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Anti Tank Dog: The Soviet ‘Masterplan’ that Backfired to Disastrous Effects

BY Dipanjana Mukherjee October 7, 2019
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Anti tank dog.

Anti Tank Dog: A war dog approaching a tank. (♪_Lisa_♪ / Flickr)

During the Second World War, the Soviet Union came up with the novel concept of ‘Anti Tank Dog’ or ‘Hundminen’, also commonly known as ‘Dog Mines’. They used dogs, particularly German Shepherds, and attached explosives to their backs. These dogs had been specifically trained to look for food under the German tanks- however; they inadvertently proved to become one of Germany’s greatest weapons during the First World War. 

Background

When dogs first began to be employed during the First World War, their tasks were fairly basic. They were deployed primarily for conducting searches, and to warn soldiers about any incoming dangers- such as gas or artillery attacks. It was the Soviets, who first began the use of animal weaponry during the war.

From the 1920s, more emphasis began to be put on dogs, and they began to aid the military. In 1924, a ‘dog training school’ was established in Moscow, as the dogs were intended to be used in a multitude of fields in the war efforts, including communication, search, as well as rescue missions. In order to be able to carry out these nuanced tasks, the dogs needed to be trained by experts. The preferred breed amongst those enrolled in these do training schools, was the German Shepherd.

Soviet military dog training school.

Soviet military dog training school, 1931. (Wikimedia Commons)

The military also hired police dog trainers, circus trainers, animal scientists, and hunters, to train the dogs already at the training camps that had been set up. 

Training the dogs & initial set-backs

The dogs were initially trained to do simple tasks like carrying supplies, tracking mines and rescue missions, which they seemed to have a natural affinity towards. In the early 1930s, the idea to use dogs to behave as anti-tank weapons took shape, and the dogs at training camps subsequently began to be instructed for these new missions.

The initial idea behind the ‘Anti Tank Dog’ was that the dogs would run up to the tanks, with a bomb strapped to them. On reaching the tanks, they were supposed to pull on a belt with their teeth in order to release the bomb, and then quickly return to their handler. The handler would then either detonate the bomb with a remote, or a timer would be set and the bomb would go off at the set time. 

Anti tank dog: A novel idea

However, this idea did not work out very well as quite often the dogs would be unable to release the bomb with their teeth. The task proved to be quite harrowing for the poor animals and they would return to their handlers without having released the bomb, and would be severely reprimanded as such a mistake could prove fatal on the battlefield. Another problem the dogs faced that soon became a detriment to the program, was the fact that they had been trained to go under a single tank. When they saw multiple tanks, the dogs would get confused and return to their controllers with the explosives still attached to their backs.

In order to simplify things and combat the shortcomings of the program, the Soviets came up with a new idea. The dogs were trained to find an enemy tank, but this time around, the bombs would explode once they came in contact with their target. The hapless dogs were taught to dive under the tanks of the enemy, while a wooden lever would be sticking out of their harnesses- which on coming in contact with the tank would trigger the explosives and blow up the tank, as well as the carrier-dog to ashes.

The training procedure was inhumane and brutal, with the dogs kept starving, and food was kept under the practice tanks for them, thus conditioning them to believe that all tanks had food under them. To take their training one step forward, typical sounds associated with battle, such as gunfire, were added to the background during their training so that the dogs would get acclimatised, and not get scared in the battlefield.

The backfire of the anti tank dog

By 1941, the dogs began to be used quite commonly during the war, and around 30 canines were deployed at the frontlines of the Eastern Front, when the Germans attacked. However, the masterplan of the Soviets to employ dogs as anti tank weapons backfired miserably due to multiple reasons.

On the battlefield, the animals were being physically shot at and they were definitely not equipped to execute the mission under such circumstances. They refused to dive under the tanks out of fear, and would retreat to the trenches- often detonating the bomb there, inadvertently killing or grievously injuring many of the Soviet soldiers themselves.

Another reason for the failure of Anti Tank Dog was that these animals had been trained with Soviet tanks, whose engines emitted a diesel smell, which the dogs got familiarised with. Instead of diving under German tanks that used petrol, these dogs would often dive under the familiar Soviet tanks in search of ‘food’, once again setting off the bomb, and leading to the death of many Soviets.

Some of the dogs, however, persisted and continued to run beside the tanks until they stopped, but were shot fatally in the process. Out of the 30 dogs from the original pack, only four of them had been able to actually detonate their bombs near German tanks. Six dogs had retreated to the trenches of the Soviets and exploded, and three of them had been shot and were taken away by the Germans.

Some debatable success of the anti tank dogs

The Anti Tank Dogs did, however, have some degree of success during the war. At the Battle of Kursk, sixteen dogs had been deployed, and twelve German tanks were consequently destroyed. This mission by the Anti Tank Dogs is reportedly one of the most successful ‘anti tank’ ventures. The Soviets also said that the Anti Tank Dogs had destroyed a total of 13 tanks at Stalingrad.

According to the Soviet government’s reports, the Anti Tank Dogs had supposedly destroyed approximately 300 tanks. However, this hardly seems believable and was probably fabricated by the Soviets, who were clearly trying to justify the merciless sacrifice of these animals.

The end of the anti tank dog

Even though the use of Anti Tank Dogs had decreased significantly 1942 onwards, dogs were continued to be trained for the purpose up until 1996. Although the Soviets have used Anti Tank Dogs more than any other nation, some other countries like Japan and the United States trained them for use as well.

Even in recent times, around 2007, bombs were attached to dogs, when rebels had tried to use them in a similar manner to the Soviet Anti Tank Dogs, and deploy them during the Iraq War. However, only one incident was reported about a bomb exploding while being attached to a dog. Protests rose all over the world, and many Muslims too expressed their outrage.

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