- The Story So Far
- Morgan and Operation COCKADE
- COCKADE and the Historians
- Prosper’s Torment
- The Dangle
- SOE’s Strategy & The Chiefs of Staff
- The Aftermath, and Conclusions
The Story So Far
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
- We shall launch an unserious attack on the Pas de Calais.
- We hope to engage the GAF, but have a slim chance of destroying it.
- The Pas de Calais is the best defended area of the French coastline.
- The area is not large enough to support an invasion-capable force.
- The Germans will not take this attack seriously.
- We hope to supplement the air attack with bombardments by battleships (if the Royal Navy agrees).
- We are, however, not confident that a presence of battleships will be useful.
- We shall thus pretend to launch an assault on Normandy as well, with an even flimsier feint.
- We shall augment this with the pretence of the unlikely arrival of a fleet from the USA.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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