The little-known tale of how British intelligence secretly used homing pigeons as part of a clandestine espionage operation to gather information, communicate, and coordinate with members of the Resistance to defeat the Nazis in occupied Europe during World War II.
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.