British WW1 warning regarding the killing of war pigeons
Pigeons have long played an important role in war. Due to their homing ability, speed, and altitude, they were often used as military messengers. They ceased being used as of 1957.
In 1871 during the Franco-Prussian War, when Paris was surrounded by Prussian troops, the French military used hot air 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. They were then discovered to be very useful so were used in World War One.
World War I
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 about 200 US soldiers of the 77th Infantry Division's "Lost Battalion".
World War II and later
During World War II, the United Kingdom used about 250,000 homing pigeons. The Dickin Medal, the highest possible decoration for valor given to non-human animals, was awarded to 32 pigeons, including the United States Army Pigeon Service's G.I. Joe and the Irish pigeon Paddy.
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.[clarification needed] The Swiss army disbanded its Pigeon section in 1996.
Unconfirmed recent uses
In 2010, Indian police expressed suspicion that a recently captured pigeon from Pakistan might have been carrying a message from Pakistan.
Decorated war pigeons
- "Commando" (1944)
- "Paddy" (1944)
- "William of Orange" (1944)
- Mary of Exeter (1945)
- "G.I. Joe" (1946)
- Gustav (pigeon) (1944)
- Yankee Doodle Pigeon was an American homing pigeon in the Hanna-Barbera cartoon series Dastardly and Muttley in their Flying Machines.
- The 2005 British animated movie Valiant followed a unit of homing pigeons during World War II and their efforts to evade German falcons.
- The second episode of the BBC series Blackadder Goes Forth revolves around Captain Blackadder killing and eating a carrier pigeon belonging to General Melchett, only to be court-martialed and brought before a firing squad for the offence.
- In the video game Team Fortress 2, the Medic is shown to keep several doves in his quarters; these birds cannot be used in gameplay, but they are seen occasionally in one of the Medic's taunts.
- ""Auflösung des Brieftaubendienstes abgeschlossen" (July 2, 1996)". www.admin.ch. 1996-07-02. Retrieved 2013-04-25.
- By Express / AFP (2010-05-29). ""Fowl play: alleged spy pigeon held in India" (May 28, 2010)". Tribune.com.pk. Retrieved 2013-01-05.
- Flying heroes: The true story, PDSA Dickin Medal: 'the animals' VC'
- "PDSA Dickin Medal: 'the animals' VC'". PDSA. Retrieved March 31, 2011.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Military use of pigeons.|
- Smithsonian page on Cher Ami, a decorated World War I pigeon
- History of the 77th
- Pigeons and WWI
- "UK Mulled Using Birds for Bio-War After WW2 - Files" Reuters (May 21, 2004)