In Operation Columba: The Secret Pigeon Service, author Gordon Corera dips into the secret files of Britain’s MI14 for this fascinating account of pigeons, peasants, and patriots and how they aided the Allied war effort both from within and without Nazi-occupied territory in World War II ... But while the use of homing pigeons is more than an interesting diversion, this is ultimately a story of human heroes, trapped inside Nazi-occupied Europe, who risked their lives for the cause of freedom ... For students of history, and also for casual readers who simply enjoy learning new and unusual aspects of history, this book is a real gem. You’ll probably never look at pigeons the same way again. You might even be willing to forgive them for occasionally soiling your clothes on a city street.
Pigeons are small. They played a small role in the war. They deserve recognition, but in a small way. [This] is a fascinating book, but it’s longer than it needs to be. Corera gets bogged down in the minutiae of interservice rivalries and occasionally pads the narrative with uninteresting detail. In the process, we lose sight of those quirky birds. They’re the real story ... Regardless of the intelligence they brought back, they were a boon to morale, a winged symbol of the determination to prevail.
While Leopold Vindictive [the Belgian resistance group] is the solemn center of this fascinating history, Corera highlights many other aspects of the operation, including bureaucratic infighting. 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.
BBC News correspondent Corera...crafts a remarkable tale about an aspect of World War II espionage that is probably little known to most readers ... A well-researched, fascinating account of spying during World War II.
Witty and meticulously researched, Corera’s narrative highlights the story of a small Belgian resistance ... He vividly describes the rivalries and lack of coordination among British intelligence branches ... Corera succeeds in bringing a virtually unknown chapter of the war to life and pays tribute to the ordinary people who risked their lives to resist the Nazis.
Corera is a touch too generous with the details of just how the birds did their work; one page he devotes to a pigeon’s transit could be distilled to a couple of sentences. Still, there’s undeniable drama in these pages, not just for the birds, the targets for German snipers’ rifles and hungry hawks alike, but also for the groups of Resistance fighters ... Among the highlights of the narrative are Winston Churchill’s personal intervention in the program and the author’s good-natured, sometimes-wry approach to the material ... A capable, readable look at a little-known corner of history.