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PARACHUTING PIGEONS

Science and Mechanics:   Fall 1943

Now Serve With U. S. Paratroopers:  Dropped in wire baskets or strapped to soldiers' chests, carrier pigeons fly messages back to headquarters when radio or runners cannot be used
ARMY mule! Army dog! And now-army paratrooper pigeon! Yes, pigeons that drop by parachute or pigeons strapped to the chests of soldiers jumping from planes-that is the latest wrinkle in America's fighting forces. Mule, dog, and now pigeon! Each has its place of service in the battle for the preservation of the American way of life, because Yankee resourcefulness and ingenuity have found a way to recruit even animal life in war time. One wonders whether the family cat will next be called on to serve its country, too. Perhaps it is already doing just that.

Pigeons have been used as army couriers as far back as the days of the ancient Greeks and Persians, but now the birds travel in jeep-pulled pigeon cotes and in airplanes. Employed as a means of communication by the U. S. Army Signal Corps the feathered messengers serve along with radio, telephone, semaphore, and wig-waggingTwo paratrooopers in every class are now be-ing intensively trained as pigeoneers at Fort Benning, Ga.

They must learn how to care for the-pigeons, how to handle them in combat, how to prepare tiny maps and brief messages to be attached to the legs of the birds before they are released to fly their way through the hell of battle back to their home pigeon loft.Although the infantry, the naval "blimps," and other branches of the armed forces use the pigeons, they are especially helpful to the paratroopers. In most cases, use of radio or runners is "out" when the paratroopers land behind the enemy lines. The birds offer the only way to get information back to headquarters quickly.

Paratroopers are taught to jump with two of the pigeons strapped to their o' chests. The birds are wrapped in khaki "jackets" for protection against wing injury. And they are also dropped by parachute from planes and are then picked up by the paratroopers. The container is a wire and canvas basket, holding four or more birds, and is hung under the eight-foot parachute. When picked up, the pigeons are placed in portable carrying cases, by the paratroopers. Supplies for the pigeons for several days are taken along.     
               
Formerly an aluminum capsule was used to contain the message to be sent back by the winged messenger. Now, however, a plastic case lighter than aluminum is used. And this permits the sending of larger pieces of paper with messages.Combat conditions to the present time have permitted more extensive use of pigeons by the infantry than by the paratroopers. And already the Signal Corps has begun to record the work of the pigeons. When American troopers stormed and reconquered Gafsa, Tunisia, "Yank," Signal Corps pigeon, was released with the message of victory. He flew back to headquarters at Tebessa, Algeria, 98 miles, in an hour and fifty-two minutes, to deliver the news ahead of all other means of communication. "Yank" has a serial number, (A.S.N. 873) just like all soldiers. In combat areas, 96 out of 100 pigeons "get through." The Signal Corps pigeons are usually the darker feathered birds rather than the white ones. The lighter birds are easy "hawk bait."

   

Another reason for not using the white pigeons is that their plumage quickly "goes bad" in the tropics. The pigeon has a life expectancy of 14 to 15 years. The birds used are bred from veterans in the service who have been top-notch fliers for eight years of their career, and whose pedigreed racers have intelligence and stamina. Speed is considered less important. All pigeons are fast on the wing. Some have been known to cover 1,000 miles in two days.

The pigeons have a quick maturity. They begin their training at four weeks of age. They are seasoned fliers six months after birth. The night fliers are reared in darkened mobile lofts and released in complete darkness.