By Michael Dolan and Kevin Hymel
The U.S. Army trained dogs for a number of tasks during World War II. From checking for mines to guarding prisoners of war, the dogs performed admirably, but a few special dogs actually earned jump wings. To solve the problem of providing assistance to downed airmen in isolated locations, the Army, with the help of its Canadian brothers, trained dogs to jump from planes and bring the fliers supplies, aiding them in their treks to safety. Based on the idea of the St. Bernard with a barrel of whiskey under its chin heading out into the snow to save stranded hikers, lighter Siberian Huskies replaced the St. Bernard, and K-rations and water replaced the barrel of whiskey.
To prepare the dogs for their jump, soldiers would take the animals, with full packs, on 75-mile hikes to relax before their ordeal. Next, the dogs were suited with parachutes—sometimes with two dogs to a chute—and loaded aboard a transport plane. The plane flew to a desired height and target zone where the dogs were pushed out of the side door. The parachute, on a static line, automatically opened as the canines cleared the doorway. Once on the ground, they could deliver supplies and aid the stranded airman.
While the experiment was never applied to the battlefield (Europe was too well populated and the islands of the Pacific too small), it showed that the Army would go to any lengths to facilitate the safe return of its pilots.