After receiving some comments that the images of the documents were difficult to read, I changed the layout to make them larger, even though they now exceed the boundaries of the frame. You may need to use the left right scroll bar for some of them.
All images are stored at The National Archives, London.
World War 2 Military Intelligence-The Brave Message Writers of Occupied Europe
Pictured above is a message written by Lulu and Riri and delivered by pigeon number 43-1549 on August 12, 1944 during Operation Columba.It was transmitted to SHAEF, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, to M.I.14, the branch of British Military Intelligence responsible for all pigeon-related espionage, and to A.I.1 ( c ), the Air Intelligence component ofM.I.6, the Secret Intelligence Service.The British created Operation Columba to gather intelligence on the Germans in occupied France, Holland, and Belgium.17,000 pigeons were dropped from British planes in baskets or boxes attached to small parachutes between 1941-45.Below is a picture of the envelope which contained a questionnaire, rice paper, and a pencil.
The instructions tell the finder to hide or destroy the parachute and take the pigeon home or to a safe place.
People risked their lives to send these messages.Sending messages with pigeons was forbidden buy the Germans.
Because it was dangerous to have a pigeon, these messages had to be written quickly and sent as soon as weather was favorable.Unlike letter, memoirs, or diaries there wasn’t much time for reflection.
Did these messages have real value as intelligence?
Perhaps the best measure of the intelligence value of the messages is this report on the German reaction to the writers and to the pigeons:
Imagine living under the German occupation.Everything produced in the factories goes to the German army.The Germans can force you to do anything.. You are starving because your country’s food goes to the German army.You have seen the Jews taken away.You know people who have been killed or wounded by inaccurate Allied bombings.Imagine the sadness, the anger, the fear, the frustration, the feeling of helplessness.
Then, you find a pigeon!You have a chance to write words which could help the Allies do damage to the Germans.You have a chance to describe the horrors you see and endure.You have the hope of hearing on the BBC that the pigeon made it back with your message.
You write.You are no longer helpless.You have thoughts and useful information.But you don’t have much time. You must send the pigeon as soon as possible. If a friend or family member sees the pigeon they might report you to the Germans.
When it is time, you toss the pigeon into the air.The pigeon circles to get his bearings, and then flies toward Britain with your words.