December 8, 2014

1944. Dogs of World War II

Normandy Update

Bill Downs


July 2, 1944

There has been an ominous quiet on the British sector of the beachhead today. The kind of silence that shrieks of big events to come. It is quieter down on the front today than any time I have heard it since we invaded France. There was only an occasional shell or a mortar from the enemy, and there was only spotted shelling from the British batteries.

Incidentally, the Germans have an extremely difficult time in using their guns and mortars. Every time they open up, special locating devices spot them and the British counter-battery fire is terrific. The hundreds of pounds of hot steel that answer even the fire of one mortar must have the Nazis thinking twice before they fire even a revolver in our direction. Undoubtedly that is one of the reasons for the comparative quiet around the British wedge today.

Another reason is that yesterday the Germans got such a bloody nose in their abortive threat to breach the wedge that they undoubtedly retired to rest and regroup. But let me emphasize: while things may be quiet here today on this front, behind the front it is a different story. You will learn about that later.

British engineers have been training dogs for the past several months to smell out the enemy mines. This is not as ridiculous as it might sound—dogs have done this type of work very successfully. The German army has used them as well as the Russians. Although they have not been employed on a large scale here, the plan has been successful where the dogs have worked.

However, at the training school here in [inaudible] just about broke up the class the other day. A British truck drove by their school, and they immediately set out after it like a lot of foxhounds. But they were only doing what they had been taught to do. The truck was loaded with British mines on the way to the front. And believe it or not, that story was told to me by a perfectly straight-faced colonel who should know.

This is Bill Downs in Normandy returning you to the United States.