When the United States took dogs into the Pacific War during World War II, they would prove that they were essential to the survival of so many men. The new training methods were working. Handlers entrusted their lives to their dogs and they had good reason too. They were no longer just dogs, they were soldiers.
Around 1935, the U.S. was still against entering WWII. The Marines however, felt they were going to end up fighting Japan in the pacific and showed an interested in the use of dogs. According to Hahn’s 50th Air Police K-9 Section, the Marines had encountered enemy’s sentry dogs in Haiti, during the Banana War conflicts. Even in thick jungle terrain, similar to what they might encounter in the Pacific, the dogs sounded alarm of their presence. They would find the enemy’s tents, clothes, and even their food still cooking, but the enemies and their weapons were gone. The Marines knew it was scout and sentry dogs that had warned their enemies of their presence.
Although Dogs for Defense were working to procure dogs for the armed forces, the Marines had a particular breed in mind. In 1942, the U.S. Marine Corp contacted the Doberman Pinscher Club of America to procure Dobermans Pinschers for the Marine Corp War Dog Training Facility at Camp Lejeune, New River, N.C. Hahn’s records indicate that all of the Marine War Dog Platoons trained at Camp Lejeune in N.C., would serve in the Pacific War during WWII.
The DPCA agreed to help the Marines with procurement. The DPCA mapped the country into sixteen regions. Each region would be charge of procuring and enlisting Dobermans by contacting local owners of Dobermans and asking if they would like to volunteer their dogs. Members of the DPCA spent their own time and money in the procurement process.
The dogs that served the Marines quickly gained the nickname “Devil Dogs”. In a recent article in the Marine Corp Times, “‘Devil Dog’ term taking a beating”, author Andrew Tilghman writes about the nickname, explaining the confusion around the origins and connotations. Once given to Marines during World War I by the Germans, they took the nickname with pride. Although not all of the dogs that would serve the Marines were Dobermans, they were using the DPCA to recruit, and decided to keep initial emphasis on the preferred breed at the time, Doberman Pinschers.
For enlisted dogs, the road to becoming a Devil Dog started with a tattoo inside their right ear that would be their identification number. Their number, call name, breed, date of birth, type of training, and date of enlistment was then recorded in their service record book which would go with them everywhere they went.
The 1st Marine War Dog Platoon was the first war dogs to fight in the War in the Pacific. The platoon was made up of 48 enlisted men that worked in pairs as handlers for 21 Dobermans and three Shepherds. It also included six enlisted instructors and headquarters personnel. They would serve with the 2nd Raider Battalion, under the command of Lt. Clyde A. Henderson.
The Marines under Henderson’s command landed at Bougainville on Nov. 1, 1943. The 24 dogs of the 1st Platoon would wait an hour after the Marines touch down on the beach before following.
The Devil Dogs were met with mixed reactions by other Marines. The idea of using dogs in combat was not yet determined worthwhile by other U.S. Marines. The 1st Marine Dog Platoon was an experimental unit without any standards in place to gauge success. The dogs would truly need to prove their worth across all terrains.
The Devil Dogs of 1st Platoon would quickly show others what made them indispensable. Sentry and messenger dogs had been officially recognized for a while. However on Bougainville, the Devil Dogs were not only in the battle lines, but beyond them in enemy territory as points for patrols.
The Devil Dogs were so efficient in carrying messages, that the Japanese began targeting the dogs by the third day of fighting. The first dog to carry a message through combat would be a Devil Dog named Caesar. Caesar was credited with the delivery of vital information back and forth under heavy fire nine times, and although hit twice, he survived. Another Devil Dog, Jack, was attacked in the jungle, along with one of his handlers. He had received a deep wound in his back, yet was still able to relay the message to his other handler that there had been an attack and stretcher-bearers were needed. With phone lines cut, Jack proved to be essential.
There was one key event that would sway the Marines’ opinion of the Devil Dogs. In the island setting, Marines frequently had to set up camp on beaches. It was a common Japanese tactic to sneak onto the beaches at night, where the Marines camps were set up, and try to kill them in their sleep. Marines continually had to stay alert and they would end up wasting ammunition on an enemy they can’t see. The Doberman’s acute sense of smell, hearing and somewhat nervous energy, gave the dogs the ability to detect the presence of men several hundred yards away. The Devil Dogs were requested by the Marines to join them for a night on the beach. It was a quiet night and the Marines got some sleep. From then on, the Devil Dogs were welcomed by Marines.
The dogs’ helped their handlers dig foxholes, making other Marines jealous. During battle, the dogs would lead infantry points on advances, they were able to explore caves and dugouts safely, as well as scout fortified positions. The dogs can take credit for the security of their units because the Japanese were not able to ambush or infiltrate any units protected by dogs. Sentry duty at night was done occupying foxholes in forward outposts. Hahn’s information shows the dogs and their handlers were officially credited with 350 patrols during final stages of the battles. The handlers accounted for over 300 enemies slain. Only one handler was killed on patrol. Each of the 24 dogs making up 1st Marine Dog Platoon earned the right to be called a Marine.
The 1st War Dog Platoon would play a part in Bougainville, Guam, and Okinawa. The 2nd War Dog Platoon and the 3rd War Dog Platoon would lead their Marines and Devil Dogs throughout Guam, Morotai, Guadalcanal, Aitape, Kwajalein, and Eniwetok. More units would be sent to form the 6th Marine Division which invaded Okinawa. The 1st Marine Brigade would be comprised of units from other platoons, including the 1st War Dog Platoon, invading Guam, along with the 3rd Marine Division and the 77th Army Division.
The first Army War Dog Platoon to enter the Pacific War would be the 25th Quartermaster Corp War Dog Platoon. Led by Lt. Bruce D. Walker, they arrived at Bougainville in early June 1944. Although the Marines had already landed in Bougainville, the 25th Platoon had more scout dogs and they were not met with the heavy fire 1st Platoon did. Their dogs took to caves throughout Bougainville, finding any Japanese trying to hide and secured the island.
Following the 25th Platoon, would be the 26th QMC War Dog Platoon, led by Lt. James Stanley Head. Head was an experienced guide dog trainer. The platoon lands in New Guinea on June 16, 1944, met with prejudice, reluctance to give the dogs a chance, and word of failure. The 26th Platoon proved their value in battle, on Biak Island, July 1, 1944. Later that year, from Sept. 17 to Nov. 10, scout dogs from the 26th Platoon led more than 100 patrols. On the patrols, in the field from one to three days, the dogs never failed to alert at 75 yards or further and there were no casualties when a dog was accompanying. When a dog was leading, scouts were able to move ahead faster with the increased confidence they wouldn’t be ambushed.
The handlers of the 26th Platoon, once doubted, were awarded one Silver Star, eight Bronze Stars, and seven Purple Hearts, two with Oak Leaf clusters. None of their men were killed in action. All members received the prized Combat Infantryman Badge. The platoon also received a unit citation from the 31st Division, and another from the 6th Division.
The handlers that worked with the dogs would develop a bond like no other. Handlers watched their dogs put their loyalty before their life, and the love was reciprocated. While medics were available for the Army and Marines, veterinary science was limited. Lt. William Putney, commander of the 3rd War Dog Platoon, was also a veterinarian. Putney would be crucial in developing the care needed for the dogs. He would begin the first sick bay for the dogs where handlers could bring their dogs using stretchers, even though many would just carry them. He was able to perform surgeries and blood transfusions on the dogs injured in combat.
More than 1,000 dogs had trained as Marine Devil Dogs during WWII. Sadly, 29 of these dogs would be listed as killed in action, with 25 of the deaths occurring in Guam. Putney would also play a critical role in helping rehabilitate approximately 550 Devil Dogs, making them able to return to civilian life. In September of 1946, there was no visible war on the horizon and the Marines would end the program. The Devil Dogs would become a part of history.
Between the Marines and the Army, close to 3,000 dogs would return home. Dogs that had owners were offered to come home, but not all wanted them back. After those dogs had been sent home, the government still had a tremendous number of dogs. Legally they would have to sell the dogs to the public by the Treasury Department, but the Army QMC felt that selling dogs used in war to the public without guidelines, rehabilitated or not, may be fall into the wrong hands.
News leaked of the surplus of dogs and the QMC’s opinion on selling the dogs. Once again, Dogs for Defense would rise to action again to help. The War Department gave Dogs for Defense four ways a dog could be placed.
- By issue to the Seeing Eye, Inc. as a prospective Seeing Eye dog.
- By issue to a military organization as a mascot.
- By making available to the dogs’ former handler.
- By sale through the Treasury Department.
Applications were screened by Dogs for Defense. Applications from former handlers, veterans, and owners whose dogs were killed in service got first consideration. It was still legally required that any dog sold profit the Treasury Department. The Army and Dogs for Defense decided to charge the recipients of the dogs with the minimum shipping cost, which varied from $14 to $24. In order for the Treasury Department to receive profit, the Army and Dogs for Defense would double the shipping cost and cover the difference.
In total, they would receive 17,000 applications that continued into 1947, after the war was over and surplus had run out.
In memory of Capt. Leonard Weinstock