Military animals: WAR PIGEONS

Military animals are domesticated animals that are used during warfare and other combat related activities as working animals. Military animals serve a variety of functions. Among various military animals, pigeons have long played an important role in war. Due to their homing ability, speed, and altitude, they were often used as military messengers. Carrier pigeons of the Racing Homer breed were used to carry messages in both World War I and World War II.

Before the advent of radio, carrier pigeons were frequently used on the battlefield as a means for a mobile force to communicate with a stationary headquarters. In the 6th century BC, Cyrus, king of Persia, used carrier pigeons to communicate with various parts of his empire. In Ancient Rome, within many texts, there are references to pigeons being used to send messages by Julius Caesar. During the Franco-Prussian War(1870-71) , Parisians used carrier pigeons to transmit messages outside the city and in response, the besieging German Army employed hawks to hunt the pigeons. The French military used balloons to transport homing pigeons past enemy lines. Microfilm images containing hundreds of messages allowed letters to be carried into Paris by pigeon from as far away as London. More than one million different messages travelled this way during the four-month siege. Since they were discovered to be very useful, they were used in World War I.

During the First and Second World Wars, carrier pigeons were used to transport messages back to their home coop behind the lines. When they landed, wires in the coop would sound a bell or buzzer and a soldier of the Signal Corps would know a message had arrived. He would go to the coop, remove the message from the canister, and send it to its destination by telegraph, field phone, or personal messenger. During WW 1, homing pigeons were used extensively. In 1914, during the First Battle of the Marne, the French army advanced 72 pigeon lofts with the troops. The US Army Signal Corps used 600 pigeons in France alone. One of their homing pigeons, a Blue Check hen named Cher Ami, was awarded the French “Croix de Guerre with Palm” for heroic service delivering 12 important messages during the Battle of Verdun. On her final mission in October 1918, she delivered a message despite having been shot through the breast or wing. The crucial message, found in the capsule hanging from a ligament of her shattered leg, saved 194 US soldiers of the 77th Infantry Division’s “Lost Battalion”.

During World War II, the United Kingdom used about 250,000 homing pigeons. The UK maintained the Air Ministry Pigeon Section during World War II and for a while thereafter. A Pigeon Policy Committee made decisions about the uses of pigeons in military contexts. The head of the section, Lea Rayner, reported in 1945 that pigeons could be trained to deliver small explosives or bioweapons to precise targets. The ideas were not taken up by the committee, and in 1948 the UK military stated that pigeons were of no further use. However, the UK security service MI5 was still concerned about the use of pigeons by enemy forces. Until 1950, they arranged for 100 birds to be maintained by a civilian pigeon fancier in order to prepare countermeasures. The Swiss army disbanded its pigeon section in 1996.

Between 2009 and 2015, many pigeons have been reported to carry cell phones, SIM cards, phone batteries and USB cords into prisons on the Brazilian state of São Paulo. In 2010, Indian police expressed suspicion that a recently captured pigeon from Pakistan might have been carrying a message from Pakistan.

The Dickin Medal, the highest possible decoration for valor given to animals, was awarded to 32 pigeons, including:

“Commando” (1944)

“Paddy” (1944)

“William of Orange” (1944)

“Mary of Exeter” (1945)

“G.I. Joe” (1946)

“Gustav”(1944).

A carrier pigeon’s job was dangerous. Nearby enemy soldiers often tried to shoot down pigeons, knowing that released birds were carrying important messages. Some of these pigeons became quite famous among infantrymen