WW1 in Alsace and Vosges – Secret search for sled dogs : Code name «Poilus d’Alaska»

Exactly 100 years ago on the 15th of December 2015, the valiant « Poilus d’Alaska » (The “Hairy” from Alaska ; “Poilu” was the nickname of the French soldiers of WW1), arrived in the Vosges mountains. 436 Eskimo dogs brought back from North America to help French soldiers of the First World War to overcome logistical difficulties of winter in the Vosges. On the weekend of 18-20 December, 2015, a French Memorial for the sled dog of 1915 was unveiled. The club Nanook of Bischwiller (sled dogs) and the Serret Museum of Saint-Amarin near Thann joined forces to commemorate the arrival of the dogs of Alaska on the war front of the Vosges mountains, December 15, 1915.

Code name  « Poilus d’Alaska » (Hairy from Alaska) …

The winter of 1914 in the Vosges mountains was very rigorous and the abundance of snow made roads impraticable for provisioning, by car or horse-drawn transportation, the troops for food, cartridges, shells, warm clothes and to evacuate the wounded. World War I raged in Europe. The shells, bullets but also the cold, the snow and hardship mowed down soldiers by the thousands.
Click on the pictures to enlarge …

Back to 1915 … Before WW1 the captain Moufflet of the 22nd Bataillon of Chasseurs Alpins and infantry lieutenant Haas were working together as gold diggers in Alaska. They knew about eskimo dogs. They finally succeeded in convincing the French army to use sled dogs to ensure the logistics. In August 1915, a secret mission is organized to bring back to France over 400 dogs with the necessary equipment for the set-up of several crews. What follows is an incredible journey through Alaska and Canada to find the dogs and bring them to Europe. As the operation was so successful the information about those who served in the two canine Sections of Alaska Dogs (SECA) was kept secret long after the end of WW1.

Alaska sled dogs in the Vosges mountains during WW1
Alaska sled dogs in the Vosges mountains during WW1

The investigations in the archives were therefore difficult. It was only after many months of research and the discovery of the descendants of the protagonists in France and in America that this exceptional adventure was made public.

3 books and a movie for this incredible true story …

Livre la Véritable Histoire des Poilus d'Alaska
Livre la Véritable Histoire des Poilus d’Alaska

I suggest a visit to the website www.poilusdalaska.com where you will find all the details in the form of comics and books that you can order online.

The true story of Hairy from Alaska is available online (2 volumes of comics and a book) on www.poilusdalaska.com. Click for more information.

On the online store of the ARTE TV channel you can buy (EUR 6.99) and download the movie “Code Name: Les Poilus d’Alaska” by Daniel Duhand, Michael Pitiotand, Marc Jampolsky – Directed by Marc Jampolsky – Produced by Bonne Pioche and Ideacom TV International. The incredible adventure of 436 huskies who crossed the Atlantic to support the French soldiers stuck on the front of the Vosges in 1915. A superb epic documentary.

Just to make you want to see the whole movie, here is the opening …

The daily life of the war dogs in the Vosges mountains …

During the period of cold weather, when all communications were interrupted when the infantrymen were snowed in their trenches, gunners in their batteries shelters, canine crews on their sleds were bringing their comrades essential commodities: food, charcoal, warm clothes and ammunition. They also ensured the transport of general officers and staff who had no other way to get to the lines.

Alaska sled dogs in the Vosges during WW1Alaska
Alaska sled dogs in the Vosges during WW1Alaska

Eskimo dogs are not very fast, but they are enduring. Anyway, it was not possible to go very fast with a heavy load. The best distance achieved was 120 km in one day, with 9 dogs harnessed to a sled loaded with 300 kilos with 3 men of arms and ammunition which was already incredible!

Here are two examples of completed missions:
* Bringing in 4 days, 90 tons of ammunition to a battery that men, mules and horses had tried to supply for 15 days, but failed to supply a single shell!
* Lay down in one single night, 30 km of telephone cable and thus restore the connection to a French position isolated by the Germans. Reconnaissance aircraft had spotted the position, but had not been able, so far, to be of any help. With the field telephone, the Q.G. was able to direct the encircled forces and managed to tell them how to join the French lines.

The Anchorage Weekly Times report about French war dogs 6JUN1918
The Anchorage Weekly Times reports about French war dogs in an article published on JUN 6, 1918 – Extract of  “The Fires of Patriotism” – Alaskans in the days of First World War 1910-1920 by Preston Jones.

The 100 years commemoration in December 2015

Commemoration – The week end of 18-20 December 2015 a French Memorial celebrating the sled dogs of 1915 was unveiled. The Nanook canine club of Bischwiller, an Alsatian sled dog association and the Serret Museum of Saint-Amarin near Thann (Alsace) joined forces to commemorate the arrival of the dogs of Alaska on the Vosges Front, December 15, 1915 (exactly 100 years ago).

On Saturday there was a moving and colourful ceremony with a parade. The elements of the stele were unveiled in front of the population and the military. Here are some of my personal pictures. Click on the pictures to enlarge them.

On Sunday, DEC 20, 2015 the different elements of the stele were transported to the mountain in the form of a relay by several dog teams to a location near the Breitfirst, which was at the time the kennel Section #2 of the canine crews (SECA : section de chiens d’Alaska).

The stele elements were then fixed on a granite stone on site in memory of the mushers and sled dogs killed in combat, but also in memory of those who went to get the dogs in Alaska and Canada. If you travel to that part of Alsace you will see that stele on the south side of the D27 road, some 800 meters before it joins the D430 north of Le Markstein.

This commemoration was unique since it was the first and only time in French military history that sled dogs had been used. More than half perished under the shells or bullets.

Here are some of my personal pictures. Click on the pictures to enlarge them.

This fantastic story would make a great Steven Spielberg movie. If anybody knows him and can forward him the idea, welcome 🙂

Where in the Vosges to make a ride with sled dogs?

« Les Chemins du Nord » (The Northern Paths) is a small family company founded in 2008 by Anne-Lise and Frederic Dubray, specialized in the organization and supervision of activities with huskies and reindeer. With a professional experience closely linked to nature (Anne-Lise is a mountain guide and speleologist, and Frederick is a logger), they have done various expeditions with their dogs (Sweden, Finland, Switzerland and the Vosges Mountains), so they decided to share with the public their passion of nature with the animals.
Be aware that all activities have to be booked in advance (high demand in winter, especially during school holidays).
Les Chemins du Nord – Anne-Lise DUBRAY – « La Petite Finlande » – 290 Schoultzbach – 68 370 Orbey
Tel / Fax : +33 3 89 71 00 37 – Mobile phone : +33 6 20 06 39 15

Hiking in the Vosges with sled dogs and a musher …
Hiking in the Vosges with sled dogs and a musher …

Your accommodation in Alsace

The OLD WINERY, LUXURY HOLIDAY ACCOMMODATION facing the Grand Cru Schoenenbourg vineyard in Riquewihr - Winter
The OLD WINERY, luxury holiday accommodation in Riquewihr 
Jewel on the Alsace wine route, at the bottom of the Vosges mountains, Riquewihr will be your headquarters to discover all the Alsace, the Vosges and even nearby Germany and Switzerland.
Click to visit our holiday apartments

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Thank you Helen! It is always encouraging for me to have some feedback 🙂
    Yes it is an amazing story. Shortly I will publish some historical pictures and even links to short movies shot by the French army in 1917 and featuring the Alaska dogs in action in the Vosges in Winter! Keep in touch. 🙂

  2. Helen says:

    What an amazing story. I enjoyed it very much. I’m always impressed the way in which the youth of the Alsace continue with the traditions of the area. You Jean Paul are a very lucky man.
    Thankyou kindly 🙂

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