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Bletchley Park and The Pigeon Spies

Bletchley Park and the Pigeon Spies

During the Second World War, over 11,000 carrier pigeons were supplied to MI14, Military Intelligence’s Special Section, which was given responsibility for collecting and transporting pigeons to be delivered to agents at airfields before they were parachuted on secret missions behind enemy lines. Released on landing, they flew back to their loft. A telephone call to the right person, passed the news to let HQ know of the agent’s safe arrival. Bletchley Park had its own pigeon loft above the Station Commander’s garage but there were numerous lofts all over Britain where the birds returned to. Later, a message container was attached to the pigeon’s leg into which hand-written notes and photographic negatives with military, political, economic or other intelligence of value for the Allies would be inserted.

Small containers of pigeons with parachutes attached were taken to RAF Tempsford, Bedfordshire, and the Special Duties Squadrons released them over Northern France, Belgium, Holland and Denmark to waiting reception committees for their agents to use. Others were dropped in rural areas in the hope that people finding them would dispose of the parachute and container, complete the attached questionnaire and send it back via pigeon.

Using recently declassified documents, this book investigates the Special Section and for the first time sheds light on conditions in Occupied Europe described by extremely brave men and women who risked execution if found in possession of a pigeon. MI14 staff, known as the Colomba Service, decoded or translated messages and, depending on their content, forwarded copies to the headquarters of the Special Operations Executive, their Country Sections, SIS/MI6 , the War Office, RAF (including the Air Intelligence and Parachute officers at Tempsford), the Royal Navy and Army Intelligence officers, the Ministry of Economic Warfare, the BBC and sometimes to Churchill, de Gaulle and President Benes.

Many factors resulted in a return rate of less than 12%. Some parachutes did not open and the birds were killed on impact. Some were found and handed in for a reward. Some were found by the Germans who had teams on watch on the moonlit nights the Special Duties Squadron's planes flew over. Some birds died of exhaustion, got caught in explosions on the field of battle. Some were killed by Peregrine Falcons or were shot down by enemy sharpshooters. Of the messages returned, some contained a few words; some ran to many pages. Some were written by the enemy like “Her sister tasted really nice with peas”, but most reveal how desperate people were for the Allies to liberate them, thanking the brave pilots and crew who dropped them.

The book includes details of the British Intelligence Services and Bletchley Park; the National Pigeon Service, the Army Pigeon Service and MI14’s Special Section; the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the agents’ pigeon training course; the first SIS agents to be infiltrated behind enemy lines; how MI14 dealt with the threat of Peregrine Falcons. Hundreds of messages are included which detail events like the Dieppe Raid, Evan Montagu, Viscount Tredegar’s court-martial for revealing pigeon secrets; Jean Ceysens and the Belgian Pigeon Service; the Pigeon Deception Plan during Operation COCKADE; the use of pigeons before and after D-Day; the American and German Pigeon Services, the ‘Loft Screen’, ‘Pigeon Contamination Plan’ and the Operation Periwig deception scheme during March and April 1945. It also details those pigeon spies awarded the Dickin Medal.


Signed copies available on request


Bernard O'Connor