The Spies Who Never Were
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by Hervie Haufler
Category: General Nonfiction
Description: After the fall of France in the mid-1940s, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler faced a British Empire which refused to negotiate for peace. Full-scale war loomed and Hitler ordered the Abwehr, Germany's defense and intelligence organization, to carry out Operation Lena, a program to place information-gathering spies within Britain. Quickly, a network of secret agents spread within the United Kingdom and across the British Empire. A master of disguises, a professional safecracker, a scrubwoman, a diplomat's daughter--they all reported news of the Allied defenses and strategies back to their German spymasters. One Yugoslav playboy codenamed "Tricycle" infiltrated the highest echelon of British society and is said to have been Ian Fleming's model for James Bond. The true irony, though, is that every last one of these German spies had been captured and "turned" by the British. As double agents, they sent a canny mix of truth and misinformation back to Hitler, all carefully controlled by the Allies. As one British report put it: "By means of the double agent system, we actually ran and controlled the German espionage system in this country." In THE SPIES WHO NEVER WERE, World War II veteran cryptographer Hervie Haufler brings you the true story of these double agents and their deceptions. This richly-woven, fascinating account lays out both the worldwide machinations and the personal clashes that went into "the greatest deception in the history of warfare."
eBook Publisher: E-Reads/E-Reads, 2006
eBookwise Release Date: March 2011
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [375 KB]
Reading time: 227-318 min.
THE MOST DELICIOUS IRONY
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As the 1930s unfolded, Nazi Germany's chancellor, Adolf Hitler, discounted any thought of another war between Germany and Great Britain. He saw the British as an Aryan-blooded superior people whose rulers were descendants of German royalty. They should, therefore, be sympathetic to his ethnic policies. As a capitalist country, Britain should also be supportive of his animus toward the Communists of the Soviet Union. Instead of making war against him, the British might at least protect his back while the German war machine, the Wehrmacht, was wiping out the detested, ethnically inferior Bolsheviks.
In these beliefs, Hitler was encouraged by members of the British upper classes who expressed admiration for him, his regime and his ideas. It must have seemed to the German chancellor that much of the British aristocracy was on his side. Among those he could count on for support were the Duke of Westminster, the Duke of Hamilton, the Duke of Wellington, the Marquess of Graham and Baron Redesdale, father of the Mitford sisters, two of whom became such ardent pro-Nazis that the eldest, Diana, married Oswald Mosley, founder of the British Union of Fascists. The marriage took place in Joseph Goebbels' drawing room in Berlin with Hitler as one of six guest witnesses. Topping off this pantheon of Hider enthusiasts was Britain's former king, the Duke of Windsor, who was feted by the Nazis and spoke glowingly of their merits.
Subsequently, the pro-Hitler British coterie so entranced Deputy Fuehrer Rudolf Hess, whose blind, doglike devotion had begun to pall on Hitler, that he tried to regain his master's favor by making his mad solo flight to Scotland, where he hoped to enlist the aid of the Duke of Hamilton in negotiating a separate peace between the "Aryan blood brothers" of Britain and Germany.
With all this to sway him, Hitler was understandably loath to see this promising relationship soured by the possible unmasking of German secret agents operating in Britain. So as not to offend the British, in the summer of 1935 he ordered the Abwehr, the German defense and security intelligence organization, not to establish any spy network in Great Britain. Even when the Germans invaded Poland as a necessary prelude to their war against the Soviets and drove Britain to join with France in declaring war against Germany, Hitler persisted in believing that the British would come to terms and collaborate rather than continue to fight.
Only in mid-1940, when Britain refused to negotiate for peace after the fall of France, did Hitler change his mind. He gave up his hopes for a rapprochement with the stubborn British and accepted the idea that his forces might have to invade and neutralize the threat on his western flank before he could launch his planned attack against the Soviets. It was then that he ordered the Abwehr to carry out Operation Lena, his program for playing catch-up in the spy game.
His secret service was forced to build upon slim prewar beginnings. One reliable agent in their fold was Arthur George Owens, whose anger against the British was fueled by his ardent Welsh nationalist beliefs. Owens was an electrical engineer, chemist and inventor working for a high-technology firm with business interests in Germany. His special abilities in battery technology opened doors for him on the Continent. On his trips during the thirties, he let his German contacts know of his bitter anti-British feelings. Approached by the Abwehr, he agreed to serve the Germans as an informer who could supply useful information about the Royal Navy. To the delight of his controllers in Hamburg, Owens was willing to do more than rely on only his own observations. He began recruiting other dissidents to serve as his subagents reporting from vantage points around the British Isles.
When the war began and the Germans seized and occupied Jersey, one of Britain's Channel Islands, the Abwehr found another willing agent in Eddie Chapman, a professional safecracker whom the British had embittered by capturing him and imprisoning him on the island. His German controllers saw in him and his criminal expertise the makings of an ideal saboteur. They released him from prison, code-named him Fritzchen and brought him to Germany for demolition training before parachuting him back into England.
In one of their own prisons, the Germans held a Polish Army Air Force officer, Roman Garby-Czerniawski. After the Wehrmacht had crushed Poland in 1939, he had escaped to France and, when France was conquered, become the leader of a Polish-French resistance group. He and some sixty of his followers had been captured by the Germans and faced execution. A smart Abwehr officer, however, recognized that Garby-Czerniawski had the intelligence and cool courage to become a first-rate spy. After interviewing the Pole, the officer offered him a deal: Become an agent in Britain for the Abwehr, and instead of executing the members of Garby-Czerniawski s resistance group, the Germans would treat them as prisoners of war. Garby-Czerniawski at first rejected the offer, but when the German armies began to roll up major victories against the Soviets, he reconsidered. He now saw that Russia, not Germany, was Poland's real enemy. By means of a prearranged "escape" to Britain, he became one of the Abwehr's most valued agents.
A Spaniard, Juan Pujol, sought out the Germans and volunteered to become a spy for them. Approaching the German consulate in Madrid, he asserted his willingness to undertake this dangerous duty because of the hatred of Communism he had formed during the Spanish Civil War. In July 1941 the Germans equipped him with a questionnaire, secret ink, money and an address to which he could mail his findings, code-named him Arabel and sent him to England. He began immediately sending back letters filled with acute observations. In addition, like Owens, he began to line up subagents to work with him, reporting from advantageous sites throughout England. His flow of information became so copious and valuable that in time, with his spymaster's approval, he began radio transmissions.
Dusko Popov was the scion of a wealthy Yugoslav family. Through his family's business interests and his own personal charm he moved comfortably in the elevated social circles of many countries. Once he had been chosen to introduce Britain's yacht-minded Duke of York to the Belgrade sailing club during the duke's visit to Yugoslavia. Before the war, Popov had gone to seek his doctorate in law at Germany's Freiberg University---an experience that had made him familiar with the regime of Adolf Hitler. Five months after the war began, and while he was practicing law in Belgrade, he was approached by two members of the Abwehr. Together they laid out a proposition to Popov. The Germans had agents in Britain, they told him, but none who was capable of operating at a high enough social level to secure top-drawer political, economic and military information. The Abwehr wanted Popov to go to England, under the cover of his business interests, and open the doors that would provide him, and the Germans, with information available in no other way. The proposal appealed to Popovs adventurous nature. In addition, he was pleased by the generous financing the Abwehr promised him. Code-named Ivan by his German spymasters, he went to England and made himself an acute observer of British leaders throughout the war.
Lily Sergueiew hated the Russian Communists: they had driven her family out of their homeland during a purge of suspected czarist supporters. Transplanted in France at the war's outset, she volunteered to serve as a spy for Germany. Her ability to handle Morse code radio messages interested the Abwehr officers in Paris. She was sent to England and was soon sending back to her spymaster as many as three reports per day detailing the Allied forces preparing for the invasion of northern France.
Conducting Operation Lena, the Abwehr sought out adventure-minded young men they could train as spies. One of these was Wulf Schmidt, the son of a Danish mother and a German father who had served in the German air force in its early days. The family lived in Germany until the start of the First World War. Then his mother took Wulf back to Denmark. He was, however, a German citizen, and when the Nazis came to power he became excited by a reading of Hitler's Mein Kampf. He left off his law studies at Liibeck University and joined the Nazi Party in Denmark. His zeal also prompted him to volunteer to be a spy for the Germans. After completing his training in Morse code, radio transmission, code work and parachute jumping, he was designated agent V-3725, a serial number indicating both the Abwehr station running him and his position on their list of agents. On the night of September 19, 1940, he landed in England, clutching his transmitter. During the war he sent more than a thousand messages back to Germany and became so trusted that, as we shall see, he became the Abwehr s paymaster to other agents.
In 1941 the Abwehr recruited two Norwegian lads, Helge Moe and Tor Glad, and trained them to be saboteurs. Landed by rubber dinghy on a Scottish beach along with demolition equipment and a two-way radio set, they succeeded in such missions as destroying a food storage dump and an electricity generating station. While their radio equipment was meant to be used to report their sabotage efforts, they also became keen observers of Allied military moves in Scotland and northern England.
The Abwehr's spy network was not limited to the United Kingdom. In Cairo, as an example, they had recruited a very productive agent named Paul Nicossof, an anti-British resident willing to keep the Germans informed on Britain's forces in the Middle East.
With these and some other lesser agents in place and submitting reams of valuable information, the Germans were confident that their needs for special intelligence were being met and they could slack off in extending their spy network.
For the Allies, the most delicious irony of the war was that not one of these agents was what he or she purported to be. The entire network of individuals seeming to work as spies for the Germans was actually under British control. It may seem incredible that every spy the Germans thought they had stationed in Britain was a double agent reporting back to his or her spymaster only what British case officers permitted them to report, but it is true. Those messages did contain carefully selected true information of some value, but increasingly they also included an edge of misinformation calculated to deceive the Germans and lead them to self-damaging decisions. As an official report expressed it: "By means of the double-agent system, we actually ran and controlled the German espionage system in this country."
Recognition that this claim was true took time to be accepted. Those in charge of the double-agent system ruefully admitted later that "opportunities were lost and chances missed by a pardonable excess of caution." Although they could not readily acknowledge that their control was complete, the British saw that they could build on the agents they were managing.
True, Arthur Owens, code-named Snow by the British as a partial anagram of his name, was Welsh, but any anti-British resentment he may have felt was not strong enough to make him serve the Nazis once the war began. Always rather a slick opportunist, Owens saw the chance, prewar, to use his business trips to Germany to collect items of interest to British intelligence while also passing on bits of information considered of value by the Abwehr. As war approached, however, he declared his real allegiance to Britain and agreed to his double-agent role. As for the band of subagents he had supposedly recruited in Britain, they were all figments of his imagination. To have Snow's network of spies reporting from different points in the UK was fully as much an advantage to his British controllers as it was perceived to be by his German spymasters.
Eddie Chapman's explanation of why he was ready to serve the Nazis was also a pose rather than a reality. Whatever anger he felt toward Britain for sticking him in stir was far from being a powerful enough motivation to make him betray his country.
Chapman was a nervy character who convinced the German command on Jersey to believe in his desire for vengeance against his captors, release him from prison and send him to the Continent to hone his skills with explosives. Trained by the Germans to be a demolition expert, he was parachuted back onto British soil, where he promptly gave himself up, received the British code name ZigZag and was helped to conduct sabotage efforts that were convincing when photographed by German reconnaissance planes without doing real damage to the facilities supposedly blown up.
Garby-Czerniawski's expressed belief that Germany was Poland's best hope for the future was only a ruse. From the first moment he made his deal with the Germans, he had betrayal in mind. Reaching England in July 1942, he soon declared himself to British military intelligence. It was arranged that he would join the staff of the Polish military in exile and serve as their liaison with the Royal Air Force--a position that would, in the Germans' eyes, make him a valuable source of information about Allied air force plans. Originally giving himself the code name of Armand, he became Armand Walenty when he operated his resistance group in France and Hubert when he agreed to be a spy for Germany. He made his final transition to the British code name of Brutus, derived from his first name, Roman, and became a highly respected agent for the Nazis even though he was doing his best to deceive them.
The antipathy toward Communism that Juan Pujol gave as his reason for serving the Germans was more than overmatched by his detestation of Nazi Fascism. He entered the spy game simply because he wanted to do what he could to bring down the Hitler regime. Code-named Garbo by the British because he matched the film star Greta Garbo's ability to adapt to many different roles, Pujol, with his cast of imagined subagents, became the most highly regarded of the Germans' spies while also reigning as the star of the British show. The thousands of messages he dispatched to his Abwehr controller in Madrid contained enough fact to sustain the approval of the Germans and enough fiction to satisfy his English guides.
When Dusko Popov was courted by the Germans in Belgrade, he slipped away to check with the British embassy there. Yes, he was told, go along with the Germans while actually working for us. Popov did go to Britain as a very well-off Yugoslav businessman. His controllers there saw to it that he mingled with the governmental and social leaders from whom, as the Nazis hoped, he could secure indiscreetly revealed information of great value to the Germans. The British gave him the code name Tricycle because he soon lined up two subagents to form a triumvirate of deceit in Britain.
Lily Sergueiew's hatred for the Bolsheviks was only a pose. Her real animus was against the Nazis. She conned the Abwehr into taking her on as a spy in England who could send back reports both by secret-ink letters and by radio. She arranged for her true role by acquainting the British with her intentions even before her arrival in London. A temperamental woman given to instant rages, she nevertheless became a highly valued double agent with the code name Treasure. Her early letters relied heavily on material supplied by the British. But with the approach of D-Day, she began a heavy schedule of radio transmissions whose content was enriched by her romance with an American officer in England. Treasure made herself a prime figure in misleading the Germans to expect an attack across the Channel from southeastern England rather than in Normandy.
As for Germany's own assigned agents, the hurried training they received left them vulnerable to gaffes that quickly gave them away. One made the mistake of trying to use his forged ration book to pay for a meal in a restaurant. Another thought that when he was billed two and six, he should pay two pounds and six shillings, not two shillings and sixpence. Still another tried to enter a pub at nine a.m., not realizing that the law forbade pubs to open before ten. And none of them could know that their faked identity papers contained easy-to-spot errors that had been placed there when, in preparing the documents, the Germans had sought the advice of Arthur Owens.
The prospect of a German invasion of Britain in 1940 forced the Abwehr to mount a desperate effort to make up for lost time and infiltrate spies into England. Of the twenty-one agents they landed on British soil, all but one were either captured or gave themselves up. The exception committed suicide. Faced with the choice of cooperating or being hanged, a number opted for survival. Wulf Schmidt was one of these. Code-named Tate for reasons explained later, he gradually underwent a most welcome conversion, rejecting the Nazi tyranny and embracing the democratic lifestyle of the British. He developed into one of the most trusted and useful of the double agents.
As soon as they could manage after their landing in Scotland, Helge Moe and Tor Glad surrendered to local police and were turned over to British counterintelligence. The Norwegians were there to commit sabotage, right? Very well, the same sort of British tricksters who were to aid Eddie Chapman went to work for their new double agents, whom they code-named Mutt and Jeff from the names of two American cartoon characters. The deception experts staged blowups that the successful pair could describe in their transmissions. Their reports, together with outraged accounts in the British press, made gratifying news for their German controllers. Subsequently, the duo figured prominently in one of the main deceptions supporting the D-Day landings.
As for the Cairo agent Paul Nicossof, he was what the British came to speak of as an entirely "notional"--that is, imaginary--spy. With the connivance of British intelligence in Cairo, he had been established there by an Italian Jew, Renato Levi, code-named Cheese, perhaps because he was the bait to catch the Axis mice. Levi had approached the German intelligence chiefs in Rome with the proposal that he go to Egypt, line up an agent there and return to handle the Italian end of the informational link. Using scripts prepared by the British and a British noncom as his radio operator, the notional Nicossof transmitted enough truth to affirm his bona fides before beginning deceptions important to the Middle East command.
While these were the main players in the double agents' drama, there was a large supporting cast. In all, some 120 individuals became double agents, many for only short periods, others until the end of the war. The files bristle with code names such as Balloon, Careless, Gelatine, Hamlet, Lipstick, Snark, Mullet, Puppet and Treasure. The humans beyond the code names varied from a successful English businessman too old for active service but wanting to do his bit, to a Yugoslav domestic servant working in England and recruited by the Abwehr to report on food prices, urban morale and whatever useful gossip she could pick up.
The British in charge of the double agents delighted in the success stories of captured would-be agents who were "turned." But they also realized that some of these captives had to be executed, for either of two reasons. One was that when a spy was captured not quietly by intelligence forces but very publicly by local police, press accounts were more than likely to reach the Germans. If no action was taken, the enemy's suspicions might be aroused. The other reason was that some publicized executions had to take place in order to protect those who were turned and working under British control. To have all their agents land without any being detected would, again, have raised questions in the minds of Abwehr officials.
In the end, the British wasted no time in gloating over the irony of having an enemy's entire espionage system under their thumbs. British leaders recognized theirs as an unprecedented but most fragile advantage, one that deserved the immediate and undistracted attention of the most gifted minds that could be assembled. Fortunately for the history of our times, those individuals did come together to create the system that made the most of that advantage without ever committing a blunder that would have negated it. Their task was huge: to supply superior brainpower to make up for Britain's inferiority in arms and numbers of fighting men.