During WWI, the telephone and telegraph machines that we take for granted today weren’t reliable enough to be counted on to carry important information to the troops and back.
For that reason, many infantry divisions from several countries used carrier pigeons as their mode of communication.
Tens of thousands of pigeons lost their lives in WWI, something that doesn’t have a big place in the history books.
Pigeon Use In WWI Military Operations
Pigeons were relied upon to deliver messages back and forth, providing updates on where units were and relaying messages from ground to air and air to ground.
Short messages were vital so they could be hidden on the pigeon’s leg without being detected.
These messages were often sent in code just in case a pigeon was captured by the enemy.
It’s thought that these carrier pigeons saved hundreds of lives and helped troops stay on top of the situation when a telephone or telegraph machine was nowhere to be found.
Not only could carrier pigeons keep troops up to date, but they were also used in rescue missions.
Many of these pigeons were able to fly through enemy fire to alert the needs for emergency services, additional supplies or the need for rescue teams.
How Many Pigeons Died In WWII
Famous Pigeon Veterans
One famous pigeon used during WWI was President Wilson, a pigeon thought to be born in France and who was assigned to infantry soldiers carrying out operations near Grandpre during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
Wilson was sent to relay the message that the soldiers were under attack and needed more artillery.
In just 25 minutes, Wilson delivered his message, despite being hit by German bullets, resulting in the loss of a leg and a chest injury.
Residing now in the Smithsonian, Wilson wasn’t the only pigeon hero used during WWI.
Pigeons were so important to the war effort that they have been immortalized in pop culture.
For example, a whole episode of Blackadder Goes Forth was dedicated to the story of Speckled Jim.
Owned by General Melchett (but shot and eaten by Captain Blackadder), he demonstrates the importance of the pigeon as well as showing him as a beloved pet.
Pigeon Casualties In WWI
Estimates indicate that about 100,000 carrier pigeons were used by the German, French, American and British armies during WWI.
Some research shows that carrier pigeons had a 95 percent success rate in delivering messages during this war, much higher than dogs, humans or the limited wired technology available at the time.
They could fly above the flying bullets and were an incredibly reliable mode of communication in the early 1900s.
As you can imagine, many pigeons died over the course of WWI, just as many soldiers also died on the battlefield.
Likewise, the war saw the deaths of countless horses, mules and dogs as well.
Though the pigeons were protected by the UK’s Defence of Realm Act, many thousands of them were killed by enemy fire or disease over the course of the war.
Fortunately, their talents and service haven’t been forgotten, with many carrier pigeons taxidermied and displayed around the world as thanks for their hard work.
Without their dedicated service, victory may not have been possible.