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‘Fowl-Minded’ Unit Gives Hitler ‘The Bird’

  • Published
  • By Daniel Knickrehm
  • Pope Historian
Pope has been involved with a lot of firsts in history. One particular Pope Field first came in the form of the 1306th Carrier Pigeon Company Aviation in 1943. The base newspaper at the time, the Pope Field Runway, reported that the 1306th was the first pigeon company attached to the Air Force. In the beginning of the unit's existence, there were about 5,000 pigeons. The pigeoneers, the men who handled the pigeons, claimed the pigeons were much like the typical G.I.: "The birds are notorious gold-bricks, fake on sick call, overeat, play around with the gals and, unless properly disciplined, attempt an occasional AWOL." Prior to the activation of the 1306th, homing pigeons were effectively used. WWI Pilots in balloons used pigeons to relay information about enemy troop locations back to higher headquarters. Ground troops took homing pigeons along with them on attacks so they could also inform their superiors about important developments on the ground. Unreliable radio communications meant that sometimes pigeons were the only contact units had with headquarters. In 1943 the Army Air Corps had big plans for the birds in the fight against Hitler's armies. The Runway suggests "should a bomber spend its striking power against a submarine pack and sight another group of U-boats elsewhere, a homing pigeon, released at sea, could carry this information back to the mainland. Or, if a plane should be forced down at sea, a pigeon might prove the only means by which the news could be transmitted and a rescue effected." Although the comment above about the similarities between the typical G.I. and carrier pigeons is comical, the pigeons and modern Airmen have quite a bit in common. For instance, 67 percent of the Army's 54,000 total pigeons deployed to the WWII war zone overseas. Health concerns for a frequently sick pigeon force led handlers to understand that balanced and good feeding practices were essential to the well being of the signal pigeons and had a direct bearing on proficiency." Even though there are many similarities between the pigeons and the modern Airman, some important distinctions stand out. For example, none of the pigeons from the 1306th deployed. Medical treatment was significantly different as well. From August 1943 to August 1944, of the average 3,317 pigeons stationed at Pope, there were 4,036 cases of illness of which 1,390 were admitted to the hospital with the result that 738 of those either dying or being destroyed.