Carrier Pigeons in World War I

Conflict: World War I

Attaching a message canister to a carrier pigeon

Members of the Army Signal Corps attaching a message canister to a carrier pigeon

During World War I, soldiers in advance positions relied on carrier pigeons to send word to base. One famous pigeon saved 200 men and received a medal for its important mission.

The manual on liaison illustrates the importance of maintaining carrier pigeon stations.

Manual of Liaison section 107

An appendix of the same manual describes the composition of a pigeon station.

Manual of Liaison appendix on carrier pigeons

And the bird who won the medal? A battalion from the 77th division was surrounded by German troops and pinned against a hillside in October 1918. Allied artillery shelled the surrounding area to make the Germans keep their distance, but unsure about the exact location of the lost battalion, they fired on the Americans too. American Major Whittlesly dispatched his last pigeon, named Cher Ami, to give the coordinates of the lost battalion and order the artillery to stop shelling that position. The Germans knew that pigeons carried important messages, and all efforts were made to shoot down any messenger birds they spotted. Cher Ami was badly wounded. He lost a leg and had a bullet hole in his breast but made it back to the coop. The message he carried helped save the lost battalion. For his service, the French awarded Cher Ami the Croix de Guerre.

Cher Ami can be seen on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Popular Mechanics published an interesting article on carrier pigeons in 1930.