Saturday, August 29, 2015

Operation Columba 1939-1945

(c) Crown copyright images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, UK

Catalog numbers WO208/3564 #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10

This post includes 2 reports created by the British War Office: “The Continental Pigeon Service 1940-1944” and “Columba-History of the Intelligence Service Operated During 1939-1945 War in Conjunction with the Royal Corps of Signals.”
Some of the facts in these reports:

Monetary rewards were offered by the Germans for messenger pigeons found by people in occupied Europe,

40% of the messages secretly written by patriots and delivered by the pigeons were classified as “extremely valuable” as intelligence,

The intelligence provided by the patriots and delivered by the pigeons could not be extracted by any other means,

The pigeons were such a threat that the Germans inserted decoy pigeons into the local pigeon populations.  If people sent messages with the decoy pigeons, these pigeons would return to German pigeon lofts with the messages written by the people trying to help the Allies,

Messages identified the location of German control stations which were used by the Germans to control their nightfighters.  Page 3 of the first document describes the significance of this intelligence.  

In his book, Most Secret War, R.V. Jones writes about the people and the pigeons:  “In areas where we had no direct contact with the Resistance movement, we used to get our bombers to drop homing pigeons in containers which would open in a few hours and release the birds if they had not been found by someone on the ground.  Attached to the containers were questionnaires, asking a few simple questions which, for example, a farm labourer might be able to answer, and which might be helpful to us.  My own question was ‘Are there any German radio stations in your neighborhood with aerials which rotate?’  This feature was an almost certain criterion of a radar station, and we dropped the pigeons wherever we saw a gap in our knowledge.  Before the end of 1942 the pigeons had given us the location of three stations hitherto unknown to us, and more followed in 1943.”  His comments appear in the Kammhuber Line chapter.

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