Oh, man’s best friend. It’s been tough waiting for the phone to ring some days… you never know when that next head coaching gig is going to come from. A positive attitude and tons of patience are two essential parts of the waiting process. You know who’s patient? Dogs. Gotta lot of respect for those little critters. Unlike your quarterback, a dog’s never gonna quit on you for always wanting to call safe plays. That’s why it’s pretty messed up when people hurt them. You wanna see weird, awful shit? Check out what the Soviets did back in the forties against the Nazis!
Country of origin: USSR
Purpose built: To find and remove enemy weaponry… through a variety of different means.
Years used: Predominantly WWII; however, modern examples exist as well
What is it? Beginning in the 1920s, the Red Army trained dogs for a variety of uses in warfare, including as matériel transport, search and rescue, first aid, communication, and tracking of mines and people. By 1935, the training program and development of dogs as anti-tank weapons was firmly in place, and by the time of the German campaign eastward into the USSR in 1941, the Soviet Union was training 40,000 dogs at their twelve regional dog-training schools. The Red Army trained a variety of breeds, but preferred the German Shepherd most of all due to the combination of physical ability and sense of smell.
In their plans to use dogs as mobile tank mines, scientists and trainers developed a vest fitted with explosives that were attached to the dog’s back. In initial designs the dog was simply supposed to deliver the explosive to a spot, pull on a self-releasing belt to remove the vest, and the explosives would be triggered by a remote detonator or a self-timer. However, this design was ultimately too complicated for the dog to successfully maneuver, and as such, the Soviets ended up needing to sacrifice the dog as part of later designs on the weapon. The later version of the dog-carried anti-tank weapon also had a vest filled with explosives, but instead of a remote detonator, a wooden lever was attached on the dog’s back. The lever needed to be flipped backwards in order to engage the firing pins on the explosives. As part of the training regimen, the dogs were underfed, and handlers placed food underneath static tanks, getting the dogs to run underneath the tank to get the food, flipping the lever backwards, detonating the explosives, and blowing the German tank to smithereens. A good idea on the surface, if perhaps horribly unethical… however, considering the rapid advancement of the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front, the Soviets were left with few other alternatives to counter the threat of hundreds of Panzers rumbling towards Moscow, Stalingrad, and other major Soviet centers.
Why didn’t it work? In the rush to try and get the dogs trained, the Soviet scientists and dog handlers neglected to consider a few important points of combat on the battlefield…
- Regardless of how hungry they were, the dogs got scared by the moving German tanks, and pretty much refused to dive underneath them.
- Additionally, the dogs got scared by the fact that they were getting shot at by advancing tanks and infantry… the Soviets didn’t do enough to properly simulate this in their training regimens.
- When the dogs got scared, they would run back towards their own trenches… and often detonated themselves when jumping back in, killing themselves and their handlers in the process.
- As such, returning dogs often had to be shot by their own handlers if they hadn’t detonated their explosives yet. Additionally, since handlers got attached to working with specific dogs, they found this to be very upsetting.
- Because the dogs didn’t dive under tanks, it left them exposed to enemy fire for prolonged periods of time; even though they were a smaller target than their human counterparts, German soldiers were still often able to kill them before they got within striking distance. Additionally, the Nazis even recovered a number of dead dogs and weaponry and attempted to copy the technology, but ultimately deemed it to be a waste of time and resources in the end.
- Another serious miscalculation by the Soviets: the dogs were trained on Soviet tanks, which smelled like diesel. On the battlefield, they often didn’t tend to run towards the German tanks, as they smelled differently, due to using gasoline engines. As a result… the dogs often ran towards their own active tanks instead, greatly adding to the chaos and risk.
All this said, the Red Army claims it destroyed over 300 enemy tanks with the use of its anti-tank dogs, though that number is disputed as being much too high by many modern historians; by 1943, as technology finally managed to catch up, the use of suicide missions by dogs was gradually phased out by the Soviet Union.
What could make it better?
DON’T USE DOGS. DON’T FUCKING DO IT. This is literally an irredeemable idea. I know people always say shit about football guys needing to be big and tough and willing to sacrifice anything and everything in order to win, but I’ll be damned if I ever coach anyone who disrespects dogs like this. The fact that this program even existed in the first place is enough to make me go back through Michael Vick’s family tree to investigate whether he had extended family members from the Soviet Union.
Also, the fact that Iraqi insurgents actually tried this against the USMC in as late as 2007 is also pretty fucked up. That said, I guess we did some fucked-up shit to them as well too. I dunno, really. War’s all so complicated. Football is way easier. That’s why I like calling runs up the middle.