This day in history, March 13, 1942, Under Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson created the “K-9 Corps.”
Well over a million dogs served on both sides during World War I, carrying messages along the complex network of trenches and providing some measure of psychological comfort to the soldiers. The practice of training dogs for military purposes was largely abandoned in the United States after World War I.
Dogs have been associated with the military since the Army’s inception, but it wasn’t until World War II that dogs received their official connection to the military.
Aware that members of the American Kennel Club and other dog lovers formed a civilian organization called Dogs for Defense to train dogs for sentry duty on the coasts of the U.S., Lieutenant Colonel Clifford C. Smith, chief of the Plant Protection Branch, Inspection Division, Quartermaster Corps, met with his commander, Major General Edmund B. Gregory, and suggested that the Army use the sentry dogs at supply depots.
Gregory gave his approval to an experimental program, and on March 13, 1942, Under Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson approved Gregory’s application and created the K-9 Corps.
Training began in March 1942, and that fall, the QMC was given the task of training dogs for the U.S. Navy, Marines and Coast Guard. Dog handlers were also trained at QMC.
The K-9 Corps initially accepted over 32 breeds of dogs, but the list was narrowed to seven in 1944: German Shepherds, Belgian sheep dogs, Doberman Pinschers, collies, Siberian Huskies, Malumutes and Eskimo dogs. Dogs in the K-9 Corps were trained for a total of 8 to 12 weeks. After basic obedience training, they were sent through one of four specialized programs to prepare them for work as sentry dogs, scout or patrol dogs, messenger dogs or mine-detection dogs. In active combat duty, scout dogs proved especially essential by alerting patrols to the approach of the enemy and preventing surprise attacks.
In March 1944, 15 war dog platoons were established – seven were in Europe and eight were in the Pacific. According to some reports, the Japanese never ambushed or made a surprise attack on a patrol led by one of the war dogs.
The top canine hero of World War II was Chips, a German Shepherd who served with the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division and was trained as a sentry dog. Chips broke away from his handlers and attacked an enemy machine gun nest in Italy, forcing the entire crew to surrender. Chips, who was wounded in the incident, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star and the Purple Heart–all of which were later revoked due to an Army policy preventing official commendation of animals.
After World War II, the Military Police Corps took over responsibility for training military dogs and they have continued to serve with distinction in several conflicts.