Australia’s Fighting Dogs

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Part of the pack: While dogs were frequently at the side of Aussie officers long before World War II, military dogs weren't officially introduced to Australia's ranks until 1943, and even then their role was largely without structure or formal training. Some were used as guard dogs and were treated like savage animals so they would act more ferociously in their security duties. Others (as is still common today) were kept as pets and mascots, protecting soldiers out of loyalty.

These men, from the 2/48th Battalion, 9th Australian Division, were photographed while evacuating Tobruk, Libya in 1941. The Siege of Tobruk began in April of that year and these young soldiers were on their way back to Kingston, Australia, taking their little dog with them.

From left to right: Private Jack Colin Curtis; Private Jack Eunson, Corporal Roy Clifford Darley of Narridy, SA. Private Curtis died the following September of wounds he sustained in Egypt.


The Vietnam vets left behind: Few of the dogs that served on the ground in the Vietnam War were allowed to return back to their native countries once the war was over. When U.S. troops withdrew in 1973, most of the 4,000 U.S. military dogs on the ground there were deemed "surplus equipment," and left behind. Some were given to South Vietnamese forces, while others were euthanized.

At least one Aussie war dog fared far better than most of the canines who were deployed to Vietnam. A Black Labrador -- like the two sniffer dogs in this photo taken in 1967 in South Vietnam -- this fortunate dog, named Julian, was "a troop scout and explosives detector." He was adopted by an embassy worker in Saigon and eventually made the journey back to Australia with his new owner. 

The dogs above who were perhaps not so lucky were part of the 7th Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment during the war. Justin (left) and Cassius (right) were tasked with tracking Viet Cong fighters through the jungle. The soldiers pictured with them are Private (later Lance Corporal) Thomas Douglas and Cpl. Norman Leslie. Cpl Blackhurst, a radio operator, was killed in action in April 1971 while calling in a helicopter for a medical evacuation. The helicopter crashed, killing L Cpl. Blackhurst, another officer on the ground, as well as the medic on board.


Tiny Tim: The Australian forces did not discriminate when it came to adopting four-legged members into their crew. The mascot pictured here was likely not particularly intimidating, and it's doubtful he was ever employed to deliver messages for the men on the ground during World War II. Still, his given name, Tim, has been lovingly painted on his shell, as was the number of his battalion -- 2/2nd. In this photo taken in March 1940, Captain D. Michaelson delicately places Tim on a stone ledge in Julis, at that time a Palestinian Arab village. 

The messengers of men: Corporal James Coull poses with three messenger dogs from the 4th Divisional Signal Company, on railroad tracks near Villers-Bretonneux, France, in May of 1918. Cpl. Coull's unit was consisted of 16 men and 50 messenger dogs. The dogs, from left to right: Nell, a Cross Setter; Trick, a Collie; and Buller (nicknamed Bullet), an Airedale. These particular three dogs had a reputation for being exceptionally good at their job. 


Critters of Coomalie Creek: Flight Lieutenant G. A. Greenwood and Sergeant B. Agnew pose with their squadron mascots, a joey (baby kangaroo) and what appears to be a dog not long out of puppyhood. This photograph was taken in 1943 at Coomalie Creek, an air field built by the Royal Australian Air Force in the North Territory in Australia during World War II.


Little cat, big ship: During World War I, this tiny tabby cat was the mascot of the HMAS Encounter, a destroyer with the Royal Australian Navy. In 1914 this warship patrolled the Fiji-Samoa area. This photograph, taken sometime between 1914 and 1918, shows the ship's feline guest quite at home nestled inside the muzzle of a six-inch gun.


Odd couple: The HMAS Sydney had two mascots who didn't get along: Able Seaman J. T. Walker with his pup Shrapnel and Able Seaman Gamble with his cat Salvo.


The General is coming: It wasn't just soldiers who adopted mascots during times of war. This puppy, who's just had a bath, was the mascot to a cookhouse of the 9th Australian division. The dog was getting cleaned up in anticipation of a visit from Gen. Douglas Macarthur on July 16, 1943.


Major pose: On July 15, 1915, Staff Sergeant Major Gabriel Albert Morgan Morgan posed for this official portrait. His four-legged comrade is wearing a forage cap.

Cobber and the cockatoo: Camp mascots of No. 1 Camp, Tatura Internment Group, Whacko the sulphur-crested cockatoo and Cobber the dog.


Regular Joe, baby joey: An American soldier at an advanced Allied base, with his pet kangaroo.


A Koala goes to Cairo: A corporal, probably on the staff of the 2nd Australian general hospital, holds a koala.


All creatures, big and small: Ferdie, the pygmy flying phalanger (a miniature marsupial native to Australia) settling on the arm of Officer Robert Addison on June 14, 1945, had a reputation that far exceeded his small size. While hanging out with the boys of Royal Australian Air Force he developed a taste for beer and was said to be fond of drinking it in by the tablespoon. And while the Spitfire squadron pilots counted a number of other mascots in their ranks -- 15 dogs, a cat, a possum, and a rooster -- he was by far the favorite.


Sgt. So Long, Farewell: Sergeant Eric Campbell crouches on the snowy ground to shake the paw of Dean, a veteran mine dog, as he prepares to depart Korea in March 1956.

According to Anna M. Waller's 1958 report entitled "Dogs and National Defense," the United States first employed a mine detection unit in 1943. These canines were trained to "to detect buried objects of all kinds ... more particularly non-metallic mines, anti-tank and anti-tank personnel mines, trip wires and booby traps. [The dog were] was taught to indicate the position of a buried mine by sitting down from one to four paces from the concealed objects. If he detected a trip wire or booby trap he was trained to halt or refuse to advance."  

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