Allied Homing Pigeons
Homing pigeons were used by both the Axis and the Allies as vehicles for transporting messages back home in World War Two. No scholar is quite certain exactly how these pigeons, often called racing pigeons, are able to find their way back to their place of birth, but in a similar manner to how salmon spawn, pigeons always return to a certain spot. This has obvious wartime consequences, as both sides used the pigeons to relay information that the other side would not be able to intercept.
In order to provide a secret, fast, and undetectable messaging system across Europe, 200,000 homing pigeons were donated by private British citizens for use by the National Pigeon Service, who then trained them for combat within the British Army, Navy, and Air Force.
The British were not the only fighting force with a pigeon division. The United States supplied 3,000 soldiers, 150 officers, and over 54,000 flying fighters for use in World War Two.
The most famous American pigeon was the aptly named G.I. Joe, who was used by British soldiers. After the soldiers had pushed through to a town on the Italian peninsula, they lost contact with headquarters, and were unaware that an American-led saturation bombing run was directed at the town they now occupied. Devoid of any other method of contact, G.I. Joe was sent out with a description of the brigades new location as a last resort, and after flying 25 miles in 25 minutes, was able to alert headquarters of the impending disaster. Joe was awarded the Dickin Medal of Gallantry by the Lord Mayor of London for his work.
But the true pigeon celebrity of the war was unquestionably the heroic Paddy. Seen here at left, Paddy is the only Irish animal that has ever won the Dickin Medal. Hatched in March 1943 in Northern Ireland, Paddy was one of the last pigeons to be retrained to fly back to Hampshire before the Allied invasion of Occupied France, also known as D-Day. Paddy, as has been fictionalized in Paddy The Pigeon by Gail Seekamp, was the first pigeon to return from the shores of Normandy, clocking in at four hours and fifty minutes.
In recent developments, Paddys medal was auctioned off for 7,000 pounds in 1999 to pigeon fanatic Kevin Spring.
(image taken from http://www.interbug.com/pigeon/pigeons_in_the_news/news.cgi?rec_id=129)