Operation Columba was one of the most secretive arms of British Intelligence during the second world war. Between April 1941 and September 1944, its agents made 16,554 drops over an area stretching from Copenhagen to Bordeaux. Amongst Columba’s successes was the mapping of Belgium’s entire coastal defence system, 67 kilometres worth of priceless, minutely detailed information. Columba was the province of a specially created Secret Service division, M114 (d), which received its first message from occupied Europe on 10 April 1941. The correspondent ended his message stoutly: ‘I am, and will always remain, a Frenchman.’
That spirit of defiance, expressed by an ordinary, anonymous citizen who risked his life to send his communication, encapsulates the sense of danger, drama and poignant humility which Gordon Corera brings to his extraordinarily well researched history of Columba’s operations.