Category Archives: Management/Leadership

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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Summer 2022 Round-Up

The Ultimate Fridge Magnet

I ♥ Coldspur Fridge Magnet

I received the above item in the mail a few weeks ago – completely out of the blue. It arrived from Greece, and the envelope included a packing-slip that informed me that the item had been bought from Mundus Souvenirs on Amazon Marketplace, and that the buyer’s name was ‘David’. The condition of the item was described as ‘New’, so I was happy that I was not the beneficiary of a re-tread. But who could the semi-anonymous donor be?

I know of only three ‘Davids’ who are aware of coldspur, and also have my home address. None of them is renowned for wearing his heart on his sleeve, but maybe each does adorn it on his refrigerator. It was a superbly innovative and generous gesture, and I determined to get to the bottom of it.

Maybe coincidentally, I happened to hear from David Puttock soon after. David lives in Hamilton, Ontario. We go back a long way: we studied together in the Sixth Modern at Whitgift, and we both went on to read German and Russian at Oxford, David at New College, I at Christ Church. We have met only once since 1968 – at a Gartner Group conference in Toronto ca. 1990, but have maintained a sporadic email correspondence, and the exchange of Christmas cards (heathen that I am), since his retirement. And, indeed, when I asked him about the magnet, he admitted that he was the benefactor.

David told me that he found the item by googling ‘coldspur’, and that the amazon link appeared on the first page of the selection. When I performed that function, however, amazon was nowhere to be seen, but my site gratifyingly appeared before the township of Coldspur, Kansas. The magnet was probably intended for the good citizens of that community, who may think they have stumbled into an alternative universe if they mistakenly look up www.coldspur.com. In any case, those coldspur enthusiasts who feel an urge to have their ardour more durably expressed know where to go. I vaguely thought of buying a stock of magnets, and making an arrangement with Mundus to send them out to well-deserving readers of coldspur, those who post congratulatory or innovative posts in response to my bulletins, but it all sounded a bit too complicated. For about $8.00, you can buy your own. (The SKU is mgnaplilo103600_1, in case you have difficulty. See
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08RZBNVJ3?ref_=cm_sw_r_ud_dp_F2MAMV1SC49R799FBKWJ
.) Lastly, I am of course delighted with the magnet, as my enthusiasm for coldspur is boundless. But what about David? Did he purchase one for himself at the same time, for proud display to his friends on the Puttock refrigerator? I hope so.

Contents:

Introduction

Sonia and The Professor

Operation PARAVANE

The Coldspur Archive

‘Hitler’s Spy Against Churchill’

An Update on Paul Dukes

The PROSPER Disaster

2022 Reading:

            General

            Spy Fiction

            ‘The Art of Resistance’

            ‘The Inhuman Land’

            ‘Secret Service in the Cold War’

            ‘A Woman of No Importance’

Language Corner

Bridge Corner

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Introduction

Since I spent two weeks in Los Altos, California, in June, staying with our son and his family (whom we had not seen for two-and-a half-years), my research has been somewhat lagging. So I thought for my July bulletin I would perform a mid-year round-up instead. Not that there is much new material to report, but I usually find a few points of interest when I carry out this exercise. Moreover, the exercise of writing it all up helps to clarify my opinions on these research topics, and acts as a kind of journal and memoir should posterity (i.e. my grand-daughters) ever want to track down what was really going on.

I suppose that I must record a certain disappointment that my research in the first half of the year has resulted in a resounding tinkle. I would have thought that the disclosures that Henri Déricourt had definitely been recruited before he arrived on British shores in 1942, that SOE was harbouring a dangerously vulnerable cipher officer in George Graham when it set up its mission in Moscow and Kuibyshev in 1941 and 1942, and that Graham was later driven to madness, that M. R. D. Foot’s history of SOE in France is evasive and unscholarly, since Francis Suttill almost certainly made two visits to the United Kingdom in the months of May and June of 1943, shortly before he was arrested, that Peter Wright behaved in a scandalously irresponsible and mendacious manner when he claimed that Volkov’s hints in 1945 pointed to Hollis rather than to Philby, and that Colin Gubbins was not the innovative hero that his biographers have made him out to be, might have provoked some rapt attention in the world of spy-watching and intelligence connoisseurship. While I have received several private messages of support and approval, I have seen no public recognition – nor any challenge to my theories expressed. If I cannot receive due publicity for my pains, I would rather have someone step up and protest that my theories are hogwash, so that I could at least engage in a serious discussion about these outstanding puzzles.

If I were resident in the United Kingdom, I would eagerly take up any invitation offered to me to speak at any historical society that showed an interest in my subjects of study. I have undertaken a few such activities in the United States, but the good citizens of Brunswick County, while listening politely, are overall not particularly interested in predominantly British spy exploits of the 1940-1970 era.

Sonia and The Professor

Flyer for On-Line Talk by Glees & Marnham

Thus it was with considerable excitement that I heard from Professor Glees a few months ago that he had agreed to speak to an historical interest group in Oxfordshire (the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum) about Agent Sonya (or Sonia), as I imagined this would generate some interest in coldspur. When I looked at the promotional material, however, I was slightly perturbed by the rather two-edged endorsement of my research. While Professor Glees spoke glowingly of my investigations, his overall message was that I was in reality a side-show to his own endeavours. “This is not just my story, it is his.” Considering that, according to my analysis, Glees has not written a word about Ursula Kuczynski since his book in 1986, I considered this observation rather troublesome. I was further dismayed when I listened to and watched the recording of his presentation. Coldspur gained only one mumbled acknowledgment. While the promotional material for the talk highlighted Ben Macintyre’s biography Agent Sonya as a teaser, Glees ignored completely my careful review of the book, which demolishes most of the falsehoods that Macintyre promulgated about his subject.

Furthermore, I believe that Glees grossly misrepresented my researches, and dug himself a hole when attempting to answer a question as to whether Sonya had been a ‘double agent’. Glees seems to be under the impression that it is he alone who has revealed that Sonya had been ‘recruited’ by MI6, but that her intentions may not have been entirely honourable. (“I made it very clear that the archival research aka ‘the trees’ was yours, not mine, & the thought that Sonya was an SIS agent aka ‘the wood’ was mine,” he wrote to me afterwards.) He appeared to be unaware of what I had published on coldspur back in 2017, when I showed that MI6 had been fooled by Sonya when she agreed to their terms in order to be exfiltrated from Switzerland, and her life effectively saved. She had no intention at all of serving British Intelligence loyally, and would have had to contact her Moscow masters in order to gain approval for the scheme of her marriage to Beurton, the resultant adoption of UK citizenship, and her subsequent escape to England. The fact that she then became a courier for Klaus Fuchs proves that she never intended to be of any useful service for Menzies and his pals, who were grossly hoodwinked. I do not know where Glees derived the illusion that it was he who prised out these discoveries.

When I gently protested to Glees about his misrepresentations, and his failure to give credit to my discoveries and analysis on coldspur, he was very patronising and dismissive, exaggerating his own ability to see ‘the woods’, and suggesting that I had been concentrating on ‘the trees’, while at the same time he compounded his forgetfulness (or inattention) over what I had written. In a responding email he wrote: “As I explained the release of KV 6/41 a few years ago, found by you, dissected by you, and read by me, thanks to you and esp[ecially] the Farrell letter which I ‘decoded’ to you, if you recall, & was imo [in my opinion] key to solving the riddle. You’ll remember that I put this to you, along with the notion that the simple fact this file from 1941 existed, showed that MI5 were aware of Sonya’s existence in Oxford.”  

But that is absurd. Glees did not ‘decode’ the letter for me. My researches in 2017 showed quite clearly that MI5 was aware of Sonya’s presence in Oxford at that time. Glees’s ignorance is dumbfounding. I did indeed introduce him to the file KV 6/41, which Glees appears to believe constitutes an exclusive exposure of Sonya’s activities. But it stands out because it is the only digitized file on the Kuczynskis: I had inspected the others at Kew several years ago, and published my analysis of them. I tried to explain to Glees that these other files revealed much of her goings-on in Oxfordshire, but he did not want to listen. I am confident that he has not looked at these files (although I have shared my notes on them with him).

And his claim that he alone can see the ‘big picture’ (he is a ‘woodsman’, while I am only a ‘trees’ man’) is insulting and patently absurd. His distinction between different aspects of the forest was nevertheless exceedingly murky: in his talk he made some bizarre assertions that Sonya must have developed some useful contacts within the Oxford intelligentsia, without offering a shred of evidence (‘the trees’, about which matters he was punctilious when he was my doctoral supervisor).

He then accused me of behaving like M. R. D. Foot (the historian of SOE) wanting to stake proprietary claims about a sphere of research, and trying to prohibit anyone else from stepping on his turf. After saying that “No one will want to engage with someone who fires off furious emails at the drop of a hat”, he wrote:

You know I’m one of the biggest admirers of your work & have always made others aware of it. It’s easy to be cross & resentful, as MRD Foot, for example, excelled in being (an academic version of ‘outraged of Tonbridge Wells’) but much better to be charitable, particularly where you ought to be as here. You’re really way off beam here. Few people have done more to bring your work to the attention of others but at the end of the day it was I, and not you, who were giving this talk.

I graciously accept the compliment inherent in this, but on this public occasion Glees did all he could not to bring my work to the attention of others. Second, my email was not ‘furious’: it was regretful and calm, and tried to discuss real issues  – which Glees side-stepped. (I could make the email available to anyone who is interested.) His reaction merely points to his own prickliness and egotism. Moreover, I am not sure where ‘charity’ comes in. Am I really supposed to be grateful for Glees for mangling my research. and failing to give me proper credit? And perhaps I should be pleased to be compared with M. R. D. Foot, a famous ‘authorized’ historian?Yet I could really not harbour any such protective ambition, as I was communicating through a solitary private email from 4,000 miles away! And then Glees tripped himself up over the absurd ‘double agent’ business. It appears that the professor has not bothered to read my research carefully, and does not understand the distinctions between penetration agents, traitors, and double agents. I have thus ignored his lectures to me. Some woodsman; some lumber.

It is all rather sad. I do not understand why an academic of Glees’s reputation would want to engage in such petty practices, and try to distort my researches in such a non-collegial manner. (I have indeed helped him on several matters when he has sought my advice.) Yet, in a way, I do understand. I have seen enough of the goings-on at the University of Buckingham to be able to write a David Lodge-type novel about the pettiness and jealousies of provincial English university life. I have described some of those exploits on coldspur already: I shall refrain from writing up the whole absurd business until another time (I would hardly want to lower myself precipitately to that level, would I?), as I presently have more important fish to fry. When I have run out of other research matters, I may return to the shenanigans at the University of Buckingham.

Yes, I admit this is all rather petty on my part, too. It was just the Soldiers of Oxfordshire museum, not an invitation on In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg. But, if ‘one of my biggest admirers’ can get things so wrong, what is he doing the rest of the time? I wanted to set the record straight. Besides, it is quite fun to bring the Prof down a peg or two.

And then, by one of those extraordinary coincidences that crop up more frequently than they should, I read these words in the July Literary Review, by the biographer Frances Wilson: 

. . . . most memoirs, if not loaded guns, are written for the purpose of retribution and revenge. This is by no means a criticism: retribution and revenge are strong reasons for writing a book. You want to put the record straight, to tell your side of things, to correct a wrong. Even the mildest-mannered memoirs have reprisal at their hearts.

Thank you, Ms. Wilson.

Operation PARAVANE

I have not yet received anything substantial on the piece compiled by Nigel Austin and me, The Airmen Who Died Twice. That does not surprise me much, as the PARAVANE operation is a little-known episode, a side road to the main WW2 excursion. Yet the posting of my bulletin on June 3 placed an important marker for the story, and immediately made a synopsis available worldwide as a reference point for anyone who might be trawling on the Web for information on PARAVANE.

I shall not reveal here the astonishing denouement of this extraordinary series of incidents, but one aspect of the exploit merits some attention. And that is the uncharacteristically cooperative behaviour of the Soviet Air Force. It was only at the end of August 1944 that RAF Bomber Command concluded that an attempt to use the new ‘Tallboy’ bomb in a direct raid from Scotland was not feasible because of fuel capacity, and considered using a base in the northern Soviet Union, near Murmansk, as an intermediate destination after the raid at Alta Fjord. That Air Marshall Harris could take for granted at this late stage that the Soviets would agree to such an initiative indicates that negotiations for such must have been in place for some time, as the Russians were extremely wary of allowing foreigners on Soviet soil. Any such move would have had to be approved by Stalin, and recent events at Poltava and Warsaw had indicated that the Soviet military command was keen to obstruct any such cooperative operations.

For the relationships between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union were indeed at their lowest ebb at this time. (See http://www.coldspur.com/war-in-1944-howards-folly ) Stalin, having encouraged the Warsaw Uprising over the radio, then refused permission for air support operations by the western Allies to the Poles to be launched from Soviet territory, the missions having to be directed from the UK, and from Brindisi in Italy, and back. It was at the end of August, when the PARAVANE operation was being planned, that Churchill pleaded with Stalin to allow Soviet airfields to be used to support the Warsaw rebels, but Stalin was obdurate, and Roosevelt would not join Churchill in his appeal. Soviet forces waited the other side of the Vistula river until the uprising was quashed by the Nazis, at enormous loss of life.

Moreover, a precedent for the use of Soviet airbases had recently occurred in Operation FRANTIC, where the Soviets granted rights to the USA Air Force to conduct bombing-raids on German territory between June and September 1944. I have recently read books by Glenn Infield (The Poltava Affair) and Sergii Plokhy (Forgotten Bastards of the Eastern Front) which tell the sad story of how the Americans were misused by the Soviets, especially when, on June 21, Soviet air defences failed to prevent a highly destructive raid at Poltava by German airplanes, all of which escaped intact. By then, in any case, with the Soviet land forces moving close to Germany, the value of the base had sharply diminished.

Thus when Bomber Command had a further change of plan, and was apparently able to decide, on September 4, without further consultations with the Soviet Air Force, that the aircraft of the PARAVANE operation would better land in Soviet territory, and preferably at an airfield further away from German airbases than Murmansk, and thus less likely to be strafed, it was extraordinary (in my opinion) how smoothly and quickly the negotiations continued. In a matter of days, Yagodnik had been identified as suitable, and made available, but a week later, an even bolder version was aired. The new plan – to have the squadrons fly directly to the Archangel area, and rest and refuel, before launching the attack on the Tirpitz, and then return to that airbase – was likewise immediately approved by the Soviets. I believe that the groundwork must have been prepared some time before, and that the Number 30 Military Mission to Moscow (Air Section), which had been boosted in the summer of 1944, must have presented a case for the usage of airfields well before early September.

The fact is that Stalin was extremely wary of any Soviet citizens’ being exposed to foreign influences, and the NKGB and SMERSH were trained to consider all such persons on their soil as spies. While the cause of protecting convoys to Murmansk was no doubt genuine, it was becoming less important by this stage of the war, and Stalin must have had ulterior motives (such as the acquisition of the latest military technology) in granting such rights to the British squadrons. The Foreign Office, in its misguided belief that ‘cooperation’ with the Soviet Union would lead to harmonious relationships when the war ended (an echo of the attitude taken by President Roosevelt and his sidekick Harry Hopkins), was quick to see this offer as a sign of Soviet goodwill – a ridiculous mistake. I have started to investigate the 30 Mission records for further clues, as the RAF records are disappointingly vague.

I was able to make email contact with Professor Plokhy, and asked him whether he had any insights into the complementary PARAVANE operation. Unfortunately he did not, but he directed me to someone who, he thought, would be able to help, a Liudmila Novikova, in St. Petersburg, an expert (so Plokhy said) on British units in the Soviet Union. I was unable to gain any response from her; perhaps I went straight into her spam folder, or maybe she has uprooted because of the recent turmoil. Does anyone know her?

Lastly, one correspondent, having read the PARAVANE piece, drew my attention to another mysterious aircraft accident of 1944, in Newquay, Cornwall, the details of which have ever since lain in obscurity. The informant was Mark Cimperman, the son of the FBI’s wartime representative in London during the war, Frank Cimperman (who appears frequently in Guy Liddell’s Diaries). I tracked down the event at http://wartimeheritage.com/storyarchive2/storymysteryflight.htm , and was astonished at the eerie characteristics that patterned those concerning the crash at Nesbyen a few months later. Mark told me that the researcher for the story, David Fowkes, had written to the Cimpermans, believing that Frank might have known something about the accident. Sadly, Cimperman had died of cancer in 1968 at the age of sixty.

The Coldspur Archive

As part of my project to preserve the coldspur archive, I made contact in early May with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in Palo Alto, and eventually received a very courteous response from Dr. Anatol Shmelev, a research fellow and Robert Conquest curator of the Russia and Eurasia Collection. Over email, he had advised me to seek out a smaller university as a destination for my book collection, as he believed there would be too many overlaps with what the Institution held for Hoover to be an appropriate donee. I have thus since attempted to contact the Librarians at a couple of other universities, but have received no response to my approaches. I arranged, however, to have a meeting with Dr. Shmelev, during my visit to the area, and it turned out that he and his family live a few minutes away from our son in Los Altos.

On June 11 I thus enjoyed a very pleasant lunch with Anatol and his wife, Julia, who was born in St. Petersburg, and who acted as research assistant to Robert Conquest in the latter years of his life. Robert Conquest was someone I admired greatly (another significant writer whose hand I hoped to shake, but he was too infirm by the time I wrote to him just before his death): his Great Terror and Harvest of Sorrow made a deep impression on me, as they must have done on many students of Russian history. He was also a close friend of Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin, two more of my enthusiasms, although their private correspondence betrays opinions that are highly inappropriate in today’s sensitive times. It was a privilege, nevertheless, to meet two academics who had worked so closely with Conquest.

Anatol gave me some further tips about finding a home for my books, suggesting that I seek the support of members of the history faculties at such universities rather than the librarians/archivists themselves. We had a lively and fascinating discussion about many topics of Russian literature and history, and intelligence matters, as well as regretting the obvious fact that many book collections are simply pulped when the cream has been skimmed off them. I would hate to see that happen to mine, but that is presumably what everyone says. I did also immediately order Shmelev’s recent book, on Russia’s path immediately after the Revolution, In the Wake of Empire. I expected it to be a fascinating companion to Antony Beevor’s volume Russia, Revolution, and Civil War, 1917-1921, which has received excellent reviews in the British press already, but will not be available in the USA until September.

‘In the Wake of Empire’ by Anatol Shmelev

Indeed, Shmelev’s book was absorbing – quite brilliant. The author had access to a large trove of correspondence between the exiled Russian diplomats and their military counterparts, such as Admiral Kolchak and General Denikin, and has exploited them to show the futility of a fractured opposition to the Bolsheviks. I had not understood all the dimensions of the conflict, what with outlying nations of the old Russia straining for independence, the struggles between those wanting to restore the old land-owning aristocracy, or even an emperor, and those who accepted that land reforms and a more democratic constitution were absolutely essential in order to give credibility and authority to any future regime. The challenge for pluralist political entities to counter effectively a determined and single-minded dictatorial force was brought home to me by the fact that not only did the Whites disagree among themselves, the Allies all had diverse interests, as did the borderland national territories of old Imperial Russia, and, even within one nation’s administration, the British War Office disagreed with the Foreign Office on policy, and within the Foreign Office itself, factions had sharply divided views on what the representation and constitution of the future Russian governing body should be. Eventually, Communist Might meant Right. Shmelev’s judgments are sure – authoritative without being dogmatic – and shed much light on the tortured dynamics of the civil war. I shall defer a full discussion until later, when I have read Beevor’s book.

Incidentally, Dr. Shmelev also wrote a book on Russian émigrés, titled Tracking a Diaspora:
Émigrés from Russia and Eastern Europe in the Repositories
, and I believe that the story of Serge Leontiev (aka George Graham) and his forbears, friends, and associates will be of interest to him.

‘Hitler’s Spy Against Churchill’

‘Hitler’s Spy Against Churchill’

This book, by Jan-Willem van den Braak, is now available – both in the UK and the USA – and I encourage coldspur readers to acquire it. It constitutes a very valuable addition to the chronicle of the Abwehr spies sent to the United Kingdom in the autumn of 1940, its subject, ter Braak, managing mysteriously to remain undetected for several months before committing suicide, or so the story goes. (I did supply an Afterword for the book, which I would not have done had I not thought that the author had carried out a stellar piece of research. In that piece I voice an alternative theory about the spy’s demise.) I have not seen any reviews of the work yet, but I know these things take time.

An Update on Paul Dukes

In my piece on George Graham, I had expressed some puzzlement over the behaviour of Paul Dukes in the 1930s, finding the official biographical records somewhat wanting. And then, while I was researching the Volkov business, I discovered that Keith Jeffery, in his Postscript for the new paperback edition of his history of MI6, had inserted some new analysis of Dukes’s activity at this time.

The essence of the account is that MI6 did attempt to exploit Dukes’s plans, in May 1934, to take a predominantly Russian troupe of ballet-dancers to Eastern Europe and to the Soviet Union. When Admiral Sinclair, the head of MI6, heard about this, he sent Harold Gibson to Vienna to discuss how Dukes might help develop intelligence sources in the U.S.S.R., since MI6’s sources there were practically non-existent (if, indeed, there were any at all). Yet the project soon foundered. Illness and disappointing box-office returns meant that the company never reached further than Italy, and, twelve months later, Dukes was in such bad favour that Sinclair told Monty Chidson, head of station in Bucharest (who asserted that Dukes was involved in arms dealing with Sofia) that he was to have nothing to do with Dukes.

MI6 belatedly realized that Dukes was a faded product: he had mixed too closely with White Russian emigrants (very true), and he would now constitute quite a security risk. Valentine Vivian issued him some advice before Dukes left London in August 1934, warning him to minimize his risks, but then minuted that the characteristics that had helped him become a valuable agent in 1919 would work against him now. Later, MI5 apparently took an interest in him, for Vivian posted another memorandum in February 1940, where he was forced to concede that Dukes’s finances were considered to be ‘catastrophic’, and that his sense of balance was considered by some to be ‘deficient’. Perhaps that was intelligence-speak that he was losing his marbles. Vivian went on to write: “His temperament is essentially artistic, and while his knowledge of things and people is encyclopaedic, his tastes rather run towards the eccentric and he would not be acceptable to those who look for a uniform service mentality”. In other words, no bohemians wanted.

The evidence I collected for my piece suggests that Dukes was trying to rehabilitate himself for a foray into the Soviet Union after these setbacks (John Stonehouse-like faked death, pro-Soviet writings), but it is not clear why anyone would have been sponsoring his intelligence-gathering aspirations. And, if he did now have an official assessment as being a loony and a spendthrift, why would anyone have listened to him when he came to recommend Serge Leontiev/George Graham as cipher-clerk for George’s Hill’s mission to Moscow? Sinclair was dead by then, but what was Valentine Vivian thinking? It is all very odd.

And then I alighted on another odd reference to Dukes while checking something in Michael Smith’s Station X (about Bletchley Park). While discussing the imaginary British spy Boniface (who was used as an alibi for Enigma decryption sources) Smith quotes R. V. Jones, who reported something he had been told:

            Gilbert Frankau, the novelist, who held a wartime post in intelligence, told me that he had deduced that the agent who could so effectively get into German headquarters must be Sir Paul Dukes, the legendary agent who had penetrated the Red Army so successfully after the Russian Revolution.

This statement does not appear in Most Secret War, so probably comes from an article that Jones supplied to the journal Intelligence and National Security in 1994. I note that appalling use of ‘legendary’ again, presumably not meaning that Dukes was a mythical being, but that many tales were told about his exploits, and that a good proportion of them were tall. The irony here was that, instead of Dukes being able to infiltrate the Nazi command, he had, through his recommendation of George Graham, unwittingly enabled the Soviets to break into the supposedly clandestine exchanges of MI6 and the Foreign Office.

The PROSPER Disaster

As I was starting to write this piece, the thickness of the fog that surrounds the relationship between the Allies in the UK and French resistance during World War II was brought home to me. I was reading a review of Graham Robb’s France: An Adventure History in the Wall Street Journal when I encountered the following sentence: “Rather, he notes the Allies’ fatally tepid support of the Resistance and turns a sad gaze on the reprisals that tainted every corner of the mountains with ‘some ineradicable act of cruelty’.” The impression – and I suppose that it is Robb’s, but one endorsed by the reviewer –  is that a potentially decisive opportunity was lost by the Allied armies (or SOE and OSS) in not supporting an extensive secret army that was simply waiting in the wings for a chance to make vigorous assaults on the German occupiers. Yet the story in fact played out on the following lines: initial experimental attempts to infiltrate agents; some vastly exaggerated claims about the size of secret armies; struggles to get the RAF to ship arms and equipment; betrayals to the Germans; stepped up shipments with the false promise of an early Allied assault; disillusionment and multiple arrests; a recalibration in the months before the Normandy landings; some vicious attacks and reprisals by the Gestapo and the Wehrmacht; a few spectacular successes in support of the Allied armies. And then de Gaulle attacked anyone who had co-operated with the Allies and tried to perpetuate the myth that the French exclusively had liberated themselves. Thus the representation of Allied strategy as being a failure to support the Resistance is both a distortion and an oversimplification of what actually happened.

I have still to post the concluding segment to my analysis of the betrayal of the PROSPER circuit. This will involve a close inspection of the minutes of the War Cabinet and Chiefs of Staff in June and July of 1943, as well as a closer study of the Bodington and Déricourt files. I do not intend to reproduce simply what has been published before, but I believe the current accounts are deficient in different ways. Robert Marshall’s All The King’s Men is on the money, but it is a little too hectic, and relies too much on oral testimony that cannot be verified. M. R. D. Foot’s SOE in France is packed with detail, but is fatally flawed by the constraints laid upon him and is still rooted in a 1960s perspective, which means that he evades the strategic issues. His Chapter XIV, Strategic Balance Sheet, completely ignores the premature attempts in 1943 to arm resistance forces with promises of an imminent arrival of Allied forces. (Moreover, the text of that summarization remained unchanged in 2004, nearly forty years after it first appeared – an extraordinary gesture of disdain towards all who had written about SOE in the interim.) Francis Suttill’s Prosper is driven by a need to track down all the details of his father’s circuit, but it is error-strewn, and he ignores the evidence in front of him in his eagerness to discount any conspiracy behind his father’s demise. Patrick Marnham’s War in the Shadows is very sound overall, but choppy: Marnham misrepresents some of the key events of 1942 and 1943, in my opinion, and weakens his case by introducing the Jean Moulin side-plot.

I therefore judge that my account of the saga needs a tidy conclusion, and I suspect that the evidence from the archives will embellish the assertion confidently made by Marnham and Marshall that the French Resistance was willfully misled as to the imminence of an Allied re-entry to the French mainland in the summer of 1943. I believe that my hypothesis that Suttill made two trips to England in May and June 1943 (see http://www.coldspur.com/feints-and-deception-two-more-months-in-1943/) contributes to a clearer picture of his motivations and disappointments. My next report on this saga will appear at the end of August.

It is a continuing research question of mine: what strategy was SOE executing when it tried to ship weapons to sometimes unidentifiable teams of resistance members in 1942 and 1943? According to their own records, at least 50% of arms were lost or fell into the hands of the Nazis. The submissions of SOE to the Chiefs of Staff about the potential of ‘secret armies’ showed that they had been completely misled by the claims of some of their agents. Furthermore, they showed a dismal lack of understanding of what would be required to store and maintain weaponry in good condition, and to train guerrilla forces in how to deploy it. Supplemented by some further reading of memoirs and biographies, such as in my study of Colin Gubbins last month, and the new biography of Virginia Hall (see below), I plan to provide soon a more detailed exposition of the controversial events of the spring and summer of 1943. Moreover, I have ordered a copy of Halik Kochanski’s Resistance: The Underground War in Europe, 1939-1945, in the hope that its 932 pages may reveal some fresh insights on the events of 1943 that the primary histories (including Olivier Wieworka’s recent The Resistance in Western Europe: 1940-1945) have in my opinion severely mismanaged.

P.S. As I was putting the finishing touches to this piece, I came across the following sentences in The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War (2020), by Scott Anderson (p 294):

            In most Nazi-occupied countries of Western Europe, whatever partisan formations existed only became a factor on the battlefield when the arrival of Allied armies was imminent. Nowhere was this truer than with that most vaunted of partisan forces, the French Resistance. Despite the popular notion of a France united in undermining the rule of their German conquerors, in reality, the Resistance was little more than an intermittent and low-grade pest to the Nazis until their numbers suddenly swelled in June 1944.

Precisely! This was the colossal mess that Gubbins presided over, and which M. R. D. Foot, either through lack of imagination, or by intimidation, failed to reveal in SOE in France.

2022 Reading

As I peruse the Times Literary Supplement, the London Review of Books, and the New York Review of Books, I am constantly reminded of the earnest volumes that are issued by the University Presses. Should I be reading The Kingdom of Rye: A Brief History of Russian Food, or Legacies of the Drunken Master: Politics of the Body in Hong Kong Fu Comedy Films, or Harry Potter and the Other: Race, Justice and Difference in the Wizarding World (all titles advertised in the June 17 issue of the TLS)? Probably not: life is too short. And sometimes I can’t help feeling that my speculative second book, The Unauthorized but Authoritative History of MI5 (affectionately known as TUBA), might have a better chance of commercial success than some of these rather dire works. And then the reviewers! Most of them are able to boast what their last published book is, but occasionally one is signalled by such phrases as ‘she is currently working on a collection of essays’. It all sounds rather drear, like those American waitpersons who approach you to ask whether you have ‘finished working on your meal’ so that they might take the plate away. But my work is fun (mostly). And I don’t have to consider the dreadful chore of dealing with publishers and editors: I just post my current essay on coldspur, and move on to the next one.

On reviewing my spreadsheet of Books Read for the year so far, I note that it consists mainly of volumes related to my researches, of which more later. Yet I do try to relax with lighter works in between. I started reading the fiction of Elizabeth Taylor: I was not very impressed with the short stories in You’ll Enjoy it When You Get There or the somewhat clumsy A Game of Hide and Seek, but enjoyed Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, and the well-drawn A View of the Harbour. And I am a keen reader of memoirs and biographies, The new edition of Konstantin Paustovsky’s Story of a Life, in a fluid and sparkling translation by Douglas Smith, gained some excellent reviews: I had let this work pass me by when it came out many decades ago. The reviews were merited: it is a beautifully written memoir of a vanished world, Paustovsky showing an ability to recall smells, sights, sounds, persons, conversations and situations without becoming over-lyrical or extravagant. As a picture of life before the revolution in eastern Europe (mainly in Ukraine), it is probably unmatched. For the short time about which he writes after the revolution, as in the escape from Odessa (Odesa), it lacks the irony and incisiveness of Teffi (Nadezhda Lokhvitskaya), whose Memories I read last year, but gives a very insightful picture of the rapid disillusionment that followed the drama and expectations of 1917.  Paustovsky was a survivor in Stalin’s prison-camp: when many of his contemporaries were oppressed or even murdered, he managed to outlive the dictator (1892-1968), so must have had to compromise to be allowed to continue writing and avoid persecution.

Spy Fiction

I have also dabbled in a genre that is called ‘spy fiction’, and has received much media attention of late. I read Gard Sveen’s The Last Pilgrim because it is a book about the Norwegian resistance, and includes in its cast a real person, Kai Holst, who was of interest to me because of his strange death in 1945 soon after the Swedes received secret cipher material from the Abwehr. Holst was a Norwegian resistance fighter, resident in Stockholm, who died in mysterious circumstances in June 1945. Some writers have suggested that he was murdered because he knew too much about Operation Claw, a venture whereby the Americans and the Swedes gained vital intelligence material on Soviet ciphers from the Germans, something that would have embarrassed the Swedish government because of its claimed neutrality. The file at Kew, FO 371/48073 (https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C2805368) was supposed to be released under the 75-year rule in 2020, but is still marked as being retained by the Foreign Office. As for the book, it won several awards, but I found it rather laborious and repetitive, and the mixing of real and fictitious persons and events irritating.

And then there was Mick Herron. I read a few reviews of his Slow Horses, and decided that I ought to give him a try, and have since also read Dead Lions, Real Tigers, and Spook Street, volumes in his series concerning Slough House, an imagined dumping-ground for MI5 officers and personnel who committed some career-breaking faux pas during the cause of duty, and have been exiled to this dumpy office in London. The books are hilarious. Slough House is managed by a very sharp but foul-mannered slob, Jackson Lamb, who makes Horace Rumpole look like Jacob Rees-Mogg. Herron captures the essence of his characters with wickedly humorous speech patterns and dialogue, and his prose has a Wodehousian creativity and zaniness about it. I found the larger-scale plots a bit absurd (for instance, could there really have been a colony of communist sleeper agents of influence in the British countryside in the 1990s?), but they were not damaging enough to spoil the rollicking fun. I see that a TV series has been made of Slow Horses: I have not seen it yet, but Aunt Edna would probably not approve of the language (although these days, of course, Aunt Edna probably swears like a trooper).

One important point occurred to me as I read Herron’s books. The plots of spy fiction these days have to be dependent upon, and coherent with, the technology of its time, yet that technology is constantly changing. I vaguely recall reading a thriller by Charles Cummings a decade or so ago, sprinkled with Nokia mobile phones, VCRs, payphones, and SCART connections, all of which immediately date it, but also drove the plot. (I am constantly amused that my 2011 edition of Chambers Dictionary includes an entry for ActiveX.) Between the time an author starts writing his text and the date of the book’s publication, much of the technology must change radically. Herron sensibly does not identify many products so specifically, but such features as Google, (which was there in Cummings’ world of 2010), YouTube, and the dark web are prominent in his plot, and Twitter appears in Spook Street. Yet there must still be risks: I was astonished how Herron allows so many mobile phone-calls between different members of MI5 to be carried on in unencrypted mode. Was nobody listening? And how come no one seems to use their phone-camera? Pinpointing current technologies, and lavishly exploiting them, give verisimilitude  – but also raise questions of accuracy and authenticity. And future novels involving flashbacks will have to be very precise about the technical context of the time. (‘Snapchat was not around in 2010!’) That was not a problem faced by Arthur Conan Doyle, or Eric Ambler – or even John le Carré.

I also picked up, on an impulse, An Unlikely Spy by Rebecca Starford, who is described as ‘the publishing director and cofounder of Kill Your Darlings, and, more alarmingly, as having ‘a PhD in creating writing from the University of Queensland’. I am not sure how Fyodor Dostoyevsky or Charles Dickens managed to be successful without some degree in Creative Writing, but then I am an old fuddy-duddy. The plot sounded intriguing, however: “In 1939, with an Oxford degree in hand and war looming, Evelyn finds herself recruited into an elite MI5 counterintelligence unit” (as opposed to those non-elite Slough House-type backwaters, I suppose).

I soon discovered that the book was originally published in Australia with the title The Imitator, so I suppose the reworked version was superior, as I doubt whether my eye would have been caught by the rather drab earlier headliner. And it turned out to be well-written, although it did carry that annoying post-modern trick of jumping around in chronology all the time, rather than approaching events in an orderly serial manner. (Is that what your Doctors of Creative Writing tell you to do? Do you get extra credits for displaying this habit?) I thus quickly entered the spirit of the plot, and started to acclimatize myself to the carefully placed markers of London in 1940, and the offices of MI5 at Wormwood Scrubs, as Evelyn Varley is recruited to help out with deciphering work.

A flicker of recognition then slowly dawned upon me, however. Evelyn Varley was a thinly-veiled representation of Joan Miller, author of One Woman’s War; Bennett White, her boss, was clearly the MI5 officer Maxwell Knight; Nina Ivanov was undoubtedly Anna Wolkoff. The whole story was a re-play of the Tyler Kent story, where the American cipher clerk stole copies of documents from the US Embassy in order to have them passed to the Germans. It reminded me of another clumsy effort at faction, Kate Atkinson’s Transcription, about which I wrote a few years ago. I really do not see the point of these ‘novels’: the authors take some characters from history, and then massage events and names to make it appear as if they have created a convincing psychological study. I quickly lost interest.

Ms. Starford admits her ruse in her ‘Reading Group Guide’, where she is also vain enough to offer some ‘Questions for Discussion’. She proudly describes her research activities (including a generous acknowledgment of Christopher Andrew’s history of MI5), and how she decided to ‘create’ Evelyn from the scraps of Miller’s memoir, and even manages to bring in ‘Brexit, the rise of far-right populism in Australia and abroad, and the ascent of Trump’ as a relevant backdrop to her writing, and even claiming that the fear and anxiety that those phenomena provoked found its way into her characters. What nonsense! And how pretentious to offer a review of her own book as collateral!

Moreover, she also offers an ‘Author’s Note’ to explain her deceptions, writing that she ‘tried to remain as faithful as possible to the history of these events’, but then declares that she had to make some ‘adjustments’ in order to provide a convincing story. She then lists a catalogue of her chronological changes to events that explicitly undermines the integrity of her story. All utterly unnecessary and distracting. In sum, I do not know why such works are attempted or encouraged. Either perform some innovative research to uncover the true facts about events, or use your imagination to create a convincing artificial world. These factional books are not for me.

The only interesting item I derived from the book is the statement from Stanford that Joan Miller ‘died in a mysterious car crash in the 1980s not long after she had published a memoir about her time in MI5’. Readers of Misdefending the Realm will recall my analysis of why MI5 tried to get her book banned, but this was the first I had heard about a suspicious car-crash. Sounds like an echo of the demise of Tomás Harris, or the accident involving George Graham’s son.

The Art of Resistance

‘The Art of Resistance’ by Justus Rosenberg

I have also read some remarkable books peripheral to my main course of research. Justus Rosenberg published his memoir The Art of Resistance in 2020, and in an epilogue wrote:

I will not write here of my extensive travels in the Soviet Union and its satellites during the Cold War, in Cuba just after the revolution, in the People’s Republic of China, of my visit with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, or of the interesting material I found about me in my FBI file under the Freedom of Information Act. Nor will I explore my years of teaching at Swarthmore, the New School for Social Research, and Bard College. I hope to deal with all these things in future memoirs.

The main problem with this plan was that Rosenberg was ninety-seven years old when he completed his memoir, and died in September 2021 at the age of 100. If his follow-up had been as action-packed and insightful as The Art of Resistance, it would have constituted another extraordinary work. Rosenberg’ s life was of interest to me mainly because of his experiences with the French Resistance in World War II. Born in Danzig in a secular Jewish family, Rosenberg managed to conceal his ‘race’ from the Germans when he escaped to France, where he eventually linked up with the American Varian Fry. After the latter had to return to the United States in some disgrace in 1941, Rosenberg worked in various roles for the French Resistance, achieved a miraculous escape from a prison hospital by simulating the symptoms of peritonitis (although I wondered whether he had in fact swallowed those special SOE pills that triggered the symptoms of typhoid), and ended the war by joining the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. He then gained a visa to the United States, where he enjoyed a distinguished career as a professor of literature.

I found Rosenberg an exceptionally level-headed and unmelodramatic chronicler, as well as a brave man. He was clearly a very smart and practical thinker, and was not caught up with the rhetoric of any ideology or religion. He has some illuminating things to say about Varian Fry (whose contribution to the escape of many European intellectuals has been over-romanticized), and scatters his memoir with many incisive vignettes and anecdotes. On two elements, I question him. He is one of those many who errantly contrast Soviet communism and ‘American capitalism’ as rival ideologies, when (as I pointed out in Misdefending the Realm) that it is a false contrast, since capitalism is neither a totalitarian ideology nor a political system, but an approach to the creation of wealth, and the comparison should be made between totalitarian communism and various forms of constitutional, pluralist democracy, whether presidential or parliamentary.

And I found him very loose on the practices of armed French resistance. He lists various categories: ‘partisans’, ‘freedom fighters’, ‘maquisards’, ‘guerrillas’, ‘underground armies’, ‘resistance fighters’, ‘saboteurs’, without explaining what characterized each. He recognizes the differences required in occasional guerrilla raids and the full engagement of an occupying army, and describes the rigorous training that was required to bring a raggle-taggle band up to proper military strength. Yet he also relates how ‘the French Underground Army’, described as ‘Resistance fighters waiting to join the Allied forces’ suffered a catastrophic defeat in the Vercors mountains, when a large section was annihilated by a glider-led force of 12,000 SS paratroopers. This vexed issue of the remote management of insurrectionist forces is a perennial interest of mine, as I believe that proper justice has not been performed to the topic in the writings about SOE and OSS in France. A book titled The Art of Resistance disappoints when it covers authoritatively such matters as the practices of secrecy, clandestine communications, and the isolation of networks, but does not explore what the implications of providing weapons to ‘secret armies’ were, and how such tasks should have been executed.

The Inhuman Land

‘The Inhuman Land’ by Jozef Czapski

Another valuable work was Jozef Czapski’s The Inhuman Land. I found that I had a copy of the 1951 edition on my bookshelf – a volume that I had never got round to reading. It has recently been resuscitated by New York Review Books, with an introduction by Timothy Snyder, but my edition (according to the price on abebooks) is now something of a rarity. Czapski’s book is vital, since, with the post-war knowledge that the NKVD had in the spring of 1940 slaughtered twenty-thousand Polish officers (of whom 4,421 were executed in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk), the author, who had managed to avoid the killings, described his attempts to discover what had happened as he worked as propaganda minister for General Anders’ emerging Polish Army, gathered in the Soviet Union.

The evil of the NKVD’s massacre was compounded when the Soviet Union tried to transfer the blame to the Nazis, who had themselves uncovered the graves in April 1943. When the Polish government-in-exile requested that the International Red Cross investigate the incident, Stalin broke off relations with the Poles. What made the whole business even more sordid was the fact that Churchill and Roosevelt, while privately acknowledging the Soviet guilt, did not dare challenge Stalin on the matter, fearful that they might lose his support, and that he might even abandon them in some fresh deal with the Germans. It was an abject display of appeasement.

What is remarkable about Czapski’s work is the fact that he was essentially allowed a free hand, from inside the Soviet Union, to investigate what had happened to so many of Poland’s elite force, who appeared to have disappeared from the face of the earth. He maintained a file of all missing officers, and was allowed even to make inquiries of the NKVD, when a careless and grudging admission that ‘mistakes were made’ led him first to conclude the awful truth. The other side of this effort was that he also learned at first hand a lot about the hideous cruelty of Communism from all manner of oppressed tribal people, forcibly migrated national groups, common citizens who had been split apart from lost family members, or dispossessed because of dekulakization, or who had simply witnessed the barbaric cruelty of the Soviet organs. And that he was able to commit it all to memory, or write and conceal encrypted notes, which allowed him to tell the whole grisly story after the war. The Inhuman Land was first published in French in 1949.

Amazingly, Czapski, born in 1896, died as late as 1993. I regret coming round to his work so late in life. One of the many whose hand I should simply like to have shaken before they died. Like Gregor van Rezzori (1914-1998), or Robert Conquest (1917-2015), or the recently encountered Justus Rosenberg, all long-lived witnesses to such chaotic times, who wrote about them so poignantly.

Secret Service in the Cold War

‘Secret Service in the Cold War’ by John and Myles Sanderson

Readers may recall that I noted, in my recent study of the Volkov affair, the existence of the interpreter Sudakov at the Ankara consulate in 1945. “The name of ‘Sudakov’ is an intriguing one.  In An SIS Officer in the Balkans (2020), John B. Sanderson and Myles Sanderson write: “The First Secretary of the Soviet Embassy in Ankara was a Brigadier General Sudin, in charge of “illegal residents” (spies), within Turkey, some of whom were Bulgarians. Penkovsky was a friend of Sudakov’s (Sudin’s alias) and would have passed over to his SIS handlers useful intelligence on Bulgarian espionage in Turkey, picked up in conversation with his high-ranking friend.”

From the sources given by Myles Sanderson, it did not appear that any fresh light would be shed on the character of Sudakov, but I acquired the book, of which the full title is Secret Service in the Cold War: An SIS Officer in the Balkans. It is a compilation by the subject’s son, using unpublished memoirs of his father, and supplemented by some lengthy description of Cold War politics. It is an unusual, and overall praiseworthy study, as it tries to provide a thorough political background to all the espionage and counter-intelligence activities going on throughout John B. Sanderson’ s career. Yet, as time marches on, the contribution that Sanderson Senior made to counter-intelligence activity becomes very thin and strained, and thus the focus of the book likewise becomes very fuzzy.

The good points: as a general compendium of significant historical events, and the intelligence activity behind them, the book is probably unmatched, as many of the reviews posted on amazon confirm. Nearly all general histories of the winding-down of WWII, and the onset of the Cold War, do not do justice to the contribution made by Stalin’s agents to the ability of the Soviet Union to manipulate and outwit the democracies, especially Great Britain and the United States. Studies of intelligence and espionage are normally so wound up in the intricacies of spycraft and treachery that they do not pay enough attention to the political results of such activities. The second major quality of the book is the insight that it gives on the exploits of John B. Sanderson in his early career, culminating in a valiant role at the battle of Sangshak in Burma in 1944. He then served as a military intelligence officer in Eastern Europe, primarily in Bulgaria (Bulgarian being a language he had learned), when the show trials were held.

Yet the lack of discrimination in using sources drags the book down. Myles Sanderson (who seems not to be a qualified historian) has assimilated a vast number of books – many of which were new to me – but uses them in a completely unselective way. If Peter Wright (for example) states something he thinks might be relevant, he quotes it, and that goes for countless other references. Thus a large number of misunderstandings and errors have crept into his text, such as an endorsement of Wright’s fresh interpretation of Volkov’s letter, a reference to the perpetuation of SOE beyond 1946, the claim that Britain had a crew of agents working inside the Kremlin, and a simplification of GCHQ’s successes in ‘finally cracking the Soviet ciphers’ in 1976.

And a major question must revolve around the fact of whether Sanderson was an MI6 officer or not. His son even claims that his father was about to replace Philby as liaison officer with the CIA in Washington, and could even have risen to be chief of the Secret Intelligence Service – quite an astonishing assertion. Yet Sanderson pêre was a military attaché, and there is no clear evidence that he was ever strictly employed by MI6, as opposed to being someone who provided them with intelligence occasionally. Stephen Dorrill (who wrote a long, unauthorized history of MI6) expressed strenuous doubts about Sanderson’s affiliation in a brief review in 2019, and I had a similar reaction, based on the evidence shown in this book.

Sanderson was a military attaché in the key years after WWII, and that role itself induces some degree of amazement from me. What on earth would a military attaché be doing in a capital such as Sofia, except trying to gain intelligence about Bulgarian and Soviet intentions clandestinely? Such figures seemed to spend a lot of time at cocktail parties, where they would mingle with their counterparts from other western countries, and even banter with the opposition. Sanderson relates an incident where Sanderson suggests to a Soviet officer that he ‘come over to our side’, and the latter indicates that, despite his obvious criticism of communism, his life is too comfortable to be disrupted. And then, during that second tour of Sofia in 1961, Sanderson is caught photographing aircraft at an airfield outside Sofia. After claiming diplomatic immunity, he makes a quick escape across country so that he can evade the indignity of being expelled, something that he suspects would have damaged his career irretrievably. Astonishingly, he receives no reprimand on his file for behaving so stupidly. But maybe that was because it was not a surprise? Did his bosses expect him to gain such intelligence by using a camera himself, or should he have tried to use an agent? If he blew it, then he blew it, and should have been rebuked. On the other hand, might expulsion have been a point of pride in a Foreign Office career? The episode is all rather absurd.

In summary, Secret Service in the Cold War will be a rattling good educational read for the novice who is rather confused about the significance of various espionage stories during the post-war years, and how they related to each other, but will be somewhat irritating compilation for the more sophisticated reader, who will demand greater discipline, and an evident methodology in the exploitation of all the rich sources that Myles Sanderson has mined.

Lastly, I was going through the War Diaries of the 30 (Military) Mission to Moscow for 1943 and 1944 (to be found at WO 178/27 at Kew) when my eye alighted on the entry for June 8, 1943:

            General Martel [head of the Mission] and Colonel Turner met General Dubinin and Colonel Sudakov, who appears to be Dubinin’s P.A. for the present discussions.

Could it be the same man? A promotion from Colonel to Brigadier by 1945 makes sense.

A Woman of No Importance

‘A Woman of No Importance’ by Sonia Purnell

Sonia Purnell’s 2019 biography of the SOE-OSS agent Virginia Hall, A Woman of No Importance (which I read in the 2020 Penguin edition) arrived with an impressive set of blurbs from such as Clare Mulley and Sarah Helm, as well as a number of prestigious media outlets, even selected as ‘Best Book of the Year’ by the Spectator, the Times, and others. Were such encomia merited? I was keen to investigate.

Notwithstanding its bizarre title, the book is indeed very well written, and reflects a thorough exploration of many obscure sources on Hall’s life. It offers a very sympathetic – even hagiographic – version of the life and career of the American socialite who transformed herself (even with a partially amputated leg) into an effective recruiter and in some ways leader of guerrilla groups in southern France, working initially for SOE and then, in 1944, for the American OSS. Purnell has collected some startling information about the odious Abbé Alesch, who infiltrated F Section’s circuits on behalf of the Abwehr (and was executed in 1949), that I do not believe has been published before. (Alesch has no entry in M. R. D. Foot’s Index to SOE in France.) She describes the escape at Mauzac (engineered by Hall), and the maquisard attacks at Le Puy with great verve. The account of Hall’s escape across the Pyrenees is breathtaking. Purnell has a fascinating light to show on the relationship of Nicolas Bodington (familiar to readers of this site because of his dealings with Déricourt) with Hall. He in fact recruited her, and thus followed her progress with great interest, which must cause a re-assessment of Bodington to be made. She offers some tantalizing suggestions that the Germans may have been tipped off about Sicily (cf. Operation Mincemeat!) and about the Dieppe Raid, both stories that I need to investigate more deeply. All in all, a biography of Hall was earnestly required, and this work will fulfill that function – to some degree.

But is it a wholly reliable account? I have several reservations. I could not detect any methodology behind Purnell’s analysis of sources: she is a bit too keen to trust anything that she reads in official archives, and is caught out particularly when she quotes Maurice Buckmaster, both from his memoir and from his in-house history, which works reflect a lot of wish-fulfillment and outright deceit. It is as if the book had been compiled from a cuttings library of anything that mentioned ‘Virginia Hall’, and was then transformed into a Ben Macintyre-like adventure. The author treats SOE very superficially, neglecting even to identify officers when there is no enigma behind their identity. She overlooks the tensions between MI5, MI6 and SOE – maybe not the book she wanted to write – but in that way she drastically oversimplifies the politics that were driving subversive activities in France. She dismisses Britain’s Intelligent Services generally as being populated by ‘posh boys’ – far from the truth. She continually misuses the term ‘double agents’ when she intends to describe traitorous spies in the pay of the Germans, infiltrators, or penetration agents. She has swallowed verbatim too much mythology about German radio-detection techniques, and recounts some bizarre stories about guerrilla teams intercepting Nazi wireless messages – an assertion that cries out for stronger evidence. Her coverage of Hall’s activity under OSS, and the manner in which OSS exploited SOE resources, when SOE make remarks about her performance, is muddled. She breezes past the destruction of the Prosper circuit without any indication that she understands the way it was betrayed.

Furthermore, her narrative reflects a lot of contradictions. Even though Purnell describes Hall as continually ‘recruiting, training and arming’ guerrilla groups, it is not clear what expertise she really had. She did not go through comprehensive SOE training, and seemed to derive her expertise solely from reading the SOE Handbook, so it is unlikely that teams of raw recruits would be able to become proper saboteurs under her direction, especially given her gender. Indeed, elsewhere, Purnell reports Hall as waiting intently for experienced SOE trainers to supplement her meager knowledge. In some places, she insists that guerrilla groups had to work in isolation: at others, she indicates that they should have been more coordinated. Moreover, M. R. D. Foot plays down her role in direct operations, representing her more as a liaison officer, a role that involved a lot of travelling, but nothing too arduous or dangerous. He claims that her cover remained intact, ‘mainly because friends at Lyons police station took care not to inquire too closely into her doings’.

The coverage of the supply of arms is bewildering. Purnell observes that, as early as late 1942, the secret armies were being provided with the munitions for the Allied assault – but D-Day did not happen until almost two years later. By then, according to her, some arms had started to rot, and were frequently discarded, or even thrown into rivers in despair, contradicting the blithe statements from Buckmaster that Purnell cites. She encapsulates the activity in early 1943 in a weakly casual way (“Parachute drops of arms and explosives were generally being stepped up when clear skies and light winds permitted”), showing that she has not internalized the complexities of the situation. This topic cries out for a more close-grained analysis. Purnell moreover never resolves the ongoing question as to how closely sabotage activities were directed by SOE in London. Hall herself was admittedly undisciplined, frequently made her own decisions without approval from Baker Street, and herself complained about the wastage and unauthorized sabotage that was frequently undertaken. Foot writes that she had ‘an imperturbable temper’.

Purnell scatters her text with multiple examples of shoddy tradecraft, from ruinous meetings like that at the Villa des Bois and excessively prolonged wireless time on air, through careless and disastrous carrying of papers that revealed names and addresses of contacts, the casual mixing of circuits against instructions, the issuance of false banknotes with consecutive serial numbers, to the failure to deal with traitors ruthlessly. These patterns receive no analysis from the author, who also provocatively claims that Hall’s name was given to the Gestapo by MI6, but does not explore the implications and reasons for such a dramatic and severely troublesome move. The source for this story is probably a mysterious footnote 68 to Chapter XI of Foot’s SOE in France, where he archly reports, on Hall’s second mission in 1944: “It was not known in SOE that her real name and her role on her first mission had been communicated to the Germans late in 1943 in the course of a wireless game played by another British secret service.” (Foot chose not to identify MI6, even in 2004, unless he was simply lazy: the footnote remained unchanged after forty years.) Foot gives the impression that Hall had been re-accepted by SOE as a wireless operator at this time, since they had disqualified her as a courier, but he seems to be unaware that it was OSS who had signed her up for the second mission.

Perhaps Alesch was a figure in this dastardly MI6 plot, the details of which are probably hidden in some dusty file, and cry out for further investigation. (Was Bodington perhaps a common element in this sickly charade?) Hall herself was fooled by Alesch, even though he was reported to have come from an MI6 cell, and had not been vetted. He caused immense harm: Hall was identified, and could have been arrested by the Abwehr. The unit held off, hoping to entrap more members of the Resistance, and Hall narrowly escaped the Gestapo entry into Lyon, and consequently made her escape over the Pyrenees. Many arms-drops were carelessly carried out and equipment lost; money was handed out indiscriminately to groups who were fighting rival resistance groups as much as the Germans. Too many loose ends and unsubstantiated claims.

On one important event Purnell appears to venture a challenging opinion. When Paul Vomécourt (Lucas) discovered, in January 1942, that his wireless operator Mathilde Carré (‘La Chatte’) had become the lover of the Abwehr officer Hugo Bleicher, and betrayed dozens of her comrades, Vomécourt decided to try to play her back in the hope of deceiving the Germans. Purnell writes: “At this point, Lucas should have eliminated la Chatte, gone into hiding, and immediately contacted Virginia to let her know she was at best compromised, at worst about to be arrested.” Such an action would have reflected Gubbins’ rules (as I explained last month), and sealed the circuit from any further contamination. It is not immediately clear how Purnell derived this standpoint other than reflecting proper SOE policy.

But, of course, SOE policies were not carried out in a disciplined fashion. And Bernard Cowburn, who was an integral member of the ensuing deception concluded after the war that the attempted ‘triple-agent’ play had been successful. He considered (in his 1960 memoir No Cloak, No Dagger) that the ruse had prevented the Germans from exercising a ‘North Pole’ scheme against the French, in the manner they had exploited the Dutch, and wrote that he thought that Lucas had handled the situation in the ‘best possible way’. Cowburn met Bleicher after the war, and recorded:

            He then looked at me almost pleadingly, and suddenly asked, ‘Tell me, I beg of you  . . . La Chatte  . . . is it true she was double-crossing me?’ This proved beyond a doubt that our manœuvre had succeeded and that for once the Germans had been properly fooled.

Yet I believe that is naïve. For Bleicher to have imagined that his mistress’s act against him was a double-cross without considering the nature of the deaths that she had incurred beforehand, was simply vain and amoral. He was probably more concerned about the shallowness of their affair. Cowburn, moreover, appeared not be aware of the more drastic ramifications of Carré’s treachery.

I think Purnell’s judgment is spot-on, although she probably derived her response from what M. R. D. Foot wrote about the incident: “The correct course for him to take was to vanish at once, not even pausing to assassinate her if her death was going to complicate her escape.” When Vomécourt eventually escaped to England, he had to be rebuked by Gubbins when he suggested that he and Carré return to France, to rescue what was left of the circuit, and also assassinate Bleicher. Gubbins put his foot down, and forbad such exploits: Carré was incarcerated for the rest of the war, then sent to Paris, where she was tried, sentenced to death, and then reprieved. She died in 2007, at the age of ninety-eight. A case-study in treachery: all a very messy business, with several lessons on how to deal with traitors, and on the perils of playing with such in the guise of thinking they can be ‘turned’ at will.

None of this sub-plot detracts from the bravery of Hall, but it does undermine the hyperbolic claims made about the contribution to the overall war success of Purnell’s subject, described in the book’s blurb as ‘the American Spy Who Changed the Course of the War’, a completely unwarranted assertion. Purnell is relentless in promoting Hall’s skills and achievements, but a less breathless assessment is called for. It appears that the author had too many sous-chefs, who may not have been rigorous practitioners themselves, assisting her researches. To write with depth and authority in this realm, you have to immerse yourself, work close to the coalface, get your hands dirty, and not rely on too many intermediaries. I do not believe that Purnell has done that.

Lastly, I note that a movie on Hall’s life is now under way, perhaps to accompany a hypothetical one on Agent Sonya, ‘the Soviet Spy Who Changed the Course of the Cold War.’ Oh, lackaday! ‘A Woman of No Importance’ is a significant contribution to the history of French resistance in WWII, but it should not be regarded as a definitive account, and needs to be integrated with and checked against more serious histories.

P.S. I should have made room to discuss Stephen Tyas’s SS-Major Horst Kopkow. I have read some clunkers on intelligence matters over the past couple of years, but this book, about the notorious Gestapo officer who engineered the sham deal with Suttill and Norman, and provided testimony that sent Kieffer to the gallows, is excellent. A must-read.

Language Corner

Regular readers of coldspur will be familiar with my high sensitivity to incorrect spelling and grammar, especially when such solecisms are committed by professional writers and broadcasters. My biggest gripe is with those who cannot deploy ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘myself’ properly, and end up with such monstrosities as ‘between you and I’, and ‘he gave it to my wife and I’. I almost threw Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time (all twelve volumes) across the room because of his clumsy and excessive use of the reflexive ‘myself’ when he couldn’t work out whether he should have been using ‘I’ or ‘me’. I decry the decline of the subjunctive in conditional clauses, and, as a devoted student of German verb conjugation, get annoyed by any evident confusion over lie/lay/lain and lay/laid/laid.

Some of my objections are directed at the careless use of vocabulary that reflects lazy thinking, or politically correct viewpoints, such as Nobel Prize winning economists who use ‘plutocrat’ when they mean ‘rich people’ (Yes, Krugman P. at the back there, I am talking to you!), or the New York Times journalists who describe some region as ‘impoverished’, when they simply mean ‘poor’. (‘Impoverished’ implies that the region was at some time wealthy, but then was denuded by some oppressor, which is presumably the sub-marxist impression that the writers want to bequeath.)

My continuous and long-standing beef, however, is with the New York Times, and its inability to instruct its journalists to understand and use properly singular and plural forms of Latin words, even though the correct usage appears in its Style Guide. (I have been told as much.) This defect is shown mostly in the use of ‘bacterium ’and ‘bacteria’: dozens of articles over the years have deployed ‘bacteria’ with a singular verb, and I have collected the messages that I have sent to the editors in a single document, inspectable at NYTBacteria. I have surely not captured all the incidences during this period, since I must have overlooked many, and some I ignored because I forgot to write, but I believe the collection is rich enough. And now it is on-line, and the editors at the paper can use it as a teaching-tool. Bravo! (I would get out more, but my piles of books on intelligence are blocking the exit-doors.)

Bridge Corner 

With the COVID epidemic ebbing, I have resumed playing face-to-face duplicate bridge, and normally play three times a week. It is an absorbing pastime, where the rewards are finding out how well you and you partner handle deals that will be played by all the other pairs of the same orientation during the session. Thus all the East-Wests compete against each other, as do all the North-Souths. The goal is to get a ‘top’ score on each hand, and minimize the disasters. One recent hand has absorbed me recently. I picked up as East:

(Spades):  ♠ A K 10 9 6

(Hearts) ♥ A 6 3 2

(Diamonds) ♦ 8 3

(Clubs) ♣ 9 4

My partner, West, opened the bidding with 1 D; I responded 1 S; the opposition was silent; he replied 2S (showing 4 spades and regular opening values); and I jumped to 4S (a game contract that delivers extra points if made during the play), as I had 5 excellent Spades, and an outside Ace.

South led the King of Hearts, and West laid done his hand as Dummy, showing me the following cards:

♠ Q J 5 4

♥ 8

♦ K J 6 5

♣ A K 6 5

This was fine, but then every other pair would probably bid game, and thus face the same challenge. It looks fairly straightforward, as there is no side-suit that can be developed after trumps are drawn: win the Ace of H, draw trumps, hoping they split 2-2, take the Club winners, and trump Clubs and Hearts in both hands leaving a Heart loser, and the Diamonds to guess. (Who has the Ace? Who has the Queen?)

I thought I saw a superior play that would ‘guarantee’ 11 tricks, and maybe make 12, by exploiting my higher-value trumps, and get rid of that last pesky Heart loser, if Spades did indeed split 2-2. (And, if they don’t, I would at least match the less enterprising pairs). Thus I imagined 11 tricks: 2 Clubs, 1 Heart, 3 Spades in dummy, and 5 in hand, with a Diamond still to come as a possible twelfth. Win the Ace of Hearts, and trump a Heart. Play the Ace, then the King of Clubs, and trump the 5 of Clubs with the 9 of Spades (in case Clubs split 5-2), trump another Heart, play the last Club and trump with the 10, and lead the last Heart, trumping with the Queen. Lead the last spade to the Ace, and hope to draw the last two trumps with the King. Then see what the opponents do when I have to break Diamonds. I’ll hold on to my last trump just in case the owner of the Ace leads a Club or a Heart. (Defenders do not always keep count of the number of cards played in each suit.) South probably has two Diamonds and a Heart left, but probably not the Ace of Diamonds, as he or she might have bid over my 1 Spade with all those Hearts and the Ace of Diamonds. North probably holds two Diamonds and a Club: if he or she has Ace and Queen of Diamonds, it doesn’t matter, and just 11 tricks make (and all the ’conventional’ pairs will make only ten tricks). If South has the Ace of Diamonds, he or she will probably go up with it on the Diamond lead, and I am home and dry. If not, I have to play the Jack from dummy, losing to the Ace. I then make 12 tricks.

But I never got there! The Spades did indeed split 2-2, but the Clubs split 6-1, and South was able to trump the King of Clubs before I got going. Thus I had to guess the Diamonds properly in order to even make the game (10 tricks). Seven of the other pairs all made 11 tricks the obvious way (presumably), and must all have guessed the Diamonds correctly. Thus my partner and I received only 1 point, while seven pairs got 5 points each. A certain ‘Top’ was converted to a near ‘Bottom’ in an instant. The ninth pair made only nine tricks: presumably their East (a good player), played the same line as I chose, but mis-guessed the Diamonds. So much for enterprise and imagination. Those cursed computer-arranged hands!

The full deal:

                                                            North

                                                            ♠ 8 3

                                                            ♥ 7 5 4

                                                            ♦ A 4

                                                            ♣ Q J 10 8 3 2

West    ♠ Q J 5 4                                                                      East     ♠ A K 10 9 6

♥ 8                                                                                           ♥ A 6 3 2

♦ K J 6 5                                                                                  ♦ 8 3

♣ A K 6 5                                                                                ♣ 9 4

                                                            South                          

                                                            ♠ 7 2

                                                            ♥ K Q J 10 9

                                                            ♦ Q 10 9 7 2

                                                            ♣ 7

Such is the endless fascination (and frustration) of bridge. (‘A Bridge Too Far’? Do not worry: this column will not be repeated unless I receive overwhelming demand.)

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Gubbins’ Turn

Major-General Sir Colin Gubbins

(A reappraisal of the achievements of Colin Gubbins at SOE)

Primary Books Reviewed:

Foreign Fields, by Peter Wilkinson

Setting Europe Ablaze, by Douglas Dodds-Parker

Gubbins & SOE, by Peter Wilkinson and Joan Astley

Rediscovering Irregular Warfare: Colin Gubbins and the Origins of Britain’s Special Operations Executive, by A. D. B. Linderman

SOE’s Mastermind, by Brian Lett

Secondary Books Used:

SOE in France, by M. R. D. Foot

The Secret History of SOE, by William Mackenzie

Secret War, by Nigel West

Special Operations Executive: a new instrument of war, edited by Mark Seaman

Most Secret War, by R. V. Jones

Undercover: The Men and Women of the SOE, by Patrick Howarth

Baker Street Irregular, by Bickham Sweet-Escott

Between Silk and Cyanide, by Leo Marks

Last Hope Island, by Lynne Olson

A Life in Secrets, by Sarah Helm

Setting the Med Ablaze, by Peter Dixon

Churchill & Secret Service, by David Stafford

Britain and European Resistance 1940-1945, by David Stafford

All the King’s Men, by Robert Marshall

When I was an analyst at the Gartner Group in the 1990s, I frequently hosted visits by software companies, both established and embryonic, who were eager to explain their story and gain our attention. For a while, a group of vendors of object-oriented database management systems, all of whom were completely deluded about the market opportunity that awaited them, were regular supplicants. For some reason the boards of these emergent and struggling companies believed that what they needed to turn their fortunes around was seasoned management with experience in technology, and some of them would seek out IBM executives to come in and run the show for them. Apart from introducing a severe culture clash, such persons had, I discovered, little insight into the challenges they faced.

I recall very clearly one such individual, then the recently-appointed CEO, who introduced himself at the meeting by giving a little potted résumé of his career. Hoping to make an impression that he was a regular guy and a good-timer, he explained that IBM had sent him to Japan to set up a systems integration business there, and he described his achievements in the following terms: “I don’t think we got much done, but we had a lot of fun.” I interpreted that to mean that he and his colleagues must have spent a lot of time drinking in Tokyo bars. His bosses back home no doubt ascribed his lack of success to circumstances beyond his control.

‘Foreign Fields’ by Peter Wilkinson

I thought of that Big-Bluer when I was reading Peter Wilkinson’s memoir of his days with SOE, Foreign Fields. In one sense there is no comparison. SOE officers frequently demonstrated great bravery in conditions of extreme hardship, and many lost their lives in the cause. Yet I also gained the idea that some of the projects that were undertaken – and Wilkinson’s in particular – were ill-conceived from the start, with no clear objectives, and a haphazard approach to planning them. Meanwhile, wherever Wilkinson landed up, at some embassy or outstation, there always seemed to be an ample supply of liquor and wine available, since including crates of the stuff in the various shipments that went in seemed to be a high priority in keeping up morale, even if the locals were starving.

For example, Wilkinson informs us that, on August 25, 1939 (before SOE was created, of course) he left for Warsaw as a member of the MI(R) component of No.4 Military Mission, under Colin Gubbins. What happened next was that the mission underwent a tortuous journey via Marseille to Alexandria in Egypt, where they managed to gain a flight to Bucharest in Rumania, and eventually crossed over the Polish border. All was mayhem, they couldn’t answer the Poles’ questions about British commitments in the coming war, and then, after some hair-raising adventures, had to beat a hasty retreat as the Russians advanced. They managed to reach Bucharest again, where they took their solace in traipsing round the bars, getting sozzled, and enjoyed the company of some amusing girls. Never does Wilkinson explain whether the mission accomplished anything, although he does note that the War Office was not very impressed with his report on the affair.

Later on in the war, Wilkinson was appointed head of Operation Clowder, the objective of which was to gain an entry into southern Austria by engaging the help of Communist guerrillas in Croatia and Slovenia. This was another ill-advised mission, actually encouraged by the Communist spy in SOE Cairo, James Klugmann, who claimed that the Slovene partisans had links with the Austrian Freedom Front in Carinthia and Styria. Of course, Wilkinson did not know of Klugmann’s loyalties. The Operation turned out to be a disaster: the weather was dreadful; the Austrian prisoners-of-war that SOE recruited were unreliable; the Slovene partisans had territorial war-goals at odds with what the British planned; the Germans became very active, and British agents were very conspicuous; radio communications were difficult; there was a shortage of aircraft and crews to support the mission; delivering arms was hazardous as many of the local population were scared of reprisals; the spirit of resistance did not exist in Austria as it did, say, in France; etc. etc.  Moreover, since the Allies took so long to break through the Axis defences in Italy while the Red Army drove on, the confidence of the partisans in Allied competence fell rapidly.

Alfgar Hesketh-Prichard

The outcome was that Wilkinson’s close friend Major Alfgar Hesketh-Prichard, who stubbornly insisted on staying on for reasons of honour and ‘saving face’ (and should have been overruled) lost his life – probably killed by the partisans he thought he was helping. Hesketh-Prichard was a brilliant mathematician, a first-class wireless technician, and a brave but sometimes reckless officer. Little has been written about him in the SOE histories: one has to resort to such books as R.V. Jones’s Most Secret War, and Patrick Howarth’s Undercover: The Men and Women of the SOE, to learn more about his accomplishments. Wilkinson tells here how he secured Hesketh-Prichard’s employment as an instructor at one of SOE’s schools in Scotland, and then put him in charge of the Czech Section ‘which at that time consisted of one elderly officer’. He and Wilkinson were responsible for training the assassins of Heydrich, and Wilkinson describes the tests they carried out on percussion grenades at Aston House, near Stevenage, in preparation for the attack in Prague. Wilkinson presents the operation as a success without referring to its grisly aftermath of reprisals. The pair are for some reason not mentioned in Callum McDonald’s The Killing of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich or Captain Moravec’s Master of Spies. (The full account of their contribution can be found in HS 4/29 at Kew.) The loss of Hesketh-Prichard was a blot on SOE’s escutcheon.

Elsewhere, Wilkinson does not offer a very positive picture of SOE management. For example, he informs his readers that he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel, and ‘in addition to the Polish and Czech sections, I was given the Germans and Austrian section to supervise’, adding that ‘I found this embarrassing for I knew very little about Germany and nothing whatever about Austria which I had only once visited as a tourist’. Nor was he temperamentally suited to the job: “By the summer of 1942 I was feeling stale, frustrated, and fed up with Central Europe”. His boss, Colin Gubbins, who normally receives hagiographic treatment, was perhaps not the deep thinker for which he is often presented. “Colin Gubbins gave a good but somewhat superficial lecture on the principles of guerrilla warfare . . .” When Wilkinson returned to London in the spring of 1944, he noted that Gubbins (who had taken over control of SOE from Hambro the previous September) had tried to turn what was essentially a civilian institution into a military one, and Wilkinson did not find the culture changes ‘congenial’. Perhaps that was more a criticism of his own facility for boredom at a desk-job. Yes, surely it was difficult to find the right people – one thinks of the hapless Buckmaster, of whose appointment Gubbins said ‘there was no one else’ – but that constraint should have provoked some careful leadership and guidance, conditioned what exploits were attempted, and how they were executed.

Yet Wilkinson was deputized in that spring of 1944 to work with the Poles in a distinctly shabby affair, where he was pushed by Gubbins to pretend that British forces would soon be undertaking a full-scale invasion of Poland. But no one was prepared to tell the Polish Home Army the truth. Lynne Olson describes Gubbins as not being manful enough to acknowledge the facts, letting his romantic attachment to the Polish cause affect his judgment.

Wilkinson was an odd fish. One of his startling comments, apparently declared without irony is: “Rather in the same spirit of desperation, on my last visit to Naples, I had agreed to get married”, and his wife (Theresa Villiers) had to put up with quite a handful. He admitted that he was ‘the rottenest fiancé imaginable’. He writes engagingly, but loosely. His chronology is imprecise, and he is partial to the meaningless phrase ‘for the foreseeable future’. In an unindexed reference to ‘Jedburghs’ (p 128) he claims credit for coming up with the idea of teams of three inserted behind enemy lines to co-ordinate resistance work, a fact partially confirmed by Will Irwin, who, in his history The Jedburghs (2005), also gives credit to Robin Brook. Other sources indicate that it was a shared SOE/OSS notion, and that Wilkinson was responsible for coming up with the name, with Gubbins’ suggestion of’ ‘Jumpers’ being replaced.

He must have been an agreeable companion (‘someone to go tiger-shooting with’, as they used to say in the old Daily Telegraph obituaries). He makes one or two outlandish comments that he contradicts in his biography of Gubbins. All in all, he was a typical product of the inter-war public school (in his case, Rugby) – intrepid, amusing, entrepreneurial, carefree, reckless, an independent spirit, along the lines of the Fleming brothers and Fitzroy Maclean. Whether SOE should have been in the hands of such fellows is another testing question – but then so is that of whether ‘Setting Europe Ablaze’ was what most citizens of occupied Europe wanted during the long years when they were under the Nazi yoke.

Douglas Dodds-Parker was a few years older than Wilkinson, and had been educated at Winchester. For a while he followed in the footsteps of Wilkinson, who displays a certain smugness in describing his dealings with the older officer. Maybe Wilkinson had some regrets at not being sent to Winchester. He had been a pupil at Scaitliffe, considered a preparatory institution for Eton and Winchester, and its headmaster, Ronald Vickers, expressed disappointment when Wilkinson’s mother ‘on the advice of her Edinburgh physician who considered Winchester unhealthy, decided to send me to Rugby instead.’ Thus, after voicing his delight at being promoted to acting major at the age of twenty-five, Wilkinson boasts how he spent ‘three most agreeable months of the war’ in Paris, since, ‘on my major’s pay, I could live extravagantly well in Paris while keeping on my rooms in Clarges Street for my visits to London’. Dodds-Parker replaced him as GSO3 in MI(R), but Wilkinson soon sent him urgent instructions to move to the Middle East to set up a supply base in Egypt. Some time later (the dates are annoyingly vague), Wilkinson was promising Dodds-Parker, who had spent time working with Abyssinian guerrillas, that he would arrange for him to be sent back to London. I found the continual competitive race for medals and promotions between such persons rather unseemly.

‘Setting Europe Ablaze’ by Douglas Dodds-Parker

In his own memoir, Setting Europe Ablaze, Dodds-Parker turns out to be a more reflective and mature judge of the military situation, and of SOE in particular. He records Wilkinson’s introduction to him, how they discussed matters at Wilkinson’s club, and the rather brusque orders that Wilkinson gave him. Yet he gives the impression that in May 1941 it was Gubbins who summoned Peter Fleming from Greece, Wilkinson from Crete, and himself from Ethiopia, with Dodds-Parker chartered with the difficult task of organizing SOE’s air and sea transport into and out of enemy-occupied Western Europe. Thereafter, Dodds-Parker, for the remainder of the war, served under another Wykehamist, Colonel Dick Barry. Thus, while Wilkinson was struggling in his role trying to direct the Central European sections, Dodds-Parker had a chance to observe multiple aspects of SOE operations at close quarters, and engage in very sensitive negotiations with the RAF, before he was posted in late 1942 to Operations Officer for the ‘Massingham’ SOE unit in Algeria.

While recollections in tranquility, from 1983, might appear wiser than contemporaneous opinions, Dodds-Parker presents some insightful conclusions from his time at Baker Street in 1941 and 1942. He admitted how the opportunities for sabotage and subversion were soon realized as being more useful than the creation of ‘secret armies’. He explained how Communists who had engaged in the Spanish Civil War contributed considerably to the SOE handbook on guerrilla warfare. He pointed out the precariousness of the position of Gubbins, being considered too political by the military professionals, and too amateurish by the diplomats. He made the shrewd observation that the communist groups with whom SOE had been co-operating became much more aggressive in their plans for post-war political control after the Soviets expelled the Germans from Stalingrad in October 1942, and even claimed that his Polish contacts had convinced him at this time of Stalin’s imperialist ambitions for Eastern Europe after the war.

Dodds-Parker’s regard for Gubbins was exuberant: ‘a born leader of men – and women’; ‘his energy, physical and mental, was boundless’; ‘an inspiring leader, as brave as Wingate, and endowed with the additional ability to maintain an atmosphere of friendly respect and loyalty with his subordinates and superiors’; ‘among the many Allied leaders I had been privileged to observe, I came to regard him in his way, for imagination, courage and energy, as being in the highest class.’ Gubbins loyally supported him in all he did, and promoted him to full Colonel at the young age of 35. They both had strong affiliations for and links with the Poles, which may have affected their priorities with SOE. (Gubbins drew many of his conclusions about planning for guerrilla warfare in Europe from the pre-war preparations of the Poles, but they were not representative of other countries in Europe under German occupation.) Dodd-Parker’s summary of SOE’s track record in the war thus comes across as rather excessive, with the notable success of the arming of French resistance in 1944 masking the disasters in the Netherlands and France in 1943.

The precise role that Dodds-Parker played as Operations Officer for ‘Massingham’ is indistinct. As he wrote, he had ‘wide but undefined duties’, Massingham being chartered with establishing ‘a base for later operations northwards, into France and Corsica and possibly into Italy, whose secret police, the OVRA, were the most effective of any in Europe’. I am not sure what the NKVD –  or even the Gestapo –  would have thought of that assessment, but it pointed to the challenges that Dodds-Parker faced as the Allied armies made their crablike approach to Italy. He was appointed number 2 to the American Colonel Eddy of OSS, but the terms of reference that Gubbins read out to him on that occasion are not explained. Dodds-Parker turned out to be an excellent negotiator, however, which was a useful experience for his career as a Conservative politician after the war.

His final assessment of Gubbins, when SOE was dismantled after the war, and its chief ‘retired’ with no job offer, since his military career had effectively been suspended in Norway in 1940, was ambiguous, and maybe ill-judged: “Gubbins held a unique personal position, respected in private by many political and military leaders as secondary only to Churchill and Eden in helpful understanding of their difficulties. This did not endear him to some of his military colleagues, nor did politicians and diplomats always welcome his, and thus my lesser, interventions in political decisions and diplomatic exchanges.” Elevating to such a podium the vain and ineffectual Eden, whose continuous emphasis on ‘co-operation’ with the Soviet Union exasperated many military men, was a strange stance to take. (In fact, as Wilkinson wrote in his Introduction to his and Ashley’s biography of Gubbins – see below – Gubbins took a dislike to Eden because of his condescending manner and antipathy to SOE.) Moreover, why were such regards held ‘in private’, and how did Dodds-Parker learn about them if they were not public? Such judgments cry out for more detail, to help explain the peculiar insights that Gubbins was able to impart, but that is not Dodds-Parker’s forte.

I have three biographical books on Gubbins on one of my tables (the shelves in my library having been filled long ago.) In chronological order they are Gubbins & SOE by Peter Wilkinson and Joan Astley (1993), an American volume, Rediscovering Irregular Warfare: Colin Gubbins and the Origins of Britain’s Special Operations Executive (2016) by A. D. B. Linderman, and SOE’s Mastermind by Brian Lett (2016). Unfortunately none of them performs a thorough job of analyzing Gubbins’ career and achievements, all authors being too much in awe of their subject.

‘Gubbins & SOE’ by Peter Wilkinson & Joan Bright Astley

Peter Wilkinson was joined by Joan Bright Astley in putting the biography together. She was a woman with whom I was not familiar, but I have learned that she was a personal assistant to Hastings Ismay, Churchill’s staff adviser, and also arranged something called the Secret Information Centre, which was apparently a necessary repository of intelligence for senior officers. She was another Gubbins enthusiast (like Ismay), and rather romantically was recorded as saying: “He had just enough of the buccaneer in him to make lesser men underrate his gifts of leadership, courage and integrity . . .  He was a man-at-arms, a campaigner, the fires banked up inside him as glowing as those round which his Celtic ancestors had gathered between forays from glen and brae.” Utter tosh, of course.

In the Acknowledgements, the authors explain disarmingly, and somewhat alarmingly, that their book ‘has no academic pretensions’, and any claims to scholarship are instantly undermined when they write, after paying homage to Michael Foot and David Stafford: “Special thanks are also owed to Christopher Woods, until recently the Foreign Office Adviser on SOE. At the time of writing the authors had no access to SOE’s secret papers; and it was only thanks to Mr Woods’ tireless research that it proved possible to recreate events which happened half a century ago.” Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. We all know now what those tireless endeavours by Foreign Office advisers tended to come up with.

Thus an eminently readable, but obviously sanitized, account of Gubbins’s career has been put together. You will find no entry for ‘Dericourt’ or ‘Suttill’ in the Index (although the ‘PROSPER’ circuit receives two brief mentions), since discussions of those two individuals would inevitably detract from the positive aura the authors wish to promote. Inevitably, the events of 1942 and 1943 are represented in much of a muddle, with erroneous dates, and dubious claims made. Gubbins is presented, at the time Mockler-Ferryman (‘still relatively inexperienced in clandestine techniques’) was introduced to set up ‘a new directorate responsible for operations in Western Europe, and for liaison with COSSAC’, as not having confidence in the professionalism of some of the individual country officers.

The fact that many circuits were believed to have been penetrated by the Germans, required, according to the authors, ‘Gubbins’ personal attention and decision’. But what the Chief of SOE Operations did about it is not stated: the record suggests he either did nothing, or was complicit in woeful mismanagement. Leo Marks recounted how Gubbins, on learning about the dire problems in the Netherlands, promised an investigation, but then stalled, and demanded that Marks say nothing to other country section heads, with the result that the Prosper disaster followed. Marks was horrified, and believed that Gubbins engaged in the cover-up since he was terrified of Dansey and MI6 learning about the security breaches and German penetration.

Moreover, the record is shockingly erratic. I pointed out earlier that Wilkinson contradicted himself across his writings. Here, he writes: “It was no secret in Baker Street that the British planners had tacitly accepted as long ago as October, 1942, that there was no prospect of undertaking a major cross-Channel invasion in 1943. Consequently SOE’s French sections were counting on at least twelve months in which to lay their plans.” Yet in his personal memoir, which appeared just four years later, he wrote: “In the autumn of 1942, our plans were based on the assumption that an invasion of the Continent would take place in the summer of 1943 and would trigger a wave of spontaneous insurgency in occupied Europe.” That is presumably what is meant by ‘lack of academic pretensions’. At this stage, the careful reader might opt to give up on the work as a serious study, and classify it as an item of Foreign Office propaganda.

Since these examples are typical of the lack of scholarship applied, it is difficult to know which are the true assessments of the authors, and what is the spin imparted by the SOE Adviser. Several muddled judgments are made, in a background of erratic chronology, and the passive voice is used too frequently. Critical paragraphs (such as on the SOE mission to Moscow) are presented with questionable logic, but without any sources given. Thus the appointment of Captain Richard Truskowski to the 1941 SOE mission is explained as reflecting Gubbins’ hope that the Soviets would allow RAF flights to Poland to refuel on Soviet territory before returning, but why Gubbins’ opinions in this matter were dominant, or in what way anyone felt the reactionary Truskowski might help the cause by his presence in Moscow, is left unexamined. It is all very unsatisfactory.

Yet what is noteworthy is that a more sceptical undercurrent, expressing some doubts about SOE’s overall mission, and Gubbins’ ability to execute it, can be detected in the text. Thus we learn that: Gubbins’ decision to move to SOE was surprising because he had little confidence in sabotage and subversion (p 76); his arrival (as a regular soldier) was regarded with disdain by the country heads (p 78); Dalton’s belief that Occupied Europe was ‘smouldering with resistance’ was false, as most people wanted to be left in peace (p 79); Gubbins aggressively promoted the use of patriot armies at a time that was premature (p 100); Gubbins was ignorant of the problems with agents in the Netherlands in early 1942, and even expressed his satisfaction with affairs (p 105); Gubbins’ sense that his organization in France was unprepared for invasion in 1942 led him to approve several ill-considered operations (p 109); the assassination of Darlan was severely mismanaged, and Gubbins had to spend too much time on the clean-up (p 118); Gubbins deemed German penetration of his networks in 1943 ‘ an acceptable risk’, but such situations required his personal involvement and decisions (without any declaration of what they were) (p 123); Gubbins found the guerrilla adventures in the Balkans more interesting than the clandestine activities in North-west Europe for which he was directly responsible, with the implicit neglect of the latter (p 133); when challenged over the Netherlands fiasco, Gubbins did not become directly involved, but sent Sporborg to sort it out (p 154); Gubbins was lax in communicating the decisions of the Chiefs of Staff to his country heads (p 203); and Gubbins spent a disproportionate amount of time on Polish and Czech affairs (p 226).

Whichever way you look at it, this was not a stellar performance.

If a reader expected at the close of the book a balanced assessment of Gubbins’ overall contribution, however, he or she would be disappointed. The authors describe how, when SOE was disbanded and handed over to MI6, Gubbins prepared a paper that tabulated SOE’s string of successes – not just in sabotage, but also in political operations, which was a dubious claim to make – and outlined a completely unrealistic set of proposals for maintaining a dormant SOE organization ‘ready to spring into action on the outbreak of the third world war’, an event that Gubbins clearly expected. Predictably enough, the new Labour government, and a more cool-headed Sir Alexander Cadogan, quickly dampened any such plans, and Gubbins was forced to retire. What final assessment of Gubbins’ contribution that was prepared had to wait for his eulogy in 1976, when Wilkinson addressed the gathering at St. Martin-in-the-Fields as follows:

. . . Of the decisive importance of Colin Gubbins’ personal contribution to the allied victory, there can be no question. His name is honoured officially in many lands. For in the dark hours it was his duty to fan the spark and keep alive the flame of freedom. It was his exertions that gave hope to thousands of patriots in occupied countries all over the world. These men and women are unlikely to forget him.

This was arguably a suitably positive encomium at his death, but surely over-the-top. Almost all those ‘patriots’ seeking freedom could never have known his name, and not all had undivided admiration for what SOE had done. A more balanced accounting was certainly called for.

‘Rediscovering Irregular Warfare’ by A. R. B. Linderman

A. D. B. Linderman’s Rediscovering Irregular Warfare: Colin Gubbins and the Origins of Britain’s Special Operations Executive is not that book. Based on his doctoral thesis at Texas A & M University, and published in 2016, Linderman’s work provides a useful integration of the history of guerrilla activity in the twentieth century, but greatly overstates Gubbins’ contribution to its theory and practice, and fails to address the multiple contradictions and paradoxes in his prosecution of subversive activities. The thesis was originally titled ‘Reclaiming the ungentlemanly arts: the global origins of SOE and OSS’, but either the author or his editors must have concluded that a tighter focus on Gubbins, and the personalization of the story, were more appropriate.

And, indeed, the credits do redound heavily on Gubbins. I was not encouraged when, after reading Linderman’s list of academics who had given him expert advice (are drafts of doctoral theses really passed around to members of other universities before being reviewed by the candidate’s committee?), I read that ‘this work relies heavily on the pioneering research of M. R. D. Foot and the impressive work of Peter Wilkinson and Joan Bright Astley’. This was a surprising admission, given the very exhaustive primary and secondary sources that the author lists in his Bibliography. His overall thesis is that Gubbins deployed his considerable experience in Russia (during the Revolution), in India, and in Ireland to develop a solid blueprint for how guerrilla warfare should be undertaken.

One might ask how relevant these experiences were. Foot wrote that Gubbins’ service ‘on the losing side’ in the Anglo-Irish war of 1919-21, as well as his few months’ time in Russia in 1919 caused him to be ‘impressed by the weakness of formed bodies of troops faced by a hostile population that was stiffened by a few resolute gunmen, and determined to exploit these impressions against the next enemy’. But leading an alien and probably weakly motivated expeditionary force to support the Whites against fierce Communist forces in a civil war in the expanses of northern Russia can hardly be compared with being part of a brigade trying to maintain order in a tight colonial territory, and being attacked by civilians, as was the case in County Kildare. Moreover, when it set its mind to it, the Wehrmacht, as ‘formed bodies of troops’ was occasionally able to wreak horrible destruction on a hostile population stiffened by many resolute gunmen in central France in 1944.

Yet SOE rarely engaged in managing guerrilla warfare –  or when it did, it executed it disastrously, as in the ploy to encourage uprisings in France in 1943. The main role for SOE was sabotage, an activity in which Gubbins was clearly not so interested as he was in the possibility of patriot armies supporting regular troops, which phenomenon did not become realizable until the Normandy assaults in June 1944. Moreover, other sources indicate that much of the guerrilla army playbook was derived from practitioners with experience in the Spanish Civil War, where Gubbins was not a witness. Linderman highlights Gubbins’ creation, in response to a call by J.C. F. Holland of MI(R) in May of 1939, of two short pamphlets titled ‘The Art of Guerrilla Warfare’ and the ‘Partisan Leader’s Handbook’. Linderman makes the elevated claim that these two brief items are ‘the essential links in the intellectual history of SOE’s doctrine’.

Yet he goes on to write:

For unknown reasons, Gubbins’ works are general guides and not country-specific; as a result, they are some of the broadest doctrinal statements of the war, focused not on a particular aspect or location but irregular warfare writ large.

This is, to me, a fairly withering criticism. I recall Wilkinson’s statement that Gubbins’ lectures were ‘superficial’. And the failure to create country-specific policies for sabotage and guerrilla action was probably the biggest failing of SOE, since the characteristics of each territory under the Nazis (area, terrain, distance from the UK, accommodation with the Nazis, strength of communist groups, temperament of the populace, stance of government-in-exile, etc. etc.) demanded a highly-tailored approach. The struggles with defining such would have made a far more provocative and interesting thesis, since the country heads resisted interference from their superiors, but were not necessarily adept in forging the appropriate policies. Those ‘unknown reasons’ would have been a suitable case for treatment.

Bickham Sweet-Escott

In his 1965 memoir, Baker Street Irregular, Bickham Sweet-Escott (who held a variety of jobs with SOE) pointed directly at this dilemma. “Colin Gubbins’s appointment to us was primarily to take over liaison with the secret armies which the Poles and Czechs had been preparing . . .”, he wrote, indicating that SOE’s long-term objective had to be ‘to assist or create in western Europe – in France, Belgium, Holland and Norway, and if possible elsewhere – organizations similar to the secret armies which we believed [my italics] to exist in Poland and Czechoslovakia’. So maybe these secret armies did not exist, and Poland and Czechoslovakia were out of reach by the allotted aircraft, anyway. Thus, like the drunkard looking for his keys under the lamppost, SOE switched attention to France and the Low Countries, because they were accessible, and convinced themselves of the policy that, given that the allied forces would not be returning to the continent soon, such secret armies could in the meantime ‘be used to sabotage the war effort and thereby to improve the morale of the local population’. But this was in early 1941 – over three years to hold out until D-Day.

(Incidentally, Sweet-Escott also held Gubbins’ leadership in high regard, writing:

             . . . he was man of immense energy and vitality with a quick wit, and an imagination and grasp of principle are in a professional soldier. He enjoyed life to the full; he never forgot a face or a name, and he had a gift for inspiring confidence in those working under him. He was in fact a born leader of men.

That suggest that he also came under Gubbins’ spell, and was perhaps willing to overlook his boss’s failings. Ironically, Sweet-Escott discovered that his estimation of Gubbins had been stolen from his manuscript, word for word, by Hugh Dalton in his memoir The Fateful Years.)

Thus, in his quest to apotheosize, Linderman bypasses some of the more controversial aspects of Gubbins’ leadership. He skips over the events of France in 1943 completely: no mention of PROSPER and Dericourt appears in his work. Nor does he explore Gubbins’ extraordinary wooing of the NKVD, and the PICKAXE projects, where SOE helped land Communist agents in Allied countries. The objectives of these persons were to foment Communist takeovers after the war, an activity that would have shocked the relevant governments-in-exile. Fortunately the outcomes of these exploits were normally disastrous, but the operation displayed extraordinarily bad judgment by Gubbins, who was notoriously opposed to Communism, and (as I showed earlier), was earnestly preparing for World War III when SOE was disbanded.

Some quotations support the idea that Gubbins had not developed a subtle enough perspective on how subversive elements should be managed. From his SOE Handbook:

In every community will be found certain individuals so debased that for greed or gain they will sell even their own countrymen. Against this contingency close watch must be set, and wherever proof is obtained of such perfidy, the traitor must be killed without hesitation or delay. By such justifiably ruthless actions others who might be tempted to follow suit will be finally deterred.

And Linderman adds: “To further heighten such deterrence, Gubbins advised that the local population should be convinced that the enemy would soon be expelled, at which time support for the resistance would be rewarded, but collaboration with the occupiers ‘ruthlessly punished’.” It was easy for him to impose such lofty – or heartless – conditions on a subdued populace, but the local inhabitants had to deal with the threats of reprisals and torture, and the promises that ‘the enemy would soon be expelled’ turned out to be a tragic deception in France in 1943.

Gubbins had to amend his ideas, certainly over the topic of reprisals, which became an awkward reminder of Nazi terror. He had to revise his 1939 opinion that ‘guerilla warfare was something that a regular army has most to dread’. Linderman cites W. J. M. Mackenzie’s view that ‘General Gubbins’s recollection is that this [the question of reprisals] was deliberately omitted, as a point passed by in silence’. But it was then that he countered the paradox that bedevilled the supply to secret armies: if he recognized the dangers of reprisals and premature activity (as Linderman states) how could SOE keep up morale, and how exposed would its supply of arms become? Linderman refers to this historical tension, but does not crisply dispense with it.

Gubbins became SOE chief in September 1943, after political battles had caused Hambro’s resignation. The discovery of the disasters in France, and the clandestine use of SOE resources in deception through the TWIST Committee, may have forced the issue, although Gubbins managed to avoid most of the blame. In July 1943, Stewart Menzies had attempted to undermine SOE by sending a memo to the War Cabinet that claimed that SOE had no proper control of its affairs in France. As Robert Marshall wrote, in All The King’s Men:

On 1 August, a Joint Intelligence Sub-Committee pronounced that on the basis of Memo CX108 and despite Gubbins’ protestations, they were forced to the view that SOE had been less than frank in their reports about the situation in France. Moreover, because the JIC had been obliged to learn the truth from MI6, they felt doubly disappointed with SOE, who had a responsibility to keep them and the Chiefs of Staff informed.

Hambro took the rap, and Gubbins, probably because of his close relationship with Hastings Ismay, survived. SOE then came under greater military control, a symbiosis that Gubbins had endorsed all along. In Linderman’s words: “This left Gubbins, a man who had argued since his GS(R) days that irregular forces need to be closely coordinated with regular operations, the most senior SOE officer.” In Setting the Med Ablaze, Peter Dixon reinforces this opinion, stating that Gubbins’ early experiences with the Brandon mission in North Africa in early 1943 had convinced him that ‘irregular forces must be integrated into the regular chain of command’. But then why did Gubbins then increase the shipments of arms to French ‘irregulars’ so irresponsibly for the remainder of 1943? And when Gubbins replaced Hambro, he concluded that efforts had to be more closely co-ordinated with governments-in-exile, and shifted his attention to creating more of a paramilitary organization, but it was too late by then. It was all a rather reactive strategy. After all, relations with the Belgian government-in-exile had been so acrimonious that they were broken off in 1942.

‘SOE’s Mastermind’ by Brian Lett

The title of the last book on Gubbins that I review here, SOE’s Mastermind, does not suggest that it is going to act as any corrective. And, indeed, the book is another flattering account, promoted as ‘an authorized biography of Major General Sir Colin Gubbins, KCMG, DSO, MC’, intimating that the Gubbins family was involved. Major Gordon Lett, the father of the author, Brian Lett, served in SOE, and the younger Lett approached Gubbins’ grandson, Michael, with the concern that he might be competing over a new biography. The result was that Michael happily abandoned his own plans, and co-operated with ‘an experienced author’. SOE’s Mastermind thus presents a lot of fresh information about Gubbin’s personal life, but has little new to say about his career in SOE.

The book is divided into two parts. The first section describes, in twelve chapters, Gubbins’ life and experiences before he joined SOE. As Lett puts it: “The author has endeavoured in Part 1 of this book to detail the qualities and experiences that equipped him so well for the role. Part 2 sets out to give the reader some idea of the organization that Gubbins commanded, and the contribution that he made to its success.” Lett presents some fascinating accounts of Gubbins’ military career, especially as it related to dealing with guerrilla warfare. It is pertinent that his three main exposures were on the counter-insurgency side, in Russia in 1918, against the Bolsheviks, in Ireland in 1920-1921, against the IRA, and in India, from 1923 to 1930, against the Indian Congress Party. His lessons for guerrillas were all developed from the side of suppressing them.

Each period in Gubbins’ military career is thus presented however as a positive influence, and ideas are attributed to him even though the evidence of his contribution as a ‘mastermind’ is scanty, with some lip-service made to the fact that not all these ideas were appropriate. You could not support guerrilla armies where there was no place for them to hide, for instance (such as in the Netherlands). Lett echoes the point made by others that Gubbins was not sensitive enough to the danger of reprisals when he set out how secret armies should behave under occupation.

The Wedding of John Tiltman & Tempe Monica Robinson, Simla, April 7, 1927 (Photo reproduced with the kind permission of John Tiltman’s family)

Lett also adds some useful anecdotes about Gubbins’ personality and character in his pre-WWII years. In India, he joined the Freemasons (a membership he tried to play down in conversations with M. R. D. Foot). He also developed some important relationships, one of which is overlooked by Lett. (I insert it here for the historical record.) Gubbins acted as best man at the wedding of his friend John Tiltman, the future famous cryptologist at the Government Code and Cypher School, in Simla on April 7, 1927. Brian Lett describes the two years that Gubbins spent at Simla decrypting Soviet signals, but does not refer to the close friendship he had with the very significant Tiltman. (As I noted this fact, I recalled that Bernard Montgomery had acted as best man at the wedding of St. John Philby, in Rawalpindi in September 1910. There must be other similar connections to follow up, I am sure.)

The second Part of the book constitutes mostly a series of descriptions of the most famous of SOE’s exploits, interspersed with too much of what Gubbins himself said about them, such as his delivery of a lecture to the Cambridge University Officers Training Corps in October 1962, where he oversimplified the process of building up ‘secret armies’. There is little crucial exploration of the precise contribution that Gubbins made to the success of the major projects that Lett describes at some length, such as Operation Anthropoid (the plot to kill Heydrich) and Operation Gunnerside (the plan to destroy the Germans’ heavy-water supply in Norway). These exploits have been well-described elsewhere, and Lett’s analysis brings nothing new to the table. He even presents the burden of the horrors of the reprisals that took place in Czechoslovakia as somehow enhancing Gubbins’ status, since he was strong enough to be able to ‘stand back and appreciate the whole picture’. That could be said to be an opinion that stepped just over the borderline of good taste. Lett repeats this sentiment when he concludes his analysis of the twenty-six civilian losses in Norway resulting from the sinking of the ferry carrying the heavy water.

In this scenario, there are no real failures, and, like Linderman, Lett completely ignores the Nordpol fiasco in the Netherlands, and the betrayal of the Prosper network in France. (This is a recurring oversight: the compilation edited by Mark Seaman, Special Operations Executive: a new instrument of war, published in 2006, completely ignores the operations in France, and Gubbins receives little attention overall.) SOE is represented as playing a crucial part in the victory in Italy (where Lett’s father is featured strongly as part of Mission Blundell Violet), while the more problematic episodes involving Peter Wilkinson and Alfgar Hesketh-Prichard with the partisans in Croatia and Slovenia (as described above) receive no treatment at all. The book winds down abruptly without any summarization or assessment of what justifies Gubbins’ sobriquet of ‘mastermind’, or a serious evaluation of how SOE had contributed to the Allies’ victory, the author transferring quickly into the subject’s retirement years. It all consists of a very shallow and disappointing work.

Lynne Olson has described how Gubbins in 1949 gave evidence to a commission that was investigating the Nordpol disaster, and how he dishonestly claimed that SOE in London bore no responsibility for the Abwehr’s ability to round up agents and send controlled messages back to England to encourage further personnel to be despatched. Even M. R. D. Foot admits the incompetence, the truth of which was reinforced by such as Leo Marks. Other witnesses, such as William Stephenson (to Anthony Cave-Brown), and Sporborg (to Robert Marshall) attest that Gubbins believed that his networks had been betrayed by Dansey. Yet that was a disingenuous claim by the SOE chief: all evidence suggests that Gubbins must have been aware of the whole Déricourt fiasco, and went along with the plan. The fact that he was out of the country (in Algeria) for some of the critical time in early 1943 is no excuse.

The inevitable conclusion from reading these books could be that SOE had an impossible role, and that Gubbins was under enormous political pressure to deliver. Some critics, such as John Keegan and Douglas Porch, have underlined its several disasters. Others have claimed that, for the expense and loss of life, SOE was a much more profitable undertaking than was Harris’s Bomber Command, with its deluge of raids on Germany that so frequently missed their targets, while consuming so much energy, fuel, and lives. Gubbins’ role in the execution of SOE’s mission demands a very careful analysis that has not yet been engaged upon, so far as I can judge. The thorough documentation of those daring raids needs to be complemented by critical accounts of the less reputable exploits that ended in failure.

Gubbins was probably more complex than his biographers have described him. Like many military men, he concealed his emotions. He was crushed by the death of his son in Italy in 1944, and it brought home to him how every death in war represents an almost unbearable local tragedy. Yet he could be quite ruthless: he once said, when asked about the possibly unnecessary deaths of SOE officers in Europe that they had known when they signed up what the risks were. In A Life in Secrets, Sarah Helm quotes his statement about probable losses in France:

            Strategically France is by far the most important country in the Western Theatre of War. I think therefore that SOE should regard this theatre as one in which the suffering of heavy casualties is inevitable.  But it will yield the highest possible dividends. I would therefore increase to the maximum  . . . SOE aid to the French field from now on and maintain it until D-Day.

The possibility of arrest and execution was one thing, however: the conscious betrayal by the placement of a traitor and the dissemination of false promises about an imminent invasion, which must be held at Gubbins’ door, were a completely different phenomenon. That he commanded great loyalty is true, but he could be harsh and demeaning to those who challenged him, as Leo Marks testified in Between Silk and Cyanide.  The Free French politician Emmanuel d’Astier de la Vigerie dubbed Gubbins ‘the mysterious manipulator of the initials SOE’. Patrick Howarth thought that, in a world dominated by rank, Gubbins (like Selborne and Hambro) lacked the deviousness required to achieve political goals. That straight-shooting lack of deviousness may have contributed to his blindness over the hazards of treachery and double-dealing.

M. R. D. Foot offered a flowery and unsubstantiated appraisal of Gubbins in SOE in France:

His influence soon percolated all round the SOE pyramid, affecting colleagues, staff subordinates, and agents alike. Through the months of worst disaster, through the fog of battle, through all the complexities of a large, confused, impromptu organization, he pursued steadily the course that he and Holland had dreamed of long ago in Dublin, and had worked out months before the war. He combined a Scottish highlander’s insight [eh?] with a regular officer’s tenacity, a keen brain, and much diplomatic and intelligent experience, and before SOE was two years old an incomparably well placed observer described him as a linchpin.

The reputation of SOE and Gubbins was also bolstered by General Eisenhower, who in his memoirs issued a generous appraisal of SOE’s contribution to winning the war that has been frequently quoted by the SOE champions. Yet one has to consider the overall track-record, not just the guerrilla activity that SOE arranged after the Normandy landings. SOE worried the Norwegians, upset the Belgians, betrayed the Dutch, sacrificed the French, mortified the Czechs, misled the Poles, was abused by the Soviets, and fooled by the Germans. SOE in Baker Street lost control of Yugoslavia to Cairo: Nigel West writes that far more Yugoslavs were killed with SOE weaponry than German or Italian troops. Thousands of innocent lives were overall lost. Was the human sacrifice worth the few spectacular sabotage successes?

Gubbins’ career at SOE should better be analyzed as a case-study in leadership and management. For his direct and second-level reports, he had to recruit overall trustworthy figures who were all novices at the game, while some even lacked the motivation. The selection of Buckmaster was a case in point: mustard keen, but incompetent, and hopelessly out of his depth. In that environment, according to Situational Leadership principles, careful close-handling and coaching was necessary to guide the country section leaders in strategy and operations. There is no evidence that Gubbins gave them that advice and direction: he let the ‘chaps’ get on with it, sometimes with disastrous results. He frequently delegated (e.g. to Sporborg, over the Netherlands) when he should have become directly involved. Even Wilkinson describes the events of November 1943 as ‘a major crisis which might have been thought to demand Gubbins’ instant return’.

Much more attention was paid to the training of the agents themselves, what with all the detailed classroom studies on good tradecraft, and the physical tests in the highlands of Scotland, such as at Arisaig. That is where the important lessons of security and isolation, and discipline and mental and physical toughness, were instilled. Agents should have been well-prepared for the ardours of the field, but, again, many mistakes in selection and deployment were made, such as the approval of the unsuitable Noor Inayat Khan as a wireless operator, the unauthorized contacts among cells, and the calamitous failure to acknowledge security checks in agents’ messages.

But were the lessons themselves reasonable? Gubbins’ ideas were perhaps a bit too inflexible, and sometimes out of touch, while those that were important were frequently neglected. In his pamphlet, he had insisted that traitors be executed immediately, but when Mathilde Carré (la Chatte) was arrested and then became the mistress of Abwehr Officer Bleicher, Pierre de Vomécourt, instead of killing her, tried to manipulate her as a ‘triple agent’ [erroneous term], with disastrous consequences. Gubbins had surely not anticipated that his first traitor would be a woman. Gubbins had also preached that no paper records should be carried by agents, and contacts’ names and addresses committed to memory, but that was either too much of a hurdle for many operatives, or else they merely got careless. Wireless operators stayed on-line for far too long, thus exposing themselves to radio detection-finding: the pressure of communicating volumes was too great. The insertion of agents into hostile territory, where identity and ration cards were essential for surviving was very different from the subsistence of communist partisans in their homeland, as Gubbins had witnessed in Russia.

Thus the elevation of Gubbins’ frequently half-baked ideas and occasionally disastrous supervision of events to a level of innovative heroism, no matter how inspiring a leader of men he was, represents a missed opportunity in the writing of history and biography. Gubbins was brave, inspiring, imaginative and energetic. Yet he was also two-dimensional, ruthless, evasive and sometimes irresponsible – a military man out of his depth in the complexities of subversion and dissimulation. This piece is a study of the existing literature, and does not claim to be an original analysis of all the material. A fresh approach would undoubtedly be highly desirable. I am not looking for a hatchet-job, like Richard Aldington’s biography of T. E. Lawrence, or even the ‘harsh, aggressive and uncompromising’ terms (the author’s words) of Andrew Roberts’ Eminent Churchillians. Maybe more along the lines of Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s recent study of Winston Churchill, Churchill’s Shadow, something uncluttered by Foreign Office advisers, or self-appointed champions of SOE. Our war heroes are allowed to have flaws, and to have made serious mistakes.

(This month’s Commonplace entries can be seen here.)

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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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Peter Wright’s Agents & Double-Agents

Peter Wright

Sid said, ‘I hate conspiracy theories.’

‘It’s not a theory once it’s proved. After that, it’s just a conspiracy.’

            (from ‘Slow Horses’, by Mick Herron)

Contents:

Background and Introduction

            Guy Liddell’s Behaviour

Part 1: Peter Wright & Constantin Volkov

            Nigel West’s Molehunt

            Gordon Brook-Shepherd’s Storm Birds

            Phillip Knightley’s Master Spy

            Keith Jeffery’s Postscript

            The National Archives

            Nigel West’s Cold War Spymaster

            The Volkov Text

Part 2: Peter Wright & Double Agents

            Nigel West & Double Agents

Conclusions

Background and Introduction:

It was a year ago (WhoFramedRogerHollis?) when I presented my case that the investigation into Roger Hollis in 1963 was an elaborate set-up by Dick White and Arthur Martin. Yet I know, from communications I have received from coldspur readers, that the belief that there was an MI5 mole active in the 1950s and 1960s, that he (or she!) was known as ‘ELLI’ by the KGB, and that ELLI was probably Roger Hollis, dies hard. In this segment I return to inspect some of the symptoms of betrayal that encouraged Martin, and, more specifically, his faithful sidekick Peter Wright, to pursue their quest to unmask this sinister figure.

The prevailing ‘wisdom’ is that a traitor working at the highest levels of MI5 was responsible for the failure of multiple counter-intelligence operations of the Security Service. For example, the careful and methodological study sponsored by the FBI, ‘British Patriot or Soviet Spy? Clarifying a  Major Cold War Mystery’ (see https://fbistudies.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/20150417_ReportandChronologyHollis.pdf) , using ‘argument mapping’ to bring some discipline to the study, starts off by introducing the contention: ‘There was a GRU mole in MI5 between 1940 and 1945 under the codename ELLI’. It then breaks this assertion down into the various claims made by defectors, including Gouzenko and Akhmedov. But it immediately gets bogged down into a misunderstanding about what Gouzenko said, a misinterpretation of the exchange between Philby and Moscow Centre, and then introduces the distracting testimony of Christopher Andrew (who declined to attend the session) with his erratic statement that ELLI did exist, but was in fact Leo Long.

Overall, this study was far too much influenced by Chapman Pincher’s fanciful and unverified tale displayed in Treachery. Yet the project claims to be off and running on the basis that the GRU did operate a spy in MI5 alongside the KGB’s Anthony Blunt. “There is complete acceptance that, in fact, it was penetrated by both the KGB and the GRU”, the report confidently maintains. But that is not so. Even Christopher Andrew writes, in Defend the Realm (p 350): “A series of conspiracy theorists, chief among them the maverick MI5 officer Peter Wright, succeeding in convincing themselves and many of their readers that ELLI was none other than Roger Hollis, who had been working as a Soviet agent throughout the Gouzenko investigation.” But thereafter, Andrew and I part company.

As I have shown in my previous writings, the story about ELLI was probably based on a misunderstanding between the MI5 officer Stephen Alley and Colonel Chichaev, the Soviet military attaché installed in London at the same time that the SOE/MI6 mission to Moscow was established, at the end of 1941. Alley (who spoke Russian, and was thus responsible for ‘handling’ Chichaev) probably made a light-hearted remark about his old colleague George Hill, the head of the mission (who had just made a visit to London on leave) and Hill’s reacquaintance with a former agent of his from revolutionary days, whom the NKVD had attempted to plant on him. Chichaev surely felt duty-bound to report this conversation to his superiors, and word got around that Hill had a spy in Moscow, something that Gouzenko picked up in his role as a cipher clerk.

Guy Liddell’s Behaviour:

Guy Liddell’s thoughts at the time are very pertinent. As I have reported before, he even recorded in his diary the possibility that ELLI might be Alley, but then immediately discarded the notion as too preposterous – simply because he was confident of Alley’s utter loyalty. At the time, however, he was still investigating who ELLI was, and, firmly of the belief that he was an SOE asset (as other conversations made clear), started deeper research by working with the SOE Security chief, Archie Boyle. From the way the topic suddenly drops from his diary entries, we could assume that the culprit was soon identified, and the case casually dismissed, or, alternatively, that the revelations were so horrifying that he tried to place a blanket over the whole business. What is also extraordinary is the fact that Liddell interviewed Gouzenko in March 1946, yet, according to what he reported, he never brought up the question of ELLI, nor did Gouzenko volunteer any information about the spy and his cryptonym.

Yet ELLI did not die away: the Americans knew about the whole business, and resuscitated the question a few years later. Liddell’s diary entry for October 1, 1951 (when Philby had come under suspicion after the absconding of Burgess and Maclean) records that Bedell Smith (the head of the CIA) had told Stewart Menzies, the MI6 chief, after having a meeting with Liddell’s boss Percy Sillitoe ‘that he thought that MI5 were now confident that Philby was identical with the man mentioned by Gouzenko and Wolkov’ [sic: more regularly ‘Volkov’, the NKGB officer who tried to defect from Istanbul]. Liddell observes that Bedell Smith must have misunderstood what Sillitoe was telling him at their recent meeting. “This is of course far from the case”, he adds, laconically. ‘Of course’? It sounds as if the ELLI business has been sorted: ELLI’s identity was known, and it was not Philby. And, ‘of course’, Sillitoe might have got it wrong himself –  or might have intended to send Bedell Smith away with a false trail.

So what might Liddell’s studied avoidance of the ELLI business in 1946 have meant? I consider four possible explanations: Indifference; Resolution; Resignation; and Dismay. I believe that Liddell took the allegations of espionage seriously, but that his sensibilities had been softened by his experience of Blunt and Long during the war, where he probably attributed their passing on of confidential information to the Soviet Embassy to an over-zealous desire to help Stalin in the war effort. On the other hand, if he regarded the ELLI problem as resolved, and believed that the threat had been uncovered as being non-existent, and was all due to a misunderstanding, he never communicated it to those whose opinion mattered, such as the Americans. He also did not consider any investigation a waste of effort. Ever since Krivitsky, it is true, MI5 had had to deal with allegations of spies inside British government, and the fresh claims made by Gouzenko and Volkov were simply part of a pattern, which could conceivably have been of exaggeration or provocation. While there were no real leads to follow up, and the effort was time-consuming, Liddell stayed alert to the threat.

I suspect that the real reason for his silence was Dismay. The search for ELLI revealed such shocking mismanagement and exposures to British security that Liddell tried to hush up any investigative process.When he pursued the investigation into SOE, and discovered the alarming fact that a White Russian (Sergey Leontiev, aka George Graham) had been introduced as a cipher clerk into the Soviet SOE mission, and had been left unattended in Kuibyshev, he closed down the investigation, as the discovery showed a far more dangerous exposure than any ELLI might have caused.

(At another time I shall investigate the serious breaches of security that must have been occasioned by the subornation of George Graham, introductory details of which can be read at   TheStrangeLifeofGeorgeGraham. For instance, in early 1945, he was copied in on Foreign Office telegrams concerning the search for members of SOE believed to have been arrested by the Germans, some with strict instructions that the Russians not be informed of the inquiries, as some agents were born in the Soviet Union. Gordon Brook-Shepherd [see below] has correctly pointed out – without showing any understanding of the George Graham fiasco – that the Kremlin would have been aware, before the Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam summits, of what the negotiating positions of the Western Allies were.)

Thus the tensions in the investigation lie between the allegations of Gouzenko (who pointed to ELLI, but never indicated Philby), and the accusations of Volkov (who never got so far as to offer any cryptonyms such as ELLI, but who pointed to Philby). All those who have written about the case have twisted themselves into knots over the sources and the evidence.  My task in this bulletin is to inspect the sequence of events that brought the Volkov story to the attention of the British public, and the steps by which it evolved. The whole charivari constitutes an extraordinary procession of self-delusion, negligence, and deception. In it, the role of Peter Wright is critical, for the following reasons: i) the enormous popularity of Spycatcher; ii) the attempts by Her Majesty’s Government to ban it; iii) Wright’s influence on Chapman Pincher, and the latter’s persistent accusations against Roger Hollis; and iv) the highly unmethodical nature of Wright’s analysis. I thus focus on the pivotal disclosures and speculations of Wright, although the account goes backwards and forwards in time.

Peter Wright’s narratives about agents and double-agents are not the only ‘evidence’ he presents to support his case that MI5 had a mole in its upper echelons. For example, he dedicates the whole of Chapter 10 of Spycatcher to the Gordon Lonsdale/Krogers affair, and concludes that all the inconsistencies of the case pointed unmistakably to the fact that the Soviets were being informed of what was going on. Yet the obvious truth is that, if someone had been making the Russians aware of how the investigation was progressing, the KGB would surely have subtly removed Lonsdale (Konon Molody) from London, and the Krogers’ spynest in Ruislip would never have been discovered. In his whittling down of the various allegations of penetration to the ten most important (p 278), Wright lists Volkov’s ‘Acting Head’ feed, and Gouzenko’s claims about ELLI, both in September 1945, as Number One and Number Two. Having investigated the Gouzenko story in depth in earlier posts, I now concentrate on the first of these two items.

Part 1. Peter Wright & Konstantin Volkov:

Before analyzing Volkov’s major allegations about Soviet penetration that the molehunters in MI5 turned their attention on, I want to study the vexed issue of the breaking of Foreign Office ciphers. Konstantin Volkov had highlighted this security lapse in the dossier that he provided to the British Consulate in Istanbul. Volkov was an NKVD officer in Turkey who, in August and September 1945, had approached officials at the British consulate with promises of information about Soviet agents (see  http://www.coldspur.com/on-philby-gouzenko-and-elli/). At the time that Peter Wright wrote of the business in 1986, in Spycatcher, official documentary support for what Volkov told the members of the consulate was not available: much of what was written about him derived from Kim Philby’s memoir issued in 1968, My Silent War, which cannot be regarded as an overall reliable testament, and from some journalism that had incredibly been overlooked. (For those readers unfamiliar with the Volkov story, Kim Philby was the MI6 officer eventually sent out to Ankara to deal with Volkov, who had been predictably spirited away by the NKGB * by the time Philby arrived.)

[* The NKGB was created in 1943 as a separate directorate from the NKVD, but reconstituted as a ministry, the MGB, in 1946.]

‘The Philby Conspiracy’

Another narrative was available, however. In 1968, the Sunday Times Insight team of Bruce Page, David Leitch and Phillip Knightley had published The Philby Conspiracy, which was based on several hundred interviews with various diplomats, intelligence officers, etc. It regrettably had no sources listed (because of the Official Secrets Act), and avoidably no Index. Integrating the essence of hundreds of anonymous and unverifiable interviews, when the subjects may well have been dissembling, is not a path to good history-writing, but The Philby Conspiracy was a valiant effort to pierce through the fog. As it turned out, John Reed could have been unerringly identified as the primary source for the narrative about the Volkov affair – alongside Philby’s memoir. The Insight production could stand for a while as a reasonably accurate account of the Volkov business.

In his account of the Volkov affair, Peter Wright focused first on the cipher leak. He stated:

            During the course of the inquiry I was also able to solve one other riddle from Volkov’s visit. Volkov claimed that the Russians could read the Foreign Office ciphers in Moscow. Maclean certainly betrayed every code he had access to in the Foreign Office, but Foreign Office records showed that the Moscow Embassy used one-time pads during and just after the war, so Maclean could not have been responsible.

            Remembering my work with “the Thing” in 1951, I was sure the Russians had been using a concealed microphone system, and we eventually found two microphones buried in the plaster above the cipher room. During the war, two clerks routinely handled the Embassy one-time pad communications, one reading over the clear text message for the other to encipher. The Russians simply recorded the clear text through their microphones. By the very good work of the Building Research Laboratory we were able to establish that the probable date of the concrete embedding of the microphone was about 1942, when the Embassy was in Kuibyshev.

Now, to me, that sounds like a highly improbable method of addressing the delicate task of encrypting messages, but I shall not strenuously argue the point here. Wright went on to write, however, that ‘the Working Party Report found an extraordinary and persistent level of appalling security inside the Embassy’, which resulted in the demand that an MI5 officer should work full-time there on security matters. It is not stated what the problems were, but if the Working Party concurrently discovered the same egregious lapses in recruitment and management that Liddell came across, it would point not to mechanical intrusion by the NKVD (although that surely did occur), but more to human treachery, with the unfortunate George Graham suborned by the honey-trap, and consequently forced to hand over cipher details.

On the other hand, that procedures were not quite as Wright depicted can be learned from other sources. In his memoir of the time, George Hill wrote, of his few months in Kuibyshev (where all foreign missions had been moved at the end of 1941, owing to the German advance on Moscow):

            We, Guinea Pigs, day and night have been helping the Embassy in coding up and decoding messages, for the volume of work has increased beyond the powers of the regular staff, caused by the latest events, besides doing our own stuff. Even I am beginning to get quite fast at coding.

Not ‘one clerk reading out a clear text to another’, then. Moreover, the Embassy and SOE Mission were housed at the Kuibyshev Boy’s Gymnasium School, evacuated for the purpose, so it is not clear that the NKVD had had time to wire the premises before the arrival of the British. In addition, in his account of Volkov’s statement quoted above, Wright stressed that the Soviet electronic interception occurred in Moscow, not Kuibyshev. He makes a giant illogical leap in transferring the detection to the city 1,000 kilometres away. Yet this was his area of special expertise:  according to Nigel West, Wright’s entry to MI5 had been guaranteed by the skill he showed in detecting, in 1952, that a microphone had been inserted in a seal behind the US Ambassador’s desk in Moscow. Thus that may be a reason he concentrated on technology rather than human agency.

As I reported a few months ago, the security lapse occurred when Hill left Graham behind in Kuibyshev, where the Mission did not even own a locked safe to store the codebooks overnight. (The Chubb safe had had to be left behind in Moscow.) Thus we have a far more convincing explanation of what Volkov was referring to when he spoke of security lapses, and urged his contacts in the Istanbul consulate not to use cables in transmitting his accusations about Soviet subversion of the Foreign Office and British Intelligence, but instead pass them on in the diplomatic bag. (As readers will learn later in this piece, the officials in Istanbul did not follow this guidance punctiliously.)

Wright then moved on to the hints at London-based agents provide by Volkov. One of the controversial statements that Philby had made ran as follows:

            He [Volkov] also offered details of Soviet networks and agents operating abroad. Inter alia, he claimed to know the real names of three Soviet agents working in Britain. Two of them were in the Foreign Office; one was head of a counter-espionage organisation in London.

Philby immediately recognized himself as the organisation head, and, after a minor panic, set about extinguishing the threat. Wright then expanded on this version of events.

In describing the NKVD officer’s approach to the British Consulate, where he said that he could provide names of Soviet spies in Britain if he were paid adequately, Wright had written (p 238) that Volkov ‘gave an Embassy official a list of the departments where the spies allegedly worked’, as well as a hint to an MI6 spy in Persia. Wright then jumped (p 278) to highlighting Volkov’s claim (one of the ten ‘really important allegations’ from defectors) that one of the spies was an ‘Acting Head’, without offering any details of where that nugget derived, something he echoed on p 285. Only then did he inform his readers that Volkov’s list of spies ‘talked of seven in London, two in the Foreign Office, and five in British Intelligence’. While this version was clearly different from the Philby story, the revelation allowed him to identify Burgess as one of the pair. For some reason, however, he discounted Maclean, arguing that, since he was not in London at the time, he could not be the candidate. (This must be the sole occasion when the indivisibility of ‘Burgess and Maclean’, etched into British cultural history like ‘Marks and Spencer’ or ‘Morecambe and Wise’, has ever been challenged.) Wright ignored the fact, however, that Volkov may not have been completely up-to-date on the movements of these persons. Moreover, ‘in London’ could simply mean ‘working for a British institution’.

Wright then turned to British Intelligence:

            But what of the five spies in British Intelligence? One was Philby, another was Blunt, and a third Cairncross. Long might theoretically have been a fourth Volkov spy, but he was not in London at this time, and he could not possibly be one of the eight VENONA cryptonyms, since he was in Germany in September 1945. That still left one Volkov spy, the ‘Acting Head’ unaccounted for, as well as four VENONA cryptonyms, of which presumably the ‘Acting Head’ was one, and Volkov’s second Foreign Office spy another. As for ELLI, there was no trace of him anywhere.

This analysis is a bit of muddle, with Wright mixing up VENONA sources with Volkov’s submissions. Moreover, he overlooks candidates such as Milne, Klugmann, Uren, or even James Macgibbon, all at some time in departments of ‘British Intelligence’, whose cryptonyms may have caught Volkov’s eye. Yet the fact that there was a total of seven spies in London, of whom two were in the Foreign Office, had nevertheless taken hold.

Nigel West’s Molehunt:

‘Molehunt’

The following year, Nigel West published his Molehunt. He reminded readers that it was Philby who had first claimed in My Silent War that Volkov had mentioned ‘two Soviet agents in the Foreign Office, one head of a counter-espionage organization in London’, but West did not immediately draw attention to the discrepancy between Philby’s version and that of Wright. Had they both been reading from the same Volkov letter, one wonders? Somewhat mysteriously, West elided this paradox, but went on say that ‘a check was made on the text of the first message as received from Istanbul’, and he followed with:

It was compared with the original which had been typed by Volkov and handed in to the British Consulate before his disappearance. A slight discrepancy was noted in Volkov’s Russian original. He had mentioned a total of five agents in British Intelligence and two in the Foreign Office. However, the translation of a crucial sentence read, “I know for instance that one of these agents is fulfilling the duties of Head of a Department of British Counterintelligence.”

This statement seems to me unsatisfactory and evasive: it provides no dates; it deploys too much use of the passive voice and does not explain who was doing the comparisons, the inspections, and the translations; it provides no documentary evidence. Had West had access to MI5 files? No: his source is given as ‘Peter Wright, World in Action’, a television programme broadcast on July 16, 1984.

So why should West trust Peter Wright, and why did Wright not explain this process in Spycatcher? West draws attention to the fact that Philby interpreted the incriminating description as referring to himself, but Wright had other ideas. As West goes on to write:

            Philby’s treatment of this vital passage was interesting because his record omitted mention of the five moles in British intelligence and implied that the “Head of a Department of British Counterintelligence” was a reference to himself. Certainly, Philby was then head of Section IX, a counterintelligence department of SIS. The point was pursued by Terence Lecky and Wright, with further help from GCHQ’s Russian-speaking expert who made a new attempt to translate Volkov’s original message. The second translation altered its accepted meaning by reinterpreting the critical sentence to read. “I know for instance that one of these agents is fulfilling the duties of acting Head of a Department of the British Counterintelligence Directorate.” Wright believed that far from implicating Philby, who had served in SIS, Volkov had actually been referring to someone in MI5. The “Head of a Department in British Counterintelligence” might well be said to refer to SIS, but there could be no mistaking the author’s intention when he mentioned the “British Counterintelligence Directorate”.

This again strikes me as undisciplined. West does not question why Lecky and White were suspicious that the text may have been mistranslated, nor does he call on the letter itself to be shown as evidence. Was Philby being obtuse, trying to conceal the extent of Soviet infiltration? Was he throwing the item about two Foreign Office spies in the face of his ex-colleagues, calling them out for their feebleness in not following up on Volkov’s leads? West does not speculate. Yet he has no grounds for accepting the ‘new’ translation. He simply trusts what Wright tells him, when the actions of Lecky and Wright show all signs of regrettable a priori thinking. In fact, when Sir Burke Trend was invited to go over all the FLUENCY papers, Trend challenged Wright on the reworking of Volkov’s allegation. “Wasn’t I being finicky in altering the thrust of the allegation after having the document retranslated? He asked”, wrote Wright (p 380). ‘Finicky’? That was an odd adjective to use in the circumstance. Wright’s answer was not profound:

            “I don’t see why,” I replied. One way is to make guess about what an allegation means, and where it leads, and how seriously to take it. The other way is to adopt a scholastic approach, and analyse everything very carefully and precisely and build scientifically on that bedrock.”

Philby had appeared as a clear candidate for what was superficially an accurate job description. There was really no guesswork involved. Nevertheless, Wright then reportedly had Golitsyn check out the Russian text, and the defector agreed with the new interpretation. And that led to the ‘proof’ that there was a mole in MI5, and the investigations into Mitchell and Hollis. This was all very unsatisfactory. What was direly needed was an inspection of Volkov’s original letter. How could a simple statement have been phrased so poorly that it gave rise to such ambiguity? Yet instead of some proper archival evidence, the world gained another less than disciplined narrative.

Gordon Brook-Shepherd’s Storm Birds:

Gordon Brook-Shepherd’s’ ‘The Storm Birds’

Three years later a book with the trappings of a more authoritative account of the Volkov affair appeared on the scene. Gordon Brook-Shepherd was a former asset of MI6 who had previously published a book on early Soviet defectors, titled The Storm Petrels. In 1989 he issued a follow-up, titled The Storm Birds, which studied post-war Soviet defectors, carrying the engaging sub-title The Dramatic True Stories: 1945-1985. It is a useful but in many ways a complacent and erratic work. Not all his subjects were even defectors: for example, Penkovsky and Farewell (Vetrov, whom he does not name) were agents-in-place who were executed before they could defect, and Volkov never managed to complete his defection. The chapter on Lyalin has no sources listed.

While Brook-Shepherd’s judgment is overall sound (for example on Penkovsky and Golitysn), he frequently offers no explanation as to where his intelligence comes from, with a paucity of Footnotes to describe his sources. This is especially true of Chapter 4 (The Wrecker), where the author covers Volkov. Brook-Shepherd provides a Bibliography that reflects his opinions on many relevant works of interest, but in his Foreword introduces his distinctive qualifications for documenting his tale of defectors in the following terms:

            For the present work, I have been able to talk at length, either in America or Europe, to no fewer than eight Soviet defectors. Their accounts have been corroborated and amplified by expert sources in Europe and America.

That was not adequate, however. Volkov had been executed in 1945, and was not subject to interview, yet Brook-Shepherd had somehow been able to provide a comprehensive account of the approach by the NKVD officer to the British legation.

Nevertheless, Brook-Shepherd still suggests authoritativeness in passing on the full details of Volkov’s approach in Istanbul. He gives the names of the officials involved, describes the delays that occurred, and records the eventual dispatch of Philby to address the situation. He refers to the 314 Soviet agents in Turkey and the 250 in Britain that Volkov claimed he could name, and also cites the numbers of two spies in the Foreign Office and seven inside the British intelligence system. He identifies John Reed as the officer who acted as interpreter. Brook-Shepherd notes the critical phrase from the translation of Volkov’s letter (that one was ‘fulfilling the function of head of a section of British counterespionage in London’) with a cautious aside, namely that ‘the counterespionage official (the Russian phrase had been difficult to translate precisely) was probably Philby, although the description could have fitted Roger Hollis’. Given that Brook-Shepherd, in his Foreword, states that the evidence from the case of Colonel Penkovsky ‘destroys by itself the thesis that Sir Roger Hollis could have been a Soviet agent’, this was a somewhat equivocal attitude to adopt. He suggested, by his comment, that he was familiar with Peter Wright’s investigation into the meaning of the controversial passage, but he did not list Spycatcher in his Bibliography, merely criticizing Chapman Pincher’s books for ‘relying much too heavily on the reminiscences of one long-retired former MI5 officer, Peter Wright of Spy Catcher fame [sic]’. It is an uneven performance.

On the other hand, Brook-Shepherd did sensibly highlight the breach in ciphers, and recorded the revelation as follows:

            There was one more startling piece of information, which was to complicate fatally the transaction. For the last two and a half years, Volkov assured his listeners, the Russians had been reading all cipher traffic, both on the normal diplomatic channel and on the special intelligence ones, which had passed between the British embassy in Moscow and London. (This claim was never verified but, in view of Volkov’s service inside the Moscow Centre, was taken very seriously. It would have meant, for example, that the Kremlin had been aware, before the Teheran, Yalta, and Potsdam summits, what the western negotiating position was.)

It may be significant that Brook-Shepherd here refers to both ‘diplomatic’ and ‘special intelligence’ channels, whereas Wright had described the exposure solely as a ‘Foreign Office’ breach. Was Wright being coy, or merely forgetful? It is hard to say. Yet, as I shall show later, Brook-Shepherd’s observation about the seriousness of the response is very provocative, and needs to be challenged in the light of other evidence. He was correct in drawing attention to the seriousness of this allegation, but apparently overlooked a vital commentary.

As far as I can establish, no one appeared to question Brook-Shepherd, or show much interest in his sources. In KGB: The Inside Story, published in 1990, Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky were happy to echo Brook-Shepherd’s telling of the story, indicating in an Endnote that they believed that Brook-Shepherd’s account was the ‘most reliable’, and corrected ‘a number of inventions by Philby’. (Through this gesture they appeared to cock a snook at the Sunday Times’s journalistic venture. Brook-Shepherd and Andrew were generally dismissive of Knightley because of the errors he perpetrated in his book The Second Oldest Profession.) This statement constituted a less than subtle indication that they alone knew the full facts, and that they could therefore impart to their readers how accurate (or inaccurate) both Philby and Brook-Shepherd were, while not divulging wherefrom their wisdom derived. Under this guise, they were able to discriminate, trusting (for instance) Philby’s description of his dealings with his handler, Krotov, while dismissing part of what he wrote as fantasy. Gordievsky was surprisingly not able to provide much new insight on the affair at this stage.

And Brook-Shepherd’s authoritative-sounding story (which happened to mesh quite closely with how Philby had described the events) remained a point of orientation for the world at large for several years. It had to wait a while for another oracular statement from on high for his chapter to be granted the seal of approval, namely an Endnote in Andrew’s Defend the Realm, published two decades later. Having outlined the events in a summarization of Brook-Shepherd’s account (pp 344-345), without indicating that any intelligence archives had been inspected, Christopher Andrew echoed his previous assessment when he wrote: “The most reliable account of Volkov’s attempted defection is in Brook-Shepherd, Storm Birds, pp 40-53, which corrects a number of inventions and inaccuracies in Philby’s version of events.” This was a typically patronizing and disingenuous observation by Andrew, since he still did not deign to explain why he considered Brook-Shepherd’s account so trustworthy. I have to conclude that Andrew had been informed by his political masters that Brook-Shepherd had been guided to the appropriate archives, in the same manner by which M. R. D. Foot had been steered by the SOE Adviser. But the whole business was very shabby and unprofessional.

Phillip Knightley’s ‘The Master Spy’

Phillip Knightley’s Master Spy:

As a further manifestation of the extraordinary manner in which false trails are led, and real ones ignored, in this business, I must include the episodes involving the journalist Phillip Knightley, as a kind of parallel path to what his Insight team was doing at the Sunday Times. As early as October 1967, the London paper, which had been investigating Gouzenko’s claims about ELLI, and whether they referred to Philby, received a hint from one Leslie Nicholson, who had worked for MI6, and written a book titled Secret Agent under the name John Whitwell. Nicholson revealed to Phillip Knightley that Philby had led the service’s Soviet counter-espionage unit – a fact that impressed the newspaper team. Why Knightley and co. should have found this insight a breakthrough is itself a puzzle, as Philby had explicitly described in his memoir how he had managed to install himself as head of Section IX, which was responsible for Soviet counter-intelligence. That aside, finding the irony of a possible Soviet agent heading a British counter-intelligence unit supremely appealing, the newspaper published an article on Philby on October 1, 1967 – its first on the alleged traitor. The appearance of the piece had a rewarding outcome, however. It provoked John Reed, the interpreter at Istanbul, and currently the Sheriff of Shropshire, to write a letter to the editors. Part of it ran as follows:

            I am wondering whether next week’s issue will mention an incident which occurred in Istanbul in August 1945 and in which both Philby and I were involved. If so, and I am mentioned by name, I should be grateful for a preview of the text before it is published. The incident convinced me that Philby was either a Soviet agent or unbelievably incompetent and I took what seemed to me at the time the appropriate action.

Excited by these revelations, which enabled them ‘to crack the one aspect of the Philby story that had eluded them’, the Sunday Times journalists published Reed’s story the following week. (Strangely, The Philby Conspiracy does not carry this incident.) What was astonishing about the fresh revelations is that Reed was clearly not concerned about being identified as the ‘leaker’, and obviously felt that any doubts or remonstrations he had maintained about Philby’s loyalty had not been taken seriously. The essence of Reed’s testimony is recorded in Knightley’s book, The Master Spy, which came out in 1988. The story is essentially the same as the one that Brook-Shepherd told, yet the fact that Reed had spoken out, and that his observations as a key witness and facilitator had appeared in the national press over two decades beforehand, was ignored by Brook-Shepherd – as well as by those who came after him.

Yet Reed’s behaviour is also a bit puzzling. In his letter, he claimed that he took what seemed to him the appropriate action.  This involved a direct challenge to Philby, which resulted in the infamous statement about ‘leave arrangements’ interfering with London’s response. Philby’s account indicates he was able to manipulate Reed. He writes, of his need to ‘get Volkov away to safety’ (a horribly macabre way of putting it, incidentally):

I thought that I could string Reed along further by hinting that we were by no means satisfied that Volkov was not a provocateur. It would be most unfortunate, therefore, if his information was given currency before we could assess his authenticity. I felt that I could do no better. An expert, of course, could have driven a coach-and-four through my fabrications. But Reed was not an expert, and he might prove pliable.

But did Reed voice his concerns up the line? It is not clear. Knightley’s account runs as follows:

            Later Reed took the opportunity at a diplomatic reception to pass on his suspicion to a colleague from the American Embassy in Ankara, but this was before the CIA had been created. OSS was winding down, and Reed’s American colleagues had no intelligence contacts, so it is unlikely that the story got back to Washington in a form that could do Philby any harm. SIS itself accepted Philby’s theory about Volkov’s insistence on bag communications, so his luck held out.

It would have been highly unprofessional and irresponsible for Reed to have expressed his doubts about Philby to the Americans, but not to his own bosses at the Foreign Office, yet this testimony came from Reed himself. Had he in fact sent in a report, and was he out of sensitive political concerns covering for the Foreign Office mandarins, and maybe protecting his pension, from his retreat in Shropshire?

The historian Edward Harrison helped provide an answer. When researching his own book on Philby, he dug out a letter in the Dacre (Trevor-Roper) papers at Christ Church, Oxford that indicated that Reed had probably overstated his suspicions. Reed had written to Trevor-Roper in September and October 1968, at the time that Trevor-Roper was writing his Philby Affair, a project undertaken at the instigation of Dick White. Harrison’s extract (on page 178 of Young Philby) includes the following text:

            After Volkov’s kidnapping and the inexplicable delays and evasions of Philby’s visit to Istanbul, I became convinced that the warning given by Volkov of the presence of Soviet spies must be true, although I cannot claim to have recognised Philby as the principal culprit. I thought he was just irresponsible and incompetent  . . . in the end I decided to give the story I outline to an American colleague . . .

Reed went on to say that the story, contrary to what Knightley claimed, was indeed sent up the line, and reinforced the doubts the Americans held about Philby when serious suspicions first arose. The added irony, of course, is that Menzies also believed that the warnings given by Volkov had merit. And Philby, in Trevor-Roper’s words, was ‘the most industrious and competent man in that generally lax organisation’.

Trevor-Roper did not use the anecdote from Reed, and compiled his short summary of the Volkov affair from the writings of the Sunday Times team, Page, Leitch and Knightley, concluding his chapter The New Machiavel as follows:

            The memory of the mysterious Volkov affair then concentrated a suspicion which, otherwise, was diffuse: it formed the central and most persuasive change in the dossier which was now compiled, in M.I.5, for the interrogation of Philby.

When was that weaselly ‘now’? Trevor-Roper was unprofessionally vague. It was thus phrased to help Dick White and MI5 look sharp, of course. Indeed, some informal accounts I have received (from coldspur readers) reinforce the idea that other intelligence officers, such as Jane Archer, had their suspicions of Philby confirmed by the Volkov incidents.  Maybe some currently unreleased files, or undiscovered memoirs, would tell us more.

Keith Jeffery’s Postscript:

I have remarked beforehand on Keith Jeffery’s studious ignoring of the Gouzenko and Volkov cases in his history of MI6, which was published in 2011. In a revised paperback edition issued in 2014, however, he added a Postscript that contained fresh material on both topics. It was if he had been stung into action when critics expressed their dismay that an authorized history, declaratively taking the story of MI6 up till 1949, had been so neglectful of the Volkov business, and Philby’s shameful betrayal of the service to the Soviets. Yet Jeffery introduces his material in a bizarre way. He first concedes that the story ‘has been told in outline’ by Christopher Andrew in his history of MI5, while his own Endnote vicariously lists The Storm Birds as a primary source. And then he writes:

            No relevant documents have been found in the SIS archive, but newly unearthed Foreign Office papers now enable some telling details to be added to the narrative.

The thrust of Jeffery’s account is practically identical to Brook-Shepherd’s. So where did Jeffery imagine Brook-Shepherd had acquired his intelligence, if not from the same ‘Foreign Office papers’ that had clearly been ‘unearthed’ some twenty-five years beforehand? Moreover, Jeffery’s account refers to ‘a subsequent SIS report’, confirming that there were relevant pieces, even if this particular one had been stored in files of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. That passive voice again (‘no relevant documents have been found’): had Jeffery really been through the SIS archives himself, or had someone performed the task for him? It is quite astonishing how seasoned and respectable academics attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of their reading public.

A few differences can be detected in the two versions, however, mainly in dates and the format of names. Brook-Shepherd has Chantry Page, the vice-consul, receiving Volkov’s letter on August 27th : Jeffery indicates it was on the 24th. Brook-Shepherd represents the name of the counsellor who took charge as ‘Alexander Knox-Helm’: to Jeffery he is merely ‘a counsellor’ and appears as ‘Knox Helm’. Yet in his description of some of the incidents Brook-Shepherd offers more detail than does Jeffery: he identifies Cyril Machray as the (ignored) MI6 representative in Istanbul, and offers the startling information that John Bennett, an assistant press counsellor at the consulate, happened to be at the airport when Volkov and his wife (‘two limp and bandaged passengers’) were removed, heavily sedated. Bennett recognized, despite the bandages, that ‘the male stretcher case was Volkov’.

Of course it is difficult to determine whether Brook-Shepherd had access to files denied to Jeffery, or whether Jeffery simply was being more selective, but one might expect that the statement of Volkov’s sedated body’s being recognized should have been recorded by Jeffery as being of considerable interest. (Jeffery merely wrote that both Volkovs were ‘heavily sedated’ and that a subsequent SIS report logged their departure from Yesilkoy airport on September 26.) That identification would have told Menzies, Cadogan and co. that Volkov was certainly not a hoax. But why should we trust the anecdote from John Bennett?

The same year (2014), Ben Macintyre applied his energetic pen to the Philby’s career in A Spy Among Friends. He covers the Volkov business, but has clearly not seen the archival material, since he compiles his tale indiscriminately from the accounts of Philby, Knightley, Brook-Shepherd, Andrew – and Jeffery’s recent Postscript. His narrative is thus not very reliable (for instance, he places the events in 1944, not 1945), and his timeline is imprecise. He also informs us that the Volkovs, when abducted on to the Soviet plane, were ‘bandaged from head to foot’, which would presumably have made identification doubly difficult.  Was that a creative flourish from Macintyre? In Deceiving the Deceivers (2004), S. J. Hamrick (who seemed not to have read Brook-Shepherd) referred to a ‘heavily bandaged’ Volkov. In Treason in the Blood (1994), Anthony-Cave-Brown, likewise not a student of Brook-Shepherd, described Volkov as being ‘unconscious and swaddled in bandages’. In The Young Kim Philby (2012), Edward Harrison (who lists The Storm Petrels but not The Storm Birds in his Bibliography) states that Volkov arrived at the airport ‘covered in bandages on a stretcher’. Trevor-Roper states merely that Volkov was ‘bundled, unconscious, on to a Russian plane’. Page, Leitch and Knightley describe the events as follows:

            A Russian military aircraft made an unscheduled and quite irregular landing at Istanbul airport. While the control tower was still trying to think of something to do a car raced out to the plane. A heavily bandaged figure on a stretcher was lifted into the aircraft which immediately took off.

So where was Mrs Volkov? And how did Bennett get such a close-up view? Did he have his binoculars at hand? Could the NKGB really have been that clumsy, parading their victims in the airport’s concourse, or making such a melodramatic whistle-stop evacuation? Would an invasion of air space have been treated quite so casually by the Turkish government? On the other hand, Brook-Shepherd wrote that the military aircraft, arriving from Bulgaria, was nearly fired on by the Turks, but did not leave until the next day, and that Bennett was perspicacious enough to be able to detect that Volkov, though heavily sedated, was still alive. Where did these journalists get their information from? So many questions. I’d love to be able to read ‘that SIS report’.

The National Archives:

And then, in October 2015, maybe prompted by Jeffery’s undeniable access, a file on Volkov (FCO 158/193) was released to the National Archives. The historians and the public could inspect the text of Volkov’s original letter, as well as John Reed’s translation of it, and the careful analyst can make a better assessment of how its contents contributed to the deliberations of Philby, Wright, Brook-Shepherd and Jeffery. It is worth tabulating here, for posterity, what can be found in the file:

i) Carey Foster’s interest in the Volkov case, dated January 13, 1950.

ii) Stewart Menzies informing P. H. Bromley of MI6’s report on the case, dated October 19, 1945.

iii) ‘The Case of Constantin Volkoff’ (the report referred to by Menzies), undated.

iv) Copy of above, dated October 19, 1945.

v) Letter from R. G. Howe to A. K. Helm, carried by H.A.R. Philby, outlining procedures to be followed, dated September 24, 1945.

vi) Draft of above letter, with ‘Cadogan’ as author replaced by ‘Howe’.

vii) Copy of above letter.

viii) Letter from Bromley in Foreign Office to Menzies, enclosing Volkov papers, dated September 19, 1945.

ix) Minute from Howe to Cadogan, reporting on Volkov approach, dated September 19.

x) Letter from Helm to Codrington in Foreign Office, referring to Helm’s letter of September 5, and enclosing both Volkov’s letter and Reed’s translation of it, dated September 14.

xi) Reed’s translation of Volkov’s letter.

xii) A copy of Reed’s translation with handwritten comments.

xiii) A cipher telegram from Helm to Codrington that makes a disguised reference to a coming letter with ‘sales catalogue’, shortly to arrive in diplomatic bag, dated September 14.

xiv) Letter from Helm to Codrington, informing him of the ‘mare’s nest’ of Volkov’s initial letter and calling-card, dated September 5.

xv) Reed’s report on his interview with Volkov, dated September 4.

xvi) The note by SFH and Page that they decided to ignore Volkov’s initial letter, dated August 24.

xvii) Volkov’s initial letter, with attached calling-card, to Page, requesting meeting that day or the next, dated August 24. (This is almost certainly a translation: the original is not included.)

xviii) Reed’s original hand-written notes of his meeting with Volkov, dated September 4.

xix) Original hand-written note by SFH, dated August 24.

xx) Image of Page’s calling- card.

xxi) Volkov’s original letter in English (with spelling ‘Istunbul’), and photograph of Volkov’s calling-card, dated August 24.

xxii) A note stating that ‘the original papers in this file have been taken over from the Permanent Under Secretary’s file 1945 U.II U.S.S.R.’, undated.

xxiii) A letter from de Wesselow of MI5 to Street in the Foreign Office, returning with thanks the enclosed document, dated October 24, 1955.

(xxiv) The Russian text of Volkov’s full statement, annotated as ‘originally retained by Security Service (P. M. Wright)’.

I offer a few observations on this file. The first very important conclusion is that its contents are not adequate enough to provide the intelligence that Brook-Shepherd and Jeffery derived. Yet it still fuels some insights that have not been made public, so far as I know. For instance, the letter in v) includes a last sentence added in manuscript, clearly inserted as an afterthought, that reads: “I would add that we have every confidence in Philby”. Why it should have been felt necessary to add such a comment about a senior MI6 officer is not clear: all it does is draw attention to the fact that others did perhaps not share that confidence. Did someone perhaps pipe up, and point out that Volkov’s description of a spy in counter-intelligence fitted Philby’s role quite precisely, with the result that his reliability had to be explicitly stated? Did Menzies ever pause for thought, when the translation of Volkov’s letter was brought to him on September 19, and wonder whether Philby should be kept off the case? Apparently not.

Some enciphered cables were obviously sent, despite the warnings that Volkov gave not to use them. Stewart Menzies reinforces this demand, and claims that it was honoured, in his report., although there is no indication that other routine cables not concerned with Volkov were suspended. (It night have been a considered a wise precaution, but, if all traffic suddenly stopped, that might have alerted any Soviet surveillance that something dubious was going on.) As another fascinating item, Menzies’ summary refers to ‘a detailed report received on October 3’ describing how Volkov and his wife had been removed at Yesilkoy airfield on September 26. That report is not on file, but its echoes meander throughout the literature on Volkov, as I have explained above.

And then there is the question of Volkov’s facility with the English language: the files state that he could not speak one word. Volkov specifically requested an English interpreter: Item 14 reveals the information that the official Russian interpreter at the Consulate was a Mr. Sudakov in the Passport Control Office (the cover for MI6).*  It is not clear, however, who prepared Volkov’s original letter, as the presentation of it does not suggest that the document was a translation, and it has the city mis-spelled as ‘Istinbul’. Menzies’ report says that the letter, addressed to Page, was unsigned, but leaves the question of language unaddressed. Did Volkov receive help?

[* The name of ‘Sudakov’ is an intriguing one.  In An SIS Officer in the Balkans (2020), John B. Sanderson and Myles Sanderson write that ‘The First Secretary of the Soviet Embassy in Ankara was a Brigadier General Sudin, in charge of “illegal residents” (spies), within Turkey, some of whom were Bulgarians. Penkovsky was a friend of Sudakov’s (Sudin’s alias) and would have passed over to his SIS handlers useful intelligence on Bulgarian espionage in Turkey, picked up in conversation with his high-ranking friend.’ More than fifteen years after the Volkov business, but just a coincidence?]

John Reed’s report of his meeting with Volkov on September 4 is also very provocative. He describes how Volkov arrived with the interpreter from the Passport Control Office, but the latter’s name is redacted. Since Reed’s Russian was, by his own estimation, ‘not very good’, he wanted to use the official interpreter, but Volkov (who spoke no English) insisted that they speak à deux, and the interpreter was dismissed. While Jeffery simply describes the interpreter as ‘locally employed, non-British’, without naming him, and implicitly casting doubts about his reliability, item xiv) explicitly names Sudakov as the PCO interpreter, and raises the question that Volkov may have been in contact with him beforehand. Volkov later spelled out that one of the agents he knew about worked in the British Consulate in Istanbul. If that person were Sudakov, it would not have needed Philby to alert the NKVD that Volkov was making clandestine approaches to the British Consulate. Reed also wrote that Volkov ‘had a great deal of information about the organisation of our secret service in this country and knew the names of most of our agents, Gibson, [XXXXXXX – redacted], Reed etc.’ While Reed protested vainly that he should not be on the list, the requirement for (presumably) Sudakov but not Gibson to be redacted is telling.

The most shocking feature, however, is probably the judgment of Stewart Menzies (item iii). Menzies assessed that Volkov was overall genuine, but that his intelligence was not uniformly reliable. For instance, he thought that Volkov’s figures on the numbers of agents were exaggerated, and he added an opinion about the cipher leak:

            We tend strongly to the opinion that Volkoff was mistaken (possibly honestly) in asserting that N.K.G.B. cryptographers were reading Foreign Office and S.I.S. telegrams. On the other hand, information from other sources leads us to take seriously his statement that there are two K.G.B. agents in the Foreign Office and seven in the British “Intelligence Service”.

How Menzies was able to display this confidence is indeterminable. I note here that Reed’s memorandum of September 4 stated blandly that Volkov had said that Colonel Hill’s cables ‘were particularly easy to decipher’. Menzies must by this time have been advised of the George Graham fiasco: the Moscow-based officers Hill (SOE) and Barclay (MI6) were specifically identified by Volkov. Even if those breaches had not occurred, Menzies was far too complacent about the threat.

Menzies went on to blame Volkov’s own indiscretions for his betrayal, and then he showed a lack of resolve that undermined his previous statement about taking things seriously:

            Finally, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that Volkoff’s information as to the existence of N.K.G.B. agents in official positions is so vague that it is improbable that we shall succeed in identifying them. To scrutinize the past records, and maintain observation, of all those who might possibly fill the bill would be impracticable as it would be invidious. While we, and no doubt M.I.5 as well, will do all that is possible in this respect, my own firm belief is that we shall achieve success only by offensive methods. It is in the U.S.S.R. itself, and in its diplomatic and commercial missions outside its boundaries, that the roots of this activity are to be found. If we want the information, we shall have to go and get it.

The intelligence he needed had been brought to his door by the very entity Menzies had identified as being useful. Apart from the fact that the pointer to Philby’s position could not have been more precise, the only reason that Volkov’s information was so vague was that his promised delivery of stronger intelligence pending negotiations had been dramatically shattered by Philby’s intervention. The head of MI6 was either very dim, or very scared  – or possibly both. It was a scandalous admission of failure and incompetence: ‘we know we have Soviet spies in our midst, but we are not going to do anything about it’. Volkov had pointed to a spy working for MI6 in the legation in Istanbul, whither the staff had moved from Ankara: Menzies had Machray (the station-head), Gibson and Sudakov to investigate. Yes, certainly an investigation might be ‘invidious’, since innocent officers might have to be questioned, but that should have been the cost of doing business. It was no good pussy-footing around the whole problem, and doing nothing.

Jeffery surmises that Menzies’ report must have been influenced by Philby: ‘Menzies’s summary appears to have been drawn from the dismissive and disingenuous report which Philby claims he drafted on his way home from Istanbul’. This judgment is triply speculative, however, casting doubt on whether Philby ever compiled the report (it understandably has not surfaced), but then parading the knowledge that it was ‘dismissive and disingenuous’, and lastly making a guess at the circumstances behind Menzies’ compilation of The Case of Constantin Volkoff.  It is true that Menzies reproduces such facts as the attempts to telephone Volkov after Philby’s arrival (which appear only in My Silent War, and not in FCO 158/193, so may well have been included in Philby’s report) but Menzies’ summary shows a familiarity with the dossier that does indicate that he had inspected the file himself. It would have been utterly irresponsible of Menzies to rely on Philby’s judgment exclusively, no matter how well he regarded him. Indeed, Brook-Shepherd had written that ‘Philby’s chief in London had immediately suspected some sort of leak the moment he learned that their quarry had disappeared, but the “solid evidence”, in the form of the hatchet men’s lightning mission from Moscow, was not then known.’ Unfortunately, as with many of Brook-Shepherd’s insights, the origin of this nugget is not declared.

It appears, however, that these source documents have not since been analyzed and attributed properly by any serious academics. For instance, Kevin P. Riehle’s scholarly and sober study of Soviet defectors, bearing that title (Soviet Defectors: Revelations of Renegade Intelligence Officers 1924-1945, published in 2020) cites Volkov’s claims, but uses as its source Brook-Shepherd’s book, not the archival material at Kew!  Also in 2020, Professor William Hale of the School of African and Oriental Studies at the University of London wrote an article for The Journal of Anglo-Turkish Relations titled Espionage, Double-Dealing and Mystery: Kim Philby in Turkey 1945-1948, but, while making some useful observations on chronology, he does not appear to have studied the FCO files. (If anyone has come across any work that shows proper attention to FCO 158/193, please let me know.) The nearest attempt comes from Nigel West again, in his somewhat bizarre 2018 publication, Cold War Spymaster, purportedly about the legacy of Guy Liddell. (See http://www.coldspur.com/guy-liddell-a-re-assessment/ for my review of it.) West dedicates a chapter to Volkov, one that is fascinating and potentially extremely useful, but ultimately turns out to be confused and confusing.

Nigel West’s ‘Cold War Spymaster’

Nigel West’s Cold War Spymaster:

West actually reproduces photographs of both Volkov’s letter and Reed’s translation, which is an added bonus for those who cannot get to Kew. Yet the complete translation that he offers in his text is bizarrely not Reed’s (even though West introduces it as such), and it in fact corrects some of the blunders that Reed made in attempting to convert Volkov’s diplomatic jargon into relevant English. Astoundingly, West offers no explanation for this, and does not even explicitly name the translator.  I wondered at first whether Geoffrey Elliott had been responsible, as I know he had performed translation work for West beforehand, but Elliott’s name is not listed, and I recall now that he had broken off all ties with West by this time. Yet a further search led me to discover that West had reproduced exactly the same text in his Historical Dictionary of Cold War Counterintelligence, published in 2007, where he coyly observed that ‘the actual text of Volkov’s letter remained classified for some time’. Such unnecessary fastidiousness and deceit: no doubt Brook-Shepherd shared it with him.

As an example of some necessary corrections that have been made, I refer to the Russian word ‘klichka’. Reed translates this as ‘cliché’ in one place, and ‘connection’ in another, and in both cases the sentences do not make sense. The word actually means ‘alias’ or ‘nickname’, and appears appropriately as ‘cryptonym’ in the published new translation. So perhaps there was merit in the case that Volkov’s text demanded a more strenuous attempt at translation? I shall return to that point later, but first need to inspect West’s account of the historiography.

The initial problem is that West inaccurately describes Volkov’s letter as it arrives on the desk of Sir Alexander Cadogan, the Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, with its passage about the nine agents in London, by quoting his new, anonymous translation. He cites the phrase about one of the agents who currently ‘fulfils the duties of the chief of an otdel (department) of the English counter-intelligence Directorate in London’, and adds that ‘another works in the apparat of British consulate in Istanbul’. Yet what Cadogan would have read, in Reed’s original text, was: “I know for instance that one of the agents of the N.K.G.B. is fulfilling the functions of the head of a Section of the British Counter-Espionage Service in London and that another is working within the British Consulate in Istanbul.” At first glance, this is not significant, but is there a difference between ‘Directorate’ and ‘Service’? Neither interpretation would appear to point unfailingly to MI5 or MI6. It is nevertheless a sloppy way of introducing the material.

West then switches to Guy Liddell’s diary entry of October 5, 1945, where the chief of MI5’s counter-espionage branch recorded the fact that the Volkov case had broken down (after Philby’s alerts to his masters, and Volkov’s quick removal to the Soviet Union and eventual murder). Here appears a very important entry, of which West reproduces only the last five lines::

            The case of the renegade WOLKOFF in the Soviet Embassy in Istanbul has broken down. In accordance with instructions he was telephoned to at the Soviet consulate. The telephone was answered by the Russian Consul-General on the first occasion and on the second by a man speaking English claiming to be WOLKOFF but clearly was not. Finally, contact was made with the Russian telephone operator who said that WOLKOFF had left for Moscow. Subsequent enquiries showed that he and his wife left by plane for Russia on Sept. 26. Wolkoff had ovvered [sic: ‘offered’] to give a very considerable amount of information but much of it appeared to be in Moscow. WOLKOFF estimated that there were 9 agents in London of one of whom was said to be the ‘head of a section of the British counter-espionage service’. WOLKOFF said he could also produce a list of the known regular NKGB agents of the military and civil intelligence and of the sub-agents they employed. In the list are noted about 250 known or less well known agents of the above-mentioned services with details. Also available were copies of correspondence between London and General Hill of SOE in Moscow. WOLKOFF maintained that the Soviet authorities had been able to read all cipher messages between our F.O. and Embassy in Moscow and in addition to Hill’s messages [line redacted] the Russians had according to WOLKOFF two agents inside the F.O. and 7 inside the British Intelligence Service.

While this intelligence must have come as a ghastly confirmation to Liddell of the George Graham fiasco, it also indicates that Liddell picked up Reed’s account of the September 4 meeting that expressly stated that Volkov knew of two agents in the Foreign Office and seven working for Intelligence. Here also is the first confirmation of Volkov’s total number of nine agents – not seven, as Wright had claimed. (The Diaries were made available in 2002, and West published extracts in 2005.) Yet West immediately discredits Liddell’s testimony on two counts: the first, that Liddell had conflated the categories of ‘people known to the Soviets’ (i.e. fellow-travellers, agents of influence, etc.) with the numbers of those officially recruited by the NKVD (‘Soviet agents’), and the second, that he been creatively able to break down Volkov’s figure of nine agents. Instead of pointing out that Liddell’s total matched exactly what had appeared in Volkov’s letter, and that Liddell was merely citing what Reed had written, however, West immediately classifies this as an ‘error’, one that, according to him, would be perpetuated, and would ‘dog the intelligence community, and outside observers, for many years’.

It does not appear that West has studied FCO 158/193 carefully. Moreover, Liddell – in the full extract not reproduced by West – refers to additional details about the attempts to contact Volkov that do not appear in Menzies’ report in the file, but are indeed presented by Brook-Shepherd. This was in 1945, of course, so Liddell must have gathered those details from reading Philby’s report to Menzies, while Brook-Shepherd could have taken them from Philby’s memoir. West, however, moves swiftly on to drawing attention to Philby’s statement, which conflicts, but not in an absolutely contradictory way, with the Liddell/Volkov enumeration, and next introduces his readers to the significant figure of Gordon Brook-Shepherd, whose book The Storm Birds came out in 1989.

Having trashed Liddell’s breakdown, however, West now turns his querulousness towards Brook-Shepherd, accusing him of ‘distortion’ because not only had he misrepresented the figure of ‘250 agents in Britain’ (not a major issue, in my opinion), he had also redesignated ‘the nine agents in the Foreign Office or British Intelligence as two in the Foreign Office and seven in British Intelligence’. Yet the truth comes out: West concedes that Brook-Shepherd had been granted privileged access to some SIS files by the Foreign Secretary at the time, Douglas Hurd. So why was what Brook-Shepherd had written necessarily a distortion, especially if he was echoing exactly what Liddell had written forty-four years beforehand?

West then makes an awful meal of this observation, since he goes on to claim that Brook-Shepherd exerted an inappropriate influence on writers to come, with Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky being criticised for repeating it in KGB: The Inside Story (1990), and Andrew (again, this time with Vasili Mitrokhin) in The Mitrokhin Archive, in 1999. Lastly, in his history of MI5, The Defence of the Realm (2010), Andrew repeated what West saw as a ‘spurious figure’, West complaining that ‘apparently he had not looked at any original documents, nor gone beyond Brook-Shepherd’. Yet West himself does not explain the circumstances of Brook-Shepherd’s research, nor does he explain what ‘original documents’ could have been available at that time, apart from those passed furtively on to him.

Lastly Keith Jeffery, the authorized historian of MI6, gets the full West treatment. What is extraordinary is that West then lays out the work that went behind Jeffery’s addendum:

            Professor Jeffery had the benefit of a trawl through the archives of both SIS and the Foreign Office which revealed the existence of a memorandum from John Reed, signalled straight to London and dated 4 September, to alert his superiors to the report to be entrusted to the diplomatic bag, and a summary, entitled The Case of Constantin Volkoff, dated around October 1945. In his account of the incident, Jeffery declares that in the absence of any surviving SIS documents, he had relied on previously unpublished internal Foreign Office correspondence; the Cyrillic original and the translation of Volkov’s letter; John Reed’s memorandum of 4 September and finally, the October summary which included a contribution from SIS.

In questioning Jeffery’s integrity, however, West ignores the fact that the materials in FCO 158/193, which he himself appears to rely on exclusively, might not represent the totality of the Volkov dossier. West gives no indication that he has seen these other papers, and for some reason treats them as inauthentic. One might wonder whether he has even inspected FCO 158/193, since he never gives it any attribution, either in his text or in his Endnotes, nor does he provide a source for the several pages of it that appears as plates in his book, which must have been derived from a bootleg edition, since the file was not released until 2015.

The most critical aspect of this mess, however, is the fact that a companion Volkov file to FCO 158/193 does indeed exist, namely FCO 158/194. On checking with the National Archives Directory, however, one learns that it has been ‘retained by the Foreign Office’. (see https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C14944128). I would be prepared to bet that that file contains the details that caught the attention of Liddell, Brook-Shepherd and Jeffery –, such as more information on Sudakov, a record of the attempts to contact Volkov after Philby arrived in Istanbul, the MI6 account of the Volkovs being removed at Istanbul airport, with Konstantin being recognized, and certainly Philby’s summarization of the affair for Menzies. There is probably a lot more besides, maybe even the names of certain agents.

The Volkov Text:

I find several aspects of Nigel West’s exegesis bewildering. The first is why the author would want to discredit the testimony of Liddell and Brook-Shepherd in an apparent attempt to give the Foreign Office, MI5 and MI6 an excuse. After all, if Liddell knew about Volkov’s references to two spies in the Foreign Office, even if he only confided it in his secret diary, then every senior official in Whitehall must have known about it as well, and should have made an attempt to link the dots from Krivitsky’s allegations to those of Volkov. When VENONA revealed the betrayals of Maclean, the profile of him and Burgess as the two Foreign Office spies should have been absolutely clear. On the other hand, the fact that seven spies were thus in the Intelligence Services (as opposed to the total of nine) did not materially affect anything. The hints should have been followed up within MI5 and MI6, but Liddell apparently did not initiate any project to try to identify those other agents within the Intelligence Services. Perhaps, fresh from the realization that Anthony Blunt and Leo Long had been caught red-handed the previous year handing over secrets to Britain’s war-time Communist ally (as I described in Misdefending the Realm), Liddell thought it was all rather harmless. His counterpart in MI6 Valentine Vivian obviously did hold that opinion, as I have also reported. Yet the knowledge that the perpetrators were not casual amateurs, but had deep connections and cryptonyms within the NKVD, should have rung loud alarm bells.

The second aspect is that Liddell, as chief of Counter-Espionage in MI5, having read Volkov’s text that described the head of a counter-intelligence department, and appropriately acknowledging that he was not the agent in question, should have been able, by a process of elimination, to home in on his opposite number in MI6 fairly quickly. Liddell’s suspicions about Philby, which were articulated to Eric Roberts in 1947 when the latter was considering a post in Vienna under the dubious Andrew King (see http://www.coldspur.com/a-thanksgiving-round-up/) must have been developed (or strengthened) at this time, but what is astonishing is the fact that Menzies quashed any attempt at an investigation, and the head of MI6 must have also been able to convince Sir Alexander Cadogan, who had been the first recipient of Volkov’s letter, that it was all disinformation, and a fuss about nothing.

A third dimension that strikes me as odd is the amount of emphasis that West gives to the accuracy of the enumeration of Soviet spies instead of paying attention to some of the other shocking revelations in Volkov’s letter. For instance, Item 5 in the letter states that the defector could deliver ‘Photostats and translations from English intelligence, in particular, London’s correspondence with General Hill’, and later, from a second offering, Volkov writes:

            I can also give explanations about NKGB operations carried out against secret officials in Moscow (Hill, Barclay) and about sources of obtaining samples of English diplomatic and military ciphers in Moscow.

No comment is offered on these extraordinary disclosures. This is what Wright was referring to when he wrote that the Russians could read the Foreign Office ciphers, but the fact that this clue could have led to a case of human treachery, known by Boyle and Liddell, not mechanical interception, has been overlooked until now.

Critical Section of Volkov’s Letter

The last topic is the failure to examine the critical and controversial sentences of Volkov’s text, especially given what Wright claimed about its true meaning. My first transliteration of the key Russian phrases ran as follows:

            Sudya no klichkam, takovikh agentov v Londone naschitivaetsya – 9.

            Mne, naprimer, izvestno, chto odin iz agentov NKGB popolnyaet obyazannosti nachalnika otdela angliiskogo kontr-razvedivate, nogo Upravleniya v Londone, a drugoy rabotaet v apparate Britanskogo konsulstva v Stambule

I struggled with this task of transcription and translation. The word ‘razvedivate’ was puzzling, as the Russian word for ‘intelligence’ is normally ‘razvedka’ (and would require the genitive ‘razvedki’ in this context), while ‘razvedivata’ looks like a formation from the verb meaning ‘to reconnoitre’, obviously with the same root. One must also bear in mind that there are no definite or indefinite articles in Russian, so the interpretation of ‘a’ and ‘the’ can become problematic. Nor is there a present tense of the verb ‘to be’. The most mystifying word, however, was ‘nogo’, a form that I believe does not exist as a standalone word in Russian.  (From Nigel West’s murky bootleg version, I wrongly read the word as ‘chevo’, ‘of which’; the official version is clearer, and unmistakably displays ‘nogo’. The genitive ‘ogo’ ending is actually pronounced ‘ovo’.)

And then the penny dropped. The key word was hyphenated across lines, and two letters had been lost in the photocopying. The complete word was ‘razvedivatelnogo’ (with a soft sign after the ‘l’): the word also appears in the first paragraph of Volkov’s letter, where he describes the corresponding Soviet unit.

I would thus translate these sentences as:

            To judge by the cryptonyms, the number of such agents in London amounts to 9.

            For example, I know that one of the NKGB agents carries out the functions of the head of a department of English counter-intelligence in London, while another works in the apparat of the British consulate in Istanbul.

Readers will note here some subtle changes from the earlier texts – both Reed’s and that of West’s unidentified translator. But is this information really expressed ambiguously? What the wording suggests to me is 1) that the first agent was temporarily fulfilling the role of a department head, and was not its formally appointed chief; 2) that the close proximity of the references to exurban offices and the consulate in Istanbul suggest that they both reported to the Directorate alluded to. How Volkov would have known the first fact is a mystery (and of course no date is given for the statement’s provenance), but why would he simply not write that the agent headed a department?

Yet, no matter how that interpretation is massaged, I do not see how a careful re-inspection of the text could contribute to the confident assertion that Volkov was pointing to MI5 rather than MI6. On the contrary, we should recall that, in 1943, Philby was deputy to Felix Cowgill, the chief of MI6’s counter-intelligence Section V. The unit operated out of St. Albans, outside London, and Philby stood in for Cowgill when the latter visited the United States. At this time, Philby’s Soviet handlers were pressing him to make a bid to take over the emergent Section IX counter-intelligence department. If anything, a close re-reading of the letter would reinforce the opinion that the references were indeed directed at Philby and MI6. Andrew draws the same conclusion, writing (p 517) that Philby was the most likely candidate, since he ‘had recently been acting head of SIS Section V (counter-intelligence), whereas Hollis had been the substantive (not acting) head of F Division in MI5 for five years.’ [The ‘five years’ is an overstatement, but the essence is true.]

And Occam’s Razor should be applied. Volkov was an NKGB officer. Philby was a proven penetration agent for the organization. Volkov would thus have known about Philby, and would have wanted to unmask him. Why would he obliquely refer to another reputed spy and not describe Philby’s role? It does not make sense. In The Philby Files, Genrikh Borovik plumped for Philby without question.

As a further commentary on Volkov’s intelligence, nowhere in the letter at FCO 158/193 does he indicate that he can ‘name names’ of the British agents in London. In fact his rather clumsy words indicated that what he can offer might help the task of identification, since his list of cryptonyms will ‘provide a possibility’ to ‘establish the agent network’ (‘ustanovyat agenturu’ –  which Reed translated as ‘identify the agents’, and West’s anonymous translator, more literally as ‘establish the NKGB agents’). Thus it could be argued, according to the evidence of the quoted letter, that Wright’s claim that Volkov stated that he ‘could name spies in Britain’ was based on a mis-reading, or an erroneous recollection. Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, in Chapter 9 of The Mitrokhin Archive amplify this idea when they write, exploiting KGB files:

            Under interrogation in Moscow before his execution, Volkov admitted that he had asked the British for political asylum and 50,000 pounds, and confessed that he had planned to reveal the names of no fewer than 314 Soviet agents.

But was that also based on a misunderstanding? The letter indicates that Volkov had access to several cryptonyms, but did not know many (if any) of the agents’ real names. Unless, of course, the alternative scenario holds sway. In that case, the interpretations of Philby, Wright and Brook-Shepherd, who all suggested London names were known, were indeed correct, since those three had inspected the putative unreleased  –  and more dangerous – documents that have presumably been withheld, in FCO 158/194.

In summary, this whole story displays some familiarly sad characteristics: the dishonourable behaviour of British officialdom, and its reaction to disquieting news; a lack of tenacity by the ‘doyens’ of intelligence historians in tackling the evidence. Revelations from a defector are not followed up properly. Attempts are made to bury embarrassing information, but it escapes anyway. Discriminatory and unlawful leaks are made in order to try to control the narrative, as an initiative of propaganda. The muddled speculations and analysis of a maverick and disgruntled intelligence officer are accepted far too credulously. Partial archival material is released, but other files are withheld without explanation. Facts, rumours and assertions become irretrievably mixed, as authorized historians cite dubious secondary sources, thus giving them undeserved credibility, and fail to apply proper historical methodology – a phenomenon that suits the bureaucrats, as it aids their goal of keeping the public confused.

2. Peter Wright and Double Agents:

Another of Wright’s quests was to determine why many of MI5’s operations running Soviet ‘double-agents’ had failed. He introduces the topic on p 175 of Spycatcher, where he writes, after describing how several microphoning operations had gone wrong:

            Next I pulled out the files on each of the double-agent cases I had been involved with in the 1950s. There were more than twenty in all. Each one was worthless. Of course, our tradecraft and Watcher radios were mainly to blame, but the Tisler affair had left a nagging doubt in my mind.

[The Tisler affair referred to revelations from Frantisek Tisler, a cipher clerk in the Czech Embassy in Washington being run by the FBI. His friend Pribyl, when they were both in Prague on leave, had confided to him that he was running a spy in England named Linney. Tisler had to be protected.]

Wright admits that the main responsibility for failure was probably MI5’s poor execution. And, as he describes on pages 125-126 of Spycatcher, Director-General Roger Hollis believed, in 1959, that a leak existed in the ‘Watchers’ service (MI5’s A4). The Watchers were responsible for surveilling the activities of possible KGB officers working from the Embassy in London, and used traditional and technological methods of keeping track of their activities. Equipment developed by Wright enabled MI5 to discover when the Soviets were monitoring Watchers’ communications. A reactivation of the devices, after an inconclusive analysis of a possible spy operating a wireless transmitter in Clapham, provoked Wright to take printed evidence to Furnival Jones and Hollis. They were ‘visibly shocked’, but, when Wright recommended that the investigation be widened, Hollis decided to close down the Watchers service rather than follow Wright’s advice. ‘It would be bad for morale’, he claimed.

If Hollis did in fact react that way, it was probably foolish, but the problem was more with the lamentably naïve way that ‘double-agent’ operations had been attempted during the 1950s. There existed in parts of MI5 a residual belief that the famed (but exaggerated) claims made about the wartime XX Operations against the Nazis could be replicated against the Communists. There was, however, little understanding of exactly why such operations had been successful, and also of the minimal degree that agents originally hostile to the Allied cause were able to be ‘turned’ – TATE being the only one, under threat of the noose or firing-squad. Conditions were vastly different with the Communists in a time of Peace – or, at least, of Cold War.

Wright was partially aware of the change in circumstances, and it is worth reproducing what he wrote in Spycatcher (p 120):

            The head of D Branch, Graham Mitchell, was a clever man, but he was weak. His policy was to cravenly copy the wartime Double Cross techniques, recruiting as many double agents as possible, and operating extensive networks of agents in the large Russian, Polish, and Czechoslovakian émigré communities. Every time MI5 were notified of or discovered a Russian approach to a student, businessman, or scientist, the recipient was encouraged to accept the approach, so that MI5 could monitor the case. He was convinced that eventually one of these double agents would be accepted by the Russians and taken into the heart of the illegal network.

One can quickly gauge that this policy was not a recipe for success. First of all, handling a group of potential informers was not actually equivalent to ‘recruiting double agents’. Developing a ‘network’ of possible informers against a legal foreign Embassy on home turf was not exactly a high-grade counter-espionage project to be compared with the wartime Double Cross system. Moreover, that system did not lavishly recruit such persons: on the contrary, it was very cautious in selecting and approving such candidates, in order that the system not be blown. In the 1950s, if such persons were loyal to the British way of life, and antithetical to Soviet ideology, they might presumably be willing to pass information about such approaches, but would probably be very wary of starting an association with the KGB by pretending that they could be bought. In any case, few students and businessmen would have anything of value to offer those who had ‘recruited’ them. If the KGB did succeed in contacting a sympathizer who was willing to experiment in espionage, that person would presumably never inform MI5 what was going on, but would certainly tell his KGB contact that MI5 had its tentacles out gathering information about potential targets. It is true that the fact that MI5 had been in contact with such a person might well discourage him or her from performing anything illegal, but it was all rather laborious.

That is not to say that such exploits never resulted in the ‘entrapment’ of Soviet diplomats. Wright describes a case where someone named Morrow was dangled before the Soviet naval attaché, Lieutenant Commander Lulakov. Morrow was subsequently ‘arrested’ when he made his rendezvous with Lulakov. Lulakov established his credentials, and left the country soon after. But this was a successful operation to undermine the KGB in London, not the successful ‘turning’ of a hostile subversive. The charges against Morrow, states Wright, were ‘quietly dropped’. Not an experience the normal law-abiding citizen would want to go through, however.

As Wright followed up: “The double agent cases were a time-consuming charade”, and he went on to describe how the KGB gamed the system by encouraging the Watchers to track all manner of dummy drops and feints. Wright then commented:

            The truth was that the Russians used double-agent cases to play with MI5, identify our case officers, disperse our effort, and decoy us from their real operations. The standard of MI5 tradecraft was appalling. KGB monitoring of our Watcher radios certainly gave away our presence on a large number of the double-agent cases. But the D Branch case officers were just as bad, rarely employing anything other than the most rudimentary countersurveillance before meeting their agents.

Thus Wright raised a red flag over the leaks from pseudo ‘double-agent’ handling, only to demolish it by correct comparisons with the wartime situation, criticisms of the ingenuous methods of D Division, and observations that the profound exposures in British Intelligence had been caused by the recruitment of intellectuals in the 1930s. He later related how a fresh approach, by officers Michael McCaul and Arthur Martin, was able to challenge the KGB head-on, and even claims that ‘the Soviet émigré networks, undoubtedly the most penetrated of all, were rolled up’, but that is an assertion that demands closer testing rather than speedy acceptance. Ovearll, however, the KGB did not need an ally in the top echelons of MI5 to pursue their diversionary tactics in Britain.

Christopher Andrew has been very dismissive of Peter Wright’s promotion of unfounded rumours. As he wrote in Defend the Realm (p 439): “It was tragic that the lead role in interviewing Blunt was taken over by Wright, whose conspiracy theories arguably did as much damage to the Service as Blunt’s treachery.”

Nigel West and Double Agents:

Wright was not alone in listing the possible penetration of the double-agent operations to high-level betrayal. In Molehunt, Nigel West introduced his discussion of infiltration with a romantic flourish (p 28): “Given the legendary skill of the Watcher Service to conceal its activities, it seemed likely that the whole operation had been betrayed, although no one had voiced that opinion at the time.” [Was it ‘legendary’ because it was mythical? And where did the legends flourish, if the Watchers concealed their activities so well?] West then continues to put a rather different spin on the nature of the double-agent game:

            There were other reasons to believe that MI5 had been infiltrated. During the postwar era, the Security Service had made imaginative efforts to recruit and run a stable of double-agents. Most had been businessmen who had succumbed to “honey-trap” operations while on visits to Moscow. The classic scenario was that of an executive photographed in bed with a male prostitute. The blackmail victim was offered the choice of supplying useful information on his return to the West, or facing exposure when the compromising pictures were circulated to his family and the newspapers. In such cases the wretched subject would agree to the KGB’s terms and, once safely home, approach the Security Service via the police. As often as not MI5 took the opportunity to provide the victim with suitable information, thus recruiting him as a double agent in the hope of identifying a Soviet intelligence operative in London. Although the scheme seemed practical, the KGB invariably lost interest in the double agents who had been “turned” by MI5. Their skill at spotting these agents seemed uncanny, but there were those who believed there might be a mor sinister explanation: a Soviet source within MI5’s elite counterespionage branch.

It is difficult to know where to start with this fanciful nonsense. West presents this operation as a ‘scheme’, as if MI5 actually encouraged lonely businessmen with homosexual tendencies to expose themselves dangerously while staying in Moscow hotels (‘imaginative efforts’; ‘run a stable’). To think that a ready stream of such businessmen, unaware of the dangers, foolish and reckless in their social encounters in Moscow, but also having access to intelligence of a valuable nature that they could pass on to the KGB, was pouring into Soviet Russia month after month, with several falling for a homosexual honey-trap, so that they could later be used to pass disinformation to Moscow, seems to me to be pure farce. There is not a shred of evidence to support West’s thesis. It is true that honey-traps were laid: George Graham fell in love in Kuibyshev in 1942; John Vassal succumbed to a homosexual lure in 1954, but he was employed as an attaché to the British Embassy, and he did not reveal what had happened on his return to Great Britain; in 1968, the British Ambassador Sir Geoffrey Harrison was recalled after being seduced by his maid. But to elevate such incidents to a pattern of regular activity, and the consequent shenanigans in London, is surely irresponsible. The KGB probably ‘lost interest’ because they knew that such businessmen could not offer them much of value. If they did play such a random game, they did so because it was provocative, and disrupted western influence as well as counter-intelligence effort. I can find no reference to any such activity in Christopher Andrew’s authorized history of MI5. That does not mean that archival support for the theory does not exist, but it should be treated with great caution.

Conclusions:

So what is the significance of all this detailed analysis, and what are the implications? My conclusions are several:

1) The Negligence of the Historians: The public has not been well-served by the historical accounts of these events to date. The authorized professional historians have been high-handed and cavalier. Christopher Andrew dismisses any perspective that does not tally with his view of events as a ‘conspiracy theory’. Keith Jeffery is sadly no longer with us. John Ferris is irrelevant. The second-tier chroniclers, the journalists, such as Brook-Shepherd, West, Pincher, and Macintyre have overall been muddled and irresponsible.  The necessarily slipshod publication from the Sunday Times team had to be treated very cautiously.  The memoirists from intelligence (Wright and Philby) are unreliable.

2) The Integration of the George Graham and Volkov Stories: My recent research has added vital substance to the mechanisms by which the ciphers of MI6 and SOE were stolen in Moscow. Nowhere else does this analysis appear. The suborning of George Graham is a vital episode in the saga, which helps to explain the craven and frightened responses of Liddell and Menzies. The fact that the KGB were reading confidential messages in 1943 and 1944 has enormous relevance for accounts of the emergence of the Cold War.

3) The Withholding of FCO 158/194: I have proved that there are items of intelligence made available to some of the historians and journalists that are not available in FCO 158/193. The Government admits that FCO 158/194 exists, and that it has been retained by the Foreign Office. After almost eighty years, the only reason that it has been withheld must be that it contains acutely embarrassing information that would shed light on what really happened in Ankara, and after. A FOI (Freedom of Information) request should be submitted, and accepted.

4) The Lies of Kim Philby: The observers all appear to be highly sceptical of My Silent War, although they are content to cite it when it appears to suit their narrative. Without some method of cross-checking what Philby claimed about his role, it is impossible to discount or accept selectively what he wrote. The role of Sudakov, for example, is critical. Philby’s report to Menzies of the Volkov affair (discredited by Jeffery, and not released) may also be mendacious, of course. The precise series of events after Volkov’s approach must remain an open item of research.

5. The Haphazardness of Peter Wright: When I wrote about Wright and the VENONA/HASP material a few months ago, I showed how muddled his thinking was. His erratic memory, his obsessiveness over the translation of the Volkov letter, and his lack of understanding of many issues of espionage and counter-intelligence tradecraft further undermine the reliability of his story. His re-interpretation of the key Volkov sentence is absurd. Volkov pointed unerringly to Philby. Menzies acted irresponsibly.

6. Misdefending the Realm: It was negligent of MI5 and MI6 to recruit Blunt and Philby: harbouring an ELLI for so long would have been doubly so. Yet, even without a significant ELLI, gross incompetence was shown – in the disastrous appointment of George Graham, and not following up the allegations from Krivitsky and Volkov. Then ELLI became a convenient scapegoat for all manner of admitted failures, with the wilful encouragement of Dick White. The Intelligence Services imposed their own Morton’s Fork: if they failed to unearth ELLI, they were feeble. If they showed that ELLI did not exist, they were admitting a catalogue of mismanagement by not explicitly refuting Wright. That is the issue yet to be properly resolved.

I encourage all readers to contact me with further insights – or challenges.

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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.

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‘Bridgehead Revisited’: Three Months in 1943

Casablanca Conference

“I have nothing but documents here, but to understand history you have to overcome the documents. By themselves, documents will never be enough.” (Vladimir Naumov, from Jonathan Brett’s Inside the Stalin Archives, p 232)

“Historians make imperfect judgements about incomplete evidence, and some of what they write about (above all, human intentions) may have been intrinsically uncertain at the time.” (Noel Malcolm, in Times Literary Supplement)

“Even this is hard to explain to overseas colleagues who find it still difficult to understand why the British do not want to make public the part they played, as shown in Foot’s SOE in France, in the achievements of those years. They wish to have available histories, as complete and official as possible, to be compiled with all blemishes and failures as well as successes – to show the essential links which SOE provided between the Resistance and the outside forces of liberation.” (Douglas Dodds-Parker, in Setting Europe Ablaze)

Contents:

Introduction

1. January: Decisions at Casablanca

2. February: Churchill’s Faux Pas

3. March: SOE Receives its Directive

4. Arms Shipments to France

5. Interim Conclusions

Introduction:

As a continuation of my investigation into the PROSPER disaster, in this report I use primarily SOE records and War Cabinet and XX Committee minutes, and secondarily contemporary diaries and letters, as well as biographies and memoirs, to try to establish how high-level military strategy in the first quarter of 1943 became converted into low-level deception activity. I shall follow up with an account of the events of the second quarter next month.

The key research questions seem to me to be:

* When did SOE start to become an agency for deception as well as sabotage?

* Who authorized this change of policy?

* Why did SOE engage in activities that suggested a 1943 invasion was imminent?

* Were the officers employed in carrying out the strategy aware of the deception plan?

* Why did the perpetrators believe that the Germans would be deceived by Déricourt, such an obvious plant?

This report is largely a chronicle. I have withheld my comments of analysis and interpretation except for reasons of improving the narrative flow, and in the hope of aiding the intelligibility of the train of events. I shall undertake a deeper analysis in a couple of months or so.

The story so far:

(for a full description of the events in late 1942, see All Quiet on the Second Front?)

As the Chiefs of Staff started to think about offensive operations against the Axis powers in Europe, the agencies of deception were refreshed. John Bevan replaced Oliver Stanley as head of the London Controlling Section, and soon afterwards created the TWIST Committee to develop and execute deception plans to assist Operation OVERTHROW. MI5, largely responsible for the XX Committee, which was not judged ready for large deception exercises, casually condoned the creation of the rival unit. MI6 was in fact the impetus behind this new initiative, wanting to use its own ‘double agents’ to spread confusion. Under this scheme, Henri Déricourt was recruited and trained for the role of enabling landing-areas for SOE flights from Britain into France.

The Status of SOE:

In its two years of existence, SOE had enjoyed a chequered history. Its first minister responsible, the controversial and ebullient Hugh Dalton, had caused ripples because of his strident left-wing plans for ‘revolution’ in Europe, but had been replaced by the calmer and pragmatic Lord Selborne in February 1942. The chief of SOE, Frank Nelson, was burned out through overwork, and was replaced in May 1942 by Charles Hambro, whose geniality covered up for the fact that he was still very occupied with managing Great Western Railways.

Charles Hambro

SOE had enemies on all sides. It was resented by MI6, since its noisy exploits drew Nazi attention and interfered with intelligence-gathering. The Foreign Office objected to its political initiatives, especially when they involved de Gaulle and his Free French aspirations. The governments-in-exile frequently were disturbed by its interference in their respective countries. The Army was suspicious of its pseudo-military exploits not always under the control of proper discipline. RAF and Bomber Command saw its demands for air support as a drain on scarce resources needed elsewhere. MI5 disparaged its lax approach to security. The Chiefs of Staff never really understood what it was up to. But Prime Minister Churchill was a constant champion, and defended it from the attacks.

Moreover, the management structure of SOE was frequently inadequate, even dysfunctional. Hambro was not a full-time leader. He appointed Colin Gubbins as Director of Operations, but not all the country sections came under Gubbins’ control. Gubbins was nevertheless overworked, and brought in supposedly ‘able’ officers from outside (e.g. Brook, Dodds-Parker, Grierson, Wilkinson, Mockler-Ferryman, Stawell, Templer) but they all took time to find their feet, and perhaps never really understood what was going on. Many country sections resented being guided by military men who did not understand what they were doing (and perhaps some of those section heads lacked a full grasp of what their missions involved.) SOE in Cairo was an outlier, reporting to local Army headquarters, not SOE in London. While Gubbins had experience of sabotage, he was reportedly much more interested in the building of patriot forces to aid the eventual re-entry into North West Europe. The three biographies of Gubbins that have been written all present him as something of a hero. He was indeed a brave and intelligent officer, and an inspirational leader, but the security disasters took place under his watch, and he was not alive enough to the perils of subterfuge, the exposures that were caused by carelessness, and the misuse of intelligence. He failed to develop a flexible and nuanced strategy for dealing with resistance forces that encompassed both the shifts in military policy and the realities on the ground, where the characteristics of each country (distance, terrain, politics, culture) were markedly different.

1. January: Decisions at Casablanca

The end of 1942 had seen the London Controlling Section issue a Deception Policy Statement for the winter. It was issued on December 27 by John Bevan’s deputy, Ronald Wingate, as Bevan was in the USA, and consisted of a rather woolly policy, reflecting a still fuzzy declaration of intent from the Chiefs of Staff. Stating that the Axis ‘probably appreciates that we cannot attempt a large scale invasion of France and the Low Countries till the summer of 1943’, it stressed a short-term exaggeration of Allied strength in the United Kingdom, and for preparations for an assault on the Continent, as if an attempt could be made in the spring. It also set out an objective of forcing the Axis to withdraw land and air forces from the Russian front, indicating the pressure felt from Stalin at the time. But it was a dog’s breakfast of a deception policy: how the Axis would be misled by such a feint is not explained.

In any case, the initiative was overtaken by other happenings. The dominant event in January 1943 was the CASABLANCA Conference, held from January 14th to the 24th. Of the ‘Big Three’, only Roosevelt and Churchill attended: Stalin declined on the grounds that he had to stay in Russia to deal with the Battle of Stalingrad. Yet he always avoided travelling by airplane, leaving the Soviet Union only once during the war (to attend the Teheran Conference), and he may well have feared a palace coup if he were absent from Moscow for too long. The objectives of the Conference were to set military priorities for the rest of the war, and to discuss several diplomatic issues – presumably the type of clarity in objectives that the LCS was thirsting for.

Alan Brooke, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and his team were well-prepared to impress upon their American counterparts the correctness of the Mediterranean focus, the preference for invading Sicily rather than Sardinia, and the necessity of delaying any re-entry into North-West Europe until 1944. Brooke won most of his arguments, assisted by the diplomacy of his predecessor, Sir John Dill. Yet the final communiqués, simplified around the themes of the Mediterranean assault, the continuation of saturation bombing, and President Roosevelt’s bolt-from-the-blue declaration about ‘unconditional surrender’ masked some internal arguments that continued to fester.

The prime irritation was Churchill’s continued pleas for engagements that would satisfy Stalin, even though Brooke and his counterpart General George Marshall, the US Chief of Staff, argued for a tougher line on the Soviet leader, urging that he not be placated out of political necessity, a judgment that would later be shown to be deeply ironic. Thus Churchill raised the spectres of ROUNDUP (the original plan for a full assault on Northern France that would morph into OVERLORD) and SLEDGEHAMMER (a limited invasion), even though, given that it had been decided by then that any entry to the continent would have to be fully committed and irreversible, the two operations should have been merged into one. At the back of the planners’ minds was the notion that it made sense to maintain a hope for a decisive entry into France if the Germans showed signs of weakness or deteriorating morale. Such phrases turn up regularly in War Cabinet minutes, but the signs are never quantified, and they could be interpreted merely as a gesture towards Churchill.

The issue of how broadly the decision that the ‘re-entry’ could not occur until 1944 was communicated, and when it was seriously internalized, is vitally important. The first sentence of Roger Hesketh’s Fortitude, written in 1945, runs: ‘The decision to invade France in 1944 was taken at the Casablanca Conference in January 1943’, but the initial statements from the Chiefs of Staff did not echo such a resolute message, which was to some an inconvenient truth. At this stage, deliberate waffle and evasion seemed to be the order of the day. When Soviet Ambassador Maisky spoke to Eden at the end of the month, Eden, having read the cables from Churchill (who had travelled on to Turkey) could not shed light on any firm decision about the Second Front. Alan Brooke, in his diary entry for January 22, clearly believed that his Mediterranean strategy (and thus a deferral for NW France) had been accepted, but soon understood that the nay-sayers started working as soon as the meetings broke up.

Thus some rather equivocal resolutions were made that belied the decision to defer the assault until 1944: ‘plans for entry into continental Europe in 1943 and 1944 should be drawn up’; ‘first requirement for amphibious operations in 1943 from UK will be to appoint a British Chief of Staff, and Combined Planning Staff ‘ ; ‘amphibious operations from UK in 1943 will consist of a) raids b) operations to seize bridgehead c) return to continent to take advantage of German disintegration’. August 1 was set for (b), in the Cotentin peninsula. What would happen if the bridgehead failed, and the forces were pushed back into the sea, was not discussed. On January 29, the Chiefs of Staff instructed Bevan to prepare ‘strategic deception plans’ in light of the newly made decisions, a directive that would cause the head of the London Controlling Section to withdraw his December 6 policy statement.

Churchill also requested the creation of a paper for Stalin that would express firm intentions rather than vague promises. A wording of sorts was thus compiled, reading as follows:

We shall also concentrate in the United Kingdom the maximum American land and air forces that shipping will permit. These, combined with the British forces in the United Kingdom, will be held in constant readiness to re-enter the Continent of Europe as soon as this operation offers reasonable prospect of success.

Stalin, ploughing forces against the Germans with no regard for loss of life, would surely have found this strategy far too timid and cautious. In any case, the Joint Intelligence Committee took issue with the statement, which underwent several revisions before being transmitted to Stalin in February. Impatient for news, Stalin sent on January 30 a telegram to Roosevelt and Churchill seeking elucidation on Second Front policy.

According to Robert Marshall, Churchill, despite being embarrassed by Roosevelt’s sudden call for ‘unconditional surrender’, then made a blunder of his own, stating to the Press on January 19 that an invasion of Europe would occur within nine months. To support his claim, in All The King’s Men Robert Marshall quotes words from Charles Wighton’s Pin-Stripe Saboteur. Yet that memoir, written by Jacques Weil (number 2 in the JUGGLER network of F section) under a nom de plume, includes no such passage. The work is moreover confusing and unreliable, since it merges the characters of Worms, the network leader, and Weil into one agent known as ROBIN. If such a statement had been made, the Press and Churchill’s opposition in the House of Commons would surely not have let him forget it. Maybe this was an item of oral testimony that Marshall picked up. Yet E. H. Cookridge echoes (or is the source of) this story in his Inside SOE (p 209), where he writes, of the Prime Minister in January: “The Prime Minister spoke of an invasion of Europe within nine months.”

As far as the implications for SOE were concerned, Brooke did have a message for the group, hinting at concealed mistakes in the past, and perhaps suggesting a shake-up:

Plans must envisage making the maximum use of S.O.E. activities and that these activities must be closely coordinated with the military operations proposed. This has not always been done in the past.  

The irregularities in SOE to which Brooke was referring were not revealed. Nor was it made explicit how and when this message was communicated to the Minister responsible for SOE, Lord Selborne, to the SOE Chief, Charles Hambro or (as I suspect may have happened by now) Hambro’s successor and perhaps co-leader, Colin Gubbins. (Frank Rymills, one of SOE’s pilots, states in his memoir that Gubbins was already SOE chief in November 1942, an assertion of fact that is tantalizingly reinforced by Gubbins’ own War Record file at the National Archives.) Nevertheless, new directives were issued to SOE on January 22 which Buckmaster, the head of F Section, in his in-house history written in 1945 (HS 7/121), translated into the following objectives:

a) the sabotage of the German war effort by every means available;

b) the full support of the CARTE organisation as long as its potentialities continued to justify such support.

This was a strange interpretation, since the first objective was dangerously unqualified, and the focus on the discredited CARTE organisation was simply erratic and irresponsible. By this time, SOE management realized that the claims made about the potential of CARTE had been grossly exaggerated, and they suspected that it had been penetrated by the Germans, as indeed it had. For Buckmaster to focus on CARTE indicates either that he was entirely in the dark, or that he was being deliberately obtuse, perhaps to switch attention away from the PROSPER network, the reputation of which was much stronger at the time.

The role of Gubbins in this scenario is critical, as he would seem to be the officer at the nexus of the three nodes of operation: 1) the involvement of SOE personnel in Bevan’s deception plans; 2) the management of SOE as a sabotage organization; and 3) the close liaison with the Chiefs of Staff to ensure co-ordination with military strategy. Thus his movements and decisions are of vital importance.

Irrespective of his precise appointment in September 1942, Gubbins may well have been present at the Casablanca confabulations. In November, the SOE station known as MASSINGHAM had been established in Algiers, and Gubbins had flown out to sort out some of its problems on January 21, specifically to investigate SOE’s involvement in the assassination of Admiral Darlan. (According to Peter Wilkinson, in Gubbins & SOE, Gubbins spent six weeks in the area, yet the SOE War Diary at HS 7/286 has Gubbins attending a meeting on February 12 at the War Office to discuss overlap of responsibilities. His exact movements at this time have not been determined.) In his biography of Gubbins, SOE’s Mastermind, Brian Lett states that, around this time, Gubbins became the official SOE representative to the Chiefs of Staff, so it would have been entirely natural for him to be briefed by his close friend Brooke when he arrived. Moreover, Wilkinson writes that Gubbins had frequently attended Chiefs of Staff meeting on Nelson’s behalf, at the time when Brooke’s predecessor, Sir John Dill, was in the chair.

Thus it would appear that Gubbins, who (according to Rymills) had been given Déricourt’s curriculum vitae in November, was perfectly happy, while he was in Africa, to delegate key decisions on F Section to the Regional Controller for Western Europe, Robin Brook, and to the F section chief, Maurice Buckmaster, and allow Déricourt to perform whatever task had been set him. By then, Déricourt had been trained on procedures for handling Lysander and Hudson flights, and another pilot, Hugh Verity, who had become very friendly with the Frenchman, allowed him to take a flight in a Lysander in early January. Déricourt had in fact been prepared to be dropped into France at the end of December, but the bad weather caused a postponement for another month. In Buckmaster’s report on ‘drops and outcomes’ for this period, Déricourt is clearly identifiable as ‘One Lysander specialist’.

Lysander and Pilots

An explanation of aviation schedules is now probably appropriate. The Lysander was a small plane, with room for a single pilot only (thus no navigator), and space for three passengers (four at a squeeze). With an extra fuel-tank, it could achieve only about 500 miles on a round-trip. It had to fly at night, to avoid German attacks. It might seem counter-intuitive, but flights in the summer had to be curtailed because of the length of daylight hours, which put particular pressure on longer journeys (such as to Poland or Czechoslovakia, where Whitley bombers had to be used.) Moreover, the Lysander could carry out a mission only during the full-moon period, as the pilot needed to follow landmarks on the ground (rivers, roads, towns) to navigate: spending too many seconds looking at a map could be very dangerous. The pilot would look for flares in letter formation to confirm that the meeting-party was present and correct. Thus there was a window of only a week or so (Hugh Verity stretches it to a fortnight) each month when flights could be attempted. And heavy clouds were an obstacle that could not be overcome: an unpremeditated storm could cause havoc.

The next moon-period was on January 22, 1943, and Déricourt, now with the codename GILBERT, was flown over to France accompanied by Jean Worms, the leader of the JUGGLER circuit. Déricourt had an alias of Maurice Fabre, a name that he would soon drop, since his identity was well-known in Paris. Worms parachuted first, to be welcomed by a reception committee laid on by Francis Suttill (PROSPER), who had been in France for just under four months, and his courier, Andrée Borrel (DENISE). Rymills, their pilot that night, wrote: “Déricourt was dropped ‘blind’, that is without a reception committee and landed in a large field north of Orleans near Pithiviers.”

Most of Déricourt’s movements in January are probably not so significant: he made his way to Paris to seek out his mistress Julienne Asner, who was not at home; he caught a train to Reims, to visit his mother. The next day he returned to Paris to find Julienne at home, and then departed for Marseilles to pick up his wife. Then, soon after their return to Paris, probably at the end of January, Déricourt renewed his contact with the Sicherheitsdienst officer Karl Boemelburg.

Back in MI5, which had a mission to protect the realm against dubious entries and re-entries to the country, matters were moving slowly but steadily. Earlier in the month, in recognition of possible security exposures, Geoffrey Wethered had been appointed operational security liaison officer with SOE. By the end of the month, Wethered’s investigations had led to the discovery that Déricourt, with a questionable history, was reportedly working for SOE. As evidence of its vetting procedures, Guy Liddell had also noted, on January 13, that the W Board had decided to run Walenti (Garby-Czerniawski, another refugee from Nazi-controlled France) as double-agent BRUTUS, but not yet for deception purposes, confirming the still cautious and tentative policy with DAs.

The XX Committee, however, appeared to have been left out in the cold. In December, John Masterman, the chairman, had voiced his concerns about not receiving guidance from the LCS Controller, John Bevan, about his deception plans. Masterman nevertheless undermined his argument by again expressing the notion that deception was not the prime objective of DAs managed by his Committee – the meetings of which Bevan incidentally no longer attended, even though he was still a member. (Bevan sent his newly-appointed deputy, Major Wingate, in his place.) Four meetings of the XX Committee were held in January, but Bevan and his deception plans never received a mention. The only relevant reference appears to come on January 14, when Major Combe of MI11 says that the Inter-Service Security Board (LCS’s predecessor) has a deception order of battle which would shortly be handed over to the Controller! Masterman’s passivity is noteworthy.

Yet Bevan’s behaviour was already drawing other adverse reaction. ‘TAR’ Robertson, of B1A, as a member of Bevan’s TWIST committee, was moved to approach Guy Liddell to express his concerns about the Controller’s attitude towards deception. On January 23, Liddell wrote in his diary:

TAR is a little worried about the attitude of the Controller of Deception, who seems anxious to give directions in detail about the channels through which his information is to be passed. I said that I thought it was up to the Controller to state the nature of the information and the time when he wishes it to reach the enemy. He is entitled to know the grade of the agent who was to pass this information in order that he could assess the extent to which the information was likely to be believed. The rest of the business seemed to be a matter for us.

This seems a highly ingenuous observation by Liddell. He knew about Bevan’s rival TWIST committee, and he had downplayed the role that the XX Committee, and its DAs, could play in deception, as part of his tactic for boosting Bevan’s schemes. As he reflected on the exchange, Liddell may have missed the point – that Bevan was using MI6/SOE DAs as his medium, and Robertson was explicitly criticizing how Bevan treated them at TWIST gatherings.

2. February: Churchill’s Faux Pas

As instructed, John Bevan quickly presented his new Deception Policy for 1943, on February 2. He introduced it by declaring that it was based ‘on the SYMBOL [i.e. Casablanca] decisions’. Yet the reader might quickly conclude that Bevan had not received the major email concerning the 1944 decision, but was processing the diluted and vague directive given above, since his very arch comments on the North Western European Front ran as follows:

            Germany probably assumes that we cannot attempt a large-scale invasion of France and the Low Countries till the summer of 1943. Nevertheless she remains apprehensive, but owing to her heavy commitments elsewhere she must set upon that assumption.

Since the prime achievement of Brooke at Casablanca had been to convince the Americans that France could not be invaded until 1944, the idea that the ‘apprehensive’ Germans might not consider the invasion likely until the summer of 1943 might suggest a poor interpretation of intelligence. Yet Bevan persisted with the December assumptions: his deception plan was based around the notion that indications of enough strength to invade in July 1943 were practical, and would be adequate to convince the Germans that they should maintain considerable forces in Western Europe. He continued with the recommendations to support the ‘Object’ for the containment of enemy forces in western Europe (and I list these in full since it will be instructive to compare them with what the XX Committee later records):

            (i) Exaggerate Allied strength in the U.K., both in men and material, including the rate of the build-up of BOLERO.

            (ii) Carry out suitable dispositions of our forces to simulate invasion preparations.

            (iii) Initiate intensive invasion training.

            (iv) Accelerate our physical preparations (both real and by means of decoys and dummies) for a return to the Continent.

            (v) Indicate to the enemy that every available man and all possible resources are being mobilized for an attack across the Channel in conjunction with an assault on the south coast of France.

This design had problems. If Brooke approved it in principle (since he knew it had to be a feint), he must have had serious concerns as to how the Germans would be deceived, given the paucity of US and British troops available on mainland UK, and the lack of landing-craft. If Churchill approved it (since he still had aspirations of launching an attack on France in 1943), it would unnecessarily have alerted the German to a real operation. Moreover, the statement contained an existential paradox that colours all the proceedings of this period: if one of the goals was to keep German forces in Western Europe to help the Soviets, why would a re-entry to the Continent in 1943 ever be considered? Ignoring this dichotomy, Bevan added that the threat should be extended ‘over as wide an area as possible’, but his uncertainty was echoed in his comment on Timing:

            We should in the first instance indicate that the invasion will take place in July. This date will have to be postponed when the time comes and our activities will be continued until the end of September.

How the Germans would be taken in by this scheme is not explained. The problem was that Bevan could not devise a sturdy deception plan if he did not know what the real operational plan was. Nevertheless, according to Michael Howard, citing CAB 121/105, the Chiefs of Staff approved the plan on February 9. [The so-called ‘Minutes’ in the CAB 80 series rarely record decisions taken. As M. R. D. Foot described such a policy: ‘an admirable measure from the point of view of security, maddening though it is for historians’. In fact, decisions taken by the Chiefs of Staff are kept separate from the submitted papers and reports, and many can be found in the CAB 79/27 series.]

Churchill & Maisky

And then, the day after he returned from his Mediterranean journey, on February 8, Churchill had a meeting with Ivan Maisky, the Soviet Ambassador, at which he made a major gaffe. It is not always safe to rely on Maisky’s record of such meetings, since he tended to embellish them to suit his political cause, and his standing with Stalin, but the kernel of this encounter is probably true. Churchill, probably the worse for wear from drink, lamented to Maisky the fact that the Americans would not be able to supply the divisions required for the Channel assault later that year. As David Reynolds and Vladimir Pechatnov state: 

. . . the ambassador had captured the essence of the PM’s original draft message to Stalin – which the Americans had tried to conceal. As with most of Maisky’s important cables, copies of his report – sent on the evening of 9 February – were distributed to all Politburo members. After reading it, the Soviet leadership would have had little confidence in the ‘information’ on Allied strategy for 1943 that Churchill provided later that day in the sanitized telegram.

The official telegram to Stalin (massaged by the JIC after the Casablanca offering) included the following text:

            We are also pushing operations to the limit of our resources for a cross-Channel operation in August, in which both British and US units would participate. Here again, shipping and assault-landing craft will be limiting factors. If the operation is delayed by the weather or other reasons, it will be prepared with stronger forces for September. The timing of the attack must, of course, be dependent upon the condition of German defensive possibilities across the Channel at the time.

It is almost beyond belief to think that the Joint Intelligence Committee and the Chiefs of Staff approved such a mendacious and weaselly communication. Stalin’s response was surprisingly temperate – and he did not deign to make invidious comparisons between the horrors of Russian winters and troublesome summer storms in the English Channel.

Alan Brooke

Brooke did not seem unduly alarmed about the mixed messages: maybe he had not read the detailed directives. He customarily spent most of the time he had free in fishing, shooting fowl (grouse, partridges and pheasants, depending upon the season), watching birds, and performing carpentry.  He recorded most Chiefs of Staff meetings in February as ‘dull’. Churchill was sick with pneumonia for the rest of the month, and Roosevelt had also fallen ill. But the Allied capacity for self-deception more than enemy deception was crystallized in two almost simultaneous messages – one from Roosevelt to Stalin, and the second recorded by Brooke in his diary. On February 22, Roosevelt wrote to Stalin as follows:

            I understand the importance of a military effort on the Continent of Europe at the earliest practicable date in order to reduce Axis resistance to your heroic army, and you may be sure that the American war effort will be projected on to the Continent of Europe at as an early a date subsequent to success in North Africa as transportation facilities can be provided by our maximum effort.

On February 25, Brooke posted:

            Am very worried by way in which Americans are failing to live up to our Casablanca agreements. They are entirely breaking down over promises of American divisions to arrive in this country.

This was a dismal situation that could not last. How could the American and British leaders carry on a proper plan to deceive the enemy over their operations if they had no coherent understanding of what they were embarking on themselves, and felt that they had to deceive their other Ally?

The ambiguous information from Casablanca trickled down through informal channels, as well. On February 8, Guy Liddell recorded what one McDermott told him about the conference. If this note represents the highlights, however, it does not suggest a comprehensive account:

            McDermott tells me that at the Casablanca Conference it was decided (1) that convoys should have more escort since as a rule only ships outside the convoy got caught;(2) that bombing of U-Boat bases, factories, oil installations, aircraft factories and Berlin should take priority; (3) details about plan HUSKEY [sic]. [The source was presumably Geoffrey McDermott, sometime Foreign Office Adviser to MI6.]

This was clearly not enough to guide any new activities with DAs. If Liddell had been told more, he discreetly left it out of his diary. It would take a while for the implications of the decisions taken to be made available for the Security Service.

Meanwhile, the XX Committee had started to try to re-energize its own activities, although at first without any apparent further guidance. Plan MINCEMEAT (the planting of papers on a corpse for the Spaniards/Germans to find) was discussed on February 4, and it was resolved that ‘Major Wingate should put the plan before Colonel Bevan in order to obtain approval from the D’s of P [the Directors of Plans]’. And then, on February 25, the minutes refer to a revealing correspondence with Bevan. Wingate introduced it by saying that:

            Although the general deception policy had not yet been approved by the combined Chiefs of Staff, authority had been obtained to begin the implementation of such policy in anticipation that approval would be obtained.

This was an extraordinary statement, in more than one way. There was surely no fresh policy emanating from the LCS since the February 2 document, so why would the indication be given that it was not yet approved? Was Bevan himself the ‘authority? Given the audience, timing and specificity, this was a very significant event. The text of the policy statement went on as follows:

            (i) We are to threaten the Germans and Italians on all possible fronts.

            (ii) We are to exaggerate our strength and ability to undertake major operations in all possible theatres but, in particular, in France and the Balkans.

            (iii) We are to threaten Norway, both in the Spring and, possibly, again in the Autumn and we are, where possible, to indicate that an attack will be launched from Iceland as well as from this country.

            (iv) We are to exaggerate the rate of build-up of Bolero.

            (v) We are to indicate to the enemy that every available man and every available resource are being mobilized for an attack across the channel, the actual objective to cover as wide an area as possible.

            (vi) We are to attempt to bring the German Air Force into battle.

            (vii) We are to attempt to contain U-Boats in the North Atlantic (it was suggested that this could be best achieved by the building up of Bolero.)

            (viii) The Mediterranean policy was entirely in the hands of Colonel Dudley Clarke but the probability was that its objective would be to contain troops in southern France and the Balkans.

            (ix) No indication is to be given that the Allied nations are considering any threat to neutral countries.

This directive excited the committee, who focused first on the need to exaggerate the number of troops in the country (BOLERO). But the text is quite remarkable. It contains passages from Bevan’s paper of early February (e.g. ‘every man and every available resource’), but it is clearly a re-packaging and much bolder expansion of Bevan’s original ideas. Moreover, it is a clear statement of deception without any indication of the operation that it is designed to conceal. The implicit message is: ‘we do not have enough resources to launch a major assault to the continent in 1943 but must convince the enemy otherwise’. It would be hard to interpret the instructions as indicating that the prospect of a 1943 re-entry was solid. Thus it seems unlikely that Churchill authorized it, as he at this stage was still optimistic that such an attack could become a reality – unless he himself was helping to design a major deception operation to aid the Russians. Who could possibly have engineered this, and given it the mask of ‘authority’, if the policy itself had not been approved? Either Howard was wrong about the previous approval, or this statement was considered different enough to require a separate process of sign-off. (This important anomaly can be explained by Wingate’s reference to the ‘combined Chiefs of Staff’, namely the inclusion of the USA body. This was resolved only after the passing of several weeks – as I explain below.)

Masterman himself is not of much help. In his coverage of the period in The Double-Cross System, he never refers to the Casablanca Conference, and summarises deception for 1943 in the following words: “The basic idea of the deception policy during 1943 up to the beginning of the winter was to ‘contain the maximum enemy forces in western Europe and the Mediterranean area and thus discourage their transfer to the Russian front’”, not an idea that appears in the minutes of the February 25 meeting, an event that Masterman overlooks in his book, but more suggestive of the March directive (see below). It does, however, constitute a profound retrospective echo to the major theme of deception policy at that time, although the emphasis has subtly changed from ‘forcing the Germans to transfer troops from the Russian front’ (Bevan) to ‘discouraging transfer to the Russian front’.

Masterman incidentally also inserts the correct (but in the circumstances somewhat sophistical) observation that:

            The cover or deception plan cannot be devised until the real plan is communicated at least in outline to those in control of deception, and then in turn the cover plan has to be accepted and approved.

Very true. Yet the XX Committee was working in the dark: it had to guess what the real plan was, and it was encouraged to initiate its own activities before the cover plan had been approved. It was all very irregular.

Lionel Hale

What is noteworthy, however, is that the facts of the feint were now known by all fourteen attendees of the XX Committee – and surely by the members of the TWIST Committee, including Lionel Hale of SOE. Hale had been appointed head of the Press Propaganda section at SOE in July 1942. (One might question why SOE, which was a very clandestine organisation, and worked under cover as the Inter-Services Research Bureau, even had a Press Propaganda section. It certainly engaged in ‘black’ wireless propaganda, but which print media it was able to exploit, and how, is a topic for another time.) The critical question then becomes: at what level was this information disseminated within SOE? Why would Hale have been indoctrinated into the deception campaign, but not Buckmaster?

A few commentators have used these events to suggest that some of the exploits in France were simply early manifestations of later policy. For example, Marnham, West, and Cruickshank have suggested that aspects of the COCKADE deception plan were executed early in 1943. That is, however, strictly a misrepresentation. There were common facets in the half-baked initiatives that Bevan distributed in February, and in the official COCKADE plans that were not drafted until late April and approved in June, as I shall explain next month, but the deception plan had in the interim changed. For instance, Marnham writes: “The deception plans laid by the LCS in February were now given the name COCKADE.” That cannot be strictly true. The February plan had to be revised, and the new conception was not approved until the end of March. COCKADE was based on different assumptions.

Thus granting the COCKADE moniker to any maverick initiatives in February, with their paucity of specific detail, and their obvious lack of authorization, incorrectly suggests that they had a (premature) seal of approval. And their timing suggests that they may have been prompted by some other trigger. Last but not least of all, SOE was not viewed by the Chiefs of Staff as a medium for deception at this time: it was a sabotage organization. The War Cabinet’s recognition that resistance groups might be employed as agents of deception was not formally recorded until July 18, although of course the idea may well have come from Bevan and his SOE/MI6 sponsors.

One has to consider the role of Maurice Buckmaster, the head of F Section, and how much he knew. He added a very controversial comment about these early 1943 initiatives in his in-house history. One cannot rely on this production very closely: it was written just after the end of the war, when the objective was clearly to show the activities of F Section in the best light. It contains several untruths, of which Buckmaster’s narrative about PROSPER is probably the most egregious. He claimed that PROSPER (Suttill, then known as PHYSICIAN) had been active in the spring and summer of 1942, and added that ’PHYSICIAN proved a real menace to the enemy – so much so that his elimination and the dispersal of his groups became Gestapo Task No.1.’ Yet Suttill did not land in France for the first time until October 1942. Buckmaster’s clumsy observation was presumably to suggest that Suttill’s problems had started way before the misadventures of Déricourt.

Thus one has to take Buckmaster’s assertions about what F Section knew at the time with a grain of salt. After describing a clash between CARTE (André Girard, the eponymous leader of the circuit) and LOUBA (Henri Frager), and then reporting success with sabotage, but also the treachery of Grandclément (an agent ‘turned’ by the Nazis, and later shot by the Resistance), Buckmaster wrote:

            It is important to realize that the seeds of the brilliant success of French resistance in June 1944 were sown in late 1942 – early 1943. Had we been able to increase the scale of delivery of arms and explosives, we could have set the machine in motion earlier if, on the military side, preparations had been completed earlier. In early 1943 we were, of course, working completely in the dark as to the eventual date of the return to the Continent, and. consequently, we chafed against delays and difficulties which turned out in the end not to have vitally affected the issue, because the invasion could not have been staged earlier than it was.

Note the evasive form of Buckmaster’s statement: does ‘we’ signify SOE in general, senior SOE officers, F Section officers, or the whole of F Section? And why ‘of course’ – as if being kept unilluminated was standard operating procedure? ‘Working completely in the dark’: if true (and one must question it), that was not a good atmosphere for carrying out subversion exercises that were well co-ordinated with military strategy. Yet it suggests that at some stage after those ‘early’ days in 1943, SOE had been enlightened as to the D-Day date, and its policies should therefore have been revised to reflect the new reality (see below, for March). If, as everyone else appeared to understand, the purpose of the current deception policy was to divert German forces from the Russian front, why would the Allies want to consider a re-entry to France in 1943?

Indeed, other evidence suggests that SOE’s senior management clearly understood what was going on. Peter Wilkinson (who, after all, worked there with Gubbins, supervising the Polish, German, Austrian and Czech sections) wrote in Gubbins & SOE:

            It was no secret in Baker Street that the British planners had tacitly accepted a long ago as October, 1942, that there was no prospect of undertaking a major cross-Channel invasion in 1943. Consequently SOE’s French sections were counting on at least twelve months in which to lay their plans.

This is quite extraordinary, and as an assessment of pre-Casablanca thinking, very premature, and thus rather untrustworthy. (I note that the same Peter Wilkinson, in Foreign Fields, wrote on page 127 that ‘In the autumn of 1942 our plans were based on the assumption that an invasion of the Continent would take place during the summer of 1943.’ So much for reliable memoirs.) Yet, if a colleague controlling another set of sections knew that fact, but the head of the French section was in ignorance, it points to some serious dysfunction. Moreover, ‘it was known in Baker Street’. How could Buckmaster not have learned about the delay, especially if a brother-officer had been aware of the French section’s plans?

Yet elsewhere, Wilkinson wrote, in apparent confirmation of the above chaos:

            When the Chiefs of Staff’s directives were received by CD, security demanded that their distribution should be severely restricted and their contents bowdlerized. No particular importance seems to have been attached to ensuring that these directives were brought to the notice of country section heads with the force of an imperative.

We have to recall, however, that Wilkinson’s account of the years 1943-1944 was guided by David Stafford’s book on European Resistance and by the assistance of the ‘SOE adviser’ in the Foreign Office, as the author admits he had no direct access to SOE files for this period. This is unstable ground. Wilkinson’s ‘authorized’ biography of Gubbins has only two entries for Buckmaster, and none for Suttill, Bodington or Déricourt, which is simply shocking.

It is evident that, by mid-1945, Buckmaster had been apprised of the reality of earlier invasion plans for 1944. Given the destruction of his major network, with concomitant loss of life, was he not entitled to have felt grossly betrayed if that were so? Maybe he was told to smother his despair. Moreover, his assessment of the situation is not sharp. It consists of an illogical and twisted betrayal of how subversion was supposed to be co-ordinated with, and subordinate to, military plans, and reflects confusion over the perennial problem of how scattered guerilla operatives were going to be converted into effective paramilitary units. A machine of sorts was nevertheless already in motion, and not restrained.

I shall resume the matter of Buckmaster’s equivocation later, and simply cite here what Buckmaster stated when provoked in 1958 by Dame Irene Ward’s motion tabled in the House of Commons, following the publication of the books by Jean Overton Fuller and Elizabeth Nicholas that laid bare some of the problems in F Section. Referring to Churchill’s supposed slogan of ‘Set Europe Ablaze’, Buckmaster wrote:

            But it was obvious that the conflagration must be controlled; it must be kept dormant until it could be supported and play its full part in the military operation of a return to the Continent.

Henri Déricourt was inactive in February – at least as far as flights and parachutists were concerned. But the process of arming French civilians began apace that month, although the authorised historian misrepresents the facts. After his statement that the Chiefs of Staff had approved Bevan’s plans on February 9, Howard wrote: “Then there was a long pause. No serious measures of deception could be undertaken until operations themselves had been determined, and about these operations nobody, with the exception of the Prime Minister, was enthusiastic.” (This is a bizarre presentation of events, given that Churchill was the outlier, and Howard’s logic misrepresents the relationship between operations and deception.) Yet in some areas there was no ‘long pause’. In anticipation somewhat of the coming disaster, but as a way of capturing the contemporaneous dynamics of the situation, I quote a passage from William Mackenzie’s ‘Secret History of SOE’:

            About February 1943 Antelme put de Baissac in touch with Grandclément, who claimed to have at Bordeaux 3,000 men organized by OCM. This association appeared to bear very rapid fruit. By the middle of 1943 the ‘Scientist’ circuit claimed to be able to mobilise 17,000 men, and it received 121 air supply operations between November 1942 and August 1943 – including inter alia 7,500 Stens, 300 Brens and 1,500 rifles. This was a big affair – too big in any case to survive intact until a D-Day so far distant as June 1944. The disaster came in September 1943 when Grandclément was arrested in Paris and was effectively ‘turned’ by the Gestapo: on grounds of conscience, so he claimed, because the real enemy was Communism and it could be fought effectively only with German aid. Whether sincere or not, the theory was disastrously convenient to the whole German scheme of political warfare: and its immediate consequence was the betrayal by Grandclément of the whole circuit and the loss of its rich store of arms.

Mackenzie focuses attention on Grandclément rather than the larger disaster of PROSPER, but the facts are clear. The French Resistance was preparing for an imminent invasion, and it started before Bevan’s plan had been approved by the Combined Chiefs of Staff. What needs to be established is whether anyone in SOE really thought that this mobilization exercise was a prelude to invasion, or, if not, why they continued to execute a project that was both unauthorized and inherently catastrophic. While it was true that proper deception could not take place until operations were determined, some activities seemed to be going ahead that were in contravention of what was the intended scheme. 

3. March: SOE Receives its Directive

March started off in disarray. It is difficult to detect a strategic pattern in the actions and pronouncements of the primary agents. The Chiefs of Staff appeared to be focused on the situation in Yugoslavia, and judged that SOE needed to be provided with six Halifax bombers to help supply Mihailović. They also approved an extraordinary request to release 1,800 Sten guns and 700,000 rounds of ammunition to SOE ‘for SOE’s own activities’ – which were left unspecified. At the same time, Churchill expressed concern at the potential delays in executing HUSKY, and confided to his chief staff officer, Hastings ‘Pug’ Ismay, that SLEDGEHAMMER (in 1943) and BOLERO might have to suffer instead. This may have prompted Brooke to suggest that the appointment of a Chief of Staff for Cross-Channel Operations could be deferred. Yet he was overruled, and on March 9, the Chiefs decided they needed to appoint such a Supreme Commander.

The mission for COSSAC (Chief of Staff to the Supreme Allied Commander – the latter not yet having been appointed) was, however, couched in the old language of carrying out ‘raids’ and forming ‘beachheads’, ‘bridgeheads’ and ‘lodgements’ in Northwest France, with a goal set for essaying one such venture in the Cotentin peninsula on August 1, 1943. (The problem with beachheads was that, as at Anzio, they tended to stay on the beach for too long.) The text continued: ‘and to exploit success if German morale and resources permit, then prepare for a full-scale assault in spring of 1944’. De Gaulle was also restive, provoked by the deportation of French workers to the Reich to demand immediate delivery of arms and food to the ‘French army’.

Alan Brooke consequently met with Jean Moulin and General Delestraint, head of de Gaulle’s ‘army’, who were informed of a possible bridgehead that autumn. We owe it to Patrick Marnham, who uses valuable French sources, for an account of their exchanges. Delestraint made an impassioned case for sending equipment to the ‘50,000 paratroopers on the ground’, apparently constituted from the ‘thousands of fugitives from the French police’ who had fled to the hills after the German deportation order. Marnham describes a second encounter on March 10 as follows:

            They were told that although the Allies did not intend to carry out landings in France before the end of the year, there remained ‘the possibility of establishing a bridgehead on French soil before the autumn of 1943’. Both ‘Vidal’(Delestraint) and ‘Rex’ (Moulin) took that rather vague suggestion seriously, but in doing so they were thoroughly misled.

This was somewhat cowardly behaviour from Brooke, trying to get the Frenchmen off his back. He knew by then that the strategy was to draw more German forces into France during 1943, so why would he raise hopes that a ‘bridgehead’ might not only take place, but might lead to greater things?

Yet it was Hambro himself who tried to apply a restraining hand. As Olivier Wieworka notes in his The Resistance in Western Europe, 1940-1945, Hambro wrote to Brooke on March 16, warning of the danger of uncontrolled uprisings and ‘the danger of premature outbreaks in France owing to the repressive measures taken by the Germans in connection with the relève [the program to repatriate French POWs in exchange for workers who volunteer to go to the Reich]’ adding:  “We are doing our best to persuade the Fighting French to damp down these movements as far as possible.” Many in the French Resistance had been encouraged by the invasion of North Africa to believe that France would soon be next, and the communists were applying pressure in their strategy of continuous aggression. Brooke also records a meeting with Hambro on the last day of the month, where Hambro complained to him about the degree to which the Foreign Office was interfering in SOE’s activities. The nature of the ‘interference’, and the way in which Brooke (who notoriously refused to get involved with the politicians) might intercede in such matters, is not stated. It probably did not concern de Gaulle, since both SOE and the Foreign Office had a heightened distaste for the antics of the Free French leader.

A dose of more official cold water was soon poured on capacious plans for ‘re-entry’ to Europe in 1943. At a meeting of the Chiefs of Staff on March 5, BOLERO had been pushed down the list of priorities, behind HUSKY, assistance to Turkey, and the planned re-capture of Burma. At this stage the group realized that any 1943 cross-Channel operation would have to rely entirely on British resources, and thus would massively increase the risks. On March 11, Churchill wrote to Stalin:

            With regard to the attack across the Channel, it is the earnest wish of the President and myself that our troops should be in the general battle in Europe which you are fighting with such astounding prowess. But in order to sustain the operations in North Africa, the Pacific, and India, and to carry supplies to Russia, the import programme into the United Kingdom has been cut to the bone and we have eaten, and are eating into, reserves. However, in case the enemy should weaken sufficiently we are preparing to strike earlier than August, and plans are kept alive from week to week. If he does not weaken, a premature attack with inferior and insufficient forces would merely lead to a bloody repulse.

            Bridgehead Revisited, one might say. A touch more realistic, but still a very deceitful and equivocal message about German strength and its possible deterioration, the aggregation of US and British forces, and the chances of a ‘strike’ in the summer. Not Churchill’s finest hour.

Frederick Morgan

All this rather chaotic set of events must have prompted the Chiefs of Staff to take a firm re-assessment of the situation. On March 13, the name of Lt.-Col. Frederick Morgan was approved as COSSAC, and Morgan immediately tried to bring some structure to operations. On March 20, a fresh directive for SOE was issued by the Chiefs, and at the end of the month, the special sub-committee on patriot forces (which had been established as far back as December 4, 1942, but for some reason had been dilatory in completing its work) reported its findings, attempting to bring organization to the nature and capabilities of the resistance forces.

While Morgan’s memorandum added some much needed realism by pointing out how more complex the issue of landing vast amounts of troops in France was than engaging in land battles, it is the new instructions to SOE that are of more importance here. The text, from CAB 80/68, also available in the SOE War Diaries, is included as an Appendix in David Stafford’s Britain and European Resistance 1940-1945, and is significant for several reasons:

i) It for the first time regularised the definitions of ‘Resistance Groups’ and ‘Patriot Forces’, the former consisting of ‘secret armies’ and ‘sabotage groups’ working behind enemy lines, and the latter ‘any forces which may be embodied in areas liberated by our armies’.

ii) It reinforced the need for subversive activity to be tightly woven with strategy and operational plans.

iii) It reminded SOE of its need to liaise closely with the PWE (the Political Warfare Executive) and SIS in the realm of intelligence gathering.

iv) It stressed the necessary focus on sabotage, and the curtailment of any activities that did not support the January 19 and 23 strategy papers.

v) It pointed out that guerrilla activities should be aimed at diverting German pressure from Russia, and hindering the consolidation of German forces on the Eastern Front during April, May and June.

vi) As far as France was concerned, it stated that ‘with the ultimate object of invading north-west Europe, it has been decided to assemble the strongest possible forces (subject to certain prior commitments to other theatres) in the United Kingdom to be held in constant readiness to re-enter the Continent as soon as German resistance has weakened to the required extent’.

vi) It hinted at arming resistance groups by advising that ‘you should direct a special effort towards supplying the resistance groups in France with the means of enabling them to play an active part when they are required to do so in support of Allied strategy.’

vii) France was given a priority lower than that of The Italian Islands, Corsica and Crete and The Balkans, but above the rest of Europe.

I find this a confused and confusing paper. (It was signed by Portal of the RAF, Pound of the Royal Navy, and Brooke’s deputy, Nye, Brooke being sick with influenza at the time: one wonders whether Brooke would have allowed such waffle to be drafted.) In what way is it a mess? It emphasizes strategy papers dating from January, when plans for a full assault in 1943 had already been overtaken by events, requiring the cut-back in BOLERO. It thus dangerously dissembles about the level of commitment currently being made to the assembly of forces in the United Kingdom. Its acceptance of the policy that pockets of resistance groups engaged in occasional sabotage, yet individually tied to their domiciles, could be quickly be reorganized into military forces contradicts what experts were concluding elsewhere. It surely does not explain how SOE could confidently make assessments about the diversion of German forces from the Eastern Front, or why ‘guerrilla activities’ would in themselves provoke a massive transfer of such. It fails to show enough imagination to consider how the morale of guerrillas might be affected if they knew that their activities were designed to attract more Nazi attention as opposed to accelerating the arrival of Allied forces. It leaves a highly ambiguous directive about arming resistance groups in France in preparation for a military role in the event of the re-entry while also lowering France’s priority in the larger scheme of things. It reflects some serious self-delusion in transferring the notion of the role of ‘resistance’ from native French citizens to the avowedly stronger forces of the German army. Yet the overwhelming conclusion is that no instructions are given to the effect that SOE should be involved with deceptive operations in parallel with subversive activity.  As a matter of protocol, SOE was invited to ‘prepare an appreciation’ on how well it could deliver against these rather muddled objectives.

Incidentally, I believe that Robert Marshall seriously misrepresents this document, and its effect on SOE. He writes (on page 126 of All The King’s Men) that the paper

              . . .went on to say that SOE should concentrate its efforts to support the Allied strategy for the war, which as to defeat Germany in 1943  . . .   At Baker Street they began to roll up their sleeves and spit on their hands. The directive came as the clearest signal yet that 1943 would at last be the year of the return to Europe.

The document says nothing about defeating Germany in 1943, nor does it make any suggestion about a ‘return to Europe’, apart from a very explicit statement about the planned offensive action in Italy that year, in support of which SOE is instructed to provide sabotage in Corsica, and assist revolt against Italy’s fascist government. The directive implicitly ordains that SOE should be focused on sabotage and guerrilla warfare ‘rather than on preparations for future secret army uprisings’, as David Stafford sagely points out. The atmosphere at Baker Street described by Marshall is totally antithetical to that presented by Wilkinson.

Douglas Dodds-Parker

Douglas Dodds-Parker, who was responsible for flight operations at Tempsford and Tangmere until Grierson took over in the summer of 1942, was rather dismissive of such directives, writing in Setting Europe Ablaze (p 54):

            The nature of clandestine survival and supply in face of ruthless Nazi/Fascist/Communist repression was little understood by those in high authority, and only just discovered by those charged with putting the directives into practice who had to cope with the non-existence of adequate lightweight transmitters, of essential false papers, of aircraft in competition with demands from Bomber Command.

On the matter of whom exactly he had in mind, when referring to ‘those in high authority’, the Chiefs of Staff, or his own bosses in SOE, Nelson, Hambro and Gubbins, Dodds-Parker is, perhaps diplomatically, silent.

On March 6, Hambro had announced the retirement of the rather anonymous Mr. Hanbury Williams, and promoted Gubbins to be his senior deputy, declaring that Gubbins ‘in my absence will be the Acting Head of S.O.E.’, and thus intimating that Hambro himself would become even less involved in the day-to-day business of SOE. It was clearly now up to Gubbins to interpret the latest directives. At the end of the month he appointed Colonel Eric Mockler-Ferryman as head of North-Western Europe, thus introducing an additional layer of management between himself, Brook, and the country sections. (Mockler-Ferryman had been an Army intelligence officer in North Africa, and had taken the blame for an intelligence failure that was not his fault.) One would expect Gubbins to have discussed the new instructions with his subordinates, and work out the implications for the country sections. Yet what is extraordinary is the fact that Buckmaster’s in-house history declines to mention the vitally important March paper at all, suggesting, perhaps, that he was not informed of it. (Of course, he might have decided that it was politically astute to overlook it completely, but he then might have appeared very foolish if indeed some other agency or person revealed that he had known about it.)

Thus F Section proceeded with business as usual, pursuing the January objectives that the March paper had ambiguously just re-endorsed. Buckmaster’s comments for March included this text:

            Our achievement was the sending of three men and forty containers, of which ten were delivered into enemy hands because of faulty dropping. We reported at the end of March that unless during April and May we succeeded in sending stores and money in large quantities in the field as well as up-to-date directives in writing, we risked seeing the whole fabric crumble and waste away.

Buckmaster hinted at the perennial problem of maintaining the morale of the resistance groups, and concluded this section as follows:

            At 28th March, 1943, it could be said in general terms that only the lack of stores on the ground prevented our being able to carry out orders for action over a great part of France.

            These were not the words of someone who had been told that the re-entry to France would not occur until 1944, that the emphasis was on sabotage, and that France was now a lower priority than Italy and the Balkans. Yet his opinion was echoed by his colleague Bickham Sweet-Escott, who wrote of this period:

            The emphasis was now far more on helping existing guerrilla bands and building up secret armies in the countries to be liberated than on mere sabotage and the isolated clandestine operations such as Rubble [the extraction of ball-bearings from Sweden to the UK] or the purloining of ocean liners.

Is this confirmation that lower-level officers in SOE were not being told the correct story?

Buckmaster’s history was distributed, during the period of August to October 1945, to Brook (D/R, head of Low Countries and France), Major I. K. Mackenzie (Brook’s successor, not Professor William, the historian), Colonel Keswick (AD/H, head of the Mediterranean group), DCD (Gubbins), VC/D (Sporborg), AD (Colonel of the Far East group), and AD/2, his deputy. It had already been approved by Brigadier Mockler-Ferryman (AD/E – director of the London group, aka North West Europe), Col. Saunders (AD/M) and Colonel Dumbrell (M/T, probably i/c Training). Brook and Mackenzie judged it accurate: no responses were recorded from the others.  Perhaps that is not surprising. At some stage, Buckmaster must have been told about the March directive, but had been encouraged to keep quiet about it. Yet the fact that so many high-ups in SOE would let the fallacious history pass without any mention of the critical events of March 1943 is very revealing. They were either clueless, or inattentive. If they thought that the History would eventually damage the service’s reputation, they should simply have terminated it. But they did nothing.

Colonel Bevan, having been criticised by Robertson in February, had meanwhile been subject to another assault, this time by Lieutenant-Commander Ewen Montagu of Naval Intelligence, who sat on both the TWIST and the XX Committees. Thaddeus Holt, in The Deceivers, drawing upon the Naval deception file at ADM 223/794, reports that Montagu wrote a very poisonous attack on Bevan on March 1, in which he referred not only to Bevan’s personal defects in not understanding the subject, and engaging in unauthorized schemes, but also to the intellectual deficiencies of the members of LCS. Foot claimed (in his Introduction to Mackenzie’s Secret History of SOE) that Bevan did not judge SOE secure enough to ‘take part in his exceedingly secret work’, with Operation STARKEY being the only exception, but the representation of SOE on his TWIST committee would belie that. Montagu would later point to increasing friction between the XX Committee and Bevan over lack of communication, although he admitted that matters improved over time.

Ewen Montagu

Montagu’s attack may have triggered another action: according to Montagu himself, Bevan was not indoctrinated fully into the essence of ‘secret sources’ (the ISOS decrypts of ULTRA) until this month – an event which would have given him a radical new insight into the methods by which DAs were managed and verified. Holt’s stance is thus to defend Bevan, and downgrade Montagu as someone who overvalued his own abilities, and was probably jealous of Bevan, but the evidence would suggest that Montagu’s argument had some merit. In any case, his judgments were ignored.

The XX Committee discussed deception plans seriously in March, with Montagu providing constructive ideas, making requests through Wingate for Bevan to act upon. On March 4, the group covered the topic of the creation of artificial wireless traffic. The following week, a report from the Combined Planners, dealing ‘in great detail with suggestions for the deception plan based on the principle of containing enemy troops in western Europe’ was read out by Colonel Mountain of GHQ Home Forces. The Committee members were thus well indoctrinated into dummy invasion plans. Rather oddly, the meeting resolved that Bevan be apprised of Mountain’s notes on Exercise SPARTAN, as if Bevan would normally not have been in the loop, and Masterman was authorized to write a letter to Bevan requesting W/T cover. (SPARTAN was a GHQ exercise held that month in southern England to test the ability of troops to break out of a beachhead, and turned out poorly for several Canadian commanders. The XX Committee planned to use the DA known as BALLOON to pass on controlled information about SPARTAN to the Nazis.)

In any event, Masterman’s letter to Bevan was duly composed and sent, but a handwritten inscription states that no answer had been received by March 25. At the March 18 meeting, Colonel Petavel represented the LCS, and a productive discussion ensued that resulted in more recommendations for dummy wireless traffic. Wingate assured the group, at the March 25 meeting, that Bevan would reply to Masterman’s letter ‘within the next few days’. Operation MINCEMEAT (Montagu’s project) was discussed, but further progress on dummy traffic seemed to be stalled, as matters concerning W/T cover were out of the Committee’s hands. The XX Committee was thinking industriously about how it might aid deception, but was not actually contributing much.

We owe it to Guy Liddell to learn more about some SOE personnel activities at this time. On March 29, he recorded a conversation he had had with John Senter of SOE Security, who wanted to recruit Cyril Harvey for a new counter-espionage section that SOE was setting up. Liddell also had a meeting that day with Mockler-Ferryman (whom he describes merely as ‘late D.M.I. in Africa’, as if he were not aware of his recent important posting in SOE), and he was rather dismissive of Mockler-Ferryman’s understanding of counter-espionage. Gubbins apparently had a high regard for Mockler-Ferryman, whose main mission, very poignantly, was to control the guerrilla effort in Western Europe and to co-ordinate SOE activities with bombing strategies, but maybe the extra level of management helped to distance Gubbins from the misadventures that had already started.

Whoever was driving Henri Déricourt’s agenda was unswayed by any of this, and continued with the project, which had, of course, been germinating since well before Casablanca. Déricourt arranged his first operation for March 17/18, code-named TRAINER. It was a double operation, involving two flights from 161 Squadron at Tempsford, using Lysanders piloted by Peter Vaughan-Fowler and Frank Rymills. The flights were carried out apparently without incident apart from a temporary uncontrolled ignition of the engine of Vaughan-Fowler’s plane after landing – an incident that Vaughan-Fowler attributed to Déricourt’s failure to arrange a smooth landing-area. As Foot records: “Claude de Baissac, Antelme, Flower and a wireless operator left for England, and Goldsmith, Lejuene (Delphin), Dowlen and Mrs Agazarian arrived.” Marshall provides more details.

Marshall describes Déricourt’s meetings with Suttill and his network earlier in March, but also draws attention to the fact that the Frenchman had another meeting with Boemelburg shortly after the operation:

            Within days of the March operation, there was another meeting with Boemelburg – a kind of re-appraisal, with a view to formalizing the situation. At that meeting Déricourt provided Boemelburg with a detailed description of everyone who had travelled in on the Lysanders. 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.

The source for Marshall’s comments was a June 1983 interview with Horst Kopkow, head of the SD’s counter-intelligence and counter-sabotage unit in Berlin, to whom Boemelburg reported.

The anomaly of the suspended deception plan which Bevan dangled so enticingly over the XX Committee in late February can be explained by the fact that the Chiefs of Staff had to gain approval for the plan from their American counterparts. (The sequence of events can be inspected in the COCKADE archive, at WO 106/4223.) For some extraordinary reason, their feedback was not received until March 28, and they made a number of important proposals for changing the text, including a preference for not understating the perceived strength of the Wehrmacht, and a request to have the following important statement inserted: ‘No equipment or supplies required for actual operations will be diverted for this purpose’ –  the news that Brooke must have received via other sources, and recorded in his diary entry for February 25, and which Churchill was referring to in his encounter with Maisky. It is obvious that Churchill and Brooke had received early feedback from Washington about the inability of the Americans to commit to the BOLERO plans, but they had probably not shared this intelligence until the formal response from the US Chiefs of Staff arrived. (If Roosevelt and Churchill had discussed the topic on their scrambled telephone, it is possible that the Germans had also learned of it, as the Deutsches Reichspost was intercepting and deciphering their telephone communications at this time. That would add an eerie dimension to the whole deception story for COCKADE. See David Kahn’s The Codebreakers for more.)

After explaining the reasons for their recommended changes, the US Chiefs concluded their assessment with the words, which very crisply abandoned any notions of threatened assaults in North West France, whether bridgeheads, lodgements or raids:

            U.S. Chiefs of Staff do not think threat of attacks on Northern Front in conjunction with attacks on Southern France a practical deception. To threaten Southern France is, in their view, what matters. Alterations do not appear to be important and we recommend acceptance to avoid further delay.

London did not argue with Washington, and Bevan’s revised draft was made official in the War Cabinet minutes. Thus the attempt to suggest possible attacks on North Western Europe in 1943 was unceremoniously quashed by American plain speaking. The message was blunt: ‘Any such feints will be a waste of effort.’

John Bevan then had the last word for this month. He had left for Algiers on March 11, returning only on the 27th, so he had to conduct a quick analysis. On March 31, he submitted a memorandum to the Chiefs of Staff in which, after explaining the disagreements with the US Chiefs, he pointed out that ‘the possibility of carrying out a real operation against Northern France appears to have receded’, because of the BOLERO situation and the shortage of landing-craft that would be available. He thus recommended the removal of references to ‘across the Channel’, to be replaced by vaguer words of ‘against Western France’, implying that assaults in the South might still be possible. He apparently goaded the Chiefs into swift action, as will be described in next month’s bulletin. His behaviour needed to very precise since, having pre-empted the clarification of policy by announcing prematurely to the XX Committee that new deception plans had been authorized, he now attempted to gain confirmation from the Chiefs of Staff that real operations in Northern France in 1943 were off the cards. But would he inform the XX Committee of this change? And would SOE receive the new message?

4: Arms Shipments to France

As an intermission between the two quarters, I step back to record what is known about arms shipments to the French resistance during these first six months of 1943. The sources are varied, consisting of:

1) The Air Ministry’s report on its contributions to the activities of SOE (which was compiled before the loss of so many SOE papers in the post-war Baker Street fire);

2) Appendix C in Foot’s SOE in France, based on the RAF source and the in-house SOE history (HS 7/1);

3) French records, represented in different aspects by Foot and by Robert Marshall in All The King’s Men;

4) Informal statements by German army veterans; and

5) Occasional contributions in personal memoirs of participants.

The context for these arms drops goes back to May 21, 1941, when Gubbins laid out what he saw as the minimum required to equip the Secret Armies. Mackenzie presented Gubbins’ calculations for Poland, Czechoslovakia and France in the following table:

                                                Poland             Czech              France             Total

                                                (84 Bns)          (100 Bns)        (70 Bns)

Light machine guns                5,124               6,100               4,270               15,500

Sub-machine guns                  13,112             16,800             11,760             42,000

Pistols                                      43,680             52,000             36,400             132,000

Wireless sets                           1,260               1,500               980                  3,770

Containers                               10,5000           12,500             7.875               30,875

Aircraft sorties                        2,625               3,125               1,968               7,718

Mackenzie adds the following commentary, describing Gubbins’ figures as something of a ‘pipe-dream’:

            Brigadier Gubbins did not forget that there were all sorts of incalculable factors – it would be a remarkable piece of organisation (for example) if the equipment reached the Resistance with less than 25-30 per cent wastage from enemy action; abortive aircraft sorties must be allowed for: and so forth. But most of these imponderables tended to increase rather than reduce his figures: and no one could say that his scale of equipment was too high for guerrillas whose target was to be the German army, even in its decline, or that rebellions would have been worth staging with smaller forces.

Major problems were implicit in this project. The proposals resulted in a very long and controversial analysis, which essentially determined that the requested number of sorties would make intolerable demands upon bomber services, with little potential benefit if the secret armies were not going to be activated until the allied forces had arrived, and air superiority had been gained. (Both Poland and Czechoslovakia were soon largely removed from the equation.) Yet what did not appear to be discussed was how the weaponry would be kept concealed, and maintained properly. No date for re-entry to mainland Europe had been set at this time, of course, but D-Day was in fact three years out – an extraordinary period of time to keep stores of munitions secreted from the Nazis, and a potential ‘army’ in permanent readiness.

Gubbins constantly noted how concerned he was over the ability of the Secret Armies he nurtured to be ready when the professional forces arrived, and that sense of urgency often undermined what should have been a more careful policy towards the provision of arms. SOE appeared too often to be responding to ‘demands’ rather than executing its own strategy. And the separate goals of sabotage and creating secret armies constantly came into conflict. As Bickham Sweet-Escott (who in the spring of 1943 came to run the RF section alongside Buckmaster’s F Section) wrote in Baker Street Irregular (p 109):

             . . . the more we concentrated on spectacular action, the less likely we were to build up a nation-wide organization against D-Day. For the more spectacular the action, the greater the risk that the people in the field would be caught, and if they were caught there would be no secret army when the allies eventually landed. The two dilemmas faced us in all our work throughout occupied Europe.

What is perplexing is why the repeated pleas for more aircraft suddenly gained a more positive response at the end of 1942. The RAF History, citing a note of February 8, 1943, runs as follows:

            In September/October of 1942 when S.O.E.’s demands for air transport operations increased considerably, he, the Director of Plans [Group Captain Grierson, who had joined SOE in April 1942], had pointed out to the Air Ministry that S.O.E. would require more and more aircraft, and the increase in the establishment of No.138 Squadron and the use of No. 161 Squadron were to some extent the result of his verbal [sic! not ‘oral’] representations.

            Nevertheless, however capable Grierson was, and no matter how strong his relationships with the RAF top brass, and irrespective of his powers of persuasion, it is difficult to understand why the RAF would succumb to his earnest implorations at a time when SOE senior management had, according to other accounts, just learned that the re-entry into NW France would not occur for another eighteen months. Moreover, Grierson was known not to be the sharpest knife in the drawer. In his memoir Foreign Fields the SOE officer Peter Wilkinson wrote that he and Charles Villiers were ‘both a good deal quicker witted than Grierson who, unlike Dick Barry, had not had the advantage of an expensive education and spoke no foreign languages.’

I refer readers to the very useful Appendix 12 of John Grehan’s RAF and the SOE (described as ‘an official history’, although it does not appear to be authorized as such) for a comprehensive account of such operations. As interesting background material for understanding the tasks involved, I simply reproduce here a description of the loads that were dropped by the Whitley bombers, categorized as containers, packages and personnel:

            The containers were long cylindrical metal holders with a parachute stored in one end. Two types of loads were known to Bomber Command, the standard load and the special load. In the standard load, usually dropped to the F.F.I. [Forces Françaises de L’Intérieure] elements, were small arms, ammunition, hand grenades and other useful accoutrements whilst the special loads were made up of particular types of explosives and perhaps tools specifically collected for a particular set of sabotage against a known target. These containers were stored in the bomb bays of the aircraft in the same manner as a bomb. The packages were steel framed boxes more or less 2 1/2’ square and weighing an average of 100-140 lbs. A small number of these could be placed inside the fuselage and manhandled out of the dispatching hole in the fuselage floor by one of the aircrew known as the despatcher. Their contents were similar to those in the containers and they had parachutes and static lines which operated in just the same manner as for parachutists.

Whitleys were phased out in 1942, and replaced by Halifax bombers during 1943. M. R. D. Foot also has a useful chapter on this subject in Communications, from his outline history of SOE.

The RAF records are highly informative, since they provide detailed figures for total delivery by country, by year (although records before 1943 were patchy), and thus comparisons can be made about priorities – and what was operationally possible, because of distances. The first major item of data is the Tonnage Delivered 1941-1945.  France had a total of 8,455 tons, over three times as much as that as delivered to the rest of Europe (essentially Belgium, Holland, Norway and Denmark). Cross-referencing of the Appendices in the RAF book leads to the fact that a total of 6,720 containers was shipped in 1943, of which 5,299 (about 80%) went to France.

The figures quoted in the official SOE history confirm the overall total of tonnage delivered from the UK (11,141½), but would seem to overstate vastly the number of sorties attempted. The account also presents some apparently high figures for the arms and explosives delivered to France over the whole war, citing: stens 90,776; H.E. 548,506 lbs.; and brens 10,411. Marshall’s figures (below) state that 16,500 kg. (i.e. about 36,000 lb.) of high explosives was delivered in the first six months of 1943. Extrapolating from the ratio of containers sent in the remainder of 1943, and especially 1944 (when the USAAF stepped in to help the RAF), the numbers are however not unreasonable. In the second half of 1943, containers to France increased by 250% over the first six months, and the numbers for 1944 were almost ten times as much as for 1943.

Data before 1943 are very sketchy, but the RAF reports indicate that a total of 201 containers was dropped over France in the whole of 1942. For the first half of 1943 (the period under review), the figures for France were as follows:

January-March: 79 Sorties, of which 22 were successful. 20 tons were delivered, comprising 170 containers and 57 packages.

April-June: 342 sorties, of which 165 were successful. 148 tons were delivered, comprising 1,361 containers and 236 packages.

(The numbers increased markedly in the third quarter of 1943 before dropping back to second quarter quantities in the fourth quarter.)

What is noteworthy about these figures is the rapid increase in attempts to supply secret armies in the second quarter of the year, but also an increasingly high failure rate, which might suggest that the shipments were lost, damaged irretrievably, or even picked up by enemy forces.  Foot described the process as follows:

            What proportion of these stores were warlike it is no longer possible to say exactly; but the percentage was undoubtedly high, well over 80 and probably over 90. Equally it is impossible to say what proportion of them fell straight into enemy hands, or were captured before effective use could be made of them; though again, one thing is sure – the proportion was much lower. RF section for one worked on the ‘completely arbitrary and empirical’ percentage calculation that ten per cent of any month’s load would soon be in enemy hands, that ten per cent would be lost, one way or another, in transit, and that twenty per cent would be immediately absorbed in current resistance activities; leaving sixty per cent of what had been sent available for subsequent operations.

Foot echoes the RAF figures, although he lists only successful sorties (22 and 165, respectively), thus distorting for his masters (or for posterity) the effectiveness of the overall project. Yet, if we inspect Buckmaster’s figures (representing F Section, of course, and not the Free French responsibilities), we read that, in March 1943, the section had a ‘programme’ for sending out as many as 1000 containers, a goal that had to be drastically revised. For April, however, Buckmaster claimed that sabotage attacks ‘increased by leaps and bounds’, and that the section was able to send ‘as many as 183 containers’ – more than the total amount for all of France for the first quarter. May and June were also ‘record months’, although he does not provide details. Foot noted: “Several different sets of figures have been drawn up: all conflict.”

A dampening but equivocal observation also appears in the official SOE History at HS 7/1:

            The second major problem was the maintenance of the security of the Resistance organisation against penetration by the enemy. In some countries [sic!] such as in Holland penetration was so cleverly done that it passed unnoticed and men and supplies were sent straight into the hands of the enemy. Admittedly serious mistakes were made, mistakes which could have been avoided if more care had been taken but taking matters as a whole considering the large numbers of people employed in various capacities in Resistance movements and the general characteristic of Continental peoples to be insecure, it is surprising how much was achieved and how little success the enemy had.

This is the nearest SOE got to a mea culpa, but it is still an evasive and incomplete admission.

Robert Marshall’s statistics tend to endorse the trends described by Buckmaster, although he indicates a far more dramatic increase in April ‘of more than two thousand per cent’. In a footnote, Marshall describes how ‘the catalogue of materiel [sic: ’matériel’] dropped by SOE’s French Section to all the French networks was compiled from the archives of the Ministère de la Guerre at the Château de Vincennes in Paris’, giving a reference of 13P68: Materiel sur parachute et deportation). Foot quotes the same source, giving the totals for the period, for both RF and F sections of SOE. In Marshall’s table the containers are broken down by their contents:

                                  January    February  March    April     May    June

Stens                           87                    64        32        644     1006   2353

Incendiaries                 35                 74        –           1044    1877   10,790

Pistols                          24                   63        34        421       716      877   

Grenades                     36                  98        163      2508     4489     5537

High-Explosives (kg.) 88               253      162      1806    3872    10,252

Marshall adds that the PROSPER network received over 20 containers of arms in April ‘by far the lion’s share of material sent to France’. Yet this statement does not tally with either the RAF report, or with Buckmaster’s claims, either in simple numbers, or in relative significance. According to Marshall’s rough comparisons, it would suggest that only one container was dispatched in March, for instance, when Buckmaster reported that forty were sent, of which ten fell into enemy hands. (The explosives for the unsuccessful assassination attempt on Hitler in July 1944 came from SOE stocks.) It perhaps reflects a failure to understand how much material could be packed in a single container, but, overall, simply proves that a lot of these reports are inherently unreliable.

Patrick Marnham’s observations are also a trifle puzzling. In War In The Shadows (p 120), he states that ‘In France as a whole the delivery of arms to the Resistance was heavily reduced in the first part of 1943’ (presumably he means the first three months, but it is not obvious that this was a true or significant trend, as it is doubtful that substantially larger volumes had been shipped in 1942 before bad weather intervened in the winter). Next, quoting an article by Wieworka, he makes the imprecise claim that ‘throughout the month of June arms deliveries to PROSPER continued at a growing pace’, but adds that PROSPER ‘was the only exception to the general decline in deliveries’. That was surely not so, however one looks at the data provided, and the RAF records show that the July-September quarter was twice as productive as the previous quarter. Mackenzie also reported that ‘up to June 1943 the whole Suttill circuit had received 254 containers of stores, and in ten days in June it beat all records by receiving 190 more containers.

It is difficult to place any reliable structure around these datapoints. For example, if one plots a probable growth curve in containers sent to all of France from January to June, based on RAF figures for total containers, and the data from Marshall’s table, one could project a sequence of:

January – 90; February – 70; March – 10; April – 200; May – 550; June – 811. That might tally with Buckmaster’s claim of 183 containers for F Section in April, but not with his citation of 40 for F Section in March, nor with Marshall’s assertion that the PROSPER network, with 20 containers, received ‘the lion’s share’ of all that went to France in April.  In addition to that, Foot’s breakdown of the French data indicates that the Free French overall received about 52% of all supplies against F Section’s 48%, and Mackenzie claims that the PROSPER network alone jumped to 190 containers in ten days in June! It is all a mess.

What is undeniable that a considerable uptick in arms shipments occurred in the second quarter of 1943. In SOE in France, Foot reports (p 209), quoting a ‘Foreign Office file’ from 1945, as follows:

            Von Rundstedt recorded 1943 as ‘a serious turning point in the interior situation in France . . . the organized supply of arms from England to France became greater every month’, and his headquarters was given ‘an impressive picture of the increasing danger to the German troops in the territories of the West . . . Not only the murders and acts of sabotage against members of the Wehrmacht, against Wehrmacht installations, railways and supply lines were on the increase, but in certain districts organized raids of gangs in uniform and civilian clothes on transports and military units multiplied’.

SOE was clearly executing its sabotage mission very capably, but were the recipients of its supplies performing their destructive acts, and readying their weaponry, because they believed that an invasion was imminent?

Jacques Weil evidently thought so. In Pin-Stripe Saboteur he wrote (p 166):

            Preparations for the “Second Front in 1943” – which all the Resistance organizations in Northern France were certain would take place some time during the summer or autumn – were well advanced by the middle of May. The barns and the cowsheds of Northern and eastern France were indeed bursting with the guns and ammunition, the explosives and the other supplies dropped in steadily growing quantities by the increasing number of R.A.F. aircraft allocated for liaison with the Resistance.

I notice a paradox in these accounts. As I shall explain in next month’s segment, in the late spring of 1943 SOE officers made fervent appeals to the Chiefs of Staff that aircraft support was inadequate to maintain the enthusiasm and sense of purpose of the French resistance, who were hungry for arms and supplies. Yet Mackenzie’s observations lucidly point out how the increase in shipments that were made in the first six months of the year constituted a major risk, as the volumes were ‘too big to survive intact until a D-Day so far distant as June 1944’. In that contradiction lies the unresolved dilemma of SOE’s muddled policy.

5. Interim Conclusions:

I detect two histories here. First is the ‘authorized’ history, carefully managed by the SOE Adviser to the Foreign Office, which lays out how well SOE was overall led, how it operated in accordance with the requirements of the Chiefs of Staff, and how it contributed greatly to military success. Yes, mistakes were made, but such were inevitable under the conditions, and damage was well-managed.

And then there is the subterranean history, where policy was fragmented, or incompletely thought through, where maverick activities carried on without proper authorization or supervision, and needless sacrifices were made. Not enough attention was paid to security, and senior officers did not trust their subordinates with the facts, with the result that the latter became scapegoats for gross failures of judgment and unnecessary loss of life. The increase in shipping weaponry to mostly phantom ‘secret armies’ in France occurred just at the time when the Chiefs of Staff wanted to rein in the premature arming of forces that would not be useful for more than a year. Using outdated guidance, SOE was able to convince the RAF to supply extra flights to its French networks, many of which had been infiltrated by the Germans. Bevan’s London Controlling Section jumped the gun over deception plans. The Americans essentially headed off a half-baked British plan to have it both ways, but their delays in so doing meant that COSSAC was given inappropriate instructions, an incorrect new directive was issued to SOE, and news of the revisions was not properly disseminated. That SIS was behind the project to use Déricourt as a channel for disinformation to the Sicherheitsdienst is clear. Who convinced the RAF to increase the allocation of bombers to deliver on rapidly expanding container shipments is still a mystery.

(New Commonplace entries are available 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. 

(Latest Commonplace entries available here.)

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2021 Year-end Roundup

Joyous New Year Wishes to all coldspur readers from the entire Editorial Team!

Contents:

1. The Future of coldspur

2. On the Archives

3. The Biography of Ter Braak

4. George Graham & “The Spies’ Spy”

5. Paperback Editions

6. The Non-Communicants

7. Guy Liddell’s Diaries: TWIST and Scout

8. In Memoriam: Geoffrey Elliott (1939-2021)

9. Philbymania

10. Letters to the Editor

1. The Future of coldspur

In headlining this section, I am not raising questions about the future of coldspur the blogger, but coldspur the website. Having just achieved my seventy-fifth birthday, I believe that I shall remain in control of my faculties for a few more years before I prepare to join the ranks of the great conspiracy theorists in the sky. Moreover, I have plenty of material to keep me occupied at least through 2022, and am looking forward to several more years of doughty research and spirited writing. And the publishing model will not change. Readers will not be asked for donations; coldspur will not carry advertisements; I shall not be moving coldspur to Substack. This is my hobby, and I shall carry on my practice of publishing monthly bulletins on intelligence matters, with the occasional self-indulgent foray into personal memoir, without worrying about revenues, popularity ratings, or commentary in the Twittersphere.

Yet what will happen to www.coldspur.com? I know that there are mechanisms on the Internet that store all content in some dark place, but I should like the coldspur archive to be available for future researchers even if I am not around to husband it. As new files are released to Kew, and younger students assume a role in reconsidering MI5’s history, I should like them to be able to tap in to my hypotheses and conclusions, which will presumably not be published anywhere else. To begin with, it presumably means that the domain name has to be maintained, through annual payments to GoDaddy. For the url to be active, it has to have a paid-up agreement with a hosting site, as I have arranged with a company down the road in Ocean Isle. That sounds minimally satisfactory, even if I make testatory arrangements for payments to continue for a number of years. I would much prefer some respectable institution to take coldspur under its wing, and make it available via its native directories, such as the Hoover Institution Library and Archives at Stanford University, or the Bodleian, or Churchill College, Cambridge. Does any reader have experience with any such arrangements, and would he or she be able to advise me?

And then there all my personal files – and my library. I am no longer confident that the Ethel Hays Memorial Library at the University of Eastern Montana in Billings (see http://www.coldspur.com/homo-sovieticus ) will be a suitable repository for my collection, and it would probably be too far off the beaten track for all but the most intrepid researchers. I have files of electronic correspondence, notes taken from hundreds of books, chronologies, etc. etc. which I am not keen to share without constraints while I am still active but should, I believe, be most useful to posterity. Added to that are numerous articles and clippings that I have collected, in paper format, as well as a library of about 7,500 books, primarily on intelligence matters, general history, and biography, but also comprising a rich set of rare titles in poetry, literature, humour, language and reference. I would guess that the section on intelligence matters is unmatched in any private – or even institutional – collection. I should hate to see it split up and dispersed. My obvious choice would be to donate it to the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, NC (about thirty-five miles away), since that institution has connections with the CIA, and I have used its facilities over the past twenty years. I understand that I would have to set up an endowment to house and maintain the library. I started to approach the University on this topic a few years ago, but my contact moved on. I shall retry in 2022, conscious of the following: “  . . . no one cares about a library collection as much as the person who has assembled it  . . . one man’s passion project would be nothing but a burden to whom the responsibility of curation was passed on.” (Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen, in The Library)

Meanwhile, I am considering a number of projects for 2022. I have several more episodes in the Déricourt saga to unroll. I need to report on my discoveries concerning the life and career of the SOE officer George Graham, aka Serge Leontiev. I hear the call to follow-up on my investigations into ELLI, and explore the indications of treachery in MI5 that so excited Peter Wright and Chapman Pincher, and later Nigel West. I still have to study the records concerning the post-war activities of Roger Hollis, how close he was to the functions of counter-intelligence against the Soviets, and how MI5 evolved its organization during those years. I want to return to Alexander Foote, the peculiar interest he showed in the Gouzenko trial, and the links between Canada and Switzerland in passing money to the Rote Drei. There is further research to be performed on Claude Dansey and his attempt to make contact with anti-Hitler factions in the Wehrmacht and the Sicherheitsdienst. I recall numerous loose ends such as my investigation into Donald Maclean and his photographer, and the matter of Peter Wright and HASP (and my communications with the Swedish Professor Agrell). I have to study the Petrov files in depth. There remains more to be told about the struggles of RSS during and after the war, and its role in tracking illicit wireless usage. I am interested in studying in detail the records concerning the evolution of SOE in France, and how the authorities succeeded in stifling accurate analysis for decades. I want to investigate more deeply the phenomenon of disinformation through controlled (or ‘probably controlled’) agents, and what the legacy of the Double-Cross System was. Lastly, in collaboration with another remote coldspur contact, I am engaged in a highly secret project involving the RAF, SOE and the NKVD in World War II.

So what is my objective in all this? I am not seeking any fame or awards – or even an invitation to tea by Christopher Andrew. I should indeed like greater recognition of my efforts, but I am not sure where such a statement would derive, and the overall unimaginative (as I see it) state of intelligence scholarship in the UK is reinforced by a mutual admiration society of persons not willing to take risks and challenge the establishment. What continues to drive me is frustration over the secretive policies of government institutions, not willing to release archival material that has long passed its expiry date under the guise of a probably imaginary security exposure, and despair over the arrogant attitudes of bureaucrats who believe that the public should not be trusted with information that may show less than perfect credit on the way the intelligence services executed their mission. I am also in a perpetual philosophical tussle with the ‘authorized’ historians, and those who seem to accept that, since an official historian has covered a topic or department, there cannot be anything else to be said about the topic. And I get very irritated by the appearance of lazy or deceptive books on intelligence matters that get absurdly hyped in the media by critics who should know better.

(Given my recent diatribes over the shenanigans of the authorised historians and Foreign Office advisers concerning SOE, I was amused – and saddened – to read the following item from Guy Liddell’s Diaries, entered after a Joint Intelligence Committee meeting on January 2, 1946: “We also took the paper about the publication of information relating to SOE. The Deputy Chiefs of Staff had reversed the decision of the JIC and had ordered that a revised version of the SOE memo should be given to the press. They thought that if some official publication went out it would damp down some unauthorised publications. I confined myself to saying that it would be almost impossible to prosecute under the Official Secrets Act if an official release was made, and I suggested that when making the handout something might perhaps be said to the press to the effect that the Official release did not authorise them to publish all sorts of stories that they might have already got written up in their lockers.”

I was also dismayed to learn, from a letter published in History Today of November 2021, that the historian E. P. Thompson had been cruelly frustrated in his attempts to discover more about the SOE mission of his brother Frank, who had been executed for working with Bulgarian partisans in 1944. Thompson went to consult the records in 1974, believing that they would be declassified under the thirty-year rule, but was peremptorily advised that the records had been reclassified for fifty years. He died in 1993, just before his planned return to the archives. I note that the file, HS 9/1463, was made available on February 18, 2003.)

I should like to recognize here all readers of coldspur who have got in touch with me – a group that I shall resolutely refuse to call ‘the coldspur community’. I have no idea how many regular readers of coldspur there are, but each year there are dozens of persons with whom I communicate solely because of something they have read on the site, none of whom I have ever met. (I have spoken to a few on the telephone, and some have warned me that I should be using something called ‘WhatsApp’ or ‘Skype’, but I have resisted, as no one really needs to see my face, and I am comfortable working my PC while the speakerphone is on.) I thank you all for your interest, hints, and advice, and earnestly encourage anyone to email me, or post a comment on the website, if he or she has a comment or question. I respond to every message, as promptly as I can, and, while I know I have not followed up religiously on all tips and leads, I hope that I have tidied up each thread of correspondence politely and adequately. (I admit that I occasionally overlook aspects of an earlier exchange with a correspondent.) Thank goodness for the software on WordPress that traps nearly all junk posts: at the last count I had a total of 6,437,245 messages rejected, which means that I don’t have to go and inspect and delete more than a handful each day (which task I did have to perform in the early days before the special software was introduced). If you have tried to post a comment, and have been ignored, please use my personal email address instead. And do stay in touch.

2. On the Archives

For the past three or four years, I have performed my research exclusively from my home in the North Carolina boondocks, supplied constantly by the invaluable services of abebooks, and my chief photographer in London, Dr Kevin Jones. Yet I have missed visiting the archives, and the excitement of leafing through original documents, and encountering unexpected clues. Most of my time amongst the repositories has been spent at Kew, but I have also visited The Bodleian Library, and Balliol College Library, in Oxford, as well as the excellent resource at Churchill College in Cambridge. Many years ago I visited the Stanford University Library in Palo Alto, but that was when I was researching the life of Gordon Kaufmann, architect, for my ODNB entry, and I have not visited any other home of archives in the United States. The University of North Carolina in nearby Wilmington does not even carry a useful subscription to JSTOR material. Since I am not a faculty member, I cannot, moreover, access any material (such as the ODNB) on-line from home.

I have, however, occasionally requested digital information from such institutions. Many years ago I acquired photocopies of some of David Dallin’s papers on Alexander Foote from the New York Public Library – and wish now that I had ordered far more than I did. I did commission some marginally useful photographs of the E. H. Cookridge files on Guy Liddell from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Earlier this year I requested information on Stephen Alley’s biography from Glasgow University, but Covid had prevented any action, and I shall try again in the New Year. I never heard back from St. Edmund Hall in Oxford about information on the mysterious Mr. Snelling who featured in the Portland Spy case (see ‘Trevor Barnes Gives the Game Away’ at http://www.coldspur.com/year-end-wrap-up-2020 ). Dr. Chris Smith (see below) introduced me to some material from the John Cairncross archive at the Special Collections Department of Cambridge University Library.

Hoover Institution Library & Archive

A visit to the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California would be very rewarding, what with the archives of such as George Hill, Kenneth de Courcy, Robert Conquest, and many more available for inspection. The Library is located just down the road from where our son and his family live, in Los Altos, and in theory should be the most convenient facility to visit when next we voyage out west. Yet, after two years of separation, I can hardly see myself happily absenting myself from son, daughter-in-law and grand-daughters for days at a time, however fruitful such a visit might be. I would prefer to have a round of golf with Sylvia, James and Ashley (now 10, and very keen on the game) instead. There will not be many more such opportunities.

Yet I did recently bring part of a fascinating archive to my home. This summer I acquired, via an on-line auction, a portion of the papers of Donald McCormick, aka Richard Deacon, who wrote several books on intelligence (such as the notorious British Connection). It comprises a mixed set of letters to McCormick (but none written by him) from such luminaries in the intelligence world as Natalie Wraga, Arden Winch, Isaiah Berlin, Nigel West, and Steven Dedijer, as well as a copy of Lord Inverchapel’s last Will and Testament, and a typed statement by Alexander Foote, complaining about the quality of his interrogation by MI5 officers. Perhaps the most unusual of the items is a long handwritten letter, in German, by Karl Friedman to his sister Lizzy (Kim Philby’s first wife), written to her from the Afikim kibbutz in December 1967. It is accompanied by a few photographs, including one of Lizzy herself (below). I have no idea how these pieces arrived in McCormick’s hands, but the whole package cries out for comprehensive analysis and reproduction at some time.

Lizzy, Karl, Rina, Denny (Rifikim, 1967)

3. The Biography of Ter Braak

I wrote about my communications with Jan-Willem van den Braak in February 2019, when I indicated that his biography of the Abwehr spy, Willem Ter Braak, whose real name was Engelbertus Fukken, was going to be translated from the Dutch, and published soon thereafter in English. Well, that did not happen, but I believe a much better outcome has now been arranged. Mr. van den Braak and I had several fruitful discussions, and he embarked upon a project of deeper research that resulted in considerable changes and extensions to the original text.

I became very excited about Mr van den Braak’s discoveries, and the outcome was that I very happily agreed to part-underwrite the translation exercise. Jan-Willem worked very diligently on delving further into the sources of Ter Braak’s life, and the events leading up to his being parachuted into the English countryside in October 1940. Consequently, the new edition of his book will be available in the spring of 1922, published by Pen and Sword.  I believe that he has performed some brilliant research, and done an outstanding job in explaining the complex environment in which the spy was brought up, and how he was eventually recruited by the Abwehr. What is more, the author invited me to contribute an Afterword to his book: in it I express my great enthusiasm about his account while reserving the admission that he and I may draw slightly different conclusions from the circumstances of Ter Braak’s apparent suicide. Moreover, I was also able to review the translation, and offer my own idiosyncratic comments on the text. The translator selected, while showing great skill with the English language, was not a native English speaker, and I thought that showed on occasions. I was happy to apply my own standards of English style, grammar and composition (hidebound and antiquated as they may be) in order to prepare a story that, in my opinion anyway, would provide a more fluid narrative.

The Dutch book, which appeared in 2017, was titled Spion tegen Churchill (‘Spy against Churchill’), and I pointed out to Jan-Willem that I did not think it was a very accurate, or even compelling, choice. After all, every Abwehr spy sent to the United Kingdom clearly had a mission of undermining Churchill’s campaign, and the case that Ter Braak might have been sent on a mission to assassinate the Prime Minister was tenuous at best. Spies did not normally engage in such violent acts, which might have had unexpected consequences. About a year ago, we agreed that The Spy Who Died Out in the Cold (which Jan-Willem had selected from a newspaper headline) was a more accurate and engaging title, and would provide a scenario that succinctly described Ter Braak’s unique fate – dying alone on a cold winter night in an air-raid shelter in Cambridge.

‘Hitler’s Spy Against Churchill’

Yet the publisher unfortunately has decided otherwise – as the picture shows. She overruled our submission, based on some ‘market research’, that Pen and Sword had undertaken, where the word ‘Churchill’ is believed to be a big draw in attracting prospective buyers to a book. What it means is that the cover of the book is in my opinion a little cluttered, as the preferred title has been included as a nominal subtitle. The density of information is increased by the fact that Jan-Willem generously requested that ‘with an afterword by Antony Percy’ appear on the cover as well. That slogan does not have the appeal of a ‘Nigel West’ endorsement, but I am happy to receive a little publicity. On the other hand, the style editor at Pen and Sword was mercifully quite impressed with the fluency and drive of the text, which means that, apart from such whims that may arise from the application of the corporate ‘house style’, we should not expect too many unpleasant surprises when the book is eventually released. (It seems nearly ready to go, but I have not found an announcement on the company’s website, even though over 250 books ‘coming soon’ are listed for publication up to August 2023. We received the proofs from the publisher as I was putting this month’s coldspur to bed, with my editorial team generously giving up some of their holidays to accomplish the task.) I shall post further news of the book’s availability as soon as I receive it. It has been a great pleasure working with Mr van den Braak, who has made a major contribution to the history of espionage.

4. George Graham & “The Spies’ Spy”

I recently wrote about the strange case of George Graham, the SOE officer deputed to accompany George Hill as his cipher-clerk when Hill was sent out to Moscow in November 1941 to set up the SOE mission. The diaries of Guy Liddell had revealed that Archie Boyle, the SOE Security Officer, had informed the head of MI5’s B Division, during the investigation into the Gouzenko disclosures in October 1945, and the quest for ‘ELLI’, that Graham’s real name was Serge Leontiev. That news had in turn provoked Liddell to carry out a thorough investigation into the man’s background, and to determine what security exposures might have been raised.

I expressed my amazement that any intelligence officer worth his salt would have recommended the son of a White Russian officer for such a sensitive post in the nest of the NKVD. The Soviet intelligence service would surely have wanted to find out the man’s background and credentials, and whether he had any relatives living in the Soviet Union, and, even if they had not closely tracked the Leontiev family, would have been prompted by the man’s native speaking of Russian to take a very close interest. And, in my initial investigation into Graham’s immigration, naturalisation and matrimonial records, I discovered some rather challenging anomalies.

Since then, I have engaged a couple of London-based researchers to perform a much deeper inspection of Graham’s life and career, one from a general genealogical and biographical perspective, the other approaching the topic from more of an intelligence and military angle. That exercise is now almost concluded, and I am ready to present a startling account of Leontiev’s rise and fall in the United Kingdom, which starts with a connection to Sir Paul Dukes, and ends with a stumbling post-war role with BBC Foreign Broadcasts. I also succeeded in making contact with the family of George Graham’s uncle, Alexander Briger, whose grandson of the same name is an illustrious Australian conductor, and they have shared some remarkable reminiscences about George. I shall dedicate my January 2022 coldspur bulletin to his story.

At the same time that I wrote about Graham, I mentioned the fact that Stephen Alley (an officer in MI5, and a possible candidate for ‘ELLI’) had made a claim that he was fired from MI6 because he refused to assassinate Joseph Stalin, an assertion that appears in Michael Smith’s Six. The source of this statement lay in his archive deposited at Glasgow University, but, because of Covid, the librarians there had not been able to access the records for me. I was just considering inquiring again when I received my package from the McCormick archive, and I was bowled over to find a confirmation of the story within.

It appeared in a letter written by Arden Winch, dated June 7, 1979. Now Arden Winch (1928-1991) was not a name I knew, but I have discovered that he was a prominent writer and director of crime and intelligence TV series, such as ‘Cold Warrior’, in the 1970s and 1980s. Having just read McCormick’s (Deacon’s) history of the British Secret Service, Winch wrote to offer a couple of anecdotes. He had been performing research for a film on Sidney Reilly, which project never came to fruition, and after mentioning George Hill and Robin Bruce Lockhart, he came to Stephen Alley. The next paragraph runs as follows:

Anyway, I eventually met Stephen Alley, then retired to Bray. All the previous agents I had met had been in awe of Alley obviously the spies’ spy. I don’t know if you knew him. He was, in appearance, the classic retired gentleman. He treated his wife with splendid old-world courtesy, which, in a way is a pity in that he carefully avoided telling her much about his work, partly because it would be dangerous for her, partly because he believed that you didn’t involve the Fair Sex in these sordid matters. He remarked that he had never risen far in the Service as he should have done. I happened to know his position, and there wasn’t much further he could have gone, and asked, why. I didn’t always obey orders, he explained. What sort of orders? He glanced, to make sure his wife couldn’t overhear, then said, “Well, it’s a little confidential. But like the time I was ordered to murder Stalin. Never liked the chap much, but he regarded me as a friend, and the idea of walking into his office and killing him no, I said, I wouldn’t do it.” Then he lowered his voice still further. “Anyway, I wasn’t at all satisfied with the arrangements for getting out afterwards.”

Stephen Alley

The lessons from this anecdote must be 1) that spies indeed are not reliable assassins, and 2) that, if you want a long and successful marriage, you should never tell your spouse that you were once ordered to kill a foreign despot. (Although she might, of course, rebuke you for not sacrificing yourself for the greater good of humanity, and then remind you to take out the garbage.) But I liked that bit about the Exit Strategy. And, even if an admission of ‘not liking much’ someone who was responsible for the deaths of millions of his own citizens is a troubling example of British litotes (and, after all, Churchill did go on about how much he liked Stalin), it all throws some revealing light on the Mystery that Stephen Alley became. You will not read about that in Jeffery.

5. Paperback Editions

An exercise that always intrigues me is checking what changes have been made in the paperback (or any second) edition of any book on intelligence. As I have documented before, it is well-nigh impossible to release a book on this subject that contains no errors, but the implications of fixing them are highly problematic. Of course, if egregious mistakes are discovered when it is too late to change the galley-proofs, errata slips can be inserted, but that can be very messy, and just draw attention to the oversights and misrepresentations. I made a few stupid errors in compiling Misdefending the Realm, but, in my own defence, I was editor, fact-checker and proof-reader, and one can read one’s own outpourings for only so long before succumbing to ennui and somnolence. And it is unlikely that a second edition will come out, although, for a few months a couple of years ago, an editor at the company that took over the University of Buckingham Press did express to me interest in bringing out a new edition. Nothing came of it, however.

One of the challenges is that any dramatic change to the text – apart from the correction of minor facts – will probably require changes to the Index, and that is not a task to be assumed lightly. I notice that the 1968 version of M. R. D. Foot’s SOE in France managed to maintain the same Index from the 1966 first edition verbatim. The changes demanded by the threat of lawsuits were able to be accommodated by replacing paragraphs with new text of the same length. When Patrick Marnham informed me of the upcoming paperback version of War in the Shadows, I became temporarily excited at the prospect of a radically new account of Henri Déricourt’s recruitment, based on my discussions with him. Yet, while Marnham was able to provide a fascinating new Afterword (which did not affect the Index), the text appears to be completely unchanged from that of the original hardback version.

I understand that substantial changes to a text conventionally require a new edition to be identified, and a new ISBN to be allocated. In 1968, there were no ISBNs, and SOE in France was presented as a ‘second impression with amendments’, while the reader had to work out him- or her-self exactly what had changed. By virtue of allowing more text on each page of his Preface, Foot was able to add commentary that summarized his changes, including the need to ‘modify a number of passages which gave some quite unintended personal offense’, and to respond to reviewers’ critiques. In 2002, with a wholesale re-drafting, Foot was able to supplement his 1968 Preface with a couple more pages of explanation for changes made to what the Publishers vaguely identify as ‘this edition’. It does have an ISBN now, of course, but, again, exactly what textual amendments have been made can only be determined by painstaking analysis that I have not yet undertaken. Moreover, it is astounding, to me, that, after all that passage of time, Foot did not make wholesale changes to his narrative. Yet there were surely political reasons for that.

Patrick Marnham’s paperback edition of War in the Shadows is described purely as that – ‘the paperback edition’ of the 2020 hardback version, with no obvious indication that the Postscript is new. I am grateful for it, since it refers to coldspur, and my joint research with Professor Glees, but the Postscript is undated. Nevertheless, a new ISBN has been granted: 978-0-86154-058-7, as opposed to 978-1-78607-809-4, which strikes me as an odd system, with a completely fresh set of numbers, while the ebook ISBN (978-1-78607-810-0) remains unchanged. What does that mean? That the Postscript does not appear in the current e-book version? I have no idea. What is going on here? Perhaps someone can enlighten me.

And then there is Andrew Lownie’s Stalin’s Englishman. Again, perceptive and dedicated readers will recall that, a few years ago, I had to rebuke Mr. Lownie strongly in person when, after I had supplied corrections to his first edition of the book, he incorporated the changes without giving me any credit at all. The publication of these two editions presents further paradoxes. (Both were British versions: the republication of such works in the USA, often with different titles and Americanization of spelling, is a topic that I shall not venture to explore here.) The original (2015) edition came in three formats: the hardback (ISBN 978 1 473 62736 9); the Trade paperback (978 1 473 62737 6); and ebook (978 1 473 62739 0). The 2016 paperback edition is described blandly as ‘first published in paperback in 2016’, and is given an ISBN of 978 1 473 62738 3, with the fact that a ‘trade paperback’ has already been issued apparently irrelevant. The wording does not indicate that any textual amendments have taken place. Lownie, however, made some substantive additions to his text, starting in Chapter 29, which means that the ensuing chapters start on higher page numbers, and the Index has had to be re-drafted. Some very subtle adjustments to the very lengthy Acknowledgements have been made, but without including my name (which was what really galled me!). Apart from the reproduction of extracts from some very flattering reviews, inserted as a Frontispiece, Lownie gives no indication, however, that his text has changed. That strikes me as irresponsible. It is all very strange.

Dr. Chris Smith, on the other hand, behaved impeccably. In 2019 he published The Last Cambridge Spy, a biography of John Cairncross. I tactfully pointed out to him a few chronological and logical errors concerning Arthur Martin’s visit to the USA, and Cairncross’s ‘confession’ there. Smith was very professional and thorough in his replies: we both understand the challenges of working through what can be very deceptive memoirs or archives, and he thought my published criticisms were fair. He committed to incorporating some changes for the paperback edition, but, when we were last in contact in May of this year, Dr. Smith expressed uncertainty as to whether the publisher was going ahead with the paperback edition.

This all leads up to Trevor Barnes and Helen Fry. I purchased Helen Fry’s Spymaster: The Secret Life of Kendrick, her biography of Thomas Kendrick, in 2014, the year in which Marranos Press published it. Its ISBN-13 is given as 978-1500418830. I recall it as an amateurish production, strewn with errors, and delivering little new of any substance. When the book was re-issued this summer, as Spymaster: The Man Who Saved MI6, I expressed mild interest, with no real desire to re-inspect it, but was persuaded by one or two correspondents to acquire it, as it reportedly has a brand new chapter on Kim Philby (see below). Thus I now possess a volume with a totally new identifier: ISBN 978-0-300-25595-9. Yet neither the frontispiece nor the author gives any indication that this is a new edition of a previously published book, or what changes have been incorporated. It is not clear whether the blurbs refer to this new edition, or the original. It is all highly irregular and deceptive, in my opinion. Andrew Lownie is Fry’s agent, and presumably managed the whole affair.

Helen Fry’s ‘Spymaster’

As for Trevor Barnes’s Dead Doubles, I own it in the First U.S. Edition (978–0-06-285699-9). I had submitted a number of comments (and corrections) to the author after reading the book a couple of years ago (see http://www.coldspur.com/five-books-on-espionage-intelligence ). I enjoyed, for a while, a productive exchange with Barnes, from which I gathered that he was overall in sympathy with my observations. And then he suddenly closed up, perhaps after I publicized on coldspur revelations that tended to overshadow his rather coy attempt to keep an identity a secret. Ever since then, I have been waiting for the new paperback edition to come out, in order to discover whether he incorporated any of my recommendations – and gave me credit! Well I read recently that it has been published, but I really do not want to have to purchase it just to verify those facts. Does anyone out there in coldspur-land have a copy, and have you managed to notice what changes and acknowledgments have been made? Please let me know if you have. (But I suspect most readers are not very concerned about these details. . . . )

6. The Non-Communicants

I do not intend to discuss here those persons who have declined to participate in the rites of the Church, but instead to indulge in some curmudgeonly and unseasonal complaints about those members of academia and journalism who maintain a stand-offish stance when approached on matters of intelligence. I have enjoyed mixed success in trying to engage prominent ‘experts’ in the field – some very fruitful, not the least of which must be the warm and detailed response from Professor Glees when I wrote to him about Isaiah Berlin and Jenifer Hart many years ago, an exchange that brought me down this long path of research. Yet I have experienced several blank responses, of which the behaviours of Christopher Murphy and Dónal O’Sullivan were the most egregious in 2021.

Earlier this year, I underwent an extraordinary series of experiences with The Journal of Intelligence and National Security. After my review of Agent Sonya was published (incidentally nominated as ‘Book Review of the Year’ by Lady Gaga), I thought that I would not offer my services again. It is a rewarding exercise if one needs the publicity, or feels a charitable need to enlighten the world, but it is very time-consuming. The Journal does not pay reviewers, it works very slowly, and makes strenuous demands on the identification of sources (a practice I heartily endorse). Thus, if I have something to say, I can more speedily distribute any commentary or critique on coldspur. Moreover, it is not as if the Journal enjoys broad readership: the institution resolutely shows that it targets it product at universities, and it is supremely expensive for an independent or retired researcher to acquire individual reports that it publishes.  Its owner Taylor & Francis also publishes enhanced extracts from intelligence files at the National Archives (see http://www.secretintelligencefiles.com/unauthenticated). Professor Glees himself promotes the collection by writing here that “Few resources can be of greater use to the student of 20th century history than easy access to the original documentary evidence of how Britain’s foreign policy was shaped by secret intelligence”. But it is hardly ‘easy’ if a student is not a member of a subscribing library.

Earlier this year, however, the Journal (through the University of Aberystwyth) approached me to inquire whether I might want to review David Burke’s Family Betrayal: Agent Sonya, MI5 and the Kuczynski Network? If there was one subject that could grab my attention, this was it, and I wondered what new material Burke (who wrote The Lawn Road Flats, and The Spy Who Came in from the Co-Op, about Melita Norwood) had managed to dig up. I thus agreed – on the basis that the publisher would supply me with a hard copy, as I do not review e-books – to deliver a review for the periodical. I then waited, and waited, for the book to arrive. After about six weeks, nothing had happened, so I emailed my contact at Aberystwyth, and he promised to harass the History Press. A week or so later the book arrived, and I set to work.

I was not very much impressed. Burke did not have much new to say, repeated some erroneous claims from Co-Op, padded out his story with much familiar material, and elided even the yarns that Ben Macintyre had spun. So I wrote up my review, but, before performing the task of adding all the references required, thought I should pass my 1600-word offering by the editors in order to verify that it met their needs. But I never heard back – not even an acknowledgment. That was in August. A couple of weeks ago, however, another copy of Family Betrayal arrived in my mail-box – presumably the original dispatch, although I could not espy a date anywhere. So now I have two copies of the book, and an unpublished critique that I can surely use when I next decide to have a set of book reviews as a coldspur offering. And that will definitely be my last venture with The Journal of Intelligence and National Security.

Another academic whom I tried to contact was Calder Walton. I had rather enjoyed his 2013 book, Empire of Secrets, and noticed that he had taken up a position as Assistant Director of the Belfer Center’s Applied History Project and Intelligence Project at the Harvard Kennedy School in Boston (see https://www.belfercenter.org/person/calder-walton). Walton’s bio indicates his association with Christopher Andrew, and ‘for six years, privileged access to the archives of MI5’, a provocative claim in its own right. But what really grabbed my attention was the following: “Calder is currently undertaking two major research projects: he is general editor of the multi-volume Cambridge History of Espionage and Intelligence to be published by Cambridge University Press. Over three volumes, with ninety chapters by leading scholars, this project will be a landmark study of intelligence, exploring its use and abuse in statecraft and warfare from the ancient world to the present day.”

It occurred to me that Dr. Walton (with his very WASPish-sounding name: it is said that you can tell a true WASP if, by transposing Christian name and surname, no noticeable jarring occurs, such as with Winthrop Rutherfurd or Hudson Swafford) might not be familiar with Misdefending the Realm, or with my subsequent work on coldspur, and that the Cambridge History might be needlessly impoverished without someone in authority taking stock of some of the latest research. I thus wrote a very warm email to him, welcoming him to New England (where I used to live), and encouraging him to read a few essays on coldspur, highlighting the one concerning Dick White,that I thought would be of particular interest. And I never heard back. I notice now that I also sent him a flattering message, accompanied by a series of questions, back in 2014 after I had read Empire of Secrets, and did not receive any response then. Walton Calder – another of the Great Non-Communicants.

7.  Guy Liddell’s Diaries: TWIST and Scout

I have been revisiting the full digitized version of Guy Liddell’s Diaries, this time with the objective of picking up everything he wrote about GILBERT (Henri Déricourt), Nicolas Bodington, and SOE in general. Each time I return to the journals I discover something new, since, in previous projects, I have been focused on other persons and operations, and have had to close my mind to much of the wealth of information that resides there. What I may have overlooked as insignificant when I first passed through them can appear highly important on a later project: for example, I have just discovered several nuggets involving (primarily) Liddell, Frost, Maltby and Gambier-Parry on the severe deficiencies of RSS in 1942. I wish I had used in The Mystery of the Undetected Radios this gem from September 24, 1942, when Liddell is trying to convince his boss, Petrie, about the need for more efficient mobile units to track down new spies arriving. It confirms my analysis precisely (and Liddell does not even mention the fact that the operator might move his or her location):

If he transmitted three times a week for about 10 minutes or quarter of an hour at a time we might reasonably expect to pick him up in due course. We should then have an area of some 60 miles in which to operate the M.U.s. These units were not however particularly satisfactory since unless we happen to be fairly near at the time of transmission and searching on the direct frequency we should not pick up the transmission. If the man only came up occasionally on the call sign and changed his frequency and time it was on the whole improbable that we should pick him up at all. The technical tool was not therefore a particularly efficient one. If we were called upon to operate on the Second Front we should find ourselves singularly ill-equipped.

Moreover, a major item that I had completely ignored beforehand now seems to be a pointer to the creation of the highly secret TWIST Committee (see http://www.coldspur.com/special-bulletin-lets-twist-again/). 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.

The document passed on to the Soviets by Anthony Blunt (reproduced in Nigel West’s Triplex) claimed that the Committee was set up in September 1941: that seems improbably early, as Bevan was not appointed as Controller (replacing Stanley) until May 1942. On the other hand, Roger Hesketh placed its creation as late as April 1943, which would now appear to be a deliberate ploy to minimize its operation and influence by representing it as a short-lived phenomenon taking place after the controversial events. Moreover, August 15, 1942 happened to be the exact day on which Déricourt and Doulet escaped from southern France on the trawler Tarana, which would mean that the small meeting convened by Liddell constituted a timely intervention to authorize the role of SIS/SOE in managing agents in the cause of deception. The essential members are the same as listed in the Blunt document, which makes clear that the scope and opportunities for sowing disinformation transcended the functions of the so-called ‘double agents’ working under MI5’s B1A. What is also intriguing is that Liddell describes Hale as representing SOE: Hale in fact joined SOE as Press Adviser that very same month, but it sounds as if he had a more important role if he was already having meetings with the head of MI5’s Counter-Espionage section. It also shows that Liddell was quite au fait with what was going on, and knew about SOE’s strong presence behind the scenes. In essence, this brief episode represents another shocking and important lead to follow up, with its strong evidence that the TWIST sub-committee constituted the true deception agency before the XX Committee had matured, and provided authorization for SOE’s plots. The disastrous results all originated in this initiative.

[I plan to return to this business in February 2022. I have recently read Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s excellent Churchill’s Shadow, which is predictably scathing about Churchill’s ventures with SOE, but offers little detail. More interesting is David Stafford’s Churchill & Secret Service, from which I took copious notes several years ago. At that time, however, I paid little attention to what he wrote about the Déricourt period. I shall include consideration of his treatment in my coming analysis.]

But back to the Diaries in general. They are, in my opinion, an immensely rich and largely untapped source for the study of World War II and its aftermath. Liddell reveals an extraordinary capacity for tracking any number of complex events around the world, and combines an excellent memory with attention to detail. Yet, at the same time, they disclose the weaknesses of the man, both in the way he spent his time, and in the confessional way he entrusted his true opinions to the apparently temporary secrecy of his regular record. For he must certainly have expected that they would see the light of day some time.

Nigel West’s publication of portions of the Diaries, in two volumes, is useful up to a point. Eunan O’Halpin has written a cool and incisive criticism of West’s rather erratic approach to the selection and editorial process in Volume 1 (1939-1942) – see Intelligence and National Security (2005), “The Liddell Diaries and British Intelligence History” – and I shall not try to embellish his observations here. Moreover, the published version presents extracts only from the years 1939 to 1945 – less than half of the total coverage – and many of the most controversial episodes in MI5 counter-intelligence and counter-espionage occurred in the post-war years up to Liddell’s retirement in 1953. It is a shame that nobody has commissioned a highly capable expert to edit and publish the lot: they are replete with all manner of abbreviations, acronyms, nicknames, and operations and projects apparently unnamed elsewhere that require some deep knowledge and even powerful imagination to work out. Liddell will refer to such as ‘Buster’, ‘RJ’, ‘Anthony’ in quick succession, while mostly referring to subordinates by their surnames. Many names are usually redacted (such as Jane Archer and Kim Philby), although both have escaped the censor’s blue pencil on occasions. Whole entries and paragraphs have been blanked out. Overall the Diaries range from the ordinariness of Mrs. Dale’s Diary (“I am a bit worried about J.C. [Curry]” to the high politics of the Maisky or Lord Alanbrooke Diaries. And that is one reason why they are so compelling.

What perpetually astonishes me is the amount of time that Liddell spent dictating his record, with accounts of long meetings that have taken place, or summaries of reports that he has read, or discussions he has had with civil servants, other intelligence officers (especially those in MI6, such as Menzies and Vivian and Philby), military men, or politicians, as well, of course with the regular meetings he has with his boss Petrie and with his subordinates such as Dick White, ‘Tar’ Robertson, Herbert Hart, Anthony Blunt, John Curry, Stephen Alley, etc., etc. And then there are the numerous lunches, the dinners at his club with, say, visitors from the USA such as William Stephenson, and the parties he attends that are held for departing FBI or OSS officers, or even the Soviet NKVD contingent. Moreover, MI5 officers seem to be regularly going on leave, as well as taking lengthy time off for colds and ‘flu. One would hardly conclude there was a war on, given the way that social life went on, and leave arrangements were considered sacrosanct. (see also: http://www.coldspur.com/the-diary-of-a-counter-espionage-officer/) I have been reminded that their equivalents in SOE worked seven-day weeks, and sixteen-hour days. It does not sound just.

And that time usage gets reflected in Liddell’s effectiveness. He did not manage B Division well. He admitted, in the run-up to the succession question as Petrie spun out his day of retirement, that he was not a good administrator, not a solid delegator, and allowed a very flat organization to operate that resulted in a good deal of confusion. Moreover, he was not a strong champion and salesman of ideas, reluctant to take an issue by the throat. His diary entries are liberally scattered with the expression ‘I personally think’, as if his private being and his professional role, and how they tackled the urgent matters of policy and practice, could be separated, and in that way he betrayed the fact that he was not forthright and persuasive enough to promote and defend what he thought should happen. It is no surprise to me that he was not seriously considered for the Director-General job –  twice.

In addition, he was a poor judge of character. He was quick to criticize those in other agencies who, out of incompetence or malevolence, frustrated him, such as Vivian, Cowgill, Gambier-Parry and Maltby, but was hoodwinked, like so many others, by Philby. Yet he surrounded himself with shady characters and hollow men like Hart, Rothschild, Blunt, and Hollis – even Guy Burgess, who crops up frequently in his journals although he was not directly employed by MI5. Capel-Dunn, the model for Anthony Powell’s ghastly Widmerpool, makes some brief appearances. Meanwhile, a cast of solid, dependable characters moves around in the background – Sclater, Moreton-Evans, Cimperman, Mills, ‘Tar’ Robertson, Brooman-White, Bagot, Jane Archer and Loxley (tragically killed in an aircraft accident on his way to Yalta). Lurking continuously is the ambiguous figure of Dick White, who would outmanœuvre his boss on the path to the Director-Generalship. The whole saga would make an excellent TV series – ‘MI5 at War’, first at war with the Nazis, then with MI6, next with the Soviets, and lastly with itself. Just an idea.

So we are left with the rich insights of a highly intelligent but flawed individual, too cerebral, and not tough or political enough even for his job as Director of Counter-Espionage, let alone MI5 Director-General. Dick White outwitted him with his sharp elbows, and cool manner. Yet MI5 was betrayed overall by a ponderous government bureaucracy, and continually had to deal with the competitive wiles of MI6, which appeared to have more clout through its relationships with the Foreign Office, and through Menzies’ direct contact with Churchill. It astonishes me how, in the midst of war, so much time and energy was spent by so many persons considering the overlap of counter-intelligence activity in MI5 and MI6, and whether amalgamation of the two services should occur. Throughout the war, the debate about combining the two services, or parts of them, is ponderously engaged upon, and in the last year Findlater Stewart’s ‘terms of reference’ for investigating the two services are a constant theme.

Liddell, moreover, never came to grips with the Communist threat, always assuming that the only subversive risk would come from the Communist Party. His trust of characters like Anthony Blunt (who appears regularly in the Diaries), is quite remarkable. An article, or coldspur bulletin, on the Liddell-Blunt relationship and exchanges alone could be framed quite easily. This month I picked out a few observations from 1944 that I had overlooked before. On June 28 he wrote: “For example at the moment at any rate Russian espionage could not possibly be carried out except in the background of the CPGB”. On October 21 he cited his friend Peter Loxley, who had just returned from a discussion with Kim Philby: “Peter said he thought that Section IX were perhaps going a bit wide. He had had a talk with Kim about this. Anything in the nature of pursuing prominent communists all over the world was, he thought, a waste of time. The sort of thing should be done on a more selective basis. In other words in areas where the Soviet Govt. had vital interests.” Quite so. Thank you, Kim. Lastly, on November 27, Blunt tried to take control of Soviet counter-espionage: “Anthony came to see me about the possibility of getting assistance from Shillito. He thought the latter might bring his Russian espionage up to London and do part time in B1B. I am rather doubtful as to whether this would be a satisfactory arrangement, but I will have a talk with Roger.” Hollis would no doubt have some firm ideas.

8. In Memoriam: Geoffrey Elliott (1939-2021)

Apart from a brief conversation with Mark Seaman at Lancaster House, I believe I have ever met or corresponded with only two acknowledged alumni of MI6 (or MI5). The senior of the two was Geoffrey Elliott, who died in Bermuda earlier this year. The reason that I may have gained an entrée was that he had been taught by my father, at Whitgift School (the same institution that I attended), after the war. I gathered from reading his memoir about his father, Kavan, who was an SOE agent dropped into Czechoslovakia, that his memories of the school were not wholly negative – an impression that surprised me a little, given his exotic background and later enterprises. I thus got in touch with him through St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and we spoke once or twice by telephone, and communicated more by email. He turned out to be a very helpful supplier of insights to me during the time I was researching my thesis, and maintained a caustic and engaging sense of humour in the confidences he shared with me.

His memoir, I Spy; The Secret Life of a British Agent is perhaps his best book. He wrote another fascinating study (Secret Classrooms), co-authored with Harold Shukman, of the Joint Services School for Linguists, where he learned Russian, and he also collaborated with Igor Damaskin on a valuable biography of Donald Maclean’s mistress, Kitty Harris: The Spy With Seventeen Names. His brief profile of ‘Tar’ Robertson, Gentleman Spymaster, is no doubt his weakest book, as he admitted to me, full of anecdotal information, much of which is irrelevant to the story. He was also a very busy translator. He is listed as the translator of Rufina Philby’s Private Life of Kim Philby, and is also credited, by Nigel West, in his Acknowledgements to Triplex, as the co-translator (alongside Didna Goebbel) of the Russian documents that the NKVD itself translated from English sources when they were passed on by such as Anthony Blunt and Kim Philby. This achievement has a singular historical significance, as the British Government has not seen fit to release the English originals (if they still exist, of course). We owe it to Soviet espionage to be able to inspect valuable historical records that should be part of our documentary heritage.

When I heard about Geoffrey’s death, I sought out his other family memoir, From Siberia, With Love, published in 2004, which tells of the adventures of his grandparents’ (on his mother’s side), and which I had completely overlooked beforehand. They brought him up in London when his father was on some of his many absences. Having once escaped from Irkutsk to the United Kingdom in 1907, they somewhat improbably returned to the area, only having to flee again when the Bolsheviks took over, thus proving life’s contingency on very slender threads. I was somewhat startled to read a sentence in Elliott’s book which directly echoes (or anticipates) what I wrote in my piece A Rootless Cosmopolitan:

            There is really no comparison between my grandparents’ iron-spiked experiences and my marshmallow life. They could never go back to where they were born. I can; though when I do, I feel ever more disconnected, déraciné, what Stalin called a ‘rootless cosmopolitan’, while at the same time till the day I die I shall be seen as a foreigner in the place I now regard as home.

Of all the books I have read in 2021 this is the one I have enjoyed the most. It is well-researched (although it includes a certain amount of speculation concerning his grandfather’s experiences), rich in its description of life in Odessa and in Siberia – and in London – at the beginning of the last century, and occasionally very amusing. Elliott shows a very dry wit, and a deep sense of history. I regret that I never made the hop over to Bermuda to shake his hand. St. Antony’s College offers him a tribute at https://www.sant.ox.ac.uk/about/news/geoffrey-elliott-22-april-1939-%E2%80%93-1-may-2021.

9. Philbymania

Nikolay Dolgopolov’s ‘Kim Philby’

I am astonished by the number of books on Kim Philby that continue to be published. I have been gathering some volumes on intelligence by the Russian Nikolay Dolgopolov, including a biography of Philby. It is a rather unsatisfactory composition, lacking an index or any kind of sources (indexes and footnotes are so bourgeois, don’t you agree?), with the Contents placed at the back, in the conventional Russian manner. I was hoping to find some original inclusion of documents that Philby had passed on to his masters, but they do not seem to be there. No telegrams from the period between June 1941 and May 1948 are reproduced. Instead, I read some extraneous padding in chapters dedicated to each of his comrades in the Cambridge 5, and one dedicated to possible members beyond the Five. It seems that Dolgopolov does not even mention ELLI, and dismisses the idea of Hollis’s guilt with a snort. But I shall persevere with the text in the hope of gleaning something new.

Then there is Helen Fry’s book. I have not yet read it cover to cover, but the chapter on Philby seems to suggest that Philby and Hugh Gaitskell may have been working unofficially for MI6 when they were in Vienna in 1933 and 1934, a hypothesis provoked by the fact that Kendrick did not call Philby out for his aid to the communists. It sounds a bit unlikely to me (Would Philby really have taken all those risks, including marrying Litzi Friedman? What about Maurice Dobb, and his advice to Philby? What was all that subterfuge with the Anglo-German Friendship Society for? And how come Kendrick was The Man Who Saved MI6 if he was hoodwinked by Philby?), but I shall have to read the whole work, and come to some carefully considered judgment. [Postscript, December 30: I have now read the book. Much of it is practically unreadable: the author has no analytical sense, writes clunky prose, and makes all manner of unverifiable assertions, dismal errors of fact, and sophomoric observations about the war and intelligence. I am amazed that Yale University Press has put its name to it. Maybe I shall return to it at some other time.]

This summer saw the appearance of two more volumes, Kim and Jim, by Michael Holzman, which explores the linkage and conflict between Philby and James Angleton, his counterpart at the CIA, who was (according to Holzman) heavily influenced by the MI6 officer in World War 2, and then Love and Deception, by James Hanning, which analyses Philby’s time in Beirut, and the circumstances leading up to his escape to Moscow in January 1963. I have affectionately dubbed this book Kim and Tim, after his longstanding friend from Westminster School, Tim Milne, who features prominently.

I have been in contact with both authors over time, and I even get a mention in the Acknowledgments of Hanning’s work, but what I say should come as no surprise to either of them. While there may be aspects of Philby’s life on which new light can be directed (such as his journalism, as Holzman claims), I wonder whether it is worth anyone’s time packaging such insights into a new publication where so much familiar material has to be trotted out to pad the story.

Michael Holzman’s book makes much of the influence that Philby was assumed to have exerted on Angleton during World War II, but this evidence is tenuous. The intersection of their careers, moreover, appears to be focused on double-cross operations, and in this arena Holzman seems to be unfortunately at sea, since he continually misrepresents the dynamics of what ‘double agents’ involve, and their role in disinformation campaigns. Thus his book relates some very familiar accounts of Philby’s activities, complemented by a large amount of material of some historical interest that is irrelevant to the main thread. Holzman appears not to have read or internalised what I have written in Misdefending the Realm, or on coldspur, and acknowledges no references to my researches. Moreover, the book has been compiled in a bizarre way: the chapters are unnumbered, and the sources are even more inscrutable than in most such works, with no easy indication to which passages the references relate. What Holzman has shown, however, is an enterprising inspection of the work of Dolgopolov.

Likewise, Hanning (who, I know, has seen my pieces on Blunt) does not appear to have read Misdefending the Realm, and does not consider any of my evidence about Blunt’s culpability. (I am relegated to a minor footnote, with an inaccurate url, on page 299, where I have to share space with that erratic potboiler, Roland Perry, which is not very comforting.) Hanning’s highly speculative book does admittedly contain some mildly absorbing details about Lebanese politics, but they really reveal no fresh insights on the enigma of Philby’s tip-off. The enthusiastic blurbs that bedeck the cover do not seem justified to me. His text appears to consist of a long series of rhetorical questions about Philby’s motivations and behaviour, and his discoveries (such as they are) do not shed much fresh light on his subject. Inexplicably, the author William Boyd selected it as his Book of the Year in the Times Literary Supplement.

Yet the spate of books on Philby continues, all claiming to display a new angle on the enigmatic personality of the traitor. I select here a gamut of titles exploiting Philbymania that I have spotted in the publishers’ lists for 2022:

Barbara Pym

Kim and Pym: The whimsical novelist Barbara Pym met Kim at an Anglo-German Friendship dinner in 1937, and was instantly smitten. Her passion was not fully reciprocated, but the couple carried on a brief tempestuous relationship, and the trove of their correspondence was discovered –  and then authenticated –  by Hugh Trevor-Roper shortly before the patrician historian’s death. Kim and Pym analyzes what was one of the most intriguing romances of the twentieth century. Philby has been declared by some to be the model for Francis Cleveland in Pym’s Crampton Hodnet. Others say: ‘No way’.

The Brothers Grimm

Kim and Grimm: Philby accompanied his friend Tim Milne on a trip to Germany in 1933, about which we know little. In his book Stalin’s Agent, Boris Volodarsky reveals the existence of agent GRIMM, hitherto unidentified, who was recruited by Arnold Deutsch in Berlin, and became active in London in 1934. This book closes the circle, explaining Philby’s recruitment much earlier than has been supposed to date, and describing how the master-spy was given the cryptonym of the Nazis’ favourite folk-tale authors, whose work was compulsory reading in schools. It also had a serious influence on Philby’s internal tussles with Good and Evil.

Kim Il-Sung

Kim and Kim: In the early days of his premiership, the North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung was considering breaking away from Soviet hegemony, but his advisers convinced him to engage Philby as a consultant, to remind him of the righteousness of the communist cause. Kim1 persuaded Kim2 not to ‘go wobbly’, and millions of North Koreans have subsequently had reason to thank the Westminster School Old Boy for their country’s happy development, celebrating their hero’s birthday every January 1 with fireworks, singing of the school song, and fan-dancing.

Cardinal Richelieu & Inspector Dim

Kim and Dim: The inspiration for Monty Python’s Inspector Dim (who exposed Ron Higgins as a professional Cardinal Richelieu impersonator) was none other than MI5’s Roger Hollis, who was known not to be the sharpest knife in the drawer. Yet he had a more subtle side. Kim and Dim exposes the ploys that Philby and Hollis engineered to subvert British intelligence, including the mythology of ELLI that confused their colleagues so much, and brought much fame and fortune to Chapman Pincher.

Wim Duisenberg

Kim and Wim: When bouffant-haired Dutch Labour Party minister Wim Duisenberg retired suddenly from politics in 1978, no one suspected that he was being groomed to be President of the Central Bank. This was a scheme contrived by the KGB and Philby to undermine Dutch finances, and Kim and Wim had several furtive meetings on neutral territory to prepare for the coup. With a Foreword by Margrethe Vestager.

Slim Whitman

Kim and Slim: One of Kim’s private passions was a love of country-music, and listening to the Greatest Hits of Slim Whitman in the evenings with a bottle or two of brandy gave him much solace in those bleak last days in Beirut. Yet, when he escaped to Moscow, and tried to have Whitman invited on a concert-tour, the Soviet authorities refused to grant a visa to the Smilin’ Starduster, thus contributing largely to Kim’s growing malaise in the Workers’ Paradise.

Alastair Sim

Kim and Sim: Philby was a keen aficionado of stage and screen, and had been very impressed by the performances of Alastair Sim. The oyster-eyed thespian from Edinburgh was introduced to him, and then educated him in how to control the stage. Thus Philby was able to take the entourage of reporters for a dance when he denied his role as the ‘Third Man’ at his mother’s flat in 1955. Judi Dench, citing the assessment of that performance by her husband, Michael Williams, has described it as ‘a complete lesson in acting’.

The ZIm12

Kim and Zim: When Philby arrived in Moscow in 1963, one of his first requests was to be given a ZIM-12 limousine as a mark of his membership of the nomenklatura. He was immediately rebuked as a dangerous ‘capitalist-roadster’, since the ZIM, named after the sometime Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, had been rebranded after Molotov’s fall from favour in 1957. The two forged a bond from this episode, and Kim and ‘Stonearse’ would regularly get together to drink Molotov cocktails, listen to Slim Whitman, and read the Grimm Brothers’ Kinder- und Hausmärchen to each other until Molotov’s death in 1986.

Vyacheslav Molotov

Kim and Nym: [That’s enough ‘Kim’ books. Ed.]

10. Letters to the Editor

One of these days, when I am behind in my research, I shall fill my monthly column with a selection of (mostly unpublished) Letters to the Editor of various publications. I am frequently provoked to spend the time on such exercises when I am troubled by some error, occasionally a matter of simple fact, but more frequently the expression of a misguided opinion by someone who ought to know better. One of my pet peeves is the attribution of purposefulness to the process of evolution, and I noticed that Anna Katharina Schaffner, described as Professor of Cultural History at the University of Kent and Director of Perspectiva’s Emerge project (don’t ask) had committed this error in her review of Charles Foster’s Being a Human in the Times Literary Supplement of October 15. I was thus happy that the periodical printed my letter on November 12. It read as follows:

Could Professor Schaffner be a bit more precise about her categories (review of Being a Human, October 15)? She states that ‘our woes started in the Neolithic period’, and that ‘we traded awe for convenience and control’. But then she goes on to write: “How can we ever truly understand people whose sense of self was so different from our own?” If the Professor is evidently so confused about who ‘we’ are, it does not help the rest of us in sorting out these vexing questions. Furthermore, she appears to misunderstand how evolution works, writing that our ancestors’ “brains grew in size to help them navigate ever more complex relationships”. Such relationships would have foundered irretrievably by the time such changes occurred, and, if evolution were driven by need, waiters and mothers would presumably have acquired two pairs of hands by now.

Professor Schaffner displayed that annoying manner of the preachy journalist, namely using the term ‘we’ when it is not clear whether the writer means ‘you and I’, ‘all right-thinking persons’, ‘the whole of the human race’ or any entity in between. Thus we may read of what ‘we’ have to do to achieve certain goals (e.g. ‘saving the planet’, ‘eradicating world poverty’, ‘delivering racial justice’, ‘shutting out Greta Thunberg’) without having any idea as to what the plan of action is. I noticed that Martin Vander Weyer, the financial correspondent for the Spectator, had written a book titled The Good, the Bad and the Greedy: Why We’ve Lost Faith in Capitalism. Since I regarded him as a champion of free enterprise, I wrote to ask him in what way he belonged to the ‘We’ of the title, wondering, perhaps, whether he was planning to move to North Korea. He replied: “You’ll find the book is in fact a vigorous defence of the good aspects of capitalism”, which is encouraging, I suppose, but merely shows that the choice of title was supremely silly and misleading.

On a slightly less serious note, Literary Review runs a series of modest cartoons titled ‘Illustrations to Unwritten Books’, and the example given in the October edition was ‘How Green Was My Valet’, showing a manservant suffering from severe dyspepsia. Now I very clearly recalled Kenneth Williams treating Richard Llewellyn’s 1939 classic in a similar fashion in a segment of Beyond our Ken on the BBC Light Programme about sixty years ago, only on this occasion the ’greenness’ that the valet displayed was a tint of envy rather than of biliousness. I was gratified to see that the magazine printed my correction.

I suppose this response was unique. After all, one had to be old enough to be a radio-listener from those days, one had to be an avid Kenneth Horne fan, one had to remember the episode clearly, one had to be a contemporary Literary Review reader, and one had to be eccentric enough to believe that it was worth spending a few minutes writing up the observation.  Step forward, coldspur! My brother Michael came closest, reminding me of the following: “That was an excerpt from How Green Was My Valley, another in our series of a film worth remembering, which is more than can be said for the next half-hooouur”, but for some inexplicable reason he is not a Literary Review subscriber.

Christmas Cards from ‘Prospect’: 2020 & 2021

Lastly, those Christmas cards from Prospect magazine. I gave the Editor, Tom Clark, a very hard time a year ago for signing a card to me that included the horrible phrase ‘Myself and the whole team wish you a very happy Christmas’. Well, someone must have taken notice, as the curse of coldspur fell upon him, and he is no longer Editor. I see that Clark has been appointed a Fellow at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation: I am not sure what these chaps do at such institutions, but I hope he learns to write good English there, and gets lots of free chocolate. In his final editorial at Prospect, Clark stated that he would now ‘pass the reins to the legendary former Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger’. Now I had long imagined that Rusbridger was not a mythical being, however, but a real person, and my suspicions were confirmed when I received a Christmas card from the piano-playing ex-principal of Lady Margaret Hall, this time addressed to ‘Mr Percy’, not ‘Richard’. As you can see, Mr. R has improved the syntax, although it appears that Guardian journalists are still not quite sure that ‘the team and I’ (or ‘the team, including me’) would be an appropriate way of identifying themselves. Or perhaps, simply ‘we all’, like the Gang I introduced at the beginning of this post?

This month’s Commonplace entries can be seen here.

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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.]

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