If recent history saw suicide bombers, the WWII-bygone era once had Stalin’s kamikaze canines – dogs that were used as “living bombs” to destroy Nazi tanks and other targets.
The Daily Mail recently ran a write-up on Stalin’s kamikaze canines as pictures have surfaced on how these dogs were fitted with explosives and trained to bring the strapped bombs to Nazi tanks, other armored vehicles as well as other enemy targets.
This method was initially approved in 1924 by the Revolutionary Military Council of the Soviet Union but ran on until the 1990s; the dogs were subjected to special training to ensure they really bring their explosive loads to their targets and die along with the explosions.
“The Red Army already had the experience of using dogs for a whole number of tasks, from security to taking the wounded from battlefields to delivering messages and moving arms and food to the front line.
‘So the next suggestion was to try and use dogs as delivery agents of mines to the enemy’s tanks,” Yuri Veremeyev, a military expert, revealed.
At the start of the said program, the Red Army recruited hunters and circus trainers for the canine conscripts schooling. The dogs, then, were trained to place the bomb in its right position and required to bite off a cord to to detonate it or a remote control would be used to set it off allowing the canine to run to safety first.
But in the heat of WWII, dogs became frightened amidst the skirmishes they were sent into and often failed to detonate the bomb resulting in many failed operations. The Red Army had to counter the German forces rushing in the east – “desperate times call for desperate measures”, and so the bombs are strapped on the dogs and after bringing the loads to the right spot, the creatures die along with it.
According to Veremeyev, the army first experimented with the method using “mines packed inside thick canvas packs that were put on the dogs’ backs”. These packs had two bags each carrying about 6 kilograms of TNT; the packs were placed on saddles. the idea was for the dogs to carry the explosive loads, bring them as close as possible to the targeted spot and with a parachute-like lock release the load then run back to their owners.
The dogs trained for about six months doing this kind of operation. They grew really good with the task but come real wartime, they got frightened and confused and often ran to back to their owners not being able to do their real mission; even their most famous canine named Inga which had managed to ace through the training cowered when placed in real battle.
Because of the program’s failure, Soviet handlers came up with the idea of “disposable dogs”.
The dogs were to die along with the bombs they’re carrying – they had to alter the packs’ construction so the animals won’t be able to remove them during their missions. They then taught the dogs to head directly on the tanks’ chassis, the part seen as the most vulnerable part of these war machines.
The Soviets used a basic instinct to use as the most potent weapon to make the dogs heel – hunger.
“The Soviet army used of the most basic instincts – hunger.
The dogs were kept without food for a while in cages, then hot food was cooked and put underneath the tanks.
Attracted by its smell, dogs ran under the tanks and quite soon they learned that this was the only place where they could get the food.
Very soon they were taught to get under the tanks when engines were on and during the battle field sounds imitation,” Veremeyev revealed.
Stalin’s kamikaze canines, “anti-mine dog units”, were officially included in the Soviet Army in 1935 and photos showed they were paraded down the Red Square on 1938. It was in 1941 when the first batch was deployed in the front line – the group made up of 30 dogs and 40 handlers.
The method, however, had its successes and strings of failures.
For one, when they were trained, their Soviet handlers used gasoline engines whereas the Germans were driving diesel-powered tanks. These difference in smell had the dogs confused.
As one handler wrote on October 16, 1941 about Stalin’s kamikaze canine program:
“Most of the dogs refuse to work and aim to jump back inside the trench.’
Some exploded their bombs on the Soviet side by darting for cover in Russian trenches, while others were shot as they retreated from their task.
Nine dogs ran to the targets, but then got scared by explosions around them and tried to hide’ said the report.
‘Three of them exploded, two were never found, the rest had to be destroyed by us because they were running back to us.”
Secondly, evidence shown by the KKVD, KGB’s forerunner, revealed that the use of these “anti-tank dogs” were sapping the morale off among Soviets’ soldiers. As one recruit had voiced out:
“There are enough people being destroyed. Now they are killing dogs, too!”
The US had also been training dogs to use against military installations yet did not go on to deploy them in the battlefield.
The Nazis, upon learning of Stalin’s use of dogs, saw this as the leader’s desperate measure against them and went on to defame the program by saying the the Soviets were sending dogs instead of men to fight the war. This might have hit a tender cord among the soldiers of the Red Army sending their self-esteem spiraling down.
Furthermore, claims were varied about the effectiveness of the dogs in battle. But there is a documentary of successful operations done by Stalin’s kamikaze canines – there was the Battle of Kursk where 16 dogs were able to disable 12 German tanks.