Operation Columba, Secret Pigeon Service: Untold Story Of World War II Resistance

By Gordon Corera; On sale October 16, 2018

Operation Columba The Secret Pigeon Service: The Untold Story Of World War Ii Resistance In Europe
Operation Columba The Secret Pigeon Service: The Untold Story Of World War Ii Resistance In Europe

USA – -(Ammoland.com)- “[An] amazing story of the secret pigeon service and how it helped to win the war. Well-researched and well-told, as much about humans as pigeons, it is replete with eccentric Englishmen, ruthless Nazis, and brave resisters in occupied Europe who risk their lives for the Allied cause.” —Nicholas Reynolds, author of Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: Ernest Hemingway’s Secret Adventures 1935-1961

Pigeons did not win World War II, people did. But the humble birds, renowned for their homing instincts, played a singular, if unsung role in Britain’s victorious fight against the Germans.

In OPERATION COLUMBA: THE SECRET PIGEON SERVICE (William Morrow; October 16, 2018; $28.99), journalist Gordon Corera recounts the fascinating, forgotten story of a highly classified intelligence operation that used these avian messengers to gather information from the Resistance movement in Belgium and France and deliver it back to London. An “extraordinary, colorful and moving story… [A] thrilling tale, ”says Sunday Times (London). “Corera is to be congratulated for bringing to light, with humor and verve, a virtually unknown chapter of the war” (Daily Telegraph, London).

Operation Columba — The Secret Pigeon Service: The Untold Story Of World War Ii Resistance In Europe

Corera, a Security Correspondent for BBC News, stumbled upon Operation Columba after covering a quirky news story about a dead pigeon’s leg with an indecipherable coded message attached to it that was found in a chimney outside London. Delving into the National Archives, he discovered the long filed away details of the pigeon service, including transcribed messages that had been received by London during the war, written on small pieces of rice paper and strapped to pigeons legs. Embarking on years of research in Britain and Belgian archives, he has pieced together the remarkable story of men and women on both sides of the Channel who worked at great risk to fight the Nazi incursion.

Homing pigeons have long been used in wartime to transmit messages from the front and across enemy lines, but in sprawling saga of the Second World War their use has been overshadowed by more modern technology. Still, British intelligence dropped sixteen thousand homing pigeons in an arc across Nazi-occupied Europe, from France to Denmark. Their hope was that patriots in the Nazi-occupied countries would send back everyday intelligence about German troop movements, arsenals, and fortifications.

Most of these birds never made it back to England—many were eaten by hungry locals, some were killed by hawks—and given the high risk of aiding the British, those who dared to send back messages were facing serious reprisal if caught.

Corera also reveals the secret co-operation between American and British pigeoneers in the run up to D-Day and tells the story of the amazing use of the birds by the US military in North Africa, Europe and Asia.

Corera recounts the stories of the brave resisters who took the risk, notably one group of Belgians that dubbed itself Leopold Vindictive. Led by Catholic priest and erstwhile missionary Joseph Rankin, and made up of a small group of villages including Hector Joye, a well-heeled invalid with permission to travel, and five siblings in the Debaille family, the clandestine network sent back vital intelligence that made its way directly to Churchill’s desk. Their story, coupled with the behind-the-scenes dramas of wartime espionage—including bitter rivalries and infighting within Britain’s intelligence service, and betrayals and courage in the field, make OPERATION COLUMBA an essential addition to the literature of the war.

“Once you’ve read this book you’ll never look at a pigeon disdainfully again,” says Daily Mail (UK). “No Frederick Forsyth thriller could be as gripping as this real-life story.”

About Gordon Corera

Gordon Corera is a journalist and writer on intelligence and security issues. Since 2004 he has been a Security Correspondent for BBC News. He covers terrorism, cyber security, the work of intelligence agencies and other national security issues for BBC TV, Radio and Online. He has reported from across the United States, Asia, Africa and the Middle East and presented a number of programs focusing on intelligence agencies including MI6, MI5, GCHQ, the CIA, NSA and Mossad. He is the author of Intercept – The Secret History of Computers and Spies, MI6 – Life and Death in the British Secret Service, and Shopping for Bombs. Educated at Oxford and Harvard University, he lives in London.

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