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U.K. mulled using pigeons for bio-warfare

Britain considered training pigeons to deliver biological weapons after World War Two but decided the birds had outlived their usefulness in battle, government files released on Friday show.
/ Source: Reuters

Britain considered training pigeons to deliver biological weapons after World War Two but decided the birds had outlived their usefulness in battle, government files released on Friday show.

Homing pigeons carried vital messages in wartime, and the Pigeon Policy Committee of the day discussed training them to undertake ever more daring tasks.

“We can now train pigeons to ’home’ to any object on the ground when air-released in the vicinity... Bacteria might be delivered accurately to a target by this means,” the Head of the Air Ministry Pigeon Section Lea Rayner said in a 1945 report.

“With the latest developments of explosives and bacterial science I suggest that this possibility should be closely investigated and watched.”

“A thousand pigeons, each with a two-ounce explosive capsule, landed at intervals on a specific target might be a seriously inconvenient surprise.”

But Rayner’s enthusiasm was not shared by other committee members and in 1948 the armed services said they had no further interest in pigeons.

The secret services however thought anti-British forces would continue to communicate with each other via pigeons and asked a civilian pigeon fancier to keep 100 birds for MI5 to use to prepare countermeasures, but they abandoned that scheme in 1950.

Britain used around 250,000 pigeons to carry messages in World War Two and 32 of the birds received the Dickin Medal, the highest award of valor for animals.