MAKICHUK: Yes, pigeons and paradogs took part in D-Day

A paradog awaits takeoff. Look out for further D-Day commentary from Dave Makichuk tomorrow, June 6.
A paradog awaits takeoff. Look out for further D-Day commentary from Dave Makichuk tomorrow, June 6.Warfare History Network

Did you know that animals also served on Juno Beach?

Before the days of smartphones, tweets and CNN, pigeons actually delivered messages.

Soldiers would place important messages inside tiny containers attached to the pigeons’ legs and the pigeons would fly away and deliver the messages — flying through gunfire and dodging birds of prey.

Dogs were trained as “paradogs” to jump out of airplanes and parachute onto the beach to help the soldiers. They even wore their own parachutes.

They were also taught to get used to wartime conditions, like aircraft propellers and loud noises, and trained to identify the smell of explosives.

The dogs flew from England to France with British and Canadian soldiers the night before D-Day.

According to Canadian government archives, the first news of the soldiers landing successfully at Juno Beach was carried by Gustav, a homing pigeon with the Royal Armed Forces.

He flew nearly 250 kilometres from the beach in France, right across the English Channel in 5 hours and 16 minutes to his loft at the soldiers’ headquarters!

Another animal, a dog named Bing, also served at Juno Beach on D-Day.

The “paradog” jumped from the plane with his handler and was trained to locate the enemy and protect the soldiers.

The efforts of these brave animals earned them each the PDSA Dickin Medal. The award is considered the animal version of the Victoria Cross.

Named after the veterinary charity’s founder, it has been awarded 75 times since it was founded in 1943.

Recipients comprise 38 dogs, 32 pigeons, four horses and one cat.

Jan McLoughlin, the director general of the PDSA, expressed hope that on the 80th anniversary of D-Day, tales of gallantry would garner attention for the work of animals in conflict.

“Recipients of these medals hailed from the most dangerous war zones and D-Day was certainly one of them,” she told the PA news agency.

Gustav the pigeon is awarded a medal for gallantry.
Gustav the pigeon is awarded a medal for gallantry.File photo

Gustav received the Dickin Medal on September 1 1944 with the citation: “For delivering the first message from the Normandy Beaches from a ship off the beachhead while serving with the RAF on June 6, 1944.”

He was one of six carrier pigeons given to Reuters by the RAF to cover the D-Day landings.

Another pigeon named "The Duke" was awarded the Dickin Medal on January 8 1947, with the citation: “For being the first bird to arrive with a message from paratroopers of 21st Army Group behind enemy lines on D-Day.”

Encouraging a dog to jump out of an aeroplane at several thousand feet was not an easy job.

However, a routine was developed with Ranee, the only female paradog recruit in the team.

Taking a lump of meat weighing two-pounds in his pocket, the trainer managed to keep Ranee’s attention the entire time.

Without hesitating for a second Ranee followed the trainer out of the ‘plane and even wagged her tail as she descended!

First of all the dogs practised ‘jumping’ from the fuselage of a plane on the ground and then, when they got the hang of that, they took to the air. Jump. Land. Eat.

That was the routine and with every jump the dogs made they appeared to enjoy it more, officials said.

The idea had started as an experiment, but Bing and his canine colleagues had made the dream of the air dog become a reality.

The "paradogs" of the 13th Parachute Battalion Sniper Recce Platoon, would accompany the Airborne Divisions — the first to land in occupied France on D-Day.

Flying over the channel in the belly of a Dakota they would parachute in to act as scouts and patrol dogs, clearing the way and warning of the presence of German soldiers.

Bing was still recovering from the shrapnel wounds he had sustained in the mortar attack but Operation Overlord wasn’t over and this time it was Bing’s skill as a mine detection dog that was in demand.

For the next few weeks he joined No 1 Dog Platoon the Royal Engineers’ team of dogs sniffing out deadly "shoe mines" which had been laid in their thousands by enemy troops during their occupation of the town of Bayeux.

By September the D-Day dogs were heading home and, for the next six-months would call the quarantine kennels in Cheshire their home. Parting from their handlers was emotional — they had faced death together and, somehow, survived.

Bing, an Alsatian Collie cross, lived out the rest of his life in peace back home in Leicester. When he died he was laid to rest in the PDSA Animal Cemetery in Ilford where his funeral was conducted with full military honours.

His inscription on his headstone honours his wartime heroism. Bing’s exploits are still honoured by the Parachute Regiment today.

Their memorial to him bears the inscription: “Rest in peace brave soldier and companion.”

— with files from

Bing receives his Dickin medal.
Bing receives his Dickin medal.The Airborne Assault Museum IWM, Duxford

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