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

by Gordon Corera
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

by Gordon Corera

eBook

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Overview

“No Frederick Forsyth thriller could be as gripping as this real-life story” of British intelligence, brave WWII resisters, and 16,000 homing pigeons (Daily Mail).

Between 1941 and 1944, Britain dropped sixteen thousand homing pigeons in an arc across Nazi-occupied Europe, from Bordeaux, France to Copenhagen, Denmark, as part of a spy operation code-named Columba. Returning to MI14, the secret government branch in charge of the “Special Pigeon Service,” the birds carried messages that offered a glimpse of life under the Germans in rural France, Holland, and Belgium. Written on tiny pieces of rice paper tucked into canisters and tied to the birds’ legs, these messages were sometimes comic, often tragic, and occasionally invaluable—reporting details of German troop movements and fortifications, new Nazi weapons, radar systems, and even the deployment of the feared V-1 and V-2 rockets used to terrorize London.

The people who sent these messages were not trained spies. They were ordinary men and women willing to risk their lives in the name of freedom, including the “Leopold Vindictive” network—a small group of Belgian villagers led by an extraordinary priest named Joseph Raskin. The intelligence Raskin sent back by pigeon proved so valuable that it reached Churchill, and MI6 parachuted agents behind enemy lines to assist him.

Gordon Corera uses declassified documents and extensive original research to tell this true story for the first time. A powerful tale of wartime espionage, bitter rivalries, extraordinary courage, astonishing betrayal, harrowing tragedy, and a quirky, quarrelsome band of spy masters and their special mission, Operation Columba is, ultimately, a tale of how, in one of the darkest and most dangerous times in history, under threat of death, people bravely chose to resist.

“The eccentric idea of enlisting pigeons as spies, combined with the bravery of those in occupied Europe who picked them up, vividly animates Corera’s excellent addition to the annals of WWII espionage.” —Booklist

“Witty and meticulously researched.” —Publishers Weekly

“Once you’ve read this book you’ll never look at a pigeon disdainfully again . . . .an intoxicating mixture of comedy and high seriousness.” —Daily Mail

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062667090
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: 11/21/2023
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 337
Sales rank: 59,475
File size: 8 MB

About the Author

Gordon Corera has been the BBC’s security correspondent since 2004. He has reported from London, Moscow, and Washington, and is the only journalist to have interviewed serving heads of both the CIA and MI6. He has covered firsthand many of the central episodes in the spy wars between the three countries and has unparalleled insight into the working of all sides. He is the author of several books, including The Art of Betrayal: The Secret History of MI6, and has contributed to a number of important BBC documentary series about MI6, the CIA, and Russia.

Table of Contents

Map ix

Prologue 1

Introduction 5

1 Birth 13

2 The Special Pigeon Service 27

3 Leopold Vindictive 49

4 Arrival 67

5 Listening 81

6 Battle of the Skies 93

7 Reaching Out 107

8 Resistance 119

9 Secret Agents 133

10 Undercover 155

11 Battle of the Skies II 169

12 Capture 181

13 Interrogation and Infiltration 191

14 The Viscount 211

15 Trials and Tribulations 233

16 Deception 247

17 The Americans Are Coming 259

18 Fates 283

Acknowledgments 301

Notes 303

Index 323

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