How Military Sleds Dogs Became Vital During WWI
By Mike Powell
Special to the Doughboy.org web site
When one thinks of war, snow doesn’t usually come into the picture. But part of World War I was fought in the Vosges, a mountain range in France. Soldiers had to contend with cold and snow as well as the other dangers of war.
As you may imagine, the snow presented challenges that didn’t exist in other areas. How would the soldiers get supplies, ammo, medicine and transport their injured soldiers back? Their horses found it difficult to move through snow, and when they did, it was slow going.
This is where sled dogs came into the picture. In July 1915, a French officer was tasked with finding 400 sled dogs of any breed before the winter hit, so they would be prepared.
Here’s how these military sled dogs became vital during WWI.
They Brought Soldiers Food & Water
Soldiers can only carry so much food with them, and horses couldn’t move easily through the snow to bring new supplies. In the cold, soldiers needed to stay fed so they’d be alert and have energy to move when necessary.
Sled dogs had no troubles moving across the snow to bring sleds laden with supplies. Because of their strength in numbers, they could also transport large amounts of food at one time. This ensured that the soldiers remained nourished and ready for combat.
They Brought More Ammunition
Running out of ammunition is a serious problem for soldiers. Thankfully, sled dogs could provide new arms and ammunition quickly and efficiently, keeping the soldiers armed and protected.
According to history, one of the most notable events was a team of 9 sled dogs pulling a sled loaded with 300kg of ammunition across 120km terrain that humans and horses had failed at.
Later in WWI the dogs also took on the roles of pulling carts mounted with machine guns. Using dogs to pull these mounted guns improved mobility and saved traveling time.
They Restored Downed Communications
Military sled dogs didn’t just take the soldiers supplies. Another important part of their job was restoring communications. Often, connections would go down due to being damaged out in the field, and sending men out to restore them was dangerous and tedious. Enter the sled dogs.
One story tells of a team of sled dogs who laid out 30 kilometers of telephone cable to restore French connections! They deserve more than just a treat for that!
They Transported Wounded Soldiers
Transporting wounded soldiers back to safety is a difficult thing to do even in normal conditions. The snow presented a more extreme challenge, but thankfully sled dogs were more than equipped to handle it.
The dogs knew exactly where to go. Once fellow soldiers had strapped their wounded comrades to the sled, the dogs set off right back to base where the soldiers could be treated. This method of transporting soldiers was much faster than by horse or having them carried, so it’s likely many soldiers’ lives were also saved thanks to the dogs’ speed.
When thinking of war, dogs don’t often appear in one’s thoughts. But there’s no denying that military sled dogs played a vital part in WWI and without them it may have ended very differently. But these dogs endured the very same war experiences the humans did.
About half of these life-saving dogs died in combat, rendering them war heroes. But this was also the first time that dogs were awarded the same medal of honor as the human soldiers in the field—the Croix de Guerre.
If you wish to learn about these amazing dogs and how they made the journey to the Vosges, take some time to watch Code Name: Les Poilus d’Alaska.
Give your dog some extra love today and be grateful for their love and loyalty!
Mike Powell has loved dogs ever since he met his father’s military service dogs as a child. He writes about all things dog-related at Dog Embassy.
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