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Sentry Dogs on U.S. Soil in World War II

sentry dogs

When Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, Americans worried what part of the country would be attacked next? Oil fields off the California shoreline? Factories in the Midwest? Power plants on the East Coast?

Initially the military put soldiers on sentry duty in the areas where it was presumed an enemy might attack. But for every soldier placed on sentry duty, there was one fewer G.I. to send overseas. It soon occurred to the military that war dogs could be trained to be on sentry duty. This would free up men whom they needed to help fight the war.

Sentry dogs served an important purpose in guarding our country’s factories, transportation lines, and our borders.

Threats Continue

Six months after Pearl Harbor, another frightening incident set American nerves on edge. Shortly after midnight on the morning of June 13, 1942, four men emerged from a German submarine. They loaded their rubber landing craft with explosives and navigated to a beach near Amagansett, Long Island. They were there to accomplish several goals. The men hoped to destroy power plants at Niagara Falls. Then they would target 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. However, a Coast Guardsman, John Cullen, spotted them and noted their odd behavior. When he came closer to the men, he saw they were carrying explosives. Cullen knew he was seriously outnumbered. The Germans offered him a bribe in return for not taking them in. Cullen accepted the $260 since he knew fighting back would be futile. However, he 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. The orders were for military units to work under the cloak of secrecy. U.S. citizens were nervous enough, so he wanted to avoid publi panic.

Germans Land in Florida

On June 17, 1942, a similar group landed on Ponte Vedra Beach in Florida. They, too, were 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. One team traveled to Chicago; the others to New York.

Germany hoped that by bringing violence to the U.S. mainland, they would disrupt the U.S. in several ways. They wanted to weaken America’s manufacturing capability and scare the citizenry. They hoped to intimidate the U.S. 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 were arrested without having accomplished any of their goals. The Germans were tried before a military commission and found guilty. One was sentenced to life imprisonment, another to 30 years, and six received the death penalty. They were put to death within a few days.


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.

Dogs on Sentry Duty

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.

Executives in private industry were worried about their plants and factories. They were 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. An oil plant in Staten Island took another from the first training class. 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.

Examples of Deeds Accomplished

Here are just a few of the documented reports of the work done by sentry dogs:

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.

Arkansas sentry dogs gave warning of a fire, thereby saving much lumber that was going to be used in the war effort.

Sometimes dogs also 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.”

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