Source(s): *The United States Army in World War 2, Technical Services, Signal Corps, The Emergency (to Dec.
1941)* by Dulany Terrett
Stock Number: 008-029-00048-2
Price (non-U.S.): $32.50
Description: CMH Pub. 10-16. L.C. card 56-60002.
Publisher: Defense Dept., Army, Office of the
Chief of Military History
Year/pages: 1956: 383 p.; ill., plate.
Center of Military History Publication 10-16
SuDocs Class: D 114.7:SI 2/V.1
Author: Terrett, Dulany
Extra Description: individual mailing box
Weight: 2 lbs 3 oz
Quantity Price: discount
"The Pigeon Service
"Nonelectrical means were rapidly disappearing in air communications (...) but ground needs were somewhat more diverse and still held room for non electric methods. Thus pigeon communications, an uncomplicated activity, had a secure if minor place in the company of its intricate counterparts. In exercises and maneuvers, the ground arms habitually employed pigeons units theoretically located at inaccessible spots.
"The Camp McCoy maneuvers of 1940, for example, had developed 'an immense respect' for them. In Hawaii, the departmental commander had asked for them; and in Alaska also, the chief of the new defense command, Brig. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., had interested himself in their value in remote regions, especially in the chilling and rugged wildernesses where pilots might be forced to land.
"Vilhjalmur Stefansson, the noted authority on the Arctic, Frederick C. Lincoln, expert of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and others advised the Signal Corps on a plan for the use of pigeons there. The effort failed through no more hazard than ordinary delay: birds which had been started on their way to Buckner's new Fort Richardson while they were still young enough to be trained were grandfatherly when they arrived.
"Innovations at the Monmouth Pigeon Center == where the appropriation was $2,490 more in 1941 than it had been the year before == were similarly undetermined of their final success, and similarly plagued with an aspect of absurdity. A joke revived from World War I hinted that the Signal Crops was crossbreeding pigeons with parrots so that the birds could say their messages, with angels so that they could sing them, and with Western Union boys so that they could sing and salute, too.
"The actual experiments were rather more likely to succeed. The pigeon experts were making a serious effort to train the birds to work at night, and to fly out from their home lofts as well as back to them. In effect, one experiment crossbred pigeons with a nighthawk and the second with a boomerang.
"In no way inconsequential, the work was supported by an increasing and general agreement to organize separate pigeon companies to serve field commanders. Plans went forward to create the first == although it was temporarily called the 2nd Pigeon Company == of these units at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, in June, and to draw at least two of the officers from that considerable group of persons who especially admired these birds.
"Pigeon fanciers all over the country had sought to lend fine stock to be bred with the pedigreed strains in the Signal Corps lofts at Fort Monmouth, Fort Benning, and Fort Sam Houston. Many enthusiasts in the breeding and racing of pigeons had seen service in 1917 and 1918, and some were now coming back into the Signal Corps for duty in the emergency, among these being the officers for the new company and those performing the experiments at the Pigeon Breeding and Training Center.
"With the first addition to its cadre, the new unit, redesignated the 280th Pigeon Company, made a reconnaissance trip to Vicksburg, reconnoitered along the Mississippi River, and after a little while took part in the summer maneuvers. Pigeons from the Fort Sam Houston loft were winning long races by flying distances as great as 600 miles within 17 or 18 hours.
"Both there and at Fort Benning the signal officers received instructions to breed young stock for the 280th, first for the maneuvers, then to replace a 75% loss of birds during them. The 280th for a time had 800 or 1,000 pigeons on hand at the beginning of a month and only 250 or 275 survivors at its close.
"In the Hawaiian Department the loft was transferred from Schofield Barracks to Fort Shafter in an effort to reduce losses: the birds had been flying into wires, disappearing into an eucalyptus grove near the loft, and even colliding with the aircraft of the adjacent base.
"Yet there was no suggestion that the Signal Corps ought to drop pigeons from its list of communications means. By mid-summer, the Pigeon Breeding and Training Center was able to report progress. The experiments as yet had no tactical value since their range had not got beyond a dozen miles, but the trainers had accustomed an increasing number of birds to fly at any hour and to cover a two-way course at six in the afternoon, a good meal providing the spur.
"At the close of the breeding season all the pigeons lent by civilian owners were returned, and thenceforward the Signal Corps bought birds at two dollars apiece. In nine months during 1941, the center bred and shipped out 2,150 to tactical units everywhere."
James Agenbroad (jagenbroad@stinger.ARL.MIL)