How Sled Dogs Helped Win World War I
Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a traveling, board-certified surgeon in eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. His website is www.DrPhilZeltzman.com.
This is one of the most extraordinary dog stories ever told. In fact, few people have heard the entire tale. The French army recently opened confidential archives, untouched for almost a century, for the benefit of a documentary*.
December 1914: the French and Germans are fighting World War I in the Vosges, low mountains on the eastern border of France. Men and horses are struggling in the snow. Bringing supplies, food, ammunition, and evacuating wounded soldiers, has become impossible because of heavy snowfalls.
Officers need to find a way to avoid the same disaster during the following winter. A crazy idea emerges: wouldn't it be easier to use sled dogs to transport food, ammunition and wounded soldiers? By July 1915, a secret mission is launched. The goal is to find 400 sled dogs and their gear in a mere four months, before winter starts.
The search for sled dogs
Louis Joseph Moufflet, a 46 year old captain, is in charge of the daunting task. He recruits René Robert Haas, a 36 year old lieutenant and experienced musher (i.e., he could drive a dogsled), as his right arm. Both men had lived in Alaska.
The officers’ first step is to find a boat as soon as they arrive in New York City. However, because President Woodrow Wilson’s United States is a neutral territory, nobody is willing to get involved in a military operation. Finding a boat is therefore placed on hold.
The two men each go on their own mission. Moufflet goes to Quebec City to find 300 sled dogs, while Haas travels to Alaska to find another 100. They have three months left.
They partner with famous musher Scotty Allan, “the sled dog whisperer," who initially moved to Alaska during the Gold Rush. He became famous by winning sled dog races and even inspired Jack London’s popular book “White Fang.”
The challenge is to pick dogs that can lead, follow orders and find their way in a blizzard. After countless trials and tribulations, the Officers ended up finding 440 dogs.
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