British secret service files released today reveal the existence immediately after the second world war of a stealth weapons system capable of the precision delivery of death, destruction and anthrax to an unsuspecting enemy. Unfortunately, the WMD programme was cancelled when the Joint Intelligence Committee decided it couldn't afford any more millet.
It seems sadly clear that the JIC was losing it 50 years before it got anywhere near Iraq dossiers because yes, in 1950 here it was arguing the toss about who was going to foot the bill for a loft full of 100 pigeons, under the heading "Pigeon Policy". This potential deadly WMD scheme had been hatched (an oddly appropriate word) immediately after the war by one Wing Commander WEL Rayner, head of the air ministry's pigeon section, whose command was being rendered obsolete by new stuff like radio and the telephone. But Rayner was made of sterner stuff, and lobbied for the redeployment of his troops as silent (well, unobtrusive, anyway), remote-controlled agents of death.
He envisaged mastery of the birds' homing instincts, claiming that: "All we need is a model of the small target and three weeks for special training by experts." So you'd just need a model of the Tirpitz in its fjord, and three weeks later the pigeons would have seen to it. Up to a point. Although he felt pigeons could be released well outside AA range, 100-200 miles away from the target, they do have a relatively small payload. But undaunted, he visualised 'big wings' of pigeons: "With the latest developments of explosives and bacterial science - this possibility should be closely investigated - a thousand pigeons each with a 2oz explosive capsule landed at intervals on a specific target might be a seriously inconvenient surprise."
He seems not to have been entirely alone. M14, responsible for monitoring Germany, suggested delivering pigeons to the vicinity of the target via rocket, training them to fly into searchlights and blowing up and developing "a capsule stimulant to be fed to birds prior to service flight," presumably to put them into an appropriately bloodthirsty, berserker, battle-crazed mood.
Sadly, the elite pigeon squadron was decommissioned in 1950. It is not thought that any pigeon-based strike forces remain in the world's armouries, although DARPA is thought to be working on a number of turkeys. ®
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