Dogs who blew up tanks, themselves
Earlier, other military dogs had shown their skills in finding a hidden object among a series of bags (The pretend villain had been wearing protective clothing).
Dogs were used in many ways: there were 700,000 dogs who dragged the wounded from the battlefield on stretchers, 120,000 dogs who brought military messages across battlefields on the front line, and bomb dogs who were trained to blow themselves up on German tanks. Three hundred are estimated to have died this way.
The statue shows an anti-tank dog, a German shepherd with a bag on his back, which is where the explosives were kept, on top of a tank.
The trainers who taught the dogs to unwittingly kill themselves were fond of the animals in their care, said Svetlana Gladysh, a journalist who has written a book dedicated to the army’s military dog training program and who attended the ceremony.
They had stopped thinking that the “four-legged helpers were suicide bombers. They played with them, were tender with them, got used to them like their own dogs,” she writes.
A dog lover herself, Gladysh came to write about the dog trainers after meeting one of the most famous trainers, Dina Volkats. Volkats was in action throughout the war and became the only female officer within the dog military training part of the army.
Gladysh met Volkats through her own love of dogs. In the 1970s, she brought her pet to a dog show where one of the judges was Alexander Mazover, a top military dog trainer who was married to Volkats.
“She was a trainer from God,” said Gladysh in an interview.
When first speaking to her, Volkats asked her what dog she had – an Alsatian. Gladysh says she knows that had she owned a small, cute dog, Volkats would not have spoken to her.
Volkats died in the early 1990s. The book is part biography of the trainer, part history of the Soviet military dog program.
Military dog training began in Russia in 1924, partly as a legacy of the extensive use of dogs by the German army in World War I. The Germans had 6,000 dogs, compared to the 300 used by the Russians.
Circus artists including Anatoly and Vladimir Durov, from the famous circus family, were recruited for the center, which had six German Alsatians, four Doberman Pinschers, four Airedale Terriers, four Caucasian Shepherds and six Laikas in its first team. At first, the circus performers found dealing with the fiercer German shepherd difficult, writes Gladysh.
“They are not your poodles, but they are also dogs, so dear comrade artists, help us,” the head of the center told them.
Dogs were trained for 11 different jobs in the military, nine of which were top secret, said Gladysh. Among the more important were sniffer dogs, who looked for mines. They discovered more than four million charges and explosives during the war.
Secrecy remained in place long after the war. When Gladysh wrote about bomb dogs in the mid-1980s, she got letters of complaint from offended veterans who said that she had made it up.
Volkats originally trained as an actress before becoming a military trainer, and would say that she worked with her dogs using the Konstantin Stanislavsky method. By this, she meant that emotion or commands could be expressed through the eyes alone. This was useful when she was working at the front during the war in Belarus.
“She trained her dogs like that, and when she was on occupied territory, it worked better than anything else, because you can’t speak,” Gladysh said.
Training of the bomb dogs took place in a special camp outside Moscow.
“Remember that a dog trainer is a fighter-destroyer of tanks, and his dog is a means for destroying the enemies’ tanks,” said a sign hanging up in the center.
The dogs were taught not to fear tanks by slowly acclimating them to the noise and the smell. Then, they were taught to seek food underneath the tanks while wearing special bags with explosives, which blew up when they threw themselves against the vehicles.
The dogs were used in 1941 as the Germans moved in on Moscow, and were also used in Stalingrad.
General Dmitry Lelyushenko wrote in a document published in the book that the anti-tank dogs played a valuable part in the defense of Moscow, saying they were very popular and in much demand among division commanders.
The Germans “are scared of anti-tank dogs and hunt for them specifically,” he wrote.
Gladyshev’s book is an uncritical, often overly patriotic look at the use of dogs in the military; she makes no mention of ethical concerns about using dogs, or of military historians who cast doubt on the dogs’ effectiveness. Previous stories in the Russian media have reported dogs attacking Russian tanks by mistake and returning to their trainers with the explosives yet to detonate.
The book does, however, touch briefly on the dog trainers who knew they were training their dogs to kill themselves.
“We started to think and guess how to save the dog – how to blow up the tank and save the dog. It became a great pity to kill the dog, [one of] our own. It was not only a huge pity for the dogs, but for every particular dog,” Volkats said, according to Gladysh.
One idea was for the dog to jump onto the tank, leave the explosives there and jump off, but the trainers could not find a way for it to work.
Gladysh also publishes a poem by one of the trainers called “Dick blows up a tank.”
“Hot tears ran down the dog trainer’s face/He would never see Dick again/He had committed a glorious act/There was one enemy tank less.”
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