Gunner with his handler Percy Westcott LEFT, The explosion of an oil storage tank during the bombing of Darwin, 1942 RIGHT

During WW2, there was an Australian dog whose hearing was so acute that it could warn air force personnel of incoming Japanese planes 20 minutes before they came and before they showed up on radar. He could also differentiate the sounds between allied and enemy planes.

Gunner was a male kelpie dog who became famous for his reliability to alert Allied airmen that Japanese aircraft were approaching Darwin during the WWII.
He appears to have been a stray when was found in February 1942, under the ruins of a mess hut, after the first Japanese air raid on Darwin. He was found by personnel from No. 2 Squadron RAAF who heard the dog whimpering, because of a broken front leg. Gunner was taken to a field hospital, where a medical officer insisted that he could not treat a patient without knowing their name and number. After being told that the patient’s name was “Gunner” and his number was “0000”, the doctor set and plastered Gunner’s leg. At that moment Gunner officially entered the records of the Royal Australian Air Force.

Leading Aircraftman Percy Westcott assumed ownership of him and became his master and handler. The young Gunner was badly shaken by his experiences, but quickly responded to the care and attention of Westcott and others from 2 Squadron.

A week later, Gunner first demonstrated his hearing skills. As the RAAF personnel went about their daily routine, Gunner became agitated and started to jump and whine. Not long after, the sound of approaching aircraft engines was heard. A few minutes later, Japanese raiders appeared above Darwin and began strafing and bombing the town. Two days later, Gunner again began jumping and whimpering, and not long after came another attack. This pattern was repeated several times over the weeks that followed. Long before the sirens sounded, Gunner would head for shelter and become agitated.

Gunner’s hearing was so good he was able to warn RAAF personnel of Japanese air attacks, up to 20 minutes before they arrived and before they were detected by the rudimentary radars available at the time. Gunner didn’t behave the same way when he heard Allied aircraft approaching; he could differentiate between the sounds of the engines used by Japanese and Allied airplanes. Gunner was so good at it that the commanding officer, Wing Commander A. B. “Tich” McFarlane, gave approval for Westcott to sound an air raid siren whenever Gunner’s jumping or whining alerted him.

Gunner became a big part of the RAAF that he slept under Westcott’s bunk, showered with the airmen in the shower block, sat with the men at the outdoor movies, and went up with the pilots during practice take-off and landings. When Westcott was posted to Melbourne 18 months later, Gunner stayed in Darwin. Gunner’s fate is undocumented.

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