Nazi-trained homing pigeons were the target of British covert operations during WWII, it has emerged.


Scores of lofts of the message-carrying birds were pinpointed by MI5 agents in 1940 across Belgium, West Holland and the Balkans.


The airborne threat was believed to be the pet project of SS chief Heinrich Himmler - who was known by British intelligence as an avowed pigeon fancier.


Under interrogation, captured "German pigeon personnel" told how the birds were a vital component of Hitler's plans to invade Britain.


The MI5 report on the phenomenon, released with a batch of wartime secret service documents this week, said: "From these prisoners of war it was learnt that it was anticipated that the birds would be used to convey information obtained by short-term pre-invasion agents."


To counter the menace, MI5 tamed and trained its own crack force of peregrine falcons, with the aim of felling incoming pigeons.


According to documents now held at the Public Record Office in Kew, London, at least two of the captured pigeons became "prisoners of war".


Displaying humor in the midst of adversity, an intelligence officer marked in his report: "Both birds are now prisoners of war working hard at breeding English pigeons."


The new Army Pigeon Service Special Section birds of prey were used to set up an airborne net over the Scilly Isles early in 1942 following sightings of pigeons disappearing towards France.


The MI5 report notes Britain's new anti-pigeon force would patrol for two hours at a time over the islands off the Cornish coast.


It says: "This was a great success. The falcon flying high above the Scillies could watch not only a part of one island, but the whole group, and any pigeon flying over them would be attacked."


Agents had found that the Nazi party had taken control of all pigeon lofts in Germany after it assumed power, while Himmler had ordered the use of pigeons by his own Gestapo security police.


The British document notes: "It is said that Himmler, who has been a pigeon fancier and enthusiast all his life, is the head or president of the German National Pigeon Society.


"And he has brought his enthusiasm for pigeons into the Gestapo, who are said to use this form of communication both in Germany and in the occupied countries."


Intelligence officers also investigated ways in which pigeons were deposited in the UK. They believed some were carried in by individuals, and that some were dropped off in baskets by high-speed E-Boats and submarines.


Dropping pigeons by parachute was also identified as a possible method of their entering the country.

German Recon Pigeon



WWII security service operatives were also on the look-out for:


        Suspicious marks on telegraph poles
At the height of fears of a German invasion, reports of markings on telegraph poles prompted a major investigation. MI5 eventually concluded, however, that the marks were the work of the Anglo-American Oil Company ... or boy scouts and girl guides.

        Crop cutting
Farmers cutting crops out of season, or in unusual patterns came under suspicion of trying to convey messages to airborne craft, or of providing runways for the enemy.

        Annotated maps
Marked maps, strange notes, or even hanging out white linen could have lead to investigation by MI5's operations section.








British spy chiefs secretly considered training pigeons to fly into German targets carrying explosives or biological weapons, it has been revealed.

British intelligence set up a "pigeon committee" at the end of World War II to ensure expertise gained in the use of the birds to carry messages was not lost.

Documents now released to the National Archives reveal that the War Office intelligence section, MI14, warned: "Pigeon research will not stand still; if we do not experiment, other powers will."

Among MI14's proposals was the training of pigeons carrying explosives to fly into German searchlights.

Meanwhile, pigeon enthusiast Wing Commander WDL Rayner suggested a "bacteriological warfare agent" could be combined with the explosive.

"A thousand pigeons each with a two ounce explosive capsule, landed at intervals on a specific target, might be a seriously inconvenient surprise," Mr Rayner wrote.

He believed his "revolutionary" ideas could change the way wars were fought, and had the tentative backing of wartime MI6 chief Sir Stewart Menzies.

However the internal security service MI5 branded Rayner a "menace in pigeon affairs".

MI5's Lieutenant Colonel Tommy Robertson wrote: "I thought that some time ago it had been made clear that Rayner should finish writing his manual and then have nothing further to do with this committee officially."

Rayner's plan for a 400-pigeon loft where tests would be carried out was abandoned due to wrangling among the intelligence agencies over funding.




~ Both articles courtesy of the BBC


Site Meter