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.
About the Author
Gordon Corera is a journalist and writer on intelligence and security issues. Since 2004 he has been a Security Correspondent for BBC News where he covers terrorism, cyber security, the work of intelligence agencies and other national security issues for BBC TV, Radio and Online. He has reported from across the United States, Asia, Africa and the Middle East and presented a number of programmes focusing on intelligence agencies including MI6, MI5, GCHQ, the CIA, NSA and Mossad.
He is the author of 'Intercept - The Secret History of Computers and Spies', 'MI6 - Life and Death in the British Secret Service' and 'Shopping for Bombs: Nuclear Proliferation, Global Insecurity and the Rise and Fall of the AQ Khan Network'.
'An amazing story... Well-researched and well-told, as much about humans as pigeons, it is replete with eccentric Englishmen, ruthless Nazis, and brave resisters in occupied Europe who risk their lives for the Allied cause.' Nicholas Reynolds, author of Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy
'Once you've read this book you'll never look at a pigeon disdainfully again...As I read it, I found myself muttering, again and again, the World War II expression: "It's too fantastic." It really is ... No Frederick Forsyth thriller could be as gripping as this real-life story ... Corera's gripping book is an intoxicating mixture of comedy and high seriousness' Daily Mail
'[An] extraordinary, colourful and moving story...[a] thrilling tale' Christopher Hart, Sunday Times
'Corera is to be congratulated for bringing to light, with humour and verve, a virtually unknown chapter of the war' Daily Telegraph