The United States Army Pigeon Service (a.k.a. Signal Pigeon Corps) was a unit of the United States Army during World War I and World War II. Their assignment was the training and usage of homing pigeons for communication and reconnaissance purposes.
During World War II, the force consisted of 3,150 soldiers and 54,000 war pigeons, which were considered an undetectable method of communication. Over 90% of US Army messages sent by pigeons were received.
From 1917 to 1943 and 1946 to 1957, the US Army Pigeon Breeding and Training Center was based at Fort Monmouth, N.J. From October 1943 until June 1946, the center was based at Camp Crowder.The US Army discontinued using pigeons as message carriers in 1957. Fifteen "hero pigeons" were donated to zoos, and about a thousand other pigeons were sold to the public.
During the Italian Campaign of World War II, G.I. Joe was a pigeon who saved the lives of the inhabitants of the village of Calvi Vecchia, Italy, and of the British troops of 56th (London) Infantry Division occupying it. Air support had been requested against German positions at Calvi Vecchia on 18 October 1943, but the message that the 169th (London) Infantry Brigade had captured the village, delivered by G.I. Joe, arrived just in time to avoid the bombing. G.I. Joe flew this 20-mile distance in an impressive 20 minutes, just as the planes were preparing to take off for the target. He saved the lives of at least 100 men.
For his efforts, G.I. Joe was presented the Dickin Medal for "the most outstanding flight made by a United States Army pigeon in World War II."
Born in France, President Wilson's initial assignment was to the U.S. Army's newly formed Tank Corps. He first saw action delivering messages for the 326th and 327th Tank Battalions commanded by Colonel George S. Patton in the Battle of Saint-Mihiel. Assigned to the forward most squad in the advance, he was released from the turret of a tank to fly back with the locations of enemy machine gun nests. Artillery could then be brought to bear before the infantry advanced.
Following this action, he was in support of an infantry unit, the 78th Division, who were conducting operations in the vicinity of Grandpré, France during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. On the morning of 5 October 1918, his unit came under attack and was heavily engaged in a firefight with the enemy. President Wilson was released to deliver a request for artillery support, flying back to his loft at Rampont forty kilometers away; he drew the attention of the German soldiers who fired a nearly impenetrable wall of lead blocking his path. Despite this, President Wilson managed to deliver the lifesaving message within twenty-five minutes. When he landed, it was found that his left leg had been shot away and that he had a gaping wound in his breast.
Surviving his wounds, President Wilson retired to the U.S. Army Signal Corps Breeding and Training Center where he eventually died in 1929.
Cher Ami, meaning "Dear Friend" in French, was a homing pigeon initially donated to the Signal Pigeon Corps by France. She spent several months on the front lines in 1918 and over the course of World War 1 delivered 12 messages in total. However, the most important mission she flew was on 4 October 1918, (merely one day before President Wilson's key flight) and she ultimately ended up saving the lives of over 200 men. The French awarded the pigeon a Croix de Guerre for her actions.
By the beginning of World War 2, the U.S. Army had approximately 54,000 pigeons working under the Signal Pigeon Corps. As these birds became more frequently used over the course of the war, the U.S. Army Veterinary Service had to dedicate a unit to "the protection of pigeon health, the preservation of their physical efficiency, and the safeguard against introducing or disseminating pigeon-borne diseases affecting other animals and the human being."
These objectives were obtained by furnishing professional services and supervisory assistance in the care, feeding, housing, and transporting of pigeons; conducting laboratory diagnostic and investigative studies on pigeon diseases; establishing controls against the diseases of pigeons by quarantine procedures; inspecting and reporting on factors having a bearing on pigeon health; and giving technical assistance in the training of pigeoneers. Although 36,000 pigeons were deployed overseas, the foregoing veterinary services were not practiced uniformly in all of the theaters and oversea areas because of the newness in the concept of military veterinary medicine for the Army Pigeon Service.
Although there were a number of factors of interest to the Army Veterinary Service bearing on the health of signal pigeons, the more common ones included their feed supply and housing. A balanced feed and good feeding practices were essential to the well being of the signal pigeons and had a direct bearing on their homing proficiency. The feed was procured by the Signal Corps; unfortunately, large quantities of it, packed in burlap bags, were found deteriorated or unusable after arrival in the oversea theaters. The bags were torn by rough handling or were readily eaten into by rodents, and the grain contents became damp, moldy, or vermin infested.
Proper housing for signal pigeons was also a problem, particularly in the overseas theaters. Though lofts of standardized design accompanied the units arriving from the U.S., some were remodeled to meet the variable climatic conditions which were encountered in the Central Pacific Area, and open-front lofts were constructed. Emphasis was placed on having lofts which were exposed to sunlight, dry, and draft-free, and on keeping the lofts in a good sanitation.
Cher Ami was a female homing pigeon who had been donated by the pigeon fanciers of Britain for use by the U.S. Army Signal Corps in France during World War I and had been trained by American pigeoners. She is famous for delivering a message from an encircled battalion despite serious injuries during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, October 1918.
The true messenger pigeon is a variety of domestic pigeons derived from the wild rock dove, selectively bred for its ability to find its way home over extremely long distances. The rock dove has an innate homing ability, meaning that it will generally return to its nest using magnetoreception. Flights as long as 1,800 km have been recorded by birds in competitive pigeon racing. Their average flying speed over moderate 965 km distances is around 97 km/h and speeds of up to 160 km/h have been observed in top racers for short distances.
Homing 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 World War I and World War II, and 32 such pigeons were presented with the Dickin Medal. They ceased being used as of 1957.
The PDSA Dickin Medal was instituted in 1943 in the United Kingdom by Maria Dickin to honour the work of animals in World War II. It is a bronze medallion, bearing the words "For Gallantry" and "We Also Serve" within a laurel wreath, carried on a ribbon of striped green, dark brown, and pale blue. It is awarded to animals that have displayed "conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defence Units". The award is commonly referred to as "the animals' Victoria Cross".
G.I. Joe was a pigeon noted for his service in the United States Army Pigeon Service. The bird is part of the homing pigeons used during World War I and World War II for communication and reconnaissance purposes. G.I. Joe had the name tag, Pigeon USA43SC6390. He was hatched in March 1943, in Algiers, North Africa and underwent a training for two-way homing pigeons perfected at Fort Monmouth, in New Jersey.
Chips (1940–1946) was a trained sentry dog for United States Army, and reputedly the most decorated war dog from World War II. Chips was a German Shepherd-Collie-Husky mix owned by Edward J. Wren of Pleasantville, New York.
Commando was a pigeon used in service with the British armed forces during the Second World War to carry crucial intelligence. The pigeon carried out more than ninety missions during the war, and received the Dickin Medal for three particularly notable missions in 1942. The medal was later sold at an auction for £9,200.
The National Pigeon Service (NPS) was a volunteer civilian organization formed in Britain in 1938 as result of representations made to the Committee of Imperial Defence and the British Government by Major W.H.Osman. During 1939-45 over 200,000 young pigeons were given to the services by the British pigeon breeders of the NPS. The birds were used by the Royal Air Force and the Army and Intelligence Services, Special Section of the Army Pigeon Service. During three and a half years of World War II, 16,554 war pigeons were parachuted onto the continent. One of these was Commando, a red chequer cock bird that became a recipient of the Dickin Medal. Many other NPS pigeons also received the Dickin Medal.
White Vision, also known by her service number SURP.41.L.3089, was a female Second World War homing pigeon who served with the National Pigeon Service and was posted to No. 190 Squadron RAF. She was awarded the Dickin Medal for gallantry in 1943 for delivering a message from a flying boat forced to ditch off the coast of Scotland.
Royal Blue, also known as NURP.40.GVIS.453, was a male pigeon of the RAF pigeon service. He was awarded the Dickin Medal for bravery in March 1945 for being the first pigeon to deliver a message from an allied forced landed aircraft from the European mainland during World War II. He had originally been housed at the Royal Lofts at Sandringham, and was owned by King George VI.
Beach Comber was a Canadian war pigeon who received the Dickin Medal for bravery in service during the Second World War.
Kenley Lass was a war pigeon who received the Dickin Medal in 1945 from the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals for bravery in service during the Second World War. Kenley Lass received the award after it was the first pigeon to deliver intelligence from an agent in enemy-occupied France in October 1940. After parachuting in with the agent, Kenley Lass was released after 12 days and made the 300 mile flight back home in less than 7 hours.
NPS.42.NS.2780 was a pigeon who received the Dickin Medal in October 1945 from the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals for bravery in service during the Second World War. NPS.42 was cited after delivering important messages three times from enemy occupied territory, in July 1942, August 1942 and April 1943, while serving with the Special Service in Europe.
NPS.42.NS.7524 was a pigeon who received the Dickin Medal in 1945 from the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals for bravery in service during the Second World War. The citation was received for delivering important messages on three occasions from enemy-held territory, in July 1942, May 1942 and July 1942, while serving with the Special Service on the continent.
Maquis (NPSNS.42.36392) was a pigeon who received the Dickin Medal in 1945 from the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals for bravery in service during the Second World War. Maquis was cited for successfully delivering messages from enemy-occupied territory on three occasions. These were in May 1943, February 1944 and June 1944 while serving with the Special Service on the Continent.
Tommy (NURP.41.DHZ56) was a pigeon who received the Dickin Medal in 1946 from the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals for bravery in service during the Second World War. Tommy was cited for delivering a valuable message from the Netherlands to Lancashire during difficult conditions while serving with the National Pigeon Service in July 1942.
Mercury was a pigeon who received the Dickin Medal in 1946 from the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals for bravery in service during the Second World War.
DD.43.T.139 was a pigeon who received the Dickin Medal in February 1947 from the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals for bravery in service during the World War II. Serving with the Australian Army Signal Corps, DD.43.T.139 was cited for homing 40 miles (64 km) to Madang, Papua New Guinea during a heavy tropical storm after being released from an Australian army boat that was foundering. The message allowed a rescue ship to be sent in time to salvage the craft and its cargo of stores and ammunition.
Pigeoneer, or Pigeon Trainer was a rating in the United States Navy which emerged in the early twentieth century. Pigeoneers were charged with training pigeons to carry messages, as well as feeding and caring for the pigeons. The rating's necessity diminished with the emergence of radio communication; however, the rating remained in the United States Navy until 1961 to provide an emergency communication system. The rating was designated as a Specialist X