Beasley’s Farm and Home Weekly, Charlotte, N.C., July 31, 1941
Carrier Pigeons Trained by Army for Messengers
A stout heart is honored by all men, by all nations, and special tribute is paid to voiceless heroes. That is why out of every war has come acclaim for the animals and winged messengers who serve men alike in the fields of peace and the fields of battle.
The annals of the United States Army are rich in tributes for these comrades who, bearing no arms of defense or offense, have gone into the fight with hearts of steel. Into these records have gone the history of “First Division Age,” hero of valorous deeds done in France and beloved buddy alike of generals and privates and on whose tombstone in an East Orange (N.J.) cemetery is chiseled the simple epitaph: “Rags—Wounded in Action With the American Expeditionary Forces in France—1918;” of “Old Cap,” wire-haired Griffon who served with distinction in the World War, winning a French medal and who sleeps today in Ware, Mass.; of “Stubby,” famous war dog of the Twenty-Sixth Division, painted by Charles Ayres Whipple; of “Mr. Downing,” General Pershing’s favorite mount who answered the last call in 1933; and of “President Wilson,” battle scarred war pigeon and one of several hero pigeons of the World War, says a New York dispatch to the Christian Science Monitor.
Training for Birds
It is to these sky messengers that the United States Army is today devoting attention and training comparable to that given trainees in any branch of the service. Maj. John K. Shawman, pigeon expert of the Signal Corps, is in charge of the work of training these birds at Fort Monmouth, N.J., and has recently staged eight-day flights in New York City of his feathered wards.
The United States Army is second to none in the development of bird communication service, having found that carrier pigeons have increased in importance with each development of the blitzkrieg, since through them defensive communications are maintained and opportunity developed to shatter the enemy lines.
Formerly homing pigeons could not be moved around, but insisted upon returning to one spot. Army Signal Corps officers have developed the use of a mobile loft that can now be taken on maneuvers to any part of the country. Within five days of their arrival at destination, the birds will be performing their duties.
An exclusive development of the United States Army is the two-day pigeon service. These birds will take a message to a special point and return to the place of take-off. How the birds are thus trained is a close Army secret. It is believed this country is the only one to have developed such two-way feathered couriers.
Major Shawman’s carrier pigeon training in New York was carried on from Rockefeller Center. Among the most interested spectators were the pigeons that make their homes on the set-backs of the city within a city in midtown Manhattan, and who find easy living in the hands of bird-lovers. They looked up in wonderment at the swift flight of the winged soldiers of the army.
Major Shawman gave his pigeons several days in New York to permit them to get accustomed to their new surroundings. Short flights were made during these days. Then, for the big test, six birds were taken by underground railroad to six points in the outskirts of the city. The subway in no way affected their sense of direction, and when they were released they flew as straight as an arrow at a mile-a-minute clip back to their mobile loft at Rockefeller Center.
In War Service
The carrier pigeon service of the Army is being greatly expanded. Another duty that has fallen to the care of Major Shawman is the registering of every private pigeon loft in the Nation. This was done not only to list a reserve of birds in case of an Army shortage, but more importantly, to keep a careful guard over the activities of saboteurs and fifth columnists who might use the birds for message carrying.
Great Britain has been using pigeons to carry dispatches in the present war and has appealed to American loft owners to donate birds for war service. Each British airplane when it takes off carries two pigeons for dispatching messages back to its base in case the radio fails to work.
Military use of pigeons dates from the days of the Roman Empire. Decius Brutus used homing pigeons to get in touch with the Roman Consuls in 43 B.C. when Mutina was besieged by Mark Antony. The Saracens used sky messengers during the First Crusade. The Crusaders tried to interrupt this service by sending falcons after them, but many of the enemy birds got through.
In the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, when the Germans surrounded Paris, homing pigeons were used by the defenders to keep in touch with the outside world. The Germans countered by using a corps of pigeon-chasing hawks, but, nevertheless, pigeons were credited with delivering more than (can’t read number but it’s more than 100,000) messages.
After this war pigeon corps were established as regular units in the Army and Navy Intelligence Departments of most of the European Powers. The birds were equipped with whistles which kept hawks, falcons and other predatory birds at a distance.
Served in World War
During the World War homing pigeons carried thousands of messages back from the front lines on both sides of no-man’s land, 20,000 birds being used by the United States Army, 120,000 by the Central Powers and more than 300,000 by the Entente Allies.
The American bird Cher Ami was the savior of the famed Lost Battalion of the Argonne. Isolated from the rest of the Seventy-Seventh Division, this battalion sent bird after bird into the air only to see each brought down by German sharp-shooters and machine-gunners. Cher Ami, the last bird left, although wounded in the breast and minus a leg, finally got through to Division Headquarters with a message which gave the exact location of the lost men and led to their rescue.
“President Wilson,” who lived 11 years after the World War, was assigned to a tank corps in France and during a battle in the Marne-Argonne sector flew through a heavy fog and rain at a mile-a-minute clip for 21 miles. He delivered his communication which was stilled tied to his leg. One of his legs had been shot away.
Another outstanding feathered hero of World War I was Mocker, who passed on at Fort Monmouth in 1937 at the age of 21 years. Mocker flew over the fighting lines many times. During the final push before St. Mihiel, Mocker was hit by a piece of shrapnel and lost his right eye. In spite of this, he winged his way to the American lines. The message gave the range on a German gun which had been hindering the advance of the American troops. Twenty minutes after Mocker arrived with the message, the gun was silenced.
In Times of Peace
Feathered messengers were used by man for peaceful purposes long before they were put to military use. The ancient people of the Orient and Egypt made use of them. The Greeks, who borrowed the idea from the Persians, used pigeons to report the results of the Olympic games. Ancreon in 560 B.C. wrote on”Ode to the Carrier Pigeon,” telling how each province’s representatives took pigeons to the games and sent word back home how the games were progressing.
Homing pigeons’ speeds average from 30 to 60 miles an hour, although a record of 75 miles an hour has been made. The birds can stay in the air from sunrise to sunset and have hung up some remarkable long-distance flying records. One bird released in Havana, Cuba, on July 4, 1930, arrived in Baltimore, Md., five days later, 1,300 miles away.
A racing pigeon called “Miss 1303”escaped in May, 1930, from a Caracas, Venezuela, mining engineer to whom she had been sold and flew 3,000 miles to her original home in Long Island.
French soldiers releasing carrier pigeons in World War I