Operation COLUMBA

When I was writing these entries, I noticed that several Special Duties pilots’ post-sortie reports mention their pigeon-dropping activities, but I took little notice, and rarely mentioned them. They didn’t seem important. I assumed that pigeon-dropping had been, like the SD crews’ routine dropping of propaganda leaflets over nearby towns, a form of cover-story to explain the aircraft’s presence in the area. I had no idea that these drops were part of a carefully-conceived programme. Though I had read of the several ingenious attempts using pigeons to communicate with agents in German-occupied Belgium during the First World War, I did not make the link. I should have known better: most types of clandestine air activity used by the RAF in the 1939-45 war had already been tried, often successfully, more than twenty years before.

Gordon Corera’s recently-published book, Secret Pigeon Service: Operation Columba, Resistance, and the Struggle to Liberate Europe, shows just how important these pigeon-dropping activities were. Gordon cites this website as one of several sources of information about the RAF SD sorties, but we also corresponded in the final stages in order to nail down the sorties and operations that delivered the pigeons, in particular the sortie that dropped the pigeon picked up and returned by the group known to British Intelligence as ‘Leopold Vindictive’. I had not mentioned the pigeon-dropping activities on the night of 5 July 1941 because at the time of writing the post they seemed unimportant beside the sortie’s other incidents. This has now been put right.

I did not amend my posts before Gordon’s book was published, but it makes sense to do so now. From our discussions, and now from reading his book, I have learned much about the pigeon-dropping sorties. However, I have tried to add content in an identifiable way that prevents Gordon’s book referring to a part of one of my posts that makes reference to his book: a self-referencing loop. Websites are not books, which, once published, stay published: a website is a temporary construct, a dynamic artifact as evanescent as yesterday’s snow, subject to the whims (and the continued existence) of its creator. Though a website is a poor substitute for a book as a historical record, its advantages lie in its ability to be amended and enhanced due to newly-acquired knowledge.

If you wish to find the posts that relate to COLUMBA, look at the tag cloud and select the ‘COLUMBA’ tag. This will return the sorties on dates that pigeons were dropped.