July 1, 2014

All Hail The Hero Pigeon

Carrier pigeon

As in any war, being able to transmit messages is crucial--how else is one to transmit orders and organize the troops so that they move according to plan? During World War I, these messages were transmitted in several ways, including via wire (telephone/telegraph lines). But putting up those lines was a very dangerous job, and sometimes impossible. So sometimes a field commander would carry carrier pigeons with him as well. The pigeon, carrying the message in a small capsule on one of its legs, would fly back to its home coop behind the lines. Upon arrival, the wires in the coop would sound a bell, signaling that a new message had arrived.

Cher Ami was one such pigeon during WWI.

On October 3, 1918, Major Whittlesey and more than 500 men from the Liberty Division (since most men were from New York) were trapped on the side of a hill, surrounded by enemy soldiers. The next day, only 200 men were left alive. Major Whittlesey sent out several pigeons for aid. The next day, the American Artillery tried to save them by firing hundreds of big artillery rounds into the ravine where the Liberty Division was stuck...without knowing the American soldiers' exact location and thereby dropping big shells right on top of them.
So Major Whittlesey sent out his last remaining pigeon, Cher Ami, into the fray, with a single note:

We are along the road parallel to 276.4.
Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us.
For heaven's sake, stop it.

Croix de guerre
The little bird flew through the shots (for the Germans saw it take flight and wanted to prevent it from reaching its destination) and made it home, some 25 miles away, in 25 minutes, to deliver his message. The soldier who went to fetch the message found Cher Ami had been shot through his breast leaving a hole the size of a quarter behind, blinded in one eye, and, attached to his almost entirely severed leg, was the message.

Thanks to Cher Ami, 194 men were saved that day. The medics were hard to put him back together, and the French honored him with the Croix de Guerre and, when he was better, he was brought back to the US.



  1. Nice story. For really funny stuff I recommend the following link:


    It presents "A Standard for the Transmission of IP Datagrams on Avian Carriers"

  2. Ha! I love how many carriers can be used with little interference, *except in spring*!
    You think every messenger pigeon comes with these instructions? :)

  3. Yes, I wonder about the spring too. I like the "There is persistent delivery retry, until the carrier drops" bit the best

    1. At which point there's a 404 Error and the pigeon has to reboot? :)