War Pigeons

(Columbidae - Please see also Doves)

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Cher Ami

Homing pigeons


During the two World Wars, homing pigeons saved thousands of human lives by carrying messages across enemy lines. Pigeons were carried on ships and in the event of an attack, the messenger pigeon was released with details of the location of the sinking ship. Many lives were saved.

Pigeons also played a vital role in intelligence gathering. Hundreds of homing pigeons with the Confidential Pigeon Service were airdropped into northwest Europe to serve as intelligence vectors for local resistance agents.

  • World War I: Homing pigeon "Cher Ami" was awarded the French Croix de guerre for delivering 12 important messages within the American sector at Verdun, France, despite being badly injured by enemy fire during his last trip. He carried with him an important message that led to the rescue of 194 American soldiers (now known as the "Lost Battalion," part of New York’s 77th Division of the U.S. Army), who would have otherwise perished.
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  • World War II:
    • On 18 October 1943, the American homing pigeon "G.I. Joe" saved the Italian village of Colvi Veccia that was scheduled to be bombed by American forces. "G.I. Joe" delivered a message about the planned attack in time to stop the bombing. In order to do so, he flew 20 miles in 20 minutes and his speedy delivery (within less than 5 minutes to spare) saved over a thousand towns people, as well as 150 British troops that were stationed there.
  • The Irish homing pigeon " Paddy" was awarded the Dickin Medal after being the first pigeon to arrive back in England with news of the success of the D-Day invasion, out of hundreds dispatched. He flew 230 miles across the English Channel in four hours and five minutes - the fastest recorded crossing.

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Species Research by Sibylle Johnson

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