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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 8, Number 4, December 2014

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Anita Virgil
Forest, Virginia, USA


Double Cross

was the code name used by the British to cover up Allied D-Day invasion plans. Utilizing an eclectic international group of German spies hired as double agents, the Twenty Committee [XX] flooded the Abwehr to confound the Nazis with misinformation, half-truths and sheer fabrications. Purpose: to divert their attention from "Overlord" (the Normandy invasion) to a fictitious one at Pas de Calais.

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Now add to the zany mix of unlikely message-transmitters the carrier pigeon! Britain's MI5 came up with The Pigeon Service Special Section, B3C. Of note, in 1937 the Germans had staged a "pigeon race" using 1,400 birds brought by plane to Britain and released to fly home. Obviously a test run to make sure the birds could make it across the channel to their German homes—when the time came. Carrier pigeons' flight range in good weather conditions: 700 miles.

In bad weather, a couple of exhausted 'combatants' landed in the Scilly Islands. One British, one Nazi bird. Both held as prisoners of war. Many pigeons were deployed by parachute with messages either written in invisible ink on their wings or stuffed into the hollow main wing-feather on a minute scroll of rice paper. British pigeons floated down to occupied France in cardboard boxes each equipped with a little bag of corn. Today's jet liners offer us tiny snacks for comfort too.

This topsy-turvy world!
I pick at grain bread
seated above the clouds

Even Heinrich Himmler was enthralled by the carrier pigeons' capabilities for transmitting messages undetected. Feathered traffic grew exponentially until attempts were made to intercept avian "incoming mail" from Germany. The head of the British pigeon division (a life-long pigeon fancier himself) created a new bird squadron: three Peregrine falcons were enlisted to bring down enemy birds in this alternate aerial battle. A huge success! The falcons took out 23 pigeons . . . all British.

So ended the Falcon Unit.

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However, little else got fouled up by these determined British birds. "Flying through thirty-miles-per hour headwinds, dense cloud, and sporadic enemy fire . . ." English bird Gustav was the homing pigeon released from a landing ship 20 miles offshore on June 6, 1944. He flew back to England with the first news of the D-Day landings strapped to his leg. Arriving at his home loft near Portsmouth the little message Gustav carried was immediately relayed to London: The first assault troops landed 0750. At the end of the war, Gustav was awarded a medal for valor equivalent to the Victoria Cross. Soon afterwards Gustav died when his breeder "trod on him while mucking out his loft."


Author's Notes:

All pigeon references: Double Cross: the True Story of the D-Day Spies by Ben Macintyre, Crown Publishers NY 2012.

senryu : Anita Virgil ebook summer thunder 2004

photo 1: Wikimedia Commons, D-Day Memorial Bedford, Virginia

photo 2: Wikimedia Commons, A member of the crew of an RAF Coastal Command Lockheed Hudson holding a carrier pigeon, 1942.

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