World War II’s daring pigeons
by David Lee
FLYING against great hazards, they acted as a communication link between the Army’s ground and sea troops, and base camp, not only aiding with the prosecution of campaigns but also saving countless lives. What might be less well known is the importance these highly significant air-borne forces played. The humble pigeon proved a vital way for troops to relay messages during times of need and desperation.
Reaching a velocity of up to 2000 Yards per Minute, the duties carried out by these feathered foes would vary depending on the branch of service, but wherever the army, navy, coast guard, or marines went, pigeons likely went, too.
Taken across enemy lines by patrols in pursuit of valuable information, the pigeons would return with news on the location and strength of enemy troops, gun positions, pending attacks, traffic conditions, and other vital data, especially when terrain or proximity to enemy lines made it impossible to string wire or use a radio.
Former pigeon racing champ, Brian Pritchard, told The Adviser last week of his prize-winning pigeons, explaining how his brother, Harold’s, Dark Blue Check Hen, ‘Flight Express’, who was a descendant of the famed war pigeons of WWII, had won the 1949 V.H.A Produce Cup.
“Thousands of servicemen’s lives were saved by these heroic birds that often flew in extreme weather and sometimes under fire,” Brian Pritchard said.
“Two Australian war pigeons were honoured with the Dicken Medal, which is the animal ‘Victorian Cross’ equivalent,” he added.
The most celebrated pigeon of World War II was the blue-checked GI Joe. On October 18, 1943, an American infantry division called for heavy aerial bombardment on German-occupied Colvi Vecchia, Italy. With the unexpected retreat of the Germans, the British 56th Infantry Brigade moved in minutes before the scheduled bombing. Radio attempts were failing, and with time running short, GI Joe was sent with the vital message to abort the bombing. He made the 20-mile trip in 20 minutes and arrived just as bombers from Allied Support Command were about to lift off.
“If he had been five minutes later,” Mr Pritchard said, “the story might have been different.”