War Pigeons

Winged Couriers in the U.S. Military, 1878–1957

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About the Book

For more than seven decades, homing pigeons provided the U.S. military with its fastest most reliable means of communication. Originally bred for racing in the early 1800s, homing pigeons were later trained by pigeoneers to fly up to 60 mph for hundreds of miles, and served the United States for almost 75 years, through four wars on four continents. Barely weighing a pound, these extraordinary birds carried messages in and out of gas, smoke, exploding bombs and gunfire. They flew through jungles, deserts and mountains, not faltering even when faced with large expanses of ocean to cross. Sometimes they arrived nearly dead from wounds or exhaustion, refusing to give up until they reached their objective.
This book is the first complete account of the remarkable service that homing pigeons provided for the American armed forces, from its fledgling beginnings after the Civil War to the birds’ invaluable role in communications in every branch of the U.S. military through both World Wars and beyond. Personal narratives, primary sources and news articles tell the story of the pigeons’ recruitment and training in the U.S., their deployment abroad and use on the home front.

About the Author(s)

Elizabeth Macalaster has co-authored award-winning nonfiction books for children and young adults, and her articles and book reviews have appeared in many magazines and newspapers. She lives in Brunswick, Maine.

Bibliographic Details

Elizabeth G. Macalaster
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 212
Bibliographic Info: 40 photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2020
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8080-4
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4056-3
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi

Prologue: John Silver 1

Preface 3

1. The First Feathered Recruits 7

2. Pigeons for Sea Duty 22

3. Put to the Test 49

4. Into the Breach 65

5. More, Farther, Faster 95

6. A Call for Champions 110

7. Staying Power 152

Afterword 162

Appendix A. Instructions on Reception, Care and Training of Homing Pigeons in Newly Installed Lofts at U.S. Navy Air Bases 167

Appendix B. Henri Marion’s Patent for a Message Holder 176

Chapter Notes 179

Bibliography 187

Index 195