Pigeons in the Army?

 

The United States Army Pigeon Service was a unit of the United States Army during World War I and World War II. Signal pigeons for the Army were procured, bred, trained, and issued under the supervision of the Pigeon Service, an element of the Army’s Signal Corps. Their assignment was the training and usage of homing pigeons for communication and reconnaissance purposes.

The beginning of World War II found the Army’s pigeon center located at Fort Monmouth where it had been since 1919 when the latter-then named Camp Alfred Vail began a program for developing the type of pigeon most suitable for military purposes. During 1942 this center, including its veterinary personnel which had just joined, moved to Camp Crowder, Mo., where it remained until after V-J Day when it was reestablished at Fort Monmouth.

During WWII, 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. 

G.I. Joe

The most famous of these war pigeons was, G.I. Joe.  G.I. Joe is credited with making the most outstanding flight by a Army Pigeon in World War II. Making the 20 mile flight from British 10th Army Headquarters in 20 minutes, the message he contained arrived just in time to save the lives of at least 100 Allied soldiers from being bombed by their own planes.” Because of his actions, G.I. Joe received the Dickin Medal for gallantry.

During World War II the objectives of the Army Veterinary Service concerned with signal pigeons became 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.

For their deployment in the oversea theaters, Army signal pigeons were incorporated into a specialized unit-the Signal Pigeon Company. The Army discontinued using pigeons as message carriers in 1957.

Pigeoneers cooperating with Veterinary Corps officers to maintain healthy birds. The military utilization of pigeons depended on their health and freedom from disease. Birds were developed as “night fliers,” also as two-way birds (that is, fly one way for water and return home for food). (Image from U.S Army Medical Department)

 

Examination and treatment of Army pigeons at the Signal Pigeon Center, Tidworth, England. This was a part of the European theater’s veterinary program to obtain and maintain an efficient Army Pigeon Service in the armies and divisions in continental Europe. (Image from U.S Army Medical Department)

 

Visit the U.S. Army Medical Department Office of Medical History website to learn more about these extraordinary birds.