German Camera Pigeon, WWI, licensed under Creative Commons
I came across this odd subject while looking for something else – not an unusual occurrence on the internet - and was reminded of it when we visited Bletchley Park where there is a room dedicated to the subject.
Pigeons have been used to carry messages for centuries and all participants in World War I made use of the Homing Pigeon’s ability.The British alone employed about 9,500 birds.
The Second World War once more saw the major powers make use of the Homing Pigeons and Britain used 250,000.
Each bomber had 2 pigeons on board and, if shot down, released the pigeon with a message giving the co-ordinates of the plane and many lives were saved this way. The pigeons returned to their home lofts and their owners found the nearest telephone to send in the message they carried.
Secret agents, inserted into Europe carried them and they were even parachuted to resistance groups.
During the D-Day invasion of World War II, many soldiers were sent with a pigeon beneath their coats. This was a period of radio silence, so the use of pigeons for relaying messages was needed. The pigeons sent back information on German gun positions on the Normandy beaches. Thirty-two pigeons were awarded the Dickin Medal, Britiain's highest award for animal valour.
Just in case our American readers are scratching their heads at the primitive Europeans, you used them too and a bird named "G.I. Joe," flew 20 miles in 20 minutes with a message that stopped U.S. planes from bombing an Italian town that was occupied by British forces. He was awarded the Dickin Medal.
American Pigeon carriers at Bletchley Park