Inuit Sled Dog International
Copyright ISDI, 1997, 2012, 2016
Preserving the pure Inuit dog

Article researched and told by Paul Schurke

Hundreds of sled dogs were pressed into duty during WWII for search and rescue missions throughout Greenland, Canada and Alaska. But they also saw duty on the Western Front in one of the least-known stories of sled dog heroics that involved one of the most amazing adventurers Wintergreen has ever had the honor of being associated with.

In December 1944 the German Army was making it's last stand, rolling across France and overwhelming American regiments in its path. Panzer troops drove on through bitter cold and heavy snow that rivaled the Arctic. When at last their drive was stopped by the bloody fight called the Battle of the Bulge, snows were hip deep. Motor ambulances found it impossible to rescue injured soldiers and many of the wounded lay dying in the drifts.

A colonel with polar expedition experience, Norman Vaughan, sent out a rush call for dog teams. From throughout the Arctic, 209 dogs and their drivers were flown to Toul, France. Meanwhile, Norman experimented with the only option available to get sled dogs to the battle front: parachutes. His superiors nixed the plan and it wasn't until Gen. Patton himself intervened that Norman was given the go ahead.

By then clearing weather kept the plan from being fully deployed but the operation had set a remarkable record and contributed to the lore of the war dogs. In fact, throughout the war, sled dogs were credited with retrieving 150 survivors, 300 casualties and millions of dollars worth of equipment.

Air-dropping sled dogs for arctic rescue mission continued after the war as well. In fact, a 1952 exercise in Newfoundland involved air drops without parachutes. Russians aviators had discovered that in certain arctic wind conditions, cargo planes could throttle back into the wind with full flaps and go into a near stall just above the ground. They experimented with the technique as a means for dropping supplies or even soldiers and dogs without chutes.

During the US Army test runs of this technique with sled dogs, one driver - a crusty, old-timer who cared deeply or his dogs and knew no fear - refused to pitch his dogs out of a plane without a chute unless he tried it first. And he did, without injury! His dogs all made the leap from low-flying cargo plane to snowbank without mishap as well. But he was later court martialed for his stunt under "Section Eight" rules (insanity). Col. Vaughan intervened on his behalf and got him reinstated. (This blog entry is drawn from "Soldiers & Sled Dogs, A History of Military Dog Mushing," by Charles L. Dean, University of Nebraska Press, 2005.)

By the way, if you're thinking "hmmm... Col. Norman Vaughan, wasn't he the Alaskan musher who taught to Pope how to drive a dogsled? "You're right! There is lots more to tell about this larger-the-life character who shared one of our most unusual Wintergreen dogsled adventures with us as well as his very last Arctic journey.