All About History

Secret pigeon service

How pigeon fanciers earned their wings during WWII


Between 1941 and 1944, a total of 16,554 plucky homing pigeons were dropped in an arc from Bordeaux to Copenhagen. They were part of Operation Columba, a secret British mission to bring back intelligen­ce from those living under Nazi occupation. The messages flooded back, written on tiny pieces of rice paper tucked into canisters and tied to the legs of the birds.

Many of the messages that came back contained vital intelligen­ce detailing German troop movements and even Nazi super weapons, including the deployment of the feared V-1 and V-2 rockets that terrorised London. However, author Gordon Corera reveals that the people sending them were often not trained spies — they were just ordinary people living in occupied territorie­s.

Secret Pigeon Service focuses on the Leopold Vindictive network, a small group of Belgian villagers who took huge risks. Led by an extraordin­ary priest, their intelligen­ce was so valuable it was shown to Churchill, leading MI6 to parachute agents in to assist him.

Corera brings together both the British and Belgian sides of the Secret Pigeon Service, following the spymasters that get the special wartime operation off the ground and intercepte­d the Leopold Vindictive’s messages. However, the author doesn’t shy away from the fact that bitter rivalries in London placed the lives of secret agents at risk.

Despite its title, this book is less about birds and more about remarkable people who were faced with the choice of how to respond to a call for help, and took the decision to resist.

Author Gordon Corera Publisher William Collins Price £20 Released Out now

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Fun Chaotic Fast-paced Romantic Enthrallin­g Thorough

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