remains uncertain. There are claims by the Soviet sources that around 300 German tanks were damaged by Soviet anti-tank dogs. This claim was questioned by Russian historians as propaganda, trying to justify the dog training program. There are however documented claims of individual successes of the program, with the number of damaged tanks usually being within a dozen. For example, at the front of the 160th Infantry Division near Hlukhiv, six dogs had damaged five German tanks; near the airport of Stalingrad, anti-tank dogs destroyed 13 tanks. At the Battle of Kursk, 16 dogs disabled 12 German tanks which had broken through the Soviet lines of defense near Tamarovka, Bykovo (height 244,5). The German forces knew about the Soviet dogs from 1941 onwards, and so took measures to defend against them. An armored vehicle's top-mounted machine gun proved ineffective due to the relatively small size of the attackers as the dogs were too low to the ground and because of the dog's speed and the difficulty in spotting them. Consequently, every German soldier received orders to shoot any dog in combat areas.
The hostility of German soldiers and officers to the dogs is mentioned in the semi-fictional novel Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte. As an Italian correspondent on the Eastern front during 1941–42, Malaparte recounted how one of the German soldiers' first tasks upon entering and occupying villages in Ukraine was to seek out and kill any dog on sight. After 1942, the use of anti-tank dogs by the Soviet Army rapidly declined, and training schools were redirected to producing the more needed mine-seeking and delivery dogs. However, training of anti-tank dogs continued after World War II, until June 1996. (Wiki)