26th QMC War Dog Platoon

The 26th QMC War Dog Platoon, under the oversight of the Remount division of the Quartermaster Corps, was formed at Camp San Carlos at the California War Dog Training Center.  There handlers trained with dogs for 8 months for combat operations.  Most of these dogs were destined to be scout dogs (work at the front of patrols to detect human presence from a distance) or messenger dogs (work at the back of a patrol to carry messages between a handler with the patrol and another handler at the nearest command post).  Their main instructor was a German civilian.  On May 14, 1944 the platoon boarded a Liberty ship and were aboard for 31 days.
-William Garbo, 26th QMC WDP veteran

The second QMC platoon to enter into the Pacific campaign was the 26th, arriving in New Guinea on June 16, 1944, under the command of 1st Lt. James Head.  Two weeks later the platoon accompanied the 41st Division to Biak Island, just north of New Guinea, and shortly thereafter moved on to Aitape with the 31st and 32nd divisions.  During the Aitape operation, the platoon, minus one squad, worked both scout and messenger dogs.  Handlers had a hard time in the heavy jungle growth, since they were working the dogs on leash, and the messenger dogs were found to be ineffective when required to run considerable distances through heavy mud.  Still, the platoon boasted several good alerts to ambushes, and the messengers made quick runs from patrols to command posts.
-From War Dogs: A History of Loyalty and Heroism by Michael G. Lemish (Brassey’s, 1996)

After New Guinea, the platoon would move on to the Netherlands East Indies.  During operations there they would conduct 250 patrols between 17 September and 2 November, 1944.  Not a single patrol was ambushed and the scout dogs alerted to enemy presence at no less than 70 yards and up to 200.  It is estimated that 75% of all enemy killed were taken by surprise.  The environment wreaked havoc on radio equipment and messenger dogs were often used instead.  One particular dog made 3 trips to the CP and back to the patrol covering 9,000 yards.
-Taken from War Dogs: A History of Loyalty and Heroism

The 26th QMC War Dog Platoon messenger dog handler impression for New Guinea, summer 1944, involves two gear setups: full gear and on a combat patrol.  The main difference is that the troopers would leave behind the M1943 jungle pack and helmet.  Mr. Garbo explained why they went to the standard HBT caps for patrols: “The use of steel helmets in the dense jungle was not a good idea if you wanted to remain silent. This choice was up to the patrol. When there was no worry of  trying to remain silent while making your way through dense brush we wore the steel helmet. Night patrols were always with cloth fatigue caps.”

Uniform:
M1942 (2nd Pattern) HBT Jacket, Trousers, & Cap (At the Front)
Combat Service (“Double Buckle”) Boots (Reproduction)
M1 Helmet & Liner

Field Equipment:
M1936 Pistol Belt (Original)
Carbine Magazine Pouch (Reproduction)
M1910 Canteen Cover, Dismounted (At the Front)x2
M1910 Canteen (Original)x2
M8 Scabbard (Original) (M8A1 scabbard is pictured)
M1942 Carlisle Bandage Pouch (Reproduction)
M1943 Jungle Pack (What Price Glory)
16″ Machete & Carrier (Original)
M1910 Pick Mattock & Carrier (Reproduction)
Watch w/ Leather Cover (Reproduction)

Weapons:
M1 Carbine
M3 Trench Knife (Reproduction)

Dog Equipment:
6′ Leash
Flat Leather Collar
Messenger Collar

Here are a few more notes about the impression taken from a conversation with Bill Garbo, occasionally followed up via email.

  • This is what Mr. Garbo had to say about his bivouac equipment: ” The jungle hammock was too dangerous to use; we discarded them when we went into our first combat, and never got them again. No sleeping bags. sometimes a blanket.”  Another veteran of the PTO was heard to say that they would sometimes set up their jungle hammocks and then take up a watch outside of them.  The Japanese would creep up and spear the hammocks with their bayonets and then they’d spring the ambush.
  • When asked about training the messenger dogs, here is what he remembered: “When training dogs to carry messages: Messenger teams were made up of two men. We started by attaching our dogs collar to a wire attached to two post about 24″ high and 10’ apart. Each handler would put the message collar on his dog and each would call the dog with hand signals. After the dogs successfully goes from one handler to the other he is praised and patted around the ears. This is repeated every day and the wire is lengthened from time to time. Eventually the dog makes the run from one handler to the other with out a wire. Eventually the handlers are far enough apart that the dog can not see the one he is going to. This training is reinforced with praising the dogs after each successful trip.”
  • Here’s what he had to say about the extra issued jungle equipment: “Before we left  Camp Stoneman in California we had been issued the latest version of clothing for jungle warfare such as canvas jungle boots that. Laced up to about mid calf, a jungle hammock with a built in mosquito net and a machete; we took everything that had been issued to us including several  unnecessary items, such as two pairs of fatigues, jungle hammock and we wore the lace up jungle boots, etc.  Two days later we threw away our lace up, so called jungle boots.”
  • What they carried: “Each man carried two full ( 1 quart) canteens of treated water (treated with two halozin tablets). Our weapons were,  a 45 automatic pistol with two to three  clips of ammunition (7 rounds per clip[). My main weapon was a 30 cal. M1-Carbine, (15 rounds per clip) however I could always choose any weapon that I wanted. It was always good to have a Tommy gun and an assortment of other weapons in the mix. We carried three to four hand grenades. The M-1 Garand rifle was the most accurate weapon you could carry. We were responsible for carrying all the ammunition needed for a good fire fight. The only trouble with the M-1 Garand was the fact that it was heavy to carry and not easy to use in a thick jungle. The preferred weapon was the carbine. Each  trooper was responsible for carrying from one to three days supplies of K-rations (depending on the length of the patrol )  We carried a poncho in our back pack with a change of socks and underwear along with personal items like a last letter. We were all issued a watch with a aluminous dial and a leather cover for the dial face. On our web belt we hooked the two canteens of water, for first aid kit (a pressure bandage with one pack of sulfur powder) a trench knife and usually the patrol leader was the only one that carried a compos. I carried a small New Testament Bible in my shirt pocket. My dog tags hung around my neck on a  silver chain.”
  • Mr. Garbo confirmed that the What Price Glory repro was what he wore.
  • Mr. Garbo mentioned a trench knife despite the fact they do not appear to be present in any of the photos. Here’s how he described what he carried via email: “A. It was in the hard olive drag vakelight scabbard; the handle was made of layers of leather oover a steel shaft.”
  • Occasionally even after a dog arrived with a message to the CP, it was difficult to get a message through to the artillery, so another animal would become involved: “Once the message was carried back to the CP and read, it was attached to a pigeon’s leg by (“Big-foot Thomas”our pigeon handler in the 112th Cavalry) the pigeon was released and flew back to the Artillery battery (Howitzers) on the beach (In Aitape New Guinea about 7 miles). The artillery took appropriate action immediately.”
  • The procedure for sending a message with the messenger dogs: “At the San Carlos War Dog training Center we used a brown leather pouch (water proof) with a tube made of tin with a screw cap on it (water proof). The metal tube was similar in size and shape to the aluminum cigar tubes you see in any tobacco store today.The message was written on a water proof sheet of oilcloth- like paper. The message was rolled up like a cigarette and placed in the metal tube; we then buckled the message pouch around the dogs neck. The next thing we did was unbuckle the dogs leather leash, pat the dog on his rear; he was trained that this was the signal for him to immediately head back to the point of beginning. No verbal sounds were made.”

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