Pigeon Contamination Plan

1 Apr 2016

I have been reading Double Cross: The True Story of The D-Day Spies by Ben Macintyre and the thing I am going to remember the best is … The Pigeon Contamination Plan

Flight Lieutenant Walker was head of ‘The Pigeon Service Special Section, B3C’, charged with disrupting the enemy’s use of pigeons, and deploying Allied pigeons for passing on secret intelligence.

Walker was convinced that Nazi pigeons were now pouring into Britain, by parachute, high-speed motor launch and by U-boat, providing enemy spies in Britain with an undetectable method of sending information to occupied Europe.

One of Walker’s plans:

‘If all the fanciers living within ten miles of the coast from Cornwall to Norfolk could be organised to form a screen’ by releasing their birds at staggered intervals, then ‘any enemy pigeon on a homing flight would stand a good chance of coming across their pigeons exercising and would be tempted to join them.’ Astonishingly, Walker was given permission to carry out the largest military deployment of pigeons ever attempted, a sort of aerial Home Guard. Walker boasted that the resulting screen ‘covered an area roughly ten miles deep all along the coast from Land’s End to Cromer’. It had no effect whatever, for the simple reason that the Germans never attempted to use pigeons to send messages from Britain. Walker did not mind: ‘Had they done so, it is fairly certain that the loft screen would have bagged a fair proportion of them.’

Having failed to make make impact on enemy pigeons in Britain (because there weren’t any), the unstoppable Flight Lieutenant Walker ‘began to wonder if there were not some more offensive way of attacking the German pigeon service’. He came up with the ‘double-cross pigeon racket’, a plan that might wipe out the enemy pigeon population at a stroke.

If the Germans could be fooled into believing that British spy-pigeons had infiltrated their lofts, then it would throw suspicion on the entire German pigeon service: if they could no longer trust their own pigeons, they might kill the lot. In the winter of 1943. he presented M15 with a top secret memo laying out his ‘Pigeon Contamination Plan’.

A stray or lost pigeon will always find its way into some loft. If a number of British pigeons could be disguised as German pigeons by putting German rings on them and then released on the Continent (deliberately choosing second-rate birds which would be unlikely to attempt the long flight back), they would find their way eventually into German-controlled lofts. Sooner or later, the Germans would discover they were being fooled. They would find two birds with the same number, or a grey pigeon wearing a ring which their records clearly showed as belonging to a red pigeon. They would begin, then, to wonder how many of their pigeons were ‘phoney’, and the only thing they could do would be to call all their birds in and check them. Until they had checked all their birds in all their lofts, they would be unable to use any pigeon services and by the time they had gone through them all, I would have delivered more ‘phonies’.

MI5 was enthusiastic. With the Germans braced for an invasion, the discovery that their lofts had been penetrated by double-agent pigeons would throw them off balance at a ‘critical psychological moment’

This plan was put into action and … nothing happened. The Germans never realised that their pigeon lofts had been infiltrated.

I feel that I should be drawing some kind of moral from this about start-ups, enthusiastic developers, best laid plans, blah blah but it’s all a bit Sunday School and I can’t be bothered. But next time something goes wrong, just think of the Pigeon Contamination Plan.