Animal Spies & Warriors — WWII : British Hawks vs Nazi Pigeons

“But the sad truth is that the only pigeons they [the MI5 British hawks] managed to kill were British ones because hawks don’t have a friend or foe identification system. An MI5 report at the end of the war noted that the hawks did not bring down a single enemy bird, probably because there never were any.”

The Telegraph (May 31 2018)

“There is scarcely a book of mine that didn’t have ‘The Pigeon Tunnel’ at some time or another as its working title. Its origin is easily explained. I was in my mid-teens when my father decided to take me on one of his gambling sprees to Monte Carlo.

Close to the old casino stood the sporting club, and at its base lay a stretch of lawn and a shooting range looking out to sea. Under the lawn ran small, parallel tunnels that led in a row to the sea’s edge. Into them were inserted live pigeons that had been hatched and trapped on the casino roof.

Their job was to further their way along the pitch-dark tunnel until they emerged in the Mediterranean sky as targets for well-hunched sporting gentlemen who were standing or lying in wait with their shotguns. Pigeons who were missed or merely winged then did what pigeons do. They returned to the place of their birth on the casino roof, where the same traps awaited them.

Quite why this image has haunted me for so long is something the reader is perhaps better able to judge than I am.”

John Le Carré — The Pigeon Tunnel (January 2016)

This is the story of the ‘Battle of England’ you never heard of. During WWII, the Director-General of MI5 approved the creation of a falconry unit to ‘search and destroy’ Nazi pigeons. Once again, the operation was hardly a success.

The British hawks did not bring down a single enemy bird. Maybe, the spooks were watching for the wrong birds. Perhaps, they should have asked for the help of a professional bird-watcher: James Bond. Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today

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Between April 1941 and September 1944, more than 16,000 British pigeons were dropped in occupied Europe in fortified cages, with pleas for any information to be put in a tiny capsule on the bird’s leg.

Then, a year later, two birds were found on a British vessel off the coast of Ipswich. One was carrying a message in German. The other bird had its wings stamped ‘Wehrmacht’.

Logically, MI5 began to suspect the Germans were also employing pigeons. The Director-General of MI5 approved the creation of a falconry unit to investigate the problem. The birds were trained for five weeks at a base in Pembrokeshire.

 “A team of MI5 officers actually spent a summer on the Scilly Isles, on the golf course, with hawks on their wrists, trying to catch German pigeons.

One would stand at the highest point of the course, another across the island on the coast – hardly the worst job in summer – looking out for enemy pigeons, their falcons ready on their wrists to let slip.

The Air Ministry supplied them with some pigeons to practise on.”

But the MI5 hawks and falcons trained to attack any German pigeons were a dismal failure. By the end of WWII, they had  killed just seven birds – all of them British.

How Jamaica inspired James Bond

In 1943, Ian Fleming flew to Jamaica to track down rumors of a secret submarine base near Nassau. It was there that he picked up a book on birds — written by one James Bond. Ten years later, when Fleming decided to channel his time in intelligence into fiction, he pilfered the name “James Bond” for his new hero in “Casino Royale.”

James Bond — ornithologist (1900 – 1989) — was an expert on the birdlife of the Caribbean and wrote the seminal Birds of the West Indies, first published in 1936 and republished in varying formats ever since.

Ian Fleming — the father of ‘James Bond’ — lived in Jamaica and was a keen birdwatcher.

The story goes that one evening, visiting friends, he saw ornithologist James Bond’s Birds of the West Indies on a table, and borrowed that short, punchy name for his fictional hero 007 for Casino Royale, published in 1953. He later said he wanted a name that sounded ‘as ordinary as possible’.

In an interview, Fleming said “I wanted the simplest, dullest, plainest-sounding name I could find, and ‘James Bond’ was much better than something more interesting, like ‘Peregrine Carruthers.’

Exotic things would happen to and around him, but he would be a neutral figure — an anonymous, blunt instrument wielded by a government department.”

Fleming wrote to the real James Bond’s wife “It struck me that this brief, unromantic, Anglo-Saxon and yet very masculine name was just what I needed, and so a second James Bond was born.”

He also contacted the real James Bond about using his name in the books and Bond replied that he was “fine with it.”

At some point during one of Fleming’s visits to Jamaica he met the real Bond and his wife. The meeting was recorded for a documentary.

FACT, FICTION & IN-JOKES

In ‘Dr No’ Fleming referenced Bond’s work by basing a large Ornithological Sanctuary on Dr No’s island in the Bahamas.

In 1964, Fleming gave Bond a first edition copy of You Only Live Twice signed “To the real James Bond, from the thief of his identity”.

In the 2002 Bond film Die Another Day the fictional Bond can be seen examining Birds of the West Indies in an early scene that takes place in Havana.

After arriving in Cuba, one of Bond’s first stops is to drop in on cigar factory owner/MI6 sleeper agent Raoul (Emilio Echevarría), who hooks him up with the books, binoculars, and car that 007 needs to satisfy his chosen cover of… ornithologist?

However the author’s name (James Bond) on the front cover is obscured.

The inclusion of Birds of the West Indies actually appearing on screen is the movie’s way of paying tribute to the character’s origins while also lending him a semi-reasonable cover during his time in Cuba.

In the same film, when Bond first meets Jinx, he introduces himself as an ornithologist.

During this early scene of ‘Die Another Day’, James Bond claims to be an ornithologist. Or is he a horny-thologist? Jinx (Halle Berry) appears a bit confused too. After a careful study of his equipment — and I mean his binoculars — Jinx replies: “Ornithologist? Wow… That is a mouthful!”

Jinx (Halle Berry) Surfaces — Die Another Day (2002)

How Ian Fleming created James Bond

REFERENCES

MI5’s unit with a daily licence to kill — The Telegraph

THE NAME’S BOND. JAMES BOND. LICENSED TO WATCH BIRDS… — ROLLING HARBOUR ABACO

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Animal Spies & Warriors — WWII : British Hawks vs Nazi Pigeons

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