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During World War I the Germans used dogs in the military. The experience in Germany with military dogs during World War I led the government to establish an organization that would be involved in breeding and training military and police dogs. The organization also bought dogs from private breeders. It is estimated that by the time the U.S. got involved in World War II that the Germans had trained 200,000 military and police dogs. The Germans provided 25,000 trained military dogs to their ally, Japan, that were used in the war against China.

The Russians also trained and used dogs in their military. White Samoyeds were used to pull white-clad marksmen on sleds close to enemy lines. In one sector of the front, a team of sled dogs carried 1,239 wounded men from the battlefield and hauled 327 tons of ammunition within a five week period. Dog teams were used to pull guns, men, and supplies. One Russian correspondent stated that "dogs have saved thousands upon thousands of lives on the Russian front."

Americans have always been great dog lovers and owners, but before World War II there was no formal training for military dogs. There was also very little use of dogs by the police. The use of dogs of any breed by the police and military really did not exist until World War II. In Europe, dogs bred to herd sheep and cows were trained in police and military work. In the U.S., herding dogs did little "real" work as there weren't many sheep and men on horse back, cowboys, did the cattle herding.

In a great many ways, not just military dogs, the U.S. was unprepared for war when World War II came to the country on a Sunday, December 7, 1941. The real miracle of World War II was how an unprepared nation could achieve victory in four years.

U.S. Marine Corps

The Corps was originally thought of as the "soldiers of the fleet". Although still under the Naval Department, the Marines are now mainly land and air fighters who are supported by ships for coastal assaults and for supplies. So much of the fighting the U.S. did between World War I and World War II involved sending troops to foreign shores. The Marines gained a great deal of experience in fighting in countries all over the globe.

As early as 1935, the Marines were interested in war dogs. They had experienced the enemy's sentry dogs used in Haiti and in the other "Banana Wars" in Central America where dogs staked around guerrilla camps in the jungle sounded the alarm at the approach of the Marines. Time and again, the Marines found "beans cooking in the pot", tents, clothes, everything except enemy soldiers and their weapons. The Marines learned the value of dogs used as sentries and scouts. One Marine trained a dog to scout at the head of patrols to alert him to ambushes. It was the Marine Corps veterans that convinced their leaders of the need for dogs.

Although prior to Pearl Harbor, the citizens of the U.S. were opposed to getting involved with the war that was going on in Europe and Asia, the Marines thought they would have to fight the Japanese in the Pacific. Since the Japanese were well established in the islands and atolls of the central, south, and west Pacific, the Marines knew they were going to be fighting in tropical climates where the vegetation provided jungle-like coverage. In such conditions, dogs would be ideal sentries and couriers. It was no surprise later that the Marine Corps had the first large dog unit in the nation's history to see action against the enemy.

Doberman Pinscher Club of America (DPCA)

The Doberman breed was first registered with the American Kennel Club in 1908. It was not until 1922 that more than 100 were registered each year. In 1934, more than 1,000 were registered each year and in 1941 there were 1,637 Dobes registered and they were 15th in popularity amongst purebred dogs. Although there were not a great number of Dobes, they were the one breed that had been produced to be "police-soldier" dogs. The Marines Corps decided that the Doberman Pinscher was to be their official combat dog.

The Doberman Pinscher Club of America was approached to procure Dobes for the newly formed Marine Corps War Dog Training Facility at Camp LeJeune, New River, North Carolina. Sydney A. Moss, President of the DPCA, agreed to assist in the procurement of Dobes. Richard C. Webster, DPCA, Baltimore, Maryland, headed the recruiting committee. He divided the country into sixteen procurement areas to facilitate enlistment. DPCA members spent their own time and money to screen applicant dogs for the Marine Corps. The recruitment was done amongst Dobe owners in the country who were asked to "volunteer" their dogs. Owners were told that their Dobes would be returned to them if they failed to meet the standards or at the end of their tour of service. Actually, the owners did have to sign over ownership of the dogs to the Marine Corps. On the application there was a statement that the dog "agreed to perform active service without pay or allowance, other than subsistence", and whether the dog wishes "to be returned to his owner after his services are no longer required." Many Marine handlers of the Dobes requested that their Dobes come home with them. These requests were nearly always granted by the donating family and other Dobes were returned to their families.

The Marine dogs were named "Devildogs", 90% of them were Doberman Pinschers mostly recruited through the efforts of the DPCA. There were also some German Shepherd Dogs that were obtained from the U.S. Army and the remaining dogs were enlisted directly from their owners.


Cecil MacCoy, Director of Public Relations, New York Stock Exchange, was the President of the Doberman Pinscher Club of New York. He was the Dobe recruitment chairman for New York state. He sent off to war one of the first groups of Marine Corps Dobes. On January 26, 1943, the first six dogs were "inducted" into the Marine Corps on the steps of the U.S. Subtreasury Building in New York City with full publicity coverage. One of the six was to be the first Marine Devil-Dog killed in action.

Arriving in Camp LeJeune, the canine recruits were first entered in a forty-page dog service record book. The Marine Corps was the only branch of the service to have such a record for their dogs. The Dobes were tattooed on the inside of the right ear. Their number was recorded in their service record book, along with their call name, breed, date of birth and date of enlistment. Notes were kept on the type of training the dogs received and when they qualified for each type, such as obedience, scout, messenger, and special work. The Dobes were given thorough examinations and tested for tractability, corrigibility, shyness, and aggressiveness. Considering the fact that the testers were new at what they were testing, one can assume that the tests were not very rigorous nor very scientific. The Dobes had to be at least 50 pounds and twenty inches high at the withers. Dogs who failed the tests for one reason or another were sent home.

Dobes began their training as Privates. They were promoted on the basis of their length of service. After three months the Dobe became a Private First Class, one year a Corporal, two years a Sergeant, three years a Platoon Sergeant, four years a Gunner Sergeant, and after five years a Master Gunner Sergeant. The Dobes could eventually outrank their handlers.

The Dobe handlers were just out of boot camp or transfers from other outfits. Prior handling of dogs was not a requirement. Each dog selected as a scout dog was assigned to one handler. Each messenger dog was assigned to two handlers. They all went through an intensive course of obedience for a period of six weeks. The dogs were taught to heel, down, crawl, come, or stay on both voice commands and arm and hand signals. During this early training, no Marine was allowed to molest or play with another Marine's dog. After the basic training when the handlers and the dogs were well indoctrinated, it was possible to have the dogs respond to other handlers in case it was necessary to bring a dog under control in an emergency.

Following basic training, the dogs were divided up for specialized training. Messenger dogs were taught to carry messages, ammunition or special medical supplies from one handler to the other handler. They were subjected to overhead rifle and machine gun fire and explosions of heavy charges of dynamite and TNT to simulate an nearly as possible actual battlefield conditions.

The scout dogs were trained to warn the troops of the approach or the nearness of any other humans. Dogs usually alert to the presence of strangers by barking. About a year ago two supposed scientists reported that dogs barked because they wanted to and there was nothing humans can do to change that. This nonsense was reported in articles in many newspapers. The Devildogs were trained not to bark. A sentry dog was to alert the troops of the enemy, not to bark and tell the enemy where the troops were. The detection of strangers was signaled by the dogs in different ways but not by barking.

The Dobes were trained to detect the presence of the enemy and if necessary attack, but this latter part was not emphasized. In fact, the detection part of the Dobe's job was so important that the Marines did not want to risk the Dobes by getting them involved in an attack. The Marines stated that they had enough weapons to attack Japanese with, they did not need dogs to do that. Messenger dogs were trained to avoid all men except their handlers.


During 1942, Japanese forces conquered Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, and Burma on the western edge of the Pacific; the Philippines, the Marianas, and the Solomon Islands in the central west Pacific. It was not until the Battle of Midway that the Japanese lost a battle. At Midway, the Japanese lost four of their aircraft carriers and hundreds of their best pilots.

Knowing that the last country in the Pacific that could possibly stop the Japanese advance was Australia, the Japanese forces moved south towards Australia taking island groups and New Guinea. In late 1942, the U.S. Forces fought the Japanese on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands which are northeast of Australia. After long and bloody battles, the Americans were victorious on Guadalcanal.

The larger island in the Solomon's was Bougainville. The Marines landed on Bougainville in 1943. After the landing sites were bombed and shelled, the dog platoon was sent ashore just one hour after the first Marines hit the beach, under heavy mortar and rifle fire. The Devildogs were met with mixed reactions by the fighting Marines. There was one thing that quickly changed the Marines' view of the dogs to a very positive one. In landing and fighting on islands quite often the Marines were stopped for a time on the beaches. It was a common tactic for the Japanese to infiltrate the beach positions at night and attempt to kill the Marines. To prevent this the Marines were always on the alert at night. One night a Marine battalion fired 3,800 rounds, killing a water buffalo and wounding one of their own Marines. No enemy were known to be in the area. The next night the Devildogs were called in. It was a quiet night and the Marines got some sleep. The Dobes keen sense of smell and hearing could detect the presence of men several hundred yards away. In one instance, the dogs detected the presence of troops one half mile away. The Dobes' handlers always had help digging foxholes, the other Marines always wanted the handler and their dogs nearby. No unit protected by one of the dogs was ever ambushed by the Japanese or was there ever a case of Japanese infiltration.

During World War II, seven War Dog Platoons were trained at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. All platoons served in the Pacific in the war against the Japanese. The First War Dog Platoon served with the 2nd Raider Battalion on Bougainville. From this and other units, the First Marine Brigade was formed and invaded Guam along with the 3rd Marine Division and the 77th Army Division. More units were added to form the 6th Marine Division which invaded Okinawa. The First War Dog Platoon saw action on Bougainville, Guam, and Okinawa. The 2nd and 3rd War Dog Platoons saw action on Guadalcanal, Kwajalein, Enewetak, and Guam.

During the battles, the dogs led infantry points on advances, explored caves, pill boxes, dugouts, and scouted fortified positions. They did sentry duty with military police at crossroads day and night. They occupied foxholes in forward outposts at night. They and their handlers were officially credited with leading three hundred and fifty patrols during the mop up phases of the battles. The handlers accounted for over three hundred enemy slain. Only one handler was killed on patrol. During the Guam campaign fourteen dogs were killed in action and ten more died from exhaustion, tropical maladies, heat stroke, accidents, and anemia from hookworm. These twenty-four were buried in the War Dog Cemetery on Guam.

The Amazing Dobermans

In the 1940's when Doberman Pinschers became war dogs - Devildogs - they were a new breed to most people in the United States. Dr. William W. Putney, Marine Corps Veterinarian and Captain, had never seen a Doberman when he graduated from veterinary school, nor had most of his colleagues. Wherever the Marine Devildogs went, they attracted the curious attention of people who had heard about the sleek and powerful breed but never had seen them. On Guam, the people who lived through the Japanese occupation remember the Devildogs as "The Dobermans" or "Ah, The Dobermans" because they remember how valuable they were in the liberation of their island home.


In August 1945, the Marines began to close the War Dog Training School and to disband the War Dog Platoons. Some of the Dobes, after retraining, were sent home to their original owners, some went home with Marine handlers and a number of them were destroyed because no one wanted them. The Devildogs became history and for the most part forgotten history.

A few years ago, Captain William W. Putney, DVM USMC Retired started a campaign to have the Dobes that were buried on Guam moved to the National War Cemetery on Guam. The United Doberman Club and its members with the help of many Dobe owners supported Putney in his efforts. When it appeared that the cemetery was going to be moved. The Navy stepped forward and made arrangements for the cemetery to be moved to U.S. Naval Base at Orote Point. There with the first war dog statue - a statue of a Doberman Pinscher - is the National War Dog Cemetery with twenty-five of dogs that died on Guam. The twenty-five are representative of the over 800 dogs that served the country during World War II.


The major source is "Dobermans of War" compiled by Ann Lanier with thanks to Captain William W. Putney, DVM, USMC Retired - Published in the Doberman Quarterly, Fall 1994, Part 2 - Pages 513-528. There is a bibliography on Page 528 of the subject Doberman Quarterly.

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