In A Nutshell
From homing pigeons to cavalry horses, animals have helped humans wage war for millennia. However, the paradogs of World War II were in a class of their own. Not only did they sniff out mines and guard their masters, they also jumped out of airplanes into enemy fire.
The Whole Bushel
Some English playwright once said, “Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war!” The 13th Parachute Battalion took him literally. It was 1941, World War II was raging, and the British War Office was enlisting man’s best friend to fight for King and country. UK citizens were asked to “loan” their dogs to the military, and since many families were struggling with wartime hardships like food rationing, quite a few pets ended up on the front lines. While most were trained to hoof it with the infantry, a few of these dogs had a higher calling . . . 6,000 meters (20,000 ft) higher.
Bing, Monty, and Ranee were German shepherds assigned to the 13th Parachute Battalion, and they were trained to jump out of planes, search for booby traps, guard their masters, and boost morale. As you might expect, canine boot camp was pretty intense. The Alsatians spent hours sitting inside planes, listening to the roar of the propellers. This was to help the dogs adjust to the loud noises. Next, they were taught to identify the scent of explosives so they could sniff out mines. The last part of their two month ground training involved actual combat scenarios. The dogs were taught to spot enemy troops, how to act with guns going off around them, how to freeze if they heard something creeping through the brush and even what to do if their handlers were taken prisoner.
The next part of their training was a bit trickier, the part that actually involved dogs leaping out of moving airplanes. How would their handlers coax the dogs to overcome their fear of falling? The answer was classical conditioning. The paradogs weren’t given any food or water before a jump. However, their trainer, Lance Corporal Ken Bailey, kept a big piece of steak in his pocket. The hungry dog would lick its lips and hope for a bite . . . but if he wanted a snack, he had to follow Bailey into the wild blue yonder. After a successful jump, Bailey gave the dog a treat, and then repeated the process. Eventually, the dogs started skydiving without any reservations. They even seemed to enjoy themselves, wagging their tails as they wafted toward the Earth. And then D-Day rolled around.
As June 5, 1944 crept towards June 6, the 13th Battalion flew into Normandy. There were three planes, each loaded with 20 paratroopers and one paradog, and the mood was tense to say the least. The planes jostled as heavy artillery exploded around the aircraft, but despite the explosions, Monty and Ranee remembered their training and performed like battle-hardened veterans. However, Bing lost his nerve and hid in the back of the plane, too afraid to move. The poor pup actually had to be thrown out, and on the way down, his parachute got snagged in a tree. He was stuck for two hours and even wounded by German mortar fire before troops were able to cut him down. Over all, D-Day was a disaster for the dogs. Bing was hurt, Monty was severely injured, and Ranee disappeared, never to be seen again.
Despite his injuries and the incident in the plane, Bing eventually distinguished himself in the field. He pointed out enemy mines and saved countless Allied lives. During a second jump into Germany during Operation Varsity, Bing was sent on a suicide mission to check out a house. When he got close, he detected the unmistakable odor of enemy troops and sounded the alarm. His two-legged comrades surrounded the house, took the Nazis prisoner, and Bing was a hero. Fortunately, he survived to see V-E Day and was awarded the Dickin Medal, the highest military honor an animal can win in the UK, for his bravery. After his death in 1955, he was buried in a special cemetery in London, and if you visit the Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces Museum in Duxford, you can see a life-size statue of Bing, complete with parachute. You can even see his medal, the award he won for “conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defence Units.” This was a dog that truly rose to great heights, and when he fell, he fell with style.