MESSAGES RECEIVED THROUGH MI14'S CARRIER PIGEON SERVICE FROM OCCUPIED EUROPE
MI14 (later MI4) was the branch of British military intelligence responsible for dropping carrier pigeons over occupied Europe. The carrier pigeons were dropped with a questionnaire asking patriots for information regarding the disposition of German troops and military installations. The Pigeon Service began operating in mid-1941 and initially requested information regarding German preparations for the invasion of Britain. The questionnaire also enquired about what troops were in the area and the type of insignia they wore; addresses used by German headquarters and officials; what coastal defences and patrols were in operation; how was the morale of German soldiers; and also whether BBC radio broadcasts were clearly audible or not.
During the summer months around 20% to 25% of the despatched pigeons successfully made it back to England with messages from Europe, dropping to 10% to 15% in the winter. These messages were often very detailed and sometimes included sketch maps. Although the quality of intelligence could be rather good there was the inherent risk of deception by German counter intelligence. Indeed the Germans offered rewards to the civilian population for handing in enemy carrier pigeons. Alternatively being found in possession of one meant certain death. During the three years the MI14 Pigeon Service operated around 950 different messages were received from the continent.
A few examples of returned messages are reproduced below.
Message No. 23
Sent from Cambridge on 5.7.1941
Returned to Ipswich on 7.7.1941
With following message in Flemish from Meulebeke dated 7.7.1941
Transmitted to M.I.14, D.N.I. & R.A.F. at 1400 hours on 8.7.1941
Meulebeke 7th July 1941.
With this I inform you that on the railway Thielt to Meulebeke and to Inglemunster there are groups of trucks laden with munitions. The bombardment of Comines (Komen) has been good on March 2nd (Note: or might also mean the second time)
There are here hardly any soldiers but round about Bruges there are many. At Pittem they are repairing the chateau for important people from Germany. There is some movement on the road from Bruges to Countrai of motor cars with officers and on the aerodrome of Wevelghem there are many airmen.
I found this pigeon on the 6th early in the morning while I was cutting clover for the animals and I have looked after it well and given it food and drink and am now anxious to know if the little animal will reach its loft.
And now I must finish. The soldiers become dissatisfied for their food has become much worse and they are covered in lice.
Hoping that I have possibly rendered you some service, and if possible I am always ready and sign myself,
Message No. 28
Pigeon No. 322 sent from Cambridge on 5.7.1941
Returned to Barnstaple on 8.7.1941
With following message in French from Mesley dated 6.7.1941
Transmitted to M.I.14, D.N.I. & R.A.F. at 1800 hours on 8.7.1941
This pigeon was found at Mesley (Calvados) on the 5th July 1941 by F.L.No.222.
There are no troops here at the Callouet aviation field at the moment but there are dummy aeroplanes made of wood on the ground. There are no troop exercises.
The Societe M.N. (? Mineraux Nationales) despatched 4 mineral trains per day.
Between Lassy and St. Jean Leblanc there is an aeroplane beacon.
The moral of the troops here is very bad.
The departures which take place are towards the Eastern front.
We hear the B.B.C. very well on 373 metres and we always listen at 9.15 hours (occupied France time).
(Sgd) Group of true Frenchmen who wish for your victory which will also be ours.
Vive la France! Vive l'Angleterre.
Message No. 32
Pigeon No. 145 sent from Cambridge on 5.7.1941
Returned to Ipswich on 9.7.1941
With following message in Flemish from Flanders
Transmitted to W.O. at 1100 hours on 10.7.1941
There is no news from this District of any importance which I can give you so we are sending you back the pigeon as it as least can be of use to you.
Our one wish is that you come to free us.No signature.
The following message was probably the most detailed and important pigeon message received. It contained nine sheets of tiny writing and sketch maps with detailed instructions on potential targets in Belgium. Attempts were made to re-establish contact with the sender but these appear to have been fruitless. Naval Intelligence noted that the intelligence given collaborated and expanded on information received from CX reports - the decrypts of German Enigma signals traffic.
Message No. 37
Pigeon No. 1 sent from Cambridge on 5.7.1941
Returned to Ipswich on (15.30hrs) 12.7.1941
With following message in French & English from Belgium dated (0815 hrs) 12.7.1941
Transmitted to M.I.14, D.N.I. & R.A.F. on 14.7.1941
This message is from Leopold Vindictive 200. Please tell us if you get it in your normal news transmission, - in Dutch twice and in Radio Belquige twice, with the hour of arrival and as soon as you get it. Please say what was unknown to you, only giving the letters of the maps (A.B.C.etc) with "were unknown" or more about "........ is asked for". This information is thoroughly reliable and here is our guarantee or warranty: We are a staff of 3 principals and Several (? Seven) secondary agents but identify me as follows:- I am the bearded Military Chaplain who shook hands with Admiral Keyes on the morning of May 27th 1940 at about 7.30. Ask the Admiral please where he was exactly at that moment with my most respectful greetings. Our greatest hope is to get again birds so as to inform you further. This one was found on the morning of Sunday 6th July. We heard of 8 or 10 others which were found by others and brought to the Authorities and so to the enemy, not because people dislike England but because they fear Germany. I must use every precaution lest this message should be captured by the enemy so I devised the following means to enable you to send us new birds so that they may reach us unknown to others. First determine the exact spot where you must drop them as follows:- take the military map of Belgium 1/40,000, the sheet with the place where Admiral Keyes met me that morning. From that point put a ruler South-Eastward in the axis of the main road; at the extreme east the ruler meets an "E"; the letter of a village name written in the margin. The second letter of that name is the central point of an area (filled with crops) of 300 yards square (300 X 300) where the birds must reach earth. The flyer must come from the West and point straight eastward. By so flying the area is easy to recognise or to identify as there are no trees and as the area is a part of a valley which seems typical. Drop three birds only at the first sunrise (i.e. early dawn) on July 15th, 16th or 17th next which means one of those three mornings. If weather or other circumstances make this impossible try in the same way on July 30th or 31st or August 1st. Avoid long cruising as this always makes people of the neighbourhood rise out of their beds and come out. Remember that also other people possibly may capture the birds. We will do our best but failure is not impossible. We suppose also that you know that such relations are rewarded by death by the enemy so we must act with great circumspection. Never drop birds on Sunday morning or Saturday night as these are the worst times of the week, people are flocking to Church early on Sunday mornings so that it it is impossible to hide the birds.
To read this easily put it on a black or dark sheet of paper and use a magnifying glass, first cutting apart again the different parts and then reassembling them in the right way.
Belgium and England for ever.
God save the King - and us with him!
[The above part of the message was written in English. Then followed detailed intelligence reports with sketch maps and suggestions for aerial attacks].
Message No. 39
Pigeon No. 445 sent from Cambridge on 9.7.1941
Returned to Barnstaple on 12.7.1941
With following message in French from Calvados dated 11.7.1941
Transmitted to M.I.14, D.M.I. & R.A.F. on 14.7.1941
We found your pigeon on the 10th July near CHEURES(?) and sent it off again early on the 11th as we were unable to keep it longer owing to there being Germans in the Commune. They have already destroyed one pigeon found by a woman who gave it up to them.
The only information we can give you is that there is a munitions depot in the forest of St Ohdre near La Huquette.
The Germans hope still to invade England and their moral is [s]till very good.
For 8 days past trains have been passing full of men, lorries and M.Gs. These trains are of 25 to 30 wagons each.
No other news to give you except to beg you to make an end to this as soon as you can before we die of hunger.
We live in the hope, like many other Frenchmen, that Victory is near. Come, dear comrades of yesterday!No signature
Message No. 48
Pigeon No. 221 sent from Cambridge on 5.7.1941
Returned to Ipswich on 14.7.1941
With following message in French from Flanders dated 14.7.1941
Transmitted to M.I.14 etc. on 17.7.1941
Have delayed letting pigeon go for reason of storm.
Be careful: at Deurle apparent (= not real) aerodrome.
Brussels Hale Centenary Exhibition 1930 full of lorries and German material - very important.
Ask my sister living at 1/A Queensgate London S.W.7. who I am and where I am living. Here what there was before the War full of what there was before, soldiers and traitors work at it. In nearby villages and towns no soldiers - at Nieuport and coast hard work at shelters and coastal defence, few soldiers - at Vlaemertinghe important aerodrome just now a few planes. In 15 days there will be many - Same thing at Wevelghem - On the road from Wevelghem to Courtrai, on the right coming from Courtrai, is an airfield. Before coming to the village of Wevelghem is a fake aerodrome lighted at night with red light. If message received acknowledge on French emission of 1.p.m. Here we are Flemish but Belgian - All here all ready to help except some few traitors.
Message No. 50
Pigeon No. 163 sent from Cambridge on 9.7.1941
Returned to Sandwich on 14.7.1941
With following message in French from Normandy or Brittany dated 13.7.1941
Transmitted to M.I.14 etc.
This Weston Super Mare bird strayed and was caught by Sandwich Police. Message forwarded to Sigs via Air Ministry Pigeon Officer.
Impossible to give any troop identifications.
We listen to all B.B.C. news and talks as do 95% of the people. The emissions on 49 metres and 41 metres are very much disturbed. Everything interests us but speak clearly and loud. We hear especially well "Jean (?Marien) in spite of the disturbances.
(a) There are no important concentrations of troops and no embarkation practices.
(b) Small detachments of artillery but of not much importance.
(c) The moral of the troops is very bad; they refuse to sing on returning from exercises and refuse to do manoeuvres, - there only been one during the last 3 days.
(d) No troop movements by rail.
(e) Nothing to report concerning aviation.
Message No. 193
Returned to DALTON, Lancs. on 23/8/1942
With following message in DUTCH from HOLLAND dated 9/8/1942
Transmitted to M.I.14., A.I.1(c), N.I.D.1. at 1600 hours on 25/8/1942
The attached message came on an English racing pigeon which got blown across to Holland in July. It was found, tended and again released on 9th August and arrived back to its own loft in England on 23rd August.
Hello friends in England, somewhere in Holland Aug. 9th '42. This pigeon was brought to two Dutch patriots on July 21st, we recognised it was a British pigeon and we called it "Tommy". The poor animal was entirely exhausted but of course great care was taken with it and within a few weeks Tommy was in good condition to cross the North Sea, something to which the Germans are not capable; Many friends in our neighbourhood send their greetings to Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and to Mr. Winston Churchill, tell our Queen that the opposition in our country is at the most highest grade, it has ever been, owing to the latest German measures against the hostages and the Jews. All the people in occupied Europe long for the day when the Allied Forces will come to the Continent to free them from the hated German tyranny and we assure you that when they come, as many soldiers will rise in Holland as guns are brought to us, to join the Allied Forces.
No we send you some military information: near the village of Sondell in Gaasterland in the province of Friesland, there is an enormous installation to hear the approaching British aircrafts. This apparatus has a diameter of about 10 metres, it is said that at night the British machines can be heard already when they cross the Dutch coastline. With enormous cables this post is communicated with the aerodrome in Leeurwaron and probably too with aerodromes in Western Germany so that German fighters are already in the air to attack the Br. machines when they cross Friesland.
It is a fact that in Gaasterland and in the Ysselmeer, many more British planes have been shot down by night fighters than in other parts of our country, anti-aircraft-guns are not present there. About 10 k.m. N.E. of the town of Zwolle, only one fighter is stationed, which however does much harm to the crossing British bombers. We think this information is of great importance for you. On July 4th, The American Independence Day, one American bomber was destroyed near the aerodrome of Alkmaar, but before it was shot down it first sent to hell two German Messerschmitt fighters. In the night of July 25th to 26th one English bomber shot down two German planes to near Leiden, but fortunately the British plane was obliged to make an emergency-landing. The crew is safe but they are arrested by the Germans.
If Tommy arrives safely in England, we ask you, if it is possible, to broadcast in the Dutch News Bulletin of August the 16th at 7.45 hour am. European time the following information: "Tommy is veilig aangekomen". We shall be very glad, to hear that, and thank you in advance.
We send with many greetings to the British Forces who fight for the freedom of the world.
Long LIVE GREAT BRITAIN, LONG LIVE THE ALLIES.
LEVE DE KONINGIN. LEVE ONS VADERLAND. LEVE DE GEALLIEERDEN
WEG DET DE MOFFEN
Speciaal de groeten aan Bob von de Brabdanis Behougen vaart eneen goeden wacht.
Cheerio!!!!!! Twee Geuzen.
Message No. 855
Pigeon No. 43-7378 sent from Cambridge on 29th June 1944
Returned to Lyme Regis on 6th July 1944
Language in French from VAY (LOIRE INFERIEURE) dated 4th July 1944
Transmitted to SHAEF, M.I.14(d), A.I. 1(c), S.F., N.I.D.2. at 1050 hours on 7th July 1944
No enemy defences within a radius of 20 Kms., except on the outskirts of NANTES, which is protected by anti-tank guns, machine-gun nests, etc. on all the roads giving access to the town, and they are inter-connected. Searchlights and ack-ack dispersed on the outskirts (SEVRE, BOULEVARD DES ANGLAIS, LA CONTRIE, etc), but lately the numbers have considerably decreased.
At NANTES only the bridge PIRMIL and the BAC DU PELLERIN connecting the right and left side of the river remain.
According to information received, many coastal guns have been taken away and have been replaced by guns of wood, cement or any other tubular material. I have this information from a reliable source.
Important and official detail. The Germans have prepared and constructed between LA BAULE and PORNICHET, dummy cottages with shutters, doors, etc., painted in the usual colours, and provided with real guns of 77 or other calibre. They are ready for action through the openings of these cottages.
No important troops in this district within a radius of 20 Kms. 15 policemen at NOZAY.
The military convoys go by road because the railways have been cut coming from the district of NATES, SAVENAY, are going in the direction of RENNES, LAVAL, and only travel between 2300 and 0700 hrs. (official time).
There is a small petrol depot at LA MAILLARDAIS in the forest DU GAVRE. Principle centres of material are at LA CHAPELLE SUR ERDRE, SAVENAY, NANTES.
Feldkommandantur at NANTES, PLACE LOUIS XVI near the Cathedral, PONT DE CENS, near the college.
Kommandantur at SAVENAY and CHATEAUBRIANT.
The morale of the troops is not very brilliant, although some are still conceited. The mentality and attitude of all of them is dreadful.
No airfields in this district. CHATEAU BOUGON (NANTES) ESCOUBLAC LA BAULE, partially destroyed (only the runways are still serviceable).
Between FAY DE BRETAGNE and LE TEMPLE, village of MIREMONT, there are observation posts, from which the coast can be seen (50 Kms), on a windmill and on houses.
The harbour of ST. NAZAIRE is almost inactive. About 4 or 5 submarines in the basin, probably damaged.
With regard to your recent bombings, your dive-bombing on communication lines, roads, etc. is very effective, and was carried out with great precision. Bravo! But less efficient and more destructive are the 4-engined Fortresses, especially on NANTES. I cannot give you precise information with regard to bombing targets; since the events of the last days troops and depots are being moved about. According to information received, I would sum up stating that there are no important military troops within a radius of 100 Kms.
A MAQUIS, situated at SAFFRE (LOIRE INFERIEURE) has been discovered by the enemy. An energetic defence was put up. There were 13 killed, 27 made prisoners, who were shot at NANTES (CHATEAU DES DUCS). Stop sending arms to that MAQUIS. Your supplies by parachute on the night of 29th-30th June fell in the hands of the enemy, who have been masters of the district since the 28th.
The electric current is cut at all hours of the day, but we have made arrangements to establish a liaison, and are therefore "au courant", nevertheless. Sets have been taken away in the coastal region but not in our district.
Do not worry, dear Allies. We have been standing firm for 4 years now and we know all the defeatists, collaborators and especially the turncoats. We shake you by the hand. Together we shall win.
(Sgd) Julien et Jacques.
[Source TNA: ADM 199/2475, transcribed by www.arcre.com]