In common with other parts of the Armed Services, animals were used by Airborne Forces during the Second World War. These included 'Para Dogs' trained to parachute alongside the troops.
They were very important to the men after landing and were called upon to undertake guard, mine-detecting and patrol duties. Their acute senses provided an 'early-warning system` which was of great comfort and undoubedtly saved many lives.
The Scout Platoon of 13th (South Lancs) Parachute Battalion was the main unit which used Para Dogs. Their dogs included Bing, Brian, Flash, Monty, Ranee and Bob, a captured German dog. All were German Shepherds and male, except Ranee. The Platoon was initially commanded by Jack Sharples and later by Peter Downward. Its members were all dog lovers and included handlers Ken Bailey, Lloyd Neale, Bill Rutter and Wally Walton. Several of the dogs were dropped into Normandy in June 1944, and later over the Rhine in March 1945.
Brian was a two year old Alsatian who joined The Parachute Regiment in 1944, after basic training at the Army War Dog Training School. He was posted to the Recce Platoon, 13th Parachute Battalion to complete his parachute training, making the required number of jumps and earning his wings.
He parachuted into Normandy in June 1944 with his handler, before returning to Britain after passing through quarantine.
At the end of the war, Brian was demobbed from the army and returned to live with his owner, Betty Fetch. On 26 April 1947, he received the PDSA Dickin Medal during a ceremony at the PDSA Headquarters. This was the animal equivalent to the Victoria Cross (VC), and it provided recognition of gallantry and devotion to duty.
His citation reads: “This patrol dog was attached to a Parachute Battalion of the 13th Batt. Airborne Division. He landed in Normandy with them and, having done the requisite number of jumps, became a fully-qualified Paratrooper.”
On 26 October 1955, Brian passed away, aged 13 years old, and was buried at the PDSA Animal Cemetery in Ilford, Essex.
Bing was also attached to the 13th Parachute Battalion. Bing parachuted into Normandy on D Day in June 1944, landing in a tree where he stayed until he could be rescued the next morning by his handler Ken Bailey.
Bing stood guard for his Battalion during heavy bombardment, despite having been wounded during the parachute drop. He returned to Britain where he was quarantined, being released in time to travel to Germany to take part in the crossing of the Rhine.
After the war he was bought by the War Department, and although recommended for the Dickin Medal, he was deemed not eligible as he was no longer privately owned.
Several other Para Dogs are known. 9th (Essex) Parachute Battalion had Bereda and Glen with handlers Jimmy Gardner and Emile Corteil, whilst 1st (Canadian) Parachute Battalion had Johnny with handler Peter Kawalski. These dogs were also Alsatians. Both Glen and Johnny are known to have dropped into Normandy, Glen with his handler Private Corteil on 6 June 1944.
The Paratroopers landed scattered over a large area, and a group of them formed up under Brigadier Hill to march to their rendezvous, several miles away. As they went, they came under attack from Allied aerial bombardment, during which both Pte Corteil and Glen were killed. They were buried together in Ranville War Cemetery, Normandy.
A Fox Terrier, Salvo trained with the US Airborne, and a Border Collie, Rob, jumped with SAS patrols in North Africa and Italy.
On 22 January 1945 Rob was awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal. His citation reads:
“Took part in landings during the North African Campaign with an Infantry unit and later served with a Special Air Unit in Italy as patrol and guard on small detachments lying-up in enemy territory. His presence with these parties saved many of them from discovery and subsequent capture or destruction. Rob made over 20 parachute descents.”
At the end of the war, Rob returned to Britain and was returned to his owner, Mrs Bayne, in 1945. His medals, which were stolen en route, were replaced by the War Office.
Rob was put down on 18 June 1956 aged 12.
It is not known how much the dogs enjoyed the parachuting. It is thought that Bing sometimes had to be encouraged out of the aircraft with a helpful nudge to his rear!
For their advice, research and support, the Museum thanks John Pragnell and Irvins, the South Eastern Museums Service and Maj Gen Peter Downward CB DSO DFC.
Other 'Para Dogs'
Dogs have also been carried as 'mascots' (sometimes jumping precariously with one of the men!). Note the picture of 'Chalkey in Palestine, 1946'.
Today, the role is less common although some Parachuting nations retain the Para Dogs, including the Portuguese Para-Quedistas (see linked photos).