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World War 1 Head Quarters

Animals In World War 1

Animals were used for many different things and played a big part in the war. There were numerous types of animals involved in the war, but the main animals were horses, dogs, and pigeons. 


In 1914, Britain had 25,000 horses. Loss of horses was more than loss of humans in the battles of Somme and Passchendaele. Deaths were due to exhaustion, (high risk) shelling and front-line charges. Soldiers became hardened at losses (horses and soldiers were close). They were Vulnerable to artillery, machine gun fire, and harsh winter conditions in the front line. The horses were a constant target for German naval attacks. In Fact, they were so vital to war that German saboteurs tried to poison them before they went on their journey. It was so bad that RSPCA & Royal Army veterinary Corps tried to prevent unnecessary suffering. Horses were used for transporting weapons and supplies, carrying soldiers to hospitals, mount Calvary charges. The supply of horses needed to constantly be replenished, caused by British government arranging ½ to be transported across the Atlantic. From 1914-1917 1,000 horses were sent to the US everyday by ships. They were taken (not bought) by the government.


In 1918 Germany owned 30,000 dogs, Britain France and Belgian had 20,000, and Italy had 3,000. America at first didn't use dogs, except to utilize a few hundred from the allies for specific missions. After a chance stowaway the U.S  produced the most decorated and highly ranked service dog in military history. There were many breeds used in the war. The most popular were medium dogs, and intelligent and trainable breeds.  Two breeds that were very common were Doberman Pinchers, and GSD's which were both native to Germany. They were used because of their superior strength, territorial nature, agility, and trainability. Doberman's were great guard dogs, this was because of their dark coat, slight frame, and their agility that allowed them to slip undetected through terrain without alerting the enemy. Doberman Pinchers were employed most frequently in Germany. German Shepherds were also common they were used because of their strength, intelligence, trainability, and the fact that they were able to please their master. Another commonly used dog was a terrior, they were employed as 'ratters' trained to hunt and kill rats.


Roles and Functions of Military Dogs: 

There was a variety of roles depending on the dogs size, intelligence, and training. The categories were sentry dogs, scout dogs, casualty dogs, explosive dogs, ratters, and mascot dogs


Sentry Dogs:

  Sentry dogs patrolled using a leash and a firm hand. They were trained to accompany usually one specific guard. These dogs were taught to give a warning signal like a growl, bark, or snarl to indicate an unknown presence was in the secure area, such as a camp or a military base. Dobermans were traditionally sentry dogs, and are todays guard dogs.


Scout Dogs:

Scout dogs had to be highly trained, they had to be quiet, and have a disciplined nature. These dogs worked with soldiers on foot patrolling terrain ahead of them. They were useful because they could detect the enemy's scent up to 1,000 yards away. Instead of barking and drawing attention to their squad, they would stiffen raise its shackles and point its tail. Scout dogs were wildly used because they were highly efficient in avoiding detection.


Casualty Dogs:

Casualty dogs otherwise known as mercy dogs (or Sanitatshunde in Germany) were vital in World War 1. They were originally trained in the 1800's by Germans, they were later utilized across Europe.  They were trained to find wounded and dying soldiers on the battlefield, they were also equipped with medical supplies to aid suffering soldiers. The men who could help themselves did, while those who couldn't seeked mercy dog's help whilst they died.


Mascot Dogs:

For men trapped in the horrors of trench warfare a dog was a psychological comfort. It is said that Adolf Hitler kept a dog with him in the German trenches. For many soldiers on any side a dog might have reminded them of home comforts.


Messenger Dogs:

Dogs proved to be as reliable as soldiers in the dangerous job of running messages. Communication was a problem because of the complexities of trench warfare. Field communication systems were crude, and there was a very big chance that messages wouldn't be received on either end. Human runners were big targets, with their heavy uniforms weighing them down there was a chance they wouldn't make it. During battle there was even less of a chance a runner would get through. Vehicles were a problem too because roads could easily be muddy and they could break down.Trained dogs were faster then human runners, they could travel over any terrain and were less of a target. Above all they were extremely reliable if well trained. There was a training school in Scotland, one recruit from there traveled 4,000 meters on the Western front with an important message to a brigades HQ. The dog traveled the distance on difficult terrain in less than an hour. All the communication had failed but the dog got through. 


 They had such an important role that over 100,000 used, with a success rate of 95% of them getting to destination with their message.  Since man-made communication systems were still unreliable, pigeons and dogs were used. Pigeons could be easily found anywhere on the western front. At the first battle of the marne in 1914 the French troops stopped the German advance on France, as the French advanced so did their pigeons. Many were 'on duty' carrying messages despite the fact they didn't know where their loft was, all returned home. This ability to get home was vital for those who used them as messengers. The pigeons had great strength and flew fast to their lofts. Pigeons were used often during WW1, but Shooting down pigeons was almost impossible. The only natural way to bring them down was to bring a bird of prey to the front line and let them fight. A falcon could kill a pigeon, however a marksman could not. In many senses the pigeons always got home which was good for the people sending the bird, but not the enemy.

True Story:

In October of 1918 near the end of the war, 194 American soldiers were trapped by Germans. They weren't able to reach other allied soldiers, and they had no working radios. Their only chance to let anybody know about their situation was to send a pigeon coordinates. The pigeons name was Cher Ami. When  released, the pigeon flew 25 miles to the American's HQ (headquarters) from behind German lines. He flew that in 25 minutes. Cher Ami was actually shot in the chest by the Germans, however he continued to go home. With the soldiers coordinates attached to his leg, the Americans launched a rescue and saved the 194 soldiers. The pigeon was awarded the "Croix de Guerre" with Palm for its amazing flight. Cher Ami's natural homing instincts took over because like other pigeons it would not have known where the nearest American HQ was. "Cher Ami" is on display at the National Museum of American History.