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A dog tag is the informal name given to the identification tags worn by military personnel, because of their resemblance to actual dog tags. The tag is primarily used for the identification of dead and wounded and essential basic medical information, such as blood type and history of inoculations, along with providing religious preference. Dog tags are usually fabricated from a corrosion-resistant metal although they have been made from whatever was available.
It may contain two copies of the information and be designed to break easily into two pieces. Other nations use two identical tags. This allows half the tag to be collected from a soldier’s body for notification while the other half remains with the corpse when battle conditions do not allow the body to be immediately recovered.
Dog tags were provided to Chinese soldiers already in mid XIX century. During the Taiping revolt (1851–66), both the Imperialists (i.e. the Chinese Imperial Army regular servicemen) and those Taiping rebels wearing an uniform wore a wooden dog-tag at the belt, bearing the soldier's name, age, birthplace, unit, and date of enlistment.
During the American Civil War of 1861–1865, some soldiers pinned paper notes with their name and home address to the backs of their coats. Other soldiers stencilled identification on their knapsacks or scratched it in the soft lead backing of the army belt buckle.
Manufacturers of identification badges recognized a market and began advertising in periodicals. Their pins were usually shaped to suggest a branch of service and engraved with the soldier's name and unit. Machine-stamped tags were also made of brass or lead with a hole and usually had (on one side) an eagle or shield and such phrases as "War for the Union" or "Liberty, Union, and Equality". The other side had the soldier's name and unit and sometimes a list of battles in which he had participated.
The Prussian Army issued identification tags for its troops at the beginning of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. They were nicknamed Hundemarken (the German equivalent of "dog tags") and compared to a similar identification system instituted for dogs in the Prussian capital city of Berlin at about the same time.
The British Army and their Imperial forces in Canada, Australia and New Zealand issued identification discs from the beginning of the First World War. The discs were made of fibre, one in red and one in green, and suspended around the neck by butcher's twine. The same pattern was worn into the Second World War and the Korean War.
The U.S. Army first authorized identification tags in War Department General Order No. 204, dated December 20, 1906, which essentially prescribes the Kennedy identification tag:
"An aluminum identification tag, the size of a silver half dollar and of suitable thickness, stamped with the name, rank, company, regiment, or corps of the wearer, will be worn by each officer and enlisted man of the Army whenever the field kit is worn, the tag to be suspended from the neck, underneath the clothing, by a cord or thong passed through a small hole in the tab. It is prescribed as a part of the uniform and when not worn as directed herein will be habitually kept in the possession of the owner. The tag will be issued by the Quartermaster's Department gratuitously to enlisted men and at cost price to officers..."
The army changed regulations on July 6, 1916, so that all soldiers were issued two tags: one to stay with the body and the other to go to the person in charge of the burial for record-keeping purposes. In 1918, the army adopted and allotted the serial number system, and name and serial numbers were ordered stamped on the identification tags. (Serial number 1 was assigned to enlisted man Arthur B. Crane of Chicago in the course of his fifth enlistment period.)
There is a recurring myth about the notch situated in one end of the dog tags issued to United States Army personnel during World War II. It was rumored that the notch's purpose was that, if a soldier found one of his comrades on the battlefield, he could take one tag to the commanding officer and stick the other between the teeth of the soldier to ensure that the tag would remain with the body and be identified. In reality, the notch was designed to hold the tag in place when being imprinted on the carbon-paper medical form by the Model 70 Addressograph (a pistol-type imprinting machine used by the Medical Department during World War II). It appears instructions that would confirm the notch's mythical use were issued at least unofficially by the Graves Registration Service during the Vietnam War to Army troops headed overseas.
Dog tags are traditionally part of the makeshift battlefield memorials soldiers created for their fallen comrades. The casualty's rifle with bayonet affixed is stood vertically atop the empty boots, with the helmet over the stock of the rifle. The dog tags hang from the rifle's handle or trigger guard.
Dog tags have recently found their way into youth fashion by way of military chic. Originally worn as a part of a military uniform by youth wishing to present a tough or militaristic image, dog tags have since seeped out into wider fashion circles. They may be inscribed with a person's details, their beliefs or tastes, a favorite quote, or may bear the name or logo of a band or performer. Some people also prefer to have the information on their tags transferred to a smaller, sometimes golden or silver tag by a jeweler, as the original tag can be considered too large and bulky by some. Some tags (along with similar items such as MedicAlert bracelets) identify their wearers as having health problems that may a) suddenly incapacitate their wearers and render them incapable of providing treatment guidance (as in the cases of heart problems, epilepsy, and diabetes) and/or b) interact adversely with medical treatments, especially standard or "first-line" ones (as in the case of an allergy to common medications or a religious, moral, or other objection to artificial resuscitation), if a first responder attempts to administer such treatment when the wearer is nonresponsive and thus unable to warn against doing so.
Since the late 1990s, custom dog tags have become fashionable amongst musicians (particularly rappers), and as a marketing giveaway item. Numerous companies offer customers the opportunity to create their own personalized dog tags with their own photos, logos, and text. Even high-end jewelers have featured gold and silver dog tags encrusted with diamonds and other jewels. For example, to market the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops II, dog tags inscribed with the words "CALL OF DUTY BLACK OPS II",and the same for Battlefield 4 were given when a person pre-ordered the game.
The Austrian "Bundesheer" utilized a single long, rectangular tag with oval ends, stamped with blood group & Rh factor at the end, with ID number underneath. Two slots & a hole stamped beneath the number allow the tag to be broken in half, and the long bottom portion has both the ID number and a series of holes which allows the tag to be inserted into a dosimeter. This has been replaced with a more conventional, wider & rounded rectangle which can still be halved, but lacks the dosimeter reading holes.
The Australian Defence Force issues soldiers two tags of different shapes: Number 1 Tag (the octagonal shaped disc) and Number 2 Tag (the circular disc). The format is as follows:
The information is printed exactly the same on both discs. In the event of a casualty, the circular tag is removed from the body and the octagonal tag is placed inside the dead soldier’s mouth, between the teeth and lips.
Belgian Forces identity tags are, like the Canadian and Norwegian, designed to be broken in two in case of fatality; the lower half is returned to Belgian Defence tail, while the upper half remains on the body. The tags contain the following information:
Canadian Forces identity discs (abbreviated "I discs") are designed to be broken in two in the case of fatality; the lower half is returned to National Defence Headquarters with the member's personal documents, while the upper half remains on the body. The tags contain the following information:
Before the Service Number was introduced in the 1990s, military personnel were identified on the I discs (as well as other documents) by their Social Insurance Number.
The "Ejército Nacional de Colombia" uses long, rectangular metal tags with oval ends tags stamped with the following information:
Duplicate tags are issued. Often, tags are issued with a prayer inscribed on the reverse.
In Cyprus, identification tags include the following information:
dog tags are a small metallic plate, designed to be broken into two pieces. The information on the tag is:
On the right hand side of the tag it says Danmark, the Danish word for "Denmark". On new issue dog tags ca 1985 there is social security number this is the same as service no, army navy air force has blood group, national guard has normally no blood group on it.
The Nationale Volksarmee used a tag nearly identical with that used by both the Wehrmacht and the West German Bundeswehr. The oval aluminium tag was stamped "DDR" (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) above the personal ID number; this information was repeated on the bottom half, which was intended to be broken off in case of death. Oddly, the tag was not worn, but required to be kept in a plastic sleeve in the back of the WDA identity booklet.
The "Placas de identificación de campaña" consists of 2 long, rectangular steel or aluminium tags with rounded corners and a single hole punched in one end. It is suspended by a US-type ball chain, with a shorter chain for the second tag. The information on the tag is:
Estonian dog tags are designed to be broken in two. Dog tag is a metallic rounded rectangle suspended by a ball chain. Information consists of 4 fields:
Finnish dog tags (sometimes called raatolaatta; "corpse plaque"/"corpse plate"-) are also designed to be broken in two; however, the only text on it is the personal identification number and the letters SF (rarely FI), which stands for Suomi Finland, within a tower stamped atop of the upper half.
France issues either a metallic rounded rectangle (army) or disk (navy), designed to be broken in half, bearing family name & first name above the ID number.
German Bundeswehr ID tags are an oval-shaped discs designed to be broken in half. The two sides contain different information which are mirrored upside-down on the lower half of the ID tag. They feature the following information on segmented and numbered fields:
On the front
On the back
In Greece, identification tags include the following information:
The Hungarian army dog tag is made out of steel, forming a 25×35 mm tag designed to split diagonally. Both sides contain the same information: the soldier's personal identity code, blood group and the word HUNGARIA. Some may not have the blood group on them. These are only issued to soldiers who are serving outside of the country. If the soldier should die, one side is removed and kept for the army's official records, while the other side is left attached to the body.
The Saddam-era Iraqi Army utilized a single, long, rectangular metal tag with oval ends, inscribed (usually by hand) with Name and Number or Unit, and occasionally Blood Type.
Israeli dog tags are designed to be broken in two. The information appears in three lines (twice):
Another dog tag is kept inside the military boot in order to identify dead soldiers.
Originally the IDF issued two circular aluminium tags (1948 – late 1950s) stamped in 3 lines with serial number, family name, and first name. The tags were threaded together through a single hole onto a cord worn around the neck.
Japan follows a similar system to the US Army for its Self Defence Force personnel, and the appearance of the tags is similar, although laser etched. The exact information order is as follows.
Malaysian Armed Forces have two identical oval tags with this information:
If more information needed, another two oval wrist tags are provided. The term wrist tags can be used to refer to the bracelet-like wristwatch. The additional tags only need to be worn on the wrist, with the main tags still on the neck. All personnel are allowed to attach a small religious pendant or locket; this makes a quick identifiable reference for their funeral services.
The Ejército de Mexico uses a single long, rectangular metal tag with oval ends, embossed with Name, serial number, and blood type plus Rh factor.
Military of the Netherlands identity tags, like the Canadian and Norwegian ones, are designed to be broken in two in case of a fatality; the lower end is returned to Dutch Defence Headquarters, while the upper half remains on the body. There is a difference in the Army and Airforce service number and the Navy service number:
The tags contain the following information:
Norwegian dog tags are designed to be broken in two like the Canadian version:
The first dog tags were issued in Poland following the order of the General Staff of December 12, 1920. The earliest design (dubbed kapala in Polish, more properly called "kapsel legitymacyjny" - meaning "identification cap") consisted of a tin-made 30×50 mm rectangular frame and a rectangular cap fitting into the frame. Soldiers' details were filled in a small ID card placed inside the frame, as well as on the inside of the frame itself. The dog tag was similar to the tags used by the Austro-Hungarian Army during World War I. In case the soldier died, the frame was left with his body, while the lid was returned to his unit together with a note on his death. The ID card was handed over to the chaplain or the rabbi.
In 1928, a new type of dog tag was proposed by gen. bryg. Stanisław Rouppert, Poland's representative at the International Red Cross. It was slightly modified and adopted in 1931 under the name of Nieśmiertelnik wz. 1931 (literally, Immortalizer mark 1931). The new design consisted of an oval piece of metal (ideally steel, but in most cases aluminium alloy was used), roughly 40 by 50 milimetres. There were two notches on both sides of the tag, as well as two rectangular holes in the middle to allow for easier breaking of the tag in two halves. The halves contained the same set of data and were identical, except the upper half had two holes for a string or twine to go through. The data stamped on the dog tag included:
Sometimes the rank of the soldier was added to the reverse, and most members of the medical corps had a tiny cross stamped near the string holes, regardless of their religion.
The former Republic of Rhodesia used two WW2 British-style compressed asbestos fiber tags, a No. 1 octagonal (green) tag and a No. 2 circular (red) tag, stamped with identical information. The red tag was supposedly fireproof and the green tag rotproof. The following information was stamped on the tags: Number, Name, Initials, & Religion; Blood Type was stamped on reverse. The air force & BSAP often stamped their service on the reverse side above the blood group.
Many soldiers state they were issued blank tags and told to punch the information in themselves.
Russian Armed Forces uses metal oval tags. Russian dog tags contains the title «ВС РОССИИ» ("Armed Forces of Russia") and the alphanumeric individual numbers.
The Singapore Armed Forces-issued dog tags are inscribed (not embossed) with up to four items:
The dog tags consist of two metal pieces, one oval with two holes and one round with one hole. A synthetic lanyard is threaded through both holes in the oval piece and tied around the wearer's neck. The round piece is tied to the main loop on a shorter loop.
The former South African Defense Force used two long, rectangular aluminium tags with oval ends, stamped with serial number, name and initials, religion, and blood type.
The South Korean Army issues two long, rectangular tags with oval ends, stamped (in Korean lettering) with "Yuk-Gun" (English: Army) above a personal number, with the name below that and the blood group at the bottom.
The South Vietnamese Army used two American-style dog tags. Some tags added religion, e.g., Công Giáo for Catholic. They were stamped or inscribed with:
Issues a single metal oval, worn vertically, stamped "ESPAÑA" above and below the 3-slot horizontal break line. It is stamped in 4 lines with:
Swedish dog tags are designed to be able to break apart. The information on them was prior to 2010:
Swedish dog tags issued to troops after 2010 are, for personal security reasons, only marked with personal identity number.
During the Cold War dog tags were issued to everyone, often soon after birth, since the threat of total war also meant the risk of severe civilian casualties. However in the late 90s the Swedish government decided that the dog tags were not needed anymore.
Swiss Armed Forces ID tag is an oval shaped non reflective plaque, containing the following information:
On the back side the letters CH standing for (Confoederatio Helvetica) are engraved next to a Swiss cross.
The British Armed Forces currently utilize two circular non reflecting stainless steel tags engraved with the "Big 6":
The disks are suspended from one long chain (24 inches long) and one short chain (4.5 inches long)
During World War One and Two, service personnel were issued pressed fibre identity disks, one green octagonal shaped disc, and a red round disc (some army units issued a second red round disk to be attached to the service respirator). The identity disks were hand stamped with the surname, initials, service number and religion of the holder and if in the Royal Air Force, the initials RAF. The disks were worn around the neck on a 38" length of cotton cord, this was often replaced by the wearer with a leather bootlace. One tag was suspended below the main tag.
From 1960 these were replaced with stainless steel ID tags on a green nylon cord, two circular and one oval. The oval was withdrawn around 1990.
In the 1990s, the U.S. Army stopped using the term dog tags, replacing it with the designation ID tags.
A persistent rumor is that debossed (imprinted with stamped in letters) dog tags were issued from World War II till the end of the Vietnam War and that currently the U.S. Armed Forces is issuing embossed (imprinted with raised letters) dog tags. In actuality, the U.S. Armed Forces issues dog tags with both types of imprinting, depending on the machine used at a given facility. The military issued 95% of their identification tags up until recently (within the past 10 years) with debossed text.
The U.S. Armed Forces typically carry two identical oval dog tags containing:
During World War II, an American dog tag could indicate only one of three religions through the inclusion of one letter: "P" for Protestant, "C" for Catholic, or "H" for Jewish (from the word, "Hebrew"), or (according to at least one source) "NO" to indicate no religious preference. Army regulations (606-5) soon included X and Y in addition to P,C, and H: the X indicating any religion not included in the first three, and the Y indicating either no religion or a choice not to list religion. By the time of the Vietnam War, some IDs spelled out the broad religious choices such as PROTESTANT and CATHOLIC, rather than using initials, and also began to show individual denominations such as "METHODIST" or "BAPTIST." Tags did vary by service, however, such as the use of "CATH," not "CATHOLIC" on some Navy tags. For those with no religious affiliation and those who chose not to list an affiliation, either the space for religion was left blank or the words "NO PREFERENCE" or "NO RELIGIOUS PREF" were included.
Although American dog tags include the recipient's religion as a way of ensuring that religious needs will be met, some personnel have them reissued without religious affiliation listed—or keep two sets, one with the designation and one without—out of fear that identification as a member of a particular religion could increase the danger to their welfare or their lives if they fell into enemy hands. Some Jewish personnel avoided flying over German lines during WWII with ID tags that indicated their religion, and some Jewish personnel avoid the religious designation today out of concern that they could be captured by extremists who are anti-Semitic. Additionally, when American troops were first sent to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War there were allegations that some U.S. military authorities were pressuring Jewish military personnel to avoid listing their religions on their ID tags.
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