Book Review No. 21 – Frandsen on Murtagh and Kendall, The History of the RCAF Sentry Dog Program 1963-1972

A.J. Murtagh and A.W. Kendall, The History of the RCAF Sentry Dog Program 1963-1972 (Burnstown, ON: Burnstown Publishing House, 2017). 

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Images of the Avro CF-105 Arrow, or Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) transport aircraft supporting UN peacekeeping operations, often reflect the popular view of Canadian air power during the late 1950s and early 1960s.  In reality, during this period, the RCAF created a “nuclear air force” equipped with three specialized weapon systems at a cost of nearly one billion dollars: CF-104 Starfighter strike-reconnaissance aircraft were standing on guard in No. 1 Air Division with NATO in Europe, whilst CF-101 Voodoo interceptors and BOMARC surface-to-air missiles in Air Defence Command at home supported NORAD and the U.S. nuclear deterrent.  These weapon systems, acquired by the Diefenbaker government, were intended to operate with nuclear weapons; the political will to actually arm them with warheads was completed by the subsequent government of Lester Pearson in 1963.

It is into this complex mix that The History of the RCAF Sentry Dog Program 1963-1972 enters the picture.  The importance of force protection, or ground defence as it was then called, has seldom been a topic of discussion within the RCAF.  With the deployment of the Air Division to Europe in 1951, the subject was taken seriously for a time with the establishment of the RCAF Ground Defence Training School at RCAF Station Camp Borden, assisted by the secondment of two Royal Air Force Regiment officers.  Each of the four Wings in the Air Division consisted of a ground defence element of 250 personnel, out of a total Wing establishment of 1,289 officers and airmen.

Ground defence, however, was never given the necessary resources and manpower required to provide a truly effective defence of the airfields.  Over time it faded away; by the late 1950s, the priority had been placed on Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defence (NBCD) training.  With the introduction of the CF-104 in the nuclear strike role in 1963, it became necessary to consider improvements for the protection of the nuclear weapons assigned to these aircraft.

The book’s co-author, Flying Officer Andrew Murtagh, was an Air Force Policeman posted at No. 1 Air Division HQ.  He was assigned the task of developing an effective and economical security program for the protection of the CF-104s, where up to eight aircraft at each Wing, armed with nuclear weapons, were continuously on five minutes notice to launch. The result was the implementation of the Dog Sentry Program as the optimal means to guard the CF-104s in West Germany, with No. 3 Wing at Zweibrücken, No. 4 Wing at Baden-Sollingen, and later No. 1 Wing that was transferred from Marville, France to Lahr. The Dog Sentry Program was discontinued in 1972 when the CF-104 squadrons were divested of their nuclear strike role and re-assigned to conventional attack.

The History of the RCAF Dog Sentry Program tells the story in great detail from the training of both the dogs and their human handlers to the tremendous assistance provided by the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE), particularly from Wiesbaden Air Base; it also offers numerous anecdotes from many of the RCAF Air Force Policemen who served as dog handlers in the program.  Co-author Wayne Kendall, a Leading Aircraftman (LAC), was a dog handler with 4 Wing.  It must be noted that the Dog Sentry Program would have encountered serious obstacles in its implementation and would not have been sustainable without the excellent handlers’ training and veterinary support provided by USAFE.

As an historian, I have some serious concerns with this book.  A major flaw is the authors’ reliance on Wikipedia as their only source for historical background on the Cold War and the RCAF Air Division.  The historical context for this book would have been greatly strengthened if it had used some legitimate sources to situate the setting of their story.  Similarly, background information on No. 1 Air Division was dependent on Wikipedia and bereft of any reference to some of the recent material that is now readily available. The authors incorrectly state that the role of the Air Group changed from nuclear strike to photo-reconnaissance in January 1972.  In fact, its role changed from nuclear strike to conventional attack, for which the CF-104 aircraft were equipped with the M61 Vulcan 20mm cannon, along with the procurement of rocket pods, high explosive and cluster bombs.

The book consists of eight chapters organized as follows: an introduction, the RCAF dog sentry program, training, a chapter on each of the Wings at Zweibrücken, Baden-Sollingen and Lahr, a chapter of various miscellaneous articles on dog “stuff”, and an epilogue.  There are also five appendices.  The content and organization of the book, however, detracts from presenting the story in a readable and enjoyable style. The book’s format has a number of weaknesses that could have been resolved with more rigorous editing.  Page eight of Chapter 1 is repeated almost verbatim on page 13 of Chapter 2.  Much of Chapters 2 and 3 read as simply extracts of the Air Division sentry dog training manual, interspersed with narrative on the developments in the program and then some unrelated anecdotes about the Wiesbaden veterinarians who treated the RCAF dogs. These chapters made for difficult reading to follow in a coherent and logical manner.  Chapters 4 to 6 are primarily anecdotal relating the stories of the dog handlers at the three Wings where they were employed – this is really the essence of the book.  Lastly, Chapter 7 is a mélange of various articles related to the dog sentry program – some are anecdotal, whilst some others are reproductions of articles from various service news publications.  Of the five appendices, Appendix A, “Chronicles of the RCAF”, is redundant as it weakly attempts to provide a synopsis of the history of the RCAF, No. 1 Air Division, and the Air Force Police/Military Police, in three pages! This information has been covered already elsewhere in the book.  The remaining Appendices pertain to the subject of the book and include “Duties of a Sentry Dog Handler,” “Syllabus of Instruction for Sentry Dog Handler,” “Syllabus of Instruction for Sentry Dog Kennel Supervisor Course” and “A List of Dog Handlers.” With the exception of Appendix E, “A List of Dog Handlers,” Appendices B to D are simply extracts from training manuals and appear to the reader as padding material.

Mr. Murtagh and Mr. Kendall are well qualified to write on this subject, having enjoyed long and distinguished careers in the RCAF Air Force Police/Canadian Armed Forces.  This book is disappointing, however, as it attempts to include absolutely “everything” ever mentioned about the RCAF Dog Sentry Program, rather than telling a cogent and focused story. It will appeal to a specialized audience (i.e., those RCAF veterans who served as sentry dog handlers), but not to those readers who seek an understanding of the RCAF police or the broader RCAF role during the Cold War.



See John Clearwater, Canadian Nuclear Weapons: The Untold Story of Canada’s Cold War Arsenal (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1998).

No. 1 Air Division consisted of four CF-104 Wings each of two squadrons – two in France and two in West Germany.  As President de Gaulle would not allow the positioning of U.S. nuclear weapons on French soil, No. 1 Wing at Marville and No. 2 Wing at Grostenquin were utilized in the photo-reconnaissance role.  No. 2 Wing was disbanded in 1964 and its squadrons redistributed to No. 3 and No. 4 Wings.

For example, see: Paul Johnston, “The Original 1st Canadian Air Division: The RCAF’s Golden Years,” Air Force Magazine 39, No. 1 (June 2015); Ray Stouffer, Swords, Clunks and Widowmakers: The Tumultuous Life of the RCAF’s Original 1 Canadian Air Division (Trenton, ON: Canadian Forces Aerospace Warfare Centre Production Section, 2015); and, Bertram C. Frandsen, “The Rise and Fall of Canada’s Cold War Air Force, 1948-1968,” (PhD Dissertation, Wilfrid Laurier University, 2015).

Murtagh served 1958-1980, retiring as a lieutenant-colonel, whilst Kendall served 1963-1993, retiring as a major.

For a history of the Air Force police, see Ronald J. Donovan and David V. McElrea, A History of the RCAF Police and Security Services (Renfrew, ON: General Store Publishing House, 2008).

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Dr. Bertram C. Frandsen served 37 years in the Canadian Armed Forces as a logistics officer, strategic analyst and military educator, retiring in 2012.  In his last posting, he taught history at the Royal Military College of Canada.  Dr. Frandsen received his PhD from Wilfrid Laurier University in 2015 with a dissertation entitled “The Rise and Fall of Canada’s Cold War Air Force, 1948-1968.”

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