September 11, 2015 | Posted in War Dogs
Rifleman Khan never fired a gun in anger, he couldn’t have. He was a German Shepherd and I bet his angry, teeth-baring snarl would have been enough to freeze the enemy’s blood in their veins. For this was no ordinary fighting dog. He was a big and brave warrior who was awarded the Dickin Medal for bravery beyond the call of duty.
It was the summer of 1942 in Surrey and World War II was raging. The Railton family of Tolworth, Surrey pitched in with their contribution to the war efforts. They offered their pet German Alsatian to the War Office after reading an appeal in the newspapers. The dog was soon recognized as an exceptionally talented pupil by the trainers at the War Dog Training School. He was soon an expert in finding explosives. Although designated War Dog 147, the dog went on to gain fame with perhaps the most romantic moniker a war dog ever sported, Rifleman Khan.
Named after the men from undivided India’s rugged northwest who served under the British, Riflemen Khan was assigned to Lance Corporal James Muldoon of the 6thCameronians, a battalion of the Scottish Rifles.
Khan saw action in Normandy and across various centers of fighting in Western Europe. He proved his mettle time and again. However, his moment of glory came at the battle of Walcheren Causeway in Belgium. It was of vital importance that the ports of the English, French, and Belgian channels be cleared of German presence in order to supply Allied troops on mainland Europe. Walcheren Island and the causeway that connected it to the mainland were guarded by the German 15th Division. The enemy had to be cleared before the allies could advance to Antwerp. From then on it would be a march to the aggressor’s den – Germany itself!
But clearing the well-entrenched and fortified German garrison from Walcheren was not easy. The responsibility fell on the 2nd Canadian Corps, which was to be supported by the 6th and 7th Cameronians. Five weeks of intense fighting led to more than 3500 deaths on the side of the Allies and the Germans were still there. On November 2nd, 1944 a fresh attack was launched by the 6th under the cover of darkness. Muldoon and Khan were on board a landing craft that was soon subjected to severe artillery fire by the enemy. Before long a shell destroyed the craft and sent the men flying into the cold black waters of the Sloe Channel. The men, sitting ducks already, were even easier targets as they floundered to drown because of their heavy backpacks. And Muldoon was not a swimmer. Rifleman Khan made to the muddy shore because he was not carrying any additional weight. On reaching the shore, he searched for his master. Upon hearing Muldoon’s cries for help, Khan ran down to the black, uninviting, treacherous waters and waded up to his handler who was fighting a losing battle to keep his head above the water. He seized his handler by his tunic collars and swam back to safety. Rifleman Khan was awarded the Dickin Medal for bravery for this act on March 27th, 1945.