It seems that the strategic weight of specially bred pigeons is much higher than I thought at first, based on the number of pigeons used and the effort to stop them. (In WW2 Germans even trained falcons to hunt pigeons, so there was a whole side-battlefield of birds). Wikipedia mentions the pigeons often, but doesn't really show a lot of details or links. I thought they were mainly used by secret services, but the French troops even used mobile pigeon coops.

So my question is, how often were pigeons used in WW1&2? The Germans seem to have learned from WW1 and trained falcons. I would be interested in knowing what kind of information (situation reports from the front, secret agent reports, are there some photos/protocols) was carried by pigeons and on what time scales this was done (hours, days). What average distance did these pigeons have to fly?

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    – Luke_0
    Commented Nov 6, 2012 at 14:20
  • @Steven Drennon BF Skinner trained pigeons to direct homing missiles around WW2 I think - his demonstrations were very effective, but the commissioning office of the US Army laughed the project off. Not directly relevant to your question as the crow flies, but perhaps circuitous enough for a pigeon? Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 22:09

1 Answer 1


The German Wikipedia article lists the following numbers (most likely taken from Salvador Bofarull's book "Pigeon mail through history" which I couldn't find online, the numbers are confirmed in a bunch of other places however):

  • Estimated 100,000 homing pigeons used during WWI, with a success rate of 95% (remarkably reliable).
  • US Army had 54,000 homing pigeons during WW2 in the US Army Pigeon Service.
  • The British army had 250,000 homing pigeons during WW2.

I couldn't find any numbers for the Soviet army, merely the continuously repeated statement of unclear origin mentioning 15,000 delivered messages. Compared to the numbers above this would mean that the Soviet army barely used homing pigeons. I also couldn't find evidence for any significant use of homing pigeons by the German army in WW2.

You can see how the pigeons were used by looking at the "celebrities":

Btw, it seems that the use of falcons by Germans is not confirmed and likely didn't happen. Pigeons were simply shot, both in WWI and WW2. Also, the "Brieftaubenverordnung" of 20th September 1940 banned homing pigeons in the occupied territories of Belgium and France.

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