Pigeons also found a service at the front. But, of course, pigeons were not used to attack the enemy or as assistants in combat, but to deliver urgent messages and orders or for reconnaissance. One of the biggest uses of pigeons was in World War I. When war for the first time in history took on an all-out character, unit commanders needed to clearly coordinate their actions many times a day – this is where the feathered ones came to the rescue. Some of them, like a pigeon named Cher Ami, made history.
On October 3, 1918, 500 soldiers of the 77th Infantry Division made a breakthrough deep into enemy territory, where they were surrounded after a long battle. The soldiers had four carrier pigeons in reserve. The commander decided to send one bird to headquarters requesting artillery support, but due to unfamiliarity with the terrain, the message conveyed the wrong coordinates for the unit. Soon the artillery began firing at the Allies by mistake – the unit lost half of its personnel due to friendly fire.
The Americans sent two more pigeons to headquarters with the corrected coordinates. As soon as the soldiers saw a bird in the sky they all started shooting at it with their rifles. And so it happened this time: when the Germans saw two birds, they fired at them and managed to kill them. The encircled were left with one last chance – the pigeon with the French name Cher Ami. The bird had already made more than a dozen sorties and brought important information in time, so the soldiers considered it lucky.
As soon as Cher Ami took to the air, the enemy opened heavy fire on her: the bullets hit the animal in the chest, tore off a leg and took out an eye. But by some miracle the winged liaison managed to stay in the air and make it through the German positions. A few hours later the artillery fell silent – the dove had once again accomplished its mission. And the Allies, who came to their aid, helped the encircled men to break through and return to their own territory – 194 soldiers owed their lives to the little bird.
At this time, doctors in the hospital were fighting for Sher Ami’s life. To the soldiers’ delight, they managed to save her, and the dove quickly became a national hero. Due to her exploits and the many successful flights (12 reports were sent during the “Verdno Massacre”, one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War), Cher Ami was awarded the Military Cross, the French state military award.
A year later the bird died of natural causes. Its carcass was stuffed and is now preserved at the Smithsonian Institute in the United States.