On April 16, 1919, the troop transport Ohioan docked at Hoboken, New Jersey. Among the various disembarking members of the American Expeditionary Forces was a small detachment of 21 men of the U.S. Army Signal Corp’s Pigeon Service Company No. 1. Pier-side newspaper reporters flocked around the officer in charge, Capt. John L. Carney, to ask about the exploits of the distinguished hero pigeons the Army chose to bring home. Foremost among the latter was an English-bred black check hen named Cher Ami. As Carney told the story, it was Cher Ami who on October 4, 1918 braved shot and shell to deliver a message from the besieged men of a composite force surrounded in the Charlevaux Ravine of the Argonne Forest, forever known as “The Lost Battalion.” Cher Ami arrived at her loft with the intact message from the force’s commander, Maj. Charles W. Whittlesey, albeit minus a right leg and with a wound clear across the chest cutting through the breast bone. Cher Ami survived her injuries and Whittlesey’s message provided the exact position of his force back to the regimental and divisional headquarters, information which contributed to the eventual relief of the men.
Cher Ami’s story remains legendary to this day, a testament to the bravery of animals in war. The story, although the records are uncertain if Cher Ami or another pigeon delivered Whittlesey’s message, often obscures the purposes underlying the use of homing pigeons by the U.S. Army. From 1917 to 1957, the Signal Corps maintained pigeon breeding and training facilities, and birds saw service in World War II and Korea. When the pigeon service disbanded in 1957, the Army contended that advances in electronic communications rendered the peacetime maintenance of pigeon breeding and training facilities unnecessary. The remaining pigeons were sold at auction, with a select few being donated to zoos around the nation. Today the use of homing pigeons is viewed as novelty, a quirky vignette of the early 20th century battlefield.
Over 60 years later, the military homing pigeon warrants reexamination. The electromagnetic spectrum’s influence extends throughout the systems and operations of the battlespace into the fabric of civil society. Offensive and defensive operations in the cyber space realm, combined with kinetic strikes on air, land, sea, or space-based infrastructure, could potentially disable or severely damage entire communication or power grids. Adversaries with electronic warfare dominance would then be positioned to control the battlespace and restrict the options presented to American or allied commanders. Reflecting on electronic warfare’s potential, some communications between the front lines of the battlefield and rear echelon command and control elements may need to rest on the legs or back of a feathered messenger when a human runner or more visible vehicle or aircraft may prove too vulnerable to interception or destruction. READ MORE...
With over 13,000 members internationally, the Association of Old Crows is an organization for individuals who have common interests in Electronic Warfare (EW), Electromagnetic Spectrum Management Operations, Cyber Electromagnetic Activities (CEMA), Information Operations (IO), and other information related capabilities. The Association of Old Crows provides a means of connecting members and organizations nationally and internationally across government, defense, industry, and academia to promote the exchange of ideas and information, and provides a platform to recognize advances and contributions in these fields.