Image showing Gustav, the RAF pigeon in a handler's hands

Tuesday 15th October 2019

Meet Gustav. The Imperial War Museum shares the story of Gustav the pigeon, who was one of the RAF’s messenger pigeons during the Second World War and one of six birds given to Reuters news correspondent Montagu Taylor ahead of D-Day.

On 6 June 1944, Gustav carried back the first news from the D-Day landings in Normandy.

Flying against a 50 miles an hour head wind, he landed in his loft on a south coast Coastal Command Station at 1.46pm.

He flew more than 150 miles – from the northern coast of France to his loft near Portsmouth – in just over five hours to deliver this message:

‘We are just 20 miles or so off the beaches. First assault troops landed 0750. Signal says no interference from enemy gunfire on beach…Steaming steadily in formation. Lightnings, typhoons, fortresses crossing since 0545. No enemy aircraft seen’.

Gustav was awarded the Dickin Medal in September 1944. He is one of 32 pigeons – more than any other species – to receive the award.

The PDSA Dickin Medal is the highest award any animal can receive whilst serving in military conflict. It is recognised worldwide as the animals’ Victoria Cross.

During the Second World War, pigeons were widely used for carrying messages by the Army, the RAF and the Civil Defence Services.

RAF aircrew carried homing pigeons on board their aircraft so that if they had to ditch in the sea, the pigeon could fly back to base with their location. 

Even during the First World War, pigeons were so vital to communication that anyone caught ‘killing, wounding or molesting’ a pigeon could be imprisoned or fined. 

Animals in Conflict

Come along during 19-20 October from 11 am – 4 pm (drop in) at IWM London. A free event.

Join the IWM London for an interactive storytelling adventure all about animals!

From US Marine search dog Lucca to Wojtek the bear. Learn about the world-famous PDSA Dickin Medal and see what it takes for an animal to be considered a hero.

Imperial War Memorial logo

Imagery: © IWM

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