July 5, 2023

Now Available: Feathered Messengers: Homing Pigeons of the American Expeditionary Forces

When the vanguard of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) landed in France in June 1917, General John J. Pershing and his officers gathered information on every aspect of war on the Western Front. In the field of communications, the Allies emphasized the importance of homing pigeons for communication. With wireless technology in its infancy and wired field phones vulnerable to artillery and enemy eavesdropping, homing pigeons often proved the only liaison with forces in the rear. Subsequently, the U.S. Army Signal Corps established a Pigeon Service which began to arrive in France in November 1917. Numbering less than 400 officers and men and several thousand pigeons, the AEF Pigeon Service entered the frontlines in late January 1918 and quickly demonstrated its feathered prowess. America’s “war birds” proved reliable in transmitting messages from the field, air, or even from tanks. Within a year, the Pigeon Service provided hundreds of birds for the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and the culminating battle of the AEF. Drawing from surviving documentation, film, and photographs, this talk will share the story of America’s smallest doughboys and the men who ensured the message would get through in the War to End All Wars.