Looking back, we know that after a direct hit on the U.S. military base at Pearl Harbor, there were no other major attacks in the United States during World War II. However, citizens were on edge—much the way we were after 9-11—and sentry dogs served an important purpose in guarding our country’s factories, transportation lines, and our borders.
The attack on Pearl Harbor was horrific, and it also stirred up old fears. In 1916, before the United States had even entered the first World War, Germans had gained access to Black Tom Island in New York Harbor and had blown up munitions that were on their way to the Allies. After the attack in Hawaii, U.S. citizens had good reason to fear that this type of sabotage would be repeated.
Six months after Pearl Harbor, another frightening incident set everyone’s nerves on edge. Shortly after midnight on the morning of June 13, 1942, four men emerged from a German submarine, loaded their rubber landing craft with explosives and navigated to a beach near Amagansett, Long Island. Their intended goals were to destroy power plants at Niagara Falls and three factories in Illinois, Tennessee and New York belonging to ALCOA (Aluminum Company of America).
Once on land, the German agents changed into civilian clothes to look like fishermen but a lone Coast Guardsman, John Cullen, spotted them and noted their odd behavior. When he came closer, he saw what they had with them. Cullen knew he was seriously outnumbered, so when they offered him a bribe in return for not taking them in, Cullen accepted the $260 but then went back and reported to his superiors. A search of the items left hidden near the beach revealed what the men had in mind.
J. Edgar Hoover ordered a massive manhunt, though it was supposed to be under the cloak of secrecy to avoid public panic.
On June 17, 1942, a similar group landed on Ponte Vedra Beach in Florida, equipped for similar industrial disruption. Their plan was to lay mines in four areas: the Pennsylvania Railroad in Newark, New Jersey, canal sluices in both St. Louis and Cincinnati, and New York City’s water supply pipelines. The team made their way to Cincinnati, Ohio and split up, with two going to Chicago and the others to New York.
Germany hoped that by bringing violence to the U.S. mainland, they would harm America’s manufacturing capability, scare the citizenry, and intimidate the government to the point that they might back out of the war.
The FBI hit a lucky break when the leader of the Long Island team defected and turned himself in. He provided a complete account of the planned missions, which led to the arrest of the members of both teams. By June 27, 1942, all eight German agents had been arrested without having accomplished one act of destruction. Tried before a military commission, they were found guilty. One was sentenced to life imprisonment, another to 30 years, and six received the death penalty, which was carried out within a few days.
Dogs on Sentry Duty
As a result of these incidents, guarding our coasts, power sources and factories became an important aspect of homeland security; being able to stretch manpower by supplementing the soldiers with canine aides made perfect sense.
In Hawaii, the people were so concerned about another attack that they attempted to recruit 5000 dogs; Elliot Humphrey, the well-respected trainer from Seeing Eye, came in to offer specialized training.
Private industry was nervous enough that they were perfectly happy to take some of the first dogs to go through the Dogs for Defense sentry training. The Munitions Manufacturing Company in Poughkeepsie, NY took one of the first dogs followed by an oil plant in Staten Island. Next up were some military bases. Some dogs were sent to Fort Hancock along the New York waterfront as well as Mitchell Field on Long Island.
From Maine to Alaska, ten areas were deemed Sea Frontiers; some were protected by guardsmen on horseback. Other areas by foot patrol with sentry dogs. During 1942-43, more than 10,000 dogs were posted on sentry duty.
Here are just a few of the documented reports of their work:
On the west coast a Dalmatian found a Japanese man in a boat underneath a pier with oil-soaked rags; he intended to blow up the pier.
In Boston, “Rolf,” a boxer was on guard at a war industry plant when he and his handler came upon a trespasser. The man was carrying complete plans for destroying the factory.
In Arkansas sentry dogs gave warning of a fire, thereby saving much lumber that was going to be used in the war effort.
In some cases, the dogs provided other types of necessary aid. In the Aleutian Islands dogs were good at guiding through fog. A Labrador retriever working along the coast of New Jersey had the unfortunate job of helping to retrieve the bodies of 34 American seamen. And in Alaska, dogs from the Dogs for Defense program were used to guard prisoners of war.
Military dogs had more than proven their worth to the people of the United States.
For more information on Dogs for Defense, see “The Government Asked for Pets for Defense.”