Satan: World War I Messenger Dog Hero

Satan was one of many courageous dogs who became famous in history for delivering messages through dangerous terrain during the Great War.

French soldier and messenger dog wearing gas masks

During World War I, dogs were often used to deliver vital messages when phone lines weren't working. Dogs were ideal for the job because they could run faster than man, and were smaller targets than humans. The job was not easy. Messenger dogs had to travel long distances, often under fire, and had to overcome obstacles in their path like barbed wire, shell holes, trenches, rivers and chemical gases. Tens of thousands of dogs served as messengers throughout the war. One notable dog was Satan.

At the 1916 Battle of Verdun, French troops in the small town were surrounded by the German army, and were ordered to hold their position until reinforcements could be sent. They held on for days, but no one came to relieve them. There was no more means of communication. Radios were down, the last dog and homing pigeon were killed, and seven men were killed trying to deliver messages. Just as the men's hopes were diminishing, and the Germans were attacking them with artillery and gunfire, the French soldiers spotted a black animal running toward them in a zigzag pattern (the way the dogs were taught to run to avoid being a target). The animal was Satan, wearing a gas mask and something across his shoulders. He was running at a high speed and leaping over shell holes - some men declared that he was flying, that they even saw his wings. The French headquarters sent Satan, knowing his handler was in Verdun.

Messenger dog leaping over a trench

Duval, Satan's handler, recognized his dog and called out to him, urging him on. As Satan neared, he was clipped by a bullet and stumbled. Another bullet hit his leg, causing him to fall to the ground. Duval climbed out of the trench to keep urging the injured dog on, and was killed by enemy fire while calling out his words of encouragement. Having heard Duval's voice, Satan staggered to his feet and started toward the men, this time on three legs with the lame leg hanging useless at the hip. Satan was able to get close enough to the troops for the soldiers to pick him up and carry him to safety. They found a message in a tube from around his neck, which read "For God's sake, hold on. We will send troops to relieve you tomorrow." The winglike contraption across his shoulders was a harness balancing two small baskets, each one containing a carrier pigeon.

The commandant wrote two identical notes describing the locations of the German troops. Both pigeons were given a note then released into the air to deliver. One pigeon was shot down, and the other made it through the gunfire. The message was received, and Verdun was saved.

According to American war reporter Albert Peyson Terhune, "The garrison was able to hold out until reinforcements came all because one hairy mongrel refused to die while his errand was still uncompleted and because he was too loyal to quit."

It is not clear what became of Satan. Some accounts say he died moments after completing his mission. Others say he recovered from his injuries and retired from the military.