Saturday, July 23, 2011

Homing Pigeons Are Uniquely Equipped

Homing pigeons can find their way home from more than 300 miles away and at speeds of 60 miles per hour, said Mindy Rosewitz, curator at the U.S. Army Communications Electronics Museum in Fort Monmouth, N.J., which closed to the public May 30. Magnetic fluid behind their ears and noses guides the birds based on the magnetic poles. Sometimes storms will throw them off track, or radio waves in cable towers confuse their sense of direction. But generally, the pigeons find their way home. 

More at:

Alison Bryant in the July 12, 2011 Washington Post

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Signal Pigeon Company, World War II

About a dozen pigeon units were activated during World War II. The 278th Signal Pigeon Company (originally designated as the 1308th) was deployed to Europe along with the 277th (1307th), the 282nd, the 284th (1309th), the 285th (1311th), and the 280th 2nd Platoon. This is the story of the 278th.  

Timeline: 278th Signal Company and 1308th Signal Pigeon Company

~ February 12, 1943: Constituted in the Army of the United States as the 1308th Signal Pigeon Company.
~ March 20, 1943: Activated at Jacksonville, Florida.
~ February 29, 1944: Disbanded at Gulfport, Mississippi.
~ April 14, 1944: Reconstituted in the Army of the United States as the 1308th Signal Pigeon Company.
~ April 28, 1944 Activated at Gulfport, Mississippi.
~ October 26, 1944: Redesignated as the 278th Signal Pigeon Company.
~ October 30, 1945: Inactivated in Germany.

More details are available at:

Cpl. Frank Hauck's European Theater of Operation
Log August 10, 1944 to January 20, 1946
[Some of Frank Hauck's notes about his carrier pigeon activities in the U.S. Army were kept in his E.T.O. Log of 278th Signal Pigeon Company Overseas 1st Platoon which was written in a 1942 Bayer pocket-size notebook that had German page headings. He probably acquired it in Germany, and reconstructed the events from memory. Other notes were written contemporaneously in the back of an address book.]

April 17, 1943 - Off for the U.S. Army

Left home for the army on April 17, 1943. Went to draft board with Abe and was sent to Penn Station from where we went to Ft. Dix, was here a week and then shipped to B.T.C. #10 Greensboro, N.C. was here about 10 weeks taking basic. 

Norman [Hauck, Frank's brother] came to see me one weekend and we sure consumed a lot of beer together. Rose [Hauck, the sister] and Ed [McCarty] are only about 100 miles away but I can't get a pass to see them.

July 1943

Was transferred to Gulfport Field, Mississippi to start mrchanics school. Field to crowded so they sent us to Kussler where we started school. Was transferred once again to Gulfport Field and once again started school. One morning I was told I was transferred to a pigeon camp on the same field. Met a lot of Brooklyn boys here and am starting to like the army a little more. We train our birds every day and it's pretty interesting. 

Frank Hauck, Gulfport, Mississippi

Frank Hauck, photo by Trailer Studio
1407 25th Avenue, Gulfport, Mississippi

January 14, 1944

Had our hardest day January 14, 1944 when they put us through an infiltration course in teaming rain.

August 1, 1944

Left Gulfport, Miss. on Aug. 1st. Boarded buses that took us to Kussler Field to troop train. Had nice cars that made the trip very comfortable up to Kilmer on Aug. 3. Had one pass to go home for 8 hrs. 

1st Platoon, Signal Pigeon Company. Frank Hauck is third from left in the back row. Louis Lee Sapienza, sitting front row, first on left.

August 10-21, 1944

August 10 left Kilmer [Edison, NJ] at 8:30pm, boarded ship at midnite SS JOHN ERRICSON in Staten Island. Left port following noon [August] 11th.

Left Kilmer evening of the 10th at 8:30 P.M. and boarded train that took us to a ferry. This was one heck of a lousy ride as it was hot and we had a heavy load to carry. The ferry took us to the pier in Staten Island where we unloaded on a pier. Had a band there plaing the Air Corps song. We felt like ramming it down their throats as we were plenty tired and disgusted with carrying those heavy bags. Loaded on the John Erickson and was put below decks. It was crowded and hot. Boat left pier the following morning at 11 A.M. Coney Island was the last we saw of the U.S.A.  

Passed Ambrose Light going out. B-24s circled the convoy twice in mid ocean. [Ambrose Light was located at the entrance to New York Harbor about 12 miles southeast of Staten Island.]

The trip was fairly nice no rough weather until we got near the shore of Ireland.

August 22, 1944

August 22 docked in Liverpool (England) in-the evening. Debarked next morning & intrained for Bristol going through Darby.

August 23, 1944

Arrived at Bristol evening of 23rd. Were billeted in tents on a golf course (Failand Golf Links) about 7 miles from Bristol. Went to town every night and had a good time. Plenty of beer but it was warm.

Food very poor lived on candy we bought in the P.K. Only 2 meals a day.

September 22, 1944

September 22 left Bristol morning in convoy with all of our equipment. Spent night near Dorchester.

Vendola hit Carter as he was Sgt of guard.

NOTE: Jack Schultz, perhaps the youngest member, wrote many decades later that the 287th Signal Pigeon Co. was split up into 7-man sections with two jeeps, two combat mobile lofts and 40 pigeons. According to Jack's article, Feathered Warriors, Racing Pigeon Bulletin, November 3, 1997, pages 16-18,  his section included:

- Sgt. Emil Banek of Monroe, Michigan
- Cpl. Frank Hauck of Brooklyn, New York
- T/5 Graham Naylor of North Scituate, Rhode Island
- PFC Robert Kelley of California
- PFC Wayne Colwell of Yonkers, New York
- PFC Jules Goovert of Detroit, Michigan
- PFC Jack Schultz of Cincinnati, Ohio

Other sections were headed by Sgt. Jake Jacob of Buffalo, New York and Sgt. Adolph Patteeuw of Detroit, Michigan.

September 23, 1944

September 23 Went through Weymouth to board LST [land sea transport]. This was a good deal as we got good food and a good bunk to sleep in. Boat rolled a lot in crossing and some of the boys got sick. Had a hard time to load on the ship as the ramp had a sharp angle and we were heavily loaded down.

September 25 - 26, 1944

September 25 left port afternoon.

We left port on the 25th and saw France's Omaha Beach on the afternoon of September 26. Saw pillboxes that once protected the shore line. Wrecked landing craft all over beach. [Wreckage was from the Allied Forces' D-Day Invasion three months earlier on June 6, 1944.]

September 26 - October 10, 1944

September 26 beached late afternoon (in Normandy). Went to first pigeon area 13 miles from Cherbourg.

Water was choppy and weather overcast. Boat ran up on beach late in evening. Beach was plenty beat up. Was dark when they finally opened the doors and we drove off. Drove up a very rough road to a spot about 10 miles from beach where we set up for night. Left for a camp site near Cherbourg where we set up and got our birds flying. Birds were very stiff and took long time to limber them up.

This was 13 miles from Cherbourg. Lived in pup tents and had rain every day, there was plenty of mud and everything was wet.

October 10-13, 1944

October 10 left Normandy for the front.

Left Normandy early in the morning of 10th Oct. for the front. Drove through Paris morning of 12th. Camped in forests at night and slept atop of jeep which was very comfortable and dry. Had Naylor and Zink riding with me. Pasted through Belgium evening of 12th somewhere near the Seigfried Line. Passed through Luxembourg.

October 12-13, 1944

October 12 drove through Paris-in the morning [in] the evening we were in Belgium somewhere near the Siegfried Line. Passed through Luxembourg.

Drove through Paris morning of 12th. Camped in forests at night and slept atop of jeep which was very comfortable and dry. Had Naylor and Zink riding with me. Pasted through Belgium evening of 12th somewhere near the Seigfried Line. Passed through Luxembourg.

October 14, 1944

Frank Hauck with pigeons in Holland 

October 14th arrived with convoy in Maastrich, Holland continued to Valkenbourg where we were billeted in Valkenbourg Castle; set up (pigeon) lofts surrounding mothe.

[Valkenburg aan de Geul, Limburg, The Netherlands]

It is still raining every day and its miserable and muddy out in the field training the birds. Half of us billeted in a hall of a hotel in town. This place was just taken and there is still snipping and shooting all night long. Bombs dropped near us one night and almost demolished hotel. Woman who ran hotel was later taken as a spy. We traveled back and forth from castle only during daylight hours.

Photo of Louis Lee Sapienza was taken in the European Theater during WWII. It was published in the Pittsburgh Press and the Army newspapers.

According to his son, Louis J. Sapienza, "My mother did not know that my father was overseas near the battle action until she saw this picture in the Pittsburgh Press. My father told her he was somewhere safe."

October 26, 1944

October 26 left Valkenbourg Castle [Netherlands] for Tongeren, Belgium where we set up our lofts behind a big mansion. Also joined 4th Sig Bat. Co. "A" here and traveled throughout the war with them. Buzz bombs are coming over every 20 minutes here. Can see them very closely as large tongues of flame trail the bomb. They are flying to Liege and London. Some don't make and land along the route. They sure raise hell when they hit as everything shakes. At night they sound like they are going to come right through our tent. Some hit fairly close.

Had one come down on road a block behind us as were traveling to Valkenburg.

Today's highlight caught our boy Gandy "Porkhead" stealing candy out of our 10-1 rations. Kelly and I saw him do this.

[Tongeren, Limburg, Flemish Region, Belgium: In March 2011, Erik Honée, Maastricht (NL), emailed that Tongeren is located some 15 km west from Maastricht whilst Valkenburg some 7km east from Maastricht.]

November 2-8, 1944

November 2 left for monestary in Holland continued next day to school 5 miles off in Schene where we stayed for 3 days.

November 9, 1944 - January 1, 1945

     Frank Hauck and Graham Naylor in Rimburg.

November 9 left for Germany Rimburg [area by Rimburg Castle north of Aachen]. Set up loft on roof for our flying pigeons. Had Germans throw shell at us while hijacking their pigeons. Buzz bombs are going over quite frequently.

Found a place where people were very friendly so we took 2 rooms on second floor of house. Set up our lofts and put one on small roof outside our window. Front only 3/4 mile away as the crow flies. Started training birds immediately. Found a loft nearby and tried to get these birds but was observed by enemy and got shelled.

November 14, 1944

Sect. 1A moved into Ubach Nov. 14 and set up. We now have city hall near us again. There are a lot of 88's coming over early every morning.

[NOTE: The three sections of the 278th operated in Rimburg, Ubach, and Gilenkirchen, Germany. The 88's were German artillery guns but had orinally been designed for anti-aircraft.]

November 23, 1944

Baisweiler was taken yesterday so today we went up and found us a hog for our Thanksgiving dinner. 10-1's get very tiresome after eating them day in and day out. We shot the hog in its pen, loaded him in one of our jeeps and took him back to where we cleaned him up and got him ready for the pot. Rita and her mother cooked up a real spread for us including 3 bottles of wine which helped out a lot as it made it more like home. Buzz bombs are starting to come over this area, can seethem taking off fropm a spot over the Roer River as they have a white vapor trail as they go up. Dive bomber overhead while we are eating dropped one and got 3 fellows in a chow line 1/2 mile down the road. Message came in today about a line being knocked out. Got it to the Message Center within 16 minutes of release. Met some of the boys that we came over on the boat with. They have a cut field down the road from us. They take our birds up to the front with them and release them on training tosses. Air strafing is going on a lot now especially at night, lots of shelling and flares being dropped.

Heinies come over every night now on recon. The A.A. sure puts up a great show. Quite a few flares are being dropped to find our artillery.

December 25, 1944  

Christmas is here again today, things are fairly quiet. Almost got it tonight when Graham Naylor and I went up to Jake's and a large shell came in and hit about 50 feet from me as I was getting out of jeep. Was covered with a lot of dirt but came out O.K.

Battle of the Bulge is on and our front line at Linnich is very thin. A lot of Air Activity going on every day. Kelley, Schultz and I went for a trailer load of coal today and was caught in a barrage as were souvenir hunting in a house in Sigguath [spelling?] near Gelsenkirchen [Gilenkirchen]. Got out lucky as 5 shells hit all around us and brought down many a house. One shell went through church steeple 1/2 block away. Paratroopers are now being dropped every nite. Caught 3 spies at the bridge this afternoon -- passing as Hollanders. M.P's were on the ball. Was going by just as their car came along.

They got two paratroopers today, one was driving a 6 x 6 and the other directing traffic in Heuclin [spelling ?]. They sure have nerve.

January 1, 1945

New Years is due again. Had a little party down the street and had a good time. Lomchester shot down at 11:00 P.M. by the Luftwaffe. Next morning was a real field day. the jerries are over like flies and plenty are falling. Adams got one coming over the castle and sure poured the lead into him. Saw 4 of our P47's chase a jerry down the valley today but couldn't shoot him down because too many troops in the area. Got him further down the line. 

A P-61 Black Widow got a JU88 tonight it hit a house squarely and killed 4 people sleeping inside. The 29 division shot down a jerry also, he parachuted down but a jig shot him while he was on his way down. Starting to get snow now and it's getting colder and muddier.

Went to eat at the 102 Inf. today and had the Luft strafe our chow line. Rosie and Buck almost got it today, a jerry shot part of a cub's wing off and was coming in for the kill and they were right in the line of fire. Luckily a P-47 came in time.

What a spot for a movie camera.

The 278 Signal Pigeon Company was credited of shooting down a Focke Wulf 190 on January 1st 1945 near Chaleon Castle, Holland.

Sapienza on anti-aircraft gun from Sapienza photos.

February 28, 1945

February 28, 1945 left Rimburg for Erdelburg [Ede near Elburg, The Netherlands] where we took over a loft on a farm.

Left Rimburg Feb. 28 for our drive over Roer. Rita and family very sorry to see us go. Heavy artillery started off about 3 A.M. and then things started moving. A screaming Me Me came over this morn. Saw a Nazi dive bomber drop over the bridge but a lucky A.A. [anti-aircraft] shot hit it in the air. The Air Corp has clear weather today and it looks like they are running a shuttle service. They are over by the 100's. The P-47 shoot up their ammo and bombs and keep coming back for more. They sure must be giving the jerrie convoys hell. The B17's are everywhere in groups of 12. It looks like Cologne and Dusseldorf are getting the worst of it. Crossed over the pontoon bridge at Linnich, there is a lot of damaged equipment laying about. Every town is leveled. Bad has nothing left but rubble. Our first stop is Eidberg where we took over a loft on a farm. This town is most heavily mined that I've ever seen. Cars are laying in every field blown up from mines. Two trucks got it today at the water point when they ran up on a road shoulder. We had to check our own house for booby traps. At present we have about 100 chickens which make some good meals for us not to mention 3 cows and 2 horses. One morning we went into the barn and found one horse missing. He had fallen into a hole and wound up in the cellar. Had to dig all day to get him out. Porkhead moved in with us today. 

[In March 2011, Erik Honée, Maastricht (NL) emailed the following: Distance Ede – Elburg approximately 50km. Ede (north of Nijmegen) is about 150km north of Maastricht. Seems unlikely to me that they moved to Ede. (West of Ede (the whole western-Netherlands) was German held territory; they surrendered 5 May 1945. ) Americans in our sector (Maastricht) pushed east into Germany, Siegfriedlinie, Aachen etc.]

March 4, 1945

March 4 left for Süchteln where we took over a civilian loft. The front is moving too fast to stay in one place very long. There were lots of animals laying dead along the road.

The Wermacht was still hanging around bad when we came in. The front is moving very fast now. Got a lot of loot in this town. Nick showed up at M. Gladbach today, sure surprised to see him. Nicky came to see me here and I made many trips to his field from here. Gandy took my pistol away here. Our chickens are giving us 45 eggs a day now. 

[Süchteln is situated in Viersen, Dusseldorf, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany. Wessel is directly east.]

April 1, 1945

Left Süchteln on Easter Sunday and crossed the Rhine at Wessel.

Photos by Louis Lee Sapienza.
Warden's truck slid off the road in front of me but it was caught in the wires and didn't go down. Saw where our gliders landed a few days previous, took some pictures.Continued with the 4th Sig to Gr. Behen [spelling ?] where we took over a house. Col. Kuntz was over to see us. Left here on the 4th and drove to Bielefeld. Passed through Appelhausen (still a waring inferno from enemy artillery), Munster, Warendorf and Gütersloh. Had a close call in Bielefeld, snipers opened up on us as we came up the hill into town.  A machine gun opened up from a side street and cut us off so that we couldn't go either way. A infantry squad flushed out 4 of them and then a recon and finished off the machine gun.

The jerries had a road block under a R.R. trestle here this morning. The prisoners were men of about 40 and plenty scared. A captain asked Harry and I if we would go search the movie house in back of where we were hiding so they couldn't come up from our rear. All was O.K. now. We went back to Gütersloh where we took two civilian lofts and found a Nazi officers house where we loaded up plenty of souvenirs. Found plenty of liquor in the cellar also champagne which I took good care of.    

April 4-6, 1945

April 4 left Gr.B. drove to Bielefeld. Had a close shave there, fired on by snipers & then had machine gun open from rear. In the morning the jerries had a road block under a RR bridge. In the afternoon they backed into the houses on the edge of town. Four jerries came out after loud speaker told them to give up. They were men of about 40 & plenty scared. We went back to Gütersloh.

UPDATE: On December 5, 2013, I received an email from Bruce Mattmueller whose dad, Warden Mattmueller of San Bernardino, California was assigned to the 102nd Div. 1276th Combat Engineers. Warden's diary entry notes: April 2, we arrived at Munster, cleared streets with dozers. April 4th, went to Bielefeld, to clear roadblocks, had trouble with snipers.

Warden won the Bronze Star at the Roer River, making 14 crossings in an assault boat under mortar fire. One boat was sunk and he is credited with rescuing numerous soldiers from drowning. His diary lists the following names: Bobs (or Robert), Dick (or Richard), Bills (or William, Johns, Dons (or Donald), Daves, Raymond, George, Melvin, Abe, Art, Melvin, Ivan, Joseph, Carl, Dan, Danny, Ira, Vic, Ellis and Gerhard.

Frank's April 1 entry, noted that "Warden's truck slid off the road in front of me." According to Bruce, Warden drove a GMC 2 1/2 named "Norma" after his wife.

April 7, 1945

April 7 left Gütersloh & moved to Herford.

April 12-13, 1945

Got 3 clocks in Herford.

April 12 left Herford for Osterberg. It was a long tiresome, dangerous ride. Went through towns that had had no GIs go into yet. We rolled into Osterberg 1 hour behind the tanks. Got a nice pistol (Nazi lugar) from a woman in the street the following morning (April 13, 1945).

The 5th sure is roaring ahead today.

Left Herford April 12 for Osterberg on the Elbe. We drove 140 ahead with the tanks. It was a long, tiresome dangerous ride. German soldiers are standing around waiting to be taken prisoner. Passed through towns that had no GI's in them yet. The pigeoneers are spearheading. We rolled into Osterberg 1 hour behind the tanks. A Panzer Division was bypassed on our way here. They cut our M.S.R. for 3 days which cut us off and we had no supplies coming up to us. Took a house on the outside of town and set up.

Westerman, one of the boys, went rabbit hunting and fell over 3 jerries in a wooded area.

Opened window one morning just in time to see a jerry plane come strafing over the hillside. I ducked plenty fast, he shot up our roof and houses adjoining us. One slug went through my jeep floor.

Wre getting strafed and bombed every night. A A>A. set up this morning and had some good shooting. Got 3 109's in 1/2 hour.

Got a nice Walter .32 this morning from a woman who was turning in all her weapons.

Made runs to Hagenow where airborne troops were dropped and made their hdqs. Some runs were 15 hours long.

[On September 30, 2010 I received from Germany the following comment that Osterberg should be Osterode:
My name is Andreas Maak, I´m living in Osterode / Germany, a small town in the southwest of the Harz-Mountains, about 80 km south of Hannover. One of the pictures of your site has been taken in this town. It shows a large german tank (Tiger II - "Kingtiger") in front of several buildings and is named "dusseldorfgermantank". Osterode has been liberated on 12th April 1945. Following your site, Mr Frank Hauck stayed at "Osterberg" from 12th to 28th April 1945. So I´m sure, Osterberg = Osterode.
The tank was abandoned in the small road ("Dörgestrasse") you can see in the left background and blocked it. So it was pulled aside some days later to the place ("Königsplatz") shown in the photo...The attached airview gives you an idea, where the tank was located (at the open area near the center of the photo).
Andreas Maak has a private / non-profit website about the last weeks of WWII in Osterode and the vicinity with additional photos of the tank at that show the tank at] 

Tank in Osterode photo by Louis Lee Sapienza.

April 15, 1945

[There is no written entry for this date. But Frank Hauck and Louis Lee Sapienza took pictures of the aftermath of the atrocity at Gardelegen, where Nazis hearded 1016 political and military prisoners into a barn and ignited it. Frank, an American soldier of German descent, never spoke of the incident or the other brutalities Germany brought upon mankind in war. There is much available about Gardelegen on the Internet, but the photos and description may haunt you.]

April 28, 1945

Sinclair photo by Louis Lee Sapienza

April 28 left Oster for Brunswick to drive on a messenger run for 9th Army Headquarters. This was a very dangerous job as we traveled nights over roads we didn't know. There was always a chance of running into a pocket that hadn't been cleared. Hit a wire that was stretched across road in a wooded area one night. Lost no time in getting out after the center broke off.

May 8, 1945

Germany surrenders.

Photo by Louis Lee Sapienza

Frank Hauck's photos of himself and Collwell in a captured Nazi Focke-Wulf 109 perhaps at an.airport near Stendal, a town  in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany.

May 21, 1945

May 21 returned back to pigeon company. In Brunswick. This was a good town and we always had a good time here.
June 10, 1945 in Paris at the "Triumphal Arch"

 [NOTE: Jack Schultz wrote that they stayed in a country lodge in Brunswick and played fast-pitch softball everyday for months.] 

July 1, 1945

Frank Hauck 1945

Left Brunswick for 7th Army Co. occupation area July 1st, took 13 hours on convoy to reach Hockenheim. Met Weiss on autobahn on way to Hockenheim. Frankfurt, Main. The "Schuman" opposite R.R. station was our Red Cross, only partly damaged.

October 8, 1945

Left Hockenheim for Bad Orb to join 2nd Armored Division. About 50 of our boys came here.