Thoughts on the military and military activities of a diverse nature. Free-ranging and eclectic.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

This is coolbert: Carrier pigeons [homing pigeons] have been used in warfare for millenniums.

Crusaders besieged in Levantine castles such as Krak of the Chevaliers [the Horsemen] would use carrier pigeons to carry messages to and fro their compatriots on the coastline of Outremer [beyond the sea, the Crusader term for their kingdoms in the Holy Land]. Muslim [Arab] besiegers would know this and would employ falcons to intercept and down the carrier pigeons and prevent the communications from being passed. The Arabs were noted for their excellent ability at animal husbandry. To this day Arab potentates are famous for their love of raptors such as falcons, even bringing in American avian experts to tend and train their prized birds of prey.

During World War One [WW1], carrier pigeons were employed extensively, some even being decorated for "courage". The famous French carrier pigeon Cher Ami [little friend] is immortalized in this regard.

Carrier pigeons were employed as well during World War Two [WW2].

Tank units that were expected to advance rapidly would be equipped with carrier pigeons. Radio equipment installed in tanks of the time was not robust for the most part. Could not withstand the rigors of cross-country movement as found in rapidly moving tank units. Carrier pigeons offered an alternative for communications. I have actually seen a film clip of a crew member of a Lee tank opening a hatch and throwing a pigeon out the hatch, that pigeon bearing a message undoubtedly.

To communicate with French Resistance fighters in occupied France, British Special Operations dropped baskets of carrier pigeons to be used in communications from France to England. These birds would be used to carry messages from the resistance fighters to their controllers in Britain. And guess what? German counter-intelligence found out about this method of communication and employed, you guessed it already I bet, falcons [just as the Arabs did] to intercept and down the pigeons enroute to England carrying secret messages. Like I have said in previous blogs, some things in military operations never change. Sometimes the old ways are the best ways.

There is a scene in the movie "The Longest Day" where news reporters just arrived on the Normandy beaches are going to file news reports fresh from the battlefield, as fighting is actually going on. To file their reports, the newsmen have brought along carrier pigeons. Writing their reports, the newsmen attach the reports to the back of the pigeons and release them, only to have the pigeons fly off in the wrong direction [the pigeons may have been disoriented and need to get their bearings].

And please don't think the use of carrier pigeons is an obsolete method not used any more.

A recent TV program featured an episode about rafting outfitters in Colorado that employ carrier pigeons. Vacationers rafting downstream in rugged and isolated terrain have their pictures taken by an outfitter staff member standing on the riverbank. A carrier pigeon is used to fly the roll of exposed film back to outfitter base camp where it is quickly processed. The exposed film of the vacationers rafting downstream is developed, printed and is available for the perusal of the rafters even before they arrive back at base camp, thanks to the carrier pigeons.

Sometimes the old ways are the best ways!!



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