Category Archives: Geography

Gibby’s Spy

Harold Gibson in his Office

[This report examines a hoax perpetrated on Chapman Pincher, one that was soon afterwards foolishly picked up by Peter Wright, and later irresponsibly echoed by John Costello and Nigel West. It concerns a deception exercise, named Operation TARANTELLA, probably managed by Joseph Stalin himself, in which a celebrated MI6 officer, Harold Gibson, was sadly misused.]

Contents:

Introduction

  1. Gibby’s Spy
  2. Harold Gibson
  3. Gibson’s Curriculum Vitae
  4. The NKVD Dossier
  5. The Nigel West Theory
  6. The Mis-Education of Chapman Pincher
  7. Count Nelidov
  8. A Spy in the Kremlin?
  9. Hints of Disinformation
  10. Operation TARANTELLA
  11. Sotskov’ s ‘Operation Code – TARANTELLA’
  12. The Gibson-Bogomolets Letters

Overall Conclusions

Introduction

In recent weeks I have been involved in energetic email discussions with Keith Ellison, an intelligence sleuth like me. Mr Ellison is, however, a genuine intelligence expert, having served in Britain’s Intelligence Corps. He has written a very penetrating study of MI6’s Section V during WWII (see https://www.academia.edu/63976327/Special_Counter_Intelligence_in_WW2_Europe_Revised_2021_ ), and discovered coldspur while he was researching wireless usage by the ‘double agents’ of MI5. Keith is engrossed with the identity of ELLI, and challenged me on one or two points of my recent analysis of Gouzenko’s testimony. (He assures me that, despite his name, he is not ‘the son of ELLI’.) Regular coldspur readers will recall that my current supposition is that ELLI was Stephen Alley, identified because of a misunderstanding by Colonel Chichaev over a former agent of George Hill’s, but my analysis is in one aspect flawed in that it does not take into account Gouzenko’s claims about ELLI’s moving ‘to the dubok method’. Such tradecraft would not have been necessary with Alley, since he enjoyed authorized contacts with Chichaev.

Naturally, there is nothing I welcome more than a spirited, well-argued exchange of ideas (unlike some of the unsupported bluster that I do receive from some quarters), and Keith and I entered the debate in a constructive and serious manner. Our discussion kicked off on the question of whether ELLI had been a GRU or an NKVD asset. Since Gouzenko worked as a cipher clerk for the GRU in Toronto, the general assumption has been that he would have had access to GRU traffic only, as the two departments were supposed to have maintained tight compartmentalization. Yet Colonel Chichaev, who reported the fact that George Hill was supposed to be running an agent inside the Kremlin, was an NKVD appointee, and reported to Lieutenant-General Pavel Fitin, head of Foreign Intelligence. The events suggested that encryption and decryption services may have been shared in Moscow by the NKGB (as the foreign sections of NKVD became in 1943) and military intelligence, the GRU. Indeed, the evidence supplied by Walter Krivitsky to MI5 reinforced the notion that sharing of intelligence took place back in Moscow, since Yezhov had been focused on combining the offices of the NKVD and the GRU’s Fourth Department. In Deadly Illusions (p 202) Costello and Tsarev echo the fact that the NKVD’s signals department collaborated with the Fourth Department.

Yet some of these contributions to the record are not precisely dated, and have to be treated cautiously. For example, did Yezhov’s integrative impulses survive his execution? The answer might appear to be ’yes’. Donald Rayfield wrote, in Stalin and His Hangmen, that Beria by 1940 ‘had completed Ezhov’s [Yezhov’s] work destroying Red Army intelligence: everyone of the rank of colonel or above had been shot’. Under those circumstances, how could an independent GRU staff have processed encrypted signals from abroad? Moreover, while Gouzenko appears to suggest that there was a strict division of responsibilities between the cipher departments of the GRU and the NKVD (a chart that he drew for his interrogators in Toronto is ambiguous), one has to question whether the Soviet authorities could afford such dispersal of their cipher teams in times of stress – especially when the units were moved from Moscow to Kuibyshev as the Germans advanced in December 1941. We continue to explore this issue.

As Keith and I delved again into the archival material, and discussed for whom ELLI worked, we agreed that it was indeed probably SOE, but could have been MI6. Guy Liddell had quickly concluded that he (or she) was in SOE, but dismissed the possibility that it could have been the known SOE employee and traitor Ormond Uren, who had been arrested, convicted, and jailed in 1943. We agreed that, as every month and then year passed, the evidential material emanating from Gouzenko for identifying ELLI sharpy deteriorated, and our focus thus turned sharply to the role of Colonel Chichaev. We decided that it was important to verify whether Chichaev did indeed handle any of the Cambridge spies (or their affiliates), to help out Gorsky and Krotov, as Genrikh Borovik claimed in The Philby Files.

And then we changed course. During our email conversations, as we discussed possible moles, Keith incidentally drew my attention to an anecdote reported by Peter Wright in Spycatcher, where the retired MI5 officer described how Anthony Blunt had responded to Wright’s accusation that deaths had occurred because of Blunt’s betrayals, and Blunt appeared to have acknowledged his responsibility in the execution of an MI6 asset behind Soviet lines. I had obviously read this passage when I first encountered Spycatcher, but its implications had not registered very deeply. I decided to investigate.

  1. Gibby’s Spy

The section runs as follows, where Wright describes his attempts to extract further information from Blunt in 1964 (p 220):

I switched tack, and began to press his conscience.

“Have you ever thought about the people who died?”

Blunt feigned ignorance.

“There were no deaths,” he said smoothly, “I never had access to that type of thing . . .”

“What about Gibby’s spy”? I flashed, referring to an agent run inside the Kremlin by an MI6 officer named Harold Gibson. ‘Gibby’s spy’ provided MI6 with Politburo documents before the war, until he was betrayed by Blunt and subsequently executed.

“He was a spy,” said Blunt harshly, momentarily dropping his guard to reveal the KGB professional. ‘He knew the game; he knew the risks.”

Blunt knew that he had been caught in a lie, and the tic started up with a vengeance.

What to make of this? The impression that Wright gives is that the knowledge of ‘Gibby’s spy’, and of his elimination, was common across MI5 and MI6, and that Blunt’s speedy acknowledgment was tantamount to the fact that he had been responsible. The anecdote also suggested a possible source for the asset in the Kremlin who had provided information that appeared in the famous ‘Imperial Council’ report that Walter Krivitsky discussed with his MI5 interrogators in 1940. But can one trust what Wright wrote as an accurate account of what happened? Certainly, he seems to be aware of a person known as ‘Gibby’s spy’, but can we accept that the challenge, and Blunt’s riposte, actually took place? For example, how did Wright know that Gibby’s spy had been executed? Did Blunt tell him??

I decided to dig around a bit. Quite extraordinarily, Nigel West’s 2009 work Triplex, which covers a broad array of documents passed on to Moscow by the Cambridge spies (many of which appeared for the first time in English, since they were translations back from the Russian transcripts of documents that have never been released by the British government) appeared to provide some strong insights and conclusions. [The translations were performed by Dina Goebbel and by a figure familiar to readers of coldspur, Geoffrey Elliott.] After introducing his readers to Blunt’s recruitment by MI5 in the summer of 1940, after Dunkirk, and his ability to gain access to the ‘famed Security Service Registry’, West lays out Blunt’s probable culpability: “Thereafter he seems to have copied whatever files he was requested to, and there can be little doubt that he had a direct hand in copying the four documents contained in the pages that follow.”

Again, it is worth quoting West’s full text of explanation here:

The first among these documents is a summary of the NKVD’s October 1940 interrogation of Aleksandr S. Nelidov, a long-term SIS source who was probably betrayed by Anthony Blunt. When the art historian joined MI5 in May 1940, transferring from the Field Security Police after the Dunkirk debacle, he lost no time in pillaging the Registry for information that would prove his bona-fides to his NKVD controllers. One of the first items he passed on was information about a highly successful agent recruited years earlier by the legendary SIS professional Harold Gibson. Although in the Registry documents a weak attempt was made to protect the source with a code name, there was sufficient collateral data for the ruthless NKVD investigators to narrow the field of suspects, and according to the file released for publication in this volume, it was at this time that they extracted a confession from Nelidov.

West then explains that SIS had ignored the implications of Nelidov’s unexpected arrest, and that Wright’s accusation of Blunt, to his face, was the first occasion on which the connection had been made. (This, in itself, is quite extraordinary. Would MI6/SIS not have undertaken an investigation when their source dried up?) Furthermore, West interprets the passage as indicating that Blunt admitted his guilt, and concludes by observing that ‘In reality, unknown to either Wright or Blunt, Nelidov committed suicide in 1942, having confessed to two decades of collaboration with SIS’. Where West derived this information is not clear. A biography of the Soviet intelligence officer Vasily Zarubin revealed it – but that was in 2015. If West learned of it from his collaborator on Triplex, Oleg Tsarev, one might have expected Tsarev to have attempted to dissuade West from his theory that Nelidov was ‘Gibby’s Spy’.

Yet West is adamant. He next introduces three long confessional statements by the hapless Nelidov. The implication from West is that Nelidov might have been the Kremlin source at the time of the ‘Imperial Council’ affair. The identity of this person – whose existence Krivitsky confirmed from a discussion with his boss, Avram Slutsky, during his last period in Moscow in April or May 1937 – has never been determined. Much analysis has focused on the identity of the mole inside the Foreign Office or MI6 who gave the information to the Soviets (as I wrote about, back in February 2019: see http://www.coldspur.com/two-cambridge-spies-dutch-connections-1/ ),  but no investigation into the remarkable ability of an MI6 agent to survive in the Kremlin, and pass on intelligence to the British service, has been undertaken, so far as I know. ‘Was ‘Gibby’s Spy’ the person in question?

Yet my reaction to this farrago of nonsense in West’s prelude was utter disbelief (which I shall soon explain). Firstly, however, I set out to explore who this Harold Gibson fellow – ‘legendary’ (mythical) or real-life – was, as part of my methodology of creating a time-line, an understanding of geography and logistics, and developing an analysis of roles and motivations.

  • Harold Gibson

Not much has been written about Gibson in the places where you might expect an officer of ‘legendary’ status to be chronicled. A Wikitree entry gives the following on his early life:

            Harold Charles Lehr Gibson was born in Moscow in 1897 (other sources claim he was born in either in 1885 or 1887 which is probably incorrect). He attended primary school in Moscow from 1909 to 1913 and then completed his education at Tonbridge School. He also studied at the technical faculty of Moscow University. In March 1917 he was recruited into MI6 for his knowledge of Russian, was attached to the British Consulate General in Moscow as a clerk, was transferred to the Military Permit Office of the British Embassy in Petrograd and in March 1918 returned to the Consulate General in Moscow. He left Russia for London in October 1918 with the remnants of the British and French Missions – and probably the rest of his family.

(see also: https://elenawatson.weebly.com/gibson.html )

The primary serious source at hand was Keith Jeffery’s authorized history of MI6, so I set out to determine what feats had transformed Mr Gibson into this figure of renown. Here follows a précis of what Jeffery wrote:

Gibson was a ‘Petrograd veteran’, like Lieutenant Commander Malcolm Maclaren, who had arrived in Odessa in early 1919, and was ‘wanted by the Bolsheviks’. Gibson’s father had managed a chemical works in Moscow, and Harold had become bilingual in English and Russian by virtue of spending so much time there, and was also a qualified interpreter in French, German and Czech. He left Russia through the south in 1919, and was posted in October of that year to the SIS station in what is now Istanbul. After three years there, he was moved to Sofia in Bulgaria in October 1922, and to Bucharest in Rumania two months later. In Istanbul Gibson had reportedly recruited networks of Russian anti-Communist agents, including one former Tsarist officer who moved with Gibson to Bucharest, although Jeffery records (without identifying the authority) that ‘it was thought likely that the OGPU had become aware of him’.

In Bucharest, Gibson assembled a sizable network of sources, including a clerk in the Sevastopol naval base, who ran sub-agents himself placed as far apart as the Ukraine and Irkutsk in Central Asia. Gibson’s intelligence was highly regarded back in London by Menzies, and he took his White Russian agent HV/109 (who had also worked for him in Istanbul) with him on his next posting. In 1931, Gibson replaced Rafael Farina as head of station in Riga, Latvia. Yet he did not stay there long, being transferred again, in February 1934, to Prague. This was a critical period, and in early 1938 Gibson was instructed to make contact with Colonel Moravec, the head of Czechoslovak Military Intelligence. From this association Gibson was able to gain valuable intelligence about German military movements in Austria. Gibson was instrumental in extracting Moravec, alongside his senior officers, and a valuable archive, out of Prague to London on March 14, 1939, and he himself escaped on March 30.

Gibson in Turkey; Gibson and friends on holiday

In 1941 Menzies appointed Gibson as head of operations in the Balkans, where, as SIS representatives withdrew in the face of the Axis advance, he turned out to be responsible not only for Turkey, ‘but also for “stations-in-exile” from Sofia, Bucharest, Budapest, Belgrade and Athens’, operating out of Istanbul. The celebrated SIS officer Frank Foley thought highly of Gibson (and his brother Archie), while commenting on the fact that the station had too many ‘second-raters’. Gibson was dismissive of the expertise and patronizing attitude of the ambassador Knatchbull-Hugessen, who tried to bring SIS under his control, but Gibson’s misgivings were justified when the CICERO spy was uncovered. A brief later experience is regretted by Jeffery, when Gibson was allowed to go into Bulgaria in September 1944 despite the fact that Gibson had apparently been blown to the Soviets as an SIS officer while he was in Istanbul. (I note from FCO 158/193, p 33, that Konstantin Volkov, during his attempted defection there in 1945, disclosed to Reed that the identity and role of Gibson were well-known to the KGB.) Jeffery does not explain the revelation or the misjudgment in any detail, simply referring to the starry-eyed visions of the Foreign Office in aspiring to ‘co-operate’ with the Communists. He also writes nothing about Gibson’s spell in Prague after the war, even though his history is supposed to record events up until 1949. And that is all Jeffery has to say.

What about other histories of MI6? Apart from some fresh insights into Gibson’s handling of the valuable Nazi informer Paul Thümmel, using the contributions of the journalist Eric Gedye (of Philby and Vienna renown), Nigel West’s MI6 has little to add – except for an explosive revelation concerning Gibson’s latter years. It is worth quoting the whole paragraph:

The prospect of long-term penetration of the Secret Intelligence Service led to a review of all the evidence for more extensive wartime and postwar betrayal. Some of the leads had been cold for a long time. Harold Gibson, for example, was one. He had returned to Prague in 1945 and had then been posted to Germany in 1949. After a two-year tour of duty in Berlin, he went back to Broadway and then went to Rome as head of station in 1955. He retired on his sixtieth birthday in 1958 and remained in the Italian capital. On 24 August 1960 he was found shot dead in his apartment at 25 Via Antonio Boso. The British and Italian investigators concluded that he had committed suicide. However, three years later, MI5 re-opened the file following defector reports that the Soviets had indeed planted ‘moles’ in SIS, and that these spies had strong Russian backgrounds or Russian connections. Certainly Harold Gibson had these basic qualifications. He had been born in Russia and had been educated there. English was a second language to him and he had married two Russians. His first wife, Rachel Kalmanoviecz, was the daughter of an engineer from Odessa. She had died in 1947 and the following year he had married Katarina Alfimov. Apart from the suspicious circumstances of his death, there was nothing to suggest that Gibson had been anything other than loyal.

In The Friends (1998), West’s study of MI6 after the war, the author picked up this thread of molehunts, drew attention to Gouzenko’s observation about the ‘Russian connection’, and listed some of the officers who could have been suborned in some way by Soviet Intelligence. “All the SIS White Russians, for different reasons, must have been targeted by the KGB at some time”, he wrote. “Sulakov had worked closely with Philby at the Istanbul Station; Dunderdale had managed Tokaev’s defection in 1948; Steveni had received Boris Bajanov, Stalin’s personal assistant, back in 1928; the Gibson brothers had worked for SIS throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East.” His mentioning of Sulakov is particularly damning since, elsewhere, he writes very casually that, in 1947, Philby left ‘the management of individual agents to Roman Sulakov, the station’s long serving, White Russian assistant who had been recruiting and running spies in the region for at least two decades.’ Some assistant: some spies.

I had three major reactions to this astounding passage in MI6:

  1. It suggests strongly that an MI5 file on Gibson exists (or existed). Enough detail, including the names of his two wives, is presented to indicate that much more information on him was gathered. Yet no one appears to have delved into his post-war activities. Why is this? And why has the file not been released?
  2. The murky circumstances of his death echo the persecution of agents or perceived traitors who may have fallen foul of their KGB oppressors (e.g. Wrangel, Miller, Agabekov, Poynts, Reiss, Krivitsky, Harris?, Foote?, Skinner?, Graham?). The verdict on his death is disturbingly inconclusive. Maybe Gibson had personal demons, but the circumstances of his final hours cry out for further examination.
  3. The nature of his marriages also suggests parallels. To marry a Russian woman once is surely romantic: to repeat the performance perhaps an error of judgment. The Soviet authorities did not allow foreigners to take their brides abroad without suborning them with pressures to spy (e.g. Rudolf Peierls). Moreover, Jeffery stated that Gibson had been exposed as an SIS officer during the war. Where did he meet his second wife, and was she perhaps a loyal servant of the KGB?
Viktor Bogomolets (on left)

Michael Smith, in Six, sheds further light on Gibson and his team when discussing the system of digraphs that identified all MI6 officers and agents, telling us that ‘Victor Bogomoletz [sic] who ran intelligence operations into the Soviet Union for Gibson, was given the designator 31109, indicating that he worked to Gibson’s deputy (31100) as his ninth agent’. This number bears a very close resemblance to the anonymous HV/109 referred to by Jeffery, so it is probably safe to conclude that they are one and the same. Smith goes on to express a very ambivalent judgment about the degree to which Russian émigrés were trusted, suggesting that while some were quite reliable (Bogomolets being included in that category), ‘the Service was extremely wary of Russian émigré sources, largely as a result of the activities of the Trust and the Sidney Reilly affair’. (The Trust was a massive counter-intelligence project by the Cheka and OGPU to suggest to exiled White Russians and the western democracies in general that a vibrant counter-revolutionary organization existed in the Soviet Union.) One MI6 officer is even cited as stating that they treated ‘practically all reports from White Russian circles in the same way, namely on the assumption that they are partly, or wholly inspired by the GPU and we leave them severely alone’.

Smith also gives an account of the career of the defector Boris Bazhanov (West’s ‘Bajanov’), who did indeed work in the Kremlin, and served as secretary to the Politburo and to Stalin, and who might possibly have been a candidate for Harold Gibson’s agent. Yet Bazhanov defected in 1928, and his memoir, Bazhanov and the Damnation of Stalin, gives no indication that he was recruited by British Intelligence. As it happened, his escape route did take him to India, where, according to Bazhanov, the British misunderstood him, since they assumed that he wanted to reside in Britain. His goal had always been to go to Paris, where the vibrant White Russian community lived, and it was there he made his home. He could not avoid MI6, however. Jeffery describes how Bazhanov was interviewed at length by Dunderdale (who was head of station in Paris). Furthermore, Dunderdale managed to extract ‘140 pages of information from him’, and also reported (in a document that is not generally available) that Bazhanov ‘considerably exaggerated the strength of the anti-Bolsheviks and the results attained by them in their secret anti-Soviet work abroad’. Thus, while he proved to be an effective interpreter of propaganda and misinformation emanating from Soviet sources during the 1930s, he could not have been the ‘Gibby’s spy’ active during the era of the Imperial Council leakage.

‘Bazhanov and the Damnation of Stalin’

What Bazhanov did record, however, is the fact that he was able to warn the British about fake documents being handed to them. In his memoir he writes (p 203):

            Some time after my arrival in France [1928-1929], a representative of the British Intelligence Service [presumably Dunderdale] came to ask for my advice. Gaiduk (obviously a pseudonym, not his true name), OGPU representative in Riga, was selling Politburo minutes to the British who, thinking them authentic, were paying dearly for then. In actual fact Gaiduk had never seen real Politburo minutes and was fabricating them according to his own concept of them. The British knew even less than he about the subject. I had, however, written so many of them that I was able to establish beyond doubt that the British were buying fakes. They thereupon stopped doing so.

One can scarcely doubt Bazhanov’s integrity, but the actions of Gaiduk are less clear. The date is vague: it could have well been in 1931, when Gibson was installed in Riga. Was Bazhanov sure of Gaiduk’s affiliations with the OGPU? Was Gaiduk acting with full authority of his masters? If, indeed, the OGPU was encouraging the leakage of fake Politburo minutes, it would presumably have taken greater care over their apparent authenticity. Maybe this misbegotten exercise prompted Stalin to ensure that further releases were utterly credible. As for the British, whether they truly heeded Bazhanov’s advice is up for debate. It may have been lost, or not passed onto the appropriate officers. Whether his prime interrogator was Dunderdale, or (as Nigel West reported) one Major Steveni, Bazhanov’s advice should have been assimilated and acted upon. The unavailability of any of the evidence makes objective assessment impossible.

 (Tantalizingly, Bazhanov also writes about a figure called Vladimir Bogovut-Kolomiets, ‘an adventurer on a grand scale, [who] often visited the Soviet Embassies in London and Paris.’ In an Endnote, Bazhanov describes this colourful character as ‘a Russian émigré who lived, as the British put it “by his wits”. He was motivated by greed and worked secretly for the OGPU while professing anti-communism.’ A ‘known GPU agent’ Bogovout-Kolomitziev [sic] is identified on July 28, 1930 by Guy Liddell in the Agabekov archive (KV 2/2398-3, p 41). Could Bogomolets perhaps be a contraction of Bogovut-Kolomiets?)

One last puzzling account of Gibson’s activities refers to his possible involvement with the extraction of Polish ENIGMA expertise in 1939. An authoritative-sounding Web report, at http://www.alternativefinland.com/first-british-volunteer-unit-atholl-highlanders/, has him meeting ‘Lewinski’ in 1938 in Warsaw, reporting to his bosses on the offer of information on decryption, and in June 1939 assisting in his escape after Dilwyn Knox and Alan Turing of the GC&CS went to Poland to meet him and his colleagues. (The source for this story is surely  Anthony Cave-Brown’s Bodyguard of Lies.) Yet such accounts must be treated very cautiously: David Kahn’s Seizing the Enigma does not even recognize that encounter, and Hugh Sebag-Montefiore’s ENIGMA: The Battle for the Code indicates that it was Knox and Alastair Denniston who met Langer and Cięźki on July 24-25 1939 outside Warsaw. No mention is made of Gibson, who was back in the United Kingdom by then. Alan Turing did not join Bletchley Park full-time until after the start of the war. Other accounts have it that the Poles attending the meeting were Zygalski, Rejewski and Rózicki, who escaped to Bucharest after war broke out, were rebuffed there by the British Embassy, and eventually made their way to Vichy France. After Rózicki was killed the other two made it to England via Portugal. Details of the separate escape to France by Langer and Cieźki in September are murky: they were later betrayed to the Germans in 1943 as they tried to cross into Spain. Another muddle to be cleared up at some stage.

3. Gibson’s Curriculum Vitae

A main part of the puzzle – explaining where West and others had gained their information – was solved when a coldspur correspondent alerted me to a paper written in 2010. The Wikitree extract cited above appears to derive from the family archive held by the widow of Harold’s brother Archibald. The historian Hugh Seton-Watson, who had served with SOE as a translator in Egypt, had in 1983 suggested to his fellow-academic, Dennis Delettant, a historian of Romania, that he contact Archibald’s widow concerning papers she held on the two brothers. Seton-Watson introduced Delettant to Patrick Maitland, who had been a special correspondent for the Times between 1939 and 1941, covering the Balkans. In turn, Maitland, who told Delettant that Gibson’s role as Times correspondent in Romania had been a cover for his position with MI6, introduced him to his widow, Kyra.

Kyra Gibson invited Delettant to use a trunk of papers that she held in her house. Delettant then wrote a monograph in 2010, published in the SEER (Slavonic and East European Review) journal, that exploited a typed curriculum vitae that Harold had written up in October 1958, six months after his retirement from the Foreign Office. This corrects Harold’s date of birth to 1897 (he was seven years older than Archibald), and adds some details about Harold’s time in Russia, also contradicting the suggestion that he left Russia for London in October 1918:

            One month later [i.e. March 1919] he was despatched to the British Military Mission in Odessa as interpreter. In May 1919, he joined the mission of Sir Halford Mackinder to South Russia, to report on the state of the anti-Bolshevist forces led by General Denikin and in July was appointed secretary to a Foreign Office fact-finding commission in Bessarabia. In October 1919, he was sent to the MI6 station in Constantinople under cover of working at the General Headquarters of the Allied Forces of Occupation, to report ’mainly on matters relating to Russian security and refugees’. In December 1922, he was posted to Bucharest as head of station where he worked until March 1931 when he was transferred to Riga.

Delettant’s account also adds some fascinating details about Gibson’s activities in Istanbul as head of station in World War II. He worked with the Czech Military Intelligence representative Lt.-Col. Heliodor Pika, in running the famous German agent A-54 (Thümmel) until Pika’s transfer to Moscow in spring 1941. Gibson then joined the mission in Bulgaria in September 1944, but had to leave the country when all Britons were expelled from Bulgaria by the Russians ‘probably because they were aware of Harold Gibson’s senior position in MI6 and his knowledge of Russian’. Later, in Prague, disaster was to strike Pika. In 1948 Gibson was accused by the Czech authorities of involvement in a plot to undermine the state, and was expelled. But Pika was accused of spying for Britain, tried, convicted, and hanged on June 21, 1949 – in fact the first of hundreds. While he had probably consorted with Gibson, the evidence against him indicating conspiracy was obviously faked. Pika had brought trouble on himself ever since his time in Moscow, when he had openly criticized the Party’s plans for post-war control in Czechoslovakia, and had thus been marked out for punishment.

One last contribution to Gibson’s career comes from a 2015 Finnish source. When the Soviet Union invaded Finland in January 1940, there were calls from the public for intervention, and Gibson was soon appointed director of a committee called the Finnish Aid Bureau, an outwardly private initiative, but in fact an operation sponsored by the British Government. This resulted in a small volunteer force being sent to Finland, but the only way it helped Gibson was to draw the attention of the Soviet régime to Gibson’s involvement with anti-communist activism. The Finnish article also re-presents the bare details of the Bogomolets affair, and echoes the claim that Gibson was exposed only in 1945 – a clear cosmetic treatment of the facts.

In relation to the main story of ‘Gibby’s Spy’, the account of Gibson’s career has other profound implications. Gibson was never posted in Moscow (where SIS apparently had no formal station). If he had recruited his old friend, it must have been on a visit from Riga. For his pal to evade surveillance, and set up a meeting with his old school-friend, would be quite an achievement. For his friend to commit to espionage, and then be able to deliver material to someone other than Gibson, when there was no SIS presence at the Embassy, all through the horrifying period of the Great Purge, is beyond belief – unless, of course, it was a set-up, and his contact was somehow allowed to pass on disinformation that the British Secret Service swallowed. Gibson could not possibly have ‘run’ his agent inside the Kremlin from some other European capital: Wright’s claim must be nonsense.

Tea with the Czechs

Moreover, Gibson’s rather clumsy enterprises in spy-handling (apart from his clever and successful extraction of Moravec and his archives from Prague, endorsed by the General in his memoir Master of Spies) must be questioned. Was it really good tradecraft to take one’s primary asset around with him as he was transferred from capital to capital, and delegate to him the selection of agents? The enemy’s counter-espionage units would presumably track such movements. And that network of sub-agents extending to Irkutsk? Could they really be trusted? Jeffery’s study of the ‘legendary’ career of Harold Gibson is less than thorough.

  • The NKVD Dossier

And yet there exists a much fuller account of Gibson’s career. It astonishingly also appears in Triplex, and consists of a dossier compiled by the KGB in 1949 (although presented by West as the last of the ‘NKVD Reports’). It is clear that the agencies had been maintaining a file on Gibson for some time, and the dossier also intriguingly reflects the contributions of ‘British intelligence agent Vasiliev in 1945’, as well as from source PAVLOV in 1944.

First of all, it makes clear that Gibson was a true ‘enemy of the people’. The report states that he ‘hates the USSR and the People’s Democracies’, and that he even served in the Russian army in the First World War as a soldier and a junior officer. The Czechs, moreover, reported that Gibson had ‘played an active role in a plot against the Soviet regime’ in 1917. The dossier sheds some light on Gibson’s two Russian wives without explaining where they were born, or whether the government considered them Soviet citizens. The first wife is not named, but died in 1947. His second wife, Ekaterina Alfimova, was born in 1920, ‘a dancer, speaks Russian, French, Romanian and a little Turkish’. From 1941 to 1945 she ‘lived in Turkey as the wife [not legally married?] of the British journalist Morton Allen Mackintosh, the correspondent of the Daily Telegraph’, and resided in the UK from 1945 to 1947. Gibson apparently met Alfimova in Turkey in 1941, and married her in 1948.

Ekaterina Alfimova

The structure of Gibson’s Intelligence Group in southeast Europe is then laid out, featuring his brother Archibald as his assistant and secretary, with Victor Bogomolets as his assistant for agent handling. As the various stations are described, it become clear that Gibson relied very heavily on former Russian General Staff officers as his residents in Bucharest, Warsaw, Sofia and Riga. It credits Gibson with being able to infiltrate agents into Soviet territory by recruiting a variety of alienated ex-citizens, defectors, or even Soviet sailors whom the Poles had persuaded to jump ship. Why MI6 believed that such characters would volunteer to return to the Soviet Union as spies, and get away with it, is obviously not explained. One remarkable statement runs as follows:

In 1930 the British station sent to Moscow two agents who were employed in Gosplan, Volodya (a Pole) and Luka (a Ukrainian who sold newspapers in Warsaw). When they returned, they brought with them valuable information on the Soviet Five-Year Plan.

Just like that.

Most of the dossier concentrates on Gibson and his network of contacts in Czechoslovakia from 1945 to 1948. It proceeds with a stunning denouncement of the power and reach of his contacts:

In carrying out his intelligence work in Czechoslovakia, Gibson’s relied on merchants, former plant and factory owners, princes, members of the Czechoslovak diplomatic service, members of the Popular Socialist Party, Social Democrats, Fascists, White émigrés from tsarist Russia, persons owing allegiance to Germany and hostile to the USSR, newspaper correspondents, Czechs and Slovaks who spent the war in England, scientists with reactionary attitudes, heads of national side industries, staff members of the Turkish Embassy and medical workers employed in civilian and military establishments.

Gibson was obviously a very busy man, and approached his intelligence mission with Stakhanovite dedication. Truly a ‘legend’. But what is alarming is the fact that he was being surveilled with utmost Communist diligence: one fears for what happened to this mass of potential dissenters who had unwisely consorted with the MI6 head of station. Heliodor Pika was surely not the only victim who lost his life.

Lastly, a really troubling exposure. The NKVD had access to Gibson’s personal diary for the years of 1927 to 1941 (the year that Gibson met his second wife), which offers, as a possible explanation, that his first wife might have disclosed such confidences to the Soviet counter-intelligence service in a fit of jealousy. The extract shows all the cities, with frequencies, that Gibson visited during the period in question. The fact that Gibson kept such a diary, full of vital meetings, is rather scandalous – unless it were a hoax, which appears extremely unlikely, given the richness of its entries. This exercise constituted appalling tradecraft, and cannot have been encouraged by his bosses at MI6: the revelation that it existed must have come as a great shock to them, whenever it was discovered. If MI6 did indeed gain a suspicion that the OGPU/NKVD had worked out what he was up as far back as Bucharest in 1930, it is not surprising that Jeffery’s History carries a very muted account of his activities.

‘One of the last photographs of Colonel Gibson. For thirty years he had been watched by Soviet Foreign Intelligence’
  • The Nigel West Theory

To return to Nigel West’s theory about ‘Gibby’s Spy’. First of all, the text is a prime example of glib journalese, with the carefully chosen but clichéd epithets and verbs – ‘the famed Security Service Registry’, ‘pillaging the Registry’, ‘the legendary SIS professional Harold Gibson’, ‘the ruthless NKVD investigators’. The assertions are blandly made: ‘there can be little doubt that he had a direct hand in copying the four documents’, ‘Nelidov, a long-term SIS source who was probably betrayed by Anthony Blunt’. Yet West offers no supporting evidence: he does not even explain the origin of the ‘Gibby’s spy’ anecdote, with which, he assumes, his readers are familiar.

Irrespective of the fact that there could had been a spy in the Kremlin, and that his name might have been Nelidov, and Blunt might possibly have revealed details about him in a ‘pillaged’ file (West probably meant to say ‘pilfered’, as Blunt was probably not responsible for the destruction of the records in a fire at Wormwood Scrubs in November 1940), the case, as laid out by West, is absurd:

1) Blunt worked for MI5, not MI6. If there had been records of ‘Gibby’s spy’, they would have been tightly held in the MI6 Registry, famed or not, at Broadway. For a new recruit like Blunt to be able to start poking around in MI6 archives defies belief.

2) Blunt did not join MI5 until June 1940. (In Triplex, West writes that he joined in May: Blunt’s biographer indicates he started in July, but Guy Liddell, in his Diary, points to an early June recruitment.) The first segment of Nelidov’s confession is dated August 1940.  A document of that length, attached as part of the CID paper, would not have been transcribed and transmitted by wireless. It would have gone by diplomatic bag, which was a slow process. That would not have given time for even the ‘ruthless NKVD investigators’ to narrow down their search, arrest the unfortunate Nelidov, and extract a confession from him.

3) The Cambridge Five were in any case without a NKVD handler at this time. Anatoli Gorsky had been withdrawn from London in February 1940 because of concerns about the network’s being compromised, and he did not return until late in the year, meeting Blunt for the first time on December 28. Blunt had no one to pass documents to in the summer of 1940.

West seems slightly aware of the logistical and chronological objections to his account: he even acknowledges and describes the reasons for Gorsky’s absence. Moreover, in The Crown Jewels, co-authored with Oleg Tsarev, he in fact records that Blunt did not pass on his first report until early 1941! Yet while West introduces his collection by writing: ‘The documents reproduced in these pages were translated into Russian in Moscow by the NKVD and now have been translated back into English’, and carelessly highlights Blunt’s contribution by stating that he copied the four NKVD documents that West reproduces, it is clear that this confession is not a stolen document, but simply a Russian original retrieved from the KGB’s archives, a native extended statement written by Nelidov himself.

Then there is the question of whether Nelidov could possibly have been ‘Gibby’s spy’ in the Kremlin – or anyone else’s, for that matter, based on the biography he offered to his interrogators. But, before I analyze the confessions themselves, which appear to be an extraordinary mix of fact and rumour, guaranteed to discombobulate even the sharpest NKVD goon, I want to investigate where West got his ‘Gibby’s spy’ story from.

To begin with, West had first revealed his belief in the ‘Gibby’s Spy’ story in 1989, when he published The Friends. He rather undermined the talents of the ‘legendary’ Harold Gibson by writing: “Apart from all the White Russian émigrés who were of dubious value, there had only been one really good agent run personally by Harold Gibson.” He continued by explaining that, in 1933, in Riga, Gibson had met an old school-friend who happened to be private secretary to Anastas Mikoyan, the Foreign Trade Commissar. While West did not say what the friend committed to do, he did state that Gibson moved to Prague to run his agent, ‘but contact was broken late in 1940 after Gibson had been evacuated to London’. (That escape actually occurred in 1938.). Again, how being resident in Prague helped the process is not explained. And then, to cap it all: “When discreet enquiries were made in Moscow, it was discovered that Gibson’s agent had been arrested and executed.” Discreet enquiries in Moscow? How were such investigations carried out? By careful conversations with the head barman at the Moscow branch of White’s Club? It is all very ridiculous.

  • The Mis-Education of Chapman Pincher

Keith Ellison pointed out to me that John Costello’s Mask of Treachery (1988) constitutes a useful pointer. If you look up ‘Gibson’ in Costello’s index, you will see one entry for ‘Biggy’ Gibson, as if he were a rapper, or possibly an associate of the Kray twins. No matter: he is our man. On page 375, the author reveals more details, and again, for the sake of a complete record, I reproduce the first paragraph in full:

The redoubtable Miss Huggins, however, did not assert her authority over the director [of B Division, Guy Liddell] fast enough to save the life of a Russian mole whom the British had run for seven years on the Politburo staff in Moscow. He was a school friend of an MI6 officer named Harold “Gibby” Gibson, who had been educated in prerevolutionary Russia. While Gibson was in Moscow in 1933 he had been able to persuade his friend, who was then working in the private office of Anastas Mikoyan, that his disenchantment with Stalin could be repaid by espionage. Shortly after Blunt’s arrival in the fall [sic] of 1940, this valuable inside source in Moscow dried up.

Costello then paraphrases what Peter Wright wrote in Spycatcher, in an attempt to seal the deal. His Notes and Sources credit Chapman Pincher for the story: “See Pincher, Treachery, pp. 112-113, for the details, which were subsequently confirmed by Wright, Spycatcher, p 220.” Now I found this a little perplexing. Why was the journalist Pincher, rather than Wright, an MI5 officer, the source of the story? And Treachery was not published until many years later. First I checked out both my editions of that book, to verify that Gibson does not appear in the Index, and that the anecdote had not been re-presented. Costello does not provide a consolidated Bibliography, but I quickly determined that the volume to which he was referring was in fact Pincher’s 1981 work Their Trade Is Treachery.

‘Their Trade is Treachery’

Indeed, on page 112 of that volume can be seen Pincher’s insights. They are a mess. Gibson is described as an MI5 officer, and Pincher reports that his friend, working in Mikoyan’s office, had been working as an MI5 source-in-place for seven years. Blunt apparently admitted that he had passed on one of his reports to ‘Henry’ (Gorsky), and, soon after, Henry told him that the source had been eliminated. It was absurd to present MI5, responsible for domestic security, as having agents in the Soviet Union, let alone the Kremlin. With the knowledge that Gorsky was out of the country all this time, one can swiftly dispense with the story as pure disinformation.

Pincher must have realized that he had been the victim of a scam, a word in his ear, no doubt, by a trusted source in MI6, since, in some embarrassment, he carefully expunged this incident from the greater bulk of his final analytical composition, Treachery. No explanation or apology followed, so far as I can see. John Costello, another student of intelligence, died unexpectedly from apparent food-poisoning on a flight from Miami to London in 1995, and thus did not survive to challenge his colleague, or revise his own work. But what is extraordinary is why Nigel West, in 1989, and then again in 2009, was taken in by the whole rigmarole, and re-presented such loose rumours as fact. He discovered the document on Nelidov, called up the flimsy story about Gibby’s Spy, and put two and two together to make seven, while trying to sound very authoritative about the whole affair. It is a disgrace.

What is astonishing is the fact that John Costello and Oleg Tsarev, in their exploitation of KGB files in Deadly Illusions (1993), echoing Costello’s former opinions, trust completely what Peter Wright wrote about Gibby’s Spy and Anthony Blunt. Having claimed that ‘NKVD records showed that in 1936 Maclean’s reports resulted in an investigation which uncovered one of these traitors in the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs’, they fondly suggest that this person could have been Gibby’s Spy, recruited by Gibson, although they undermine their case by asserting that Gibson ‘was an undercover officer with the British Embassy’ – certainly not true. (In a section below I explore further the manner in which they trip over themselves because of their succumbing to a ‘deadly delusion’.)

I thus see three questions remaining (apart from the riddle that no one has sought to debunk this nonsense, so far as I can judge). Who was Nelidov, and does his profile match up with a possible asset for MI6? Was there a real spy inside the Kremlin who did provide some valuable information to the British in the years immediately before the war? And was Gibson’s network penetrated from the outset by OGPU/NKVD/KGB (which would account for the fact that MI6 has tried to throw a veil over his career)?

  • Count Nelidov

The confessions of Nelidov (in Triplex) are an extraordinary mélange of betrayal, naivety, and disingenuous mendacity. Count Nelidov was an obvious ‘trader’, an acquirer and seller of information without any ideological convictions who at various times served (or claimed to serve) the British, the Germans, and the Soviets. From his account, he was not an ‘agent’ employed by MI6, but actually started off his career as an officer. But we now have to face a troubling dilemma: are Nelidov’s memoirs more, or less, reliable than what the authorized history of MI6 claims? After all, we should not discount the fact that the Secret Intelligence Service might have wanted to put a different spin on its embarrassing experiences with the Russian count.

According to Jeffery, Nelidov was fired by MI6. It was Nelidov himself who claimed that he had ‘obtained a post in the Press Department of the British Secret Service’ in Constantinople as early as 1921. Of course, he may have thought it was the British Secret Service: it may have simply been the Embassy. However, Nelidov’s account of what MI6 was up to is more comprehensive than Jeffery’s, so MI6 may have been guiding their authorized historian down a path that indicated that Nelidov’s ‘offer of service’ was rejected, as they would prefer to suggest that they had washed their hands of him. In any case, Nelidov had a multitude of adventures thereafter, switching allegiances when it suited him, and trying to re-sell information he had given to one intelligence organization to its rival or enemy the next day. There is not the slightest possibility that he could ever have infiltrated his way into any of the departments of the Kremlin. He occasionally indicates that he came across Gibson in his career, but he mentions several other notable MI6 officers, such as Carr and Hill, much more frequently.

Both Walter Krivitsky and Pavel Sudoplatov (in charge of the NKVD’s Administration of Special Tasks from June 1941) had something to say about Nelidov, but, because of the circumstances and timing, admitted contrasting impressions of him. When Krivitsky was debriefed by MI5, he offered his experiences with Nelidov as evidence of the ease with which Soviet intelligence could acquire any information in Berlin in the early 1930s. Nelidov had approached Krivitsky, told him he had worked as a British agent in Constantinople, and offered to bring Krivitsky an enciphered telegram that had been just despatched by the British Legation. Since Krivitsky had access to all telegrams sent by any Embassy or Legation in Berlin, he was able to tell Nelidov, a day later, that the telegram was a forgery. The account of Krivitsky’s statement continued: “The same night he received information through a German intelligence agent that Nelidoff [sic] had offered to work for the Germans, together with Nelidoff’s account of his previous interview with Krivitsky!” The anecdote concludes with an account of how Nelidov sold a document to German Intelligence for $3,000, was confronted by them that it was a forgery, and thereupon repaid the amount – with forged money, consequently being prosecuted by the German police. Nelidov’s behaviour shows all the characteristics of Bazhanov’s ‘OGPU agent’ Gaiduk – but Nelidov surely was not working for the OGPU at this time.

Somehow (the record is not clear) Nelidov ended up working for Admiral Canaris of the Abwehr. As Pavel Sudoplatov, in Special Tasks, reports, Nelidov [actually Neledov in Jerrold Schecter’s translation] was captured by Polish counterintelligence when he was sent to Warsaw on a reconnaissance mission in August 1939. When the Soviets invaded Western Ukraine later that year, they found Nelidov in the Lvov prison, and brought him to Moscow. There he was able to impress Marshal Aleksandr Vasilievsky, later chief of the general staff, and General Filipp Golikov, director of military intelligence, with his knowledge of German war plans, including the critical information that, if the Germans were not able to make deep inroads in the first two or three months of the war, the invasion was doomed to failure.

Nelidov’s own confessions hint vaguely at this change of allegiance. He claims that, on his way to Berlin in 1933, to replace Captain Ellis (the notorious Charles Ellis, who betrayed MI6 secrets to the Abwehr), he stopped in Vienna, where he met the head of Soviet intelligence, and offered him material (which he claimed was accurate and valuable). Having arrived in Berlin, where his mission was to try to penetrate Soviet intelligence, he and Ellis concluded that ‘there was no material at all that might be used to interest Soviet intelligence’. He does not mention his encounter with Krivitsky, but the incident may have provoked that reaction. In a later confession he blandly states: “About two months after my arrival in Berlin, I left the British SIS and went to work for the Third Department of the German General Staff”, which he describes as a cover for the German Intelligence Service since the Versailles Treaty.

One significant outcome from this business was that, at the end of 1933, Nelidov was sent to London to establish a network of agents to report on Foreign Office attitudes to Germany, and claimed that his two leading agents were George Hill (now down on his luck, and short of money, having been dismissed from SIS because he had appropriated funds entrusted to him by Bruce Lockhart), and a Captain Francis, who worked at the Secret Service Registry. Hill was paid a salary of 200 pounds by the Reichswehrministerium, a fact that would no doubt turn out to be of inestimable value to the NKGB when Hill arrived in Moscow as SOE representative in December 1941. Nelidov also tracked Hill down to the consulate in Riga in July 1938, where Hill described how he gained information from the Latvian Police and the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, and laid out details of his Russian Section team for the benefit of his ex-colleague and presumably current Abwehr handler. If all of Nelidov’s account is true, it constituted astonishingly reckless and treacherous behaviour by Hill, and reinforces how stupid the decision was to install Hill as head of the SOE Russian station.

But Nelidov was burned out. He had been seen through by the Russians, and had abandoned the British before they rumbled him, presumably. Canaris must have been really desperate to recruit a rascal such as Nelidov. Once the NKVD had bled him dry, and squeezed out all the information they could from him, he was of no more use to them, and as a ‘former person’ with a noble title, would have been despised and presumably eliminated. It is unlikely that he survived long enough to have committed suicide. (Robert Baker’s biography of Zarubin states that Lt.-General Fitin wanted to use Nelidov as an agent in Turkey, but that, when Zarubin went to brief him, found that he had killed himself. The sources of such a story need to be strictly verified.) And one function Nelidov could never have achieved was to be ‘Gibby’s Spy’ in the Kremlin.

  • A Spy in the Kremlin?

Thus I return to the question: who provided the information from the Politburo meeting that made its way into the MI6 report? To recapitulate the events: Krivitsky recalled that, on two or three occasions when he was in Moscow in 1936 and 1937, he saw printed reports of the proceedings of the Committee of Imperial Defence, as well as other confidential reports, which had been photographed by OGPU agents in London. Moreover, he described how, during his final visit to Moscow in March-April 1937, his boss at INO (the Foreign Department of OGPU), Abram Slutsky, also his friend, had drawn his attention to the latest extracts provided by the ‘Imperial Council’ source, and asked him about a report bound up with it that concerned a special meeting of the Politburo that Litvinov, the Foreign Minister, had attended. Slutsky concluded from the material in the report that British Intelligence must have a source in Narkomindel (the Soviet Foreign Office). His opinion was shared by the man who ran the English section in INO.

Abram Slutsky

Identifying this report was obviously important to MI5 and MI6. Eventually, Jane Archer showed Walter Krivitsky a copy of such a document that included a report from MI6 dated February 25th, 1937. Krivitsky immediately recognized it as the report that he had seen in Moscow in March or April of that year. Furthermore, Krivitsky mentioned that Slutsky was very concerned about identifying the source, since he was uncertain of his own position, and wondered whether Krivitsky had any ideas. One important aspect of the case is that, according to one of the minutes in the record, Krivitsky told Archer that Yezhov himself had asked him about the identity of the spy – a fact that failed to appear in Archer’s final report. But Krivitsky, witnessing the arrests and shootings carrying on at the height of the Purge, had only one thought – get out of Moscow, if he could, before he followed the other victims of Stalin’s desire to exterminate everyone who knew too much, or had been influenced by Trotskyism while abroad. He thus temporized with Slutsky, saying he would look into the matter, but never did.

Slutsky had reasons to be nervous. He had denounced his previous boss, Arthur Artuzov, when Yezhov, the new head of OGPU, started liquidating the men of his predecessor, Yagoda, a group that included Slutsky himself. Slutsky retaliated to save his own skin. Artuzov was sacked on January 11, 1937, arrested on May 13, and shot on August 21. Yet Slutsky gained only a temporary stay of execution. In December 1937, he submitted to his boss, Yezhov, a very creative report on the organization of the agents in Britain, but was killed – probably by poison, or possibly by injection after being subdued by chloroform – on March 17, 1938, in the office of the head of the GUGB, Mikhail Frinovsky. Frinovsky was himself executed the day after the same fate was delivered to his wife and son, in February 1940. Yagoda was shot on March 15, 1938: Yezhov on February 4, 1940. Krivitsky did well to get out of the Soviet Union when he did, but was killed in mysterious circumstances in Washington in January 1941.

It should not be discounted that the leak could have been deliberate, and the snippet of information passed on as something harmless to Soviet interests. If that were true, it is also possible that Slutsky had not been told what was going on. But whom can we trust on the facts behind the events? One of the leading sources is Deadly Illusions by John Costello and Oleg Tsarev, the latter being at the time of publication a consultant to the Press Department of the Russian Intelligence Service. In his Acknowledgments, Costello expressed his homage to professional historians: “I am indebted to historians in academia whose rigorous scholarship sets the standard to which we non-academics – who some would dismiss as ‘airport bookstall historians’ aspire.” Yet writers who so naively swallow the whole ‘Gibby’s Spy’ farrago (as they do on page 203) must be treated very circumspectly (as indeed should ‘authorized historians’ from academia).

Their account of the leakages starts off confidently, but then drifts into confusion. Tsarev had access to the KGB Maclean files, and thus the authors write with assurance about the several occasions when Maclean passed on important Foreign Office reports, since they cite the content of such. Yet their narrative is sadly lacking in specific dates, and contains some startling errors. For instance, they write (p 200), ascribing it to an ‘Orlov memorandum, Maclean file, No 83791’:

The Centre had investigated how the Foreign Office knew about ‘mobilization of Soviet industry as recently carried out in 1932 in the Far East’, from his [Maclean’s] previous report, telling Orlov that it pointed to a British spy operating somewhere in the reaches of the Kremlin apparatus.

But Maclean did not start handling material over until January 1936: Orlov left the United Kingdom for the last time in October 1935. It seems as if the archive was being tainted with false material.

The muddle continues. They assert that items in the Foreign Office reports gave the NKVD ‘vital clues in hunting down spies [sic] who were operating undercover in the Soviet Union for the British’. Further, ‘NKVD records show that in 1936 Maclean’s reports resulted in an investigation which uncovered one of these traitors in the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs’. The implications are clear: there was more than one spy (‘Gibby’s Spies?’), and the first detection occurred before the crucial minutes of the Imperial Council that took Slutsky by surprise. One has to question the authenticity of these KGB archives: to discover one spy with the capability to pass secrets to the British was remarkable, to be harbouring several traitors in that capacity is surely ridiculous. The authors show no evidence of other reports that reproduced intelligence gained from the Commissariat. Moreover, as was recounted by the defector Boris Bazhanov, who did occupy an important post in the Kremlin, and was Stalin’s secretary in the 1920s, controls on the use of documents were very strict.

Costello and Tsarev then claim that it was a report passed on by Maclean in March 1937 that helped identify an agent in the Commissariat, but then, awkwardly, they inform us that the spy had already been betrayed by Maclean, and that this Commissariat secretary had been ‘turned’ to feed false information to the British until Blunt ‘inadvertently stumbled across this double deception operation’. An endnote contradicts this statement, indicating that Mally (the NKVD’s illegal rezident at the time) sent a letter in March 1937 pointing to an as yet unidentified spy. That would be more consonant with the timing of Krivitsky’s discussion with Slutsky about an unknown leaker at Narkomindel, but it is another mess. Slutsky and his lieutenants (e.g. Krivitsky, Mally) were clearly kept in the dark about the disinformation exercise, but it would have helped Artuzov and Stalin to know that their messages were being received and taken seriously.

It is evident that Costello and Tsarev disagreed about the proliferation of such spies. In an Endnote, Costello writes: “Turning the MI6 agent was in accord with Soviet practice (this hypothesis rests on the British author’s presumption that there was only one MI6 spy).” Why Costello would say this, having outlined the existence of multiple spies, is not clear, but it appears that he was fixated on the ‘Gibby’s Spy’ story, as valid testimony of a lone operator, while Tsarev was taken in more by the doctored NKVD records. As for ‘turning’, that is of course nonsense. No ideological conversion would have taken place with a real discovered traitor. He would have been eliminated by the NKVD. But the channel to British Intelligence (a conduit that is never explained by either side) would have been supplied with further (dis)information to maintain the pretence.

Keith Ellison pointed out to me an important passage in The Crown Jewels (pp 211-212):

            Another question which interested the Centre was the information received from Cairncross, through Burgess in September 1938, on the presence of an important British agent inside the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs (NKID), who was alleged to be working as ‘head of non-territorial department’ and from whom British intelligence had received three reports, the most recent dated August 1938, concerning correspondence exchanged between Stalin and Edward Benes. The Centre wanted to know what else Cairncross knew about this British source which Moscow named TEMNY(‘Obscure’).

It is difficult to fathom this. The Great Purge was on. Slutsky had been killed in March 1938. If other spies had already been seized, and presumably executed, why would any bureaucrat encourage a bullet in his head by trying to transfer such routine documents to British Intelligence? Cairncross told Gorsky that he was not sure whether the latest supplier of information was the same agent who passed on Litvinov’s report at the Politburo meeting. He was not the only one confused. Moreover, the advice that Bazhanov had given a decade before, namely that the Politburo minutes were fakes, appeared to have been lost, or ignored.

Lastly, the role of time and place is very important. If the Foreign Office documents had to be photographed, and the films smuggled out by courier to Copenhagen, and then taken to Moscow to be developed and interpreted, there must be a time-lag of weeks, probably. (This seemed to be the operating procedure when the Soviet Embassy with its diplomatic bag could not be touched.)  Thus for an MI6 report dated February 25 to have been submitted to the Foreign Office, included in the minutes of a meeting that were then published, ‘borrowed’ by Maclean (or King, or anyone else), and then routed by surface transport via Denmark and Leningrad to Moscow for processing and analysis, it is a strain to suppose that this could all have been accomplished by the end of March, when Krivitsky was in town. Yet that is what Krivitsky reported.

  • Hints of Disinformation

One can detect from some of the autobiographical records of the time an awareness that there may have been ‘special departments’ (as they were called in Stalin’s bureaucracy) that were active in disinformation schemes. After all, as Krivitsky reported, Stalin manipulated the Gestapo to provide culpatory evidence about Marshal Tukhachevsky’s possible traitoriousness. (A few years later, Sudoplatov’s ‘Special Tasks’ group ran the COURIERS operation, which tried to deceive the Germans by claiming the existence of an anti-Soviet faction within the Russian Orthodox Church.) The OGPU, even if it had shut down its TRUST operation against Russian émigrés in 1927 after its kidnaps and murders had been laid bare in Paris, and it had declined to delivery strategic information requested, was still trying to undermine any White Russian cabals that were still struggling along. Thus a common element in Soviet schemes at this time is the exploitation of ex-tsarist officers.

Elisabeth Poretsky

For instance, in Our Own People, Elisabeth K. Poretsky, the widow of Ignace Reiss (who had been killed in Switzerland in 1937 after sending a defiant message to Stalin), wrote that the NKVD carefully selected candidates for tasks that their conventional European agents would never have performed. Such persons were mostly recruited from the GRU, and famous among them was Elisabeth Zarubin. “These were the people in the N.K.V.D. whom Moscow relied upon for burglaries, kidnappings, and murders. They were also the ones who recruited and directed a special section of former White officers about whom nothing was known outside the N.K.V.D.”, Poretsky wrote. Zarubin (then known by her maiden name Gorskaya, until she married another celebrated agent) was feared because of the way she had seduced Jacob Bluymkin and then in 1929 led him to his death (according to Andrew and Gordievsky). Blyumkin had been partly responsible for the death of the German ambassador to Moscow Count Mirbach, and had foolishly tried to relay a message from Trotsky to Radek while he was in Constantinople.

(The activities of the Zarubins merit further investigation. Sudoplatov states that Zarubin had in fact been married to Blyumkin for some years, and betrayed him because he handed over to Trotsky money intended for illegal operations in Turkey, but references to her as ‘Gorskaya’ would tend to undermine that assertion. She was later to be known as ‘Zarubina’, or under her codename ‘Zabilina’, when she worked with her husband in the USA purloining atomic secrets. Robert K. Baker’s biography of Vasily Zarubin, Rezident, indicates that ‘Gorskaya’ had been in a relationship with Blyumkin until November 1929. Baker also records that Zarubina spent some time in London – probably in 1940 – on a mission to track down the elusive agent ATTILA.)

Poretsky added a revealing note:

            Krivitsky hints in his book that he had been told all about these activities, but neither he nor Ludwig [Reiss] nor Maly was ever officially told anything of the kind. Of course they had their suspicions, gleaned from newspaper items and hints dropped by Slutsky. But to be privy to this kind of information one had to be one of ‘theirs’, and Krivitsky, as he often told Ludwig, was not.

What Krivitsky wrote, in Stalin’s Secret Service, after witnessing Tukhachevsky’s trial, was that Stalin used fake ‘evidence’ taken from the Gestapo to frame his generals, that that evidence was fed to the OGPU [in fact the NKVD after 1934] from Czarist organizations abroad, and that he killed General Miller in order to destroy ‘the one uncontrolled source of information, apart from the Gestapo itself’, as the source of his evidence. One might question that last clause, but the implication is clear. Stalin was using disinformation to hoodwink his own counter-intelligence service so that it would persecute his enemies, and it is thus evident that some of his intrigues were kept secret from even the senior officers.

Artur Artuzov

So who knew? The architect of the TRUST, Artur Artuzov, had been in charge of counterespionage (KRO) in the OGPU until 1929, when, after Yagoda decided to get rid of Trilisser, he was appointed deputy head of the Foreign Department (INO). The semi-authoritative history (KGB: The Inside Story, by Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky) is strangely silent on Artuzov’s term in office, and ignores both his promotion to INO head in 1931, as well as his move to the GRU in 1935, after he angered Stalin at a Politburo meeting in 1934 (according to Jonathan Haslam). The authors move quickly on to the denunciation of Artuzov by Yezhov in March 1937, but rely exclusively on Krivitsky’s account. What had Artuzov been up to, and did he have Stalin’s confidence during these years? Why did Gordievsky apparently not know about Artuzov’s activities? (My anonymous intelligence colleague informs me that Gordievsky, as a political intelligence officer, would not have known anything about counter-intelligence operations.)

  1. Operation TARANTELLA

In April 2007, a story appeared in the Guardian newspaper (see: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/apr/03/russia.lukeharding) that described how, in 1946, Victor Bogomolets, a long-term spy for the British, recruited initially by Harold Gibson, had decided to betray his masters after being deprived of his British citizenship, and had approached the Soviets. As agent BRITT, he provided his new bosses with crucial information at the height of the Cold War. What is more, the report stated that the network of spies developed by Bogomolets within the Soviet Union were all fake, and that they supplied misinformation to the United Kingdom about the strength of the Soviet Union’s military and economic capabilities. This operation was known as TARANTELLA. Yet the story had a strange twist: Bogomolets had apparently stopped working for MI6 in 1934, when Soviet agents tried to lure him back to Moscow, but he had presumably declined, and escaped retribution, and had even resumed work for MI6 in 1944 in Portugal. That all sounded very odd.

The source for this story was a Soviet intelligence veteran, Major General Lev Sotskov, who had reportedly written a book based on newly accessed material in the Russian intelligence archives. He described Bogomolets as ‘a very big fish’, and was quoted as saying: “The only reason that the Russian émigré had not been identified before was that neither the British nor the Soviets had any incentive to unmask him.” Well, as I have shown, Bogomolets had been identified before, although perhaps not with the clarity that this disclosure claimed. But could it be trusted?

I believe the first English-language description of TARANTELLA came in 2015. That year, Professor Jonathan Haslam published a book titled Near and Distant Neighbours, subtitled A New History of Soviet Intelligence. It is rather a choppy compilation, and strewn with errors. (I had a rather difficult email exchange with Professor Haslam over his conflation of Ignaty Reif and Ignace Reiss into one person: he rather testily directed me to read his book more closely until I pointed out photographs of both illegals in Deadly Illusions, and he rather reluctantly conceded his error.) Yet his book also contains much fresh information, and Haslam displays an impressive familiarity with a host of arcane Soviet sources. Moreover, he has a complete sub-chapter (pp 49-53) on Operation TARANTELLA.

Haslam’s story runs as follows. After his success with the Trust, Artur Artuzov, the head of the OGPU’s International section (INO), in 1930 started a new operation to provide disinformation to British intelligence. OGPU had been tracking Victor Bogomolets, and his attempts to establish spies in the Soviet Union under Harold Gibson’s direction, for some time across Central Europe. Key to Artuzov’s plan was former tsarist general Boris Lago-Kolpakov, who had known Bogomolets since his Constantinople days. The narrative is irritatingly tangled at this point, but it seems that Lago (as I shall call him), after being recruited by the Cheka, was betrayed by Bogomolets when Lago turned up in Bucharest, and was imprisoned for several years. On his release Lago offered his services to MI6, who sent him to Vienna, yet the unprincipled trader reported to the Soviet Embassy for a full debriefing. Despite Lago’s disobeying OGPU’s instructions, and publishing memoirs in an émigré newspaper, Artuzov saw possibilities in exploiting Lago, and reinstated him. On his way to make contact with oppositional elements in Odessa, Lago briefed MI6 – on what, is not stated. On his return, he headed to Riga to brief Bogomolets and meet Gibson.

Boris Lago (A/243)

If this catalogue of hoodwinks and double-dealings fails to convince, there was more to come. In February 1934, Abram Slutsky, Artuzov’s deputy, working in the trade mission in Berlin, suggested recruiting Bogomolets to the cause. A young agent called Steinberg confronted Bogomolets with the fact that OGPU had been familiar with every operation with which Bogomolets had been involved. Game over, apparently. Yet Bogomolets resisted the blackmail, loyally told Gibson everything, and was rewarded for his pains by being sacked. Haslam, however, immediately abandons this aspect of the story, and leaves it hanging. He then switches into an account of the notorious Metro-Vickers trials (where British engineers were accused of sabotage), and abandons the whole TARANTELLA operation, and the reaction of Gibson and his bosses at MI6, as an irrelevance. Neither Gibson not Bogomolets has any later entry in the book.

It is difficult to know what to make of this. Haslam does not appear to have any strict methodology in his approach. His management of dates is haphazard. While the events described in the last paragraph are generally ascribed to West and Tsarev, and to Michael Smith (above), he offers no specific references for the sources for the critical encounters that he describes, while he otherwise appears to rely on two books in Russian by a Vadim Abramov, Evrei v KGB. Palachi i Zhertvy [Jews in the KGB: Executioners and Victims] (2005), and Kontrrazvedka. Shchit i mech protiv Abvera i Tsru. [Counterintelligence: The Shield and the Sword against the Abwehr and the CIA]. (2006) Yet, more bewilderingly, Haslam does not pay any attention to Sutskov’s book, which was published just the year after Abramov’s second title appeared, and would seem to present far more concrete evidence about Gibson’s embarrassing activities. He even failed to notice the press release that provoked the story in the Guardian in 2007. Since none of these books is easily available, or accessible to the common reader, one has to be very cautious before accepting this unlikely account of events as a reliable contribution to the development of solid intelligence historiography.

Moreover, the circumstances cry out for further analysis. If that is truly how Bogomolets reacted, one would have expected that he would have been killed by the Soviets, and that Gibson would have immediately closed down all his networks, and informed his bosses. Jeffery’s weaselly comment (in the passive voice) that Gibson and his networks may have been contaminated hints at this betrayal, but the historian utterly avoids explaining what the outcome was. The alarming possibility endures that MI6 was reluctant to give up Gibson – or his informers – completely, and his bosses may have tried to resuscitate his ‘network’ again when they thought the dust had settled. Yet the whole account clashes dramatically with the story promulgated by Sotskov, and picked up by the Guardian. Why would MI6 have picked up Bogomolets towards the end of WW2, and then deprived him of his UK citizenship?

Then, towards the end of this stage of research, a coldspur correspondent drew my attention to a remarkable article that had been published in Estonia in 1989. It essentially pre-played aspects of Haslam’s and Sotskov’s stories. Bogomolets had been an agent of the Russian rebel armies, but then had been recruited by Gibson in Turkey in 1921, and given large responsibilities for espionage against the Soviets throughout Europe. Boris Lago had a similar background, but in 1922, when in Prague, he applied to the Soviets for a visa to return home. They pressed him into performing espionage first, to prove his seriousness of purpose, but he proved to be too conspicuous in Prague and too inept in Berlin and Bucharest, in which latter city he was arrested and imprisoned in 1925, but released four years later.  Bogomolets then offered him a job with MI6, a transaction that Lago reported to the OGPU. They were not at first interested. Then a critical event occurred. After the kidnapping of General Kutepov in 1930, the General Union of Russian Soldiers (ROVS) in Paris decided they needed a propaganda coup, and set about to assassinate Stalin. Bogomolets was the man chosen for the job, and he engaged his new recruit, Lago, as one of his team. Lago again informed his real bosses, the OGPU.

It was then that Artuzov realized that they could exploit this provocation in a much-needed counter-offensive intelligence operation to convince the British that the Soviets should be taken seriously as a counter to growing Nazi strength. Operation TARANTELLA was conceived as a plan to convince the British of the Soviet Union’s military vigour. Lago travelled to Moscow in the guise of an Austrian businessman, and there was allowed to ‘recruit’ imaginary agents in the Moscow Party Committee, the National Economic Council (the location of Gibby’s Spy?), and other institutions, all of whom gave him valuable information to pass on. The British lapped it up. Stalin himself reportedly managed the whole deceit, and, after the murder of Kirov in 1934, ROVS abandoned the idea of assassinating the dictator, since Lago told the British that Stalin was now too closely guarded.

The same year, however, an NKVD agent called Matus Steinberg approached Bogomolets and suggested that he work for the Soviets. Bogomolets was outraged, told Gibson about the approach, and MI6 decided to end the Lago operation. They had learned enough: apparently Stalin had by now gained what he needed. (Though he may have been infuriated that his scheme was blown prematurely, and punished the guilty.) Lago was slowly withdrawn (so as not to arouse suspicion), and TARANTELLA was wound down. Whether Artuzov’s demise was connected with this event is unclear. Lago was apparently shot in the Purges, alongside Artuzov, The article states that Bogomolets stayed away from intelligence duties until 1945 ‘when he was still [??] recruited into Soviet intelligence’, and that the British turned to him in 1946. What Bogomolets had been up to, and for which agency he had been working, between 1934 and 1945, nevertheless remains a mystery.

Yet the fact that internal ‘secret documents’ were still being leaked in 1936-1937, and that they were being taken seriously by MI6, suggests that TARANTELLA had not in fact been wound down.

  1. Sotskov’ s ‘Operation Code – TARANTELLA’
Soltskov’s ‘Codename of Operation – ‘TARANTELLA”

What to make of all these vague and conflicting stories? I decided to acquire Sotskov’s book, published in 2007. It is a struggle to read – and not just because of my rather rusty familiarity with the language. As with all books in Russian that I have bought, it lacks an index, any endnotes or footnotes, and a bibliography. The squat Cyrillic characters do not lend themselves to rapid skimming. And yet it appears to offer some intriguing leads. It contains several photographs of Gibson and his contemporaries, including Bogomolets, Lago, Artuzov, Steinberg, and even Gibson’s second wife, Katerina Alfimova. It includes a photograph of a letter (partial envelope and handwritten text) from Gibson to Bogomolets, sent from London to Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo on August 1946, and the contents of other letters are reproduced in the text. It also presents authentic-looking memoranda, as well as identity cards and diplomatic passes for some of the characters. It makes a strong claim that the Cheka/OGPU/NKVD/KGB had been keeping tabs on Gibson for thirty years, presumably from 1918 to 1948.

But can this book be trusted any more than those by Abramov which were issued shortly before his? The Introduction states that matters took a sharp turnaround at the end of World War II, when Bogomolets, after many years of impeccable service to his English masters, switched his allegiance to Soviet Intelligence. At that stage Operation TARANTELLA was closed down (i.e. not back in 1934), and Bogomolets assumed a new role as BRITT, a master of disinformation. Thus an immediate clash with the chronology and motivations described by Haslam in his interpretation of Abramov’s work appears. Moreover, among the more genuine-looking reproductions of correspondence and memoranda, the book includes some extended conversations between characters (such as Lago and Bogomolets) that must have been invented.

As I started to work my way through the text, it occurred to me that the narrative here might be just as unreliable as Abramov’s, so trustingly echoed by Haslam, and that engaging in a thorough translation might be an arduous yet futile exercise, as there was no reason why any assertions should be believed. I tried to contact Haslam again, to determine whether he was familiar with this alternative account, and how he interpreted it. Unfortunately, the email address I had was no longer valid, and my inquiries to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton (from which he recently retired) have remained unanswered. This project definitely demands an acknowledged expert in intelligence matters with a good command of the Russian language to take control, and Haslam would appear to be the best fit. (I have since written a traditional letter to Professor Haslam at his home address in Princeton, but he has declined to acknowledge, let alone respond to, my communication.)

Pending an eventual response, I set about translating some of the most obvious artifacts in the case – three letters sent by Gibson to Bogomolets in the summer of 1946. Yet, even here, disturbing questions arise. The letter photographed has clearly been sent by airmail from London, dated August 31, 1946, yet the corresponding letter reproduced in the text (which matches the manuscript visible in the photograph) indicates it was written in Prague. Perhaps this was a standard practice, to avoid the censor by putting a letter in the diplomatic bag, and having it re-sent from London. In any case, Bogomolets must have been expecting such a procedure.

As a coda, in June 2022 General Sotskov was found dead in his apartment in Moscow, apparently a suicide by gunshot.

  1. The Gibson-Bogomolets Letters

Here is my translation of the three letters:

No 1: British Embassy, Prague, July 10, 1946.

Dear Victor Vasilevich!

Forgive me for not replying earlier to your letter of June 4th, but I have been away for a whole month, and only found it on my return. I was in London, and asked about you several times. I was told that you were already in Paris, and someone even added that he had seen you in London. I am thus very puzzled over what could have happened with your visa for France, and what led to the rumours about your departure from Egypt. I immediately wrote to London, asking for matters to be accelerated, and hope that my request will be satisfied.

I was very saddened to learn that your health has deteriorated, and offer you hearty wishes for recovery, but the most important thing is that you get out of Egypt soon, as its climate clearly does not suit you.

If, before the arrival of my letter, your question still remains unanswered, then ask me again to make contact, and I shall gain a response for you. I consider it a moral obligation to help you, and therefore please do not apologize for any trouble caused.

My wife is still very ill: that is very distressing for me. But at least she is with me now, which is some consolation after the separation during wartime.

My heartfelt regards to you and yours,

Your Gibson.

No 2: Prague, July 28, 1946

Dear Victor Vasilevich!

I only just received your letter of the 18th. I very much hope that my intervention had the proper effect. Do not thank me prematurely: I just do what friendship and morality require. I understand your situation very well, and very much want to think that you will return to Paris to begin a new life and repair your health. I myself was in Paris a few weeks ago. Judging by my impressions, I fear you will find that much has changed for the worse there. Whatever we do, it is clear that it is our fate to live in a difficult world. Interesting but uneasy times.

Regards to you and your family. I thank you for your good wishes.

Your Harold Gibson.

No 3: Prague, August 27, 1946

Dear Victor Vasilievich!

I received your letter of the 20th yesterday and I am very chagrined by the fact that your affairs have become deadlocked. I shall now apply pressure through my personal connections in Paris. It is truly shocking that you and your family should have to undergo such obstacles. Yet all these things are now sent to try us – for example, I struggled for a year to obtain the freedom of my wife’s mother from one of our officials from a camp in the Soviet zone – an Austrian one. An elderly lady, whose only crime was that she happened to be of Russian origin.

I shall try to achieve all I can for you, because I feel every sympathy for you in your misfortune; indeed, besides that, I feel a moral duty in this matter. Continue to keep me informed.

There have been no special changes with me. My wife is still very sick, which causes me so much heartache.

With warm regards

Your Gibson.

I would draw three major conclusions from these letters, which appear genuine:

  • It is clear that Gibson feels that he has severely let down Bogomolets, and owes him some reparation for previous treatment. Bogomolets has probably been rendered stateless. This is dangerously sentimental behaviour on Gibson’s part, as he should have been on his guard, knowing how the OGPU/NKVD acted. He should have asked himself how Bogomolets had survived.
  • Gibson is not acting alone. He confers with his superiors in London, and uses them as an intermediary to send letters securely to Cairo. Thus it is safe to conclude that bringing Bogomolets back into the fold, and helping him and his family, was approved at higher levels.
  • The Soviet hook of threatening a family member is evident. Gibson’s mother-in-law has been stranded in Austria, and Bogomolets can presumably assist in her extraction. It is poignant that Gibson’s wife, Rachel Kalmanoviecz, is ill: she died the following year, and Gibson married his ballet-dancer friend, whom he had known for several years during the time that he and Rachel were separated, in 1948. Heaven forfend that Gibson assisted in his wife’s demise in any way. (While Keith Ellison has pointed out that, if Gibson’s first wife was separated from him during the war, it is unlikely that she would have had access to his diaries in 1941, I would counter that Gibson wrote ‘during the war’, and that, for the Soviets, the war did not start until 1941, anyway. 1941 was the year in which Gibson met Alfimova, his second wife.)

Might these tribulations have contributed to Gibson’s death in Rome in 1960? Perhaps he discovered how he himself had been betrayed, and realized the suffering he had caused in Prague, especially concerning the execution of his close ally, Heliodor Pika. Or perhaps he had been tracked down by the KGB, and punished for breaking whatever agreement he had with them, or simply because he had been an ardent ‘enemy of the people’.

I shall place these issues on the back-burner for now, hoping to receive a swell of insights from coldspur readers, and perhaps a communication from Professor Haslam.

Overall Conclusions

The anecdote of ‘Gibby’s Spy’ is an example of the saying (often wrongly attributed to Mark Twain) that ‘a lie can travel halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on’. A mischievous aside from an MI6 officer (Dick White?) to Chapman Pincher was picked up by John Costello and exploited by Peter Wright before being endorsed by Nigel West. (According to West, Gibby’s agent in Moscow was the officer’s only worthwhile spy, and, if that theory falls apart, it does not leave the legend with much of a track-record.) Neither Tsarev nor Mitrokhin nor Vassiliev nor Gordievsky has ever referred to such a spy in the Kremlin. Christopher Andrew has not yet (so far as I know) brought his authority to the story, but this embarrassing item of disinformation has established itself well into the lore of intelligence. It is, nevertheless, obviously a myth. The British intelligence-reading public has been badly served by the academic historians (Jeffery and Haslam), the airport-bookstall historians (Pincher, Costello and West), and the MI5 fabulist (Wright).

If information was leaked from the Politburo to western eyes, as showed by the Imperial Council report, it was probably performed as an exercise in managed disinformation, and the project was apparently concealed from Slutsky and his underlings until 1937, even though he had reportedly been exposed to Bogomolets a few years earlier. The mechanism by which this information was passed to the recipients is unclear, but the Soviet agencies presumably used the courier system on which Gibson and others were relying on for their sources in the Soviet Union. MI6 believed in the success of their agents, and the NKVD was happy to reinforce the charade. The authorized history of MI6 gives the impression that the network of MI6 agents within the USSR was regarded as completely genuine.

MI6 and MI5 are surely concealing files on Harold Gibson that would reveal far more than they have let be published about this very controversial character. It is scandalous that Keith Jeffery’s authorized history of MI6 should step so awkwardly around the details of his career, in the belief, no doubt, that nothing would surface from inside Russia to embarrass them. There is a darker story to be told, no doubt, about the undermining of democratic tendencies in post-war Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union’s resolve to install, through the agency of the KGB, a sympathetic Communist government in Prague. MI6’s continued deployment of Gibson, even though they knew that his identity and role had been blown, was a classic error of judgment. (It is startling that the caption to one of the photographs of Gibson from Sutskov’s book asserts quite boldly that he had been watched by Soviet Foreign Intelligence for thirty years.) But how do you superannuate a competent senior officer with an apparently solid track-record?

A fresh examination of MI6 and the ‘Russian Connection’ is called for. MI5 opened a file on Gibson, and questioned his loyalties. His brother Archibald was also an MI6 officer. The Bolsheviks had a grievance against Malcolm Maclaren. Paul Dukes behaved very oddly later in life, and tried to cozy up to the Soviets. Harry Carr was born in Archangel in 1899, and returned to Russia in 1919 as an interpreter for General Ironside. Stephen Alley was a pal of Stalin’s, and was considered for a while as being ‘ELLI’. George Graham was a victim of a honey-trap, and went mad. George Hill was clearly rotten through and through, and Len Manderstam thought he was an agent of the NKVD. Manderstam himself had fought for Trotsky, and narrowly escaped execution in the Lubianka. Even Wilfred (‘Biffy’) Dunderdale, who crops up so frequently in histories of MI6 and SOE, had been born in Odessa of a Russian mother, and thus may have been subject to subornment. Charles Ellis had a White Russian wife, mixed with the White Russian community in Paris, and was suspected by MI6 of having been blackmailed by the KGB after the war. Isaiah Berlin held irregular meetings with Gorsky, the handler of the Cambridge Spies. Nigel West has written about Steveni and Sulakov. Anyone who had family in the Soviet Union was prey. This one will run and run.

The official SVR and other stories about TARANTELLA cannot automatically be trusted, given the lack of rigour in publications in the Russian language. It could perhaps be a gigantic hoax, designed by the SVR (Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki: Foreign Intelligence Service) to boost its reputation. Several aspects of the case cast doubts: i) the bizarre notion that the discovery of a plot to kill Stalin triggered the counter-intelligence exercise; ii) the claim that the purpose of TARANTELLA was to convince the British of the Soviet Union’s economic power, which goal could have been reached by means of conventional propaganda; iii) the lack of original archival records; and iv) the fact that details about the operation were not revealed by Russian sources until 2005. Yet the overwhelming evidence of the Estonian report of 1989 citing TARANTELLA indicates that it was a genuine Soviet-era operation, probably one managed tightly by Stalin without the knowledge of the Russian Intelligence Services. (Yezhov’s apparent ignorance of a disinformation exercise, as revealed by Krivitsky, would confirm that theory.) The notion that the codename TARANTELLA was deployed as a retroactive flowery way of dressing up some conventional counter-intelligence projects is thus flawed.

Yet the dominant lesson teaches about Soviet professionalism and British amateurishness. The Soviets had a deep, long-term strategy of penetrating British institutions. They sent in ‘illegals’ who blended easily into the refugee/émigré world of western Europe/Britain. They selected agents before they had any stature or access to intelligence, and directed their careers into important institutions. Agents had to be approved by Moscow before being recruited. They were not supposed to mix socially (but of course they did). After the demise of the Great Illegals, they were handed off to professional intelligence officers, but, by then, their cover was so good, that it didn’t matter. Their cause was helped by the useful idiots and agents of influence.

And MI6? It was led in central Europe by the rather naive Harold Gibson, an overt enemy of the revolution, on whom the Soviets kept their sights for thirty years. (Philby informed his masters of MI6’s set-up, but that would not have occurred until 1942.) The notion of ‘illegals’ in Central Europe would have been absurd. Gibson was presumably supposed to handle agents himself, but delegated it to a dubious character whom he trailed round Europe with him, and to the charmer Roman Sulakov. It is doubtful whether either person had proper training. Nelidov thought he was employed by MI6: MI6 then denied that. Bogomolets was probably bogus from the start. How were agents selected? If they volunteered their services to you, that was a warning sign. Gibson and his superiors appeared to have no discipline in the process. Tim Bower (in The Red Web) and Stephen Dorrill (in MI6) have described MI6’s agent recruitment between the wars as ‘amateurish’. During the war, Gibson did not keep a low profile, but mixed socially and visibly with the Czech government-in-exile. Most of the Great Illegals were murdered on Stalin’s orders: Gibby became a ‘legend’.

In any case, enough evidence indeed exists (primarily in the Gibson dossier) to indicate that a concerted effort to exploit the frailties of British intelligence was successful in Eastern Europe from the early 1920s onwards, and continued past the well-documented TRUST operation. The fact that the myth of ‘Gibby’s Spy’ has endured so long suggests that MI6 was well and truly taken in to believe that it had effective spies working from inside the Soviet Union, and even inside the Kremlin. What exactly happened with Bogomolets remains to be determined. This must represent a significant opportunity for further research, with the inherent conflicts in the accounts of Abramov and Sotskov to be resolved. TARANTELLA should come out into the open.

(I thank Keith Ellison, and another coldspur colleague who wishes to remain anonymous, for their comments on an earlier draft of this article. The opinions in it are my own, and any errors in it are my own responsibility.)

[New Commonplace entries can be viewed here.]

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The Demise of PROSPER

Major Francis Suttill, aka ‘Prosper’
  • The Story So Far
  • Morgan and Operation COCKADE
  • COCKADE and the Historians
  • Prosper’s Torment
  • Betrayal
  • The Dangle
  • SOE’s Strategy & The Chiefs of Staff
  • The Aftermath, and Conclusions

The Story So Far

(see also http://www.coldspur.com/bridgehead-revisited-three-months-in-1943/ and http://www.coldspur.com/feints-and-deception-two-more-months-in-1943/)

The French operations of SOE in the first half of 1943 have been beset by confusion and contradictory instructions. The Chiefs of Staff have dithered between acknowledging that a serious assault on Normandy cannot take place until 1944, while maintaining vain hopes that some minimal attack may be made in later in 1943, if only to distract German forces from the Russian front. Winston Churchill has continued to promote the cause of striking a bridgehead in Normandy. Both British and American Chiefs of Staff have lost focus on what SOE should be doing to support these muddled policies. SOE itself has received new orders which reduce France to a lesser priority than Yugoslavia and Italy, and emphasize sabotage rather than providing weapons to secret armies. Yet in the first few months of 1943, the parachuting in of weaponry to potential guerrilla forces in France has increased markedly, even while SOE officers are being warned that the important PROSPER circuit has been infiltrated by Abwehr spies. These officers are also aware that Henri Déricourt, an organizer of landing-sites in France, has been in touch with Sicherheitsdienst officers in Paris. Lt.-General Frederick Morgan, aka COSSAC (Chief of Staff to the Supreme Allied Commander, this Commander in fact not yet having been appointed), has received bizarre instructions from the Chiefs of Staff, and has started planning diversionary campaigns for Northern Europe, under the umbrella codename of COCKADE. Francis Suttill, the leader of the PROSPER circuit, makes two visits to Britain, the first at the end of May, and a second shorter one in early June. The guidance and instructions that he receives during these two visits will turn out to have tragic consequences.

In this report, I address the following research questions:

  • In what manner was the proposal for COCKADE approved?
  • What effect did its approval have on Suttill’s behaviour and eventual demise?
  • Why were the infiltrated circuits not closed down immediately German infiltration had been detected?
  • How did the decision affect SOE? Why did arms shipments to France continue to increase after the 1943 assault was called off?
  • What did the Chiefs of Staff know about the LCS/SOE rogue deception plan?

And the overarching question remains: Why has the Foreign Office behaved so obstructively in withholding information about the PROSPER case?

Morgan and Operation COCKADE

The TRIDENT Conference

While discussions between John Bevan, the Controlling Officer, and the Joint Planning Staff had been going on for some weeks, on June 3 Lt.-General Morgan completed his draft of Operation COCKADE, the deception scheme designed with a view ‘to pinning the enemy in the West, and keeping alive the expectation of large-scale cross-Channel operations in 1943’. General L. C. Hollis circulated it to the Chiefs of Staff two days later, this group having just returned from the TRIDENT conferences in Washington, D.C.  COCKADE itself consisted of three subsidiary operations, STARKEY, WADHAM and TINDALL, all of which were designed to culminate in September of 1943. STARKEY is the most relevant to this story: WADHAM was entirely a deceptive operation designed to convince the Germans of an American landing in Brittany in September, while TINDALL represented a distraction in Norway. It is thus worth reproducing STARKEY’s description here:

            An amphibious feint to force the GAF [German Air Force] to engage in intensive fighting over a period of about 14 days, by building up a threat of an imminent large-scale landing in the PAS DE CALAIS area. The culminating date should be between 8th and 14th September.

The first startling aspect of STARKEY was that it involved some real assaults, not just rumours. Morgan’s instructions had specifically called for the German Air Force to be brought into battle. Yet such ‘feints’ designed to engage the G.A.F. (‘intensive fighting’) were necessarily dangerous, since, if the latter responded to the bait, lives might have been lost, and the political backlash when the attack turned out to be half-hearted could have been disastrous. (Morgan drew attention to such ‘undesirable repercussions’ in the last paragraph of his submission, but recommended that considerations of them not influence the decision.)  The second important dimension was the location of the threatened large-scale landing, namely in the Pas de Calais area, away from the coasts of Normandy where the 1944 entry would take place, but on a heavily-defended area where the German response would be expected to be very robust.

Operation STARKEY

The proposal for STARKEY is very odd. Its objective is implicitly declared to be ‘to present a realistic picture of an imminent large-scale landing’. Morgan’s reasoning seems to be that the German Air Force would be brought to battle only ‘by the threat of an imminent invasion of the Continent’, since its forces were severely depleted. “To give our fighters the greatest advantage the threat must be mounted against the PAS DE CALAIS”, he added. Yet, since that area was so strongly defended, the operation would require heavy involvement of the Royal Navy, the RAF, as well as the US 8th Air Force, and would constitute a diversion from strategic heavy bombing efforts. Why would those forces commit so readily to something that was only a feint? If the objective had been to destroy what remained of the GAF, and it were accompanied by a high degree of confidence, Morgan’s plan might have received vigorous enthusiasm from his military colleagues. Yet he bizarrely refers merely to the chance of succeeding ‘to draw the GAF’, and that ‘14 days intensive fighting is probably the maximum that we can reasonably maintain’. Was Morgan recommending an air battle that the Allies could well lose, or was he just rather casually indicating that the threat of invasion would not be taken seriously without such a provocation?

Apart from the fact that the feint itself was an illusion, as it did include a real desire to engage the enemy, the focus on the Pas de Calais was itself very risky. Morgan himself admitted that it was a very well-defended region. Would the Germans take hints of an attack in that area seriously?  It should be recalled that they had successfully obliterated the Dieppe Raid the previous year. Yet the overall desire ‘to keep the enemy pinned throughout the summer’, as Morgan later qualified the objective, thus hoping to improve the chances of the advance on Sicily, and providing help to Stalin in the East, dominated the plan. After all, these were the express instructions issued by the Chiefs of Staff back on April 26. Moreover, part of it mysteriously suggested that, should the GAF be beaten and a rapid seizure of the Pas de Calais achieved, that would signal a possible ‘complete German collapse or withdrawal’.

Yet this naïve thinking about targets constituted a fatal flaw. The detailed text of the COCKADE plan included some puzzling sentences concerning the choice of the Pas de Calais. Having explained how heavily fortified the area was, and the most strongly defended, Morgan described the level of bombardment that would be required ‘over a limited period’ (a very unmilitary, evasive and indefinite bureaucratic phrase) to give the impression that a large-scale landing was imminent. But then, amazingly, Morgan went on to write:

            Port capacities in the PAS DE CALAIS are insufficient, even when undamaged, to supply a force of more than about nine divisions. We cannot therefore expect the GERMANS seriously to believe that invasion of the Continent is intended if we leave our deception plan to this area, and certainly we shall not contain all his reserves, if they are badly wanted elsewhere. At the same time the paucity of landing craft (actual or dummy) available in this country . . . . will make it clear to him that simultaneous cross-Channel operations in more than one sector are not feasible. We must therefore lead him to suppose that a major part of our plan is a long sea voyage ship to shore operation partly from this country but mainly from the USA.

Surprisingly, given the short timetable involved, the minutes of the War Cabinet show no further discussion of COCKADE for a while. Indeed, on June 17, Morgan moved on to the real and authentic 1944 Operation, apologizing to the Chiefs of Staff for the delay in submitting his initial plans for OVERLORD, and added they would be available on July 15. The next reference to COCKADE appears in a note by General Hollis on June 23, where he presents a response from Lieutenant General Jacob L. Devers of the US Army, and Commanding General of ETOUSA (European Theater of Operations, United States Army), in which Devers agrees generally with the conclusions of the Chiefs of Staff Committee meeting of June 21 concerning COCKADE. Then, rather incidentally, the matter of COCKADE is brought to the Prime Minister’s attention by General Hollis on June 23, where we learn obliquely that the War Cabinet has approved the operation. (Churchill would of course have been briefed on the plan before the War Cabinet set eyes on it. The official minutes for the meeting at which the approval was made do not appear in the official series.) It is in fact Louis Mountbatten, Chief of Combined Operations, who is responding to Churchill’s request for information on raids (Mountbatten’s bailiwick), whereupon Mountbatten refers to concurrent raids being undertaken as part of COCKADE. Thus the fact of the War Cabinet’s decision on COCKADE appears only as Annex 2 to Mountbatten’s note.

Yet valuable details about the negotiations can be found elsewhere. It is in the War Office archives (WO 106/4223) where a fuller account of some of the discussions that took place earlier in the month appears, and some highly important observations are evident. For example, as early as April 29, Sir Alan Brooke had voiced his disagreement that the news of the setting up of expeditionary forces ‘should be allowed to leak out through the channels at the disposal of the Controlling Officer’. Yet that recommendation does not appear in the report as listed, and must have derived from discussions. This cryptic statement presumably means that he disapproved of a policy of using ‘double agents’ through Bevan’s TWIST committee, although he did not explain why he was sceptical about that channel, nor did he offer an alternative.

Admiral of the Fleet Dudley Pound

A discussion took place at the Chiefs’ meeting on June 8, just after the return from Washington, when it was resolved to discuss the plan with Morgan while the Joint Planning Staff performed its detailed analysis, and then to meet with Morgan again. Morgan started off by stating that it might be difficult to bring the GAF into battle, and that ‘in order to provide a sufficiently convincing display of force, that battleships for bombarding the German coast artillery had been included for use in the later stage of the plan’. This worried Admiral Sir Dudley Pound, the First Sea Lord, who urged ‘very careful considerations’ before the employment of battleships in the Channel could be sanctioned. Likewise, Sir Charles Portal, Chief of the Air Staff, could not agree to a major diversion of bombers to meet Morgan’s requirements.

Air Marshall Charles Portal

Later, a discussion concerning, rather archly, ‘Control of Patriot Organisations’, followed. The meeting recognized the importance of preventing premature risings in the occupied countries ‘and it was generally agreed [not unanimously?] that all patriot organisations must be warned that there must be no general rising without our definite instructions.’ Morgan was invited to consult with S.O.E. on this matter. On these, and other topics (such as the shortage of landing-craft) the Joint Planning Staff was instructed to report.

Further doubts surfaced the following day. A significant commentary – presented anonymously, from the War Office – appears, dated June 9. The note encourages the more detailed analysis being performed by the Joint Planning Staff, but ‘ventilates’ for the preliminary discussion the following two important points: 

            Air Battle: One of the main advantages, which it is hoped to attain is a profitable air battle. Is the Chief of Staff convinced that we can be sure of obtaining this advantage?

            Political Repercussions: We shall eventually find ourselves in a position where German propaganda can represent that an attempted invasion has been repelled. Premature rising by Resistance Groups on the Continent may be difficult to avoid and their action might be detrimental to success on a later occasion.

Having received an individual invitation to do so, John Bevan, Controlling Officer of the London Controlling Section, responded to Morgan’s plan, and his memorandum was presented to the Chiefs of Staff on June 11. His opinions were strangely meek and uncritical, but then he was after all the architect of the plans, since their conception had antedated Morgan’s appointment. He appeared to approve of STARKEY and WADHAM, but pointed out that the Germans were unlikely to believe that the Allies could carry off three such operations simultaneously in September. His comments were mainly directed at TINDALL, and the chances of the Germans transferring forces hardened by cold weather to the Russian front. He completed his report by suggesting that, after the operation had been called off, it should be described as a ‘dress rehearsal’ rather than a feint, in order to protect ‘secret sources’, presumably the network of ‘double agents’ passing on intelligence about the operation to their Abwehr controllers. In his diaries, Alan Brooke records that Morgan came to see him on June 17 ‘to discuss various minor difficulties he has come up against’. What they were is not said, but Bevan presumably wanted Brooke on his side at the coming meeting.

The Chiefs of Staff took note of Bevan’s memorandum, but accepted his recommendation about publicity. In any case, on June 21, the Joint Planning Staff (JPS) issued its comprehensive Draft Report. In its introduction, it somewhat surprisingly expressed confidence in the plan’s conception, but added, rather weakly, the opinion that it ‘should succeed in pinning German forces in the west’, and that ‘it may also provoke an air battle and will provide most valuable experience’. It moved quickly over WADHAM and TINDALL and focused on STARKEY, where it boldly pointed out that:

11. The object of the plan, as stated, is to convince the enemy that a large scale landing in the Pas de Calais area is imminent and to bring the German Air Force to battle,

12. There is no intention of converting STARKEY into an actual landing if sudden German disintegration appears to be imminent. Entirely separate plans are being made for the possibility of an emergency return to the Continent.

The planning of Operation STARKEY is accordingly being limited to purely deceptive measures involving no plans for a re-entry to the Continent.

These were very significant reminders to the Chiefs of the Casablanca resolutions, and the seriousness with which they were taken is shown by the fact that the recommendation of ‘should therefore’ in the printed text has been emended to ‘is accordingly being’ in manuscript, reflecting that the Chiefs had endorsed this particular observation.

The JPS also highlighted the political repercussions, and, in consequence, a vital paragraph soon appeared in the protocols, running as follows:

            The reactions to these operations of the inhabitants of the occupied territories will require to be controlled by the issue in advance of the most careful directions. The Political Warfare and Special Operations Executives have therefore been instructed to prepare detailed plans setting out the measures which should be adopted in order to prevent any premature rising by the patriot armies.

This is also a very important statement. While the plan had explicitly excluded any role for ‘patriot armies’ in the STARKEY operation, the JPS implicitly ordains that SOE agents should in no manner encourage French resistance members to expect or support any invasion in 1943. (Given the confirmed policy that invasion could not occur until summer 1944, ‘premature’ presumably meant any time before then.) As far as the build-up of arms, and exhortations over the wireless were concerned, however, all this well-intended foresight was too little, too late, and appears to have been expressed in complete ignorance of what was happening on the ground. In France, many ‘patriot armies’ had been supplied, and were eagerly expecting the invasion.

The War Office records include the minutes of the decisive meeting that took place on June 21. There were several caveats: Mountbatten agreed with Pound on the battleship issue; Portal appeared to have succumbed half-heartedly to the demand for bomber support; Brooke raised an important point about the repercussions from bombing targets in France, and possible civilian deaths. Some awkward questions were deferred, but the plans were essentially approved.

The argument behind the whole COCKADE plan thus appeared to be:

  1. We shall launch an unserious attack on the Pas de Calais.
  2. We hope to engage the GAF, but have a slim chance of destroying it.
  3. The Pas de Calais is the best defended area of the French coastline.
  4. The area is not large enough to support an invasion-capable force.
  5. The Germans will not take this attack seriously.
  6. We hope to supplement the air attack with bombardments by battleships (if the Royal Navy agrees).
  7. We are, however, not confident that a presence of battleships will be useful.
  8. We shall thus pretend to launch an assault on Normandy as well, with an even flimsier feint.
  9. We shall augment this with the pretence of the unlikely arrival of a fleet from the USA.
  10. In this way the Germans will be convinced that a massive assault is imminent.

It does not take the brain of a military strategist to conclude that this was an absurd proposition. Why on earth would the Germans be taken in by it, especially as Allied forces were amassed in the Mediterranean in preparation for an assault on Sicily or the Balkans? Was German intelligence so bad that the Wehrmacht would take seriously the threat of a major assault across the Channel as well? Even on August 7, the Chiefs of Staff were discussing what reduction of German forces would be necessary to make a 1944 cross-Channel operation possible. Moreover, Churchill, responding to Stalin’s querulous complaint about the further deferral of the assault, wrote to him on June 18 about the futility of wasting vast numbers of military personnel:

            It would be no help to Russia if we threw away a hundred thousand men in a disastrous cross-Channel attack such as would, in my opinion, certainly occur if we tried under present conditions and with forces too weak to exploit any success that might be gained at very heavy cost.

That opinion should have put the kibosh on any notion of exploiting ‘German disintegration’.

What is more, the COCKADE plan is evasive and uncomfortable about the use of propaganda, misinformation and leakage to abet the project, especially when it relates to SOE and MI6 networks in France. Yet, at the time they considered the COCKADE plan, the Chiefs of Staff must have known about the recent increase in shipments of arms to France, and the campaigns already organized by the PWE to encourage the notion of an imminent invasion. If that activity ceased, the Nazis would conclude that the military movements were indeed a sham. But if they continued, in order to bolster the credibility of the feint, the Germans would take a very serious interest in infiltrating the networks in an effort to learn more about the date and place of the opening of the ‘Second Front’. That outcome could only be disastrous – in various ways. Therein lay the extreme moral dilemma: deceptions can exploit ambiguity about the location of a surprise attack, but they cannot dice with the actual existence or nonexistence of such events.

And the outcome of the assault could also have been catastrophic. What were the chances of success of any bridgehead, if substantial German forces were maintained in France (hardly ‘pinned’, it should be stated)? The continued presence of such strength was, after all, the objective of the Allies, and the outcome might be that a weakly supported bridgehead would have to face a vigorous backlash, and probably be destroyed or expelled. As further evidence of muddled thinking, just a week before, at the TRIDENT Conference in Washington, Sir Alan Brooke, in apparent defiance of CASABLANCA resolutions, had enigmatically stated that the ‘dispersal of German forces is just what we require for a cross-channel operation and we should do everything in our power to aggravate it’ – exactly the opposite of what was then planned. Strategic thinking was all over the place: it was a mess.

About this time the whole flimsy infrastructure fell apart. On June 24 Francis Suttill (Prosper) was arrested in Paris, and soon afterwards, he and Gilbert Norman, in a sad effort to save lives (but not their own), encouraged their networks to reveal where their weapons, smuggled in by SOE, were hidden.

COCKADE and the Historians

The coverage of the early days of COCKADE by the prominent historians has been spotty. Michael Howard, in Volume 5 of British Intelligence in the Second World War, records the drawing up of COCKADE plans, but leaves its timing (June 3) to an Endnote. He then haphazardly goes on to describe how resources (‘double agents’ of B1A) were enlisted to communicate aspects of COCKADE: “From the beginning of May, a stream of messages passed through more than a dozen sources, reporting rumours, government announcements and regulations and observed troop movements.” That is a clumsy and obvious anachronism: such events may well have been going on, but they were in support of other initiatives (or put in process by premature anticipation of COCKADE, as I showed in my analysis of XX Committee minutes), and not activated as a formal response to an inchoate and unapproved COCKADE. Howard then swiftly moves on to the preparations for late summer, and reports how the Germans did not rise to the bait, the OKW failing to be deceived as to Allied intentions. Nevertheless, he relates how von Rundstedt, Commander-in-Chief West, anxiously watched air-drops to resistance movements in France. That was on August 31, however, when the mop-up of the PROSPER network had been under way for some time. Even when STARKEY had been called off, von Rundstedt reputedly feared a major landing as late as November 1943. Yet no forces were transferred to prepare for any such threat. In fact, the opposite occurred.

Roger Hesketh’s’ Fortitude’

In his insider history of FORTITUDE, Roger Hesketh gives scant attention to COCKADE. He dubs STARKEY an obvious failure, as it did not succeed in engaging the German Air Force. Moreover, he points out the fallacies in drawing the enemy’s attention to its most sensitive spot – the Pas de Calais. He drily added: “To conduct and publicise a large-scale exercise against an objective that one really intended to attack during the following year would hardly suggest a convincing grasp of the principle of surprise.” In Operation Fortitude, Joshua Levine likewise classifies COCKADE as a failure, but submits that the exercise offered useful experience for the double-cross system, and, rather weakly, that it gave the planners ‘the opportunity to consider the logistics of a cross-channel operation in advance of OVERLORD’. On the other hand, the only mention of COCKADE or STARKEY in M. R. D. Foot’s SOE in France is an (unindexed) amendment he made in 2004, when he had to concede that SOE agents were exceptionally used for purposes of deception in the promotion of STARKEY. This is a very telling addition that Foot slipped past the Foreign Office censors.

Anthony Cave-Brown

It was Anthony Cave-Brown, in his monumental Bodyguard of Lies, who actually moved closest to the truth, although his rather chaotic approach to chronology and his tendency to add irrelevant detail subtract from the clarity of his thesis. As with the other authors, he mixes up pre-COCKADE planning with the events in July and August. Using American archival sources that came to light in 1972, however, he is able to show that SOE agents were used in July and August, right through to the conclusion of STARKEY on September 9, 1943, to mislead the French patriot armies about the imminent invasion – a probable source for Foot’s amendment. In this way he is able to counter the claim that Bevan’s wartime deputy Sir Ronald Wingate made in 1969 that there was no connection between the LCS and SOE. The tension is clear: the Foreign Office wanted to bury the notion that SOE had been acting contrary to official policy, but the facts had come out.

Moreover, Cave-Brown lists the exploitation of the media that occurred, mainly in August 1943, to project the certainty of a coming invasion. The United Press put out a bulletin that informed the world of a move by the Allies in Italy and France ‘within the next month’, and even the BBC, on August 17, broadcast an ambiguous message that must have been interpreted by Frenchmen and Frenchwomen to mean that they should prepare for the imminent assault. As Cave-Brown writes: “The Associated Press and Reuters picked up this broadcast and made it world news.” All this activity by SOE and the Political Warfare Executive (PWE) caused major concerns for Bevan and his team at the LCS. Such efforts were of course in defiance of the careful edict issued by the Chiefs of Staff about avoiding premature action by patriot forces. Matters were out of control.

Cave-Brown also points out that COCKADE was a failure because Hitler was convinced that the Allies were bluffing, and actually withdrew over two-thirds of his army from the West.

            Between April and December 1943, a total of twenty-seven divisions of the thirty-six in the western command were pulled out for service in Russia, Sicily, Italy and the Balkans – a compliment to A-Force’s Zeppelin operations on the Mediterranean at the expense of LCS’s Cockade operations in London.

Thus the aims of COCKADE were directly confounded by the clumsiness of the plan. Moreover, the withdrawal of these German divisions could ironically have allowed the Allies (in Cave-Brown’s opinion) to have ‘walked ashore’ in Brittany in the summer of 1943, virtually unopposed – a theory that demanded analysis in depth elsewhere. For example, Walter Scott Dunn, in Second Front Now, was one who claimed that the reduction in strength of the German Western Army in the autumn of 1943 could have permitted an Allied assault to take place if the Combined Chiefs of Staff had taken the possibility seriously.

Yet Cave-Brown massively mixes up the timetable when he moves to Prosper’s arrest, the subsequent mopping up of his networks, and the confiscation of arms, making the same mistake that others have made – that the events leading to the betrayal of Prosper were part of the COCKADE/STARKEY deception plan. As he writes (p 338: his sources are not identified, and the details are unreliable):

            Moreover, the SOE/PWE plan for Starkey made provision for deliberately misinforming F section agents in the field; even before that plan had been approved by the Chiefs of Staff and become fully operational in mid-July 1943, certain key F section agents were flown to London for “invasion” briefings, and others sent to France with instructions to carry out “pre-invasion” activities. They were to be informed, at the proper moment, that Starkey was only a rehearsal; but by then, for some of them – including Prosper – it would be too late.

While it is true that John Bevan, in early May, collaborated with Morgan on the first drafts of the COCKADE plan (as I reported in April), Bevan exploited the presence of a real (but insubstantial) attack on the Pas de Calais planned for September as an arrow in the quiver of the rogue operation that was already under way with Prosper’s network.

What everyone failed to note was that, when Suttill arrived in London in May for his briefings, the notion of an invasion in the summer of 1943 was still boiling in some quarters – and that excited him. But when he came back for the express meetings in early June, after Churchill’s return, and when Morgan had just prepared his COCKADE plans, Suttill learned how matters had changed. He was either told the truth, namely that the new programme involved a massive feint, and that he was being asked to support that activity by continuing to ready his circuits for something that had to be described as real, or he was deceived into thinking that an invasion was still on the cards, but had been deferred until September. It was almost certainly the latter, as if the authorities had set out to manipulate him and his circuits, they would not want to run the risk of his undermining the whole project. And, if they had the nurtured the evil objective of having Suttill reveal the date only under torture, the extraction of the truth under pressure would have been even more convincing. What they probably told him was thus not a total lie. In any case, he was devastated.

Prosper’s Torment

As I described in my April posting (http://www.coldspur.com/feints-and-deception-two-more-months-in-1943/) , the various accounts of Francis Suttill’s reactions to what he was told in London are all flawed because they deal inconclusively with the contradictions in his arrival and departure dates. (I presented then an original theory that Suttill made two visits to the UK, in late May and early June, a hypothesis that neatly resolves all the contradictions in the various accounts.) Thus all the hints and attributions that appear in the works of Foot, Fuller, Marshall, Cookridge, Suttill and Marnham have to be re-interpreted in the light of Visit 1 (where Suttill is encouraged to believe that a real assault is imminent) and of Visit 2 (where he is made aware of the COCKADE plan that refers to some form of attack in September, and learns of the need to restrain his forces until then).

For example: When Cookridge writes that “Suttill had also arranged at Baker Street for the pace of arms and explosive deliveries to be stepped up” (not that that was in his power), it indicates clearly that the meetings must have occurred at the end of May, when Suttill’s enthusiasm was bolstered by the increased activity, and hopes of an early invasion. Since Marshall (relying very much on what Henry Sporborg told him) imagines there was only one visit, and concentrates on the post-COCKADE briefing, he asserts that the visit was not initiated by Suttill’s request, but that he was called back to London specifically by Churchill, even though Churchill was not in London at the end of May. “Could the great network hold out until July?”, he imagines Suttill thinking before the invitation. Marnham, echoing Suttill Jr., obviously cannot explain the call from Churchill, and declares that Suttill requested the May visit himself, because he was concerned about security, and needed to talk to his bosses about it.

Further: When Marshall, in turn citing Fuller, reports that Suttill informed Jean Worms (the leader of a sub-circuit called JUGGLER) that ‘they would have to hold out until September’ (p 178), that statement confirms that the discussion must have taken after his second visit: not only that, he gives the impression that a real invasion will be occurring in that month, confirming that the STARKEY plan (or a part of it) has been explained to him. (We cannot confidently tell whether that is how the COCKADE operation was described to Suttill, or whether he decided to misrepresent reality in the cause of the greater deception.) Marshall had earlier (p 161) asserted that Suttill had been ‘knocked sideways’ by the news that the invasion would not take place until the first week of September. Again, it is not clear whether this was the impression given to Marshall by Sporborg, who would have known at that time (unlike Buckmaster) that it was untrue, but may have also represented the facts to Suttill dishonestly.

When Marnham writes (p 116) that rumours started in the Sologne at the end of May that an invasion was imminent, the author accurately echoes what Cookridge wrote, while providing an accurate date for Suttill’s first return from London. Yet, a couple of pages later, when Marnham describes Suttill as returning from London, with the belief that an invasion was imminent, and on June 13 refusing to pay heed to Culioli’s requests that parachute drops be stopped, the chronology does not allow him to point out that this occurred after the second visit, when Suttill was aware that the invasion was no longer imminent. (Marnham has recently communicated to me his agreement with my hypothesis that there were two visits.) Suttill’s actions here suggest that he was putting his whole weight behind the rogue LCS deception plan.

On the other hand, when Francis Suttill Jr, describes his father’s decision that the area behind the Normandy coast was ‘one of the areas where arms were most needed to support an invasion’, but that the drops (on June 10) took place further south because of the presence of German troops in the area (pp 176-177), the author simply reflects a total ignorance of the circumstances by which arms were still being flown in in contravention of the new COCKADE policy. Earlier (p 161), Suttill had introduced a drop near Mantes on June 16/17 where ‘some of the material was destined for the communists . . . .; the rest was hidden for the group to use in the expected invasion’, he likewise is completely tone-deaf about the political climate and machinations. He bases his dismissal of his father’s briefing by Churchill purely on the fact that Churchill was not in the UK at the end of May, and ignores the evidence of a June encounter.

It is thus impossible to determine with complete assurance what went through Suttill’s mind, whether he was given the full and accurate account of the STARKEY deception plan, and thus decided that he should be responsible for possible sacrifices to aid the deception, or whether he was misled into thinking that it would culminate in an invasion in September that could be supported by resistance forces, and was therefore justified in keeping his networks on the alert. What his cited statements do confirm, however, is that he believed an invasion was imminent when he returned at the end of May. The overwhelming evidence from the arms build-up in the spring, and the continued shipments into June and beyond after the COCKADE plan had been approved, suggests that he was a victim of the unsanctioned cowboy deception effort being masterminded by LCS, with the complicity of senior SOE officers.

Yvonne Rudellat

Irrespective of both visits, Suttill was doomed. I can add little to the story of how Pierre Culioli and Yvonne Rudellat were trapped by the Sicherheitsdienst at a checkpoint, where the Germans discovered hand-written names and addresses being carried, and crystals to be passed to wireless operators. Careless talk and casual meetings led to the inveiglement of Suttill after Norman and Borrel had been arrested. Readers can turn to the works of Foot, Marshall and Marnham to learn the details. When Gilbert Norman was shown copies of private letters that Déricourt had carried back and forth between France and the UK, he gave up. He was impersonated in his role as wireless operator, and brought to despair when London rebuked him (in fact his ghost operator) for not performing the necessary security check to indicate that he was not transmitting under duress. He and Suttill then made a deal with their captors that, in exchange for the lives of their agents and collaborators, they would reveal the locations of the arms-dumps. The deal was not honoured. Scores of resistance workers were quickly executed, as were Suttill, Norman, Borrel and others, later, in 1944.

Betrayal

Henri Frager

Suttill believed that there was at least one traitor in his midst: after all, that is why he sought the recall in late May. His colleague Henri Frager, who was being manipulated by the deceptive Hugo Bleicher of the Abwehr, had been complaining about Déricourt, and these criticisms had resonated with Suttill, who recalled Déricourt’s overall casualness in his operations, as well as his unjustified interest in the private lives of his contacts and passengers. Just before he was arrested, Suttill confided these fears to Madame Balachowsky, who, with her husband, a distinguished biology professor, had organized a circuit in the Versailles area. He also mentioned to her that he believed that the Germans had an agent in Baker Street.

When the initial investigations by MI5 into Déricourt’s possible unreliability took place in November 1943, a curious flashback to July took place. In one of the Déricourt files at the National Archives (KV 2/1131, p 16) appears an extract from notes that a Miss Torr had taken on July 9, during a study of GILBERT (Déricourt) and ‘the PROSPER circuit and its connections’. It runs as follows:

            The arrests in this circuit started  . . . . .  in April (1943)  . . . .  When PROSPER went back to France at the end of May, he found the security of his circuits further compromised by two things  . . . . . secondly GILBERT (see below) had had a good deal of trouble, partly through being too well known in his former identity, partly through the indiscretions of HERVE, trained by us but sent out by the D/F section on a special mission. GILBERT went south to lie low, and for a while everything went well.

This is an extraordinary entry, as much for what it does not say as for what it reveals – and for its timing. The ellipses clearly refer to some embarrassing information. The arrests of April were of the Tambour sisters by the Gestapo: Suttill foolishly tried, through an intermediary, to pay a ransom for their release, but was shockingly hoodwinked. The first of the items excised from Torr’s report may have been the suspicions that Pierre Culioli was indulging in Black Market transactions, or it may have been the fact that Edward Wilkinson was arrested on June 6, and that subsequent German raids ‘led to the recall of Heslop a few weeks later’ (as Francis Suttill, Jr. records). In any case, there was enough serious concern about infiltration and betrayal to demand protective action.

How HERVE contributed to Déricourt’s problems is elusive. (I have not yet been able to establish who he was. Buckmaster refers to an agent Hervé in They Fought Alone.) Elsewhere in the file, it is reported that, after his return to France on May 5, Déricourt found his security endangered by the fact that his colleagues were far too careless in their social gatherings in Paris, and that his real identity was known to too many people. The note continues:

            When he was finally asked by someone at a bar if he had had a good Easter in London, he felt it was time to take steps, and therefore he went down to Marseilles, partly to see someone we wished him to exfiltrate, and partly to lie low. Here he came up against the Luftflotte, and owing to their attentions, had to go about with some of his old friends and make a show of being friendly with the people who put had put up his name to the Luftflotte.

This was an obvious lie that Déricourt used to suggest that these encounters were the first that he had with the German authorities.

The note then goes on to say that Déricourt ‘came back to Paris to help organize the June Lysander operations’, without offering any dates. Suttill’s son remarks, however, that, on the same night (June 20) that his father spoke to Madame Balachowsky about his concerns, ‘a Lysander operation organized by Déricourt failed because he did not appear, nor had he collected the two passengers who were booked to return to London, Richard Heslop and an evading RAF officer’. Using the file HS 6/440, and quoting the testimony of Jacques Weil, Suttill Jr. states that Déricourt had been arrested for a short time before Prosper’s arrest, and concludes:

            It is also possible that he may have been warned by the Germans about something that was planned that night not far from the landing grounds he was proposing to use at Pocé-sur-Cisse, near Amboise’.

A cool analysis might suggest that, with these exposures well-known, the senior officers of SOE should immediately have taken precautionary measures to inoculate against further infiltration, such as sealing off circuits, stopping meetings and the sharing of resources, terminating flights and shipments for a while, and ensuring the general quiescence of all network activity until the hubbub appeared to have subsided, and a full investigation had been completed at Baker Street. Yet, as has been made clear, nothing of the sort took place. In fact, when Déricourt sent a letter to F Section at this time, explaining his contacts with the Germans at the Luftflotte, Nicolas Bodington (Buckmaster’s number 2) on June 21 made his infamous annotation, available on Déricourt’s file: “We know he is in touch with the Germans and also how and why.” Robert Marshall crucially reported on what he was told by Harry Sporborg on March 21, 1983:

            There existed a standing instruction (though SOE tended to think of it as more of an understanding) that when it was known that one of their networks had been penetrated, then the LCS had to be informed (usually through MI5), ‘so that the network in question might be exploited as quickly as possible for deception purposes’. In this case the information had travelled in the opposite direction and the LCS was simply informing the SOE that the decision to exploit PROSPER had already been taken. Neither Colonel Buckmaster nor any of the other F Section officers was ever informed of this decision. (All The King’s Men, p 162)

After three days of intense interrogations of Suttill, Norman and Borrel, on June 28 Kieffer of the Sicherheitsdienst presented his prisoners with photocopies of correspondence carried on flights organized by Déricourt, identified as deriving from the agent known as BOE/48. The manner of their betrayal became obvious to the three.

The Dangle

From any perspective, contact by an agent of officer of SOE with a member of one of the enemy’s intelligence or security services should have been regarded as highly dangerous and irregular. Thus it is difficult to conclude that the decision to encourage or allow Déricourt to maintain his contact with Boemelburg was either innocent, or propelled by serious policies of tradecraft. Yet the possibility that Déricourt was somehow able to mislead the Sicherheitsdienst to the advantage of SOE’s objectives in landing agents and supplies has been allowed to remain in the air. When M. R. D. Foot wrote about the events, he referred with minimal commentary to Déricourt’s testimony of February 11, 1944, under interrogation:

            German intelligence services did better out of intercepted reports from the field, which they certainly saw, and saw by Déricourt’s agency. When challenged on this point, he made the evasive reply that even if he had made correspondence available to the Gestapo, it would have been worth it for the sake of conducting his air operations unhindered. (SOE in France, p 270)

This must be one of the most outrageous statements ever made about the history of SOE, implying that, for some reason, if the Sicherheitsdienst turned a blind eye to the arrivals and departures taking place under their nose, they would ignore the implications, and forget about the possible threat to the Nazi occupation of France in the form of saboteurs and secret armies. And yet, this was presumably the mindset of Buckmaster and Bodington, who repeatedly came to Déricourt’s defence, and expressed their regard for him and his work. With Buckmaster, it was out of ignorance and naivety: with Bodington, duplicity and conspiracy. (The renowned and very security-conscious SOE agent Francis Cammaerts said that Bodington ‘had created  a lot of death’ in France.) Even after MI5 and SOE learned, through interrogations in early 1945, about the purloining of courier mail, they both continued stoutly to defend Déricourt.

Thus one returns to the overarching question concerning the motives and behaviour of Boyle (responsible for Security), Gubbins (responsible for all of western Europe), Dansey (Assistant Chief of MI6), and Bevan (head of the London Controlling Section): what were they possibly thinking by allowing Déricourt to consort with the Nazis, and why on earth did they believe that the Sicherheitsdienst would be fooled by any ploy that they concocted? After all, Déricourt had been spirited out of France to Great Britain, and had soon returned under control of a British Intelligence Service. The Nazis would be naturally very suspicious, even brutal. If SOE/MI6 believed that, since they had employed him, when he was out of their sight he was controlled by them, they were under a delusion. Similarly, if they believed that Déricourt could act as a useful transmitter of disinformation to the Germans without damaging the integrity of their networks, they were similarly massively mistaken. It is very difficult to conclude other than their motivations concerning the safety and security of PROSPER and other circuits were dishonourable.

The obvious question must be asked: If the objective was to ‘pin’ German forces in NW France in September, why was Déricourt not used simply to pass on by word of mouth the date of the phony STARKEY attack? What was his role? The answer is that he was engaged well before the COCKADE operation was conceived, and thus was deployed for more devious ends. Déricourt was not told of the details of STARKEY: he was a lowly air movements officer, and would have been such an obvious plant that the Germans would not have trusted what he said, or expected him to be able to gain such secrets. It would all have been too clumsy and transparent.

On the other hand, a whole subcurrent of suggestions (for example, from Rymills) has flowed that Dansey had been trying to infiltrate the Sicherheitsdienst for a couple of years, and that Déricourt was his latest candidate. Marshall is one of those observers who suggest that Déricourt was installed in France to gain intelligence on the working of Boemelburg’s organisation, presumably to help safeguard MI6’s agents in France, but such a dangerous game would have been hardly worth the candle. In any case, given Déricourt’s background, as someone who had passed through Britain’s security apparatus, the Germans would have been very cautious before exposing any valuable information to him.

The essence was that Déricourt had not been a Vertrauensmann, sent to Britain to infiltrate British intelligence by convincing the British authorities of his loyalties, with the goal of then being sent on a mission to France. If SOE’s intentions were devious but benign, the only way that Déricourt would have been able to survive would be by claiming he was a Nazi sympathizer, after which the Sicherheitsdienst would have made demands on him that would have threatened the circuits. And that is what happened: he volunteered a level of cooperation to the Gestapo, subsequently being given his BOE/48 appellation. Boemelburg must have wondered why, if Déricourt were willing to reveal details of SOE landings and take-offs, he would behave so indiscreetly over his contacts with the Germans, which (as is clear) were being communicated back to London. They were nevertheless happy to take the obvious facts and exploit them, as the process carried no risks for them, but would have been suspicious of any more covert messages. As Rymills wrote, questioning the account of Déricourt’s actions by the Sicherheitsdienst officer Goetz:

            However intelligent or unintelligent one believes Boemelburg might have been, it does not ring true that he would have accepted Déricourt’s account of his visit to London under British Intelligence auspices without demur. Anyone who confessed to the head of an enemy’s counter-intelligence that he had been recruited and trained by British Intelligence before being parachuted back into France as their Air Movements Officer would most certainly have been subjected to a rigorous interrogation in depth lasting a considerable period of time. Apparently, he did not even spend three days in the German equivalent of the London Holding Centre. Would anyone with one iota of common sense believe a story about London seething with communists? Could it possibly have been a simple as that? If it were, Déricourt was taking a gigantic risk – literally putting his head in the lion’s mouth.

The nature of the leakage was probably more subtle. Suttill knew the date of the invasion, but would probably reveal it only under torture – which is what happened. And, as has been suggested by Frank Rymills (see http://www.coldspur.com/dericourts-double-act/ ), some of the letters that Déricourt allowed the Gestapo to photocopy may have been forged by MI6 specialists, and carried revealing messages about the circumstances of the planned invasion. Déricourt was the courier and purloiner for these deeds: the events occurred at the same time as the famous MINCEMEAT deception operation of early May 1943. The Germans were much more likely to be taken in by well-crafted forgeries than obvious disinformation. As Marshall writes (p 190):

            From all the interrogations and written material that had been gathered, Boemelburg was sufficiently confident to send a report during the third week of July to Kopkow in Berlin that stated the invasion would fall at the Pas-de-Calais during the first week of September.

In one respect, therefore, the ruse had been successful. The Sicherheitsdienst passed on the planned date of STARKEY to von Rundstedt and Army Group West.

SOE’s Strategy & the Chiefs of Staff

What was going through the minds of Hambro and Gubbins, if, indeed, they were in control of SOE’s destiny? Marshall (in the anecdote cited above) indicates that the fact that COCKADE was a deception plan, and that the decision had been made to exploit PROSPER, was communicated to SOE ‘about the time’ that Suttill met Churchill, namely in early June. Yet the TWIST Committee’s conspiracies, and the increase in shipments of arms and supplies to France, had been going on for months already. Déricourt was already some kind of ‘agent in place’, in contact with Boemelburg, All this suggests that the maverick project to promote the notion that a real assault on the North-West French coastline was planned for 1943 – probably because Churchill devoutly hoped it to be true when the Committee was set up towards the end of 1942 – was very much alive and kicking, and that the notion implicit in STARKEY that the feint could conceivably be turned into a reality allowed the TWIST activity to gain fresh wings without flying completely in the face of military strategy.

A more resolute Hambro and Gubbins could have stood up to the COCKADE presentation, and said: ‘Enough!’, especially as the details of the plan did not then allow for, or encourage, the idea of subterranean work by SOE to further the work of the deception. In principle, their circuits could have been protected until the time of the real invasion. They could have insisted that the military aspects of the plan be pursued as specified, without any hints of assistance and preparation across the Channel, or, better still, they could have advised that a poorly conceived project like COCKADE should be abandoned immediately, as it would jeopardize assets needed for OVERLORD the following year. They then should have called for a suspension of arms shipments to France.

Yet, with the pressure for COCKADE to be launched, the SOE leaders were hoist with their own petard: movements were already in place for providing weapons and ammunition to an evolving patriot army, and, if that process suddenly ground to a halt, the illusion of an assault in September would have evaporated completely. If there had been no predecessor introduction of arms, the Germans might not have been suspicious. So Hambro and Gubbins had to buckle under, and hope that the inevitable sacrifices would not be too costly.

The Chiefs of Staff must have known what was going on, even though the outward manifestations of their thinking suggest otherwise. The early minutes studiously avoid any discussion of the possibility of SOE’s defying the established rules to support patriot armies in France (no longer a top tier target country) prematurely. In his diaries, General Sir Alan Brooke very carefully stressed that, if any impulses for carrying out an invasion in 1943 were still detectable, they came from his American counterparts (Marshall and King), and he earnestly repeated his assertion that such ideas issued from those who had not studied and imbibed the Casablanca strategy that outlined why southern Europe had to be engaged first. Yet one activity must have been known to the Chiefs: the increased use of aircraft to fulfil SOE’s greater demand for drops. Given the previous fervent opposition by Air Marshall Harris to the diversion of planes from its bombing missions over Germany, and the reliable evidence of the increase in shipments in the spring of 1943, it is impossible to imagine that this change of policy was somehow kept concealed from the eyes and ears of the Chiefs of Staff.

One might conclude that, at some stage, the Chiefs came to the conclusion that the presence of substantial SOE networks in France, and their connections with armed resistance groups, instead of being a hazard that had to be controlled, could instead become the main source of rumours of the invasion, a much stronger factor than all the dummy operations in the Channel. At the end of June (as I described above), the PWE and SOE had been invited to suggest what actions they might take to forestall any premature risings. This led to some very controversial exchanges.

SOE and the PWE are on record as approving the COCKADE plan. On July 18, General Hollis introduced to the War Cabinet Chiefs of Staff Committee a paper, dated July 8, developed by PWE, with SOE’s ‘full consultation’, that outlined the plans to deal with some of the less desirable fallouts from the STARKEY Operation. The brief is given as:

  • To counter the repercussions of STARKEY upon the patriot armies in Europe,
  • To counteract the effects of the enemy’s counter-propaganda presenting the outcome of STARKEY as a failure to invade.

The report constitutes a very bizarre approach to STARKEY, as it manifestly assumes that the effort will be entirely a feint, with no references to an engagement with the GAF, or to the following-up with possible beachheads to take advantage of a German disintegration. On the contrary, the paper reminds readers that ‘the operations contemplated include no physical landings’. Thus it is a recipe for dealing with the disappointments when STARKEY is shown to be a blank.

A quick explanation of the political problem is set up, but with very woolly terminology. The anonymous author observes that ‘the expectation of early liberation is at present the main sustaining factor in resistance’, but he does not make any distinctions between groups dedicated to sabotage, and the misty ‘patriot armies’ that are supposed to be waiting in the wings. In any case, these bodies (the author states) will be in for a major disappointment as winter approaches. The argument takes a strange turn, presenting the fact that, since there will be no landings, there will be no obvious cue for uprisings that would then have to be stifled, and further states that ‘it is to our advantage’ that:

             . . . the Occupied Peoples of the West, while prepared for the intervention which the operations imply and for active co-operation in such intervention, would naturally prefer that their own countries should not be devastated by the final battles.

This seems to me to be an utterly irrelevant, illogical and unsubstantiated hypothesis. It is not clear who ‘these Occupied Peoples of the West’ are, but if pains must be taken not to subdue the enthusiasm of potential ‘patriot armies’, what were the latter expecting would happen in the ensuing invasion? That the major battles would all take place in other countries, and that the Nazis would fold? Then why were the French being supplied with so much weaponry? The author is surely delusional. Yet he goes on to say that ‘the peoples of the West’ will overcome their dismay that COCKADE was only a diversion because they will learn that HUSKY is giving encouraging results.

The paper then goes on to outline what PWE and SOE should do, namely engage in a communication and propaganda exercise to convince the patriot armies to stay their hand until they receive the order from London to start the uprising. The report includes the following startling paragraphs:

            15. It is suggested, however, that the P.W.E./S.O.E. has a positive contribution to make to the success of COCKADE itself.

            16. the object would be:

To assist the deception by producing the symptoms of underground activity, prior to D day, which the enemy would naturally look for as one preliminary of a real invasion.

It goes in to give examples of operations ‘on a scale sufficient to disturb the enemy, but would be so devised so not to provoke premature uprisings or to squander any stratagems or devices needed in connection with a real invasion ’such as printed instructions on how to use small arms, and broadcasts by ‘Western European Radio Services’ on how the civilian population could make itself into ‘useful auxiliaries’.

This seems to me to be utterly cynical. During a period immediately after the arrests of Suttill, Norman and Borrell, and the betrayal of arms and ammunitions dumps, when news of the crackdown by the Gestapo was being sent to London by multiple wireless operators (including over Norman’s hijacked transmitter), the PWE and SOE contrived to recommend coolly the creation of ‘the symptoms of underground activity’. This suggestion was made at exactly the time that SOE and MI5 were performing a careful inquiry into the penetrations and arrests. [N.B. The news was not confined to SOE.] Either the spokesperson was completely ignorant of what was going on (highly unlikely) or he was wilfully using STARKEY as an opportunity to provide an alibi for the collapse of the networks.

Furthermore, for the seven days leading up to D-day (actually the September 1943 date for STARKEY), the units suggested that leaflets should be dropped addressed to ‘the patriots’, telling them that the forthcoming activity was only a rehearsal. Astonishingly, the author then suggests that the B.B.C. should be brought in ‘as an unconscious agent of deception’, encouraging the notion that a coming assault were real until the broadcasting service, like the press, would be informed that the operations were only a rehearsal. This initiative was a gross departure from policy, since the B.B.C. had carefully protected a reputation for not indulging in black propaganda, and instead acted as a reliable source for news of the realities of war throughout Europe.

A final plea (before outlining a brief plan as to how the PWE and SOE should play a role in this deception) is made for a concerted effort to enforce the idea that patriot armies should be subject to the control of the Allied High Command, but it is worded in such an unspecific and flowery way that it should have been sent back for re-drafting:

            We should, from now on, even more systematically build up the concept of the peoples of Occupied Europe forming a series of armies subject to the strictest discipline derived from the Allied High Command in London.

Build a ‘concept’? To what avail? How would ‘peoples’ form a ‘series of armies’? How would discipline be enforced – for example, with the Communist groups, or even with de Gaulle’s loyalists? The paper seeks to maintain that, only through the communications of the Prime Minister and others to the ‘contact points’ established within western Europe, and ‘upon the evidence of the genuineness of our D day instructions, will depend the favourable or unfavourable reaction to COCKADE’.

If the Chiefs of Staff had spent any serious time reviewing this nonsense, they should have immediately cancelled the whole COCKADE operation, as its rationale and objectives were surely nullified by the probable embarrassing fallout. In any event, their concerns should have been heightened by an ancillary move that occurred soon afterwards. As Robert Marshall reported, on July 26, Stewart Menzies, the head of MI6, sent a note to the Chiefs of Staff, via Sir Charles Portal, that claimed that SOE in France was essentially out of control, and that SOE should be brought under MI6’s management. Of course, this was an utterly cynical move as well, since Dansey had been responsible for infiltrating Déricourt into the SOE organisation. But Gubbins could hardly accuse the vice-chief of MI6 of being ultimately responsible, since he would then have to admit how woefully negligent he had himself been in exercising proper security procedures in his units.

Instead, Gubbins read the note, was highly embarrassed, and tried to counter that the groups under his control ‘had not been penetrated by the enemy to any serious extent’, rather naively implying that they had of course been penetrated, and that he was confident that the degree of such was minor. He shamelessly tried to conceal the full extent of the damage from his masters, but failed to make his case.  On August 1, the Joint Intelligence Sub-Committee recorded their opinion that SOE had been ‘less than frank in their reports about their situation in France’.

SOE was in trouble. Yet STARKEY was not cancelled, and the propaganda campaign continued. Gubbins ploughed on, recommending increasing aid to the French field to the maximum, and noting that ‘the suffering of heavy casualties is inevitable’. And then Hambro, Gubbins’ boss, had to respond to a negative memorandum from Portal about diverting bombers to support SOE’s operations. In a long letter to the Chiefs of Staff dated July 26, Hambro essentially cooked his own goose, since he showed that he was not familiar with official strategy, and that he was also not in control of the (largely phantom) armies whose strength he had exaggerated. He made a plea for more air support, claiming that maintenance of the effort was essential if SOE were to fulfil its mission. He added, however, two damning paragraphs highlighting relevant factors, which merit being quoted in full:

  • The recent increase in our operations has, as may be expected, resulted in an increase of enemy activities to counter them and a consequent higher wastage rate among our men in the field. The maintenance of our organisations at their present strength and day to day activity therefore requires an increase in our present effort.
  • People on the Continent are certain that the Allies will invade in 1943. This feeling will be confirmed by the recent developments in ITALY. Daily reports from the field reiterate that people of occupied countries are relying upon the Allies returning to the Continent in the Autumn of 1943.

If the Allies do not return to North-west Europe, there will be a serious fall in morale, and, consequently, in the strength of the Resistance movements, which depend very greatly for their vigour upon the existence of a morale which gives the will to resist. The only way of countering the deterioration will be by showing the people of occupied countries that the Allies have not failed them. This cannot be done by propaganda and broadcast alone, but requires to be backed up by a steady flow of greatly increased deliveries of arms and other essentials.

Hambro was not helped by the propaganda campaign behind COCKADE, but he showed an alarmingly naïve understanding of the military climate, and the realities of SOE operations. His statements about the possibility of a widespread return to the Continent in 1943 were absurd and irresponsible, given the Casablanca decisions, and what the resistance in (for example) Norway was being told.. He simplistically grouped together a large number of disparate nations and their populations (‘People on the Continent’), as if generalisations about their predicament, their hopes and expectations could sensibly be made. Every country was different – a truth with which Hambro was not familiar. He proved that his organisation could not control the aspirations and activities of the groups who were in fact dependent upon SOE, and he showed that the tail was actually wagging the dog. He tried to finesse the matter of ‘wastage rates’ in his field agents without admitting the gross penetration by the Germans that had occurred. In all, he tried to preach to the Chiefs of Staff that they should endorse policies they had already rejected. It was no surprise that he lost his job a month or so later.

The Aftermath, and Conclusions

This chapter essentially closes with the arrest of Francis Suttill (Prosper). Yet there is much more to the story. In late July, Bodington paid a surprise visit to Paris to investigate what had happened to Prosper’s network. It was an extraordinarily rash and stupid decision: he was watched by the Sicherheitsdienst, but was allowed to return home unmolested. The assault aspect of COCKADE turned out to be an abject failure, as the Wehrmacht ignored any rumours, or feints to engage the GAF. (Brooke does not mention it in his diaries.) Even the continued activity of SOE in France, designed to keep many Wehrmacht divisions ‘pinned’, did not prevent the release of troops to the Balkan and Russian Fronts. Arms drops to French resistance workers continued. The Nazis seized more arms caches, and arrested and executed more agents and resistance workers. Déricourt came under fresh suspicion in the autumn of 1943, and was eventually ordered back to the UK, and interrogated at great length. After the war, he was put on trial by a military court in Paris, but Bodington exonerated him. SOE, having been rebuked, came under the control of the military men late in 1943. OVERLORD was, of course, successful, in June 1944, and was abetted in some notable incidents by patriot armies.

I recommend readers turn to Marnham, especially, for the dénouement of Déricourt’s story. Chapter 20 of War in the Shadows, ‘Colonel Dansey’s Private War’, gives an excellent account of the self-delusion and distortion that surrounds the case of his treachery. Yet that may not be enough. I point out again that I believe that Marnham’s account is flawed because of some key misunderstandings or oversights. Déricourt was not a Sicherheitsdienst officer who was ‘turned’ at the Royal Patriotic School in Wandsworth; he was an amoral individual who ingratiated himself with the Nazis by criticizing ‘communist-ridden’ London. The shipments of weaponry in the spring of 1943 were not in early anticipation of the COCKADE plan, but the result of a rogue LCS operation that had been going on for months. COCKADE was essentially the child of Bevan, who passed it on to Morgan. Francis Suttill crucially made two visits back to the UK in late May and early June, which fact has enormous implications for the ensuing events. The SOE tried to deceive the Chiefs of Staff over the penetration of its circuits. These ‘lapses’ do not undermine the strong case that Marnham makes about the tragic manipulation by SOE & MI6 of the doomed French circuits, but it does mean his story is inadequate. And there may be more to be unravelled. At some stage I may want to return to the enormous archival material that consists of the files on Déricourt as well as those on Hugo Bleicher, and other German intelligence officers. Yet it will be an exhausting and challenging task, trying to reconcile the testimonies of so many liars and deceivers.

I believe there is a serious need for a fresh authoritative and integrative assessment of SOE’s role in the events of 1943 and 1944. Olivier Wieviorka’s 2019 work The Resistance in Western Europe, 1940-45 is a valiant contribution, but he skates over the complexities a little too easily, with the result that he comes out with summarizations such as: “The statistics confirm that, before 1944, the British authorities did not believe it useful to arm the internal resistance”, an assertion that is both frustratingly vague but also easily contradicted. (Some of the less convincing conclusions may be attributable to an unpolished translation.)

Halik Kochanski’s epic new work Resistance: The Underground War Against Hitler, 1939-1945, covers a vast expanse of territory in a integrative approach to international resistance, but it therefore cannot really do justice to every individual situation. Some of her chapters are masterpieces of synthesis, but many of her stories are re-treads of familiar material. Moreover, she relies almost exclusively on secondary sources, and treats all as equally reliable. Kochanski nevertheless offers a very competent synopsis of the downfall of the Prosper circuit, and the ripple effect it had on other networks. She mentions Déricourt’s treachery, but does not analyse it in depth, however, merely drawing attention to the contradictions in Buckmaster’s two books. She classifies All the King’s Men as ‘conspiracy theory’, and praises unduly Francis Suttill’s Shadows in the Fog, as if it were the last word on the subject. She does not appear to have read War in the Shadows, and her account lacks any inspection of the historical backdrop. Operation COCKADE does not appear in her Index. In addition, her chronology is occasionally hazy, and she is vague about the intelligence organizations. She does not distinguish between the Abwehr and the Sicherheitsdienst, and misrepresents SOE’s leadership.

David Stafford’s 1980 work Britain and European Resistance 1940-1945 is still the most thorough and scholarly account of the War Cabinet debates over the role of SOE that I have found, but it needs refreshing. His Chapter 5, ‘A Year of Troubles’ delves deeply into the various committee records, and describes well the cognitive dissonance that he frequently perceived in the musings and decisions of the Chiefs of Staff and the Joint Intelligence Committee, but the author casts his net too closely. Stafford resolutely refuses to believe that any manipulation or treachery could have taken place by SOE in the demise of the French networks, displaying too much his trust in the integrity of the leaders he admires. COCKADE is never inspected in his analysis, and STARKEY appears only in one short clause. He focuses too much on official British government sources. He has thus found no evidence to support the charges of betrayal, stating that it appears ‘a far-fetched and highly improbable notion’ because of the risks it would have involved for the 1944 landings, thus perhaps displaying a little too much reliance on the sagacity of the decision-makers. He knows nothing of the TWIST Committee. Moreover, his chronology for 1943 is all over the place, and he fails to point out the contradictions in such phenomena as Selborne insisting that the constant distribution of arms (that were not supposed to be used at the time) was necessary to maintain the morale of patriot forces.

The minutes of the War Cabinet, with their omissions and elisions, are not a reliable guide to how the Chiefs of Staff debated these thorny issues. One could easily gain the impression that the Chiefs had a short attention span, did not really understand what SOE was up to, and found the whole business of clandestine activity, double agents, subterfuge and unofficial armies all very unorthodox and unmilitary, and thus irrelevant. Yet I suspect that they did have a good idea of what was happening, but did little about it because of the sway of their leader. The whole saga has Churchill’s brushwork on it –  from the enthusiasm about SOE’s sabotage activity, through the romantic attraction of dirty tricks, to the love of haphazard tactical impulses that drove Brooke to distraction. Churchill plotted with Bevan and Dansey; Gubbins was his favourite; and the notion that he engineered the activities of the TWIST Committee behind the backs of the XX Committee is utterly plausible. His bringing Suttill back to the UK for urgent private consultations is completely in character. And the whole melodrama was driven by the fact that Churchill had made a fatal private commitment to Stalin about the ‘Second Front’, and he was absurdly in awe of the Generalissimo.

A paper-trail that comprehensively explains the events of summer 1943 will probably never be found, so we must rely instead on steadily improving hypotheses. I believe that the plotting by Claude Dansey to undermine, if not destroy, SOE coincided with Winston Churchill’s desire to show Joseph Stalin that a substantial offensive effort was to be undertaken in North-West France in 1943, and the initiatives converged in the secret processes of John Bevan’s TWIST Committee. Thereafter, the monster took on a life of its own, and was impossible to control. The real project to supply more arms to the French Resistance suddenly came face-to-face with an official Chiefs of Staff/COSSAC deception plan, which specifically forbad premature use of ‘patriot armies’. The Chiefs however then realized that the agencies of SOE could provide a more telling indication of a coming invasion than any movements of phony troops and war-craft could. The directors of SOE fell into a trap, and, knowing they had Churchill’s backing, made the impermissible mistake of trying to deceive their bosses. Churchill did not punish Dansey for his chicanery, nor Bevan for his secrecy, and he overlooked Gubbins’ appalling supervision of SOE, since he had supported the Prime Minister’s whims. Gubbins’ career was thus saved. But it was all a very dishonourable episode in the conduct of the war.

Gubbins’ embarrassment in this saga is particularly poignant. Two months ago, I explained why I thought his reputation has been grossly exaggerated. After the war, Gubbins tried to put the blame for the destruction of the PROSPER network on Dansey. As Lynne Olson reports in Last Hope Island, quoting Anthony Cave-Brown’s biography of Stewart Menzies, “C”, Gubbins told William Stephenson, who had headed British Security Control in New York, that Dansey had betrayed a number of his [presumably, Gubbins’] key agents in France. This opinion was conveniently echoed by Gubbins’ deputy, Harry Sporborg, the witness who provided so much testimony to Robert Marshall:

            Make no mistake about it. MI6 would never have hesitated to use us or our agencies to advance their schemes, even if that mean the sacrifice of some of our people.

Such dissembling is highly disingenuous. (By then Dansey was dead.) Gubbins was supposed to be a tough, military man. Was he suggesting that he could be outwitted and undermined by the rather effete Claude Dansey? No, Gubbins knew exactly what was going on, and could have been forthright enough to pull the plug at any time, had he been paying attention, and taken the time to think through the implications. Whatever Dansey’s motivations and machinations were, Gubbins behaved equally as irresponsibly. The cynical treatment of the French partisans was, moreover, replicated exactly in Greece at the same time, in an attempt – a successful one, admittedly –  to convince the Germans that an attack was coming through the Balkans rather than through Sicily.

Some analysts might conclude that the sacrifice of the PROSPER network was justified if it helped Stalin’s cause, and discouraged him from making another pact with the Nazis. But that would constitute another colossal misjudgment of the dictator’s attitude and intentions: he would not have cared less about the attempts by western politicians to appease him, and considered their approaches contemptuous. He learned from his spies what their games were, and he would do exactly as he pleased to further his own ambitions for power and survival. He was able to manipulate Churchill and Roosevelt with devastating results for eastern Europe.

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Special Bulletin: The Airmen Who Died Twice

Operation PARAVANE

Over the past few months I have been collaborating with a researcher in the UK over a WWII mystery. Nigel Austin, who had been investigating the puzzle, found me on coldspur, and contacted me. We quickly determined that our knowledge was complementary, and that we could work together remotely. Now, having almost exhausted our research sources, we are ready to start telling our story.

The piece below serves as an introduction to our planned article, as well as a teaser. We present it here with two goals in mind: 1) to seek any insights on the operation that coldspur readers may have; and 2) to ask whether any reader has suggestions, or better still, contacts with any magazine or periodical that would be keen to publish our final piece. Please write to me at antonypercy@aol.com if you have any contributions or ideas.

‘The Airmen Who Died Twice’ by Nigel Austin and Antony Percy

On September 11, 1944, two squadrons of Lancasters, Numbers 617 and 9, left Bardney and Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire to fly to Yagodnik airfield in the north-west of the Soviet Union, near Archangelsk. Some aircraft stopped at Lossiemouth in Scotland for refuelling. Their mission was to use Yagodnik as a staging-post, for further refuelling, and then attack the German battleship Tirpitz, berthed in Alta Fjord in northern Norway. This fresh operation, named PARAVANE, had been conceived as a way to exploit the ‘Tallboy’ bomb that had proved its efficacy against U-Boat pens along the Normandy coast, as part of the preparation for D-Day.

The closer proximity of Yagodnik to Alta Fjord, and the desire to attack from the south-east with an element of surprise, made the location doubly attractive. Despite recent spats between the Allies over the US airbase in Poltava, and Stalin’s refusal to assist the Polish Uprising, Bomber Command had gained Stalin’s agreement to the operation at short notice. The Soviet leader presumably believed that the destruction of the Tirpitz would lead to the greater safety of the Arctic convoys, but he probably also had an eye out for gathering secrets of advanced British technology.

The journey to Yagodnik was not without peril. Communications with the Soviets were fragile, because of problems with radio frequencies and callsigns. The weather was poor. The outcome was that several of the Lancasters lost their way, and crash-landed just before running out of fuel. No deaths occurred, but some of the aircraft were thus unavailable for the attack, and could not be repaired in time for the return flight to Scotland. On September 15 the raids took place. The outcome was indistinct: smoke flares meant that the target was swiftly obscured, and damage could not accurately be assessed by photographic sorties. Yet all planes managed to return safely to Yagodnik.

With a smaller number of planes available to carry home the total number of crew-members, each plane that returned to Scotland on September 16 had to take on additional passengers beyond the standard crew-number of seven. At about 5:15 pm the first group of sixteen Lancaster bombers, with a total of a hundred and thirty-one crew, took off over a two-hour period to return to the UK, over the airspace of neutral Sweden, avoiding occupied Norway. Leading the group, Wing Commander Tait confirmed his safe return to the UK at 1:39 am on September 17, after a fair-weather flight. All the other planes returned safely, except the Lancaster piloted by Frank Levy, PB416.

For some reason PB416 took a path further north and west than the defined route across neutral Sweden and the Skagerrak. At 01.21 am on September 17 an acknowledgement for a location was received at RAF Dyce Aberdeen from Frank Levy’s Lancaster. The coordinates confirmed “a fix in position 60°50’N 009°45’E”. These bearings convert to a site near the village of Oystogo in rural Etnedal, South Norway – a remote grassy valley by a river, surrounded by steeply wooded terrain. It is fifty-five miles from the mountain at Saupeset, near Nesbyen, where PB416 crashed later that night. There were no survivors. Ten casualties were recorded, marked at the crash-site by ten nails on a simple cross, and later by their ten names inscribed on a memorial panel. Identifiable solely by their ID-tags, the bodies were buried in a mass grave. They were subsequently exhumed and re-interred. Ten white grave stones stand today in Nesbyen churchyard.

“These graves tell about freedom, they tell about young men fighting for their country and Europe against the Nazi tyranny”, Wing Commander Iverson eulogized on a visit to Nesbyen in 1987. “It is still a mystery how this could have happened”. Tony Iverson’s ‘mystery’ has generated much speculation since the crash. Why was a Lancaster, from an elite RAF Squadron, without bombs, alone, three hundred and thirty miles adrift from the rest of the Squadron over occupied Norway? Was it due to mechanical problems, a lack of fuel, pilot error, or bad weather? If the plane was lost, why did it report its location without mention of any of the above issues?

The RAF Flight Loss card for PB416 from 1944 bizarrely shows nine airmen. Among those identified as casualties were Squadron Leader Wyness and Flight Lieutenant Williams, who were ‘guests’ on PB416. Yet a few weeks later, on October 7, these same two officers were brought down during a raid on the Swiss-German border, at the Kembs barrier, and summarily executed. This article analyses the mystery of the airmen who died twice, and suggests why the Royal Air Force and the War Graves Commission have attempted to cover up the facts of this embarrassing disaster for nearly eighty years.

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Feints and Deception: Two More Months in 1943

The Trident Conference
The Trident Conference

Introduction: In this segment, I continue my close analysis of the intersection of events in SOE, MI5, MI6, the XX Committee, the London Controlling Section, and the Chiefs of Staff in the first half of 1943, as they relate to SOE’s misadventures in France in the summer of that year. My original intent was to carry the story forward until the end of June, and then summarize the aftermath, but I discovered so much material concerning Suttill’s visit to the UK in late May that I decided to defer the unfortunate happenings in June to a later report. I shall take a break from PROSPER, and the run-up to FORTITUDE, for a month or two before returning to chronicle the events of June and July, and to offer a deeper analysis of what contributed to PROSPER’s capture and demise, the discovery and confiscation of stores of armaments, and the arrest of hundreds of members of the French Resistance.

If you simply want to learn about the breakthrough theory that resolves the contradictions in the accounts of Francis Suttill’s movements, scroll down to ‘A Breakthrough Theory’, and then decide whether the investigation itself is of interest to you.

Contents:

The Story So Far

1. April: The Chiefs Ponder; Déricourt’s Recall

2. May: The TRIDENT Conference

3. May-June: PROSPER is Summoned

            Buckmaster’s Stories

            Tales of Betrayal

            The Authorized History

            Robert Marshall & Fresh Challenges

            The Contribution of Suttill’s Son

            The SOE Adviser and the Register

            PROSPER in France

            A Breakthrough Theory

The Story So Far:  (see also http://www.coldspur.com/bridgehead-revisited-three-months-in-1943/)

John Bevan, the new head of the London Controlling Section, was encouraged by MI6 to set up a new deception committee, the TWIST Committee, to assist in Operation OVERTHROW in September 1942. This Committee stole some of the limelight from the joint XX Committee. The British and American Chiefs of Staff then struggled mightily with offensive priorities at the CASABLANCA Conference in January 1943, seeming to acknowledge that, after the assault in the Mediterranean had been decided upon, a re-entry to Northern France would be impossible that year. Meanwhile the dubious agent Henri Déricourt, recruited by SOE/MI6 despite his connections with German intelligence, started his operation in Northern France, arranging drops of agents in ‘safe’ landing-areas. In March, SOE received a new directive that diminished the role of France in the plans of the Chiefs of Staff, but arms drops to that country began to accelerate markedly. Churchill was still uncomfortable at the turn of events because of the personal commitments he had made to Stalin about the invasion, and the American Chiefs of Staff seemed not to have bought in completely to the ideas of Sir Alan Brooke, the British CIGS.

I also encourage readers to re-inspect my analysis of the historiography of the Prosper affair at http://www.coldspur.com/the-prosper-disaster/.

1. April: The Chiefs Ponder; Déricourt’s Recall

One might expect that the requested radical changes to Bevan’s Deception Plan would have occasioned appropriate revisions in policy and directive from the Chiefs of Staff. Having received Bevan’s stern missive of March 31, with Morgan also making some vigorous noises and presenting organization charts, the Chiefs issued a fresh edict on April 1, in the form of a Directive to the Chief of Staff to the Supreme Commander (designate). (Morgan’s appointment was not formally announced until April 13. Alan Brooke’s advice to him when he outlined the job was: “Well, there it is. It won’t work, but you must bloody well make it.”) Yet their first initiative was astonishing. It decreed:

            You will accordingly prepare plans for the following operations:-

(a) An operation in 1943 on the largest scale that resources permit with the object of testing the degree of resistance. This may find or produce a situation which may lead to

(b) A return to the Continent in the face of German disintegration at any time from now onwards with whatever force maybe available at the time.

(c) An invasion of the Continent in 1944.

This was presumably a step forward in declaring that the ‘invasion’ would not take place until 1944, but the preamble about embarking upon an operation in 1943 ‘on the largest scale that resources permit’ in order to assess the strength of German ‘resistance’ was a flagrant snub in the face of the US Chiefs of Staff. Yet the draft was sent to Washington, so that that body would have an opportunity to view it. General Morgan himself, in his memoir Overture to Overlord, states that he was authorized to proceed on the terms of the draft, assuming American approval.

Operation Bolero

At this stage, the Chiefs and their aides had probably not internalized Bevan’s Revised Plan, but the Chiefs themselves must have been aware of the messages arriving from Washington in late March about reducing BOLERO commitments (the importation of troops and material from the USA). Yet before Bevan’s new plan was formally presented, they had to deal with a different matter. The Ad Hoc Committee on Equipment for Patriot Forces presented its long-awaited report, on April 3. This Committee, chaired by two Brigadiers at the War Office (Oliver, and then Curtis, from February 24), contained a number of services men, as well as Cavendish-Bentinck of the JIC, and Grierson and Rowlandson from SOE. Its mission was to apply some structure to the challenge of providing equipment to Patriot Forces.

The scope of the report is too large to be analysed here, so I shall focus on the most relevant highlights for this story. It made distinctions between ‘Resistance Groups’ and ‘Patriot Forces’, the latter entity being realized only when such forces became active in areas liberated by Allied armies. (These ideas had already percolated into the March SOE Directive.) It provided an Appendix which, based on numbers provided by SOE, claimed a figure of almost 700,000 members of Resistance Groups in Europe in December 1942, which could rise to 1.25 million (with a number of 225,500 given for France), and thus had the potential to evolve into ‘Patriot Forces’. It laid out a very ambitious and comprehensive projection of the materials needed by such armies. And its predictable conclusion was that ‘air transport  . . . should be considerably increased’.

The Committee seemed to have been carried away, and unduly swayed by persuasive SOE gusto, since it did not pay enough attention to the vital details of how this mass of equipment would be stored and then made available before the allied armies arrived, or how isolated guerilla groups could be morphed into an effective military organization. The aspirations of this conclave would have to be dampened soon, but at this juncture the Chiefs quickly had to turn their attention back to Bevan’s revised Deception Plan, discussed on April 7.

What is extraordinary about the new paper is how little has changed. It is the result of some very careless work, maybe attributable to Bevan’s extended absence in North Africa during March. The Controller still introduces his recommendations with the comments about Germany assuming that ‘the Allies will not attempt a large-scale invasion of France and the Low Countries until the summer of 1943’. His general proposal still claims that the first (dummy) operation planned should be ‘the invasion of the Continent by means of an attack across the Channel’, when the US Chiefs of Staff had declared that such feints would be a waste of time. All the details about BOLERO, and the overstatement of Allied strength, etc. remain in the text. The only significant changes noticeable appear as an expansion of the goal of exaggerating strength in the UK, which now reads:

            7 (B) (i) Prudently exaggerate Allied strength in the U.K., both in men and material, including the rate of the build-up of BOLERO. No equipment or supplies required for actual operations will be diverted for this purpose.

And he qualifies it all with a Note, namely:

            The success of this deception plan will largely depend upon the enemy being able to obtain visual evidence of the presence of adequate numbers of ships and landing craft; however the limitations stated in 7 (b) (i) above must govern.

In other words, dead on arrival. Astonishingly, the Chiefs of Staff approved it, and circulated instructions to their Commanders-in-Chief in the Middle East and the Pacific, as well as to Eisenhower in Algiers. Were they merely inattentive? One wonders how seriously they were taking deception efforts at this stage of the war.

It does not appear that any information on the new plan reached the XX Committee, which had a placid beginning to the month. No reply to Masterman’s letter to Bevan concerning W/T cover for SPARTAN had arrived, but Bevan was abroad for most of the month. Wingate, his deputy, had to stall for time. MINCEMEAT was a hot topic, but the Committee had to reduce its potential with DAs (erroneously so-called ‘double agents’), since it was having problems maintaining the integrity of its notional agents. On April 8, it was decided that FATHER would be dispensed with, that BRUTUS should announce the capture and execution of CARELESS, that RAINBOW should be allowed to fade away, and that even TATE (a real agent) should ‘send messages indicating that he was beginning to get badly scared’. While GARBO sent his first wireless message under control at this time, the XX Committee was overall playing a muted role in deception activities.

And then, on April 14, Churchill began to show some alarm, after meeting the US General Lee, and hearing of his plans for an operation that involved some fairly drastic clearing out of the local population in parts of Devon for training purposes. Churchill wrote to ‘Pug’ Ismay, his chief staff officer, for the benefit of the Chiefs of Staff:

            Here you have these very keen men trying their utmost to mount an operation which we have all decided cannot physically take place. Far-reaching preparations are being made and money and labour wasted. We really must come to some clear-cut decision and issue the necessary orders to prevent dissipation of effort. We must reach a decision with the American Chiefs of Staff and the President.

To what was Churchill referring here? The suggestion of an operation which has been unanimously been abandoned must surely mean ROUNDUP (the full-scale re-entry, the eventual OVERLORD) rather than the opportunistic SLEDGEHAMMER (the plan for a bridgehead in the Cotentin peninsula, to take place if the Germans showed signs of disintegration). While ROUNDUP had been delayed until 1944, SLEDGEHAMMER, which had originally been an American idea, would now, with the deferred BOLERO build-up, have been able to proceed only with British troops, so the allusion to the involvement of US forces indicates that Churchill was dismayed by a proposed American contribution to a non-existent ROUNDUP plan that was not a deception exercise. Had General Lee not been indoctrinated? Churchill went on to write about ‘camouflaging’ the decision, and invited the Chiefs of Staff to ‘mark time’, or stop BOLERO altogether.

It is difficult trying to parse Churchill’s thought-processes here. One might conclude that he

was unaware of the recent deception study that recommended using such build-ups as Lee’s to promote the notion of a 1943 re-entry, but had forgotten that the Combined Chiefs of Staff had recently ruled such a deception to be a waste of time and resources. In any event he added:

            I do not propose to inform Marshal Stalin of these developments, hoping that events in VULCAN [the attack on German positions in Tunisia] and HUSKY and thereafter will show substantial results.

Yet Churchill had already informed Maisky of the delays in BOLERO. What was he thinking? Moreover, Alan Brooke recorded in his diary entry for April 13 that he had discussed with Churchill that same evening the advisability of removing all landing-craft from the UK to the Mediterranean in 1943, and indicated that he had persuaded the Prime Minister of the merits of dedicating all energies on the South, as a way of producing the greatest dispersal of German forces and ‘making the going easier for the Russians’. “Luckily PM finally agreed”, he wrote.

Churchill followed up a day later with a memorandum that would appear to confirm the hypothesis in the preceding paragraph, in which he declared that ‘no important [sic!] cross-Channel enterprise is possible this year’, indirectly suggesting that ‘unimportant’ crossings might be feasible. He added that

  It is nevertheless highly important that this fact should not become widely known, and that powerful camouflage and cover operations should continue in order to pin the enemy to the French coast and not to discourage our Russian allies.

Here, the Prime Minister appeared to be drawing distinctions between ‘money and labour wasted’ (in pursuit of vain actual operations) and ‘powerful camouflage and cover operations’ (as a mechanism of deception). Under which category did General’s Lee’s project come? It is not clear. In any case, such an edict was of course too vague to be enforceable. The Prime Minister continued, writing that he wanted BOLERO to continue, but be slowed down with a goal for 1944 re-entry. It was important that the impression be given that the American troops ‘are continuing to arrive in large numbers’. He was now getting nearer to the kernel of the deception plan, but his view of it still seems to be as a ploy to deceive the Russians more than outwit the Germans. He was so wound up by his ‘Second Front’ commitments to Stalin that he felt it more convenient to deceive him about the reality of 1943 re-entry plans than convince him of the seriousness of the project to maintain German forces in Western Europe, and keep them away from the Soviet theatre.

On April 18, he issued a more precise – and much quoted – message, in which he back-tracked from the opinion that SLEDGEHAMMER could take place in 1943, but presented his conclusion as if it were an original thought that had just occurred to him. It led with the following sentence:

            A German collapse being extremely unlikely and not to be counted upon this year, and neither American reinforcements nor landing craft being available, we cannot do “SLEDGEHAMMER” this year.

            He then gave new instructions for General Morgan’s organization to engage in ‘camouflage and pretence’ in order to ‘pin the enemy in the west by keeping alive the expectation of invasion’. Yet Churchill must have been the only person who had in April still carried the idea that SLEDGEHAMMER could have been a possibility in 1943. (Last month’s report showed how he still nurtured the idea strongly in March.) The idea had been abandoned by the Americans in 1942 (as Michael Howard reports), had again been rejected at Casablanca, the Chiefs of Staff had just approved Bevan’s plan that dismissed any operations in North West France, and Churchill himself had leaked to Stalin via Maisky the impossibility of launching any attack in 1943. SOE had been said to have acknowledged the fact since the previous year. And Churchill still seemed to have not internalized the fact that, by virtue of the strategy of helping Stalin by keeping German divisions ‘pinned’ in western Europe in 1943, any half-baked engagement such as SLEDGEHAMMER was bound to end in failure.

Churchill’s message concluded as follows, in highly perplexing terms, with words that would seem to confirm that his earlier comments were referring to ROUNDUP:

            If it gets about, as I fear it must, that any SLEDGEHAMMER is off for this year, it should be insinuated that this is part of our cover, and that the real preparations are going forward. Very large preparations should be made at the embarkation ports, and the assembly of the greatest amount of barges and invasion craft should be made culminating in July and August.

To whom were such ‘insinuations’ directed? And why ‘insinuate’? ‘Insinuation’ suggests the propagation of a lie in an underhand manner, usually with the intent to harm. Which group would have known about SLEDGEHAMMER (whether coded or not), should be prevented from learning the fact of its cancellation, but must be induced to believe that its abandonment was to conceal the idea that a real operation was going ahead?

It cannot be the Germans, as Churchill must have assumed that they were clueless about SLEDGEHAMMER and it therefore would not make sense that they would pick up news of its closing down through rumour. It could possibly be the French Resistance forces, whose confidence in a 1943 re-entry Churchill might have thought was important to their morale, and to the overall strategy for keeping German forces in Western Europe, but insinuation would have been a sordid treatment of them. It could conceivably be SOE’s French sections, having to handle the expectations of their networks, but that would surely be no way to treat some of Churchill’s darlings.

I suspect that Churchill had two groups in mind, both ‘frenemies’ of some kind. The first was the leaders of the Free French, since he and Brooke had the previous month made vague promises to Delestraint and Moulin of a ‘bridgehead’ to be made before the autumn of 1943. The second target was most surely Stalin and his gang, who were supposed not to have direct access to War Cabinet plans, but might conceivably hear about them, and would need to be disabused of their impressions. When SLEDGEHAMMER inevitably turned out to be an empty threat Churchill would be relying on VULCAN and HUSKY to ‘pull his chestnuts out of the fire’, in Stalin’s memorable phrase. Yet, for these audiences, Churchill had turned deception policy on its head: instead of dummy operations intended to indicate a proper but non-existent assault, the rumours of a cancelled operation were supposed to mask the fact that a real one was still viable!

The Chiefs did not seem to be fazed by Churchill’s insights, or want to point out how bizarre and illogical his proposals were. They simply took over the baton. On April 22, General Hollis laid out the requirements for the difficult challenge of involving the armed forces in deception exercises, couching it in terms of ‘deception must be regarded as the best means at our disposal for containing enemy forces in North-West Europe’, and implicitly abetting the ‘help the Soviet Union’ policy. On April 26, the Chiefs re-issued their final version of their directive to Morgan, accompanied by a note from General Hollis that indicated it had been ‘finally agreed by the Combined Chiefs of Staff’. Yet again, however, the balloon of a 1943 re-entry is floated. To support the ‘Object’ of defeating the Germans in North-West Europe (which was to be delivered by OVERLORD in 1944, of course, not HUSKY), the rubric set out:

            To this end the Combined Chiefs of Staff will endeavour to assemble the strongest possible forces (subject to prior commitments in other theatres) in constant readiness to re-enter the Continent if German resistance is weakened to the required extent in 1943. In the meantime the Combined Chiefs of Staff must be prepared to order such limited operations as may be practicable with the forces and material available.

SLEDGEHAMMER and its associated waffle (‘a return to the Continent in the event of German disintegration’) were well and truly alive. Then, as if to acknowledge their error, on April 30 the Chiefs of Staff submitted to the War Cabinet a report on ‘Amphibious Operations from the United Kingdom 1943-1944’ which boldly explained that there would be not enough landing-craft in the UK even for training purposes, following up with the Churchillian phrases:

            Consequently, there is no possibility of any substantial cross-Channel operation in early autumn of 1943 against organized opposition. . . . The abandonment of this operation makes it all the more necessary that there should be a vast scheme of cover and camouflage, in order to pin the enemy in the west by keeping alive the expectation of invasion.

So much for the opposition becoming ‘disorganized’. Morgan should have been mightily confused, but appeared not to be.

Though MI5 was not yet fully committed to this ‘insinuation’ business, it undeniably had the mission of ensuring that no confidential stories leaked overseas, and it had been intensifying its procedures against dubious arrivals from abroad. On April 3, Guy Liddell wrote in his diary that John Curry had written ‘a very good memo on penetration of SOE and SIS’. I do not believe that this memo has survived, but the very astute though neurotic Curry wrote expansively, in his in-house history of MI5, about measures to improve security at the London Reception Centre at this time. On February 12, a section known as B.1.D/UK had been set up to deal with British subjects who were returning to the country under circumstances similar to those of aliens, such as claiming to have escaped from prison or prison camps when they might have been suborned. The Germans liked to use them to learn more about escape routes. Such characters had to be treated carefully, since, as UK citizens, they could not be refused leave to land, but they also could be vital sources of information, and had to be interrogated gently.

Curry presents some very cogent analysis about the methods and the maintenance of the Information Index used to hold all intelligence gathered, and also comments on the co-operation of SOE, and the distinct obstructiveness of SIS, who wanted to protect information such as addresses used abroad. He wrote:

            There were several major disasters, some of which might have been avoided if S.I.S. and S.O.E. had arranged from the beginning for all the information about their organisation to be centered at one point in the L.R.C. S.I.S consistently refused to do this, but S.O.E were anxious to do it as soon as they realised the nature of the dangers and the protection which the L.R.C. could afford.

Déricourt could well have been one of the unnamed ‘major disasters’. Having wormed his way through the L.R.C. once, however, he was now an accredited agent, and did not have to be checked again.

Those latest discussions of the Chiefs of Staff did not mean that SOE received any revisions to its March Directive: the Chiefs were at this time waiting to receive Hambro’s ‘appreciation’ of it. In any case, it might not have travelled as far as Buckmaster and Section F, where projects of infiltration continued. The instructions to agents at the beginning of the month were highly provocative, expressing a hope that was not warranted. In his memoir of his father, PROSPER: Major Suttill’s French Resistance Network, Francis J. Suttill quotes the briefing that was given to Claude de Baissac on April 1 (available in HS 9/75):

            At the present stage of the war, our orders are to cause the maximum damage and confusion in the shortest possible time. This will continue to apply even if France is not the scene of actual hostilities during the next few months, since we have been and must still be successful in pinning down a large number of troops who would otherwise be available for other sectors.

            ‘Even if’? This is a vitally important document, as it offers proof that the Resistance at this time had been encouraged to believe that the early arrival of Allied forces (‘actual hostilities’) in France was highly probable. And the possible hidden sacrifice of ‘pinning troops’ (a questionable use of terminology in the circumstances) was quite clear, even though the identity of ‘other sectors’ (i.e. the Eastern Front) was not.

Déricourt undertook his second operation, a double Lysander landing in the Loire Valley, on the night of April 14/15. The occasion was marked by two sinister events, however. The first involved the presence of a Gestapo team at a nearby school, which has been explained as coincidental, but which alarmed Henri Frager, who had just arrived on the first flight. According to Foot ‘the incident gave Frager a bad opening impression of Déricourt’. The second event was more controversial. Déricourt was recalled to England, on London’s orders, and he flew back as the sole passenger on April 22/23.

Why was Déricourt recalled? Foot downplays the whole episode, discounting the agent’s own explanations, and merely notes that he had ‘a few day’s staff discussions’. Only in an Endnote does Foot raise a very provocative point: “In fact he had been summoned back to receive a reprimand from his friend Verity, for having endangered a Lysander through an ill-placed flarepath.” Hugh Verity would appear to confirm the story, reporting that Déricourt had placed the landing-flares too close to a tree, and thus caused Jimmy McCairns to damage his plane. His account is worth reproducing in full:

            The difficulty I thought must be that Déricourt was getting over-confident after a number of successful pick-up operations. He was an experienced pilot and he may have thought he knew too much about it to bother to obey the rules. To make sure he did not take chances of that sort again I decided he should be ‘torn off a strip’, i.e. informally reprimanded. I informed SOE ‘F’ Section, through the usual channels, that we would not do any more landings with Déricourt (apart from one to pick him up) until he had been back to us for refresher training. I also thought that he might have been overdoing it in France and that a short rest in England would do him good.

Hugh Verity

This does not make sense, and Verity needlessly overegged the pudding. Déricourt had undertaken only a single operation before this one, so the reference to ‘a number of successful pick-up operations’ is spurious. If in fact he had achieved several successes, the less justification there would be for hauling him back to Britain for rebukes and training. In any case, the remedial action seems excessive for such a transgression: a sharp message would surely have caused him to follow procedures more closely. Similarly, the argument that a rest-cure in England would address any problems due to Déricourt’s ‘overdoing’ things in France is absurd. He could simply have gone to ground for a while rather than engaging in two hazardous flights across the Channel.

The pilot Frank Rymills was sceptical of this account. In his memoir on Déricourt, Rymills questions McCairns’ story, and notes that Peter Vaughan-Fowler made a successful landing in the same field, thus implying that the mistake was McCairns’. Rymills also questions the details of Déricourt’s return in Verity’s plane, since it was given a unique operational name (‘Tony’) [actually ‘Tomy’: coldspur], and Déricourt was the only passenger, and he concludes:

            Someone must have considered it imperative he returned to London that Easter. I would suggest the tree incident was used as an excuse which could be used by way of an explanation to Boemelburg to cover his hurried recall to London.

One has to wonder who was fooling whom here. Did SOE/SIS really believe that the Sicherheitsdienst would be taken in by an obvious dangle of an agent, recently flown in clandestinely, who was arranging other aircraft drops, and somehow conclude that his activities were harmless, and that they would be suitably misled by the claim that he had to be recalled for training? Even Foot draws attention to the claim that Déricourt made to Jean Overton Fuller that it was only during that stay that ‘another organization in London’ (i.e. SIS not SOE) had authorized him to contact the Germans on his return to Paris. Yet the SOE historian does not consider the implications, simply debunking the assertion in favour of the reprimand story. Rymills, on the other hand, adds commentary to the effect that Boemelburg had met Déricourt in late March, had asked him about the PROSPER circuit, and that Déricourt was regularly lunching with Suttill at this time. Rymills adds a provocative and maybe too imaginative thought:

            In the third week of April, Déricourt had a further meeting with Boemelburg who warned hm to keep away from Henri Frager and his contacts because his Donkeyman network had been penetrated by the Abwehr [sic!]. Was this the information which spurred Déricourt in returning to London that Easter?

That would suggest that the return was Déricourt’s initiative, when Rymills had earlier indicated that the urgent recall had been initiated by London. We are well into the territory of the Wilderness of Mirrors now.

Karl Boemelburg

In All The King’s Men, Robert Marshall supplies further evidence of skulduggery from the oral testimonies given him. He has Déricout having another meeting with Boemelburg a few days after the March operation, when Déricourt provided the SD officer with ‘a detailed description of everyone who had travelled in on the Lysanders’. According to what Dr Götz (in charge of surveillance at the SD, who also became Déricourt’s contact) told Marshall in December 1982, Déricourt had approached Boemelburg soon after his arrival, and offered his services because he had been sickened by the ‘rampant Bolshevism’ apparent in London. The rationale and motivations of both SIS and the SD in this case merit closer analysis another time, since it seems incredible that either could take seriously the claims that Déricourt made separately to them, and build a project of robust tradecraft out of what they were told. Moreover, Marshall raises what I consider a highly dubious and supererogatory goal for Dansey’s intrigues – that Déricourt was to gain an insight into the SD’s operations, and that it would be ‘a coup comparable to deciphering their ENIGMA codes’.

Yet Marshall’s narrative does impart one intriguing insight, also bequeathed by Horst Kopkow. During the conversation that Déricourt had with Boemelburg in late March, as I recorded last month:

            Boemelburg asked him if he knew anything about PROSPER, to which Déricourt replied that he had heard it had something to do with the invasion.

Marshall adds, in his Endnotes, that ‘Boemelburg’s first priority was PROSPER and the invasion. Information about flights was secondary’. This leads to two challenging questions: How and why had Déricourt been told about a coming invasion? And why was PROSPER singled out as being connected with invasion plans, when arms drops had been increasing to all French circuits? In any case, the relationship between Déricourt and Boemelburg solidified. Déricourt was paid, and became agent BOE/48.

Charles Hambro was probably unaware of what Déricourt was up to when his rather coyly worded ‘Appreciation’ of SOE activities in 1943, responding to the March Directive and dated April 21, was distributed to the Chiefs of Staff on April 24. It gave a tour d’horizon of SOE’s capabilities and strategies around Europe. As far as France was concerned, it patted itself on the back, claiming that the ‘tide of resistance’ was mounting steadily, but then made a rather startling statement:

            Apart from sabotage groups, S.O.E. is in contact with, and assisting to organise and equip, widespread Resistance Groups who are preparing for action on a large scale when our invasion of the Continent begins.

It went on to suggest that ‘50,000 men could be brought in for guerilla warfare on invasion, granted adequate supplies could be delivered.’ Hambro’s report also indicated that the expected reductions in operations in Northern Europe would be counterbalanced by the ‘increasing demands for operations to France and the Low Countries’, and that 186 operations were planned ‘for the April moon’. The final statement regretted the ‘inadequacy of air transport’ and indicated that it would be impossible to maintain resistance at its present pitch with the resources allocated. ‘Demands exceed the means of delivery by about 200%’. In an Annex, Hambro referred to the problem of reconciling short-term and long-term objectives, and characterized the policy dilemma as follows:

            Since one of the essential characteristics of Resistance Groups is that, unless they are served sufficiently to enable them to retain their dynamic quality they tend to disintegrate, the demand for supplies is progressive and the lack of adequate transport facilities not only retards their expansion but threatens their very existence. Quite apart from this practical requirement, the degree of support afforded by air transportation is regarded by the Resistance Groups as a token of British interest in their activities and the indispensable condition of their co-operation.

Did these generalities apply to all country groups, or was the proximity of France driving the analysis? Since no invasion was planned for at least twelve months, a perspicacious and attentive reader might have wondered what the expectations of these French guerrilla groups were, and might also have questioned the degree to which the cart was dragging the horse in these matters. Why was Hambro describing the invasion in terms that suggested it would be happening soon? Was it not the responsibility of SOE to lead and control these ‘demands’? And what was that about ‘co-operation’? For whose benefit were SOE’s activities being pursued, and with what finesse, if SOE needed to gain ‘co-operation’ from those whose cause they were trying to advance, and such assistance was thrown out as a bargaining tool? Hambro was all at sea. Moreover, if questioned, the chief might have had to admit (according to Buckmaster’s testimony in his History – see last month’s report) that April had been a very productive month for shipments to France.

Still, no major dissension from the conclusions appears in the minutes. As they show (at CAB-79-27-6), attention was drawn to one paragraph, in 5(a), which the Committee, ‘after a short discussion’, judged ‘to be at variance with the policy of H.M. Government’. This controversial paragraph qualified the degree that open revolt could be triggered in Italy, suggesting that ‘less onerous peace terms’ might be gained if the Resistance there committed to overthrowing the Fascist regime. The Chiefs then kicked the ball into the long grass by delegating tougher issues to the Joint Planning Staff, ‘on the assumption that their recommendations on Future Strategy were finally accepted’, with the instructions to report on the following:

            (a) The most profitable areas for S.O.E. activity;

            (b) In view of other commitments, to what extent the additional requirements of S.O.E. should be met, indicating an order or priority by areas, and whether economies could be effected in less profitable areas;

            (c) Anything in the above appreciation at variance with the policy approved by the Chiefs of Staff, and to recommend what further instructions should be issued to S.O.E.

It was as if the Chiefs had forgotten about the priorities they had laid out in the March Directive.

Behind all this the TWIST Committee was pursuing its objectives. At the April 15 meeting of the XX Committee, Colonel ‘Tar’ Robertson graciously updated the assembly on its proceedings. The minutes read:

      Colonel Robertson reported on the functions of the Twist Committee and on the arrangements being made for putting into effect the troop movements and physically carrying out the deceptive policy agreed by that Committee. This would be under the control of the Chief of Staff who had been appointed to the Supreme Command of the West. The question of putting over traffic suggested by the latter, by means of double agents, was discussed and it was agreed that all traffic, whatever the source, should continue to be submitted to the appropriate Approving Authorities before being sent.   

Given that Morgan was to receive his final directive just two weeks later (after American approval), this statement might be said to have been jumping the gun, although Morgan had been given the authority to proceed anyway. If the TWIST Committee had really ‘agreed to’ a deception policy, whence had that policy derived? Should it perhaps have been refreshed given the urgent new events in the second half of April? And were the communications of Déricourt to be considered as part of the traffic that needed to be submitted to the Approving Authorities? It does not appear that anyone asked such questions at the time.

In fact, at this time a section known as Ops (B) was set up within COSSAC, chartered to deal with deception, and headed by Lieutenant-Colonel John Jervis Read. Roger Hesketh (who wrote the internal history of FORTITUDE) was recruited to handle the processes of ‘controlled leakage’, namely the passing of any information to the enemy. In this function Hesketh used Bevan’s TWIST Committee exclusively, and would attend its meetings to present requirements, after which the committee would determine what the most suitable method was for conveying the misinformation to the enemy. Hesketh himself reported that COCKADE was the only deception operation sponsored by COSSAC. Yet whether the TWIST Committee was intended to survive beyond the OVERTHROW operation is highly questionable: Bevan was no doubt delighted to have a new customer.

de Gaulle & Vaudreuil (Francois Thierry-Mieg)

As for Déricourt, on the last day of April, a disturbing letter from the Free French arrived on Captain Beaumont’s desk at MI5. Beaumont was E1A, responsible for Control of Aliens from France (see Déricourt’s Double Act), and must have been astonished to read a missive dated December 7, 1942, from Captain Vaudreuil, Chief of French Counter-Espionage, addressed to Major Younger, the assistant to the head of E1, Brooke-Booth. (I had erroneously stated, in my November 2021 report, that the letter had been weeded from the archive, but it can in fact be located in KV 2/1131/3, at 24b). Beaumont sent a copy of the report to Flight Lieutenant Park at SOE, with the following message:

            I enclose a copy of a report on your agent DERICOURT, which has reached us from the French. Unfortunately, there has been considerable delay in it coming to me. However, I think you should have the information, especially as the source is entirely different from the report about which I told you in my letter of 21st January 1943.

The puzzle of the delay, and of Beaumont’s reaction to it, is more bewildering when the text is studied. Vaudreuil’s text runs as follows (my translation):

            I confirm for you the information given orally to Captain Beaumont on the 5th of this month. One of his long-time friends from before the war, who met him several times in London, informs us as follows:

            Since the armistice in France, DERICOURT has started to frequent German locales in Paris. Afterwards he was often seen in Toulouse, visiting ladies of easy virtue in the pay of the Germans. DERICOURT now claims he will be returning to France in a few days on behalf of a British service, something that appears dangerous to us. On the other hand, he has asked our informant, an officer of the F.A.F.C., whether he could get hold of buttons [‘boutons’: ‘wireless knobs’?], compasses and other objects of that type, something that was of course refused him.

Park replied on May 7, simply thanking Beaumont and noting the contents of Vaudreuil’s report.

Several questions remain. What caused the delay in the delivery of the letter? Did Younger or Beaumont conceal it? Why did Beaumont not respond to the oral advice he was given? Did Beaumont explore what had caused the delay? Was the letter ‘discovered’ only because Déricourt had returned to London, and had been seen? Was Beaumont’s protestation of surprise to Park genuine? When did Beaumont learn that Déricourt was working for SOE, since on January 21 he had informed Park that the agent was leaving on a mission to America? Did Park enlighten him then? Why was Park’s reaction so cool and incurious? All is speculation.

Thus April ended in disarray. Churchill was in a world of his own, but his authority held sway. The Chiefs of Staff did not have the attention span to focus on what directives it had given to SOE, and fumbled the ball. General Morgan appeared not to be paying attention to the details, and the US Chiefs of Staff were also oddly careless. Charles Hambro surely had no idea what was happening in the bowels of SOE, especially in Section F, where Déricourt’s reliability was coming under broader inspection. And the shipments of arms to France, where the Resistance was expecting an early arrival of Allied troops, were increasing in contravention of declared strategy.

2. May: The TRIDENT Conference

Frederick Morgan & COSSAC

General Morgan started the month off by issuing a rather bizarre report to the as yet unappointed Supreme Allied Commander. He began by informing his boss that, after a meeting of his Principal Staff Officers on May 1, when an outline deception plan was discussed, ‘detailed examination of this plan is now in progress’, indirectly indicating that it was Bevan’s plan that his staff were inspecting. Yet he then makes a puzzling reference to WWI:

            Examination of that portion of my Directive which deals with the preparation for “A return to the Continent in the event of a German disintegration” shows that it is necessary to ask for certain amplification thereof.

            Recollecting the events of 1918 it is conceivable that, in the circumstances mentioned, my major object, the defeat of the German resisting [? not clear] forces, will have been in great measure achieved before the “return” from the N.W. begins. In this event the battle of the beaches [?] may be sharp and short and our forces will be available at once for the next step.

What Morgan seems to be requesting is clarification of the notorious paragraph 5 (b) about ‘German disintegration’, although he presents it in rather oblique and unmilitary language. “I suggest that it is desirable that some military objective should be designated now for attainment immediately after the cracking and penetration of the coastal thrust.” In this regard, he seems at this stage to be judging the chances of ‘German disintegration’ to be much higher than the Chiefs of Staff probably assessed them.

In his memoir Overture to Overlord Morgan carefully and tactfully dissected the dilemmas of the multiple objectives, and explained his reference to 1918, where ‘disintegration’ had occurred in a few short months. He pointed out the paradox of having as a goal ‘the defeat of German forces in north-west Europe’ alone, without indicating the objective of securing the total surrender of the Wehrmacht. He identified the challenge of not knowing what territorial goals should be set, in view of the speculation about what progress the Soviets would have made in 1944. He drew attention to the short amount of time available for any exercise, whether operational or deceptive, before the ‘invasion season’ closed in September. And he did point out that the eventuality of the disintegration (‘should the Germans begin to wilt’) ‘looked depressingly unlikely at that time’. What Morgan did not draw attention to, however, was the contradictions inherent in the objective of boosting German forces in north-west Europe in 1943 as a method of diverting them from the Russian Front, and the hypothesis about ‘disintegration’.  I cite two of his most important observations in full:

            It soon appeared that the three plans required were merely in fact three facets of the same plan. For it was of vital importance that nothing should be done in the course of diversionary operations in 1943 that should in anyway react to the detriment of the invasion plan for 1944.

            In the first place the diversionary operation for 1943, if it was to deceive anyone, must in fact culminate at a time at which cross-channel operations on a big scale would be practically possible.

The long and the short of it was that Morgan’s process was very much one of trial and error. “In the event, of course, the usual compromise was reached and the whole affair was thrashed backwards and forward many times,” he wrote. Soon, the pressures of time would impose a very tight and disciplined approach.

On the night of May 5/6, Déricourt returned to France after completing his ‘discussions’. He was ‘parachuted blind near Mer on the Loire’ (Suttill fils). Soon thereafter, he arranged for Suttill himself (PROSPER, the eponymous leader of the circuit) to be picked up and flown to England, on May 13/14. Suttill was the only passenger, but crossed with Madame Besnard, who had just undergone training, and was to become Déricourt’s courier and cut-out (i.e. third-party contact) in Paris.

What had Déricourt achieved in London, if re-training had been a cover? The only account of any substance comes from Déricourt himself, as he described it to Jean Overton Fuller, and recorded in her book Double Webs. His is not a reliable story, however: he admits that at his military trial in 1948 he lied about the timing and manner of his recruitment by the Sicherheitsdienst, and he vigorously denies that he was agent BOE.48 (who was ‘another GILBERT’). Yet his description of his time in Britain in April-May 1943 is probably accurate, since it is implicitly confirmed by the testimony of Nicolas Bodington, Maurice Buckmaster’s second-in-command. Déricourt stated that he had been authorized to maintain contact with the Germans, not by the French Section, but by ‘another organisation in London’, which can only mean SIS (MI6). Déricourt went on to say:

            It was not by the ‘French Section’ that I was authorized, but it was by London all the same. Some of my chiefs were for me, others against me. London at one moment did not trust me. I was not really authorized, for a moment, because the whole thing had got too big and too desperate. For a time I had to carry on without being really authorized, but I succeeded and then everybody was on my side.

For some reason, Fuller did not follow up on what Déricourt’s ‘success’ had been, although she did later charge him with handing over mail entrusted to him by Suttill and his assistant Gilbert Norman (ARCHAMBAULT), and thus being responsible for their arrest – a topic I shall cover in a later posting. Yet, according to his account, he carried out a project that caused ‘everybody’ to overcome their objections or hesitations. He also told Fuller several significant items. First, he claimed that that he had informed SIS that Buckmaster’s French Section F had been penetrated ‘at a very early stage’. By this he must surely have meant Bodington, who knew Boemelburg before the war, and was recruited by SOE in 1940, even before Buckmaster took over. Second, he confirmed that the nucleus of the PROSPER network had been penetrated even before Suttill arrived on the scene (referring indirectly to the contamination from the CARTE circuit). Third, he declared his respect for Colin Gubbins, pointing to the fact that he had met him, not just casually, but he also said that the ‘manœuvre’ for which he had been credited did not originate within SOE.

That Gubbins, but not Buckmaster or Vera Atkins, knew what was going on appears to be confirmed by what the two officers told Robert Marshall in the mid-1980s. In All The King’s Men, Marshall relates how Atkins, who had claimed that she was suspicious of Déricourt when she first met him, had changed her opinion. He writes:

            Vera Atkins, one of the few F Section officers who saw Déricourt during that trip, lunched with him at a little restaurant in Soho. By this time she had come round to the view Buckmaster and others had shared from the start; that Déricourt was an exceptional asset to the section. Her only reservation was that during the course of their meal she was alarmed that he spoke, with scant regard for security, about people he’d just left in Paris. Atkins cautioned him to keep his voice down, but he ignored her. Though he talked freely about PROSPER and the others, he naturally never mentioned that the network was seriously comprised and in mortal danger. Nor in any conversation with Buckmaster did he mention anything that might have given cause for concern.

One would conclude from this narrative that speaking loudly was part of Déricourt’s cover, but it is also evident that he withheld the details of his exchanges with Dansey from Buckmaster and Atkins. Thus claiming that ‘everybody was on my side’ was clearly spurious. Yet Déricourt went on to suggest to Fuller that, since the PROSPER network had already been penetrated, it was probably sacrificed ‘to keep the Germans occupied’, ‘to distract their attention’, words that eerily echo the charter recently handed down to SOE.

In the middle of May, soon after Déricourt had returned to France, some of the senior officers at SOE were told that PROSPER had been compromised. This evidence is again oral, and derives from what Gubbins’s deputy, Harry Sporborg, told Robert Marshall in March 1982. The news, so Sporborg said, came from MI6, a ‘usually reliable source’, since it had provided such information to SOE before. Apparently, it was so confidential that inside SOE only Gubbins, his deputy Sporborg, the Director of Intelligence, Archie Boyle, ‘and perhaps one or two other senior officers’ were in on the secret – the clear intimation being that no one in F Section knew about it.  Yet Marshall neglects to point out that the source was probably Déricourt himself, since the Frenchman had later declared to Fuller that the allegation was part of his report to MI6.

And then Marshall presents, without additional commentary, a very controversial statement:

            The only reason anyone in SOE was informed at all was because a decision had been taken to exploit PROSPER’s situation and this would require a certain amount of co-operation from SOE itself.

Is this not shocking? That an external decision had been taken affecting the integrity and credibility of SOE without Hambro and Gubbins being informed by their bosses, instead of which they heard it from their hostile brethren in intelligence, MI6? It is beyond belief. Sporborg must have been dissembling, although very clumsily. Hambro and Gubbins were surely in on the decision already, and it is difficult to imagine such a super-ministerial decision (i.e. across the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Economic Warfare) coming from anyone except Churchill.

The very same day on which Déricourt returned to France, May 5, Churchill and a large party, including the three Chiefs of Staff, left on the Queen Mary to go to Washington for the TRIDENT talks, described by Reynolds and Pechatnov as ‘a particularly fraught Anglo-American conference’. The parleys occupied the remainder of the month, and Brooke and Churchill, after a sojourn in Gibraltar and North Africa, did not return to the UK mainland until early June.

In a way, TRIDENT was the USA’s home fixture after they had been outwitted at Casablanca, and they were now better prepared. It was as if none of the CASABLANCA decisions (and the ensuing deception plans) had been ratified, with renewed American demands for an early re-entry into France, as well as strong promotion of a swing towards the Pacific. Brooke considered that the Americans simply did not understand what the purpose of the Allied actions in the Mediterranean was about, with King, Marshall and Leahy being particularly obtuse. Yet Churchill, with his continuous impulsive changes of mind, and willingness to appease Roosevelt and his friends, was of little help, either.  “Winston’s attitude at the White House Conference was tragic”, noted Brooke, even in the cold light of day, as his diaries were being prepared for publication.

While TRIDENT was underway, Bevan continued (in ignorance of what was going on across the ocean) to inspect the details of real operations in order to form his deception plan. He had had a meeting with Morgan on May 5, and wrote a memorandum on May 10 that highlighted the calendar challenges of the proposed attacks against the Pas de Calais and French Atlantic ports in September. September was too late, but there would not be enough landing-craft available before then. He concluded his minute:

            Though it seems impossible to advance the dates of General Morgan’s Deception Plans, I am, however, doing everything possible to convey the impression to the enemy that we intend to undertake operations against the Continent in the summer or early autumn, though I fear that there is not much hope of success in this connection until signs of preparations are actually visible to enemy air reconnaissance.

‘Doing everything possible’? What direct avenues did Bevan have outside his TWIST committee? The PWE and the BBC perhaps: Lionel Hale was a member of his Committee.

In his address in Washington on May 12, Churchill picked up the question of possible German ‘disintegration’. Even though only one United States division was so far available in England (the minutes stated), ‘. . . plans were being made for an operation to provoke an air battle, and we were standing ready to exploit a German collapse should this by any chance take place. He wished to make it absolutely clear that His Majesty’s Government earnestly desired to undertake a full-scale invasion of the Continent from the United Kingdom as soon as possible.” Yet Roosevelt appeared to dismiss any forays in 1943. While preparations for BOLERO should begin at once, “He felt that all agreed that no ‘ROUNDUP or ’SLEDGEHAMMER’ was possible of accomplishment this year, but if one or the other were to be mounted in the Spring of 1944, preparations should begin now.” He did, however, question the taking of Italy, adding, rather elliptically, and with a lack of strategic insight, that ‘the most effective way of forcing Germany to fight (and thus taking weight off Russia) was by carrying-out a cross-channel operation’. If the objective were to help Russia, how would a cross-Channel operation in 1944 contribute to that goal?

Churchill would not give up. On May 19 (at the Third Meeting), he elicited an admission from Brooke that, after a meeting of the Combined Chiefs of Staff earlier that day, ‘an agreement which provided for a build-up in England of a sufficient force to secure a bridgehead on the Continent from which further offensive operations could be carried out’. That bridgehead again – but no dates, no details, except for the fact that nine divisions would be available in the initial assault.

Had Brooke caved in under pressure? Elsewhere in the proceedings he had stated (at a Combined Chiefs of Staff meeting on May 13) that ‘only by continuing in the Mediterranean could we achieve the maximum diversion of German forces from Russia’, and added that a lodgement in Brest peninsula would not be a decisive blow, as there were not enough forces to debouch into the Continent. Implicitly and correctly contradicting Roosevelt’s assertion, he stated that now was the time when action was required to relieve the pressure on Russia, and that was through the incursions in the Mediterranean, and taking Italy out of the conflict. The minutes of the background meetings of the Combined Chiefs of Staff show admirals, generals and air marshals continually going round in circles on these matters, and at this stage Brooke more realistically pointed out that a bridgehead would probably be expelled by a concentration of Wehrmacht forces. The bewilderment was noted by William Manchester, a Churchill biographer, who wrote:

            The date agreed upon was May 1, 1944. But whether this was to be the small-scale landing, Sledgehammer, or the larger investment, Roundup, was not decided. So much confusion attached to just what exactly these code names meant that at the State Department and around Eisenhower’s headquarters, the newly proposed operation was referred to as Roundhammer. Whatever they chose to call it, it meant that yet another pledge made at Casablanca, and the most important to Stalin – to put men somewhere into France by August 1943 – would go begging for another year.

The Prime Minister was nevertheless able to express some satisfaction after this session.

            The Prime Minister indicated his pleasure that the conference was progressing as well as it was, and also that a cross-Channel operation had finally been agreed upon. He had always been in favor of such an operation and had to submit its delay in the past for reasons beyond control of the United Nations. He said that he thought Premier Stalin would be disappointed at not having an invasion of Northern France in 1943, but was certain that Mr. Stalin would be gratified by the results from ’HUSKY’ and the further events that were to take place this year.

Some magisterial and sophistical twaddle, in other words.

Roosevelt and Churchill still had to break the news to Stalin, who was still under the illusion that the ‘second front’ would be opened in 1943. May had in fact been dominated by other matters; the Nazis had discovered the mass graves of Polish officers at Katyn, and pointed clearly at Soviet responsibility. The outrage from the Polish government-in-exile prompted Stalin shabbily to break off political relations with the Poles, and Churchill and Roosevelt cravenly appeased the Soviet dictator. Yet Stalin appeared not to be too perturbed by the cessation of the Arctic convoys. After TRIDENT, on June 2, Roosevelt sent, under his and Churchill’s name, a letter (with a text drafted by General George Marshall) that coolly stated that ‘the concentration of forces and landing equipment in the British Isles should proceed at a rate to permit a full-scale invasion of the Continent to be launched at the peak of the great air offensive in the Spring of 1944.’  They then sat back and nervously awaited Stalin’s response.

Yet Stalin had already received inside information about the discussions between Churchill and Roosevelt in Washington, maybe from an ancillary meeting. The VENONA transcripts reveal that a cover-name of ‘Source No. 19.’ was reported in a KGB to Moscow message (812), dated May 29, to have participated in a private conversation about the second front. The text of the message has been only partially deciphered, but Haynes and Klehr write in Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America:

            It is clear, however, that Source No. 19 reported Churchill’s views that an Anglo-American invasion of continental Europe in 1943 was inadvisable. The message also reported that Zamestitel supported a second front and that it appeared that Roosevelt had been keeping Zamestitel in the dark about “important military decisions”.     

Neither Zamestitel [‘deputy’] nor Source No. 19 has been confidently identified. Eduard Mark made the case that Source No. 19 was probably Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt’s Special Assistant (see https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02684529808432474).  Hayes and Klehr suggest he may have been British. (But a British spy temporarily in Washington would not have had quick access to his controller.)  In any case, Stalin learned about the opinions of his Allies before they constructed their written statement to him.

Thus May drew to a close. MI5 and the XX Committee were still very muted in ‘double-agent’ activities, although, on the last day of the month, Guy Liddell (who had been on sick leave with jaundice) reported a startling success with GARBO and the codes that the Abwehr had given him. John Curry, Liddell’s incisive critic of techniques for vetting dubious arrivals, had been moved over to MI6 to lead its embryonic Soviet counter-espionage section. Stalin had recently announced the dissolution of the Comintern, but Liddell & Co. treated it as an empty gesture. Arms shipments were increasing in France, and agents there were expecting an imminent invasion, but the Chiefs of Staff were still dithering over what were tentative operations, and what were feints. Churchill was still haunted by the promises he had made to Stalin.

3: May-June: PROSPER is Summoned

While these debates were going on in Washington, Francis Suttill (PROSPER) returned to London. Yet the recall of PROSPER and his eventual return to France represent one of the most problematic episodes in this story, and merit a dedicated chapter.

Major Francis Suttill, aka ‘Prosper’

Buckmaster’s Stories

The current conventional account, published by the officer’s son, Francis J. Suttill, in Prosper, and endorsed by several commentators, is that he arrived on May 14, 1943, and stayed in England for about a week. The documentary evidence for this sojourn is however scanty: no record of it appears in Suttill’s personal file at the National Archives, and we thus have to rely on a miscellany of less-than-reliable inputs – what Suttill himself said, what Maurice Buckmaster wrote and spoke, what the Foreign Office SOE Adviser fed M. R. D. Foot, what contemporaries told E. H. Cookridge and Robert Marshall, and what Suttill’s son has collated from a close inspection of air force records and his own family records. The combined story does not make sense.

One of the major conundrums is that, for almost forty years, an account that had Suttill returning on June 10 (or 12) was echoed in several publications, including the authorized history by Foot. Nobody ever challenged this assertion until Foot himself, in the 2004 edition of his SOE in France, slyly replaced his statement about a June 10 return to France with one that stated ‘late May’. He did not explain why he made this change. I thus employ my familiar methodology of working serially through the accounts in chronological order, and testing the claims against other evidence. The problems, however, are not just with the dates themselves, but with the reasons for Suttill’s recall, and how he spent his time in England.

I start with the two books by Maurice Buckmaster, Suttill’s boss, the head of F Section, who contributed much to the confusion. In Specially Employed (1952), he wrote (p 186):

            His decision was final, and, when he [Prosper] was established at the beginning of 1943, arms and munitions began to flow to the different groups in a satisfactory manner . . .

            As early as April 1943, the rumour ran like wildfire that the Allies were about to land in France. The patriotic surge of enthusiasm was dangerous. It had to be quelled. Prosper did not know whether the rumour was founded in fact or not. For reasons of security, we could not tell him by radio. We decided that we must bring Prosper back to London. . . . .

            His detailed report was extremely encouraging. It was clear that the Allies, when they landed, would be assured of magnificent support from French patriots. But the Allies were not ready to return to the Continent in the summer of 1943, as so many Frenchmen confidently hoped. The fires of enthusiasm would have to be damped down, without, however, being extinguished. Only a first-class man like Prosper could convey that message successfully. Prosper would have to return as soon as possible.

            Indeed, after a week in England, he was begging to let him pursue his mission, for he realized that each day’s delay was dangerous. Within ten days he was back in Paris, on 20 June, 1943.

The overall message from this version is clear: the details are haphazard. Contrary to Buckmaster’s own in-house History of F Section, PROSPER is correctly indicated as becoming active only at the end of 1942. The increase in arms shipments appears to coincide with PROSPER’s establishment and activity. But Buckmaster strikes a very disingenuous pose over the spread of rumours about the coming invasion, as those signals were issued to agents by Buckmaster himself. PROSPER’s new mission is described as indeed being to quash such enthusiasms, suggesting, perhaps, that the March directive to SOE about the switch in emphasis from France to the Balkans, and from patriot armies to sabotage, had reached Buckmaster. Buckmaster’s narrative suggests that it was around June 10, towards the end of his sojourn, when Suttill insisted on returning, after he had been in London for about a week, which would establish a date of, say, June 3, for his arrival. Yet that ‘within ten days’ is not precise. The following ‘moon-period’ started on June 10, so he could have left then, or soon after, and gradually made his way to Paris.

After the passage of a few years, in They Fought Alone (1958), Buckmaster wrote (pp 185-186):

            In the middle of 1943 we had a top secret message telling us that D-day might be closer than we thought. This message had been tied up with international politics on a level far above our knowledge and we, of course, had acted upon it without question. In the event, it had not come true and, as everyone knows, our friends in France – and the whole world – had to wait another year before the liberation began. Nevertheless it was from the reception of this message that a certain change in our objectives can be dated. From the middle of ’43 we were specializing much more in the planting of arms dumps and the training of a secret army than we had up till then: earlier we had concentrated on sabotage and ‘economic warfare’ – attacks on key targets in accordance with directives from the Ministry of Economic Warfare.

            Now we attempted to serve two masters, the M.E.W. to whom we were technically responsible, and Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), newly come into existence, with whom we were strategically linked. The pace increased. And this increased pace was, to some extent responsible for the flurry of arrests which, in some areas, temporarily dislocated the French Section of S.O.E. It was much easier to indulge in sporadic sabotage and get away with it than it was to organize large clandestine armies without allowing a single weak link to infiltrate a section and betray his comrades. . . .

            When the time came for the change over from economic warfare to planning for D-Day, the necessary re-thinking was so sweeping that we decided the best thing would be to bring Proper over to England for his new briefing . . .  We had many conferences with Allied high-ups and then, a fortnight later, Francis returned to France . . ..

I cannot feel now that I was wrong to leave him in Paris, bitterly though I regret that I did not pull him out in that May of 1943.

Why the 180° turn? Now Buckmaster is passing on to PROSPER the mission of contributing to the coming Allied re-entry. He alludes to the increase in arms dumps in the summer of 1943, a phenomenon which was strictly in contravention of the March Directive to SOE. The vagueness about dates is, however, very telling. He states that he wishes he had pulled Suttill out in May – which must be interpreted as saying that Suttill had arrived in England in that month – and could have been kept there for the duration. ‘The middle of 1943’ is when these ‘top secret’ messages arrived (why would such messages be any more confidential than anything else?), yet by the summer, the plans for any operation in France were for deception purposes, even though the hope for a re-entry was still nurtured by Churchill, mainly, in the vain prospect of ‘German disintegration’. Certainly no change of policy had been made by the Chiefs of Staff that would warrant such instructions – unless of, course, SOE was being sucked into the deception, too.

Tales of Betrayal

What had happened was that, in the late nineteen-fifties, the books written by Jean Overton Fuller, Heinrich Bleicher and others had aired the very probable notion that the networks had been penetrated and betrayed (as Buckmaster acknowledges above, and in the lines directly after what I have quoted). So, in 1958, Buckmaster had to mask SOE’s incompetence by introducing SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces), and orders from high command. Yet SHAEF was not created until the end of 1943. It replaced COSSAC, which itself had hardly got started in May 1943 – the month that Buckmaster identifies as the time when he could have extracted Suttill from his doom. This date also explicitly contradicted Buckmaster’s timetable from 1952. Thus he apparently tried to blame the spate of arrests on the increased subversive activity ordered by higher government agencies. It is overall a very shabby affair.

Yet confusion remains about the exact period of Suttill’s stay in London. For a while, Buckmaster’s 1952 ambiguous assertions for early June were the baseline. In Double Webs (1958), Jean Overton Fuller confidently wrote that Suttill left for London under Déricourt’s guidance on June 10, and returned to France on June 20, to Culioli’s reception. She thus offered the first variation to Buckmaster’s story, perhaps misreading Buckmaster’s ‘within ten days’. On the other hand, E. H. Cookridge, in his Inside SOE (1966), which was published just before Foot’s authorized history, had a breathtaking alternative, presenting Suttill as arriving on May 14/15, and not returning until June 12. That would have been a long time for a recall dedicated to ‘consultative talks’, but the bookends have substance.

Cookridge described Suttill’s visit to London in terms of an opportunity for him to express to his bosses in SOE his concern that the PROSPER network had been infiltrated, and he reported several arrests that had taken place in April and May. One of the setbacks that had upset him (as recorded by Cookridge) was the arrest of Edward Wilkinson (ALEXANDRE) – but Wilkinson was not arrested until June 6, a fact that would indicate that Suttill must have expressed his concerns after that date, and was probably in London at the time. Moreover, Suttill may not have told his bosses about his efforts to bribe the Sicherheitsdienst in an attempt to rescue Germaine and Madeleine Tambour. The former had probably been betrayed by the traitor Roger Bardet, and had been arrested on April 22. Suttill was indeed instructed to try to rescue them, but he inserted himself into the affair in a reckless manner, and was eventually duped by the Germans. Also, while he was away, two members of the Abwehr, claiming to be escapees from Holland seeking the route to the UK, and impersonating known SOE agents, infiltrated themselves into Suttill’s network. Cookridge wrote (p 225)

            It cannot be verified whether Suttill suspected ‘Gilbert’ [i.e. Déricourt] of double dealing. Nor is it certain whether he was told in London that British Intelligence chiefs had knowledge of ‘Gilbert’s’ contacts with the Germans. But I know that after his return to France on 13 June 1943 Major Suttill told his friends that ‘someone who enjoyed his trust must be a double agent’. Surviving members of Suttill’s network, such as Madame Guépin, Madame Balachowsky and Armel Guerne, have confirmed my belief that this was Suttill’s feeling.

The Authorized History

In the first edition of SOE in France (1966, with second revised impression, 1968), M. R. D. Foot had Suttill sent back to Paris ‘about June 12 with an “alert” signal, warning the whole circuit to stand by’, ascribing the details to an interrogation of Cohen on October 11, 1943. (This must be Gaston Cohen, ‘WATCHMAKER’: he was being interrogated about Suttill’s participation in the mismanaged affair of the Tambour sisters.) Yet it is not clear whether Foot derived the facts about the alert and the date from Cohen, or took the date from the same source who provided Cookridge with his information. For some strange reason, Gaston Cohen’s Personal File is not listed in the National Archives, and thus the facts of his ‘interrogation’ are not verifiable. (I have asked the chief independent collector of SOE information, Dr Stephen Kippax, a stalwart of the Special Forces Club, for a transcript of the interrogation, but he has not seen it, although he said that it has probably been shown to Francis J. Suttill – only.)

For almost forty years, however, this statement lay unchallenged and unquestioned: no apparent anomalies or counterfactual evidence were presented. And yet what is remarkable is the fact that the Foreign Officer adviser, Edwin Boxshall, in the Chronology he prepared for Foot, did record Suttill’s departure as occurring on May 20. His report was released in 2006, two years after the new edition of SOE in France, but it had been prepared as far back as 1960. Why had Foot ignored or rejected this datum for so long?

In 2004 a bizarre amendment to Foot’s text appeared. In the new edition of SOE in France Foot was moved to correct the date of Suttill’s return to France to ‘late May’, but left the sentence otherwise unchanged. Foot declined to offer any reason for his alteration, yet by making no other changes he suggested that the interrogation of Cohen was still the source. That was not good scholarship. Foot had a new paragraph to insert, however, which ran as follows:

            There is a long-standing rumour that he had had a personal interview with Churchill, who gave him a misleading brief on purpose; this is baseless, as a look at the dates make clear. While Suttill was in England in May 1943, Churchill was not; they cannot have met.

Such logic is, at best, sophistical. It would appear that Foot arbitrarily changed the dates. It is true that Churchill did not return from his Washington/Mediterranean journey until June 5. Yet for decades Foot was quite happy to have his record state that Suttill was in London in early June. He credits his fresh insight in an Endnote: “I owe this simple point to Suttill’s son and namesake, properly jealous of his father’s memory.” But the point is by no means simple, and the method is devious. The fact of the date collision would have voided the story of the Churchill encounter, but would not have warranted reconstructing the timetable. The date was changed to fit the politically correct story.

Robert Marshall & Fresh Challenges

What had happened in the interim? The main event was the furore caused by the publication of Robert Marshall’s All The King’s Men in 1988. Marshall embellished the story of the Churchill encounter in his book (pp 158-164), where he actually reported that it was Bevan and the London Controlling Section that decided to recall Suttill, and that Churchill himself even requested to see Suttill personally. He added flourishing details describing how Lord Selbourne [sic] and Suttill ‘rode in the back of a large staff car down Baker Street’ to see Churchill. The meeting is not dated, but Marshall recorded an important minute by COSSAC as occurring on May 28 ‘soon after Suttill’s return to London’ – again an unforced error.

            . . . when Francis Suttill emerged from the CWR [Cabinet War Room] he was a changed man. He had been charged with what he believed was the greatest secret of the war – the date of the invasion. Unfortunately, the new rather knocked him sideways. He was told the invasion would take place at Pas-de-Calais, on the northern coast of France, sometime during the first week of September. More than three months away.

Marshall was unfortunately rather vague about dates. If indeed, the events he described were claimed to take place in May, his story falls apart. The main problem is that, as is evident, Churchill was indeed out of the country for almost all of May – alongside nearly all the top brass. As Alan Brooke wrote in his diary entry for May 5, as he travelled on the train from London to Greenock:

Our party consists of PM, Averell Harriman, Beaverbrook, Leathers, Charles Wilson, Cherwell, Wavell, Peirse, Somerville, 3 Chiefs of Staff, all Joint Planners and in addition shipping, movement, administrative, intelligence etc. staff officers from the Admiralty, WO and Air Ministry, and finally many clerks, detectives, etc.

In other words, the only significant relevant players left behind were Dansey, Bevan, Morgan, Hambro and Gubbins. As Brooke records, the major figures in the TRIDENT party arrived back in London on June 5.

Yet Marshall had an unexpected ally in Maurice Buckmaster himself, who was bold enough to express in a BBC programme, on October 31, 1985, the following startling revelation:

            Churchill told Suttill he wanted to increase the amount of sabotage operations and general unrest in the west of France so he could have some defence against Stalin’s claim we weren’t doing enough to help him. Suttill was encouraged by Churchill to run enormous risks, to forget his security training and produce violent explosions in and around the Paris area, so that Churchill could turn to Stalin and say – now, look at what we’re doing.

This was an astonishing claim, and a fresh explosion from an insider against the carefully established ‘truth’ that the PROSPER circuit had not been sacrificed on purpose by Allied high-ups.

Marshall used this evidence to show that Suttill, when he returned to France, was ‘convinced the invasion was coming in September’. But when does he place Suttill’s return? He first describes the fateful rendezvous at Capucine’s restaurant in Paris on June 9, where Agazarian set up the fake Dutch SOE agent for a meeting with some members of Prosper’s circuit, an encounter which Déricourt was able to avoid, and then informs us:

            Four days after the incident at Capucines, Francis Suttill prepared for his return to France. He was expected to return to one of Déricourt’s receptions, but instead chose to parachute to a reception in a field in the Sologne.

According to Marshall, Suttill apparently wanted to be met by Pierre Culioli, who had first welcomed him on his first flight to France, back in November 1942. On the night of June 11/12, however, a disaster had happened, when a container exploded. The Germans poured into the area the next day. Culioli tried to warn London, recommending they halt all air operations for a while, but his message never got through, and Culioli was informed that Suttill would be parachuted in on June 13/14. Suttill then briefed Culioli and his comrades about further drops, and the invasion in the autumn, and then moved to stay in Paris. Thus Marshall in fact echoed Cookridge – and Foot Mark 1 – concerning the timing of Suttill’s return to France. He was still in London in early June.

The Contribution by Suttill’s Son

Lastly, Francis J. Suttill, in Prosper (2018), published initially as Shadows in the Fog (2014), has Suttill being picked up on May 14/15 and returning five days later. As primary evidence of his father’s arrival and stay, he offers two pieces of evidence: his mother’s account of travelling up to London to see her husband, and Buckmaster’s diary entries. The arrival on May 14/15 seems solid. Hugh Verity in We Landed By Moonlight writes (albeit with some tentativeness): “We must have brought back to England one of Buckmaster’s best agents, Major Francis Suttill  . . .” , and he adds that Suttill returned by parachute on May 20/21. Francis Suttill notes that his mother visited his father in London that week, and he also cites several items from Maurice Buckmaster’s diary from May 15 until May 20, Buckmaster apparently meeting Suttill every day. His father left with France Antelme (RENAUD) on May 20.

Yet an enormous paradox still remains. Suttill also quotes Buckmaster’s BBC interview (given as occurring in 1983), in which the SOE officer revisited his claim that Churchill had seen PROSPER during the latter’s visit. Suttill Jr. repeated Buckmaster’s statement that Churchill himself had wanted to meet Suttill, and continued as follows:

            Buckmaster claimed that my father was closeted with Churchill and the Cabinet Office for a long time as Churchill explained that Stalin was bullying him into making more trouble in France. He claimed that Churchill then asked, ‘Are you prepared to risk your life in these circumstances? I want you to make as much disruption as possible. Ignore the security rules, stir things up.’ And that my father replied, Yes, sir’.

Buckmaster (as in the quotation above) naively represents Churchill’s commandment to Suttill as being one to increase sabotage activity, to please Stalin in the short term, not one to prepare the patriot armies to assist a summer invasion. Apart from a failure to point out that Stalin would not have been very impressed by the actions of a few saboteurs, or even spasmodic uprisings, Suttill’s lack of commentary is puzzling. He does not explore why he thinks Buckmaster delivered this story, and simply attempts to refute it by hammering home the point that the meeting could not have happened because of Churchill’s absence during that week. Yet, elsewhere, he ascribes Buckmaster’s misconceptions to a faulty memory. Defective memories, however, tend to distort details of actual events rather than invent Walter Mittyesque episodes completely. Moreover, if Buckmaster’s memory was impaired (and he was still in his fifties when he wrote his two books), one would think he would have considered consulting his diary to check the facts of the case before mounting his media platform. And did Suttill inspect Buckmaster’s diary for early June?

The SOE Adviser and the Register

What Suttill did have access to was the document prepared by Edwin Boxshall for M. R. D. Foot, to which I referred earlier. Unfortunately, the numbers of Suttill’s Endnotes are frequently wrong, but this is clearly what he describes as Chronicle of SOE Operations During World War II, and lists it as residing at the Imperial War Museum. The document is in fact titled Chronology of SOE Operations with the Resistance in France During World War II, and, a little alarmingly, its introduction states: ‘Originally produced in London, December 1960 by Lt. Col. E G Boxshall. Later manuscript amendments by Professor M. R. D. Foot, author of “SOE in France”’. Thus we have a highly selective compilation massaged for the benefit of the authorized historian, who himself sees fit to emend the text without leaving a paper-trail of the changes he made, and why. One of the remarkable features of this document is that Boxshall lists Suttill’s return to France as occurring on May 20/21, but a hand-written question mark – presumably one of the annotations made by Foot that the issuing civil servant acknowledged – has been added against the date. The authorized historian presumably took his intelligence from elsewhere, quixotically ignoring the advice from his Foreign Office mentor. Suttill never recognizes this anomaly, which is breathtaking.

Suttill found several mistakes in Boxshall’s text (and must have been amazed when he saw Boxshall’s original typescript), so he decided that ‘it would be wise to accept statements from this document only if they were supported by information from other sources’. And Suttill displayed considerable energy and thoroughness in examining not only the files that were eventually transferred to the National Archives, including the RAF records of flights undertaken on behalf of SOE, but also French records. His painstaking approach could have delivered a very valuable register of the air movements in 1943, but, sadly, what he has published is very confusing.

The first problem is one of nomenclature – not Suttill’s responsibility, of course, but something he does little to ameliorate. The PROSPER circuit was also known as PHYSICIAN, but leaders of a circuit were frequently identified by the network they led. Thus, when (say) ‘PHYSICIAN’ is listed, it sometimes refers to an Operation for the network (when a number follows the code), and sometimes to PHYSICIAN himself (with no suffix). If the operation was successful, the name appears in bold. Agents can be referred to by one of their many aliases. Another problem is the gaps in the record. In his book, Suttill states that the ATF Operational Instructions for May and June were missing, which would cast doubt on the reliability of the data. However, Mr. Suttill has also told me that his assertion in the book is in error, and that it is the June and July orders that are missing. How Suttill derived his register for June (the record stops on June 23/24) is not clear.

By adopting a very inconsistent method for identifying passengers, Suttill does not alleviate this confusion. His Key includes the following item: ‘1M/10C/1P = number of men, containers and packages dropped’. Apart from the fact that women were frequently among the personnel who landed, Suttill does not employ this coding consistently. For instance, for the critical INVENTOR pick-up and landing on May 14/15 (the codename for one of Déricourt’s operations), Suttill informs his readers that those who landed were ‘J. Aisner, V. Leigh, S. Jones and M. Clech’, and that F. Suttill was picked up, yet he provides no code of ‘4M’. For the operation on May 20/21, named CHESTNUT4, he lists PHYSICIAN and BRICKLAYER (France Antelme, the leader of the BRICKLAYER circuit, not identified here by Suttill: one has to go back to his original drop in November 1942 to find the equivalence) as completed, with two passengers noted (‘2M’), but he does not list who they were, the implication being that, since they both appear in bold without a suffix, they must have been the respective circuit-leaders. Yet for June 12/13, where his text indicates that WATCHMAKER (Cohen) was dropped, and he provides WATCHMAKER in bold, he merely notates ‘5C/2P’ (five containers, two packages) without listing any ‘Men’. One could imagine that Cohen might have been accompanied.

Even though Mr. Suttill has informed me that CHESTNUT4 was the flight on which his father returned, he cannot explain to me why he does not list his father’s name in this entry, nor why he does not list passengers comprehensively. His father’s name does not appear anywhere else.

PROSPER in France

Thus another avenue of research would be to trace PROSPER’s activities and movements in France during this controversial period of May 21 to June 12. The evidence is slender. Suttill introduces his ‘Disaster’ chapter, however, as follows:

            One of the first things my father did on his return from London on 21 May was to visit Trotobas in Lille to pass on instructions. These confirmed that everyone was still anticipating an imminent invasion as the instructions are remembered as ‘Attack in June, July, August, as quickly as possible in view of the events which can take place at any moment’.

This journey has an ironic geographical aspect, as Lille is on the Belgian border, further away from Orléans, near where Suttill was dropped, than is Tangmere, the airport from which he left the previous night. He would presumably have had to catch a train to Paris, and then switch to another one for the journey to Lille, where he had to be very careful, as the region was much more heavily guarded, and he had relatives there. But PROSPER did have urgent business with Trotobas, and this witness statement seems reliable.

The second item is PROSPER’s presence in Paris. The file on WATCHMAKER, Edward Mountford Wilkinson (HS 9/1593-2), aliases ALEXANDRE or PRIVET (the name of his network), provides part of the answer. ALEXANDRE had been recruited by PROSPER, and operated out of Nantes, but frequently stayed in Paris with the Perraults (as Patrick Marnham describes in War in the Shadows). The Gestapo had visited him with questions on May 15, and on June 5 he had a meeting scheduled with Inspector Imart of the French Police, who had helped him escape after an arrest the previous year. Wilkinson was arrested the next day, and, after dreadful torture, was executed at Mauthausen in 1944.

Further evidence about WATCHMAKER comes from the interrogation on August 6, 1945, in London, of Armel Guerne (GASPARD, or TUERNE), who was suspected of having been a Gestapo agent. He was familiar with the TAMBOUR case, and his interrogation thus mirrored that of Gaston Cohen. His file (HS9-631/5) is revealing in several aspects. For instance, the report states very provocatively, in a Note: “PROSPER, during his visits [sic!] to London, left two letters to be delivered by the organization to his wife.” And one important factoid emerges when the interrogation turns to the arrest of ALEXANDRE:

            ‘ALEXANDRE’ had previously been arrested in the Unoccupied Zone but had escaped with the help of a French detective. He met PROSPER, ARCHAMBAUD [Gilbert Norman, PROSPER’s wireless operator] and GUERNE at GUERNE’s house and told them that the following day he was to meet in a French café the French detective who had helped him to escape. In spite of their warnings, ‘ALEXANDRE’ kept this appointment and was arrested by the Gestapo on a Sunday in June 1943 [actually June 6].

Thus PROSPER was clearly in Paris in early June. Yet Foot elides over the whole ALEXANDRE episode: evidence of PROSPER’s presence in Paris in early June would not fit with his initial chronology.

The last occasion, at the time when Suttill was originally reported as returning to France, is more controversial. Francis J. Suttill describes the events of June 10-13 as follows:

            He [PROSPER] must have received Culioli’s request to suspend drops in the Sologne following the explosions at Neuvy on 10/11 June just before he went to Bazémont to receive Gaston Cohen on 12/13 June, as he went straight to meet Culioli afterwards. My father refused Culioli’s request as he had already told him that he did not want to waste time, feeling that the invasion was imminent, and he was so serious about this that he gave Culioli the order to continue with receptions in writing.

Suttill notes that the son of his father’s hosts at Avaray, Alain Brossard, remembered helping set up PROSPER’s receiver so that he could listen out for BBC messages. But Suttill’s analysis is tentative: ‘he must have received Culioili’s request’; he has no evidence so support it. He describes his father’s understanding of an imminent invasion as ‘feelings’, rather than fresh intelligence and instructions that PROSPER (according to other sources) had just been given.

Indeed Cookridge wrote, in Inside SOE (p 229, as I introduced above), that it was Culioli who received PROSPER:

            On 13 June Culioli received Major Suttill, whose arrival had been announced by radio signals and in a ‘personal message’ on the BBC. Culioli expressed surprise that Suttill was dropped in the Sologne, despite his warnings; but Suttill did not offer any explanations.

Thus the WATCHMAKER/PHYSICIAN 42 flight on 12/13 June takes on a special significance, with two accounts of the same drop being in sharp contradiction. Patrick Marnham also presents the episode with the explosion as happening on June 12/13, and accompanies his analysis with some strong witness statements, and information from French archives at Blois. PROSPER could well have arrived the same night as the explosions occurred, and had his tense discussion with Culioli soon after he landed. Yet Marnham also lists Suttill’s Shadows in the Fog (the earlier edition of Prosper) as one of his sources, without drawing his readers’ attention to the clash in dates.

On closer inspection, Suttill’s account is flimsy. He makes the case that the drop with the explosions occurred on the night of June 10/11, explicitly contradicting the evidence of the abbé Guillaume by emphasizing the recollections of one Dr Segelle, who was nephew of one of the reception team. Segelle gives a superficially precise date ‘the Thursday before Pentecost, the 10th June, towards 1 a.m. in the morning’ in Suttill’s pleonastic translation: the ecclesiastical calendar is correct, but that morning would have been June 11. Suttill then embellishes his report with an assertion by Alain Bossard, with whose parents PROSPER stayed, that he helped PROSPER set up the aerial for his wireless receiver in the garden. PROSPER would not, however, have carried any wireless equipment with him; he had no reason to listen to the BBC in the middle of the night; in any case he could have used an ordinary domestic radio to tune in, had he needed to. (Suttill also has his father busily cycling to the train station ‘the next morning’ – presumably June 11.) Lastly, Suttill provides as a source for the account of the PHYSICIAN 54 explosion the file HS 8/143 at the National Archives. I have inspected the file: it contains nothing about the flights of June 1943.

In that case, Suttill’s tentative evidence that PROSPER was already in the neighbourhood could be seen as being devised to refute any account of his second return to France through the introduction of items that would appear to give verisimilitude, but that can be shown to be hollow. Mr. Suttill has declined to respond to my several questions about the facts surrounding this critical flight and PROSPER’s presence at the time of the PHYSICIAN 54 episode.

A Breakthrough Theory

So how should all this be interpreted? It occurs to this unreformed conspiracy theorist that the extension of Suttill’s spell in London until June 12 would assist the case of those who claim that he had an audience with Churchill, while the insistence on the earlier, late May, return would help the case of those who asserted that such an encounter would have been impossible. And what is still not explained is why Buckmaster, as early as 1952, when there was no pressure on him from published accounts of betrayal, would be so open and confident (and wrong) about the date of the June return to France.

The inescapable conclusion for this researcher is that Suttill crossed the English Channel four times that summer. His first sojourn was May 10 to 14/15; the second was June 10 (probably) to June 12/13. Only in this scenario can all the contradictory claims be reconciled. Foot picked up the same information as Cookridge and Marshall, and did not trust what Boxshall had written, as it contradicted what he was being told by others. Boxshall tried to guide Foot to the first return on May 14/15, probably having been instructed to bury any evidence about a second visit to meet Churchill. Yet Foot could not bring himself, out of some misguided loyalty, to declare openly what happened in the face of the fresh evidence that emerged from the archives. And then, many years later, he started receiving pressure from the Suttill camp of ‘anti-conspiracy-theorists’ (including the SOE ‘historian’, Mark Seaman) who wanted to submerge the whole notion that Suttill may have received dangerously false information from Churchill about an imminent invasion.

The evidence is rich:

i) Guerne’s file refers to multiple returns that PROSPER made to the UK in 1943.

ii) PROSPER surely accompanied Cohen on his second return to France. The report of Cohen’s interrogation has been withheld; Cohen’s personal file likewise. They are too volatile, as Cohen presumably gave evidence of his flight with PROSPER.

iii) The personal testimonies given to Cookridge and Marshall all indicate that PROSPER had a meeting with Churchill, which could not have occurred until after the Prime Minister’s return to the UK on June 5.

iv) Foot maintained for thirty-eight years that PROSPER did not return to France until June 12, based on the information from Cohen’s interrogation report.

v) PROSPER was reported to have expressed concern about Wilkinson’s arrest. That happened on June 6, so PROSPER must have spoken to his bosses at SOE after that date.

vi) The evidence for PROSPER’s initial return to France on May 14/15 is practically irrefutable. The error has been in Suttill’s and Foot’s insistence that it was his final journey to the UK.

vii) PROSPER was certainly active in France (with Trotobas, Wilkinson and Guerne) in the last week of May and the first week of June.

viii) Foot elides over this whole period, including the archival evidence on Wilkinson. (His Footnote No. 89 on page 494 of SOE in France, referring to Guerne, gives only the single digit ‘9’ as a reference.)

ix) Francis J. Suttill’s primary evidence for PROSPER’s presence in the Sologne on the night of June 10/11 is highly dubious, and contradicts the memories of other witnesses to the events (such as the abbé Guillaume), as supplied by Cookridge, Marnham, and even Suttill himself.

The theory must be accompanied by some assumptions. First of all, PROSPER must have been picked up by a flight that was ‘under the radar’. (He could conceivably have made his second passage to the UK by sea, but that would have been a long and dangerous journey, and inappropriate given the urgency.) The flight was probably not even made by 161 Squadron, which was responsible for landings, but arranged secretly by Churchill. As Marshall reported, Churchill had asked to see Suttill personally, and the Prime Minister presumably ordered the SOE officer’s recall when he found out that Suttill had been in London while he was overseas. When the Foreign Office engaged Foot to write the history, and started releasing records, they could not have been aware of the controversy that would be aroused by indications that Suttill had not returned until about June 12. Records of Suttill’s movements were surely concealed or destroyed. When former SOE members started talking to Cookridge, and Foot himself, the Foreign Office instructed Boxshall to list only Suttill’s first flight, and omit details of the second excursion. Foot questioned that account, however, knowing that Boxshall’s summary did not tell the whole story, but he was persuaded not to reveal all because of the extreme sensitivity of the revelations. In his text, however, Foot perpetuated the date of the second arrival. If the censors noticed the anomaly, they said nothing, observing that Cookridge (in particular) had arrived at a substantially correct assessment of the facts. They presumably hoped that no one would notice. They were right: Foot’s account lay unchallenged for over thirty-five years.

What I have hypothesized has the advantage of accommodating all the published facts about Suttill’s movements, except for those that understandably present minor errors in details over dates. It should receive objections only from those commentators who i) assert that Suttill’s sole visit to the UK was between May 14/15 and May 20/22; or ii) maintain that Suttill arrived on May 15 but did not depart until June 12 (or near that date). I introduced this theory to Patrick Marnham earlier this month, and he informed me that he had been thinking along similar lines. My last set of questions to Francis J. Suttill has remained unanswered, although I hinted to him the path I was pursuing. Steven Kippax has similarly gone silent. That is intelligence in itself. A full analysis of the implications of these conclusions will have to come in a later posting.

(Latest Commonplace entries can be seen here.)

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All Quiet on the Second Front?

Communist Party Poster

My objective in the postings for this month and the next is to determine how and why the Chiefs of Staff, in the first half of 1943, allowed SOE to engage in a maverick operation in France that had a disastrous outcome for its networks, as well as causing a breach of trust with French Resistance forces.

It is inarguable that a large supply of arms was dropped to the French Resistance in the first half of 1943, that the Resistance believed an Allied assault on the NW French coast was imminent when in fact none was planned, that the Sicherheitsdienst and the Abwehr discovered and took possession of most of the arms caches, that dozens of SOE agents and French citizens lost their lives in the process, and that the actions of Henri Déricourt, who was working for both British and German intelligence, contributed to the disaster.

But what has not been established is why an operation of this scale was never officially named, described, or approved by the Chiefs of Staff, or who authorized an exercise that contravened SOE/Chiefs of Staff directives on arming patriot forces as well as the priorities of then-current military objectives, or why Bomber Command agreed to provide the aircraft to enable the arms drops to occur, or why the operation was not aborted when clear signals of security breaches appeared.

In this first report I analyze events up to the debatably successful execution of the OVERFLOW deception operation at the end of 1942.

But first a review of the Allied Operations for Western Europe that were considered, and sometimes executed, between 1942 and 1944. Imagine yourself a member of the Chiefs of Staff, with your epaulettes clearly visible, surrounded by aides and scribes, trying to remember and distinguish all of the projects that come up in the discussion, and hoping that you do not get any of the code names mixed up when your turn to speak arrives.

Primary Operations & Code Names (in approximate chronological order):

GYMNAST (November 1941 plan for amphibious landing in French North-west Africa)

HARDBOILED (an early 1942 notional attack on the Norwegian coast)

ROUNDUP (Eisenhower’s early 1942 plan for a Spring 1943 invasion of northern France)

TRIDENT (Roosevelt-Churchill conference in Washington, May-June 1942)

IMPERATOR (plan for a raid on, and withdrawal from, a French port in summer 1942)

RUTTER (Dieppe raid preparation, summer 1942)

JUBILEE (final Dieppe raid, August 1942)

JUPITER (1) (Churchill’s plan for assault on Norway & Finland, as alternative to OVERLORD, strongly opposed by Chiefs of Staff)

SLEDGEHAMMER (April 1942 plan for limited cross-Channel invasion in 1942/3)

TORCH (final name for invasion of French North Africa in November 1942)

– OVERTHROW (deception plan for assault on Calais/Boulogne in October 1942)

– CAVENDISH (unrealised plan for diversion for TORCH)

– SOLO (deception plan for assault in Norway as diversion for TORCH)

– KENNECOTT (a plan to allay Vichy suspicions over the TORCH convoys)

– TOWNSMAN (plan to conceal real role of Gibraltar in TORCH)

– QUICKFIRE (plan to suggest US TORCH forces were going to the Middle East)

HADRIAN (capture and retention of Cotentin peninsula)

LETHAL (capture of Channel Islands)

BRIMSTONE (operation to take Sardinia, proposed in January 1943)

SYMBOL (Casablanca Conference in January 1943)

COCKADE (June 1943 deception plan to keep German forces in the West)

– TINDALL (plan for sham landing in Norway)

– STARKEY (plan for sham amphibious invasion in Boulogne)

– WADHAM (plan for sham landing in Brest)

HUSKY (plan to invade Sicily in July 1943)

– BARCLAY (deception plan)

            – MINCEMEAT (deception plan involving corpse)

ANVIL (preliminary plan for invading Southern France in 1943)

POINTBLANK (bomber operation to cripple German air fighter production)

BOLERO (military troop build-up in UK)

            – LARKHALL (build-up of US troops)

– DUNDAS (build-up of UK troops)

– SICKLE (build-up of airpower to support BOLERO)

JAEL (London Controlling Section’s deception plan of August 1943)

CONSTELLATION (operation against Channel Islands in 1943)

HIGHBALL (bouncing bombs)

– UPKEEP (naval version of HIGHBALL)

OVERLORD (plan for assault on Northern France in 1944)

– BODYGUARD (deception plan to cover OVERLORD)

–  ZEPPELIN (deception plan to tie down Germans in Balkans and France)

– FORTITUDE (deception plan to mislead Nazis about time and place of assault)

– NEPTUNE (naval component of OVERLORD)

JUPITER (2) (July 1944 offensive in Normandy)

CROSSBOW (project to counter the V-bombs)

CASCADE (deception plan for Mediterranean theatre: replaced by WANTAGE in February 1944)

DRAGOON (landing in Southern France in August 1944, replacing ANVIL)

This is only a partial list, and of course covers only a section of the European theatre of war, while the Chiefs of Staff had to consider world-wide operations. Is it not surprising that feints and realities were sometimes confused?

Contents:

  1. Stalin and the Second Front
  2. MI5 & MI6 in Double-Cross
  3. The XX Committee and MI6
  4. The Twist Committee
  5. OVERTHROW and Rear-Admiral Godfrey
  6. SOE, the Chiefs of Staff, and Churchill
  7. War Cabinet Meetings: June-December 1942
  8. Conclusions

1. Stalin and the Second Front:

‘Chutzpah’ (a word from which, according to some imaginative etymologists, the term ‘hotspur’ is derived) could have been devised as the most appropriate noun to describe the initial Soviet representations to Britain after the Nazi invasion of Russia in June 1941. Five days after Operation Barbarossa, on June 27, Soviet Ambassador Ivan Maisky approached Lord Beaverbrook, Minister of Supply, and asked him to raise the question of the Second Front with the War Cabinet. When Major Macfarlane arrived in Moscow on June 28, as the leader of the military mission to Moscow, Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov immediately ‘demanded’ of him that the British open a Second Front.

Stalin’s Call

For almost two years, the Soviet Union had been in a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany. It had supplied Hitler with raw materials, minerals and grain which enabled Germany to wage war more effectively against Great Britain, which, after the fall of western Europe, was fighting alone with its dominions and remnants of exile armies. (The United States would not enter the war until December of 1941.) The Soviet Union had brutally invaded and occupied the Baltic States, and moved its army into Finland, exactly the types of aggression over which Britain had gone to war. The notion that the onus now fell on the embattled United Kingdom to relieve pressure on the Soviet Union, where Stalin had disparaged all intelligence reports about a forthcoming invasion, was expressed without irony by Stalin himself, by his humourless sidekick Molotov, and by his scheming and insidious ambassador in London, Maisky. It was a typical shameless ploy by Stalin to make demands and then test the resolve of his new allies to see how far they would go to challenge him.

Moreover, Stalin appeared to overlook the fact that Britain was already engaged in a bitter battle with Germany on other international fronts, primarily in the Mediterranean and North Africa. Stalin may have deprecated such operations as ‘imperialist’, as indeed they were in a sense, since they were activated as a measure to protect oil supply-lines from the Middle East, and were masterminded largely from Cairo, in Egypt. (Of course, quite unlike the Soviet Union’s imperialist annexation of the Baltic States.) Yet the presence of troops in North Africa necessarily drew in large armies of Italian and German forces: indeed, Barbarossa itself was (fatefully) delayed a few weeks because Hitler had to divert army divisions to suppress anti-Nazi revolts in the Balkans before turning his attention to the Soviet Union. ‘Second Front’ was thus a misnomer that Stalin was able to use for vital effect in his propaganda objectives. Yet it was also hypocritical: when the Germans invaded, Stalin expressed disbelief that they would wage war on a ‘second front’, thus implicitly conceding that a ‘first front’ with Britain already existed.

The last aspect was the absurdity of Britain’s attempting to stage an assault on the French coast as early as 1941. Only a year before, Hitler had abandoned his effort to subdue the United Kingdom because he knew that he could not attempt a naval landing until he had secured the skies, and destroyed the Royal Air Force. It would have been impossible for the British alone to raise an assault force that could have landed on French soil without being pushed back swiftly into the sea, with disastrous consequences for morale, and eroding future chances of success. Great Britain would have been able to muster only about six divisions, against Germany’s twenty to thirty. In addition, Churchill had immediately promised Stalin all manner of material support (tanks, ammunition, metals) which inevitably degraded the country’s ability to wage war around the world.

Yet, while staging an assault in 1941 would have been suicidal, the re-entry into Northern France (Eisenhower resisted calling it an ‘invasion’ as that term would suggest a hostile attack on alien territory) could probably have been undertaken before the eventual date of June 1944. For example, in 1980 Walter Scott Dunn Jr. published Second Front Now, subtitled An Opportunity Delayed, which made the claim that, had the Allied command seized the challenge of diverting landing-craft to the operation, an assault could have been made in 1943, when the German forces were actually weaker than they were in 1944. It consisted of a careful and in some ways an appealing thesis, but did not pay enough credit to the fact of the Allies’ unavoidably split command, or to the pluralist method of making decisions.

Sir Alan Brooke, as Commander of the Imperial General Staff, masterminded the overall strategy, which had as its objective a Mediterranean assault first, taking Italy out of the war, diverting German troops from Russia in so doing, before then making re-entry into France. Yet he was challenged on all sides: by Churchill, who made impulsive decisions, interfered continually, and was forever mindful of the personal commitment he had made to Stalin; by Portal and Harris of the RAF, who believed the war would be won by saturation bombing; by the somnolent and ineffective Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound (who died in 1943); by Director of Naval Intelligence Admiral John Godfrey, who questioned his estimates of the strength of German forces, was a continual irritant on the Joint Intelligence Committee, and had to be eased out by its Chairman Cavendish-Bentinck in the summer of 1942; by the Americans generally, and specifically General George Marshall, who continually pressed for a cross Channel operation first, or else became diverted by needs in the Asian theatre; and, last but not least, by the ‘Second Front Now’ campaign organised by the press baron and sometimes Cabinet Minister, the boorish and dangerous Lord Beaverbrook. It all drove Brooke to distraction. One should not overlook the fact, however, that watching the two totalitarian powers attempt to destroy each other brought temporary comfort to the British military staff. What they overlooked was that, if one of the two foes eventually conquered the other, the victor would come back with a vengeance.

Field-Marshal Sir Alan Brooke

What is certain is that the Chiefs of Staff lost the propaganda war. By not countering Soviet demands resolutely enough when they were first made, the notion of the ‘gallant Soviet people’ fighting the Hun almost alone, with casualties in the millions while Britain was not resolute enough to sacrifice such armies, was promoted by the Communist Party, and by its agents of influence in government. (The Soviets lost over 3 million men between July and December 1941.) Of course, the British did not have such numbers to spare, and, if it had incurred large losses in such vain exploits, Churchill would have been thrown out of office. All this serves to explain why the tactics for taking on the Germans in Europe during 1942 and 1943 stuttered and stumbled so painfully.

Ironically, more recent research (Pechanov & Reynolds, echoed by O’Keeffe and Dimbleby) indicates that as early as the end of 1941, when the Germans were forced to retreat from Moscow, Stalin had re-assessed the resolve of his Soviet troops, and had also come to understand the impracticalities of a hasty mainland offensive by GB/USA forces in western Europe. He and Molotov then decided to play the ‘Second Front’ card in order to assume the moral high ground, and obtain concessions elsewhere. In seeking an early assault by his allies, however, it should not be overlooked that Stalin’s intentions may not have been entirely honourable. Moreover, he had the advantage over Churchill. He was receiving reports from his spies in London: Kim Philby notoriously passed on to Moscow the news that his boss, Valentine Vivian, knew that officers briefed on TORCH immediately got in touch with their Communist contacts. Irrespective of these essential facets of political intrigue, the timing and location of the re-entry into France would obsess the Chiefs of Staff over the next couple of years.

2. MI5 & MI6 in Double-Cross:

The Chiefs of Staff recognised that careful deception plans would be a necessary part of the eventual operation to make a successful assault into France. They had the experience of “A” Force in the Middle East as a model to be copied. Yet the mechanisms to deliver such capabilities took time to mature. At the urging of Dudley Clarke, who ran “A” Force, an embryonic London Controlling Section (LCS) had been set up under Oliver Stanley in October 1941 to replace the rather passive Inter-Services Security Board, but Stanley struggled with recruiting staff, and gaining the respect of the forces. This was partly due to the fact that he was Controller only part-time: he was also managing a group known as the Future Operational Planning Section (F.O.P.S.). In fact, while the departmental history at CAB 154/100 refers to the unit as the LCS from this time, it was not formally given that title until Bevan’s appointment in May 1942. In any case, Stanley neglected to build the requisite strong relationships with other government bodies, the Services, and the intelligence organizations.

The Double-Cross (XX) Committee had been established in November 1940, but it still had a very defensive focus as late as August 1942, when it cautiously came to the realisation that there were no Abwehr spies operating from the mainland of the United Kingdom of which it was unaware. And then, in the summer of 1942, factors conjoined to make serious deception planning a reality. John Bevan replaced Stanley as head of the LCS; General Wavell impressed upon the Chiefs of Staff the value of deception; the Chiefs of Staff finally had some concrete operational plans for assault that of course had to be in place for any deception game to play against. Critically, Churchill reinforced to his Chiefs of Staff the importance of robust deception plans.

It would seem that the XX Committee was at that time perfectly poised to assume a greater role in military deception plans through the use of its ‘double agents’. The matter of using DAs to ‘direct the attention of the Germans to a phoney major operation’ in France had been discussed at the W Board meeting in May 1942. Yet that did not happen. What went wrong? Was there something implicitly awry in the XX set-up?

Unfortunately, the authorized history of Strategic Deception [Volume 5 of British Intelligence in the Second World War], by Michael Howard, while representing an eloquent exposition of the main threads, is an inadequate guide to the politics and controversies. The main deficiencies of his analysis centre on his oblique coverage of the roles of SOE and MI6, and of Howard’s studious refusal even to mention the obscure units set up by Bevan, namely the OLIVER, TORY, TWIST and RACKET committees, which were established as a response to what some saw as the XX Committee’s weaknesses. (Thaddeus Holt’s The Deceivers is slightly more useful in this regard.) For the role of MI6 and SOE in handling ‘double agents’ – or as Bevan preferred to call them ‘special agents’, or ‘controlled enemy agents’ – was paradoxical and problematic. (I shall, for reasons of economy and precision – except when citing other authors and documents –  hereon refer to such persons as ‘DA’s, since that abbreviation, though regrettably inaccurate, is the one used in contemporary documents.)

In essence, the controversy lay in territorial management. MI5 was responsible for counter-espionage on imperial soil: MI6 in foreign countries. The first challenge that this division generated was the fact that agents naturally operated across such boundaries, and thus competition between the two services for ‘ownership’ arose. If a prospective DA emerged in, say, Spain, but were to travel to the United Kingdom, who would manage him or her? And who surveil him or her when he or she had to travel back to the Continent to meet his or her handler? This conflict caused a lot of friction, especially when Major Cowgill of MI6 behaved very protectively about ULTRA transcripts (produced by The Government Code and Cypher School, or GC&CS, commonly known as Bletchley Park, which reported to MI6) that relayed vital information about the meetings between the Abwehr and the agents, and Cowgill withheld such information from his MI5 counterparts.

Felix Cowgill

A more important factor, however, was the issue of operational control and security. If agents used exclusively by MI6 for deception purposes resided on foreign territory, or in countries overrun by the Nazis, how did MI6 officers know that the DAs were working loyally for them, and that they would not betray the confidential relationship to their Abwehr handlers as soon as they were out of sight? Since the XX Committee could not control their wireless messages or invisible ink letters (as MI5’s B1A unit did with domestic controlled agents), an enormous exposure existed with MI6 agents. This was highlighted, for example, by MI6’s attempt to ‘turn’ German POWs and parachute them behind enemy lines in 1944. In April, Hermann Reschke (a POW) immediately denounced his colleague Frank Chamier to the railway staff at the local station south-west of Stuttgart, as Stephen Tyas reports in his book SS-Major Horst Kopkow. Only if intercepted and deciphered wireless traffic showed that the deception was successful could an exercise be considered safe: that in turn required that the Abwehr station communicate with Berlin via wireless, not telephone, and there was still a chance that a counterbluff was being used.

Yet, while all the chroniclers refer to the fact that MI6 (and sometimes SOE) managed DAs, they hardly ever identify them – except when their cases are also managed by MI5 (such as GARBO and TRICYCLE), or they are of a very dubious quality (such as ARTIST, the Abwehr officer Jebsen). Keith Jeffery, the authorized historian of MI6, leads the way. He makes the conventional bland assertion: “As regards double agents, broadly speaking those run in the United Kingdom and from British military bases abroad were an MI5 responsibility, while those operating in foreign countries came from SIS” (p 491). He adds another vague statement on page 569: “While the running of double agents was in practice a joint SIS-MI5 responsibility (through the XX Committee), MI5 took primary charge of those operating in the United Kingdom, and SIS of those in foreign countries.” Again, the message is clear: MI6 managed its own DAs. XX Committee authority was weakened.

And how many of those SIS agents were there? Jeffery adds: “During 1944, for example, some 113 double agents were operating under Section V’s control”  – an astonishing claim, not just numerically, but in the shocking assertion that MI6’s Section V, not the XX Committee, managed them.  Admittedly, twenty-seven of those were GARBO’s notional (i.e. non-existent) sub-agents, but surely the remainder deserved some coverage? Yet Jeffery restricts himself to mentioning only ARTIST (Jebsen, a dubious case, as noted above), ECCLESIASTIC (an unidentified woman in Lisbon who had an Abwehr officer as a lover), and OUTCAST, in Stockholm, who was not really a ‘double’ at all, as he had had recruited before the war, and then penetrated the Abwehr. Earlier Jeffery had mentioned the Frenchman BLA, over whom Menzies had in May 1942 personally interfered, trying to have him run through the XX Committee, but BLA turned out to be a traitor, and was shot. Why the coyness, Professor?

Michael Howard is of even less use. He writes: “That [‘running the double agents’] was the work of MI5’s section B1A, and in certain cases overseas MI6” (p 8); “For both MI5 and MI6 their [‘the double agents’] principal value lay in the information they provided about enemy intelligence services and enemy intentions” (p 9). On page 19, Howard reports that Sir Findlater Stewart was brought in ‘to investigate the possibility of a closer co-ordination between MI5, MI6 and the Special Operations Executive [sic!] as it affects the work of the Twenty Committee’. This turned out to be embarrassing, and the head of SOE ‘agreed to forget all he heard’. Howard does not explain why SOE had a role in running ‘double agents’ at this time, or how their activities were directed and managed. It is a shocking oversight. On the other hand, on page 29, he quotes John Masterman’s justifiable claim that ‘the Security Service alone is in a position to run XX agents’, but does not explore the paradox he has revealed to his readers.

Thaddeus Holt is similarly vague. He does, indeed, cite one important document. When Oliver Stanley was appointed the first Controller of Deception, MI5 offered a carefully worded memorandum, accurately summarized by Holt as follows:  “ . . . while it had always been contemplated that the double agents would be used for deception, that should not jeopardize their fundamental counterespionage role, and [MI5] emphasized further that MI5 and MI6 [sic], not some deception officer, should be the sole judges of how they should be used.” (p 152) Otherwise, Holt’s coverage is scanty. He makes reference to another dubious MI6 DA, an Armenian businessman in Istanbul code-named INFAMOUS, and dedicates one brief clause to COBWEB and BEETLE, Norwegian DAs run by MI6 in Iceland.

John Masterman, who reputedly wrote ‘the book’ on Double-Cross operations, The Double Cross System, hints at MI6’s role, but with scarce recognition of any of their DAs, drawing attention instead to the illogical but unavoidable rule of responsibilities split by geography. Yet he cryptically introduces MI6’s involvement: “At every meeting [of the XX Committee] an account of the activities of the agents was given by the M.I.5 and M.I.6 representatives, so that all members of the Committee were apprised of what was going on in connection with the cases”. (As the Minutes will show, this is a travesty of what actually happened.) Despite his opinion quoted above, Masterman then blandly echoes the policy of the W Board (from October 1941): “The Security Service and M.I.6 remain normally the best judges as to how the machine under their control can be put into motion to the best advantage” (p 104). Some machine; some control. And Masterman, reflecting happily as to how the unnamed Cowgill’s intransigence was eventually overcome, concludes: “In particular the services, whatever their views may have been as to the share in control which belonged to the W. Board or to the Security Service, never questioned or adversely criticized the practical control and the running of the agents by M.I.5 or M.I.6.’ [Note: ‘M.I.5 or – not “and” – M.I.6.’, and omitting the fact that the XX Committee was supposed to be in charge.] Yet the only MI6 agent Masterman names is SWEETIE, an ‘MI6 double-cross agent in Lisbon’, who has otherwise been lost to history.

Another doyen of the popular set of writers on intelligence matters, Nigel West, is also vague. In his 1983 account of the agency, MI6, West asserts that the XX Committee ‘co-ordinated the activities of all the double agents based in the United Kingdom’ [my italics]. West thus by default avoids any suggestion that MI6 was supervised by the XX Committee in handling DAs on the European continent, and completely ignores the activities of MI6 DAs wherever they were supervised. West then moves smoothly on to the Thirty Committee, which managed such entities in the Middle East.

Lastly, we have the breezy work of Ben Macintyre, in Double Cross. He focusses entirely on MI5’s and B1A’s handling of the agents, frequently highlighting the rivalries between MI5 and MI6, while ignoring completely any agents whom MI6 may have been handling. He raises his readers’ interest, perhaps, when he writes of the deception projects behind FORTITUDE: “The French Resistance, Special Operations Executive agents, saboteurs and guerrilla teams, MI6, the code breakers at Bletchley, secret scientists, and camouflage engineers would each play a part on this great sprawling, multifaceted deception campaign” (p 176). Yet the precise nature of those parts is beyond his scope or understanding. No exclusively MI6 DAs appear in his Index.

So what was the exact mission of the XX Committee, and why the evasiveness over the MI6 and the SOE contribution? Why is so little written about MI6’s DAs? To try to resolve this conundrum, and understand why the TWIST committee was set up, an inspection of the XX Committee’s minutes is necessary.

3. The XX Committee & MI6:

John Masterman

The minutes of the XX Committee reinforce the message that its chairman, John Masterman, unwittingly left for posterity in his book: he was confused as to whether MI5 and MI6 jointly ran DAs who crossed their territories, or whether the Committee was overall responsible for DAs who were separately managed by each of the two services. This might appear a trivial point, and it was not entirely his fault, but I believe it is very important. Within MI5, there were mechanisms, and a section, B1A, which took the recruiting and control of DAs very seriously. There appeared to be no equivalent section within MI6: at least no records have been made available. Masterman probably did not believe that he had the clout to challenge the authority of the very difficult Felix Cowgill, who was the dominant MI6 representative during the first eighteen months of the XX Committee’s existence. Thus the joint oversight by the XX Committee did not occur properly.

In contrast, Michael Howard (p 8) makes the point that the task of the XX Committee was not to ‘run’ the double agents, adding: “That . . . was the work of MI5’s section B1A, and in certain cases overseas MI6”. By stating this, however, he opens up the question of the existence of equivalent processes in MI6. He describes the role of the Committee as a routine administrative one, for eliciting, collating, and obtaining approval for ‘traffic’ to be passed by the DAs, and to act as a point of contact between other institutions. Moreover, Howard draws attention to the anomalous reporting structure: the XX Committee’s chairman, John Masterman, was responsible to the Director-General of MI5, but at the time of its establishment, David Petrie had not been appointed. The Committee itself was a sub-committee of the W Board, but that turned out to be a less than satisfactory entity. As Christopher Andrew writes (p 255): “This elevated committee, while considering broad policy issues, inevitably lacked the time to provide the detailed, sometimes daily, operational guidelines which became necessary following the expansion of the Double-Cross System in the autumn and winter of 1940.” The XX Committee thus lay in some sort of limbo.

The ambivalence is shown in the initial memorandum that Masterman wrote, back in December 1940, appealing for the creation of this new committee to handle the management of DAs, including the greater release of information from the service departments: “Since the recognition in July, 1939, by the Directors of Intelligence of the importance of the ‘double agent’ system, M.I.5 and M.I.6 have, both independently and conjointly, built up a fairly extended ‘double agent’ system under their control”.  Perhaps in recognition of the challenge of dealing with MI6, part of Masterman’s recommendation was that the committee should report to the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC). A hand-written note states, however, that the Director of Naval Intelligence, John Godfrey, ‘informed us that he would not allow the Committee to be attached to the J.I.C. and that it must be attached either to the W Committee or to the Directors of Intelligence.’ This was a typical outspoken objection by Rear-Admiral Godfrey, and would be a harbinger of later controversies. Yet it suggests a serious intent. One might wonder what the fine distinction between ‘attachment to the J.I.C’ and ‘attachment to the Directors of Intelligence’ represented, but Godfrey was very aware of the secrecy attached to the W Board, and no doubt believed that its activities would inevitably be slowed down – or even suspended – if the news on what it was doing spread too far. In this assessment Godfrey surely overlooked the fact that the XX Committee was already in contact with such bodies as the Service Departments.

The relationship with the W Board could be the subject of a completely fresh study. The W Board was an informal body, its members being the three directors of service intelligence (initially Godfrey, Davidson and Boyle), Liddell from MI5, Menzies from MI6, and Findlater Stewart as representative of the Civilian Ministries. In its postwar history (at KV 4/70), its mission was defined as ‘the general control over all deception from the U.K. to the enemy’ but its author claimed that, with the appointment of the Controlling Officer (implicitly Bevan, not Stanley, whose tenure it overall ignored), the Board ‘still maintained general control of all work of this nature through double agents’. Sadly, this assertion was not true in more than one aspect. It delegated work to the XX Committee, but failed to give it a proper charter or guidelines.

That MI6 was handling DAs ‘independently’ is soon apparent, since the records show that the constitutionally reclusive Cowgill, for most of the time the only MI6 representative on the Committee, was required to submit orally his reports on agent activity. It is not possible to determine whether the sketchy information recorded in the minutes about MI6’s DAs is due to secretarial discretion, or because Cowgill was simply reticent, but a few of his submissions can be noted. He introduces the IRONMONGER case on February 13, 1941, but two weeks later states that ‘the Germans are reported to have executed IRONMONGERY [sic]’. On March 13, POGO and his family are reported to have been arrested by the Spanish Police. A plan STIFF, involving RSS (the Radio Security Service), and a drop of a wireless set, is aired. Cowgill has a contact for Plans ATKINS & L.P.. On May 22, Cowgill refers to a Plan PEPPER involving WALDHEIM in Madrid. On June 5, Cowgill has to present his method of grading sources, perhaps suggesting some scepticism on the part of the other members of the Committee, but nothing more is said.

Yet the catalogue continues. On July 3, Cowgill is recorded as giving ‘an account of a “triple-cross” which he had called VIPER, which had been attempted in Lisbon, and which he is taking up’. The next week, he reports on PASTURES (in Lisbon) and YODELER (not further described). THISBE appears in August, and MINARET and CATKIN (active in the USA) soon after, followed by TRISTRAM. On September 18, YODELER is reported to be ‘disorganized’, but the following week, three new DAs are introduced: SCRUFFY, BASKET and O’REEVE.

It is not necessary to list all of Cowgill’s contributions: the implications are clear. MI6’s handling of DAs was a mess: it had no methodology for recruiting DAs, or detecting their true allegiance, yet no one on the Committee appeared keen to press Cowgill (or his boss, Menzies) too hard. And this situation would continue until Masterman and his allies became utterly frustrated with Cowgill’s refusal to disclose traffic from ULTRA (Most Secret Sources) that would allow those managing the messages of deception in B1A to verify that their bluffs were being accepted by the Abwehr. It all came to a head in April 1942. Findlater Stewart was invited in. Masterman wrote a careful letter to Menzies, and Menzies replied positively, thus forcing Cowgill’s caution to be curbed, with Frank Foley of MI6 also brought on to the Committee to help smooth things over. Yet Foley continued the practice, introducing new DAs without any clear background information, such as FATIMA (a male in France), SEALING WAX, SPOONER and PRIMULA.

Far too late in the day, probably by virtue of external prodding, MI6 was asked to account for itself. The minutes of the meeting on September 3, 1942, show that John Masterman, the Chairman, stated to the attendees that ‘the list of M.I.6. agents had been circulated’. Yet it was a mixed bag. Masterman then said that the list ‘included some straight double-cross cases and some where the enemy were operating captured agents’ sets, and it was felt that these latter might be brought into play in the near future.’ This is an extraordinary admission, suggesting that MI6 (and maybe SOE) was aware that the Germans had captured some of their agents, but, instead of closing down the relevant networks (when they must have been unaware of the expanse of the damage), they were keen to exploit the situation for deception purposes. The disclosure of this policy has profound implications for the study of the PROSPER network.

This is quite a remarkable state of affairs. The B1A DAs within MI5 are very well documented, with their own KV folders in the archive, and Masterman’s mostly straightforward account of how the whole scheme was managed. We can understand the cautious way that the officers had to approach their agents, to manage their communications and monitor their loyalty, and to seek out information to be passed on that could deceive the enemy without giving away sensitive secrets.  Yet about the MI6 DAs (if they really were such) we know hardly anything, and even the authorized historian has skated over the topic apparently without realising that all those codenames had surfaced in the XX Committee minutes. Why have all these names been left off the official lists? Because they were not DAs at all? Because they were an embarrassment, an exposure, a security risk? It seems that senior MI6 officers were keen to escape the nosiness of the XX Committee, and that is why they sought out an alternative mechanism.

4. The TWIST Committee:

Captain John Bevan

On May 21, 1942, the Chiefs of Staff approved Lt.-Col. John Bevan’s appointment as head of the London Controlling Section, replacing Oliver Stanley, with the announcement being made several weeks later, in August. Almost immediately, Bevan started negotiations with the Directors of Intelligence. On July 13, Guy Liddell reported in his Diary that the Director of Military Intelligence, Major-General Francis Davidson, wanted Bevan brought on to the W Board. On August 25, Liddell noted that the Director of Naval Intelligence, Rear-Admiral John Godfrey, believed that Bevan should be Chairman of the XX Committee: Liddell pointed out to him that Bevan was already a member of that body. (His first attendance was at the eighty-second meeting, on July 30: he had been briefed on the details of the Double-Agent scheme, a privilege not granted to his predecessor.) And then, on September 7, at the eighty-seventh meeting, Bevan made a startling announcement.

The Minutes start inauspiciously, with a note that ‘the list of M.I.6 agents was not yet available’, hinting at a fresh Committee desire for greater disclosure from MI6. Soon afterwards the following brisk statement appears:

            Colonel Bevan reported that the Chiefs of Staff had directed that he should undertake a large scale deception during the autumn and for this purpose he had formed a small sub-committee, with DMI’s approval, for putting his plans into operation. In this connection it was agreed that Major Robertson, who was a member of the sub-committee, should read all proposed traffic before it was sent for approval, in order that it should not run counter to the major deception policy. The normal approving authorities, therefore, could be satisfied that nothing would be submitted to them which would be inadmissible from the point of view of this deception.

This is a puzzling minute. It suggests that Bevan’s deception project was a singular event, and of short duration (though ‘large-scale’), and that whatever traffic it generated would be supervised by Robertson and the traditional clearing-house, as if the W Board were in charge of ‘the major deception policy’. Bevan’s statement also refers cryptically to ‘his plans’: were they plans he himself cooked up, or had they been approved by the Chiefs of Staff? It is not clear, since Bevan refers only to the DMI’s (Davidson’s) approval. Ironically, the post-war history of the W Board (cited above) asserted that the XX Committee was able to work much more freely than the Controlling Officer (Bevan), since the latter ‘had a “charter”’, and had ‘to refer matters to the Chiefs of Staff’.

On the other hand, at a ‘witness seminar’ held in London in 1994, Professor Michael Foot (the SOE historian) presented the LCS as ‘the controlling centre for deception, which so far as I can make out was the boss among the secret services because anything that it asked to get done was done’. This latter view would appear to be reinforced in a telling anecdote from Thaddeus Holt. The American Bill Baumer recalled visiting Bevan, and recorded that the Controller made a decision and started implementing it even before the Combined Chiefs of Staff had authorized the real operation. (That sounds like the pattern that COCKADE would take.) “Baumer asked him about this and asked to whom Bevan was responsible”, writes Holt. “‘To God and history,’ said Bevan.” He clearly had an ego and a sense of entitlement. Perhaps the W Board historian did not know what was going on, but it is more likely that he indulged in some retrospective wish-fulfilment.

The London Controlling Section

John Masterman, the XX Chairman, felt himself under siege. He submitted a very long memorandum to Liddell on September 5, in which he recounted the Committee’s history, stressing its role in counterespionage, while admitting that it needed greater assistance from the Services in order to boost its deception capabilities, so that it might contribute better to military deception as opposed to simply political deception. He reminded his boss of the letter which Rear-Admiral Godfrey had sent to the members of the W Board on August 22 (the letter that Liddell referred to, as described above), summarizing its message as follows:

In this he says that he has been wondering whether the activities of the Twenty Committee are under the best possible direct supervision and has come to the conclusion that the position is not satisfactory. He says that the Chairman is not in touch with the requirements of the Chiefs of Staff or the Joint Planners, and that it is impossible for him (D.N.I.) or probably for other members of the W. Board to provide the necessary day to day guidance. He therefore suggests that Colonel Bevan should be appointed Chairman of the Committee.

In light of the increasing requirements for operational (or offensive) deception, the Directors of Intelligence were presumably becoming unhappy about the devolution of authority to the XX Committee and Major Robertson of B1A (see below). Evidence of a policy clash appears. Bevan was probably under pressure from Churchill to accelerate deception efforts, and the Directors of Intelligence believed that the amateurs of the XX Committee were too far removed from the Service needs to be effective. Thus they believed that they needed to take over the XX Committee through Bevan. Yet Bevan did not want that job, and Masterman and his team resisted. Masterman added a telling, but highly confused, comment:

            It is clear from this letter that D.N.I. holds the view that the XX System is run almost exclusively for purposes of operational deception, and that he regards the agents as being under the direct control of the Twenty Committee, acting on behalf of the W. Board, and not under that of M.I.5 and M.I.6. The ‘day to day guidance’ which D.N.I speaks of, and which neither he nor others members of the W. Board can provide, is in fact provided by M.I.5 alone.

Thus Masterman blew a large hole in the role of the XX Committee, and exposed the fact that MI6 supervision of DAs was, for all intents and purposes, non-existent. He also openly regretted that a note written by Petrie, the Director-General of MI5, from August 29, that reinforced the successful role of MI5, was not distributed to the W Board.

Masterman recognized that Bevan’s sub-committee threatened the functions of the XX Committee and B1A, but fought strongly against it, suggesting that whatever problem was perceived could be addressed by encouraging better liaison between the Committee and the Service representatives. Furthermore, he observed that:

            I think that Colonel Bevan’s sub-committee will inevitably only be concerned with operational deception, and that the more effectively it works the more danger there is that the counter-espionage side of double agent work will fall into the background.

This was a false alarm: counter-espionage was correctly ‘falling into the background’. His allusion to ‘only  . . . operational deception’ betrays the lack of importance that he grants to this function. With some political astuteness, however, Masterman creatively suggested that Godfrey’s letter should be used as a stimulus to re-energize and re-define the Committee’s charter, with the approval of the W Board and the Director-General.

One puzzling aspect of this whole debate is the absence of input from MI6. One might have expected Menzies and Cowgill to have spoken up for the XX Committee, yet no indication of their opinions is apparent. One could interpret that absence as an indication that they were quietly supportive of the Bevan agenda. Liddell, on the other hand, capitulated. As I reported last December, as early as mid-August Liddell had shown his enthusiasm for Bevan’s new scheme, and I shamelessly re-present my text here [I am not paid by the word]:

            On August 15, 1942, Liddell wrote: “I saw Archie Boyle with T.A.R. [Robertson], Senter and Lionel Hale. We agreed that on matters of deception it was desirable to persuade the Controller to set up a small committee consisting of T.A.R., Lionel Hale for S.O.E., Montagu for the services and someone from S.I.S.  T.A.R. will take this up with Bevan.” What I find remarkable about this observation is the fact that SOE, which was of course responsible for sabotage, appeared to be driving the intensified deception plans. Liddell does not explain in this entry why the London Controlling Section was not itself adequate for this role, or why the XX Committee was also considered inappropriate. Soon afterwards, however, he took pains to explain to Rear-Admiral Godfrey, the Director of Naval Intelligence (who wanted Bevan to chair the XX Committee) that that Committee’s prime role was viewed at that time as counter-espionage, not deception, a claim that is borne out by other evidence.  In addition, I suspect that the group wanted a more private cabal away from the prying eyes of the LCS’s American partner (the Joint Security Control). The timing from this record looks far more accurate than the two claims that have appeared in print.

Thus the TWIST Committee took off. It was neither small (contrary to how Bevan presented it), nor, as it fatally turned out, restricted to a single project that autumn. I have earlier pointed out the contradictions in the accounts of its inception. The paper passed on by Anthony Blunt to the NKVD (see Triplex by Nigel West and Oleg Tsarev, p 275) stated that the TWIST Committee was ‘organised around September 1941’. That must be wrong. Blunt is unlikely to have confused the timing around the appointment of Oliver Stanley with that of John Bevan, as he (Blunt) he was on the Committee: it must be a translation error. Roger Hesketh’s claim (in Fortitude) that TWIST was initiated in 1943 must be a distortion for political purposes. Moreover, I have discovered one reference to TWIST in the minutes of the XX Committee. It appears on April 15, 1943, and runs as follows:

            Colonel Robertson reported on the functions of the Twist Committee and on the arrangements being made for putting into effect the troop movements and physically carrying out the deceptive policy agreed by that Committee. This would be under the control of the Chief of Staff who had been appointed to the Supreme Command of the West. The question of putting over traffic suggested by the latter, by means of double agents, was discussed and it was agreed that all traffic, whatever the source, should continue to be submitted to the appropriate Approving Authorities before being sent.

I shall review the implications of that highly controversial statement in the context of April 1943 operations in next month’s report. It serves as an independent verification of the survival of the TWIST Committee beyond the OVERTHROW Operation. And I simply reiterate here the point I have made before: the initiation of the TWIST Committee occurred exactly at the time when MI6 and SOE were arranging the arrival of dubious characters to Britain. Len Beurton arrived in Poole on July 29; Henri Déricourt reached Gourock on September 8. And it was undoubtedly the role of Déricourt that caused the TWIST Committee to continue its activities after the initial project in the autumn of 1942 had been successfully concluded. That has all the manifestations of being a deceptive measure by Bevan against his own bosses.

The departmental history, however, is very attentive in emphasizing how proper co-ordination occurred, and how nothing slipped through. “Complete co-ordination between the LCS, the Strategic Planning Section and the JIC was maintained throughout the whole course of planning.” Yet the history reflects an imperfect understanding of the functions of MI5 and MI6, and also puts a spin on the exercise that is not borne out by the evidence. It stated that ‘MI5 was responsible for counter-espionage in the UK, MI6 for espionage abroad’ (a false contrast, and not something that Menzies would have agreed with), and continues by claiming that “co-ordination between the Section and the Secret Services was in this matter effected through the Twenty Committee, where the London Controlling Section representative was able to indicate the general Deception policy or any particular aspect of it which had to be put across to the enemy.”

It thus exaggerated its relationship with the XX Committee, and then minimized the role of the TWIST Committee, explaining that

            At the same time it was very necessary that the circumstantial and important messages passed directly to the enemy Intelligence staff through the Secret Service channels should not be compromised by low-level rumours or obvious propaganda emanating from us. Close similarity would raise suspicion. To ensure co-ordination, therefore, two Committees were established by the Section within itself, known as the TWIST and later the TORY Committee at which members of M.I.5., M.I.6. and S.O.E. attended.

At least the existence of the TWIST Committee was admitted, but the retrospective description grossly distorts what in fact happened.

Two last points in this section. In my previous posts, I had overlooked the contribution that Thaddeus Holt made to the TWIST topic, in The Deceivers, and I thank Keith Ellison for bringing it to my attention. Holt concedes that multiple channels for passing disinformation were involved – but only in the context of the TWIST Committee, not the XX Committee. He writes (p 201): “. . . they met weekly or fortnightly with representatives of SOE, MI5, MI6, and other offices, to make sure the themes were consistent with – but not too obviously similar to – the circumstantial messages being passed by the double agents, and to allocate misinformation assignments among the available channels”, adding, as a way of differentiating TWIST from OLIVER, TORY and RACKET: “The Twist Committee dealt with allocation of channel assignments by way of double agents.” Yet Holt stumbles over the contrast of the TWIST Committee’s media with messages passed by DAs elsewhere.

Secondly, the membership of the two Committees needs to be noted. Of the twelve attendees at the September 3, 1942 meeting of the XX Committee, no less than five (Masterman, Bevan, Montagu, Foley and Robertson) are described in the Blunt document as being permanent members of the TWIST Committee. Masterman, notably, is described as being the TWIST Committee’s secretary, so it is clear that his loyalty was acquired by being drawn inside. (For what it is worth, Bevan had been an undergraduate at Christ Church, Oxford, the college from which the don Masterman had been hired by MI5, and he had been at Eton with Stewart Menzies.)  Furthermore, MI6’s Lloyd, also a member of TWIST, occasionally sat in on the XX proceedings. Foley’s task was defined ominously as ‘the transmission of disinformation to the enemy through double agents of the Secret Intelligence Service abroad’, while Lloyd was responsible for analysing ULTRA decrypts. This overlap could be interpreted positively, indicating close collaboration between the two bodies, or negatively, since such overlap indicated a high level of redundancy and wasted effort. Yet, to me, it suggests a much more troubling outcome: how on earth did the proceedings and achievements of the TWIST Committee become reflected neither in the official histories, nor in Masterman’s own account of Double-Cross?

5. OVERTHROW and Rear-Admiral Godfrey:

So who was calling the shots? In the Directive given to Bevan by the Chiefs of Staff on June 21, 1942, Item 3 (c) carefully stated: “Watch over the execution by the Service Ministries, Commands and other organisations and departments, of approved deception plans which you have prepared.” This instruction specifically did not give Bevan the authority to establish a new unit to execute his own plans, and also required that Bevan’s deception plans be submitted for approval. Very oddly, a further instruction informed Bevan that he was ‘also to keep in close touch with the Joint Intelligence Sub-Committee, Political Warfare Executive, Special Operations Executive, S.I.S., and other Government organizations and departments’, cryptically overlooking any direct reference to MI5, the W Board or the XX Committee. Was that deliberate, or merely careless? It seems extraordinary that the Chiefs would highlight MI6 and SOE while ignoring the primary deception mechanism at their disposal.

In fact, Bevan saw a role for MI5 – but only in the promotion of domestic rumours. And that did not work out well. In a post-mortem memorandum to the War Cabinet on December 12, he wrote:

            It is realized that the spreading of false rumours in the United Kingdom is not consistent with the main functions of M.I.5., and it is therefore suggested that some other body, possibly the Ministry of Information, in co-operation with the London Controlling Section, should be responsible.

That may have been correct, but to ignore the potential of MI5’s contributing with its DAs was bizarre, to say the least. Guy Liddell had discouraged it, however. The DAs controlled by the XX Committee (and B1A) did in fact contribute to the deception plans in the summer and autumn of 1942, but then for many months took a back seat in Bevan’s conception of things. Ewen Montagu, the Royal Navy representative, wrote a memorandum highly critical of Bevan, in which he described the breach that had occurred between the LCS and the XX Committee. As Thaddeus Holt reports it:

            By Montagu’s account, there was ‘considerable friction’ between the Twenty Committee and the London Controlling Section after the North African landings and during 1943 ‘when the Twenty Committee chafed at the fact that no strategic deception went over from the U.K. between then and OVERLORD’.

This was a massive admission concerning the events of 1943.

I do note, however, that, when Bevan made his initial announcement to the XX Committee, he stated that the Chiefs of Staff had authorized him to undertake a deception plan. Yet the decision to create a new committee appeared to have been his own, and his claim that the DMI had given his approval to use his new sub-committee to execute the plan (rather than just develop it, gain approval for it, and arrange for others to execute) would appear to fly right in the face of the directives of the Chiefs of Staff. The departmental history, moreover, is very ambiguous about Bevan’s entitlement to execute plans himself, writing that the LCS ‘operated actively not only as a formulator of the main strategic deception policy and of specific deception plans to cover operations, but as the main agency through which, in so far as the United Kingdom was concerned, these plans were implemented’ [my italics]. So how did this initiative get by?

Operation Sledgehammer

According to the authorized history, the initial project went according to the books. The deception operation that had been delegated to Bevan’s new committee was indisputably OVERTHROW (a feint across the Channel), since SLEDGEHAMMER had been discarded shortly before Bevan got started. (Churchill told the Cabinet on July 6 that SLEDGEHAMMER had been abandoned for 1942, yet advised Roosevelt on July 14 that both SLEDGEHAMMER and JUPITER were still active. Was he being duplicitous, was he merely confused, or was he simply trying to simplify matters for the President? I have no idea.) Bevan thus prepared a plan for OVERTHROW by August 5, and it was approved by the Chiefs of Staff on August 18. Michael Howard then proceeds to describe smoothly how the plan was executed: “It was implemented partly through visual displays, partly through the spreading of rumours, partly through the messages passed through the ‘special means’ of B1A.” But there is no mention of TWIST – or even the oversight of the XX Committee, as it happens. Howard then goes on to describe how the Germans were taken in, with Field Marshal von Rundstedt keeping defences strengthened against the assault that never came. “Overall, Operation Overthrow must be judged a major success”, Howard concludes, since German forces were kept on the alert right up to the eve of the TORCH landings in November.

On the other hand, Anthony Cave Brown embellished the story in Bodyguard of Lies. He described a misinformation campaign of planting seeds that an invasion was imminent, that the BBC warned the French not to take up arms until they received the signal, and he even declared that ‘MI-6, SOE and the XX Committee primed their agents with similar reports’. In so doing Cave Brown carelessly reinforced the notion that the XX Committee was exclusively an MI5 affair, but also strongly indicated that MI6 and SOE were given a role outside the controls of the XX Committee. Yet Cave Brown is not a wholly reliable source: while his descriptions are florid, his chronology is frequently haphazard: many critical events are undated. He muddied the waters by making the August 17 Dieppe Raid the core event of this deception, ignoring the fact that the OVERTHROW Operation was not approved until after the Dieppe Raid took place, and lasted until November. Such are the perils of trying to pack too many events into a narrative, and listening to too much personal testimony without careful attention to timelines.

The post mortem by the Chiefs of Staff was a little more sanguine. The minutes of November 26 (CAB 80/66-1), based on Bevan’s report, record that ‘the postponement of “TORCH” to 8th November rendered “OVERTHROW” a less probable operation, while shortage of invasion craft and the decision to cancel all troop and air movements for “CAVENDISH” robbed it of much of its plausibility.’ Other factors ‘militated against the success of this deception’, and ‘the enemy was not seriously concerned with the “OVERTHROW” threat’. Furthermore, the report was very lapidary about the role of Double-Cross, referring to the implementation by LCS in these terms: “Suitable messages to indicate a threat to Northern France were prepared and passed through various channels to the enemy.” Did the Chiefs really inspect the plan? And where did Howard’s confident appraisal come from? For what it is worth, the Minutes of the XX Committee never mention OVERTHROW, but much detail has been left out of the proceedings of that body.

Moreover, other chronological anomalies can be detected. Both Bevan’s representation to the XX Committee, and Liddell’s enthusiastic endorsement of the rival Committee, which gave such a prominent role to SOE and MI6, took place on August 25. Howard reports, however, that Bevan, on September 2, ‘complained to the Chiefs of Staff of the absence of machinery to implement his ideas’. He received the brush-off, being explicitly told to work with the departments that already existed. Yet by that time he had already announced to the XX Committee the formation of the TWIST Committee, and had the support not only of Liddell, but also implicitly of the top SOE and MI6 officers. Bevan was not being straight with the Chiefs of Staff, who were either ignorant of the TWIST Committee, or were turning a blind eye to it.

Major-General Sir Colin Gubbins

Another factoid that is highly anomalous, but maybe significant, is that Colin Gubbins, according to his Service Record at HS 9 630/8, was appointed CD (i.e. Chief of SOE) in September 1942, thus nominally replacing Charles Hambro. Yet all the conventional histories assert that Hambro did not relinquish his role, with Gubbins replacing him, until he was forced to resign by Lord Selborne in September 1943. If Churchill, who continually championed Gubbins, and prevented him being transferred to regular military duties, was trying to influence more directly the activities of SOE, Gubbins’s ascent to leadership would be evidence of such, and the concealment of the fact very suggestive.

Bevan was aware of the invidious position he had been encouraged to take up, and made a very puzzling and unsatisfactory statement to the XX Committee on October 1. The minutes record:

            Colonel Bevan made a statement with regard to the directives issued by himself and with regard to the difficulties in which, in certain circumstances, he found himself. He agreed nevertheless that the Approving Authorities should be supplied with such general directives as he might issue from time to time, and would arrange for this to be done. He or his representatives would attend the meetings of the Twenty Committee in case any explanations were necessary.

The gobbledegook of this minute was inexplicably approved at the next meeting. (If Masterman had encountered such sentences in an undergraduate essay, he would surely have applied his red pencil to them.) It is difficult to know to what to make of it: to me, it suggests that Bevan was under pressure to execute something not completely above board, and beyond the ken of the Approving Authorities and the Chiefs of Staff. What ‘directives’ was he authorized to issue, for instance? That ‘nevertheless’ is telling, however, since it indicates that he felt entitled to conceal some of his enterprises from the eyes of his masters. That was the last XX Committee meeting he attended.

Rear-Admiral John Godfrey

The role of Rear-Admiral Godfrey in this charivari is very peculiar. It will be recalled that he argued strongly for Bevan’s taking over the Chairmanship of the XX Committee – a position that Bevan did not want, as he may have had other ideas by then. Liddell had had to explain to Godfrey why the XX Committee was not ready for full-scale military deception. His Diary entry of August 26 describes how he outlined to an astonished Donaldson (the Director of Military Intelligence), accompanied by Montagu, why Bevan should not be Chairman, and how the transmission of deception messages might harm the DA network. The outcome was that Donaldson collaborated with Liddell on a letter to Godfrey explaining why his idea would not work.

The next time that Godfrey appears in the Diary is on September 17, where the following entry appears:

            T.A.R. and I went over to congratulate the D.N.I. on his promotion to Vice-Admiral and to give him one of the POGO B/E notes and a clock fuse. Rather I fear with my tongue in my cheek, I thanked him for all the help that he had given us in connection with the Twenty Committee. He seemed pleased and said that he was deeply touched.

Why ‘tongue in cheek’? The comment has several overtones. As background clarification, I first cite Godfrey’s entry in the Dictionary of National Biography:

            Godfrey’s insistence that intelligence must adopt a critical, sceptical and scientific approach and present its findings without fear or favour had led to early clashes with (Sir) Winston Churchill and, by mid-1942, his uncompromising and at times abrasive attitude had aroused the hostility of his colleagues on the joint intelligence committee who appealed to the Chiefs of Staff for his removal. The first sea lord, Admiral Sir Dudley Pound, although he had only recently extended Godfrey’s appointment and approved his exceptional promotion to vice-admiral on the active list (September 1942), informed him that he would be relieved as soon as a successor could be found, a decision considered by many, including the historian Stephen Roskill, to have been both ill-judged and unjust.

So what was going on here?

‘Mid-1942’ is distressingly vague, but the first conclusion might be that Godfrey’s days were already numbered by the time that John Bevan took over, and all the frantic planning for OVERTHROW began. Historians have speculated over exactly why Godfrey was fired. Michael S. Goodman, in his Official History of the JIC, relegates to an Endnote in his Conclusions chapter a statement that his colleagues on the JIC prevailed upon the Chairman Cavendish-Bentinck to have him removed, with Pound performing the deed. David O’Keefe implies in One Day in August that Godfrey had to take the rap for the disastrous Dieppe Raid in August 1942, but has privately echoed to me the Goodman thesis. Is it possible that Godfrey challenged Churchill one time too many when the irregular TWIST Committee was set up?

The idea that it was Churchill behind Godfrey’s sacking is echoed in the work of another historian, Patrick Beesly. In his 1977 study of the Admiralty’s Operational Intelligence Centre during the war, Very Special Intelligence, he describes Godfrey’s challenging the Prime Minister’s estimates of U-Boats destroyed and his assessment of future strengths of the fleet, with Churchill trying to have Godfrey (and his ally Talbot) silenced. Beesly writes (p 36):

            As for Godfrey, this was not the only brush he was to have with Winston, and may well have been one of the reasons for the astounding, not to say shameful, lack of any recognition of his immense services during the war, and omission which was, incidentally, deeply resented by every member of the Intelligence Division.

Thus the stories of Godfrey’s failure to be a team-player on the JIC may have been a canard put out to conceal the true reasons for his demise.

Liddell’s sophistical message of congratulation to Godfrey suggests to me two things: first, that he knew about the firing, and was not sorry to see Godfrey go, but also, that he may have accepted that the D.N.I. had genuinely the best interests of operational deception at heart, but did not want to recognize that openly. For it is easy to conclude that Liddell was the Villain here, and Godfrey was the serious intelligence officer who was searching for a way to convert what the XX Committee had built into a more relevant force in the military deception game. His method of doing that was to encourage Bevan to take it over: Liddell and Masterman saw that as a threat rather than as an opportunity.

The behaviour of Liddell was quite abject. He had obviously been targeted by Dansey, and maybe Menzies, and had been convinced that engaging SOE and MI6 agents and operatives in a deception game that was complementary to what the XX Committee was doing, without the disciplines of his B1A team, was a sensible strategy. He resorted to the weak argument that the XX Committee was too involved with counter-espionage (i.e. detecting other attempts by the Abwehr to insert spies into Britain) when that battle had already been won. The XX Committee was ready to take on tasks more vital to military deception, but for some reason Liddell funked it.

It is evident that he was outgunned by Menzies. At a meeting of the W Board on September 24, Menzies, with Cowgill’s assistance behind the scenes, made a play to diminish MI5’s role in deception. When Liddell stressed how his boss, Petrie, would strongly resist if the DA network were threatened by being forced to put inappropriate information through it, Menzies riposted that ‘he would put his foot down if certain action by the Twenty Committee did not meet with his approval’ (this from Liddell’s Diary entry). “It was now clear however what would happen if C’s interests and ours were in conflict”, Liddell added. Menzies tried to undermine the raison d’être of MI5’s creature, drawing attention to the fact that the ‘Twenty Committee had no charter’, also using as an excuse for his criticism the fact that Godfrey’s proposal that Bevan become chairman had been rejected. 

These journal observations are confirmed by the official minutes, where Menzies expressed some outrage that MI5 had unjustly received much more recognition than had MI6 in the setting up of the XX Committee. A handwritten annotation declares the fact of the XX Committee’s lacking a charter, and the desirability of creating one. That was a scandalous admission by Menzies; after all, he was the senior intelligence chief who had presided over the W Board for almost two years, and if anyone was responsible, it was he. Donaldson tried to smooth over the dispute, but the die was cast. The XX Committee became a unit for supervising MI5’s B1A alone from then on.

And then – as if it were an aside – a casual minute is recorded as follows:

            Col Bevan mentioned that he had instituted a sub-Committee consisting of Major Robertson, Lt. Cdr. Montagu, Major Foley, and Lionel Hale [of SOE, but not specifically identified!]  to discuss the working out of certain cover plans from the aspect of getting them over to the enemy through double agents, rumour, etc.

It was all delightfully vague, but clearly well-intentioned and honourable. The Board nodded.

A handwritten addition to the minute ran: “This appeared to raise no difficulties”.

Thus Liddell – alongside the other MI5 officers involved, such as Robertson, Masterman and Blunt (!) – severely let down the security considerations of ‘double cross’ when they allowed the TWIST Committee to operate without proper oversight. OVERTHROW may have been enabled entirely through XX Committee DAs (as Howard claimed, but not Cave Brown), but TWIST was not dismantled in December, as a ‘small committee’ focused on a single ‘large-scale operation’. Moreover, if the TRIPLEX papers can be trusted, it had as many members as the XX Committee. We know (from Robertson’s careless comments in April 1943) that it took on a life of its own after the successful OVERTHROW deception. The TWIST Committee was not dismantled until its atrocious lapses became known to the Chiefs of Staff. And those lapses primarily involved SOE.

6. SOE, the Chiefs of Staff, and Churchill:

The SOE Plaque

Since SOE was an upstart para-military organisation, while MI6 was an established intelligence-gathering unit, one might expect the Chiefs of Staff to have shown more interest in the activities of the former. One might also wonder whether their attention span was broad enough to keep up with what SOE was doing during 1942. Both these suppositions are probably true: the Chiefs of Staff were strong on strategy but negligent on tactics. As the overambitious plans for re-entry into Europe started to gel in early 1942, the Chiefs found the time to consider what SOE’s role should be, and to issue a careful directive on May 12, 1942. The document was titled S.O.E. Collaboration in Operations on the Continent, and the careful wording thus clearly excluded independent action. It should be pointed out, however, that the paper (in CAB 80/62) introduces the topic by stating that the War Cabinet ‘has approved that plans and preparations should proceed without delay for Anglo-US operations in western Europe in 1942 and 1943 [my italics]’. Thus a series of raids were planned for the summer of 1942, leading to ‘a large-scale descent [sic!] on western Europe in the spring of 1943’. Clause 3 ran as follows:

            SOE is required to conform with the general plan by organizing and co-ordinating action by patriots in the occupied countries at all stages. Particular care is to be taken to avoid premature large-scale rise of patriots.

And Clause 5 described the kinds of subversive and disruptive activities that paramilitary organisations should perform, carefully framed as planned to occur as part of the Co-operation During The Initial Assault.

The instructions themselves are very clear: the suggestion of a timetable was, however, dangerously misleading. The Chiefs of Staff were well aware of the terrible reprisals that would take place if uncoordinated acts of sabotage or assassination were undertaken, and were thus careful to issue directives that the use of militias would have to be restrained until the timing were right. Colonel Gubbins knew this: as Director of Operations for SOE, he had disseminated, as early as April 1941, the following statement:

            In conquered and occupied territories the eventual aim is to provoke an armed rising against the invader at the appropriate moment. It cannot, however, be made too clear that in total warfare a premature rising is not only foredoomed to failure, but that the reprisals engendered will be of such drastic, ferocious and all-embracing nature that the backbone of the movement will probably be broken beyond healing. A national uprising against the Axis is a card which usually can only be played once  . . . . It is thus essential not only that these subterranean movements should be supported by us, but also that they should be sufficiently under our control to ensure that they do not explode prematurely. (from HS 8/272: reproduced in Olivier Wieviorka’s The Resistance in Western Europe, pp 33-34)

‘A card that can only be played once’: very solemn and authoritative words. Gubbins would refine and reinforce this philosophy in North-West Africa in early 1943. Yet an incipient problem can be identified: if the secret militias were substantively equipped with arms in the expectation of an early assault by professional forces, what would happen if that assault were delayed – from 1942 to 1943, and then to 1944? And how and when would the suitable candidate militia-men and -women be trained and kept at the ready? The enthusiasm of the secret armies had to be maintained (maybe a manageable problem), and the cache of dropped weapons had to be concealed from the Gestapo (a far more challenging task). And it is evident from other records of SOE activity that Gubbins’s instructions did not always percolate smoothly to all departments. Charles de Gaulle was a constant thorn, demanding more arms be shipped to the French paramilitary forces, and the Communists (who constituted a large section of the secret armies) were, in receiving their instructions from Moscow, far less scrupulous over the horror of reprisals, and were encouraged to engage in murderous attacks against Nazi officials.

Sir Alan Brooke was conscious of this policy, and obviously supported it. He had been appointed Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff in March 1942, and he took an active interest in the work of SOE, meeting with Gubbins and discussing with him how subversive operations in France might support the eventual landing. (The two had a close relationship: Gubbins had been Brooke’s personal staff officer at the Military Training Directorate from 1935 to 1938.) On June 2, he issued a memorandum that reinforced SOE’s role, and rejected calls for a Common Allied Staff to deal with subversive activities, claiming that ‘the present method by which S.O.E. works in close collaboration with our planning staff, and with the Chiefs of Staff Committee, enables activities in occupied Europe to be co-ordinated with the whole war plan’, words that should have come back to haunt him. But he had a lot on his plate and was otherwise engaged during the rest of 1942: he was spending the summer resisting multilateral efforts for a premature landing in France, and the pressures on him would endure for more than a year. On the other hand, one man reportedly kept a very close interest in SOE’s operations – Winston Churchill.

Churchill had avoided working with Hugh Dalton, the minister whom he had appointed with responsibility for SOE in 1940, partly because he disliked Dalton’s socialist ambitions for Europe, but also because he resented the booming lectures that the Labour man delivered to him. Dalton was, however, replaced by Lord Selborne in February 1942. Selborne, by subtly keeping Churchill informed of SOE’s achievements, renewed the Prime Minister’s interest in the exploits of SOE agents. Churchill was also enthused by the appearance of John Steinbeck’s The Moon Is Down, an inspiring novel about resistance in Norway, which he read in late May 1942. These were exactly the type of adventurous enterprises that fired him up, although such picaresque ideas sometimes did more harm than good, as Sir Alan Brooke’s diaries constantly remind us. Selborne tried to talk him down, reminding him of the Gubbins doctrine. The Chiefs of Staff noted Selborne’s rebuff, namely that ‘scattering weapons and charges from the air for franc-tireur use  . . . would lead to reprisals, and is therefore only recommended to coincide with an Allied invasion of the Continent and to enable saboteurs to cut railway lines of communication’. Yet Churchill’s enthusiasm could not be extinguished completely.

Moreover, another stronger bond was built. In Churchill & Secret Service David Stafford emphasises that John Bevan and the Prime Minster enjoyed a very close relationship. This account is probably trustworthy, despite the fact that Stafford’s employment of the facts is occasionally a bit wayward, and his use of sources is questionable. For instance, he suggests that the LCS was set up only in 1942, and that Bevan was its first head. (This is a pardonable error, as the unit was officially named the LCS only in June 1942, as I explained earlier.) The JIC had approved the new unit, to replace the Inter-Services Security Board, on October 9, 1941, and Stanley was appointed a few days later. The Chiefs of Staff were slow to recognize the LCS, and issued their first directive to it at the same time it formally received its name.

Stafford also refers to Operations JUPITER and SLEDGEHAMMER as being the deception operations undertaken to deflect attention from TORCH, when it was in fact OVERTHROW that superseded SLEDGEHAMMER. And he uses as his source for the claim that Churchill and Bevan ‘cooked up deception plots in late-night sessions over brandy’ (the LCS offices resided in the Cabinet Office complex) to Bodyguard of Lies by Anthony Cave Brown, not always the most reliable of chroniclers. Nevertheless, it is certain that Churchill had a much more collegial relationship with Bevan than he did with Stanley, and Bevan’s appointment may not have been coincidental with Churchill’s new-found enthusiasm for SOE derring-do.

Thus Churchill, with his revivified enthusiasm for maybe violent subversive activity, and unable to forget his private commitments to Stalin, perhaps became too close to the activities of SOE. In any case, he was well primed for some intense clashes with the Chiefs of Staff in the second half of 1942.

7. War Cabinet Meetings: June-December 1942

Despite the fact that the War Cabinet had agreed on June 11 that ‘we should not attempt any major landing on the Continent this year, unless we intended to stay there’ (a motion that Churchill himself proposed), Churchill continued to push his Chiefs of Staff about SLEDGEHAMMER, ROUNDUP and JUPITER.  On June 15, he issued a memorandum on the necessity of engaging ROUNDUP with vigour. On June 21, he had a meeting with Roosevelt at the White House (with Brooke present), at which it was declared that ‘the United States and Great Britain should be prepared to act offensively [in Europe] in 1942’.

The Chiefs of Staff invited Paget (C.-in-C., Home Forces), Douglas (A.C.C.-in-C., Fighter Command, and Ramsay (C.-in.-C., Naval Command) to comment on Churchill’s memorandum of June 15. They were politely rather dismissive of their Prime Minister’s ideas, but did come up with a rather alarming conclusion about the use of ‘Patriot Forces’. It ran as follows:

            The most suitable methods of raising the patriot forces in FRANCE and making use of their great potential value are under investigation in conjunction with S.O.E, and it is too early yet to state what can be achieved. It is obvious, however, that the deeper and quicker the penetration of the main assaults the greater will be the extent and value to us of the risings. Furthermore, judicious handling of the patriots may turn the diversions considered in paragraph 11 into large scale risings which will become a serious embarrassment to the enemy. In both cases, however, arms and equipment must be supplied in large quantities if the patriots are to be of any real assistance. For rapid distribution, such stores must be brought over in motor transport, the carriage of which, as we have shown already, is a serious problem owing to the shortage of landing craft.

The trio appeared to be unaware of policy concerning patriot armies. Furthermore, there appears to have been no attempt to disabuse them of their misunderstanding. Yet, if the appeal that ‘arms and equipment must be supplied in large quantities’ was picked up, it would have contributed considerably to the later confusion. This theme was reinforced by General de Gaulle, who wrote to Churchill on July 25, stressing that, while guerrilla activity needed to be combined with military operations, it was ‘essential that arms and equipment destined for a certain number of large French formations should be stocked up in advance and, when necessary, placed at the disposal of the French High Command’.

Meanwhile, Stalin continued to pester Churchill about the lack of intentions to open a ‘second front’ – by which he always meant an assault on NW Europe, not a Mediterranean excursion. On August 13, he wrote:

            It is easy to grasp that the refusal of the British Government to open a second front in 1942 inflicts a moral blow to the whole of Soviet public opinion, which calculates on the creation of a Second Front, and that complicates the situation of the Red Army at the front and prejudices the plan of the Soviet Command.

The idea that there was such an entity as ‘Soviet public opinion’ that was constantly ruminating on such issues is of course ridiculous, but it does not appear that Churchill took the bait. It was part of a pattern of behaviour that would later assume that Stalin had pacific impulses, but had to deal with pressures from more belligerent members of the Politburo. Churchill tried to divert the challenge by indicating that TORCH was in fact the second front that Stalin needed.

Thereafter TORCH did indeed dominate the discussion. SLEDGEHAMMER and ROUNDUP were replaced by OVERTHROW and CAVENDISH. In September, SOE was given a highly focused task of sabotaging Belgian Railways; the Belgian government-in-exile complained, but the Chiefs of Staff overrode it. The references in War Cabinet minutes to offensive strategies in North-West Europe start to shift to a time-frame of late 1943 and 1944. JUPITER was challenged because of problems in exploiting Russian aerodromes in the Murmansk area. TORCH itself was postponed until late November.

This new reality was well articulated in a joint US/GB strategy paper dated October 30. It declared that only the Russian army could beat the Germans on land, and that operations in 1943 were thus conditioned by the need to help Russia [the Soviet Union]. It thus almost completely discounted any major land assault in 1943, but recognized that, as part of the assistance to the Soviet Union, both small and large raids in North-Western Europe would be necessary. It then tried to restore policy to the accepted norms, under the section on ‘Subversive Action’:

            The general factors governing the use of subversive action and of the secret patriot armies are: –

a) Fear of reprisals felt by the inhabitants of occupied countries;

b) No second opportunity of using this weapon is likely to arise, at any rate for a considerable time;

c) If the organisation is not used, it may deteriorate.

There is no prospect of setting alight these organisations in western Europe on a big scale, in the absence of an Allied invasion. Unless, therefore, some major disaster, such as imminent Russian defeat, appears likely, it will be better to adhere to a steady and gradually increasing programme of sabotage in this area.

At least there was an attempt to tackle the problem of eager patriot forces expecting a major assault that was not going to happen soon. But Churchill had been fomenting again. In a cable to Roosevelt, dated October 24, he wrote:

            I gained the impression at the Conference that ‘ROUND-UP’ was not only delayed or impinged upon by ‘TORCH” but was to be regarded as definitely off for 1943. This will be another tremendous blow for Stalin. Already Maisky is asking questions about the Spring offensive. I understood that the words of our agreement stood, namely, that all preparations should go forward in a balanced way as fast as possible. Under all circumstances it is indispensable to hold the Germans pinned on the Channel coast of France.

Churchill again showed how intimidated he was by Maisky and Stalin. Later in the message, he referred to ‘imperative’ Russian demands, a gross concession of power. “To sum up”, he concluded, “my persisting anxiety is Russia . . .”

Churchill picked up the theme again in November, reminding the Chiefs of Staff of ROUNDUP, and the ‘solemn undertaking’ that it should begin on April 1, 1943. Stalin was invoked again. “We have given Stalin to understand that the great attack on the Continent will come in 1943  . . “, and “I cannot imagine what the Russians will say when they realize it [‘that we have pulled in our horns to an almost extraordinary extent’]”. He challenged the Chiefs to come up with facts and figures that would show why ROUNDUP was not possible in 1943. They resisted: it came down to a shortage of landing-craft. They realised that the ‘invasion’ of Europe would ‘do more than anything else to help Russia’, but declared in a Strategy Paper of November 24 that

            . . . at the present time North-West Europe may be likened to a powerful fortress, which can be assaulted only after adequate artillery preparation. To make the assault before the time is ripe would be suicide for ourselves and of no assistance to Russia. Our aim must be to intensify the preliminary bombardment, for which purpose Anglo-American air forces will take the place of artillery.

Nuisance raids, and some more on the Dieppe scale, would take place, but that was it.

On November 11 in the House of Commons Churchill had had to explain to his opposition the lack of progress on the second front, where he awkwardly attributed the delays to lack of landing-craft, to an (exaggerated) estimate of the strength of German forces, and the weather. (Stalin did not have to endure such performances with any ‘opposition’, of course.) The premier rather ingenuously stated that his commitments to Stalin about the second front had in fact caused the Germans to hold extra divisions in France. He temporarily staved off the pressures, but they then resurged. He was caught in an ungainly dance in which he alternately gavotted with his political opponents, with the Americans, with Stalin, and with the Chiefs of Staff.

The strategy paper thus predictably provoked the Prime Minister, who responded on November 29, again referring to a telegram he had received from Stalin: “The paragraph [11] is a practical abandonment of any resolute effort to form a second front in 1943”, and he used the changing fortunes on the Russian Front to suggest that an attack either in the Channel or in the Bay of Biscay should be planned for August 1943. The Chiefs dug their heels in, responding the next day:

            It is certain that our resources in manpower, shipping and landing craft are wholly inadequate to build up TORCH, re-open the Mediterranean for military traffic, and carry out the operations which we contemplate in the Mediterranean next spring and summer, in addition to ROUNDUP in July, 1943.

They stated that the USA/GB force would have only 14 divisions available to fight the 40 German divisions in France, and they subtly reminded Churchill that the War Cabinet memorandum of July 24 had resolved that the commitment to TORCH had rendered ‘ROUNDUP in all probability impracticable of successful execution in 1943’.

Churchill would not give up, and the wrangle continued through December. He invoked Roosevelt’s and Marshall’s desires to see their troops in the UK used; he threatened the Chiefs with Stalin’s continued displeasure. Churchill quoted from his recent letter from Stalin that ran, in part: “I hope that this does not mean you have changed your mind with regard to your promise given in Moscow to open a second front in Western Europe in the spring of 1943. ” On December 3, the Prime Minister was forced to disclose to Sir Alan Brooke that, in Moscow, he had made a promise to Stalin about the Second Front in 1943 when Brooke was not in the room: Brooke was not impressed. Churchill had dug himself a hole: Stalin had to remind him, in another letter dated December 6, that he had not replied to his inquiry about the second front.

The Prime Minister could not get the ‘Second Front in 1943’ notion out of his head, and he laid out a new timetable that would culminate in an assault in August and September. Clark Kerr, the Ambassador in Moscow (like Stafford Cripps, too often a mouthpiece for Stalin to the UK rather than vice versa), came to Churchill’s side, warning that Stalin might seek a peace deal with Hitler if the Second Front did not occur in 1943. The Chiefs of Staff riposted, and claimed that a 1943 ROUNDUP would be a ‘new conception’ for the USA, but were then blindsided by a report that the US Chiefs of Staff now wanted to suspend TORCH in favour of ROUNDUP!

Thus the year ended in disharmony. Churchill was at loggerheads with his Chiefs of Staff, and a rift had occurred between the Chiefs of Staff in Great Britain and the United States. A final strategy paper of December 31 laid out the facts as the Chiefs saw them. The Russian war effort was still paramount. A fruitless assault on Northwest Europe would be disastrous. If an attack were planned for 1943, it would have to take place by September, but, in reality, not enough divisions would be available, and amphibious operations in the Mediterranean would have to be abandoned. On the other hand (so the Chiefs asserted), continued pressure in the Mediterranean would give Russia the relief it sought, and supplies would continue to be sent to Russia. The Chiefs did not discount completely a renewed SLEDGEHAMMER in August or September, but said that it would require clear evidence of a distinctive weakening of Axis forces and morale in order to be considered. In his last missive of the year to Stalin, dated December 29, Churchill declined to respond to the Generalissimo’s question directly, and temporized by indicating that he would discuss the issue with Roosevelt when they met in the New Year at Casablanca. Brooke noted in his diary that he thought he had at last swung his boss around to his point of view.

What the Strategy Paper did not cover was the role of patriot armies in France. Instead it hinted at the need for Increased Subversive Activities in the Balkans, Corsica and Italy. France and the expectant armies received nary a mention. Meanwhile, John Bevan, on December 6, had a paper on deception policy for 1943 approved by the Joint Staff Planners, one that gave considerable weight to a build-up of forces in the United Kingdom for an assault on France. On December 14, the Chiefs of Staff had appointed an ad hoc committee on equipment for patriot forces, ‘to review and report on the quantities of equipment required and its method of distribution’. On December 22, Colin Gubbins was promoted to Acting Major-General. Bevan, newly promoted to Colonel, had gained permission to visit the USA in order to confer with his American counterparts, and arrived in Washington on December 26. By this time, Henri Déricourt had joined SOE, and was preparing for his first drop into France in January 1943. The stage was set for the disastrous first six months of 1943.

8. Conclusions:

* The XX Committee was dysfunctional and asymmetrical. It did not have a proper charter, and its supervision of MI6’s so-called ‘double-agents’ was non-existent.

* MI6 did not understand the fundamentals of recruiting, managing and securing DAs.

* The W Board fumbled its job in several ways: failing to set up a proper charter for the XX Committee, neglecting its oversight role, and then not assuming the responsibility for supplying the channels to support deception projects as the latter moved from defensive to offensive purposes.

* MI6, in the persons of Dansey and Menzies, grabbed at the opportunity to have John Bevan of the London Controlling Section supervise its deception work.

* Liddell of MI5, who had been suborned by MI6 over the Ursula Kuczynski business, was likewise easily manipulated to support the new TWIST Committee, and ignored the security aspects of double-cross and the realities of B1A.

* The Director of Naval Intelligence, Godfrey, alone understood that the potential for deception in the XX Committee needed to be allied with stronger service connections, and lost his job for his pains.

* John Bevan, as Controller of the LCS, frustrated with the capabilities of the XX Committee, gained the support of the DCM, Davidson, to set up his pirate TWIST Committee as a mechanism for passing disinformation through SOE and MI6.

* The Twist Committee was reputedly authorized as a one-time initiative to assist the OVERTHROW deception plan, but endured beyond that project without supervision. Bevan would sometimes execute his plans before they had been approved.

* The Chiefs of Staff displayed a strong interest in the high-level objectives and strategy for SOE, but were negligent in following-up on tactics and details.

* SOE and the Chiefs of Staff agreed that insurrections by patriot armies constituted a singular opportunity to be undertaken only when supporting conventional military assault forces.

* Churchill woefully mismanaged Stalin, and his unauthorized personal commitments to the dictator permanently soured and undermined his relationships with the Chiefs of Staff.

* Churchill’s personal interest in SOE probably influenced its operations unduly, contrary to the instructions given it by the Chiefs of Staff. He may have engineered Gubbins’s advancement to SOE Chief.

* The XX Committee, the future poster-child for D-Day deception, was relegated to a minor role in military deception planning at the end of 1942.

* The acquiescence in the activities of the TWIST Committee, and subsequent silence over them, reflects badly on Masterman, Robertson, and their senior officers in MI5.

* The studied avoidance by the authorized historians (Jeffery, Andrew, Howard, Hesketh) of discussing these issues is shameful but utterly in character. 

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Dericourt’s Double Act

‘Secret War’ DVD

1. Introduction

2. Déricourt’s Enigmatic Role

3. The ‘Double-Agent’ Examined

4. Déricourt’s Possible Status?

5. The Fragmentation of MI5

6. Déricourt’s Recruitment by SOE

7. The Passage to Gibraltar

8. Déricourt’s True Status

9. The Aftermath, and Research to Follow

10. Postscripts

Introduction

In last month’s bulletin (The Prosper Disaster), I surveyed the historiography of the fortunes of the Prosper network in France, drawing largely on Robert Marshall’s All the King’s Men and Francis J. Suttill’s PROSPER: Major Suttill’s French Resistance Network. These observations should be viewed alongside my earlier commentary on Patrick Marnham’s recent War in the Shadows, which provides a deep analysis of the archival material available and which inspired this current round of research. (See Claude Dansey’s Mischief, and Let’s Twist Again.)

I now turn to providing my own analysis of the records at The National Archives (at least, some of them, since I am largely reliant on gaining photographs of undigitized files) to explore the circumstances of Déricourt’s recruitment. In this project, I find that I deviate somewhat from the conclusions to which Marshall (who did not have access to archival material) and Marnham came, and I shall take pains to explain why I think some of their conclusions –  but not the major one concerning deception and betrayal of the Prosper circuit –  may be flawed. The most controversial aspect of this case is the status of Déricourt as a ‘double-agent’, a term that has regrettably been overused and abused in much of the literature, and I shall explore that controversy first before turning to my inspection of the files themselves.

Early next year I shall provide a deep analysis of War Cabinet records from the first half of 1943, in order to clarify some of the bizarre decisions and activities that took place to support Allied deception exercises in Northern France as a prelude to the OVERLORD landings of 1944.

Episode 10 of ‘Secret War’

I recommend an episode of the Athena series ‘Secret War’, released on DVD in 2011, for a vivid recapitulation of the Déricourt affair. Episode 10, titled ‘The French Triple Agent’ (thus designated by the editors because he worked for SOE, SIS and the Gestapo) mixes some engrossing historical footage with some unmelodramatised re-enactments, and includes much provocative commentary by M. R. D. Foot, as well as some astonishing clips of Buckmaster’s TV interview in 1958 by John Freeman, of which I should have liked to see much more. The lessons are, however, inconclusive, and the narrative suggests that SIS learned of Déricourt’s contacts with the Gestapo only in April 1943. While pointing clearly at Buckmaster’s incompetence, and Dansey’s devilry, the programme evasively steps away from its early suggestion that a deception activity for COCKADE was behind the betrayal of the Prosper network, and it makes no mention of The London Controlling Section, Bevan, Double-Cross, the Twist Committee, or the details of the critical Operation STARKEY.

Déricourt’s Enigmatic Role 

“An SIS ‘spotter’ at LRC quickly identified Déricourt as a German agent and turned him.” (Patrick Marnham, in War in the Shadows)

“Throughout 1943 Déricourt had been run as a XX Committee double-agent by SIS as part of STARKEY.” (Patrick Marnham, in War in the Shadows)

“If anyone starts accusing one of my organisers of being a double agent  . . . all work in the field between us and the agent is likely to be suspended without any guarantee of a satisfactory decision from security one way or the other.” (Maurice Buckmaster, in unsent letter to Mockler-Ferryman, 15.2.44)

“In point of fact the arrests which F Section circuits suffered from time to time did not at all correspond with Lemaire’s [Déricourt’s] potential as a double agent.” (Maurice Buckmaster on 27.7.44)

“Christmann says that Déricourt could have been one of Britain’s most brilliant double-agents.” (Jean Overton Fuller, in Double Webs)

“He [Déricourt] said that on 2 June 1943 he was visited by two Germans . . . He accepted the ‘Doctor’s’ offer to work for the Germans. . . .  From then on ‘Gilbert’ became a double agent. But he insisted at his trial that he worked honestly for the British, and only ‘feigned to work for the Germans’.” (E.H. Cookridge, in Inside SOE)

“The mistakes and failings of the British agents and their French colleagues are generally characterised as human weaknesses not treachery, although such a word seems applicable to the double agent Henri Déricourt.” (Mark Seaman, in Foreword to Francis J. Suttill’s Prosper)

“Such a proposition does not stand up to detailed examination in the two related cases cited most often: the attempts in 1943 to persuade the enemy that a second front was imminent, and the duplicity of Henri Déricourt, SOE’s air operations controller, and maybe a double agent run by SIS against the SD.” (Nigel West, in Secret War)

This selection of quotations from the literature on Déricourt should immediately provoke the following questions: “Was Déricourt originally recruited by the Germans, and then ‘turned’ by the Allies? Or was he an agent of SOE, whose past connections with German pilots led him to be ‘turned’ by the Sicherheitsdienst, and thus used against the Allies?” And the unavoidable conclusion must be that no one really knows. Moreover, once a recruit for one service starts talking to the other side, no intelligence or counter-intelligence agency can really know where the individual’s loyalties lie, and it must be unsure of its ‘ownership’ of him or her. The claims made in these statements include some troublesome contradictions.

The Royal Victorian Patriotic School (LRC)

In War in the Shadows, Patrick Marnham presents a bold assertion that Déricourt, in September 1942, was identified at the London Reception Centre (LRC) at Wandsworth as a German agent and then ‘turned’ (p 264). He states that the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) had already recruited him, paid him handsomely, and given him his BOE.48 moniker (p 263), before he left Vichy France. He describes Déricourt as ‘a Gestapo agent unmasked on arrival in England and sent back into France to work within and betray a circuit  . . .’ ( p 276). On the other hand, E. H. Cookridge echoes the claims that Déricourt himself made – that he was a loyal British agent until he was visited on June 2, 1943, by two Germans ‘whom he had known before the war as Lufthansa pilots’. After the war, when he was charged with treason by the French DST (Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire), Déricourt claimed that he had no choice but to accept the Gestapo demand. Obviously one of these assertions must be wrong – maybe both. They are worth analyzing in more detail.

Marnham, by stating that Déricourt was ‘turned’, overtly suggests that the Frenchman’s then current allegiance must have been to the Nazis. (Marnham’s citation of Keith Jeffery in his Endnote as the source of this assertion is slightly misleading: the authorised historian of MI6 merely confirms that the service had ‘spotters’ at the LRC, and does not mention the Déricourt case at all.) Marnham does not explain, however, how the MI5 officer(s) interrogating him knew that he was a German agent already (unless Déricourt himself said so), nor by which threats, or ideological conversion process, Déricourt was convinced to switch his loyalties, or, even more importantly, how SOE knew he was not bluffing when he declared his commitment to his new masters. Marnham then goes on to say that, as a consequence of this process, Déricourt was run as a double-agent by the XX (Double-Cross) Committee as part of the STARKEY deception operation. (Marnham rather confuses his argument when he claims that Déricourt became a ‘double agent’ only when he contacted Boemelburg, i.e. by virtue of his first mission, shortly after his arrival in France in January 1943: see p 251 of War in the Shadows.)

That claim concerning Déricourt’s disposition, however, would imply that the XX Committee (or the TWIST Committee, that ran alongside it for a while) had every confidence that Déricourt would reliably carry disinformation with him overseas to his erstwhile German masters without revealing to them what had happened. Moreover, the committee would have to assume that the Gestapo believed that Déricourt had not switched his loyalties, but had infiltrated the British intelligence structures under false pretences. Yet the more seriously that British intelligence (in any department) considered that Déricourt might have been a German agent, the more cautious they should have been in turning him loose in France. For SOE/SIS had no control over Déricourt’s movements, or what he said, while he was in France, and the Germans, correspondingly, must have wondered how Déricourt had succeeded so easily in gaining the trust of his new employers, and whether the information he carried back to them was reliable or not.

Cookridge, on the other hand, quotes the trial transcript of the Permanent Military Tribunal at Reuilly Barracks from June 1948. Here Déricourt stated that the Germans told him that they knew all about his activities, his arrival by parachute and his journeys to England, and that they threatened to shoot him unless he agreed to work for them, also threatening to harm his wife should he abscond to England for good. Déricourt told his French interrogators that he continued to work loyally for the British, and only ‘feigned to work for the Germans’. “He never gave the Germans information which could have endangered his comrades”, echoed Cookridge, showing some naivety, and an unawareness of Déricourt’s betrayal of information. Yet the Gestapo was playing a similarly speculative game. They also lacked complete control over Déricourt, and, by letting him return to England, must have admitted to themselves that he might reveal the conversations and threats to his British employers, and that he might thus bring tainted information with him on his return (or even dispassionately betray his wife). Theirs was a far less dangerous enterprise, however: they were on home turf (if not native soil). They had infiltrated some of the SOE circuits already, and Déricourt was a dispensable associate whom they would manipulate as long as it suited them, but then abandon or dispose of if necessary.

Hugo Bleicher

Moreover, Déricourt was surely lying. When the Gestapo officer Hugo Bleicher was interrogated in July 1945, he stated that GILBERT had been working for the Sicherheitsdienst for some time before April 1943, and certainly during the period of the negotiations for the release of ROGER [Bardet] from the Sicherheitsdienst (see KV 2/830). Whatever the details were, this was a poor way to run a railroad, let alone a penetrative intelligence organization, as the conflicting expostulations of Buckmaster, given above, affirm. First, the Section F chief threatens the shut-down of the whole set-up should any of his officers be shown to be a double-agent (presumably abetting the cause of the enemy) and then reminds his audience of the opportunity of running Déricourt as a ‘double agent’ (presumably to help the Allied cause).  Here was an officer out of his depth. Yet the mythology of the ‘double agent’ has persisted, and much of the blame can be laid at the feet of John Masterman.

The ‘Double-Agent’

“In this regard it is most important to remember that we are apt to think of a ‘double agent’ in a way different to [sic] that in which the double agent regards himself. We think of a double agent as a man who, though supposed to be an agent of Power A by that power, is in fact working in the interests and under the direction of Power B. But in fact the agent, especially if he has started work before the war, is often trying to do work for both A and B, and to draw emoluments from both.” (J. C. Masterman)

“It is the modus operandi of all double agents to provide thin material to begin with, coupled with an undertaking to deliver the earth tomorrow.” (SOE officer Harry Sporborg, quoted by Robert Marshall)

“The concept of the double-agent is well enough known to readers of the literature of espionage; it is understood well enough that the authorised double-agent may be instructed or licensed by his own side to contact the enemy and play in semblance the part of a traitor, in order to gain knowledge of the enemy’s work such as he could scarcely obtain unless she became part of the enemy’s working machine; but it is so often asked what price he has to pay? The authorised double-agent who pays in good faith too dearly is not, therefore, a traitor, though of course such a double-agent may always turn real traitor, and the dividing line might be hard to draw.” (Jean Overton Fuller, in Double Webs)

“But who is to say that these [patriotism and loyalty] will not fade under torture and turn the most steadfast agent into the most dreaded of all espionage weapons, the double agent?” (Alcorn, No Bugles for Spies, 1-2)

“Double agents are spies who secretly transfer their allegiance to an enemy secret service which uses them to confuse its foes.” (M. R. D. Foot in the Oxford Companion to World War II)

“A double agent is a person who engages in clandestine activity for two intelligence services (or more in joint operations), who provides information about one or the other, and who is wittingly withholding significant information from one on the instructions of the other or is unwittingly manipulated by one so that significant information is withheld from the other service. Peddlers, fabricators, and others who do not perform a service for an intelligence organization, but only for themselves, are not agents at all, and therefore are not DAs.” (CIA Field Double Agent Guide, 1960)

“Dvoynik – a double agent: An agent who simultaneously cooperates with two or more intelligence services, concealing the fact from each of them.” (KGB Lexicon, edited by Vasiliy Mitrokhin)

“But even before the end of World War II the term ‘double agent’ was discontinued in favor of ‘controlled enemy agent’ in speaking of an agent who was entirely under our own control, capable of reporting to his original masters only as we allowed, so that he was entirely ‘single’ in his performance, and by no means ‘double’.” (Miles Copeland, in The Real Spy World)

‘Kim and Jim’ by Michael Holzman
‘Kim and Jim’ by Michael Holzman (back cover)

I have previously written at length about the phenomenon of so-called ‘double-agents’, and refer readers for a refresher to Double-Crossing the Soviets and The Mystery of the Undetected Radios, Part 8. I would change little in the analysis in the first piece, although I might change the description of ‘double-agents’ in the accompanying chart, and elsewhere use the terminology of ‘penetration agent’. My inspection of the terminology of ‘double agents’, ‘special agents’ and ‘controlled enemy agents’ in the second piece generally still holds good, I believe. Moreover, what I wrote about Philby is worth re-producing her, since Philby, the penetration agent and traitor, is often still irresponsibly described as a ‘double-agent’. One can go back to 1986, when Stewart Menzies’ wartime assistant Robert Cecil did so, in C’s War, through many incidences since then right up to the present day: for example, see the back-cover of Michael Holzman’s 2021 book, Kim and Jim, and frequently in the text of the book.  Such misrepresentations cause an enormous amount of confusion with the reading public.

Thus the closest analogy to the strategy of the special agents is what Kim Philby set out to do: infiltrate an ideological foe under subterfuge. But the analogy must not be pushed too far. Philby volunteered to work for an intelligence service of his democratic native country, with the goal of facilitating the attempts of a hostile, totalitarian system to overthrow the whole structure. The special agents were trying to subvert a different totalitarian organization that had invaded their country (or constituted a threat, in the case of GARBO) in order that liberal democracy should prevail. There is a functional equivalence, but not a moral one, between the two examples. Philby was a spy and a traitor: he was definitely not a ‘double agent’, even though he has frequently been called that.

One reason that this distinction is so important is that nearly all the so-called ‘double agents’ utilized by the British in the run-up to OVERLORD had not been ‘turned’. Most of them had infiltrated the Abwehr under false pretences, and then made their true allegiance known when they arrived in Britain. The exception was TATE, who had to be threatened, and kept under very close control until he underwent a real ideological conversion, his wireless equipment being operated by an MI5 impersonator borrowed from Army Signals. He was not completely trusted even in the summer of 1943, although MI5 believed that, if he had tried to escape to Germany, his previous minders would have killed him instantly, while he would have blown the whole XX Operation.

Problems experienced with other German spies provide evidence of the tradecraft challenges that MI5 faced. SUMMER had to be incarcerated and isolated after he attempted to escape. When Oswald Job, on an Abwehr mission to deliver money to DRAGONFLY, confessed, he was briefly considered for a XX role, but then had to be prosecuted – and executed. DRAGONFLY‘s operation had to be terminated because of the connection and exposure. Yet those persons who passed the tests were strictly not ‘controlled enemy agents’ either, since only the Abwehr believed that they were true Nazi agents working for the German intelligence service (and not all Abwehr officers agreed with that, as it happened.)

In a CIA review of Masterman’s Doublecross System in 1974, A. V. Knobelspiesse tried to clarify matters by explaining that the British actually maintained four categories of double agents in World War 2: a) the classic double, who might have been in contact with multiple agencies, and thus had to take control of his own operation; b) the double agent who was not in personal contact with the enemy service, but communicated solely through writing or wireless; c) the penetration agent, a variety of ‘double’ who worked exclusively against other intelligence services to gain information; and d) the special agent, a double used solely for planting (dis)information on the enemy, a ‘feeder’.

Yet this is still a muddle. The penetration agent is not a variety of a ‘double agent’, even though he or she may be a gross deceiver. In Category B, impersonation (of activity on a wireless set) was a critical ploy – used by the Abwehr to good effect, too, or sometimes by forcing the operator to transmit under fear of torture or death. (SOE’s Gilbert Norman, aka Archambauld, notoriously agreed to do so, but his security check, the technique for showing he was transmitting under pressure, was ignored by SOE in London, and he capitulated in despair.) Category D appears to be different from Category B by representing the fact of personal contact with the enemy, but it unfortunately uses the terminological preferences of Colonel Bevan, the head of the London Controlling Section, for classifying MI5’s ‘double agents’ (as I have reported before).

If an agent could reliably be deployed to deliver information to the enemy in person (such as Dusan Popov, aka Tricycle), he was not a ‘double’. Those French agents who were captured and threatened by the Nazis (with family members perhaps held hostage), and then reported on their comrades (such as Roger Bardet), however we might sympathize with their plight, were traitors, not double agents. Moreover, agents who had been identified – but not ‘turned’ – could be fed disinformation (‘chicken-feed’, or ‘barium meals’) if it suited the authorities to maintain them in place, rather than arresting them and thus taking them out of action. That was a completely different aspect of tradecraft. Throughout the archives of MI5’s B1a, officers such as ‘Tar’ Robertson stress, however, that, if the unit cannot control a potential ‘double agent’, or implicitly trust his or her patriotism, such a character should not be used for deception purposes.

The confusion has persevered: Nigel West’s Historical Dictionary of WWII Intelligence (2008) defines a double agent in the following terms: “An agent working for one organization may be said to have been turned into a ‘double agent’ when he or she accepts recruitment from an adversary and then knowingly supplies the original employer with false information.” This would appear to resemble Category D, but how the subject ‘knows’ whether the information being passed on is false or not is not explained. No wonder the publishers’ writers of blurbs for books on intelligence are confused.

Thus the actions and lore of the XX Committee had ramifications that went far beyond D-Day, and the notion that managing ‘double agents’ was simply another ruse out of the counter-intelligence playbook took hold, as if it were similar to the process of ‘rounding up the usual suspects’ or ‘bringing on the empty horses’. According to some accounts, James Angleton of the OSS/CIA became excited about the possibilities of passing disinformation to the Soviets after working closely with Kim Philby – but, who knows, perhaps Philby misled him deliberately in getting him to think that such ploys could be used advantageously in that fashion?

Histories of the CIA routinely misrepresent the lessons from the ‘successes’ of the XX Committee. Guy Liddell’s Diaries are littered with examples of Admiral Godfrey of Naval Intelligence dropping by after the war to chat to him about the Double-Cross Operation, in the hope that similar techniques might be used against the Russians. (But Liddell knew better.) In one of the more plausible passages in Spycatcher, Peter Wright describes the ridiculous attempts by MI5’s Graham Mitchell, in D Division, to emulate the wartime XX exploits with Russians and eastern European émigrés (pp 120-121). Michael Howard foolishly wrote a letter to the Times claiming that Anthony Blunt had been more usefully exploited (instead of being prosecuted) by letting him pass disinformation to Moscow. And so on.

M. R. D. Foot’s definition above is simply foolish, and the bizarre examples in his short entry show a mixture of traitorousness, duplicity, and misbegotten confidence in an informer. The later definitions emanating from the CIA and the KGB, however, start to show a much more distinct realism about the matter. The observation by Miles Copeland (who was charged with keeping a close eye on Philby in Beirut) probably reflects some retrospective imagination, but by the 1960s, the realities of dealing at arm’s length with agents who had been recruited with the intention of spreading disinformation to the Soviets had set in. On the other hand, the CIA field guide definition, more complex as it is, implies that the intelligence agency accurately knows what the ‘double agent’ is doing when he or she withholds information, or passes on disinformation. Since such transactions carry on unsupervised, how could the agency ever know whether its agent was drifting into the territory of peddler, fabricator, or, as is commonly defined, ‘trader’? And the CIA’s own officers continue to misrepresent policy. The CIA appointed an academic, Dr. David Robarge, to the position of Chief Historian in 2005, but his pronouncements since, in articles and interviews, shows that he also misunderstands how the Double-Cross Operation worked in WWII, and he continues to labour under the misapprehension that ‘turned’ agents become the ‘owned’ emissaries of the agency that turned them. [See, for instance, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pin7eqFxQg : this topic merits a deeper investigation at another time.]

Dr. David Robarge (CIA)

The KGB definition is much more hard-headed: the double agent is probably duping both his recruiters, and is inherently untrustworthy. When Kim Philby landed up in Moscow, he was prevented, despite his long track-record in spilling reams of information to the Kremlin, from seeing any secret information about KGB assets lest he somehow leak them back to MI6 in London. No one should be trusted.

The rules for handling agents with shifting loyalties might be summarized as follows:

1) Any agent who too readily switches his or her ideological or patriotic affiliations, or is easily bribable, should be distrusted, as he or she will probably betray any new allegiance;

2) Any agent who is persuaded to ‘turn’ through torture or by other threats will be resentful and vengeful, and will need to be watched carefully;

3) Any ‘turned’ agent deployed to carry disinformation to the enemy will need to be controlled closely, and unmonitored contact with the enemy should be avoided;

4) Any agent used for deception purposes should not know what is disinformation, lest he or she betray secrets under torture;

5) Any agent who claims to have escaped from the custody of an enemy organization should be very stringently interrogated;

6) Any agent detected to be working on behalf of more than one intelligence agency should be wound down, at a pace that fits the situation;

7) Agents on home territory who have to be ‘retired’ because of exposure or risks to other assets will have to be isolated, or otherwise severely dealt with;

8) Agents on foreign territory suspected of having being betrayed, or having been suborned by the enemy, should be isolated immediately, and contacts broken off.

It all reinforces the requirement for individual agents to be isolated, and not be aware of the broader connections of the ‘ring’. When Goronwy Rees ‘defected’ after the signing of the Nazi-Soviet pact, Guy Burgess wanted him killed because he knew too much. When Burgess and Maclean absconded, suspicions over Philby grew because he had harboured Burgess in Washington. The Prosper circuit was destroyed partly because it borrowed wireless-operators from other networks, and members socialised too freely. Yet espionage is a lonely job, and contacts with occupational ‘colleagues’ are often a big boost for morale.

Déricourt’s Possible Status?

Henri Dericourt

To return to Déricourt. When he arrived in the UK in September 1942, he could have had a variety of statuses, as a potential asset of British Intelligence, and a possible agent sent over by the Abwehr, or possibly by the Sicherheitsdienst (although the latter organization had no known procedures for infiltrating agents to Britain). Given that the XX Operation was just maturing at that time, it is educational to compare his status and profile with those of renowned real and potential ‘double-cross’ agents. So what was he?

Was he like TATE (Wulf Schmidt), who was a diehard Nazi, but who agreed to act as a controlled agent under threat of death, but eventually became an anti-Nazi because of what he learned about life in Britain?

Was he like SUMMER (Gósta Caroli), another diehard Nazi, who similarly agreed to act as a controlled agent, but tried to escape when he had the opportunity, and thus had to be incarcerated?

Was he like TRICYCLE (Dusan Popov), who claimed that he had got himself recruited by the Abwehr through deception, but whose true loyalties were to the Allies, and he was confidently trusted?

Was he like TREASURE (Lily Sergueiev), who similarly claimed that she had got herself recruited by the Abwehr, and was trusted until she showed alarming signs of torn allegiance and affront, and had to be dropped?

Was he like BRUTUS (Roman Garby-Czerniawski), who narrated a suspicious tale of escaping from Nazi captivity, and of having done a deal with the Abwehr, but whose ultimate loyalty was trusted?

Was he like ZIGZAG (Eddie Chapman), who was completely amoral, and developed such a web of duplicity that his only loyalty was to his personal survival?

When Déricourt arrived in Britain, he could have:

i) admitted that he had been recruited as a German agent, but it had been a bluff; or

ii) admitted that he had been recruited as a German agent, but under pressure, or for other reasons, agreed to switch his allegiance;

iii) concealed the fact that he had associations with the Sicherheitsdienst, and stated his eagerness to help the Allied cause;

iv) admitted his contacts with the Luftwaffe, but minimized their importance, and likewise declared his loyalty to the Allied cause;

v) arrived as an adventurer, with a dubious past, and a fear that he might be incarcerated, with some vague ambition to help the war effort, and dissembled about part of his experiences.

It is necessary to inspect the archival material closely to come to any confident conclusion. But first, an aside on MI5.

The Fragmentation of MI5

Regular coldspur readers will probably be aware that I deplore heavy use of the passive voice in historical accounts, or vagueness about actors/perpetrators. (Forgive me where I have transgressed.) Thus I consider expressions like ‘it was believed that’, or even ‘the Foreign Office thought’ as intolerably lazy and imprecise. If a formal statement was made by a senior official, he or she should be identified, and the statement dated. If there is no archival record, or trace of memoir or diary, extreme caution should be used before echoing what a previous historian may have written. It is very imprecise to make vague generalisations about departmental policy in British government departments. The whole character of a pluralist democracy implied that multiple opinions competed for attention, and the battles between, say, the Foreign Office and the General Staff, or MI5 and MI6, or SOE and practically everyone else, were a permanent fixture of the political discourse. And such divisions existed within institutions, as well, such as the tensions between F Section of SOE (i.e. Buckmaster and Atkins primarily) and those officers in charge (notably Gubbins, Sporborg, Boyle and Senter, but probably not Hambro, who was apparently kept in the dark), with Bodington as a devious intermediary.

I suggest that the role that MI5 played in the drama concerning Déricourt’s recruitment may have been oversimplified by both Robert Marshall and Patrick Marnham. MI5, the agency overall responsible for vetting arrivals on British shores, was not a monolith, and was divided, conventionally by organization, and more subtly, by hierarchy. That means that any statement about what MI5 said or did has to be qualified by identifying which officer was responsible.  The reason for this is that senior members of MI5 sometimes concealed information from the lower-level officers. I explained how this happened in my analysis of Agent Sonia, where officers such as Hollis, White and Liddell were obviously colluding with Dansey in MI6 over Sonia’s entry to Britain, but not informing the ‘grunts’ on the ground (e.g. Michael Serpell and Milicent Bagot) about what was going on, to their continued frustration.

Moreover, MI5 was a muddle, even after David Petrie’s reorganization of July 1941. It comprised a very flat structure, with many apparently overlapping functions. Dozens of names arise in the Déricourt archive, and it is important to track what each individual role was. In early 1943, when it came to vetting arrivals to Britain, Section B1D, under Baxter, held overall responsibility for the LRC (also known as the Royal Victorian Patriotic School, RVPS), but the officers who carried out the interrogations (some of whom had been recruited from MI6), such as Beaumont (France) and Ramsbotham (USA), worked in E Division, under Brooke Booth, in E1A. Jo Archer, who was responsible for liaising with the Air Ministry and BOAC, led D3, in Allen’s D Division, with Sargant reporting to him with focus on the Air Ministry. Security in the ports was managed by Archer’s colleague Adam (D4), with Mars, responsible for Travel Control and Permits, working for Adam. Yet again, another Division (C) was involved with credentials for the Admiralty and Air Force, where Sams and Osborn (C3) took on that role. Robertson managed Special Agents in B1A; Stephens was responsible for Camp020 & 020R, in B1E; Hart for Special Sources Case Officers in B1B.

The major relevant sections of this complex organization can be represented as follows:

A Division: Administration and Registry (Butler)

B Division: Espionage (Liddell; deputy White)

            B1 (Espionage)

                        B1A (Special Agents: Robertson)

B1B (Special Sources Case Officers: Hart)

B1C (Sabotage, Inventions & Technical: Rothschild)

B1D (London Reception Centre: Baxter)

B1E (Camp 020 & 020R: Stephens)

B3A (Censorship: Bird)

B4A (Escaped Prisoners of War & Evaders: J. R. White)

C Division: Examination of Credentials (Allen)

            C2 (Military Credentials: Stone & Johnson)

C3 (Credentials for Admiralty, Air Force, etc.: Sams)

D Division: Services, Factory & Port Security, Travel Control (Allen)

            D3 (Air Ministry, etc, : Archer)

                        D3A (Liaison with Air Ministry: Sargant)

            D4 (Security Control at Ports: Adam)

                        D4A (Travel Control & Permits: Mars)

E Division: Alien Control (Brooke Booth; assistant Younger)

            E1 (Western Europe, etc,)

                        E1A (French: Beaumont; USA: Ramsbotham)

                        E1B (Seamen: Cheney)

            E2 (Eastern Europe: Alley)

            E3 (Swiss & Swedes: Johnston)

            E4 (AWS Permits: Ryder)

            E5 (Germans & Austrians, Camp Administration & Intelligence: Denniston)

            E6 (Italians: Roskill)

F Division: Subversive Activities (Hollis)

            F1 (Internal Security in H.M. Forces: Alexander)

            F2 (Communism & Left Wing Movements: Clarke & Shillito)

            F3 (Fascist movements, Pacifists, etc.: Shelford)

The point is that most of these units turn up in the MI5 Déricourt files (KV 2/1131 & 2/1132), and they all have different agendas, and varying access to information. Thus, given the unwieldy structures, expecting clear and prompt reaction to events in Déricourt’s case was not reasonable. Those circumstances help to explain the following narrative, where officers like Beaumont struggle, showing complete ignorance of what was going on, while a high-up like Archer is revealed to be much more familiar with the chain of events over Déricourt’s vetting and recruitment, but then has to resort to clumsy evasions. It displays an astounding level of ineffectiveness in management and leadership, where senior officers in MI6, SOE and MI5 were spending far more time deceiving their colleagues than they were frustrating the enemy.

Déricourt’s Recruitment by SOE

SS Llanstephan Castle

To recapitulate: Déricourt and Doulet had arrived in Dourock, near Glasgow, on September 8, 1942, on the Llanstephan Castle. They had come from Gibraltar, and their egress from southern France had been approved by MI6, which controlled the MI9 escape lines, in this case the so-called PAT line. Documentation on their interrogation in Scotland is practically non-existent, but they did not arrive at the LRC until September 15 – itself a puzzlingly long interval. Doulet (but not Déricourt) was on record that he had claimed on his arrival at Dourock that he was ‘on special mission, engaged by British Overseas Airways’. I now reconstruct the sequence of events between September 1942 and January 1943.

First, they had to be processed and checked out. Beaumont (who is probably not the same-named MI6 officer who, ‘speaking French with a Slav accent’, facilitated the transfer of the two Frenchmen on to the PAT line in Marseilles) carried out the initial interrogations, and confirmed that the stories of Déricourt and Doulet corresponded (29.9.42). (It appears that Déricourt did not declare his contacts with German intelligence to Beaumont: if he did make such an admission, as Marshall cites Lord Lansdowne as claiming, it must have been to the immigration officers when he landed. Yet that information should have been passed to D4.) On learning of their request to join BOAC (30.9.42), Brown of the Air Ministry approached Sargant (D3A) to have the two pilots vetted.  D3A requested Beaumont to check out Doulet and Déricourt again by approaching the Free French (9.10.42). Beaumont apparently did so, but nothing happened for a week, at which time Brown pressed Sargant for a reply.

Andre Dewavrin (Colonel Passy)

A keen interest in all arriving Frenchmen was shown by the BCRA (Bureau de Renseignement et d’Action), the Free French Intelligence Service, who claimed priority access to such persons. What is noteworthy about Sargant’s request is the fact that Dewavrin, aka Colonel Passy, of BRCA, had welcomed Déricourt and Doulet when they arrived at Euston Station on September 10. This should have been a controversial encounter, since the Free French claimed rights on the recruitment of any native French citizen, but, in this case, they let both pilots go. Marcel Ruby’s book on SOE’s F Section states that those Frenchmen who were out of sympathy with the Gaullist movement were sometimes encouraged to join F Section, as it offered superior training and access to equipment and flights, and he offers testimony from non-Gaullist Frenchmen who were able to take advantage of such policies. Thus the frequently expressed description of vehement animosity between Section F and the Free French may not be as true as M. R. D. Foot made out.

Clearly, Claude Dansey, according to some accounts (e.g. Ruby) a close colleague and supporter of the Free French but to others (such as Cecil) a sworn enemy, had alerted the BCRA to the arrival of the pair, but had kept the news from those responsible for carrying out the investigation. What motive Dansey had in introducing the two so openly is superficially bewildering, since the pilots were later adamant that the Free French not be informed of their exploits, and the Free French in turn, now aware of their presence and ambitions, tried to warn the British authorities not to use them. That might have been a covering manœuvre, however. After the war, however, Déricourt was arrested at Croydon Airport for attempting to smuggle out gold nuggets and currency, purportedly on behalf of some shady ex-BCRA officers, so he probably maintained his contacts.

The investigation continued haphazardly. On 17.10.42, de Lazlo of the Air Ministry reported to Broad, of the BOAC in Bristol, that the Free French wanted nothing to do with Déricourt and Doulet – not an astounding revelation, from what we know now, of course. This apparently alarmed Beaumont. He echoed the fact that the two might have been offered jobs by Forbes, but raised the question that, given that promise by British Airways about which the Germans would have learned, the pair might have been compromised, and sent over as agents. Consequently (20.10.42), he told Sargant that MI5 could in no way guarantee them from a security point of view, and, at the same time, contacted Ramsbotham (responsible for the USA) to follow up the contacts with the US Consulate, so that they could establish from Donaldson of the US Consulate in Marseilles how he had assessed the pilots’ integrity and reliability.

Sargant informed the Air Ministry of Beaumont’s concerns, which in turn alarmed Brown. Squadron-Leader Chaney became involved, and looked into Forbes’ offer. On 27.10.42, Chaney was able to confirm that Forbes had indeed offered both men contracts (a claim that would later be undermined), pointed out that the LRC had given give them a favourable report, and showed concern that the men might challenge any interference with their assignments at a ‘high level’. BOAC had already placed the two on subsistence. Yet Sargant was insistent (5.11.42) that the two were a security risk. Beaumont’s judgment was now under scrutiny, as the Foreign Office had become involved. Doulet had approached the Under-Secretary of State, Simpson, querying what the delay was about, so Simpson contacted Beaumont directly (24.11.42). On 30.11.42, Beaumont boldly defended his position, but suggested, as a compromise, that the two be employed some distance away, in the Middle or Far East. On 3.12.42, Ramsbotham presented Donaldson’s confirmation of their recruitment, and of the fact that they had contacted the British ‘underground’, dated 16.11.42. On that date, Déricourt was at RAF Tempsford, receiving training.

What this whole rigmarole needed, apparently, was for others to get involved. At this stage, on 4.12.42, Jo Archer (D3, to whom Sargant reported, and who was the husband of the eminent Soviet expert Jane Sissmore, now in MI6) made an entry to the stage, with some very odd observations, made in writing to Chappell at the Air Ministry. Chaney was still investigating with Forbes the pilots’ assertions about job offers; Archer doubted that they were offered contracts, and stated rather enigmatically that ‘neither of them claimed this’. He was suspicious of Doulet’s claims from Syria of wanting to return to Vichy France to settle personal matters, and he drew attention to the gap in dates between their ‘repatriation’ and application to the US Consul in Marseilles. He thus doubted the loyalty of these Vichy men wanting to fight Germans, and indicated that they were more interested in a ‘fat salary’. Nevertheless, he ventured the opinion that BOAC would skate over all objections, and recruit them.

What was Archer doing here? Trying to lay a false trail of due diligence, but pointing inquirers away from SOE? In any case, some long-winded discussions took place between Beaumont, Sargant and de Laszlo as to where BOAC could safely employ the pair. Simpson was involved again, and wrote on 22.12.42 that Déricourt and Doulet had received a (positive) response from BOAC on 2.10.42. The case appeared to be winding down, and Chaney reported to his boss at the Air Ministry, Wing-Commander Calvert, on 23.12.42 that Forbes had confirmed that Doulet was among those interviewed, and that Maxwell (the regional BOAC director) had said that ‘if any Air France pilots turned up in Lisbon, BOAC would be willing to employ them, subject to security’. But he added that, as early as 23.9.42, Forbes had confirmed that he had promised employment to Doulet only, if he were to reach Lisbon, following with ‘None of the others who were given offers have appeared in UK’. He had apparently not been told of Déricourt’s presence in Britain.

So had Archer been sitting on the information from Forbes for three months, and keeping the facts from Beaumont? It certainly looks like it. Yet the responsibility was thrust back on him: on 23.12.42, Calvert wrote to Archer that the Ministry proposed not to approve the employment of either pilot unless Archer were satisfied that the suspicions over security has been removed. By the last day of the year, Archer had apparently discussed the case with the Free French, who had also magically changed their minds. He found a lame excuse.  “The assassination of Darlan allows MI5 to look more favourably on them from the security point of view,” he wrote, “although there is still some risk”. Why the assassination of a Vichyite (possibly through the machinations of SOE) who had switched his allegiance lessened any possible exposure in sending the pilots abroad was not explained.

Matters begin to get even more bizarre. The same day, Archer decided to give Beaumont a rebuke, telling him he should not give advice on air interests without clearing it with him. (Then what had Beaumont been doing, working through the proper channels with Sargant?) On 1.1.43, Roddam of the Ministry of Labour informed Osborn of MI5 that Déricourt and Doulet had been rejected by BOAC for ‘service’ reasons. The very next day, Beaumont, having spoken to de Laszlo, noted that the pilots had both gained jobs with BOAC in the Middle East, and Doulet’s application for an exit permit to North Africa was soon approved. Meanwhile, he reported that Déricourt had disappeared, noting he was going to the USA ‘on a mission’, news that rather peeved BOAC, as they had been paying him. Osborn, Roddam, Simpson and Beaumont all seemed to be under the impression that both pilots were being sent to the Middle East.

This inept performance could surely not be a charade to confuse the historians, for, even when an officer at SOE showed interest in Déricourt’s status, Beaumont continued the line. He must soon afterwards have been approached by SOE. On 21.1.43, the same day, in fact, on which Déricourt parachuted into France, Beaumont, after speaking to Flight-Lieutenant Park of SOE *, in writing confirmed to Park Déricourt’s statement that he was leaving on a mission to the USA. It was not until 30.4.43 (when stronger suspicions about Déricourt were being raised) that Beaumont referred to a report from the Free French that had unaccountably been delayed in reaching him. He then relayed the disturbing news to Park that the Gestapo might have been interested in Déricourt. The report, tagged as 24b, has been weeded from the archive, but it may have been contemporaneous with the Free Frenchman Bloch’s complaints about Doulet, from 8.2.43.  So it was not until the doubts started to emerge from SOE itself that Beaumont understood where Déricourt had gone.

Vera Atkins

[* Despite the oft-cited assertion that SOE’s existence was not known to many persons, and that SOE officers were supposed to refer to it as the ‘Inter-Services Research Bureau’, Beaumont’s letter of 21.1.43 at 34B in KV 2/1131-3 is addressed to ‘Flight Lieutenant J. H. Park, S.O.E.’ Intriguingly, the signature on Park’s response seems to be ‘H. E. Park’. This person would not appear to be a relative of Daphne Park, the famed MI6 officer who started her career as a FANY with SOE in 1943 or 1944. It is probable that Vera Atkins was writing to Beaumont under an alias. In Sara Helms’s A Life in Secrets, Atkins’s assistant who shepherds in SOE candidates for interview is described as a man named Park. Atkins later claimed, moreover, that she held instinctive suspicions about Déricourt. As the intelligence officer in F Section, she would have been the obvious candidate to communicate with Beaumont about him, and might have been keen to conceal her identity as she was not only a woman, but lacked British citizenship at that time, having been born a Romanian with the Jewish name of Rosenberg. Yet the exchange confirms one very important fact: at the time of Déricourt’s first excursion into France, an influential SOE officer was concerned that he was a risk.]

It is clear that the lower-level Free French officers had got wind of the true disposition of at least one of the two pilots early in 1943. When Bloch learned of Doulet’s imminent departure for North Africa on 8.2.43, he was incensed, and wrote to Beaumont that he should be recalled immediately. (Another ‘grunt’, perhaps, being misled by his superiors. Yet Patrick Marnham has pointed out to me how the disreputable behaviour of Déricourt in London, before he took up his official duties, attracted the scorn of the BCRA, and that Doulet was probably tarred by the same brush.) Archer’s flimsy argument of 31.1.42 now looks very deceitful. Beaumont responded that Doulet did not work for the British authorities, but for BOAC, a commercial enterprise. He claimed that he did not know whether Doulet had left the country yet. Thus at this time Bloch may have written an uncomfortable memorandum about Déricourt as well, no doubt to an officer at a higher level than Beaumont, and the latter considered it too sensitive to be given to Beaumont immediately.

All this would be later shown in perspective when Geoffrey Wethered carried out a detailed investigation into Déricourt in March 1944. When writing to the Regional Security Liaison Officer Gerald Glover on 11.3.44, trying to find employment for Déricourt and his wife, who were installed at a hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon, Wethered wrote that Lemaire (the cover name for Déricourt) ‘after being cleared at the LRC was recruited by SOE’. He does not give a precise date, but it is obvious that the high-ups all knew that Déricourt had been taken on by SOE, while Beaumont and other lower-level officers in MI5 (as well as important figures in the Air Ministry and the Foreign Office and the Home Office) were under the impression through December and January that he was working for BOAC. And even the suspicious Park of SOE did not counter to Beaumont the fiction that Déricourt had been sent to the United States. On 23.1.43 he (or she) had thanked Beaumont for his BOAC-oriented report.

Yet the most extraordinary item is the proof of Archer’s connivance at what was going on. In a statement he made in a report to Wethered dated 9.2.44, he relayed what BOAC knew about Déricourt: “Déricourt called at the BOAC office in Victoria on 9.9.42 and said he had been offered a secret mission at the War Office.” In other words, several days before he and Doulet arrived at the LRC, Déricourt had been signed up by MI6. Moreover, according to M. R. D. Foot, Déricourt and Doulet were welcomed by Dewavrin at St. Pancras Station on September 10, which would suggest that Déricourt had enjoyed his successful interview with MI6 (and Doulet his corresponding session with BOAC) before meeting the Free French. In any case, it is staggering that, in a time of war, so much time and effort should have been wasted chasing false leads and creating paperwork because of a perpetration of lies within the Security Service, and beyond.

Robert Marshall describes some other intriguing events from this period. He tells how the pair arranged, by telephone a rendezvous in Piccadilly Circus three times, in October and November, and that, some time after this, they enjoyed a re-encounter at a ‘luxurious flat that was shared by the two Belgians with whom they had sailed on the Tarana’. In this setting, a British intelligence officer named FRANCES asked Doulet whether he wanted to perform secret work in France. Doulet declined, but assumed that Déricourt had already been recruited by FRANCES’s organization. Déricourt later warned Doulet to keep silent over the meeting, and his mission. This narrative is based on what Doulet told Marshall, but the meeting is not dated, and cannot be verified. Moreover, some aspects of Doulet’s story must be questioned. The archive indicates that they were staying at the same address until November 2, when Doulet moved to Charlwood Street, and Dericourt to Jermyn Street. And MI5 were intercepting Déricourt’s mail. He received a very coy letter from Doulet (in which Doulet addresses his friend with the intimate ‘tu’) on January 2, 1943, which reads as if it is setting a false trail.

I shall analyze in detail the events of early 1943, when suspicions about Déricourt began to be cast, up to the denunciations later in the year, and Déricourt’s recall in early 1944, another time. It is a continuation of the whole sordid business described above, replete with lost reports, mistaken identity, overlooked messages and phony stories, indicating the great discomfort those in the know experienced when troubling questions began to be asked about Déricourt’s recruitment. But the important conclusion appears to be that Déricourt was prepared as to how he should behave before he arrived in Scotland, and MI6/SOE were ready to pounce as soon as he arrived.

The Passage to Gibraltar

If Déricourt was indeed prepared for his interrogators in the United Kingdom, how did it happen? I drew attention, in corresponding with Robert Marshall several weeks ago, to the fact that Dansey’s shock on learning that Doulet and Déricourt had just arrived in Gibraltar sounded contrived and unconvincing to me. I wrote:

All The King’s Men makes it quite clear that MI6 must have learned about Doulet & Déricourt from Donaldson, Langley and Garrow when they were in Marseilles, so Dansey’s apparent ignorance of who they were when they reached Gibraltar is quite absurd. You write that Garrow paid a ‘surprise visit’ to Déricourt in May 1942, suggesting he had been directed to make inquiries – about Borrie. Then is it not possible that Dansey at that time decided to have Bodington sent out to contact his old friend in person? The justification for Bodington’s presence in southern France was that he was there to assess Carte (and granting that network a substance it didn’t have could have been another Dansey coup), but it is difficult to imagine that he would go all that way and NOT see Déricourt, given the exchanges that had gone on.

If that were true, it would explain why Déricourt thought he had a good shot at getting through any vetting, and it would confirm that Dansey’s expostulations were a sham, for the record.

[Notes: ‘Carte’ was another SOE network that was later discovered to have been betrayed, infiltrated by Hugo Bleicher of the Abwehr. Mathilde Carré had betrayed the Interallié network and become Bleicher’s mistress at the end of 1941.]

Marshall responded to me as follows:

The gentleman I dealt with over a year or so was Christopher Woods [the SOE Adviser].  At times keen and eager to help with information, but we often hit a road block when he ran up against his proprietorial limitations.
My reading of links between MI6 and HD is that there were fragmented contacts prior to his departure, none of which would necessarily have filtered up to Dansey.  Dansey’s query to MI6 Gibraltar was, I believe, quite genuine.  Who the **** are these two?
It’s possible Bodington may have contacted HD while he was in and around the South of France, but that assumes he knew where he was, or how to reach out to him.  HD claimed he did Intelligence work before the war; but that doesn’t make it so.”

My point was based on the firm understanding that Dansey maintained a tight rein over the so-called ‘PAT’ Escape Line, managed by MI9 (a unit also controlled by Dansey), and that he would have had to approve any unusual candidates before they were accepted in Marseilles, or Geneva, or points in between. Indeed, Marshall himself writes (p 61): “A great deal of MI9’s traffic was going to pass through Vichy France, which ideally meant Marseilles. Dansey had the contacts and the resources to set up a top-level escape service from Marseilles, which he offered to do and then put it at MI9’s disposal. In return, MI9 had to accept Dansey’s remote control, which he effected through his representative, the ex-Coldstream Guardsman James Langley.” Marshall later describes the persistent efforts by the two pilots to push their requests through H. M. Donaldson at the US Consulate. “By this stage, London was very familiar with the names Déricourt and Doulet”, he continues (p 69), and Ian Garrow, who manned the escape line, then paid a surprise visit to Déricourt. In a comment attributed to the Foreign Office adviser, Marshall presents the outcome as follows: “Finally Langley relented and in what he described as a ‘quid-pro-quo for help the Americans had given us’ agreed to put Déricourt and Doulet on the escape line’. But what advantage or benefit did the American get from the decision, apart from taking an annoying pair off their hands? Yet Langley followed up by telling the eponymous ‘Pat’ (O’Leary – actually Albert Guérisse) that the pair were to be despatched to London ‘by the quickest possible means’.

A further indication that MI6 had approved the escape up front appears in the activities of other MI6/SOE personnel at the time. On July 30, an SOE French team (i.e. ‘F’, not Free French, ‘RF’) left Gibraltar and landed at Antibes on the felucca Seawolf. The party consisted of Bodington (Déricourt’s pre-war friend, and now assistant to Buckmaster in F Section), Frager, Despaigne, and Rudellat. Bodington was on a mission to investigate the strength of the Carte network that had been constituted from the remnants of the betrayed Interallié circuit. * On August 31, another felucca, the Seadog, left Cape D’Ali (near Monte Carlo): on it had boarded Bodington, alongside Buchowski and Diamant-Berger. Exactly in the middle of the month, the disguised trawler, the SS Tarana, had picked up eight passengers at Canet Plage, near Narbonne. The passengers were Déricourt and Doulet, accompanied by P/O Derrick Perdue, Sgt. Jack Missledene, Leoni Savinos and his wife, and a Serbian officer. One was thus unnamed. The Tarana then sailed to a cove between Agde and Narbonne, where it picked up six agents, including some from a BCRA (Free French intelligence) mission, with the last described as ‘Pilot André Simon’.

[* I thank ‘Marcel Treville’ and his extraordinary website at http://plan-sussex-1944.net/ for much of this information.]

SOE in Southern France (Simon second from right, back row)

André Simon was another man working for SOE (Maurice Buckmaster refers to him in his interview available at the Imperial War Museum), a gentleman who, as the Foreign Office adviser informed Marshall, was ‘probably the individual who brought Déricourt’s name to SOE’s attention.’ Several accounts show André Simon active in southern France at this time, having escaped from the Vichy authorities. Yet his identity must be pinned down. Jean Overton Fuller, in Double Webs, citing F.F.E. Yeo-Thomas of RF Section, indicates that Déricourt was introduced and guided by the wine-merchant, Andre Simon père. Robert Marshall refers to an André Simon with whom Déricourt stayed in London during his fleeting visit in July 1943, indicating that he was the son of the well-known wine-merchant (born in 1877), while possibly merging the identities of the two. Foot describes the SOE agent Simon the same way, while Patrick Marnham presents him as another MI6 ‘mole’ in SOE. Simon fils was born in 1906, and his details can be seen at https://www.specialforcesroh.com/index.php?threads/simon-andre-louis-ernest-h.31794/. Bodington’s presence may have been coincidental, of course, but it is difficult to explain otherwise. And, if there were BCRA officers on board, the intelligence would soon have reached de Gaulle’s ears.  Overall, one might conclude from these events that, while MI6 had designs for Déricourt before the embarkation, the encounter with Simon solidified his recruitment by SOE.

In the version that Doulet later supplied Marshall, there were ten of them in the rowing-boat that took them to the trawler, with the eight passengers described as follows: ‘a navigator from a Wellington bomber, a Yugoslavian couple, two Belgian intelligence officers and an Englishman, whom Déricourt took to be from MI6.’ Yet, in listing the presumed MI6 officer (Simon), Doulet may have merged two pick-ups into one. Déricourt apparently became well acquainted with Simon at this time, but it is not clear whether this was an accidental encounter or not. And the BCRA would have been inevitably exposed to Déricourt, an event that may have prompted Dansey to pre-empt the situation when they all arrived in the United Kingdom. Moreover, Déricourt later misrepresented the whole business: he told his close friend and pilot Hugh Verity that he had escaped over the Pyrenees, and made contact with the British in Spain or Gibraltar.

By one of those extraordinary coincidences, on the morning I was writing the above paragraphs, a contact in the coldspur network alerted me to an article that reinforced my suspicion that Déricourt had been recruited (or at least ‘approached’ with the goal of recruitment) by MI6 before his escape. It appeared in the May 1986 issue of Encounter, and was written by James Rusbridger. (Rusbridger had been a courier for MI6, and was a frequent critic of intelligence agencies. He was discovered asphyxiated in 1994, an apparent suicide.) Rusbridger came to the conclusion that Déricourt had been recruited earlier, in France, although he had not been able to inspect the KV files at Kew. He did, however, probably enjoy access to the same sources that Robert Marshall exploited, and benefitted from speaking to Marshall himself.

James Rusbridger

Marshall has informed me that he worked alongside Rusbridger in the early days of the Timewatch project, commenting: “He, like others, was convinced HD had been recruited by MI6 long before he came to the UK. It’s a tantalising prospect, but doesn’t really (I think) illuminate much.” Marshall thus minimises the importance of this theory, but, since it is on the surface in direct opposition to what Marnham proposes – namely that Déricourt was first recruited by the SD, and that British Intelligence had nothing to do with him until he arrived in London – it needs to be inspected closely. The evidence for SIS’s interest in him in France is, in my mind, stronger than any that has been presented as a serious approach by the Sicherheitsdienst.

Rusbridger thus had to sidestep the many deceptions of Maurice Buckmaster and the Foreign Office adviser, while inferring from the open evidence of Déricourt’s acquaintance with Bodington and Boemelburg, and the approval of his and Doulet’s passage on the MI9 escape-line, that Déricourt was already considered a sign-up with a murky British service. Where Rusbridger had exclusive access, however, may have been to the log-books and private papers in the apartment of Déricourt’s widow (who died early in 1985). Rusbridger claimed that Bodington had worked for MI6 (presumably in the Z organization) while he was working at Reuters in Paris, and had recruited Déricourt ‘because of his friendship with and work for Boemelburg’.

Unfortunately, Rusbridger does not provide a date for this recruitment, and muddies the waters by writing, almost in the same breath, that ‘Déricourt had already done some intelligence work for the SD; Boemelburg had him listed as V-Mann/48.’ Thus we are back to Square One, with the competition for Déricourt’s allegiance simply pushed back in time. The exact status of Déricourt as a ‘double-agent’ (something even the conspiracy-doubters such as Mark Seaman carelessly admit) remains highly dubious. To return to my question earlier: Was he originally a German agent whom the British thought they could trust, or was he an MI6 agent who was suborned by the Gestapo, exploiting their more casual interchanges with him from beforehand? Or was he perhaps simply an amoral wheeler-dealer who tried to play off both sides against each other, and get paid by both in the process, what the intelligence professionals call a ‘trader’? In any event, Rusbridger’s analysis would tend to endorse the view that Déricourt was not smoothly and unquestioningly ‘turned’ only when he arrived in London, and to reinforce the fact that the haste with which he was adopted could be explained by earlier negotiations. That would account for the way that senior MI5 officers had to be brought into the secret.

Of course, such a theory does not materially change the interpretation of whether Déricourt was put to work by Dansey to destroy the Prosper network, but it surely provides a more convincing explanation of the otherwise unaccountable events of 1942.

Déricourt’s True Status

So what is the evidence for establishing Déricourt’s loyalties? Déricourt did not have to come to the UK. (He had asked the Americans to exfiltrate him.) He sought out the opportunity, but not too eagerly, and developed a legend about flying experience that was mostly fabrication. He knew that MI6 was aware of his contacts with Boemelburg. According to All the King’s Men, he was concerned about MI6 discovering his lies, but he also admitted his German contacts immediately. He did not claim that his contacts were a bluff. Marshall has found no evidence that he had been recruited by the Germans by then. In the reconsideration of the cases enumerated above in Déricourt’s Possible Status, Case 1 should therefore be rejected.

War in the Shadows makes the claim that Case 2 was the explanation. “An SIS spotter at the LRC quickly identified Dericourt as a German agent and turned him.” But that has a ‘with one bound Jack was free’ ring about it. No one could have simply ‘turned’ a dedicated German agent in a single meeting, off one’s own bat. Moreover, as I stated earlier, Marnham’s claim that Déricourt was turned specifically assumes that he must have been a German agent when he arrived, and that the LRC knew that for sure. If Déricourt did admit to being a German agent, there is no evidence of it. Case 2 should be rejected.

Déricourt’s lack of concealment disqualifies Case 3. He did both: he admitted his contacts, AND expressed his willingness to help. Case 5 looks to be unlikely, as Bodington (and maybe others) knew about his past, and it would do him no good not to volunteer such information. Bodington would not have been able to conceal that experience completely. Thus Case 4 looks the most realistic option. As Marshall writes, ‘going to England was a risk he took’. Déricourt could have been incarcerated. So what was the attraction of going to the UK?

The explanation could be that his reception was wired. He had been in contact with MI6 in Marseille, where his potential was assessed, and Bodington could have been sent out to interview him, and prepare him. Bodington and Déricourt probably sailed on the same trawler from Narbonne to Gibraltar. Dansey was ready for him when he arrived in Gourock, and he was swiftly transferred to SOE after he arrived at the LRC. Thus a modified Case 4 fits the bill. He admitted the truth on matters that he knew MI6 would be familiar with, but dissembled on issues that his interrogators would struggle to verify, such as his flying experience. He may have been encouraged by the Sicherheitsdienst to attempt to get recruited by British Intelligence in the belief that he would probably be incarcerated, but was not given the official BOE-48 designation (and payments) until he succeeded in returning to France.

The Aftermath, and Research to Follow

This was really only the beginning of the Déricourt story, and I refer readers to War in the Shadows to learn the details of what happened next. Chapters 19 and 20 give an excellent investigative account of the actions of the next twelve months, and Marnham deftly and crisply critiques the ‘official’ account from M. R. D. Foot within his text. Yet I believe the events need to be described anew with a more precise context for Déricourt’s recruitment. I recapitulate the story here, while encouraging readers to turn to Marnham’s book for a fuller account.

In a nutshell, Déricourt quickly established a successful record as an aviation planner for SOE in the spring of 1943, although that achievement was quickly followed by the start of questions about his loyalty, based on what observers knew about his past and current contacts. This culminated in Suttill’s vague suspicions, voiced in May 1943, that his PROSPER circuit had been infiltrated, and the eventual betrayal of Francis Suttill, Gilbert Norman, his wireless operator, and Andrée Borrel, his courier. In the autumn of 1943, more vigorous denunciations came from Henri Frager (LOUBA) when that agent visited the United Kingdom. That resulted in some semi-earnest investigations by SOE and MI5 – during which several officers thought that GILBERT referred to Gilbert Norman (ARCHAMBAULD) – and eventually Déricourt’s recall. He was withdrawn from SOE, and had to chill his heels in Stratford-upon-Avon, living with his wife under the alias Lemaire. Nicolas Bodington was also ‘suspended’ from SOE for a few months, and sent out on political training, but was re-accepted in March 1944, and became a successful member of one of the Jedburgh teams, ultimately receiving an award for valour. Thereafter, matters subsided until the famous trial in 1948, where Bodington came out to Paris to rescue his friend under threat of capital punishment for aiding the enemy.

My assertion is that analysis hitherto has not focused enough on a) the vital aspects of intelligence tradecraft, and b) the military context, of the whole saga. The actions of the Chiefs of Staff in trying to harness resources among the hectic goings-on of 1943, and how SOE’s initiatives fitted into that campaign, merit a completely separate study. I present the following research questions (some semi-rhetorical) on intelligence matters that the series of events provokes:

* Why would the Germans have invested so much in Déricourt before he left for England, when they must have believed that there was a strong possibility that he would be interned?

* Given that the Germans must have known that MI6 knew about D’s association with them, why did they think it made sense to try to infiltrate him?

* Why did SOE accept Bodington’s assessment that the Carte organization was strong and reliable?

* Given that Dansey knew that MI5 would probably refuse to approve Déricourt’s recruitment as an agent, why did he persist in defying them, and how did he succeed?

* If SIS hoped to use Déricourt as an agent who could infiltrate the Sicherheitsdienst, what possible value could they derive from it that would compensate for the horrific security exposure it created?

* When SOE first got wind of the possibility that the Prosper network had been betrayed, why did they not consider closing it down, rather than increasing shipments and landings?

* When SOE received proof that Déricourt was showing private mail to the Sicherheitsdienst, why did they not recall him immediately, and close down the network?

* Why was Bodington allowed to fly out to Paris to investigate the PROSPER disaster, given how much he knew, and how dangerous it would have been if he had been captured and tortured?

* Why did Bodington stay in France for so long, and why has his story about tossing a coin with Agazarian for going to Suttill’s apartment been accepted as permissible behaviour?

* Why did the Germans not arrest Bodington, since they knew about his presence in the capital?

* Why was Bodington released from SOE at the time of Frager’s denunciation, and why was he re-recruited a few months later?

* Why did Senter and Wethered not act upon Bodington’s claim that there was a German spy within SOE?

* How could Senter and Wethered possibly have confused GILBERT (Déricourt) with Gilbert Norman (ARCHAMBAULD)?

* Why was Guy Liddell so laid-back about the whole security exposure, given the intensity of such matters in the run-up to D-Day?

* Why did the Germans not take any action when Déricourt did not return to French territory?

* Why did Bodington so readily claim, at Déricourt’s trial, that Déricourt’s contacts with the Germans had been approved?

* Why did Déricourt appear to believe that he was invulnerable?

Patrick Marnham has indeed addressed many of these questions in War in the Shadows, but in what I have to characterize as a rather dispersed fashion, and I find his anachronous (achronological?) approach to storytelling a little confusing. I plan to deliver a concerted analysis that ruthlessly exposes the intelligence failures implicit in the saga, and what the implications are. The questions are of course complementary to the issue already raised about the suggestions of betrayal of the PROSPER circuit as a deception policy to influence Stalin about the presence of ‘Second-Front’ activities. My agenda runs (provisionally, since I am dependent on the delivery of photographed archives) as follows: February 2022 – War Cabinet activities in 1943; March or April 2022 – Investigations into Déricourt, with a summing-up some time thereafter. 

Postscript

I added a brief comment to last month’s bulletin, drawing attention to a chapter in Intelligence Studies in Britain and the US, edited by Christopher R. Moran and Christopher J. Murphy, and published by the Edinburgh University Press in 2013. Dr Kevin Jones had reminded me of this piece, titled Editing SOE in France, which I had mistakenly imagined was the same text that I had cited by Dr. Murphy from 2003, namely The Origins of SOE in France. It is a more thorough investigation, and exploits more fully the archival material available at CAB 103/570-573 (but not apparently the several files that follow this sequence).

While the narrative certainly reinforces the fact that M. R. D. Foot endured continuing struggles with an ever-growing number of bureaucrats and civil servants, it does not shed much radical new light on the pressures that affected his delivery. Yet two sentences caught my eye. An important meeting had been held on October 29, 1963, where a Norman Mott had played a leading role in the consideration of security issues that had been raised by Foot’s finished draft. Norman Mott had headed the SOE Liquidation Section (a function less ominous than it sounds) upon the dismantlement of SOE, where, according to Endnote 5, ‘his knowledge of the organisation proved “of untold value”’, and he joined the Foreign Office in 1948. He has a Personal File, HS 9/1653, at the National Archives.

Most security matters were quickly dispensed with at this meeting. Murphy then writes: “Three of the remaining points were felt to warrant legal advice. These concerned the notorious agent Henri Dericourt [sic] and the former second in command of the SOE’s French (F) Section, Nicholas [sic] Bodington.” A brief Endnote explains the facts of the case, but the legal ramifications of this rather startling observation, referring to an agent who was openly defined as ‘notorious’, and the outcome of the legal inquiry, are left mostly unresolved. Bodington was apparently allowed to read passages concerning himself, in the precincts of the French Embassy, but his reaction is unrecorded. Another request was made to the Office of the Treasury Solicitor, ‘with the request that certain passages be considered from a legal perspective, including references to the controversial [i.e. no longer ‘notorious’] agent Henri Dericourt’, but no outcome is recorded. Much of the last-minute negotiations were with Maurice Buckmaster, who had taken violent affront at the way he had been represented in SOE in France. Amazingly, he and Foot had never been allowed to meet during the compilation of the book. My interest was immediately piqued.

At some stage I hope to examine the relevant files, and shall arrange for them to be photographed. In the meantime, I am trying to determine what Foot wrote about Bodington and Déricourt in his original edition of SOE in France (1966), and the revision of 1968. Did he draw attention to Déricourt’s ‘notoriety’, and might it have been considered libellous? Déricourt had died in 1962 (apparently, although the facts are questionable), but Bodington lived on until 1974. The Wikipedia entry for Bodington makes references to Bodington’s later career in SOE, based on the 1966 text, that I cannot find in my 2004 edition, so I am keen to establish whether some degree of censorship was later applied. If any reader has any insights, please let me know. Meanwhile, I have ordered a copy of the 1966 edition, so that I may then follow Patrick Marnham’s precise references (since he also uses that edition), and then carry out a careful comparison of the texts. I shall report further at some stage.

Further Postscript

Frank Rymills

I somehow learned of a book on Déricourt by one Frank Rymills, also known as ‘Bunny’. I tracked down its editor, Bernard O’Connor, whom readers may remember as the author of a book on the Lena spies. He pointed me to the website where I could order it (it is a print-on-demand volume), and I did so. Rymills’s son, Simon, had retrieved his father’s memoir after listening to O’Connor deliver a talk at RAF Tempsford in 2012.  It is a short volume, written by a pilot who was with 161 Squadron from January 1942 to July 1943, and took Déricourt as a passenger on several flights. What is more, he was a drinking-buddy of Déricourt’s in the Bedford area.

The book does not reveal many secrets, and relies much on Foot’s and Marshall’s work, supplemented by some lesser-known memoirs, but it offers one or two enticing items for me to follow up, such as the notion that Déricourt’s recall in April 1943 was a blind to mislead Boemelburg, and the highly intoxicating suggestion that the agents’ letters that he passed to the Gestapo may have been fakes, created as part of the general deception exercise. It also gave me another clue on the enigma of Foot’s versions of SOE in France. I shall report further anon. But it also led to one astonishing statement. I happened to find a review of the book on the Goodreads website, at https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20738917-henri-dericourt-double-triple-or-quadruple-agent-frank-rymills , and I reproduce it here lest the text be suddenly expunged in President Xi Jinping style:

This is a very patchy account of this man Dericourt. He was recruited by the French Section of the Special Operations Executive by Maurice Buckmaster. It was a well known fact, and also Vera Atkins told me herself many years ago…she never trusted Dericourt, who was known to be in contact with German Officers he had known before the War.
Buckmaster, being the Head of The French Section of SOE…would have none of it, and continued to use Dericourt, to fly Agents and supplies into France in a Lysander airplane.
It became known later…when the Agents in France gave letters to be sent home via..Dericourt, he did hand these letters to German Intelligence Officers before returning them to England.
It is also known that Dericourt worked for…M15 British Intelligence and operated a mandate outside the workings of…SOE.
Dericourt was also the pilot who did bring to Britain in 1943…a very senior German Officer, who wanted to contact British Intelligence, he was part of a group of Officers who were going to overthrow..Adolf Hitler and arrange peace with the Allies.
These talks were held in secrecy with M15 Officers…and talks of the assassination of Adolf Hitler, and the forthcoming talks of Peace, with Germany left intact.
It is noted the bomb used in the Bomb Plot of July 1944, was in fact British made, which failed to kill Hitler.
This information on Henri Dericourt remains Classified until the year…2045.

Now the author of this piece, a Mr. Paul Monaghan, of Liverpool, H8, withdrew from Goodreads a month after this post, and is thus not accepting messages. His claim is spectacular, of course, and possibly contains just the correct amount of outrageousness to be worth investigating. It certainly smells of Dansey’s work, with Churchill even working behind the scenes. After the Rudolf Hess business, extreme discretion would be required not to upset Stalin about any negotiations, since the Marshall would suspect double-dealing behind his back. But who could the potential Hitler-overthrower be? One thinks first of Admiral Canaris, but he was head of the Abwehr, and Déricourt’s relationship with Boemelburg would not lead him to the despised Abwehr.

My mind is inevitably drawn to the admitted rebel von Falkenhausen, in 1943 military governor of Belgium, who, as I pointed out in The Letter From Geneva, had in 1940 been wooed rather clumsily by Dansey’s man in Geneva, Victor Farrell, and whom Dennis Wheatley had mentioned in connection with his work in 1943 while working at the London Controlling Section under John Bevan. And only a few days ago, I noticed that Guy Liddell, in his diary entry for March 31, 1943, noted that he hoped that the agent FANTO (shortly to be renamed PUPPET) might bring with him information on ‘Falkenhausen and his entourage’ when he arrived from Lisbon. Farrell (MI6), Wheatley (LCS), and Liddell (MI5) all talking about von Falkenhausen at the same time seems too much of a coincidence.

Robert Marshall has reminded me of all the hares concerning Déricourt that he had been invited to chase by readers of All the King’s Men. This particular lagomorph may have more substance than some, but one has to apply Occam’s Razor. It is highly unlikely that Claude Dansey would have tried to use Déricourt as a tool in a COCKADE deception game AND as a go-between for exfiltrating a senior Nazi officer.  I thus make no other comment at this stage, except to say that, if anyone knows Mr Monaghan, and can track him down, such an action would be ‘very helpful to our inquiries’, as he is ‘a person of interest’.

[I thank Patrick Marnham and Robert Marshall for their patient comments on an earlier draft of this report. Any mistakes or misinterpretations therein are my responsibility entirely. I encourage all readers to challenge or expand upon my argument.]

New Commonplace entries can be found here.

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A-Rovin’ with Greensleeves

Dene Farm, Chipstead. September 24, 1976.

I take a break from intelligence matters this month to celebrate Sylvia’s and my forty-fifth wedding anniversary, and to exploit the occasion by indulging in some mostly reliable reminiscences and reflecting upon them.

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On occasions, when conversing with Americans at social gatherings, I am asked at which ‘school’ (= ‘college’) I was educated. When I reply ‘Christ Church, Oxford’, a beatific smile sometimes takes over the face of my interlocutor, as if he (or she) believed that Christ Church was the British equivalent of Oral Roberts University, and they start thinking about whether they should invite me to be one of their lay preachers or readers at the local Methodist or Episcopalian Church. I am always quick to ward them off any such idea, as I do not believe I would delight their congregation, and it normally turns out that, when I start explaining the peculiar history of Christ Church (the ‘House’ – Aedes Christi, and never referred to as ’Christ Church College’), and its role as an independent college in the Oxford University framework, their eyes start to glaze over, and they look instead for someone they can discuss the football with.

1952-1956

But there was a time! I happened recently to retrieve from my archives my Report Cards from my years at St. Anne’s Preparatory School in Coulsdon, Surrey, for the years 1952 to 1956. In my Kindergarten report of Summer 1952, Mrs. Early’s assessment for ‘Scripture’ runs: ‘Listens to Bible Stories with interest’. Was this true absorption? Or a well-managed bluff? Or a view of astonishment? I cannot recall. A year later, I was third in the exams, although I dropped to sixth by Christmas. The following summer, there was apparently no exam, but it was recorded that I ‘attended morning assembly regularly’. I suspect I did not have a choice, but maybe others did? By Summer 1955, ‘Scripture’ had been replaced by ‘Divinity’, and I achieved a creditable second place in the exams, followed by more excellent results. But then, in my last term, in Summer 1956, I dropped to 18th in the standings, from a class of 27. ‘Very fair’, was the comment, which is English-teacher speak for ‘pretty awful’. What had happened? Obviously a crisis of faith had occurred. And it happened because of a convergence of music and history.

I had been intrigued by the History lessons, where we learned about Cavemen, and the Stone Age, and perhaps I found these a more plausible account of the Birth of Man than the rather saccharine Bible Stories. At about the same time, I recall we had music and singing lessons, where we were encouraged to trill lustily some English (and Irish, Scottish and Welsh) folksongs. Apart from such standbys as ‘Bobbie Shaftoe’, I particularly remember two songs: the first one that I had for long imagined was by Rabbie Burns – ‘A-Rovin’’, the second, ‘Greensleeves’. Looking the former up today, I see that its title is ‘The Maid of Amsterdam’, and is a traditional sea shanty that first appeared in London, in 1608, in a play by Robert Heywood. The chorus went as follows:

            A-rovin’, a -rovin’, since rovin’s been my ru-i-in

            I’ll go no more a-rovin’ with you – fair – maid.

I can recall to this day the atmosphere in the classroom as we took up the refrain, with the smell of cabbage and dirty socks wafting in from other rooms, and my seat, bottom left, where I was always trying to catch the teacher’s attention.

But isn’t that extraordinary – that a prim preparatory school in postwar England would encourage its eight-year-olds to sing about ‘roving’? Assuredly we did not sing the whole song, as I note that the third verse runs as follows:

I put my hand upon her thigh
Mark well what I do say
I put my hand upon her thigh
She said: “Young man you’re rather high!”
I’ll go no more a-rovin’ with you fair maid

Needless to say, we did not get further than the first verse, but I think I was already enthused enough to think that this roving business was something I needed to investigate. I now wonder whether I already had at that time enough imagination to reflect that wasn’t it more likely that the Fair Maid would face Ruin than the Rover would? I was certainly not looking for ruination at that age, but I was very keen to learn more about this frightening prospect, and how beautiful maidens could indeed be the cause of the complete collapse into desolation or penury of innocent young lads like me.

But where to find ‘fair maids’? My father owned a handsome, tall, glass-lined – but locked – bookcase, and I could inspect the titles there through the panes. One title was The Fair Maid of Perth, which sounded promising. Perhaps Perth was a fertile location for the incipient Rover? So I looked up ‘Perth’ in the atlas: it seemed a bit far away. Requiring quite a substantial rove, in fact. My absence might have been noted, and I would have been pushed to get back in time for my favourite baked-beans-on-toast supper, so I abandoned that plan. Another potential source was Roy Race, of Melchester Rovers, who featured in Tiger magazine, but I soon saw that his adventures did not involve exploits with girls but instead such feats as rescuing the Rovers’ French import, Pierre Dupont, from a lighthouse where he had been kidnapped, so that they could get him back in time for kick-off. (“Who’d play the Rovers with Pierre on our wing ?” Tra-la-la.) All stirring stuff, of course, but not really relevant to the Quest.

Rossetti’s ‘Greensleeves’

And then there was Greensleeves. That glorious tune, and the illustrations, at the back of some encyclopædia or annual that I possessed, that showed a comely young girl, draped in muslin or something similar, sitting on a bough of a tree in some medieval forest. Was Greensleeves one of those maids who could ruin you? She didn’t look as if she were someone who could cause permanent damage. At the same time, I couldn’t see myself taking her home to meet Mum and Dad. (“Sit down, dear, and have a cup of tea. But why is your frock all green? Have you been frolicking in the grass?”) Nevertheless, maybe it would have been safe to do a little roving with her, to see what it was like, without getting into trouble.

Another permanent memory is attending Sunday School. I would inwardly seethe at being sent off, on an afternoon when playing outside beckoned far more energetically, to the church at the top of the hill in Coulsdon, Surrey. (It was St. Andrew’s, where my parents were married in August 1940, as the bombs started falling.) It was utterly boring, and prominent among the tedious exercises that we had to carry out was the recitation of the Apostles’ Creed, which, even then, I regarded as the most ridiculous mumbo-jumbo I had ever heard. (This was especially so with the St. James version in use then, that contained ‘the Holy Ghost’, ‘hell’, and ‘the quick and the dead’, making it particularly opaque.) It was never explained to us what these statements meant, how they were derived, or why they were important. We were just indoctrinated: “I believe in . . .”.  I fail consistently to understand how any inquisitive child would not rebel against such nonsense, and the way it was drilled into us. But eight-year-olds in my world did not ask questions. We did what we were told. Moreover, the girls at Sunday School were all very soppy and outwardly very pious. Not a single green sleeve to be found among the lot of them.

But to return to school. At the end of one of the lessons, probably in the spring of 1956, I went up to speak to Mr. Robinson and Mr. Wilder, who for some reason were both present during the session. Mr. Robinson was a kindly, Pickwickian figure, who blinked at us, and always wore a three-piece-suit with a fob watch in his waistcoat. He taught us English and History. Mr. Wilder was much younger, tall and athletic, half-French. He taught Arithmetic, French, and sport, and impressed me and other pupils once when he said he could think in French. I had two questions for the pair of them: Who wrote ‘Greensleeves’? And which account of Man’s origins was right – the Garden of Eden or the Story of the Cavemen?

Mr. Robinson and Mr. Wilder looked at each other awkwardly. The Greensleeves question they were able to dispense with fairly quickly: ‘traditional’, ‘no known composer’, but the other one was challenging. I am not sure exactly what they said: they may have used the word ‘allegory’, but probably not, but I do recall having the impression that I should not take those Bible stories all very literally. And I think that did it for me, as far as religion was concerned. They confirmed for me that it was all bogus. I had sorted out something significant, and from that day on, I knew what I wanted to do. When cringe-making friends of my parents patted me on the head, and asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say I wanted to be an ‘influencer’, and would seek to monetise my content-creation as soon as I could. (That quickly shut them up.) Unfortunately it took sixty-five years for that idea to take off.

‘Born 1820: Still Going Strong’

Now, I have to say that I was a very literal-minded little boy at that stage. I had great problems differentiating between fiction and reality, and no one had yet introduced me to William Empson and his Seven Types of Ambiguity. For example, I recall seeing the advertisement for Johnny Walker whisky on the front page of the Illustrated London News, where the slogan declared: ‘Born 1820. Still going strong!’, and it displayed a regency gentleman, in red jacket, shiny black boots, and a golden top-hat breezily striding somewhere. 1954 minus 1820 was 134. How could a man live to be that long, I asked myself, and where could I meet him?

‘The Blue Lamp’

And then there were the movies (pictures). We went to see The Blue Lamp, where Jack Warner played P.C. Dixon, and was eventually shot by the Dirk Bogarde character. (It came out in 1950. Did I really see it that early?) I was distraught. The very likable policeman was dead, definitely not ‘still going strong’, and it must have been ages before it was explained to me that it was all illusory. About that time we must also have seen a trailer for King Kong (children would not have been allowed to watch the full movie), and I had nightmares for months, since I believed that great apes could actually grow to that size and might terrorize our neighbourhood. And I know I was puzzled about ‘The Dark Ages’, concluding that for hundreds of years the sun did not come out, and people must have groped around in the murkiness until the light returned.

I recall, also, my bewilderment over my father’s occupation during the day. He would set off on his bicycle to school each day (a journey of about five miles along the busy Brighton Road), but I could not work out why a man of his age was still attending school. My sister eventually explained to me that he was not a pupil there, but a teacher. Somehow, even though I saw men of his age teaching at St. Anne’s, I had never made the connection.

Yet that summer of 1956 must have been very important. I remember being introduced to the Daily Telegraph cryptic crossword, and solving my first clue. (The answer was ‘OSCAR’.) I discovered – and delighted in – nonsense verse. I recall being fascinated by my father’s meagre store of one-liners, such as ‘She was a good cook, as cooks go, but, as cooks go, she went’, and was exceedingly happy to sort out why the linguistic twist worked, and why it made me laugh. I suddenly started to appreciate allusion, metaphor, irony, bathos, and paradox. The real world was far more subtle and multi-layered than I had ever imagined. At the same time, I felt a distinct disdain for the mythical and the mystical, a distaste that has never gone away. (The Greek Myths left me cold, as did C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. Though I loved Arthur Ransome’s Old Peter’s Russian Tales.) But not the mysterious: mystery was captivating. And Greensleeves lay in the field of mystery.

1956-1965

Geoffrey Marlar

In September 1956 I started at Whitgift School in Croydon. Like many such independent schools, it had a charitable foundation, and the assumption seemed to be that all the pupils should be trained to be solid Christian gentlemen. That was assuredly something that the Headmaster, Geoffrey Marlar (who had ridden with the cavalry in WWI) believed. Coincident with my arrival at the school, our family had moved house – to more spacious accommodation rented from the school Foundation, on the playing-fields, about four hundred yards from the Headmaster’s house. If, on a Sunday, my brother and I played any ball-game that caused us to stray far from Haling Park Cottage, and Marlar espied us while gardening, he would shake a fist at us for breaking the Sabbath, and our father would get a roasting from him the next day.  I found this all very strange, and the arrival of Cavaliers cricket on Sundays soon afterwards must have dismayed Marlar. (He retired in 1961.)

I had to attend daily Assembly, careful to be carrying my hymnbook for inspection. (For one week when I had mislaid that item, I recall taking in a pocket dictionary, and not being spotted.) I would never even have thought of getting exempted as a pagan, but then I learned that there was a category of boys called ‘Jews’ who were allowed to sit it out. This seemed to me grossly unfair. I couldn’t tell why these characters were any different from the motley crew of youngsters from all quarters of Europe, both friendly and inimical, that I had to deal with, and thus could not work out why they were allowed to escape all the mumbo-jumbo. Later I would learn that there were atheist Jews, and agnostic Jews, and Protestant and Catholic Jews, and Jews for Jesus, and non-Jews who had converted for marital reasons, but it all seemed to me like an Enormous Category Mistake at the time, even though I had not worked out why. Much later, after looking into the matter, I decided that dividing the world into Jews and Gentiles was patently absurd, and I was encouraged to learn that Schlomo Sands (in The Invention of the Jewish People) gave historical authority to my doubts and inclinations.

Then I got recruited to the Choir. Not because I liked singing, but because I apparently had a decent voice, and obedient boys did not challenge what their elders and betters decreed. The only trouble was that the times for Choir Practice and Rugby Practice collided, and it was an easy decision for me to pick the activity I preferred. Thus, when the first performance of Iolanthe was staged, in December 1957 (I think), one Fairy who had missed out on the rehearsals was able to give a startling innovative and true-to-life interpretation of the first chorus ‘Tripping Hither, Tripping Thither’, something which my classmates were quick to point out to me the following morning. Mortification came easily.

‘Tripping Hither’ (not the Whitgift School performance)

Hymn- and carol-singing was, however, quite enjoyable, and even the less devout masters joined in lustily (with my father notoriously singing out of tune, another embarrassing fact that was swiftly communicated to me by one of his colleagues). But it was important not to study the words too closely. I do not know how many of us inquisitive ten- and eleven-year-olds worked out, when singing the stirring Adeste Fideles, what ‘Lo, he abhors not the virgin’s womb’ meant, but it was a line that Frederick Oakeley (if indeed it was he) should have stifled at birth when he faced the challenge of translating

Deum de Deo, lumen de lúmine,
gestant puellae viscera
Deum verum, genitum non factum
.

What was extraordinary to me then, and remains so, is how many of the school staff, presumably intelligent and well-educated persons who were supposed to be encouraging their pupils to think critically, swallowed up such nonsense unquestioningly.

In fact my sister confided in me an awful truth, in about 1959. She told me that our father (not Our Father, I hasten to add, since His views on the matter are for ever indeterminable) did not believe in the Apostles’ Creed. What a shock! I was like: ‘Hallo!’, and in my best Holden Caulfield style responded that surely no one believed in that stuff any more. Why Daddy had vouchsafed this truth to my sister, and not to me, was a mystery, but I concluded that, in my resolve not to accompany the rest of the family to church, something they did only at Christmas and Easter, I had perhaps been working my ‘Influencer’ magic on him for the good. (Those who knew my father will know how unlikely a story that is.)

But back to the choir. After a while, my voice broke, of course, and I became an alto. Something was wrong, however, and I was jolted out of my complacency when a fellow chorister – name of Balcomb (where is he now?) – pointed out loudly, to no one in particular, that ‘Percy just sang the treble part one octave lower’. Apparently I was supposed to sight-read the alto part from the hymnal, and thus harmonise with the basses and tenors. But I couldn’t do that! No one had told me what to do, or taught me how to sight-read. Another colleague informed me that most of the choir actually sang at their church, where they learned such tricks, but that his main objective in joining the church had been ‘to meet girls’. So maybe that was the route to take! But there was no way that I was going to sacrifice my irreligious principles for a bit of skirt-chasing (‘that’s not who I am’), so the hunt for Greensleeves was temporarily abandoned, and the choir permanently discarded.

Yet my teenage years were filled with things that I really did not want to do. I had joined a local Scout group, because a new master at the school had a son my age who was keen, and my parents thought it was ‘a good idea’ for me to join. I was made by my unmusical parents to take up piano-playing, something I was not adept at. I hated practising, and dreaded the weekly lesson, dearly hoping that the scheduled time would clash with an away cricket match. Later came the Combined Cadet Force, much harder to avoid, as the alternative was the Boy Scouts, but Monday night, preparing my uniform for CCF day, was the most dismal evening of the week.

This all left very little time for roving. I attended the Yates-Williams School of Ballroom Dancing, at the Orchid Ballroom in Purely, but that was all rather chaotic, and dancing was not my shtick, either. No time for careful wooing of Greensleeves. And glimpses of such a life were few and far between. When we studied Molière’s Bourgeois Gentilhomme, I recall Henry Axton trying to make the play a little more spicy for us (I was fourteen at the time), by suggesting, in the scene where M. Jourdain meets Dorimène, that he was probably trying to look down her cleavage. This was unbearably saucy for my liking, but indicated that Mr. Axton probably knew a bit about roving. I did not seek him out after the class, however, to quiz him on the details.

Thus, by the time the Sixth Form Socials arrived, where the girls from the local high schools were invited, I was hopelessly disadvantaged. (Well, there had been a few romantic roving episodes – none of Turgenevian proportions, I should add –  but I must stay silent about them, as any account would be too shy-making.) I bet all those blighters sporting ‘Crusader’ badges were winning the roving spoils. And, bewilderingly, the Religious Knowledge classes continued into the Lower Sixth Form, where a dreary three-quarters of an hour was wasted each week in studying some Bible extract, and poor Don Rose was brought into relative despair in trying to fire evangelical enthusiasm in the few obvious non-believers in the class. On the other hand, John Chester, our Sixth Modern form-master, as a dedicated Count Bernadotte internationalist, was perplexed at any admission of atheism, seeing it as a symptom of Communism. Presumably the same impulse that provoked the US Congress to adopt ‘In God We Trust’ as the national motto in 1956.

There were not many women at Whitgift. In the early years, we had Miss Scott in the Art Room, and the Headmaster’s secretariat contained two ladies, a very pleasant person called Mrs. Haynes, and her rather dour assistant whom we nicknamed ‘Olga’, as she looked as if she had just stepped out of a Chekhov play. In a sincere attempt to bring more joy to their lives, I posted the following clerihew on the Poetry Wall in the Prefects’ Room:

Mrs Haynes

Goes jiving in Staines,

While Olga

Dances the polga.

I do not know whether Life imitated Art in this particular case, but such musings formed a creative break from our cheerless studies.

The themes from the German literature we were given as set books were too frequently beyond the ken of secluded and protected sixteen-year-olds like me. Thus Gretchen’s passion and torment in Goethe’s Urfaust were rather bewildering (‘abhorrence of a virgin’s womb’? Mr. Chester would never have discussed sex or pregnancy with us), although the role of Mephistopheles in introducing Faust to Roving was unmistakably evil. (Was Gretchen’s  “Meine Ruh’ ist hin” a ghostly echo of  “my ru-i-in”?) And Goethe’s development of the ending, where Gretchen’s Old Testament fate (“ist gerichtet” – “judged”) evolved eventually to one of New Testament salvation (“ist gerettet” – “saved”) cut no ice with me. On the other hand, the Cambridge Examiners, in their fashionable wisdom, set the Communist Bertolt Brecht’s turgid Leben des Galilei as the second set book. Definitely no cleavages on view there. The last book, Heinrich von Kleist’s Der Prinz von Homburg, was an extraordinarily modern psychological study, Shakespearean in its combination of historical drama with study of period-independent human failings. It was thus for me the most accessible of the three set texts. Kleist died in a joint suicide with his Greensleeves, the mortally ill Henriette Vogel, in 1811. No more a-rovin’ for you, Heinrich old chap. But your work lives on: ‘Born 1777 – Still Going Strong’.

Heinrich von Kleist

Thus a rather confused and hesitant candidate applied for entrance to Oxford University.

1965-1976

Christ Church, Oxford

It was a strange business, landing up at Christ Church, of all places, the home of the Oxford Cathedral, and alma mater of countless Prime Ministers. My acceptance was surely not because of my scholastic record or potential, and I can only assume that they must have picked me for one of three reasons:

            1) They thought I was a fairly close relative of the Duke of Northumberland, they hadn’t had many Percys enrolled in recent years, and imagined I might be a useful addition to the beagling set;

            2) They hadn’t filled their quota of infidels for the year, and needed to take some immediate affirmative action to balance the numbers;

            3) They needed a versatile rugby three-quarter, who could play fly-half, centre, or full-back, and preferably someone who could bowl a bit as well.

In fact, I may have been admitted through a misunderstanding. When I had my interview, one of the dons suddenly asked me: “Have you done any roving?”, to which I immediately piped up, replying: “Not much, but I certainly expect to take it up enthusiastically if I am accepted!”.  One or two heads nodded at this, which was quite encouraging. It was not until a few hours later that it occurred to me that the distinguished academic had perhaps been impressed with my strapping 6’ 4” physique, and that the question might have been: “Have you done any rowing?”.  I must have disappointed the Senior Common Room when I did not take my place on the boats.

Yet it was a bit of a culture shock. The cathedral was obviously a dominant presence, and there was a fairly vigorous Church Militant group from such places as Wellington and Marlborough.  I was not even like the agnostic worshipper at the Cathedral quoted in Peter Snow’s Oxford Observed: “I am conscious of communicating if not with Christ then with the whole of English history and tradition.” And I soon found that I, as an obvious non-cathedral-service attendee, was to be excluded from some of the key social events – such as the Chaplain’s sherry parties. (Such discrimination would not be allowed in 2021, where chaplains, now probably called Spiritual Care and Outreach Officers, presumably have to administer to everyone, including Buddhists, Rosicrucians and atheists, and to attend to their emotional needs when they are offended by the presence of statues of benefactors of less than stellar integrity. And I notice that Harvard University recently appointed an atheist as its Head Chaplain.) One of my few god-fearing friends did however encourage me to gatecrash one of those parties, but I was sent away with a flea in my ear – not what I considered very charitable behaviour. Yet I learned one thing: One did not go to the Chaplain’s sherry parties to meet Greensleeves. No sirree.

But the theologians! I could not believe how many canons and readers and students of Theology there were. What on earth was ‘Theology’ and how could one pursue a course of study in it? The study of ‘God’ or of ‘gods’? Even today, when I pick up a recent copy of Christ Church Matters, the House magazine, I find that most of the books by Christ Church alumni that receive reviews are on matters of religion (e.g. ‘Theologically Engaged Anthropology’, ‘The Study of Ministry’, ‘Theology and Religion: Why It [sic] Matters’; ‘Interfaith Worship and Prayer: We Must Pray Together’;  etc. What is going on? How can such superstition occupy so many serious minds for so much of their time? I find it astounding. And then there are the editorials from the Dean, written in language that has no meaning at all for persons like me.

This lesson was brought home to me recently when I read an article in Prospect, titled ‘How to Build a New Beveridge’. It was written by someone called Justin Welby, who I assumed was perhaps the offspring of Marcus Welby, M. D., until the footnote informed me that he apparently occupied a role described as ‘Archbishop of Canterbury’. Welby started his article as follows: “An apocryphal riddle for theology students goes thus: ‘Could God create a rock so heavy that God couldn’t lift it?’ The problem, of course, is that if God can’t, then he’s not omnipotent. If God can, he can’t lift it, and so he’s not omnipotent.” (The rest of the essay was a depressing parade of preachy homilies, worthy of Private Eye’s J. C. Flannel.)

Apocryphal, eh? We all know about the Apocrypha, don’t we, and how they relate to truly genuine canonical texts. So that is what theology students were doing to earn their degree, discussing nonsensical questions like that, while I was slaving away, doing really useful stuff, such as trying to make sense of the High German Consonant Shift, and exploring the use of symbols in Chekhov’s plays! It reminded me of that other no doubt apocryphal essay question on the PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) finals paper at Oxford: “Is this a question?”. One candidate was inspired enough to write simply: “If it is a question, this is an answer”, and was awarded a First on account of it. That is presumably how the Church, the Cabinet, and the Foreign Office were staffed – with people who could so ably tackle such urgent questions, and such achievements led them on to believe that they could ‘solve’ the pressing problems of their time, like ‘the problem of social welfare.’ Harrumph.

J. I. M. Stewart & ‘Michael Innes’

‘But enough of politics, what about your social life?’, I hear you cry. Well, a little roving went on. I’d like to report that, as in Philip Larkin’s imaginings with the women he encountered in books, ‘I broke them up like meringues’, but that would not be strictly true, and the National Profiterole and Meringue Authority might have had something to say about such a micro-aggression. Yet I shall necessarily have to draw a veil over such activities. More engaging for a mature audience, perhaps, might be some of my other social encounters. When I was a member of the Nondescripts, the Christ Church sporting club, I recall attending a cocktail party hosted or attended by J. I. M. Stewart, the English literature don who had rooms on my staircase in Meadows 3. Now, not all of you may know that Stewart wrote detective novels under the name of Michael Innes, so I thought I would be very clever, showing off how familiar I was with his œuvre, and I thus asked him something about the plot of Landscape with Dead Dons. He paused, looked at me rather quizzically, and observed: “Forgive me if I am mistaken, but wasn’t that work written by Robert Robinson?”. I suddenly felt very small, and wanted to hide behind the sofa.

Christ Church JCR Officers with the Senior Censor

Now it has all changed. The latest issue of Christ Church Matters, received last month, celebrates ‘Forty Years of Women at the House’, and a wonderful milestone it is, indeed. The magazine is dedicated completely to women, with a very impressive Introduction by the Senior Censor, Professor Geraldine Johnson, who informs us that ‘Unlike Catherine Dammartin, whose corpse was temporarily buried in a dung heap in 1557 for daring to live within the confines of Christ Church despite being the wife of a Regius professor, today’s women know that they belong at the House, front and centre.’ And indeed they do, as all the little darlings [Is this usage wise? It sounds very patronising and 1970s  . . . Ed.] can be seen in a wide range of glittering photographs, in their blue stockings, green sleeves, and black gowns, alongside the senior members of faculty, and all those in the Cathedral, Steward’s Office, Hall, Lodge, Library, etc. etc. who make the place hum. Completely unexpected in 1965, when I arrived and was matriculated.

Staff and Students at Christ Church, June 2021

And then came a passage to the real world: teacher training, with a term at Bognor Regis Comprehensive School (where I was sent on an emergency mission to teach Russian and German, since the previous incumbent had turned out to be far too energetic a rover with one of his pupils), and then a move away from academia to business, and IBM. After a while, I met my Greensleeves, as I have described in http://www.coldspur.com/my-experience-with-opioids/. It all started because, during my extended stay in hospital (four months, in fact), I saw the invitation outside the hospital window: ‘Please Help Our Nurses’ Home’, and somehow failed to notice the apostrophe. That was in the summer of 1973, and Sylvia and I were married in September of 1976.

1980-2021

We have lived more than half our lives in the United States, and nearly half of that period in Southport, North Carolina – far longer than I have ever lived in one place. My accent still seems to be a source of fascination to many, and I am accustomed to being asked by the check-out personnel in the supermarket, even when I have explained that I have lived here for twenty years: ‘Do you like it here?’.

Bill Bryson & ‘The Road to Little Dribbling’

In The Road to Little Dribbling Bill Bryson lists some of the features of his adopted country that he likes: Boxing Day; Country pubs; Saying ‘you’re the dog’s bollocks’ as an expression of endearment or admiration; Jam roly-poly with custard; Ordnance Survey maps; I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue; Cream teas; the 20p piece; June evenings, about 8 p.m.; Smelling the sea before you see it; Villages with ridiculous names like Shellow Bowels and Nether Wallop. I could quickly add a few from my own collection of favourite UK phenomena, namely Stonehenge; the Listener crossword puzzle; Promenade Concerts; Jeeves; sheepdog trials; clerihews and limericks; the Wisden cricketers’ almanack; the Bluebell Railway. Yet if I had to come up with a list of similar Americana, it would run: Thanksgiving, the Grand Canyon  . . . and, er, that’s it.

Thus, while the USA has been an overall very positive experience for us, it does not contain many truly endearing features. And several things about the country and its habits and customs sometimes drive Sylvia and me to distraction. But, if they came to be really unbearable and unavoidable, we presumably would move elsewhere – but whither? In our seventies, an upheaval moving to some remote island, like my wife’s St. Vincent, or Maui, or Mauritius, or the Isle of Wight, does not seem very appealing It would be a hard adjustment: moreover, once you have kids who really have not lived anywhere else, and then the grandchildren arrive, that effectively seals the deal. So we live with all the oddities and frustrations of the USA, and its Bible Belt.

It is a droll irony that, while the Protestant Church in the United Kingdom is established (i.e. recognised as the official church, in law, and supported by civil authority), but the level of public unbelief is distinctly high, in the United States, there is supposed to be a constitutional separation between Church and State, while Christian fervour is an unavoidable presence in the public sphere. A few years ago, the local electricity company, Brunswick County Public Utilities, decided to have ‘In God We Trust’ inscribed on all its support vehicles. Lord knows how devolving everything to a deity would help in the reliable delivery of power to the local citizenry, and I found this an unnecessarily divisive and pointless initiative, at an unjustifiable expense. It was my Micro-Aggression of the month. (I was effectively told to clam up, and was referred to the minutes of the council meeting where the majority decision had been made.)

When we first moved to Southport, one of the first questions our neighbours asked us was: ‘What Church do you belong to?’, something that would still be considered horribly crass in the UK, I imagine, as what one’s friends believed in, or what they worshipped, was none of anyone’s business, but the interrogation seemed perfectly natural to Americans who did not even know us. I think they got the message when we held our first dinner party, and did not offer a prayer of ‘Grace’ before the meal, a ceremony that can be seen quite frequently in public restaurants, with participants holding hands around the table. In Brunswick County can be found churches of practically every conceivable Christian denomination: Pentecostal, Evangelical, Baptist, Lutheran, Quaker, Methodist, Presbyterian, Reformed, Unitarian, Mormon, Apostolic, African Methodist Episcopal, Catholic, as well as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Scientists. I have no idea what doctrinal differences separate these institutions, and have no wish to find out.

We attended the memorial service for a neighbour at the Episcopal Church in Southport a few months ago. I was astonished at how high-church it was. Swinging censers, the ritual of the eucharist, and the congregation all declaiming earnestly their belief in the Apostles’ Creed, and especially Eternal Life. When obituaries in the local paper state that the deceased (who normally has not ’died’, but ’passed’) has ‘gone to be with Jesus’, or ‘taken by the angels’, those who mourn him or her mean it quite literally. The after-life is ‘a better place’. But I can’t help but feel that if such people accepted that this life on earth is the only one they are going to have, they might value it rather more than they do. Ascribing disasters and premature or avoidable deaths to ‘God’s will’, or to His ‘Plan’, in the belief that everything will be well when we are all re-united, is a deeply depressing philosophy, in my opinion. It suggests that life is merely some dire metaphysical project akin to the Communist Experiment. And it is also a little hypocritical. When survivors of a tornado are pulled from the wreckage of their houses, their first statement is frequently: ‘The Lord saved me’, the implication being that the person down the street who did not survive was unworthy of such grace.

And yet. The charity . . . . The organisation of food-pantries when disasters like tornadoes and hurricanes strike  . . . The helping hands offered to neighbours and strangers. All very splendid and admirable, but not a little perplexing.

Someone (Meister Eckhart, C. S. Lewis, Teilhard de Chardin, Cardinal Newman?) once said that one believes in this rigmarole purely because it is utterly irrational and inexplicable, which seems to me an argument for anything, like believing in the Tooth Fairy. And that line can take you into the Paul Johnson school of theology, namely that ‘because Christianity inspired great art, it must be true’. What is astonishing to me is that if otherwise smart persons are taken in by such nonsense, are they not likely to be taken in by a lot of other absurd theories that circulate – especially on the Web? Why should the particular mythology that was instilled into them at primary school have any greater significance and durability than any other? And what happens – heaven forbid! – when politicians take some disastrous course of action to which they say they were divinely inspired? Or fundamentalist Christians (or those claiming to be so) resort to quoting the Bible to avoid having to be vaccinated against Covid-19?

Bishop John Spong

As I was putting the finishing touches to this piece I read, in the New York Times, an obituary of John Shelby Spong, a bishop in the Episcopal Church. He was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1931. His mother was a strict Calvinist ‘who refused to sing hymns because they were not the word of God’, and it was apparently such fundamentalism that prompted Spong’s subsequent rejection of Christian orthodoxy. Thus Spong called on his flock to reject ‘sacrosanct ideas like Jesus’ virgin birth’ (no questions of womb-abhorrence for Spong, then) and ‘the existence of heaven and hell’, and in 2013 he preached that several of the apostles were ‘mythological’, also claiming that the notion that Jesus’ blood had washed away the sins of Christians was ‘barbaric theology’. But why stop there? If you start dismantling the whole edifice as superstition, there will not be much left. I was not surprised to read that the Bishop of Brisbane had barred Spong from speaking in his diocese.

God granted episcopant Spong

A life that was wondrously long;

This in spite of the breach

When Spong started to preach

“What the Bible reveals is all Wrong!”

Still, not much else I can do about it all, especially if some insiders have woken up to the truth. And it is not as if we atheists get together in pressure-groups, or go on marches. No point in having meetings to discuss policy: “Still no God, then?”; “So who brought the donuts?”; “Same time next month?”.  I do occasionally venture out into the public sphere, however. Several years ago, the local paper printed a letter from a local citizen who had become angered that Walmart had replaced its ‘Happy Christmas’ welcome sign with one saying ‘Happy Holidays’. I was moved to respond, and the State Port Pilot published my letter, which ran as follows:

May I respond to Mr Livingston’s letter (‘Xmas’) with a few anecdotes?

In the country where I was born, the UK, where there remains an established church, the religious aspects of the Christmas festival had long been melded with pagan traditions. And to me, the beautiful Festival of the Nine Lessons and Carols, from King’s College, Cambridge, was as much a cultural event as a religious ceremony. Thirty years ago, there was no awkwardness about calling the period ’Christmas’, although today the members of the European Union are divided as to the degree to which they should acknowledge their Christian heritage.

When I came to the US, in 1980, I was quickly reminded how socially inept it was to send a Christmas card to friends who were Jewish, no matter how loosely religious they were. And a few years later, the new (Jewish) wife of an old friend of mine stormed out of the room when I – a non-believer  ̶  put on some ‘Christmas’ music. (And it wasn’t Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer). But how was I supposed to know? And wasn’t that a bit of an overreaction?

When I came to Southport a few years ago, I was astonished that a Christian prayer was said at a secular business meeting, and I am still surprised that your columnists refer to ‘our Lord’, as if the Pilot were a parish magazine. But it does not surprise me that Walmart should have decided that it wanted to post a message of seasonal goodwill to all its customers, whether they be Jews, Sikhs, Moslems, Buddhists – or even atheists – as well as the dominant sects of Christianity. Mr Livingston can continue to enjoy making his personal celebrations in his church.

Finally, Happy Holidays to you and all your readers!

In conclusion, this extended anecdote is really a celebration: I did not find God, but I found my Greensleeves. I look back on my life of almost seventy-five years, with many important decisions made and a good number of lucky breaks accepted, of which meeting Sylvia was the best. My thanks to my beautiful and adorable wife for supporting me for so long.

James (son), Coldspur, Sylvia, Julia (daughter), with Alyssa, Alexis and Ashley (granddaughters): St. James Marina, 2018

Greensleeves was my delight,
Greensleeves my heart of gold
Greensleeves was my heart of joy
And who but my lady Greensleeves.

(This month’s Commonplace entries can be seen here.)

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Filed under Geography, Literature/Academia, Personal, Philosophy, Travel, Uncategorized

What Gouzenko Said About ELLI

‘This Was My Choice’

Introduction

In my May report on ELLI, I set out to make the case that a group of intelligence officers, primarily in MI5, had attempted to frame Roger Hollis as the mysterious spy whose cryptonym was revealed by the defector from Soviet Military Intelligence (the GRU), Igor Gouzenko. I did not explore why they did this – a detailed analysis is a subject for another day. In brief, it was a convenient cover for MI5’s general indolence over the ELLI business, and its failure to put the matter to bed. To have a cloud hanging over Hollis (one that not even Burke Trend in his careful investigation could dispel) provided them with a scapegoat, and an explanation for all those failings that had reportedly damaged MI5’s performance in Soviet counter-espionage. At the same time, apart from the fanatics like Peter Wright and Arthur Martin, most officers probably believed that Hollis was innocent, not being ready to credit him with the brains and wiles to deceive his colleagues so ably. (And even Arthur Martin recanted in his old age.) Yet Chapman Pincher’s vigorous claims about Hollis’s guilt have dominated public perceptions.

Another dimension of the case fit for exploration is that list of intelligence failures which led Wright and his colleagues to assume that MI5 had been betrayed by an insider, a catalogue written up in Wright’s Spycatcher, and in Nigel West’s Molehunt. Again, an inspection of how real these failures were, and whether they should have been justly ascribed primarily to high-level leakages, will have to wait for treatment another time. But a third dimension is what occupies my research this month –  the testimony of Igor Gouzenko. How could it be that the presumably straightforward evidence he gave of ELLI’s activity has been so miscommunicated, distorted, denied, overlooked, even concealed? I decided that a stricter investigation into what he said to various persons and agencies was merited, as an attempt to shed light on the rather bewildering behaviour of those who should have been processing his disclosures.

I shall not dwell here on Gouzenko’s character. He was by most accounts a difficult man, greedy, obstinate, peevish, litigious, and ill-mannered. While he impressed his interlocutors in Ottawa with his memory and clarity of thinking, his articulation was once described during earlier interrogations as incoherent. Irrespective of his personal faults, however, he displayed a willful contrariness in his testimony over the years, and it is hard to ascribe his inconsistences simply to a failing memory, or to the much-questioned fact of his alcoholism. For my own purposes, I knew I needed to apply a strict chronology to his statements, so that I could more easily cross-refer those assertions that collided. And that is what this report consists of.

This is not an easy read – one perhaps for the aficionados only. (Casual readers may wish to skip to the Conclusions after reading ‘Statements and Confessions’ below.) The construction of the report has helped crystallise my thinking, however, and I believe that the piece will constitute an important resource for any other historian/researcher who wants to investigate the bizarre ELLI phenomenon, and to shed further light on it. (And if I have missed any relevant Gouzenko statements, please let me know.)

Statements and Confessions

In their attempts to prosecute spies, MI5 and the Department of Public Prosecutions have always relied heavily on confessions. The prevailing methods of gaining evidence (telephone surveillance, or transcripts of intercepted hostile communications) were considered too secret to be used in court, and would probably have been dismissed anyway as being too vague and circumstantial. Thus, apart from catching the suspect red-handed in the act of passing over documents to his or her controller (as Special Branch hoped to trap Nunn May), the spy had to be persuaded to make a confession.

Yet even that process was problematic. Klaus Fuchs was inveigled into making a statement to Bill Skardon, and it represented the primary evidence in his trial. MI5 knew, however, that it was probably compromised by the fact that it had been offered under duress, as some sort of quid pro quo. Fuchs’s lawyer was not canny enough (or had been guided otherwise) to show that the statement was thus tainted, and the case was quickly concluded. Or the process could be more fortuitous. George Blake was so offended by the suggestion that he had spied for the Reds for mercenary reasons that he blurted out that his espionage had been performed out of ideological purity.

The UK authorities were normally less eager to prosecute homegrown spies (apart from Nunn May), a public trial threatening to become a total embarrassment. Thus, with the Cambridge Five, seeking a confession was more a method of clearing the books, and trading an apology for facts, in the hope that the lack of publicity would allow the whole story to be buried. Yet MI5 counter-intelligence officers and Civil Service mandarins displayed an enormous amount of naivety in so doing. They dithered over interrogating Donald Maclean (who might well have succumbed, given his psychological state), allowing him to escape with Burgess. They gained a minimal confession from Cairncross at first, and banished him from government employment. Nicholas Elliott extracted a weaselly confession from Philby in Beirut, but Philby absconded immediately afterwards. Blunt was offered a pardon on the basis that he would make a full confession, and would also confirm to his interrogators that he had not spied since the end of the war [!]. He obliged, but lied in so doing, and his confession was by no means ‘full’. At the second take, Cairncross gave a fuller confession, but it was on American soil, and thus not valid evidence in an English court. Moreover, he declined to repeat it after being given the requisite legal warning.

With defectors, one might expect the business to be cut and dried. After all, they were volunteering information, and their intentions were presumably friendly. The process of interrogation should have been leisurely, and the ability of their questioners to verify the story should have been explicit. One might thus assume that signed statements would become an integral part of the data collection exercise. Yet this phenomenon also had its problems – concerning language, fear, accessibility, and trustworthiness.

The closest analog to Gouzenko’s situation is probably that of Walter Krivitsky. After receiving the fatal message of recall to Moscow, Krivitsky abandoned his position with the GRU, escaped from France to the United States, and was then marooned in Canada. He agreed to come to the UK to be interrogated, because he might have needed favours in order to gain a residence permit. Having arrived in January 1940, he was cloistered in a hotel for over three weeks, where he was interrogated primarily by Major Alley, a Russian speaker, and Kathleen (Jane) Archer, MI5’s expert on Soviet intelligence. He was initially nervous, but Archer gained his confidence. Krivitsky, while virulently anti-Stalin, was however still a Communist. He did not want to betray any personal colleagues, and he did not want to make MI5’s job too easy. He spoke only a little English.

The outcome was that Archer was able to compile from Krivitsky’s testimony a lengthy and authoritative report on Stalin’s policies, and the organisation of Soviet intelligence. Krivitsky had already published revealing articles in the USA, so he knew he was a marked man, but here he was able to provide more targeted hints at the nature of Soviet espionage against Britain. Yet he never signed off on the report, which was compiled after he left. The discussions proceeded rather haphazardly, and probably according to Krivitsky’s whims. As Archer wrote: “The facts and views expressed are put down as nearly as possible as told by him. The work represents an attempt to sort out and put into coherent form a mass of information gleaned from KRIVITSKY at odd moments in the course of lengthy and diffuse conversations extending over three or four weeks.” Nothing was tape-recorded. Later attempts to contact Krivitsky to clarify points failed. He was murdered in Washington in February 1941.

The bulk of Igor Gouzenko’s overall testimony was diligently recorded, as the Canadian Government set up a commission to investigate the circumstances of his defection, and the details of the spy-ring he uncovered, but his evidence about Soviet espionage in Britain was more problematic. Even though he was bitterly opposed to the whole Communist system, and thus sincere in wanting to reveal all he knew, he was highly suspicious – because he believed all government institutions might have been infiltrated by Stalin’s agents. Moreover, what he had to reveal about the UK was primarily information gained at second-hand – and the Canadian government warned him about not disclosing ‘hearsay’ evidence as factual. His spoken English was also poor (although the demonstration of that fact is ambiguous), and his early interrogations suffered from a highly undisciplined approach by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), which was unpractised in such matters. Hence the regrettable muddle about exactly what he said, when, and how reliable such statements were. It is for that reason that my task here is to report and analyse closely everything that Gouzenko was reputed to have said or written about the mysterious figure known as ‘ELLI’.

I thus concentrate here not on the broader material on the organisation of the GRU, and the profiles of its agents in Canada, provided by Gouzenko, and thoroughly documented, but solely the scattered comments he made on Soviet penetration of British Intelligence in London.  I identify these (including some events that may be purely apocryphal) individually as follows:

Summary of Gouzenko’s Statements

  1. Informal statements to the RCMP, communicated by Dwyer in daily reports (early and mid-September, 1945)
  2. The so-called ‘BSC Report’ (September 15 et al.)
  3. The ZILONE telegram (October 16)
  4. The statement in late October
  5. The interrogation on October 29
  6. Re-interrogation and cables in early November
  7. The interview by Roger Hollis on November 21
  8. The RCMP Report (November)
  9. The testimony to the Commission (February, 1946)
  10. The interview by Guy Liddell (March 20)
  11. A possible second interview by Hollis (May 23)
  12. Commentary on the Hollis report (November 1946)
  13. Statements in Gouzenko’s Autobiography (1948)
  14. Ann Last’s Notebook (1950)
  15. The statement to the RCMP in 1952
  16. The memorandum from the FBI (October 1952)
  17. Senator Jenner’s sub-committee (January 1954)
  18. The response to Stewart in 1972
  19. Communications with Chapman Pincher

1. Informal Statements to the RCMP:

Officers of the RCMP began interrogating Gouzenko, and then releasing the information they learned to Peter Dwyer (of MI6 and BSC) and his colleague John-Paul Evans, immediately he was moved to his first safe house, probably around September 10, 1945. Dwyer then began sending daily bulletins back to Kim Philby in MI6. The RCMP was not very well organized. According to the officer John Batza, John Leopold (whose Russian was not very good) started interviewing Gouzenko in the first cabin in which he and his wife were installed, at Kemptville. Evans and Dwyer did not question Gouzenko themselves, a fact confirmed by Evans. In a letter to David Stafford (the author of Camp X) Evans wrote that Leopold was the only direct contact with Gouzenko. “He would spend some time with him each day, going over the translations which he would have made to date and questioning him as required. He would bring the material to me and I would write it up and raise queries as they arose. Peter would also study the results and generally deal with matters of liaison.” This procedure was not ideal, but at least suggested an attempt to verify facts. Thus the early signals that Guy Liddell and co. received about ‘ELLI’ originated in less than perfect surroundings, but should have resulted in greater precision.

Ormond Uren

The only mention of ELLI in this period is the statement in Guy Liddell’s cable of September 23: “Reference your CXG 301 of 13.9.45 – do not consider that ELLI could be identical with UREN.” So what can one draw from this, given that the cable of September 13 has not been released? Gouzenko certainly did not know about SOE, the Special Operations Executive, where Ormond Uren had served. Dwyer assuredly knew that Uren had been convicted for espionage, but his suggestions that Uren was ELLI might have been a wild stab, the statement that he was working on not necessarily including any reference to SOE, or connections with Moscow.

Yet Liddell quickly dismissed Uren’s candidature, while not rejecting the SOE link. Gouzenko and Dwyer must have passed on additional information that did more than claim that a spy was at large in British Intelligence. It is more likely that the hints provided enough of a clue that indicated to Liddell (any maybe Dwyer) a link between ELLI and SOE, rather than between him and MI5 or MI6. That can only have been because of knowledge of the presence of the SOE station in Moscow, and it would thus point to the fact that Gouzenko had made a claim about the existence in 1942 of a British Intelligence spy in the Kremlin. Liddell’s familiarity with George Hill’s set-up in Moscow, alongside his awareness of Uren’s conviction for espionage, must have suggested to him that Uren was at least a plausible explanation. As I wrote in May: “Something in the information provided by Gouzenko must have indicated to him either a) that there were corners of SOE’s organisation that were not known to Uren, or b) that the disclosures had occurred either before his recruitment to SOE (in 1942) or after his arrest (in July 1943), or c) that the additional hints about ‘Russian descent’ excluded Uren. The third alternative seems the most likely, and may have pointed him towards Alley. In addition, Uren was known to have worked by supplying secrets to Dave Springhall, not to a Soviet handler from the Embassy.”

2. The BSC Report:

This item was not a singular document, but something that was regularly amended after its first publication, and it reflected the evolving story as described by Gouzenko. (BSC was British Security Coordination, the wartime intelligence organisation set up in New York under Bill Stephenson.) Amy Knight (p 60) presents it in the following terms: “  . . . the British had put together a comprehensive report on behalf of the BSC, entitled “Intelligence Department of the Red Army in Moscow and Ottawa, 1945”, and she sources it as C293177 in the CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) files on Gouzenko. For clarification, she adds that ‘the report listed twenty-seven individuals who were connected with Zabotin’s GRU network in Canada, including an American scientist named Arthur Steinberg.’

Old Alleynian Peter Dwyer

While this document has not been released, it would appear to be in essence the same as the document residing in the Gouzenko file at the National Archives, in KV 2/1420. Titled ‘THE CORBY CASE’, it is introduced by verbiage (dated 25.9.45) that explains that the following pages should be interleaved or substituted into the preliminary report. The dates of the inserts range from September 13 to October 7, and this Issue Number 3 was posted on October 30. It does indeed include a reference to Steinberg, but, as with many other sections, it has been redacted, and no information about him is visible. Since Knight is able to quote Dwyer’s and Evans’s comments on Steinberg, presumably from the Canadian version, it seems odd that this information had to be redacted when the copy was stored in the UK.

It is page 30 of the British version of this report that contains a reference to ELLI, as described by William Tyrer in his article ‘The Unresolved Mystery of ELLI’, where he describes the report as ‘the long report from the RCMP’ (thus a source of some confusion). The whole page has been removed, but ELLI’s substance is confirmed by the Alphabetical Index of Cover Names, where ELLI is differentiated from ELLIE (Kay Willsher) as ‘Unidentified agent in England in 1943’. This would appear to offer adequate proof that Gouzenko had provided tangible evidence about the mysterious spy. That certain names were too sensitive to be displayed is confirmed by two cables from New York, dated September 14 (Sns. 11A & 12A of KV 2/1420-2), which list by alphabetic letter a summary of station agents, from A to S (who happens to be STEINBERG). Items M & N have been redacted, but it is not clear who has been omitted, as this is a very preliminary list, and the cable concludes: ‘Name of further individuals to be uncovered shortly.’

Tyrer was nevertheless able to extract an important item from the Canadian archive dating from this period, and it makes sense to include it as part of ‘The BSC Report’, since it is this testimony to which the Index entry must surely relate. Tyrer assumes that this document (given as C293235 in MG26 J4, Vol 417, Library and Archives Canada) is the same as the item removed from the BSC Report, and I am sure he is right. His quoted text runs as follows:

            Alleged Agent in British Intelligence

Corby [the codename for Gouzenko] states that while he was in the Central Code Section [in Moscow] in 1942 or 1943, he heard about a Soviet agent in England, allegedly a member of the British Intelligence Service. This agent, who was of Russian descent, had reported that the British had a very important agent of their own in the Soviet Union, who was apparently being run by someone in Moscow. The latter refused to disclose his agent’s identity even to his headquarters in London. When this message arrived it was received by a Lt. Col. Polakova who, in view of its importance, immediately got in touch with Stalin himself by telephone.

I presented this, as quoted by Amy Knight, in my May coldspur bulletin (while drawing attention to her misattribution of the occasion as Hollis’s non-existent interrogation of Gouzenko in September), and, indeed, she gives page 30 as the source, thus confirming the equivalence, and showing that the fuller text in the Canadian archive compensates for the redacted version in the British archives. The timing of the communication of this nugget would appear to confirm also that this is the item that excited Dwyer/Evans and Liddell, and started them on the trail of hypothesizing about SOE and the station in Moscow. KV 2/1420 informs us that Sergeant Bayfield of the RCMP probably brought the original version of this report straight to Menzies on September 16. Roger Hollis brought with him updates to it when he returned to the UK on September 28.

3. The ZILONE telegram:

As I reported in March, the Gouzenko archive (KV 2/1421, s.n. 35a) shows a cryptic and incomplete reference, dated October 16, in Telegram No 533, sent with some urgency (‘MOST IMMEDIATE’). Its text runs as follows:

A. CORBY states that cover name for ?all foreign ?intelligence or counter espionage services is ZILONE repeat ZILONE meaning green in Russian.

B. Agent referred to by CORBY in 534 was referred to as working in ZILONE.

So why was the revelation that the agent that Gouzenko had identified worked in counterintelligence suddenly that urgent? Had that fact not been communicated in September? ZILONE could presumably refer to either MI5 or MI6 – but also to SOE, since the Soviets made no distinction between SOE and MI6 (as this telegram confirms), which may have been significant. It might seem that someone in London had raised a question, and that Gouzenko wanted to clarify that his ‘Central Code Section’ handled traffic from all British intelligence services.

4. The Statement in Late October:

Igor and Svetlana Gouzenko

In early October, the Gouzenkos were moved to Smith’s Falls, to a place on Otter Lake, and here, according to one report, a more competent translator, Mervyn Black (who was born of Scottish parents in Petrograd), was introduced. Soon after that, a more permanent accommodation was found, much nearer Toronto, in a farmhouse at the Camp X establishment, which was an SOE training facility, and communications centre. The testimony provided in Gouzenko: The Untold Story, the compilation by John Sawatsky, is unfortunately not very reliable. George Mackay, another RCMP officer, claimed that Gouzenko, shortly after he and his wife arrived, ‘was being interviewed by various people in the Mounted Police and some MI5 people’. (He presumably meant ‘MI6’ or ‘BSC’, but his evidence is the only testimony that suggests non-RCMP personnel were allowed to visit.) Moreover, despite the seclusion, and the availability of more appropriate buildings nearby, the method of interrogation was still crude. Another RCMP officer, Don Fast, contributed that ‘a lot of the debriefings took place in the car’, as the authorities ‘were trying to get him away from the noise and the child and whatnot.’

On the other hand, Svetlana Gouzenko remarked that Leopold was still active on the interrogation team at Camp X, but continuing to struggle, misunderstanding what her husband said, and constructing organisation charts that were ‘wrong’. She indicated that, on one occasion, ‘six or seven of them [RCMP officers] would be all downstairs at this big farm table and they would be sitting there’, adding that ‘each of them would look for some point that he wanted clarified’. It sounds all very chaotic, especially as Gouzenko did not trust the RCMP.

Another account suggests that Black was involved by then as chief interpreter. Amy Knight cites a letter from the CSIS files, dated October 11, when Inspector George McLellan of the RCMP wrote to Rivett-Carnac in Ottawa: “I would like to point out that under the present conditions at Rexall [Camp X] at the moment, Black laboured under much difficulty in obtaining the statement already submitted herewith, and it will take some days to get a complete statement in the manner in which you want it. This is due to the fact that Corby has somewhat of a dreamer mentality and it is extremely difficult to pin him down to the business at hand.” Such observations anticipate the frustrations later expressed by Liddell over the lack of coherence in Gouzenko’s evidence.

Guy Liddell reports a further bulletin from Gouzenko during this period. His diary entry for October 24 (also recorded by Tyrer) runs as follows:

John Marriott showed me a new wire which has come in from the other side indicating that the CORBY case is breaking. Warnings have obviously been given to a number of people. There is also a further telegram about the agent known as ELLI who is alleged to hold some high position in British intelligence. References are made to C.E. [counter-intelligence] but as CORBY’s theories are only based on scraps of information picked up here and there there is not much to work on. It is possible in mentioning the figure 5 he is referring to the five people who formerly signed JIC reports. It equally does not follow that because information is high-grade it comes from a highly-placed officer. It may mean that an extra copy of JIC reports is coming off the roneo and being passed by a clerk. In this connection the KING case is not a bad illustration. Hooper always referred to Vansittart as the source of the information and we found afterwards that his name was only used to cover up the high-grade reports received from cypher communications which KING was handing out to the Russians.

Tyrer reports that this telegram (and the following one) were sent ‘during Hollis’s second visit to Canada’, as if implying that his presence had something to do with the distribution, but that cannot be true. This cable was probably sent – and arrived via Philby – before Hollis left. Hollis did not depart until October 22, sailing from Southampton for Halifax on the Queen Elizabeth, and thus would not have arrived in Ottawa until several days later. His first report from there (concerning Nunn May) appears to have been sent on October 31. In any case, Hollis soon moved to Washington for meetings between Attlee and Truman, and a note from Petrie indicates that he wanted Hollis to stay there until November 18. Indeed, on November 19, Hollis reported a meeting with Edgar Hoover, chief of the FBI. The RCMP, however, pressed for him to return to Ottawa before he took his seat on the Clipper on November 26 to return to the UK.

The cable itself has not been released, so we are left puzzling over that first enigmatic reference to ‘the figure 5’, and what it meant. One of the ‘Cambridge Five’? – I do not think that that interpretation has been considered. In any case, the attitude of Liddell seems extremely blasé, even irresponsible. Even if the spy were not as ‘high-grade’ as the information supplied, that was no reason for complacency. The KING case had alerted MI5 to gross lapses in security at the Foreign Office, and here was possible evidence that similar poor practices were in use at one of the intelligence agencies.

5. The Interrogation on October 29:

“Gouzenko: The Untold Story”

Knight draws attention to the next incident, an interrogation that took place on October 29, recorded only in handwritten notes, and sources it as ‘Transcript 000009, interview 2, October 29’. It is possible that Gouzenko returned to Ottawa for this briefing, but the fact that the notes were only hand-written suggests that the interrogation was less formal. There again, the evidence from the RCMP officers is unreliable. In Gouzenko: The Untold Story (where dates are almost completely absent), Herb Spanton states that he took Johnny Leopold to Camp X, where he met [sic] Gouzenko, suggesting that he had not encountered him before – a claim that contradicts what Batza had earlier stated about Leopold’s acting as translator at Kemptville (see above). Spanton added that ‘the next day we left for Ottawa [a journey of about 250 miles] and Igor came with us, but he wouldn’t ride in the same car as Leopold.’ As far as Gouzenko was concerned, Leopold was a spy. Yet The Gouzenko Transcripts present Leopold as ‘close to an expert on communism and the Soviet Union as the R.C.M.P. possessed’. (p 155)

Be that as it may, Gouzenko provided further clues about ELLI during this interrogation. Apparently he said that it was

            . . . possible that he or she is identical with the agent with a Russian background who Kulakoff [Kulakov, Gouzenko’s successor, who had recently come from Moscow] spoke of – there could be 2 agents concerned in this matter. CORBY handled telegrams submitted by ELLI . . .  ELLI could not give the name of the [British] agent in Moscow because of security reasons. ELLI [was]already working as an agent when CORBY took up his duties in Moscow in May 1942 and was still working when Kulakoff arrived in Canada in May 1945. Kulakov said agent with a Russian connection held a high position. CORBY from decoding messages said ELLI had access to exclusive info.

The most remarkable aspect of this item, for me, is the twice-told statement that Gouzenko himself was responsible for ‘handling’ and ‘decoding’ messages from ELLI. The verifiability of this activity will have serious implications as the story progresses. What also stands out is the suggestion that telegrams were ‘submitted by ELLI’. That cannot be right, as ELLI would not have direct access to Embassy cable resources. Messages from ELLI would have been packaged by his or her controller. This must be an error of understanding/translation. The fresh revelations from Kulakov concerning the spy’s still being active in 1945 would dispel any lingering illusions about Uren.

6. Re-interrogation and cables in early November:

Guy Liddell’s next diary entry on ELLI appears dated November 5. One might assume that it refers to the interrogation of October 29.  It runs, however, as follows:

Marriott showed me some recent telegrams on the subject of ELLI. CORBY has been re-interrogated and refers to an incident where the Soviet M.A. in London referred to information that he had received from ELLI relating to a British agent in Russia. As the only organisations that can possibly have been running a British agent in Russia were SIS, SOE or the British Military Mission, it seems unlikely that ELLI could have any connection with ourselves. Nobody in fact knows anything about any agent in Russia. I should doubt very much whether there was one. The above does not necessarily throw any doubts on the bona fides of CORBY, who may have got the story wrong.

This entry is noteworthy for several reasons. (As Tyrer notes, Liddell’s comments are ‘perplexing’.) First, it refers to ‘some recent telegrams’, suggesting three or four, at least. None has been released to the archive. Given the delay in channelling the messages through Philby, and the traditional lag time shown in Liddell’s previous reactions, one might assume that the interrogations referred to antedated the events of October 29. Indeed, Liddell does not refer specifically to the news imparted in the previous item: one might have expected him to cite it as confirmation that Gouzenko was muddling things. Instead, Liddell focuses on ‘old’ news – the rumour of an unidentified British agent in Moscow. This was an essential part of the ‘BSC Report’ (see above), but now enhanced by the additional insight that the medium through which ELLI communicated this information was the Military Attaché in London. (Tyrer hypothesises that Hollis may have been the interrogator in this case, but then wisely immediately rejects his suggestion.)

Was Liddell really not paying attention? He had already discounted Uren of SOE as being ELLI, but the fresh news about the Military Attaché should have reminded him of his previous analysis. As I conjectured, Liddell and Dwyer were back in September probably told much more than the bare cables reveal. He should have immediately cast his mind on the few characters who had contact with the Attaché, Colonel Chichaev (as he apparently did, after some reflection). Yet he should also have displayed a little more concern about ELLI than expressing relief that he was probably not a member of MI5: if there were spies at large in any service in London (such as Uren), it was MI5’s responsibility to root them out.

And it was on November 16 that Liddell recorded his follow-up with Air Commodore Archie Boyle:

I am getting the personal files for all the representatives of the SOE mission. Neither Hill nor Graham of course really fits the bill since the only apparently concrete piece of evidence by CORBY is that he decyphered two telegrams indicating that ELLI was in London and worked through the Soviet M.A.

Here Liddell consolidates his impressions. He articulates the link between ELLI, Chichaev, and George Hill, and manifestly confirms the fact that Gouzenko had stated that had deciphered the telegrams from ELLI himself  – the nugget from the October 29 interrogation. And he adds the audacious footnote:

ELLI=ALLEY is I think too fantastic to merit any serious thought

This led to the flurry of activity at the end of November that I described in coldspur in May.

7. The interview by Roger Hollis on November 21:

William Tyrer is again to be credited for extracting from MI5 the contents of the two-page telegram sent by Hollis on November 23, two days after his interview with Gouzenko. (The National Archives created a new folder for it in KV 2/1425B, released in November 2014, and added to the catalogue on July 3, 2015. Confirmation of the event had been referred to in a minute of May 23, 1946, visible at sn. 216a in KV 2/1423.) This encounter surely did not occur ‘on the shores of Lake Ontario’ (as fancifully reported by Dick White): Hollis would not have travelled five hours for what was later described, rather imaginatively, as a three-minute interview. Mahomet came to the mountain. I present the text:

A. I paid a brief visit to CORBY on Wednesday. He makes a good impression as regards his honesty and truthfulness.

B. I dealt particularly with ‘ELLI’ case, the position of which is as follows:

            1. CORBY himself deciphered 2 telegrams from Soviet Military Attaché in London, one stating ELLI was now going over to DUBOK method and the other that British Military Attaché in Moscow would not give name of agent there.

2. LIUBIMOV * told him in 1943 that ELLI was a member of a high grade intelligence committee, that he worked in British counter-intelligence. CORBY thinks that LIUBIMOV mentioned the number 5 in connection with committee.

3. KOULAKOFF in 1945 told CORBY that a high grade Soviet agent was still working in United Kingdom. He did not specifically say this agent was ELLI and appeared unwilling to discuss matter. CORBY did not press it.

4. CORBY told me that he did not know that the two incidents of the theft of the papers from Military Attaché in London and attempt to Telephoto his office were reported by ELLI.

5. I tried to get some further indication of the nature and scope of information supplied by ELLI: for instance I asked whether he supplied information on German war dispositions, political matters, etc. CORBY said that he did not know and refused to be led in these matters and I think it is quite clear that he knows nothing more about ELLI than information given in previous paragraphs.

[* ‘The name ‘LIUBIMOV’ appears in the texts sometimes as ‘LUBIMOV’. I have reproduced the original spellings as they lie. Similarly with ‘KOULAKOFF’ and ‘KULAKOV’.]

Hollis’s account is enormously provocative. Item 1 would appear to point to Chichaev as the Military Attaché (rather than the head of the GRU station), since Hollis associates him with his counterpart in Moscow, and the reference foreshadows the item in 4, which without a doubt refers to thefts from Chichaev’s lodgings. If Chichaev was indeed familiar enough with the methods of communicating with ELLI, it sounds as if ELLI was directly controlled by Chichaev. This is a puzzling revelation, as it would draw attention away from any casual but authorised relationship (such as that with Stephen Alley), and point to a much more clandestine affair.

On the other hand, the description of the behaviour of the British Military Attaché in Moscow is bizarre. It suggests that a) George Hill had been presented with this information, and b) he did not deny that he ran an agent, but declined to identify him. Why would Chichaev be reporting this information from London rather than Ossipov in Moscow, and how would ELLI have learned about it? It would require a highly amicable and cozy relationship between Chichaev and Hill (as well as a secure method of communication) for them to discuss the matter. One would have expected Chichaev to warn his bosses in Moscow, and for Ossipov to challenge Hill, but, even if the response travelled back to Chichaev, he would not have seen any point in echoing it back to Moscow.

The only other interpretation must be that Hill had a meeting with Chichaev when he returned to Britain in the summer of 1942. Hill had been enormously indiscreet in sending letters to his contacts in SOE, especially John Venner, the finance director, about his plans for an ‘undercover operation’ in Moscow, and his messages may have been intercepted by the NKVD. He made another trip back to London in March 1943. Thus the tip may have come from Ossipov, Chichaev was assigned to verify it, and the story about the agent had nothing to do with ELLI. In any case, Hill’s inability to deny the rumour is puzzling.

The identity of the committee named in Item 2 is also problematic. Tyrer deftly referred to the Cram papers that contained a communication between Bourdillon of MI5 and the CIA in 1984, where Bourdillon claimed that Hollis interpreted Gouzenko’s reference to ‘M5’ [??] as ‘MI5’. How he arrived at this conclusion is not clear, but Tyrer adds that, a few months later, Bourdillon reported as follows:

Pincher makes a case for Hollis being Gouzenko’s ELLI. Actually the Gouzenko ‘ELLI’ lead was terribly vague and contradictory, and did not lead to MI-5 at all.

Nothing much more needs to be said about Item 3. Item 4, on the other hand, encourages further analysis. As I reported in May, I have discovered the ‘facts’ about the burglary from the Chichaev residence in April 1942 (and can thus provide an update to Tyrer’s article), in Chichaev’s file at KV 2/3226, but a full analysis is outside the scope of this discussion. Hollis’s language is irritatingly imprecise, however. It could be interpreted as saying that Gouzenko knew about the incident with the papers, but was not aware that it was ELLI who had reported it, or it could mean that the whole anecdote was new to him. Yet it seems to suggest that Hollis knew about the incident, and even that he, Hollis, knew that ELLI was involved. The latter interpretation cannot be correct, surely, given how recently ELLI had entered MI5’s realm of interest. In any case, it shows a disastrously cavalier approach by Liddell and co. not to have followed up on this ambiguity, and to have failed to ask Evans/Dwyer to clarify what Gouzenko actually said.

I have also covered Item 5 in previous research. It expressly reflects Hollis’s knowledge about MI14, part of the Directorate of Military Intelligence specializing in Germany, and the stealing by Leo Long in April 1942 of papers deriving from ULTRA, and subsequently passed to Anthony Blunt. Hollis was thus presumably trying to ascertain whether Leo Long could have been ELLI, but his question predictably fell on stony ground.

Hollis’s final claim is somewhat preposterous. He may have been speaking out of ignorance, if he truly had not seen any of the previous ELLI material [!], but other offerings, in particular the ‘BSC Report’ that he had brought back with him in September, conveyed more information – such as the suggestion of Russian descent. The lack of follow-up is yet more evidence of the slipshod approach taken by MI5’s top counter-intelligence officers.

8) The RCMP Report (November 1945):

The report titled ‘Soviet Espionage in Canada’ issued by the RCMP Intelligence Branch in November 1945 (inspectable at KV 2/1428) offers valuable information on the structure of GRU intelligence in Moscow, and also includes, under Chapter 7, ‘Distribution of Agents’, both Ignaci Witczak in Los Angeles, and Arthur Steinberg in Washington, as well as ‘ELLI’ in London. It also offers an intriguing insight into the contact that Hermina RABINOVITZ (who had worked for the International Labour Organization in Geneva) had with members of the Red Orchestra in Switzerland (e.g. SISI, LUCY, ALBERT and PAUL), although a whole page has been redacted. Under the Alphabetical List of Cover Names, ‘ELLI’ re-appears, defined as ‘Unidentified agent in England in 1942-1945’, but it should not be interpreted from this that ELLI was in contact with Zabotin and the Ottawa-based ring. Another bizarre tip is that LUCY is defined as ‘Czech diplomat in Switzerland’ (with ‘?’ beside it, which raises intriguing questions about the Roessler/Sedlacek conundrum (for further information, see http://www.coldspur.com/sonias-radio-envoi/).

9) The Testimony to the Commission:

Robert Taschereau

The hearings of the Taschereau-Kellock Commission began on February 6, 1943, and Gouzenko gave his first deposition on February 13. According to the record, Gouzenko was asked by Commissioner Taschereau whether he could read and write the English language, and Gouzenko answered in the affirmative. His spoken English may not have been so good, and Black was on hand to assist with translations and technical terms. In The Master Spy, Philip Knightley referred (p 134) to an oblique reference to ELLI in the evidence that Gouzenko provided. He wrote: “Instead [of Gouzenko’s pointing out the oddity of there being two spies in the West with the same code name], the possible existence of a second ELLI emerged, almost as an afterthought, in Gouzenko’s evidence before the Royal Commission”:

            Q: Do you know whether ELLI was use as a nickname or covername for any person other than Miss Willshire?

A: Yes, there is some agent under the same name in Great Britain.

Q: Do you know who it is?

A: No.

Alternatively, the exchange ran as follows, as The Gouzenko Transcripts records. After Commissioner Taschereau pointed out that K. Willsher, secretary to the High Commissioner in Ottawa, possessed the cover name ‘ELLI’, the dialogue went as follows:

            GOUZENKO: That is right.

            TACHEREAU: And there is also a cover name ELLI, and I understand that he or she, I do not know which, has been identified as an agent in England?

            GOUZENKO: That is right.

            TACHEREAU: Would that be the same person?

            GOUZENKO: No.

            TASCHEREAU: You are sure of that?

            GOUZENKO: As far as I know.

            TACHEREAU: Did Miss Willsher come from England or is she Canadian born?

In whatever form it appears, this is an odd exchange, as if the questioner were absent-mindedly introducing the fact, and catching Gouzenko off-guard. Gouzenko did not appear to want to discuss the matter, and the question was not pursued. Taschereau must surely have been familiar with Willsher’s biographical details by that time, but he clumsily introduced a reference that the intelligence authorities would probably have preferred to keep concealed. Likewise, given the calendar details, Gouzenko must have known for sure that the two ELLIs were not the same person. The London ELLI does not appear in the official Commission Report published on June 27, 1946, which focused on the espionage ring in Canada, with only occasional straying into connections in the USA and Switzerland.

One important aspect of these revelations about the USA, though not directly related to ELLI, is the fact that Peter Dwyer was forced to admit, several years later, in 1953, that in 1946 he had passed on to Lish Whitson of the FBI strong indications that Harry Dexter White was a Soviet agent, and recommended that he should not be appointed to the International Monetary Fund. Edgar Hoover had admitted that he received such a confidence from a ‘Canadian official’. What was especially egregious is that Dwyer had not informed his Canadian hosts of this secret message. This story is inspected in detail in Mark Kristmanson’s Plateaus of Freedom: Kristmanson suggests that Dwyer’s coyness over the episode may have been attributable to the fact that he did not want to spill the beans about the fact that British Intelligence may have been in touch with Gouzenko before he defected.

Dwyer probably elicited this information when he was able to interrogate Gouzenko during the hearings. Apart from the embarrassment that the incident caused, it is noteworthy for the fact that it may not have been the only item of intelligence that was suppressed. In a television programme in the 1960s, Dwyer (who was a very cautious man with great respect for confidentiality), let slip that, apart from the hints that led to the arrest of Alan Nunn May, the remainder of Gouzenko’s information was ‘crap’. That was obviously a jocular observation that went too far the other way in minimising the significance of other revelations, but Kristmanson explores, rather ponderously, the paradoxes and gaps in the Gouzenko record, including the claim that Stewart Menzies himself was in Ottawa when Gouzenko absconded – a story I explored in an earlier piece (see http://www.coldspur.com/on-philby-gouzenko-and-elli/ ). Kristmanson thereby suggests that MI6 had a greater hand in Gouzenko’s defection than the available archive shows us. These theories will have to be analysed in depth at another time.

10. The interview by Guy Liddell:

This event in March 1946, when Liddell extended his tour of the United States to visit Canada, needs to be recorded, as expectations for an encounter with Gouzenko should have been high. Liddell’s Diary entry is the only known reference to it, and, as I explained in my May piece, what he wrote down for posterity shows a complete avoidance of any discussion of ELLI. That in itself may be significant. In Their Trade is Treachery, Chapman Pincher had asserted that the Canadian Government had strongly warned Gouzenko against mentioning ELLI – even in his memoirs, and that caution may have been prompted by the accidental revelation described in Item 9 above. Nevertheless, Gouzenko’s silence about the London ELLI when speaking to Liddell must have other causes.

11. A possible second interview by Roger Hollis:

At KV 2/1423/2, sn 216a, appears an unsigned telegram to New York (no. 762) dated May 23, 1946. The text runs as follows:

            A. In conversation with Hollis Corby mentioned that directions came from Moscow to Ottawa Embassy for political activities of Canadian Communists.

            B. These directions were communicated from the Embassy by open contacts such as Press Correspondents.

            C. Please ask Corby what Section of Official in the Embassy handled this political work and what department in Moscow issued the directions.

A handwritten note adds: “cf. PF.66962 sn. 26a – pres[ume]. this refers to the meeting on 21.11.45.” If a reply was received (and saved), it has not been released from the archive.

While not directly relating to ELLI, it is interesting because the note implicitly suggests there may have been a second encounter between Hollis and Gouzenko. And, as William Tyrer shrewdly observed,: “ . . . the ELLI/Hollis telegram is serial 25a not 26a, and Canadian Communists are not mentioned in the ELLI/Hollis telegram.” Guy Liddell was fairly disciplined in noting the absences abroad of his colleagues, especially White, Hollis and Sillitoe. Liddell did not return from the Americas until April 26, and, since Hollis was reported to be busy with leakages during May, it seems highly unlikely that he would have been afforded another visit to Canada during these months. The source of the ‘Canadian Communists’ factoid remains obscure.

12. Commentary on the Hollis report:

This fragment derives from the correspondence between MI5’s Bourdillon and the CIA. I quote directly from Tyrer’s article in the International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence:

            Later, he [Gouzenko]expressed suspicion as to why his MI5 interviewer was so brief when so much more information could have been added. The extract from the memo from Bourdillon at MI5 to the CIA states that Gouzenko had read the telegram from Hollis one year after their meeting. Bourdillon added: “Gouzenko commented that some of the statements made in the telegram were untrue.”

            To which specific statements Gouzenko is referring remains unknown, especially as serial 26a has not been released, and he may be referring to a report about a different meeting. But Gouzenko is said to have been upset about reports that he had said that British Intelligence had agent(s) within the Kremlin, so he may have been referring to point B.1. Notably, Gouzenko first provided the information about a British agent in Russia to the RCMP, and not to Hollis, and it is included in their 15 September report. [the ‘BSC Report’]

As with many of these items, as many questions are raised as are answered. If Gouzenko was as truly disappointed at the paucity of information that Hollis had been able to extract from him, why did he not take it up with others, such as Dwyer, or even Liddell, when he came over a few months later? Why did he not write up a fuller deposition? And Tyrer’s observation in the passive voice (‘is said to have been upset’) is disappointingly vague. Who made this claim? And when was Gouzenko ‘upset’? Was it Chapman Pincher, who may have been putting ideas into Gouzenko’s head, who was responsible for some creative antedating? No record of Gouzenko’s comments from November 1946 resides in the digitised archive. If Tyrer is correct about the precise statement that Gouzenko was complaining about, however (and I am sure he is right), it would point to the fact that Gouzenko was trying to claw back his statements about the agent in Moscow as early as late 1946.

13. Statements in Gouzenko’s Autobiography:

Gouzenko’s memoir, originally published as This Was My Choice in 1948, concludes with his escape in 1945, so it says nothing about his experiences with interrogation, or his encounters with MI5 officers. Unfortunately, it is also not very revealing about any relevant experiences as a cipher-clerk in Moscow or Ottawa: he was ordered to stay silent on these matters. (The memoir was largely ghost-written, in any case.) He does assert that there were thousands of Soviet agents in Great Britain – surely a gross exaggeration, but a statement that casts doubt on his overall reliability. He claims that, because he had ‘some nodding acquaintance with the German language’, most of his work ‘was on telegrams from and to Germany in Switzerland’. In that respect, he was exposed to the communications from Sisi (Dübendorf), Lucy (Roessler) and Alexander (Radó), a fact that adds an intriguing dimension to the Rote Kapelle business. Of his exchanges concerning cables with Liubimov on the English desk, he says nothing, although Liubimov appears in a grisly anecdote. Liubimov had been a Soviet officer on the Caucasian front, and had been ordered to shoot a captured German airman. One other insight that could be relevant is Gouzenko’s assertion that information of particular importance ‘was handed over in unedited and unabbreviated form to Molotov, Malenkov, or Stalin’. That would appear to reinforce the authenticity of the story of Poliakova’s actions in bringing immediately to Stalin’s attention the news that British Intelligence had a spy in the Kremlin.

14. Anne Last’s Notebook:

Ann Elwell (nee Last)

A curio in this collection is the notebook of Ann Last, who left MI5 in 1950 after marrying her colleague Charles Elwell, whom coldspur readers will remember from my coverage of Gordon Lonsdale and the Cohens (see  http://www.coldspur.com/five-books-on-espionage-intelligence/ ). What makes her manuscript record so interesting is that Peter Wright suggests strongly (Spycatcher, pp 188-189) that it was only through reading the notebook, passed to him by Evelyn McBarnet, probably in 1961, that he learned the details of Gouzenko’s revelations. Wright reports:

            According to Anne [sic] Last, Gouzenko claimed in his debriefing that there was a spy code-named ELLI inside MI5. He had learned about Elli while serving in Moscow in 1942, from a friend of his Liubimov, who handled radio messages dealing with Elli. Elli had something Russian in his background, had access to certain files, was serviced using Duboks, or dead letter boxes, and his information was often taken straight to Stalin. Gouzenko’s allegation had been filed along with all the rest of his material, but then, inexplicably, left to gather dust.

One must reflect that this may not be an accurate transcription of what appeared in Last’s notes, and Wright may have been recreating his account from information learned afterwards (or even inventing the whole episode), but it shows an eclectic use of sources, with information about Liubimov (Item 7), Stalin (Item 2), duboks (Item 7), Russian background, i.e. not ‘descent’ (Item 5), and access to files (Item 5). Yet it includes nothing about the knowledge of the spy inside the Kremlin, which is prominent in Items 1, 2, 5, 6 & 7. Moreover, Wright indicates that the information had been filed (‘left to gather dust’), but he then inexplicably fails to inform us whether he went to inspect that material presumably stored in the GOUZENKO and ELLI folders. Instead he makes out that its unavailability, and the lack of follow-up, were part of a devious plan by Hollis to conceal the traces of ELLI.

On the other hand, if the artefact is authentic, Last obviously believed that the ELLI investigations had been feeble, and confided her concerns to McBarnet. But why would she have to record all that information in a secret notebook, if it were available in the registry? Under what circumstances could she have read the documents, been conscious of the lack of follow-up, and also been aware that they had been concealed? McBarnet (according to Wright) said that both she and Arthur Martin (for whom she worked) dared not bring up the ELLI business to the current Director-General, Roger Hollis. The time of the Last secret notebook, however, was under the régime of Sillitoe, Liddell and White. It was the latter pair who had fallen down on the job, not Hollis. The whole melodrama is quite absurd.

15. The statement to the RCMP:

This event has an interesting history. Chapman Pincher seems to be the sole source for the story.  He wrote, on page 210 of Too Secret Too Long, as follows:

            Early in 1952, as part of the inquiry into the identity of the Third Man, Dick White, then MI5’s Director of Counter-Espionage, decided that another look should be taken at Gouzenko’s allegation about the spy in MI5 with the code-name ‘Elli’. On 6 May Superintendent George McLellan of the Security Branch of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police asked Gouzenko, on MI5’s behalf, to submit a memorandum giving as much detail as he could remember of the circumstances in which he had heard about ‘Elli’. Gouzenko produced the document to which I have already referred and which is reproduced in Appendix A. The memorandum was classified Secret, and while Gouzenko was adamant that the spy had existed in 1942/43, and probably still did, it led to no result, much to Gouzenko’s disgust . . .

            The memorandum became public only through a leak, through Gouzenko himself, to the Toronto Telegram in September 1970.

Guy Liddell’s Diaries provide us with additional information. Ever since the summer of the previous year, after the abscondence of Burgess and Maclean in May, the FBI had been pressing MI6 for further investigations into Kim Philby as the possible ‘Third Man’ who had warned the pair of Maclean’s imminent arrest. On July 7, Liddell recorded that Dick White had communicated to him Stewart Menzies’s deep concerns about Philby, in light of revelations about Philby’s first wife, Litzi, and a re-examination of the Volkov affair:

            Dick said that it would be difficult for him to carry the enquiry any further on the assumption that Philby was identical with “ELLI” of the Gouzenko case, or that he was the “C.E. officer” mentioned by Wolkov [sic]. He suggested that Edward Cussen or Buster Milmo should be given all the evidence and conduct an enquiry. He doubted, however, whether any such enquiry could be conclusive: Philby would have to be told that the Americans suspected him of being ‘ELLI’ and that it was up to him to do everything he could to produce factual evidence to the contrary. This might, however, be extremely difficult.

This is a remarkably ingenuous observation by Liddell. First of all, it shows that the Americans were closely aware of the ELLI problem, and tracking it far more rigorously than the British. Second, it displays the fact that MI5 itself had not solved the question of ELLI’s identity to its satisfaction. Given the intensity of the investigation at the end of 1945, this is shocking. That is why one must posit the notion that perhaps Liddell and White were confident they had fingered ELLI already, but the nature of any disclosure would have been so embarrassing that they had to pretend that ELLI was an unsolved mystery. Yet this would rapidly inveigle them into further disarray, as the FBI would be able to accuse them of indolence and negligence. Either way, they were caught in a classic Morton’s Fork (not named after Churchill’s intelligence adviser, Desmond Morton, incidentally).

Indeed, the pressure increased. On August 20, Liddell created another diary entry where he made some rather silly analysis about the Burgess/Maclean business, and then tried to record excuses why MI5 had not been able to respond to the FBI’s comments on the paper on Philby that his department had written. He described his message to the unnamed contact (probably Cimperman, the CIA representative in London) in the following terms:

            We had in fact, and were still, making exhaustive enquiries. Meanwhile, it was useless to interrogate a man who had all the cards in his hands. Until we get some fresh cards, and some pretty high ones, there was nothing in the way of interrogation that would be profitable. I hoped that he would express this view, with which he agreed, upon his superiors in Washington. They have been urging us to interrogate immediately on the more sinister allegations against Philby arising from the Gouzenko and Wolkov cases.

Again, Liddell had confidently expressed the opinion, back in late 1945, that ELLI was probably in SOE, and had pursued his investigations with Commodore Boyle. Now he is unable to assert that Philby could not possibly be ELLI. Nevertheless, amid all this turmoil, Liddell was able to take the month of September off on leave, but returned to find the pot still boiling, and the Philby case much blacker. On October 1, he recorded:

            I saw the D.G. [Sillitoe] who told me about his interview with Bedell-Smith [the head of the CIA]. Bedell Smith was given certain facts about the PHILBY case, which he was told were still under investigation. It was, however, made clear to him that up to the moment these could only be regarded as a chain of co-incidences, all of which might have a different explanation. He seems to have got a somewhat false impression of this interview and told ‘C’ [Menzies] that we were now confident that PHILBY was identical with the man mentioned by GOUZENKO and by WOLKOV. This of course is far from the case.

Of course’! Liddell appears to have lost it by now. He is unable to separate the claims made by Gouzenko (very vague, and surely not pointing towards Philby), with those from Volkov (very damaging, and the occurrence of which had immediately caused wise heads to suspect Philby), and merely echoes the woolly understanding that he apparently attributes to both Sillitoe and Bedell Smith. The gross defects in his handling of the ELLI investigation should have been apparent to any sensible observer, but he and White must have been colluding, and Sillitoe was obviously too bemused by the whole business to ask any penetrating questions.

That is the last entry specifically on the pressure from the CIA. Dick White (after waiting a few months) presumably then took matters into his own hands, perhaps to show the CIA that MI5 was serious in resuming the quest for ELLI, resulting in the request to the RCMP that is described by Pincher. Gouzenko’s response is the most comprehensive extant document expressing his opinions. It is too bulky for me to transcribe in full, so I hereby display the four-plus pages as scanned objects, and attempt to summarise their main points instead.

Gouzenko’s Memorandum Page 1
Gouzenko’s Memorandum Page 2
Gouzenko’s Memorandum Page 3
Gouzenko’s Memorandum Page 4
Gouzenko’s Memorandum Page 5

* Gouzenko said that he had forgotten the cover name [‘ELLI’]. That is not important, as it may have changed. The fact that it may have had a female character does not mean the person was a woman.

* Gouzenko immediately gave the Canadian authorities three major names: Fred Rose, Edward Stettinius [former US Secretary of State], and a member of MI5 in Great Britain.

* The evidence of Stettinius and the MI5 member were only in Gouzenko’s words (i.e. no documents, as with Rose). His colleague Kulakov informed him that Stettinius’s assistant was working for the Soviet Union.

* Whittaker Chambers’s information led to the conviction of Alger Hiss, Stettinius’s assistant.

* As for the MI5 member, Gouzenko saw the telegram himself, and the information was confirmed by his colleague in Moscow, Lubimov

* Gouzenko saw the telegram at the latter part of 1942, or the beginning of 1943. It concerned the use by the man from MI5 of a dubok in a graveyard. The man was ‘one of five of MI’.

* Gouzenko could not recall whether he or Lubimov deciphered the telegram, but it was probably Lubimov, as he knew the English language better.

* Lubimov told him that the man ‘had something Russian in his background’ (which could mean a variety of things).

* In the latter part of 1944, or early 1945, Zabotin [head of the GRU station] received a message from Moscow warning of British counter-intelligence officers arriving in Ottawa. That required precautionary measures.

* Real name of agent might be known by a) Soviet military attaché in London; b) his cipher clerk; c) contact man (though that is not certain); and Maj-Gen. Bolshakov, formerly chief of First Intelligence H.Q. in Moscow.

* The fact that the task of investigating the agent was given to MI5 was a mistake. It should be entrusted to Governor General Alexander, currently Defence Minister in Britain. [!!!]

* Persistent observations of members of the Soviet Embassy in London would have produced results. That clearly did not happen.

Again, this is quite a provocative statement. That Gouzenko had forgotten the name ‘ELLI’ (especially as there were two of them) is truly bizarre, and might indicate more that he had been instructed not to mention it at all. His concentration on the triad he named is surely erroneous: the most prominent name was that of Nunn May (ALEK), on whom the RCMP and MI6/MI5 immediately acted. Alger Hiss was an NKVD spy, not an agent of the GRU, which rather demolishes the theory of compartmentalization of GRU-NKVD processes in Moscow, and of the claim that Gouzenko and his colleagues knew only about the GRU (and that ELLI was necessarily a GRU asset, therefore). His claim that he saw the telegram himself is in apparent conflict with the statement that he made in September 1945 (Item 2: The BSC Report, above) where he ‘heard about’ him in Moscow. On the other hand, since Gouzenko, in 1945, much closer to the date, had stated that he had deciphered telegrams himself (Item 5), it would be an odd change of perspective for him now only to imagine that he might have done so. In fact, he had also told the ‘inattentive’ Hollis that he had deciphered two telegrams (Item 7, above), and had even informed Hollis about the second cable, where the inability of the British Military Attaché to give the name of his agent there was communicated –  a fact that he surprisingly omits from his account here.

What is more, Gouzenko is now sure that the man was a member of MI5, whereas before he had indicated only that he was a member of the ‘British Intelligence Service’. The phrase ‘one of five of MI’ appears, but the exact Russian original of this expression is not given, and it would seem to be an unlikely representation of MI5. The original description of ELLI’s background (‘of Russian descent’: see the BSC Report) has now been made vaguer, referring to ‘something Russian in his background’. Gouzenko does, however, repeat the information about the ‘dubok method’ that he imparted to Hollis, and now adds the revealing information about its location, in a graveyard. This would also have repercussions later.

Even for making allowances for the passing of time, and the natural weakening of the memory, and possible problems in the original translations, this is a strange report. Though reputedly anxious to set the record straight, Gouzenko actually reveals less here than Hollis extracted from him in his infamous three-minute interrogation, and he studiously avoids the vexed issue of the unidentified agent cultivated and managed in Moscow. Was he perhaps tutored to pare back his story, and avoid mentioning embarrassing connections? Did he really forget the earlier testimony that he had given or believe that it would have been forgotten? In any case, he does not come across as a reliable witness.

But what happened when McLellan responded to White, presumably with a copy of the memorandum? Why is it not in the Gouzenko archive?

16. The memorandum from the FBI:

In my May report, I drew attention to Chapman Pincher’s focus on Gouzenko’s statements about the visit by British counter-intelligence officers to Ottawa, represented in the deposition above, as evidence of a leaker within MI5. I have since discovered that Liddell’s account of this refers to the same ‘recent statement’ by Gouzenko. It is almost certain that this statement is the same one as that appears in the memorandum triggered by Dick White’s request, but I include Liddell’s reaction here, since it reflects Liddell’s puzzling decision to focus solely on this aspect of what Gouzenko wrote, and it provides important clues as to how the Philby/ELLI investigation was progressing.  Moreover, someone has inscribed ‘FBI’ in the margin of Liddell’s diary entry, perhaps to suggest that the source of the information did not come from Canada. The entry for October 3, 1952 runs as follows:

            James Robertson and Evelyn McBarnet came to see me about a recent statement by GOUZENKO that he recollected a message in the latter half of 1944 which indicated that certain Counter-Intelligence personnel were visiting Canada and that there would be some general tightening up on Soviet activities. The message was in the form of a warning.

            It appears that PHILBY had some conversation with T.A.R. [Robertson] before I left for the United States on July 17, and that my visit might possibly be alluded to in this message.

I said that my diary for this period showed that it was immediately prior to my leaving for the United States that we had for the first time contemplated close co-operation with the Americans on Communist matters.  It had been suggested that the F.B.I. should send a representative over here, but this had been turned down by the State Department, who felt that such a close liaison on this matter might be politically dangerous if it came to the notice of the Russians. It was, of course, at this time that Roosevelt, and presumably also the State Department, were preening themselves on their own view that they had got Stalin eating out of their hands and would bring Russia back into the comity of nations. In the end it was agreed that I should go over to America. Although one of my objects in doing so was to discuss with Cyril Mills GARBO’s notional agent and the WATCHDOG case, I doubt whether I had much discussion on Communism in Canada.

It is possible that some intimation or collaboration by ourselves with the F.B.I. on Communist matters may have reached the Russians through the State Department, but I doubt whether it could have done so through PHILBY. His discussions with T.A.R. were much more likely to have related to the GARBO case.

If Liddell had to be informed about this statement by his underlings McBarnet and Robertson, does that imply that he had not himself seen the full memorandum produced by McLellan of the RCMP? Was the FBI the source of McBarnet’s and Robertson’s information? Had White perhaps not told any of them what he was up to, and concealed the report? (This episode, with McBarnet’s apparent ignorance of the details of the case, severely undermines Wright’s account in Item 14.) Why did Liddell not comment on the troubling revelations in the rest of it? Again, it is all very puzzling. The perennial problem in interpreting Liddell’s Diaries is that one can never be sure whether the absences of obvious commentary are due to a) the fact that he did not know what was going on; b) he knew, but did not want to record anything; or c) he recorded some observations, but the entry was redacted.

17. Senator Jenner’s Sub-Committee:

In 1952, Senator William Jenner was appointed chairman of a US Senate committee called the Senate Internal Security Committee, which investigated communist infiltration. Amy Knight covers its proceedings in How the Cold War Began, describing how, in the Steinberg investigations, Jenner and his colleague Senator McCarran had flown to Ottawa in January 1954, leading a sub-committee, to interview Gouzenko. Mark Kristmanson described it as follows: The gadfly George Bain explained to Globe and Mail readers that the Jenner subcommittee’s pressure tactics against Lester Pearson and their demand to re-interview Gouzenko were products of their lack of direct access to FBI files.” At the end of 1953, Gouzenko had declined an invitation to appear before them in the USA, citing security concerns. He had to clarify, however, that he had nothing new to tell about communist infiltration, but did have ideas as to how more defectors could be won over, and in particular named the cipher-clerk for the NKVD, Farafontov, as a valuable resource. During the interview he nevertheless brought up the subject of the British spy – something in which the Americans did not seem very interested. Knight conjectures that Gouzenko thought that the FBI should want to hear what he had to say because of the unresolved ‘Third Man’ debates, and the suspicions hovering around Philby, and was thus disappointed when the subcommittee, led by its counsel Jay Sourwine, maintained a distinctly parochial domestic perspective. It was evidently not going to go out if its way to help the FBI.

What is relevant is the fact that Gouzenko told Sourwine that he had disclosed all the information about the agent (he did not name ‘ELLI’) to the Canadian Royal Commission, and said that he had believed it had all been passed to the FBI (unaware, no doubt, that the FBI had frustrated the subcommittee). Since all the evidence points to the fact that ELLI was kept out of the discussions when he was formally interviewed, this may have been a lapse of memory. Sourwine was thus not impressed, forgetting Gouzenko’s public reminder of a couple of months back (quoted in the Toronto Telegram). To bolster his case, however, Gouzenko obliquely referred to his recent memorandum given to the RCMP. As Knight writes: “Speaking to the Jenner subcommittee, Gouzenko claimed he had written three pages about ELLI sometime earlier, but he did not say for whom.” She then goes on to quote (from the proceedings in the Canadian National Archive) that Gouzenko stressed the aspect of the ‘Russian background’ of the agent. “But from the telegram it as clear, and I also described in the detail the circumstances under which this telegram came to my attention.”

The ‘it’ looks unmistakably to refer to the fact that ‘ELLI’ had a Russian background. Yet, as the memorandum in Item 14 undeniably shows, this fact was not ‘clear from the telegram’: it was imparted to him by Lubimov. And Gouzenko did not there describe in detail how that telegram came to his attention. The one he described that he saw himself concerned the activity with the dubok and the graveyard. His testimony continues to show a pattern of minor inconsistencies.

18. The response to Stewart in 1972:

In the 1960s, Peter Wright (of Spycatcher fame) had made his unsuccessful approaches to the RCMP on Gouzenko, being told (in error) that the notes of his debriefing had been destroyed. Yet he surely would have had access to the Gouzenko and ‘ELLI’ files maintained by MI5, where he would have been able to learn about the defector’s original statements. Knight cautiously observes: “If Wright had seen the notes of Gouzenko’s RCMP debriefing he would have known that Gouzenko made no mention of MI5 to the RCMP”.  More dubiously, however, she then reveals her own firm conviction about ELLI’s home, while ignoring the facts of Gozuenko’s denials: “Moreover, Gouzenko’s statements confirmed that ELLI was from MI6 because Elli was privy to information about a British secret agent in Moscow.”

Thus matters in the FLUENCY operation (the search for the mole, ELLI) moved sluggishly onwards. Maurice Oldfield of MI6 interviewed Dwyer for two days, unproductively. When Dick White, now head of MI6, visited J. Edgar Hoover in 1965, he confided in him that allegations had been made against Hollis, and that an investigation was under way. Yet none of the FLUENCY Committee thought to interview Gouzenko again, and that particular operation was wound down when Hollis retired.

And then came the strange events of 1972, when the investigation was picked up again, shortly before Hollis’s death in 1973. The only source appears to be Sawatsky, who in 1984 conducted interviews after Gouzenko’s death, and the story is told through the voices of John Picton and other journalists (Peter Worthington and Robert Reguly), and a lawyer named William McMurtry. Patrick Stewart of MI5 was sent out to Ottawa to interview Gouzenko, but exactly what material he brought with him, and what was shown to him by the RCMP, is very vague. Picton said that Stewart brought ‘a thick report’ with him. Knight guesses that it was the ‘BSC Report’, but that would have been a thin compilation. Gouzenko never gave enough information on ELLI or other spies within British Intelligence to cover more than a few pages. Here Knight adds that the RCMP had given Stewart the notes of the ‘original debriefing’ of Gouzenko, but it is not clear which debriefing she is referring to.

The extended commentary includes observations by the three journalists. No one appears to have stopped to ask: why on earth were three journalists invited to a confidential meeting between the RCMP, MI5 and Gouzenko? Was it a set-up? Worthington claimed that Gouzenko invited him, but did the RCMP give him permission? It is suspicious, because Gouzenko went off the deep end when he started reading the dossier, picking up the document that Stewart described as ‘the earlier interview with our fellow’, and claiming it was all lies. Now, the reference to ‘our fellow’ obviously points to Hollis’s interrogation at the end of November 1945, which occurred well after the ‘original debriefing’. Picton’s account is worth recording:

            Gouzenko said he started reading it and threw it across the room. He said: “It’s all lies. It’s all lies. I didn’t say any of those things.” And apparently some of the things in there quoted him as saying that the British had a high-ranking mole in the Kremlin. “It’s not true. They couldn’t possibly have a high-ranking mole in the Kremlin, not when Philby was sitting as head of MI6.” And beside which, he said, the interview lasted only three minutes. He said: “I wouldn’t have had time to say those things.” He subsequently found out that the Mounties had exactly the same report in their files and never satisfactorily explained that.

I see multiple problems with this story. First of all, the claim about the mole in the Kremlin did not originate with Hollis: it appeared in early telegrams and in the BSC report (qv. Items 2, 5, 6, & 7). Philby was, of course, never head of MI6, and very far from that position in 1942-1943. The reference to the ‘three-minutes’ indubitably points to the Hollis interview, and RCMP would surely have a copy of Hollis’s report in their files. For Gouzenko to deny so strenuously the documented claims, and attribute it all to Hollis’s distortion of what he said, should have placed him on very shaky ground.

Yet the situation became even more bizarre and unlikely. McMurtry (the lawyer) stated that ’they’ (the RCMP and Stewart) ‘showed him the statement of his first [sic] statement and it was totally fabricated’. Worthington described how they went over the interview with him, and Gouzenko’s response was now a bit more justifiably peeved:

            He said: “I’d never say this. Any intelligent person reading this would know it’s all nonsense and everything then would be discredited.” He said, for example, he was quoted as saying: “We in the Kremlin know – have a list of all the British agents who are inside the Kremlin.” Words to that effect. He said: “There are no British agents inside the Kremlin. It’s impossible for them to be there. They know they don’t have any. I know they don’t have any,” He said: ‘The only person who would put that in is someone who wants to discredit everything I’m saying.” Which I subscribe to.

As I have shown, no known archival material uses that language. Reguly then pointed out that Gouzenko claimed that the transcript had been doctored ‘to conceal references to a high-level spy in the British MI5 organization’, and Svetlana, Gouzenko’s wife, also invited, chipped in to report that someone had tried to emulate the handwriting of the interpreter Mervyn Black. A careful sleuth might have tried to establish which of Gouzenko’s statements Black had contributed to (as I have noted above, the date he joined the team is difficult to establish), but, in any case, the insertion was ham-fisted. Gouzenko was not allowed to take a copy of the document with him to compare it with samples of Black’s handwriting. The encounter ended in acrimony.

Amy Wright interprets this fiasco as an example of Gouzenko’s expressing frustration at the man from MI5’s (Hollis’s) perfunctory dealing with him, when Gouzenko was prepared to give him more information. But Gouzenko never had much more to say, Hollis extracted insights from him in real-time that he denied ever communicating when he had ample opportunity to give his full account, and Gouzenko treated as lies facts that he had described to other interrogators than Hollis. He was wrong to deny so strenuously the facts of his earliest depositions, but justified in accusing MI5 of fabrication.

Moreover, what Stewart and co. hoped to gain by their clumsy fakery is elusive. Maybe Stewart was innocent, but someone else appeared to have doctored the record in a feeble attempt to portray Gouzenko as a total flake. Why on earth did they think that ploy would succeed? And where was the report submitted by Gouzenko in 1952, and presumably in White’s hands shortly after? Was it not filed, and made available to Stewart? Why had Stewart not perused the early telegrams, the BSC report, and the Hollis account, where he could have established a defensible record of Gouzenko’s statements? At least he would have had something definite to chew on, and to debate with Gouzenko in the light of his earlier statements. The whole incident is farcical, but the evidence suggests that it was staged, to provide an inauthentic story that Hollis had doctored the records, and for Gouzenko’s aggrieved reaction to be public.

19. Communications with Chapman Pincher:

The veteran journalist – and persecutor of Roger Hollis – claimed multiple exchanges with Gouzenko over the years, some in meetings, some in letters, some over the telephone. These events are described in Pincher’s three primary books: Their Trade is Treachery (1981 & 1982), Too Secret Too Long (1984), and Treachery (2009 and 2012). This resource is not yet inspectable. Pincher’s archive is held by King’s College, London. A note on the web-page states: “Notes and correspondence relating to Pincher’s investigative journalism on British-Soviet espionage during the Cold War, 1950s-1980s, CLOSED, pending cataloguing.”

I shall paraphrase the important passages (readers can easily inspect the full text in Pincher’s books), and provide some straightforward commentary.

Their Trade is Treachery:

P 6 IG recently described to CP how he had learned of a spy within MI5 while working in the main cypher room of the GRU in Moscow. Lubimov passed him a telegram which he had deciphered from London: it came from ‘ELLI’. The spy was so important that he was only contacted through duboks. The favourite hiding-place was a split in a stone tomb belonging to someone named Brown.  (Telegrams from London did not ‘come from’ ELLI. Gouzenko confirms that it was not he who deciphered the critical telegram. The ‘Brown’ flourish seems an unlikely detail.)

P 40 Hollis was sent out to Ottawa to deal with the MI5 aspects of the Gouzenko revelations. IG told CP that RH asked him very little when he told him of a Russian spy within MI5 known as ELLI. RH took few notes, and did not show them to him. IG said that the original report put in to MI5 was read over to him in 1972, several typed sheets, paragraph by paragraph. IG was astonished to learn from the interviewer that the report had been submitted by Hollis: how could RH have written so much when he asked so little? RH reported IG as saying that Britain had a spy in 1945 working in a high-level Government Office in Moscow. IG denied ever saying that. The report was obviously faked to discredit him. If report was written by RH, there was no doubt in IG’s mind that he was a spy. (It was surely not Hollis’s report that Stewart read to him.)

P 100 IG assures CP that no Intelligence officer has questioned him since 1973 (when Stewart returned, with photographs).

P 299 IG did not mention ELLI when he wrote his memoirs: the Canadian authorities would not have allowed him to. IG was recently interviewed by Toronto Globe and Mail, and confirmed that MI5 spy was ELLI.

Too Secret Too Long:

81-86 IG told CP on more than one occasion that Lubimov leaned over and told him about ELLI and duboks. Lubimov passed him the message, and IG saw ‘ELLI’, though he never handled ‘ELLI’ messages himself. He learned about the grave and headstone ‘Brown’. Lubimov also mentioned ‘something Russian’ in ELLI’s background. There was no doubt in IG’s mind about the existence of a Soviet agent inside MI5 in 1942/43 and probably later on. Pincher’s anonymous informant [Peter Wright] said Lubimov claimed that the spy extracted folders on Soviet Intelligence officers. Hollis was at that time in charge of anti-Communist and anti-Soviet security. A letter from Svetlana Gouzenko of March 6, 1983 confirms the ‘Brown’ story. (Here Gouzenko states that he never handled ELLI messages himself, in contradiction of his evidence elsewhere. His assertion that he knew that early that the spy was from MI5 is mendacious.)

Pp 104-105 Dwyer was flown in to debrief IG: IG could not recall being questioned by Dwyer. The cross-examination was greatly facilitated by IG’s grasp of English. The telegram sent by Dwyer (in MI6 archives) contained information on i) duboks, ii) the matter of files on RIS officers; iii) the fact of ‘something Russian’, and iv) ELLI was controlled by the GRU, not the KGB. (Pincher had not seen the archive. Dwyer did not interview Gouzenko directly. The information pointed to the Military Attaché in London, but not specifically to the GRU.)

P 108 Svetlana Gouzenko said that the RCMP was concerned when IG mentioned MI5, as MI5’s existence was supposed to be a secret. IG was advised by Canadian authorities not to mention English ELLI in any statements, and to restrict evidence to names he could substantiate in documents he had removed.

P 109 Hollis made a further visit to Ottawa, and questioned IG on MI5’s behalf. G describes his interviewer at the Justice Department (forty, stooping, shifty). He talked in English, but did not even sit down: the interview lasted 3 minutes. IG said that he told Hollis that the GRU had a spy in MI5 in England, known by the code-name ELLI. (Pincher was under the impression Hollis had interviewed Gouzenko in September, as well. If Hollis was told that ELLI was in MI5, he clearly did not record that fact!)

P 484 IG tells CP that RH interviewed him only once. (Pincher had been misinformed by his contacts that Hollis had multiple sessions with Gouzenko.)

Treachery:

P 27 Over several long telephone conversations, IG told CP six things: 1) ELLI was male; 2) ELLI was thought of so highly that he had to use duboks; 3) ELLI’s messages were sent via the military attaché in London, who was always a GRU officer; 4) ELLI was in a position to remove MI5 files on Russians suspected of espionage in London; 5) ELLI’s messages were so important that they were sometimes passed directly to Stalin; and 6) There was something Russian in his background. (No mention of the agent in Moscow, yet it was that information that had provoked the message being passed by Poliakova to Stalin, in Item 2!)

P 32 CP refers to a statement from Michael Hanley of MI5, dated December 6, 1949, that revealed that IG had said that the cover name of one of the officers involved in servicing British spies had been Dragun. CP confirmed the identity of this assistant military attaché in London from July 1941 to 1944. (Pincher does not say how he discovered this item.)

P 227 IG confirms the brevity of his meeting with Hollis, and how RH behaved as if he wanted to get away from him as quickly as possible. They spoke in the presence of an RCMP officer who spoke Russian. (Probably Black.)

P 243 In 1972, IG was reluctant to be interviewed alone, and it was eventually agreed that his wife could be present. (No mention of the three journalists and the lawyer! CP makes out that IG told them afterwards what happened.)

P 244 When Stewart read the report to IG, every time that IG said ‘That’s nonsense!’, Stewart replied: ‘I’m glad to hear you say so’. IG vehemently denied having told Hollis that he knew Britain had a high-ranking mole in the Kremlin, stressing that he could not have known such a thing and that it was impossible anyway. (The denials continued.)

Conclusions:

What to make of all this? I offer my preliminary conclusions.

* Gouzenko was an unreliable witness, in a way that cannot be attributed solely to language problems or physical deterioration. His retractions started within a year after he defected.

* Gouzenko’s emphasis on denying statements that he made multiple times about the existence of a British spy in Moscow suggests that he was encouraged in this behaviour by the RCMP and MI5/MI6. He may have been given financial inducements to do so.

* The denial of such a claim would not appear, superficially, to alter the substance of the case. The possibility that ELLI had revealed such a phenomenon was on the surface far less damaging than the fact that a spy named ELLI had been operating within British Intelligence.

* The possible exposure through the publication of a story that an agent was being controlled in Moscow seems totally disproportionate to its significance. It must have had far more dangerous implications for MI5 and MI6. It was not suppressed because of concerns about Soviet sensitivities.

* In 1946, when Gouzenko’s retractions started, no suspicions had been raised about moles in MI5, and thus the quest to find a scapegoat had not started. Diverting attention away from SOE would have been a futile exercise.

* MI5 and MI6 must have believed that it was imperative that a darker secret remain concealed – presumably a security disaster revolving around SOE, George Graham and George Hill, with some possible contribution from Stephen Alley.

* The anomalies uncovered by Mark Kristmanson (echoing John Bryden’s observations about Menzies’ presence in Ottawa) indicate that there were other mysteries surrounding the Gouzenko Affair, primarily related to MI6, which would allow the ‘Moscow agent’ business to be joined with other uncomfortable facts for censorship.

* Guy Liddell’s feeble attempt to follow up on, and seal, the ‘ELLI’ business in early 1946 left open a huge exposure when the FBI intensified its investigation after the ‘Third Man’ rumours.

* MI5 displayed a lamentable approach to record-keeping, and there were obviously attempts by senior officers to shield their juniors from the facts of the case. Dick White’s actions look particularly egregious, with his officers Robertson and McBarnet apparently kept in relative ignorance.

* As the ‘molehunt’ started, the exclusion of the ‘Moscow agent’ information from the dossier made it easier to associate ‘ELLI’ with suspected MI5 officers such as Mitchell and Hollis. References to SOE would have disturbed the focus of the case.

* The managers of the inquiries in the early 1970s determined that it would be convenient to doctor the reports, and selectively ignore others, in order to make it appear that Hollis had distorted the record.

* Gouzenko was encouraged to make a spirited disparagement of such evidence in the presence of journalists who would then further the story of Hollis’s probable culpability.

* Peter Wright is again shown to be a highly unreliable chronicler. His accounts are historically and psychologically inauthentic.

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Claude Dansey’s Mischief

‘War in the Shadows’

The Review

I must confess that, while I am a keen subscriber to the Times Literary Supplement, I do skim over many of its book reviews. For instance, in recent months there has been a surfeit (not just in the TLS, but in the press generally) of lengthy reviews of biographies of such tiresome persons as Philip Roth, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, and one can digest the sordid aspects of their lives only so many times. Occasionally, something startling appears, and a review in the issue of December 4, 2020 especially caught my eye. It was headlined ‘Lost in a hall of mirrors: Did Britain betray Jean Moulin?’, and it covered a publication by Patrick Marnham, titled War in the Shadows: Resistance, deception and betrayal in Occupied France’, which offered new theories about the fate of the illustrious SOE (Special Operations Executive) emissary and resistance leader. The review was written by Nigel Perrin, described as ‘a lecturer at the University of Kent’, and author of a book about SOE agent Harry Peulevé.

My interest was piqued on several fronts. Decades ago I had read such popular biographies as The White Rabbit (of ‘Tommy’ Yeo-Thomas), and Carve Her Name With Pride (of Violette Szabo), but had never properly internalized exactly what was going on with SOE and its various divisions. When I retired, I started catching up with my reading, and eagerly absorbed such SOE-related works as Leo Marks’s Between Silk and Cyanide, and Sarah Helms’s A Life in Secrets, about Vera Atkins. Yet it was only when my study of wireless interception in WWII became more intensive that I read the more serious histories of SOE, such as those by William Mackenzie and M. R. D. Foot, as well as a number of not utterly reliable biographies and memoirs that handled the use of wireless by agents in occupied Europe, and the efforts of the Gestapo to intercept and locate their transmissions. Nevertheless, I would have had to admit that I still had only a sketchy idea of the manner in which many of the Allied networks in France had been penetrated and broken down, in contrast to what I had learned about the notorious ‘Nordpol’ operation in the Netherlands.

Patrick Marnham was a name I recognized, mainly in association with the magazine Private Eye. He had been heavily involved with the Jimmy Goldsmith case, and had written a history of Private Eye (a copy of which I own) that apparently infuriated its editor Christopher Booker, an achievement that must constitute a special irony, I imagine. Marnham was obviously a sound investigative journalist, but I had not got round to reading any of his other books. And then there were the compelling code phrases ‘hall of mirrors’, ‘deception and betrayal’, that drove the story right into my territory, with echoes of the ‘wilderness of mirrors’, as imagined by James Angleton, and the betrayals inherent in John le Carré’s novels.

Jean Moulin

The review was quite scathing. Marnham had written a book on Jean Moulin in 2000 (The Death of Jean Moulin), where he had investigated the murky background to the way in which the first President of the National Council of Resistance occupied that post for only two months before being betrayed and then tortured by the infamous Klaus Barbie, and then dying in captivity on July 8, 1943. The circumstances of the betrayal of Moulin and his comrades are controversial, and still hotly debated, but Marnham’s new book (so Perrin stated) suggests alarming connections between the death of Moulin and the demise of another SOE network named PROSPER, led by the eponymous Prosper, namely Francis Suttill. As Perrin described it: “If Moulin’s demise is a complex subject, the downfall of Prosper is positively labyrinthine.”

Marnham’s fresh research and conclusions were prompted by veiled hints provided to him in writing by an anonymous character he calls ‘the Ghost’, sent to him after the publication of his earlier book. The Ghost encouraged Marnham to investigate links between Moulin and Prosper. And this is where my interest rapidly swelled, as Marnham’s claim is that the PROSPER network was sacrificed as part of a scheme to convince the Germans that an invasion of France would occur in 1943 (when Churchill, Roosevelt and all their planners knew that it could not possibly be attempted until 1944). Thus was the COCKADE deception plan designed, a piece of which was Operation STARKEY – a project to keep enough of Hitler’s forces occupied in France by convincing them that the cross-Channel assault would occur in September of that year. It was also useful as a sop to Stalin, who had become increasingly frustrated by the misleading promises that his Allies had made to him about opening what Stalin called ‘the Second Front’ (an inaccurate term that he had managed to have picked up by his friends in the West).

Henri Dericourt

Key to the whole story is the role of one Henri Déricourt, rather inaccurately described as a ‘double agent’, who turned out to be a down-and-out traitor. Déricourt arrived in England in September 1942, was recruited by SOE, and then trained as an ‘air movements’ officer. He was parachuted back into France in January 1943, but was soon informing the Gestapo of everything that was going on, so that the Nazis were gradually able to mop up the whole network – while probably ascribing their success to detection of illicit wireless. Two valiant SOE officers, Francis Suttill, and his radio operator, Gilbert Norman, were captured and later executed, as well as scores of members of the French resistance. Yet Marnham’s most challenging assertion is that, behind the general scheme to delude the Germans, Claude Dansey of SIS was an active agent in the operation, and had even taken Déricourt under his wing in 1942, in the knowledge that he had already been recruited by the Gestapo.

Now, Claude Dansey’s antipathy to SOE, and his fear that its madcap saboteurs would interfere with SIS’s proper intelligence-gathering, is a well-known fact, but it is a much more serious charge to suggest that Dansey was actually responsible for more malicious and destructive initiatives. According to Perrin, Marnham goes further. He claims that Nicolas Bodington, an SOE staff officer who, in July 1943, after the arrest of Prosper and four other F section agents, went to Paris to investigate the Prosper affair (and made it back unscathed) was an SIS ‘mole’. In addition, Dansey was reputedly also involved in Moulin’s arrest, since he had used an agent Edmée Delettraz, ‘a courier for an SIS network based in Geneva’, who had been arrested in Lyon, and thereafter agreed to work for Klaus Barbie. Readers who are familiar with what I discovered about SIS and Victor Farrell in Geneva, and his mysterious communications with Len Beurton, (see Sonia and MI6’s Hidden Hand), will perhaps understand why this particular story suddenly gained some new appeal for me, with my curiosity over exactly what Farrell and co. were up to in 1943.

This was all too much for Perrin, who did not see the evidence required to support Marnham’s thesis. “Amid a wealth of conjecture, supposition and insinuation, one is hard pressed to find any solid evidence to support the extraordinary claims being made”, he wrote. Perrin saw all the mysterious riddles emanating from the Ghost as leading readers down a pointless rabbit-hole, and regretted openly Marnham’s exploits into ‘the realms of speculation’. I made a mental note that I should read the book at some stage, but had other fish to fry at the time.

The Correspondence

What followed was a provocative exchange of letters in the periodical. I always turn first to the Letters page of the TLS when I receive my copy (as I do with the London Review of Books), as some of the letters turn out to be far more engaging than most of the book reviews. In fact, I wish both magazines devoted more space to letters from subscribers. Admittedly, many of them contain only very obscure or pedantic points, but a few present lively new perspectives on matters arising from the reviews themselves. (As an aside, let me point out that the LRB would do well to focus on its mission rather than dedicating so much space to long essays on political matters. That is part of the stylistic legacy of the recently retired editor Mary-Kay Wilmers, but in the past few years I have become heartily fed up, for example, with pages occupied by yet another diatribe telling me how awful Donald Trump is. I could understand why the left intelligentsia wanted to let off steam on this matter, but what on earth had it to do with a London-based Review of Books?? And the pattern continues.)

To return to the correspondence. First appeared a predictably peeved rebuttal from Mr. Marnham, on December 18. I found it persuasive. He carefully dismissed Perrin’s complaints about a lack of ‘solid evidence’, painstakingly referring again to the documents that he had found that proved links between Claude Dansey of SIS, T. A. Robertson of MI5 (the most prominent member of the Double-Cross Committee), and the Gestapo agent Henri Déricourt. He corrected Perrin for ascribing to him a statement by M. R. D. Foot, and reminded readers of his own chapter that painstakingly exposed some of Professor Foot’s errors. He alluded to an admission by Vera Atkins, made in France after Déricourt’s trial (at which Nicolas Bodington appeared as a defence witness), and not previously published in the United Kingdom, that Bodington, the F Section officer that she had worked alongside during the war, had ‘probably worked for SIS’. On the link between Prosper and the arrest of Moulin Marnham was a little more guarded, implying that much of the story remained problematic. This reply certainly reinforced my wish to read his book.

Three weeks later, a rather emotional letter appeared under Francis J. Suttill’s name. Mr Suttill stated that he had written a book titled Shadows in the Fog, published by the History Press in 2014 that covered the wartime activities of his father, Major Francis Suttill. Now, that was a very poignant revelation: it is impossible to understand the particular grief that Francis Suttill must have suffered, having never known his father properly (he was born in 1940), and I am filled with admiration for the many years he had spent investigating the events that led to his father’s arrest. Yet no historian should be exempt from a ruthless inspection of any new evidence that appears, or not be prepared to re-analyze his or her conclusions in the light of such discoveries.

Nicholas Bodington

Mr. Suttill came across as a little intemperate. Mr. Marnham’s claim was ‘nonsense’, he declared, and he further categorised War in the Shadows as a ‘novel’. Yet he offered no detailed evidence to support his case, merely suggesting that his own book was the final and irrefutable account of what happened, and expressing his belief that Marnham must have ignored what he wrote since it did not fit in with his theories. He explained the appearance of Bodington at Déricourt’s trial as the repayment of a debt, since Déricourt had saved Bodington’s life in 1943. Suttill completed his script, rather oddly, with the following statement: “Jack Agazarian was betrayed by three SOE agents. His fellow wireless operator, Gilbert Norman, then in the hands of the Gestapo, set the trap. Bodington, despite knowing it was a trap from Déricourt, ordered Agazarian to go to the rendezvous as their host at the time later testified.” For me, this stirred up the pot even more mysteriously rather than clearing up any unfinished business. Suttill certainly did nothing to unravel the ‘labyrinthine’ tangle that Perrin had alluded to: if anything, he hinted at conspiracies that called for the kind of plausible theorizing that Marnham was engaged in.

Alongside Suttill’s letter appeared a longer submission from Nigel Perrin. He started his riposte with a defence of ‘official’ history. While he acknowledged that new evidence might be able to ‘overturn’ it, this was perhaps not the strongest card he could play, given the established reputation of various ‘official’ and ‘authorised’ histories for selectivity, obscurity – and error. He then went on to question the solidity of Marnham’s evidence, claiming to be familiar with the detailed items that Marnham cited, but minimising their significance, and dismissing Marnham’s case as purely speculative. It was clear that the public debate was winding down, and close inspection of Marnham’s text (and maybe the archival material quoted, too) would be necessary for the independent reader to make a proper judgment. Marnham was afforded a last short opportunity to reply, in which he repeated his claim that Perrin was misquoting him, and conceded that an informed assessment on his claims would have to reside with the interested reader. Rather surprisingly, Suttill was given a last bite of the cherry, where he merely disputed the number of casualties arising from the betrayal of the Prosper circuit.

Other Reviews

I thus ordered the book, and, while waiting for it to arrive, took a look at one or two other reviews. Now, I am usually quite cautious in my consideration of book reviews in this sphere. I want to know what the credentials of the reviewer are for having any authority to offer judgments on such works. My dismay over the many amateurish assessments of Ben Macintyre’s Agent Sonya was a prime motivation in my accepting an offer to write a review for the Journal of Intelligence and National Security. I was pleased that, in the Times recently, one Oliver Kamm was on hand to give Anne Sebba’s fawning and inaccurate biography of Ethel Rosenberg the proper dismissive treatment it merited, despite the puffs from Philippe Sands and Claire Tomalin that the book displayed on its cover. (Not that the Rosenbergs deserved the death penalty, but they were guilty.) Moreover, if the book in question is one that focuses on topics close to my own domain of interest, I do not want my reactions to be swayed unduly by what professional critics have written.

I did inspect two reviews – one in the Spectator, and one in the Times. That in the Spectator (October 10, 2020) was a little perfunctory, provided by Allan Mallison, who is a former army officer, and writer of novels set in Napoleonic times. He combined his review with one of Helen Fry’s MI9, and he showed that he had no particular expertise in these matters. A good chunk of his review is taken up by direct quotation, he provides no detailed analysis while commending Marnham’s ‘painstakingly forensic’ approach, and he merely concludes: “This is a masterly analysis, impeccably presented.” This was good for Marnham, but the magazine should have commissioned the usually excellent Clare Mulley (who normally reviews such items on its pages) for this particular task. (I have just noticed that Mulley wrote a sympathetic review of Sebba’s biography in the Spectator of June 19, where she claimed that Ethel Rosenberg betrayed nobody! Adam Sisman echoes this stance in his evaluation in Literary Review.)

Roger Boyes, in the Times of November 9, provided a more serious analysis. Boyes is a staff journalist who has written books on Russian history, and he engaged with Marnham’s argument more expertly. He focused on the coincidence that Moulin’s arrest and the mopping up of the PROSPER network occurred on the same day (June 21, 1943), and explained how Marnham’s interest was spawned because, as a teenager, he had stayed for a while with the woman who had been the leader of the betrayed group. Boyes perhaps dwelled on her activities a little too much, but used that introduction to describe how the group’s regular sabotage operations were overtaken by the dropping of large amounts of armaments to be deployed to support the D-Day landings. The French Resistance was to be used to convince the Germans that they needed to maintain a strong force in the West.

“But it was a bluff that cost lives as the Germans cracked down,” wrote Boyes. Moreover, even though the Nazi general von Runstedt was fooled for a few months, the backlash from the lies and trickery endured much longer. Boyes commended Marnham for capturing all this intrigue with verve, but criticised him for his ‘relentless feuding’ with the official chronicler of SOE activities, the late MRD Foot, as if he had a personal animus against him. That remains to be seen: Foot was notoriously protective of ‘his’ story, and disliked any other historian treading on his turf. Boyes was also of the opinion that Marnham had not performed enough justice to the German side of the story.

His final assessment, however, was that Marnham did not promote unambiguously a strong conspiracy theory, but left the question of whether the British betrayed the French Resistance as part of a deception exercise for the reader to decide. Some (perhaps including Boyes) might consider that an evasion of responsibility, but I can sympathise with the dilemma, having placed myself in a similar position. Fresh evidence can frequently evolve and modify the conventional wisdom, but dogmatism is never appropriate, no final account can ever be written, and the open-minded historian can hope only that fresh evidence and fresh inquisitive students will allow a more accurate picture to be portrayed.

I was left with one very serious thought, however. Boyes quoted a minute of Churchill’s (of April 14, 1943): “Stalin not to be informed that 2nd Front is now cancelled.” (It was not clear at the time whether Marnham cited this instruction in his text. I later discovered that he does indeed quote it, on page 94.) Apart from the fact that my understanding has been that Stalin was well aware by the spring of 1943 that there would be no English Channel landings that year, this instruction showed extraordinary naivety on Churchill’s part. What with Stalin’s spies infiltrated in MI5, MI6, SOE, GC & CS, the Foreign Office, The Home Office, The Ministry of Information and probably other government institutions, it would have been practically impossible to prevent a ‘secret’ of that magnitude from reaching Stalin’s ears. (Not that Churchill realized that at the time, of course, but that is another story. Moreover, if it reached the Kremlin, it could have been passed surreptitiously on to the Germans.) That is another dimension of the ‘betrayal’ that Marnham reportedly covered – that Stalin would consider his Allies even more perfidious because he gained access to intelligence that they did not pass to him on official channels – just like the Enigma decrypts. I experienced an increased interest in learning how Marnham dealt with these issues.

The Book

War in the Shadows arrived, and it came with some impressive blurbs on its back-cover, from James Holland, Antony Beevor, and William Boyd: ‘an incredible story brilliantly told’ (Holland); ‘a brilliant and revelatory work of modern historical investigation’ (Boyd). Yet it had to wait a while before I finished reading a series of books related to MI5 after the war, and to the Gouzenko affair, that had been lined up in series. Unlike some of those items I had just completed, however, Marnham’s book proved to be what I believe is referred to in the popular press as a ‘page-turner’.

Patrick Marnham

Marnham approaches his main topics carefully and methodically, explaining the circumstances of his stay in the Sologne in 1962, and his becoming acquainted with Souris (Anne-Marie de Bernard), one of the heroines of the story, and how she and her friends and family helped refugees after the fall of Paris. He outlines the background to the war in 1940, and what prompted Winston Churchill to set up the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Yet SOE’s beginnings were infected with conflict from the start: by opposition from SIS (MI6), which was focussed on intelligence-gathering, not sabotage, and resented SOE, and from rivalries within SOE itself, as de Gaulle’s government-in-exile wanted control of French operations, and ended up running its own section (RF) alongside SOE’s native French unit (F).

The kernel of Marnham’s story is the tale of two parallel, and almost symmetrical, betrayals of SOE agent networks, at the end of June 1943. The first, in Paris, that of the PROSPER network, led by Francis Suttill and his radio operator, Gilbert Norman, was engineered by Henri Déricourt, a Gestapo spy who had infiltrated SOE to become the air movements officer for ‘F’. The second, that of the movement behind Jean Moulin, who was de Gaulle’s chosen leader of the resistance movement, occurred in Lyon. It was facilitated by the activities of Edmée Delettraz, a courier managed by Colonel Groussard, of SIS in Geneva, who was befriended by another Gestapo infiltrator, became his mistress, and led her lover’s police force to the place where Moulin was holding a meeting with resistance colleagues. Suttill, Norman and Moulin were just three of hundreds who were rounded up. All were tortured horribly. After brutal treatment by Barbie, Moulin died in transit to a German prison. Suttill and Norman were later executed.

This might have been a relatively simple tale of incompetence and confusion, but Marnham makes a stronger claim (not the first to do so, incidentally, but the first to come up with more convincing evidence) that a malign, and plausibly evil, plot lay behind the betrayals. And the common element was Colonel Claude Dansey, the vice-chief and director of operations of SIS, who was apparently playing a furtive role in manipulating SOE. One of the officers in his Z intelligence network, Frank Nelson, had worked in Geneva before being appointed head of SOE in 1940. Nicholas Bodington, who was second-in-command of F Section, had been placed there from SIS, and undeniably was aware of Déricourt’s associations with the Gestapo in Paris, yet persisted in sending Suttill and Norman to their doom. Delettraz and Groussard worked for Dansey’s current representative in Geneva, Victor Farrell. Groussard likewise knew of Delettraz’s liaison with Robert Moog, the Abwehr officer seconded to the Gestapo, but encouraged further contact.

Claude Dansey

The reason for Dansey’s treachery against the SOE was a fierce regard for the strategic goal of convincing the Germans that a large-scale invasion of France was imminent. The scale of armaments drops, and feverish resistance activity, was designed, as part of the STARKEY ruse, to convince the Wehrmacht that a large force needed to be maintained on the Western Front, in order to make Stalin’s task easier. Marnham’s research indicates that the Double Cross Committee was aware of the deception. Yet why so many noble lives had to be sacrificed in this endeavour, and whether it was these events that convinced the Germans that an attack was imminent, is never properly explained by Marnham. He refers briefly to Churchill’s decision that the camouflage Operation SLEDGEHAMMER should proceed, and that Stalin should not be informed that the real invasion will not go ahead, but he does not explore the obvious paradoxes in that statement, or how it was undermined by Stalin’s network of spies. (SLEDGEHAMMER is not precisely described, and does not appear in the index.)

Here, I think, Boyes’s observation about ‘the German side’ has some merit. Marnham cites SOE: 1940-1945, the 1981 book by J. G. Beevor (who was an officer in SOE) to indicate that Hitler was persuaded that Allied invasion plans ‘had suffered a setback’, but uses an even older statement by Foot (1966) to suggest that von Rundstedt remained convinced that an assault in 1943 was likely. His thesis appears to be that STARKEY was (partially) successful because the Germans considered the invasion threat real, and may have concluded that they had been able to stifle it because the Paris Gestapo was able to destroy the guts of the French resistance. Yet, as he states, London considered it a failure: would a planned assault have been abandoned simply because of the effective German mopping-up operation? “In July,” Marnham writes, “the situation changed because the Sicily landings forced Hitler to fight on a real second front, and this took some of the pressure off the deception staffs.” This is a topic that deserves some deeper analysis.

Francis Suttill

Another area of imbalance is the purported equivalence of the Suttill-Moulin situations. Marnham asserts (p 226) that both Suttill and Moulin had been given the false impression, in the spring of 1943 that later landings ‘were likely, or at least possible’. Yet Suttill’s impressions were far stronger than Moulin’s. On page 96, Marnham states that, after his briefing in May 1943, Suttill had a new conviction in mind, namely ‘that the long-awaited allied landings were imminent’, and the entire Dansey plan revolves around that conviction. On the other hand, Moulin and General Delestraint (a rather mysterious figure, who is not fully fleshed out in Marnham’s account) were told in March that there was no plan to carry out landings before the end of the year, but that there remained ‘the possibility of establishing a bridgehead on French soil before the autumn of 1943’. Nevertheless, Marnham rather inconsistently presents Moulin, after his arrest, as harbouring ‘the misled belief that allied landings in Northern France might well be attempted within the following three months’, which is something of an overstatement, but also an equivocation. The levels of indoctrination were sharply differentiated, which prompts the reader to question the overall argument.

And, indeed, Marnham hints at an alternative motivation for the betrayal of Moulin. On page 221, Marnham suggest that the major reason for abandoning Moulin to the Gestapo wolves was the fact that he had become too successful and too powerful. He had successfully united the military and political arms of the Resistance movement into one body, and thus significantly increased the influence of the detested de Gaulle. He had also quashed the Communist element in the resistance, which the leftish SOE considered critical for the coming engagements. Therefore he had to be sacrificed. This may also have been a genuine ambition of Dansey’s, and thus does not undermine the overall story of his mischief, but it weakens Marnham’s major theme of a common military deception exercise directed through Suttill and Moulin.

Indeed, as the story progresses, it does become more difficult to track the cast of characters and their various roles, both official and in subterfuge, and their explanations of their activities. The task is not helped by a rather sparse Index, and the annoying lack of relevant page-numbers at the head of each Notes page. For example, I wanted to explore when it was that Bodington and Dansey (who engineered Déricourt’s entry to SOE, bypassing the normal channels when Déricourt had provided a false account of his escape to Britain) had first learned that he was working for the Germans. I wanted to go back and trace Déricourt’s recruitment by the Gestapo, and his various encounters with his handler, Karl Boemelburg. But ‘Gestapo’ has only one sub-entry under ‘Déricourt’, and there appear no sub-entries for ‘Boemelburg’. Thus the inquisitive reader has to go back, re-read whole chapters, and make his or her own annotations to develop a particular case-history. Likewise, too many events are left undated: Marnham presents a useful chronology at the front of his book, but the text itself could have been sharpened up in several places to make matters clearer.

I also believe that Marnham uses the terms ‘double agent’, and ‘triple agent’ a bit too carelessly. Any agent who starts to have regular communications with the enemy is essentially a lost resource. His or her allegiance remains not with a cause or, but solely to personal survival – such as with SNOW and ZIGZAG in Britain’s Double Cross operations. It is beyond the ability of most mortals to maintain consistent fictions with more than one master. And therein lies much of the hopelessness of Dansey’s mission, if indeed that was what it was. He may have believed that he was controlling Déricourt in support of his greater goal, and using him as a ‘double agent’. As I have explained elsewhere (http://www.coldspur.com/double-crossing-the-soviets/) , ‘double agents’ (or ‘controlled agents’) can be successful only when their masters have exclusive and complete control over their actions, movements, and communications.

But Déricourt was never a double-agent, as Marnham suggests he became in January 1943, after he renewed contact with Boemelburg (p 251): he was an out-and-out spy who infiltrated himself into SOE, and remained loyal to his cause. It was he who was controlling Bodington, and the proof of Bodington’s delusion was his willingness to appear at Déricourt’s post-war trial and state that he had essentially instructed Déricourt to stay in touch with the Germans, thus saving Déricourt from the hangman. On page 276, Marnham puzzlingly claims that Déricourt was ‘of course a classic candidate for a deception operation, a Gestapo agent unmasked on arrival in England’. I would say that he was nothing of the sort: SIS and SOE had no means of gauging his true loyalty, and they had no control over his communications. It consisted of a colossal misunderstanding of what ‘turning’ implied. It is not clear how or why MI5’s Double Cross committee, which was highly cautious in approving ‘controlled agent’ candidates, sanctioned the process.

Moreover, the psychology of the deception yearns for analysis. Bodington decided to advance Suttill’s work, and send him on another mission, even though he knew of Déricourt’s associations, and Suttill (who had suspicions about Déricourt) was under the impression that an invasion would follow soon. (Marnham informs us that it was Bodington who, before the war, actually introduced Déricourt to Boemelburg. Nigel West has pointed out, however, that this assertion, by Robert Marshall, is not verifiable.) Did Dansey and Bodington expect Suttill to collapse under torture, and betray the existence of a phoney attack? And were they thus thwarted by Suttill’s bravery? On the other hand, Norman, who tried to indicate that he was broadcasting under control, and omitted his security code, was rebuked by SOE in London, and thus brought to despair, agreeing to reveal the names in the network to the Gestapo. And what about Déricourt? Did he wonder why his meetings with the Gestapo were tolerated, and suggest to his masters that a clumsy deception campaign was under way, or was he completely amoral, ready to align himself with the probable winner (as Marnham intimates)? Did Déricourt ‘save Bodington’s life’ in 1943 (as Francis Suttill claimed) by insisting that the Gestapo let him escape?  Marnham records the facts of this extraordinary series of events, but they raise some serious psychological questions. Perhaps they are candidates for a deeper treatment by Tom Stoppard, or someone similar.

Gilbert Norman

There is much to admire in Marnham’s methodology. I found his criticisms of Foot incisive, but scrupulously fair. On two occasions (p 171 & p 259), he rightly calls Foot to task for displaying what I call ‘Professor Hinsley Syndrome’ – bringing up what is presented as a rumour (without explaining its source), and then blandly discrediting it without introducing a shred of evidence to show why that should be so. I can also appreciate from experience Marnham’s painstaking trawl through the archives, dealing with grossly weeded files, looking for loopholes, matching possible names to redacted references, integrating information from multiple sources, and drawing on his deep knowledge of surrounding events.

Overall, Marnham has produced an impressive and convincing, if not conclusive, account of a very murky business. He could have been a little more rigorous in his final analysis, I believe. Yet why Suttill and Perrin should have taken such an emotional objection to War in the Shadows, I cannot imagine. To categorize it as a ’novel’ is simply insulting, when both writers would have done better to study the details, applaud Marnham’s ability to exploit the archives, and then themselves make their contribution to an evolving work of history. Would Suttill have preferred the attribution of his poor father’s loss of life to simple incompetence, rather than to a malevolent spirit who was out of control? I do not know. It is all very strange.

Yet, as the regular reader of coldspur may already have concluded, my curiosity was rapidly ratcheted up. Colonel Dansey and Victor Farrell feature dominantly in my account of Sonia’s miraculous egress from Switzerland to the United Kingdom, and my assumption that Dansey believed that he could thereafter manipulate her. My original reactions were heightened and encouraged. Were these operations in some way related?

The Aftermath

I decided that I needed to get in touch with Mr. Marnham. Accordingly, I sent an email to his publisher, requesting that he pass on a message expressing my interest. I referred to my research on Dansey and Sonia, and gave him the coldspur url. I was very gratified to receive a prompt response, where the agent promised to forward my message.

The very next day, I received a very positive response from Mr. Marnham, which ran as follows:

I hope you are well and wish to thank you for contacting me about ‘War in the Shadows’.  I am very glad you were interested in my book.

I have been looking through the impressive research you yourself have published on ‘Coldspur’, and much regret that I was not aware of this when I was still at work.

The papers you have published are very extensive and I will be able to absorb your theories properly in the next few days.

The clear link and chain of command you have established between Dansey and Farrell, and the astonishing evidence of their role in the success of Agent Sonya, provides considerable support for my own more tentative theories. I was of course delighted to read it.

You seem to be in North Carolina at the moment but I do hope this will not prevent us from exchanging views and lines of enquiry. I am just completing work on revisions for the paperback edition of ‘War in the Shadows’ and with your permission would like to refer to some of your conclusions in an Afterword. 

I was naturally delighted with this response, and encouraged Mr. Marnham to use my research as he felt fit. We have communicated occasionally since then, and I eagerly await the appearance of the paperback version of his book. He has given me some comments on Francis Suttill’s account of Prosper, and I have subsequently ordered the book in the hope that I might better understand what Suttill’s particular concerns and grievances are, and why he disagrees so violently with Marnham’s analysis.

It is an extraordinary pattern of activity by Claude Dansey. The fact that he could meddle so influentially in so many places, all apparently under the strange belief that he could manipulate hostile agents (both German and Soviet) to Great Britain’s advantage, is something that the historians have overall overlooked. The connection with Archie Boyle is also particularly poignant. Boyle was responsible for overall security within SOE, and Marnham points out that Dansey and Boyle (who was an Air Commodore) had previously worked together. As Director of Air Intelligence, Boyle sat on the W Board, where Dansey sometimes deputized for Menzies. Keith Jeffery, in his authorised history of MI6 (to which Marnham briefly refers), wrote that Boyle had been the Air Ministry’s candidate for Chief of SIS in 1939, and that in September 1941 he and Dansey ‘took charge of the circulation of all information from SIS to SOE’. Using evidence from SIS files (which we common-or-garden historians are not allow to see), Jeffery claimed that ‘Boyle was respected and trusted in SIS and got on particularly well with Menzies, Dansey and Vivian’.

Air Commodore Archie Boyle

Moreover, Marnham attributes Boyle with a significant role in recruiting dubious candidates to SOE. He strongly suggests that Boyle had a hand in bringing Bodington into SOE (page 258), and on page 264 offers the following startling commentary: “An SIS ‘spotter’ at the LRC (London Reception Centre) quickly identified Déricourt as a German agent and turned him. His previous connection with Bodington was established and he was introduced into SOE (as Bodington had been) by Air Commodore Boyle or possibly by André Simon.” Yet this evidence must be questionable: apart from the unlikelihood of a German agent’s being casually ‘turned’ at the LRC, Marnham uses Jeffery (page 366) as a source for his claim, but while Jeffery states that an SIS spotter in May 1941 reported that he had recruited twenty-eight agents, and passed on five further names, Déricourt is not specifically identified.

‘Silver: The Spy Who Fooled the Nazis’

In my piece last month on coldspur, (Who Framed Roger Hollis?), I introduced readers to the strange case of George Graham, né Leontieff, who was mysteriously infiltrated into the SOE mission to Moscow, led by George Hill, at the end of 1941. I can detect a possible link between Dansey and this highly irregular recruitment (although Boyle claimed to be ignorant of Graham’s true identity when he spoke to Liddell in 1945). In his book Silver: The Spy Who Fooled the Nazis, Mihir Bose indicated that George Hill, who had been an SIS officer in World War I, was approached in 1939 by SIS, on Churchill’s request, to help out SIS. Menzies and co. must have been ignorant of the rumour that Hill had sold secrets to the Germans when under financial stress, which led to Menzies’s facilitating Hill’s entry into SOE. (That was the explanation reinforced by Len Manderstam, the head of the SOE Russian section.) Here the story enters even murkier waters that I am not (yet) prepared to plunge into – the tale of ‘Agent Silver’, the cryptonym for the native Indian named Bhagat Ram. Bhagat Ram has been classified by such as Dónal O’Sullivan (in Dealing with the Devil), as a ‘quintuple agent’, a highly imaginative soubriquet, and was eventually controlled (with the term perhaps being loosely applied) by none other than Peter Fleming.

The reason this story is fascinating is that Hill’s counterpart, Ossipov, had suggested to Hill that the two sides should share intelligence information. He revealed to the British that Bhagat Ram was actually spying for the Soviets and gaining intelligence on German plans – an extraordinarily open break from NKVD tradition. The Soviet Union’s need to repel the Germans outweighed its desire to oust the British from India. Moreover, Ossipov was looking for intelligence on the Chinese. When Hill found it difficult to reciprocate, he cabled London in frustration, but it was Menzies who replied to him! As O’Sullivan writes: “On 31 November 1942, ‘C’ [Menzies], while regretting the delay due to ‘our decentralised system’, ordered Hill to transmit the following message to the NKVD: “We have no information on the Siberian Chinese frontier. NKVD will realise that this area is outside our sphere of interest.” The content of the message is not as important as the reality of the communication. Menzies was bypassing the correct channels of command to give instructions directly to Hill as if he were an employee of SIS, not of SOE.

And, indeed, O’Sullivan’s citations from HS 1/191 at the National Archives (which I have not yet inspected myself) show an extended correspondence between Hill and SIS (nominally Menzies, but more probably Dansey). It provides inescapable evidence that the SOE mission in Moscow was in reality an outstation of SIS. It had been staffed by SIS, and was no doubt intended to fill the Secret Intelligence Service’s notable gap in intelligence-gathering in the Soviet Union. Hill went through the motions of liaising with Ossipov on SOE matters, but his superior interests were in intelligence-gathering, and working with Ossipov on Bhagat Ram, a case that he completely overlooks in his memoirs. I do not believe this anomaly has been studied properly anywhere.

This was an unholy mess. The NKVD made no distinction between SOE and SIS, regarding them both as ‘British Intelligence’– rightly so, as we can now understand. Hill was supposed to be representing an organisation dedicated to sabotage, and had no brief to discuss intelligence and counter-intelligence matters, but he did not want to disappoint his counterpart, and he maintained a confidential link with his true bosses in SIS. O’Sullivan conjectures that SIS may have concluded it had a dangerous and unreliable agent (Hill) on its books, but that assessment is surely at fault, as Hill was not officially responsible to SIS.  It is more probable that SIS, desperate to gain intelligence from inside the Soviet Union, was trying to insert its own spy under cover of Hill. SIS had probably facilitated the infiltration of the highly suspect George Graham, in the belief that he might be a useful asset, but it turned out that he was blown, and certainly exploited by the NKVD. Thus, without informing SOE, Menzies (or maybe Dansey) tried to take advantage of the Bhagat Ram opening to allow Hill to recruit a more experienced SIS officer to work for him in Moscow. Archie Boyle must have been in a total spin.

Moreover, another thunderbolt struck me as I was completing this piece towards the end of June. I have recently acquired a copy of Nigel West’s book Secret War (The Story of SOE), in a new imprint of 2019. I was not at all surprised that this volume appears to be a facsimile of the 1992 impression, unrevised (and thus very dated in its commentary *), and including all the original errors, since I had quizzed West about the republication of his books a year ago. (See Late Spring Round-up, of May 2020). I have not yet read the book cover-to-cover, but on scanning pages indexed by ‘Claude Dansey’, I discovered, on page 222, the following: “Whilst SIS and SOE must have realized the vast scope for overlap and misunderstandings during the invasion, with competing rival missions operating in the same territory, there was an added complication, namely SIS’s responsibility for running all of SOE’s double-agent operations. While this was a perfectly sensible arrangement, ensuring a single conduit for the dissemination of controlled information to the enemy, there were to be continuing suspicions concerning the sensitivity of the material being conveyed.”

[* Typical of the book’s superannuation is West’s description of the PICKAXE operations conducted by SOE for the NKVD, ‘which numbered nearly two dozen but are still shrouded in mystery’. (p 67)]

This was for me an extraordinary claim – as well as a very dubious judgment by West concerning the ‘sensibility’ of the arrangement. (SIS would clearly have had to be responsible after the Normandy landings, but not before June 1944. The ‘ownership’ of agents who crossed from imperial to non-imperial territory was a constant cause of friction between MI5 and SIS.) I have not yet found the place where West introduces the assertion, and thus have not been able to verify the source. I have peered inside three books by Foot, without reward. I plan to inspect Hinsley and Jeffery to seek a confirmation of this unlikely story. The use of double-agents (or ‘controlled enemy agents’) had to be authorised by the London Controlling Section, and managed by the W Board and the XX Committee, with primary delegation to MI5 (on UK soil). For SIS to have taken the initiative in managing such persons on behalf of SOE is an astounding phenomenon, and would have jeopardized the remainder of such subterfuges.

The security and integrity of the Double Cross Committee, and its control of double agent operations, have always been a point of pride with MI5. Yet, on a second reading of War in the Shadows, I encountered a claim that I had overlooked before. On pages 264 and 265, Marnham (partially) quotes J. P. Masterman’s observation from The Double-Cross System: “In particular the services, whatever their views may have been as to the share in control which belonged to the W. Board or to the Security Service, never questioned or adversely criticised the practical control and the running of agents by M.I.5 or M.I.6.” And Masterman praises the general harmony between MI5 and MI6 that prevailed on the Committee, especially after ‘the M.I.6 representative on the Committee was changed.’

But was the Committee fully informed about all of MI6’s ‘double-agent’ ventures, or that it was managing such operations on behalf of SOE? Masterman tantalisingly explains how ‘the bulk of the agents described were those in the British Isles’, but makes no reference to SOE at all in his book. That suggest that he was either unaware of such activities, or knew about them, but considered them better buried. None of the authorised (i.e. Howard) or unofficial (e.g. Macintyre) histories of deception refers to the role of SOE, Déricourt or Suttill in the STARKEY  operation, with all double-agent operations being ascribed exclusively to MI5’s B1A team. (William Mackenzie’s history does describe a role for SOE in STARKEY, but he could not acknowledge any double-cross operations at the time he wrote his work.) Yet one of Marnham’s significant achievements was to extract from Déricourt’s file a hand-written note by. T. A. Robertson that indicated that ‘GILBERT [Déricourt] was well-known to this officer during the war’. Does that claim appear to confirm that the Committee had approved of Dansey’s and Bodington’s intrigues with Déricourt, but thereafter preferred to delete any record from history? The matter screams out for further investigation.

It is difficult to assess exactly what Dansey was trying to achieve with all his vexatious meddling. Did he really believe he had been successful, as Marnham concludes on page 265? To whom was he accountable? Who was giving him instructions? And why did everyone put up with his destructive activity? Were they all scared of him? The only common driver in his policies would appear to be the delusion that he could control hostile agents (Déricourt, Delettraz, Ursula [SONIA] and Len Beurton, maybe Graham) and manipulate them to channel deceptive messages to adversaries – a vast misconception. As with any major failure of British Intelligence (e.g. with Klaus Fuchs), one has to judge to what degree the fault was one of Incompetence, Negligence, or Treachery. In Dansey’s case, it would appear to involve all three.

Postscript

I showed an earlier draft of this piece to Mr. Marnham, and he very graciously gave it some close attention. I have incorporated corrections to some errors, and revised some passages where I had overlooked parts of his argument, but I decided that the multiple elaborations and explorations around key items should be treated separately. One reason is that I want to complete my study of Nigel West’s book, read Francis Suttill’s account of his father’s demise as well as Robert Marshall’s All The King’s Men, and inspect the relevant files at the National Archives to bring me up to speed. I also want to re-examine Christopher Murphy’s Security and Special Operations, which has a weighty chapter on Déricourt that had been of only secondary interest when I read the book several months ago. I thus re-present Marnham’s other comments here (with minimal editing), without any response from me. It is appropriate that he have the ‘last word’ for a while.

On the last bizarre sentence of Suttill’s letter to the TLS:

In the last paragraph of his letter FJ Suttill inadvertently supports my argument.  He has abandoned the position stated in his book and now agrees with me that during that Paris trip Bodington betrayed his own radio operator, Jack Agazarian.  But Bodington did not sacrifice Agazarian to save his own skin.  He sent his radio operator into a trap to protect Déricourt, who, if he was to continue working as a deception agent, needed to provide regular information for the Gestapo.  Agazarian was eventually executed in Flossenburg, while Bodington returned to London and Déricourt stayed in France, where he could continue to inform and misinform German intelligence in the run up to D-Day.

On Perrin’s repeated misquotation in his letter to the TLS:

Two examples:   the ‘single memo’ I have uncovered linking Déricourt – an F section field agent – and the vice-chief of SIS, Claude Dansey, does not just ‘mention their names’ as Perrin claims. That is nonsense. The memo actually shows that Dansey was directly intervening in MI5’s long-running campaign to have Déricourt recalled.  Nor was my discovery ‘a single memo’.  It formed part of a six-month series which I have reconstructed, and which reveals that a second (unidentified) officer from SIS, in this case from Section V (counter-intelligence), was also intervening in the MI5 campaign. 

Perrin again massages the evidence when he refers to another document in the National Archive records that I publish for the first time.  This note – from T.A.Robertson, the former head of the XX (deception) Committee – does not ‘merely show’ (in Perrin’s words) that Robertson ‘knew about MI5’s investigation into Déricourt’.  In an initialled scribble Robertson warns a fellow MI5 officer that he has information about Déricourt ‘that will greatly supplement what appears in our files’.  Had Mr Perrin quoted the note correctly it would have saved him from making his next mistake – demanding to know why there is no mention in the XX Committee records of Déricourt giving information to the Paris Gestapo.

On Boyes’s assessment that Marnham had left the whole question of betrayal open:

Actually Boyes was wrong about this. I stated clearly that Prosper was betrayed as part of a deception operation. I distinguished this from the arrest of Jean Moulin, stating that I had failed to prove Dansey’s responsibility for this, but had established that he had the means and the motive to carry it out.

On my interpretation that Déricourt engineered the betrayal of the PROSPER network:

My argument is, to put it more precisely, that Déricourt did not so much ‘engineer’ their actual arrest as provide the SD with the necessary information to catch them, and then demoralize Prosper & Co. with Boemelburg and Kieffer’s knowledge of the secret messages Déricourt had passed on. See my pp .249-50

On my statement that the Double Cross Committee was aware of the deception:

They may well have had general knowledge of the first deception i.e. involving Prosper. They would not have been at all well informed about Dansey’s activities through Geneva.

On the attention I drew to the fact that Marnham’s historical references were somewhat dated:

My reference to this, a much stronger one, should have been ‘Michael Howard, British Intelligence in World War II: Vol. V (1990),  p.103.’ Of course all generals want bigger armies, but there is pretty strong evidence that von Rundstedt was properly alarmed by Starkey.

On my observation that Marnham stated that the Sicily landings took some pressure off the deception staff:

What I was hoping (but clearly failing) to convey was that another credible advantage of Starkey/Prosper/Moulin –was that when the Sicily landings took place, the OKW would have concluded that the alarm about the build-up of weapons in France had been a distraction from preparations for Sicily. At the same time, the Gestapo’s success in recovering a huge Resistance arsenal and in seizing so many important commanders would have safeguarded and increased Hitler’s confidence in the Paris Gestapo’s competence.  I agree, more thought needed.

On my questioning of the symmetry of the Prosper/Moulin deceptions:

I take your point and I explain this differentiation as follows: I do not think that there was a plan to betray Moulin as part of a deception operation in March 1943. I believe he was misled before his departure, as a precaution. So, if he was arrested, the precious (mis)information he held could – when ‘extracted’ from him – have become part of the deception. But by May 1943, when Suttill was misled, ‘Starkey’, and the need to alarm the OKW, had developed to a point where the penetration of Prosper could be disclosed to senior SOE officers (but not to F section). SOE’s leaders (Gubbins, Boyle and Sporborg) could then be informed that a decision had been taken ‘to exploit the situation’, see my p.264].

On my highlighting the political reasons for eliminating Moulin:

See my preceding note: to which I would add – Dansey was a loose cannon, accountable to ‘C’ (Menzies) for his ‘kosher’ activities in France via Commander Cohen and ‘Biffy’ Dunderdale, but accountable to no one when it came to operations via Geneva, where he was essentially running a pre-war, Z-style, parallel intelligence service. My other point is that by the time of his arrest, Moulin had so many enemies that more than one of them could have been involved in his betrayal. His enemies included – a. leaders of Combat in France, b. BCRA Gaullists in London, c. PCF (Communist) resistance leaders in France – but also the Chiefs of Staff in London, as well as Philby/Blunt in London who were priming the PCF via Moscow, see my p.297. I deal with a., b. and c. at length in my Jean Moulin book, and briefly in this book on pp.297-8.  The new possibilities I have investigated in this book include the clear line involving Dansey and Victor Farrell, which your own research has greatly strengthened. There is also the use by SIS (i.e., Dansey) of Colonel Groussard, a really sinister figure, and a really strong link to the betrayal of Moulin. In addition there is the potential involvement of both Philby and Blunt in deception planning (Blunt) and execution (Philby).

On my suggestion that Déricourt was more a traitor than a double-agent:

Thank you for the correction about ‘double agents’, and it may be that you are right and Déricourt was just a traitor. But if he was ‘just’ a traitor it is rather odd that he was welcomed back to London in January 1944, and subsequently paid a very large sum of money from British public funds. I think his correct ‘status’ depends on how soon he was identified after his arrival in September 1942. My line is that he was picked up almost at once by an SIS spotter. For me this is the only explanation for the way in which MI5 were kept in the dark, from the start, and throughout 1943.  The Security officers passed on warnings about Déricourt time and again and were consistently brushed aside. These warnings would normally have gone to Boyle’s security department, or would otherwise have been picked up by F’s deputy head, Bodington.  So, Déricourt was clearly being protected by another agency, and it was not SOE, and obviously not F section. There are it seems to me two possibilities: either he was ‘turned’, as I have written – rather sloppily, as you point out – or a British Intelligence master of deception realized that he could be used without being recruited or ‘turned’. In other words, we could both be right. Déricourt could have been sent back as a bona fide SOE officer to win the SD’s confidence by providing accurate information about F section activities, and in due course be fed false information about far more important matters (e.g. the date and locality of the D-Day landings) which he would also pass on. That fits the Déricourt story, and Bodington’s consistent protection of him into the spring of 1944, reasonably well.  But to devise that scenario you would need a senior SIS officer involved in deception, who had a total contempt for SOE, and was prepared to misuse its agents in the overriding national interest, as he calculated it. This officer would also need a large measure of autonomy. And in trying to identify him it would help if he also had a record of ordering the ‘elimination’ of untrustworthy agents – all of which Dansey had.  Anyway, that is what I was working towards when I wrote ‘Déricourt was ‘of course a classic candidate for a deception operation, a Gestapo agent unmasked on arrival in England’. Incidentally, the XX Committee would not have had to ‘sanction’ the destruction of Prosper.  As an MI5 outfit they were only responsible for double agents operating on British territory. Operations on foreign territory were strictly SIS. That note TA Robertson of MI5 wrote in 1946 (my page 284) could have referred to information he had acquired after the War, when evidence of Dansey’s misuse of F section emerged and was being energetically destroyed by SIS. Looking at this scenario from Déricourt’s point of view I am reminded of Trevor Roper’s observation that (I quote from memory) ‘the beauty of being a double agent is that you can defect either way’. The beauty of this plan from Dansey’s point of view is that it did not matter which side Déricourt eventually decided he was working for. The cosier he and Boemelburg felt about each other, the more effective Déricourt would have been as a tool of deception.

On my comments on the recruitment to SOE of Bodington and Déricourt:

I have since discovered new evidence about Bodington’s arrival in SOE, and a new rather sinister patron for him. It was not Boyle who recruited Bodington, it was probably Leslie Humphreys. And Bodington did not join SOE as his personal file shows (my p.61) on 18 December 1940. This was the date Humphreys (then head of F) switched Bodington into F from SOE’s planning department, where the ex-journalist had been working since at least 7 October 1940. (Source: David Garnett The Secret History of PWE (2002) p.52.) This correction will be in the paperback.

On my reporting of SIS using SOE’s George Hill as an SIS asset:

This is extraordinary.  You have uncovered clear additional evidence that SIS was using SOE as a reservoir of conveniently ‘deniable’ (keyword) possibilities.  And it was not just Dansey, it was ‘C’ as well.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

This exchange is, in my mind, an example of exactly how research should advance. I thank Mr. Marnham for engaging in discussions with me, and we plan to continue our investigations into the machinations of the mischievous Claude Dansey. Sadly, attempts are being made to silence Marnham. He spoke at the Chalke Valley History Festival last weekend, and one ill-mannered detractor, his chief antagonist, advertised on a hobbyist website that he would be attending to ‘attack’ Marnham. He was further encouraged by one of his sidekicks to ‘give him hell’. Moreover, this individual was supported in his plans by others who had not even read the book, but were confident in their scorn. Apart from the gaucheness of the announcement (rather like Eisenhower informing the Germans that the landings would take place in Normandy, in early June), such an approach is intemperate and unscholarly. Moreover, I detect a tactic of rubbishing ‘conspiracy theories’ on the grounds that such phenomena must be inherently and irredeemably flawed. Yet, if there is evidence of treachery, and that the authorities knew about it, but condoned it, or of plotting to endanger a colleague (something that Suttill explicitly admits), any intelligent observer has to try to develop a theory as to why such a conspiracy took place. I am very happy to provide space to counter such gross behaviour, and try to shed more light on the affair.

(New Commonplace entries can be seen here.)

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Who Framed Roger Hollis?

Who Framed Roger Hollis

Coming soon to a movie-theatre near you, starring

Donald Pleasance as Stewart Menzies

Tom Cruise as Kim Philby

Ronald Fraser as Roger Hollis

Bob Hoskins as George Hill

Anthony Hopkins as Guy Liddell

Ian Richardson as Dick White

Keira Knightley as Jane Archer

Beryl Reid as Milicent Bagot

Michael Caine as Peter Wright

Tom Courtenay as Arthur Martin

Vladek Sheybal as Igor Gouzenko

Christopher Plummer as Chapman Pincher

With a special guest appearance from Lotte Lenya as Luba Polik

‘It makes Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy look like Dad’s Army’ (Michel Foucault)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Contents:

1. The Story So Far and Dramatis Personae

2. Anomalies and Misconceptions:

a) The BSC Report and Roger Hollis

b) Peter Wright and VENONA Telegrams

c) Guy Liddell and the RCMP

d) Roger Hollis and Counter-Espionage

3. Background Clarification:

a) Stephen Alley

b) George Hill

c) George Graham

4. Guy Liddell’s Moves:

 a) Petrie and Sillitoe

 b) Security Issues

 c) The Voyage to the Americas

5. Conclusions:

1. The Story So Far:

In September 1945, a Soviet GRU (military intelligence) cipher-clerk, Igor Gouzenko, defected in Ottawa, bringing with him evidence of espionage in Canadian government institutions. William Stephenson, the head of British Security Coordination, the wartime intelligence unit in the United States, immediately took a keen interest in the matter. For various reasons, the growing news about Gouzenko’s revelations arrived in London at the desk of Kim Philby of MI6, who alerted his Moscow bosses via his handler, Krotov, and passed on the information with less than urgent dispatch to his colleagues in MI5. While the initial concern of MI5 was about the imminent departure for London of Alan Nunn May, the premier spy named by Gouzenko, the Security Service was also interested in the identity behind another person labelled as ‘ELLI’. ELLI was stated to have been a spy working within the intelligence services in the UK in 1942 or 1943, and had been revealed by Gouzenko’s colleague in Moscow at the time. MI5’s Roger Hollis, responsible for the surveillance of domestic subversives such as the Communist Party of Great Britain, returned from holiday to be sent immediately to North America to co-ordinate the handling of the Nunn May case, and the political fall-out from the defection. At the time he left, he almost certainly knew nothing of ELLI, and he did not see Gouzenko before returning after a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, Guy Liddell, head of B Division, responsible for Counter-Espionage, ruminated on the possible candidates for ELLI, concluding from the meagre descriptions received thus far that he probably had been associated with SOE, the Special Operations Executive. During the period in question, SOE had had a representative in Moscow, George Hill, and it liaised with the NKVD representative in London, Colonel Chichaev. Roger Hollis returned to the Americas, and had a short interview with Gouzenko in November. Liddell then discussed possible security exposures with Archie Boyle, who had been head of Security for SOE during the war. Politicians dithered about detaining and prosecuting the suspects, not wanting to upset Stalin.

Dramatis Personae (status in November 1945, unless otherwise indicated):

Government:

Attlee                          UK Prime Minister

Dalton                         Chancellor of the Exchequer: Minister for Economic Warfare 1940-42

Bruce Lockhart          Deputy Under Secretary of State, Political Warfare Executive 1941-45

Findlater Stewart       retired: previously Chairman of Home Defence Executive

Mackenzie King         Canadian Prime Minister

Robertson                   Canadian Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs

MI5:

Petrie                           Director-General (retired April 1946)

Sillitoe                         Director-General (appointed November 1945)

Harker                         Deputy Director-General (retired 1946)

Liddell                        Director of B Division

White                          Deputy-Director, B Division

Curry                           historian: previously Director of F division, then transfer to MI6

Hollis                           (Assistant) Director of F Division (Subversive Activities0

Alley                           E2 (Alien Control of Finns, Poles & Baltic States)

Rothschild                  B1C (Sabotage)

Blunt                           B1B (Diplomatic)

Wright                         joined in 1954

Orr                               Room 055, War Office

Mills                            Canadian representative: demobilized September 1945

Shillito                        F2B & F2C (Communism & Left-Wing Movements: retired August 1945)

Bagot                          F2B

Stewart                       active in 1972

MI6:

Menzies                      Chief

Cowgill                       head of Section V: retired in 1944

Philby                         head of Section IX

Archer                         Section IX (returned to MI5 in 1946)

Curry                           established Section IX in 1943: moved back to MI5

Dwyer                         representative in BSC

De Mowbray              joined in 1950

SOE (Special Operations Executive):            

Nelson                         chief 1940-42

Hambro                      chief 1942-43

Gubbins                      chief 1943-46

Senter                         MI5 liaison

Boyle                           head of security

Hill                              Russian section representative in Moscow until May 1945

Graham                       aide-de-camp to Hill

Truskowski                 assistant to Hill

Seddon                        head of Russian section 1941-44

Manderstam               head of Russian section 1944-45

Uren                            officer, spy; imprisoned

JIC (Joint Intelligence Committee):

Cavendish-Bentinck   Chairman

GCHQ:

Sudbury                      Russian cryptanalyst

RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police):

Wood                          Commissioner

Rivett-Carnac             head of intelligence (Commissioner 1959-60)

Gagnon                       deputy Commissioner

Harvison                     head of Criminal Investigation (Commissioner 1960-63)

Leopold                       deputy to Rivett-Carnac; first translator; chief of Intelligence Branch (October 1945)

Black                           second translator

McLellan                     Inspector (Commissioner 1963-67)

BSC (British Security Co-ordination):

Stephenson                 head

Dwyer                         MI6 representative: head of MI6 station (1945)

Evans                          colleague of Dwyer

FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation):

Hoover                         Director

Harvey                        counter-intelligence (moved to CIA in 1947)

Whitson                      expert in communism

Lamphere                   agent: espionage expert

OSS (Office of Strategic Services) & CIA (Central Intelligence Agency):

Angleton                     OSS counter-intelligence (chief of CIA counter-intelligence 1954)

GRU (Soviet military intelligence):

Zabotin                        Colonel, military attaché & head of station, Ottawa

Gouzenko                   cipher clerk

Kulakov                      cipher clerk

NKVD (or KGB, Soviet Security):

Ossipov                       Major-General, liaison to SOE in Moscow (Ovakimyan)

Chichaev                     [JOHN], Colonel, liaison to SOE in London (1941-45)

Krotov                         [BOB], controller of Philby (Krötenschield)

Gromov                       [VADIM], rezident in Washington since 1944 (Gorsky)

Kukin                          [IGOR], rezident in London, replaced Gorsky in 1944

Pravdin                       [SERGEY], officer in Washington (Abbiate)

Poliakova                    Lieutenant-Colonel (on loan from GRU)

Polik                            manager at the National hotel in Moscow

Journalists:

Worthington               Toronto Sun

Picton                          Toronto Star

Pincher                        Daily Express

2. Anomalies and Misconceptions:

My overall approach has been to step through these events in strict chronological sequence. Judging from some of the feedback I received after my first instalment, however, I sense it will be useful to comment on some of the anomalies and misconceptions that have been published, and echoed, in recent accounts of the Gouzenko affair, in order to crystallize how the events of 1945 have been consistently misrepresented. [With the goal of improving the independent coherence of this piece, I re-present some material from the previous article.]

‘How the Cold War Began’

a) The BSC Report and Roger Hollis:

One dominant story that has entered the mythology is that of Roger Hollis’s reputed interference in the investigation by creating a false trail. For example, Amy Knight, in her 2005 book How The Cold War Began (which is frequently cited as the ‘standard’ work on the subject), writes (p 237): “Gouzenko’s information about ‘Elli’ was first conveyed during his interview with MI5’s Roger Hollis (with the RCMP present), who visited Gouzenko shortly after the defection. According to the report from the British Security Coordination, written in mid-September 1945, presumably after Hollis’s visit,

            Corby [the codename for Gouzenko] states that while he was in the Central Code Section [in Moscow] in 1942 or 1943, he heard about a Soviet agent in England, allegedly a member of the British Intelligence Service. This agent, who was of Russian descent, had reported that the British had a very important agent of their own in the Soviet Union, who was apparently being run by someone in Moscow. The latter refused to disclose his agent’s identity even to his headquarters in London. When this message arrived it was received by a Lt. Col. Polakova who, in view of its importance, immediately got in touch with Stalin himself by telephone.”

Knight, rather mysteriously, here gives the source of this statement (from ‘the BSC Report’) as ‘Intelligence Department of the Red Army in Ottawa’, p 30. (On page 60, she indicates that that was actually the title of the BSC report.) The text is exactly the same as that identified by William Tyrer as coming from the Canadian National Archives, and Tyrer assumes that the message is numbered serial 2a in ELLI’s Personal File in London (as a reference to such a posting, but not the note itself, appears, in KV 2/1420, immediately after a September 15 report on the NKVD).

Yet Knight seems not to have inspected the archives in a disciplined fashion, instead relying too heavily (for example) on the account of Hollis’s activity provided by Dick White to his biographer, Tom Bower. She describes Hollis as MI5’s ‘point man’ for the Gouzenko case, and quotes Bower (The Perfect English Spy, pp 79 & 80) as follows: “MI5’s communist expert flew to Canada to meet Gouzenko on the shores of Lake Ontario”, adding: “Instead of tickling Gouzenko’s vanity and absorbing lessons about Soviet intelligence techniques, Hollis abruptly left the defector after just one hour and flew back across the Atlantic to chase Nunn May, now living in London.” As I shall show, this is pure fantasy. Knight’s ‘presumably’ reflects pure speculation.

Knight then inserts another observation, concerning an interview on October 29, conducted by the RCMP, and recorded only in handwritten notes, at which Gouzenko ‘elaborated’ on his story (p 238). He said (of ELLI) that it was ‘possible he or she is identical with the agent with a Russian background who Kulakoff [Kulakov, Gouzenko’s successor, who had recently come from Moscow] spoke of – there could be 2 agents concerned in this matter’. Knight’s account continues:

Corby handled telegrams submitted by Elli  . . . Elli could not give the name of the [British] agent in Moscow because of security reasons. Elli [was] already working as an agent when Corby took up his duties in Moscow in May 1942 and was still working when Kulakoff arrived in Canada in May 1945. Kulakov [sic] said agent with a Russian connection held a high position. Corby from decoding messages said Elli had access to exclusive info.

This is presented as an extension of Hollis’s account of his interview with Gouzenko.

The significance of these claims becomes apparent when Knight later turns to the later re-investigation of the ELLI story on page 243. She reports on the visit by Patrick Stewart of MI5 to Canada in the autumn of 1972. Armed with ‘the notes of the initial debriefing of Gouzenko’, which the RCMP had generously just handed to him, Stewart met the defector in Toronto, showing him a copy of the BSC report, as well as the notes from his interview with the RCMP shortly thereafter, ‘both of which had Gouzenko saying Elli was working in British Intelligence, MI6, not counterintelligence, MI5’. Knight then states:

“Gouzenko went into a fury and threw the papers across the room. He claimed that he had not said what was written in the BSC report, that someone had falsified his statements. As for the notes of the RCMP interview, which were in the handwriting of the translator, Mervyn Black, Gouzenko said they had been forged. He demanded, to no avail, that he be allowed to take the notes home so he could compare them with his copies of Black’s handwriting.”

Knight’s explanation for this outburst is that Gouzenko had been disappointed that the officer who interviewed him in September 1945 had granted him only a few minutes of his time, and did not seem interested in ELLI. When he later learned of that officer’s identity (Hollis), and that Hollis was suspected of being a mole, he believed that Hollis must have deliberately misrepresented his statements to conceal the fact that he was ELLI.

Knight was also basing her narrative on a 1984 compilation by John Sawatsky titled Gouzenko: The Untold Story. Chapter 20 of this book is titled The MI5 Interview, and various journalists, lawyers, broadcasters contributed to the investigation. These persons appear to confirm the following ‘facts’: an unnamed British fellow interrogated Gouzenko shortly after his defection; the meeting was brief; Gouzenko was asked very few questions, and he did not see the interrogator again; the Briton shielded his face; Gouzenko had identified a mole in British Counter-Intelligence [MI5]; Gouzenko was shown a thick report in the early 1970s by a different man from British intelligence; Gouzenko threw the report across the room as it contained ‘all lies’; Gouzenko had asserted that the British could not have a high-ranking mole in the Kremlin, ‘not when Philby was sitting as head of MI6’.

Several aspects of Knight’s account are very tangled. The story that she appears to tell all derives from her strong belief in Hollis’s meeting with Gouzenko in mid-September, and runs as follows, with my commentary in parentheses:

i) When Stewart arrived in Toronto, the RCMP showed him notes of the original debriefing of Gouzenko. (Why only then? Had MI5 never seen them before? How did they correspond to the reports sent over by Dwyer? Did they concern just a single debriefing, and in what way was it ‘original’? Knight suggested that the RCMP debriefing(s) occurred after the BSC interrogation.)

ii) Stewart showed Gouzenko ‘a copy of the BSC report and the notes from his interview with the RCMP shortly after’. (What was the ‘BSC report’? According to Knight, it was the account of the September meeting where Hollis was present. She confirms that the BSC report had been written ‘in mid-September’: yet she knew that Hollis did not fly out until September 16. Elsewhere (p 60), she describes it as having been written by Evans and Dwyer, and that it was based on interviews with Gouzenko and an analysis of his documents (C293177, September 23). Moreover, in a message from London on October 1, after his return from Canada, Hollis informed the RCMP that MI5 had made ‘an extra copy of the interim report produced by EVANS and also of the additional pages I brought back’, apparently confirming Evans’s authorship, and that he, Hollis, was only the messenger (see KV 2/1412, sn.31A). And were ‘the notes from his interview with the RCMP shortly after’ the record of the October 29 meeting, or did they correspond to the ‘additional pages’ that Hollis brought back at the end of September? She does not say.)

iii) Gouzenko introduced the name of ‘ELLI’ when he spoke to Hollis in mid-September. (Knight appears adrift over this issue on two counts. She confuses references to an as yet unnamed agent with a later example of direct usage of that name, and she presents a muddled story about when that latter event occurred. The first citation above – where ELLI is not mentioned  – is echoed on page 238, where she states that Hollis reported allegations about ELLI, ‘which is why they appeared in the BSC report’, after his ‘first’ meeting with Gouzenko, allegedly in September. She later quotes the RCMP report (above) of October 29, where Gouzenko talked about ELLI.  Elsewhere, however (on page 62), Knight states that ‘ELLI’ was first recorded in a November 1945 RCMP report. She then (page 238) refers to Hollis’s ‘second’ meeting with Gouzenko (in November), and then implies that Liddell responded at that time by looking into the ELLI matter, and sent a telegram to Ottawa about possible identification. Yet she notes that this telegram was dated September 23! It is an unpardonable mess.)

iv) Hollis spent an hour with Gouzenko (at Camp X) before flying back to London. (This flies in the face of what Gouzenko claimed about the shortness of Hollis’s interrogation, which lasted ‘three minutes’, according to John Picton’s testimony in Gouzenko; The Untold Story. Camp X was a long way from Ottawa, and Gouzenko was not moved there until late October. Hollis’s interrogation at the end of November was indeed short.)

v) The main message from these reports was that ELLI was working in British Intelligence, MI6, not Counterintelligence, MI5. (This is not only incorrect factually, but inherently useless  – a false contrast. Both MI5 and MI6 had counter-intelligence sections. In 1945, MI6’s counter-intelligence capabilities were stronger than MI5’s. Besides, Hollis’s report of November said no such thing. Interestingly, Genrikh Borovik, in The Philby Files, recorded that Gouzenko’s revelations pointed to a spy within SIS (MI6).)

vi) Gouzenko then went off the deep end, claiming that he had never said what was written in the BSC report, and that the statements were falsified. (Without knowing the exact text provided by Stewart, it is hard to inspect Gouzenko’s objections, but if the challenge was over the denial of the statement about a spy in Moscow, he was apparently wrong. The passage that Knight cites corresponds to what is available in the Canadian Archives, confirming that Gouzenko himself introduced this information. Yet I should note that, in his May 1952 testimony, Gouzenko made no reference to the existence of spies in Moscow, thus giving the denial from the Sawatsky book some merit.)

vii) Gouzenko challenged the notes of the RCMP interview ‘which were in the handwriting of the translator, Mervyn Black’, but he was not allowed to take them home to compare them with his copies of Black’s handwriting. (Black was most certainly not the translator at the time of the RCMP interrogation(s). Was this a simple mistake, with Stewart unaware of John Leopold’s role, and thus innocently misrepresenting the authorship? Or did Black’s name appear as the signatory, and had it been provided by MI5, in the belief that Black had been the translator in September, which would indicated dirty dealings?)

And what would Gouzenko have known about Philby in 1945? Of course Philby was never ‘head of MI6’, and he had a fairly junior role in MI6 in 1942-43. Gouzenko’s comment shows some retrospective imagination that failed to refute what he was claimed to have said at the end of the war. Sadly, Knight did not analyse any of these conundrums, but the distortions have reinforced some highly dubious mis-statements about the Gouzenko interrogations.

Chapman Pincher

For example, Chapman Pincher echoed Knight’s story faithfully in order to solidify his case against Hollis (p 243 of Treachery, where he reprised the account he had first laid out in Their Trade Is Teachery). Gouzenko was shown ‘a substantial typewritten report that was allegedly Hollis’s account of his original interview’, including the claim about a mole in the Kremlin, he claimed. (This assertion would again fly directly in the face of the accusation that Hollis held only a peremptory interview with Gouzenko.) Pincher continued: “Gouzenko said that the document attributed other false statements to him guaranteed to discredit him as a witness and create the impression that he was unreliable. He told Peter Worthington, then editor-in-chief of the Toronto Sun, ‘whoever wrote that report about a fake interview had to be working for the Soviets’. Worthington put his account on record in a letter to The Spectator on 2 May 1987.”

Earlier, even Nigel West (who favoured Graham Mitchell rather than Hollis as the mole known as ELLI) had got in on the act. In A Matter of Trust (1982), West had rather imaginatively written that William Stephenson had facilitated Gouzenko’s extrication to Camp X: “Here, on the outskirts of the town of Oshawa, Gouzenko was interrogated at length by Stephenson, Hollis, and the Mounties” – an assertion wrong on at least three counts. Later, without providing any sources, West described, in his 1987 book Molehunt (p 79), Patrick Stewart’s visit to Toronto, with Stewart, in the presence of three armed RCMP officers, reading Gouzenko a copy of Hollis’s original report [sic] dated September 1945. “Gouzenko denounced the report as a fabrication,” wrote West, “and insisted that the remarks attributed to him by the author were bogus and had been manufactured with the intention of discrediting him. When asked about the authenticated signatures, Gouzenko insisted that they were forgeries.” West then openly wondered whether the report represented more evidence of the duplicity of DRAT [the codeword for the mole], or simply constituted additional proof of Gouzenko’s paranoia.

Again, in Gouzenko: The Untold Story, the contributors (including Gouzenko’s widow, Svetlana) appeared to corroborate the assertion that the Stewart package was a forgery, clumsily assembled, and something of an embarrassment to the RCMP officers who attended the meeting. Svetlana Gouzenko declared that the report had been pasted together from several separate documents, with inconsistent handwriting. She and Igor had suspected that the words in Black’s handwriting, confirming that Gouzenko had made such and such a statement, were not his, and that is why they wanted to compare the document with what they had at home. She was supported in her objections by the reporter John Picton, who described how the Mounties snatched the report back from Gouzenko. All this gimcrackery was later ascribed to Hollis’s malevolence.

The arrival of Molehunt provoked a lively review by the author’s ex-employer Richard Deacon in The Spectator, and a correspondence to which the journalist Peter Worthington (as noted by Pincher, above), and others, contributed. Deacon attempted to debunk the ‘guilty Hollis’ theory on the basis that i) the allegation about  a mole in MI5 did not come up until a much later cross-examination of Gouzenko by the RCMP; ii) Norman Robertson, the Canadian permanent secretary for foreign affairs, came to London after Gouzenko’s defection, and briefed the heads of MI5 and MI6 on Gouzenko’s revelations, so Hollis’s obstructions would have been pointless; and iii) while Hollis was in Ottawa at the time of Gouzenko’s first interrogation, he spoke no Russian, and Nicholson of the RCMP (who was fluent in the language) conducted the interrogation. (The introduction of Nicholson has not apparently been endorsed by any other writer. Deacon’s ramblings did not help in any elucidation.)

This review prompted a spirited riposte by Worthington, who was convinced of Hollis’s guilt, basing his judgment on Gouzenko’s objection to the lies in the report ‘that had been made by the British intelligence officer who had interviewed and debriefed him in 1945 after he defected.’ Worthington especially drew attention to the claims made about the penetration of the Soviet system by British agents, and he reminded his Spectator readers that ‘the British security officer who came to Canada to interview Gouzenko in 1945 was Roger Hollis’. Worthington also boasted that Gouzenko had written, in 1952, ‘a special memorandum directed to British Intelligence’, which Worthington published in the Toronto Telegram 18 years later, and subsequently gave to Chapman Pincher in connection with his book Too Secret Too Long’, and which appears therein as Appendix A.

Yet, in their rush to jump on the band-wagon, all these writers seriously missed several vital points. Moreover, rather surprisingly, recent analysts, with a clearer canvas of archival material available, have failed to tidy up the mess. For example, two important articles that have been published in the intelligence press over the past few years have missed the opportunity to set matters straight. William Tyrer hinted at the confusion, but failed to come to grips with the problem in his rather convoluted coverage in ‘The Unresolved Mystery of ELLI’ (International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, 29, 1-24, 2016). David Levy, in his article ‘The Roger Hollis Case Revisited’ (International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, 32, 146-158, 2019) skated towards the paradox, but then avoided exploring it. Both writers were equivocal about Hollis’s contribution in September 1945.

Gouzenko in Ontario

The first point is that Roger Hollis did not interrogate Gouzenko in September 1945. The archive is quite clear that his September mission was to deal with the courses of action deriving from the exposure of Nunn May. Gouzenko had been secluded, for security reasons. He and his wife were moved at the beginning of October to a safe-house in Kemptville, and, after a couple of nights, to one at Otter Lake (about 100 miles from Ottawa), and, two weeks later, to Camp X, which was situated near Whitby, on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, about two hundred and fifty miles from Ottawa. No casual meeting would have been allowed, and even the MI6 members of the now resident BSC team (Dwyer and Evans) were not given an audience. Dick White’s testimony about Hollis interrogating Gouzenko ‘on the shores of Lake Ontario’ represents a dangerously naive attempt to add verisimilitude. Hollis’s first interview with Gouzenko was on November 21, and the report I cited in my March article (the one discovered by William Tyrer, dated November 23, 1945) constitutes the record of that interview, when Gouzenko was brought from Camp X to Ottawa. (The fact that that meeting took place is confirmed by a telegram from London to New York of May 23, 1946, visible at KV 2/1423-2, sn. 216A.) On the other hand, the information about an Allied agent in the Soviet Union (including the reference to Polakova/Poliakova) was provided on September 15, the day before Hollis left for Canada the first time.

(By the time he wrote Cold War Spymaster (2018), Nigel West had modified his stance. He corrected the chronology, although he wistfully reflected on his previous assertion in the following terms: ‘While there is no evidence that Hollis actually met Gouzenko in September 1945  . . .’.)

Thus the second fact ignored by the commentators is that Hollis did not introduce the notion of a British spy in Moscow. The name ‘ELLI’ was known by September 15, and the transcripts of the telegrams received by Liddell in September show very clearly that this idea was transmitted by Dwyer, based on the RCMP interviews with Gouzenko. The insight stimulated both Dwyer and Liddell to focus, separately, on possible SOE links. The October 29 evidence from Gouzenko confirmed the earlier ‘agent in Moscow’ story that he had supplied in September, but also severely muddied the waters before Hollis ever had a chance to meet him. Gouzenko was here relying on further hearsay evidence from another clerk, and thus possibly merging the details of two individuals, as well as casting doubts on the strength of the ELLI identification process. This recognition is confirmed by Liddell’s diary entry of November 5, well before Hollis’s interview with Gouzenko.  The passage cited above by Knight corresponds to the RMCP interrogations that must have occurred in September and October. All that Hollis’s report states about the agent in Moscow is to confirm the previously offered insight that the attaché in Moscow would not reveal the name of his agent.

A third distortion occurs in the authorship of the so-called ‘BSC report’. As this was compiled before Hollis arrived on the scene (as is now obvious), it was clearly written by Peter Dwyer and John-Paul Evans, the MI6 representatives attached to BSC, who flew to Ottawa as soon as the Gouzenko case broke. (Knight records this authorship.) Yet neither Dwyer nor Evans interviewed Gouzenko in person. The BSC report was based on information provided by RCMP officers. Moreover, by some vague process of ahistorical drift, it is represented by Pincher and Worthington as being written by Hollis, but Hollis did not compile any report on Gouzenko (as opposed to one on Nunn May) until he had seen the defector, in late November. What he did accomplish, as noted above, was to bring a copy of the Dwyer/Evans report with him when he returned to the UK at the end of September.  All of Knight’s analysis is based on the premise that the November 1945 interview that Hollis had with Gouzenko was his second exposure, and she thus presents earlier events (such as the RCMP interview on October 29) as elaborations on what she claims Hollis had discovered in September. Yet all information at that time came from the RCMP via Dwyer and Evans.

The fourth important matter overlooked by these writers is that Gouzenko was correct for the wrong reasons. He suspected forgery, but was let down by his faulty memory, and the wiles of MI5.It is somewhat astonishing that he could not distinguish, even twenty-seven years later, between the circumstances of his several interrogations at the safe house and at Camp X in September and October by RCMP officers (when John Leopold was the interpreter/translator), and his short interview with Hollis in November, which took place in Ottawa (by which time Mervyn Black had assumed the role). Gouzenko claimed to have been interviewed by an MI5 officer (presumably Dwyer, but certainly not Hollis!) in September, when, by all other accounts, not even Dwyer (of MI6) had direct access to him. Gouzenko failed to recall what he had told his RCMP interrogators, including the important intelligence about the British agent in Moscow, and mixed up those interviews with his encounter with Hollis. He rightly was suspicious of the document that Stewart showed him, but was in a muddle about what constituted British counter-intelligence (it could be MI5 or MI6), and allowed himself to be convinced that Hollis had concocted the whole mishmash. [Problems remain with Gouzenko’s testimony, which I shall analyze in a future report. And the possibility must not be discounted that the transcription of his earliest statements was in error, since he never signed off on it.]

In such a way do untruths accumulate. Amy Knight’s lack of chronological discipline causes her whole analytical scaffolding to collapse. Instead, the evidence all suggests a very clumsy attempt by MI5 to frame Roger Hollis, one that was abetted by Gouzenko’s erratic memory, and his strong suspicions of possible traitors around him.

b) Peter Wright and VENONA Telegrams:

Peter Wright

Strangely, Peter Wright, in Spycatcher, made no mention of the Patrick Stewart visit to Canada in 1972. In contrast (p 282), he described his own efforts to interview Gouzenko in the mid-1960s, but was told that by then ‘he was an irretrievable alcoholic.’ “I sent a request to the Canadian RCMP for permission to interview Gouzenko once more, but we were told that Gouzenko had been causing problems for the Canadian authorities through his alcoholism and badgering for money. They feared that further contact with him would exacerbate the problems, and that there was a high risk Gouzenko might seek to publicize the purpose of our interview with him.” It is not clear why the RCMP changed their minds a few years later. Chapman Pincher took pains (Treachery, p 248) to relate that whenever he spoke to Gouzenko, and at the time Stewart interviewed him, the defector was coherent and rational in all respects, and that ‘the previous conviction in MI5 that he was a hopeless drunk was an internal deception’. Pincher does not explain why the RCMP originated this slur: nor does he say why or when it became a ‘conviction’ in MI5 rather than perhaps an excuse by the RCMP for limiting visits.

On the other hand, Wright did throw fresh confusion in the works through his citation of VENONA telegrams as a factor in reinforcing the treachery of ELLI, and the claim that Hollis was the probable candidate. First, he recorded that the RCMP told him that the original notes of the debriefing had been destroyed (thus implicitly questioning the authenticity of what Stewart later presented). Yet, as Wright puzzled over the evidence in intelligence files, and pondered over the reasons why Hollis had been sent out to Canada, he focused on Hollis’s apparent attempt to have Liddell’s diaries destroyed, since those journals had speculated on the identity of ELLI. [No matter that the Diaries never betray any suspicion that Hollis was ELLI: in fact they would help the cause for Hollis’s innocence.]

Then Wright recorded a somewhat miraculous breakthrough in breaking out VENONA traffic. He introduced his story by referring to the famous VENONA message that constitutes the confirmation from the KGB about the GRU, but he misrepresented its essence. Wright strongly implied that Hollis was sent to Canada in September to interview Gouzenko, and based his text on that assertion. “We have it from VENONA, however, that the KGB was unaware of the existence of a GRU spy in MI5 when Hollis travelled to Canada and interviewed Gouzenko,” he wrote. As I showed in the previous article, this is a great distortion, one that was reinforced by Pincher. That telegram states no such thing: it was dated September 17, before Hollis arrived in Ottawa, and merely confirmed Philby’s information about GRU spies in Canada. Moreover, Philby’s report of November 18 (which is reproduced in full on pages 238 and 239 of Nigel West’s and Oleg Tsarev’s Crown Jewels, and appears in Vassiliev White Notebook p 27) deals exclusively with the Nunn May case, and its political fall-out, and makes no mention of ELLI or other spies within the intelligence services.

The breakthrough (according to Wright) came with the analysis of a week’s traffic from September 15. It began that day, ‘with a message to Krotov discussing, with no sense of panic, the precautions he should take to protect valuable argentura [sic: agentura] in the light of problems faced by the ‘neighbours’ in Canada’. Wright interpreted this to mean that the KGB had no reason to fear that any of its agents in Britain had been compromised by Gouzenko. Yet, by the end of the week, on September 22, ‘the tone of the messages is markedly different’. “The relaxed tone disappears, Krotov is given elaborate and detailed instructions on how to proceed with his agents. ‘Brush contact only’ is to be employed, and meetings are to reduced to the absolute minimum, if possible only once a month.”

Wright then asked GCHQ to conduct a search on the London to Moscow traffic – but it could not be read. The only significant message they could identify was a Moscow to London message sent on September 19-20 ‘which they could tell was a message of the highest priority because it overrode all others on the same channel’, and Wright concluded that its significance was obvious, as it had been sent the day after Philby had received the MI6 telegram containing Gouzenko’s description of ELLI in ‘five of MI5’. “Indeed,” he wrote, “when GCHQ conducted a group-count analysis of the message, they were able to conclude that it corresponded to the same length as a verbatim copy of the MI6 telegram from Canada which Philby removed from the files.”

Wright and Geoffrey Sudbury (his colleague at GCHQ then sat down made a determined attack on a high-priority message sent by Moscow in reply. It was sent at the end of the week (i.e. about September 22), and eventually they were able to break it out. According to Wright, it read: “Consent has been obtained from the Chiefs to consult with the neighbours about Stanley’s material about their affairs in Canada. Stanley’s data is correct.”

In many respects, this account looks like a farrago of nonsense. First of all, the Vassiliev Notebooks (Black, page 54) inform us that, in light of the increased local surveillance measures, a generic message for all stations (VADIM, SERGEY, BOB and IGOR) about the need for extra caution was despatched as early as September 10. It is worth citing the bulk of the message:

It is essential to carefully prepare for every meeting with agents; operatives should meet with agents no more than 2-3 times a week. Arrange work with agents in such a way that the work of the operating staff is indistinguishable from the work of other members of the Soviet colony. Select authoritative and confidential group handlers from among the local citizens and operate the agents through them. High level workers should meet with group handlers as rarely as possible and only for briefing and to go over assignments.

This message was not decrypted under VENONA.

Thus it would have been not only logistically impossible but also in contradiction of instructions for Philby to have received the message about ELLI, arrange a meeting with Krotov, have his handler send a message to Moscow, and the KGB then investigate the matter with their superiors and the GRU, and then send a message in return the next day. Moreover, we have it on record that the famed ‘confirmation’ message to Krotov (BOB) was sent on September 17, i.e. before Philby received the news about ELLI. Certainly, further warning messages were sent. A message dated September 21 (‘surveillance has been increased’: Vassiliev, Black, p 57) was directed at the USA (VADIM, in Washington) only, and identified agents operating in the USA. A similar message from Moscow to London on the same day (VENONA 34) includes the same precautionary language, and corresponds to the message identified by Wright above, but its main emphasis is on HICKS (Burgess). A further message that day (VENONA 64A) contains a specific warning about maintaining secrecy in meetings with STANLEY (Philby). Furthermore, according to the evidence, the phrase ‘five of MI5’ never appeared in any of the September reports: the indication of some association with ‘5’ in intelligence came in Hollis’s report at the end of November.

The conclusion must be that the precautionary messages had nothing to do with ‘ELLI’. In fact, Philby had requested an urgent meeting with Krotov on September 20 (using Burgess as a courier) in light of the Volkov news from Istanbul. Of course, Peter Wright was writing in 1987, long before Vassiliev got to work, and did not know then that the VENONA transcripts would eventually be published. He therefore thought he could get away with falsifying the record. He presented the confirmatory message about Philby as arriving several days later than it actually did, as if it had been provoked by an alert from Philby about ‘ELLI’ that in fact was never articulated.

c) Guy Liddell and the RCMP:

Guy Liddell

One of the dubious stories that has gained traction is Gouzenko’s claim that, when Guy Liddell visited Ottawa in 1944, this information was leaked by someone based in London. For instance, the claim can be found in the Spartacus profile of Gouzenko at https://spartacus-educational.com/SSgouzenko.htm. The source given is Philip Knightley’s Master Spy (1988), page 130. Yet no trace of that assertion can be found on page 130 of the book – nor on any succeeding page. Nevertheless, Chapman Pincher echoed this story (Treachery, p 24), where he (correctly) pointed out that Liddell did pay a visit in 1944 to advise the RCMP on German counter-espionage. Pincher quoted Gouzenko as suggesting that this leak meant that ‘Moscow had an inside track in MI5’.

Pincher’s opinions evolved through the creation of Their Trade is Treachery, Too Secret Too Long, and Treachery, as was only natural, given the paucity of archival sources in the early days, and the proliferation of rumours. Regrettably, instead of admitting that he did not know certain things, or that the information was ambivalent, Pincher would use every snippet to try to bolster his accusations against Hollis. (I shall investigate in depth, in a later article, Pincher’s interactions with Gouzenko.) The story about Liddell is just such an example. Gouzenko’s claim can be seen in the Report he submitted to Sergeant McLellan of the RCMP, after a request from MI5, on May 6, 1952. (As I indicated earlier, the whole report appears as Appendix A in Too Secret Too Long.)

Here Gouzenko described some ‘indirect, but possible evidence’. “In 1944, (the latter part, or maybe the beginning of 1945), in the embassy, Zabotin received from Moscow a long telegram of a warning character. In it, Moscow informed that representatives of British ‘greens’ (counter-intelligence) were due to arrive in Ottawa with the purpose of working with local ‘greens’ (R.C.M.P.) to strengthen work against Soviet agents, and that such work would definitely be stepped up.” After outlining the precautionary actions that were taken, Gouzenko commented: “Now it could be that Moscow just invented these representatives who were supposed to arrive in Ottawa, in order to make Zabotin more careful. On the other hand, it might be genuine, in which case it would mean that Moscow had an inside track in the British MI5.”

That is hardly the unqualified assertion as expressed by Pincher. Yes, Guy Liddell did pay a visit to Ottawa, in July-August 1944 (not at the end of the year). He was there to discuss with Cyril Mills a possible double-cross operation against the Germans, and advise the RCMP, which was in fact a police force, not a counter-espionage organisation. There is no evidence that MI5 recognised at that time a problem of Soviet agents in Canada, and Liddell travelled alone. Of course, Anthony Blunt (NKVD, not GRU) might have been the source of the information about Liddell’s visit. For example, on July 7, 1944, he provided Moscow with a full report on the Double-Cross system, and would have been very aware of Liddell’s movements.

Roger Hollis

d) Roger Hollis and Counter-Espionage:

Much has been made of the fact that Roger Hollis was MI5’s expert in Soviet counter-intelligence. Nominally, this might have been so, but, in truth, he was far from being able to fulfil that role. In September 1945, he was head of F Division, ‘Counter-Subversion’.  F Division had been split off from B Division in April 1941 by the new Director-General Petrie, as part of his ‘new broom’ reorganization, so that Liddell’s team could focus on the Nazi threat. John Curry had been its first chief, but had moved across to a staff position under Petrie in October of that year, allowing Hollis to take his place. In May 1943, Curry moved over to MI6 to help set up the service’s Soviet counter-espionage section (Section IX).

The mission of F Division was very much on constraining and defanging domestic ‘subversive activities’. When Hollis was placed in charge of F2 (‘Communism and Left Wing Movements’), he had Clarke watching over Policy Activities of the CPGB (F2A), a vacancy for the position managing ‘Comintern Activities generally, and Communist Refugees’ (F2B), and Pilkington representing ‘Russian Intelligence’ (F2C). By April 1943, when Hollis had taken over the Division, Hugh Shillito had replaced Pilkington, and was responsible for F2B and F2C. Thus F Division was very thin on experience with the Soviet espionage threat. In his in-house history, John Curry lamented the fact that the only officers who knew anything about Soviet espionage (Liddell, Harker and Archer) had all been diverted to activities directed against the war enemy.

A major part of the problem was that the movements of communist subversives did not respect the artificial boundaries that divided the responsibilities of MI5 and MI6 into the territories of the Empire, and foreign countries, and thus MI5 was totally reliant on the co-operation of MI6 when it came to providing information about the backgrounds of dubious characters trying to enter the UK, or any imperial territory. The protective policies of Felix Cowgill caused serious rifts during World War II, especially over ISOS (Abwehr ENIGMA) decrypts that revealed German analysis of the results from double-agents, and MI5 also clashed with SOE over escaped agents being too hurriedly allowed into the country without proper vetting. The officers in charge had no direct exposure to the decade of the ‘Great Illegals’ in the 1930s, and the lessons that Walter Krivitsky had provided were too easily overlooked.

Hugh Shillito seems to have made a game attempt to overcome the inattention, and he doggedly pursued the cases of Oliver Green and Sonia, while receiving discouragement from senior officers. In these endeavours, he was determinedly backed up by Milicent Bagot, who assuredly knew the history, but they were both greatly rebuffed in their inquiries. As Curry wrote: “The only palliative to this situation [the inferiority of MI6 records] was that F.2.b was in the hands of Miss Bagot, whose expert knowledge of the whole subject enabled her to find and make available a large variety of detailed information based on the records of the past.” By the autumn of 1945, Shillito (whom Hollis had more than once, probably unjustifiably, characterised as ‘idle’ and ‘ineffective’ in complaints to Liddell, but of whom Curry thought highly), had left the service. Bagot was also fed up, and wanted a transfer.

What is more, MI5 at that time lagged severely behind MI6 in developing structures to handle the Soviet threat. MI6’s Section IX had been set up in May 1943 by Curry, and Kim Philby had engineered his takeover of it by November 1944, when Curry retired from the job. The result was that MI5 dithered. Liddell knew implicitly that the problem had to be addressed by MI5, as his diaries constantly show through the winter of 1945-46. Yet, even though he was the expert on what the Soviets were up to, it was not in his power exclusively to solve the problem. F Division, Petrie’s creation, did not report to him. Hollis, who had at least shown some imagination over the Soviet threat, and written several monitory reports in his vantage point in F Division, obviously did not want his stature diminished by reporting through Liddell.

Hollis was known as somewhat of a plodder, one who preferred the quiet life. He was not temperamentally suited for the role of counter-espionage chief. He did not have a first-rate brain, showed little intellectual curiosity, and would have been bemused by the layers of deception inherent in spycraft. He knew no Russian, and had not been exposed to the structures and techniques of the NKVD and the GRU. He was not a practised or natural interrogator. As K. D. Ewing, Joan Mahoney, and Andrew Moretta wrote, with some equivocation, in their 2020 book MI5, the Cold War and the Rule of Law: “That in 1945 Liddell chose to describe Hollis as an ‘expert’ on counter-espionage was arguably an accolade which reflects [more] the dearth of knowledge about Soviet intelligence operations against the west than upon Hollis’ qualities as a Security Service officer” (note 25, p 454).

Thus it is not surprising that Liddell himself eventually sought an audience with Gouzenko. Amy Knight completely mis-represented Hollis’s role when she described him as MI5’s ‘point-man’ on Gouzenko, and it appears that Kim Philby himself wrote a tissue of lies in his report to the KGB (Should Agents Confess?) when he described setting up meetings with Hollis and lawyers immediately the news about Nunn May came though. Hollis was on holiday at the time. (Unless, of course, Liddell was lying, and Philby’s account is more reliable  . . .)

3. Background Clarification:

a) Stephen Alley:

Stephen Alley

Readers will recall, from my March posting, how Guy Liddell’s analysis of hints provided by Gouzenko through Peter Dwyer led him to discern an SOE connection in the person of ELLI. The fact that, under Operation PICKAXE, the Special Operations Executive had developed a liaison with the NKVD in Moscow and in London suggested to him that an indication of leakages hinted at by Gouzenko might involve security lapses at both ends. There is strong evidence that Stephen Alley, because of his fluent Russian, and his role within MI5, was the officer who shepherded Colonel Chichaev, the NKVD military attaché who represented Moscow in London. Liddell considered Alley as a possible candidate for ELLI before quickly rejecting the idea as absurd.

A close inspection of the conclusions of Dwyer and Liddell is provocative. As I described in March, Dwyer came up with Ormond Uren’s name as a candidate for ELLI. But Liddell instantly dismissed that hypothesis. On November 1, 1943, however, he had recorded in his diary that Uren had ‘divulged the complete lay-out of SOE’s organisation’. Thus something in the information provided by Gouzenko must have indicated to him either a) that there were corners of SOE’s organisation that were not known to Uren, or b) that the disclosures had occurred either before his recruitment to SOE (in 1942) or after his arrest (in July 1943), or c) that the additional hints about ‘Russian descent’ excluded Uren. The third alternative seems the most likely, and may have pointed him towards Alley. In addition, Uren was known to have worked by supplying secrets to Dave Springhall, not to a Soviet handler from the Embassy.

In my previous posting, I drew attention to the astonishing way in which Alley has been excised from the historical record. He makes three brief appearance in the published extracts from Liddell’s Diaries (Volume 1, pages 66, 158 and 245), but Nigel West does not judge him important enough to be listed in his introductory ‘Personalities’. Alley does not appear in the Index of Christopher Andrew’s Defend the Realm, nor does John Curry list him there in his in-house history of the Security Service. Similarly, Nigel West overlooks him in his account of MI5. Curry does show Alley in his organisation charts, however: for June 1941, as Major Alley, sharing responsibility with Mr. Caulfield for E2, a section of Alien Control that managed Nationals of Baltic, Balkan and Central European countries, and, in 1943, maintaining a similar role in that Division.

Yet Alley had a remarkable background. He was born in Russia, and thus had a stronger claim to have been ‘of Russian descent’ than any other candidate for ELLI. As Keith Jeffery recounts, Lieutenant Alley accompanied Captain Archibald Cumming as a member of the mission sent to Petrograd on September 26, 1914. By February 1917, Alley had been promoted to captain in MI1(c), and was responsible for controlling passengers travelling from Russia to England or France, for counter-espionage and the coordination of intelligence matters with the Russian Secret Service. Claims have been made, dependent on the verification for authenticity of a letter that Alley wrote to his colleague John Scale, that he was involved in the murder of Rasputin. Others suggest that he was party to the unsuccessful attempts to save the Romanov family from their execution. In his Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence, however, Nigel West brings Alley’s colourful career down with a thud. After being evacuated in 1918, Alley ‘served in MI5 for three years and then moved to Paris, where he ran a business trading in commodities’.

[In my previous piece, I referred to Alley’s memoir, held by Glasgow University, which rather shockingly tells how Alley was dismissed from MI6 for declining to assassinate Stalin. I have succeeded in contacting the Librarian at the University, but, because of the Covid lockdown, the staff were not allowed into the archive to inspect the status of the memoir for me. A verification of this astounding item will therefore have to wait a while.]

An analysis of MI5 files at Kew, and especially Guy Liddell’s Diaries, shows that Alley was involved in several significant activities with MI5 during World War II. He was the officer who welcomed Walter Krivitsky ashore in January 1940, impressing the defector with his excellent Russian, and thereafter acted as translator for Jane Archer (Sissmore) during the interrogations. Liddell records him having a last confidential discussion with Krivitsky before he returned to the Americas. When the Poles planned to assassinate Rudolf Hess in June 1941, in the belief that such an action would avert peace talks, Alley was brought in to investigate, and produced a report for Liddell – all of which is reported in Nigel West’s Encyclopedia of Political Assassinations.

When Liddell first identified Colonel Chichaev, the NKVD officer liaising with SOE in Operation PICKAXE, in his diary entry for July 19, 1943, the name of the officer who was introduced to Chichaev by the Czech, Bartik, was later redacted, but it is highly probable that it was Alley. Chichaev’s background in Finland and Reval was mentioned, and it would need MI5’s premier (and maybe only) Russian speaker in MI5 to engage with him. It is apparent that the officer had had a lengthy interview with Chichaev in order to assess his character. Alley’s name fits in the redacted space, and Liddell wrote of this officer: “He thinks that provided the odds are not too much against him, he can handle CHICHAEV without making the slightest concession to the amour propre of the man himself or the country he represents.” The fact that Alley had a prominent role in handling Chichaev is confirmed by numerous items concerning Chichaev’s engagements that appears in his file at the National Archives. They have the rubric “No action to be taken on this report without reference to Major Alley” boldly displayed on them.

Alley is also mentioned several times in the period in which the Gouzenko affair unfolded. He had apparently been drawn in to try to help the Dutch set up a counter-intelligence department, and Alley negotiates with Liddell and Colonel Eindhoven over providing training, in order to pre-empt the American OSS from taking over. It can thus be safely concluded that Alley’s name was considered persona grata for most of the war. For some reason, a direct association with Chichaev was later considered a little too sensitive, drawing attention unwittingly to what must have been an embarrassment.

Finally, Alley was friendly with George Hill, which brings him more closely into the net of the ELLI business. Exactly what Alley’s political sympathies were at this time is impossible to gauge (yet), but the role of this vital, knowledgeable, and influential personality in the Gouzenko affair has clearly been overlooked in the accounts to date. Last month, I emailed Nigel West to ask him why he thought that Alley had been ignored in all the histories (including his own). He replied that his impression was that Alley was not well-liked, and was regarded with some suspicion, by other MI5 officers. Yet West did not answer my question directly. I would have thought that the perceived lack of trust in Alley on the part of his fellow-officers should provoke greater interest in his career and influence, not less.

b) George Hill:

George Hill

Far more has been written about Stephen Alley’s long-time fellow-agent and friend, and counterpart in the SOE Russian operation, George Hill. He wrote two published memoirs, Go Spy the Land (1932), and Dreaded Hour (1936), and an unpublished record of his WWII experiences, Reminscences of Four Years with N.K.V.D. (ca. 1967), is freely available from the Hoover Institution. As with any memoir, but especially those concerning intelligence matters, the material needs to be treated with caution. Furthermore, Peter Day has written a biography of Hill, Trotsky’s Favourite Spy (2017), which relies heavily on his subject’s memoirs, but also incorporates much archival and other material. Day informs us that, when Alley returned to Britain in 1919, he had ‘set up an unofficial lunch club for intelligence officers known as Bolo, short for the Bolshevik Liquidation Club, and George Hill had been a member alongside such as Sidney Reilly and Paul Dukes’. In Dreaded Hour, Hill describes how, in 1923, he bumped into his ‘old friend’, ‘Major Stephen Ally [sic], M.C. one time Assistant Military Attaché in Petrograd’ in London, whereupon the latter engaged him to help liquidate the Bulgarian branch of a huge British tobacco concern. Thus their anti-Bolshevik credentials had at that time been strong.

Hill’s appointment as SOE’s representative in Moscow was thus a controversial one, initially because the Foreign Office thought that his track-record in Russia would make him unacceptable to the NKVD, and on those grounds he had sceptics within SOE, too. After consulting Stafford Cripps, the ambassador in Moscow, Dalton was able to push though his nomination, and some have even stated that MI6 helped in the appointment – perhaps to weaken the unit. In January 1943, Menzies, who was a fierce critic of SOE, vented to Bruce Lockhart of the Political Warfare Executive about ‘the nomination of a hopeless adventurer like ‘Flying Corps’ Hill as their man in Moscow’, perhaps unaware that his underlings may have abetted the appointment.

More serious reservations emerged after Hill was installed, moreover. MI5 and others judged that he had become too easily manipulated by his Soviet counterparts, and feared that his character defects would lead him to be naturally exploited. He had been introduced to SOE through Lawrence Grand and D Section of MI6, and had actually shared training duties at Brickendonbury Hall and at Beaulieu with Kim Philby, who recalled Hill in his own memoir. The conflicts and disputes that endured over Hill’s time in Moscow are too complex to be covered in detail here, but can be summed up as consisting of the following: a) security exposures in the Moscow station; b) Hill’s indiscretions in getting too close to Ossipov, his NKVD counterpart, and giving him confidential information; c) Hill’s dalliance with the hotel manager, Luba Polik, who was surely under the control of the NKVD; and d) Hill’s evolving sympathies with his hosts’ politics, which drew him into a massive clash with the head of the Russian section of SOE, Len Manderstam, over the propaganda role of Soviet citizens forced to serve in the Wehrmacht.

For the purposes of the ELLI investigation, the claims about Hill running an agent in Moscow are of the most relevant. Recall the vital phrase from the BSC report: “The British had a very important agent of their own in the Soviet Union, who was apparently being run by someone in Moscow.” In his Reminiscences, George Hill describes how, in March 1942 he was accosted in his hotel by a man, Sergei Nekrassov, whom he did not recognize at first. When the man identified himself as Hill’s ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’, Hill realized who he was: ‘my best White Russian agent, 1919-1922. A Tsarist cavalry officer from a crack regiment, fearless, resourceful, who loathed the Reds, and went through their lines like a needle through a haystack.’

When Hill went to drink brandy in Nekrassov’s room, he quickly conjectured that Nekrassov had been sent as a provocation, and, overcoming the temptation to re-use Nekrassov as a source, he complained by telephone to Ossipov, who claimed to know nothing about Nekrassov. But before Ossipov arrived (at 5:30 in the morning), Hill wrote out a report on the incident, with one copy for Ossipov, and a second to the Foreign Office via the Embassy diplomatic bag. Thus, when Hill returned to the United Kingdom in the autumn of 1943, Liddell and White presumably had some knowledge of the incident. Part of Liddell’s diary entry for October 5, a long account of the discussion he had with Hill, alongside Dick White and John Senter (the MI5 liaison in SOE), accompanied by two other unnamed SOE members, runs as follows:

The Russians had sent him a man who had worked for him in 1920, and who had made suggestions about working for him again. Hill did not fall for this but immediately rang up the NKVD. The man was removed from the National Hotel where Hill stays with apologies. Three of four months later however he made another approach. Hill then became exceedingly annoyed. The man disappeared again and Hill was told that he had been severely dealt with. The whole thing was an obvious plant. It was however an interesting example of Russian distrust. Hill had never made any attempt to disguise his past activities in Russia which were of course well known to them owing to the publication of his book. He thinks he was accepted because he was regarded as a professional. The Russians have a liking for professionals and experts.

This passage is, I believe, significant in several aspects. First, it confirms what Hill wrote in his memoir, namely that he objected violently to the approach, and made his reaction known to Ossipov. (Whether that account is entirely true cannot be assessed, of course.) Second, Liddell was clearly familiar with the story of Hill’s encounter with an ‘agent’ in Moscow – although that figure was supposed to have been retired long before then – and appeared to accept Hill’s account at face value. Yet, in November 1945, Liddell was unable to associate this anecdote with the disclosure emanating from Gouzenko [see my March report]. Perhaps most startling, however, is the method by which the story could have been leaked – and possibly misinterpreted. Hill had sent a copy of his letter to the Foreign Office, and here, apparently, were two junior officers in SOE who were being regaled with the same information. Had Hill told them this story beforehand? It is not clear. Since Liddell also reported on the fact that Hill said that Chichaev ‘had received instructions from Moscow not to hold official conversations with U.35’ [‘Klop’ Ustinov, an MI5 agent: coldspur], it would seem a gross misjudgment by Liddell and White, on security grounds, to have Hill talking so freely on these matters.

In any case, it is perhaps easy to imagine how the story about Hill’s ‘agent in Moscow’ made the rounds, and became distorted in the process. If Alley was informed, he may have shared it with Chichaev, not even thinking that it was a confidential matter. Chichaev may not have understood the subtleties of the incident, but would have been bound to report such matters to his bosses in Moscow, with the inevitable result of alarm-bells ringing. Poliakova would have taken the news to the Kremlin, whereupon Ossipov would have smoothed matters over.

A question mark must remain over Hill’s honesty, as well as his judgment, however. Chapter XIV of his Reminiscences, purportedly written in 1945, starts off as follows:

“Uncle Joe”, had skilfully gained his aim. The Polish Provisional Government in London was powerless to prevent the Lublin Committee becoming the Lublin Provisional Government, and not much later the Government of Poland. Prime Minister Mikolajczyk due to pig headedness and failure to face realities and utter miscalculation of Mr. Churchill’s strength and the intention of dying President Roosevelt. Thus Poland as planned by Stalin became communist; a satellite of Moscow. General Mihailovic was out, Yugoslavia was to be governed by Marshall Tito, a satellite of Moscow. Bulgaria was communist, Comrade Vyshinsky saw to that. Czechoslovakia was still Democratic, but not for long. Truly those ‘Planners’ in London, drawn from the Foreign Office and State Department had made a mess of their task.

Yet in a report to his SOE bosses in January 1944, Hill had written the following:

All this means what I have endeavoured to point out in previous despatches that the moral leadership of the new Europe has passed to the Soviet Union in much the same manner as England had the moral leadership in the nineteenth century when Liberal movements were astir in Europe. The day has passed when this new movement should be considered in terms of ideologies. It is no longer a matter of communism versus capitalism or even socialism versus capitalism. It is rather a struggle of the peoples of Europe to free themselves of some of the vested interests of the past. These vested interests have been throttling the efforts of the people to attain that degree of political and economic security they feel will put an end to the miseries which have vitiated the lives of a whole generation. The peoples have been looking forward to the leadership of one of the great powers and in this way they have been finding it in the Soviet Union. It is up to the real democracies of the West not to lag behind but to keep in step with the progressive movements now preparing the way to a brighter future for the oppressed people of Europe. (from HS 4/338 at The National Archives)

This echoed a pitch he had given Bruce Lockhart in March 1943. It is pure Marxist propaganda, straight from the editorials of Pravda. Hill was a humbug, and a dangerous one at that. He had gone native. The efforts of ELLI pale beside this rampant example of ‘useful idiocy’. Yet, a third leg of the stool –  alongside Hill’s romantic dalliances, and his Stalinist sympathies – eclipsed any security threat that may have been posed by the obscure ELLI. And that concerned Hill’s aide-de-camp, George Graham.

c) George Graham:

Readers will recall, from my March posting, the meeting that Liddell had with Archie Boyle on November 16, 1945, where they discussed, among other concerns about the Moscow outfit, their suspicions about George Graham. When Hill travelled to Archangel, at the end of September 1941, on the minesweeper HMS Leda, the other two members of his team were on another ship of the convoy, and arrived at the same time after a difficult three-week voyage. The first member, Major Richard Truszkowski (‘Trusco’), had been foisted on Hill at the last moment, and Hill complained bitterly about him in his memoirs, as he was the son of a well-known Pole who had fought Russia ‘tooth and nail, in Tsarist days’. The Polish faction in SOE had demanded that they have a representative with the Polish forces in the USSR, and Frank Nelson and Hugh Dalton had given in. Hill thought his appointment would only arouse the NKVD’s suspicions. (Hill had himself been cleared, despite his similar background.)

About Graham, Hill said little, only that the Lieutenant was in the Intelligence Corps, and that Hill had selected him as his A.D.C.  Nevertheless, he relied upon him extensively. One of the items that the Hill party took with them to Moscow was a heavy Chubb safe in which to lock the codes and ciphers each night, but when the embassy was evacuated to Kuibyshev, soon after their arrival, because of the proximity of Hitler’s army, the safe had to be left behind. When an apartment had been found for the SOE office in Kuibyshev, Hill wrote in his diary: “We take care never to leave the flat alone; poor Graham is practically chained to it. Our files and codes are kept under lock and key when not in use. Not in a safe, deary – we ain’t got one – but in our largest suitcase, which is nailed to the floor.” [Much of Hill’s memoir derives from letters that he sent his wife.]

Yet a few months later, Graham and Hill were separated. When it was safe, after a few months, to return to Moscow, Ossipov went first, followed by Hill in early February. But Hill had to leave ‘Trusco’ and Graham behind, much to Hill’s chagrin. “I don’t like being separated from Graham, though, especially on account of coding,” he wrote. Trusco was scheduled to return to England in mid-February, so Graham would have sole responsibility for the flat. Before Hill left (by train), he had to write out orders for Graham, ‘covering every likely eventuality’. “Codes and cash we deposited with the Embassy, otherwise poor Graham would have been tied to the flat for keeps: he will do his coding at the Embassy”, he continued.

Hill’s chronology is annoyingly vague (and not much helped by Peter Day in Trotsky’s Favourite Spy), but it seems that Hill did not see Graham again until he returned to Kuibyshev in about July 1942, to renew his passport, as he had been recalled to London for discussions. Even (or especially) in wartime, strict diplomatic protocols had to be obeyed. Thus Graham had been left for several months without any kind of formal supervision. As a member of the Intelligence Corps, his credentials were presumably considered impeccable.

At some stage, concerns about SOE’s security in the Soviet Union must have been raised. Initially, this focused on physical security: SOE’s premises had been previously used by the Yugoslavs, and Soviet technicians must have placed bugs in them before Hill took over. Even Kim Philby knew about this. “A very belated security check of his conference room in Moscow revealed a fearsome number of sources of leakage”, he wrote in My Silent War, suggesting he knew about it at the time, or soon after. Yet the security problem did not stop there. And that is why the infamous Liddell diary entry for November 16, 1945, becomes so relevant. Archie Boyle, who was head of Security for SOE during the war, describes to Liddell the close relationship between Hill and Graham: “Archie says he cannot understand how a man like Hill can possibly be acceptable to the Russians unless they are getting some sort of quid pro quo, the more so since they banished his mistress to Siberia and then brought her back after a certain delay.”

Boyle also revealed something astounding. George Graham’s real name was Serge Leontieff, and he was a White Russian. Now, it would have been questionable enough for the Intelligence Corps to have recruited someone with such a history without a very careful background check, but to send him on a mission to Moscow, even under deep cover and an anglicised name, was surely irresponsible. If he truly was a White Russian (i.e. a person born in tsarist times, of probable aristocratic lineage, and against the revolution), the Soviets would be merciless, either rejecting him immediately, or accepting him in the knowledge that they would be able to suborn him by threats to surviving family members. And if he had arrived, apparently freely, from the Soviet Union at some later stage (perhaps in the early 1930s), that should have rung alarm bells about the circumstances of his escape, and the purpose of his arrival. No Soviet citizen was able to leave the country at that time without some ulterior motive on the government’s part.

Serge Leontieff’s Naturalization Certificate

A certain Serge Leontieff received his naturalization papers in London on December 20, 1933. He had been born in Peterhof, near Petrograd, on August 18, 1910, and his parents were given as Alexander Ivanovitch Leontieff and Olga Shidlovsky (formerly Leontieff), with Olga having British citizenship. Serge was single, gave his trade as Clerk (Journalist), and lived in Earl’s Court. The records suggest that his parents had been accepted to the UK some years before, but the circumstances of Olga’s second marriage are not clear. Nor is it explained how and why she alone took up British citizenship. A newspaper report (in the Winnipeg Tribune) shows that Alexander Leontieff, a former Colonel of the Imperial Guard, led the Old Moscow Balalaika Orchestra at a concert in London on May 30, 1931. Another short piece (in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram) informs us that on November 10, 1934, Alexey Leontieff, a former colonel in the Czarist Army, and manager of a local machine supply office, faced a firing-squad in Novosibirsk, for failing to provide proper machinery to a nearby collective farm. Were Alexander and Alexey brothers? And did ‘Serge’ want to try to determine what happened to his uncle? Pure conjecture at this time. Yet Graham’s past would turn out to be more complicated.

4. Liddell’s Moves:

In this context of mismanagement and deception Guy Liddell faced the combined challenge of the ELLI threat, and the disturbing news about SOE security lapses in Moscow, as well as concerns about his own professional status in MI5. (For a more detailed analysis of Liddell’s career, and the events of this time, I recommend to readers that they turn to http://www.coldspur.com/guy-liddell-a-re-assessment/ ).

a) Petrie and Sillitoe:

David Petrie

Guy Liddell had a difficult time with his boss, David Petrie, during this period. Liddell admitted that he lost his temper with Petrie back in February, and threatened to resign, over what seemed to be a relatively minor matter concerning the Channel Islands, when Petrie interfered after forgetting what Liddell had briefed him on beforehand. When Petrie planned his retirement (his sixty-fifth birthday fell on September 9, 1945), and considered who should replace him, Liddell was not his recommendation. Jasper Harker, Petrie’s nominal deputy, was not yet sixty, but was not a candidate, and retired in 1946. Various accounts have been put forward as to why Liddell was overlooked at this time, but the influence of the Attlee government, and MI5’s reputation for being anti-socialist, must have contributed to the decision to bring in an outsider. Findlater Stewart, so busy in trying to define the future of the intelligence services, had wanted Petrie to stay on for a couple of years ‘to put MI5 on a good peace-time footing’ (as Howard Caccia told Liddell), but he was overruled.

Petrie’s behaviour was decidedly odd. John Curry gave hints of his enormous stress and disappointment at the end of the war, hinting at ‘tragedy’, as if Petrie would have been glad to get out of the hothouse. Yet he took an unconscionably long time in leaving, and botched the handover. Liddell found him very listless over the Gouzenko case: on October 18, he recorded a frustrating meeting he had with Hollis and Petrie after Hollis’s return from Canada, when the two officers were seeking some high-level directive on signals security. Petrie did not want to speak to the Prime Minister (Attlee) himself, and merely suggested that Liddell and Hollis talk the matter over with Menzies, and have him make the approach to Downing Street. Overall, it was a poor performance by Petrie: he neglected to solve the problem of Soviet counter-intelligence himself, he failed to give Liddell the authority to do so, and he protected his own broken structures, all while knowing that his successor would be bewildered by the challenge.

Percy Sillitoe

Moreover, Petrie did not have the guts to inform Liddell himself that the next Director-General would be a policeman, Percy Sillitoe, the Chief Constable of Kent. Liddell heard the rumour on December 10, when Desmond Orr, a member of Petrie’s staff, and the liaison with the War Office told Liddell that he had learned ‘on good authority’ that a policeman in the UK had been appointed. The story was relayed to Liddell more strongly on December 17, so Liddell went to Petrie’s office, where the news was confirmed. Petrie, rather uncomfortably, explained that the choice had been between Liddell and Sillitoe, but that (as Liddell recorded Petrie’s words) ‘the Committee possibly having thought that it might be better that I should have my hands free to deal with the Intelligence side of things’. This was a weaselly and sophistical excuse – what else was MI5, if not ‘Intelligence’? And Petrie hypocritically did not divulge to Liddell the recommendations he had made in a report submitted in 1943, which specifically called for an external career police officer to take over. Liddell had been invited to appear before the Whitehall interviewing committee, but his diary entry for the interview, on November 14, does not reflect a convincing and authoritative display. The committee had seen several other impressive candidates (e.g. Strong, Eisenhower’s intelligence chief,  and Penney, a senior military intelligence officer), and was perhaps going through the motions with Liddell. As confirmation of his shiftiness, Petrie did not want to make any formal announcement: he wanted the news to ‘leak out’.

Liddell was naturally very disappointed, and listed his reasons why choosing an outsider policeman was a bad idea, for practical considerations, and especially for morale. But then Petrie told him that he was going to stay on until April 1946, which left Liddell in a very invidious position. Petrie would be filling ‘Shillito’ (as Liddell’s secretary mis-spelled the newcomer’s name) with all the wrong ideas (such as separating Russian espionage from F Division, and inserting it in B), while Liddell and his team would have to perform the grunt-work of implementing new organisation and policies. Liddell eventually met Sillitoe – but not until February 8, his judgment being that he seemed ‘a pleasant person’. That had more the ring of Barbara Pym describing a new curate despatched to the parish by Lambeth Palace than a senior officer heralding a steely new director-general ready to take on the Gremlin from the Kremlin. MI5 needed more than leadership by a nice chap.

Yet one more clash with Petrie occurred. Liddell was keen to pay a visit to the United States – ostensibly to reinforce good relations with the FBI, but also for personal reasons. Rather than simply declare his intentions, he sought permission, and raised the matter with Petrie on February 4. Budgets must have been tight, and Petrie was not enthusiastic. Hollis had recently journeyed there, and Lord Rothschild also had a visit coming up. Petrie wanted to have Liddell around in March, when Sillitoe would be visiting regularly, and suggested he go in June instead. For reasons that will become apparent, that did not suit Liddell, and a compromise was suggested, whereby Liddell would pay half his passage if he insisted on leaving sooner. The next day, Liddell accepted those terms, but felt insulted by the way he had been treated. “I feel rather like a schoolboy who has been accused of wangling a day’s holiday on the excuse that he is going to his aunt’s funeral.” There was, however, a grain of truth behind that implicit grievance.

b) Security Issues:

In the previous piece, I left Liddell at the end of 1945 attempting to derive information from Stephen Alley, and pursuing military records in the quest for learning more about George Hill’s set-up in Russia. The follow-up with Alley is inconclusive: no entry in his diary refers to any explanation from Alley as to what the ‘ELLI’ reference might mean, but Alley still crops up, with regularity, and without any apparent suspicion expressed by Liddell. The visits by the Dutch counter-intelligence officers are mentioned. Alley wrote what must have been a controversial report on Polish organisations, destined for Cavendish-Bentinck at the JIC, and Cavendish-Bentinck has been told that he will receive ‘an expurgated edition’. Alley was also involved in checking out the activities of Poles recruited at sensitive government establishments. Part of Liddell’s entry for February 12 reads: “Alley has got a case of a Pole employed by RAE Farnborough. I understand that there are quite a number there always getting in touch with the pro-Russian group of Poles in this country. This may or may not be significant, but in any case there are over 80 British CP members in Farnborough through whom there is doubtless a complete leakage of information to the Russians.” A diary entry for February 21 shows that Alley had been tracking possibly illicit Polish use of wireless transmissions.

Thus it appears that Alley was a competent and well-respected member of the senior counter-intelligence staff, and one should perhaps conclude that Liddell had by then received a satisfactory explanation from the officer to the effect that the ELLI revelations had all been an unfortunate misunderstanding. If Alley had suggested otherwise to Liddell, but convinced Liddell that he himself was not ELLI, one might expect Liddell to have picked up the quest urgently elsewhere, and in his diary set to rest the suspicions over Alley.  Yet he does neither (unless the relevant comments have been redacted).  Moreover, questions he raises about ELLI’s identity later in the year, and, in 1951, when Kim Philby’s name is introduced as a possible ELLI candidate, suggest that Liddell was either very confused, very forgetful, or very negligent. As I shall explain in a future piece, he also does not appear to have shared his conclusions with Roger Hollis.

Moreover, the trail on military records, and the reliability of the Moscow staff, also goes completely cold. It is difficult to imagine that this is because interest in the case dissolved: it is much more likely that the findings were too embarrassing for Liddell to report. If Liddell had delved into the records (as I have done in recent weeks), he might have discovered some disturbing facts. Readers will recall that George Graham (born as Serge Leontieff) declared on his naturalization papers that his parents were Colonel Alexander Leontieff (b. 1887, d. in Hendon, 1957) and Olga Shidlovsky (b. 1892, d. in Tunbridge Wells, 1975). When he married Edith Manley Axten (1906-1980) in Amersham in April 1941, however, he gave his parents as Philippe Leontieff and Anna Grigorieva.  It must be the same Serge Leontieff, since the birthdate is the same (August 18, 1910), and his address from the 1939 census (31 Longridge Road, Earl’s Court) is the same as that appearing on the naturalization record. Serge’s trade/profession is given as Air Raid Precaution Warden.

Before Graham’s final return from Russia, he and Edith had a son, Christopher J., who was born in March 1945 in Amersham. Thus Serge must have been in the UK in June 1944: indeed, the archives of the Russian section of SOE show that Graham (D/P 103) arrived in London on leave on May 4. Graham (recently promoted to Major) was with Hill at the latter’s farewell dinner in Moscow in May 1945, and had apparently returned from a visit to London with him in March. The father could therefore have been present at the birth. The son is listed as Christopher J. Graham, thus confirming that Leontieff changed his name to Graham at some stage between his wedding and his departure for Archangel. Christopher died in Wycombe in December 1949. Moreover, at her death in 1980, in Horsham, Sussex, Edith’s name is given as Edith Graham. I cannot yet determine the date or location of Serge’s death, since a few candidates with the 1910 birth-year appear, and such a discovery will require further information about Graham (such as a second initial, perhaps, and an inspection of the death certificate).

It would appear that two examples of fraud are at work here. Serge misrepresented his parentage at his marriage ceremony (for all I know, those two people never existed). Was it perhaps a union of convenience, to help establish his bona fides? And George Hill certainly misled his bosses when selecting Serge as his ADC, unless other forces decided to pick him and give him a new identity. Records show that this ‘George Graham’ was never in the Intelligence Corps. If Archie Boyle was really ignorant of it all until 1945, might Hill have been blackmailed by the Soviets into bringing Serge in, and was the very odd suggestion, coming from Novosibirsk, of the imminent execution of Alexey Leontieff in 1934 a warning? At a time when millions of Soviet citizens were being killed for utterly specious reasons, it seems very odd for a very specific press release like this to be made available to the West.

Did Boyle and Liddell interrogate George Graham? That would have been the obvious response, if they could track him down. Yet, even if they had done so, and the outcome was as disastrous as the evidence suggests it could have been, Boyle and Liddell would not have been able to do much more than try to wrap a discreet veil over the whole business, maybe concluding that the quid pro quo that Boyle referred to back in November 1945 had some substance to it. And George Hill would have become persona non grata. The possibility of a furtive mole called ELLI still being active in British intelligence would have been thrown into the shade had George Hill actually been working for the Soviets. That is what Len Manderstam believed. In From the Red Army to SOE he wrote: “I was sure George Hill was a triple agent. There was, in my opinion, no other explanation for his conduct and for subsequent events than that he was feeding information to the British, the Russians and the Germans. Even when he was liaising with the NVD on an official basis, I believe Hill supplied to them a great deal of important information and received little in return. He had been promoted to the control of SOE’s Mission in Moscow through his pre-war connections with the SIS and helped by the grandiose claims which he made for himself”. And Manderstam knew nothing about the George Graham fiasco, it seems.

Meanwhile the CORBY case opened up. On February 5, Prime Minister Mackenzie King set up the Royal Commission (the Kellock-Taschereau Commission) to investigate Gouzenko’s allegations, and it began secret hearings soon afterwards. A telegram of February 14 reported to MI6 that Gouzenko had been making a good impression.  On February 6, Hollis had brought Liddell a transcript of a speech about Gouzenko made by Drew Pearson in the USA, thus breaking the silence, and the Gouzenko affair became public knowledge in the UK a week later. On February 20, Nunn May confessed to Commander Burt that he had indeed spied for the Soviets. The day before, Hollis had complained to Philby about his attempt to control the Gouzenko business, and he firmly requested that Philby relinquish it. On February 27, Liddell left on the boat-train with Victor Rothschild for Paris, and thence to Washington, courtesy of an RAF flight. Yet, partly because of inclement weather, he did not fly out of Paris until March 7.

c) The Voyage to the Americas:

Guy Liddell did not write up his diary entries for his visit to the Americas until he returned to the UK at the end of April. One of the most beguiling series of entries concerns his meetings with someone called ‘Gay’, whom he meets in the company of Carl Paulson, ‘a nice quiet type of American’ [yes, they do exist], on March 10. He sees her again in New York on March 16, and also the following day, and he would afterwards accompany her to Chicago and San Francisco. Yet this was not a conventional series of trysts. Liddell never identified ‘Gay’ in his diaries, but it is clear that she was his daughter, Elizabeth Gay.

Mrs. Calypso Liddell and the Liddell Children

Liddell had lost custody of his four children with Calypso (née Baring), and they had returned to the United States in 1941. Yet his elder daughter had obviously stayed in touch with him, and wanted him to meet her intended fiancé – even to give his approval to the match, perhaps, as she was not yet eighteen years old. Indeed, on April 5, 1946, the announcement was made that Elizabeth Gay Liddell, of Anselmo, California, was engaged to Ensign Carl G Paulson of the United States Naval Reserve, and they were married on May 4. Liddell was obviously not able to attend the wedding ceremonies, but the reasons for his hasty trip now become evident.

Not that he did not have important business affairs to deal with. He met members of the Security Council, discussing joint approaches to the Soviets, and then had a meeting with Lish Whitson and William Harvey of the FBI on communist matters. Liddell confided in his diary that ‘he was not au fait in any great detail about the Canadian case’, betraying his mental occupations elsewhere. He was much more comfortable on deception, and the Double-Cross System in WWII, and was able to explain to Colonel Sweeney in the Pentagon why a similar system against the Russians could not be effective in peacetime.  On March 15, he had his meeting with J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI, who talked so much that Liddell missed his train to New York. Liddell took the opportunity to ask Hoover whether he would object if MI5 placed an officer in Passport Control in Washington. Hoover had none.

And next – to Ottawa. He was met by Rivett-Carnac and Gagnon of the RCMP, and on March 18 witnessed Mackenzie King speak in the House of Commons. He dined with Peter Dwyer and his wife, so was presumably updated on proceedings with Gouzenko, but had a further opportunity to be briefed when he had lunch with a distinguished group at RCMP headquarters. (“We discussed the espionage case.”) On the morning of March 20, he had a talk with Leopold (the Gouzenko translator), and with Gagnon, and with Mead. And in the afternoon, Liddell spent an hour with Gouzenko himself, whom he found alert and intelligent. Liddell’s report (from his Diaries, not from the Gouzenko archive) runs as follows:

He will not be drawn into making any statement about matters of which he has no first-hand knowledge. He is somewhat temperamental, though when I saw him he was much elated by the fact that MAY had not been given bail and by Mackenzie King’s statement in the House of Commons commending his (CORBY’s) action. I asked him how it was that Russia had been going on in its present state for 28 years and how it was that the Russian people fought so well. He said that if I had been brought up on Marxian dialectics from the age of 6, if I had heard nothing but Soviet press and radio telling me that conditions abroad were far worse than any conditions in Russia, in fact that the rest of the world was living in squalor and revolution, if I had known what it was to walk down a street with my best friend and feel I could not talk freely, and if I had no opportunity of comparing my standards with those of anybody else, I should have been thinking as he did before he came to Canada. The impact of Canadian conditions was so terrific that he had been completely converted and had realised that from his youth up he had been completely deceived. He said that although he was under guard day and night by 3 officers of the RCMP he had never felt freer. I had no idea what it meant to him to be able to go out and buy a bag of oranges and a pound of hamburger. As a matter of fact it meant quite a lot to me on this occasion.

            I then asked CORBY whether the Russians had deliberately let the Germans into their country in 1941. He said emphatically no. He was at the time at intelligence headquarters. The Russians were in fact running away and throwing away their arms to an alarming extent. It was only at Rostov on Don that anything like a halt was made. On this occasion Stalin put the NKVD behind the troops and gave them orders to fire on anyone running away. Subsequently there had been a tremendous wave of nationalist propaganda recounting deeds of Soviet heroism. In this way the tide had just been turned at Stalingrad.

Liddell had some further talks with RCMP officers, as well as Peter Dwyer, before returning to New York, and resuming the private part of his tour in the Americas – to Chicago and San Francisco with Gay.

I find this whole episode astonishing, for many reasons. The first is that no official record of the interview has been placed in the Gouzenko files, and the context of the experience that Liddell enjoyed has been completely overlooked. Did he not report on the encounter to Petrie and Sillitoe on his return? As an experienced officer, he would surely have followed protocol, and posted a memorandum on file. And there does not appear to be anything sensitive in his account that would require it to be weeded. It is all very bewildering. Christopher Andrew quotes a few sentences (pp 349-350), but appears not to grasp how bizarre the focus of the discussion was, given the recent revelations, the interrogations of the RCMP, the telegrams from Peter Dwyer, and the Hollis interview at the end of November 1945. Here was an opportunity for the head of British counter-espionage to ask searching questions of the defector who (according to the misguided beliefs of Amy Knight) was the person who provoked the Cold War, and who had provided alarming hints at Soviet spies in the fabric of British Intelligence, but Liddell failed to grasp the nettle. Instead he simply tried to satisfy his own intellectual curiosity.

There could be multiple explanations. Liddell could have invented the whole incident: yet, given the context, the ambience of the RCMP and the company of other intelligence officers, and the details in his report, that theory can be instantly discounted. More probable is that his account is incomplete. He probably did discuss – or broach –  other matters (such as ELLI), but did not want them recorded. And if there were more sensitive revelations, it is quite likely that, for similar reasons, any report that he did submit to the Gouzenko file was buried, or subsequently weeded. Yet it also possible that, by that time, Liddell considered the whole ELLI business dead and buried, as if Alley had convinced him that it was all a harmless misunderstanding.

One must also consider the situation from Gouzenko’s side: perhaps he had grown so dismayed by MI5’s representation by then that he was not willing to speak about any confidential matters with such an officer, and glided over the more incisive questions. The first sentence of Liddell’s entry could be interpreted as saying that Gouzenko kept his lips sealed about the claims that his colleagues had made to him, using that pretext as an excuse for not opening up before another MI5 officer. Yet Liddell must have used an interpreter, and an RCMP witness. Was there no RCMP record of the interview? Gouzenko’s behaviour would surely have been worthy of remark.

Thus Gouzenko’s apparent poor recollection of the interview is also extraordinary. In Gouzenko: the Untold Story there is no mention of Liddell’s interview in March 1946. It is inconceivable that Gouzenko did not know to whom he was talking. Indeed, in his submission to the RCMP in 1952, he described how ‘on two occasions representatives of MI5 talked with me in Ottawa during the Royal Commission investigation’. (And we should note the length of Liddell’s interview – one hour, exactly the duration White attributed to Hollis.) The first of these was the encounter with Liddell.  But by this time, Gouzenko had made up his mind. He was apparently convinced that ELLI was in MI5, and that the job of investigating him (or her) should thus have been entrusted to an outside agency, like Scotland Yard or the Army. ‘The result, even beforehand, could be expected as nil’ was how he characterized any outcome of the search for the agent. He must thus have decided to say little when Liddell appeared, and regarded the whole episode as inconsequential.

Conclusions:

This was no well-oiled intelligence machinery at work. It all began with the disastrous lack of vetting of George Hill and his aide-de-camp when the SOE operation in Moscow was set up. When the Gouzenko defection occurred, the RCMP was hopelessly unprepared to handle the situation, and MI5 had vacated its representation. No disciplined interrogation of Gouzenko took place. MI5 failed to control the project, and allowed Kim Philby and MI6 to keep a rein on communications. As the Canadian, US and British governments dithered out of a desire to appease Stalin, MI5 dithered over its implementation of structures to handle Soviet intelligence attacks. It should have immediately seconded Jane Archer from MI6, to be accompanied by Stephen Alley, so that the team that handled Krivitsky so well could have reprised its success in Ottawa. Hollis was not the right candidate for either handling the political fall-out of the Nunn May case or interrogating Gouzenko. Liddell or Petrie should have taken on the former task, with Hollis instructed to keep close tabs on the ELLI business in London. If Hollis had been required to interrogate Gouzenko, he should have been well briefed, and been given a precise agenda. Boyle and Liddell should have doggedly pursued the leads on SOE security, and ensured that the ELLI identification was either pinned, and disposed of, and the outcome well communicated, or an action plan outlined to resolve the issue. Liddell should not have approached his opportunity to interview Gouzenko so casually.

The open identification of ELLI had not been conclusively determined, and questions about the merging of the features of multiple agents remained. The ‘dubok’ reference would not suit Alley easily, for example. Yet, what all this muddle meant was that fertile ground had been prepared for sowing confusion later on, and for Hollis to be conveniently framed as ELLI. Twenty years later, when the ELLI business was resuscitated, the screenplay turned out to be not so much Who Framed Roger Rabbit as Murder on the Orient Express, with a cast of guilty characters that included Dick White, Arthur Martin, Peter Worthington, Maurice Oldfield, Patrick Stewart, Chapman Pincher, Peter Wright, Stephen de Mowbray, James Angleton and Robert Lamphere, with Igor Gouzenko even dragged in as an accomplice himself.

Further Research Questions:

1) What secrets did Stephen Alley leave behind? I hope to be able to track down Alley’s memoirs when the Glasgow University Archive opens up again, but has any coldspur reader inspected these pages? Do any of you live in the Glasgow area, and could you possibly visit in person?

2) Where did George Graham come from, and what happened to him? Graham, né Leontieff, appears to have disappeared from the scene without trace. Does anyone have any knowledge of him or his wife, Edith, living in Amersham after the war?

3) What are the facts of the burglary at the Chichaev residence? I believe I now have discovered the official account, but has anyone read the Russian version of George Hill’s memoir, referred to by Dónal O’Sullivan in Dealing with the Devil? O’Sullivan has not replied to my email messages to donal.osullivan@csun.edu (California State University, Northridge).

4) What is the full story behind the security problems in the Russian Section of SOE? I thought Christopher J. Murphy (author of Security and Special Operations) might have some answers, but my phone and email messages to him at the University of Salford have been ignored. Does anyone know how to contact him?

And much to report on in later bulletins: ELLI in 1946 and beyond; a detailed analysis of Gouzenko’s statements, including what Pincher claimed he said to him; the composition of the NKVD intelligence organisation in London, 1941 to 1945; and maybe more.

For a fascinating perspective from Igor Gouzenko’s widow, see: https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/2672326221.

Sources:

Gouzenko files at TNA (KV 2/1419-1429)

Guy Liddell Diaries at TNA (KV 4/185-196; KV 4/466-475)

Operation Pickaxe files at TNA (HS 4/331-351)

Chichaev file at TNA (KV 2/3226)

The Vassiliev Notebooks

The VENONA Archive

The Unresolved Mystery of ELLI, by William Tyrer (in International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, 29, 1-24, 2016)

The Roger Hollis Case Revisited, by David Levy (in International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, 32, 146-158, 2019)

The CORBY case: the defection of Igor Gouzenko, September 1945, by Gill Bennett (from FCO publication From World War to Cold War)

How the Cold War Began, by Amy Knight

Defend the Realm, by Christopher Andrew

The Secret History of MI6, by Keith Jeffery

MI5, the Cold War, and the Rule of Law, by K. D. Ewing, Joan Mahoney and Andrew Moretta

Security and Special Operations, by Christopher J. Murphy

Intelligence, Security and the Attlee Governments, 1945-1951, by Daniel W. B. Lomas

The Crown Jewels, by Nigel West and Oleg Tsarev

The Security Service 1908-1945, by John Curry

MI5, by Nigel West

MI5: 1945-1972, by Nigel West

Molehunt, by Nigel West

Cold War Spymaster, by Nigel West

Their Trade is Treachery, by Chapman Pincher

Too Secret Too Long, by Chapman Pincher

Treachery, by Chapman Pincher

Spycatcher, by Peter Wright

The Perfect English Spy, Tom Bower

The Private Life of Kim Philby, by Rufina Philby

My Five Cambridge Friends, Yuri Modin

The Philby Files, by Genrikh Borovik

Dealing With the Devil, by Dónal O’Sullivan

Churchill & Stalin’s Secret Agents, by Bernard O’Connor

From the Red Army to SOE, by Len Manderstam

Trotsky’s Favourite Spy, by Peter Day

Gouzenko: the Untold Story, by John Sawatsky

This Was My Choice, by Igor Gouzenko

My Silent War, by Kim Philby

To Spy the Land, by George Hill

Dreaded Hour, by George Hill

Reminiscences of Four Years with N.K.V.D., by George Hill

Master Spy, by Philip Knightley

The Diaries of Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, 1939-1965

Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence, by Nigel West

Encyclopedia of Political Assassinations, by Nigel West

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