Wednesday, 04 January 2012 09:12

War Birds: Military Pigeons on D-Day

    It’s common knowledge that pigeons are city-dwelling birds that are sometimes used by drug dealers to alert others to police activity. Did you know that pigeons were also used in the military during World War II? As far as we know, pigeons have been useful aviary allies for about 1,000 years. Military leaders would use them to bring back messages of success or defeat. Historians say that there was a 90 percent success rate for a trained pigeon to reach its destination. Pigeons are strong, hardy, and can fly for hundreds of miles without stopping.

    During WWII, bomber pilots would carry pigeons with them in case they were shot down. The pigeons would fly back to their headquarters to alert personnel and give the pilot a chance to be saved. The German military knew about the use of pigeons and came up with their own plans to counteract them – they trained falcons to attack the aviaries carrying messages. Many of these pigeons were posthumously awarded medals for their combat bravery.

    Recently, some declassified WWII files were released to the public. In 1943, British spies had planned to release pigeons carrying false messages about D-Day right before it occurred. The plan was to train the pigeons to fly around France, which was occupied by Germans at the time. Germans were keeping a watchful eye on all pigeons and intercepting whichever birds they could catch. The pigeons were going to carry messages with hints that D-Day would occur on the western coast of France. Whether this plan actually occurred or not is unclear as of 2011.

    We know that thousands of trained birds went along with troops to Omaha Beach on D-Day due to the lack of radio contact. Soldiers carefully hid the pigeons underneath their clothes. The birds were trained to fly back to Allied Headquarters with messages strapped to their legs. Soldiers’ notes described German gunner positions and other useful information for the Allies. As many as 32 pigeons successfully reached headquarters with their messages, and they were given the prestigious animal valor award – the “Dickin Medal.”

    Supposedly, the military doesn’t use pigeons to relay messages anymore. The practice stopped around 1957 due to the development of better communication methods. It’s a fact that these amazing birds have saved thousands of lives over the years, so feed a pigeon the next time you see one.

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