|OFFICE OF MEDICAL HISTORY AMEDD REGIMENT AMEDD MUSEUM|
HISTORY OF THE OFFICE OF MEDICAL HISTORY
Army Signal Pigeons
The veterinary service for Army signal pigeons was an innovation of World War II, beginning in 1941 when a Veterinary Corps officer was assigned to the Fort Monmouth, N.J., pigeon-breeding and training center.1 Signal pigeons for the Army were procured, bred, trained, and issued under the supervision of the Pigeon Service, an element of the Army's Signal Corps (1, 2, 3). These activities may be compared with those of the Quartermaster Corps Remount Service which was concerned with the supply of horses, mules, and dogs; they had their beginning in World War I when pigeons were authorized for use as a means of communication in the U.S. Army (4).
Seemingly, the earliest reference to any kind of veterinary service for pigeons in the Army concerned Medical Department supplies (5). During August 1922, the Veterinary Division, Surgeon General's Office, developed a list of equipment and certain medicines (including disinfectants) which could be used by Pigeon Service personnel to maintain loft sanitation and to control external parasites. Sodium fluoride was suggested for the control of pigeon lice. However, medicines for internal use or biologicals were unlisted for the expressed reason that "it is better to destroy a sick bird than to treat it unless a qualified veterinarian is available." Two years later, a veterinary officer, in an article on pigeons that appeared in the Army Veterinary Bulletin, suggested that the care and management of signal pigeons may "become another more or less important development of army veterinary activity" (6). This became true after 17 years when at least 17 Veterinary Corps officers could be identified with the Signal Corps pigeon organizations and units.
SIGNAL PIGEON PROCUREMENT
The beginning of World War II found the Army's pigeon center located at Fort Monmouth where it had been since 1919 when the latter-then named Camp Alfred Vail-began a program for developing the type of pigeon most suitable for military purposes (7) During 1942 this center, including its veterinary personnel which had just joined, moved to Camp Crowder, Mo., where it remained until after V-J Day when it was reestablished at Fort Monmouth. By this date, the Army Veterinary Service had become well established in the Signal Corps activities related to pigeons in the Zone of Interior (8, 9).
FIGURE 72.-Pigeoneers cooperating with Veterinary Corps officers to maintain healthy birds. The military utilization of pigeons depended on their health and freedom from disease. Birds were developed as "night fliers," also as two-way birds (that is, fly one way for water and return home for food).
Pigeons for the Army were procured by in-service breeding and the acceptance of voluntary donations (fig. 72). An estimated 40,000 pigeons were received from American pigeon breeders, fanciers, and owners during the war (10); in fact, an Army Pigeon Service Agency, with headquarters in Philadelphia, Pa., was organized and operated for this purpose (11). In the Central Pacific Area, where civilian owners experienced wartime shortages of feeding grains and were placed under restrictions relating to the ownership of pigeons in areas of military operations, hundreds of pigeons were obtained locally. Thousands of other pigeons were procured from British sources and later from a Belgian fanciers' organization. In the European theater large numbers of captured pigeons were used by Signal Corps units with the field armies; only a few Japanese Army pigeons were captured in the Pacific areas.
PIGEON CARE AND MANAGEMENT
During World War II, as the Army's pigeon strength rose to 54,000 birds (10), the objectives of the Army Veterinary Service concerned with signal pigeons became the protection of pigeon health, the preservation of their physical efficiency, and the safeguard against introducing or disseminating
pigeonborne diseases affecting other animals and the human being. These objectives were obtained by furnishing professional services and supervisory assistance in the care, feeding, housing, and transporting of pigeons; conducting laboratory diagnostic and investigative studies on pigeon diseases; establishing controls against the diseases of pigeons by prophylactic inoculations and quarantine procedures; inspecting and reporting on factors having a bearing on pigeon health; and giving technical assistance in the training of pigeoneers (pigeon handlers). Although 36,000 pigeons were deployed overseas, the foregoing veterinary services were not practiced uniformly in all of the theaters and oversea areas because of the newness in the concept of military veterinary medicine for the Army Pigeon Service. However, when practiced, the Army Veterinary Service contributed materially to the success of signal pigeon deployment.
Aside from the actual treatment of disabled pigeons, providing veterinary instructional services for pigeoneers who were in training was an effective means of introducing military veterinary medicine into the Army Pigeon Service. The 8- or 9-week mobilization training program that was used in the Army Service Forces Signal Corps training center at Camp Crowder included 25 hours of instruction on veterinary subjects (12, 13). In an evaluation of the success of this instruction, it seems probable that the keen interest shown in scientific zootechnics and veterinary medicine was balanced by the layman's views or preconceptions on these matters by the pigeoneer trainees, most of whom were pigeon breeders or fanciers in civil life but had never been in contact with a veterinarian. Unfortunately, the veterinary instructional services were handicapped at the start due to the fact that the Army's training text-Technical Manual 11-410, dated 10 September 1940-was neither accurate nor up to date in its discussions on pigeon diseases and their control. Pigeon-pox vaccine, for example-discovered in the early thirties-was not mentioned, and neither was salmonellosis (or pigeon paratyphoid) which was the most devastating disease of signal pigeons during World War II. The situation was ameliorated by Veterinary Corps officers to the extent that lecture notes were prepared which were published by the Signal Corps at a later date (14, 15), these then being incorporated into the 1 January 1945 revision of the Technical Manual, The Homing Pigeon.
The next event of importance in the advancement of veterinary service for Army signal pigeons came in the spring of 1942 when the field unit-the Signal Pigeon Company-was authorized its own organic veterinary detachment. However, the most effective means of insuring that good zootechnics was being practiced in these units-whether in the Zone of Interior or overseas-was the use of a system of veterinary inspection and reporting. Most frequently, these reports of inspections were rendered in letter form as a recurring monthly sanitary report (16), but others were submitted as inclosures to those report forms prescribed by the Army for pigeon company commanders. No veterinary reports on individual pigeons were maintained.
Although there were a number of factors of interest to the Army Veterinary Service bearing on the health of signal pigeons, the more common ones included their feed supply and housing. A balanced feed and good feeding practices were essential to the well being of the signal pigeons and had a direct bearing on their homing proficiency (fig. 73). The feed was procured in the Zone of Interior by the Signal Corps; unfortunately, large quantities of it, packed in burlap bags, were found deteriorated or unusable after arrival in the oversea theaters (17, 18). The bags were torn by rough handling or were readily eaten into by rodents, and the grain contents became damp, moldy, or vermin infested. Certain grain components of the feed mixtures were damaged more often than others, but any large-scale salvage effort to remove the damaged grains could not be conducted without causing an imbalance of the feed's nutritive values. Pigeon feed which was fumigated and packed in hermetically sealed tin containers was suggested and arrived overseas during the late period of the war. The apparent successes of the 281st Signal Pigeon Company, at Fort George G. Meade, Md., in the treatment of sick pigeons by administering vitamins-suggestive of vitamin deficiency in the regular pigeon feed supply-led to authorization of quarterly Medical Department allowances of 45,000 multivitamin capsules for each pigeon company (19).
FIGURE 74.-Pigeon lofts were specially designed in adaptation to the climatic environs in the Hawaiian Islands. The original loft with four sides closed, so commonly recommended for use in the United States, caused respiratory illnesses in the birds when they first arrived. Almost no respiratory diseases occurred after this new type of wellventilated loft was put into use.
Proper housing for signal pigeons was a problem, particularly in the oversea theaters. Though mobile lofts of standard design accompanied the units arriving from the Zone of Interior, some were remodeled to meet the variable climatic conditions which were encountered in the Central Pacific Area (20), and open-front lofts were constructed (fig. 74). Emphasis was placed on having lofts which were exposed to sunlight, dry, and draft-free, and on keeping the lofts in a good state of sanitation. Usually, the loft facilities were adequate in capacity or the number of pigeons being used, although temporary shortages arose when breeding was undertaken. In an exceptional instance, the 277th Signal Pigeon Company, arriving at Périers, France (in the European theater), during August 1944, constructed open aviaries to augment its regular loft facilities. However, at the time of the seasonal rains, it experienced sickness in 2,500 of its 3,500 pigeons.
The diseases and injuries of signal pigeons were not recorded with the same degree of regularity as were those of Army horses and mules, and dogs. From the reports that could be studied, losses on account of disease and injury were about one-half less than the number of pigeons which were lost in training and operational flying. In the Zone of Interior, at Pope Field, N.C., the
1306th Signal Pigeon Company (Aviation), with an end-of-month strength averaging 3,317 pigeons during the period from April 1943 through August 1944, the veterinary losses were 922 pigeons, as contrasted with in-flight losses of 1,102 (21, 22). In the same unit, but for the period from August 1943 through August 1944, the company veterinarian treated 4,036 cases, admitting 1,390 of these into the veterinary hospital loft where 738 pigeons died or were destroyed. It was apparent that the veterinary losses increased following the reception of replacement pigeons into these units. Wherever possible, particularly at the pigeon-breeding and replacement centers, and at the headquarters area of units and organizations, veterinary lofts and isolation (or quarantine) facilities were established.
The specific infectious diseases causing the most losses and inefficiency of signal pigeons during World War II were pigeon pox, salmonellosis, and trichomoniasis ("canker"). The first-named disease-encountered in all parts of the world-was readily controlled by prophylactic vaccinations of the pigeons each year.
Pigeon-pox vaccination programs were undertaken first by the Pigeon Service in some areas of the Zone of Interior in 1941 (23) and were developed later by the Army Veterinary Service in the Central Pacific Area and then in the European theater.
Trichomoniasis and salmonellosis, however, could not be as well controlled and thus, unlike pigeon pox, caused considerable inefficiency and direct loss of the affected pigeons. Trichomoniasis-a protozoan disease-was seen as a low-grade infection, mostly involving the squabs (or young pigeons), and, although amenable to treatment, the course of treatment, lasting up to 4 weeks, resulted in the loss of training time (23, 24).
Salmonellosis-a bacterial infection-presented another kind of problem, frequently causing permanent disability (such as lameness and "wing droop"). It was the leading cause of pigeon mortality (including deaths and destructions to control the disease) in many units. For example, the 280th Signal Pigeon Company at Camp Claiborne, La., lost 200 pigeons in a 7-month period beginning December 1942 (23). Another 141 salmonellosis-infected pigeons were lost by the 1306th Signal Pigeon Company (Aviation) in the period from April through August 1944 (22). These losses were 40.2 percent of the total of 351 pigeons which had died or were destroyed because of diseases and injuries. This disease was investigated by veterinary laboratories of the Medical Department and by a few civilian agencies, including the American Salmonella Center, Lexington, Ky., with the view to identifying the salmonella organism, improving diagnostic methods, and possibly developing a protective vaccine. No real advances were made, however, and the controls against the disease included emphasis on loft sanitation and the removal of pigeons which showed clinical symptoms or seemed to be carriers of the disease (as might be indicated in a review of the breeding records). Salmonellosis in pigeons
gained some respect as a potential threat to troop health,2 but no proved cases of the disease seemed to have been reported among Army pigeoneers during the war (17).
Other pigeon diseases included hexamitiasis-a protozoan disease-which was reported in 87 pigeons among a shipment received at Pope Field from Camp Crowder in early 1944 (22); a Haemoproteus infection, sometimes called pigeon malaria,3 in the 279th Signal Combat Platoon while at station in the Hawaiian Islands (in the Central Pacific Area) (24); and an enzootic of toxoplasmosis in the Panama Canal Department that was investigated by the Gorgas Memorial Laboratory (25). Probably more important than these were the few diseases which could be carried by the pigeon to other animals or to troops. These were equine encephalomyelitis,4 foot-and-mouth disease,5 and ornithosis; however, there were no reports of the diseases being introduced or spread by Army signal pigeons during World War II.
For their deployment in the oversea theaters, Army signal pigeons were incorporated into a specialized unit-the Signal Pigeon Company. While such type units have been described in War Department tables of organization since 1918, it was not until after April 1942 that this field unit included personnel space authorizations for an organic veterinary detachment. The latter comprised a Veterinary Corps officer in the grade of 1st lieutenant or captain and one enlisted technician (26 through 31). The company unit could be subdivided into three combat platoons, each with 1,500 pigeons; in fact, a few separate platoons with attached veterinary personnel were deployed. Later, equipment tables were formulated for the pigeon company veterinary service, including a number of needed medicines and surgical instruments (32, 33).
Approximately 12 pigeon units were activated during the war including the 829th Signal Pigeon Service Company, the 829th Signal Pigeon Replacement Company, and the 1306th and 1310th Signal Pigeon Companies (Aviation)-the latter being Army Air Forces units located at Pope Field, and at Baker Field, Calif. These, however, and another-the 283d Signal Pigeon Company-were not sent overseas. The following companies were deployed to the European theater: The 277th (originally designated the 1307th), the 278th (successor to the original 1308th), the 282d, the 284th (successor to the 1309th), the 285th (successor to the 1311th), and the 280th's 2d Platoon. The
280th Signal Pigeon Company was activated on 1 June 1941, originally as the 2d Pigeon Company, at Camp Claiborne; the unit, less its 2d Platoon which was sent during September 1942 to the European theater, was deployed into the China-Burma-India theater (in June 1944). The 279th Signal Pigeon Company (less its 3d Platoon) was deployed to the Central Pacific Area and then was reorganized during July 1944 as the 279th Signal Pigeon Combat Platoon; the 1st Combat Platoon component of the 281st Signal Pigeon Company was sent from station at Fort George G. Meade to the Southwest Pacific Area, and the parent company in the Zone of Interior was soon inactivated (during August 1944). Provisional pigeon organizations and detachments also were established, or were received from the Zone of Interior, in the Mediterranean theater (including the 209th Signal Pigeon Company and the Provisional 6681st Signal Corps Pigeon Company), on New Caledonia (in the South Pacific Area), at Ladd Field (in the Alaskan Department), and in the Caribbean Defense Command (including the original Panama Canal Department). The last-named group, however, had no attached veterinary personnel. Of these theaters, the Central Pacific Area and the European theater saw the greatest advances in the veterinary services for signal pigeons-handicapped only to a slight degree in that the pigeons of each company unit were widely scattered and the professional requirements were of a highlyspecialized nature.
Central Pacific Area
In the Central Pacific Area, veterinary service for signal pigeons began in July 1942, when component elements of the 279th Signal Pigeon Company, with 1,920 birds, arrived from the Zone of Interior (fig. 75) (34). A pigeon base and breeding center was established at Fort Shafter, T.H., wherefrom 27 tactical lofts were soon set up on all the Hawaiian Islands: 6 on Oahu, 10 on Hawaii, 5 on Kauai, 4 on Maui, and 1 each on Molokai and Lanai. Veterinary service was furnished by the Veterinary General Hospital, Fort Armstrong, Oahu, T.H., and by the district or service command veterinarians on the other island bases. During the fall of 1942, a vaccination program against pigeon pox was started-birds as young as 2 to 3 weeks of age were vaccinated, and all pigeons were vaccinated prior to their transshipment from the Hawaiian Island group (18, 20). Salmonellosis, originally referred to as "lameness" or "wing droop," occurred quite regularly and was controlled by the destruction of those pigeons showing clinical symptoms. The pigeon strength in the Central Pacific Area was 2,278 as of December 1942, and 3,426 as of December 1943. During the next year, the pigeon company was reorganized and redesignated as the 279th Signal Pigeon Combat Platoon, with 1,365 birds as of December 1944. Approximately 2,300 pigeons which were surplus to the new unit were shipped during September 1944 to the Southwest Pacific Area and the Zone of Interior. In December, the signal platoon was assigned to the Tenth U.S. Army and subsequently was deployed to Okinawa. Before the last move, a Veterinary Corps officer was assigned to this unit.
FIGURE 75.-Lofts of the 279th Signal Pigeon Company were set up on all the islands of the Hawaiian group. District veterinarians on Hawaii, Maui, Molokai-Lanai, and Kauai rendered technical care and treatment. The base camp, located on Oahu, was visited daily by a veterinary officer from the Veterinary General Hospital. No serious communicable diseases ever appeared in any of the lofts.
The deployment of the 279th Signal Pigeon Combat Platoon to Okinawa brought into the Southwest Pacific Area the second such unit. The other was the 1st Combat Platoon, 281st Signal Pigeon Company, complete with its own veterinary detachment. This unit saw service in the Philippine operations.
In the European theater, the beginning of Army Veterinary Service with signal pigeons began in the fall of 1942 with the arrival of the 2d Platoon, 280th Signal Pigeon Company, with 1,391 pigeons from the Zone of Interior (35, 36, 37). The latter's arrival brought two veterinary problems: First, 20 percent of the pigeons were sick with colds, "rattles," and lameness; and second, the British military medical services were questioning the likelihood of these pigeons having and introducing ornithosis into the United Kingdom (38, 39, 40, 41). With regard to ornithosis, the British services made reference to new reports of the discovery of ornithosis among the pigeon popula
FIGURE 76.-Examination and treatment of Army pigeons at the Signal Pigeon Center, Tidworth, England. This was a part of the European theater's veterinary program to obtain and maintain an efficient Army Pigeon Service in the armies and divisions in continental Europe.
tion in the United States and suggested that no medical problems would arise if the Army would obtain its pigeons locally. Veterinary quarantine procedures and research investigations by the British National Institute of Medical Research and the U.S. Army General Medical Laboratory A (predecessor to the 1st Medical General Laboratory) failed to show ornithosis infection; later, the civilian pigeon population in the United Kingdom was found to be infected with the disease. In time, the 2d Platoon, 280th Signal Pigeon Company, established and maintained a pigeon-breeding and replacement center at Tidworth, Eng., as an element of the theater's services of supply organization (fig. 76). It furnished birds to the several pigeon companies which were deployed with the armies on the European Continent. Veterinary service was provided to the pigeon center by Veterinary Corps officers on a part-time duty, status-a situation that was criticized by the tactical pigeon companies who, having full-time assigned veterinary personnel, at times received unsatisfac-
tory shipments of replacement birds (42). For example, a program of protective vaccination against pigeon pox-though considered first within the European theater during the summer of 1944-was originally limited to use only in the tactical pigeon companies in the instance of a threatening enzootic (43, 44). In January 1945, however, the pigeon-breeding base in England began to vaccinate all replacement pigeons before shipment to the European Continent; during that month alone, 7,809 pigeons were vaccinated.
Following V-E Day, the tactical pigeon companies were required to turn in their pigeons to the 285th Signal Pigeon Company which released them to a British pigeon depot at Montoire-sur-le-loire, France; others were sent to the United Kingdom (42). As of June 1945, the pigeon-breeding and replacement center at Tidworth had 14,000 pigeons, these soon being released to the British (45). The forementioned company, departing during November and December 1945 from the European theater (via England), returned to the Zone of Interior with approximately 1,000 pigeons.