Posthumous honour for French Navy Commando dog
23 April 2021
Hero dog Leuk receives PDSA Dickin Medal
A French Navy Commando dog has today (23 April) received the highest honour available for animals – the PDSA Dickin Medal – for his life-saving actions while on duty.
The vet charity posthumously awarded Belgian Malinois Leuk with the prestigious award, also known as the animals’ Victoria Cross, for his unstinting bravery and life-saving devotion to duty.
A private ceremony took place in Brittany, where a monument commemorating all dogs who have died serving with the French Navy was also unveiled. View the video of Leuk's story.
Leuk served with the famed French Navy Special Forces ‘Commando Kieffer’ unit, where his extraordinary abilities had gained him the nickname of ‘Leuk la Chance’ (Lucky Leuk) during his last rotation. He is the first French Military Working Dog to receive the PDSA Dickin Medal in its 78-year history.
PDSA Director General Jan McLoughlin, who presented the medal virtually, said: “Leuk’s actions undoubtedly saved the lives of his unit on multiple occasions. He pushed through flames and bullets to succeed, fearlessly exposing and taking down enemy insurgents; he truly is a worthy recipient of the PDSA Dickin Medal.”
The world-renowned PDSA Dickin Medal was introduced by PDSA’s founder, Maria Dickin CBE, in 1943. It recognises animals that display conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty in the field of military conflict, and is the highest award any animal can receive.
Born on 20 September 2013, Leuk joined the K9 division of the French Special Forces Commando Kieffer unit in July 2015. He began working as a French Navy Commando attack and explosive detection Military Working Dog, and his exceptional skills quickly became clear.
Leuk was trained in a wide range of insertion and extraction techniques, including airdrops, combat swimming, and hoisting onto ferries. His specialty was to follow a drone in order to check for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
He was paired with his handler in May 2017 and their partnership lasted for the rest of Leuk’s operational career. In March 2019 they were deployed to Mali, where his actions undoubtedly saved the lives of his team on several occasions.
On a two-day mission in April 2019, in thick vegetation and with all other options exhausted, Leuk was deployed to flush out two nearby insurgents with automatic weapons. By this time the area around the enemy encampment was on fire, but Leuk ran through flames and bullets, attacking relentlessly for seven minutes, allowing his team to safely close in and neutralise the threat.
As the mission continued, Leuk was sent to another location where four enemies were positioned. He created a diversion by attacking one of them, enabling his team to succeed again. Towards the end of the operation Leuk was tracking IEDs, but he suddenly stopped and intercepted an armed insurgent, who had not been detected. Due to Leuk’s actions his team were quickly able to capture the enemy before anyone was harmed, and the operation was completed with no loss of life in the team.
Leuk’s final mission took place in May 2019 – he was killed by an enemy whose position he had single-handedly exposed.
When Leuk was repatriated, his body was covered with the French flag. His human comrades formed a guard of honour – a tradition usually reserved for fallen soldiers – as a symbol of their respect and gratitude for his exceptional contribution on the battlefield.
Commenting on the award, PDSA Director Jan McLoughlin said: “Leuk’s exceptional abilities and determination were apparent to all who served with him, and he was clearly a respected and vital part of the team. His bravery and devotion make him a thoroughly deserving recipient of the PDSA Dickin Medal.”
Reacting to the award, Commander Nicolas, the CO of Commando Kieffer, said: “It is a great pride for all of us to see Leuk honoured in this way with the prestigious PDSA Dickin Medal. His story helps to demonstrate just how important animals are to our armed forces, and the key roles that they play. To see Leuk’s name now listed alongside such distinguished company is a fitting testament to this exceptional dog. More than that, his death also led us to erect a monument dedicated to the French navy commando dogs who were killed in action since Word War 2.”
The PDSA Dickin Medal is a large, bronze medallion bearing the words “For Gallantry” and “We Also Serve” all within a laurel wreath. The ribbon is striped green, dark brown and sky blue representing water, earth and air to symbolise the naval, land and air forces. To date, it has been awarded to 36 dogs (including Leuk), 32 pigeons, 4 horses and a cat.
Leuk is the 73rd recipient of the PDSA Dickin Medal, and the first French Military Working Dog to receive the honour. The last recipient of the award was British Military Working Dog, Kuno. He received the award in November 2020 for his life-saving actions during his second deployment in Afghanistan, when he tackled an insurgent during a night raid, breaking a deadlock. He was injured during the mission, and became the first military dog to be fitted with a prosthetic paw.