Secret Pigeon Service: Operation Columba, Resistance and the Struggle to Liberate Europe by Gordon CoreraThe secret pigeon service used during WWII was something I had heard very little about. But I was keen to know more, for sure. I found these little guys amazing, how you can carry them blindfolded hundreds of miles from their home, and they will find their way back, quickly and efficiently.
They were used successfully in WWI to carry messages, and it was decided to try them again in Nazi occupied Belgium. Air dropped with little parachutes attached, they would float down to farm fields and meadows, to be found by civilians and then hopefully set off home again with some sort of secret message attached to the legs, attached by a citizen willing to risk his or her life by providing information about the Germans that they might have learned by chance.
So the birds could not have done what they did without the people, and some of the people turned themselves into amateur spies for the resistance. They made a choice to act when faced with tyranny. Many did not; some actually turned the pigeons in to the Germans, or ate them for dinner. It was quite fascinating. But only for awhile. Unfortunately, way too many people were introduced and lots of facts. When the pigeons were no longer center stage, my interest waned.
An ARC from LibraryThing.
Gordon Corera describes an ingenious British operation to subvert Nazi rule in Europe — using carrier birds On the night of 8 April , an RAF Whitley took off from Newmarket — home of the Special Duties squadron which dropped agents behind enemy lines for British intelligence. The plane was attacked by anti-aircraft fire near Zeebrugge but the rear gunner managed to take out one of the searchlights. The April flight was the first drop for a new secret operation — codenamed Columba. It was unusual because it relied on the contributions of British pigeon fanciers. The birds they donated were placed in containers which then floated to the ground in Europe beneath a parachute. On the outside of the container was an envelope with a questionnaire — a plea for help from Britain.
Operation Columba the scientific word for a genus of pigeon was set up in Great Britain in the early s to send messages with homing pigeons. Over one thousand messages were transported by the birds that were donated by both British and American bird keepers until a breeding program started to produce a ready supply. The birds were dropped in small containers attached to a parachute into occupied Europe. Locals who found the birds sent messages back advising of the status of the Germans in their locality. Many of the pigeons flew over four hundred miles to deliver their secrets. According to a report, the majority of the pigeons were dropped in northern France. In , six hundred and ninety birds were dropped, with one hundred and fifty returned, and of those, eighty-two brought back messages.
During World War II, the United Kingdom used about about the uses of pigeons in military contexts.
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Due to their homing ability, speed, and altitude, they were often used as military messengers. They ceased being used as of
They had fought their way onto the huge outcropping on Monte Cassino, southeast of Rome, during the fierce battle there in early , only to be pinned down by withering German fire. Stuck for nine days, they had no means of communication with their lines below. American bombers dropped food and water to them, but much of it fell into German hands. Finally, three British volunteers set out toward the trapped men by three different routes. Each carried a haversack with an American homing pigeon inside.
Homing pigeons have long played an important role in war. Due to their homing ability, speed and altitude, they were often used as military messengers. When they landed, wires in the coop would sound a bell or buzzer and a soldier of the Signal Corps would know a message had arrived. He would go to the coop, remove the message from the canister, and send it to its destination by telegraph, field phone, or personal messenger. A carrier pigeon's job was dangerous.