cover image Operation Columba: The Secret Pigeon Service

Operation Columba: The Secret Pigeon Service

Gordon Corera. Morrow, $28.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-266707-6

Corera (Intercept: The Secret History of Surveillance, Hacking and Digital Espionage), a security correspondent for BBC News, unearths the intriguing story of the homing pigeon service used by British intelligence during WWII to communicate with the Resistance in occupied Europe. MI14 dropped more than 16,000 pigeons “in an arc” from Copenhagen to Bordeaux. The messages the pigeons brought back, written on sheets of rice paper and folded into canisters clipped on their legs by ordinary men and women living under German occupation, provided valuable information on everything from German morale to troop movements. Witty and meticulously researched, Corera’s narrative highlights the story of a small Belgian resistance cell led by Catholic priest Joseph Raskin, who provided Operation Columba with such superior intelligence that two agents were parachuted in to help him, contributing to dire consequences for the whole group. He vividly describes the rivalries and lack of coordination among British intelligence branches, the memorable “array of oddballs and professors” who made up MI14, the network of resistance members and trained agents in the occupied territories, and the German spies who penetrated their cells. 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. (Oct.)