Columba: Spies - Pigeons - Resistance

Gordon Corera

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A riveting spy story set in World War Two. Using declassified documents and extensive original research, Secret Pigeon Service tells the dramatic untold story of MI 14(d) and its spy networks including the remarkable 'Leopold Vindictive', a Belgian resistance cell who used the pigeon they found in 1941 to spy on the Nazis.

Everyone has heard of MI5 and MI6. Some may even have heard of MI9 which helped downed airmen escape in World War II. Few have heard of MI14(d) - home to Operation Columba. In this new spy story set during the Second World War, Gordon Corera uses declassified documents and extensive original research to tell the story of the Secret Pigeon Service for the first time.

Between 1941 and 1944, sixteen thousand pigeons were dropped in an arc from Bordeaux to Copenhagen as part of 'Columba' - a secret British operation to bring back intelligence from those living under Nazi occupation. The messages flooded back written on tiny pieces of rice paper tucked into a canister and tied to the legs of the birds - authentic voices from rural France, Holland, Belgium - sometimes comic, often tragic and occasionally invaluable with details of German troop movements and fortifications, new Nazi weapons, radar systems or the deployment of the V-1 and V-2 rockets that terrorized London.

Who were the people who provided this rich seam of intelligence? Many were not trained agents nor people with experience of spying. At the centre of this book is the 'Leopold Vindictive' network - a small group of Belgian villagers prepared to take huge risks. They were led by an extraordinary priest, Josef Raskin - a man connected to royalty and whose intelligence was so valuable it was shown to Churchill, leading MI6 to parachute agents to assist him.

A powerful and tragic tale of espionage, the book brings together the British and Belgian sides of Leopold Vindictive's story and reveals for the first time the wider history of a quirky, quarrelsome band of spy masters and their special wartime operations as well as how bitter rivalries in London placed the lives of secret agents at risk. It is a book not so much about pigeons as the remarkable people living trapped in occupied Europe who were faced with the choice of how to respond to a call for help, and took the decision to resist.

ISBN: 9780008220310
Publication Date: 22-Jan-2018
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Limited