Wednesday, December 26, 2018

War Pigeons: Italian Alps, January 1945

The British Army in Italy 1945
A Jeep supply train wends its way up a steep road over the Monte Di Rontana with 75mm and 3.7-inch ammunition for 85th Mountain Regiment, Royal Artillery, 2 February 1945. The ammunition was transferred to mules for the final part of the journey. The guns were firing at German positions in Isola.  Photo by Sergeant Menzies, No. 2 Army Film & Photographic Unit.  © IWM (NA 22042)

This is an excerpt from The Pigeons That Went to War by Gordon H. Hayes.  Hayes is recalling his experiences with the pigeons during the invasion of Italy
     “This reminds me of the times when the birds were entrusted with special assignments by the Allied Forces.  What follows is an account of possibly the most difficult of them all:
     It was early January, 1945, in the Italian alps.  The British 8th Army was caught in the jaws of a blizzard, blustering and brutal.  The troops were in action on a wide front.  But cold was becoming bitter and forbidding.  All means of communication were paralyzed.  Drifts of snow and ice---12 feet deep---rendered movement impossible.  Communication lines lay buried.  It was impossible to find them, let alone repair them.  The chilling weather had affected the radio communication damagingly…so that our radio relays were open to all ears.
     As a last resort, therefore, a special call was made for our pigeons.  But we were hesitant, apprehensive that the stinging cold and the stunning blizzard would freeze our birds to death, or that their legs would be frozen or frost-bitten.  However, we agreed, albeit reluctantly, to brush aside our anxieties and abide by the imperatives of the exigency.  We knew that the maneuvers of the British division would have a significant bearing on the course of the war.  Hence we were duty bound to contribute our share.
     This realization led to the organization of a special task force consisting of Harold Tagert (the Vhip), Ed Bradlo and Roman Bradlo, Rusty Hemsath, and Walt Haid.  The Vhip, our leader, had the combat mobiles pulled to the front.  We had the night as our cover.
     The event, remembered by Rusty Hemsath, reads in retrospect ‘…   the intense cold almost froze us to death, but we made it without any loss of life.’
     After just two days the pigeons were ready for action.  So each battalion of the British brigade was given a flight of pigeons on the fourth day.  The fifth morning of their arrival, i.e. just the second day of their draft, the birds began bringing urgent and secret messages.  Tearing their way through blinding blizzards, their eyes blazing, feathers snow-shrouded, these doughty birds delivered the goods.  And what birds they were!  How would we ever forget them?  We could not then and cannot now.  After almost half a century, their courage must give us pause to wonder if there is an affinity among all living things.  Our birds were fighting, as we were.  They died, as many of my comrades did.  We were called to war and we came as did our valiant feathered friends.  There can be nothing nobler in human existence than to do one’s duty.  Perhaps those pigeons understood that better than we did---or do now.  It might be that the fight for a free world was a concept that they who knew the limitless sky and oceans of unbounded air could imagine.  It may be our mistake to mourn those who were lost---pigeons and men---for they have their honor.  No more beautiful orison could be sung than that they knew their duty and did it.  Amen. “

Photo courtesy of the Hayes family.
You can use the scroll bar at the bottom to scroll left-right and view the larger photo.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Honoring a veteran and a pigeon historian, Frank Quatrochi

Frank Quatrochi served as a pigeoneer during the Korean War.  He donated this sketch of Kaiser, which he acquired while at Fort Monmouth, as well as the photos and documents from his personal collection. You can use the scroll bar at the bottom to scroll left-right and bring the entire photo or doc onto the screen.  To hear an interview with Frank, you can go to and enter Frank Quatrochi, Korean War pigeoneer in the search box in the center top of the page or use this link

Korea mobile pigeon loft

Cpl. Thomas with pigeons

Cpl.Quatrochi in his pigeon loft

Pigeon Flight Records

Robin Hutton published War Animals in 2018.  She writes, “In 1941, Major Otto Meyer assumed command of the Signal Pigeon Corps.  Meyer ran the worldwide pigeon breeding and training program and supervised the writing of the pigeon bible---Army Technical Manual No.  11-410, The Homing Pigeon, as well as Field Manual 11-80, Pigeons for Combat Use.” 
Below is Cpl. Quatrochi’s letter to Otto Meyer.

Two photos of Tokyo loft

Cpl. Quatrochi next to sign outside of Tokyo loft

Cpl. Thomas with pigeon

Korea mobile pigeon loft

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

War Pigeons: Cassino, Italy, 1944: Miss Peggy, Master Brian, Just Jerry

The Battle of Cassino, January-May 1944
Third Phase 11 - 18 May 1944: A British stretcher party carry a casualty out of Cassino after its capture. In the background is Hangman's Hill.  Photo by Sergeant W. E. McConnville, No. 2 Army Film and Photographic Unit.  Imperial War Museum, © IWM (NA 15003)

War Pigeons:  Cassino, Italy, 1944:  Miss Peggy, Master Brian, Just Jerry

This story of three pigeons comes from The Pigeons That Went to Warby Gordon H. Hayes.  Hayes served as a pigeoneer in Africa and Italy.

     “Another famous flight, one that scored success without a casualty, was that of three pigeons from our mobile loft below Cassino manned by Pvt. Francis McGrath.  McGrath was a rare breed of man.  He was on my team as we froze in the snows at Futa Pass, and later, as we drove into what seemed to us then, the Valley of Death, Bologna.  McGrath was a small man but he made up for this deficiency in sheer guts.  He always had on hand a good supply of hand grenades and knew how to use them.  What follows is the story of his three pigeons---Miss Peggy, (AU-42-OCH 895) red check hen, Mater Brian (AU-42-5024-ACE) blue check cock, and Just Jerry (AU-42 * 2141) silver cock.
     A company of Gurkhas (extremely tough soldiers from Nepal) had fought its way to the top of the Hangman’s Hill on the night of our first assault on Cassino.  They were joined later by more Gurkhas and some British troops.  For nine days they stayed hiding between the rocks to escape the continuous German fire, mortar, and machine gun.  For nine days American airmen dropped food and water to these trapped men, much of it falling unfortunately into German hands.  The question was, how could these men be saved?  Three volunteers were called to penetrate the German lines.  They were an Englishman, Scotsman, and a Welshman.  Each took a different route leading to Hangman’s Hill with a haversack containing an American pigeon.  Their instructions were that if they were unable to reach their objective, they would each release their respective pigeons with a prepared message.
     The Scotsman could not reach his destination and was pinned down by machine-gun fire.  His bird, Master Brian, carried a prepared message.  Two hours later, Miss Peggy, the Englishman’s bird, returned stating he had reached his objective.  Twenty minutes later, Just Jerry, the Welshman’s bird, came back too, notifying us he had reached his objective.  After the arrival of these messages, a time had been set for a ‘lane’ of projectiles and smoke bombs to be laid down at night when the isolated Gurkhas should start evacuating.  They passed through that lane of protective shellfire, unbeknown to the Germans, and all the time the three pigeons were resting safely in their loft.  The situation was won, the men were saved, thanks to the pigeon angels, their saviors.”

The Campaign in Italy, September-December 1943:  The Allied Advance to the Gustav Line
Naples, September - October 1943: An American Ranger patrol advances up a hill under smoke in the mountains outside Naples.  Photo by Sergeant Frederick Wackett, No. 2 Army Film and Photographic Unit.  © IWM (NA 6999)

Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Eighth Army Carrier Pigeon Service in Italy, November 1944

The Eighth Army Carrier Pigeon Service in Italy, November 1944
Removing a message from a newly arrived pigeon at a mobile pigeon loft in the Rimini area.  Imperial War Museum, © IWM (TR 2575)

15 HQ Carrier Pigeon Section pigeons readied for use by USAAF and RAF, 1943

The Siege of Tobruk, April-November, 1941
Australian troops occupy a front line position at Tobruk, 13 August 1941. Between April and December 1941 the Tobruk garrison, comprising Australian, Polish, Indian and British troops, was besieged by Rommel's forces. It fell to the Germans after the battle of Gazala on 21 June 1942 but was recaptured five months later.  Photo by Lt. N. Smith, No. 1 Army Film and Photographic Unit.  © IWM (E 4792)

(c) Crown copyright images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, UK
#6, #7, #8, #9, #14, #15, #16

Royal Air Force:  Operations in the Middle East and North Africa, 1939-43
Armourers roll 500-lb MC bombs towards a Handley Page Halifax B Mark II Series of No. 462 Squadron RAAF, in a sandbagged revetment at Fayid, Egypt, before a night raid to Benghazi or Tobruk (the "Mail Run") is undertaken. The photograph was taken shortly after the formation of the Squadron when Nos. 10/227 and 76/462 Combined Squadrons were merged at Fayid on 7 September 1942. Although nominally an Australian unit, 462 Squadron contained a preponderance of British personnel at this time.  Photo by Royal Air Force official photographer.  © IWM (CM 4115)

War Pigeons: Tunisian Campaign, Lady Astor, 1943

Occupation of Bizerte
Before Bizerte fell to the Allied forces a good deal of resistance had to be overcome in the streets of the town. British, French and American troops fought battles in the streets all day long. Crouching beside some ruins, an American patrol awaits the order to move forward whilst one of their scouts moves forward on recce.  Photo by Sgt. Wackett, No. 2 Army  Film & Photographic Unit.   © IWM (NA 2735)

War Pigeons: Tunisian CampaignLady Astor, 1943

During the Tunisian campaign, the Allies forced the Axis Powers out of North Africa.  General Rommel retreated to Germany.  Colonel General Jurgin Von Arnim surrendered at Hammamet on May 12, 1943.
Many pigeons distinguished themselves throughout the Tunisian campaign.  Gordon H. Hayes served as a pigeoneer in Africa and Italy.  From his book The Pigeons That Went to War, this is Hayes’s account of Lady Astor.
     “A fresh supply of pigeons was needed by the combat mobile lofts as losses became greater.  Birds of a combat loft had a very short life span.  Many were captured by the Krauts when they were carried by the American patrol units into the enemy territory and no man’s land.  Artillery fire, flack from the bursting projectiles, and direct hits by Kraut rifle fire took a heavy toll of pigeons as they flew across the enemy lines.  It  was under these conditions that Sgt. Adam Sampson’s little hen, called Lady Astor, although wounded and almost dead, flew her heart out to deliver a message entrusted to her.  It is fitting that her saga be told now. 
     Lady Astor, band number AU-43 Sty 2249, was donated by the U.S. Signal Corps in the fall of 1942, by the members of the Steinway Racing Pigeon Club of New York City.  This little blue check hen was sent to the African theater of war and here she was given her first opportunity to do her part for the U.S. Signal Pigeon Corps.  She was sent nearly 60 miles from her home loft to a combat unit at the front.  The following day she was picked from a small four-bird container and an urgent message was attached to her leg.  She was then set free.
     Although it was raining heavily, she launched her flight back to her home loft.  Then, piercing the silence of the area, a few shots rang out.  Bullets riddled her breast.  She was torn from her eye to the keel of her breast, her leg was fractured, and half her feathers were torn from one wing.  This did not deter her.  She continued on her mission.  After reaching her destination, she alighted on the roof of the loft.  Exhausted now, and gasping, she fell to the ground.  Here she was picked up, the message was removed and delivered safely.  Immediately her wounds were dressed and she was gradually nursed back to life and perfect health.  She was not called upon again, for she had done her utmost in winning the war in North Africa, and her handlers were compassionate men. 
     There were no veterinarians in our Pigeon Platoon and all sewing up of the wounded pigeons was done by us.  We all knew how to sew them up, set their legs, and take care of any medical problems they had.  What Adam did with Lady Astor, perhaps a surgeon could not have done better.  As it was, she had at least twenty stitches, a broken leg, and open head wounds.  I saw her later at our breeding and staging area at Bizerte.  She looked great, with only a slight limp, which, in a way, made her look like a lady.”

Hayes doesn’t give the date of Lady Astor’s flight.  He tells her story amidst stories of other pigeons who made remarkable flights in early May.  She probably completed her mission sometime between May 3 and May 11, 1943.
The Campaign in North Africa, 1940-43
The Axis retreat and the Tunisian campaign 1942 - 1943: Remains of a German Mark II tank destroyed in the fighting for the Kasserine Gap.  Photo by Sergeant C. Bowman, No. 2 Army Film and Photographic Unit.  © IWM (NA 874)

Sunday, November 18, 2018

236 Operational messages delivered by Middle East Pigeon Service pigeons in October 1943

(c) Crown copyright images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, UK
Catalog numbers:  WO169/11222   #88, #93, #109, #110

Below are a 2 page report on the use of pigeons in Cyprus, Palestine, and Malta in October 1943 and a 1 page report on the use of pigeons in Sicily in September 1943 from the Middle East Pigeon Service War Diary.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Honoring a veteran and a pigeon historian, Frank Quatrocchi

Frank Quatrocchi served as a pigeoneer during the Korean War.  He donated this sketch of Kaiser, which he acquired while at Fort Monmouth.  To hear an interview with Frank, you can go to and enter Frank Quatrocchi, Korean War pigeoneer in the search box in the center top of the page or use this link