War Pigeons: A Remarkable History
Today, pigeons are kicked to the curb more often than not. They waddle around, annoyingly getting under our feet and inquisitively asking us for the leftovers from our lunch.
However, despite society’s usually aggressive dismissal over them, pigeons once used to play a very important role on our planet.
The History of the War Pigeon
War pigeons played an incredibly important role during the First World War, namely due to their homing instinct and them being the only reliable way to send messages.
In fact, war pigeons were so important that over 100,000 were deployed. Better yet, the delivery success rate of the war pigeon was a startling 95% reaching their message destination target. This was mainly because men could not rely on man-made systems, as some could easily be intercepted, and many were still unreliable and difficult to use.
Pigeons were very popular messengers, for all countries involved, and many could be found along the Western Front. Take the First Battle of the Marne in 1914 for example, where the French halted the German advance on Paris. It was in the heat of battle that pigeons were primarily used, as other forms of radio communication were either too intricate to use and/or too cumbersome.
Marne hosted 72 pigeon lofts, and as the French advanced forward, the lofts and pigeons came with them! However, due to the French being on the move while other pigeons were ‘on duty’, none were expected to find where the French had moved to, yet, somehow, the pigeon’s natural homing instinct was able to find the French’s new location, flying essentially blind!
Pigeons in the RAF
All RAF bombers and aircrafts pilots used pigeons. They kept them in special watertight baskets, so that if the pilot had to abandon the aircraft, the pigeon would be able to find its way back to the nearest RAF base. Thousands of men’s lives were saved by the swift service of war pigeons, with many flying in extremely dangerous circumstances.
The Strength of the War Pigeon
One of the war pigeon’s main strengths wasn’t just its homing ability, but the speed in which it travelled. A trained marksman would not be able to shoot down a pigeon, their speed was simply too immense. The only way these pigeons could be felled was to employ another bird of prey to hunt it, and this was usually a falcon.
Cher Ami: The Most Famous War Pigeon
You may have heard the heroics of this famous war pigeon, as it saved the lives of many servicemen. Cher Ami was deployed when 194 American soldiers were trapped by German soldiers and had no way of communicating with allied forces. Cher Ami flew an astonishing 25 miles in 25 minutes and was actually shot through the chest during its flight. Cher Ami did not let that stop his mission, continuing his journey in order to deliver the message that would eventually save those American troops!
Cher Ami was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Palm for his incredible service and achievement. Arguably the most fascinating fact about Cher Ami was that he would have had no idea where the American’s nearest headquarters were, he had to rely on his homing instinct.
Royal Blue: Another Remarkable War Pigeon
During WW2, one pigeon from the Royal Lofts, named Royal Blue, became the first pigeon to deliver a message from a force-landed plane on the continent. Royal Blue was deployed on October 10th, 1940 in Holland. Royal Blue flew 120 miles in a mere 4 hours and 10 minutes. He successfully reported the information back to headquarters and later received the Dickin Medal.
Don’t Kill the War Pigeons!
Killing a war pigeon was quite a serious crime during the two World Wars. Stated in Regulation 21A in the Defence of the Realm document:
Killing wounding or molesting homing pigeons is punishable in the Defence of the Realm Regulations by:
Six Months Imprisonment (or)
The public are reminded that homing pigeons are doing valuable work for the government and are requested to assist in the suppression of the shooting of these birds.
There was also a £5 reward for information that led to the person’s conviction!
Pigeons Today – How the mighty have fallen!
Pigeons today litter our streets and are usually shunted to the curb for getting under our feet. Racing pigeons do represent a higher class of pigeon life, though these are not seen as frequently as the common pigeon. In truth, pigeons have unfortunately become the pests of modern society, and their excrement can cause serious damage to our properties and vehicles if left unattended.
For all pigeon inquiries, feel free to contact us here, we’d be happy to help, no matter what the pigeon-related issue is!