Anti-Tank Dogs: Sent on Suicide Missions
Sadly, these dogs became famous in history as cruel methods to destroy enemy tanks during WWII.
The Soviets were the first to use anti-tank dogs, also called Hundminen or dog mines, during the Second World War. It was in the 1930s when the idea to use them was developed and training begun.
Initially, the dogs were trained to carry a bomb to a static target, release it from their harness by pulling a chord with their teeth and return to their handler before the bomb detonated. However, the dogs could not master the task and often returned to its handler with the undelivered bomb.
As a result of this setback, the Soviets came up with a new plan. Instead, they trained the dogs to run under tanks. The harness they wore, containing explosives, included a wooden lever that would set off the explosives when it struck the bottom of the tank - taking the dog's life.
The anti-tank dogs were put on the front lines in 1941 when German forces advanced on Soviet territory. Many problems occurred. During training, the dogs were starved then given food under a practice tank teaching them to think that food was under all tanks. To save fuel and ammunition, the practice tanks stood still and only battle sounds were used.
Despite how hungry the dogs were, many refused to dive under moving tanks. Some dogs would run near the tanks waiting for the massive beasts to stop but would be shot by the German soldiers. Gunfire from the tanks scared away many dogs causing them to run back to the trenches and sometimes killing Soviet soldiers when detonating the charge upon jumping in. To prevent this, the returning dogs had to be shot. This made many handlers unwilling to work with new dogs.
Another serious problem was that the dogs had been trained with Soviet tanks and not German ones. The Soviets used diesel engine tanks while the Germans used gasoline. The familiar smell would often lead the dogs to the tanks used by the military that trained them.
Many anti-tank dogs lost their lives and little enemy tanks were destroyed. While the Soviets were perhaps the most prominent users of these dogs, they were trained in other countries. Fortunately, this cruel practice rapidly declined after 1942.