Narrated: Ruvim Katz, St-Petersburg, Russia
English Translation: Daniel Klionsky, webmaster
Editing: Janet (Mikhlin) Neice , Detroit
Posted on: March 2013
Last Updated on: March 2013

Ruvim, 1955
By Ruvim Katz (1918-2018), retired Red Army lieutenant-colonel, WWII veteran and webmaster’s grandfather.

After his discharge from the military service in early 1960s, Ruvim and his family lived in St-Petersburg, Russia and in 2012 celebrated his 94th birthday.

The series consist of several short stories that Ruvim narrated from memory to Mark Klionsky, webmaster’s father.

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Antitank-dog, 1930s-40s
In September 1941, after being wounded in the leg and subsequent treatment in a hospital, I was sent back to service and assigned to the emergency communications regiment, headquartered in the besieged Leningrad.

It was a difficult time for the city's residents. I witnessed how the enemy’s planes bombed and burned the city’s Badaevsky food warehouses.

These warehouses had held huge stockpiles of products intended for the city, and therefore, when the Germans surrounded Leningrad, a famine started.

Even we, the junior officers, signalers in a reserve regiment, were only given meager rations of biscuits, 175 grams a day.
The additional everyday dinner consisted of a bowl of soup with a few grains and water. In order not to waste energy, we laid in bed all day, suffering from starvation while anticipating our assignments to the front line regiments.

We all knew that at least on the front lines, the food rations were much better. I recall during that time, a sympathetic young girl who worked in the dining room took pity on me—a young, good-looking 23 year old lieutenant—and gave me a 150 grams bottle of vegetable oil.

I could not resist the treat and ate it with crackers in a single sitting. Afterwards, nature punished me severely for such a lack of restraint. I had a bowel disorder, and for several days,

I suffered from diarrhea. One day in January 1942, a special recruiter visited our barracks. He was a battalion commander in a rank of major and his battalion included a special unit for training anti-tank dogs. He needed officers for that unit.
Each dog was fitted with a 10–12-kilogram (22–26 lb) mine contained 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 for about 20 centimeters (7.9 in) in length. When the dog dived under the tank, the lever struck the bottom of the tank and detonated the charge.

Perhaps today, animal rights activists would argue that it was immoral to train dogs for these kind of tasks, but at the time of our deadly battle with the Nazis, I truly believe, all the means were justified.

[The use of anti-tank dogs was escalated during 1941–1942, when every effort was made by the Soviet Army to stop the German advance at the Eastern Front of World War II . During that period, the dog training schools were mostly focused on producing anti-tank dogs. About 40,000 dogs were deployed for various tasks in the Soviet Army.]
In any case, I questioned the officer about the conditions of service. It turned out that the food was sufficient enough.

The trainers were issued 300 grams of crackers per day. The dogs were fed with boiled horsemeat, which was edible to humans as well, and bread – 800 grams in total.

Working with dogs did not frighten me as I was from the countryside. In my childhood, there was always a dog in our yard, and so I agreed to the transfer.

The new battalion was also located in Leningrad, and I was assigned to be in charge of an incomplete platoon, consisting of 8 dogs and as many soldiers.
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Anti-tank dogs in a battle (contemporary drawing)
The dogs were intelligent purebred collies. They were fed only after crawling under the disabled tanks. This was repeated many times and was the most essential part of the training.

After a couple of weeks, the battalion commander called me in and ordered me to relocate the entire platoon to the village of Efimovskiy (approximately 90 km from Leningrad), where another anti-tank dog training facility was located.

Due to lack of regular transport, we were ordered to travel to the facility by using other means – either walking or hitch-hiking. I checked the map that the facility was directly 90 km, but we traveled for three days.

On the road, the dogs were fed dry food (boiled potatoes mixed with bread), but one of them did not survive the journey. She stopped eating and moving, and eventually, she died.

I was really upset by the event as I was unable to perform the commander’s assignment. I assembled my men and asked for their advice –“what should we do?” One of them, an elderly man, suggested: "Let's take the dog from the nearest village."

Since there were no other suggestions, I agreed and in the night, they stole the dog from someone’s backyard.

Upon arrival to our destination, I reported to the battalion commander that all dogs with trainers were fully accounted for and ready for the next task. After listening to my report, he hugged me and even kissed me.

Then he went to inspect the dogs we delivered. He immediately noticed a stray dog (obviously, not a purebred) and said, "What is this scarecrow?" This resulted in revealing to him everything that happened.

The commander did not scold me, and just said that this stray dog was not suitable for our purposes. It turned out he did not even hope to see my platoon, so one can imagine how pleased he was to see our arrival.

I spent about three months in that assault battalion, and then I was called back to the Army 54 signal regiment, where I continued to serve under its direct specialty-commander communication unit.

In conclusion, I would like to note that the use of dogs against tanks was too costly, so after breaking the blockade of Leningrad, destroyer battalions were disbanded. The efficiency of using anti-tank dogs in World War II remains uncertain.

After 1942, the use of anti-tank dogs by the Soviet Army rapidly declined, and training schools were redirected to producing more urgently needed mine-seeking and delivery dogs.

However, training of anti-tank dogs continued after World War II until 1996