Marine Corps

March 8, 2012

War Dogs in the Marine Corps in World War II

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NOT SO SECRET WEAPON: Ronald T. Roane guides his 75 pound German Shepherd scout dog, Hobo, as they track down the elusive enemy.

In the late summer of 1942, the Marine Corps decided to experiment with the use of dogs in war, which may have been a new departure for the Corps but not a new idea in warfare. Since ancient times dogs have served man in various ways: the Romans used the heavy Mastiffs with armored collars to attack their enemies in the legs, thus forcing them to lower their shields; first aid dogs were used in World War I; and, of course, all kinds and breeds of dogs have been used for centuries for pulling small carriages and sleds or as pack animals to transport light loads over difficult trails.

In the 1920’s, a Marine serving as an officer in the Garde d’Haiti trained a dog to work in the point of his patrols for the purpose of exposing bandit ambushes. It is probable that his experience was responsible for the suggested use of dogs in jungle warfare in Chapter 24 of the 1935 revision of Small Wars Operations, published by the Marine Corps Schools at Quantico, Virginia, which reads:

“Dogs on Reconnaissance, – – Dogs have been employed to indicate the presence of a hidden enemy, particularly ambushes.”

One of the authors of this book later stated that at the time the book was written it was the thought of the writers that dogs could play a part in jungle warfare and the above paragraph was inserted in the book to keep the idea alive.

The Marine Corps’ war dog training program was initiated by a letter from the Commandant of the Marine Corps to the Commanding General, Training Center, Fleet Marine Force, Marine Barracks, New River, North Carolina (designated Camp Lejeune on 20 December 1942), dated 26 November 1942, directing the latter to “inaugurate a training program for dogs for military employment when personnel and material become available.” At that time 1 officer and 19 enlisted Marines were under training at the dog school at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, and 4 enlisted Marines were on temporary duty at Fort Washington, Maryland, in connection with training with dogs.

In his letter the Commandant pointed out that the group of Marines at Fort Robinson was to return to New River upon completion of the course in late December 1942, and that each man was to bring back two dogs.

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