1/35 Soviet Tank Hunters with Dogs 3611 Zvezda
In 1924, the Revolutionary Military Council of the Soviet Union approved the use of dogs for military purposes, which included a wide range of tasks such as rescue, delivery of first aid, communication, tracking mines and people, assisting in combat, transporting food, medicine and injured soldiers on sleds, and destruction of enemy targets. For these purposes, a specialized dog training school was founded in the Moscow Oblast. Twelve regional schools were opened soon after, three of which trained anti-tank dogs.
The Soviet Army had no dedicated dog trainers, therefore they recruited hunting, police, and even circus trainers. Several leading animal scientists were also involved, in order to help organize a wide-scale training program. German Shepherd Dogs were favoured for the program for their physical abilities and ease of training, but other breeds were used as well. The idea of using dogs as mobile mines was developed in the 1930s, together with the dog-fitting mine design. In 1935, anti-tank dog units were officially included in the Soviet Army.
The original idea was for a dog to carry a bomb strapped to its body, and reach a specific static target. The dog would then release the bomb by pulling with its teeth a self-releasing belt and return to the operator. The bomb could then be detonated either by a timer or remote control, though the latter was too rare and expensive at the time to be used. A group of dogs practiced this for six months, but the reports show that no dogs could master the task. They performed well on a single target but became confused after the target or location was changed and often returned to the operator with the bomb unreleased, which in a live situation would have killed both the dog and the operator.
Continual failures brought about a simplification. The bomb was fastened on the dog and detonated upon contact with the target, killing the animal. Whereas in the first program, the dog was trained to locate a specific target, this task was simplified to find any enemy tank. Dogs were trained by being kept hungry and their food was placed under tanks. The tanks were at first left standing still, then they had their engines running, which was further combined with sporadic blank-shot gunfire and other battle-related distractions. This routine aimed to teach the dogs to run under the tanks in battlefield situations.
Each dog was fitted with a 10–12-kilogram (22–26 lb) mine carried in two canvas pouches adjusted individually to each dog. The mine had a safety pin which was removed right before the deployment; each mine carried no markings and was not supposed to be disarmed. A wooden lever extended out of a pouch to about 20 centimetres (7.9 in) in height. When the dog dived under the tank, the lever struck the bottom of the tank and detonated the charge. Because the underparts of the chassis were the most vulnerable area of these vehicles, it was hoped the explosion would disable the vehicle.