The 617 Squadron Association ‘Historian’

I am posting this Special Bulletin to record a recent email exchange between Dr. Robert Owen, the official historian of the 617 Squadron Association, and me. As part of my campaign to elevate awareness of the saga of ‘The Airmen Who Died Twice’, I had tried to contact the Squadron through various means, without success. Then, in the middle of May, I found a different email address, and sent my Synopsis (see https://coldspur.com/the-airmen-who-died-twice-synopsis/ ), as well as the supporting PDFs, to it. At the end of the month I received an email from Dr. Owen, and the following brief correspondence ensued.

Dr. Owen to me, May 29:

“Dear Mr Percy,

Your analysis of the crash of Lancaster PB416 has been passed to me for comment.

There are certainly a lot of unanswered questions in respect of the loss of this aircraft, not least the actual number of bodies found at the crash site and subsequently interred.

 In analysing your hypothesis I have also consulted with my counterpart in the IX Sqn Association (an ex RAF Tornado navigator) who has also looked into this incident, hence my rather delayed reply.

My own reading of this work is that it tells two separate stories – Operation Paravane with the loss of PB416 and, if I have understood it correctly, an alleged plot (the explanation of the Soviet/Norwegian element is not easy to follow) for Soviet agents to assassinate Peder Furubotn

 The link between these two lines of enquiry is ascribed to the crash of PB416 in Norway, and the continuing mystery surrounding the number of bodies aboard the aircraft and their identities.

 The difficulty in reconciling the number of bodies is not disputed. Their identities are confused by the initial reports listing personnel allegedly aboard PB416 who are definitely known not to have been on the flight.  This issue of identity can be explained by an administrative error.

The claim that there were more than nine bodies (the official crew/passenger number) cannot be explained with any certainty, but again administrative error, combined with the later exhumation and re-burial might be a contributory factor.  Without exhumation of the remains of the “unknown airman” in Nesbyen cemetery (which seems an impossible scenario) and formal identification by forensic methods this mystery seems likely to remain unresolved.

 It was suggested for a long time that the additional casualty might have been a member of ground staff – but this can be categorically refuted since all RAF members on Paravane – less those known to have been officially on board PB416 are known to have returned safely – including all of the ground contingent.

 The idea that there was a stowaway has also been discounted.  The question was discussed amongst a number of Paravane veterans and they were all adamant that It would have been impossible for a stowaway to conceal themselves aboard the Lancaster without the connivance of the crew.

 Thus the presence of any addition personnel on board would have to have been with the knowledge of the crew.  If this was the case how might this presence be explained?  If, as is suggested the additional personnel were Soviet agents who were to be parachuted out over Norway, how could this action be explained to the crew?

The key to keeping anything a secret is limiting the number “in the know” and, ideally that those “in the know” are of sufficient rank/status to be entrusted with such information. If this is the case (and surely any alleged plan for the despatch of Soviet agents into Norway for an assassination would be seen as having the highest security rating) then why was a relatively junior crew selected for the task.  Frank  Levy was a Flying Officer.  Furthermore, why were these Soviet agents placed aboard an aircraft that was carrying not only its normal crew complement of seven, but an additional two passengers – thus increasing the number of personnel who would have knowledge of the operation?

 It would have been far more logical for any such agents – assuming that there were such – to have been carried aboard a senior officer’s aircraft.  In this case this would be that of W/Cdr Tait, with his aircraft carrying only his normal crew of seven.

 If W/Cdr Tait and his crew were not to be involved, and if these personnel were to be dropped at night over unfamiliar territory, with terrain that by its nature had limited features to assist navigation, then another sensible assumption might be that the aircraft/crew chosen contained an experienced / senior navigator.  The most obvious choice in such an instance would have been the crew of S/Ldr Fawke, a more senior captain, whose navigator, F/Lt Bennett was the Squadron Navigation Officer.

 So why would Levy, relatively junior, whose aircraft was already carrying two additional passengers, be selected for such a task if indeed the scenario is correct? Who might have selected him?  Presumably the Squadron Commander – W/Cdr Tait.

In his later years Tom Bennett, Gerry Fawke’s navigator, became the No. 617 Squadron Association historian  – my predecessor.  I knew Tom well.  As might be expected of a navigator, he was a man of detail, conscientious and diligent.  One of his areas of enquiry was the loss of PB416 and the mystery of the identification of its casualties. He pursued many avenues including Air Historical Branch, the British Embassy in Oslo, the Norwegian War Graves Service and local Norwegians. He also discussed the episode with W/Cdr Tait.

 As Squadron Navigation Officer, he was responsible to W/Cdr Tait for all matters concerning navigation.  He was closely involved with the final navigation preparations for Paravane, to the extent that before the operation he was sent personally to collect the required charts of Scandinavian and Soviet territory from RAF Northolt under conditions of the greatest security.

 Likewise, as Navigation Officer he would have been involved in post-operational navigational analysis – including consideration of possible reasons for the loss of PB416.

 This being so, it seems inconceivable that Tom would not have gained some knowledge (even if only a hint/suspicion) of any covert circumstances, had there been any, relating to this flight, either at the time, or in later conversation with W/Cdr Tait.

 The results of his investigations failed to establish any definitive answer to the mystery of the identification of crew members.  They did however, suggest that there had been several layers of compounded administrative error which can be explained by a number of reasonable factors –the fog of war, poor record keeping or lost documentation.

As for as the reason for the aircraft’s loss:  The location of PB416’s crash clearly places it off the planned route back to Woodhall Spa.  This is sometimes attributed to a navigation error – which might include the “blown off course” explanation quoted.

However, the crash location might also be accounted for if the the aircraft was on an intended route for it to make a landfall in Northern Scotland.  There might be several explanations for this:

 Airfields in the Moray region were acceptable as diversionary airfields. The aircraft may have been making a diversion to Lossiemouth, as did a number of aircraft returning the following night.

 John Sweetman’s “Tirpitz – Hunting the Beast”, p. 116 cites the instance of F/O Watts of 617 Sqn,:

 “..Watts in KC-N hit ‘a huge occluded frontal system’ over Sweden, lost his pitot head and ‘all indicated air speed’, then discovered that fog had closed in over Woodhall causing him to divert to Lossiemouth.”    A number of other aircraft also diverted to Lossiemouth.

 Admittedly, the weather does not appear to have been an issue in the night of 16/17 September.

Levy’s aircraft may have experienced a technical problem which resulted in the crew deciding on a shorter route, with a shorter sea crossing to a diversionary airfield such as Lossiemouth or Kinloss.  There are uncorroborated reports that before the crash an aircraft was heard which sounded as if in trouble / with rough running engines.

 There is no conclusive proof that this was PB416, but it might suggest that the aircraft was experiencing technical issues.  It is known that engine problems were experienced on account of the low grade Russian aviation fuel and that one IX Sqn aircraft was forced to abort its return flight for this reason and return to Yagodnik.

Another consideration is that the aircraft may have been fired upon by flak as they transited across Finland, Sweden or Norway.  This again is given credence by Sweetman (p114):

 “Iveson’s log book shows that KC-F was fired on over Finland”  and on p. 116: “Three 9 (N flown by Harris with a JW bomb load, W & V) and two 617 (E & Z) Squadron Lancasters left on 18 September. Flying in Knilans’ KC-W 17 September, Bell the navigator recalled that ‘our aircraft had a bent frame, was difficult to control, and the starboard outer engine needed a major overhaul’. He failed to mention three extra passengers from a crashed aircraft. Off course near Stockholm, the Lancaster attracted the hostile attention of Swedish anti-aircraft guns. (Hell, I thought these guys were supposed to be neutral’, hollered Knilans.) Like Watts, they found Woodhall fog-bound and diverted to Lossiemouth.”

A Norwegian account attributed to one of the first to reach the crash site states that the wreckage of PB416 showed evidence of battle damage and that the fuel tanks were “torn and empty”.

 If this is correct, then the possibility of PB416 receiving battle damage necessitating a diversion should be factored into the debate.

The question of an additional crew member, or members on board remains enigmatic, but here again the waters are muddied by lack of conclusive evidence. If we accept that there were other(s) on board the aircraft, there is still no proof positive to link them to the alleged Soviet assassination plot. It would make as much sense, to suggest that they may have been additional personnel who were being ferried to the UK.  If so, then unless their origin/identity/purpose can be determined no conclusion can be drawn.

“The work is a hypothesis lacking firm proofs, but offering enough credible evidence to provide as watertight an argument as can be expected.”   Though each separate line of enquiry has been well researched, there is no firm indication of any conclusive link between the Paravane force and a Soviet assassination attempt, or even suggests any such connection. Any hypothesis based on such a claim must be at best conjecture based upon supposition and circumstantial evidence.

 Gaps and inconsistencies in documentary evidence, are not unusual.  Often it is a case of human/administrative error, or the loss of records with the passage of time.  Such omission/inconsistency does not necessarily indicate subterfuge or conspiracy.   Absence of evidence is just that… absence of evidence.

 Without further evidence to link the two directly the enigma must surely remain?

With all good wishes, 

 Rob

Dr Robert Owen

Official Historian, 617 Sqn Association”

I immediately sent a message of thanks, as follows:

“Dear Rob,

Many thanks for your patient and comprehensive reply.

What gratifies me most is that I see at last an admission that the crash at Saupeset represents an ‘enigma’ that clearly needs an explanation. In my investigations, I was dismayed by the lack of any recognition that anything untoward had happened, which led me to believe that the authorities wanted to bury the episode.

Over the weekend, I shall study very carefully your message, and respond with appropriate seriousness in a few days’ time. I am by no means a dogmatist, and developed my theory after intense study of much archival and biographical material. As I am sure you will agree, the final word on any historical event is never written, and I look forward to exploring with you the possible circumstances that led to this extraordinary disaster. 

With thanks again for the considerable time you must have spent on this,

Best wishes, 

Tony.”

On June 2, I sent Dr. Owen my full response:

“Dear Robert,

I am replying to your very thoughtful message, which I very much appreciated.

I have a few general comments, and I shall then attempt to address your more detailed points.

1)      Anonymity and Secrecy: I was puzzled by the apparent secrecy behind the investigations of historians before you. You state that ‘it was suggested for a long time . . ’, and ‘the idea that there was a stowaway has also been discounted’. Yet you give no indication as to who made these assessments, or where and when they appeared. It seems astonishing – even shocking to me – that no proper investigation was undertaken soon after the events at the end of the war, when witnesses were available. (Perhaps it was, but the report was suppressed . . . ) What happened to Tom Bennett’s report (if he wrote one)? Were the results of these investigations ever promulgated so that the public or other historians could discuss them? If not, why not? Why is there nothing on the website that refers to the tragedy?

2)      Administrative Errors: Likewise, you state that ‘the issue of identity can be explained by administrative error’. Who has made that judgment? And how can such an unfortunate  series of circumstances all be laid at the feet of some careless administrator? After all, fifteen Lancasters made it home that night, with a full complement of aircrew and passengers correctly recorded. Thus the error to which you ascribe the identification problem affected the sole aircraft that went off course, resulting in a confusion over who was killed that went on for two years. Surely it was the responsibility of the flight supervisors to be absolutely accurate over the composition of crews of airplanes, so that next of kin could be confidently informed when incidents of this nature occurred? Was the problem characterized as an administrative error at the time, and was remedial action taken?

3)      Breadth and Depth of Research:  You mention that Tom Bennett ‘pursued many avenues of research, including Air Historical Branch (= what?), the British Embassy in Oslo, the Norwegian War Graves Service and local Norwegians’. But when did this happen? And what was he told? Did he have communications with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission? Or the Air Ministry, or its successor, the Ministry of Defence? Do you believe that Wing Commander Tait had been completely open with him? Do you not agree that the investigations that I have carried out concerning SOE and Operation PICKAXE, the military mission in Moscow, the NKVD, Milorg, the Norwegian Communist Party, the Americans at Poltava, etc. etc. are relevant to a proper analysis of the case?

To address your other points:

·         I am surprised that you say that an exhumation of the remains the unknown airman at Nesbyen seems an ‘impossible scenario’. If he is indeed ‘unknown’, no one should be offended, and DNA analysis should reveal vital clues to his identity.

·         It is important that the idea of a ‘stowaway’ be discarded. I have never suggested that any agent could have secreted himself on the Lancaster without his presence being detected, even if in British uniform camouflage! The crew must have known that some special operation was under way. It might have been explained to them as another PICKAXE operation, where RAF bombers were used to drop Soviet agents in occupied territories as part of the SOE-NKVD collaborative project. And the fact that PARAVANE veterans discussed this possibility proves that the idea had been considered. But how was the mystery introduced to these veterans? Were they told about the Wyness/Williams debacle? Did they discuss whether agents might have been infiltrated on board with the approval of the authorities?

·         I would regard the minor distinction between exposing the secret to nine rather than seven, as a risk, as minimally relevant. After all, was not each of the fifteen Lancasters returning that night carrying extra passengers, because of the damaged craft left behind as not being airworthy?

·         I have no insights on the suitability for such a mission of Wing Commander Tait versus Flight Officer Levy, or how Levy was selected. But maybe Tait’s role was to lead the squadron in its loose information, and the chosen plane had to be last in line, so that it could peel off without its deviation being noticed by the crew of any other craft. I agree with you that Tait must have selected Levy for the operation, and again wonder how much he told Bennett. (One could surmise, perhaps cynically, that the least experienced crew was chosen to undertake such a dangerous mission, and that Churchill would not have been too chagrined had it failed.)

·         You suggest that it seems ‘inconceivable’ that Tom Bennett would not have picked up any hint of covert operations, had there been any. Yet the issue of ‘stowaways’ had been raised, which truly suggests some clandestine activity had been suspected. And, if he had indeed picked up such suspicions, might he perhaps have been strongly instructed not to disclose them?

·         You refer to the ‘fog of war, poor record-keeping, and lost documentation’ as possible causes of the mystery of the identification, and treat them as ‘reasonable’ factors. (Though how ‘lost documentation’ could be a predecessor phenomenon in this incident seems hard to believe.) Yet again, I reinforce the fact of the peculiar circumstances whereby these ‘administrative errors’ affected solely one plane out of sixteen – one that had a large number of enigmatic aspects to its flight crew, its adjusted flightpath, and the troubling circumstances of its demise.

·         You again use the passive voice: the location of the crash ‘is sometimes attributed to a navigation error – which might include the “blown off course” explanation offered’. (How could a ‘navigation error’ take place when the aircraft were flying in formation? How easily could a Lancaster be ‘blown off course’ without making a correction, or communicating the problem? And how come no other plane underwent the experience?) Who has submitted these explanations and judgments? Why does no one take responsibility? Moreover, the Flight Loss Card indicates that PB416’s destination was ‘Norway’, and it records the crash site as being near Nesbyen. The plane was reported as having circled the area for some time. Moreover, there was no apparent surprise when the navigator asked Dyce for a QDF reading! Why do you ignore this clearly documented evidence?

·         As for making landfall in Northern Scotland, as I understand it, some of the Lancasters were rerouted to land at Lossiemouth, because of fog at Woodhall Spa, and did in fact land there (as Flight Officer Watts recorded). The maps indicate that the safest route was still to fly over Sweden and north of Denmark, and then make progress towards Lincolnshire or Northern Scotland. Taking that sharp turn to the west across occupied Norway offered no advantage whatsoever. You admit that weather does not appear to have been an issue that night – at least not over Sweden.

·         Could Levy have decided on a shorter route without informing his controllers, or without the controllers noticing that he had diverted? Why, if the aircraft was experiencing technical issues, would it remove itself from the formation, and pass over hostile territory? Moreover, if you look at the map of the route, once a plane reached the Skagerrak in the North Sea, Lossiemouth is actually closer than Lincolnshire.

·         If low-grade Russian fuel was to blame, how come that PB416 was again the sole victim of this misfortune? Presumably all sixteen planes were fuelled from the same source, and fifteen made it back without incident. By the way, you quote Iveson’s log (mentioned by Sweetman) that stated that his crew, ‘like Watts’, found Woodhall fog-bound, and the plane thus diverted to Lossiemouth. Is that Sweetman’s interpretation? Was it really left to the officer to make that determination? If so, how could it have been that Levy, in PB416, knew about the needed diversion when he was over Sweden?

·         Where is the Norwegian account of the crash site held? Can it be inspected? I am not surprised that, if PB416 flew into a mountain, the craft ‘showed evidence of battle damage and that the fuel tanks were “torn and empty”’! Did anyone really expect that they would survive the impact intact? Should we really treat this information seriously?

·         The evolution of the ‘identified’ members of the crew  – and passengers – of PB416 merits special attention, as shown in the following phases:

i)  The September Operations Record Book, showing the original seven listed from the departure on September 11 (without Naylor and Shea), and recording the disappearance of the aircraft on September 18, with an assumption that the crew was the same;

ii) the roster (‘nominal roll’) of those that left Yagodnik on PB416, compiled by Squadron Leader Harman (unavailable, but apparently adding only Shea as passenger);

iii) the recognition on the Flight Loss Report made out at Woodhall Spa the day after the accident that Naylor and Shea had both been passengers;

iv) the numeration of bodies on the ground, made by local Norwegians;

v) the listing of names on the crude memorial in August 1945 (including Wyness and Williams),

vi) the initial Graves Registration Report from August 1945 (which omitted McNally, but included Wyness and Williams);  

vii) the ‘final’ War Graves Commission report in December 1946 (with McNally restored, and Williams and Wyness removed); and  

viii) the ten headstones in Nesbyen Churchyard, including an unknown airman.

·         The public deserves to know about this. While I, in my articles, have done my best to describe and interpret the sequence of events that drove the confusion, I see no evidence that the Squadron has performed any rigorous analysis of the debacle. Yet the fact remains: there is an unknown airman lying in rest in the Churchyard, and neither you nor the Ministry of Defence can explain who it might be, as there is no British (or Canadian) officer missing to be accounted for. I agree that I can offer no solid evidence of the conspiracy, but my hypothesis is much more plausible than the vague claims of human and administrative error that you propose. (The ‘fog of war’ is an inadequate explanation.) Professor Titlestad (whose father was Peder Furubotn’s security officer) is one of several who accept my conclusions. It will remain an enigma only so long as you keep it under wraps, and show no resolve to explore it further. I hope that my endeavours will encourage you to open up, publish your findings, and engage in a further debate about the events. Also, that the Squadron and the Ministry will be ready to offer an apology when the eightieth anniversary of the crash comes up this September.

I respectfully await learning what your next steps will be.

Sincerely,
Tony.”

Dr. Owen’s reply of June 5 was disappointingly terse:

“Dear Tony

I have spent a considerable amount of time considering your hypothesis, and commented as requested.  

I have nothing further to add.

Rob”

This failure to engage was extremely depressing. I am sure that Dr. Owen is a fine man, dedicated to serving the Squadron Association for whom he works, but his behaviour does not display the attributes that a serious historian should regard as essential to his or her craft. It was incurious, unimaginative, obscurantist, selective, insular, and proprietary. It reinforces my belief that history is too important to be delegated to ‘official historians’. To ignore the evidence and resort to identifying causes such as ‘the fog of war’ is simply unprofessional. I therefore issue this posting in the hope that someone else may pick it up and gain the attention of more independent and resourceful analysts.

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Some Problems with Westy

Nigel West

[I report on a recent incident involving a review by Nigel West in an intelligence journal, and then offer a critique of his latest book.]

Contents:

Introduction: Yoda and doyens

The Intelligence Journals

Nigel West and ‘The Eagle in the Mirror’

Controversy at IJICI

Reflections

‘Classified! The Adventures of a Molehunter’

Chapter by Chapter

Conclusions

            *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

Introduction: Yoda and doyens

If Christopher Andrew is (pace C.S. Goodman) the Great Yoda of intelligence writing, Nigel West is frequently referred to as ‘the doyen’ of the same. I was for a long time unsure who ‘Yoda’ was: I had assumed that he was some figure from Japanese mythology, but my Media Affairs Advisor informs me that he (or it) is a character in a work of the genre known as ‘talking pictures’, a phenomenon which appears to be have been taking the country by storm in recent years. Apparently there exists a film series known as Star Wars, which I have never seen, but must presumably concern rivalries on Hollywood film locations, probably involving such as Olivia de Havilland and Vivien Leigh competing for the attentions of Errol Flynn. Yoda is apparently a so-called ‘Jedi master’ whose role, I assume, is to advise his clients on Stanislavskian techniques and method acting. Yet he seems to have a rather grotesque aspect, reminding me of the Mekon from my Dan Dare days of the 1950s, and I cannot imagine that Christopher Andrew is very flattered to be compared to this wizened and unattractive character.

The Mekon
Yoda

So much for cultural references: they can be a dangerous tool in the hands of the careless or the insensitive. I am much more comfortable with ‘doyen’. I believe it was the author and literary agent Andrew Lownie who first granted West that soubriquet, but Christopher Andrew has also been described as such, and I note that Richard Norton-Taylor of the Guardian has been named as ‘the doyen of national security reporting’. So there is competition. In any event, West’s ubiquity in the world of intelligence-writing is indisputable. He has written dozens of books (many of which I own), he is regularly quoted on intelligence matters, and scores of writers pay tribute, in their ‘Acknowledgments’, to the assistance he has given them. He is also a prominent figure with one of the serious Intelligence journals, and it is one of those roles that I want to examine here, before moving on to critique his latest book, titled Classified!  The Adventures of a Molehunter.

I must declare my interest with Nigel West (the pen name of Rupert Allason). We have been in occasional email conversations for years. I met him originally at a conference at Lancaster House over a decade ago, he kindly agreed to attend my seminar on Isaiah Berlin at the University of Buckingham the following week, and, on my last trip to Britain, I was the happy beneficiary of his hospitality at his house near Canterbury. He apparently reads coldspur, if not regularly, then from time to time, as he has made comments on my texts, sometimes in very complimentary terms. We have helped each other out on research quests, with the most recent (when I shared with him a file on MI5 personnel) occurring only a few months ago. Thus I regard our relationship as congenial. If we both played on the same cricket team, I am sure that I would refer to him as ‘Westy’.

I have been very direct in my writings about him, praising him over projects and books that I believe have been well-executed, but also criticizing him quite harshly when I felt that his research had been lazy or incorrect (such as with ‘Gibby’s Spy’), or actions that I judged were misleading (such as the re-publication of his books on MI5 and MI6, presented as new editions when they were simply re-prints). I find it hard to believe that West has not read these passages, but he has not taken any perceptible offence, or tried to refute my claims. I can only conclude that he respects me for my integrity and independence, not reliant on his goodwill – or that of any other intelligence maven or doyen(ne) – for the promotion of my ideas.

The Intelligence Journals

I shall return to that consideration when I review his book, but the event I want to analyze first is a journal review he wrote of Jesse Fink’s book on Dick Ellis, which I reviewed myself on coldspur a few months ago. (See https://coldspur.com/four-spy-books/).  As a way of providing some useful background, I offer here some brief comments on Intelligence Journals. I am familiar with three prominent entities on intelligence matters published in English: The Journal of Intelligence and National Security (JINS); The International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence (IJICI); and The Journal of Intelligence History (JIH). All are owned by the murky aggregator Taylor and Francis, a division of the British company Informa, which might suggest that they are not actually in competition with each other.

JINS was apparently inspired by its founding editor Christopher Andrew, but reflects some confusion in its mission, since the implied focus on ‘national’ security is dispersed in a coverage of all manner of aspects of international relations. It sports an international team, with its editors split between the USA and the UK, and boasts an amazing 56-member editorial board that includes familiar figures such as Andrew himself, Richard Aldrich, Rory Cormac, Philip Davies, John Ferris, Anthony Glees, Michael Goodman, David Kahn (the Codebreakers man, who actually died this last January: one might expect the institution to have picked that up), Christopher Moran, Sir David Omand, and Wesley Wark, as well as several academics from around the world. What this editorial board actually does is hard to say. Perhaps they all get together on Zoom from time to time, but what happens when they disagree on some matter of policy is not disclosed.

IJICI displays a similar schizophrenia. It is based in the USA, and very much CIA-influenced. It states, however, that it ‘publishes articles and book reviews focusing on a broad range of national security matters’. ‘Focus’ and ‘broad’ do not sit well together: neither does the emphasis here on ‘national’ (which nation?), which undermines its title, and the dissonance is the exact opposite of that of its older stablemate. It likewise sports a large Editorial Board consisting of 49 members: these are indeed a much more varied set of international figures, but dominated by Americans, although Michael Goodman and Philip Davies have been graced with an invitation, and Nigel West also appears in their number.

JIH, on the other hand, is the official publication of the International Intelligence History Association (IIHA), another obscure organization that offers no details about how it is run, or who its members are, or how they are elected, but seems to be dominated by German academics. (Woe betide anyone who attempted to issue an unofficial publication on behalf of that body.) It would appear to concentrate on the histories of various intelligence services, which gives it, on the surface, a more precise remit. Its co-editors are Christopher Moran (of the JINS board) and Schlomo Shpiro (of Bar-Ilan University, Israel, who is in fact a member of the IJICI editorial board as well). I trust all their confidentiality agreements are rigorously obeyed. It maintains a smaller editorial board of just seventeen members, but some familiar names turn up again, such as Lock Johnson (on the JINS board), the very busy Michael Goodman, and Mark Phythian, the editor of JINS. It all seems a bit incestuous to me, but finding good intelligence academics to fill all those seats must be tough. I should mention that none of these journals has seen fit to approach me, the unacknowledged and self-appointed doyen of intelligence blogging . . . .

Of course, I may not be at the top of their list of candidates. I have occasionally criticized Taylor & Francis for its exploitative business model, where it packages out subscriptions through institutions, but makes it penally expensive for the individual researcher or historian who has no academic affiliation to access any of the reports they publish. I do not believe that it pays any of its contributors or reviewers, so it relies on (and exploits) those who are willing to put in a lot of effort for reasons of self-advertisement, or because they need to reach a quota of published papers. Furthermore, my experience with the outfit has not been uniformly stellar. I had a very positive experience with JINS when I submitted my review of Ben Macintyre’s Agent Sonya (seehttps://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-review-of-agent-sonya/), but a follow-up on David Burke’s book about the Kuczynski family was frustrating, and a waste of my time.

And then I clashed with Mark Phythian, the editor of JINS, when challenging the Journal’s publication of a loose and deceptive article by Francis Suttill, Jr. concerning claims of the betrayal of his father’s eponymous SOE circuit (PROSPER) in France. Phythian also directly contradicted what Suttill openly declared about an agreement concerning the authorization and publication of his article, and it was not clear that the piece had undergone the peer review that the published policies should have ensured. Furthermore, Phythian then said that it was not the Journal’s policy to publish any letters from the public, whether they were positive, or (in my case) questioned in any way what appeared in JINS. Patrick Marnham (author of War in the Shadows) and I therefore composed a response to Mr. Suttill’s undisciplined article, and I published it on coldspur (see https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-prosper-the-letter-to-jins/ ). This seemed to be the only way to challenge both the substance of Mr. Suttill’s piece, as well as the inflexible and non-transparent mechanisms of the JINS editorial policy. The very closed nature of its approach to content and debate hardly makes it an exemplar of creative nourishment of intelligence scholarship.

Nigel West and ‘The Eagle in the Mirror’

And now to turn to Nigel West, and his review of The Eagle in the Mirror, which appeared on the IJICI website on December 13, 2023, titled SpyCatcher Legacy (see https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/08850607.2023.2283827, but behind the paywall). It approached Fink’s book in a rambling and oblique manner, and it made some questionable assertions of its own. I shall not examine in detail the technical points of West’s review: it was a typically arch display by West, concealing some of the reasons for his apparent unquestionable authority. On the other hand, as I indicated in my review, I had not been entirely convinced by Fink’s case, and I need to examine closely the sources before offering any informed opinion. I shall instead concentrate on one or two disturbing aspects of the review, and how it passed through editorial channels, and the responses it engendered, first from Fink and then from the IJICI editorial team.

I deem it important here to reproduce the central controversial paragraph in West’s review. He wrote: “The great irony at the center of The Eagle in the Mirror is that the author has undertaken some very impressive research with the declared objective of painting Pincher and Wright (and the author of this review) as charlatans or worse . . . only to discover that, when assessed in toto, it reveals a compelling case for Ellis’ guilt!” This was a strange and highly troubling conclusion to come to. West’s suggestion that Fink had undertaken research with the objective of disparaging all three authors (as opposed to that conclusion being an outcome) could well be considered libellous, since it casts aspersions on the integrity of Fink’s whole research methodology. And nowhere did I read that Fink had declared that his goal was to portray the trio as charlatans! Given Taylor & Francis’s later admonitions of Fink for what it framed as personal attacks, the approval of West’s text was particularly cavalier and hypocritical.

Nevertheless, my judgment was that Fink might have partially contributed to West’s overall misunderstanding by his acknowledged need to market his book with questionable rhetoric that hinted that Ellis could well have been a traitor. The essential lesson from this extract, however, was that West had a personal stake in the resolution of the controversy, but had not declared it when he offered to review the book for IJICI. I should also mention that Nigel West had already read my review of the book, in which I had criticized West’s inconsistent and unscholarly treatment of the case against Ellis. He even wrote to me, congratulating me on my treatment of the ‘double agent’ terminology, but expressed no complaints about my representation of his role in the Ellis affair.

Fink (who has been in regular correspondence with me since the review appeared) seems to have three main complaints about West’s review: 1) that West had requested a copy of the book under false pretenses; 2) that the review itself was superficial, in that it had ignored much of what Fink had written, and misrepresented his opinions; and 3) that West had offended IJICI editorial policy by failing to declare that he had an interest, since Fink had criticized him in his book. He presented his challenges to the Editor of IJICI, Jan Goldman, and for a while received a consistently cold shoulder. He stubbornly persevered, however, and his tenacity was eventually rewarded – to a degree. Yet the saga that unfolded displayed such a combination of institutional dysfunction and managerial incompetence on the part of IJICI that I judge it needs to be described in full. (This saga may not be of broad interest to coldspur readers, but I believe that it is important to lay out for public view how the Journal operates, and the challenges faced by authors whose books are reviewed when policies are either highly unfair, or are casually neglected by those supposed to be exercising them, or both. Otherwise the facts of the matter will remain hidden, since IJICI is determined on control and secrecy.)

Controversy at IJICI

Jesse Fink

West’s review was published on-line on December 13, 2023. The following day, Fink wrote a letter to Jan Goldman, the substance of which ran as follows:

  1. Was there not a conflict of interest in West’s being given the opportunity to review the book, given that he received critical treatment in it?
  2. West conveniently contended that Keith Jeffery did not mention any allegations against Ellis because they were outside his (Jeffery’s) ‘purview’.
  3. What West stated that Jeffery told him privately about the Ellis case tallies with what the historian of MI6, Stephen Dorril, had told Fink, namely that Ellis was involved in some way with co-operation between Nazi Germany and Great Britain over Ukrainian exiles, in the late 1930s. West ignored what Fink wrote about this.
  4. West incorrectly stated that Fink had ignored the judgment of David Horner on Ellis’s culpability, when the author had covered him in an Endnote.
  5. West’s assertion that the testimony of Nelidov in TRIPLEX (2009) ‘might have been adduced [in 1964, by MI6’s Bill Stedman, if he had known about it] as ‘“smoking-gun” evidence that Ellis had been in touch with the Soviets long before the war’ contradicted what West told the Daily Telegraph in 1984, namely that there was only minimal, circumstantial evidence to support the contention that Ellis was ever a Soviet agent. Yet West produced this analysis only when encountering the evidence in the context of Fink’s book, and then used the passages to attack Fink’s integrity.

[This is a very complex, but vitally important aspect of the case. Fink has reminded me that the confessions of Nelidov assert that he conferred with Ellis before passing on information to the Soviets. West, meanwhile, implies in his review that Ellis had been selling German information to the Soviets before Nelidov replaced him in Berlin, whereas the text states that Ellis had at that time simply collected material about the Soviets from German sources. What is also troublesome to me is Nelidov’s claim that, after he arrived in Berlin, and taken over from Ellis, he ‘conferred’ with him about identifying material that ‘might be used to interest Soviet intelligence’. If Ellis had already been transferred to Switzerland to work for the League of Nations, how would such a conference have occurred? The lack of dates in Nelidov’s confession is very frustrating, but, in any case, nowhere does he suggest that Ellis had actually been in contact with the Soviets, unlike Nelidov himself, who admitted that, on his way to Berlin, he had stopped in Vienna to offer material to the head of Soviet intelligence! West distorts Nelidov’s statements to suit his own purposes, and his claim about Ellis’s contact with the Soviets seems utterly spurious. What is more, West had had ample opportunity to explore the implications of Nelidov’s testimony for a re-assessment of Ellis’s reputation when he published TRIPLEX, yet he apparently did not pay attention to the details. His creative re-interpretation of the story in 2024, having discovered it in Fink’s book, is less than honourable. My opinion overall, however, is that both Fink and West grant too much credit to the reliability of Nelidov’s ‘confessions’, and I shall return to this point in a future report. For my own analysis of matters relating to Nelidov, see ‘Gibby’s Spy’ at https://coldspur.com/gibbys-spy/, from October 2022.]

Fink received a prompt reply from Goldman, who wrote:

Thank you for your email. I take these accusations very seriously and will need to investigate them further. We rely on our authors to tell us if there is a conflict of interest. Do I have permission to share your remarks with Mr. West? I would be interested in what he has to say about your comments. We seek to be objective and balanced in everything we publish.

Fink thanked Goldman, and encouraged him to contact West, at the same time drawing Goldman’s attention to my review of the book. Goldman again replied immediately, inviting Fink to write a ‘Letter to the Editor’, in which he should refrain from personal comments, and focus on explaining why he thought the review was not objective.

Fink was not delighted with this response, as he believed that the journal was evading its responsibilities. He thus wrote back:

I’d be happy to write you a letter for the next edition but I’d much prefer this was investigated fully by your editorial board – how does a man who was the subject of much legitimate criticism in the book get to review it? Who fact-checks his review? Who independently reviews his review? Of course he was going to go to town on it. Mr West really should have not been given this book to review. It was a clear conflict. Or if he was going to do it he could have made it very clear I took him to account in it and any review of his should be treated as being badly coloured by his self-interest.
Worse, Mr West reached out to my publicist, Fiona Atherton, on November 1, where she said, “Nigel West has requested a copy for review in the World Intelligence Review.” We were very reluctant to send a copy, knowing full well he is subjected to criticism in the book, yet now it appears he has reviewed it not for World Intelligence Review but for your journal instead. This in my opinion is a misrepresentation. We had no idea it was appearing in your journal or that Mr West was preparing a review for you. If so, I would have made my reservations clear to you before the review appeared. Your journal is highly respected and widely read.

The review was malicious in my opinion, grossly distorted the arguments made in it, slighted my professionalism as an author, and is not befitting a journal of your reputation. I’d be far happier with a review written by an independent, impartial reviewer. That is a fair outcome.

At this stage, exchanges were still cordial. I encouraged Fink, and I gave him what I thought were one or two useful tips on his original message. He accordingly submitted his letter to Goldman, the text of which ran as follows:

Dear Sir

 I refer to Nigel West’s “review” of my book The Eagle in the Mirror in the latest International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence.

            I find it unusual that a person mentioned critically (but, I believe, very fairly) in the book was granted the opportunity to “review” it. Surely this is a conflict of interest? Your own editorial policies have a section on “competing interests” (https://authorservices.taylorandfrancis.com/editorial-policies/competing-interest/), which include: “Personal, political, religious, ideological, academic and intellectual competing interests which are perceived to be relevant to the published content.”

Did Mr West declare to the editorial board on being commissioned to write the “review” that he was featured critically in the book? That he might have one of the competing interests set out in your editorial policies? Mr West can hardly be missed in The Eagle in the Mirror. A photograph of him is published in it. Could not another reviewer for my book be found?

            Mr West requested a review copy of the book from my publicist in Scotland for World Intelligence Review but his “review” instead appeared in your journal. Is that not a misrepresentation? What safeguards are in place to ensure your book reviewers are impartial? Who is reviewing the reviewer’s work? Where was the “thorough peer review” of Mr West’s “review”? It doesn’t appear that there was any such peer review. If so, any competing interest would have been identified.

            After reading Mr West’s “review”, there were no surprises. In my opinion, Mr West was attempting to deflect what I regard as his deficiencies as an intelligence analyst of Dick Ellis. My book contains multiple criticisms of Mr West’s written work regarding Ellis. His dealing with this fact by briefly mentioning “the author has undertaken some very impressive research with the declared objective of painting [Chapman] Pincher and [Peter] Wright (and the author of this review) as charlatans or worse” is insufficient.

            Mr West’s contention that the late Keith Jeffery didn’t mention the allegations against Ellis in his written history of MI6 (MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909–1949) because it was outside his “purview” is also convenient and, I believe, misleading.

            As intelligence historian Antony Percy remarked to me this week while discussing Mr West’s “review”, “Ellis was decidedly in Jeffery’s ‘purview’. Most of the events happened before 1949.” That is, the bulk of the allegations made against Ellis by Pincher, Wright and Mr West in their respective books in the 1980s are concerned with events that happened in Western Europe prior to World War II.

            I’d wager that Jeffery’s private comment to Mr West that “the Ellis case is not quite what you think it is” tallies with the more cogent, convincing argument of MI6 historian Stephen Dorril, who emailed me a few months back to say, “My information was that there was co-operation [between Nazi Germany and Great Britain] on Ukraine exiles in the late 1930s, which is where I think Ellis comes in.”

            I totally concur. Dorril’s case in this regard (featured in his book MI6: Fifty Years of Special Operations) is presented in my book, as is John Bryden’s case for Ellis in his book Fighting to Lose: How the German Secret Intelligence Service Helped the Allies Win the Second World War.

            Both writers could be described as defenders of Ellis, but neither Dorril or Bryden is mentioned in Mr West’s “review”. Why is that? Quite a glaring omission, when the central argument I put forward in the book completely corresponds with Dorril’s and Bryden’s. Dorril, incidentally, reviewed the book on Amazon and said, “Fink [does] a very good job of showing the inadequacies of certain writers and that there is little or no real evidence that Ellis was an agent either for the Nazis or the Soviets.”

            Also, Mr West puzzlingly seems to think I’ve “overlooked” David Horner, when endnote 5 of Chapter 16 (on page 299) reads as follows:

            Horner misidentifies Von Petrov in The Spy Catchers: ‘In 1984 the investigative journalist Chapman Pincher revealed that in early 1967 [sic] MI5 interrogated Ellis, who confessed to having passed secret information to the Germans before the Second World War, and that Ellis had passed the information via several White Russians, one of whom was named Vladimir Nikolayvich (not Mikhailovich) Petrov [sic].’ In The Protest Years: The Official History of ASIO, 1963–1975, Vol. II (2015), John Blaxland calls him ‘Vladimir Nikolavich Petrov’.

            Yet Mr West writes in his “review”: 

            Fink overlooked Horner’s verdict, presumably based on the same kind of access granted to his counterpart Jeffrey [sic] in London. This is one of several contradictions undermining Fink’s credibility, for he must have wondered if ASIO had vindicated Ellis, why the organization had placed him under surveillance when he visited Sydney in 1974, as proved by his reproduction of ASIO’s covert photographs.

            Whose credibility is being undermined here? Mine or Mr West’s as a book reviewer? Does Mr West not read endnotes? The redoubtable Antony Percy in his review of the book (https://coldspur.com/four-spy-books/) had no trouble consulting the endnotes and said, “Do read the excellent endnotes carefully, and follow up where you can.” How difficult was it for Mr West?

            Moreover, there was no suggestion anywhere in the book that ASIO “vindicated” Ellis, which is why they were monitoring him! I write on page 174, “It is an obvious irony that Ellis, against whom no real evidence of treason was ever produced by the authorities, would be tracked and surveilled in the country of his birth by the very spy agencies he personally set up in Canberra.”

            Regarding Aleksandr Nelidov and the edited quote from his confession, if the supposedly damning full quote from Nelidov from the book TRIPLEX: Secrets from the Cambridge Spies was enough to “implicate” Ellis with the Soviets (as Mr West seems to suggest), why did Mr West say to London’s Daily Telegraph on 4 May 1984, “There is only minimal, circumstantial evidence to support the contention that Ellis was ever a Soviet agent”? Mr West was the co-editor (with Oleg Tsarev) of TRIPLEX, which contains the full Nelidov quote. He should know the material well.

            Keith Jeffery characterised Nelidov as a “purveyor of faked intelligence”, which might more accurately explain what Ellis and Nelidov were up to with the Soviets (as my book makes very clear in extracts from Ellis’s spy playbook written for William Donovan; see pages 87–88), but that appears to be irrelevant in this “review”.

            Instead, Mr West casts the missing part of the quote from Nelidov as “smoking gun evidence that Ellis had been in touch with the Soviets”. Can Mr West make up his mind about Ellis’s role with the Soviet Union? Apparently not.

There is no evidence at all, whatsoever, that Ellis was a Soviet agent, as the book makes abundantly clear.

            I’m left wondering why the “review” was written. To treat the subject of Ellis with some objective seriousness or as an exercise in face saving? If it is the latter, are you comfortable with Mr West seemingly using your journal’s “review” of my book in this fashion?

            Does someone as historically important as Ellis, who wrote the blueprint for Office of the Coordinator of Information/Office of Strategic Services, who was awarded the Legion of Merit by President Harry S. Truman for his contribution to the United States during World War II, deserve such a skewed “review” of what amounts to the only existing full account of his life?

            Ellis deserves a lot more and so do your readers. For Mr West to end his “review” by writing that I was hammering more nails into Ellis’s coffin was beyond the pale. I did no such thing.

            If Mr West can be this sloppy and (as I see it) apparently vindictive, by rights the only “lost cause” is his future career as a book reviewer for International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence

            Yours sincerely

Jesse Fink

This was not what Dr Goldman wanted to read, and Fink had to prod him for a reply. An evasive and temporizing message came back on December 21:

Hi Jesse,

Right now, due to the holiday season, not much will be done. Nevertheless, we do not discuss internal operations. I received your letter, and you will hear from us on it’s [sic] possible publication.

Happy holidays,

JG

Why an intelligence journal has to effectively close down its operations so early, and for so long, was not apparent to Fink or to me. The IJICI machine picked up in late January, however, and the initial response was encouraging:

            I met with the publisher via zoom and your letter was discussed along with other business. The publisher must approve all letters to the editor, but, this is usually not a problem.

I’m waiting to hear from them, and should it be approved, we have enough time to get it in the next issue of the journal.

One would conclude from this tidbit that Goldman was satisfied with the integrity and arguments of Fink’s letter. In fact Goldman had passed the letter to one Amanda Patterson at Taylor & Francis. I looked up her profile on LinkedIn, and discovered that she is Portfolio Manager, Academic Publishing, Journals. Moreover, she declares there that “Through this role, I have been most interested in strengthening the publisher-community relationship by advocating for gender and geographical parity in publishing’, a slice of corporate jargon that I found especially unappealing. What the ‘publisher-community relationship’ is, I have no idea, and why this woman should be focusing on fashionable diversity issues instead of journalistic excellence is likewise beyond me. These were not good signs.

A couple of weeks later (March 5) she wrote to Fink, with the formalities raised a notch, as follows:

Dear Jesse Fink:

Thank you for your patience while the publisher investigated your complaint, assessed it, and actioned a solution. We thank you for bringing this to our attention.

Through the course of our inquiry into this book review, we discovered that the author submitted it to the journal and neglected to include a competing interest disclosure statement either to the journal publisher or to the journal Editor, which violates our publishing policies. All authors of all submissions to all Taylor & Francis journal must disclose if there is a competing interest, or else declare that there is no competing interest present. This was considered to be a major error, and we treated it by publishing a Correction Statement accompanied by the Disclosure Statement that should have been included with the submission.

The Disclosure Statement is visible to the public and appears outside of the paywall. Anyone accessing the piece, whether subscriber or not, is informed that that author of the book review is a subject of the book that he is reviewing, and that he may be affected by that as part of his review.

As far as the publisher is concerned, this completes our inquiry into this case. Separately, you may respond to the book review by writing a letter to the editor, and its publication is determined by Jan (copied to this message). However, since this book review now complies with our ethical policies, and was handled appropriately post-publication, we will not be able to publish anything that disputes these facts.

If you choose to submit a new letter to the editor, please be aware that the author of the book review will have a chance to respond to your letter, and after that, no further discourse may be made.

With best wishes,

Amanda

This letter constituted both a concession that a major error had been committed, as well as a desperate attempt to shed any responsibility for what had happened. Had Goldman not been aware of this policy, or was he simply not paying attention? Readers can inspect the ‘correction’ at the same link given above: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/08850607.2024.2322416. I reproduce Nigel West’s text here:

In accordance with Taylor & Francis policy, I am reporting that I am a party that may be affected by the book that I reviewed in the enclosed paper, and contained within the body of the text I submitted are transparent acknowledgments as such. I have since disclosed those interests fully to Taylor & Francis.

But this is a joke! A retroactive statement of Disclosure, with no apology to Fink, and West implying that the mentioning of Fink’s criticisms of him effectively disqualified him from having to declare his interest, and Taylor & Francis judging that this ‘major error’ had been absolved without any reproof to West, or any public admission that the Journal had messed up as well as West himself! Taylor & Francis did it this way only because they thought they could get away with it. Go hang the ‘publisher-community relationship’!

Naturally, Fink was not happy about this, and sent a rejoinder on March 6, as follows:

Dear Amanda and Jan

The addition of the Disclosure Statement and a Correction Statement doesn’t actually mention the fact it was a ‘major error’, that West violated your own company policies, and that I am the victim here. There is no apology. A review can’t comply with your own ‘ethical policies’ after the fact. The damage has already been done. What does this change for the people who read the review when it came out? They’re not seeing this. 

The fact is, West got to write his hit piece and you published it without any checks and balances. It should be removed online as a basic courtesy to me and you should commission another writer without a conflict of interest to review the book. That would be ethical. 

Jan, you have my original letter to the editor, which you invited me to write, and at the very minimum I expect it to be published. 

Yours sincerely

Jesse Fink

Ms. Patterson tried to wriggle free:

Dear Jesse Fink:

The publication of a Correction in a scholarly text is itself evidence indicative that an error occurred. The error was remedied with a Correction, as is our policy when post-publication errors are discovered.

International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence is an academic journal, and as such, we are unable to remove anything that is published. Book reviews are not subject to peer review (as they are, by their nature, subjective), they are screened by the Editor and published at the Editor’s discretion. The peer review policy is outlined on the journal’s Aims & scope page on www.tandfonline.com/ujic.

The book review by Nigel West has been accessed 46 times (presumably you, me, and some other internal T&F folks who were working on the Correction account for some of these), and has not yet been assigned to issue (in other words, it has not appeared in print, and thus, has not been sent to the journal’s subscribers). When it is printed and assigned to issue, the Disclosure statement will appear alongside it, which is all in line with our policies for publication. At this point, T&F stands by the Editor and the piece, which are all compliant.

I assure you that everything in this case has been done accordingly, and I do thank you for bringing this issue to my attention.

I will confer with Jan, but if, in the meantime, you want to send me the Letter to the Editor, I will be happy to review it.

Thanks,

Amanda

The proper thing for IJICI to have done at this stage would have been to withdraw the review, since only a few dozen persons had seen it. (I do not know whence orginates the law that an academic journal may not withdraw an article once it has been published.) It certainly did not suddenly become ‘compliant’ simply because a half-hearted admission by West had been appended on-line, as Fink patiently explained the same day:

Hi Amanda 

You sent me an email on Jan 24 saying you had received it. It was sent to Mr Goldman in December, on his invitation. I have attached it again. The piece was not ‘compliant’, and the posthumous addendum doesn’t change that because it was already published and accessible. The cat was already out of the bag. I had friends with interest in intelligence matters contact me about it.

Make no mistake, as an author I have no problem with a bad review. It’s part of the business. But this is a different issue: honesty, transparency and accountability. My reputation for accuracy and my dedication to producing quality books is of utmost importance to me. 

So conflict of interest in a reviewer is a serious matter and surely you and your editor can see that a person (West) who comes under heavy criticism in my book for (as I see it) posthumously tarnishing the name of Dick Ellis, a man who did a great deal for western intelligence in the 20th century, is not the best or most impartial person to review the work.

Who is served by such a review? Your journal? Your readers? Are they getting an accurate or fair review of the work? Or is this about West saving his own face?

Yours sincerely

Jesse Fink

Ms. Patterson seemed to be unaware that Fink had submitted his letter to Goldman almost three months beforehand, and she then informed Fink that she and Goldman had ‘re-reviewed’ it. Yet her response was measly and sophistical, claiming that the review itself had been ‘corrected’ simply by virtue of West’s statement, and appearing to condone West’s behaviour (only recently classified as a ‘major error’, recall) of indicating within the review that he had been criticised:

Dear Jesse,

Thank you. I have conferred with the Editor, and re-reviewed your letter.

In light of the fact that we have taken action to correct the review and publish the disclosure statement, the first three substantial paragraphs of the letter have been addressed and actioned.

By way of reminder, book reviews are not peer reviewed as a matter of policy, and Nigel West did identify that he was a subject of the book in the text of the review.

Responses to published work in the journal should be a rebuttal of the text of the original piece, rather than contain any sort of personal attack on any individual or on the journal. Together with the Editor we have identified a few paragraphs that border on personal criticism rather than on deconstructing/discussing the original book review as a published piece itself. 

At this point, I would like to invite you to reconsider submitting the letter again, in light of the actions that we have taken since you originally wrote in to us. Jan has reminded me that the word limit for Letters to the Editor to be published is 1200 words.

Also, by way of reminder, the standard procedure for this process is that Nigel West will have the chance to respond to your rebuttal, and then all responses end. I wonder if you might keep that in mind when refining the Letter to the Editor?

Can you please re-submit your letter, with all of this in mind, to Jan Goldman (copied here)?

Thank you

Amanda

The very feeble Goldman then sent an edited version of Fink’s letter back to him, effectively warning him to toe the line. IJICI was the censor in this situation, and wanted to control the narrative. Fink was not unnaturally aggrieved, and wrote on March 13:

                Mr Goldman, good to hear from you.

No, I don’t approve your edit. It is not an ad hominem attack. You have not once apologised for 1/commissioning West to write that review when he had a conflict of interest, 2/failing to ask West why he wanted to write that review in the first place (after all, he contacted my publicist for a copy and didn’t even mention once that it was for your journal), 3/not getting West to comply with your own policies before the review was published, meaning a correction and disclosure statement was required after it was published. There hasn’t been one iota of actual apology from you or Taylor & Francis, either privately or publicly. We screwed up! We’re sorry, Mr Fink. How can we make it right?

I am the aggrieved party here, who has done nothing more than to dare question West’s repeated ungrounded attacks on Dick Ellis, a dead man who set up the intelligence apparatus of the country you live in. Ellis is an important deal. You call Dorril’s opinion on Ellis hearsay, which it is not – he is a world-renowned intelligence historian specialising in MI6 who is relying on vast reams of information to form an educated opinion and is entitled to express it and for that opinion to be recorded. Ditto Bryden. Both men have written books defending Ellis. You might pick them up and look for yourself. I only have 1200 words to defend my work and an impugned dead man.

Meanwhile, West can freely use a private conversation in his review with Keith Jeffery (‘the Ellis case is not quite what you think it is’) and publish vast books of unsubstantiated hearsay – Ellis was a Nazi double agent! Ellis was a Soviet spy! He was both! – and come to the same conclusion in your journal and you’re happy to publish it without a shred of actual evidence. Imagine if you had applied the same forensic scrutiny you’re applying to my Letter to the Editor to West’s review in the first place? 

Worse, West can breezily state in his review I have no professional credibility when he can’t even consult an endnote and smear me by saying that I have hammered nails into Ellis’s coffin. 

The unedited letter gives background to something that has been going on for four months. It’s not like I just read the review and decided to fire off a letter. This was a ‘major error’, after all. I’ve attached an edited version that I’m happy with. 

Yours sincerely

Jesse Fink

Matters did not become any simpler thereafter. Having heard nothing by April 22, Fink had to remind Goldman about the lack of response to the corrections he had submitted. Goldman confirmed that the letter was currently with the Production Editor. Fink then received

a message from that person, James DiStefano, who showed a complete insensitivity to the dynamics of the negotiations, acknowledging the receipt of Fink’s corrections, but stating that they had been rejected by the journal’s editor. (Why Goldman did not have the courtesy of informing Fink himself of that decision is unclear.) DiStefano proceeded to declare that the letter would therefore be published online without Fink’s amendments, probably around April 29 or 30. Fink pointed out that the ‘corrections’ the journal had made were ‘deletions’, not corrections, and he thus turned back to Goldman to remind him that DiStefano had said that the lines had been cut by him, Goldman, asking:

                Why? Nothing defamatory about them at all. All on point. I’ve been very patient when I was wronged by the journal and by West’s failure to disclose his conflict

Goldman turned very stodgy and formal:

Sir,

Yes the lines were deleted, given they were directed on the review but, rather the reviewer.

jg

to which Fink riposted:

No, they were not ad hominem. I rightly pointed out with evidence that West has made wildly conflicting statements about Soviet links to Ellis and asked why he thinks I painted him as a charlatan. It was the word he used in his review. Perfectly valid. No reason to be removed. 

By this stage it was clear that the Journal was using its exclusive power to find a way out of the debacle, effectively threatening Fink that he could accept the revised letter, or else have it withdrawn. Ms. Patterson rejoined the exchange:

Dear Jesse:

Content editing cannot happen at the point of production. At the production stage, our teams are readying for publication. Therefore, it is not appropriate to insert or delete text at that point.

The final judge on content is the Editor. At this point, you are welcome to withdraw your letter as it was sent to production, or see it published.

I hope this helps.

-Amanda

Fink had done his best, responding promptly, and all that IJICI had done was to stall and prevaricate, pass the buck, and refuse to do the decent and proper thing. It has been a very one-sided affair, with the Journal cravenly allowing West’s illegitimate review to stand, and without apparently censoring West at all.

The letter was eventually published on-line on May 7, with Goldman’s deletions processed. Of course it sits behind the paywall. IJICI did not have the courtesy of informing Fink that it had been published. (It sent an insensitive pro forma message of congratulation to him on May 11, announcing the publication of the letter.) Yet Nigel West was ready, waiting in the wings: he had obviously been shown a copy of Fink’s approved letter, even if Fink had not, and West had had time to compose a reply, which was published the very next day. Its existence can be verified at  https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/08850607.2024.2336788. If you want to read it, and do not have institutional access, it will cost you $53 for a piece of about 500 words. I advise you not to waste your money. Likewise, Taylor & Francis has not sent the text to Fink, nor has it informed him of its appearance.

As I have already declared, I am not going to engage in a substantive analysis of the arguments here. I need to inspect the original documents myself, and shall probably dedicate a coldspur bulletin to inspecting these fascinating items while they are still relatively fresh in my mind. But I know enough about the case to judge that this letter is arrogant, disingenuous, and sophistical. It should never have been published, and Taylor & Francis show that the institution is in thrall to an influential member of its Advisory Board.

Reflections

This has been a very undignified performance by IJICI. It failed to heed its policy of reviewer interest. When it acknowledged that major error, it erroneously claimed that a terse and unapologetic ‘correction’ by West restored its integrity. It failed to detect West’s scandalous claim about Fink’s historiographical objectives, and to advise West to remove it. It never apologized to Fink for that slur, or for its breach of policy. Its treatment of him was cavalier and sluggish. When it came to the publication of his letter, it arbitrarily edited it to suit its own sensitivities, and the presumed ones of its reviewer. It did not communicate to Fink appropriately about the appearance of his and West’s responses. Fink has no further chance of redress: IJICI considers the Reviewer’s Response the ‘final word’. It never provided to Fink the text of West’s reply, and clearly failed to ask for a third opinion on a volatile situation, while showing itself utterly incompetent to provide editorial oversight itself. It delegated many of the processes to persons obviously unqualified for the job. And it spouted corporate jargon about ‘the publisher-intelligence community’ when it has no intention of providing a public forum for debate.

I wonder whether any of its 49-member Editorial Board know anything of this disastrous episode? I think they should be told  . . .

Review of ‘Classified! The Adventures of a Molehunter’

‘Classified!’

I ordered my copy of Nigel West’s latest book with a strong sense of expectation. While I have viewed West more as someone who wrote about molehunts rather than carrying them out himself, the title Classified! The Adventures of a Molehunter, suggested that the doyen would be offering a comprehensive analysis of his involvement with the notorious cases of the past few decades, and presenting some breakthrough judgments. I have for a long time been stating that a forum for clarifying some long-standing intelligence conundrums would be highly desirable, and perhaps West’s book would help initiate such a debate. On the flap of the book, however, appears this very confusing text: “His molehunts have led to the unmasking of spies within MI5, MI6 and the CIA and the identification of numerous others – some of whom were crucial to the Allied victory in the Second World War . . . “ Did West really outperform MI5? Which spies were unmasked by West’s endeavours, and how these would have assisted the victory against the Germans is an enigma left unaddressed: the blurb-writer has clearly lost the plot.

Irrespective of this errant representation, given how the book has been promoted, readers might still be entitled to expect some breakthrough analysis. Would we, for instance, learn some critical facts about ELLI, the person behind the cryptonym divulged by the defector Igor Gouzenko in 1945, which had spawned several investigations, including very solemn projects undertaken by the CIA and academics, provided a prosperous journalistic career for Chapman Pincher, drawn Roger Hollis (and others) into disrepute, saved Peter Wright from penury, excited the Americans, and provoked both MI5 and MI6 into a strenuous hunt for the reputed penetration agent within the Security Service?

But there is no entry for ELLI in the Index of the book, and I found no unindexed reference. Gouzenko receives only two minor mentions. Peter Wright crops up frequently, and a whole chapter is dedicated to Spycatcher, but it is as if the whole ELLI business were irrelevant, or had long been solved. It is like writing about cryptozoology without mentioning Nessie. In his 1989 book, Molehunt, West, after spending many pages speculating on ELLI’s identity, concluded that ‘ELLI probably existed, but the details offered by the defector could have applied to known spies like Blunt and Philby’. The question of ELLI was still alive when West published Cold War Spymaster: The Legacy of Guy Liddell, in 2018. What is going on? Do West’s followers not deserve a better explanation?

A symptom of the malaise is that West seems to lack any serious curiosity about recent research. He recognizes the publication of Andrew’s history of MI5 (2010), and Jeffery’s of MI6 (2011), and offers the briefest of mentions of Ferris’s history of GCHQ (2020), but, apart from his mentioning a few minor works published during this period, his universe is strangely occluded. (He does take the opportunity to criticize Andrew on several counts, however: over his accepting Grenville Wynne’s claim that he and Penkovsky visited the White House, his being taken in by a story about George Blake, on his naivety in stating publicly that he was the first to identify Cairncross as the Fifth Man, on his obstinacy over Canaris and Szymanska, and over his confusion about the identity of INTELLIGENTSIA and NOBILITY from the VENONA transcripts. If West could only show such clarity in the admission of his own mistakes . . .) He makes no mention of all the rich archival material that Kew has released in the past decade and a half, ignores any analysis that has been posted in the serious intelligence journals, as well as the works of such as Helen Fry, and cannot even admit to being stimulated or provoked by coldspur. Admittedly, the latter is not conventionally published material, but if Frank Close (the biographer of Fuchs) and Ben Macintyre can cite coldspur in their Endnotes, one might expect West to engage in the very relevant arguments that I have surfaced there.

The fact is that this is a very indifferent book. It contains glimpses of West’s tenaciousness, analytical skills, and background knowledge, but is nevertheless an ill-conceived and ill-executed compilation. In introducing his chapter on the Falklands Conflict, West writes, with a touch of vanity: “While on the after-dinner lecture circuit, I was often in demand . . .”, and the individual segments have the flavour of such after-dinner speeches gathered here in a compendium. The problem is that this approach results in a large degree of repetition, both internally (we are informed on three separate occasions that Arthur Martin hoped to elicit a deathbed confession from Graham Mitchell), and from West’s previously published books, such as those on VENONA and on molehunts. Moreover, no distinctive theme or narrative emerges across the volume in its entirety, and the reader is left with a series of unconnected vignettes.

Not that these pieces are universally without interest. West adopts an engaging style, although he tends to some lazy journalistic flourishes (which I shall examine later). He has benefitted from a fascinating background, and was steeped in intelligence matters from his teens, because of his father’s occupation, and the friendships that accompanied it. The author has exploited his connections overall very well, and has shown much enterprise in chasing down various leads. Yet being in the thick of the intelligence cliques has its drawbacks, since one has to be very sharp in assessing when one is being fed misinformation of some kind, and West shows a particular frailty in being so much influenced by Arthur Martin, whom he describes as ‘a formidable counter-intelligence officer’. Martin did not join in fact join MI5 until 1947, after a less than distinguished career in the Royal Corps of Signals and GCHQ. That he was recruited and recommended to MI5 by Kim Philby may or may not have ominous implications. Philby was the first to reveal his existence in My Silent War (as one of the investigators in the Maclean affair, and as being present at the Milmo interrogations), but he made no mention of his role in the recruitment process, and no one appears to have questioned Martin’s loyalty and judgment in this episode. I have come to regard Martin as a bit of a buffoon, one easily manipulated by his superior officers, and have documented some of his clumsier exercises (such as the interrogation of Smolka). Moreover, the reputed coups that Martin was supposed to have achieved (such as the confessions of Cairncross and Blunt), were obvious set-ups.

Because of the fragmented state of West’s narrative, I have thus decided to analyze each chapter in turn, spending more time on those sections that are closest to my own research bailiwick.

Chapter by Chapter

Chapter 1: ‘The Venlo Incident’

This is a long, rambling account of how unauthorized intelligence disclosures have encouraged the public’s interest. Why it is called The Venlo Incident I have no idea. It repeats a lot of familiar and well-trodden information about the arrests of MI6’s Best and Stevens in November 1939, and how they passed on hordes of facts about MI6’s organization thereafter. It then introduces Dick Ellis, attributing to him the pre-war selling of secrets to the Germans, and even repeats the bizarre charge that, if Ellis had betrayed MI6 to the Germans before the war, he might well have done the same with the Russians after it. West also questions the date of Ellis’s recruitment by MI6. For some reason he then moves on to Leslie Nicholson’s providing Phillip Knightley with his scoop on Philby, before classifying Philby’s memoir as ‘largely accurate’. From here, he claims that Philby’s book, which revealed aspects of the Double Cross System, provoked a counter-offensive from MI5 and MI6, even though Ladislas Farago had already disclosed that MI5’s secret interrogation centre at Ham Common ‘had persuaded dozens of captured spies to switch sides and act as double agents to deceive their Abwehr masters’ – a gross distortion of what happened. The conclusion of all of this seems to be that there was a public thirst for more disclosures in the 1970s. Why any of this would be considered newsworthy in 2024 is beyond me.

Chapter 2: ‘Spy!’

This chapter describes the creation of the BBC series Spy!, in which West assisted Donald McCormick. Yet this took place forty-six years ago, and the facts of the Venlo Incident (which constituted one of the episodes) are resuscitated. West describes some hitches in the project, which included the unreliable contributions of Montgomery Hyde.

Chapter 3: ‘TATE and the Double Agents’

This is another rambling account, which strays far from TATE (Wulf Schmidt, aka Harry Williamson), to such as Philby and Blunt and Jeremy Cartland, relating also how West was encouraged to write his book on MI5 after interviewing Dick White. It contains some fascinating material, but much is recycled from West’s chapter on TATE in his 1991 book, Seven Spies Who Changed the World. On the other hand, he inexplicably offers no mention of Tommy Jonason’s and Simon Olsson’s Agent Tate: The Wartime Story of Harry Williamson, translated from the Swedish and published in 2011, for which West offered a blurb on the cover. Moreover, West presents a distorted view of the double-agent exercise: he claims that neither Farago nor Masterman ‘had really explained exactly how MI5 had accomplished the extraordinary feat of transforming hardened Nazis into committed supporters of the Allied cause’ (another gratuitous repetition).

But of course MI5 had done no such thing: TATE himself admitted that he allowed himself to be used because he was threatened with the gallows, and it would have been madness to allow any ‘turned’ agents loose in the belief that they had had an ideological change of heart, since they could immediately have informed the enemy of the deception, and blown the whole scheme. And that was what happened later with some German POWs whom the British believed they had turned, and sent into Austria and Germany. As an example of the lack of focus in the chapter, West also throws in the fact that one informant ‘even flew the kite that he [Philby] had always been a loyal MI6 asset’. This is the insight that Helen Fry so mysteriously bequeathed to us a few years ago in her profile of MI6’s Kendrick in Vienna, Spymaster. I note that, in her latest book, Women in Intelligence, Fry boldly resurrects the claim as follows: “Kendrick, his agents and secretaries were tracking their [communist activists’ and spies’] movements through journalists like Eric Gedye and a young graduate, Kim Philby.” Is that a fact? West provided an enthusiastic blurb for her book, complimenting the ‘fascinating, minutely researched study’, so he presumably must have read this passage. His insertion of this gem so casually without analysis is thus vastly disappointing. After all these years, does the episode not truly deserve a more detailed inspection than that?

Chapter 4: MI5 and ‘A Matter of Trust’

The events covered in this chapter occurred over forty years ago, yet West astonishingly does not bring any retrospective analysis to the table to introduce corrections to what is a very dubious memoir, full of errors and misapprehensions. It starts off with an introduction to West by his publisher to a ‘molehunter’, namely Arthur Martin, whom West met on December 1, 1981. He presents him as ‘someone who could truly be described as an authority’, offering West ‘a tremendous experience’. He adds that Martin was married to Joan, who had been Dick White’s secretary, as if that granted Martin more substance: whether this lady was the same secretary with whom White had been having an affair (see p 298) is not explained. On the other hand, West, in his Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence, informs us that Joan had in fact been Guy Liddell’s secretary. While outsiders such as I struggle to accommodate the implications of these relationships, it appears that such romances were part of the fabric of MI5, since we also learn that Graham Mitchell’s wife was the sister of James Robertson (who conducted the investigation into Maclean) (p 86), and are reminded that Roger Hollis had a long-term affair with his secretary (p 94).

West’s major revelation is to describe Martin’s strong conviction that Mitchell was the ‘culprit’: West declares that he found his argument ‘utterly compelling’, and that he was encouraged to support it by the very evasive interview that Dick White gave him about possible moles in MI5. West relates how Martin and his MI6 cohort Philip de Mowbray were so taken in by the claims that the defector Anatoliy Golitsyn made about penetration in MI5 that they even co-authored the latter’s ‘memoir’. What West does not mention is that the CIA officer James Angleton (who had felt gravely betrayed by Philby, and was also taken in by Golitsyn’s bluster) was exerting a baleful influence as well, threatening the British authorities that the USA-UK relationship would be endangered unless the stables were cleansed. Martin felt this pressure severely. (Angleton does not warrant a mention in this chapter, or anywhere else in the book, which is bizarre.) The fact is that West never comes to grips with the substance behind the allegations.

The author then moves on to catalogue the list of supposed intelligence failures that Peter Wright later recapitulated in Spycatcher, including MI5’s failure to run any successful double-agent operations against the KGB. To my mind, such ventures would have been non-starters from the get-go, but West seemed to be impressed. Yet he never identifies these presumably hostile agents who were discovered, then ‘turned’ –  through blackmail, I suppose –  nor does he investigate how in fact it might have been more fruitful for the KGB to have kept these disinformation exercises running than to have each one closed down immediately. Nor does he speculate on what might have happened to these ‘double agents’ when their Moscow bosses learned that they had traitors on their books. He also echoes Martin’s belief that MI5’s inability to trap any spies in the act (e.g. Nunn May, Cairncross) was evidence of deep penetration, and reminds us that those who were identified gained MI5’s attention only because of tips from defectors. But West then starts to drift: he repeats the false claim that Burgess and Maclean made good their escape just hours before a hostile interrogation was scheduled for Maclean – which is simply not true.

He also garbles the facts of the interrogations of Blunt and Cairncross (if he has read my analysis, he appears to ignore it), and then goes on to write that ‘Martin and Wright had pursued dozens of suspected spies, including Bernard and Peter Floud, Christopher Hill, Jenifer Hart, James Klugmann, Bob Stewart and Edith Tudor-Hart, but none had co-operated’. That is simply not true. Apart from the fact that, if they pestered ‘dozens’ of suspected spies (as opposed to communist sympathizers) most of them were surely innocent and would have bristled at any harassment, the names listed did ‘co-operate’ to some extent. Bernard Floud committed suicide when MI5 was on his trail, after the revelations of Phoebe Pool; Christopher Hill confessed to Anthony Glees on the condition that his admission not be revealed until after his death; Jenifer Hart openly admitted to having been recruited by the NKVD and penetrating the Home Office; Edith Tudor-Hart also admitted to espionage at a time when her contribution had become irrelevant. West mentions Ursula Kuczynski, zu Putlitz and Pontecorvo as a trio who had managed to escape MI5’s reach, but the failure to press home in all these cases was the recognition that the embarrassment that would arise from the facts coming out into the open would be so unsavoury that it was better to bury them, and to pretend that they had never happened.

Thus the Molehunt focused on Cumming, Hollis and Mitchell. In a quick aside, West mentions Ray Milne as a spy who had been employed in the MI5 registry. Yet Milne (née Mundell) worked for MI6, not MI5. West then discounts Cumming, before expanding on a long encomium of Martin’s skills and achievements, which turns out to be bogus, as well. I get the impression that West believed everything that Martin told him about his ‘achievements’, including his role as guardian of the NKVD telegrams that compromised Fuchs, and the claim that he had been the ‘liaison link’ between MI5 case officers chasing up leads in the HOMER investigation. I say this because West asserts that Martin was indispensable in the HOMER molehunt, and that in December 1951 ‘he was tasked to collate the evidence against Philby, which was presented effectively to Helenus Milmo’. If West had studied closely the file on the investigation (from which he quoted liberally in ColdWar Spymaster), he would have learned that the project of gathering information on Philby had started back in May 1951, when Martin worked with Jane Archer, under Dick White’s clandestine guidance, before taking the conclusions with him to the USA to show Robert Lamphere of the FBI. No doubt Martin did not tell West about that. On the contrary, “Martin’s assiduous research and highly professional brief effectively demolished Philby.”

After a spell in counter-insurgency in Malaya, Martin returned to London in 1958 to carry on with the investigation into Soviet assets, and was provided with technical support in the shape of Peter Wright in 1962. West lauds Martin’s achievements: “During his MI5 career, Martin would extract confessions from Cairncross, Michael Straight, Leo Long and Blunt.” Yet, as I have shown, the ‘confessions’ of Cairncross and Blunt were carefully staged affairs, Straight confessed to the FBI, not to Martin, and Straight simply volunteered the information that led to Blunt – and Long. Long had been caught red-handed in 1944, was also later shopped by Blunt, and was eager to confess as soon as he was challenged. These were not masterstrokes of counter-espionage engineered by Martin. Oddly, given West’s high estimation of his career, Martin was then transferred to MI6 as he was considered ‘disruptive’. It was only after he had retired, in the early nineteen-eighties, that he engaged West to help him extract a deathbed confession from Graham Mitchell, after the Hollis inquiry ‘had run into the sand’. West then shifts the story to his project to write A Matter of Trust, based on his conversations with Martin, whereupon he received an injunction from the Attorney-General claiming that highly classified information had been passed to him by an ‘unnamed individual’. West avoided this prohibition by having his book published in the USA.

West then uses the publication of his book as an excuse for being unable to settle the issue of whether Mitchell had been a spy or not (the reasoning is not clear), but then ends the chapter by invoking the evidence provided by Gordievsky (who defected in 1985) and Mitrokhin (1992) that there had never been a spy within MI5 after Blunt’s retirement in 1945. He then closes his account with the open-ended rhetorical question: “But does the necessarily incomplete knowledge of Gordievsky and Mitrokhin mean that Martin and Wright had been deluded? Only time will tell.” Since Martin and Wright owned diametrically opposed opinions about the mole, at least one of them had indeed been deluded. When I led a team of analysts at the Gartner Group in the late nineteen-nineties, I forbad them to deploy the following three phrases in their reports: ‘Only time will tell’; ‘The jury is still out’; and ‘In the foreseeable future’. Experts are not paid to waffle. That was a weak and evasive conclusion by West.

It also astonishes me that West makes no reference to the conclusions of the Great Yoda from Defend the Realm. Andrew devotes Chapter 10 of Section D (‘FLUENCY: Paranoid Tendencies’) to demolishing the wild imaginations of the ‘conspiracy theorists’, Martin and Wright, describing how they fell under the baleful influence of Angleton and Golitsyn, and how they poisoned the atmosphere of MI5 to no purpose. (‘Conspiracy theorist’ was an odd term to choose, but it is a favoured term by Andrew for persons he wishes to disparage. There was no doubt that the KGB was ‘conspiring’ against British intelligence: the only point of debate was the depth of the penetration.) Andrew is also very dismissive of Martin’s skills as a counter-espionage officer. Despite the shameful fact that this chapter relies almost exclusively on unidentified material from the Security Service Archives, and thus cannot be verified, it has the ring of truth, as it cannot seriously serve any MI5 propaganda purpose. While Martin and Wright were picked out as the clear culprits, White’s overall responsibility is presented uncompromisingly. West’s silence in the face of this evidence is unfathomable.

What makes West’s analysis doubly ineffective is the fact that in his book Molehunt (published in 1987, i.e. after Gordievsky’s arrival) the author offered a stinging accusation against Mitchell in the final chapter, titled ‘Conclusive Proof’, pointing to Mitchell’s September 1955 White Paper on Burgess and Maclean, and its ‘multiple errors’ (some of which were not in fact errors) as ‘proof’ that Mitchell was responsible for all the penetration and betrayals that had occurred. Moreover, West showed himself to be utterly convinced that such malfeasance had been real, and that there was thus an influential mole to be unearthed. Meanwhile, Peter Wright was still 99.9% convinced that Hollis was the culprit. Yet even Martin, in his retirement working in the House of Commons, eventually voiced his doubts that there had been any mole in MI5, thus leaving West rather high and dry. How could those two brilliant counter-espionage officers have both been so wrong? One explanation is that Martin was in fact rather dim, and that Wright was essentially a technician.

If he had a serious regard for clarifying the facts, West could have used the occasion of a new memoir published in 2024 to bring some cooler assessment of the vain hunts of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, maybe even to make an apology concerning his gullibility and ability to jump to conclusions, and to provide a forum where the turmoil artificially created by White, and willfully stirred by Chapman Pincher, could receive a more rational re-appraisal. But no. It is a very lazy and dishonest offering.

Chapter 5: ‘The Hunt for Garbo’

Most of this story has already been told in the work in which West collaborated with Juan Pujol (the controlled enemy agent GARBO), Operation GARBO: The Personal Story of the Most Successful Double Agent of World War II, published in 1989. In his Introduction to that volume, West explained how he had been able to hunt down Pujol in Caracas, Venezuela, from the flimsiest of clues, and meet him in New Orleans, with the result that Pujol was able to attend victory celebrations in London in 1984, receive his award, meet again some of his wartime colleagues, and visit the Normandy beaches. The main purpose of this update to the story would appear to be to show how the release of GARBO’s Personal File in 1999 to what was then the Public Record Office subsequently caused some embarrassments. This archival material shed light on the somewhat tempestuous relationship between Pujol and his first wife, Araceli, in London during the war, events that Pujol had left out of his narrative. Pujol had neglected to tell his second wife of his first marriage, and the offspring they had, and Araceli had re-married after Pujol had faked his own death. Apart from reminding us that many of our heroes have deep personal flaws, this chapter has little new to relate on the mechanics and outcomes of the GARBO deception.

Chapter 6: ‘Cabinet War Room 2’

A very minor piece about Churchill’s highly secure and well-protected underground citadel known as ‘PADDOCK’, and related trivia.

Chapter 7: ‘Admiral Canaris’s Mistress’

A tale that takes some time to arrive at the subject of its title, with West introducing Nicholas Elliott, and his success in helping the Vermehrens to defect from Istanbul in 1943. The knock-on effect was the degree to which their escape had helped to doom Canaris, as one of the plotters against Hitler’s life. Vermerhen, when West interviewed him, seemed to be unaware of that outcome, and that brought West to address what Elliott had described to him as ‘the fact that Canaris had actively collaborated with a woman he knew to be a British agent, who was also his mistress, was probably ‘the last great secret of the war’. (I know a few more, of course.)

This led West on a fascinating hunt for the woman, Halina Szymanska, whom he tracked through her daughter in London to the unromantic venue of Mobile, Alabama. She gave solid evidence that Canaris had given her messages to pass on to MI6. After Szymanska’s husband had been arrested in 1939 in Berlin at the Polish Embassy, and presumably deported by Stalin, she returned to Warsaw, and ‘quite by chance’ bumped into Canaris, whom she knew from before the war. He subsequently arranged for her and her three daughters to gain the safety of Berne, and the affair and subsequent passing of secrets occurred. Despite the flimsy nature of these meetings and movements, West was convinced by her story, with evidential material in the shape of passports, etc., but his arch-rival Christopher Andrew in 1985 denied that there was any evidence, mysteriously and irresponsibly citing unavailable MI6 archives. That was almost forty years ago. Why do these two not simply get together and thrash it out? As Confucius said: “When the Yoda and the Doyen clash swords, it is the Truth that suffers.”

Chapter 8: ‘Spycatcher’

Readers will not be surprised to learn that Our Hero was at the core of the Spycatcher controversy, and that it was the ‘legendary’ molehunter Arthur Martin who was the source of the saga. Martin had reputedly been influenced, alongside Stephen de Mowbray, recently retired from MI6, by the somewhat excitable defector Anatoliy Golitsyn, who claimed there was deep penetration of MI5. West characterizes Martin in somewhat melodramatic terms: “Martin had dedicated his life to the unpopular cause of sniffing out the clues to treason. Among those he investigated were two former directors general, Sir Michael Hanley and even the revered Sir Dick White. Martin had been a terrier, not driven by instinct or prejudice but by the evidence.” This is all palpable nonsense, of course, as Martin had come rather late in his career to MI5, and he had no direct evidence at all that any MI5 insider had been passing information to the KGB in the post-Blunt era. Rather than a terrier, he had been Dick White’s poodle.

Yet it was not until Martin had retired that he engaged his protégé to ‘follow up the clues he had been unable to pursue himself’. Whether that was because he had been banished to the MI6 Directory by then as a trouble-maker, or was simply incompetent, is not stated. But then West switches quickly to Peter Wright, who takes over centre stage, as he (who had worked for Martin) had been providing privileged information to Chapman Pincher before retiring to Australia. Wright felt himself abused by Pincher over royalties, and decided to publish his own account after Prime Minister Thatcher had, in 1981, effectively absolved MI5 of any further penetration after Blunt.

The resulting Spycatcher affair turned out to be a disaster for the Government, primarily because of the embarrassing performance by Sir Robert Armstrong, but also because MI5 and MI6 had been shown to be selectively releasing information when it suited them –  a point that West only lightly touches, since he had been the beneficiary when Dick White decided that he wanted a history of MI5 published after the Thatcher administration had turned the project down. “The fiasco caused Thatcher much discomfort, but doubtless she would have endured rather more if my unseen role in the affair had become public knowledge”, writes West. What this role had been is not immediately obvious, but it seems that West simply gave Wright’s telephone number to the two Granada TV journalists who had bought the rights to his book A Matter of Trust. How that revelation would have intensified the suffering of the Iron Lady is not explained. West then bounces off this coup to switch to ‘two further cases in which I had played yet another unseen hand’ – the publication of Joan Miller’s One Girl’s War, and that of Inside Intelligence, the memoir of the ex-MI6 officer Anthony Cavendish, ‘with which I was closely associated and encountered significant legal problems’. Since this book was not published by West’s outfit, it is not clear exactly what West’s earth-shattering contribution was.

His conclusion is certainly debatable: that MI5 was responsible for giving bad advice to Thatcher in 1979 by not admitting that ‘there had been a suspicion of hostile penetration up until at least September 1963’. He asserts that MI5 could simply have omitted the offending sentence in her statement (which it prepared for her in 1981), presumably the one where she claimed that all the evidence of hostile penetration could be attributed to Anthony Blunt. West declares with glib omniscience –  but without any evidence –  that ‘every other counter-intelligence officer who had studied the problem’ knew that Blunt could have not have been responsible ‘for compromising so many operations’. But that is not what Margaret Thatcher said. As Hansard reports, she was responding specifically to the mischievous and erroneous assertions made by Chapman Pincher in Their Trade Is Treachery that the now deceased Roger Hollis had been a Soviet mole, and that the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Burke Trend, had confirmed the fact. She correctly admitted that investigations into senior officers had taken place, carefully explaining the context as ‘the last years of the war’, and that the project had included Hollis, but she strongly denied the allegations that Pincher made in his book that Trend had concluded that the leads discovered pointed to Hollis.

Even if MI5’s senior officers had seriously believed that it had suffered from post-Blunt penetration (because of no other evidence apart from ‘failed operations’), it would have been absurd to advise the Prime Minister to discuss such hypotheses in the House of Commons. West could have performed deeper justice to the saga by analyzing the substance and origin of the suspicions with the hindsight of today’s knowledge, and by comparing the need for the defector Golitsyn to earn his meal-ticket with the facts of so-called failed counter-intelligence operations. That would have been more enlightening than the exaggeration of his (West’s) less-than-honourable contribution as a manipulator behind the scenes, and as a facilitator for intelligence officers who wanted to avoid the implications of the Official Secrets Act. He could also have been a bit more open about his infatuation with Arthur Martin, which now all looks rather embarrassing to the outsider.

Chapter 9: ‘Greville Wynne’; Chapter 10: ‘Bill Casey’; Chapter 11: ‘Farzad Bazoft’

All relatively insignificant.

Chapter 12: ‘The Fifth Man’

I am not sure why West dedicated a chapter to his involvement with John Cairncross, as it was not the most illustrious episode of his career. The Fifth Man had revealed to West, in April 1981, that he had confessed to espionage in Cleveland, Ohio, in February 1964. When they met again, in France, on September 30, 1994, Cairncross explained that he had started writing a draft of his memoirs, but was ‘crestfallen’ when West pointed out to him that he would be in breach of his commitment to confidentiality by virtue of the Official Secrets Act. West then proposed that he ghost-write the ‘memoir’, confident that he could persuade MI5 that he and Cairncross would comply with any reasonable request for excisions. Why Cairncross was taken in by this story is uncertain, as it would be crystal-clear that the autobiographical information would have derived from him. Yet, somewhat extraordinarily, MI5 gave permission for the publication to go ahead, and even allowed the exiled and severely ill Cairncross to return to the UK for medical treatment.

Cairncross died in October 1995, a few days after West had delivered the final draft of the book, now titled The Enigma Spy, since Cairncross’s influential brother, the economist Sir Alec Cairncross, had resented any connection with the ‘Fifth Man’. In an elliptical passage, West writes that Cairncross’s partner, Gayle Brinkerhoff (who was behind these negotiations) had engaged a literary agent who wanted to renegotiate the terms of ‘our’ agreement. “We had reached an impasse and, upon the repayment of the St Ermin’s advance, we quietly slipped away”. (St Ermin’s was the publishing house that West set up with Geoffrey Elliott.) But who were the ‘we’ here? And, if the advance had been repaid, had West lost the rights to the manuscript he had prepared? He does not say. And that ‘quiet’ withdrawal carried with it a lot of resentment, as I shall show.

Suddenly, West is in Moscow, trawling through the KGB file on Cairncross. I do not believe that West knows Russian, so he was presumably helped by his collaborator, Oleg Tsarev, and some of the documents were in English. What became clear to him, nevertheless, was that Cairncross had lied about the duration of his espionage. He had previously claimed to West that he had spied only during the war years, yet the Moscow archives showed that he had been active way beyond that, and that he had passed on critical nuclear secrets. West had been able to insert a short item on Cairncross in his 1981 book on MI5, where he reproduced what Cairncross had told him, namely that in Ohio he had made a ‘full statement’ on his role as a Soviet agent. Of course, he had done no such thing, just like Blunt and Philby. (What is it with these people? When they are offered immunity from prosecution, the agreement is that they will give a complete account of their espionage and contacts, and yet they all hold back on critical items! It’s just not right!) West does not explicitly mention that he had been taken in by Cairncross’s incomplete set of assertions.

West now knew that, contrary to what Andrew and Gordievsky wrote in KGB: The Inside Story (October 1990), Cairncross had been a much more damaging spy than he and others revealed, and had accordingly understated his achievements. The KGB archive showed that he had been very productive right up until the summer of 1950, until he was transferred from the Treasury to the Ministry of Supply. Nevertheless, working with Yuri Modin, as late as June and July 1951 (when Burgess and Maclean had decamped) he was still able to pass over a thousand confidential documents. He was eventually trapped because MI5 discovered incriminating information on him in Burgess’s flat, and he was forced to resign. As West points out, ‘the fact that Cairncross was never prosecuted caused much embarrassment to the government law officers familiar with his case’.

But what is West’s conclusion from this fiasco? “To compound the embarrassment, Cairncross outlived the other members of the Cambridge Five and even returned to the UK and published a self-serving web of lies, ‘The Enigma Spy’.” Yet the book was published posthumously, and the text was presumably all West’s, including Chapter Thirteen, ‘Superspy’, where ‘Cairncross’ provides a very expert analysis of why West believed that ELLI was Mitchell, not Hollis. What went on? Brinkerhoff and West must have had a serious falling-out. Gayle Cairncross (as she now styled herself) wrote the Acknowledgements, but there is no mention of West’s contribution as ghost-writer. That other doyen, Richard Norton-Taylor, wrote a mendacious and cringe-making Introduction, where he presented Cairncross as a man of ‘deeply-held convictions’, stated that he believed the integrity of Cairncross’s account, and challenged the Russian government ‘to correct the widespread errors of his association with the KGB’. Pass the sick-bag, Alice. On recently reading that passage anew, I even began to feel a tinge of sympathy for Westy.

All of this must have brought West close to distraction. He had put in all the work, yet received no recognition (for a ‘self-serving web of lies’, of course) –  and presumably no royalties. What happened when that agreement fell apart can only be imagined. Yet the story then turned very sour for him. If we can rely on the Wikipedia entry on him (which quotes from the Independent), West sued Random House in 2001. He claimed that he had written The Enigma Spy in return for the copyright and 50% of the proceeds. He lost the case, however, and had to pay costs of around £200,000. What added to his mortification must have been the opinion of the trial judge, Mr. Justice Laddie, who described West as ‘one of the most dishonest witnesses I have ever seen’.

What is bizarre is that Laddie’s chastisement of West (according to contemporary accounts) appeared to concern his misrepresentation of his role as a director at St Ermin’s Press, which points to more complex layers to the controversy. Yet instead of clarifying what happened, or even attempting to justify himself, West obscures the issues, and overlooks most of the facts in his description of the events. The conclusion, moreover, is equivocal and unflattering to his competence. Why he would want to resuscitate this business when it is quite clear that he is being deceptive is astounding.

It is difficult to think how West could have entangled himself in such a mess unless he had foolishly signed a contract that exposed him dramatically. But ending up slamming a book for being a web of lies when you have written it yourself, and not receiving any reward except high legal costs would be enough to crush even the most debonair adventurer. Two biographies of Cairncross appeared a few years ago: Chris Smith’s The Last Cambridge Spy (2019) and Geoff Andrews’s Agent Molière (2020). They both refer to the lawsuit, and the fact that West was not recognized as the ghost-writer. While The Enigma Spy had benefitted (and I use the term advisedly) from a few other editors by then, West seems to have been hardly done by in one sense, although the inexperience at St Ermin’s Press in contract negotiations turned out to be disastrous. West does not acknowledge the existence of these new biographies in the misleading recollection of his dealings with Cairncross, which omission leaves his ruminations sounding very dated and stale. But the moral of the story is clear: you can’t have ambitions of being a leading intelligence analyst while dabbling with ghost-writing for an established traitor.

Chapter 13: ‘The Falklands Conflict’

I have not studied the intelligence aspects of these events, and they are outside my realm of special interest. They also have little to do with molehunting, so I pass this chapter by.

Chapter 14: ‘George Blake’

I found little new in this account of West’s thoughts on George Blake, including a brief snapshot of his interview with him in Moscow, in which re-tells the story of Blake’s treachery –  including the theory that he was brought to it because the father of the girl he loved, Iris Peake, a secretary in MI6, told him that he couldn’t possibly marry her. Yet West informs us that Blake later married into another MI6 family, and even names the father (Colonel Arthur Allan), but surprisingly not the bride. Blake then betrayed them all. The piece contains a comparison of Blake and Philby, in which the latter comes off better because ‘he did not inflict lasting damage to MI6 in operational terms’ – a subject for possible debate. West also echoes Philby’s dubious claim that his Section IX ‘was studying the NKVD but was not actively engaged in espionage against it. He also throws out some thoughts about defectors in general, but this is overall a lightweight piece.

Chapter 15: ‘VENONA’

I have always thought that West’s book on VENONA (the joint GB/USA exercise of decryption of wartime and post-war Soviet cables, which led to Maclean and Fuchs, among others, being identified) was one of his better compilations. VENONA: The Greatest Secret of the Cold War was published in 1999: has West fresh light to show on the project? Apparently not. This chapter is essentially a re-hash of what he wrote before, with whole chunks of text re-presented, and pages of transcripts reproduced. The main point that West wants to make is that Christopher Andrew, in his authorized history of MI5 published in 2009, resisted West’s painstaking conclusions that the cryptonym NOBILITY equated to Ivor Montagu, and that of INTELLIGENTSIA to J. B. S. Haldane. He also criticizes two books on Haldane, by Tredoux and Campbell, published in 2018, which likewise got the facts wrong. The chapter is thus a valiant and necessary step in setting the record straight, but too long-winded for the reader who has already studied West’s book. West also draws our attention to the fact that certain cryptonyms (such as BARON and MINISTER) have remained undetected, and calls on us amateur sleuths to work on the mysteries.

Chapter 16: ‘Guy Liddell’

Over five years ago I wrote about West’s admiring but still equivocal treatment of Guy Liddell, the competent counter-intelligence officer who was thwarted in his ambition to become Director-General of MI5. (See https://coldspur.com/guy-liddell-a-re-assessment/.) West’s opinion has not changed, and it comes through early: “In many ways, Liddell was the personification of the consummate intelligence professional: wise, unassuming, considered trustworthy by colleagues, occasionally enigmatic and always anxious to prevent others from drawing the Security Service into some nefarious enterprise that would damage the organisation’s reputation or bring it into controversy.” He provides a detailed account of Liddell’s career, from being awarded the Military Cross in World War I, through working for Basil Thomson’s Directorate of Intelligence and the Special Branch, up to his transfer to MI5 in 1931 and subsequent role as deputy to Jasper Harker in the counter-espionage branch.

I believe that West has read my counter to his general encomium of Liddell, and my correction of certain facts (such as the details behind his estrangement from his wife), but he has not reflected any of my points here. And I shall not repeat in detail the reasons why I think Liddell was not well fitted for the top job: too cerebral and flimsy, too trusting of dubious characters (such as Blunt and Burgess), too retiring to promote and argue his views, not politically astute enough. West makes the accurate point that Liddell was seriously outmaneuvered by his one-time protégé and rival Dick White, and West’s last statement in the chapter is to assert that White ‘was hardly a safe pair of hands in which to entrust the defence of the realm’. True. Yet my view is that Liddell severely let down the service at a time when he was supposed to be steering it under the leadership of two outsiders (Petrie, Sillitoe) who did not really understand what the challenges were. West does not perform justice to this dynamic.

Chapter 17: ‘The Moscow Archives’

This chapter satisfies as a moderately intriguing account of West’s collaboration with Tsarev in working on KGB files for the creation of The Crown Jewels, but suffers again from a lot of repeated information – such as that of the Cairncross saga, and the astonishing discovery that he had lied about the extent of his espionage! Further explorations led to West’s book TRIPLEX. It is quite useful as a summary of the disclosures that the study of the files led to, but contains nothing fresh or startling, so far as I could judge.

Chapter 18: ‘St Ermin’s Press’

I learned a lot from this chapter, as West explains that he established St Ermin’s Press with the retired banker Geoffrey Elliott, after the later contacted him for information regarding his father, Kavan, who had been an SOE agent in Hungary in World War II. Coldspur readers may recall my interest in Elliott, who had been taught by my father at Whitgift School (where Dick White was a teacher when he was recruited by MI5), and with whom I later exchanged several emails and telephone calls during my researches. I also compiled an obituary of him a couple of years ago. (See https://coldspur.com/2022-year-end-round-up/.)  Elliott’s very engaging biography of his father, I Spy, was the first book to come off the St Ermin’s production-line.

West provides a fascinating account of the books he and Elliott subsequently published, including the work by a KGB officer named Igor Damaskin, who wrote a biography of Kitty Harris, Donald Maclean’s handler and lover in Paris. Elliott himself translated the book. The tale is a remarkable one, and West should be proud of the coups he achieved. “St Ermin’s Press proved to be a wonderful experience for the authors and publishers alike” . . . , West writes, “. . . and apart from the acrimony over John Cairncross’s memoirs, which would be so comprehensively contradicted by his voluminous KGB file in Moscow [yes, Nigel: we get the message], the books were generally important contributions to intelligence literature.”

This claim puzzled me, as I thought that the whole point of the Cairncross disaster was that The Enigma Spy was not published by West and his crew. Moreover, I suspect that there is more to the story of West and his partnership with Elliott than is written here. When, in one of my email messages to Geoffrey Elliott, I brought up a question about one of Nigel West’s books, he immediately insisted that I never mention that name again, otherwise I would be cut off at the knees. I thus do not believe that the relationship between the two turned out to be as harmonious as West presented it. The conundrum of that fall-out, however, will probably have to remain as elusive as that of the identity of BARON.

Chapter 19: ‘Molehunting in the Twenty-First Century’

So molehunting in the Twentieth Century has been sorted, right? All lesson learned, and all moles successfully trapped? Wrong. This chapter is a strange mixture, and it is not about hunting down today’s moles. It covers a lot of twentieth-century issues, concentrating mainly on Australia, and then relates some details about other unsolved cases, mainly to do with the FBI and the CIA. Yet West’s point in this rambling segment is that dedicated amateurs should keep on the track of moles from the last century, using what archival material is released. “Closing counter-intelligence files, a task accomplished these days by assiduous pursuit of pensioners and access to dusty archives, is immensely gratifying and serves the cause of accurate history”, he writes.

Well, I think I know what he means, although I am not sure what ‘closing’ files represents in this context, I don’t like the idea of pensioners like me being pursued like moles, and the archival material is not ‘dusty’ but served up to a large degree electronically these days. The problem is that there is a lack of complete material to work with: we know that MI5 interviewed dozens of possible moles, couriers, informants, fellow-travelers, agents of influence and communist sympathizers, and kept files on them. The frustration comes from the fact that a large number have not been declassified. Moreover, when MI5 did uncover a mole, all it seemed to do was grant him immunity from prosecution, on the basis that he would then reveal more names for them, which they would investigate and then decide they could do nothing . . .

Conclusions

So there it is. ‘Classified!’ is a strange mélange. I hinted earlier at the smooth journalistic sheen that West applies to his writing, eliding with apparent authority some of the subjects that deserve greater inspection, as if we amateurs should not concern ourselves with such paradoxes. And that lazy style permeates his narrative. For instance, he loves referring to his subjects as ‘legends’. Thus we learn of the following:

P xx Maxwell Knight, a legendary agent-runner

P 20 Steedman was something of a legend in the counter-intelligence world

P 23 the legendary Antony Terry

P 56 Dick White was widely regarded as something of a legend

P 62 Miles Copeland, the legendary CIA veteran

P 96 Martin was part of MI5’s legendary Malaya Mafia

P 149 origins of the Spycatcher saga can be traced to the legendary molehunter Arthur Martin

P 157 the legendary agent handler Maxwell Knight (again)

P 178 Buckley was something of a legend in the CIA’s clandestine service

Now, I don’t know whether by this West means:

A) These characters were mythical, and didn’t actually exist;

B) They tell stories about these fellows in the ‘Coach and Horses’, but I wouldn’t trust the half of them; or

C) These chaps were quite well-known within the services, as they achieved something or other, unlike those not classified as ‘legends’.

Who knows? It probably signifies nothing, but it is an indolent substitute for rigorous thinking, and a good editor would have snipped them out.

Lastly, there are the blurbs – and one review.

The Blurbs

“This book will become a spooks’ bible. . . Nigel West always provides clear thinking and sane, no-nonsense analysis.” (Andrew Roberts, on the cover)

“West masterfully delivered a succession of astonishing scoops . . . Describing his remarkable career with more revelations in this gripping memoir, he rightly claims applause for his triumphs.” (Tom Bower)

“Told with real verve and with the eye of an insider, ‘Classified!’ Will have you gripped.” (Damien Lewis)

“Nigel West offers a unique perspective and research on some of the most fascinating cases in espionage history.” (Helen Fry)

One wonders: Did they actually read the book before they rolled the logs? And were they really qualified to comment on the material?

As for the review, West’s old nemesis from the Cairncross debacle, Richard Norton-Taylor, was invited by the Times Literary Supplement to provide a review, which appeared in the issue of March 29. (I wonder whether Norton-Taylor had to declare an interest, and whether he had a tinge of conscience, and was keen to compensate for his semi-treacherous contribution in the Cairncross business?) It is overall a sympathetic assessment, competent but shallow. The writer has no doubt learnt from his previous dishonourable attempt at analysis. When describing West’s discoveries concerning Cairncross in Moscow, Norton-Taylor unsurprisingly overlooks his own disastrous contribution to the Cairncross memoir. He does add some valuable commentary concerning the government’s breaching of its own rules, but in my opinion he is overall too trusting of West’s judgment and accounts of what happened. Norton-Taylor thus contributes to the lore of West as a first-rate, entrepreneurial but somewhat roguish investigator.

I believe that the problem is as follows: once you become a doyen (or even a ‘Yoda’), protecting the image is everything. You must be seen as an infallible guide, and all earlier errors must be hushed up. (Rather like MI5, in fact.) You must engage your mutual admiration society to burnish the reputation – which is what happened here, of course, with all those blurbs. And then the Public is taken in, and continues to believe, and pay homage. Of course, the whole charade is simply not right and proper. But then Westy is something of a legend, is he not?

Postscript

  • I have posted a synopsis of ‘The Airmen Who Died Twice’, for easier reading. It can be seen at AirmenSynopsis.
  • Owing to personal commitments, next month’s bulletin will appear a few days later than the regularly scheduled last day of the month. Look for it on about July 6.
  • This month’s Commonplace entries can be seen here.

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A Topographical Guide to coldspur

Son James, daughter-in-law Lien, and granddaughters Alexis, Ashley and Alyssa (Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, April 2024)

(This report is dedicated to my son James and his family. The three grand-daughters are just beginning to gain an understanding of what I get up to in my spare time. At school, I was known as ‘Percy, A.’, to distinguish me from my brother. That method of identification will obviously not work at Los Altos High. James, meanwhile, assures me that he is planning to get round to reading ‘Misdefending the Realm’ when he retires. Ashley has already told me it contains too many long words.)

Background

In this bulletin, I fulfil a long-standing commitment to provide a topographical guide to eight years’ worth of research published on coldspur, probably about one-and-a-half million words. (These texts, I assume, continue to be an extremely valuable source for OpenAI’s GPT-4 language model. Unlike the New York Times, however, I shall not be suing OpenAI for the appropriation.) It is my intention to facilitate the exploration that any reader may want to undertake on a topic, by identifying individual themes, and laying out the chronological course of my coverage of such. The purpose of this exercise is thus to provide a roadmap for the research that I developed after the completion of my doctoral thesis, and the publication of Misdefending the Realm – research that has necessarily appeared in a rather scattered form.

First, to recapitulate. The focus of my doctoral thesis was a short time-period – that between the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in August 1939, and the Barbarossa invasion of the Soviet Union by the German armies in June 1941. My special interest in this period had been provoked by the discovery that Guy Burgess and Isaiah Berlin had been authorized to undertake a controversial mission to Moscow in the summer of 1940, presumably to carry a highly confidential message to Stalin and the Comintern. The project was suddenly abandoned, but the events highlighted the controversial dynamics of intelligence and counter-intelligence at this time, which had taken some peculiar turns as Great Britain had tried to avert war at the end of the decade. Such initiatives continued after war was declared – both with the Nazis and the Soviets.

Pluralist Britain did not respond single-mindedly to the various hazards of the 1930s, but as Hitler’s ambitions became clearer, the Nazi threat eventually replaced the communist bogey that had been the primary concern for British counter-intelligence since the early nineteen-twenties. The broad support for appeasement of Hitler, and slow reaction to his menace, had been due largely to the justifiable fear of violent international revolution as promoted by the Comintern. Thus British diplomats negotiated clumsily with both totalitarian powers up to the time of the announcement of the alliance between Hitler and Stalin, an event completely unforeseen by MI6. The Non-Aggression Pact could have presented an even greater challenge to the defence of the realm, what with the potential for intelligence-sharing by the signers of the pact, two hostile powers, and MI5 should have been on special alert during this period.

The aborted mission to Moscow was just one of the bizarre events of this period concerning relationships with Communists. MI5 failed to take advantage of a remarkable opportunity – the ability to interview, in January 1940, the Soviet defector Walter Krivitsky, on home soil. The Security Service inexplicably failed to follow up vital hints about Soviet penetration. The lead officer was taken off the case, and, in a very troubling sequel, Lord Rothschild was allowed to introduce the acknowledged communist Anthony Blunt into the heart of MI5. No one seemed to have the intellectual heft to process Krivitsky’s alarming testimony, which should have led to the identification of more spies and penetration agents than it did, including Donald Maclean and – especially – Kim Philby. Part of that lassitude probably stemmed from a correct assessment that the Nazi-Soviet alliance would not last long. Even though the Soviet Union provided much matériel for Germany to wage war against Britain during the alliance, no one expected the partnership to endure, and their articulated detestation for each other’s ideology in some quarters reinforced the notion that the agreement was cast as a method of buying time, or of protecting a front.

This negligence was perhaps encouraged by the fact that intelligence began to indicate that, in the autumn of 1940, Hitler was turning his attention away from Great Britain to the Soviet Union. Indeed, when Barbarossa occurred, and Churchill reached out rather melodramatically to announce his support for Stalin’s efforts, that gesture was interpreted by many to indicate that, since both countries were now allies against Germany, they had a shared understanding of their future political evolution. That was a big mistake – a misconception abetted by Stalin’s propagandists in positions of influence. MI5 (and most of the Foreign Office) completely underestimated the ambitions and wiles of Stalin. If the British had calculated that the unlikely alliance between Germany and the Soviet Union would be short-lived, they should have concluded that any coalition with the Communists would endure only while Hitler’s fascism was a shared foe, and that Stalin’s long-term goals for worldwide revolution had not been submerged.

Thus, as my book Misdefending the Realm (published in 2017) explained, the failure was one of tradecraft – incompetence (lacking the smarts to detect what was happening) and negligence (in possession of some of the facts, but failing to act appropriately). When the Soviet Union became an ally in June 1941, MI5 appeared to forget that Communism remained an existential challenge. The guard was dropped and the permanent threat minimized. Yet I sensed something amiss beyond the expressed sympathies for the new Russian allies and the cross-currents of infiltration and of leakage through government ministries. It pointed to more ominous explanations than simply inattention or weak will. There was something else that smelled of awkwardnesses and cover-ups that I could not pin down during my time of study for the doctorate. For that reason, I continued my investigations, and I have used coldspur to record my findings over the past seven years or so.

When I explored in my thesis those critical events from the period August 1939 to June 1941, I selectively extended my chronological coverage backwards, to the crucial year of 1933, when Philby made his journey to Vienna and was then recruited by the NKVD, and forwards, to 1950, when Klaus Fuchs, having benefitted earlier from the casual attitude to active communists that had begun to colour the policies of government institutions, confessed to having been a spy, and was consequently convicted and jailed. In those early years of the war, Communist infiltration of British corridors of power had woefully been allowed to take place, symbolized by the successes of the Cambridge Five and of the atom spies, primarily Fuchs, Nunn May, and Pontecorvo.

My use of coldspur has allowed me to expand the period of my analysis – back to the days of the Russian Revolution in 1917, and forward, most intensely to the post-war years, and those following the Fuchs trial, with the abscondence of Burgess and Maclean in 1951, up to the early sixties, with Philby fleeing to Moscow in 1963, and Anthony Blunt confessing in 1964. My analysis continues a little more sporadically thereafter, through the ‘molehunts’ of the 1970s, Blunt’s unmasking in 1979, right up to the publication of Peter Wright’s Spycatcher in 1987, and the ensuing farrago in Australia. And what I have discovered in the intervening years is that there is indeed troubling fresh evidence that helps explain the oversights of 1940. If there is one thing that my years-long investigation into the failures of British counter-intelligence has shown, it is that the problem was much greater than carelessness complemented by Soviet deviousness. It concerned misguided notions about the possible manipulation of hostile agents, and a large dose of self-delusion.

I have chosen to organize this index around a number of key themes that inevitably intersect and overlap. (And certain series will be repeated in separate sectors). Yet that phenomenon is another indicator of the growing realization to which I have arrived – that everything is related to everything else, and that awareness of what had happened in superficially different spheres of interest can shed fresh light on enduringly problematic incidents. For example, Churchill’s whimsical and picaresque interferences into military and intelligence matters often caused turmoil in various theatres of operation. Claude Dansey of MI6 initiated an ill-conceived, multi-pronged project in which he believed that he could convert enemy agents to the British cause, with disastrous consequences. The puzzling career of Kim Philby had to be re-assessed for many reasons, in the light of fresh archival material, and a close inspection of memoirs. The behaviour of Dick White, over his embarrassment of hiring and sustaining Anthony Blunt, and the deceptions that Philby played, had long-lasting effects in his subsequent transfer from Director-General of MI5 to head of MI6, resulting in the pernicious molehunt in his former service. And so on.

This guide sets out to overlay some structure on pieces that have explored the above issues.

The Themes

I present the following themes:

  1. Revolution to Cold War: This is essentially a story about the evolution of Soviet oppression, from the days of the Cheka, through Stalin’s OGPU, NKVD, KGB and GRU to the resurgence of Stalinist leanings in President Putin. It also covers the fortunes and escapes of Russians – mostly scientists – who were able (or allowed to) escape to the West, as well as the careers of British intelligence officers who were active in Russia at the time of the Revolution. In addition, it analyses those western intellectuals and writers who were taken in by the Communist ‘experiment’.
  2. Germany and the Abwehr: This topic covers the few pieces I have written about Nazi Germany as a rival totalitarian power, and a target of counter-intelligence. Most of my research on intelligence concerns penetration by Soviet espionage, but an important sector appears in my coverage of the Abwehr’s ‘LENA’ spies, sent by Hitler in the autumn of 1940 to help him prepare for the invasion of Britain. The exercise was a useful introduction for MI5 to surveillance methods and the mechanisms of wireless detection, and it constituted the first initiative to set up a controlled disinformation scheme.
  3. The Cambridge 5: The careers of the Cambridge 5 have fuelled many familiar books, but the lies they left behind them, and the clumsy attempts by many intelligence officers to conceal the mistakes they made in failing to detect them, or in behaving indulgently when their treachery was discovered, opened up a rich opportunity for fresh research and conclusions. The shadow of an ‘Oxford Ring’ looms in the background.
  4. Kim Philby: Philby deserves a category of his own. Biographies of him, as well as general histories, have relied far too much on his mendacious memoir My Silent War. Rigorous examination of recent files from the National Archives, as well as inspections of contemporary memoirs and other sources, encourage a completely fresh assessment of his career, and of his ability to deceive.
  5. Soviet Agents, and Agents of Influence: The thrust of Soviet subversion was multi-faceted. Assisting the installation of the Cambridge 5 was a band of ‘illegals’ – not Soviet citizens, but shady characters from Eastern Europe who were able to adjust to life in the West more easily, and who acted as recruiters and messengers. Supporting them was a parade of NKVD/KGB residents working under cover at the Embassy. And then there were the aliens who managed to gain British citizenship through various means, such as Ursula Kuczynski, Edith Tudor-Hart, Litzy Philby, and Peter Smolka. In addition, there were the members of the Communist Party who (contrary to the desires of Moscow) engaged in espionage, such as Dave Springhall. A further category was that of ‘Agents of Influence’, a shadowy group of figures who aided the Communist cause while carefully distancing themselves from anything illegal. I count Victor Rothschild and Isaiah Berlin in this category.
  6. The Red Orchestra: I separate out, even though it has been a minor concern, the activities of the Soviet espionage organization in continental Europe, the ‘Rote Kapelle’, or ‘Red Orchestra’, since MI6 maintained a close interest in its activities in Switzerland (‘Die Rote Drei’), and had penetrated the group. I suspect that the controversial figure of Alexander Foote was exploited by MI6.
  7. The Defectors: A critical component of the campaign to understand Soviet subversion was the group of defectors from Soviet intelligence. Its primary members are Krivitsky, Gouzenko, and the Petrovs, with secondary roles (as far as my coverage is concerned) for Bazhanov, Tokayev, Goleniewski, Golitsyn and Gordievsky. To this list must be added the highly important would-be defector Volkov.
  8. Agent Sonia: Like Philby, Sonia (née Ursula Kuczynski) deserves a category of her own. Her remarkable success in gaining egress from Switzerland through the agency of MI6, and her charmed existence thereafter, were the first astonishing phenomena I investigated after my thesis was complete. This career was highlighted by her apparent ability to evade all radio detection functions at a time when that service should have been on high alert.
  9. The Atom Spies: Those spies who passed on atomic weaponry secrets to Moscow also merit a separate category. The most notorious was Klaus Fuchs, while many other scientists, both émigrés and natives, abetted his success in gaining access to highly confidential information, mostly out of conviction. Others (such as Gamow and Peierls) may have been subjected to threats concerning relatives left behind. And certain native citizens (such as Nunn May) were part of the treachery.
  10. ELLI & Molehunts: The narratives of British counter-espionage have been dominated by the spectral form of ‘ELLI’, a supposedly highly effective mole who undermined MI5 and betrayed its operations to the Soviets. Yet this entity was really a phantom created by Chapman Pincher and Peter Wright, founded on a misunderstanding of a hint dropped by the defector Ivan Gouzenko, and amplified through distortions and untruths. A whole cavalcade of molehunts was thus initiated, which resulted in utterly inconclusive speculation and wasted effort.
  11. Special Operations Executive: SOE has always maintained a special fascination for me, as its subversive and violent goals so often clashed with the traditional task of intelligence-gathering by MI6. My interest was intensified by Patrick Marnham’s publication of War in the Shadows, a revisionist account of the betrayal of the PROSPER circuit of the F Division of SOE. This led me into a deeper analysis of the driving forces behind SOE’s sorties, not just in France, but elsewhere in Europe, and provoked a re-appraisal of some its leading lights.
  12. GCHQ: The Government Communications Headquarters (formerly Government Code and Cypher School) has been much of a second-tier interest to me, but the career of Alastair Denniston and the important decryptions of Comintern traffic he managed when he was removed from leadership at Bletchley Park have always intrigued me. The relationship of Peter Wright’s ‘HASP’ traffic to ‘VENONA’, which was critical in leading to the identification of Maclean, had also been noteworthy. I cover MI6’s distribution of ULTRA material (decrypted German ENIGMA and other traffic) here.
  13. Wireless Detection: My study of Sonia’s ability to evade detection led me into a deeper study of the mechanics and practices of the Radio Security Service, the history of which has not always been represented correctly. I engaged in a comprehensive study of the history of the RSS, and compared its mechanisms with those of the Abwehr, which led me to some conclusions about the deception plans for the Normandy landings in 1944 that I do not believe have been articulated anywhere else.
  14. World War II: Some major aspects of World War II, not directly associated with intelligence or espionage, have caught my attention, including the Soviet Union’s clumsy adjustments during the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and the parallels between the Warsaw Uprising and the cessation of advances in Italy in 1944. The character and decisions of Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin have come under my analysis – especially the disastrous manner in which the former two allowed themselves to be manipulated by the last.
  15. Tradecraft, including Double-Cross and Double-Agents: The practice of successful espionage and counter-intelligence is permanently fascinating, and the dissemination of disinformation is one of its most interesting aspects. The XX Operation, by which the Germans were misled over the location of the re-occupation of France, has been subject to much mythologizing. The general notion of using such techniques of disinformation by using alien agents who have been ‘turned’ has been greatly misrepresented in the literature, but was also misunderstood by allied practitioners who thought they could replicate the success against the Soviets. ‘Double-agent’ is perhaps the most abused term in intelligence literature.
  16. MI5 (Organization and Leadership): MI5’s inability to form a successful policy for handling detected spies, as well as its failure to come to grips with its own recruitment lapses, was a major topic in Misdefending the Realm. Under its several leaders, MI5 always struggled to create a proper structure and set of procedures for handling counter-intelligence against Soviet assaults and infiltration, and the authorized history is notably lax in describing its organization, and how it worked (or did not work).
  17. MI6: The authorized history of MI6 comes to a stop in 1949, but even that account struggles to provide a convincing narrative, and no records (apart from the occasional correspondence found in MI5 files) are at hand. Other histories therefore have to be regarded cautiously, because of the unreliability of memoir. Yet the Secret Intelligence Service plays a vital role in post-war intelligence and counter-intelligence, with constant interaction with MI5 required, and assessments have to be made, sometimes using those flawed memoirs.
  18. The FBI and CIA (also OSS): MI5 and MI6 had dealings with the two American services, intensely so after the war, when the discovery of the atom spies, and the collaboration over the VENONA material, required some careful negotiations. These were never easy relationships, they involved much distrust as well as hard-gained co-operation, but also a measure of manipulation. The USA and Canada had their share of Communist spies, and the investigations overlapped.
  19. Methodology and Historiography: A constant plea on my behalf has been the necessity for a rigorous methodology in the analysis of events in the world of intelligence, and I presented such in my thesis. I have regularly returned to this theme in my writings, deploring some of the practices of the authorized historians. I have also scorned the habits of many writers and biographers who are not qualified historians, who frequently display an alarming trust in the memoirs and oral testimony of participants, but also regularly show disdain for even the exercise of constructing a coherent chronology.
  20. Archives: I include a final category concerning the arrangements and policies surrounding the National Archives at Kew, with occasional reference to archival material in the USA and elsewhere.

I should point out that these classes are not inclusive, but instead point to my primary research into the respective subject matter. For example, MI5 appears in probably every category, but my listings on the Security Service concentrate on broader aspects of its leadership, organization, mission, policies, and execution.

The Topography

  1. Revolution to Cold War

One of my constant assertions has been that terror was built into the Communist apparatus from the beginning, and that the Red Terror of 1918-1922 was simply a symptom of an ideology that needed to eliminate anyone who opposed it, or who were merely members of a ‘class’ that was, by definition, assumed to be exploitative, and hostile to the Revolution. I drew on recent works by Beevor, Shmelev and Rayfield in https://coldspur.com/an-armful-of-history-books/ to provide some background and analysis of those times, while conceding that terror was not a practice exclusive to the Reds. Yet contact with Lenin’s organs at that time turned out to have ominous implications later.

For example, the Red Terror itself was a factor in the career of the émigré atomic scientist Rudolf Peierls, whose wife, Yevgenia, was the cousin of the murderer of the head of the Petrograd Cheka, Leon Uritsky. I explored all the ramifications of this saga at https://coldspur.com/the-mysterious-affair-at-peierls-part-1/. Another linked to the Peierls couple, and likewise probably blackmailed by Stalin, was the physicist George Gamow, who managed to emigrate under unusual circumstances (see https://coldspur.com/mann-overboard/). Lastly, the enigmatic cipher clerk for MI6 in the Soviet Union in World War II, George Graham, who was born as Serge Leontiev in St. Petersburg, was another exile tortured mentally by the NKVD and NKGB, and his story can be seen primarily at https://coldspur.com/the-strange-life-of-george-graham/.

The Terror affected many Englishmen who had been present in Russia at the time of the Revolution, and several of these ended up working for MI6. MI6 believed, accurately of course, that their knowledge of Russia, and of the Russian language would make them useful. Of course Moscow understood that dynamic, and was quick to identify persons with that profile, and thus played to undermine or suborn them. Thus you can read about some of the prime candidates: Paul Dukes at https://coldspur.com/the-strange-life-of-george-graham/, Stephen Alley and George Hill at https://coldspur.com/who-framed-roger-hollis/, and Harold Gibson at https://coldspur.com/gibbys-spy/. More recently, I have added to the cavalcade an analysis of Charles ‘Dick’ Ellis, at https://coldspur.com/four-spy-books/.

Other commentaries address the truths about the Soviet tyranny, mythologies about it, and the often craven way that the West has handled it. I described the indulgent attitude often expressed towards Stalin’s Russia as early as 2016, in https://coldspur.com/revisiting-smiley-co/, when I covered John le Carré’s apparent political philosophy. In May 2020 I recorded another foolish bit of commentary from a very prominent journalist, who had  recently expressed some absurd opinions about the supposed liberalism of Stalin after the war, at https://coldspur.com/late-spring-round-up/. While my research is scattered with references to Stalin’s ‘useful idiots’, I made close studies of two irresponsible actors, Isaiah Berlin (who received close attention in Misdefending the Realm) and Stephen Spender, in https://coldspur.com/isaiah-in-love/ and https://coldspur.com/hey-big-spender/, respectively.  

In writing about Appeasement, I explored the misguided way that Churchill tried to please Stalin in https://coldspur.com/on-appeasement/, and analyzed the misjudgments that Stalin made over borders and ‘buffer states’ in https://coldspur.com/on-appeasement/. I described Roosevelt’s weak assessment of the Soviet threat in https://coldspur.com/soviet-espionage-transatlantic-connections , and wrote about the ambiguities involved in Britain’s sharing with the Soviet Union the results of the Ultra decryptions, and the mistrust it engendered, in https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-iv/ and  https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-5/.

On the topic of Soviet mythology, I also explored the woeful attempt by Lenin and Stalin to create a new ‘Soviet Man’ at https://coldspur.com/homo-sovieticus/. Recently, in a review of the memoirs by Lariss Bukharin, I have re-inspected the claim that her husband, who was killed in the Great Purge, was some kind of western ‘liberal’ He was not: indeed, he did plot against Stalin, but he was a fervent Bolshevik (see https://coldspur.com/a-wintry-miscellany/). And I also reminded readers of the facts behind the Katyn massacre, facts that Putin is again trying to bury, in my 2022 review of Surviving Katyn at https://coldspur.com/an-armful-of-history-books/) . Finally, I should mention my review of Svetlana Lokhova’s Stalinist book The Spy Who Changed History, which appeared in August 2018 as one of the features in the posting at https://coldspur.com/four-books-on-espionage/.

2. Germany and the Abwehr

I have contributed one major assessment of pre-war Germany, and Great Britain’s hesitant response to Hitler’s increasing belligerence, in https://coldspur.com/on-appeasement/ of September 2019, where I suggested that the right time to stand up to him would have been when he invaded the Rhineland. I also discussed the confrontations between Hitler and Stalin in 1941, and Hitler’s ability to exploit Stalin’s pretensions to ‘buffer states’, later that year in https://coldspur.com/border-crossings-coldspur-stalin/  Thereafter, apart from tangential references to Hitler’s aggressions, my main coverage of Germany has been on the Abwehr, and how MI5 and MI6 dealt with its intelligence initiatives in 1940.

I started to analyze the activities of the LENA agents when I began my series ‘The Mystery of the Undetected Radios’ in May 2018. I had been provoked by Chapman Pincher’s claims that  Sonia might have been used in some kind of ‘double-cross’ operation against the Soviets (see https://coldspur.com/double-crossing-the-soviets/, in April 2018), where I developed a comprehensive framework for what the disposition of ‘double agents’ meant, and how the exercise was run successfully. This led me to the strange phenomenon wherein the infamous Double-Cross agents used against the Abwehr during World War II had been able to escape detection. This mirrored the apparent ability of the GRU’s Agent Sonia (Ursula née Kuczynski) to evade radio-detection methods throughout her time in Oxfordshire. I was encouraged to learn how radio detection worked.

While my analysis was spread across eight chapters, between May 2018 and September 2020, the Omnibus edition can be seen at https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-full/. (I shall cover this thread in the relevant Chapter 13.) In the first chapter, I wrote about the controversial Agent SNOW, and then tracked the arrival and capture of SUMMER and TATE. Chapter 3 (https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-3/ ) described the very strange story of ter Braak, who managed to survive undetected in Cambridge for several months. This post caught the eye of a Dutchman, Jan-Willem van den Braak, who was writing a biography of ter Braak, and that encounter led to my helping him publish the version in English titled Spy Against Churchill. I expanded on our discussions in my piece in February 2019, https://coldspur.com/two-cambridge-spies-dutch-connections-2/, where I laid out our very calm reasons for disagreeing on the circumstances of ter Braak’s death by shooting in a Cambridge air-raid shelter. I introduced the publication of his book in my 2021 Round-up, at https://coldspur.com/2021-year-end-roundup/.

I wrapped up my joint Sonia/radio-detection analysis in April 2021, in https://coldspur.com/on-radio-active-decay/, but returned to the Abwehr and the Sicherheitsdienst in my coverage of the PROSPER disaster, where a prominent SOE circuit in France was betrayed through the treacherous Henri Déricourt. As with Sonia, the full story will be outlined elsewhere, in this case in my SOE segment (Chapter 11), so I will simply direct interested readers to the main item on Déricourt’s role at https://coldspur.com/dericourts-double-act/, and the concluding episode in the series https://coldspur.com/the-demise-of-prosper/, from August 2022.

3. The Cambridge 5

So much had been written about the Cambridge Five (Philby, Maclean, Burgess, Blunt and Cairncross), with little new archival material released at the time my book was published, that I at first believed there was little new to discover. Indeed, I wrote little on Philby to start with, but then gradually came to the conclusion that most of his biographers trusted too completely what he wrote about in My Silent War, and that a rigorous cross-examination of sources, complemented by the inspection of related material from Kew (i.e. Tudor-Hart, Honigmann, Solomon, Smolka, Philby pêre, as well as the 1951 Foreign Office files) might lead to a dramatic re-assessment. That turned out to be correct, and I have thus extracted Philby to a separate section.

I made some early references to the contributions of the Five during World War II, and how some historians had strangely understated their role, in https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-5/, published in January 2017. I followed this up in April 2018 with a profile of Basil Mann, who had rather provocatively in 1982 published a memoir titled Was There A Fifth Man?, attempting to exonerate himself, even though Cairncross had been outed by then. In this piece (see https://coldspur.com/double-crossing-the-soviets/) I also inspected Cedric Belfrage, and dissected the quite absurd theory that some members of the Cambridge 5 and their brethren had been deployed in a successful double-cross operation against the Soviets. This campaign concluded in the ridiculous phenomenon of the distinguished historian Sir Michael Howard explaining (in a letter to the Times) that Anthony Blunt had been protected because he was being used in such a role.

Donald Maclean then caught my eye again, when two books on him and the Five came out in 2018. I reviewed Roland Philipps’s A Spy Named Orphan, and Richard Davenport-Hines’s Enemies Within in my August 2018 bulletin https://coldspur.com/four-books-on-espionage/. I was not greatly impressed by Philipps’s rather apologetic and indulgent portrayal of his subject (’Maclean as victim’), despite the lengths of research he had gone to, and I offered my own analysis of the malignant influences at Gresham’s School, Holt. Davenport-Hines was a familiar figure – a prolific author of books on social history, but he chose an odd line in Enemies Within primarily blaming the journalists for the lack of confidence and prestige in MI5. He rather pompously defined a gender-bias within MI5 as the cause of the failure to detect the spies, and believed that intellectuals like him should be trusted more. Yet he got many things wrong, missed a lot of openings, and was too easily influenced by persons he should not have trusted.

Still, some fresh anecdotes in Philipps’ work led me to dig further into Maclean. In https://coldspur.com/donald-macleans-handiwork/ I uncovered some contradictions in the accounts of Goronwy Rees’s behaviour, and the work of Andrew Boyle (who effectively unmasked Blunt in The Climate of Treason). I tried to follow clues about capes, de Gallienne, artistic circles, bohemian habits, and Maclean’s photocopying in a Pimlico flat, or whether Edith Tudor-Hart had been his photographer. I also came across the mysterious ‘Barbara’, a mutual friend of Rees and Maclean, another photographer. Philipps informed me that she was in fact Barbara Key-Seymer, and I followed up with some research on her, as well as on Maclean’s connections with the Dutchman, Pieck in February 2019, in https://coldspur.com/two-cambridge-spies-dutch-connections-1. It was a fascinating exploration, but rather inconclusive, as readers can testify afresh.

My next foray was into the events preceding the abscondment of Burgess and Maclean, where I hypothesized that Dick White fed information to the CIA in order to distract attention from his own oversights in the affair. My investigation started in April 2019, with my report https://coldspur.com/the-importance-of-chronology-with-special-reference-to-liddell-philby/ : readers should skip the first section to get to the meat, where I inspect the roles of Boyle and Cookridge, and explain how the background to the inquiries developed. My next report appeared two months later, as https://coldspur.com/dick-whites-devilish-plot/, where I explained that Dick White set out on a bizarre deception exercise, feeding tips about Philby to the FBI, so that the Americans could make a case against Philby. And my last major project was the investigation into the veracity of Blunt’s ‘confession’ at the Courtauld. I explained in December 2020 (https://coldspur.com/year-end-wrap-up-2020/) how I suspected that this was another device conceived by Roger Hollis and Dick White. A further deep study of the records led me to expand on this idea in two long pieces in January and February of 2021, https://coldspur.com/the-hoax-of-the-blunt-confession-part-1/ and https://coldspur.com/the-hoax-of-the-blunt-confession-part-2/, which also exposed that the Cairncross confession in the United States was similarly a staged event. That was my last significant commentary on the Five, although I should record here my review of Hannah Coler’s book The Cambridge Five (in German), which appeared at the end of last year (https://coldspur.com/a-wintry-miscellany/). I shall cover my fresh analysis of the events of 1951, in which Burgess and Maclean of course featured prominently, in the following section on Philby.

In passing, I note that I have made only very scanty reference to the Oxford Ring (in March 2023, at https://coldspur.com/litzi-philby-under-the-covers/) – a deficiency that needs to be remedied.

4. Kim Philby

The mythology of Kim Philby – especially of his recruitment by the NKVD – occupied a big chunk of Chapter 2 (‘Missing Links’) of Misdefending the Realm, where I explored the multiple conflicting accounts of that event that have been published. For the first few years of coldspur, I did not pay him much attention: he had been written about by so many persons that I was not ready to stick my own oar in, although I was puzzled by how many historians and biographers appeared to accept unquestioningly what the traitor wrote about himself and his career in My Silent War. I had dabbled further into his adventures and connections when writing about Stephen Spender back in 2016 (https://coldspur.com/hey-big-spender/), and returned to him next only in April 2019, where I picked up the question of leaks to E. H. Cookridge, possibly by Guy Liddell (https://coldspur.com/the-importance-of-chronology-with-special-reference-to-liddell-philby/). It was here that I picked up the strange and alarming story about Eric Roberts, and his claim that he had been told, in 1947, of a traitor working high-up in SIS, and also pointed out some chronological anomalies in the accounts of the investigation into HOMER (Maclean) concerning events in Washington, and raised my suspicions that far more was known about Philby’s exploits than was ever admitted.

That article constituted the first airing of what I termed a plot by Dick White to obfuscate the issues, and, after further research, presented, two months later, my more confident outlining of the plot, in https://coldspur.com/dick-whites-devilish-plot/. Here I explained how Dick White had successfully transferred the attention of the Burgess/Maclean investigation into a focus on Philby, and his role as informant to Maclean, and manipulated the files to make it appear that the CIA had been the agency that forced Menzies’s hand at MI6. In May 2020, I picked up the stalemate with Roberts and Christopher Andrew in https://coldspur.com/late-spring-round-up/, but was otherwise consumed with Sonia and ELLI at this time. In fact, I covered Philby’s reactions to the Gouzenko and ELLI business in March 2021, in https://coldspur.com/on-philby-gouzenko-and-elli/. In my year-end round-up I analyzed some recent biographical material on Philby, and provided some facetious commentary of my own (https://coldspur.com/2021-year-end-roundup/). In May 2022 I made a brief reference to Philby’s contribution to the molehunts in the light of the Volkov incident in https://coldspur.com/peter-wrights-agents-double-agents/, and showed at the end of the year, through my communications with Keith Ellison, that some recently released Kew files might shed some significant new light on Philby’s activities (https://coldspur.com/2022-year-end-round-up/).

This all led to a very intense re-assessment of Philby’s life and career in 2023 and early 2024. By inspecting closely the files on Edith Tudor-Hart, Georg Honigmann, Philby Senior, Peter Smolka and others, I engaged in an six-month series of bulletins that explored closely the dynamics of Philby’s marriage, recruitment, his work for MI6, the controversial events of 1951, and his later unveiling as a spy. This was supported by a closer reading of much of the Philby literature (e.g. Borovik), as well as an assessment of a new book by Helen Fry on the MI6 representative in Vienna, Thomas Kendrick. These pieces, in which I confidently presented a hypothesis that Philby had performed some deal with MI6 in 1939 whereby he pretended to close out his Soviet connections and allegiances, can be seen at https://coldspur.com/litzi-philby-under-the-covers/, https://coldspur.com/kim-philby-always-working-for-sis/, https://coldspur.com/kim-philby-in-1951-alarms-and-diversions/, https://coldspur.com/kim-philbys-german-moonshine/, https://coldspur.com/the-folly-of-solomon/, and https://coldspur.com/summer-2023-round-up/, where I summed up the status of my researches on him. I have provided a consolidated omnibus edition of these pieces on coldspur, at https://coldspur.com/kim-philby-a-re-assessment/.

The project carried on. I reviewed a somewhat fanciful book about Philby’s actions in the Middle East (in https://coldspur.com/four-spy-books/), and delved more deeply into the Honigmann story (Honigmann being Litzy Philby’s partner in London during the war) in https://coldspur.com/the-tales-of-honigmann/ in November 2023. The next month I questioned the facts about Kim’s divorce from Litzy (https://coldspur.com/a-wintry-miscellany/), and in January and February used my re-assessment of the life of Peter Smolka to cast fresh doubts on Philby’s testimony of his life from his memoir (https://coldspur.com/peter-smolka-background-to-1934/ and https://coldspur.com/at-last-the-1948-show-smolka-the-third-man/). Finally, I inserted an item about the missing two chapters of Philby’s memoir that MI6 managed to spirit away from Sotheby’s before they were put up for auction.

5. Soviet Agents

There remains a motley collection of pieces about Soviet agents and influencers of various kinds who are outside the Cambridge 5, Philby, Sonia, the Atom Spies, and the Lucy Ring categories. My whole body of research started off with Isaiah Berlin, and his bizarre relationship with Guy Burgess, and, in August 2015 I re-presented my History Today article on him, at https://coldspur.com/the-undercover-egghead/. Stephen Spender’s clumsy contribution was covered a few months later, in https://coldspur.com/hey-big-spender/, and I expanded my analysis of Berlin’s life and career, with some of his dubious associations, in Isaiah in Love (see https://coldspur.com/isaiah-in-love/). In January 2018, I branched out to cover a number of transatlantic agents, both American and Canadian, in https://coldspur.com/soviet-espionage-transatlantic-connections/, resumed a study of Wilfred Mann and Cedric Belfrage in April of that year (https://coldspur.com/double-crossing-the-soviets/), and introduced the phenomenon of errant Rhodes Scholars in my review of a biography of Duncan Lee in August (https://coldspur.com/four-books-on-espionage/).

Early on, I had investigated, while analyzing Sonia’s wireless activity, the strangely ignored and unprosecuted Soviet spy ring led by Oliver Green in Birmingham, which account can be seen in  https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-viii/, from June 2017. In December 2018, I switched to an inspection of the controversial Goronwy Rees, and his role in the Blunt saga, and then covered some of the figures behind the Krivitsky defection – Kitty Harris, Maly, Deutsch and others, all in https://coldspur.com/donald-macleans-handiwork/.  I introduced my coverage of Rudolf Peierls in October 2019 (https://coldspur.com/the-mysterious-affair-at-peierls-part-1/): Peierls is on the borderline of being an ‘atom spy’, but he certainly misrepresented his background, and was probably being held hostage by the Soviets, as was another questionable person, George Gamow. I described the activities of other possible Soviet sympathizers, such as Mott and Skinner, and other émigré scientists, in the second part of my Peierls research the following March in https://coldspur.com/the-mysterious-affair-at-peierls-part-2/.  

In May 2020, I covered the career of David Springhall (https://coldspur.com/late-spring-round-up/), and a few months later, in October 2020, I had a chance to offer my opinions of the Portland Spy Ring (Houghton & Gee, Lonsdale/Molody, the Cohens) as well as of Richard Sorge, when I reviewed books by Trevor Barnes and Owen Matthews (https://coldspur.com/five-books-on-espionage-intelligence/). I provided what I considered to be useful extra insights on Barnes’s inadequate analysis in my year-end piece at https://coldspur.com/year-end-wrap-up-2020/. In 2021, my attention switched to Gouzenko and ELLI: ELLI of course has a category all of her/his own, as do ‘Defectors’, but Desmond Uren (who was briefly considered a candidate) was covered in https://coldspur.com/what-gouzenko-said-about-elli/, in July. It was almost a year later, in May 2022, that I returned to the story, analysing the contribution that Volkov made to defector lore, and the hints that suggested that MI5 or MI6 had been penetrated (https://coldspur.com/peter-wrights-agents-double-agents/).  I thus covered Milne, Macgibbon, and Klugmann, as well as Uren, again, but my main concern was trying to ascertain exactly who those Soviet ‘double-agents’ were that Peter Wright claimed existed.

The saga of ‘Gibby’s Spy’, the supposed ‘agent in the Kremlin’ who never existed, probably belongs here: see https://coldspur.com/gibbys-spy/ in October 2022, as does my review of David Burke’s study of the ghastly Kuczynski family and network the following month (https://coldspur.com/an-armful-of-history-books/). Lastly, my extended coverage of Philby and his associates in 2023 (see above) includes much information on the various couriers and fellow-travellers in London during the war, such as Tudor-Hart and Honigmann, and this section has been rounded out by my two-part segment earlier this year on the odious Peter Smolka, at https://coldspur.com/peter-smolka-background-to-1934/ and https://coldspur.com/at-last-the-1948-show-smolka-the-third-man/.

6. The Red Orchestra

This sector describes the entire Soviet-controlled body of spies, assisted by wireless operators, that worked in western Europe against the Germans. The Germans named them Die Rote Kapelle, the Red Orchestra, and the unit in Switzerland, out of reach of direct surveillance and direction-finding, was known as Die Rote Drei, the Red Three, although the enumeration rather inaccurately represented the cell as its leader, Sándor Radó, and two of his assistants.

My main focus was on the Swiss section, since the so-called ‘Lucy Ring’, which overlapped with the Red Three, had been infiltrated by Alexander Foote, who worked for a while for Sonia, aka Ursula Beurton, née Kuczynski. The most relevant parts of the story can be seen at https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-vii/ (January 2017), and, two months later, in https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-vi/. A couple of years later, I explored the implications of Germany’s defensive manœuvres against generic hostile wireless communications in Europe, and introduced the background to the Red Orchestra, at https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-4/, in January 2019, with two later segments following that year at  https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-5/ and https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-6/.

7. The Defectors

The defector who consumed most of my attention was Walter Krivitsky, since it was his testimony that MI5 badly mismanaged, which inattention gave me the title of my book. I devoted Chapter 3 of Misdefending the Realm to the Krivitsky affair, so there is little to add from coldspur, apart from the recurring references to ‘the Imperial Council Spy’ (i.e. Maclean) and ‘the journalist in Spain’ (i.e. Philby). Thus Krivitsky appears in https://coldspur.com/two-cambridge-spies-dutch-connections-1/ (February 2019), where I undertook some deeper investigations into Krivitsky’s memories of Maclean’s handiwork when the GRU officer was in Moscow in 1937. Thereafter Krivitsky turns up regularly in my coverage of Philby, most notably in https://coldspur.com/dick-whites-devilish-plot/ (June 2019), and my recent piece that analyzes how Krivitsky’s report was accepted and used in the USA (https://coldspur.com/dick-whites-tangled-web/), in March of this year.

While I had briefly recorded the fierce insights on Philby made by Ismail Akhmedov as early as May 2016 (see https://coldspur.com/revisiting-smiley-co/), the next defector to gain my focused attention was Igor Gouzenko, the cipher-clerk who defected in Canada in August 1945. I started to develop greater interest in him in May 2020, as I was processing the thoughts of Chapman Pincher and Peter Wright about the identity of ‘ELLI’, whom Gouzenko had named as a spy somewhere in British intelligence (see https://coldspur.com/late-spring-round-up/).  I followed up with a deeper analysis in March 2021 (https://coldspur.com/on-philby-gouzenko-and-elli/), and more two months later (https://coldspur.com/who-framed-roger-hollis/), where, after undertaking a careful inspection of chronology and geography, I concluded that Roger Hollis had been framed. Lastly, I determined to take a very close look at exactly what Gouzenko’s testimony had been, and how it had changed over the years, in https://coldspur.com/what-gouzenko-said-about-elli/ (July 2021).

Konstantin Volkov was another defector (this time, only a would-be specimen, since he was betrayed by Philby and executed before he could escape) whose testimony has been misunderstood and distorted. I analyzed his case in https://coldspur.com/peter-wrights-agents-double-agents/, in May 2022, when I also provided  a brief review of Gordon Brook-Shepherd’s important study of post-war Soviet defectors, The Storm Birds. I also offered a detailed analysis of Volkov’s file, which had been released to the National Archives in October 2015, and critiqued some recent literature on defectors, from Kevin Riehle, William Hale, and Nigel West. I next reproduced some of Guy Liddell’s observations in his diary on Volkov, and pointed out that companion file on Volkov (FCO 158/194), which might explain some of the conundrums behind the business (especially those surfacing in West’s uneven commentary), has been retained by Foreign Office.

I can point to little more of substance on defectors. In July 2023, I did examine Anatoliy Golitsyn’s role in unmasking Philby in https://coldspur.com/the-folly-of-solomon/, and was able to disclose earlier this year that Golitsyn (bearing the cryptonym KAGO) had appeared in a minute-sheet on Peter Smolka, thus pinning his disclosure of that Soviet spy a few weeks before he was able to defect at the end of 1961 (see https://coldspur.com/at-last-the-1948-show-smolka-the-third-man/). I have occasionally written about Oleg Gordievsky. For example, I had reviewed Ben Macintyre’s book on him, The Spy and the Traitor, in November 2018, at https://coldspur.com/four-more-books-on-espionage/, and see also https://coldspur.com/late-spring-round-up/), but his period lies outside my primary domain of coverage. I have only rarely touched on the defection of Vladimir and Evdokia Petrov (see https://coldspur.com/the-importance-of-chronology-with-special-reference-to-liddell-philby/), but their important contribution remains as one my most significant areas of future study, involving the inspection of a massive archive that I have not yet explored properly.

8. Agent Sonia

As part of my coverage of Klaus Fuchs, I had remarked upon the very puzzling aspects of Ursula Beurton’s (née Kucynski’s) marriage to Len in Switzerland and subsequent remarkable escape to the United Kingdom in Chapter 9 of Misdefending the Realm, but I was at that time largely relying on what Chapman Pincher and John Costello had written about her. I was provoked by Professor Glees’s questions about her ability to evade radio detection-finding while working from the environs of Oxfordshire to engage in a thorough study of her activity, a saga that was released in ten segments between April 2016 and September 2017, and was compiled into an omnibus edition, available at https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio/. My primary conclusion was that her radio activity was, after some desultory starts, probably non-existent, but that, in any case, MI6 directed the Radio Security Service to ignore her. (One useful by-product of this exercise was to start a project on wireless deception in World War II generally, as I explain below.)

There was more on Sonia, however. In February 1918, I started to unravel some of the myths that Chapman Pincher had woven about Sonia in his unremitting quest to show that Roger Hollis had been a Soviet mole. Thus, in https://coldspur.com/sonia-and-the-quebec-agreement/ I applied my technique of defining a precise chronology to show that Sonia could not have revealed details of the 1943 Quebec Agreement to her Soviet bosses. Sonia hummed on in the background: there were rumours of films being made about her, and of fresh disclosures from the Soviet archives. In May 2019, in https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-5/,  I reported that a colleague had alerted me to the fact that Ben Macintyre was writing a book on Sonia, and I was able to reveal that I had sent a letter to Macintyre at the end of 2018, suggesting that the agent might be a suitable topic for him to exploit in his next book, and pointing him to my work! He never replied to me, but I laid out an important marker with my own research.

And then in February 2020 I published a guest piece from a coldspur reader, Denis Lenihan, who questioned some of my analysis, in https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-denis-lenihan-on-sonia-quebec/. Lenihan came up with some valuable observations about other persons who might have been involved, but his startling and Pincheresque conclusion was that it was Hollis who leaked the information to Sonia. Naturally, I had to respond vigorously to this thesis, and did so a month later, in https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-response-to-denis-lenihan/, where I also introduced John Anderton, who had shared lodgings with the Beurtons in Oxfordshire. I also reviewed the memoir written by Sonia’s daughter, Janina, in a conventional round-up of my activities in May 2020, in https://coldspur.com/late-spring-round-up/.  At this time, I included an account of some rather alarming aspects of the roll-out of Macintyre’s book ‘Agent Sonya’.

That train of thought was quickly interrupted, however by a  startling discovery in one of the Kuczynski files that I had only superficially looked at before (KV 6/41), which disclosed an extraordinary communication from the MI6 station in Geneva, Switzerland, to Len Beurton, now ensconced with Sonia safely in Kidlington (see https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-letter-from-geneva/). This demonstrated that Len was seen as some kind of asset by MI6, and, with Professor Glees’s help, a piece appeared in the Mail on Sunday highlighting this intelligence. I provided the link to it, and some initial commentary, in a Special Bulletin at the end of June (see https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-sonia-and-the-mail-on-sunday/). Not entirely happy with the Mail on Sunday’s account of the events, I then (in July 2020) wrote a fresh report explaining carefully what the new intelligence meant, at https://coldspur.com/sonia-mi6s-hidden-hand/. While recapitulating much of what I had written before, this piece provided a fresh history of Sonia’s career in nine chapters, and it set out to show that Sonia’s fortunate rescue from dangers in Switzerland had been engineered by Claude Dansey of MI6, in one of his misguided efforts to manipulate Soviet spies to Britain’s advantage.

Before this time, as indicated above, I had heard rumours that Ben Macintyre was writing a biography of Sonia.  And I was invited by the Journal of Intelligence and National Security (I forget the exact mechanism whereby) to provide a review of his Agent Sonya. I was keen to counter some of the hyperbolic encomia that his book had received in the press, and was pleased that the Journal published my piece, promptly, in December 2020. It can be seen at https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-review-of-agent-sonya/. I am gratified by the number (several hundred) of readers who have accessed the piece on the Journal website – all, presumably, having paid for access individually, or through institutional membership. I added a few comments in my year-end wrap-up, at https://coldspur.com/year-end-wrap-up-2020/.

In April 2021, I took the opportunity to integrate much of my research around wireless, Sonia, Peter Wright and HASP, and related matters, into a summary about Sonia’s possible wireless activity (see https://coldspur.com/on-radio-active-decay/. This was undertaken partly to refute Ben Macintyre’s somewhat absurd claims, but also to explain my precise logic in identifying the paradoxes of non-detection, and what it would require to identify unexplained radio signals as originating from Sonia, but have them hushed up (as Pincher claimed). Since then, the affaire Sonia has gone comparatively quiet. In November 2022, I offered a review of David Burke’s weak book on the Kuczynskis – something that the Journal of Intelligence and National Security had asked for, but which project they then mangled unnecessarily. It can be seen at https://coldspur.com/an-armful-of-history-books/. My on-line colleague Brian Austin had been prompted by my coverage of Sonia (to which he had contributed) to write a detailed technical article on Sonia’s wireless equipment and operation, and I republished it in https://coldspur.com/signal-sonyas-wireless/ in December 2022. I do not know whether Ben Macintyre has been chastened by my review: I had heard that a film based on his book was going to be made, but I have noticed nothing about it lately.

9. The Atom Spies

Misdefending the Realm included a deep rather than broad investigation into the purloining of secrets by scientists working for the Allies. In my thesis I had focussed on Klaus Fuchs, since he was the prime example of a candidate who had come under suspicion early, but then was allowed into the most secret halls of the Manhattan project. Yet, just before the submission of my thesis, I had already stepped into the world of Fuchs’s associates, sponsors, and hangers-on, starting with an examination of Basil Mann and George Gamow (see https://coldspur.com/mann-overboard/), which appeared in October 2015. Gamow had made an extraordinarily impossible escape from the Soviet Union, which immediately raised my suspicions. Moreover, he was a close friend of Yevgenia Kannegiesser, the future wife of Rudolf Peierls, who helped Fuchs in his unillustrious career.

I picked up the Fuchs story in September 2016, where I described the relationship between Peierls and Fuchs when the latter was released from internment (see https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-3/), and I revisited Sonia’s dealings with Fuchs a year later, in https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-ix/. I later described the events surrounding the Quebec Agreement in September 1943 (which involved the transfer of Fuchs and others to the USA) in https://coldspur.com/sonia-and-the-quebec-agreement/, dated February 2018. Two months later, I reported on the very insightful and provocative findings of Mike Rossiter (who had written a biography of Fuchs) concerning records on the physicist that had been withdrawn from the National Archives (see https://coldspur.com/double-crossing-the-soviets/).

Yet it was not until the end of 2019 that I engaged on my intense study of the highly dubious Rudolf Peierls and his wife with their tainted past, owing to Yevgenia’s family relationship with an assassin of a prominent Chekist. Peierls did much to conceal the story: he had successfully caused a book by Richard Deacon to be pulped, and I explored his career in two segments, namely https://coldspur.com/the-mysterious-affair-at-peierls-part-1/  and, in March 2020, https://coldspur.com/the-mysterious-affair-at-peierls-part-2/. In the latter piece, I investigated how the network of physicists in Britain in the 1930s helped to enable Klaus Fuchs to thrive, and I explored how Peierls tried to explain away Fuchs’s ability to spy under his watch. I thus introduced a number of prominent émigré scientists at the University of Bristol, as well as the native left-leaning Mott and Gunn, and the mysterious Herbert Skinner. I had recorded my exchanges with Frank Close (who had written a comprehensive biography of Fuchs), and my attempts to contact with Sabine Lee (who had published much on Peierls) in my Round-up of November 2019 (see https://coldspur.com/a-thanksgiving-round-up/).  I commented on Close’s rather cautious presentation on Fuchs at the Bodleian in https://coldspur.com/late-spring-round-up/, dated May 2020: he did not reply to my questions.

My last flourish in this arena was to investigate the puzzling policy of AERE Harwell after the war regarding suspected spies (i.e. Pontecorvo, Peierls, Fuchs, Skinner, Skyrme, Davison). This exercise enabled me to apply my chronological methods to the activities of the spy and absconder Bruno Pontecorvo, and to the investigations into his behaviour. Rather than face the realities head-on, the authorities apparently preferred to try to shuffle such persons to a quiet post at Liverpool University, and I explored these initiatives in  August 2020, in https://coldspur.com/liverpool-university-home-for-distressed-spies/. I brought both Herbert Skinner (whose wife, Erma, had been having an affair with Fuchs) and Boris Davidson under the microscope, since they had been rather neglected in previous histories. This was not an honourable period for those responsible for the security of the United Kingdom.

10. ELLI and Molehunts

It appears that I did not pick up the ‘ELLI’ story until February 2018, when I referred to Chapman Pincher’s claim that Hollis was ELLI (whom I coolly described as ‘the spy within MI5’) in https://coldspur.com/sonia-and-the-quebec-agreement/, ELLI being a mole identified by the defector Ivan Gouzenko. I then described what William Tyrer had reported in his 2016 article in the International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, ‘The Unresolved Mystery of Elli’, where the author cast doubts that ELLI was either Hollis or Leo Long (as Christopher Andrew had claimed). At this stage, I was still floundering around in the dark, as I had not inspected the sources. It was not until couple of years later, in May 2020, where I provided an update, chasing down a lead from Pincher, and digging out the claims of the defector, Akhmedov, that ELLI had in fact been a woman (see https://coldspur.com/late-spring-round-up/). Here I also showed how the Vassiliev papers were misleading in their references to ELLI: I showed my confusion over the way that Pincher, Wright and Tyrer (and probably others) had been misled by a faulty interpretation of what Vassiliev transcribed.

I determined that I would have to approach this mystery in a more disciplined fashion, and in March 2021, in https://coldspur.com/on-philby-gouzenko-and-elli/, I applied my methodology to studying exactly what Gouzenko had said and written. I also was able to exchange emails with Vassiliev himself, now living in Harrow, outside London. I studied the Vasiliev papers carefully, and then went over in detail the precise chronology of the movements of Hollis and others in the autumn of 1945, after Gouzenko’s escape from the Soviet mission. This investigation also presented the fact that there was another spy with the cryptonym ‘ELLI’, but in Ottawa, one Kate Willsher, which muddied the waters. Moreover, my study of the Liddell Diaries suggested that the appearance of ELLI may have been a misunderstanding provoked by Stephen Alley over the existence of a spy working for George Hill (of SOE/MI6) in Moscow, or that ELLI may have been an occasional agent providing information to Chichaev, the KGB representative in London – even Alley himself. That was something that Liddell himself hinted at.

I returned to the story two months later, in https://coldspur.com/who-framed-roger-hollis/, where I returned to  Gouzenko, and also showed how Peter Wright introduced some spurious nonsense about VENONA and HASP into the mix, thereby aspiring to incriminate Hollis more. I renewed my attention to the SOE link to ELLI (as espoused by Liddell). Liddell’s researches went annoyingly cold, but he thereafter gave the impression that the ELLI problem was solved. My conclusion was that a bevy of MI6 officers had tried to frame Hollis as ELLI. Somewhat frustrated, in July 2021, I carried out a very detailed analysis of what Gouzenko said about ELLI (in https://coldspur.com/what-gouzenko-said-about-elli/), and, after a very long and involved study, concluded that MI5 preferred to keep the ELLI story under wraps since its disclosure and explanation would have brought to light even more embarrassing facts about the George Hill/George Graham fiasco in Moscow (q.v.)

As I reported in May 2022 (https://coldspur.com/peter-wrights-agents-double-agents/), the belief – even among coldspur readers – that ELLI had been a serious mole in MI5, and that Hollis had been the culprit – died hard. Here I went back to try to understand what the evidence was that a mole had been at work, primarily Peter Wright’s claim that several double-agent cases against the Soviets had gone awry.  I thus re-read Nigel West’s Molehunt, explored the Volkov evidence, and tried to determine what Wright was talking about. There were many threads and paradoxes in this story, but I repeated my scepticism about the possibility of ‘turning’ some communist sympathizers into ‘double-agents’ for the Soviets, a myth that Nigel West encouraged, and I lamented the lack of discipline shown by historians of the case, as well as the feeble desires of the authorities, wanting to hold back on releasing vital documents. Finally, I should report how the existence and identity of ELLI endured as an item of controversy between the British and the Americans, as shown in my March 2024 piece at https://coldspur.com/dick-whites-tangled-web/ .   And there my research stands, although I do want to return some day to the claims that Wright and Pincher made about Hollis’s interfering with the Portland Spies case.

11. Special Operations Executive

The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was a comparatively short-lived organization (1940-1945), but it demanded my attention for several reasons: i) its generic role in wireless communications and detection-finding; ii) the relationship its French Section (‘F’- British-controlled) had with MI6 and Claude Dansey, especially as it concerned management of so-called ‘double agents’ in deception campaigns; iii) The murky circumstances of the Russian-born cipher-clerk George Graham being inserted into the MI6/SOE establishment under George Hill in the Soviet Union; and iv) my special investigation into the disaster of the Lancaster bomber crashing in southern Norway with Soviet agents aboard, in September 1944. Alongside these projects, I undertook some intensive reading of biographies and memoirs of notable SOE figures, especially of its chief in the latter stages of the war, Colin Gubbins, who, in my mind, merited some more rigorous analysis.

I started my investigation into SOE wireless techniques in January 2019, in https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-4/, where I surveyed the very fragmented literature, including M. R. D. Foot’s sometimes inaccurate depiction of events. It seemed to me that the role of detection-finding was overstated, and that arrests were as often due to careless operations and betrayals. I picked up SOE’s struggles to free itself from MI6’s controls in communications, and the mistakes in made in the disastrous Englandspiel in the Netherlands, in https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-5/, in May of that year. SOE was slow to learn lessons from the field, and it was inexpertly led. I resumed coverage in August (https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-6/) , writing more about some of the myths of detection-finding, and concluded that the German initiatives in this area were more of a threat than a reality.

It was not until May 2021, in https://coldspur.com/who-framed-roger-hollis/, that SOE entered my research again – this time in connection with ELLI. Guy Liddell’s Diaries had shown that ELLI was believed to be a member of SOE, but that the known spy Desmond Uren had been eliminated. My focus thus turned to the inclusion of George Graham in the SOE/MI6 mission to Moscow and Kuibyshev under George Hill. My conclusion was that the Stephen Alley-ELLI events were hushed up because of the greater embarrassment concerning Graham, who had been subject to a honey-trap, with a resulting exposure of SOE ciphers being stolen. Almost immediately, however, my interest in SOE was sprung by a fresh happening – my reading of a review of a book by Patrick Marnham, who had claimed in War in the Shadows that the SOE F section had been wilfully betrayed in the cause of deceiving the Germans.

Following up this intriguing notion took up much of my time over the next year or two. I introduced the story, highlighting the connection with Claude Dansey, in June 2021 (see https://coldspur.com/claude-danseys-mischief/).  That led me to an investigation of the mysterious TWIST committee, and getting in touch with Robert Marshall, who had written about the debacle of the betrayal of the PROSPER circuit some decades ago – all in https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-lets-twist-again/ in August 2021.  Thereafter I applied my space-and-time methodology to the movements of the culprit and probable traitor, Déricourt. Deep analysis followed in October (https://coldspur.com/the-prosper-disaster/) and November (https://coldspur.com/dericourts-double-act/), and my studies took me into the deliberations of the General Staff, and how the activities of SOE related to Allied military strategy.

Ater an interlude in January 2022, where I returned to a long analysis of the SOE agent George Graham (https://coldspur.com/the-strange-life-of-george-graham/), I returned to PROSPER the following three months (https://coldspur.com/all-quiet-on-the-second-front/, https://coldspur.com/bridgehead-revisited-three-months-in-1943/, and https://coldspur.com/feints-and-deception-two-more-months-in-1943/, where I presented my theory for what had actually happened. I indicated at the same time how unreliable M.R. D. Foot’s history of SOE in France had been, and how he had been misled by the Foreign Office Adviser. Then, in June 2022, I switched to a re-assessment of Colin Gubbins, the SOE chief, in https://coldspur.com/gubbins-turn/. Having read three biographies of him, and some related memoirs, I became more disenchanted with his track-record, judging that, in the eagerness to celebrate some key achievements of SOE, writers and memoirists had played down its rather woeful list of failures and disappointments.

After providing some confirmation of my ideas in my summer round-up in July, where I also offered reviews of some related books on SOE (see https://coldspur.com/summer-2022-round-up/), I then summarized the whole sad PROSPER story in August, in https://coldspur.com/the-demise-of-prosper/. My introductory text described the piece as follows: “The denouement of the story of the betrayal of Francis Suttill and his PROSPER network, caused by SOE’s spineless behaviour when caught between the wiles of the TWIST Committee and the demands of the Chiefs of Staff for deception operations, in the shape of the absurd COCKADE plan.)” I also reviewed Halik Kochanski’s epic new book on European Resistance in November, at https://coldspur.com/an-armful-of-history-books/.

Yet I had to return to the subject early in 2023, where I took pains to explain in great detail what I had proposed concerning PROSPER’s (Francis Suttill’s) multiple journeys back to the UK in the summer of 1943 (see https://coldspur.com/prospers-flit/). By this time, I had tried to engage by email with Suttill’s son, who was taking a very obdurate stance on the accuracy of his version of events. He had meanwhile managed to have a very weak article published in the Journal of Intelligence and National Security, and, since Patrick Marnham and I were unable to make any headway in rebutting it through the offices of Mark Phythian, the Editor, I published our joint letter, refuting Suttill’s arguments in my Special Bulletin of February 2023 (https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-prosper-the-letter-to-jins/ .

Lastly, I record the saga of ‘The Airmen Who Died Twice’, since it is intricately bound up with SOE in Norway. I introduced this topic back in June 2022, in https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-airmen-who-died-twice/, but it has taken almost two years to complete the research, originally in partnership with Nigel Austin, but performed single-handedly by me over the past year. I have now revealed the whole story about the infiltration of Soviet agents onto an RAF Lancaster bomber, diverted intentionally over Norway in September 1944 in https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-airmen-who-died-twice-part-1/, https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-airmen-who-died-twice-part-2/, https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-airmen-who-died-twice-part-3/, and https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-airmen-who-died-twice-part-4/.  The plane crashed with all on board being killed, and the tortured investigation and ensuing cover-up are a disgrace. I completed the project in time for the British Ministry of Defence to make a complete apology to the relatives of the victims before the eightieth anniversary of the dreadful events of 1944.  That it will do so is not yet clear.

12. GCHQ

My main interest in GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters: before 1945 GC&CS, the Government Code and Cypher School) has been the role it played when it collaborated, in a not completely transparent fashion, with the USA’s Army Security Agency and Armed Forces Security Agency in decrypting Soviet communications, in the project that came to be known as VENONA. (The National Security Agency was not created until 1952). This exercise led, notably, to the conviction of Klaus Fuchs, and the identification of Donald Maclean. Yet I had covered aspects of GC&CS’s mission before then: in https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-ii/, in June 2016, I covered the evolving relationship between GCCS and the Radio Security Service (RSS), and three months later explored GCCS’s continuing role in intercepting and deciphering Soviet communications, as well as its rivalry with RSS (see https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-3/’. I here also echoed the notion that Britain actually used the LUCY network in Switzerland to feed camouflaged ULTRA information to the Soviet Union.

My bulletin of November 2016 (https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-iv/) was dedicated to the murkily reported accounts of GC&CS’s inspection of Soviet traffic, including Churchill’s renowned (but maybe fabricated) order that such work should stop after Barbarossa. I also offered a report on the ISCOT project set up under Alastair Denniston at Berkeley Street in 1942, when Eastern European Comintern traffic was successfully unravelled. The following April (https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-vii/) I returned to the political challenges at GC&CS, including that of Denniston’s demise, and expanded on the role of ULTRA distribution. In August, I explored the complex rules of wireless interception, and how GC&CS tasked RSS with setting targets for interception (see https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-ix/).

My research into Sonia led to the new series of ‘The Mystery of the Undetected Radios’ (see below) in 2018, with further examination of turf wars between GC&CS and RSS, in https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radio-part-1/, and I stepped back to relate some of GC&CS’s experiences at the outset of the war, in https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-2/ (July 2018). The next venture into GCHQ affairs was my description of Dick White’s attempt to divert accusations against Philby as coming from the CIA, in June 2019, in https://coldspur.com/dick-whites-devilish-plot/, where I laid out the contributions made by GCHQ and the American agencies in slowly decoding the cryptonyms form VENONA transcripts. And then, when re-assessing what Peter Wright claimed about the mysterious HASP messages, I returned to a full examination of VENONA, what it meant, and how HASP related to it (see https://coldspur.com/hasp-spycatchers-last-gasp/, in June 2020.

One of the items that was missing from the historiography was an authorized history of GCHQ (to embellish what West and Aldrich had written), and John Ferris’s volume with that insignia (Behind the Enigma) came out in the summer of 2020. In my year-end round up (https://coldspur.com/year-end-wrap-up-2020/), I offered a brief review of the work: its 832 pages were so disappointing that I did not waste energy on a comprehensive review. I revisited some of Peter Wright’s nonsense concerning HASP in May 2021 (https://coldspur.com/who-framed-roger-hollis/), and provided a thorough review of How Spies Think, the book by a sometime head of GCHQ, Sir David Omand, in https://coldspur.com/four-books-on-mi5/, in my August 2021 posting. It was another very mixed concoction. Lastly, I explored what had been a long-lasting conundrum to me – the rather shabby demotion of Alastair Denniston, the long-serving and largely successful head of GC&CS, and the reason that he did not receive a knighthood. This item, which covered a lot of the secondary literature concerning Denniston and GC&CS, appeared as https://coldspur.com/enigma-variations-dennistons-reward/ in February 2023.

13. Wireless Detection

Fortunately, I have compiled the bulk of my analysis of wireless-detection (RDF, or Radio Detection Finding) into an Omnibus edition, visible at https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-full/. I believe, therefore, that I need not enumerate the contents of the bulletins issued between May 2018 and September 2020, where I uncover many of the myths surrounding the subject, from the ownership of RSS to the exaggerated claims about the efficiency of German detection of clandestine SOE and MI6 wireless operators, primarily in France. There were themes more expressly related to Sonia’s activities that I had covered under Sonia’s Radio, in April, June and September 2016 (see https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-1/, https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-ii/, and https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-3/, as well as in later segments in 2017, namely  https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-viii/ and https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-ix/.

I applied some of the lessons learned from RDF techniques, and the Double-Cross System to an inspection of how they applied to attempts to disinform the Soviets (see https://coldspur.com/double-crossing-the-soviets/, in April 2018. I next provided a major integration of multiple lines of research, including my coverage of Sonia, and her success in being undetected, the bizarre way that MI5 and the War Cabinet imagined that German agents would be able to work from the British mainland unnoticed, as well as Peter Wright’s illogical claims about HASP, in my April 2021 piece, https://coldspur.com/on-radio-active-decay/. Lastly, I presented some observations related to radio interception in my study of the doomed SOE cypher-clerk George Graham, in https://coldspur.com/the-strange-life-of-george-graham/, which appeared in January 2022, while my guest contributor, Brian Austin, supplied an article on Sonia’s wireless that he had written for a technical journal, in December 2022 (see https://coldspur.com/signal-sonyas-wireless/).

14. World War II

World War II clearly dominates much of my sphere of interest, but I have elevated a few incidents that were not exclusively intelligence-related, but which attracted my attention because I sensed that the accounts of them appeared to me to be missing something significant. An early example of such was Churchill’s reaction to the German invasion of the Soviet Union, and how it discombobulated many. In https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-iv/ (November 2016) I pointed out the illogicalities of what happened when Churchill was reputed to have GC&CS stop work on collecting and decrypting Soviet traffic – something Stalin might have considered very foolish, even from a new ally. I suggested that the whole story may have been a myth. I explored further Churchill’s rather craven attitude to Stalin a year later, where I suggested that the whole notion of ‘partnering’ with such a monster (which inspired the Foreign Office for quite a while) was a disastrous policy (see https://coldspur.com/krivitsky-churchill-and-the-cold-war/), and I debunked the notion of ‘co-operation’ that some hoped would endure beyond the war. I showed how Stalin had been able to manipulate Churchill and Roosevelt, and drive a wedge between them, and I criticized Churchill’s sense of strategy.

I picked up the theme that Stalin, because of his well-placed spies, often knew more about Allied strategy than some of the prominent officers in the democracies in my coverage of the Quebec Agreement (https://coldspur.com/sonia-and-the-quebec-agreement/), explaining what it meant for the Tube Alloys project, and also highlighting the hollowness of the Atlantic Charter, which Stalin would exploit later. In my May 2019 bulletin (https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-4/) I compared the different strategies of Britain, Germany and the Soviet Union in preparing for intelligence wars, and three months later explained the really bizarre dynamics of the double-cross operation and its success in FORTITUDE (see https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-6/).

Yet a major new thrust appeared in September 2019, when I was prompted by a generally well-received, but in my opinion rather naïve book On Appeasement, by Tim Bouverie, to make the claim that the West’s appeasement of Stalin was as bad as that by Chamberlain & co. of Hitler (of which I made a detailed retrospective assessment). In this piece, at https://coldspur.com/on-appeasement/, I pointed out how hollow and shabby were Bouverie’s complaints that Britain and the USA failed to create enduring ‘alliances’ with the Soviet Union. The next month (after a long personal digression, which the reader should perhaps bypass), I took a fresh look at the geographical implications of the Soviet-Nazi Pact, in the belief that the factors of buffer states, and that of offensive and defensive barriers, had been sadly misrepresented in the histories. Here, in https://coldspur.com/border-crossings-coldspur-stalin/, as I examined Maisky’s Diaries, and Gabriel Gorodetsky’s presentation of the Letters between Churchill and Stalin, I even inserted maps of the Stalin and Molotov Lines, to show what I meant.

Another startling insight came to me soon afterwards, when I read Michael Howard’s memoir (Captain Professor), being puzzled by the fact that an illustrious intelligence officer and historian had apparently become confused about military strategy in Italy in 1943 and 1944 (see https://coldspur.com/war-in-1944-howards-folly/, from February 2020).  Here I noted that Howard made invidious comparisons of the fate of the Italian resistance with that of the Poles at the same time, in the late summer of 1944. I thus examined closely events such as the Warsaw Uprising and the Monte Sole Massacre, severely criticized Howard’s account of what happened, and drew some strong lessons about the mismanagement of expectations by the Chiefs of Staff. I next returned to the perennial problem of misreading Stalin in May 2020 (https://coldspur.com/late-spring-round-up/), quoting some misguided topical opinion-writer, as well as Tokayev’s memoir from 1951, Stalin Means War.

In November 2020, I took a diversionary step into new territory, exploring the circumstances behind MI5’s Camp020R at Huntercombe (see https://coldspur.com/camp-020r-at-huntercombe/), but still had two major thrusts to make. The first was the PROSPER disaster, and in a series of posts, I examine closely the tribulations of Churchill and the Chiefs of Staff in trying to establish a strategy for re-entering Europe that would be late enough to ensure success without too severely upsetting Stalin (who had been demanding a ‘Second Front’ ever since 1941). The whole charivari can be seen in a series of reports from 2021 and early 2022: https://coldspur.com/claude-danseys-mischief/, https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-lets-twist-again/, https://coldspur.com/the-prosper-disaster/, https://coldspur.com/dericourts-double-act/, https://coldspur.com/all-quiet-on-the-second-front/, https://coldspur.com/bridgehead-revisited-three-months-in-1943/, and https://coldspur.com/feints-and-deception-two-more-months-in-1943/. (I have recently compiled these into an Omnibus edition, at https://coldspur.com/the-fall-of-prosper-omnibus-edition/.) They show that there is strong evidence that Churchill sacrificed PROSPER and his network in order to mislead the Germans about an imminent invasion, and to appease Stalin.

Lastly, I must include here another extraordinary tale, that of ‘The Airmen Who Died Twice’. I introduced this topic in June 2022 (see https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-airmen-who-died-twice/), and provide the whole gruesome story of how an ill-conceived plan to infiltrate Soviet agents into Norway on an RAF Lancaster in September 1944 turned out in disaster. All eight chapters of the saga were published in four installments earlier this year, at https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-airmen-who-died-twice-part-1/, https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-airmen-who-died-twice-part-2/, https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-airmen-who-died-twice-part-3/, and

https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-airmen-who-died-twice-part-4/.  I timed this publication in order to provide ample time for the British Ministry of Defence to offer, before the eightieth anniversary of the crash in September 2024, its apologies to relatives of the British airmen needlessly killed.

15. Tradecraft

Misdefending the Realm highlighted one critical dimension to tradecraft: the NKVD’s scheme to infiltrate British institutions through illegals and deep recruitment well away from the Communist Party, and the weak and unimaginative response to Krivitsky’s hints of such a scheme. Over the years I have commented on other aspects of espionage and counter-intelligence.

An early example of disinformation, for example (or perhaps, more accurately, correct information presented clandestinely) was the scheme by MI6 to pass ULTRA decrypts to the Soviet ally via the Rote Drei in Switzerland, in a way that would not jeopardize the source. I wrote about this in https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-5/ and https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-vii/, in January and April 2017. Of course, this stratagem rebounded ungracefully, as the Soviets were receiving real ULTRA information from their network of spies, and distrust of their ally thus increased. The reverse of this technique is the double-cross – the feeding of disinformation through the enemy’s own channels, which received its apogee in the famed XX Operation of WWII, where the Abwehr was reputedly hoodwinked by false information concerning the location of re-entry to Europe by Allied forces.

Since much was being made of attempts to repeat this success with Soviet agents, I took pains to develop structures comparing and assessing the espionage strategies and successes (or failures) of Great Britain, Germany and the Soviet Union in World War II, in https://coldspur.com/double-crossing-the-soviets/, dated April 2018, where I also developed a schema for categorizing moles, agents and double-agents, according to their original recruitment and motivations. My conclusion was that it was nonsensical to believe that you could control what a known agent would tell his or her masters unless you had exclusive control over the communication system used (as happened with the XX Operation). Thus claims made (by such as Michael Howard) that Blunt was used as a ‘double-agent’ were absurd.

My research then led me on to a deeper study of the Double-Cross Operation itself, in the epic ‘Mystery of the Undetected Radios’ (see the Omnibus https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-full/, and, for a special examination, https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-8/, from September 2020). After a long study of the processes and decisions made, I concluded that there was a massive amount of self-delusion in the British pretence that agents would be able to transmit for such long periods in densely populated England, only matched by the (partial) stupidity of the Abwehr in accepting the same premise. There was obviously a book to be written on this topic, but Christopher Andrew’s Secret World , which I reviewed in November 2018 (see https://coldspur.com/four-more-books-on-espionage/), was a disappointment.

The reality was that MI6, in the form of Claude Dansey, was indeed trying to suborn known Soviet agents to work for it, and in April 2020, in https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-letter-from-geneva/, I showed how Ursula and Len Beurton were introduced into this naïve scheme, which I echo in the epic chapters about Sonia, visible again in the presumably now familiar Omnibus edition of Sonia’s Radio (see https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio/). Another example of failed tradecraft was to pretend that identified spies did not matter, and they should simply be shuffled away instead of being publicly prosecuted: I explored this phenomenon in August 2020, in https://coldspur.com/liverpool-university-home-for-distressed-spies/. It re-occurred with Dansey’s attempts to use the traitor Déricourt, in June 2021 (see https://coldspur.com/claude-danseys-mischief/, and successive posts on PROSPER), as well as in the murky dealings of the TWIST Committee, a shadow operation to the XX endeavour (see https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-lets-twist-again/) .

I have returned to these themes occasionally, and close out by identifying some key chapters. The review of David Omand’s How Spies Think (from https://coldspur.com/four-books-on-mi5/); I returned to double-agents in my 2021 Year-end Round-up, at https://coldspur.com/2021-year-end-roundup/; I explained the dangerous practice of using officers with a Russian background against the Soviet Union, as their histories would be very obvious to the NKVD and KGB, and thus liable to be exposed to corruption (see https://coldspur.com/the-strange-life-of-george-graham/ in January 2022 and https://coldspur.com/gibbys-spy/ from October 2022). I had also re-inspected Peter Wright’s dubious stories about Soviet double agents in May 2022, at https://coldspur.com/peter-wrights-agents-double-agents/.

Finally, I covered the profile of successful intelligence officers in https://coldspur.com/summer-2023-round-up/, in August 2023, while my recent research on Kim Philby, starting with https://coldspur.com/kim-philby-always-working-for-sis/ in April 2023, show how absurd it is ever to trust anyone who has made a commitment to the Kremlin. This was echoed in my analysis of Peter Smolka, in January and February of this year – see https://coldspur.com/peter-smolka-background-to-1934/ and https://coldspur.com/at-last-the-1948-show-smolka-the-third-man/, and I also had to issue a reminder about the correct use of ‘double agent’ and ‘triple agent’; in my review of Jesse Fink’s Eagle in the Mirror, an assessment, incidentally, that was praised by Nigel West. That appeared in https://coldspur.com/four-spy-books/, in October 2023, where I also issued a corrective to Mark Hollingworth’s deployment of the term ‘agents of influence’.

16. MI5

I focus here on aspects of MI5’s a) organization, and b) mission and leadership. The literature on MI5’s evolving organization is very paltry: Andrew’s authorized history shows no interest in the details; Curry’s internal history is more useful, but it stops in 1944; Nigel West’s coverage is skimpy and vague. Yet there is much to be gleaned from various archives, and my project is incomplete.

I explored the mis-steps that MI5 undertook over wireless interception and the failure to absorb MI8c, the snubbing of Colonel Simpson, the disorder that resulted from the overlaying of the Security Executive, and the creation of Section W, under the controversial Malcolm Frost, in two episodes of Sonia’s Radio’, in https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-1/  and https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-3/, from 2016, and further developments can be seen in later episodes of this saga. I reprised and extended this analysis in May 2018, in https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radio-part-1/, and following bulletins in that series. My further studies of WWII counter-espionage caused me to pause and take stock, out of confusion, and I then presented a detailed analysis of MI5’s structure in a Special Bulletin of November 2018, at https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-b2b-or-not-b2b/,  which shows how flat and unmanageable MI5 was for most of that period. (This piece was well-received, and I think remains a significant contribution.)

Chronologically, my next major piece was re-assessment of Guy Liddell, who, I felt, had been rather generously treated by Nigel West, as can be seen in https://coldspur.com/guy-liddell-a-re-assessment/, from March 2019. Here I also explained how Dick White out-manipulated his colleague for the top job when Sillitoe retired. In June of that year, I introduced the scheming by Dick White to divert accusations against Philby to the CIA, visible at https://coldspur.com/dick-whites-devilish-plot/, and, in January 2020 I returned with fresh insights into MI5’s organizational struggles with RSS, and the arrival of the valuable Sclater, at https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-vii/. November 2020 showed a change of pace, when I reviewed the history of MI5’s Camp020R, at Huntercombe (see https://coldspur.com/camp-020r-at-huntercombe/.

Soon I was exploring the frequently misrepresented role of Roger Hollis’s F Division, and presented its evolution in https://coldspur.com/who-framed-roger-hollis/, in May 2021. Further observations on MI5 after the war were prompted by my reviews of three books on MI5 in August. These included the somewhat jaundiced but rich offering by Ewing, Mahoney and Moretta, which had the positive attribute of carrying a useful (but incomplete) guide to MI5 organization after the war – a topic I vow to return to when I have studied the relevant files on my desktop. A fresh area of research opened up thereafter, when I became involved with Patrick Marnham, and his War in the Shadows, and my investigations into how the traitor Déricourt had been vetted led me to another detailed examination of MI5’s structure (see https://coldspur.com/dericourts-double-act/, from November 2021), where I concluded that MI5’s multiple discrete sections kept tripping over each other, and led to an inevitable lack of effectiveness.

In May 2022, I returned to MI5’s assumed problems with ‘double-agent’ operations that failed, and to the ‘Watchers’ organization, when I analyzed Nigel West’s book on molehunts, and Guy Liddell’s role (see https://coldspur.com/peter-wrights-agents-double-agents/). And I revisited the bizarre relationships between various MI5 sections trying to track various suspicious aliens in https://coldspur.com/litzi-philby-under-the-covers/, from March 2023, and in https://coldspur.com/kim-philby-always-working-for-sis/, the following month. My renewed interest in Philby led me to back to his role in the events of 1951, and I gave another breakdown of Sillitoe’s and White’s flawed leadership of MI5 at the time (with Liddell already being pushed out of the mainstream) in https://coldspur.com/kim-philby-in-1951-alarms-and-diversions/, dated May 2023. In turn, this line of research encouraged me to reflect on the desired skills of intelligence officers, and I endorsed the contribution that J. L. Austin had made during the war, openly acknowledged by such American heavyweights as Bedell-Smith (see https://coldspur.com/summer-2023-round-up/).

Finally, I provided a detailed explanation of the evolving counter-espionage organization of MI5, from Petrie until 1952, in https://coldspur.com/life-with-the-honigmanns/, from September 2023. I believe that this is a unique contribution, and that it is very important for understanding the dysfunction that perpetually plagued MI5 in trying to come to grips with a vast array of potentially hostile entities. I added to this in February 2024, where I highlighted the bizarre way in which Peter Smolka was observed (or ignored) by MI5 sections in https://coldspur.com/peter-smolka-background-to-1934/. I also expanded on the dishonourable way in which MI5’s efforts in handling the after-effects of the Burgess-Maclean abscondences were executed when I studied more closely the deceptions of Dick White, a report that appeared as https://coldspur.com/dick-whites-tangled-web/, which I published last month.

17. MI6

Archival information on MI6 is scarce, since the service has issued no material, and readers are thus reliant on what Keith Jeffery wrote, biographies and histories by such as Cave-Brown and Dorril, the occasional items that appear in correspondence between MI5 and its sister service, and the various memoirs and interviews that have percolated down from SIS officers. Yet MI6’s role and importance are indisputably significant, and I have frequently tried to read between the lines in an attempt to offer a more credible hypothesis of what actually happened.

Of course the whole saga of Sonia represents a chapter, not publicly recognized, of MI6’s dismal attempt to take her under its wing, and I merely mention the Omnibus edition again here (https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio/), since so much what MI6 did is covered by those segments, as well as those on GCHQ, and, of course, Kim Philby. I do, however, draw attention to the evidence that Alexander Foote was employed by MI6, as displayed in https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-vi/, from February 2017, and I reprised Claude Dansey’s schemes in https://coldspur.com/double-crossing-the-soviets/, dated April 2018. MI6’s role was picked up again in my coverage of the Undetected Radios, since RSS’s transfer to MI6 was an event of vital political significance, and I highlight especially https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-2/ (July 2018), and I attempted to liven up the story by describing an imagined conversation between Gambier-Parry and Menzies over the adoption and proposed leadership of RSS in January 2020, in https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-vii/.

July 2020 featured a major new piece on MI6’s attempt to control Sonia (https://coldspur.com/sonia-mi6s-hidden-hand/), and March and May 2021 saw some description of the role of Menzies and MI6 in the Gouzenko/ELLI story, at https://coldspur.com/on-philby-gouzenko-and-elli/ and https://coldspur.com/on-philby-gouzenko-and-elli/.  In August, I covered the secret TWIST committee, operated with MI6’s remote guidance (see https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-lets-twist-again/), and MI6 features largely in the PROSPER story, to which I simply refer to the respective Omnibus edition (https://coldspur.com/the-fall-of-prosper-omnibus-edition/). The last major story concerning MI6 was the disastrous recruitment of George Graham a cipher-clerk to George Hill, ostensibly as a SOE unit, but affecting MI6’s operations in the Soviet Union as well, which can be read at https://coldspur.com/the-strange-life-of-george-graham/, dated January 2022.

Finally, a flourish of pieces in the past couple of years has identified alarming anecdotes about MI6’s security and policy. I debunked the notion that MI6 had valuable spies within the Kremlin, as well as its dubious policy of flaunting officers with Russian backgrounds, in https://coldspur.com/gibbys-spy/ (October 2022), with a follow-up two months later, at https://coldspur.com/2022-year-end-round-up/. I took a breather to recognize the death of Geoffrey Elliott (the only MI6 officer that I have knowingly been in contact with) in that same year-end bulletin, and my 2023 campaign involving Philby obviously expresses a fresh new set of accusations about the duplicity and foolishness of MI6 in defending him, visible at the Omnibus edition (https://coldspur.com/kim-philby-a-re-assessment/). This theme was expanded in my writing about Peter Smolka earlier this year (see https://coldspur.com/peter-smolka-background-to-1934/ and https://coldspur.com/at-last-the-1948-show-smolka-the-third-man/).  Lastly, I should mention the controversy over Charles ‘Dick’ Ellis, the shadowy MI6 officer who had been accused of working for the Soviets. In https://coldspur.com/four-spy-books/, from October 2023, I offered a detailed review of Jesse Fink’s rather shrill but very insightful biography of him, The Eagle in the Mirror, and this is a story to which I shall be returning before very long.

18. The FBI and the CIA

While my research has concentrated on the British intelligence services, the American equivalents have frequently appeared, largely because of the affairs of Walter Krivitsky, found dead in a Washington hotel, and the fact that three of the Cambridge Five were working in the United States at the same time, in 1950 and early 1951, and also because of the transatlantic considerations of the 1945 defection of Igor Gouzenko, in Canada. My coverage has, admittedly, been a bit choppy.

An early foray into CIA exercises was made in April 2018, when I investigated the claim that the CIA had tried to exploit Basil Mann as a ‘double agent’ (https://coldspur.com/double-crossing-the-soviets/), which I interpreted as a rather forlorn aspiration by first the OSS, and then its successor organization, the CIA, to apply the lessons learned by the British in the wartime XX Operation against the Germans to a fresh initiative against the Soviets, thereafter taken up by Norman Pearson. I next turned to reviewing two books about Soviet spies in the United States, Duncan Lee and Stanislav Shumovsky, in August of that year, in https://coldspur.com/four-books-on-espionage/. I introduced J. Edgar Hoover, and his frustrations over Philby’s remaining unpunished, in April 2019, in https://coldspur.com/the-importance-of-chronology-with-special-reference-to-liddell-philby/, and in June 2019, undertook a major investigation into the activities of the FBI, the CIA, as well as the AFSA (the Armed Forces Security Agency), the last body cooperating very closely with GCHQ over the VENONA decrypts, culminating in the breakthroughs in early 1951 (see https://coldspur.com/dick-whites-devilish-plot/).  Two months later, I switched to the activities in wartime France of the OSS, focusing particularly on Virginia Hall, in https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-6/.

The USA came striding back in my coverage of the Gouzenko-ELLI business in March 2021, which involved some delicate negotiations with the FBI (see https://coldspur.com/on-philby-gouzenko-and-elli/). All these events provoked an enduring interest from the Americans in the identity if ELLI, which would turn out to be a lasting embarrassment for MI5 and MI6. I expressed some disappointment in Justus Rosenberg’s account of OSS resistance in France in my review of his book The Art of Resistance, issued in July 2022 in https://coldspur.com/summer-2022-round-up/, and in the same bulletin, while, questioning some of the assertions made in Sonia Purnell’s biography of  Virginia Hall, A Woman of No Importance, found the work thorough and well-written, though unnecessarily hagiographic.

The interaction with between MI5 (primarily) and the FBI and the CIA was an inevitable aspect of my return to Kim Philby and the events of 1951, in my May 2023 report, https://coldspur.com/kim-philby-in-1951-alarms-and-diversions/, and in August I reviewed a rather plodding biography of Edgar Hoover by Beverley Gage, which I thought was far too generous to the very controversial but long-lasting FBI chief (see https://coldspur.com/summer-2023-round-up/). Finally, I wielded another flourish on the strange behaviour of Robert Lamphere of the FBI, and his relationship with the CIA, when I explored in more detail the deceptions and inconsistencies in Dick White’s attempt to hoodwink both the CIA and his own allies in MI5 and government during the supposed investigation into the Burgess-Maclean disappearances. This item was published in https://coldspur.com/dick-whites-tangled-web/, in March of this year.

19. Methodology

When I started writing my thesis, my supervisor encouraged me to include what methodology I was applying to the study of my material. I was a bit taken aback at first: surely every historian applied the same methodological rules? Nevertheless, I complied, and what I composed appeared (in abbreviated form) in the text of Misdefending the Realm. Its key elements were: i) a strong discipline of chronological and geographical analysis; ii) a rigorous cross-checking of archival sources and personal memoirs, based on an implicit mistrust of their reliability; iii) vertical and horizontal integration (i.e. setting an accurate context with military and social events) iv) an attempt to divine motivations from participants, in the light of their situation, knowledge, and probable ambitions; and v) the treatment of controversial episodes in intelligence history as plausible crimes to be investigated. The full explanation can be seen at https://coldspur.com/reviews/the-chapter-on-methodology/.

Yet, as I read various works on intelligence, I learned that such techniques were far from being a standard approach, and that, indeed, the ‘authorized’ historians, who certainly should have known better, were among the worst offenders. In May 2017, in https://coldspur.com/officially-unreliable/, I took to task those professionals – Gowing, Hinsley, Jeffery, but especially Christopher Andrew – who had allowed themselves to be shackled, provided sloppy and often useless references, and indiscriminately cited sources (such as Philby’s memoir, or Peter Wright’s Spycatcher) that should have been approached very warily. I provided a number of recommendations for how such work should be undertaken, which presumably fell on deaf ears (although I did get a very encouraging response from one notable historian).

My disappointment was echoed when I reflected on the overall lack of curiosity in the next tier of qualified historians, as well, of course, as the potboiler/journalists, in the sordid aspects of the Sonia affair, and lamented that fact in https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-envoi/, which appeared in September 2017. Chapman Pincher and Peter Wright have a tremendous amount to answer for, but their works have had a deleterious influence on public opinion, their paradoxes, contradictions, and outright fabrications not being inspected or tested properly. This phenomenon caused me to write about conspiracy theories a year later, in https://coldspur.com/confessions-of-a-conspiracy-theorist/. That previous August, I had criticized Christpoher Davenport-Hines for criticizing the media, when the intelligence services had been so reclusive, and here I defended my role as a ’conspiracy theorist’, a necessary role at times, but one which Christopher Andrew has conspicuously derided.

Over time, I have criticized several other authors of books on intelligence – most notably, Ben Macintyre – for their casual treatment of the facts, but I have also regretted the policy of the intelligence services to leak stories to friendly writers as a way of bolstering their reputation, or of countering a harmful rumour.  My review of Andrew’s Secret World in https://coldspur.com/four-more-books-on-espionage/, from November 2018 was also a response of frustration at the ability of experts to pontificate so vaporously.  And I reinforced my emphasis on Chronology in April 2019, showing excerpts from my detailed register of events, which, including the source used, now tallies exactly 400 pages. That bulletin, https://coldspur.com/the-importance-of-chronology-with-special-reference-to-liddell-philby/, also described my perspective on how government institutions set out to control the narrative of their often dishonourable exploits.

I returned to Andrew and his scorn for conspiracy theorists when I discussed Agent Jack in November 2019, in a piece available at https://coldspur.com/a-thanksgiving-round-up/. And thereon, the topic has lain rather silent. In August 2023, I did present some further thoughts on the value of creating plausible hypotheses when studying paradoxical events, and the necessity for admitting previous mistakes, or false conclusions during that exploratory process (see https://coldspur.com/summer-2023-round-up/). That is something that many find a very difficult task – especially if they have committed such previous opinions to published material. As I stated, the final version of the history of an event is never written. And, as a final reminder of the occasional folly of professional historians, and their all too frequent arrogance and self-esteem, I refer to my analysis of the anonymous (for now) self-assessed expert on Smolka, whose antics I described last month, in https://coldspur.com/dick-whites-tangled-web/.

20. Archives

While I have also visited The Bodleian Library, and the archives of Balliol College, Oxford, and Churchill College, Cambridge, my research has relied almost exclusively on material examined at the National Archives at Kew, or from a steady stream of photographs that I commission from my researcher in London. I have also benefited from information presented on-line by the FBI and the CIA, as well as a few select items provided by helpful amateurs around the world. All such material is analyzed alongside the copious notes I have made from intelligence books that I own or have read.

One phenomenon that irks me the most has been the practice of authorized historians (most notably Christopher Andrew) deploying references (without any individual identification) to ‘Security Service Archives’ when only he or his research assistants have been allowed to examine. Moreover, he appears to have maintained no system whereby such references could be checked if such files were ever opened. I disparaged this practice in https://coldspur.com/officially-unreliable/, in May 2017. Of course, I cannot blame Kew for this, and overall, I believe that the National Archives do a very creditable job, even though I am sometimes unsure of their methods. I offer some examples.

In https://coldspur.com/the-mysterious-affair-at-peierls-part-2/, from March 2020, I drew attention to the mysterious way in which files were sometimes withdrawn or retained, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently, but rarely with any proper explanation offered. (This may well be at the behest of the relevant government department, with Kew having no say in the matter.) Two months later, in https://coldspur.com/late-spring-round-up/, I listed some further examples where important material had been withdrawn while some review went on. I also reported on the provocative findings of Mike Rossiter (who had written a biography of Fuchs) concerning records on the physicist that had been withdrawn from the National Archives (see https://coldspur.com/double-crossing-the-soviets/). Yet Kew is tantalizingly open on some material. I find it odd that it will list multiple items, obviously of vast interest, but then indicate that (for example) the material has been retained by the office responsible until some year long in the future. Why advertise the items’ existence at all?

That, naturally, leads to Freedom of Information Requests (FOIs), and I described there what my research colleagues had discovered about that activity, while decrying the secrecy of governments wanting to hold on to material so many decades after the events they relate to. It is worth reporting that I was eventually successful in having such a Request satisfied, as I recorded in August 2023 (https://coldspur.com/summer-2023-round-up/). Here can be seen the bizarre but eventually satisfactory exchange of messages between me and the Quality Manager at Kew, which resulted in the release of a Home Office file on Georg Honigmann. The fact that someone had seen fit to retain it was a clue in itself, since the file looked superficially harmless.

One last aspect to be described is my project to ascertain, from incidental information presented in released files, a lot of information about persons whose files have not been released. I describedthis process in https://coldspur.com/a-wintry-miscellany/, written in December 2023 under ‘Personal Files at Kew’. By simply registering handwritten or typed references to third-parties in released PFs, I have started to maintain a spreadsheet of overt identities of persons who had at some stage come under suspicion by MI5, but whose records were never released (or were perhaps destroyed). Such included what must be a notorious file on Kim Philby, created in about 1933, clearly identifiable from hand-written notes. And I wrote about the numerous files on Guy Burgess, for instance, with some outrageously late release dates, which must be a topic for a future coldspur bulletin.

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This has been an exhausting project, and not nearly as much fun as my typical monthly exercise. I hope readers find it useful, and I shall be pleased to revise it should anyone identify segments that escaped my occasionally negligent attention.

(Latest Commonplace entries can be viewed here.)

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Special Bulletin: ‘The Airmen Who Died Twice’ – Part 4

Peder Furubotn

[I present the final segment in my series ‘The Airmen Who Died Twice’, offering a bold but confident hypothesis concerning Stalin’s objectives for the mission of sending agents to Norway disguised as British RAF officers. I have added a page containing the whole report in PDF format at ‘Airmen Who Died Twice’ (PDF), which may make the experience easier. This process is something of an experiment for me. I hope to improve the presentation soon. Feedback and tips appreciated!]

Chapter 7: Resistance in Norway

The overwhelming questions to be answered regarding the Soviet Union’s ability to stow two agents on a British plane, dressed in RAF uniforms, to parachute into southern Norway in September 1944 are: What possible objective could such a mission have had? And why would the RAF agree to such a foolhardy and potentially embarrassing adventure? The assumption must be that, for the mission to be successful, the agents, probably incapable of speaking fluent and unaccented English, would have been deemed capable of carrying out the impersonation of legitimate British officers, and thus of gaining access to the circle of a communist leader in whom Joseph Stalin had a particular interest. His name was Peder Furubotn, and he had for some time been incurring Stalin’s acute displeasure. Yet, if anything went wrong – or, equally astounding, even if the project were successful – the agents’ costume would immediately have implicated the RAF, with highly embarrassing implications.

In the analysis of these conundrums, it is useful to recapitulate the role of Norway in the war, its occupation by German forces, the collaboration or competition between various sabotage organizations and the nation’s governments at home and in exile, and the tenuous and contradictory relationship it held with the Soviet Union, a nominal ally. Norway was separated from Stalin’s fortress only by a thin section of the Finnish Petsamo region, an area rich in minerals, however, and thus bearing strategic importance.

The country had been ill-equipped to resist the German invasion of April 9, 1940. Hitler had designs on Norway’s natural resources, including its hydro-electric power, but he also needed to control the flow of iron-ore from neutral Sweden across the natural land-route. Great Britain and France had been aware of the threat, and they had prepared to send an Expeditionary Force to gain control of the valuable port of Narvik. This was conceived during the war between Finland and the Soviet Union, which started in September 1939. At that time, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were signatories to a joint non-aggression pact, and control of Finland had been granted to Stalin for purposes of national self-defence. Any communist-inspired resistance movements against the Germans were forbidden – until, of course, the Barbarossa invasion of Russia in June 1941 changed all the rules.

Britain in fact had had to beat a hasty retreat, assisting with the escape of the Norwegian royal family to London to create a government-in-exile in June 1940. It had overestimated the power of its own navy and misread the intentions of the Wehrmacht. Thus Norway fell into the category of occupied territory, and a cowed population had to decide what form resistance to the German invaders should take. In fact, the Nazis were overall more indulgent with the Norwegians than they were with other conquered nations: they regarded the Nordic race as Aryan brothers, and hoped to integrate the populace into the New Order when the war was won. That favouritism, however, did not extend to mercy when violence was exacted against their police and military forces, with some harsh reprisals enacted, and this tension played a major role in the following years.

Routes of Arctic Convoys

Soon after Barbarossa, however, Norway took on fresh significance when Churchill and Roosevelt resolved, in August 1941, to assist the Soviet Union by sending supplies through the Arctic convoy system. This required ships to navigate the dangerous Norwegian and Barents seas to reach, primarily, the ports of Murmansk and Archangel, skirting the northern coasts of Norway, and thus becoming potential prey to German craft berthed in Norwegian ports and inlets, such as the battleship Tirpitz. The convoys continued (with some interruptions) until the end of the war. Stalin kept a close eye on Norway, and he evolved his strategy as the war progressed.

The accounts of resistance in Norway present a contradictory picture: some display ignorance, others practice concealment, and others distort (for political reasons). It is consequently often difficult to pin down the details of events – both their motivations and their outcomes. It seems to me that both London (in the guise of the government-in-exile and SOE) and Moscow (the NKGB) believed that they were controlling the strings, when in fact the agencies on the ground often pursued unlikely alliances to further their goals. I here try to concentrate on the less controversial facts, identifying the main motifs in the plotline.

The British Special Operations Executive trained and prepared a vigorous Norwegian section to carry out sabotage within Norway, which became more intense when the British suspected the Nazis of creating ‘heavy water’ as an important part of the project to build an atomic bomb. Yet fierce reprisals in response to SOE raids alarmed the major resistance organization in place, Milorg, and it resolved instead on a more passive approach, and to focus on preparation to assist invading forces for the time when the Nazis began to lose the war. Milorg was led by a lawyer, Jens Hauge, an enigmatic and controversial figure, who had sought a medical discharge from military service in 1939. He joined in early 1942. The tensions between SOE and Milorg were then resolved by the creation of the Anglo-Norwegian Collaboration Committee in the spring of 1942, and SOE’s independent course was officially halted by October of that year. Yet Milorg did not halt its own sabotage activities, and it pursued a course of assassinations of known traitors.

There was, however, another resistance group, Osvald, which evolved out of the pre-war antifascist Wollweber League, and was led by the more aggressive Asbjorn Sunde. He invoked the assistance of the Communist Party (now strictly underground), and established training centres around the country. Sunde was a tougher character, a sailor who had learned sabotage and assassination in the Spanish Civil War fighting with the Communists for the Republican movement against Franco’s Nationalists, and he was a loyal Stalinist. Thus a pattern familiar elsewhere in occupied Europe emerged: certain resistance groups were set on restoring the pre-war political configuration (such as SOE collaborating with the royalist/social democratic government-in-exile), while others were being directed by Moscow in preparation for a post-war communist takeover. Sunde was ordered to minimize sabotage activity, and to concentrate instead on providing intelligence to his NKGB bosses. Yet the relationships appear to have been very complex: the government-in-exile sometimes gave directions to the Stalinist Osvald group on sabotage projects, and it appears that even Milorg collaborated with it, engaging Sunde’s hitmen to carry out its targeted assassinations.

Added to this recipe was the afore-mentioned Peder Furubotn, leader of the Communist Party in Norway. Furubotn’s organizational skills and connections allowed him to sponsor resistance groups in Oslo, Bergen, and Hallingdal. He was also a controversial figure, known for his independence of thought: he was an outlier, a provincial, with his power-base in Bergen away from the capital centre of Oslo. But he was also a dedicated patriot who desired to bring a domestic Communist regime to Norway after the war through democratic processes, not under the thrall of the Soviet Union (rather like an unauthoritarian Tito). He had in fact spent the years 1930-1938 in Moscow, an experience that included the witnessing of the Great Purge and the execution of some of his friends, which assuredly made him deviate from the solid Stalinist line he had taken up in the 1920s.

Professor Titlestad

According to his biographer, Professor Torgrim Titlestad, who has uniquely been able to inspect Russian archives, Furubotn had long been under the threat of execution, since in Moscow he had aligned himself closely with Bukharin, the executed ‘traitor’, and had refused to declare his public support for the outcome of the show-trials in 1938. Before Barbarossa, the Norwegian Communist party had tried to have Furubotn, who had from Bergen independently undertaken resistance in that period, removed from the Party, but the tables were turned when the Soviet Union became an enemy of the Nazi occupiers. At the time most other important Norwegian communists had either been killed, were in the hands of the Germans, or were refugees in Sweden, and Furubotn was elected General Secretary at the end of 1941. This was in defiance of Stalin’s orders of 1938 (when Furubotn was banished back to Norway from Moscow), that he should hold no senior position in the Party.

Furubotn was able to work independently for many years. He was a survivor. In spite of frequent unsuccessful attempts to bring him in line, during the war Moscow lacked local resources or the military reach to change his behaviour, or to remove him from office. At first glance, the need to have him out of the picture should have appeared less urgent as the war progressed, since Norway (apart from the strategic Petsamo region) did not feature strongly in Stalin’s plans for territorial control of Europe. It was not a conventional ‘buffer state’, hardly a threat to his ambitions, and Stalin accepted that it was part of the ‘western’ sphere of influence. The Soviet dictator did not want to waste resources in trying to control it, although he supported British-American desires to prevent valuable troops from being transferred from Norway to the battle zones in Germany, and he did collaborate with the British and Americans in the plan to oust the Nazis from the Finnmark (the North-east Norwegian territory abutting the Soviet Union).

Sunde’s Osvald group – perhaps surprisingly, given Sunde’s Stalinist aims – gained his funds primarily from the government-in-exile in London, supplemented occasionally by Moscow (through the agency of the Soviet legation in Stockholm, as the VENONA transcripts show). Yet Sunde looked to his rival, Furubotn, for funds, too. In September 1942 he agreed to supply guards at Furubotn’s central camp of the Norwegian Communist Party (NKP) in Hemsedal, in exchange for a continuing supply of money and materiel from the NKP leader. Furubotn had tried to make Sunde sabotage-leader for the NKP, but on the condition that he break his ties with Moscow – something Sunde refused to do, which strained the relationship, and led to severe friction by the end of 1943. Sunde established a training centre in Rukkekdalen in the winter of 1942, and recruited a network of saboteurs in the Torpo-Gol and Nesbyen areas, in the Hallingdal valley. This was the same area used by Milorg to establish its ‘Elg’ base in the early summer of 1944.

Reichskommissar Terboven

Yet the decreasing effectiveness of sabotage, and the costs of maintaining the subversive units, prompted a change of plan. By February 1944, Milorg, alongside the Foreign Office, SOE, and the OSS, had openly disparaged the Communist sabotage efforts, and had applied pressure on Osvald to reduce its aid for Furubotn. The feud between Sunde and Furubotn (which had sharpened when Furubotn had threatened to kill Sunde if he followed through on a plan to assassinate the Nazi Commissar Terboven) intensified. A month later, Sunde did indeed withdraw protection for Furubotn and his network, and he turned his attention to Norwegian exile groups in Sweden. The British increased their operations in support of eventually ousting the Germans: Operation FIRECREST was launched by sea in April 1944, a four-man team landing and then starting to give weapons training. In May, Moscow, through Pavel Sudoplatov (of Special Tasks), ordered Sunde to wind up his organization, and refrain from any further sabotage, Stalin explicitly admitting that the British were in charge in southern Norway, and that the theatre was too far away from Moscow for it to exert any influence. In June, however, Sunde’s network, including Furubotn’s group, came under fresh attack from the Gestapo and the Wehrmacht in Operation ALMENRAUSCH.

Furubotn did not respond well to these moves, and he was increasingly isolated: he had enemies in Hauge and Sunde already, but now, with his autonomous subversion efforts, became an irritant to the British to compound the enmity to him maintained by Stalin. That may have been a fresh pretext for Stalin to want to have him eliminated – as a proven ‘Trotskyist’ defying the policy of the vozhd – and a move against him could represent a useful gesture to his allies. Furubotn had incurred Stalin’s anger by defying his order to stay out of the Party organization when he had returned to Norway, by executing subversive campaigns during the period of the Nazi-Soviet pact (which he had openly criticized), by refusing orders to move to Sweden (where he feared he might be killed), by expressing support for the Norwegian government-in-exile in London, for attempting to wean Sunde away from the NKGB, and for openly publishing anti-Stalinist tracts in the summer of 1944. Others had been killed for less, and Furubotn believed that attempts would be made on his life on his home territory. Professor Titlestad has suggested that Moscow may have recommended to Sunde that he remove his security details from Furubuton’s hideout, thus perhaps allowing the Gestapo to infiltrate the NKP, and to take on the task of eliminating Furubotn. Yet Furubotn had escaped the ALMENRAUSCH assault, despite Sunde’s apparent betrayal, and may thereby have come afresh in Stalin’s sights.

The circumstances of the ALMENRAUSCH operation are puzzling. If a sizeable force assembled by the Wehrmacht with the help of the State Police (the Statspolitiet) did in fact conduct a punitive operation against Norwegian resistance forces (including Milorg, and the two factions of the KPN) on June 13, 1944, it is astonishing how little loss of life there was. The Wikipedia entry (the only account in English, I believe) at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Almenrausch indicates that a force of eight-hundred was deployed, but that the operation was largely unsuccessful, even though it attacked a ‘secret’ hideout. Eight communists were arrested, but only one was executed. That does not sound like a typical Nazi response. Professor Titlestad explains it as a combination of the Nazis not wanting to kill a large number of fellow-Aryans, as well as a degree of nervousness about the chances of survival of the members of this punitive force in a hostile rural region. Yet the Professor also writes that Furubotn had been the Gestapo’s most wanted man, and that it had tortured and killed Norwegians in an attempt to track him down. The decisive outcome for Stalin, however, was that, in July 1944, Furubotn was still alive.

If an agreement solely for the infiltration by air by NKGB agents to Furubotn’s camp, without any explicit goal of assassination, did take place between Stalin and Churchill (which must be the least alarming hypothesis), it occurred at a time when relationships between Great Britain and the Soviet Union were rapidly deteriorating. SOE had grown frustrated with the lack of co-operation in Moscow, and the Foreign Office was infuriated by Stalin’s abuse of its Military Mission there. The Warsaw Uprising, when Stalin refused to allow Allied planes to refuel on Soviet territory, and the Red Army watched what was happening from across the Vistula, contributed to the discord. In addition, the pressure on the War Cabinet to return to the Soviet Union all POWs they had been liberating, and the lack of co-operation from the Russians over the efforts to attack the Tirpitz, conspired largely to an atmosphere of utter distrust. On August 18, Foreign Office Permanent Secretary Orme Sargent even declared that the Soviet Union was the future Enemy Number 1.

What is certain that some intense discussions took place in London towards the end of August, with Milorg’s chief, Hauge, visiting for four weeks, having been authorized to use the ‘bearing ball’ run by Mosquito from Stockholm to Leuchars. One outcome of that visit was that Milorg now became known as ‘Home Forces’. According to one account, sensing that victory was in sight, the ANCC in January had authorized the provision of a large amount of weaponry to Milorg, and in June SHAEF (now having taken charge of SOE projects) approved of attacks on Nazi industries and lines of communication. Professor Færøy, on the other hand, has stated very confidently that these increased shipments did not take place until ‘the autumn’. The scope of military coordination debated then included measures to counter German scorched earth policy, the capture of Gestapo documents, the destruction of the Gestapo HQ in Oslo and (perhaps most provocatively) a list of agreed assassination targets. Hauge’s meetings in Britain to determine these policies were held at senior level with the Norwegian Government in exile, with Special Forces Headquarters, with the Anglo-Norwegian Collaboration Committee, and with Viscount Selborne, the Minister of Economic Warfare in London, as well as with General Thorne in Edinburgh. Thorne was responsible for the deception plan of FORTITUDE NORTH, as well as for the preparation for the liberation of Norway. Yet, because of the sensitivity of the conspiracy, it is hard not to conclude that the meetings in the United Kingdom must have been entirely coincidental to the plot against Furubotn.

More reliable wireless communications were now being established between SOE and Milorg, and, in Operation GOLDEN EAGLE, two more agents were dropped directly in the Hallingdal area on August 28, to help establish the Elg base with improved radio contact, and to enable preparation for further intensive and frequent drops of supplies over the following months. And then, as Britain started to consolidate its hold over subversive operations in southern Norway, in early September 1944 the very sudden and highly momentous intelligence arrived that Stalin had approved the launching of attacks on the Tirpitz from Soviet territory, which caused a sudden flurry of changes to the PARAVANE project.

Whether the planned assassination of Furubotn (which is posited here as the motivation for the infiltration into southern Norway of Stalin’s agents) was related to the permission Stalin gave for British bombers to fly from Soviet airfields is probably unverifiable. The British must have had something important to gain from the arrangement, but any decision taken must have occurred at the highest levels of command. It is possible that Churchill did not know what Stalin’s precise plan for his agents was, but his agreement in allowing them to assume the identities of live RAF officers is extremely incriminating. If any knowledge of the details of the conspiracy did exist, it must surely have been restricted to Churchill and Gubbins, the head of SOE. SOE/MI6 had a direct – but highly insecure –  line to Moscow through its representative George Hill, who was on good terms with Stalin, so negotiations could have been carried on through that medium. The relevant archival material shows some intense exchanges between London and Moscow in August and early September of 1944, but nothing obviously attributable to the Furubotn plot.

As for the RAF, it would obviously have known that it was being ordered to mount a highly irregular operation, but the leaders (i.e. Portal, Harris, Cochrane, McMullen, and Bottomley at the Air Ministry) would not have been aware that the objective of the mission was in fact assassination. They were probably informed that the subterfuge was simply part of an extended PICKAXE operation (i.e. one in a series of co-operative ventures between SOE and the NKGB), where Soviet agents had to be infiltrated in disguise in order that they would be welcomed properly by Hauge’s Milorg network. They would not have known that Sunde (probably) would then lead the twosome to Furubotn’s lair.

Stalin and Churchill

On the other hand, it was a low-risk undertaking for Stalin: he did not care about the fate of agents sent abroad on sabotage missions; their lives were expendable, and, since they would be wearing RAF uniforms, it would be difficult to trace anything to him, in any case. But for the British, it was a highly dangerous operation, involving deceit, not just with RAF crewmen, but with the Norwegian government, who, if its members learned of the plot, would not have taken kindly to the phenomenon of murder missions by foreign Communist infiltrators being abetted by their close wartime ally. Even if the mission had been successful, and the perpetrators had in some way been removed without their masquerade being detected, word might have leaked out, because of the packed Lancaster, the airmen who made it back safely, and the knowledge of the impersonated officers returning home. But if it failed – and in such a disastrous and spectacular fashion, as it did – the repercussions could have been tragic and far-reaching. Yet the destruction of the plane, and all inside it, managed to impose an eighty-year silence that has succeeded in exculpating all the perpetrators.

[I thank Professors Titlestad and Færøy for their advice on this chapter. The opinions represented here are of course my own, and I likewise take responsibility for any errors. coldspur]

Chapter 8: Conclusions

No documentation to prove that Churchill and Stalin conspired to launch the operation to Hallingdal has appeared, and it probably never will. Yet such a decision, to have NKGB agents dressed up in the uniforms of living RAF officers, and be equipped with their ID-tags, can have been authorized only at the very top. It was assuredly not an SOE operation (although SOE radios and servicemen were certainly employed); nor was it an idea of Bomber Command, which would have been fiercely resistant to the subterfuges and risks associated with such an enterprise. Churchill’s irrational and misguided desires to placate Stalin must have convinced him that the Generalissimo’s demands were worth acceding to. The opportunity to carry out an attack on the Tirpitz from Soviet territory, with a presumed greater chance of success than flying directly from Scotland, must have been irresistible to him.

Lancaster at Yagodnik

One can imagine the strained atmosphere when Lancaster PB416 prepared for take-off at Yagodnik on September 17, 1944. Because of the damaged and unusable planes left behind, their crews had to be allotted to the remaining flightworthy aircraft, resulting in crowded conditions. The mood would probably have been very positive, however, given the (modest) degree of success of PARAVANE, and the prospect of returning home with no loss of squadron life. And yet two Soviet citizens were foisted on this particular team, and the members must have been informed that the couple, equipped with parachutes, was to be dropped somewhere along the flightpath. They might not have known that the agents were masquerading as British fellow-airmen underneath their jackets, but they were probably disconcerted about this irregular deviation from the plans.

Etnedal

PB416 was never blown off course by inclement weather, as RAF reports later claimed. As the last plane in loose formation, it peeled off from the chain ahead of it off the coast of Sweden, and made a course for southern Norway. We know it was expected, because the navigator radioed his co-ordinates over Oystogo in Etnedal when the plane arrived there soon after one o’clock in the morning of September 17. These measures were recorded without alarm, even though the location was over three hundred miles to the north-west of the path on which the rest of the sixteen Lancasters were cruising home.

What went wrong? One can perhaps imagine that the NKGB agents had second thoughts – not that they probably had any first thoughts of their own volition over the exploit. Threats had probably been made concerning their families. They knew that they must be on a suicide mission: even if they were successful in finding Furubotn, and assassinating him, they would not survive long in their British greatcoats, with their British ID-tags, but probably owning only a smattering of English, if any. Furthermore, they had to survive the parachute drop itself. It is highly unlikely that they had had parachute training, let alone from a British bomber, and the prospect of landing correctly on hard ground uninjured, and then meeting up with a friendly reception committee, must have seemed distant.

One could conjecture that they perhaps tried to convince the pilot that he should abandon the drop, and take his ‘stowaways’ onwards to Scotland. But Squadron-Leader Levy had his orders, and he would not have wanted to present himself at Lossiemouth with two illegal NKGB agents in his complement of passengers, with much explaining to do, and no doubt flak to be received from the high-ups. The agents were probably armed. Perhaps some sort of skirmish took place, and the plane circled while attempts to resolve the issue, with Levy trying to convince the agents of their duty, took place. The dangers of the terrain went unnoticed, and the plane hit a treetop on the mountain in the Saupeset valley above the town of Nesbyen.

RAF at Dyce, Aberdeen, which had been tracking the movements of PB416, must have known of the mission, and soon assumed that the plane was lost without any survivors. Yet the details appear, strangely, to have escaped their notice. If the Milorg reception-party, aided by SOE agents recently arrived (and maybe attended by Sunde), were in wireless contact (which they surely were, to have been able to finalize the arrangements), they would have transmitted the facts about the horrific collision with the mountain, and presumably have added that there could have been no survivors. Local civilians quickly erected a cross to indicate the ten bodies discovered, which they promptly buried. And yet this news never reached Bomber Command, or, if it did, was ignored. After the defeat of the Germans in May 1945 locals remembered the dead airmen with a hand-painted plaque in Norwegian.

The fact was that it was more convenient for the full list of crew members to remain unknown and unknowable. The story about NKGB ‘stowaways’ could thus remain a secret for a while: the facts buried in red tape and obfuscation – the fog of war. Yet that calm was disturbed when the initial Graves Report was issued in July 1945, and then altered the following month, after an on-site inspection of the markers in Nesbyen revealed the names of Wyness and Williams among the casualties. By then, of course, Wyness and Williams were dead, and could tell no tales. Some coughing, and shuffling of papers resulted, and by the end of December 1946 the final report was able to declare that one unknown airman (of undefined nationality, but perhaps that need not be explicitly stated) had perished alongside the nine certain casualties. No one seemed to want to pose the question: how could the RAF not know who had boarded PB416 in Yagodnik?

Even in this decade an incurious listlessness governs the attitudes of the War Graves Commission in England. Its representative acknowledges the paradoxes articulated in the records, but he shows no interest in taking the matter further. One could assume, perhaps, that corporate memory in the RAF (and in other departments of the UK government) endures to the extent that its employees and associates are firmly cautioned not to encourage any members of the public to press too hard on certain matters. One can admire the dedication that such civil servants (and volunteers) apply to maintaining histories and records while at the same time one has to challenge their lack of resolve.

617 Squadron Badge

As another example, in 2021, the painstaking Nigel Austin posed a question to the Official Historian of the 617 Squadron Association about the procedures involved in compiling a Flight Loss Card. (There is no mention of the loss of Lancaster PB416 on the Association’s web-page.) Dr Owen patiently explained the roles of the Air Ministry, Bomber Command, and the International Red Cross, and suggested that lines of communication became tangled during the investigations. He implied that the initial reports were confused because it seemed that items of clothing belonging to Wyness and Williams had presumably been borrowed, but he overlooked the issue of ID-tags. It was as if this were the first time that anyone associated with the Squadron has investigate the enigma, and Owen concluded his response as follows: “The more one looks, more gaps and unanswered/unanswerable questions emerge with regard to this loss”. Is the word ‘unanswerable’ telling – a sign of policy? In any case, no follow-up occurs.

Even today, almost eighty years after the events, it would be politically highly embarrassing for the truth to be conceded. First is the fact of the cover-up itself – a betrayal of openness, a disgraceful lack of admission of responsibility to the relatives of those who died in the crash, and a promotion of lies about its cause. Second is the damage it performs to the reputations of those involved – the institutions themselves, of course, but also those who led them, and in particular Winston Churchill, with his sentimental behaviour towards Stalin, and his unforgivable tendency to relish picaresque adventures, and to become too involved in them. That is an aspect that his biographers have touched on, but – alongside his interventions in the betrayal of SOE ‘F’ circuits in France in the summer of 1943 – it merits much greater attention.

Churchill had conflicting motives: to make a bold enough gesture to appease Stalin, but to keep it so secret that he would not offend the Norwegian government. Sadly, his obsession over Tirpitz was misguided: he did not know how sparse were its fuel supplies; he did not realize how cautious Hitler’s plans were for deploying the battleship, in his anxiety to protect his Nordic fleet; and he was unaware of utterly low the morale of the Tirpitz crew had sunk, frustrated by inactivity and the barrenness of northern Norway. Yet he surely could not have imagined that the destruction of the Lancaster aircraft, and all on board, could have been a possible outcome of his reckless agreement. The plane having reached Oystogo, it could have continued its flight, taking the Soviet agents to Scotland, where they would never have been heard of again, without Stalin being any the wiser. Whether the impersonators were anguished that the mission had been abandoned, or whether they pressured the pilot to cancel the drop, and save them, will almost certainly never be known. Yet the ineluctable fact that nothing about the operation ever seems to have leaked out from Norwegian sources who were involved on the ground is perhaps the most remarkable phenomenon of this tragic event.

As for Stalin, it should come as no surprise that he would pursue such an adventure. He was ruthless, exploited weaknesses in his allies (both Churchill and Roosevelt), and single-mindedly hunted down anyone who challenged his authority. Furubotn would have been just another victim in the line of such as Ignace Reiss, Juliet Poyntz, Walter Krivitsky, Leon Trotsky, and a whole lot more. The opportunity arose, Stalin grabbed it, and he formulated the plot in a way that it could not be easily traced to any of his decisions, whether it succeeded or not. Not that any attribution to his scheming would have worried him: everything would have simply been denied.

Peder Furubotn probably never knew about the exploit, or that he had avoided yet another attempt on his life. Did he really deserve the fate that Stalin had decreed for him? Professor Titlestad has devoted a large part of his career to investigating Furubotn, and he has written a biography of him, unfortunately not yet published. The Professor has created, however, a website dedicated to his researches, at https://furubotnarkivene.no/, and the ‘English’ tab introduces the visitor to a very useful article on his subject. What is startling to this writer is that the Professor sets out to rehabilitate Furubotn, describing him as ‘one of Norway’s most colorful and charismatic political leaders of the 20th century’ and that ‘for five years, he fought a life-and-death battle to avoid being killed by the Gestapo in Norway and became a role model for surviving the illegal struggle against the overwhelmingly powerful German occupation and its Norwegian collaborators in the NS [the Nasjonal Samling, the only legal party in Norway from 1942 to 1945]’. That was not how I had initially interpreted his role, but Furubotn’s daring example was converted into significant success for the Communist Party after the war.

Professor Titlestad present some fascinating insights into Furubotn’s post-war career, when he even returned to Moscow and remained unscathed, describing him as a more constitutionally sensitive Communist, perhaps a ‘Euro-communist’ of the kind that excited leftist politicians in the western democracies in the 1950s. While I am in any case unqualified to comment on such analysis, this article focusses on the war years alone, and it seems that the record of Furubotn’s activities between 1940 and 1945 is very hazy. It is difficult to track at what time the revolutionary Communist morphed into the simpler and rather sentimental left-winger that the post-war record shows. What is clear, however, is that Furubotn defied Stalin too many times, and his enemies within the KPN made sure that accounts of his misconduct got back to the vozhd.

I thus have to express some reservations about Furubotn’s heroism and reputation. Furubotn seems rather a sorry figure to me: a man lacking formal education who learned about Marxism only when he went to Moscow, and who, after the war, drifted into a vague socialism that invoked the Bible as often as it brought in The Communist Manifesto. If Furubotn had been a Communist during the war, whether Stalinist or not, the mission of a communist was class warfare, authoritarian control (‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’, of course, which was a ridiculous slogan). The institution of Communist power always ended in the incarceration or execution of class enemies, and the abandonment of any constitutional safeguards. The senior resistance organization, Milorg, detested the Communist Party, whether it was Sunde’s or Furubotn’s, and Milorg became the official voice of the people representing the government-in-exile. Yet the Communist message still resonated strongly among major sectors of Norway’s population.

I thus maintain a few doubts about the Professor’s assessment of the integrity of Furubotn and his motives. He writes, also, that the Oslo Harbour sabotage operation orchestrated by Furubotn in the autumn of 1944 was an epochal event. “This activity, which carried the death penalty from the German side, greatly contributed to keeping the hope of liberation alive among Norwegians”,  he writes. Yet such an attack went entirely against the grain of what Milorg (and, reportedly the Stalinist rump group led by Sunde) was trying to achieve, and the reprisals could have been severe. Most Norwegians must have realized by then that the Nazis were on the run, and that the Allies were moving inexorably into occupied countries, including Norway. Which Norwegians would have been excited about the destruction of the capital’s port by a subversive revolutionary at that stage of the war?

One last aspect of what appears to me to be a controversy lies in the Professor’s account of Furubotn’s time in Moscow before the war. He somewhat mysteriously writes that ‘Stalin reluctantly allowed him to return to Norway in the autumn of 1938 after 8 years in Moscow’, adding that Stalin kept the family of his son, Gilbert, in the Soviet Union as hostages. I was not aware that Stalin undertook any action ‘reluctantly’, which suggests unrealistically that the vozhd would actually listen to advice from his ministers – and that that group would actually proffer advice to him rather than simply await instructions. (The Black Book of Communism states that Furubotn ‘escaped’ from Moscow.) Elsewhere, Professor Titlestad notes that Furubotn was sent back and essentially demoted to serve a minor role in the Party in his hometown of Bergen, and the Professor has explained to me, having inspected KGB archives in Moscow, that Stalin let him go because he believed that the Gestapo would perform the murderous job for him. Yet Stalin’s ability to recall that he had let Furubotn slip through his fingers would give him additional incentive to extinguish the rebel: the PARAVANE episode of September 1944 was not the first attempt to silence Furubotn for good.

Nikolai Bukharin

The other observation that I found incongruous was the categorization of Nikolai Bukharin, whom Furubotn admired, and whom Sunde had apparently invoked alongside Genrikh Yagoda in denouncing Furubotn. Professor Titlestad writes: “Bukharin had long been one of the leading liberal Soviet leaders after the revolution in 1917, and his trial attracted significant international attention.” I believe that this is a serious misconception. Bukharin was innocent of most of the crimes he was accused of (but perhaps not that of threatening Stalin’s power), but he was no ‘liberal’. He was a Bolshevik who had enthusiastically embraced the revolution, and he was until his death a firm champion of the ‘glorious Cheka’ and its barbarous methods. A too facile equivalence of Bukharin and Furubotn glosses over what Furubotn might have become.

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Postscript

Lastly, a few observations on methodology. My collaborator on this project, Nigel Austin, has been a determined sleuth, tracking down arcane sources, identifying persons who have some connection with the mystery, and refusing to let go. I know, however, that he was continually on the search for proof of exactly what happened on that night in September, the proverbial ‘smoking gun’, and he might have proceeded forever until he found such. I have occasionally been able to track down such items in my attempts to solve intelligence mysteries, such as with the memorandum about Guy Burgess and the Comintern, the Letter from Geneva concerning Len and Ursula Beurton, and the article in the Viennese newspaper that revealed much about MI6 and Kim Philby, but such moments are very rare.

I decided to explain to Nigel that historiography is frequently an exercise of the imagination, a detective investigation, in which one searches for clues, and then tries to construct a pattern of behaviour and events that can explain what is superficially inexplicable. There is not going to be a solid paper-trail in a case as complex as this. And that is how it was with ‘The Airmen Who Died Twice’. To me, the borrowed uniforms and ID-tags suggested stowaways of some kind. Yet in those conditions the stowaways could not have been furtive: they must have had approval. They could not have been British airmen: that group was completely accounted for. They must therefore have been agents, saboteurs, spies, of some kind. They would not have been Norwegian communists in exile: such persons would not have had to disguise themselves that way, impersonating British RAF crew members. They must have been NKGB agents – Russians. And if they were agents, they must have had a mission. And the obvious mission was assassination. A study of Norwegian resistance quickly came up with the name of Peder Furubotn, who had offended Stalin.

Thus was the theory constructed. It all seemed rather tenuous: had Furubotn really annoyed Stalin that much? And why would Stalin choose that time to set his murder-squad off the leash? And then the encounter with Professor Titlestad’s latest research indicated that assassination attempts had already been made against Furubotn. Stalin could no longer rely on the Gestapo or the Sunde organization to get rid of his foe. So he took on the task himself, and invoked the gullible Churchill to assist him. As the cliché goes: ‘The rest is history’. But in this case it has not been so – until now. And it would be commendable if the British Government, through the Ministry of Defence, made some sort of statement and apology to the public and to the relatives of the dead airmen in time for the eightieth anniversary of the crash on September 17, 2024.

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Dick White’s Tangled Web

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave.

When first we practise to deceive!” (Sir Walter Scott, Marmion)

In this bulletin, I use some correspondence as a trigger to invoke a more detailed analysis of Dick White’s plot to leak information on Kim Philby to the CIA – the exercise that his representative in Washington characterized as an ‘ingenious scheme’ – and to re-assess White’s overall track-record as a counter-espionage officer.

Contents:

An Uncomfortable Exchange

The Letter from Mr. Even-Shoshan

Re-Assessing Dick White’s Plot

Milicent Bagot’s Dossier

The Strange Reactions of Robert Lamphere

Deeper Implications

White’s Predicament

PEACH

Enter ‘Buster’ Milmo

‘The Imperfect English Counter-Espionage Officer’

Postscript: The Lost Philby Chapters

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An Uncomfortable Exchange

I often reflect on the various email exchanges I have with two groups of individuals. The first I shall call ‘members of the public’, namely amateur enthusiasts for intelligence matters, former intelligence officers, journalists, and writers of histories and biographies with no relevant academic qualifications. The second is simply ‘academics’, professional historians with doctorates or professorships teaching at universities. The messages from the first group are almost uniformly engaging, showing humility, a genuine curiosity and willingness to engage in sensible discussion, patience, and an appropriate degree of scepticism, as well as a readiness to express complimentary remarks about my research. The academics, on the other hand (if they respond at all, of course) are generally – but not always – abrupt, dogmatic, patronising, intemperate, and stingy with any praise.

I was reminded of this contrast during two recent conversations I had with persons I have never met. The first was a female academic (whom I shall not name – unless there is an overwhelming demand for her identification from coldspur readers) whom I had approached concerning Kim Philby. She responded quite pleasantly to start with, and I sent her a late draft of my February coldspur article on Smolka. Her immediate response was ‘Yes, I know the whole Smolka story’, and she described a recent project concerning him that she had worked on. This was a clear message to me that she was the undisputed expert on Smolka, and that she had nothing to learn from any other source. (I do dislike know-alls.)

And then, when I suggested that Edith Tudor-Hart’s role had been greatly exaggerated by such persons as Anthony Blunt (as well as the KGB), she immediately accused me of having male chauvinist tendencies, telling me that I underestimated the work of female intelligence officers. This was an extraordinarily illogical – and faintly insulting – conclusion to come to, and I responded that I was a big fan of Jane Sissmore/Archer, and that I recognized what Daphne Park had achieved. I also mentioned that I had recently read Helen Fry’s Women in Intelligence, and learned much from it. She ignored my response, and then questioned me about the planting of the 1934 press article about Philby, which I had ascribed to MI6, and lectured me that Philby had had nothing to do with MI6 at that time.

It was quite obvious that she had not read the piece I sent her (nor was she familiar with Fry’s book), so I gently drew her attention to it again, asking her whether she had already encountered everything that I had uncovered about Smolka. She quickly wrote back a hot-headed message titled ‘Philby working for MI6 in 1933 is SO NUTS!’, and I quote the full content of her text (which lacked any salutations):

Helen Fry cannot be serious. This is the most ludicrous theory ever.

Christopher Andrew must be laughing his head off (but you will probably say he is establishment and we have to believe in conspiracies instead).

Regarding Smolka: Yes of course he was working for the Russians. That is hardly new (I did not mean you should try to read Russian books. I mean their archive releases. Go to their websites)

Korda and Greene had other things to do in Vienna in 1948 than interviewing the little fish Smolka. (Ever heard of Peter Lunn and his tunnels?)

And one did not need Smolka to learn about penicillin and sewers (yes, I know that Montagu claimed his short story was vital etc) If you read German, go through the newspaper collection ANNO. It is online. They were covering these stories all the time. It was public knowledge.

My first reaction was to wonder whether the lady harboured any inherent prejudices against all female historians, but I quickly put that unchivalrous thought behind me, and turned to the substance. It seemed to me that not only had my correspondent not read carefully anything I had written, but that she also was grabbing the wrong end of the stick with her rhetorical and ill-mannered flourishes. Specifically:

  • It did not appear that she had read Helen Fry’s Spymaster, for she would otherwise acknowledge that Fry actually cites a retired MI6 source who made the claim about ‘Philby always working for MI6’, while she (Fry) cast doubts on its veracity. Moreover, Fry withdrew that assertion in the second edition of the book, a move that I ascribed to the fact that she had been ‘nobbled’ by the authorities. My correspondent shows no awareness of these events, and thus her opinion on the ludicrousness of the assertion is ill-directed and lacks any substance.
  • Why the reactions (cachinnatory or otherwise) of the ‘great Yoda of intelligence studies’ [M.S. Goodman] had to be invoked was a mystery to me. After all, Andrew is the authorized historian of MI5, not MI6, and his pronouncements on these matters have been erratic. It was he who declared, almost a decade ago, that his findings on the very relevant Eric Roberts correspondence would ‘keep the conspiracy theorists busy for fourteen more years’, but he then suffered from an attack of amnesia when asked to recall the circumstances behind that observation. The woman is clearly an acolyte of Andrew: she echoes the clumsy characterization that anyone who suggests that a conspiracy may be lurking behind any event is an irredeemable (and maybe congenital) ‘conspiracy theorist’, while implying that all the reputable scholars like her and Andrew (the ‘Establishment’, presumably) exclude conspiracies from their analyses as a matter of principle.
  • The lecturette on the fact that Smolka ‘of course’ (a typical donnish insertion) was working for the Russians was naive and patronising. The fact that he was a Soviet spy is incontrovertible: the issue at stake was whether he had been recruited by the NKVD in 1933 or 1934, or whether, as Philby claimed in 1980, that it was he who had done so in 1939-1940. One major point of my article was to show how absurd Philby’s claim was, and how it must have been arranged by the KGB on Smolka’s death. My correspondent declined to engage me on this matter. She expresses far too confident an opinion of the reliability of Russian archival sources (a language she does not use, incidentally).
  • She continued her bossy lesson with another arrogant remark about Peter Lunn. Indeed, ma’am, I am familiar with Lunn and his project (‘Operation CONFLICT’) to eavesdrop on Soviet telephone communications in the tunnels below the French and British zones in Vienna. Only Lunn – according to Stephen Dorril – did not replace Young as station chief until 1949, and the first recognition of the telephone cable infrastructure did not occur until late 1948, almost a year after the Greene encounter with Smolka. The woman’s insinuation is that Greene and Korda would have been involved with the operation. But Korda did not accompany Greene to Vienna at that time, and, even if the project had occurred earlier, there is no earthly way that Greene, an ex-MI6 officer with no engineering background, would have been introduced to such a sensitive project. With Philby under suspicion at the time, it would have been hugely irresponsible to have exposed any aspects of CONFLICT to Greene, Philby’s old crony in Section V of MI6.
  • Lastly, she fails to acknowledge that I myself had questioned the fact that Smolka had been the source of the anecdotes about adulterated penicillin and transport through the sewers, and that I had suggested that the story had been created as a useful distraction from the real reason that Greene was sent to interview him. What she means by ‘they were covering these stories all the time’, or that ‘it was public knowledge’ eludes me. That the Viennese press in 1948 was writing about fake penicillin, and that everybody knew about it? She fails to provide the evidence. It was indeed the ANNO archive that allowed me to re-present the extraordinary article about the Philby marriage in the Illustrierte Kronen Zeitung from May 1934. As for challenging my ability to read German, I actually told her that I studied the language at Oxford: she may not have encountered my translations of Honigmann yet. Yet she chooses to disbelieve me, and thinks that I used Google Translate.

You will notice that this person does not have the graciousness to say one good word about my research, or to admit that she learned anything at all from it. Her whole behaviour was clumsy, waspish, unscholarly, supercilious and offensive. It is as if she wanted to reinforce through her responses the characteristics of donnishness in all their darker aspects, and to teach this upstart a lesson. I did not respond to her outburst, but merely added her name to the List.

The Letter from Mr. Even-Shoshan

On the other hand, some conversations can be very pleasant. A week earlier, I had received an email from a fresh correspondent, one Moshe Even-Shoshan, who lives in Pennsylvania. He had just finished reading Misdefending the Realm, and, after a complimentary comment, wrote:

                Yet I still struggle with the crucial question why the original approach, of the 1920s and early 1930s, to Communist/Soviet espionage changed so drastically in the critical period that you study—precisely and ironically on the background of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact. In the last chapter, you pin the rap, to use detective novel parlance, on Dick White. But on the eve/at the beginning of WWII (for Great Britain, as opposed to the USA), he was just the first university recruit to MI5. So how could one “blame” him? After all, it was Liddell who brought Blunt in and who socialized with characters who should have not have been touched with a ten foot pole.

I look forward eagerly to your comments.

After thanking Mr. Even-Shoshan for his interest, I replied as follows:

I think your question is a very shrewd one, and it is one that has occupied me again of late, since I have started preparing a future edition of coldspur that will provide a topographical guide to my research since I published MTR.

I stand by what I wrote on p 75, as a decent account of the debacle, and how it has shifted since 1940, including Andrew’s rather shameful comments. Yet I believe that some recent research of mine  involving Philby and Smolka, the second installment on whom will appear in a couple of weeks’ time, and will reinforce the points I am about to make  sheds some further light on the passivity of MI5.

The main problem at the time was a lack of intellectual leadership in the Soviet counter-espionage business. Jane Archer was obviously outstanding, but she was a woman in a man’s world, and she fell foul of political intrigues, I suspect. Whether those intrigues were initiated by communist sympathizers, one can only guess. But she was taken off the case, and Hollis was a poor substitute.

I see White’s entry as an attempt to bring more serious intellectual heft into the organization. Some military men have declared that more soldierly than academic skills should have been brought in to counter the communist threat, but my view is that a more subtle assessment of Moscow’s strategies was required. Liddell was sharp, but he was essentially a policeman, and was surrounded by such. The dominant belief within MI5 was that Soviet spies would have to emanate from the CPGB a policeman’s response, ignoring what Krivitsky said, and Petrie let Soviet counter-intelligence wither on the vine during WWII. The successes of Trevor-Roper (against the Abwehr), Austin (against the Wehrmacht – see https://coldspur.com/summer-2023-round-up/), and, to a lesser extent, Masterman on XX, showed that an Oxford don had a powerful role to play in building up intelligence about an enemy agency. In my piece on Austin, I made the point that his skills and processes should have been applied within MI5 in creating a model of the Comintern, and how it worked. White failed in this exercise, since he did not push for it, and he was in many ways a weak man (and he married a Communist). He failed to see through Burgess, Blunt   even Rothschild – and felt humiliated.

Then there was the problem of leakage. From the Home Office, Jenifer Hart passed on to Berlin and Burgess the details of the Krivitsky business. One must also have questions about Stephen Alley, who translated between Archer and Krivitsky. He is still largely a mystery, with maybe torn allegiances. The NKVD had an opportunity to move, sway MI5 opinion, and stifle any further investigations.

The lack of resolve in tracking down Philby ‘the journalist’ astonished me at the time. If you have read what I wrote about Philby last year: see https://coldspur.com/litzi-philby-under-the-covers/, https://coldspur.com/kim-philby-always-working-for-sis/, https://coldspur.com/kim-philby-in-1951-alarms-and-diversions/ (especially), and https://coldspur.com/kim-philbys-german-moonshine/, you will learn that White clearly ignored much of the evidence in 1951, even though it had been sitting in MI5 files for a long time, and it was left to Milmo to point out the obvious.

And my recent research on Smolka, and his relationship with Philby, introduces a far more important dimension. My hypothesis has been that Philby, when the Nazi-Soviet pact was announced, essentially pretended to break away from the Comintern and offer his services (alongside those of Litzy) to MI6, where Claude Dansey was having his whimsical ideas of ‘turning’ known Communist agents (including Ursula Kuczynski and Smolka) into assets for the Secret Intelligence Service. Philby fitted into that pattern. It was a disaster that MI6 has ever since tried to cover up. But, if Philby had been regarded as a friend in late 1939, it would explain why following up, in January 1940, on his activities in Spain would have not been given much attention. After all, Philby would have explained them away. But one of the reasons he moved when he did was because he knew what Krivitsky was saying in the USA, and probably that MI5 was planning to ask him over . . .

Mr Even-Shoshan was sympathetic to my analysis, responding as follows:

I agree with you totally that a more subtle assessment of Moscow’s strategies was required than a pure policeman’s approach and therefore an academic’s approach and experience would have been appropriate. You mentioned Trevor-Roper’s work at the RSS on the Abwehr. I would add, to make the point sharply, his RSS/RAB colleague Stuart Hampshire’s Nov. 1942 report ‘Canaris and Himmler’, where SH “concluded that this struggle [with Himmler’s SD] for secret intelligence was a symptom of a wider struggle for power between the Nazi party and the German General Staff.” (Adam Sisman, An Honorable Englishman: The Life of Hugh Trevor-Roper, p. 121). This conclusion of RH is, of course, of crucial importance to the question of whether WWII could have been ended much earlier through a negotiated peace with certain forces in Germany. And this, of course, links to Philby’s baleful impact as a Soviet agent  I recall that HTR said Philby prevented this report from going to the British leadership or, perhaps, even just to the top of SIS. It was in the interest of Stalin that the war drag on until Stalin was able to extend his power westward through his eventual “satellite” Communist states–and also to increase his influence in Western Europe through the CPs (especially the French CP), which were able to gain stature as resistance forces. I think you have downplayed Philby’s actual impact on affairs as compared others in the Cambridge Five. But could this one act of Philby have been of great consequence?

This addition of Hampshire to the list of dons was a useful one, and I was able to locate the cited report in a file described, however, as containing exclusively contributions by Trevor-Roper, namely HW 19/347 at Kew, as listed by Edward Harrison in his Introduction to Trevor-Roper’s Secret World. I subsequently commissioned photographs of the file. Yet the result was puzzling: Sisman gets the year of the report wrong (it is dated June 5, 1943), Hampshire’s name is never mentioned, and the tone of the report’s conclusions is much less dramatic than is implied by Sisman. Moreover, the writer offers no sources for his anecdotes outside two references to Philby’s memoir. Sisman’s reliability as a chronicler must be questioned: it is as if Trevor-Roper (or Hampshire, perhaps) wanted to embellish evidence of his colleague’s treachery in order to enhance the record, and distance himself from the mole.

As for my assessment of Philby’s relative influence on military outcomes, I do not recall ever analyzing this topic in detail. I shall simply point out here that Philby started providing intelligence much later than the other members of the quintet, and he was initially distrusted. An interesting matter to be pursued another time, perhaps.

Re-Assessing Dick White’s Plot

One of the reasons why Mr Even-Shoshan’s letter was so timely was the fact that I had been planning to write about Dick White’s very bizarre behaviour during the compilation of his report on Philby in the autumn of 1951. In my Year-End Round-Up published last December, the leading sentence in my ‘Research Agenda’ section ran as follows: “I want to explore more thoroughly where Milmo derived his facts about Kim and Litzy in his December 1951 report, and why White failed to disclose them in his report issued just beforehand.” To summarize the relevant facts concerning White’s activities (as described in https://coldspur.com/kim-philby-in-1951-alarms-and-diversions/ ):a file on Philby had been maintained since 1934 (PF 40408 – and, incidentally, someone has whispered to me that this folder contains over 16 discrete files); Dick White had instructed Milicent Bagot to use this file when preparing the dossier for the FBI/CIA before the disappearance of Burgess and Maclean; and he had had access to it for his summer 1951 report, the release of which was curiously delayed until November. Yet he had used it very selectively.

Dick White

For a comprehensive background on the events of 1951, I recommend to readers that they return to the second half of my post from April 2019 (https://coldspur.com/the-importance-of-chronology-with-special-reference-to-liddell-philby/) and my account, two months later, of Dick White’s scheming (https://coldspur.com/dick-whites-devilish-plot/). This plot was designed so that MI5 could pass confidential information, via Robert Lamphere in the FBI, to the CIA so that the latter could inform MI6 of their strong suspicions about Philby, thus forcing a breach between MI6 and Philby that would not be attributed to White and MI5. Readers should recall that White had communicated his intention to mislead Lamphere and the FBI as early as May 25, the day that Burgess and Maclean disappeared, and that his representative in Washington, Geoffrey Harrison, acknowledged the scheme four days later. The purpose of this month’s bulletin, in the context of my exchange with Mr. Even-Shoshan, is to focus on Dick White’s character, motivations, and abilities as reflected in his very deceptive and discreditable performance in 1951, and to draw long-term conclusions about MI5’s failures in counter-espionage.

I have just re-read those posts of five years ago, and I would hardly change a word. My findings since have only reinforced the conclusions I made then, adding further evidence to support the hypotheses of Dick White’s misplaced ingenuity, and of Lamphere’s conspiratorial support. What I did not cover at the time were the exact circumstances behind the material that Martin released to Lamphere of the FBI when he and Sillitoe visited Washington in June 1951, where that information came from, why some highly confidential facts about Krivitsky were included, why the reaction of the FBI concerning Krivitsky seemed so passive at the time, or why the exact role of the CIA’s Bill Harvey has since been obscured. One major fresh consideration to be taken into account, however, is my recent conclusion that Philby had made a false renunciation of his communist allegiances to MI6 in 1939, just before the Krivitsky interrogations. In my opinion MI5 and MI6 would therefore, in 1951, have had additional reasons for being on guard against possibly traitorous behaviour from Kim and Litzy. The details of White’s plotting come into sharper focus because of the events of 1939.

Milicent Bagot’s Dossier

The MacGuffin in the plot is the dossier prepared by Milicent Bagot at the request of Dick White. While White claimed to his biographer that this was compiled only after Martin and Sillitoe returned from Washington, it is obvious that Martin took it with him to show to the FBI agent Robert Lamphere. And White must not simply have asked for a general trawl to see what could be found: he must have been very familiar with the Philby file where everything relating to its subject had been collected. A very telling detail is released in The Perfect English Spy, Tom Bower’s biography of White, where Jane Archer (who was assisting Bagot on the project, having recently returned to MI5 after her spell under Philby in MI6) is shown to contribute a breakthrough finding. White misleadingly presents its timing as occurring after his interrogations of Philby in June 1951. The passage runs as follows (and was provided to Bower by a confidential insider at MI5):

            Shortly after that encounter, White immersed himself in the research prepared by Arthur Martin and Jane Archer about Philby’s past. For the first time, Archer produced a thin MI5 file compiled in 1939 and then forgotten. A report contrasting Philby’s communist sympathies at Cambridge and his sudden espousal of fascism made a deep impression. Alongside was Philby’s own résumé. One coincidence was interesting. Philby mentioned his employment by The Times covering the Spanish civil war. Krivitsky had claimed that among the Soviet agents he controlled from Barcelona was one unnamed English journalist.

Now the significance of this sparkling item from a file that was by then – contrary to how White characterized it – quite thick may not come as a shock to any dedicated coldspur reader, but to the uninitiated, it should have sent out some shrill warning signals. What was Philby doing in 1939, providing details of his career to MI5, and even admitting to his role as a journalist working in Spain? Why was he providing a résumé when he was not being interviewed for a job with MI5? The submission of this data to his file occurred just before Krivitsky arrived in the UK: how could it happen that MI5 failed to follow up at all and make the obvious connection? The reasons for this paradox appear to have eluded all the other historians. Yet the facts fit in perfectly with my theory that, in September 1939, Philby concluded a deal with MI6 and MI5 whereby he admitted his past career working for the Comintern, but agreed to switch back his allegiances to his fatherland, and bring along Litzy with him, while they would both pretend to be working for the Soviets still. In such circumstances, MI5 and MI6 would acknowledge Philby’s journalist role in Spain, but they would forgive it as a youthful mistake.

The reference to Krivitsky is very poignant, since an even more prominent hint was dropped by the defector about ‘the Imperial Council spy’. The placement of these two items by Jane Archer (who wrote the summary back in 1940) is fascinating, and significant in the light of future events: the description of the Imperial Council leakage appears prominently in the Appendix to Chapter 2, concerning OGPU agents in the Foreign Office and Diplomatic Service. Archer qualifies Krivitsky’s suggestion that the candidate attended Eton and Oxford by adding that Krivitsky conceded that he might have got those details wrong. The item about the ‘young Englishman, however, ‘a journalist of good family, and idealist and fanatical anti-Nazi’ recruited by Theodore Maly to assassinate Franco, appears only as a marginal note under Maly’s entry in the list of Soviet Agents mentioned by Krivitsky. It could well have been overlooked by the casual reader – but not by the experts.

I here re-present the seven points in the package delivered by Arthur Martin to Lamphere, as they appeared in my April 2019 bulletin:

  1. Maclean, Burgess and Philby had all been communists at Cambridge
  2. Philby had become pro-German to build his cover story
  3. Philby had married the communist Litzi Friedman
  4. Krivitsky had pointed to a journalist in Spain (who was in fact Philby)
  5. Philby was involved in the Volkov affair
  6. Philby was involved in infiltrating Georgian agents into Armenia
  7. Philby was suspected of assisting in the disappearance of Burgess and Maclean.

What is important to note is that most of this list was prepared before Maclean had been officially identified as the ‘Imperial Council spy’, and thence as HOMER. (Item 7 clearly had to have been added after the May 25 debacle.) Yet that conclusion had not been communicated to the FBI, and the relevant datum is not included in the list, which focuses sharply on Philby. Armed with it, Martin flew out to Washington at the same time that Philby was returning to London on his recall.

The Strange Reactions of Robert Lamphere

Robert Lamphere

One puzzling aspect of Lamphere’s account of the briefing is the fact that it is not absolutely clear that all that he describes (on pages 232-237 of The FBI-KGB War) derives from the memoranda that Martin brought with him. The dominant impression given in his narrative was that the whole cavalcade of facts concerning the careers of Maclean, Burgess and Philby came from Martin at that time, but he also hints that he fleshed out his story with information learned since then. (His book came out in 1986.) What he wrote is not precise:

            The memoranda that Martin gave to me outlined the lives of all three men as they were then known to MI-5. Over the years since 1951, many details have been added to the portraits of Burgess, Maclean and Philby, but the basic facts of their lives remain substantially the same as when I first learned the details that June.

Thus we cannot be sure how much of what Lamphere reports thereafter derives from the Martin memoranda, and what is later embellishment – or even correction.

In any event, it is salutary to compare his description of how the revelations occurred with that of White. Lamphere described Martin’s visit by recording his own remonstrations about MI5’s lack of honesty over its closing in on Maclean, and then by emphasizing his own suspicions about Philby in the Burgess-Maclean disappearances. The exchange went as follows:

            “That makes it doubly hard for me to admit all this. However, I have for you now several memoranda which go into the background of Burgess and Maclean.”

            “Where does Philby fit in? Burgess was living with him.”

            Somewhat relieved, Martin replied, “Most of what I have to tell you relates to Philby. We now have the gravest suspicions about him.” (The FBI-KGB Wars, p 232)

This strikes me as stilted and artificial. Why, when being offered some surely intriguing morsels about Burgess and Maclean, would Lamphere sharply switch the subject to Philby? And why, if Martin was planning to divulge some critical information about Philby anyway, would he be ‘relieved’ that Lamphere brought the subject up?

Dick White presented it otherwise to his biographer. After reporting how Sillitoe and Martin had experienced their awkward interview with Hoover, in which Hoover ranted most of the time, Bower’s narrative runs as follows:

            Arthur Martin’s subsequent conversations with FBI officers, especially Lamphere, were focused upon Burgess. As recollections of the antipathy and outrage they had felt towards the dishevelled diplomat were rekindled, the Americans recalled that that his host, Kim Philby, had been remarkably supportive of him. (The Perfect English Spy, pp 120-121)

Again, this is a strained path of logic, contradicting what Lamphere wrote. In any event, Philby’s behaviour towards Burgess might have been caused by natural loyalty. Burgess had been shown to be a boor, but there had been no evidence that he was a spy. If he had been, and Philby did not know about it, he would have supported him. On the other hand, if Philby were guilty, too, one might have expected him to distance himself. The two accounts are certainly at variance, even though both of them attempt to show a natural progression for the discussion switching rapidly to Philby.

Yet other passages are more precise. For example, Lamphere devotes a paragraph to the Krivitsky affair, although he does get the date of the interrogations wrong, and he inserts an ‘as you’ll recall’ to the reader, suggesting that some of what he writes about is information imparted earlier. He then highlights the claims that Krivitsky made about two agents: one ‘a Scotsman of good family who had been educated at Oxford and Eton’ – erroneous in detail, of course, and corrected by Lamphere in his text; and the other ‘a journalist, a man who had been with the Franco forces during the recent Civil War’. And he cites, as the fourth of the ‘Seven Points’ the fact of Krivitsky’s referring to the journalist in Spain, and that it had been used as one of the arguments pointing suspicion at Philby.

Yet what astonishes me is Lamphere’s reaction. His first (and only) impulse is to express the wish that he would have liked to interrogate Philby on all these matters. (He was unable to, primarily because Philby had already been recalled to England, but the spy would obviously not have agreed to be ‘interrogated’ by a foreign intelligence officer.) If, as Lamphere claimed, this was the first occasion when he had learned of the political leanings and disloyalties of those three prominent persons, one would have expected him to have expostulated, and demanded to know how long the British had known those facts. His passivity is inexplicable: he must have been confided in already. Moreover, it would have been scandalous for MI5 to have passed across highly incendiary documents to a foreign power without very tight safeguards. The whole process had been set up.

Moreover, Lamphere appears utterly unimpressed with the factoid concerning the journalist. One might have expected him, if had encountered the Spanish reference beforehand, to declaim: “What? You can now associate the journalist in Spain with Kim Philby? When did you achieve that?” Yet he is totally unsurprised. And what he did not do was to request a copy of the complete report on Krivitsky, which would appear to have been a much more sensible and professional response. After all, Krivitsky was well-known in the USA, had given evidence to a congressional committee, had published a book, and had been assassinated (almost certainly) some time after his return. Would not any smart, inquisitive intelligence officer have wanted to inspect the primary source material? Is it possible that Martin had brought a copy of the full report with him?

I thought it unlikely. The report was a bulky one. Lamphere refers only to ‘memoranda’. If he had seen the full report, one would expect that he would have written about it. By 1986, its contents of were public knowledge. Gary Kern, in his superb study of Krivitsky, A Death in Washington, credits Gordon Brook-Shepherd with breaking the news about Krivitsky in his Storm Petrels, published in 1977, in which he gave a full account. Brook-Shepherd had clearly been given access to the Krivitsky file by MI5, and authorization to write his book, in an attempt to reverse recent Soviet propaganda claims. It is true that the report (or at least a summary of it) had been circulated to government offices in 1940 by Vernon Kell, as Kern relates, and as I explained in Misdefending the Realm, including the Home Office, where the spy Jenifer Hart saw it. Yet that meant that the beneficiaries would have been the Soviets, not the Americans, and if anyone had passed it on across the Atlantic, I concluded that the revelations would surely have prompted questions well before 1951.

Deeper Implications

On the other hand, why did White, after requesting Milicent Bagot to create the dossier on Philby, and presenting it to Martin to pass on to the FBI (without the knowledge of White’s boss, Percy Sillitoe), include such a provocative and incriminating lead in the package? After all, even if the FBI/CIA had learned through some clandestine source about the tip concerning a journalist in Spain, they probably never knew that Philby fitted that profile, and thus would not have made the connection! True, it might add another brick to the rapidly growing structure of evidence against Philby, but, at the same time, the disclosure opened up the possibility of serious accusations being laid against MI5. If the Security Service had had this factoid in their hands since 1940, why had it not been able to follow up the lead, and identify Philby? There could not have been that many British journalists working closely with Franco in Spain in 1937 – certainly fewer than the number of diplomats who might have had access to confidential material in the British Embassy in 1944-1945 . . .

Either White was behaving remarkably stupidly, or he had come to an agreement with his American counterparts already, or he was trying on a risky bluff.  In any case, he received the reaction he wanted. When Lamphere passed on the memoranda to his ex-colleague Bill Harvey, now in the CIA – an action incidentally not recorded by Lamphere, who grants Harvey and Bedell Smith the perspicacity of coming up with the same conclusions independently – Harvey latched on to items 3 and 5 on the list, namely the fact that Philby had married a known Soviet agent Litzi Friedmann, and the circumstances of the Volkov affair. He also introduced the ELLI phenomenon originating from Gouzenko. The exposure of the Krivitsky hints, and the lack of follow-up, appeared to have been forgotten.

And then I recalled vaguely an item in the PEACH archive, from KV 6/142-2, and retrieved it. Serial 351A, dated April 9, 1951, consists of a letter written by MI5’s man in Washington, Geoffrey Patterson, to the Director-General (Sillitoe). The second paragraph runs:

When I visited Lamphere today he asked me casually whether we had ever given the F.B.I. a copy of Krivitsky’s statement about the source in the Foreign Office. I told him I did not know and that there was no copy in my office. He then told me he would make enquiries within the Bureau to see what they had. Patterson continued:

I think we can assume that Lamphere’s mind is running along parallel lines to our own and that it will not be long before he asks us which members of the Embassy fit in with Krivitsky’s description. By a process of elimination he will probably end up with the same conclusions as we have.

This was extraordinary! Lamphere worked for the FBI: why would he be referring to it as a separate entity? He himself was obviously familiar with the (perhaps partial) contents of the Krivitsky report already. He must have been shown it in confidence –  no doubt by a colleague in MI5, presumably Patterson. Yet, if had encountered the ‘journalist in Spain’ reference at this time, he would not have seen it as having any relevance to the HOMER investigation. Patterson in turn showed that he was familiar with the material, and that he had surely read the report (and not simply been informed of its contents), since he admitted that there was no copy in his office. He also showed that he thought it quite regular for Lamphere to be familiar with the report, perhaps carelessly forgetting that he had shared it with Lamphere confidentially, and betraying that fact to history. Why would Patterson not be surprised by the fact that Lamphere alone has knowledge not available to the rest of the FBI, and had not passed on the information to his colleagues, unless he and Lamphere were alone privy to the deal? The exchange is all very phony.

In addition, the irony of this episode lies in the fact that Patterson was then working closely with Philby to try to determine who the spy in the Embassy was. Philby would have become aware of this exchange, and of the fact that Lamphere had access to a vital pointer to Maclean. He might thus have also suspected that Lamphere knew about the journalist in Spain, which could have been alarming. Was MI5 trying to put the wind up Philby, to draw him out? Philby knew that Maclean was HOMER, of course, and the current hunch of the British cross-Atlantic team was that Maclean was indeed the prime suspect, with Gore-Booth an alternative. Indeed, Philby pushed the latter theory: Gore-Booth had the unfortunate qualifications of having attended Eton and Oxford, which temporarily placed him Number 1 on the charts in the Foreign Office assessments. Yet MI5 and the Foreign Office did not want to let the Americans know of their conclusions before they were ready to move, and they also did not want the Americans to work it out themselves.

At this time, the British were making careful comparisons between Krivitsky’s description of the ‘Imperial Council Spy’ and Maclean.  Was the FBI following similar leads, with inferior information? No result of Lamphere’s investigations has survived, but on April 18, a remarkable letter from Arthur Martin of B2b (yes, him of the FEABRE/HONIGMANN/TUDOR-HART saga) to Patterson appears on file. A critical paragraph runs:

            I don’t think we need worry unduly about the F.B.I request for a copy of Krivitsky’s statement. In fact they received from us, through S.I.S., an expurgated version of what KRIVITSKY said which omitted any reference to the “Imperial Council” source. However, they would undoubtedly have heard of this source from Don LEVINE who, you will remember, ‘ghosted’ KRIVITSKY’s book and would almost certainly have received this information during his conversations with KRIVITSKY. If the F.B.I. raise the subject again I think you should simply feign complete ignorance but if they press hard agree to refer the request to me.

This note reflects the fact that, at a meeting in London on April 17, Dick White had reported that the FBI had asked for a fuller [sic] version of the Krivitsky material. Lamphere had presumably followed up, discovered that the Bureau had located its expurgated copy, and was now requesting the full Monty.

What to make of all this?

  • MI6, whenever they forwarded the Krivitsky report to the FBI, had obviously been sensitive and embarrassed enough about Krivitsky’s references to the ‘Imperial Council’ source to want to conceal the information. (What else did they hide, one wonders? And did they redact it in a noticeable fashion, or merely re-present the harmless sections?)
  • Unless Lamphere was dissembling, he was in April unaware that anyone in the FBI had seen the report. And maybe it had been buried and forgotten: certainly he had not been able to rely on his bosses to share its contents with him.
  • On the other hand, Lamphere had been confided in by MI5 to the extent that he knew about (some of, maybe all) the expurgated sections, but had apparently withheld the nature of this confidential statement from his colleagues in the FBI. That explains his lack of interest in seeing the whole report, and instead his expressed desire to interrogate Philby.
  • Martin (as is habitual) had been kept in the dark. He failed to distinguish between the FBI in general, and Lamphere in particular, and somehow thought that Patterson, if pressed, would be able to feign ignorance if Lamphere were to raise the topic of the ‘Imperial Spy’ with him. This was despite the fact that Patterson’s earlier correspondence indicated irrefutably that he, Patterson, had discussed the topic with Lamphere.
  • Martin was again shown as being somewhat slow. He failed to detect the difference between the full Krivitsky material and the expurgated version, or to realize why the FBI might want to see the former.
  • Lamphere’s loyalties and sympathies would appear to have been as much with MI5 as they were with his employers, the FBI. (He bore some animosity to the chief of the FBI, Edgar J. Hoover.) Moreover, his first step when Martin arrived with the incriminating dossier was to leak it to his ex-FBI colleague, Bill Harvey, now working for the CIA. Yet he concealed this action in his memoir, and made no mention of Harvey’s report, or its introduction of ELLI. It strongly suggests that Lamphere was a party to White’s Devilish Plot.
  • Lamphere may even have been obstructing the official American inquiry, since memoranda on file indicate that he stated, as late as May 1, that he was still undecided as to whether the spy was British or American, and that he wanted attention spent on Halpern. This trend is reinforced by the fact that, as the FBI was reported to be heating up its inquiries, on May 7, the bureau was reported by Patterson to be ‘thinking in terms of HALPERN and FISHER’.
  • In his report to Bedell Smith condemning Philby, Harvey of the CIA focused on the Volkov affair, and Philby’s marriage to Litzy, while introducing the Gouzenko references to ELLI in place of inspection of the Krivitsky reference. That was probably because he could not have been expected to know about Krivitsky’s description of a journalist in Spain, let alone that that role could have been linked to Philby. In addition, it helped to distinguish his conclusions from what Martin had passed to Lamphere.
  • White’s gesture of help towards Bedell Smith may have arisen from his service with the General towards the end of the war. (White had been appointed deputy counter-intelligence adviser to Bedell Smith, then Eisenhower’s chief of staff.) Bedell Smith had rebuked White for openly opposing USA policy over counter-intelligence issues: at the time, White had not felt confident enough to hold his ground.
General Bedell Smith in Moscow

Yet the most dramatic conclusion must be the fact that some weeks before Burgess and Maclean disappeared, when Maclean had still not been solidly identified, when Burgess was officially not regarded as involved at all, and Philby was not only out of the picture but part of the team working on the leakage, MI5 had been preparing a dossier that essentially presented not just Maclean, but also Burgess and Philby, as long-term Soviet agents. (What information MI5 had gathered on Burgess, and what suspicions the service had about him at this time, are important questions – as some coldspur readers have pointed out – that will have to be deferred for analysis another time.)

White’s Predicament

It is no wonder that White attempted to present the sequence of events as markedly at variance with the facts. He had to pretend that the project of identifying Homer had focused on Maclean, and that MI5 had no suspicions that Burgess was involved – or even harboured any concerns about Philby’s involvement. He had to imply that the first accusations against Philby came from the CIA, and that Philby returned after the visit by Sillitoe and Martin. He had to conceal the mission undertaken by Martin to leak the dossier to Lamphere. He had to claim that it was only after Martin’s return from Washington that a proper investigation into Philby’s past was undertaken, and that, with Bagot’s help, a dossier was then created and passed to MI6’s chief, Stewart Menzies. As I have described elsewhere, White’s description of events, as relayed first to Andrew Boyle and then to his biographer, Tom Bower, is a tissue of lies. Moreover, it is as if Bower, who lists Lamphere’s book in his bibliography, and uses it in his endnotes, did not read it properly, since he fails to identify the contradictions, ignoring completely Lamphere’s account of how Arthur Martin passed him the detailed dossier. It is worthwhile here recapitulating – and slightly expanding – White’s version of events, as essentially displayed in Chapter 5 of A Perfect English Spy.

In the early days of the investigation after Burgess and Maclean absconded (May 28), MI5 was very much reliant on the testimony of Goronwy Rees, who had volunteered information about Guy Burgess, Burgess having left a message for Rees just before he disappeared. Even though Burgess was quickly confirmed as the person who had rented the Austin A40 left on the quay at Southampton, Dick White claimed to his biographer that he could not believe that Burgess had been an accomplice to Maclean. He said that he was astonished at Rees’s descriptions of Burgess’s past, even though Anthony Blunt, a close friend of Guy Liddell, had helpfully suggested that Burgess might have escaped with Maclean. This was all clumsy dissimulation, in light of the contents of the dossier compiled for Lamphere.

Yet, when White described the meetings between Arthur Martin and Lamphere, he indicated that the conversations were focused on Burgess. This is astonishing, as the main part of the dossier outlined by Lamphere – which White does not mention at all – concentrated on Philby. White attempted to explain this outcome by virtue of the fact that the Americans recalled that Philby had been very supportive of Burgess, and that their investigation therefore was re-directed at Philby. This was simply a clumsy effort by White to explain why the coming broadside from Washington was targetting Philby, when White himself had set up Lamphere & co. with the ammunition.

White went on to state that, soon after Sillitoe’s return to London (actually on June 18, alongside Martin, who had held his meetings without Sillitoe in attendance), ‘a long message arrived from Philby’ offering his thoughts about Burgess. That implies that Philby was still in Washington, but in truth he had already been recalled by Menzies, and he arrived the day after the departure from London of Martin and Sillitoe (on June 12). White would also have in mind another infamous message, suggesting that Maclean might be the guilty party, which Philby had sent on April 2 (see KV 6/142). Yet Philby wrote a further attempt to distract attention from himself on June 4, when he indeed wrote to Menzies about some of Burgess’s dubious habits, and his suspected Marxism. That must be the missive to which White was referring, although why a telegraphed message should have taken so long to arrive on White’s desk is highly questionable. His dating of its arrival serves to postpone the timing of Philby’s departure from the USA.

Thus White’s account of the process of interrogating Philby is mendacious. In his recollection, after the return of Sillitoe and Martin (undated, of course, but actually June 18) White approached Jock Sinclair of MI6, and convinced him that Philby would be of use in London in the inquiries. (Philby had already been in London for a week.) Jack Easton then sent a handwritten message to Philby warning him of an imminent recall – which was in no way ascribable to any misdemeanours. And only at that stage, according to White, did MI5 set to work, preparing for Philby’s return:

            Over the next few days, White and Martin diligently compiled a record of Philby’s work. There was the discovery that Philby’s first wife, Litzi Friedmann, was an Austrian communist. In 1946, White had been asked by SIS to check on Litzi after Philby had applied for permission to divorce his youthful transgression . . .

            There was also Philby’s handling of the Volkov defection in 1945. Konstantin Volkov’s offer to defect had been negotiated with John Reed, a first secretary at the British Embassy in Turkey. . . .

Bower notes without comment that no attempt was made to question Reed before Philby’s return from Washington. Of course, it is absurd to accept that MI5, having maintained a dossier on Philby, would acquaint itself with its contents only at this late stage of the game. If White, as he admitted, had been involved with the embarrassing business of Kim’s wanting a divorce from Litzy in the summer of 1946, when her background was well-known, how could he have suddenly ‘discovered’ those facts in 1951? All the work had already been performed for Martin’s and Lamphere’s benefit.

Next followed the interrogations. Easton had been provoked to have suspicions about Philby himself, but why Sinclair did not object strongly to the process, having been told that Philby’s recall was imply for amicable discussions, is not explored by Bower. White was not practiced in interrogation, and did not prepare himself properly: thus he failed to get any admission or confession out of his subject. Philby simply stuck to his guns, and refused to admit anything, or to concede any of White’s points, knowing that without a confession his accusers were powerless. There was a certain farcical aspect to the exchanges, however. As Philby and White jousted over the funding of Philby’s trip to Spain, White knew that the NKVD had been his paymaster, while Philby had to pretend otherwise in order to ward of Jack Easton, innocently attending the interrogations.

Irrespective of White’s mendacious account of the events, and the inability of his biographer to unravel its contradictions, a balance-sheet of White’s situation can be drawn up. On the credit side, Philby had been forced to resign; the FBI and CIA appeared not to be disturbed by the revelations, which could have rebounded harshly on White and MI5 generally; White’s devious tricks had not been picked up by Petrie or Liddell; his cohorts of Martin, Archer and Bagot kept their silence; hardly anyone outside the intelligence services would have ever heard of Philby; and Attlee and his administration were too consumed with other matters to want to stir up trouble with spies  On the debit side, MI6 was not unified in its attitude to Philby, with Sinclair, Vivian and Nicholas Elliott stoutly defending him, Easton supportive (until July, when he became a fierce critic), and Menzies forced to sit on the fence; the flurry of documents circulating could well have come to the attention of politicians who might ask why on earth MI5 had been so sluggish; Guy Liddell was pursuing the eponymously named PEACH inquiry into the possible misdemeanours  of Philby; the Foreign Office, in the guise of the Washington Security Officer, James Mackenzie, was also revisiting Philby’s behaviour in Washington; and Harvey in the CIA had resuscitated the spectre of ELLI, something White considered a dead issue by then, but one which could have opened a whole fresh disclosure of uncomfortable secrets concerning SOE and the Soviet Union from the war period.

Dick White surely hoped that things would blow over. But unconnected events suddenly changed the rules.

PEACH

After the interrogations, Dick White had reportedly submitted a report to Menzies constituting the case against Philby. It has not come to light. According to what White then told Andrew Boyle and Tom Bower, he then busied himself with an intense study of the connections and affiliations of the Cambridge graduates of the early 1930s, remorsefully admitting that MI5 had not been thorough enough. Yet he also complained that the establishment resented their digging around, and its members in influential places came to their friends’ defence. This was much of a sham show by White: he had had ample time to consider the facts back in 1939 and 1940, when Philby’s malfeasances had come to notice. Moreover, he still showed loyalty to Anthony Blunt, who had also been an Apostle at Cambridge, had visited the Soviet Union in 1934 with Burgess and (despite what Bower writes), had remained friends with him, and had maintained his communist opinions, as was evident when he was recruited by MI5 in 1940. That was an utterly naïve display by White.

MI5’s initial focus during the PEACH inquiry seemed to be on confirming that Philby had been a Soviet agent. Yet what did that mean? The Security Service had no evidence that he had passed on secrets of any kind: he was not trapped from VENONA decrypts. With the Foreign Office investigations, the attention appeared to shift smoothly to another domain: ascertaining whether Philby could have been the man who had alerted Maclean to the imminent interrogation, thus proving his guilt. This line of inquiry was flawed on three counts: the ability of Philby to gain up-to-date information, and then communicate with Maclean from Washington, must have been thin, to say the least; the interrogation was not imminent, but planned for a day a couple of weeks later; and, in principle, Philby might have wanted to save the skin of his friend without necessarily being employed by the NKGB. White and MI5 knew better, of course, but it was a politically more astute strategy to pursue the ‘Third Man’ angle.

White had tried to disqualify himself from the inquiry, on the grounds that ELLI and Volkov were not in his bailiwick – a rather feeble declaration. Thus the substance and the timing of his report are both very bizarre. During the summer (as I have explained elsewhere) matters started heating up, what with the CIA getting antsy again, and demanding more action, Liddell visiting the USA, and getting messages that he could not rationalize because of his exclusion from the plot, and the Foreign Office also stirring the pot afresh. When Liddell returned from leave in August and wrote that things were looking bleaker for Philby, it is not clear what he was referring to, and White’s report (not issued until the end of November) does not reflect any fresh discoveries – not even the quirky letter that reported that H. A. R. Philpott had indeed been a journalist in Spain in 1937. Why would such a spurious item be so prominently added to the archive at that late stage? Now that Jane Archer’s recovery has been publicized, it appears as a clumsy KGB-type spravka inserted in the file to give the impression that vague pointers to Philby in Spain surfaced only in the summer of 1951.

The Philpott Memorandum

Thus White’s report, presented without any fanfare or explanation in FCO 158/27 as being distributed on November 30, may have been a modest revision to what he submitted to Menzies back in June. The tone of the text suggests, however, that more serious investigations of material undertaken during the summer had strengthened the case that Philby was a Soviet agent, but the linkage between that assertion and the desirability of determining who had leaked information to Maclean before he escaped is never made clear. The report is in many ways a re-working of the ‘Seven Points’. It is, however, very superficial on the ties with Litzi.  It states that Philby did indeed go to Spain as a journalist (as had been declared to Lamphere back in June), but it does not explain how this information was derived. Without identifying the project itself, it adds the details of the VENONA decryption exercise, and the changes which the Soviets made in December 1949. It does not mention ELLI.

Yet it is also mendacious. White cites the Krivitsky testimony, noting that the plan to assassinate Franco ‘did not mature’, and then adds: ‘but Krivitsky says he is pretty certain that the “imperial council source”, namely Maclean, would have been amongst the friends of the young man sent to Spain’.  That is nonsense: moreover, Krivitsky was long dead by then, and the use of the present tense is incongruous. Krivitsky is not on record of saying any such thing (I am not sure what the original Russian for ‘pretty certain’ would have been), and there is no linkage between the two in the Krivitsky report. White goes on to repeat, several times, the vague assertion that Philby and Maclean must have been well acquainted, and he uses this claim to conclude that Philby was ‘the most likely person to have been responsible for alerting Maclean’.

The irony was that, even if Philby had managed to warn Maclean of the impending interrogation from afar in Washington, it would have been the least of his considerable sins. White and Menzies must have come to that conclusion, and dreaded what might come out of the woodwork. If only they could just shuffle him off quietly to the side, and hope the story died down  . . .

Enter ‘Buster’ Milmo

What upset their musings was the General Election in October, with Churchill’s Tories returning to replace the Attlee administration, and displaying a traditionally more robust response to the evidence of Soviet penetration. As I explained in my May 2023 piece, both Eden and Churchill were badly briefed, and Churchill, with typical impetuosity, insisted that Milmo’s interrogation of Philby be advanced a week, to December 12, only five days after Liddell had accompanied Sillitoe to listen to Eden’s fears about another scandal, and only two weeks after White’s document had been distributed. The main concern seemed to be that Philby would flee the country (one of the reasons why Churchill demanded haste): the belief was that a confession would be gained from Philby, although the implications of putting him in the dock were not clearly thought through. A vague desire of convincing the Americans that ‘we are resolute in clearing up Soviet espionage in the United Kingdom’ was expressed. What was not planned for was an outcome where Philby denied everything, and in which MI5 and the Foreign Office were left helpless in the stand-off.

Helenus Milmo, Q.C.

Milmo was given his instructions on December 3: he conducted his interrogation on December 12. During that time he studied a dossier (‘a very full one’, though how he knew that is not evident) prepared for him, no doubt by Arthur Martin. Again, I shall not repeat my analysis of Milmo’s report from last May: what intrigues me is the fresh evidence that he turned up – clearly not ‘fresh’ to him, as it must all have been new – but fresh in the sense that White had curiously avoided mentioning it. I listed seventeen items that MI5 had appeared to have dredged up during the summer, all of them relating to events before the outbreak of the war. The most startling are perhaps the details of Litzy’s movements in Europe between 1934 and 1937, and her banking arrangements. I find it impossible to believe that these items were discovered and prepared especially for Milmo’s benefit, considering the short time between his appointment and the interrogations. But neither do I think it likely that MI5 came up with these gems by trawling through previously arcane folders in the summer of 1951, or by making requests to the Immigration authorities about her movements. They must have all been in Philby’s Personal File, and they had been entered there at the time that the events occurred.

So why did Dick White appear unaware of them in his report? It is inconceivable that he was not familiar with the details. After all, he had reported to his biographer the item whereby Philby’s role as a journalist had been ‘discovered’ by Jane Archer – a nugget, by the way, that was noticeably absent from Milmo’s Appendix. First of all, his report must have been written some time beforehand, at a time when he thought matters were settling down, and surely not in the knowledge that Milmo was about to embark on another interrogation. Second, the report must have been pulled out to provide evidence that MI5 had been doing some kind of investigation, but it ran the risk of harming the reputation of White and the Security Service because of its shallowness. Yet the most provocative aspect of the dossier is that it closes in 1939, the time when Philby (as I claim) performed his deal with MI5 and MI6. The file no doubt moved into a ‘Y’ category with special security status at that time, and its contents were not made available to casual researchers in MI5. The intent was to show that Philby had been a careless and subversive operator in his early years, but that there was no evidence of any treacherous activity once war broke out.

The risks were enormous, however. Anyone reading Milmo’s Appendix should have expostulated: “You mean, you had all this information on Philby in the 1930s, and you still employed him in SOE and MI6, and promoted him to high positions, even head of Soviet counter-intelligence??”, and wondered why the routine checks were not made.  As I have explained before, it is documented that, on June 18, 1940, MI6 made a telephone inquiry to MI5, requesting a trace on Philby, but all the Security Service came up with was a record of his previous membership of the Anglo-German Fellowship.  (For example, the item on his role as a journalist in Franco’s Spain, matching the Krivitsky tip, was conveniently overlooked.)

Certainly, only a carefully doctored subset of Philby’s file would have been presented to Milmo for inspection. Milmo might have been presented with the specially crafted September evidence about Philpott the journalist in Spain, but assuredly not the original 1939 entry, so that it would appear that the Spanish connection was only a recent discovery. Yet, in his report, Milmo refers neither to the résumé information that Jane Archer ‘discovered’ nor to the dubious ‘Philpott’ memorandum, instead writing:

            There is no proof that PHILBY was in fact the agent referred to in the above statement but this information fits him like a glove and no the alternative candidate has been found.

The ‘above statement’ cites the phrase attributed to Krivitsky concerning his being ‘pretty certain’ about the friendship between the Imperial Council spy and the journalist, so it is clear that Milmo is merely parroting what White had written. He had had no time to undertake any original investigation: the dossier presented to him was not as ‘full’ as he supposed.

Nevertheless, White’s leaving it to Milmo (who worked for MI5 during the war) to come up with the documentation of all those telling stories is unfathomable. He should have been mortified that Milmo would be allowed to be the first to reveal some of the unpleasant secrets in the MI5 files. One can only assume that he had no choice, and matters were by then beyond his control. Alternatively, he would probably have claimed that he never would have had a chance of viewing the  records that Arthur Martin and Jane Archer managed to dredge up from the vaults for Milmo’s benefit. Yet he must also have figured that, if someone were incisive enough to question MI5’s thoroughness in this respect, the matter would come back to rebound primarily on Menzies. Menzies and White knew the score, were both party to the confession and deal that Philby engineered, and protected each other, but no one in authority was smart enough to challenge them.

‘The Imperfect English Counter-Espionage Officer’

‘For he himself has said it,

And it’s greatly to his credit,

That he is an Englishman!’ (W.S. Gilbert, HMS Pinafore)

I have previously pointed out that The Perfect English Spy was one of the worst-selected titles for an intelligence biography. Dick White scored one out of three: he was indisputably English. But he was primarily a counter-espionage officer, not a spy. And his performance was frequently poor.  Whatever native intelligence he possessed was too often directed at schemes to confound his rivals and allies rather than towards thinking strategically about the enduring enemy. White was treading very dangerous ground, but he must have calculated that no archival material would be released in his lifetime to undermine his account of what happened. In that respect, he was right, but a more careful analysis by his biographer should have pointed out the contradictions.

Mr. Even-Shoshan is nevertheless correct: few of the errors of 1940 can be laid directly at White’s door. After the opportunity that Krivitsky placed before MI5, the service was in confusion. Jane Archer was pushed aside in bizarre circumstances. Vernon Kell was overwhelmed by the illusory German ‘Fifth Column’ crisis, and then deposed. Liddell was ineffectual. Churchill’s Security Executive caused demoralization. The implications of Krivitsky’s death in Washington were overlooked. Petrie came in to restore order, but completely mismanaged the Soviet counter-espionage effort during the war. It was delegated to the unimaginative Hollis, who was charged with keeping an eye on the Party. Others who spoke up about the Communist threat (Harker, Curry, Knight) did not have enough clout, and were not leadership material. By 1945, when White took over B Section, most of the damage was done.

At the outset of war, however, White had been quickly introduced to some of MI5’s major projects. He had opportunities to break through, and shine, but was at that time guileless, too ingenuous. He was present at some Krivitsky interrogations, but he did not trust the defector since he himself lacked appreciation for the cunning and dissimulation essential for spycraft, and he thus classified all Krivitsky’s pointers as worthless. In dealing with Whitehall over the double-cross operation, White decided to be deferential, and that behaviour let him down when he tried to criticize Beaverbrook’s policy for hiring communists. Indeed, Roger Hollis (who had not completed his degree course at Oxford) was more forceful than White over the communist threat. Bower writes that White’s attitude towards communism at that time was ‘benign’. White never raised any objections to Smolka’s employment: he admitted that communist penetration was a side-issue. When Percy Sillitoe was appointed Director-General after the war, and White took over the counter-espionage B Division from Liddell, Hollis remained more hawkish than White. Again, White kowtowed to Whitehall.

White had been the first graduate to be employed by MI5, which was significant, in that it represented a development away from Special Branch police officers and military men. Yet he did not possess a first-rate brain: he had gained only a second-class degree in history at Christ Church, Oxford, and had been assessed by his tutor as being a little slow to ‘get going’. Thus he was not a ‘don’ with a post-graduate degree: in fact he had been turned down for a university appointment. (His mentor at Christ Church, was another history don, John Masterman, who came to work for him during the war, and led the XX Committee). Moreover, White complained, when he belatedly tried to understand the mechanics and structure of Soviet subversion, that he was constantly thwarted by ‘the intellectuals’. On the other hand, he mixed well with the Oxford group – especially what was known as the Christ Church mafia:  Masterman, Gibert Ryle, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Charles Stuart, and Denys Page (MI5’s representative at Bletchley Park). Moreover, given his relationship with Blunt, this was a rather simplistic view of the world, and reflected a lack of toughness, of the keen curiosity that is essential for counter-intelligence work.

On the other hand, perhaps reflecting the mutual admiration society of Christ Church men, Trevor-Roper spoke highly of him:

            He was a true professional in his methods, but what we most admired was his intellectual lucidity, his equanimity, his unfailing sense of proportion and humour . . .  He believed that all problems are soluble by reason; and he never lost his balance.

That would be a positive assessment for a clubbable civil servant, yet what was required of someone prepared to confront the KGB were steelier qualities: greater cynicism and less optimism; an appreciation of the presence of the irrational and cruel. Dropping that ‘sense of proportion’ might have been a useful guardrail against Stalin’s evils. An echo of that assessment came from Kim Philby, who wrote to Trevor-Roper (in a letter dated April 30, 1968) that his survival from his interrogation had been gained courtesy of the ‘ineffective’ White, who was ‘pretty nondescript besides such colleagues as Liddell, Hart, Blunt, Rothschild and Masterman’.

As Tom Bower points out, there were some sour grapes behind that observation, and he points out that none of the officers named ‘would have been minded to lead the charge against Philby’. He is right: Liddell was cerebral, but lacked confidence and guts; Hart was a very meek and mixed-up personality; Blunt’s reputation for scholarship and clear-thinking was obviously blasted after his exposure; Rothschild was a devious and vainglorious character, with dubious motivations; Masterman was surely equipped to enjoy a quiet life, skillfully organizing the XX Committee. Trevor-Roper acknowledged Philby’s grudge and poorly disguised motivations in a tribute to White in Christ Church Report, 1993, where he disparaged Philby’s letter. Yet Philby was overall on the mark: White blew his opportunity.

As I indicated in my response to Mr. Even-Shoshan, I think the comparison should lie elsewhere.  In writing on what makes a good Intelligence Officer, in my piece from last December (https://coldspur.com/a-wintry-miscellany/ ), I wrote:

In conclusion, after reading the biography of J. L. Austin, I realized that it was a figure like him that MI5 (and MI6) desperately needed to coordinate intelligence about Soviet intentions and practice in all their aspects – Leninist and Stalinist doctrine, the Comintern and its successors, Moscow’s relationship with the CPGB, the role of spies, illegals and agents of influence, the use of propaganda and subversion. Austin’s capacity for hard work, his ability to learn, his excellent memory, his historical sense, his patience, his lack of sentimentality, and his synthetic abilities in interpretation all gave him an unmatched capability. Two heads of the CIA, Walter Bedell Smith and William Casey, were both highly impressed with Austin’s work, and tried to bring his disciplines to work in reforming the organization.

J. L. Austin

Thus Bedell Smith, for whom White had served in Germany at the end of the war, thought more highly of Austin. White had had an opportunity to bring his expertise to bear in the immediate post-war years, and to dedicate appropriate analysis to the warning signs. The intelligence concerning Blunt, Feabre, Honigmann, Smolka, Broda, Tudor-Hart, Nunn May, Philby (abetted by Gouzenko and Volkov), as well as Alexander Foote, and Ursula and Len Beurton, followed by the Fuchs case, should have formed a pattern. Yet, facing the unthinkable, he failed to grasp the nettle. He set about concentrating on cover-ups, saving his own career, helping to ensure the survival of MI5 by lying to his bosses, and then persuading Sillitoe in turn to lie to Attlee over the Fuchs business. Afterwards, he felt like resigning when severely rebuked by Sillitoe, yet was convinced by Liddell that he should soldier on, only then to betray Liddell in his quest for the top job. And then, later, when chief of MI6, he undermined his former service by encouraging rumours of Soviet penetration of MI5 – the ‘ELLI’ fiasco. It was a selfish and dishonourable end to his career.

So that is my conclusion about White: on the surface, a heartily good fellow who knew how to deal with Whitehall, but altogether too decent a chap to take on the monstrosities and wiles of Stalin. ‘The schoolmaster’, as Malcolm Muggeridge called him after hearing of his promotion to Director-General. True, he was not immediately responsible for the policies of Section B when he arrived in MI5. He soon had an opportunity to extend a fundamental influence, however, but he failed to do so. He was not comfortable speaking ‘truth to power’. He disbelieved the harsh truths from Krivitsky, but succumbed to the flattery and attention of Blunt. He showed some worldly wisdom, and was not without ingenuity himself, as his plot with the CIA demonstrates, but he quickly wove himself a tangled web which should have been impossible to escape. He did escape for a long time, however, and even received a bountiful biography, and accolades, which have positively enhanced his reputation. The crucial factor was that he was fortunate in that his political bosses were not very smart, either.

Postscript: The Lost Philby Chapters

As a result of another amiable email from a regular correspondent, I followed up a lead on the chapters of Philby’s autobiography that failed to be included in My Silent War. The writer drew my attention to a story published on-line by the BBC, at  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-67456282.   My informant went on to tell me that Philby’s widow had been trying to sell some of their possessions after the fall of the Soviet Union, yet, shortly before the auction was to take place, MI6 became rather nervous about what might be revealed, and persuaded the auction house to remove the more sensitive portions of the memoir. Money changed hands, and the censored material is now reportedly held in the MI6 vault.

From the photographs of the excerpts, I was able to determine that what was presented by the Spyscape Museum actually represented the extra two chapters that were published in The Private Life of Kim Philby, by Rufina Philby, assisted by Hayden Peake and Mikhail Lyubimov, published in 2000. They appear as ‘Autobiographical Reminiscences’ on pages 206 to 243: the first covers Philby’s early years, while the second starts with Philby’s arrival with his new bride in London in the spring of 1934, and describes his recruitment by Arnold Deutsch. So what might the withdrawn chapters have contained? It occurred to me that Philby’s time in Vienna was completely absent, and that he might well have written a chapter describing his experiences there – the revelation of which would have been very embarrassing for MI6.

I decided to contact Shari Kashani, Head of Collections and Curation at Spyscape. She was very helpful and appreciative. Portions of the two chapters had originally appeared in the Sunday Telegraph, in 1993: she very kindly sent me images of the extracts. But she (and Skyscape) did not even know that the two chapters had appeared in the Private Life book published in 2000! So we know that what Skyscape owns appears to correspond to what Rufina handed over. Yet, as I pointed out to her, it is odd that the memoir would jump from childhood reminiscences to London in 1934, without covering the tumultuous days in Vienna. I wrote to her:

                I find it all intriguing, because Philby’s memoir (My Silent War) is judged to have been written with the KGB looking over his shoulder, and is very unreliable. One might think that Philby would perhaps have tried to correct some false impressions, but the second chapter (concerning his recruitment) is probably just as unreliable. For example, he starts off by writing about his return by train via Berlin and Paris, but E. H. Cookridge, who knew him well in Vienna, wrote in his memoir that Kim and Litzy returned to the UK on a motorcycle . . .  The fact that he did not write about the controversial time in Vienna (that would have preceded this chapter) is also provocative.

Ms. Kashani replied:

            Thank you so much for sharing that very interesting information. When we purchased the memoir, it was specified that the work was unpublished, hence we didn’t know of its inclusion in Rufina’s memoir. You are correct – the work comprises 48 typewritten pages, and then additional pages of edits. Nevertheless, we are thrilled to have the memoir and its document holder as part of our collection, and very happy to know that the public have access to Philby’s words in this 2000 compilation. 

Finally, I informed her of the story of MI6’s intervention, and gently pointed out that Spyscape might have been misled over the exclusivity of the chapters the firm did buy (since they were unaware that they had been published in book form), and that it may also have purchased less than was originally described. She had confirmed to me that there were only 48 pages extant, which number matches that stated by Peake in his Introduction in the book. On the other hand, in an article in The New York Times of 1994 (‘Kim Philby and the Age of Paranoia’), Ron Rosenbaum described how he had been able to inspect the consignment of Philbyana received from Moscow when he visited Sotheby’s, and that among the papers he discovered the unfinished biography. “Five [sic!] chapters in manuscript pages whose publication the K.G.B. had apparently prohibited”, he wrote. This was apparently news that Spyscape did not want to hear, as she did not respond to my comments: her previously very affable communications ceased over two months ago. She and her bosses were presumably no longer ‘thrilled’. In a way, I was sorry to detect her chagrin, but I had hoped she might follow-up my lead more aggressively.

So it seems there exist two chapters as yet unpublished. Can anyone out there add anything else?

Late News: I have compiled Omnibus Editions of a) the demise of PROSPER, and b) recent bulletins on Kim Philby, that can both be inspected via the Reports and Articles page at https://coldspur.com/reviews/.

(Latest Commonplace entries can be seen here.)

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Special Bulletin: ‘The Airmen Who Died Twice’ – Part 3

(This bulletin contains the third segment of my study of ‘The Airmen Who Died Twice’, which explains why two Soviet agents were carried on board a British Lancaster aircraft in September 1944, a flight that ended in disaster when the plane crashed into a hill in Norway. For the previous two segments, please turn to Part 1 and Part 2.)

The Lofotens

Chapter 5: Intelligence Manœuvres

The implications of co-operation between the RAF and the NKGB in infiltrating Soviet citizens with subversive objectives into a third country occupied by the enemy are highly significant. It is such a sensitive issue that one would have to conclude that one of Britain’s wartime intelligence organizations was involved. Admittedly, southern Norway was beyond the regular range where the Soviets were able to drop agents for intelligence purposes, but they would not have sought British assistance unless it were not a routine operation. It does not appear that they wanted to parachute in a spy or saboteur blind, without some sort of reception committee. Hence they must have been seeking help from British or British-trained contacts on the ground. Such a pattern is not unprecedented, but the utter lack of any reference, in the records of the RAF and the intelligence agencies, to the joint operation over Norway points not just to a highly clandestine operation, but also to a monumental embarrassment when it ended so dismally and tragically.

The two institutions that maintained networks in countries occupied by the Nazis were the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, sometimes known as MI6). The first was essentially a sabotage organization, a civil unit reporting to the Ministry of Political Warfare, although many of its leaders were military men. It had been created by Winston Churchill in 1940, specifically to cause havoc behind enemy lines. SIS, on the other hand, was an intelligence-gathering service with some history that worked more by stealth. It resented SOE’s very existence, since the business of sabotage tended to draw the attention of the enemy, while the agents of SIS worked as quietly as possible. Moreover, the fact that SOE had agents in the field meant that they were also a provider of intelligence. Claude Dansey, the assistant chief of SIS, made it his mission to undermine SOE whenever he could.

Hugh Dalton

SOE had an occasionally very strained relationship with the governments-in-exile of the countries where they built their networks. Hugh Dalton, the first minister responsible for SOE, was a socialist who viewed the mission of his organization to enhance the possibility of implementing socialist ‘revolutions’ throughout Europe after the Nazi foe had been defeated. Such a strategy was anathema to most governments-in-exile which, composed of members of the pre-war ruling class, hoped to reinstall the previous form of government, and its attendant privileges, after the war. In addition, Dalton was a notorious showman, who misrepresented SOE’s achievements in Norway, and over-promised to Churchill what the section could achieve. In turn, Churchill, ever the romantic, in February 1942 told the Norwegian government-in-exile that Norway would be the first country to be liberated – a foolish claim.

On the ground, however, much of the strongest resistance to the fascists came from underground communist groups, who had suspended their disgust when the Nazi-Soviet pact occurred. After June 1941, when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, and Stalin’s dictatorship became an ally of the western democracies, these cells renewed their vigorous ambitions for proper (not Daltonian) revolution. A pattern across Europe occurred whereby weapons and supplies dropped by parachute, intended for patriot forces, frequently ended up in units taking orders from Stalin. The perennial problem with SOE was that its strategy was apparently to prepare patriot armies for the coming arrival of British troops, but that event often took years in the making, or never happened at all, which was damaging to morale. Moreover, there was a permanent risk of arms caches being discovered by the Germans, or simply falling into disrepair. SOE’s management of expectations was poor, to say the least.

Frank Foley

This pattern repeated itself in Norway. Before the war, the SIS station in Oslo reported through Stockholm, but after some embarrassing events in Sweden, Frank Foley (who had been posted to Oslo in September 1939) returned to London in early 1940, and was put in charge of the whole of Scandinavia and the Low Countries. The Royal Navy soon made demands on SIS for intelligence on German naval movements along the coast. The arrival of SOE agents complicated matters, however: Norway was too thinly populated for networks to remain isolated, and there were several clashes between the two organizations. Moreover, SOE initially worked independently of both the Norwegian government-in-exile, and of Milorg, the military arm of the Norwegian Home Front, which, despite its name, was more focused on the future liberation of the country than attention-drawing sabotage adventures. SOE kept clear of it, as it regarded its security as lax. Likewise, the small communist groups also stayed apart from Milorg. They criticized it for its passivity, and were less concerned about Nazi brutalities.

The Lofotens Raid

Thus some harsh lessons were learned. The reprisals after the Lofotens raid of December 1941 triggered Norwegian animosity to SOE, which led to the establishment of a Joint Anglo-Norwegian Committee in London in February 1942. In January, a new SOE Norwegian section was split off from the Scandinavian unit, and the very pragmatic John Wilson had been appointed its head. Yet it took time for the Committee to exert any influence. In April 1942, mismanaged landings at the community of Telavåg, involving mis-steps by both MI6 and SOE in which two Gestapo officers were killed, led to fearsome reprisals. SOE accordingly made contact with Milorg in September of that year, in a spirit of collaboration. It took the first major operation undertaken by SOE and Combined Operations forces (commandos), the November 1942 attempt to land gliders in an attack on the Vermork heavy-water plant, to change policy. The assault was a disaster. The participants were executed: severe reprisals on the civilian population followed. Both Milorg and the government in London were horrified, and their disgust led to a more cautious approach to sabotage. The eventual sinking, in February 1944, of the steamer carrying heavy water on Lake Tinnsjo bolstered SOE’s reputation, but twenty-six persons were drowned in the process.

Reprisals after Telavag
Norsk Hydro, Vermork

1943 was a transition year. After Milorg had supported, in April, an attack by the communist Sunde’s group on labour offices in Oslo, the government in exile called it to stop collaborating with communist organizations. In May, at a conference in Sweden, Milorg agreed that its future activities would be determined by the Allied Supreme Command, and that its mission would be to prepare for liberation. Norway had a role to play in diversionary exercises away from the main European theatre (Operation TINDALL, as part of the COCKADE deception plan), and some weaponry was parachuted in for the Norwegian resistance. Yet SOE itself suffered a major setback that autumn, when the infiltration of its Dutch and French circuits was discovered by the Chiefs of Staff. SOE survived (thanks to Churchill’s intervention), but was put under military control, the Norwegian Section of SOE coming under Special Forces Headquarters in May 1944. Soon afterwards General Eisenhower sent out a stern message to the Norwegians that, in the wake of the Normandy landings, no national uprising should take place, as the Allies had no immediate plans to invade their country. A predictable lowering of morale ensued, and, in recompense, some steady carefully-targeted sabotage operations were encouraged.

The early months of 1944 had created a new climate, however. In February, the Foreign Office reported that uncontrolled sabotage by the Communists was increasing, sometimes with the aid of arms supplied by SOE. That was not part of the plan. In May, the Germans tried to press-gang Norwegian workers for work in the Reich, and hundreds of youths fled to the mountains, thus creating a kind of Norwegian ‘maquis’. An unuathorized but efficient group known as the ‘Oslo Gang’ reached a peak of sabotage activity in August. On August 17, Milorg executed a very damaging operation in which an oil storage depot at Son, on the Oslofjord, was exploded. More serious plans for guerrilla attacks were forged, and in May 1944, four sites were identified for the congregation of partisans, one of which was at Elg, north-west of Oslo – a few miles from Nesbyen, the site of the crash. Two men parachuted into Elg on August 31, 1944, and over a hundred men assembled there, with weapons and food stockpiled. That same month Jens Hauge, the head of Milorg, had travelled to London for four weeks of consultations with SOE, Army chiefs, the Ministry of Economic Warfare, and the Norwegian government-in-exile, and he crossed back into Norway from Sweden.

Meanwhile, SIS in Sweden had been experiencing its own tribulations. The Admiralty applied pressure on the organization to provide intelligence on Kirkenes, on the Norway/Russia border, which led to a catastrophic joint project with the Soviets, where two SIS agents were flown into an airbase in August 1942. Instead of parachuting them in promptly, however, the Russians held them for two months, and then dropped them, improperly equipped, into Finland rather than Norway. They were captured, handed over to the Germans, and shot. Soon afterwards, the hapless head of station John Martin was replaced by the Russian-speaking Cyril Cheshire, but the lessons from trying to collaborate with the Soviets on clandestine operations appeared not to have been passed on, and properly internalized.

Improbably, the closest cooperation between SOE and SIS occurred within the section of SOE that worked in the Soviet Union. At the end of 1941, an exchange of missions between London and Moscow had been set up, with an old WWI Russia veteran George Hill appointed as leader. He took a small group with him to start negotiating with the NKVD on shared sabotage endeavours, while the obdurate Colonel Chichaev took up a corresponding post in London. The whole project was highly controversial, since the Soviets wanted SOE help in parachuting agents into Western Europe, which was out of reach of their aircraft. The governments-in-exile would have had a fit if they had known that a British intelligence unit was abetting a potential Communist revolution in their home countries. Moreover, the Foreign Office – quite enthusiastic about ‘co-operating’ with Soviet diplomats – was alarmed at the prospect of collaboration with Communists in more murky quarters.

As it turned out, the operation (named PICKAXE) was for many reasons a disaster, and incriminations started to flow both ways. Collaboration was called off in practical terms by early 1944. Yet by then, the SOE mission in Moscow had been badly abused by the NKGB (as the NKVD became). Hill had probably been appointed by Menzies, the head of SIS, and he represented both SIS and SOE in some of his agent management roles. Unfortunately his cipher-clerk, George Graham (who was of Russian aristocratic birth), allowed himself to be suborned by NKGB intrigues, with the result that Soviet intelligence gained access to SIS codes and cyphers. How that helped Stalin in his preparation for Yalta is an untold story.

A further group in the drama was the 30 Mission, a British military unit sent out to Moscow in 1941, charged with exchanging military intelligence as a way of improving Allied combat against the Nazis. This was another troubled enterprise, since the officers who went there mostly returned in disgust after a short spell, frustrated by Soviet obtuseness and secrecy. Its negotiations had to take place via contacts in a department of the NKGB, and its direct exchanges with the Red Army (and even more so, the Air Force, which was subsidiary to the Army and Navy) were few and constrained. With the Arctic Convoys playing a large role in sustaining the Soviet Union’s goodwill, and ability to counter the Wehrmacht, a large body of sailors and other men was required in Murmansk, a presence that alarmed the NKGB, for fear of ideological infection of the local populace. 30 Mission was the hub through which all the problems and challenges had to be routed: General Martel, and his successor, General Burrows, tried vainly to make the Soviets see reason, and concluded that resolution and hard bargaining produced better results than attempts to please their reluctant hosts.

Voskresenskaya-Rybkina

Last but not least was the offensive arm of the NKVD/NKGB. In July 1941, after Barbarossa, Pavel Sudoplatov was appointed director of the Administration of Special Tasks, charged with sabotage and political assassination abroad. (Sudoplatov had been overall responsible for the murder of Leon Trotsky in 1940.) One of his closest associates was a woman called Zoya Voskresenskaya, also known as Rybkina, via marriage, and as a working alias, Madam Yartseva. Rybkina was sent by Sudoplatov to Stockholm, ostensibly as the press attaché to the Ambassador, Alexandra Kollontai, but in fact as the head of the NKVD station, which exercised a firm control over the activities of all the staff. Her husband, who went by Boris Yartsev as a junior diplomatic official in Stockholm, returned to Moscow in 1943, was present at Yalta, and met his death in Czechoslovakia, in 1947, in one of those mysterious car crashes that prematurely took the lives of intelligence officers who fell out of favour.

In his memoirs, Sudoplatov wrote glowingly about his protegée, who had actually been his handler in Helsinki at the beginning of his career. In 1942, Sudoplatov was also put in charge of collecting information about atomic weaponry, and agents working for Rybkina in Sweden gained information from Lisa Meitner, who had discovered fission with her nephew, Otto Frisch. Sudoplatov claimed that the British knew about the NKGB’s networks in Sweden, and that they were collaborating with the Soviets on joint sabotage operations in Europe. Like many agents who worked under Beria, she was purged (but not imprisoned or killed) after Beria’s own execution.

The deHavilland Mosquito

Yet the most remarkable aspect of Rybkina’s possible contribution to this story is the journey she made to the United Kingdom in February 1944. The VENONA transcripts inform us that Vasily Razin, the First Secretary at the Stockholm Legation, informed Lt.-General Pavel Fitin, the head of the Foreign Intelligence Directorate in Moscow, that IRINA (Rybkina) had successfully arrived in England, by air, on February 6. This flight was operated as part of the so-called ‘ball-bearing’ run, almost certainly deploying a modified Mosquito. It was actually run by the Norwegian Air Force, but under civilian registration, with crews wearing BOAC uniforms and carrying British passports. It was a harrowing and dangerous experience: there was room for only one clandestine passenger, in the bomb-bay. Niels Bohr, the atomic scientist, was one beneficiary, and almost died from lack of oxygen.

The Mosquito Bomb-bay

Why permission should be granted to a known Soviet intelligence agent to take advantage of such a facility is mysterious, and can only point to some very high-level and secret negotiations. What is more, soon after Rybkina arrived, Colonel Chichaev had a private meeting with Colin Gubbins of SOE, a record of which may never have been made. Whether these events were related to the sudden movements in August, 1944, when Colonel Burrows of 30 Mission was recalled to London, his opposite number in the NKGB, General Slavin, disappeared abroad on some unspecified business, Jens Hauge, the head of Milorg, also travelled to London to meet with SOE officers, and two SOE agents were parachuted into the mountainous country north-west of Oslo, is still a matter of speculation. The coincidences are remarkable, yet the need for extreme secrecy over the negotiations with Stalin probably indicates that the particulars of the parachute drop were not on the agenda of the meetings.

Chapter 6: Stalin’s Organs

‘Smersh’ by Vadim Birstein

The rationale behind Stalin’s constant re-organization of his security apparatus is sometimes hard to unravel. In 1943, he separated some functions from the NKVD (The Peoples Commissariat for Internal Affairs) into a structure that had briefly existed in 1941, the NKGB (The People’s Commissariat for State Security). The latter was supposed to focus on the territories that had been briefly held between 1939 and 1941, and were shortly expected to return under Soviet rule, such as the Baltic States. But it lacked ample security forces. The NKVD had its foreign mission withdrawn, and concentrated on domestic affairs, such as surveillance of the citizenry, and management of the GULAG. At the same time, Stalin created a new body, SMERSH (‘Death to Spies!’), peeling off those cadres in the NKVD responsible for monitoring disaffection and cowardice in the armed forces. According to Pavel Sudoplatov, Stalin made this move to prevent his NKVD chief Lavrenty Beria from interfering with military promotions – and demotions.

SMERSH existed between April 1943 and May 1946. Its head was Viktor Abakumov, who, like many of Stalin’s security and intelligence chiefs, came to a grisly end. Yet, while its initial task was to root out corruption in the military, it soon took over a more aggressive role identifying and eliminating real or imagined opponents of the Soviet regime in newly conquered territories. Moreover, while the initial threat was identified as German infiltration of the armed forces, its innate suspicion of foreigners in general meant that it turned its attention on the presence of Allied forces on Soviet territory. Notably, supervision of the American air bases in Ukraine had become the responsibility of SMERSH, alongside keeping a close eye on the naval mission in Murmansk supporting the convoys, and on the short-lived presence of PARAVANE operational staff at Yagodnik.

Foreigners might not only be spies: they might also exert a pernicious influence on Soviet citizenry, and the records show that the organs assiduously kept a watch on any liaisons between Soviet citizens and members of the visiting armed forces and their support crews, and followed up with dire threats. Yet the war diaries of the PARAVANE operation do indeed show that some officers showed a more than casual interest in Soviet installations of technology, such as communications. The fact that such interest paled into insignificance against the wholesale theft of Western technology and ideas that the GRU (Military Intelligence) and the NKVD/NKGB had been undertaking for years was irrelevant to the earnestness of SMERSH’s hunt to extirpate any such activity.

Mikhail Ryumin

A SMERSH officer submitted a report on the PARAVANE operation on October 6, 1944, casting doubts on the true motives of the RAF members who led it. The report was probably written by a sadistic thug called Mikhail Ryumin, who was head of the Counter-Intelligence White Army Flotilla, reporting directly to Admiral Panteleyev in Archangel and Abakumov in Moscow. Ryumin had moved up the NKVD ranks by being a protégé of Nikolai Yezhov, the short-lived executor of Stalin’s most dreadful purges, but had survived after Yezhov’s execution. He was later a prime mover in the so-called ‘Doctors’ Plot’, a mirage of Jewish conspiracy conceived by Stalin, and he even denounced his boss, Abakumov. Stalin fired him for incompetence, however, and, after the dictator’s death, Beria had Ryumin arrested and executed.

Ryumin’s report shows that he had a hazy understanding of the PARAVANE mission, emphasizing the failure of the attack on the Tirpitz as a cover for the true objective of seeking information about Soviet military installations (“It can be concluded that under the pretext of the shuttle operation, the flight had an exclusively reconnaissance purpose.”). He refers to the loss of one Lancaster over Norwegian territory, but indicates mistakenly that the return flights were undertaking another bombing raid on the battleship. As evidence for his conclusions about ulterior purposes of the mission, he lists misleading data about the weight and explosive capacity of the Tallboy bomb, the pilots’ cancellations of call-signs on the radio, and an understatement of the number of officers and men who would be arriving (which was, in fact, justified).

The fact that he had been kept in the dark about the true circumstances surrounding the change of plan is shown by the fact that he attributes the haphazard landings at various airfields to a deliberate ploy by the RAF to determine the location, size, and condition of those same airfields. Of course, his report may have been crafted to show the appropriate communist diligence in disparaging the RAF’s failure to sink the Tirpitz, the objective of Operation PARAVANE. Its timing, moreover, could be significant: it was submitted to his boss, Abakumov, three days before the start of the so-called ‘Tolstoy’ Conference in Moscow, where Stalin hosted Churchill and Eden, and the notorious agreements about the carve-up of Europe were made without Roosevelt’s presence.

Group Captain McMullen

Yet some inappropriate nosing around was undertaken by some of the RAF contingent (see Chapter 3). Captain Abercrombie, who had joined the (military) 30 Mission in Moscow the previous April, sought permission to take photographs without constraints, and asked questions about the radio and power stations in Archangel. Ryumin also had negative things to say about a Lieutenant-Colonel Happen, who, after a request by Group Captain McMullen to travel via Moscow, Stalingrad and Tehran to Cairo been rejected, apparently made disparaging remarks and spread ‘anti-Soviet sentiments’. The fact was that the RAF members generally had good relations with their opposite numbers in the Soviet Naval Air Force, and probably said too much in unguarded moments. Such conversations were bound to be overheard by or reported to the SMERSH commissars embedded in the units. (An Appendix to the War Diary refers to ‘the sprinkling of N.K.V.D. personnel (male and female) to check that the interests of the Communist Party are not prejudiced’.) The Diary nevertheless expresses great appreciation of the support they received, especially from Colonel Loginov, who was Chief of Staff to the Commander of the Air Forces of the White Sea Flotilla, and McMullen wrote generous letters of thanks. These commendations (which may have been largely political) would have cut no ice with Ryumin.

Pavel Sudoplatov

One significant Soviet officer who was familiar with Ryumin (and had a low opinion of him) was Pavel Sudoplatov, who had been appointed head of the NKVD ‘Special Tasks’ unit in July 1941. Sudoplatov, who had engineered the assassination of Trotsky, was thus responsible for sabotage behind enemy lines, as well as further assassinations. He also took on a major role in handling disinformation exercises to fool the Germans about a potential anti-Soviet movement within the Soviet Union, as well as Operation MONASTERY, which aimed to penetrate the Abwehr’s intelligence network behind Soviet lines. Abakumov was jealous of Sudoplatov’s role, wanting it for himself, and challenged him in 1942 to turn over all radio deception games against the Germans to him. He was partially successful, but Sudoplatov kept the MONASTERY operation, as well as the COURIERS operation, which claimed the existence of an anti-Soviet faction within the Russian Orthodox Church. Thus the rivalries between Sudoplatov and Abakumov may have contributed to some mis-steps in the execution of the mission to Nesbyen.

The relevance of these connections is important in the PARAVANE story because of Sudoplatov’s relationship with the NKVD officer Zoya Voskresenskaya, also known as Rybkina, after her marriage to another NKVD officer. She had worked for Sudoplatov at the beginning of the war, planning sabotage, and training partisans, when she and her husband were suddenly sent to Stockholm, where she was appointed nominally the press attaché to the Ambassador, Alexandra Kollontai, and took up the name Yartseva. Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, a neutral country, was, like Portugal’s Lisbon, a nest of spies and intelligence-gathering, and it controlled through regular communication the Stalinist faction of the Norwegian Communist Party, as well as providing it with funds. Yartseva was actually the most important person in the Embassy, and was also responsible for controlling the receipt and transmission of all the intelligence coming from the Soviet Union’s Rote Kapelle network in Germany. (Ian Fleming’s Rosa Klebb was reputedly based on her.)

Voskresenskaya-Rybkina

Sudoplatov’s relationship with Yartseva went back many years, since she had actually been his controller in Finland in the early 1930s, and they stayed in close touch. Yartseva had more recently been involved with Sudoplatov’s COURIERS operation, controlling members of the clergy in Kalinin. Sudoplatov also claimed that Yartseva was part of his management team on the ENORMOZ (atomic weapons) project, but his version of events has been challenged by Western experts. Yet they did have another important colleague – Colonel Chichaev, the NKVD representative in London charged with liaising with SOE and its Russian section, and maybe even handling some of the NKVD’s nest of spies. Chichaev had spent time at the Stockholm Embassy in 1940, working with Yartseva.

These threads would come together as Stalin’s strategy for Scandinavia took shape. His ambitions were overall modest for neighbouring territories that were not to be occupied by the Red Army. Finland was problematic. It had a long border with the Soviet Union, and after losing a war in 1940 against the Communist regime – in which the Red Army was at first humiliated – the country had dangerously aligned itself with Nazi Germany, in the belief that Hitler would be the victor. While Stalin respected the Finns for their courage, he resolved to exploit them because of their support of the Fascists rather than waste military forces in conquering them. He was anxious to gain strategically useful territories from them, such as islands in the Gulf of Finland, in order to give him protection for the port of Leningrad and the Baltic States, and regain ownership of the Petsamo (Russian: Pechenga) region in the far north, with its valuable nickel mines. Moreover, the Communist Party was strong in Finland, although Stalin had purged many of its leading members in Moscow.

Pechenga

Sweden was not really a consideration: it had remained neutral during the war, and was geographically not so relevant. Norway had been occupied by the Nazis, and harboured a somewhat subdued resistance movement. Despite the lack of contiguity, some of Stalin’s ministers had pressed for Sweden and Norway to come under the Soviet ‘sphere of influence’, with Norway’s Communist Party a potential asset. The Norwegian government-in-exile was fearful that the Red Army would make incursions through the north of the country, and in early 1944 made appeasing overtures through the Soviet ambassador to avert the possibility. While Stalin probably found satisfaction in keeping that threat alive, and gaining concessions from the Norwegians, he in fact did not want to move Red Army divisions to Norway. He would prefer that the British take responsibility for clearing the country of Nazi troops, although he did not want the latter pouring into Northern Russia. (The negotiated restoration of Pechenga would present the Soviet Union with a narrow border with Norway.) Thus, in the summer of 1944, he pressed Churchill and Eden to take a leading role in the liberation of Norway, and gained a concession from them in August that Finland naturally fell in his bailiwick, and that the British had no strategic interests there.

The western Allies wanted to consolidate their assaults into western Europe and Germany before dealing with the Wehrmacht in Norway: to that end the Chiefs-of-Staff had developed an operational feint called RANKIN designed to pin German troops in Norway through the D-Day invasions. On the other hand, the British did not want premature uprisings in Norway, hoping to preserve the partisan forces to hold their fire until the real day of reckoning. They were aware, however, of maverick Communist Party guerrilla units continuing to cause trouble. Yet Stalin, as in France, did not want any Communists to engage in provocative behaviour and risk turning the Americans against him before the Nazis had been beaten. Thus British and Soviet needs in the area began to converge. Stalin wanted to sign a pact with Finland, using it as a proxy.  He planned to demand from it the harassment of German divisions in the north of the country, as he wanted to move the few divisions he maintained on the Finnish border to the vital German battlefield, and he sought British assistance in the endeavour.

On September 19, 1944, a few days after the PARAVANE Operation was executed, the Moscow Armistice was signed by representatives of Finland, the Soviet Union and Great Britain. The British War Cabinet had reviewed its protocols as early as September 7. They laid out some strict conditions: for example, the withdrawal of Finnish troops to the frontier as it existed in 1940; Finland to be responsible for disarming German land, air and naval forces in the country; the transfer to the Soviet Union of critical territories, such as Pechenga; the provision of up to three hundred million dollars’ worth of goods as indemnification for Soviet losses; and the handover of airfields in southern Finland for the Soviets to attack German forces in the Baltic States. Whether this last item was part of a quid pro quo with the British for the use of Soviet airfields in the attacks on the Tirpitz is not stated. But the timing is intriguing, and Stalin was accustomed to including ‘secret’ protocols in his political agreements.

The negotiations that led up to this agreement are regrettably opaque. Yet the intrigues in sending Yartseva to London in February 1944, and the subsequent meetings (see Chapter 5) must have had some serious objectives. Stockholm was a notoriously isolated location: it took the Petrovs nine months to reach it from Moscow in 1942. For Yartseva to gain approval from the British and Norwegian governments for a valuable place on the ball-bearing run to Leuchars in Scotland (and presumably a return flight) must have meant that they considered she had both clout and information of great value, and that it was both safe and wise to allow her to have discussions with Chichaev. What political backdrop could have led to such a concession?

(The final part of this story will appear on April 15.)

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‘At Last the 1948 Show’: Smolka & the Third Man

‘At Last the 1948 Show’

[Disclaimer: While I was researching last month’s piece on Smolka, I discovered a seminar delivered by Professor Charmian Brinson, of Imperial College, London, on November 9, 2017 – see https://www.imperial.ac.uk/events/99573/nothing-short-of-a-scandal-harry-peter-smolka-and-the-ministry-of-information/. I sent Professor Brinson an email, asking whether a transcript of her address was available. She did not reply. As I reported in my piece, I had found that an Austrian periodical had published such an article, but I had been unable to gain any response when I tried to order it on-line. Then, on February 1, one of my correspondents alerted me to the fact that Brinson had written a book on German-speakers working in British propaganda during the war. I had overlooked it, since it is not listed on her sadly out-of-date Publications page at Imperial College – see https://www.imperial.ac.uk/people/c.brinson/publications.html. I instantly ordered it, but also sent at that time an early draft of the following bulletin (an almost verbatim copy of what can be read below) to Mark Hollingsworth. The book arrived on February 5, and I saw that her Chapter 7 covers some of the same ground that I tread on. Her chapter is very strong on Smolka’s activities during the war, since she uses archival material that I have not seen, but she is otherwise cautious, and does not present any startling insights, in my opinion. Mr. Hollingsworth can attest to the fact that my research was carried out without her help, or access to her publication, in any way.]

‘Working for the War Effort’ (Brinson & Dove)

In the first bulletin of this two-part report (see https://coldspur.com/peter-smolka-background-to-1934/ ), I introduced Peter Smolka, presented a detailed analysis of the literature about him, and gave a brief description of the archival material on him released by Kew a few years back. Using his Personal File as an anchor, I then performed a detailed investigation into what I classified as the first chapter in his association with British Intelligence, namely the years between his arrival in the UK in 1930, and his rather bold declaration of his collaboration with Kim Philby in November 1934. This segment addresses the remaining five chapters in his career.

Chapter 2: 1934-1939 – Building Connections

Special Branch and MI5 continued to keep a watch on Smolka, although their quarry spent an increasing amount of time abroad. By the time that the Home Office replied to his request for permission over the London Continental News, on January 3, 1935, he had left for undetermined places. He boarded a boat to Dieppe on December 27, 1934, not returning until May 31, 1935, when he landed at Croydon Airport. No interest is expressed in his point of departure; no questions are asked how the journalist might have sustained himself during his travels. Lotty is not recorded as accompanying him. Nor is there anything on file until a report from the Immigration Officer at Tilbury, dated August 8, states that Smolka was ‘one of the outward-bound passengers on the M.V. ‘Felix Dzerjinsky’, when she left Hay’s Wharf for Leningrad via Dunkirk on 17.8.35.’

Smolka returned on the ‘Jan Rudzutak’ from Leningrad on September 24, but, again, no interest is apparently shown in what the intrepid traveller might have been up to. In fact that is the last entry in the file for 1935. Smolka was a little late to have been able to attend the Seventh World Congress of the Comintern, held in Moscow, but one might imagine that MI6 would have been intensely interested in learning more about how the Popular Front, activated after the Soviet Union’s treaty with France in May, was being received by the citizenry. After all, it had no other sources of intelligence within the country. Yet no evidence has been left behind of any debriefings.

The files do show a rather desultory interest shown by the Foreign Office in Smolka’s relationship with a Margherita Mantica (née Vesci), who had represented the Neue Freie Presse in the United States. An awkwardness can be detected in a concern that Smolka might trace any inquiry to the Foreign Office, but one fascinating new link crops up, in that Mantica is reported to be living in London with her brother-in-law, Lejos Biro, described as ‘a Hungarian, who is a literary supervisor and director of London Film Productions Limited’. As observant readers will recall, this was the company founded by Alexander Korda in 1932, and which was responsible for the Third Man project in 1948 and 1949. Biro was in fact Lajos Bíró, a playwright and screenwriter of some repute, who contributed a long list of titles to the Korda canon. Korda himself appears to have already been ‘recruited’ by Claude Dansey of MI6 by this time: some reports claim that it was Dansey who introduced Korda to Winston Churchill in 1934.

Nothing else is recorded until July 1936, when Smolka was shown to be off to the Soviet Union again, the Immigration Officer recording that he left on M.V. ‘Sibier’ for Leningrad on July 4. Strangely, there appears no record on file of his return. The reason for his voyage was to perform research for a series of articles that appeared in December 1936 in the Times, and was eventually published in book-form as Forty Thousand Against the Arctic, on April 29, 1937. Yet Smolka was very coy about the dates of his itinerary, neither specifying when his invitation to visit was made at the Soviet Embassy in London, nor when he left, nor when he returned. What is not in doubt is that his writings represented an utterly disgraceful show of Soviet propaganda, and the bravado with which Moscow perpetrated this ruse is matched only by the gullibility with which it was encouraged and endorsed by the Times. He had already delivered a paper at a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society on February 15, 1937 (‘The Economic Development of the Soviet Arctic’), in which he presented himself as an ‘unbiased non-Bolshevik’, again praising the initiatives of the Soviet government in opening up the Arctic, as they will prove ‘profitable and valuable to Russia and the world in general in the long run’.

In his Acknowledgments, Smolka first lists two Soviet apparatchiks, and then expresses his gratitude to ‘The Editor of The Times for allowing me to express again some of the thoughts first published in my series of articles in his columns’, next to ‘Sir Harry Brittain for his many acts of encouragement’, and then to ‘Mr. Iverach McDonald of The Times for acting as physician and surgeon to this book in its infancy’. What is extraordinary is the fact that the Editor of the Times during this period was Geofrey Dawson, a noted appeaser and member of the Anglo-German Fellowship. Harry Brittain was a Conservative politician with an unremarkable career. Iverach McDonald was an elusive character, described in the few items available on him as ‘an expert on Russia’, but where he derived his expertise, or whether that competence translated into a sympathy for the Soviet Union, is not clear. He was The Times’s Diplomatic Correspondent, and Dawson sent him to Prague in the autumn of 1938 to cover the Sudetenland crisis. Why all three gentlemen should have been taken in by this monstrous apology for Stalin’s penal colony is utterly perplexing.

I shall not spend time here summarizing the content of Smolka’s book. I leave it to the verdict of Andrew and Gordievsky: “The most ingenious fabrication in Smolka’s book was his portrayal of the hideous brutality of the gulag during the Great Terror as an idealistic experiment in social reform” (KGB, page 325). Yet the response of the two is unimaginative: they merely draw notice to the fact that Smolka’s reputation in the eyes of the Times and the Foreign Office was not damaged by this piece of propaganda was ‘curious’. (Then why not show more curiosity, gentlemen?) As for the author, he wrote in a note to the second edition (from New York, in December 1937): “I was immediately accused of having fallen victim to Soviet Russia’s exuberant and boastful optimism.” In his Appendix, he claims that ordinary people, ‘further away from the capital’ were able to talk to him freely, and that ‘their criticism of existing conditions and Government measures was even astounding to me at first’.

Yet Smolka’s fortunes improved markedly after this shocking event: little interest was shown in him. A routine inquiry from Indian Political Intelligence was made to Guy Liddell at the end of 1936. On July 13, 1937 Smolka thanked Erland Echlin, the London representative of Newsweek (who had been allocated a PF no., and apparently got into some trouble a few years later) for introducing him to his New York friends, and he must have departed soon after for New York. His departure was not noted, while an embarkation card shows him returning at Southampton on December 20. Likewise, no trace of his leaving the UK appears on file, but he is shown sailing in from Rotterdam on March 7, 1938. He had probably visited Austria, because a Special Branch report shows him as a member of the Austrian Self-Aid Committee on May 11.

His next step was naturalization, and Special Branch recorded his application on June 13, requesting a Search from MI5. His referees were the aforementioned Harry Brittain and Iverach McDonald (Diplomatic Correspondent of the Times), both of whom had encouraged and supported the creation of his notorious book, and Philip Burn, an editor at the Exchange Telegraph (who appears not to be related to Michael Burn, Smolka’s communist friend, of whom more below). Amazingly, nothing detrimental later than 1930 was discovered: it was if the Service turned a blind eye to the fact that this Communist had reinforced his admiration of Stalinism in his recent writings, which might indicate that his loyalty to the United Kingdom may have been in doubt. He travelled to Le Bourget from Croydon Airport on June 27 (itself an unusual and possibly proscribed activity while one’s naturalization request is pending), returning via Rotterdam on July 28. Maybe it was to visit his parents, Albert and Vilma, since a visa application on their behalf was submitted at the end of June. Despite some warning flagged in a police report concerning Smolka’s attendance at ‘certain meetings’, MI5 signed off on September 17 that there nothing ‘detrimental to the character of this alien’. Presumably the request was granted (the archive shows no evidence), and Smolka celebrated, on November 8, by announcing in the London Gazette that he was changing his name to Harry Peter Smollett. Two days later, he joined the staff of the Exchange Telegraph’s Foreign Department.

It is perhaps educational to compare the process that Smolka underwent with that of Georg Honigmann. On April 8, 1938, while pressing Smolka’s case, Rex Leeper in the Foreign Office brought to the attention of the Home Office the names of six other journalists whom the Foreign Press Association was recommending for naturalization, including Honigmann. Honigmann was an industrious journalist with artistic credentials, effectively exiled by the Nazis, who had gathered first-class sponsors with conservative leanings for his naturalization request, but, on bewilderingly pitiful evidence, had been twice rejected because his loyalty to his potential adoptive country was questioned. Smolka was an avowed communist, with dubious connections, who, having been installed as a journalist based in London, had swanned around Europe without being questioned about his business, and had engaged in heavy propaganda for a cause that was overtly opposed to the interests of the British Empire. Yet he breezes through his naturalization test. Many other worthy German or Austrian applicants were rejected. It does not make sense.

Next comes the puzzling gap in the record. In last month’s bulletin, I noted how nothing is recorded in sequence between November 1938 and September 1939, but a report at s.n.116k in KV 2/4178 (undated, but probably submitted by MI6 in December 1939) describes Smolka’s activities that attracted the attention of the Swiss military authorities. Having joined the Exchange Telegraph, Smolka built up a news service organization focused on Switzerland, Holland and Belgium. The report continues:

In April 1939 he went to Switzerland with letters of recommendation from Mr. Leeper, and in May he established a new service at Zurich, at the head of which he placed a Hungarian Jew named Leo Singer, who was subsequently expelled from Switzerland by the Swiss police. Smolka replaced him by Mr. Garrett, who represents himself as related to Mr. Chamberlain by marriage, and enjoys prestige on this account.

I shall return to the controversy of Smolka’s heavy-handed approach to trying to monopolize news delivery from Britain (and suspected intelligence leaks arising therefrom) in the next chapter, and simply note here that the apparent lassitude on MI5’s part in tracking Smolka at this period is more likely to be due to a policy of deliberate concealment. Smolka’s exciting adventures in Prague in March 1939 have been conspicuously omitted in the records of the Security Service.

Rex Leeper

As war approached, on August 30 Smolka’s name was submitted on a list of applicants for employment in the Ministry of Information, to which MI5 responded with a proposed ban on his employment. On August 31, Rex Leeper, head of the Political Intelligence Department in the Foreign Office, while claiming that ‘we’ did not suggest his name, defended the candidate, since Smolka ‘has been very well known to the Foreign Office for a considerable time past, and we have no reason to suspect him of any improper activities’. The very next day, a Mr. Strong (C2, Vetting), having spoken to Leeper, and being reassured about Smolka’s credentials, caved in, waiving the objection. The episode is all too pat, too prompt. In such a significant case, Strong would at least have had to confer with more senior officers outside his section. What is also extraordinary about Leeper’s enthusiasm for Smolka is that, in 1935, he had urged the removal of Harry Pollitt, General Secretary of the British Communist Party, from an influential BBC panel, shortly after Pollitt had returned from Moscow. Leeper was now committing a volte-face in favour of Smolka: one has to assume that he was being swayed by other more influential voices.

The final pre-war incident of note is Phiby’s putative recruitment of Smolka as an NKVD agent. The primary source for this event is Philby himself, and his account is typically deceptive and contradictory. According to what Oleg Tsarev discovered in the KGB archives (The Crown Jewels, p 157), in 1980 Philby had made a statement to his bosses that described the initiation. The key sentences run as follows:

            Once, on my own initiative, I decided to recruit an agent, a Henri Smolka, an Austrian who was the correspondent of the right-wing Neue Frei Presse. In spite of working for the magazine, Smolka was hundred percent Marxist, although inactive, lazy, and a little cowardly. He had come to England, taken British citizenship, changed his name to Harry Smollett and later headed the Russian department in the Ministry of Information.

West and Tsarev comment that ‘this account coincides with the explanation offered by Philby to Gorsky and Kreshin in 1943, although in his original version he had given a few more details’. (They never state how they knew what Philby said at that time, nor do they provide documentary evidence of it. Kreshin had taken over from Gorsky as handler of the Cambridge Five sometime in 1942: Gorsky was replaced as rezident by Kukin in June of 1943.) I point out that Philby never gives a precise date for his ‘recruitment’ of Smolka: his reference to the Neue Frei Presse would indicate pre-January 1939 (since it ceased publication that month); the adoption of ‘Smollett’ simply indicates post-November 1938; the citation of the Ministry post as a future event defines some time before June 1941.

This claim needs dissecting carefully. Remember, Philby was talking to his KGB handlers, who, he must have presumed, were not entirely clueless about both Smolka’s and his own history. Philby never indicates that he knew Smolka in Vienna (or had even collaborated with him in the sewers), or that Litzy had been a friend of his. That the Presse was ‘right-wing’ is probably correct (elsewhere in Smolka’s file, it is described as an ‘Austrian Catholic Monarchist paper’): that it closed down in January 1939 is not debatable. It is perhaps significant that Philby refers to the defunct Presse and not the Exchange Telegraph, on which he and Smolka collaborated. Philby describes Smolka as a committed Marxist. He describes the latter’s career as the routine progression of an émigré, overlooking his visits to the Soviet Union, and his publication of pro-Soviet propaganda, but he appears to contradict his own assessment of Smolka’s character by pointing out his rapid rise in an important British Ministry. Lastly, the year should be noted: Smolka died in 1980, so Philby may have been asked to provide a false legend, now that the subject could say no more. The whole deposition looks like a clumsy ruse to conceal the KGB’s relationship with Smolka.

In The Philby Files (1994) Genrikh Borovik presents a slightly different tale (p 137). The KGB had agreed to let the playwright interview Philby in depth. Borovik relates what Philby told him:

            In London there was a correspondent of the Austrian newspaper Neue Freie Presse, a man named Hans Smolka. I had met him back in Vienna. Whether he was a Communist or not, I do not know. He seemed to be, judging by his theoretical views – we had chatted more than once. But from the point of view of his own lifestyle, his love of comfort, I would not consider him a Communist.

This is another disingenuous item of testimony, bringing in Philby’s ‘acquaintance’ with Smolka, and introducing the notorious Vienna connection without describing the close connection through Litzy and Lotty. At the same time Philby underplays his knowledge of Smolka’s political affiliations, which must have been obvious to anyone exposed to the agent’s propaganda. The flow of Borovik’s narrative suggests that the recruitment occurred in the autumn of 1939, but Philby adds that he and Smolka ‘used to run into each other at receptions and cocktail parties’, indicating an extended pattern of social acquaintance before the ‘recruitment’ occurred. Yet Philby did not return to England from Spain until late July, met Gorsky for the first time in early September, and left for France as a reporter for the Times in early October, not returning permanently until June 1940. Gorsky was out of the country for most of 1940, but he reported meeting Philby again on December 24 of that year.

The absurdity of the saga is further intensified by commentary that West and Tsarev then make:

Philby’s recollection in 1980 of the ABO episode, which he considered mildly amusing, had caused pandemonium in the rezidentura and the Centre. Who was Smollett? Was he a counter-intelligence plant? What was the extent of his knowledge about the Cambridge ring? (The ABO episode concerns an infamous message from Moscow to London, dated June 14, 1943, in which the Centre assessed that the unreliability of the Philby/Burgess group had been confirmed by the unauthorized recruitment of Smolka, aka ABO.) Maybe this is simply an unfortunate choice of syntax by the authors, but the sentence declares that it was Philby’s ‘recollection in 1980’, not the ABO episode itself, that had wreaked such havoc in the rezidentura and Centre. That must surely be unintended. The suggestion is that the KGB in 1940-41 had no idea who Smolka was, and that Philby’s reckless move of introducing Smolka to Burgess and Blunt had caused irreparable damage to the security of the ring.

Yet, even if Gorsky and Kreshin in London, and Ovakimyan in Moscow, had indeed lost track of the status of some of their agents owing to the execution of so many in the purges (recall that when Ozolin-Haskin, shortly to be killed himself, reported from Paris to Sudoplatov about SÖHNCHEN’s [Philby’s] arrival in June 1939, Moscow did not know who SÖHNCHEN was), it beggars belief to imply that the London residency (Gorsky included) did not know who Smolka was. After all, he had publicized himself in his Times articles, his book, and had enjoyed a sponsored tour of the Soviet Union’s gulags. This farce is put into sharper focus by Gorsky’s report dated August 1, 1939, where he discusses the next step for deploying Philby productively:

            In accordance with your instructions we recommended that he try to get a posting in Rome or Berlin. As for the proposal of ‘Smolka’ for ‘S’ [SÖHNCHEN] to become the nominal director of the Exchange Telegraph Agency, we write about it below, in a different section. ‘S’ is not inclined to accept that at the moment.

This must be a genuine article, provided to Borovik by the KGB. (And if it is a fake, an item of misinformation, it clumsily contradicts other plants.) It proves that Smolka was in regular contact with Gorsky and the residency before the war, and Gorsky’s openness in describing his activities indicates that he must have been a familiar figure to Moscow Centre. What is slightly surprising is the fact that Smolka is not identified here by his cryptonym, but the ‘Smolka’ in quotation marks may simply be the result of a transcription process. Moreover, the fact that Smolka had at one time been given the name of ABO (Абориген? = aboriginal?) would also show that he had been approved and recruited by the NKVD. Philby would not have had the authority to allocate cryptonyms, and the whole episode reinforces the notion that it was a clumsy attempt at planting a ‘spravka’ in the file by the KGB.

Indeed, the Mitrokhin Archive is the culprit here. On page 84 of The Sword and the Shield (by Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin) appears the statement that Kim and Litzi [sic, i.e. both] recruited Smolka in 1939, and that he was given the cryptonym, ABO. The story is attributed to Volume 7, Chapter 10, Item 4 of the Archive. As I have shown in the chronology above, such timing of the ‘recruitment’ was impossible: the entry is an item of disinformation. In KGB Andrew and Gordievsky were right, and Smolka had been recruited well before then. The whole account of Philby’s recruitment of Smolka is an absurd fiction.

Chapter 3: 1939-1945 – Propagandist in War

As soon as Smolka was recruited by the Ministry of Information, he started throwing his weight around and antagonizing people, yet continued to be defended by his chief mentor, the inscrutable Rex Leeper. One of the ongoing projects he took under his wing was the husbanding of a press agency called Defence and Economic Service, which sent ‘six articles a week on military and economic subjects in English and German to 568 newspapers on the continent’. Before the war, this had been an independent commercial enterprise, but by December 1939, Smolka had gained a subsidy from the Ministry to encourage wider dissemination on the Continent. Its editor was, rather astonishingly, an Austrian who had apparently passed the Aliens’ Tribunal, and was thus considered safe – one Dr. Paul Wenger. On December 2, Smolka felt emboldened enough to introduce him to the Press Officer at the War Office, a Mr. McCulloch, asking for information.

If the distribution in German, by an Austrian, of material gathered and synthesized from open sources widely around Europe was not considered controversial, the inclusion of possibly restricted information from the War Office should have raised eyebrows. Whether Defence and Economic Service was an alibi for the Exchange Telegraph is not clear, but Smolka soon resorted to threats when he expanded his service to Switzerland. A note on file reads: “Smolka has threatened to get the head of the Agence Suisse (Keller) deprived of his British visa, if he refused to take his news service”. It adds that Reuters and Havas have refused to take Smolka’s service, with the result that Smolka ‘had a virtual monopoly of British news in Switzerland, Holland and Belgium’.

Major-General Frederick Beaumont-Nesbitt

Indeed, on January 12, 1940, Major-General Frederick Beaumont-Nesbitt, Director of Military Intelligence, was moved to complain in writing to the head of MI5, Sir Vernon Kell, drawing attention to leakage of confidential information, pointing the finger at Smolka, and, after noting that he knew that Smolka had been hired despite the objections of MI5, observed, in manuscript, that ‘Smollett’s employment in his present position seems to me nothing short of a scandal!’. His deputy, Brigadier Penney, approached MI5 simultaneously at a lower level (Major Lennox), and the complaints came to Dick White’s attention.

White’s response was meek. He instructed Mr. Maude of ‘S.L’ (in actuality Section B19, ‘Rumours’) to help him formulate a reply. A letter of January 19 merely temporized, indicating that ‘Smolka is not an easy problem’. But not much happened. War Office people sniffed around; B7 in MI5 (a section that must have been soon closed down, since no reference to it appears in Andrew, Curry or West) interviewed Wenger, confirming that his salary was being paid by the Ministry, and concluding that he was genuine. A Mr Bret, London representative of the French Commissariat á L’Information, reportedly echoed the rumour of leakage. Special Branch noticed wireless equipment at Smolka’s house at 16 Fitzjohns Avenue, N.W. 16.

A long report on Smolka was submitted by Maude on February 4, 1940. At first glance it seems extraordinary that such an important undertaking should be delegated to such an irrelevant section. Nigel West, in MI5, reports as follows:

            At one point before being posted to Washington [elsewhere he states that Maude became a Regional Security Liaison Officer], John Maude was in charge of a ‘B’ Division section, B19, which ‘investigated the source of rumours’. He soon discovered that the unit, which consisted of about a dozen solicitors, was doing very little useful work and these legal brains spent much of their time answering letters that had arrived denouncing various individuals as enemy agents. Maude wrote a firm memo to Richard Butler and the greater part of B19 were transferred to more productive duties.

It seems irresponsible: the DMI had made a significant inquiry into a possible case of information leakage, yet the task was given to a solicitor investigating rumours. It is more likely that White personally trusted Maude (who would later become a K.C.) to perform a more thorough job than anyone else, or else wanted to keep the investigation out of the mainstream. If White orchestrated a response to Beaumont-Nesbitt, it has not survived.

After providing a recapitulation of Smolka’s career (which in its details reflects precisely what is on file, suggesting perhaps that it had been weeded already), Maude makes a number of points. He suggests that Mr Christopher Chancellor of Reuters may have been casting aspersions on Smolka’s character. He introduces the name of Sir Robert Vansittart as a Smolka champion, alongside Charles Peak. He had interviewed M. Brett [sic], and discounted what he said as evidence that Smolka had contributed to the leaks. He concedes that Smolka was unpopular, and offers the following opinion: “I must say that to me it passes all understanding that the Ministry of Information should employ a German [Dr. Paul Wegner, actually Austrian] to write articles on English military matters.” He notes that Smolka had put forward a proposal that all reports from British Press Attachés should pass through his hands and be edited by him before being issued, (which appears to me a preposterous suggestion) and concludes that ‘the power and influence of Mr. Smollett has [sic] been increasing and ought to be halted’. At least, the Ministry of Information should have been closely surveilling all material that the Exchange Telegraph sent out of the country.

Valentine Vivian of SIS then puts in his oar. On April 8, Vivian writes to Major Marshall of MI5, referring to the latter’s minute of March 29 on MI6’s ‘Vetting’ Form dated February 13. The Minute Sheet lists the arrival of the Form from SIS on February 16 as item 122x, but the entry has curiously been pasted over another item. Indeed, the original trace request is present, directed at Captain Butler, and it expresses a desire to ascertain the reliability of ‘Smollett, possibly Smolka’, who ‘was formerly with one of the news agencies in Switzerland’. Marshall responds with the conventional bio of Smolka, describes him as ‘very able’, states that he is second-in command to Professor E. H. Carr, the Director in the Publicity Department of the Ministry of Information, but does add that Smolka acted in a very high-handed manner in Switzerland in April 1939.

What is going on here? How could anyone in SIS with the authority to submit a Vetting Form be so ignorant about this prominent character? And why would he be interested in the circumstances of a domestic ministerial role, which was MI5’s responsibility in the first place? Was it a test to determine how much the grunts in MI5 knew? Whether SIS was grateful for the information it received is not recorded, but all that Vivian has to say is:

            It may just interest you to know that out information is to the effect that Mr. Smollett is in no sense second in command to Professor E. H. Carr, but occupies a much more subordinate position as Foreign Relations Press Advisor in the Ministry of Information.

Well thank you, Vee-Vee, for that shrewd contribution. Those kinds of insight are what led you to having a corner office, I suppose. It is all quite absurd. Moreover, the archive declares elsewhere that Carr was subordinate to Smolka, who exerted a strong influence over him.

On May 17, 1940, the Minister of Information, Duff Cooper, cancelled Smolka’s Daily Press Review as a waste of paper and time. An announcement about it in the Evening Standard was noticed by Indian Political Intelligence, who reminded B4b of MI5 of the suspicions previously harboured over Smolka, and inquired whether MI5 was now satisfied with him. Dick White responded on June 8, attributing the suspicions to the fact that Smolka had ‘a most unattractive personality’: he was otherwise politically reliable. Meanwhile, Smolka was pushing ahead, trying to get his father a place in the Ministry. Leeper then tried to gain him (the son) a post on Intelligence Duties in the War Office, which prompted Colonel Jervois to seek MI5’s advice. On July 26, B19 (a John Phipps?) replied, judging that Smolka could not be trusted absolutely, and thus recommended that he not be hired for such a role. Yet this was absurd: if the Director of Military Intelligence had protest strongly about Smolka six months beforehand (a complaint not formally responded to, according to the records), why on earth would the War Office be considering him for intelligence duties?

The rest of the year proceeded in similar fashion, with occasional questions raised about Smolka’s reliability, while the man himself increased his influence. His secretary, Stella Hood-Barrs, was investigated for passing on possibly encrypted information to German emigrants in Holland, a charge that Vivian dispelled. Albert Smolka, his father, was released from internment in August. The Air Ministry showed interest in Smolka fils in October: Squadron-Leader Pettit (of D3 in MI5) cleared him again, but reminded Wing Commander Plant that he should not be employed on Intelligence duties.

In that way the archive peters out for 1940, with no further entry until March 1941. It was a puzzling year, since any searching questions about Smolka’s reliability appeared to have been quashed without any documentary evidence. What was Beaumont-Nesbitt told, and what was his response, for instance? That dashing officer was forced from his post on December 16, 1940, having made a mess of signalling an invasion alarm in September (see https://coldspur.com/the-mystery-of-the-undetected-radios-part-vii/), but there had been plenty of time for him to follow up on his vigorous inquiry. Perhaps someone had had a quiet word in his ear. Maude’s judgment from April 1 would seem a fitting analysis of the situation: “My own view is that Mr. SMOLLETT has now entrenched himself behind a sort of super Siegfried Line erected by the Foreign Office and it is quite impossible to dig him out at this stage of the war.”

Smolka was heading the Central European Division of the Ministry of Information at the start of 1941. His progress was marked in August, soon after Barbarossa, when the Soviet Union became an ally, by his being appointed head of the Anglo-Soviet Liaison Section at the Ministry. Andrew and Gordievsky, in KGB: The Inside Story (pp 326-328), using Ministry of Information and Foreign Office archives, give an excellent account of Smolka’s labours for Soviet propaganda during the war, and I shall thus not repeat the whole story here. Last month I recommended W. J. West’s The Truth About Hollis as an extremely valuable contribution, and I can now suggest that readers turn to Chapter 7 of Charmian Brinson’s Working for the War Effort for a comprehensive account of all that Smolka did to promote the Soviet cause in the UK – as well as enabling the Russians to understand a lot more about Britain’s culture and its war effort. Meanwhile, Smolka and his cronies were still being watched carefully. A furtive telephone call with Andrew Revai is listened to in May: Revai was a journalist, a Hungarian exile who had been recruited by Guy Burgess, and had been given the cryptonym TAFFY (not that that was known by the Ministry of Information at the time). Smolka tried to get him into the Ministry (or the BBC), but experienced resistance. Using an inside source, B8c reported, in August, that ‘Smolka is a Communist and has good connections with the C.P.G.B’.

Thus 1941 wound down with further desultory efforts to track what Smolka was up to, some dubious broadcasts by the Hungarian section of the BBC taking up most of the bandwidth, and MI5 following lazily some of Smolka’s ‘Peace’ initiatives. His wife, Lotty, was cleared to work as a Research Assistant at the Political Warfare Executive. [Note: Her employer is not recorded here, but appears in a later bio from 1951, proving that several routine items have been weeded.] Likewise, little happened in the first half of 1942, until an important entry is made on June 30. Mr Wolfgang Foges writes to the Ministry of Information about a book titled Russia Fighting 1812-1942 that he has written in collaboration with Smolka, and to which Ivan Maisky, the Soviet Ambassador has consented to write a forward. In his letter, Foges notes that Smolka ‘has known me since childhood’: we thus have an important confirmation of the relationship described in his son’s memoir (see coldspur of last month). (Note: Foges was the founder of the firm Adprint, which introduced the technique of commissioning material and having it published externally. With some assistance from the Ministry of Information, in 1941 it launched the excellent series Britain in Pictures, of which I own several dozen volumes.)

Soon after, Kim Philby enters the picture. Roger Fulford, now Assistant-Director of F Division, had beforehand been responsible for tracking Peace Movements and related activities in F4. On September 10, he writes to Dick Brooman-White (B1g), enclosing an anonymous report (that probably came from elsewhere in F Division) that sets out the following statement concerning Smolka: “In November 1934 with a certain H. R. Philby he formed a small press agency called London Continental News Limited”. The couching of Philby in those terms is presumably not ironic, and it shows how well encapsulated the officers in MI6 were from even some members of its sister service. Yet Fulford knows more: he tells Brooman-White that the man referred to ‘is almost certainly our mutual friend in Section V’, and he requests of his colleague (who, being responsible for Spanish espionage, would have been the liaison with Philby at the time) that he contact Philby to learn what information on Smolka he can give them.

Philby might have been a little alarmed at this connection having been unearthed, but tried to play it off with a mixture of lies and dissimulation. Having spoken to Philby, Brooman-White responds to Fulford, two days later, as follows:

            The press agency in question never actually functioned but Philby knew Smollett quite well at the time. He says he is an Austrian Jew who came to this country about 1920 [!!], did well in journalism and is extremely clever. Commercially he is rather a pusher but has nevertheless a rather timid character and a feeling of inferiority largely due to his somewhat repulsive appearance. He is a physical coward and was petrified when the air-raids began. Philby considers his politics to be mildly left-wing but had no knowledge of the C.P. link-up. His personal opinion is that SMOLLETT is clever and harmless. He adds that in any case the man would be far too scared to become involved in anything really sinister.

A shrewd but still clumsy item of denial. Yet it appeared to settle things.

Moura Budberg (some years earlier)

1943 is a barren year for the Smolka archive, with only one insignificant entry in January. The cupboard for 1944 is similarly bare. The only event is the appearance of Baroness Budberg, the mistress of H. G. Wells, and another Soviet agent. A Special Branch report dated April 27, 1944 reveals that Budberg ‘was instrumental in getting  . . . . SMOLKA  . . . his job as chief of the Soviet Relations Branch of the Ministry of Information, displacing a non-Communist’. No source or explanation of this snippet is provided. Suddenly, the war is over, and the archive jumps to December 8, 1945, where a report from E5l (‘Germans and Austrians’) reveals the following important information:

            Hans WINTERBERG, Hilde SCHOLZ, Dr. George KNEPPLER and Dr. Walter HOLLITSCHER are reported to be leaving for Austria in the course of the next few days, most probably for Prague. W. HOLLITSCHER has made an arrangement with Peter SMOLLETT, correspondent of the ‘Daily Express’, to live in his house in Vienna. SMOLLETT and his wife, Lotty, are back in London after having visited Austria, Hungary, Jugoslavia, and Roumania, but intends to go back to Vienna. Though not party members, they are regarded as sympathisers, and, as well as Walter HOLLITSCHER, they are on friendly terms with Lizzy FEABRE, nee Kallman (see report of 9.9.45) and Fred GREISENAU [?] @ HRJESMENOU (see report of 3.9.41).

A hand-written note enters ‘PHILBY’ over ‘FEAVRE’.

Smolka is now apparently so well-established that no questions are asked about the purpose of this highly provocative travel. Moreover, an extraordinary visit to Moscow in 1944 (never an easy journey) has been omitted completely from the record. A correction is entered, however, four days later. While Lotty is recorded as remaining in London, Peter is now in Prague, and is supposed to be going to Vienna shortly. Will our gallant security personnel be able to keep tabs on him?

Chapter 4: 1946-1948 – The 1948 Show

It is in fact Kim Philby who kicks off the 1946 Smolka season. On February 26, 1946, he writes a brief letter to Major Marshall, reminding him of the February 1940 vetting form, and inquiring whether MI5 has any information about Smolka’s activities since then. Had MI6 lost track of him, perhaps? John Marriott of F2c responds on March 12. He describes Smolka’s role at the Ministry of Information, remarking that he visited the U.S.S.R. in February 1944, on official duties, but left the Ministry in June 1945, or near then. He goes on to list a number of associations that Smolka had with known Communists between 1941 and 1945, including Betty Wallace alias Shields-Collins, Agnes Hagen, and Eva Kolmer, as well as the afore-mentioned Hollitscher and Hrjesmenou. At the end of June 1945 Smolka went to Czechoslovakia as Central European Correspondent accredited to the Daily Express.

Since Marriott also asked Philby for any further information he had, a reply came back on March 29 (not necessarily from Philby: it is unsigned), declaring that MI6’s representative in Vienna has said that Smolka is now representing the Daily Express there, and adds the somewhat disturbing news: “There are indications that he has been asking questions about Austrian Barracks Unit, and about our representative in VIENNA. Also that he is cultivating Ernst FISCHER, former Minister of Education and his wife, and is in contact with TITO Yugoslav circles in Vienna.” This was, however, not the Ernst Fischer residing in the UK, a communist who worked for the BBC during the war, and whose PF number is annotated as 45068 (unavailable at Kew) on the letter, but another Austrian Communist, a future Minister of Education, who had spent the war in Moscow.

A follow-up revealed that Smolka must have returned to the UK to pick up his family, as a Special Branch report of April 24, 1946, indicates that they all left from Croydon Airport for Prague that day. MI6 had not been doing a stellar job of tracking his movements. Another report suggests that Smolka remained in Britain while his wife and daughter flew to Austria, but on May 2 M. B. Towndrow of F2a informed Philby of the departure of the four, and he follows up by stating that the renowned Communist Hollitscher is still staying at Smolka’s flat in Vienna. (One might expect the MI6 station in Vienna to be responsible for collecting such information, rather than MI5, but no matter.)

B2B starts to get excited about Smolka again, and it compiles another dossier. A source called ‘VICTORIA’, who had accompanied Smolka to the Czech-Austria frontier in 1938, has submitted a note that endorses Smolka’s communist sympathies. But the wheels continue to grind slowly. In November 1946, MI6 developed a report on Political Journalists in Austria, in which Smolka featured, and it shows an increasing trend. An extract reads:

            He [Smolka]came to Vienna as a representative of various English newspapers. His articles are regarded by Austrian Government circles as anti-Austrian, particularly those in ‘Reynolds News’. His fortnightly ‘tea’ soirées at his villa in Hietzing, VIENNA XIII, are a meeting place for leading Russian and Austrian Communists. He has been having difficulties with his British employers and is now trying to gain a firm footing in the Vienna Press. Ernst FISCHER has engaged him as Foreign Editor for ‘Neues Österreich’ and it was he who reported on Dr Gruber’s recent activities in Paris at the Conference.

In these circumstances it might seem odd that Smolka would return to Britain. But maybe MI6 facilitated his return, as it had business to discuss. A report dated February 10, 1947, indicates that Smolka is once more leaving the country, destined for Austria, that he is still employed by the Daily Express, and that he has ‘O.B.E.’ proudly attached to his name on his passport, issued in July 1945. By July, Milicent Bagot is being warned of Smolka’s alarming behaviour. A letter from MI6, based on intelligence from the Vienna station, says that Smolka ‘attends Mr. Helm’s confidential background talks to British newspapermen concerning H.M.G.’s policy, etc.’. It was presumably hard to turn away an accredited journalist for the Daily Express who had been awarded the O.B.E., but suspicions about Smolka’s true allegiances must have been growing.   MI6 believes that it has ‘adverse information of a security nature’ against Smolka, and Helm wants to know what it is. Its representative (Philby is no longer around, having been removed from his post as head of Soviet counter-intelligence in December 1946, and been posted to Istanbul) writes to Miss Bagot:

            To assist us in concocting this prophylactic, we should be very grateful if you would please send us a summary of your more recent adverse information about Smollett.

That is an odd choice of words. ‘Concocting’ and ‘prophylactic’ suggest that the process is merely a charade, a going-through the motions, and that, moreover, Bagot is in on the game. She was probably not the right person to jockey with on these matters, however. G. R. Mitchell, of B1a, then takes charge, but merely informs his MI6 contact that MI5 has nothing to add to the summary that was sent over on March 12, 1946. And then a new appointment occurs. On February 9, 1948, B1a reports that Smolka has just been appointed as Times correspondent in Vienna, replacing a Mr. Burns [actually ‘Burn’], who was also a Communist (and who incidentally had a PF, numbered 69202, created for him, again not available at the National Archives). Smolka had apparently switched from the Daily Express to Reynolds News as he did not like the paper’s politics, yet that newspaper can hardly have changed its political stance in the period that Smolka worked for it. MI6 confirmed this news to J. L. Irvine on March 2, reinforcing the fact that MI6 was a bit slow on the uptake.

Antony Terry
‘Sarah Gainham’ (Rachel Terry)

Yet before this, Smolka had become friendly with two fresh visitors from Britain, Antony Terry and his wife Rachel. Terry, with a distinguished war record, had been recruited by MI6 through Ian Fleming, and had cover as a correspondent for the Sunday Times. In fact, MI6 had insisted that he, a divorcé, marry one of his girl-friends before being posted to Vienna, as they required their officers to have the profile of a stable married man. Terry and Rachel Nixon (also divorced) had consequently undergone a wedding ceremony in April 1947. In June, Rachel, a rather dewy-eyed ingénue as far as the realities of Communism were concerned, met Smolka for the first time – presumably in the company of her MI6 husband. As newsmen, the pair would have inevitably come across each other. (Prompted by an article by Philip de Mowbray of MI6 about Soviet spies, Rachel, writing under her nom de plume of Sarah Gainham, recalled the events in a letter to Encounter magazine in December 1984.)

‘Encounter’, December 1984

Rachel became especially friendly with Smolka’s wife, Lotty, but Peter apparently also opened up to her. What is significant for the story is the fact that Smolka unabashedly declared his sympathies for the Soviet system immediately. He described his work in Moscow during the war as editor of a news-sheet called British Ally (and we thus learn what his mission there was about), while avowing to Rachel his admiration for the Soviet form of government, which was ‘more democratic’ than the British way. Rachel then explains that Smolka was uniquely served by the Soviet administration in south-east Vienna, in that his family factory in Schwechat, unlike all other such properties, was not appropriated by the Russian authorities. A sensational anecdote then appears (which text I recorded last month):

            In November Picture Post wanted an article on a foreign correspondent’s life in an Occupied city, and Peter proposed this to my husband as something in his gift. Smolka had the permits necessary to go to such places as Klosterneuburg, impossible to get from the Russians except on an official level. He also invited us and the photographer, the wife of the editor of Picture Post, to dine at the British Officers’ Club with a woman Russian colonel, whose picture duly appeared with us all in the magazine. [The magazine identifies her as Major Emma Woolf: the photograph was taken at Kinsky Palace on January 10, 1948.] This was something so unheard-of that even I could see something odd in it. It could only have occurred with official Soviet approval, and to get permission for foreign publicity of that kind proved intimate and high-level contacts.

Terry keeping Woolf fascinated at the Kinsky Palace

One could well imagine that Antony Terry, who had assumed responsibility for some of Kennedy Young’s agents, would have been initially impressed, but secondly shocked, by these events, and reported them to his boss. The timing is very poignant, for we are now in the middle of the period of the ‘Third Man’ extravaganza, about which Smolka’s files are ostentatiously silent. One might imagine that after the growing concerns about Philby after the Volkov incident (September 1945), the Honigmann business in the summer of 1946 (including the weird divorce), and the decision by Menzies to move him out of the critical counter-intelligence role, MI6 might have started to investigate some of Philby’s cronies. And Smolka would have been an obvious candidate. After all, if the Secret Service believed that Smolka had been some kind of asset of theirs, with the plan of his being able to help in post-war counter-intelligence work against Moscow and its satellites, and had protected and fostered him during the war, it would be of utmost concern if he drifted away, did not inform them of his movements, and increased his involvement with dedicated Communist cadres. This now appeared to be what was happening.

In last month’s bulletin, I laid out the discrepancies and contradictions in the accounts of Graham Greene’s meetings with Smolka in Vienna in early 1948. The dominant evidence is that Greene was asked to go to Vienna to sound out Smolka in as discrete a way as possible, with a plausible reason for being there, with his presence, as a known close colleague of Philby’s, representing no threat to Smolka, unlike what any approach by the local MI6 station would have constituted. I believe it is impossible to determine, from the sources now available, exactly what happened in the planning and execution of Graham Greene’s visit to Vienna and Prague. Every participant had a valid reason for obfuscating the truth. Yet the evidence of Drazin and Fromenthal (see coldspur last month) suggests that in November 1947 MI6 made a decision to send Greene and Montagu on the mission, and the arrangements were facilitated by the close relationship that Korda enjoyed with the Secret Service.

Whether the projected research into the ‘Third Man’ plot was a lucky coincidence, or whether Greene’s findings in Vienna actually drove the decision to stage the film there is a fascinating question. The plan had hitherto been to have the action take place in London: Korda’s claim that he needed to use the Austrian capital since he had pre-war assets there cannot be relied upon. He was notoriously bad with money, and it is not clear what form those assets took, or whether they were in fact liquid. Moreover, all the later explanations of Smolka’s contribution to the plot, with their apparently convincing details about his literary agents, may have been an elaborate fiction, designed to turn attention away from the real reason that Greene needed to spend time with him.

Smolka was in a precarious situation. As a Soviet agent and a British subject, he could have stayed in the United Kingdom relatively safely, unless he started making anti-Soviet noises, when Sudoplatov’s Special Tasks forces would have been sent out to assassinate him. But he was of little use to the NKGB in London, having lost his job when the Ministry closed down, the war propaganda cause complete, and his lack of access to vital secrets negating any value he may have had as a spy. Smolka would have been needed back in Austria or Czechoslovakia to help build Socialism. And that is where his MI6 sponsors, having nurtured and protected him for so long, wanted him, too, to deliver on his side of the bargain, and inform them about the communist cadres. Hence the cover of a journalist, which, after all, was his trade.

Yet it would have been difficult to masquerade as a bemedalled British toff at the same time as exercising a role as a servant of Stalin. The Austrian Communist Party would be looking for his full, energetic support, and that would not involve high-living it with his English colleagues at the Press Club. Furthermore, there would be many communists in Prague and Vienna who did not know that he had been recruited by Stalin’s organs fifteen years earlier, and they would have harboured great suspicions about this rather obvious plant. When Smolka travelled to Czechoslovakia on his way to Austria, the customs and immigration authorities in Prague would have noticed his British passport (although the O.B.E appendix would not have been present in June 1945). Indeed, that later got him into trouble at the Slánský trial in November 1952, when he was publicly denounced as an ‘imperialist agent’.

Thus Smolka had a decision to make, and soon decided that he had to boost his Communist credentials, and slough off the British Intelligence skin. That is presumably why he started praising Soviet democracy to his English colleagues, vaunted his connections with Soviet Military Intelligence, and did not conceal the help he received in restoring his father’s business to health. In addition, he started squealing early in 1948. Sarah Gainham wrote: “It became clear that we were in disfavour, and a Czech interpreter ‘blabbed’ to my husband that he and another correspondent had been denounced by Smolka as spies.” She continued: “It indicated a wish to please the new Czech government, and therefore the Russians who were the direct manipulators of the takeover”, and she concluded that Smolka’s concern to please the Russians was of much greater importance to him than his position with the British.

Smolka would have been more likely to confide in the state of the game directly with his sympathetic old acquaintance Graham Greene, and to give him the depressing news (for MI6, no doubt, since Greene would surely have found the whole business utterly entertaining) that the game was over – or that, in fact, the game had never even begun, since he had been working for the NKVD since 1933. And that illumination must have sent shock-waves and curses throughout MI6. Readers will recall the episode where George Kennedy Young reported that one of his assets had gone over to the other side, as well as the coldspur bulletin I submitted in November 2019 (https://coldspur.com/a-thanksgiving-round-up/ ) where I wrote of my frustrations dealing with the BBC in a report on a letter written by Eric Roberts: “The matter in question concerns an intelligence officer, Eric Roberts, who was informed in 1947 by Guy Liddell of suspicions about a senior MI6 officer’s being a Soviet mole, but was then apparently strongly discouraged from saying anything further in 1949, when he (Roberts) returned from an assignment in Vienna.” The disclosure of this artefact caused Christopher Andrew to react as follows: “It’s the most extraordinary intelligence document I’ve ever seen. It’s 14 pages long – it will keep conspiracy theorists going for another 14 years.” Yet Andrew refused to say any more, claiming loss of memory.

The 1947 suspicions were clearly about Philby (Smolka may have been a loose MI6 asset, but he was never a ‘senior officer’), but the follow-up strongly suggests that the ‘confession’ by Smolka led MI6 to review the connections between Smolka and Philby, having probably learned through Greene of the collaboration in the sewers of Vienna in 1934, and taken a fresh look at the evidence of their joint venture, The London Continental News. Guy Liddell must have known what was going on, and he had had access to all the documents that did not find their way into the Smolka PF. It is no surprise that Roberts was strongly discouraged from saying anything when he returned from his very fruitless stint in Vienna in 1949.

Czechoslovakia obviously plays a big part in this drama, but I do not yet interpret Greene’s unpremeditated move to Prague after his time in Vienna as necessarily linked to Smolka. MI6 received rumours of a coming Revolution in the capital, and it needed boots on the ground. Of course Greene would not want to boast of his work for MI6 in his memoir, but his sharp eye and his contacts would have made him a useful asset, and other commentators have fleshed out the story. Apart from the return by Greene to Vienna in June, where he met Smolka again, reportedly to discuss copyright arrangements, but probably to buy his silence, and square him off, there is little else from 1948 to add about the spy – except for one revealing last anecdote . . .

A letter to Irvine (now B1a) from MI6, dated July 5, 1948, informs him of a difference of opinion between the Czech Foreign Office and the Czech Ministry of Information as to whether Smolka should be granted a visa for Czechoslovakia. Klinger, head of the Foreign Office Press Department ‘is strongly opposed to it on the grounds that SMOLLETT is working for the American and other foreign intelligence sources’. It took an intervention by the Austrian Communist Party to have the visa granted. This follow-up includes the priceless explanation:

            The grant of a visa was originally opposed by the Czech Foreign Office because SMOLLETT let it be known during his last visit that he was on a secret mission for the KPÖ. This story was checked by the Czechs and found to be without foundation. It was therefore assumed that SMOLLETT was using the story as cover for an intelligence mission for the Western Powers.

Smolka was clearly out of his depth, and he needed help. I recall the irony of Philby’s comment that Smolka would be ‘far too scared to become involved in anything really sinister’. But, for MI6, the 1948 Show was over.

Chapter 5: 1949-1951 – Evidence of Espionage

So what should the response of the Intelligence Services have been? After all, there was nothing illicit in an émigré’s applying for naturalization, pursuing a career in a British Ministry, providing propaganda for a wartime ally while not disguising his or her political sympathies, with the overall contribution being recognized via a medal. And the holder of a British passport would be entitled to travel wherever he or she wanted (indeed Smolka would not have been allowed to go to Prague and Vienna without one) in an accredited role as a newspaper correspondent. Yet anyone’s intensification of associations with communist organizations when the Cold War was hardening, and the apparent demonstration of a lack of commitment to returning to his or her adopted country, would naturally provoke questions. One of the statements that Smolka had to make in his naturalization request was to express an intention ‘to reside permanently within His Majesty’s dominions’. The Metropolitan Police report on him records: “He states that in the event of a certificate of naturalisation being granted to him he will make no effort to retain his Austrian citizenship”, and: “He wishes to become a naturalised British subject because he is not in sympathy with the present regime in Austria and desires to accept the responsibilities of a British subject.”

Those involved can be divided into two groups: those senior officers in MI5 and MI6 who had devised the plan to recruit Smolka as an asset for MI6, or to whom the plan had been confided, and those junior officers who had been left uninformed, and regarded the events more routinely.  This latter group would have considered Smolka’s behaviour as an example of how not all those aliens who had come to the United Kingdom before the war, and had taken advantage of its hospitality, even becoming naturalized, were loyal admirers of its political system. The strange case of Georg Honigmann and Litzy Feabre would have been fresh in their minds. The former group would prefer that the whole matter be hushed up, since, even if Smolka had done something illegal (such as passing on confidential information), the last thing they wanted was for the whole messy business to come out in the open, and thus reveal their colossal misjudgments. (How could they have imagined that Smolka, with that résumé, would have been able to carry out a productive role as a spy on the communists in Vienna or Prague, for example?) As for the second group, they would have been professionally earnest in going over the evidence to detect whether the procedures had been followed, whether any oversights had been made, whether there were any clues to Smolka’s future behaviour that had been overlooked, and whether he had had any accomplices that they should investigate.

But Smolka was not going away. He kept both groups busy in the next few years.

MI6 kept Irvine of MI5 informed of Smolka’s recent moves. On 5 February, 1949, the anonymous officer wrote, based on information from the Vienna station, that Smolka was anxious to get a permanent visa for Czechoslovakia, ‘as he claims to have property there’, and Smolka hoped to be successful as he had good connections with Toman of the Ministry of Interior. Someone has written on the letter that Toman had been imprisoned by then, so maybe Smolka’s hopes were dashed. (A later annotation on file states that Smolka was put on the Czech blacklist on January 11.) Yet it sounds as if the Vienna station has another spy in the camp, since the letter next states:

            Our representative has learnt from the same source that SMOLLETT’s connections with the Communist Party were not ‘overt’, because it was agreed that he was more useful in his capacity as ‘Times’ correspondent and preferred to remain incognito for that reason. At the same time it has been agreed in the Party that he should be given facilities equal to those of a Party member.

One would expect the Times not to be happy to receive this intelligence. Yet over a year passes before the next entry on file, when, on May 17, 1950, MI6 writes (this time to W. Oughton of B1a) that the French Sûreté has let them know that Smolka, described still as ‘correspondent of the Times newspaper in Vienna’, is said to be in touch with Soviet and Communist circles in Vienna. Not news, at all (as the writer admits), except that it shows the planned move to Czechoslovakia had not been successful. The writer shows his disdain, however. “But we have heard nothing of this creature since our letter to you of 5.2.49.”, he adds, and inquires whether Smolka is still the Times correspondent, and whether Oughton is still interested in him. It takes a while for the facts to emerge, but Norman Hinsworth (B4c) informs Morton Evans (B1a) that Smolka ceased working for the Times at the end of May 1949. So it appears the information was passed on.

It should be remembered that George Orwell had sent his list of ‘Crypto-Communists and Fellow Travellers’ to the Foreign Office’s Information Research Department on May 2, 1949, and Smolka was on this list.  Orwell (correctly) believed that it was Smolka who had tried to prevent Animal Farm from being published. Orwell wrote to Celia Kirwan that same day: “. . . it isn’t a bad idea to have the people who are probably unreliable listed. If it had been done earlier it would have stopped people like Peter Smolka worming their way into important propaganda jobs where they were probably able to do us a lot of harm.” The Foreign Office and MI6 were probably not comfortable when they received this news. And fifty years later, Peter Davison (who compiled The Lost Orwell, in which Orwell’s denouncements appear), was ordered to apologize by influential members of the German Press, as well as by members of Smolka’s family, for repeating assertions made by Michael Shelden that Smolka was a traitor. Very sensibly, Davison refused.

By then, however, MI6’s view of Smolka was becoming less charitable. A letter to Oughton dated 20 June provides an update on Smolka’s activities in Vienna, primarily concerned with running his father’s button factory while staying in close contact with various Austrian communists and fellow-travellers. It goes on: “Subject still lives at Vienna XIII, Jagdschlossgasse 27, and suffers from severe diabetes. We wish DR. BANTING had not discovered insulin”, a sentiment that implicitly expresses a hope that a Soviet-style assassination squad would take care of this troublesome person. At this time, the British and US occupation forces were still in bitter conflict with the Soviet Union over the running of the country, and the management of the economy. The Marshall Plan was starting to take effect, Austria being the major beneficiary of that project. Smolka’s preferential treatment by the authorities in the Soviet zone, and his unique ability to run his own business, must have raised the hackles of those who had regarded him as an ally.

And then Smolka came to notice again because of the Peet affair. A few months ago (see https://coldspur.com/the-tales-of-honigmann/) I wrote about John Peet, and the way that Georg Honigmann had deputized for him in the Berlin press shortly before Peet defected to the Communists in 1950. Peet had been the Reuters correspondent in Vienna until 1946, when he transferred to a position with the agency in Berlin, and fled to the Eastern Zone in June 1950. British Military Intelligence in Austria became involved, and Sjt. J. W. Wardlaw-Simons reported that Peet’s predecessor in Vienna, a Mr. H. D. Harrison, had told him that Peet had always held extreme left-wing views, and had been ‘on intimate terms of friendship with the British Journalists SMOLLET and BURNS [sic]’, and asked whether he should approach ‘the subject’ directly.

The ‘subject’ was Mrs Christl Peet, née Guderus, who, shortly before her husband’s defection, had apparently returned to Vienna because of altercations with him. That Peet had foolishly fallen for Soviet propaganda is evident from an extract of a letter to her, where he wrote that he was now ‘on the side of the Peace-loving peoples of the World’. Wardlaw-Simons’ interview revealed little more about his relationship with Smolka and Burn. MI5 received the report in July, and then was sent a confidential memorandum on the Peet defection on October 18, when W. R. Hutton, assistant director of B.I.S. in Chicago, offered a long analysis.

What was B.I.S.? I had assumed it was ‘Berlin Intelligence Services’, but I was puzzled why that organization had an office in Chicago. And then Phil Tomaselli pointed me to the ‘British Intelligence Service’, which (as Wikipedia informs us) was a white-propaganda department of the Foreign Office established in 1941, and re-energized when the Ministry of Information was closed down at the end of the war. Hutton, who stated in his report that he had been in Chicago for about a year, had clearly been working in Vienna during the period in question, since he was intimately familiar with the players. Yet it occurred to me: had Smolka himself perhaps been transferred to BIS when the Ministry shut its doors, under cover as a journalist for the Daily Express?

Hutton described his role in Vienna as ‘information officer for the British element of the Allied Commission headquarters’. He expressed some surprise that both Reuters (in the person of Alfred Geiringer) and the British political adviser in Germany (Peter Tennant) had expressed unawareness of Peet’s political sympathies, since Peet’s fellow-journalists there in 1946 had no doubt that Peet was ‘a close “fellow-traveller”’, or even worse. Hutton identified an ‘unholy triumvirate of Peter Smollett (then DAILY EXPRESS), Michael Burn (LONDON TIMES) and John Peet (REUTERS)’. Hutton then added further incriminating details, including this remarkable passage:

            When Michael Burn was moved to Hungary to await receipt of his Moscow visa (which never came – a great disappointment to him), he recommended Smolka for the London TIMES vacancy in Vienna, and despite the protests to the paper’s headquarters in London by legation and by independent British newspaper men, Smolka was appointed and continued as the TIMES correspondent until mid-1949. Though in ill health (Smolka suffers from glandular trouble), he combined this job, firstly, with that of assistant to Dr. Ernst Fischer when the latter was Communist foreign editor of the NEUES-OESTERREICH, triparty ‘independent’ paper. When Fischer, the only real brains of the K.P.O. was ousted, he went to work, it is believed, as the shadow foreign editor of the official Communist party paper. The pro-Communist news agency, TELE-PRESS, was apparently started by Smollett, and he is still a shareholder. On his ‘resignation’ from the LONDON TIMES (as a result of heavy pressure rather than the ‘illness’ which was announced), Smolka assumed managership of a button factory in the Soviet section of Vienna, formerly owned by his father-in-law [actually, ‘father’], and which, remarkably enough, he had managed to get released from Soviet control. He still maintains his interest with the Communist news agency, TELE-PRESS, and is allegedly writing books.

I take several lessons from this testimony. Smolka’s true allegiances seem to have been far more obvious to his journalist colleagues than they were to MI6, even back in 1946. The infamous Michael Burn (incidentally a one-time lover of Guy Burgess), who abetted Smolka’s career at the Times, had in fact been one of Smolka’s referees in his naturalization request, and MI5/MI6 had obviously been lax in not tracking this triad properly. Burn was a provocative character, but also a brave one, since he was captured during the St. Nazaire raid of March 1942. He published a biography in 2003, Turned Towards the Sun, that is predictably equivocal about his ideological sympathies. (He died in 2010, aged 97.) An intimate friend of Guy Burgess, he suggests that he was almost recruited by his lover to the Comintern cause, and he later got into some trouble for delivering Marxist lectures when in German prisoner-of-war camps. He claimed that he was never a communist, never a fellow-traveller, but admitted to having Communist Party ‘mentors’ in London after the war. At one point he writes that he wanted to get to Budapest early in 1948 simply to witness the trial of Cardinal Mindszenty, yet elsewhere describes his great disappointment in not gaining a visa to move to Moscow (as Hutton confirmed). He was in fact tipped off about the Mindszenty trial by Guy Burgess. In his book he makes only one brief mention of Smolka, when the latter attended a dinner in London at which the Austrian Ernst Fischer and his wife were present, which is disingenuous, to say the least.

‘Turned Towards the Sun’

Smolka was engaged in manifestly underhand and subversive work that could have been considered traitorous, and that could have called for his British citizenship to be revoked. His illness (of which much was made in successive years) may well have been a deceit: although apparently confined to a wheelchair soon afterwards, he survived until 1980. It all points to an unhealthy degree of toleration by MI6 for Smolka and his clique. Interestingly, a further provocative statement is made by Hutton on Antony Terry, whom he accuses of staying too close to Peet and Smolka, and of being influenced by them. Terry, who was ‘vehement in his declarations that he was not a Communist’, soon after received a firm defence from the Intelligence Organization of the Allied Commission. In his role handling agents under the aegis of the Vienna station, a certain amount of dissimulation on his part may however have been necessary.

Next came the highly charged and very critical year in British Intelligence history – 1951. In March, the analysts of the VENONA decryptions were closing in on Donald Maclean as the figure behind HOMER, the betrayer of secrets in Washington, and his identity was almost certain by the end of the month. Oliver Franks, the British Ambassador in Washington, informed Guy Burgess that he was seeking Foreign Office approval for his recall to London. Burgess returned at the end of March, and he and Maclean would abscond to Moscow on May 25. At some time during March, Smolka made a visit to the United Kingdom – but his arrival and departure were not noticed by the Immigration authorities.

The sole indication that is recorded is a series of intercepted telephone conversations between Smolka and someone identified as ANDREW, some of them undertaken in Russian. Who initiated the surveillance, and why, are not recorded, but D. Mumford of B1g receives a transcript of them, and wonders whether the Peter Smolka may be identical with the Smolka with whom MI5 is familiar with, and he makes a request that someone should check up whether the person was in the country on March 1. The outcome of that inquiry is not recorded, but on May 30, an investigation from British Military Intelligence in Austria is launched concerning a letter sent from a S. A. Barnett to Smolka, including information on biological warfare in China, and intercepted on February 1. James Robertson of MI5 asks his colleague in MI6 whether the service has any fresh news on Smolka, but receives the answer that there is nothing new in his file since June 20, 1950. Evelyn McBarnet of B2b agrees with her MI6 counterpart that ‘there is little doubt that he is a Communist’ – an assessment that would appear to be somewhat tentative and dilatory given the man’s track-record. On July 9, B1g is able to inform Military Intelligence in Vienna that Barnett is a biologist, a member of the Marylebone branch of the Communist Party, and a security risk.

It is evident that MI5 is trying to determine whether there were any links between Burgess and Smolka. MI6 in Vienna can find nothing. And then the bomb drops. The Minute Sheet to KV 2/4169 shows that Smolka, as early as August 21, 1951, had come to MI5’s notice in connection with the investigations by B1 & B2 into the Maclean/Burgess case. In November 1951, a trawl through correspondence found on Burgess’s abandoned premises reveals a sheaf of documents that were believed to have generated by Smolka. In an extraordinary pageant, seventy pages of these documents can be seen in Smolka’s third file, KV 2/4169: they have been copied from Burges’s unreleased file PF 604529. They merit a complete transcription, as they cover all manner of highly confidential topics, from notes made from Cabinet meetings, discussions of British strategy towards the Soviet Union, success of bombing raids, to details on armaments. They constitute an astonishing proof that Smolka was not merely an influential propagandist, but also acted as a genuine spy.

The introduction to the documents merits being reproduced in its entirety.

            The enclosed documents, all of which were found in Guy BURGESS’s correspondence, are believed to have emanated from Peter SMOLKA @ SMOLLETT. They consist of:

  1. Notes relating to R.A.F. bombing raids in SMOLLETT’s handwriting.
  2. Document describing conversations with various people. This document as typed on a machine with a faulty lower case “m” and has been annotated in SMOLLETT’s handwriting.
  3.  A number of documents describing conversations with various people. All these documents typed on a machine with a faulty lower case “m”.
  4. Two documents similar in material and manner to III but typed on a different typewriter.
  5. Sample of SMOLLETT’s handwriting obtained from Ministry of Information File F.P. 8052/4.

This evidence is far stronger than the corollary claims on the typewriter technology made about Alger Hiss by Whittaker Chambers a couple of years earlier, after which Hiss was jailed for perjury. And the whole scenario shows how reluctant Smolka was to pass such documents to the new ambassador, Gusev, his predecessor and close friend Ivan Maisky having been recalled in August 1943. Smolka thus had to implicate the unreliable and undisciplined Burgess in his crimes, and rely on him to forward the information to their masters.

The first reaction by MI5 was to try to acquire a complete statement of Smolka’s immigration records. The request expresses the belief that Smolka may have visited the UK in March 1951, and follows with: “Discreetly obtain U.K. address and particulars of foreign visa and documents of interest and telephone arrival or departure to M.I.5.” The result was that Smolka was seen to have benefitted from a constant renewal of his passport: the original in 1938; a fresh one issued in Moscow on June 17, 1944; an exit permit to allow him to travel to Prague dated June 27, 1945; an application made that same day for a new passport tissued on July 5; a granting of a new passport by the Vienna consulate on July 30, 1947; and a further issuance on July 21, 1951. This last event is the most extraordinary of all, Smolka by then having reneged on his naturalization promises, and shown his utter opposition to British democracy, as well as a clear intent to reside permanently in Austria. What thought-processes did the authorities go through? After all, as his naturalization papers confirm, Section 23 of the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act, 1914, provides that:

If any person for any purposes of this Act knowingly makes any false representation or any statement false in a material particular, he shall in the United Kingdom be liable on summary conviction in respect of each offence to imprisonment with or without hard labour for any term not exceeding three months.

Maybe Smolka had reconsidered his ‘intention’ to reside permanently within His Majesty’s dominions, but he had omitted his early 1934 visit to Vienna when listing his various absences from the United Kingdom.

So what action did MI5 take on learning of this treachery? According to the archive, nothing. in October 1951, Martin had suggested that, should Smolka visit the UK again (as appears to be his practice) ‘we might wish to get in touch with him’. Indeed. It appears again that the lower-level officers in MI5 have not been brought fully into the picture. Yet an apparently harmless request may have caused greater soul-searching. On December 11, British Military Intelligence in Austria made a routine inquiry (on behalf of their US colleagues) about the activities of Smolka and another Austrian émigré, George Knepler, who had been staying at the Smolka domicile. It takes a while for MI5 to respond.

Chapter 6: 1952-1961 – Survivor and Diehard

On January 22, 1952, Arthur Martin, now B1g, wrote a report (heavily redacted in the archive) for British Military Intelligence in Austria. What remains of it is anodyne and stale. Five days beforehand, Martin’s colleague, R. V. Hodson, had recommended a cover-up of Smolka’s role with the Ministry of Information, as the allegations against him concerning his Communism might damage relations with the Americans. Martin notes that the FBI and the CIA have already started nosing around over Smolka, and that B2b has been in contact with them. The Americans can therefore not be fobbed off completely, and he recommends sending to the Intelligence Organisation Austria a sanitized version of his report to pass on to ‘the local American element’.

On February 5, another report arrives, from Vienna, dated January 25, concerning Alice Honigmann (aka Litzy Philby) and Smolka. It seems that the Austrian police have become interested in the activities of both before 1934. The dossier has its amusing items: both the Vienna constabulary and British Military Intelligence are under the misapprehension that Alice married ‘Harald Adrian Russell, student of philosophy’ in February 1934. It goes on to declare that ‘Russel’ was a ‘British diplomat who was alleged to be a dignitary at the court of Siam’. The information is explicitly traced to the article in Die Illustrierte Kronenzeitung (see last month’s coldspur). Neither MI5 nor MI6 has seen fit to point out to their colleagues in Intelligence the true identity of Litzy’s second husband. Thus the Vienna contingent was not aware that Alice Russel was actually Alice Philby, or that she had since married George Honigmann in East Berlin, which indicates that the civil Intelligence Services had been very selective in the information they passed on to their military brethren.

Wherefrom the local interest derives is not clear, but a connection between the two is suggested by another erroneous ‘fact’ – that Smolka ‘lived with his parents in Vienna until 27.9.35’, at which time he left for England. The Colonel GS who signs his name to this report is under the impression that he is at the research frontier, and that he is passing on hitherto unknown information. Whether and how MI5 responded is not revealed, but by now Arthur Martin had more urgent tasks to attend to. A memorandum of February 11 states: “The documents recovered from BURGESS’s flat and from the Courtauld Institute (as listed on PF.604529/SUPP.B.) have recently been re-examined by B.2.B.” Martin goes on to describe in detail greater than was recorded in November the nature of the documents discovered.

Whether ‘re-examined’ in this case means ‘a second examination by B2b’ or ‘the first by B2b after the November analysis’ is not clear. Yet it seems odd that it has taken three months for B2b to start work on such a dramatic and illuminating find. Moreover, the casual mentioning of the Courtauld Institute suggests that the premises of Anthony Blunt had also been successfully searched – which would constitute a startlingly early pointer to the treachery of the art historian. In any event, a project is initiated to track down the sources of the leaks, such as how Smolka obtained access to an Admiralty telegram and to a letter from Sir Stafford Cripps. (Martin was probably unaware of the close friendship between the fellow-traveller Cripps and Smolka.)

Smolka with Sir Stafford and Lady Cripps

Evelyn McBarnet joins the quest, and lists persons who may be able to help, including the inventor Geoffrey Pyke, and Professor Bernal. Minutes of a critical meeting on March 19, 1942, to discuss the highly secret ‘Snow Vehicle’ are dredged out. (One can imagine in what Northern terrains such a vehicle might be put to use.) A few days later, it comes to light that Combined Operations were aware in March 1942 that Pyke had been in touch with Smolka over the scheme. George Carey-Foster, the Security Officer in the Foreign Office, confirms the contents of a telegram despatched by Admiral Myers on Moscow. Anecdotes about Smolka’s favoured treatment by the Soviets when leaving Russia in 1944 are recorded.

The evidence that Smolka passed on several confidential documents, whose use by the Soviets could have seriously weakened Britain negotiating capabilities, is conclusive. A summons to return to the UK for interrogation and a trial would appear to be in order – except, of course that messy, open trials are not popular items on the MI5 menu, and both services would probably have preferred that Smolka simply fade away, literally so, owing to his severe ailment. Thus it is alarming to discover that the next minuted item, dated May 1, 1952, appears under the signature of J. C. Robertson, as B2:

            At DB’s [Dick White’s] request I asked yesterday if he would check up in Vienna on the report received from Carey Foster, to the effect that a certain xxxxx of the British Embassy in Vienna had stated that, in his opinion, SMOLKA might be ready to ‘come over’ if suitably approached.

Irrespective of the uncertain syntax (whom is Robertson asking?), this is an utterly shocking switch in policy. To articulate the term ‘come over’ suggests that Smolka is recognized as a committed Soviet agent, of alien nationality, who has expressed a desire to defect for reasons of weakening belief, fear of punishment, or for some other personal reason. Yet Smolka is still a British citizen who has appeared to have betrayed his naturalization promises, has recently been proved to have passed on confidential papers to the enemy, and should face severe penalties if he returned to the United Kingdom. Moreover, MI6 should have been aware that, if such a figure ‘defected’, he would immediately appear on an assassination list, and would be disposed of ruthlessly. Smolka would know that, too. So what is going on here?

A few trivial items follow: Lotty Smolka was reported a paying a fleeting visit to London in June; Smolka was linked to Guy Burgess’s buddy, Jack Hewett; another Peter Smollett, a young American, was mistakenly identified as Smolka for a while; Smolka informed the Vienna consulate of his new address on August 14. Military Intelligence forwards a report from the Austrian Police on October 30, shedding no new information, but merely reinforcing the fact that Smolka is a ‘fanatical communist’. It contains many errors, which McBarnet points out. Yet Smolka still seems attached enough to his status in England to have compiled an entry for Who’s Who 1953. His continuing British connections, however, may have attracted suspicion not far away.

Rudolf Slansky at his Trial

It is possible that Smolka detected warning signs from Hungary some time in 1952. A report from Special Branch, dated November 18 draws attention to some denunciations of Hungarians made by a Jozsef Menny*** (the page is torn). It was entered into Smolka’s file, presumably because he was subject to similar attacks in Czechoslovakia. On Stalin’s insistence, Rudolf Slánský, the Secretary-General of the Czech Communist Party, had been arrested on November 24, 1951, and, after a year of torture, Slánský had been coached to admit his guilt to a Zionist and imperialist conspiracy at his trial which opened on November 20, 1952. He was hanged alongside several others on December 3. During the trial Smolka was also denounced as an ‘imperialist agent’, an accusation, among all the imaginary charges dreamed up by Stalin and his henchmen, that had a measure of truth in it. I have noted earlier Gordievsky’s observations that a plan was hatched to kidnap Smolka from Austria, but was, oddly, not implemented. Presumably Stalin knew enough about the case to conclude that it would be a great injustice – not that such humanistic concerns troubled him normally. He was initiating a fresh new Jewish Purge, and Smolka could easily have fallen into the maw.

This all leads to a remarkable reprise of the ‘defector’ theme from Robertson, who on January 23, 1953, contacts MI6 with an appeal based on the belief that the attacks on Jews may bring Smolka into British hands, thereby offering MI5 ‘some valuable information about Russian espionage’. What is extraordinary is that a group of five further malefactors are listed on this letter, verifiable by their PF numbers, namely Herzfeld, Klopstech, Beurton (Ursula née Kuczynski), Juergen Kuczynksi, and even Georg Honigmann (who had, so far as can be determined, never engaged in espionage). This is, moreover, a very mixed bag, which, significantly, includes Honigmann, but not his partner, Litzy. Robertson couches his invitation in the following terms:

            We recognize that, however alarmed any of these people may be by the uncertainty of their future under Communist regimes, this might be outweighed by fear of legal or other punitive action on the part of the British authorities. With this in mind, our suggestion is that you might instruct the appropriate M.I.6. representatives to do whatever may be possible to let it become known to them, or at least to those of them who are at all accessible, that they need have no fear on this particular score.

Robertson must have had approval for this nonsense. It just shows how amoral and disoriented MI5’s counter-espionage policy was at this time.

I can see several flaws in this madcap initiative. First of all, MI6 personnel approaching anyone on this list would put themselves in danger, as well as increase the risk to the targeted individual. All members of this group were regarded with suspicion by their respective security organs behind the Iron Curtain, because of their extended sojourns in the West. Whoever might be approached might certainly report the contact to the Secret Police immediately, a fact that would be relayed, thus putting everyone else in jeopardy. The targets would perhaps be more fearful of losing their lives after defection than becoming victims of Stalin’s purges. The mechanics of exfiltrating such persons, either serially or at the same time, would pose immense problems. The challenge of deciding whether whole families should be brought over (else those left behind would be punished) appears to have been overlooked – as the Honigmann case suggests. If any of these foes of British constitutionality did defect successfully, there was no guarantee that they would tell anything useful (or accurate, even), and, if the truth came out about the nature of their original entry to, and survival in, the United Kingdom, some very embarrassing questions would have to be handled – including the obvious one: “Why are these people being given amnesty instead of being prosecuted?” All this for a vague opportunity to gain some ‘valuable information about Russian espionage’! MI5 and MI6 had been utterly outplayed by their Soviet antagonists, and this was a desperate and hopeless idea.

MI6 responded positively to MI5’s suggestions, and indicated it might be able to set up a rendezvous with Smolka through a third party. McBarnet of B2b gets quite excited at the prospect. Fortunately for everybody involved, Stalin died on March 5, 1953, and the scare of the ‘Jewish Plot’ was over. A report comes in dated May 2. The MI6 representative in Vienna (BLAIR) had made an approach to Smolka on Christmas Eve, but the gesture had not been returned. He concludes that Smolka must, after all, be a ‘dyed in the wool communist, for whom there is no hope’. He notes also that there has been a change in policy on the Communist attitude to Semites. McBarnet attempts to climb down, claiming that she ‘never had any high hopes of SMOLLETT’s defection.’

At the Smolkas in Vienna

And there matters peter out for a few years. In 1957, the Attorney-General refers to the embarrassment of holding a trial should Guy Burgess return to the country, and Smolka’s case is mentioned in passing. On October 29 of that year, prominent mole-hunter Courtenay Young of D1 writes to MI6, asking if they have any news on ‘our old friend’ Smolka, and he has to jog their memory on December 3, having received no response. Another month passes, and he has to make a telephone call to try to prod the Viennese Police into action. At last, a report on March 3, 1958, informs David Whyte that Smolka has moved house, is totally crippled in both legs, and was ‘released’ [actually, ‘ausgeschlossen’, better ‘expelled’] from the Communist Party in the autumn of 1952. Expulsion was a serious action. MI5 feels safe arranging for the watch for Smolka at Britain’s ports to be cancelled.

Out of the blue, Smolka turns up in London. On September 27, 1961, Evelyn McBarnet notes that the Information Resource Department of the Foreign Office had contacted F1a of MI5 to inquire about him, since a Thomas Barman, Political Correspondent of the B.B.C., had been invited to a dinner for Smolka at the Savoy Hotel. She writes to him at the Savoy the next day, and she discovers that his British passport was re-issued in Vienna on June 22, 1960 – an extraordinary revelation, indicating deep confusion and lack of communication. Ms. McBarnet applies for a telephone warrant: G. R. Mitchell reinforces the need to know as much as possible about his present activities and contacts. The outcome was that Smolka agreed to an interrogation by Arthur Martin on October 2, but at the Savoy Hotel, because of his mobility problems.

The transcript of the meeting takes twenty pages: it is the most abject example of an interrogator’s work one could ever imagine reading. Martin has not been briefed properly; he is unsure of what he is trying to achieve; he interrupts frequently; Smolka runs rings around him. It is as if Martin had been instructed to bungle it – but then why did MI5 pursue the interrogation at all? On the major issue of the Burgess documents, Smolka explains it away by stating that Burgess told him that he worked for MI5, and asked Smolka to write down ‘his impressions’ for him. Smolka is allowed to make all manner of outrageous statements – about Burgess, Philby and Litzy, about his communist past. He concludes by telling Martin that he suffers from ‘creeping paralysis’, which is incurable, and that he has been warned that he has little longer to live. He left England on October 4, and died in 1980.

MI6 expressed their interest in reading Martin’s report. No doubt they were delighted that Smolka had escaped without revealing anything embarrassing. Yet a last vital entry hints at far more. Extracts from interviews with KAGO (items 322t through 322z), dated November 29, 1961, are listed in the Minute Sheet, but have been redacted from the file. KAGO was the defector Anatoliy Golitsyn, who did not actually move across from the KGB, in Helsinki, until December 15, so it is clear that he had been briefing MI6 and CIA officers for a while already. Golitsyn is recognized as supplying the final proof about Philby, but I do not believe that his providing information on Smolka has been revealed anywhere else.

Summary & Conclusions:

The career of Peter Smolka is shocking in that he easily escaped all justified challenges to his advancement as a Soviet agent, and to the disclosure of that role. He arrives in the UK with a police record, and is noticed attending subversive rallies. He is recognized as having Communist sympathies. He travels abroad frequently, and is watched, but a critical visit to Vienna to join Kim Philby, who marries the best friend of his wife, is ignored, or its existence concealed. He arranges a journey to the Soviet Union, and writes a highly-biased book about Stalin’s Gulag, which is serialized in the Times. He applies for British naturalization, makes false declarations on his papers, but is endorsed by a team that includes two of the persons who championed his book, and a colleague from the Exchange Telegraph. Despite strong objections from MI5, his application is accepted, largely because of support from the Foreign Office.

As his professional career moves on, further objections arrive, including a strong one from Military Intelligence. Yet, when war breaks out, Smolka seems to have enough champions to be recruited by the Ministry of Information, where he soon exerts considerable power as head of the Soviet desk, promoting vigorous propaganda on behalf of the Soviet Union. In 1944 he receives the O.B.E. for his efforts. When the Ministry is closed down, he moves to Vienna as a newspaper correspondent, eventually replacing Michael Burn of the Times. There he fosters contacts with Communists, and, despite his British citizenship, criticizes his adopted country.

When suspicions about his friend and colleague Kim Philby grow in 1947, MI5 and MI6 start to investigate Smolka. So as not to draw attention, or make the approach too obvious, in 1948 MI6 sends out its former officer, the writer Graham Greene, to meet Smolka, and try to determine where his true allegiances lie, and what he knows about Philby. Smolka probably tells Greene all, but the accounts of the discussion are a smokescreen, with Smolka being attributed with anecdotes for The Third Man. Smolka continues with his communist activities, but he is able to renew his British passport regularly, and even makes an unannounced and unnoticed visit to Britain in March 1951, just as the Burgess-Maclean affair is heating up.

In August 1951, a few months after Burgess and Maclean have absconded, MI5 discovers papers containing confidential information in Burgess’s flat that have unmistakable traces of having been created by Smolka. The Security Service fails to act, but when Smolka becomes a near victim of Stalin’s purge against Jews, culminating in the trial and execution of Rudolf Slánský in Prague in November 1952, MI5 recommends reaching out to Smolka, and offering him amnesty, in the hope that he might ‘defect’, and give the intelligence services vital information on Soviet espionage techniques. Stalin’s death in March 1953 pre-empts this initiative.

Smolka is thereafter watched in a desultory fashion. He eventually returns unobserved to London in October 1961, where his presence is accidentally noticed, and MI5 is informed. He agrees to an interrogation, held at the Savoy Hotel, since he has been rendered immobile, dependent upon a wheel-chair, because of ‘creeping paralysis’. Arthur Martin conducts a half-hearted and utterly incompetent interrogation, where Smolka runs rings around the hapless officer. He tells Martin that he has not long to live. The spy returns to Vienna, and he dies in 1980.

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

My theory is that MI6 developed a plan to try to use Smolka for Soviet counter-intelligence purposes. The idea was surely Dansey’s, as it anticipates a pattern of naïve ‘recruitment’ of Soviet agents who, according to Colonel Z, could be manipulated. In 1940, Dansey enabled Ursula Kuczynski’s marriage to Len Beurton in Switzerland, thereby allowing her to gain a British passport. Her passage to Britain via Lisbon was then facilitated, whereupon she took up her committed role of Soviet agent and courier. In a similar fashion did Dansey identify Smolka as a target with potential, and recruit him as some kind of ‘asset’, probably in 1933.

Dansey’s thinking must have been that, given the chance to work for the world’s premier intelligence service (as he no doubt would classify MI6), and being exposed to the obvious attractions of a democratic, pluralist society like the United Kingdom, agents with communist persuasions who must have known about the persecution of the same by Stalin would gratefully redirect their allegiances. (Admittedly, 1933 was early for Stalin’s purge of NKVD operatives called home for execution, or assassinated abroad, but the Terror was clear.) Yet Dansey completely misunderstood the dedication of the communist mind, or the fear that the system implanted in its agents. Moreover, Kim Philby claimed that it was the attraction of working for an elite force that convinced him to turn traitor.

Exactly how Dansey planned to exploit Smolka is a mystery. To encourage him to take up a virulently pro-Communist stand would probably have deceived his Soviet masters about the plot, but it was so excessive (at a time when the Soviet Union was regarded as equally dangerous as Hitler’s German) that it could – and should – have reduced Smolka’s career prospects in the corridors of power. If Moscow in truth recruited Smolka at about the same time, it would have looked for a more stealthy and subtle approach, akin to Philby’s joining the Anglo-German Friendship Society. Maybe Smolka told his NKVD bosses about the Dansey ruse immediately, and they simply played along with it.

Yet it required a high degree of collusion – from the Home Office, MI5, and the Foreign Office (in the person of the oily bureaucrat Rex Leeper), even the Times, to maintain the pretence. That high-level officials did turn a blind eye to Smolka’s misdemeanours and obvious subversive instincts is evident from all the missteps, unpursued complaints, and clumsy derelictions of duty displayed in the Smolka archive. And all for what? To establish a powerful propagandist for the Soviet cause in the Ministry of Information, while he secretly passed on highly confidential intelligence to the Russians via Guy Burgess. Then, finally, he was packaged and polished to be sent abroad under cover of a press representative to infiltrate the Communist cadres in Vienna, and presumably pass back valuable information.

Why MI6 believed that this scheme would work is beyond explanation. It shows a frightening naivety about the nature of the communist machine, how suspicious it would be about cosmopolitans returning from the West, and how ruthless it would be with possible traitors. Smolka was not a particularly brave man. When he returned to consort with his communist friends in Vienna, he knew there was no going back, no matter how much he had grown to enjoy the life in London (as did Georg Honigmann and his partner Litzy). He had far more to fear from the NKGB than he did from the intelligence and police officers in his country of naturalization, since he knew they could never publicly reveal anything about his extraordinary compact. Maybe he did a deal with Graham Greene, and promised to keep his mouth shut for a sum of money – especially about his friend and colleague Kim Philby.

The exact relationship been MI6, Smolka and Phiby in 1934 is inevitably very murky. The fact that Philby declared that he knew Smolka in Vienna is, to me, incontrovertible proof that they collaborated there, since it was otherwise an unnecessary and incriminating admission. It would appear that MI6 secretly sent Smolka to Vienna to join Philby, which would suggest that the Secret Intelligence Service likewise considered Philby as some kind of asset at this time, and the clumsy attempt by the Vienna station to portray him as a prosperous right-winger would reinforce that view. Yet now is the time to pause for breath, and wait to see how the analysts, experts, and insiders respond to the hypotheses presented here.

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Special Bulletin: ‘The Airmen Who Died Twice’ – Part 2

(For those readers who have expressed interest in the disposal of my Library I should like to draw your attention to the following press release, issued by the University of North Carolina on February 6: https://giving.uncw.edu/stories/new-special-collection-to-make-randall-library-a-destination-for-researchers-worldwide.)

The first two chapters of ‘The Airmen Who Died Twice’ can be seen at https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-airmen-who-died-twice-part-1/.

The Memorial at Saupeset

Chapter 3: The RAF in Yagodnik

When the decision to launch the attack from Soviet soil was made at this late stage, on 11th September, the security questions raised in April 1943 were sadly overlooked. Bomber Command (or whoever was calling the shots) was apparently able to take the final decision without further consultations with the Soviet Air Force. Amazingly, approval for this revised plan must have been received immediately. It is probable that Stalin now encouraged it, as it would enable him to lay his hands upon the Tallboy itself, and not simply bombers with empty payloads, as well as to exploit the homeward flight of a Lancaster for his own devious purposes. It is certain that an agreement in principle had been hammered out some time beforehand, but that Stalin had wanted to wait until the Warsaw Uprising had been quashed before granting permission.

Preparations for the refined operation were very hurried. One significant outcome of the new arrangement was that, on that same day, 11th September, the Lancasters flew directly from Bardney and Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire to Yagodnik, while the Liberators (which were originally scheduled to arrive in an advance party to prepare for the Lancasters’ arrival) proceeded to Lossiemouth, and then Unst in the Shetlands, for re-fuelling. This was to have serious implications when one third of the Lancasters lost their way in looking for Yagodnik. One of the reasons that the Liberators were originally supposed to arrive before the Lancasters was to provide improved VHF radio guidance, and the reliance on confusing Soviet signals and beacons certainly contributed to the errant landings and resultant written off aircraft. Moreover, the weather in Yagodnik was, in McMullen’s words, ‘appalling’. Whatever forecast had been issued from London was completely off the mark, and the Soviets (who had surely provided the forecasts themselves, and in fact given one for the day after the arrivals) were amazed that the planes had attempted the journey in such conditions.

Routes to Yagodnik

Thus, ironically, while the ground-rules of the Operational Order had been ostensibly changed because of unfavourable weather forecasts for Altenfjord, the whole mission was jeopardized because of a failure to predict very poor weather in Archangel, the error in not implementing proper communications and signalling protocols, and the delay in sending out the Liberators which were intended to guide and welcome the Lancasters to Yagodnik. It all comprises an extraordinarily incompetent example of leadership and decision-making. One might suspect, nevertheless, that the Soviets were not too concerned about the safe arrival of all the planes. After all, there was valuable new technology to be inspected and exploited. In the developing saga of the disaster at Nesbyen, the immobility of some grounded aircraft in the swamps and forests around Archangel would turn out to have dire and unexpected consequences.

Group Captain McMullen, in his report following Paravane, stated that atrocious weather conditions from the Finnish border, incompatible call signals between Russian and English alphabets, lack of WT beacon information, and maps without towns or railways led to the scattering of one third of the planes of Squadrons 9 and 617 on arrival in Russia. Only twenty-three Lancasters, one Liberator, and one Mosquito, from a total of thirty-nine aircraft, landed safely at Yagodnik on 11th September. The remaining fourteen planes and forty-two Lancaster crewmen, with their hi-tech munitions, crash landed or were diverted to Kergostov, Vascova and Onega. These became the object of a frantic Anglo/Soviet search and rescue operation on September 12. One of the pilots added that lack of fuel was a major cause for these forced landings. McMullen did not mention this factor in his report.

In spite of the lack of English-speaking Russians or RAF interpreters there was a concerted and effective drive to locate and retrieve the fourteen lost planes and crews. Soviet efforts are illustrated by the parachutist who was dropped by one crash-site and then guided the crew to a lake where it was collected by a Soviet flying boat for return to Yagodnik. Squadron Leader Harman noted in the official diary: “We were very fortunate that we have no casualties”. All forty-two RAF crew were safely returned to their Squadrons within forty-eight hours. McMullen and his Soviet counterpart Colonel Loginov worked closely to coordinate the rescue so that, by 14th September, twenty Lancasters with Tallboys, six Lancasters with Johnny Walkers, one Mosquito film unit and both Liberators were in place at Yagodnik ready for the assault on Tirpitz.

The Airstrip at Yagodnik

McMullen made clear that very few of the expected facilities to ensure a successful mission were in place on site. The essential refuelling was limited by bowser numbers and capacity to 6 x 350 gallons instead of the 8 x 3,500 gallons and 4 x 2,000 gallons expected. As a result, the Squadron was not ready to fly for another twenty-four hours, delaying action until 14th September. It is almost an understatement when he asserted: “Misleading intelligence of this kind can be most embarrassing and can even ruin all chances of success”. What is not clear is whether he was blaming British 30 Mission in Moscow, 5 Group in UK, or the Soviet authorities at Yagodnik for the misinformation supplied to Squadrons 9 and 617 before 11th September. He concluded that close cooperation with 30 Mission was essential to operate in Russia, implying that this had not been a priority for 5 Group in the UK.

Ralph Cochrane, Air Vice Marshal at 5 Group Headquarters, Swinderby was responsible for coordinating the Squadrons for Paravane, reporting to Arthur Harris, Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command. Cochrane had no doubt that the careful work of his planning staff at 5 Group was responsible for the success of the operation, as he declared to Harris on 15th October. He acknowledged none of the practical problems which plagued McMullen in Russia nor why basic technical coordination with the Russians essential for navigation was not prepared by his planning staff and communicated to the crews.

Tirpitz in Kafjord, inner to Altenfjord

On the 15th September at 9.30 am, over a twenty-three minute period, twenty-six Lancasters and one Mosquito took off to attack the Tirpitz in Altenfjord. They flew at 1,000 feet until they reached the Finnish border, when an altitude of 12,000-14,000 feet was maintained over Norway. Within sixty miles of the target all planes, in four waves, would dive to bombing height to despatch their Tallboy and Johnny Walker bombs. Flak was intense from shore and ship, but it was ineffective. There was no German fighter plane opposition. Although surprise was achieved by using the southerly approach against Tirpitz, the smokescreen to hide the battleship was in place within seven minutes of the RAF arrival.

In the debriefing after the attack the crews confirmed that one of the seventeen Tallboys had hit the target: sixteen did not. The outcome from the deployment of the Johnny Walker bombs designed to target the hull of the ship ‘walking’ through the sea was uncertain. At 18.20 the battleship remained afloat. The Mosquito film crew was not able to secure a damage report until 20th September: it appeared to show a possible hit. The disappointing result was heightened by the knowledge that Tallboy and the SABS (Stabilized Automatic Bomb Sight) were radically new weapons designed to be accurate within a hundred yards and to destroy any obstacle. Only Squadron 617 was equipped to deliver the 12,000 lb. rotating bomb guided by computerized SABS at 715 mph, which detonated only from inside the target. On 15th October Cochrane told Harris: “None but the heaviest and strongest type of bomb could penetrate (Tirpitz’s) horizontal armour and burst within the ship.”

With the safe return of all Lancasters late on 15th September from Altenfjord, McMullen had two priorities: first, the refuelling and repair of the planes for return to the UK and active duties over Germany, and second, the salvage of the munitions scattered across the region. By 19th September Thomas Williams, assistant Chief of Air Staff, was anxiously demanding information from Harris and Cochrane on radar equipment, gun sights and bomb sights on board the Lancasters that had crashed on arrival on in Russia. A systematic campaign was launched by RAF to salvage or destroy any technology which their Russian hosts might be keen to acquire, although the RAF remained awkwardly reliant on Russian aircraft to reach the remote wrecks.

By the 20th September the chief engineer reported that all fuses and detonators had been removed from the remaining Tallboys and returned to the UK. McMullen was under instruction to retrieve everything of value from the wrecks. Despite Williams’s concern that the Russians would not allow retrieval of the Tallboys, 30 Mission was able to confirm their safe shipment to the UK on 3rd November. As a Soviet engineer wryly observed of his RAF allies: “The British dismantled or destroyed radars, radio stations, bombsights. All aircraft were stripped of the most scarce power units.” The limits of Anglo-Soviet military cooperation were clear.

The enthusiastic cooperation leading to the Tirpitz attack was replaced by growing strains between both sides. Squadron Leader Harman’s official diary charted this tortuous breakdown. On 18th September McMullen secured agreement from Loginov for the use of the Russian Dakota to inspect crashes at Belomorsk and Vascova. On the 19th September the plane was suddenly not available. Finally, on 20th September, ‘after a lot of pressure had been put on the Russians’, McMullen was able to visit the sites. When, however, a repeat exercise was attempted on 24th September with the RAF Mosquito, fuel was denied by the Russians. While thirty Lancasters, with one exception, had returned safely to the UK by 17th September; the Liberators loaded with the salvaged equipment were trapped at Yagodnik as the weather deteriorated. McMullen tried to secure Russian permission on 22nd and 24th September to fly south via Moscow to escape the northern storms: this was refused. At one point Harman despaired at the prospect of spending the winter in Russia.

Was this Russian recalcitrance due to disappointment at the apparent failure of the RAF attack on Tirpitz? Had the Russians become angry that the British were so determined to deny them access to the Tallboy and SABS technology? A report on 5th October by Mikhail Ryumin, head of SMERSH Secret Police in Archangel to his Moscow Head Office provides a clue. Describing the activities of Flight Lieutenant Abercrombie seconded from 30 Mission Moscow ‘who sought permission to take photographs as he pleases’, he added that he ‘persistently asked where the radio and power stations are located in Archangel.’, while his colleague Wing Commander Hughes was carefully recording the size and state of various Russian airfields.

If this British research was simply practical preparation for Paravane a secret Appendix in the 15th October report to Cochrane appears to confirm the Secret Police’s worst fears: “Some details regarding North Russian Airfields were obtainable but it was not possible to get much information from the Russians without arousing their suspicions. For instance it is rumoured that a very big airfield is being constructed near Molotovsk, and during a flight from Yagodnik to Belomorsk the Russian pilot could not be induced to get off track to permit one to see this rumoured airfield.” This was the same flight which McMullen and Hughes took on 20th September in the Russian Dakota to inspect the Lancaster crashes.

Group Captain McMullen was at the centre of this swirling confusion of military cooperation and political subterfuge. His praise for the Russian military was generous. “They gave full and free cooperation in every respect”, he wrote, which contradicted Harman’s meticulous record of Russian obstruction from 17th September. McMullen blamed ‘misleading intelligence’ for almost ruining the Operation, much of which originated from the Russian sources at Yagodnik.  His official final letter to Russian commanders and Yagodnik ground staff was glowingly uncritical: “Your cooperation enabled us to gather the force sent to attack the Tirpitz. For that we shall always be in your debt.” On the other hand, in private to Cochrane, he conceded: “The praise in the letters is lavish, but I was advised that the Russians value this kind of thing.”

Yet a man who tacked his position to suit the audience of the moment was adamant on one point: he strongly recommended to Cochrane that Colonel Loginov, Major General Dyzmba and Vice Admiral Pantaleyev be awarded the highest British honours for their service to the RAF in Yagodnik. Although Cochrane was silent on this point in his report to Harris, the Foreign Office obliged with CB and CBE honours to all three Russians. We can only surmise whether this repayment for the debt that McMullen confirms he owes his hosts was given freely or under duress.

On 27th September the two Liberators finally left Yagodnik, eleven days after the attack on Tirpitz and the subsequent mysterious crash of Lancaster PB416 in southern Norway.

Chapter 4:  The Crash at Saupeset

Nesbyen Cemetery

At about 5:15 pm on 16th September, 1944, the first group of sixteen Lancaster bombers, with a total of a hundred and thirty-one crew, took off over a two-hour period to return to the UK, over the airspace of neutral Sweden, avoiding occupied Norway. Each plane, which normally had a crew of seven, was carrying extra passengers because of the disabled planes that had had to be left behind. Leading the group, Wing Commander Tait confirmed his safe return to the UK at 1:39 am on September 17, after a fair-weather flight. All the other planes returned safely, except the Lancaster piloted by Frank Levy, PB416.

At 5.20 pm the following day, Group Commander McMullen, on temporary assignment in Yagodnik, near Archangel, sent a Top Secret WT (wireless transmission) concerning the disappearance of Lancaster PB416, assumed missing, to Ralph Cochrane, Commander of 5 Group, to Sir Arthur Harris, Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command, to Sir Thomas Williams, Assistant Chief of Air Staff at the Air Ministry in Whitehall, and to the 30 Mission in Moscow. It ran: “Following were crew of Victor 617 Squadron: Levy, Groom, Fox, Peckham, McGuire, McNally, Thomas, Naylor, Shea.” McMullen was responsible for the overall organisation of Operation PARAVANE, the air assault on the German battleship Tirpitz, from the airbase at Yagodnik, including liaison with his immediate RAF commanders in the UK, Cochrane and Harris. He also reported to Williams at the Air Ministry in London, who was responsible for defining operational requirements, and to 30 Mission Moscow. 30 Mission coordinated the project with the Soviet armed forces as well as with the British base at Archangel across the river Dvina from Yagodnik.

In the ORB (Operations Record Book) entry from the end of September Squadron Leader Tait stated: “This aircraft was lost on the return from Yagodnik to base on 17/9/44. An acknowledgement for a QDF (map location fix) from Dyce was received at 0121 GMT.  Nothing else was heard from this aircraft.” Willie Tait had recently been promoted commander of No 617 Squadron that had achieved fame for its ‘bouncing bomb’ raids against the Möhne and Edersee dams in 1943. He held responsibility for the attack on the battleship Tirpitz launched by the RAF squadrons at Yagodnik. At 15.05 on 17th September Squadron Leader Harman had confirmed the coordinates of the QDF request from PB416 in the Squadron Diary as 60 50 North 009 45 East.  Harman was both a Squadron Leader and Acting Adjutant for Operation PARAVANE. In the latter role he compiled a daily diary of the Operation, which was supplied to Group Commander McMullen.

The QDF coordinates refer to Oystogo, in southern Norway, a remote hamlet in a grassy valley with steep mountains on two sides. The river Etna runs through the valley. It is about fifty miles from Saupeset where Lancaster PB416 crashed, three-hundred-and-thirty miles off course from the rest of the group of sixteen Lancasters returning to the UK. The RAF Flight Loss Card for PB416 confirmed the crash location as lying approximately 110 km north-west of Oslo at about 0138 GMT. Nine crewmen were shown on board, the same as the details on McMullen’s wireless telegram.

PB416’s Flight Loss Card

It is both curious and provocative that Norway was identified as the target. There was no indication that this aircraft had been engaged in Operation PARAVANE and was supposed to be flying home from Yagodnik. In general RAF records present specific, functional, and accurate data. The clerk who completed the Loss Card would have used information provided by RAF No 617 Squadron. This is the only known official record confirming Norway as PB416’s target for this date, and it was clearly not considered a problem to state the target as Norway so soon after the crash. In other words, PB416 was meant to be over Norway and had confirmed its target by the transmission of its coordinates, over Oystogo, to RAF Dyce Aberdeen. By this reckoning the location of PB416 was not an accident: it had reached its target by 0121 GMT on 17th September and confirmed the same to the RAF base in the UK.

On 15th October Cochrane confirmed to Harris: “With the exception of one aircraft which is presumed to have crashed in Norway all aircraft in Russia less the six which could not be repaired had arrived back in this country by September 28th”. The site of the crash is well documented. At a height of about 3,500 feet, Saupeset is a steeply wooded ridge overlooking a valley with the village of Nesbyen below. Saupeset is used for summer pasture with few human inhabitants. A Lancaster bomber exploding on impact with at least one third of its fuel unused would have been a colossal shock to the remote rural scene. In the days following, a shallow mass grave was dug in the rocky ground close by the crash, most probably by local residents from Nesbyen. No names were permitted to be recorded by the German authorities, whose Gestapo Headquarters at Gol was about ten miles away. With active Norwegian Resistance from Milorg in the Hallingdal area the Germans were determined to minimise any boost to local morale which this unexpected British Lancaster might have supported. In spite of the Germans, the local Norwegians erected a simple wooden cross with ten nails to represent the ten bodies they had buried.

The Grave at Saupeset

The next official document to appear was the initial registration made by the GRU (Grave Registration Unit) on 24th July 1945, two months after the German surrender in Europe. This was the first stage of the task of the War Graves Commission, namely to identify graves, reconcile names of casualties and where required prepare reburial to a designated military cemetery. This July registration by Captain Byrne confirmed eleven bodies as casualties of the crash of PB416. Strangely the same document was amended on 22nd August 1945 by Captain Byrne to show only nine bodies, which of course tallies with the RAF Crash Card from September 1944. The two names deleted in August from the initial July register were Squadron Leader Wyness and Flight Lieutenant Williams.

Squadron-Leader Wyness (front left)

It is puzzling why there should have been such confusion over the most simple of tasks, namely confirming the number of crew on board a Lancaster departing the Soviet Union and determining the number of bodies found at the crash site of the same plane on a remote mountain in Norway. The evidence is moreover contradictory. One clue was an unofficial memorial panel, hand painted with Norwegian text, which was installed at the crash site. According to local sources it was attached to the cross with ten nails as soon as the Germans had retreated from the area in May 1945. The panel confirmed ten RAF crew as casualties, including Williams and Wyness. These were the same airmen who were included on the British GRU report in July and then deleted in August 1945. Curiously the Norwegian panel omits Flight Sergeant McGuire, who is included in all RAF and GRU records. If McGuire’s name had been added to the Norwegian memorial panel in May 1945, the total number of casualties would have been eleven.

Memorial Panel

The Norwegian list was based on the physical identity of the casualties before burial in September 1944.  Their names were confirmed by the ‘dog tags’ worn on the wrist and the ID on each serviceman’s uniform. A severe crash and explosion might have made verification of bodies difficult, but the Norwegian panel confirms the clear identity of ten airmen, with the exception of McGuire, which tallies exactly with the same ten names in the GRU report in July. This implies that the ‘dog tags’ were readable on ten bodies. This assessment further suggests that the initial British GRU list in July 1945 was based both on RAF records and cross referenced with local Norwegian records including the memorial panel. Otherwise the names of Williams and Wyness would not have been included. It is unlikely that the mass grave on Saupeset was exhumed by the British in July 1945, since the fact that McGuire’s ID was missing would otherwise have been questioned by Captain Byrne in his report to the RAF. The question must be asked: Why did Captain Byrne delete Williams and Wyness from the GRU list on 22nd August 1945? The reason is that, although the ‘dog tags’ and uniforms of these two airmen were found at the crash site, these two officers were not on flight PB416 from Yagodnik.

The Squadron records show Williams was hospitalized at Yagodnik with severe dysentery on 16th September when PB416 took off. (Perhaps that is the reason his uniform was ‘borrowed’). Wyness did indeed leave Yagodnik with the sixteen Lancasters on 16th September, but as a passenger on Flight Lieutenant Iveson’s Lancaster ME554, which landed safely in the UK at 0124 GMT on 17th September. (Wyness’ own plane had crashed on landing on 11th September  and was abandoned in the Soviet Union.) But both the Norwegian memorial and July 24th GRU record confirm the identities of Williams and Wyness at the crash site. If Williams and Wyness were not on board PB416 on 16th September, who, then, were wearing their uniforms and IDs when the plane crashed at Saupeset?

Wyness’s plane grounded

We know for certain that Williams and Wyness were not passengers. Their fate was one shared by many brave airmen who served their country and flew with Bomber Command. Together with six other Lancasters of 617 Squadron, on a mission to bomb the Kembs barrier on the river Rhine, their plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed at Rheinweiler, Germany on 7th October 1944. Although they successfully bailed out before impact, they were captured by German troops and executed, in breach of the Geneva Convention for the treatment of prisoners-of-war. Wyness, aged 24, the pilot, was buried at Choloy, in France and Williams, aged 22, was buried in the Dürnbach Cemetery, in Germany.

In Memoriam
In Memoriam

By 1946, further notifications in the record had been made. The Grave Registration document early that year shows ten allocated graves in the cemetery, one of which, XII G2, has been left blank and is later overtyped, “UNKNOWN BRITISH AIRMAN 17.9.44”. This document confirms the reburial of the bodies from the top of Saupeset to individual graves in the church yard below. These details were reconfirmed in the Graves Concentration Report of 9th August 1946. The record now states that ten bodies had been transferred from Saupeset and re-interred at Nesbyen, with nine names matching those in the RAF Crash report plus one ‘unknown British airman’. McGuire was included: Wyness and Williams had been withdrawn. The resolution thus appears to reflect faithfully the RAF Flight Loss Card, perhaps ascribing the extra body to a clerical oversight.

Final Report on PB416

When asked about the inconsistency of GRU and RAF records for PB416 the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) confirmed that all data was based on the lists supplied by the Germans at the time of the initial burial, forwarded to the Red Cross and subsequently to the RAF. When the Red Cross and International Red Cross were requested, however, for their record of the accident, both confirmed that they had no information of either the crash or any of the casualties at Saupeset on 17th September 1944. When asked about the Norwegian memorial from May 1945 the CWGC said they had no knowledge of its existence.

So why did the first GRU report of July 1945 include Williams and Wyness, while RAF records did not? The implication is that Captain Byrne of the GRU, on the first British visit to the crash site, took the details he had been given from the RAF crash card, which showed the nine names. On discovering the new names of Wyness and Williams from the local Norwegian memorial, he simply added them to give a total of eleven casualties.  Yet McMullen was clearly aware that Williams and Wyness were not on board PB416 on 16th September and knew that they had become casualties in Germany on 7th October 1944, not in Norway. After submitting his list of eleven names to RAF on 24th July 1945, Byrne was surely advised to delete the names of Williams and Wyness, which he did on 22nd August.  This left a total of nine casualties, consistent with the RAF version, but not with the Norwegian memorial that showed they had buried ten bodies, with ten readable ID tags, the year before. That may explain the need for the addition of the ‘unknown British airman’ for the reburial in March 1946 to bring the total number of graves at Nesbyen to ten.

How could one set of IDs been lost? PB416 was carrying approximately 800 gallons of fuel on impact, so it is quite possible that the eleventh body was so badly burned in the crash that the airman’s ID was unrecognizable. This probably explains why McGuire’s name was missing from the Norwegian memorial panel. Yet the lack of any process to reconcile differences is disturbing. When the RAF received Byrne’s report of 11 bodies at the mass grave on 24th July 1945 it was the first time that McMullen’s account of nine casualties on PB416 had been challenged. McMullen was still Commander at RAF Bardney at this time, and he was presumably a difficult man to challenge. His list of nine RAF airmen was partially accurate, but he had omitted the identity and existence of the two passengers who must have been wearing the uniforms of Williams and Wyness, which brought the true total of people on board PB416 to eleven.

A local story has circulated in Nesbyen that, after the first British inspection in July 1945, a transportation was arranged by British troops with local assistance to move one body from the Saupeset grave to the British Embassy in Oslo. If the story is true it aligns with RAF instructions to Byrne in August 1945 to reduce the number of identifiable casualties in the report from eleven to nine, while honoring the Norwegian memorial, with its count of ten. Unlike the GRU, the RAF and McMullen were aware of the number of people who boarded PB416 at Yagodnik on 16th September, 1944, and that by physically removing one casualty from the mass grave this would leave ten bodies on Saupeset. The RAF had to admit that Wyness and Williams had not been on the flight, because of subsequent events, but they had to bury the fact that their uniforms and IDs had been borrowed by unnamed passengers and had been found at the crash site. The final step in adjusting the body count was made public in March 1946 when the casualties were reburied at Nesbyen, ready for visits by families from the UK. A tenth body was now added to the adjusted GRU reports in March, confirmed in August 1946 and designated ‘Unknown British Airman’. It is certain that McMullen was aware that the tenth and eleventh bodies were neither RAF nor British: hence there was little risk of their families being aware that the GRU or the RAF had been involved with the burial of foreign servicemen in a British War Cemetery in a remote part of Norway.

Defence Attache Matt Skuse in Nesbyen Graveyard

This total perfectly aligned with the 10 new gravestones in Nesbyen cemetery for the ten bodies brought down from Saupeset in Spring 1946. It is likely that the instruction for this change by GRU was made and approved by the RAF in line with previous changes by the GRU. If the eleventh body was transported to the British Embassy in summer 1945 it would have required an order from the RAF and official sanction from the Foreign Office in London. Yet, by making one body physically disappear to the British Embassy in 1945, and the second body being made anonymous as ‘Unknown British Airman’ in 1946, it was as though the two persons wearing the uniforms of Williams and Wyness had never existed and certainly could not be traced.

But they did exist. What next has to be investigated are the questions of who might have been wearing the uniforms belonging to Williams and Wyness, why they were on board an RAF Lancaster three-hundred-and-thirty miles off route in Southern Norway, and why the RAF, the CWGC and local Norwegians still prefer not to discuss the matter. For they were certainly Soviet agents authorized at the highest level to be flown on a secret mission to Norway.

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Peter Smolka: Background to 1934

Peter Smolka, 1930

Contents:

Introduction

Sources: Smolka in the UK

Sources: Smolka’s Personal File

Sources: The ‘Third Man’ Movie

Research Questions

Chapter One: 1930-1934 – Finding his Feet

Conclusion

Introduction

The status and allegiance of the influential Austrian Peter Smolka (who changed his name to ‘Smollett’ when he was naturalized in 1938: I shall refer to him throughout my postings as ‘Smolka’ – except when quoting other works directly – as that is the name he reverted to after he returned to Austria) are a matter of some controversy. An apparently tireless worker for the Soviet cause, his role as a Soviet agent has been denied by his son, yet Soviet archives clearly identify him as an NKVD operative with the cryptonym ‘ABO’. In this bulletin, I present the first results of a research project involving the inspection of source material (with special attention to a detailed analysis of the extensive files released by the National Archives in 2015) in an attempt to verify the period for which Smolka might have been active on the NKVD’s behalf, and to discover the interactions he had with British Intelligence. In this first report I survey and summarize the generic literature on Smolka, and present my analysis of his career up to the end of 1934, after a momentous year experienced by Smolka and his colleague Kim Philby, one not without controversy.

Peter Smolka (fourth from left, back row) in Vienna, 1926

I divide Smolka’s career into six main chapters : i) his arrival in the UK in 1930, up to his visits to Vienna in 1934, and the months thereafter: ii) the years spent before the war, up to his supposed ‘recruitment’ to the NKVD by Philby in 1939 (or soon after); iii) his career during the war, highlighted by his prominence in the Ministry of Information; iv) his post-war activity in Vienna up to 1948, including his involvement with Graham Greene over the screenplay for the movie The Third Man, and what that relationship reveals about his early career; v) the renewed interest shown in him between 1949 and 1951, when, after the escape of Burgess and Maclean, documents incriminating Smolka were found in Burgess’s flat; and vi) the desultory investigation that followed, interleaved with one or two dramatic flourishes, culminating in Arthur Martin’s ‘interrogation’ of Smolka in October 1961. I organize this introduction by first describing the literature published before the release of the Kew material in 2015, next by analyzing what has been since issued that exploits those same files, and lastly by inspecting the considerable literature on Graham Greene and Smolka, which merits a category in its own right. I shall then use the Smolka Personal Files as a backdrop for interpreting what the highly contradictory third-party accounts report. In a bulletin to appear next month, I shall cover the last five chapters, including Smolka’s assimilation into, and acceptance by, leading establishment offices, his service as a Soviet propagandist during the war, followed by his return to Vienna as a correspondent for The Times, when he gained the attention of MI6 after it was reported that he had joined the Communist Party. Now that I have performed my preliminary investigation, I believe that the results are very dramatic, and that they will help clear up some earlier mysteries.

A reminder about my approach to archival documents: I do not take them at face value. I ask myself the following questions:

  1. Who is the author of the document?
  2. What did he or she know at the time?
  3. What was he or she trying to achieve in writing this item?
  4. What does the framework and incidental data of the document (modes of address, redacted information, unredacted information, references, handwritten annotations, missing information, etc. etc.) tell me about its context?
  5. Why was this particular document inserted into the archive?
  6. How does the information therein compare with other sources (e.g. memoirs)?

Similar questions have to be addressed to memoirs themselves.

Sources: Smolka in the UK

While long-standing government files occasionally refer to Smolka’s involvement with the Ministry of Information and with the BBC, the primary source material consists of the four files KV 2/4167-4170 representing Smolka’s MI5 Personal File 39680, which were released by the National Archives at Kew in 2015. They cover the period from when he arrived in the UK as an eighteen-year-old in 1930 up until early 1962, shortly after he left the UK for the last time, having undergone a very feeble interrogation by Arthur Martin. These files are thus the prime source for Smolka’s overall career: writers on intelligence matters who discussed Smolka before 2015 had to rely on snippets in general files, informal recollections and anecdotes, or (in one case) bootlegged extracts from official archives that were made available furtively. I point out that a supplemental ‘Y’ file – a highly secure Annex to his Personal File – was maintained by MI5, the contents of which are of course unavailable.

Smolka had started to come to the attention of authors in the 1980s, when documents relating to the wartime Ministry of Information were released. In Their Trade is Treachery (1981), Chapman Pincher made a brief reference to Smolka’s questionable role at the Ministry, and he pointed out that the debriefings of Anthony Blunt (a secret that must have been divulged to him) had confirmed that Smolka had been a Soviet agent. Anthony Glees, while also lacking access to such archival material, picked up the story and made a strong case about Smolka’s pernicious role in his 1987 book, Secrets of the Service. He made the confident assertion that ‘there is now overwhelming evidence to suggest that one of Bracken’s most trusted advisers, Peter Smolka-Smollett, was a Communist mole’. Yet, apart from the familiar tale of Smolka as a cagey propagandist for Stalin in the Ministry of Information, Glees did not provide any evidence that Smolka had actually been recruited by the NKVD at that time. He referred to the regular meetings that Smolka had at the Soviet Embassy, but those arrangements were in no way out of order, given Smolka’s position.

I suspect, however, that Glees was the first to publish Smolka’s detailed strategy for projecting the Soviet Union’s influence on British policy, although it is sometimes hard to follow Glees’s narrative and use of sources. He made much of the fact that Smolka was a close friend of Brendan Bracken (without explaining how that friendship occurred), and that he thereby conspired with him to oust Hugh Dalton as the head of the SOE. I find much questionable about this theory, however. Glees wrote a lot about ‘moles and agents’ within SOE, but few are identified, and it is not clear how they affected propaganda at a time when SOE was focussed primarily on sabotage and secondarily on intelligence-gathering. The overall conclusion, in the context of the timing of the Soviet Union’s entry into the war, of Smolka’s promotion, of the maturity into action of SOE, and of Dalton’s dismissal, does not make sense to me.

Another controversial contribution was W. J. West’s The Truth About Hollis (1989). While professing to have had no access to secret sources – or even knowingly to have spoken to any MI5 officer – West (no relation to Nigel West) had clearly been shown portions of Smolka’s Personal File, no doubt according to some manner of controlled leakage. For West was an overt member of the ‘Hollis is guilty’ school. West’s contribution is nevertheless very useful. Exploiting Foreign Office and BBC archives, he gives a very sensible analysis of Smolka’s ‘adoption’ by Rex Leeper, his collaboration with Guy Burgess, and his extensive propaganda work at the Ministry of Information. He even includes a two-page circular issued by Smolka in February 1943, titled Arguments to Counter the Ideological Fear of ‘Bolshevism’, which he sources to his own earlier 1985 work Orwell: The War Commentaries. It is an astonishingly mendacious piece, and should have raised a storm.

Further anecdotes surfaced in the next two decades, some from unreliable memoirs, others from Russian sources. Discoveries made by Oleg Gordievsky from Soviet archives were revealed in KGB: The Inside Story (1990) by Christopher Andrew and Gordievsky: they stated firmly that Smolka had been a Soviet agent, suggesting that he had been recruited some time before 1939 (the year in which Philby claimed to have engaged him). Through that assertion, without mentioning Philby, since they would not have been aware then of Philby’s claims, they reinforced the notion of Smolka’s longevity as an agent. They also recorded that, during the Slánský trial in Prague, in November 1952, Smolka was publicly denounced as an ‘imperialist agent’, characterizing this charge, perhaps a little naively, as ‘absurd’. A plan to kidnap Smolka from Austria, and to bring him to Moscow to answer allegations that ‘during the war he had recruited another Jew, Ivan Maisky, then Soviet Ambassador in London, to the British SIS’ was abandoned. Andrew and Gordievsky attribute these events to Stalin’s generic purge of Jews from the upper echelons, but Smolka’s escape from his Czech persecutors suggests that some intervention may have taken place.

It was in fact in Genrikh Borovik’s Philby Files (1994), where some dubious but henceforth much quoted reminiscences from Philby about his recruiting Smolka first surfaced, while Yuri Modin’s My Five Cambridge Friends (also 1994) offered one or two important insights. Modin provocatively asserted that Philby had met Smolka in Vienna in 1934 (without explaining anything about the circumstances), and he added that Smolka was an NKVD agent when he worked with Guy Burgess at the BBC in 1941 (but said nothing about the manner and timing of his recruitment). The Crown Jewels (1998), by Nigel West and Oleg Tsarev, exploited documents sent by the London-based spies to Moscow, and eventually inspected in the KGB vaults, in which Smolka occasionally appears. Yet the authors appeared to take at face value what Philby wrote in his reports, and how he later explained them, and they also displayed an inappropriately high degree of trust in what Moscow Centre declared about its relationship with Smolka.

In 2012, Gordon Corera offered up The Art of Betrayal, subtitled The Secret History of MI6, a rather hectic, journalistic approach that includes some valuable source material, but does not regard the dating of events as important. He introduced Smolka in the context of the Third Man saga, and described him, almost casually, as having passed information to the Soviet Union ‘from at least the start of the Second World War’. It is exclusively here that we learn that Philby returned to Vienna for a brief visit after the war, sourced to a tape-recording by Bruce Lockhart that the Imperial War Museum has withdrawn (Chapter 1, Note 19). Yet Corera danced around the circumstances of the friendship between Philby and Smolka, merely noting that the latter was ‘a friend of Litzi’s who had come to London’, the event undated. The author did not acknowledge any contribution by Smolka to the rescue work performed by Kim and Litzi in 1934. Thus Corera neither revealed nor corroborated relevant ‘secrets’ about Smolka and MI6 that had in fact been aired before, although he did re-present the startling insight first voiced by Andrew and Gordievsky concerning the KGB charges against Smolka during the Prague trials. He wrote that Anatoly Golitsyn, before he defected to the British, discovered in late 1954 in his predecessor’s file at the KGB Residency in Vienna an old letter from the head of the KGB British Department requesting ‘the kidnapping of Peter Smollett to answer charges that he had been working for MI6’.

The problem is that so many works show a cavalier approach to what has been written before. They either overlook previous assertions or disclosures, or accept them unquestioningly, but almost always fail to inspect them properly, to attempt to verify them, or to analyze in any depth the contradictions of multiple narratives that are crying out for resolution. For example, as late as 2015 Boris Volodarsky, in Stalin’s Agent (a book purportedly about Nikolai Orlov, but one rambling across many spheres) offered a wild summary on Smolka, with some vague and unattributed claims (‘Some say that Smolka got his job at the Ministry of Information through Brendan Bracken’), and several incorrect dates. Many of these works are similarly not accurately sourced, and, in general, one has to be very careful in determining who is echoing whom, and where the stories started. Anything that the habitual liar Kim Philby wrote should be treated very cautiously. As always, a close examination of chronology and geography is required to test many of the ‘facts’ that are presented by these authors.

For instance, the book by Andrew and Gordievsky, bolstered by the authority that the latter enjoyed by virtue of his inspection of KGB files, claimed that Smolka and his wife were trapped in Prague when Hitler visited it (after occupation, on March 19) in 1939, and that they thus had to seek refuge in the British Embassy. An endnote indicates that this fact derived from W. J. West’s volume. West had in fact dug out a memorandum, dated November 1938, from Smolka to Rex Leeper, laying out his plans to visit Prague, Warsaw, Budapest, Bucharest and Berne. Indeed the assertion about his escape from Prague does appear in West’s text, and he claimed that Smolka got away alongside one Otto Strassner ‘and other anti-Nazi leaders’, after which he and his wife returned immediately to London – which would suggest that the visits to other capitals were abandoned. Yet West provided no source for his story. The chronology in the Smolka files (which were not officially available in 1989, when West’s book was published) leaves a puzzling gap between November 1938 and September 1939, although serial no. 116a in KV 2/4168 states that, in April 1939, Smolka went to Switzerland with letters of recommendation from Rex Leeper (his sponsor at the Ministry of Information). No embarkation or disembarkation records for either of these purported journeys have been made available. Moreover, the Smolkas’ second son, Timothy, was born on October 12, 1938, so it seems to me unlikely that Lotty, even if it had made political sense for her to accompany her husband to Prague, would have abandoned her sons at that critical time. In addition, Smolka was a UK subject by then, so should have been in no danger.

Yet confirmations of Smolka’s presence in Prague are offered by Purvis and Hulbert. In the BBC archives, they uncovered a memorandum from George Barnes, the Assistant-Director of Talks, to Guy Burgess, notifying him that Smolka had been pencilled in for a talk on March 14, 1941, since he had been in Prague when the Germans entered the Czech capital on March 14, 1939. The duo even discovered a sound recording of the programme, and heard Smolka vividly describe what happened, when reporting for the Exchange Telegraph news agency – which must be one of the most genuine artifacts in this messy tale. They add that the Foreign Office indeed had helped to get Smolka out of Prague. Lotty is not mentioned in this scenario, but Smolka presumably quickly returned from the UK to mainland Europe, but for an abbreviated tour solely to Switzerland. But why was the Berne expedition, but none of the Prague incident, recorded in his Personal File?

Somewhere, behind all this, a truth might be found. It would appear that West was working from a different source, since he appears not to be familiar with those particular BBC exchanges. Maybe a reappraisal of the sound recording, or some delving into the activities of Otto Strassner, might reveal more, but the whole sequence of events is typical of the muddle that surrounds these archival remnants.

Sources: Smolka’s Personal File

The contents of the files at Kew are very rich in many ways, and merit close attention, since they display many anomalies that have not been picked up by any commentators, so far as I can judge. There exists also a Home Office file on Smolka’s naturalization request (HO 405/47416) –  superficially not very significant, apart from the fact that two pages of extracts (405/47416/1) are closed, and not to be opened until January 1, 2034. The journalist Mark Hollingsworth (whose book I reviewed in October), had submitted a Freedom of Information request to have this item released immediately. His first appeal was rejected, quite absurdly, on the grounds that an MI5 officer was therein identified. Hollingsworth therefore took the process up to a higher level, but his request was again rejected. The logic for withholding details of a naturalization request from eight-five years ago by someone now accepted as having been a Soviet agent is indefensible: the decision represents sheer bureaucratic obtuseness, and merely draws attention to an area of embarrassment. Of course, there must be something to hide, and matters of institutional pride and shame are at stake. The fact that January 1934 happens to be the centenary of Philby’s presence in Vienna, when he was, according to some accounts, in the company of Smolka, might suggest what matters the closed papers address.

My analysis of the files, in which I integrate the intelligence found there with the surrounding memoirs and histories, will be prominent in the sections that follow. I here summarize recent publications by those who have, to some degree, studied them. As far as independent scrutiny in the recent, post-2015 literature is concerned, I believe the only serious analysis of the KV material has been undertaken by Stewart Purvis and Jeff Hulbert, in their 2016 book on Guy Burgess The Spy Who Knew Everyone. The authors have also brought fresh light on Smolka by their discovery of records in the BBC Archives (many of which were actually first revealed by W. J. West), although these items are remarkable more for their curiosity value than for anything they shed on Smolka’s allegiances, and his ability to outwit his hosts. Purvis and Hulbert also refer to some vital memoirs and histories that help flesh out the story, although, probably because their emphasis is on showing how Smolka contributed to Burgess’s traitorousness, they neglect to discuss some of the anomalies in the record, and avoid any inspection of the Graham Greene connection that helps illuminate the details of Smolka’s career and time-line.

Richard Davenport-Hines, in Enemies Within (2016), also gives a respectable but superficial summary of the Smolka files. He has appeared only to skim them: on the other hand, his analysis is enhanced by his bringing to the discussion some worldly and enlightening insights from contemporary political events. He offers some trenchant (and contentious) judgments, but his canvas is so broad that many of the paradoxes and subtleties of Smolka’s career have eluded him. At least he provides detailed references, and he does provide an original perspective on the Graham Greene connection. Helen Fry misses an opportunity to shed light on Smolka in a very confusing and muddled paragraph in her 2021 book, Spymaster, her profile of the MI6 head-of-station in 1934 in Vienna, Thomas Kendrick.

Mark Hollingsworth’s Agents of Influence (2023) would seem to be the first book that attempts to integrate the available archival material from Kew with the rich seam of narratives on the Third Man extravaganzas (see below). The author offers a useful and colourful synopsis of Smolka’s career. Unfortunately, Hollingsworth undermines his story by presenting Smolka as a prime example of an ‘agent of influence’, rather than a confirmed spy. While it is true that he exerted influence as a propagandist, such a classification understates his more serious role. Hollingsworth cites Corera and Gordievsky in support of his thesis, yet Corera himself reported that Smolka handed over information to the Soviets, and Gordievsky confidently declared that Smolka was a spy. That knowledge is now clear from the reports of information provably originating from Smolka being found in Guy Burgess’s effects after the latter disappeared, a fact that Hollingsworth acknowledges. And if Smolka passed on confidential information to Burgess, he certainly would have done the same to Maisky, the Soviet ambassador. In addition, Hollingsworth, while echoing the dramatic story that Smolka worked alongside Kim and Litzy in the sewers in 1934 (which surely demands closer inspection), nevertheless presents Smolka as being largely influenced by Philby, contrary to the evidence. Hollingsworth also trusts Philby’s account that it was he who recruited Smolka to the NKVD, thus implicitly suggesting that Smolka’s activities were all very innocent up until then.

Sources: ‘The Third Man’ Movie

The fourth chapter primarily concerns Graham Greene, and his visit to Vienna in 1948 to perform research for his screenplay for the film to be directed by Carol Reed, The Third Man. There Greene met Smolka (who had returned to Vienna after the war as a correspondent for the ‘Times’, and did not relinquish that position until May 1949), and the overall evidence points to the fact that Smolka contributed in some way to the screenplay, thereby betraying some of his activities from the 1930s, and probably intimating darker arrangements. The literature in this domain is quite rich. As always, however, the accounts are not consistent, but they are frequently very provocative.

Graham Greene’s ‘Ways of Escape’

Graham Greene: Greene’s account of the adventure in his memoir Ways of Escape (1980) is full of deceit, as would be revealed years after when the archives of the London Films Production were inspected, and Elizabeth Montagu in 1997 started to disclose to researchers sections of her unpublished memoir, which eventually saw the light of day in 2003. Greene makes no mention of his stint at the Ministry of Information in the summer of 1940, where he might have encountered Smolka. He does not disclose how Alexander Korda (the producer of the movie, and an MI6 asset) arranged his itinerary in 1948, and he offers specious arguments for his spending a week in Prague after leaving Vienna, when he was supposed to be in Rome. He never mentions Montagu (who worked for Korda, and apparently arranged his meetings in Vienna): nor does he record his contacts with Smolka, or the controversies that surrounded the latter’s contract with Korda’s film company. He describes an unlikely evening with Elizabeth Bowen, which is nevertheless verifiable from other sources (including Bowen herself), and thus not simply a mask for an outing with Elizabeth Montagu. The overall account is, however, a typical Greenian charade, and serves only to demonstrate that he wished to conceal the nature of the events.

Michael Shelden’s ‘Graham Greene: The Enemy Within’

Michael Shelden: Shelden was the first (unauthorized) biographer of Greene, his 1994 book being published in the UK with the suffix The Man Within and in the USA as The Enemy Within. While much private material was therefore withheld from him, Shelden struggled mightily with the mass of anecdotes he was able to collect, and strained to impart a coherent explanation of what was happening. Significantly, he interviewed Lotty Smolka and her sons, as well as Elizabeth Montagu, who must have shown him some of her then unpublished memoir. In that way, a probably more accurate account of Greene’s activity in Vienna comes out, with his being introduced to Smolka by Montagu, who arranged Greene’s meetings with journalists and businessmen. Thus Shelden attributes to Smolka a role as the source of the anecdotes about the diluted penicillin, the sewers, and the bizarre sharing of facilities by the Four Occupying Powers, since Smolka had apparently written some short stories on these phenomena, which he passed over to Greene. This leads into a startling direct reference to Smolka’s subversive activity in Vienna in 1934, something that Lotty Smolka confirmed to him, yet Shelden sees nothing noteworthy in this extraordinary revelation. He also refers to a contract that Smolka signed with Korda that expressly proscribed him from seeking any other monies or publicity over ‘The Third Man’, and relays Elizabeth Montagu’s disgust and puzzlement over this rather clandestine and suspicious agreement.

While Shelden also explains that Korda was working part-time for MI6 (for such services he had in fact been knighted in 1942 on Churchill’s recommendation), he cannot contrive any coherent explanation for what schemes might have been going on at the time. He does indeed claim that the 1948 trip was cover for MI6 investigations in what was going on (‘keeping an eye on the volatile political situations in both countries’), but MI6 had very capable representatives at the time, especially in Austria, where the distinguished George Kennedy Young was head of station. It sounds like a very lame explanation. He very oddly suggests that Greene was possibly working under private instructions from Philby himself, who was ‘still the blue-eyed boy of the service’ (hardly an accurate representation at this time). He judges it a coincidence that Montagu would lead Greene straight to Smolka, although ‘he was the one man in Vienna who could discuss Philby’s past in detail and who could do it in English’. There is a lot of hidden menace in that suggestion of the Smolka-Philby intimacy, but it remains unexplored: why Smolka would volunteer information about his fellow-agent (a suspected spy) to a former MI6 officer is left unexplained. Shelden is clearly out of his depth.

Norman Sherry’s ‘Life of Graham Greene: Volume 2’

Norman Sherry: Graham Greene selected Sherry as his authorized biographer, and his massive and rather self-indulgent study, The Life of Graham Greene, appeared in three parts, with Volume 2 (1939-1955) – which is the critical item for my analysis – being published in 1994. Sherry had eventually fallen into disfavour with both Greene (who died in 1991) and his family, since he inevitably presented some less illustrious aspects of Greene’s career and personality. Sherry does reflect many incidents of Greene’s employment with MI6, but his preference is for literary analysis, and he is not tuned to the multilayered character of intelligence and counter-intelligence manœuvres. He thus struggles to interpret conflicting information, and leaves several paradoxes unanswered.

For example, his chronology for Greene’s sojourn in Vienna is simply careless. He has Greene ‘reluctantly’ going to Vienna in February 1948: Greene wanted to get his preliminary research for the plot of his screenplay over with quickly, so that he could soon rendezvous with his lover, Catherine Walston, in Rome. Sherry makes an incongruous observation: “He thought of leaving Vienna by train because it would have been easier to reach Italy that way, but for the sake of adventure, he decided to fly.” My research indeed shows that there were no commercial flights between Vienna and Rome at that time: voyagers had to travel by train, but neither were there flights between Prague and Rome. Greene therefore took a plane to Prague, since he apparently did not want to miss an exciting story in the Czech capital. Revolution was breaking out. So much for urgently wanting to be re-united with Catherine: he delayed his assignation unduly.

Sherry does report that Greene spent six or more hours with Smolka on the night of February 17 (which would suggest some very intense discussions), and he next mentions the Elizabeth Bowen cocktail party on February 21. Greene had written to Catherine on February 18, reminding her that he had seen her only a week beforehand (which, if true, would place his departure from England on about February 12), and Greene then stated that he left Vienna on February 23 for Prague, where he stayed for a week. On February 27, a paragraph about him appeared in the News Chronicle. Lastly, Sherry informs us that Greene then met Catherine in Rome in late February, where he started writing his screenplay. Yet, according to the chronology, Greene could not have left Prague until early March. Someone is obviously lying, and Sherry is not shrewd enough to suspect that Greene may have had more official business in Prague.

Greene’s return to Vienna in June, accompanied by Carol Reed, is also covered. Sherry states that the pair went to the Soviet zone, that Greene spent time in the sewers with Elizabeth Montagu and the sewer police, and that on his penultimate day there, the famous Beauclerk told him the story about the penicillin racket. Only now does Sherry concede that Smolka may have been the source of such anecdotes, adding that Greene also visited the Soviet zone with Smolka, and that they spent several nights (evenings?) together. Perhaps uncertain where he stands, Sherry cites Montagu as the authority for the stories of penicillin, and credits Smolka’s short stories as a more likely source than Beauclerk. Whether such tales were ever written must remain a mystery.

W. J. West’s ‘Quest for Graham Greene’

W.J. West: W. J. West returned to the fray in his 1997 book The Quest for Graham Greene. For some reason he is very dismissive of Shelden’s work, and largely ignores Sherry’s, especially when it comes to Smolka. Preferring to believe Greene’s own account, as revealed in the author’s papers at Boston College, he recognizes the contract that Smolka signed, but describes it as a possible ‘cover for some other less avowable reason for payment’. (That is a tantalizing observation, however, that may have a lot of merit.) Yet West seems rather naïve about the context: he describes Smolka simply as a ‘freelance journalist’. He suggests that the papers at Boston College indicate that a priest had apparently written to Greene in 1950, inquiring about the source of the penicillin story, and Greene had replied that he acquired it from the ‘chief of police’ (actually the MI6 officer), Beauclerk. West accepts this at face value, ignoring the evidence that Montagu had provided. He does suggest that Greene already knew about Philby’s adventures in the sewers, without explaining where he gained this insight. It is another very uneven compilation that could have benefitted from some stricter discipline.

Charles Drazin’s ‘In Search of the Third Man’

Charles Drazin: Another author who interviewed Montagu was Charles Drazin, a London-based author and film-historian, who presented a timeline that conflicted with hers in his 1999 book In Search of the Third Man. Here he has Montagu being charged with her mission from Korda in December 1947 (as opposed to her claim of ‘early February’), without any overt explanation as to whether her presence was coincidental, or part of a deeper plot to set the stage. Yet Drazin also dug out a letter of January 5, 1948 from Korda to Greene, instructing him to go to Vienna for three weeks and then to Rome for five weeks for purposes of research work. The proximity of the two events suggests that they occurred in tandem.

Drazin was able to exploit the archives of London Films Productions, and thus presents some original documents. He largely follows the Montagu line about her introduction of Smolka to Greene, and the source of the anecdotes, indicating that Montagu learned about Smolka’s stories before Greene arrived. He adds the fascinating detail that Smolka asked Greene’s literary agents, Pearn, Pollinger & Higham, to handle negotiations of the contract for him, and that he seemed happy with the whole process. Drazin uncovered a signed contract returned by Smolka on September 21, 1948. It all suggests a harmonious and amicable relationship between the couple. He also records that Montagu told him that she suspected duplicity in what Greene was up to –maybe a disingenuous observation on her part.

Elizabeth Montagu’s ‘Honourable Rebel’

Elizabeth Montagu: The part-time OSS and MI6 asset Elizabeth Montagu clearly played a significant role in the affairs in Vienna, but her own evidence is riddled with controversy and contradictions. Montagu, the daughter of Lord John Montagu of Beaulieu, was a member of the Mechanised Transport Corps in France in 1940, and she became stranded when she declined an opportunity to sail back to the UK. Hunted by the Gestapo, she managed to escape to Switzerland, and eventually worked for Alan Dulles of the OSS. After the war she was employed by Sir Alexander Korda, who sent her on a mission to Eastern Europe early in 1948. She had been interviewed by Shelden (and others) in 1993, revealing to him portions of her then unpublished memoir, which revealed much about the bizarre encounters between Greene and Smolka in Vienna in February 1948, and her disdain for the contract that Smolka eventually signed. Yet, when the memoir Honourable Rebel appeared in 2003, a year after her death, the text was much more cautious and restrained. While she described introducing Greene to Smolka, and the fact that Smolka handed over to Greene a manuscript, hoping to get his stories published, she even suggested that Greene might have acquired the penicillin story from other sources in Vienna at the time.

Yet far more serious questions have to be asked about the accuracy of her account. The chronology does not make sense: it is physically impossible. First, she recalls that Korda summoned her to his office to outline her mission in Eastern Europe ‘early in February’. She then describes making an emergency exit from Prague, via a US army plane, to Vienna, just after the February revolution, and then spending a few days in Vienna before receiving a telegram from Korda that Graham Greene would soon be on his way, and that he would need her help. Yet Greene arrived in Vienna, verifiably, on February 12, and left – for Prague, of all places, when he was supposed to be going to Rome! – on February 23. And the revolution in Prague took place on February 21, when Gottwald, on Stalin’s orders, seized power. Montagu’s interviews in Prague must either have been a fantasy, or have occurred after her time in Vienna. It seems to me that she must have been complicit in the whole escapade, was encouraged by MI6 to conceal her tracks after her oral revelations, and then left a deceptive paper-trail in the published memoir, not to be released until after her death. I shall explore this remarkable distortion of the truth in next month’s segment, after I have tried to cross-check dates and sources more deeply, but I suspect that the accounts may be irreconcilable.

Peter Foges: An astonishing contribution to the saga appeared in 2016, in the relatively obscure Lapham’s Quarterly – and then only in an on-line segment, visible at https://www.laphamsquarterly.org/roundtable/my-spy . (I have all fifteen years of Lapham’s Quarterly, a fascinating thematic collection of writings and art, in a pile in my library extension.) It was written by one Peter Foges, a film and television producer, who had been in the enigmatic situation of having Smolka, atheist and Jew, as a godparent. A photograph of this remarkable ceremony, held at Liverpool Cathedral in 1944, appears in the article (see below). Peter Foges’s father had known Smolka in Vienna, and Foges fils informs us that Smolka met Kim Philby through Litzy, who was a good friend of his. Moreover, he states that the three of them worked in the sewers together in 1934, and then Smolka followed them to London. I believe that, while hints have been made about Smolka’s presence in Vienna at this time, this is the first occurrence of any claim that Smolka and Philby had been communist collaborators, and the assertion has monumental implications, into which I shall delve later in this bulletin.

The Baptism of Peter Foges (Smolka in centre); Liverpool Cathedral, 1944

The rest of Foges’s account is error-strewn and woolly. He makes unattributed claims about Smolka’s recruitment by the Soviets (Maly?), and he seems to be unaware of Smolka’s previous time in the UK. He gets dates wrong, and echoes the relationship with Bracken (‘Bracken took a shine to Smolka and fell for his flattery’) without providing a source. He also makes the astonishing claim that Bracken himself ‘dragooned’ Smolka into helping write the script for The Third Man, and that Smolka was even flown in specially for a meeting with Korda and Bracken to plan that the movie take place in Vienna, so that Korda’s wealth locked up there could be exploited. Thus the overall tone of the piece is a bit shrill and questionable, while the first-hand exposure to Smolka that Foges père experienced in Vienna has the ring of truth.

Jean Fromenthal’s ‘Prague Coup’

Jean-Luc Fromenthal: An unlikely contribution to the debate crops up with The Prague Coup, a graphic novel written by Jean-Luc Fromenthal, and illustrated (sometimes very salaciously) by Miles Hyman, which appeared in 2018. The nuggets to be derived do not originate in the story itself, but in the Afterwords. Fromenthal echoes the assertion that Korda wanted to set the film in Vienna since he owned blocked funds in an Austrian subsidiary, Wien-Film, but he also suggests that Greene was actually on a mission to uncover evidence that there was a dangerous mole within MI6 – namely Kim Philby – and that Greene was dispatched to uncover Philby’s tracks. In this context, Smolka’s previous acquaintance with Philby is very poignant, and Fromenthal makes the provocative claim that the pair had met in London, in 1933, i.e. before Philby ventured to Vienna, and that it was Smolka who introduced Kim to Litzy (although the author is incorrect on his dating of Philby’s journey). He boldly declares that Smolka had been an agent of the NKVD, already known as ABO, as far back as 1933. Sadly, Fromenthal does not link any of his assertions to the fascinating Bibliography he offers at the end of the book, so it is impossible to trace these references.

What could also be vital evidence in support of Greene’s mission on behalf of MI6 is the role of one Colonel John Codrington. Fromenthal describes him as ‘a former agent of Claud [sic] Dansey’ (the vice-director of MI6), and he presents his role at the heart of Korda’s organization ‘to facilitate the movement of London Films personnel abroad, during an era in which the British government enforced heavy restrictions in that respect’. Codrington was thus able to make all the arrangements for Greene’s trip to Vienna – and to Prague, the latter excursion being described by Fromenthal as ‘an unforeseen (and to this day unexplained) extension to the journey’. Fromenthal distrusts what Greene said about Beauclerk, and attributes to Smolka the contributions on the penicillin and sewer material.

Thomas Riegeler: Lastly, a prominent article about this whole exercise was written by Dr. Thomas Riegeler in 2020, in the Journal of Austrian-American Studies. Titled The Spy Story behind The Third Man, it trawls widely, and occasionally in depth, through the literature concerning the movie. I learned about several items that had escaped my attention, including the Austrian periodical, The Journal for Intelligence, Propaganda and Security Studies, which devoted a special issue (Volume 12, no.2, [2018]) to ‘The Third Man’, as well as the works by Elizabeth Montagu, and Jean-Luc Fromenthal and Miles Hyman, described above in this report. Riegeler also enjoyed conversations with Smolka’s widow, and their children. (I applied via the Journal’s website to purchase a copy of that important issue, but I have received no reply from the institution.)

Riegeler sets himself an ambitious agenda, describing the role of his article as follows: “By drawing upon archival material as well as secondary literature, this article explores this other history of The Third Man and puts the film in the context of postwar Austria, and highlights how real-life events and personalities inspired its story”. Yet Riegeler unfortunately appears to practice no identifiable methodology, and is very ingenuous. He treats all evidence and testimony as of equal value, and fails to investigate where and why conflicting accounts of the events surface. This defect is especially apparent when he reproduces the statements of Smolka’s son Timothy. These claims fly in the face of what others assert about his father’s activities and loyalties, and Riegeler does not question how objective or insightful Timothy might have been when talking to him.

For example, he weakly characterizes Smolka as ‘a possible Soviet spy’, appearing to trust what Timothy, who downplayed his father’s involvement, told him. Timothy claimed that Smolka père had never been a member of the Communist Party, and never a Soviet agent. Riegeler reports that Timothy stated that his brother Peter had discovered documents in Moscow that Smolka had been judged unsuitable as a spy, as he was ‘far too attached to his family’ – all quite absurd, and flying in the face of what Riegeler himself writes elsewhere, when he cites Andrew and Mitrokhin. Likewise, the other son, Peter, minimized his father’s role in supplying anecdotes about the penicillin scam, ‘as his father never spoke about it’. Elsewhere, Riegeler is haphazard and wrong about dates (for instance when discussing the ‘divorce’, and Litzy’s departure for Berlin, as well as Montagu’s activities in Switzerland). He bizarrely describes the first sacrifice that Philby made was ‘to divorce Litzy’. While Hollingsworth states that the Third Man’s Harry Lime was based partly on Smolka, Riegeler asserts that the inspiration for him was Philby himself.

Additional Material: As a coda, I present two important contributions from MI6 sources. The first is a valuable observation on George Kennedy Young, who was head of the MI6 station in Vienna when Greene arrived. He was a Cold War hawk who constantly criticized Western passivity in the face of Communist aggression. In 1984, he published Subversion and the British Riposte, which described his frustrations. He ran agents, defectors persuaded to stay in place for a while, no doubt, and wrote (p 10) that ‘by the autumn of 1947 the Soviet intention to bring Jugoslavia and Czechoslovakia to heel had become known through defectors’. In a 2020 tribute to Young (see https://engelsbergideas.com/portraits/george-kennedy-young-banker-writer-soldier-spy/) , Rory Cormac wrote that in the autumn of 1947 Young ‘had warned London of the threat of a communist takeover in Prague’. The decision to send Greene to Prague must be viewed in the context of this advice.

The second comes from the writer Jeremy Duns, who has made his writing on intelligence matters available at www.jeremy-duns.com . After the war, the journalist Antony Terry (who had performed very creditably during the war in various roles, but had been incarcerated by the Germans) was recruited by Ian Fleming’s ‘Mercury’ network, and posted to Vienna to work for MI6, while also being employed as a correspondent for the Sunday Times. Duns relies on the reminiscences of Terry’s wife, Rachel, for some of his accounts of Smolka, whom they encountered there. Terry took over some of Kennedy Young’s agents, and Duns writes: “Also reporting from Vienna at this time was a Daily Express correspondent, Peter Smollett, who was not all he seemed.” He continues:

                After the war, Smolka returned to Vienna as a correspondent, carrying out much the same job for Soviet intelligence as Terry was for M.I.6. Smolka was a familiar face in the British press pack, but Rachel Terry soon began to distrust him. “In November (1947) Picture Post wanted an article on a foreign correspondent’s life in an Occupied city, and Peter Smolka proposed this to my husband as something in his gift. Smolka had the permits necessary to go to such places as Klosterneuburg, impossible to get from the Russians except on an official level. He also invited us and the photographer, the wife of the editor of Picture Post, to dine at the British Officers’ Club in Palais Kinsky with a woman Russian colonel, whose picture duly appeared with us all in the magazine. This was something so unheard-of that even I could see something odd in it. It could only have occurred with official Soviet approval, and to get permission for foreign publicity of that kind proved intimate and high-level contacts.”

Rachel Terry wrote this in 1984, and even then was being a little coy: the ‘woman Russian colonel’ was in fact Emma Woolf, a senior Soviet intelligence officer.

Duns assumes that this information would have been passed back to Young, but he notes that the British did nothing at that time, despite Smolka’s obvious links to Soviet intelligence. His article cannot be relied on absolutely: his chronology is erratic, and, like many, he has been taken in by KGB files concerning Smolka’s recruitment by Philby – a subject that I shall take up next month. Yet he revealed a very useful source.

I discovered the published source for these anecdotes. In the December 1984 issue of Encounter magazine, the thriller writer Sarah Gainham (the pseudonym of Rachel Terry, then Ames, née Stainer) submitted a long letter titled ‘Smolka “the Spy”’, which, while casting doubt on the reliability of the claim that Smolka had been a Soviet agent, did describe some aspects of his very unusual behaviour when she became acquainted with him in Vienna after the war. I have acquired a copy of the Encounter issue in question, and I shall report fully in next month’s coldspur.

Research Questions

While the overriding questions: ‘When was Smolka recruited as a Soviet agent?’; and ‘What was his relationship with British Intelligence?’ have driven my research, as I made my first pass through all the material described above, I compiled a list of subsidiary questions, as follows:

  1. Why was Smolka so rapidly approved for naturalization (in contrast to such as Honigmann)?
  2. Why did the authorities ignore the implications of his visits to the Soviet Union and his propagandist book?
  3. Why did MI5 and MI6 show so little interest in Smolka’s travel in 1933, and misrepresent the facts later?
  4. Did Smolka truly assist Philby in the sewers of Vienna in 1934?
  5. Why was Smolka’s presence in Vienna not noticed or recorded by MI6?
  6. Why did Smolka declare that he did not meet Philby until late in 1934?
  7. If he did indeed meet Philby only then, why did they so quickly agree to set up a news agency together?
  8. Why was news of Philby’s open collaboration with Smolka not received with alarm by MI5?
  9. Why did Smolka rise so quickly in government circles, leading to his recruitment by the Foreign Office, and eventually the O.B.E.?
  10. In what manner did Brendan Bracken become convinced of Smolka’s value?
  11. Why were the objections of the MI5 ignored, and why was Smolka’s case deemed ‘difficult’?
  12. Why were the suspicious of leakage from the MoI in 1940, described by Beaumont-Nesbit, ignored?
  13. Why did Rex Leeper, abetted by Vansittart and Peak, support him so actively, ignoring the fact that he surrounded himself with Germans and Austrians at his news agency?
  14. Was it really Moura Budberg who enabled Smolka to be recruited by the MoI?
  15. Why did Vivian of MI6 minimize his importance and influence?
  16. Why did Brooman-White of MI5 trust Philby’s opinion of Smolka in 1942?
  17. Who actually first made contact with Smolka in Vienna in 1948?
  18. Why did Smolka accept such a one-sided contract?
  19. Why did Arthur Martin give him such an inept interrogation in 1961?
  20. Why were the contradictions in his account not picked up?
  21. How did Smolka avoid the Czech show-trials?
  22. How, when he was apparently at death’s door, did Smolka manage to survive another twenty years?
  23. Why were suggestions made that Smolka’s visit to Czechoslovakia in 1948 might have been made on secret intelligence business?
  24. Why did MI5 think it might be able to persuade Smolka to ‘defect’ to the British?
  25. Why are so many of Smolka’s activities omitted from his PFs?
  26. When did MI6/MI5 become convinced that Smolka was a Soviet agent?
  27. Why do critics believe Philby’s claim that he recruited Smolka as an NKVD agent in 1939 as ABO?
  28. Why did Graham Greene and Elizabeth Montagu lie about the details of their itinerary in February 1948?
  29. Why did Greene travel to Prague after Vienna, when he was supposed to be in Rome?
  30. What was the role of George Kennedy Young (head of MI6 station in Vienna) at the time of the Greene-Smolka meetings?

(The relevance of several of these may not yet be apparent to the reader, as they derive from a close study of Smolka’s Personal File.)

I thus turn to a detailed analysis of the story of Smolka’s adventure with the United Kingdom, starting in 1930.

Chapter 1: 1930-1934 – Finding his Feet

Smolka’s Authorization by ‘Der Tag’

A significant fact about Smolka’s arrival at Dover on September 29, 1930 is that he was only twelve days beyond his eighteenth birthday. This was an early age for anyone to start engaging in nefarious activities. Yet his presence was quickly noted by MI5, who received a report in November that Smolka had arrived in Marseilles from Barcelona on August 18, that he had immediately been expelled by the French authorities, on August 20, for taking photographs at the port of Marseilles, and that he was suspected of being an Italian spy. Where he spent the intervening weeks is not clear, but he also came to the notice of the Metropolitan Police when his presence at a meeting of the ‘Friends of India’ society in Trafalgar Square was noticed on November 15. (An MI5 report states that that society ‘is described by I.P.I. as a Socialistic society composed mainly of Quaker cranks and Ghandi [sic, should be ‘Gandhi’] worshippers’.)

Smolka was actually interrogated after this event, and Scotland Yard informed B1b in MI5 of the outcome. Moreover, Smolka misleadingly admitted that he had been detained by the French police after attending a meeting. When the French authorities were consulted, they provided the true story, and added that Smolka had given his occupation as a journalist working for Die Zeitschrift der Neuen Jugend. Smolka produced evidence for the Metropolitan Police that he was attending a course at the London School of Economics, ‘taking a general course as a scholarship student of the Austrian government’. Whether the officials in Vienna knew or approved of their student’s wayward travel and offenses is not stated, but no indication is given that MI5 followed up with the Austrian Embassy to verify Smolka’s claims.

Nevertheless, MI5 increased its surveillance of Smolka, watching his movements, and also applying for a warrant to have his mail opened. They thus learned that he was keen on taking photographs of people in straitened circumstances, that he showed communist sympathies, and that his future bride, Lotty, wrote to him congratulating him on learning Russian. He was successful in getting some of his reports accepted by Austrian periodicals. MI5 also started keeping tabs on some of his friends and associates. His permit required him to leave the country within six months, so he departed from Dover for Ostend on March 25, 1931. MI5 knew from his recent correspondence that his destination was Vienna.

Smolka was away for a couple of years, arriving in Folkestone from Boulogne on May 6, 1933. He was accompanied by his wife, and stated that he was now a journalist for the Neue Freie Presse of Vienna. If Smolka had been recruited by the NKVD, early 1933 would have been the obvious time, as the organization was intensifying its infiltration of the Western democracies. Arnold Deutsch had received his training in Moscow in January. The Orlovs had returned to Vienna in March, and, after a short spell in prison, left for Prague and Berlin, and arrived in Geneva in September. In March, Rudolf Katz was sent by Moscow to join Willi Műnzenberg in Paris. He arrived in the UK soon afterwards. In April, Robert Kuczynski fled to Czechoslovakia, then to Geneva, and arrived in the UK at the end of the month. Edith Suschitzky was arrested in Vienna in May, and married Tudor-Hart in August, thereby gaining her British passport. That same month, Deutsch, back in Vienna, recruited the couple as STRELA. In July, Klaus Fuchs was dispatched from Germany to Paris. John Cairncross spent the summer in Vienna. Ignaty Reif was sent to Britain in August.

And it is now that the record starts to take a strange turn. On August 24, Smolka sent a letter to the Under-Secretary of State at the Home office, in which he referred to a recent conversation he had with a Mr. Hoare of that department. He requested that he and his wife be allowed to stay in the country further, given his new role as special correspondent for the Neue Frei Presse to the Worlds [sic] Economic Conference, indicating that they were economically self-sufficient. On September 6, a Mr E. N. Cooper replied to say that the Secretary of State would ‘raise no objection’ to the prolongment of the couple’s stay in the United Kingdom.

Was something being fixed behind the scenes? The statement that no objection would be raised strongly suggests that others might do so. And who was the Mr Hoare with whom Smolka had spoken? Could it be the future Home Secretary Samuel Hoare, who took up that office in 1937? Hoare clearly did not work for the Home Office at that time, since he was Secretary of State for India, but he spoke Russian, and had been a liaison officer inside MI6 to Russian Intelligence during World War I. John Gilmour, a Scottish Unionist, was the Home Secretary between 1932 and 1935, but does not appear to have achieved much of distinction: maybe he did not know exactly what was going on. Hoare himself was deeply involved with the Round Table conferences discussing India’s constitution that summer (a topic of great interest to Smolka, incidentally), and would not naturally have had reason to be distracted by the appeal of an Austrian émigré. Yet, given his questionable status, how Smolka arranged to have any personal discussion with any Hoare of influence, whether working in the Home Office or not, is something of a surprise.

MI5 appeared not to be disarmed by this recognition. On October 6, they requested the GPO to pass on all of Smolka’s correspondence for a fortnight (‘the usual list of letters’). There were only five letters during this period, but four came from Vienna (their contents were not filed). And immediately this fortnight was over, Smolka started to exploit his new status by some provocative travel. He left Folkestone for Boulogne on November 25, returning to Newhaven on December 12. A further batch of over twenty letters had been intercepted during this period, again mostly from Vienna – not all from the Neue Freie Presse. Thereafter the record turns eerily silent, with the next item constituting Smolka’s departure for Boulogne on August 1, and onward to Vienna, at which time the mail interception process resumes.

What do we know from other sources about Smolka’s movements during this time? Modin wrote that Philby met Smolka in Austria in 1934. Foges stated that Smolka worked with Litzy and Kim in the sewers. Drazin indicated that Smolka had met Philby in London in 1933, and that he returned to Vienna a year later. (That could refer to the August trip.) Drazin also claimed with confidence that Smolka presented Litzy to Philby. That could also not be precisely true: Philby arrived in Vienna in late summer, and he met Litzy soon afterwards. But Smolka, who returned to Britain a month before Philby was directed to go to work in Vienna as a courier, could have given Kim an introduction orally before the latter left. Shelden claimed (probably based on what Lotty Smolka told him) that Litzy introduced her future husband to Smolka, thus placing the encounter between mid-January and mid-February. Yet that sounds like a deception: since Litzy was Lotty’s best friend from their schooldays, it seems more probable that Smolka would have recommended that Philby stay with the Kollmanns when he advised him in the summer of 1933. The various testimonies to Smolka’s contribution to subterranean lore would nevertheless seem to show that he had indeed been active in the sewers.

One of two explanations seem possible to me: a) the accounts of Smolka’s work for the Viennese communists that spring of 1934 are pure fantasy; or b) the British authorities covered up the records of the travel of the Smolkas. The evidence in support of the former is flimsy, of ‘dog in the night-time’ character. No one outside the Smolka family appears to have recorded his presence and activity. Why did no one employed by MI6 (either officially or unofficially) notice Smolka’s presence in Vienna, especially since he was close to Litzy and Kim? Would he have attended the wedding? E. H. Cookridge, who was political editor of an unnamed morning newspaper, does not mention him. G. E. R. Gedye apparently did not notice him. The head of MI6 Station Thomas Kendrick apparently sent no report on him, and there were various English-men and -women floating around Vienna, for example Stephen Spender, Hugh and Dora Gaitskell, John Lehmann, Naomi Mitchison, Emma Cadbury, as well as the American Muriel Gardiner, none of whom appeared to detect or remark on his presence.

Yet, if the testimony of Montagu can be relied upon, Smolka drew upon his experiences to write some insightful short stories. And why would his wife and Foges draw attention to such escapades, except perhaps to elevate Smolka’s heroism? (The photographs of him suggest a fastidious character perhaps rather diffident about soiling himself in the sewers.) Yet several questions need answering. Why would the Neue Freie Presse, having just installed a new head in its London bureau, very soon after call him back to Vienna for several months? – unless it had been compliant in the whole endeavour, which is not out of the question. The major piece in the puzzle lies in the behaviour of the British authorities.

Peter Smolka in London (not dressed for the sewers)

Whether or not Smolka did spend some time in Vienna in the spring of 1934, his Personal File, with its utter lack of entries between December 1933 and August 1934 represents incriminating evidence either way. If Smolka (and his wife) did leave the country – and return to it – during that time, the port officials should have recorded the fact, and informed MI5. If they did so, the information was suppressed. And if the couple never left, one would expect conventional monitoring of them to have continued. But there is nothing. Why would MI5, having been surveilling Smolka closely, suddenly be so casual and uninterested in the activities of a known Communist who made frequent trips to the Continent? Moreover, when Smolka gave an account, in his naturalization request of 1938, of all his movements abroad, he omitted any reference to travel between December 1933 and August 1934, which would have constituted a signed perjurious statement if he had indeed visited Vienna.

Was Kendrick, in Vienna, told to turn a blind eye? He has been accused of negligence. In her biography of him, Spymaster, Helen Fry wrote that he overlooked ‘the majority of the prominent, potentially dangerous, communists in Vienna’, which group may have included Smolka. Her focus shifted, however, as she shifted to make the following controversial statement:

            It is, however, possible – though not yet definitely proven – that Philby went to Vienna in 1933 to penetrate the communist network for SIS and was, in fact, working for Kendrick.

I discussed these assertions a few months ago, in https://coldspur.com/kim-philby-always-working-for-sis/, and explained why I thought that hypothesis unlikely. Yet I pointed out that the earlier 2014 version of the book contained an even more shocking claim, made to Fry by a source who wished to remain anonymous, that Philby had ‘always been working for us [i.e. MI6]’. The person told her that it would ‘destroy the book if you say so openly’. Fry did as much, however, by quoting him, and then decided to remove this provocative assertion from the sanitized edition. My conclusion was that she had indeed been nobbled.

Of course her informant may have been a relic who had had ‘intelligence’ passed on to him from the ‘robber barons’ of MI6 who believed that Philby was innocent, and claimed that he had been manipulated by MI6 to pass on misinformation to the Russians. Yet it was a bit ridiculous to assert, as late as 2014, decades after Philby’s escape, confessional memoir, and death, that he had always been a loyal servant of MI6. After all, what did the informant know of 1933? What did ‘always’ mean? Thus the warning may simply have been a traditional smokescreen by current MI6 officers to cause as much confusion as possible. After all, if there was anyone who ‘had always been working’ for the KGB or any of its predecessor structures, it was Kim Philby.

Moreover, there are important issues of tradecraft to be considered. If Philby, as E. H. Cookridge reported, told him that he had close contacts with the Soviet Consul, Ivan Vorobyev, and Vladimir Alexeievich Antonov-Ovseyenko, later to be revealed as an OGPU officer, it was remarkably stupid of the Englishman. It caused a breach between him, on the one hand, and Cookridge and his anti-communist friends on the other: Philby must have misjudged his colleague’s probable reaction. Thus, if MI6 had in reality tried to exploit Philby’s presence in subversive circles to infiltrate the Communist organization in Vienna, Hendrick must have firmly believed a) that Philby was naturally loyal to the British democratic cause, and to MI6; and b) that the Communists could not possibly have any inkling that Philby was working secretly for British Intelligence. If, as seems clear, Philby did spill the beans, he had been remarkably poorly briefed. Indeed, Cookridge assumed that Philby had been compromised by the summer of 1934, and had to leave Vienna in a hurry [in fact in April]. It was more likely that MI6, if it had put out feelers to Philby, suspected that their game may have been rumbled. If the OGPU had smelled a rat, Philby would have been permanently discarded – unless he had been able to convince his contacts at the Consulate that he was in fact loyal to them, and that he was cleverly manipulating Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service. That would suggest, of course, that he had already been recruited by the Soviets.

All this makes the release of information on the Philby wedding to the Austrian Press even more poignant and dramatic. The item (see below) was published in the Illustrierte Kronen Zeitung on May 25, 1934. I extract, highlight, and translate or paraphrase the more significant portions of it. (Readers should recall that Philby had been married to Litzy on February 24, 1934, and the pair had left Vienna on April 28.) The headline reads: ‘A Viennese woman marries into the court of Ibn Saud’, which must have come as a rather startling revelation to those who knew the young leftist firebrand. Litzy was already an agent of the OGPU, was under strict police surveillance, and had probably been set up as part of a honeytrap to capture the young Briton, which makes the following story even more absurd.

Report on Philby Marriage: ‘Illustrierte Kronen Zeitung’, May 26, 1934

The column, having introduced Litzy Kollman [sic] as a student, mentions her marriage to ‘Mr H. K. Philby’, who is identified solely by virtue of his father, a two-decade-long advisor to the King of Hejaz, who had enjoyed such great influence with the King that he was frequently dubbed ‘the secret Chancellor of Ibn Saud’. This was not strictly true. Ibn Saud was the King of Saudi Arabia, and he had annexed the kingdom of Hejaz a couple of years beforehand. No matter. The writer then attempts to set up Litzy as a dedicated scholar with ambitions of becoming a legal expert with the practice of Dr. Joseph Zitter. According to the report, she then encountered Philby in her circle of student-colleagues, ‘a young, elegant Englishman, who, after Eton and Cambridge, and after the obligatory world tour, had come to Vienna to attend the world-famous College of Diplomacy’. Who provided the writer with this nonsense is not clear.

Naturally, the couple fell in love, and the young Viennese treasure is reported to be no longer in her home city. “She is already installed in the lordly mansion of the Philbys, where her husband prepares himself for entry to Great Britain’s diplomatic service”. The writer continues: “Inspired, and still amazed by her fresh good fortune, Lizzy Philby writes to her friends in Vienna of the fairy-tale luxury that surrounds her [no flea-bitten pad in Hampstead, then, under the eye of a sternly disapproving mother-in-law], and also of the long journey that awaits her: H. K. Philby, her husband, is shortly to be transferred ‘with special disposition’ to the court of Ibn Saud.” The column then switches to a long explanation of the history of the region, and of Philby Senior’s role since the end of World War I.

Harry St. J. Philby is described as being ‘a good son of Great Britain and a good friend of Ibn Saud’, but in reality Philby worked mostly against British interests. He opposed the Balfour Declaration, and he worked behind Britain’s back in seeking out agreements on oil concessions with the USA, and even with Spain and Nazi Germany. There are veiled references to Nazi affinities: Philby père is quoted as writing that he considered Ibn Saud ‘the outstanding Arab “Fűhrer” and ‘founder of the incipient Arab “Reich”’ – all very deliberate and weighty words. Readers of the column are advised to watch developments in this sphere closely. “They should expect to hear a lot more about the Arab conqueror Ibn Saud, and, according to past events Philby will surely loom in the background, but not to one side.”

And how does this scenario affect our young, happy couple? The conclusion is muddled, and sentimental. “The petite Viennese Lizzy Kollmann, now Mrs. Philby, will soon reside at the court of the Arab ruler. Whatever the British Foreign Office may demand, and however Arab interests may interfere with Lizzy Philby’s private life – some time during the next year she will return to Vienna: H. St. J. Philby [sic: should be ‘H.K.’] has promised that to his mother-in-law, Mrs Kollmann. And H. St. Philby, the secret Chancellor of Hejaz, has confirmed it.”

How the British Embassy thought it could get away with this charade is unbelievable. After all, there were several Britons still around in Vienna who knew enough about the real life of Litzy and Kim – including the fact that she was not a Kollman at the time of her marriage, and that the innocent young student had already married and divorced one Karl Friedmann. In Treason in the Blood, Anthony Cave Brown wrote of the marriage: “All who were interested heard about it and gossiped about it, and the British community in Vienna was astonished.”  It seems that Kendrick must have been under pressure to show that the British authorities had no knowledge of any subversive activities on the part of Kim, and that he needed to present him as a true cion of his right-wing father. It was trying to send a subtle message to the Soviet Consulate. Yet the column is an extraordinarily clumsy creation. Why did they think the Soviets would be taken in? And why was everyone silent over this disinformation? The visitors from the UK surely must have read it. For example, it is not clear how long Cookridge stayed in Vienna (he was later incarcerated in Dachau and Buchenwald by the Gestapo), but he made no mention of it in The Third Man.

All this sub-plot about the Philby wedding leads back to Smolka, if indeed he were still around. If so, he must surely have read the piece, and he would have enjoyed discussing it with his handlers at the Soviet Consulate. Maybe he even had a hand in composing it, with his journalistic skills, and love of intrigue. For one has to start asking the very searching question that this pattern of activity provokes. Did MI6 believe that they had a similar influence over Smolka at this time as they did over Philby? Had they made overtures to him, back in England in 1933, with the idea that he might become an informer for them in the Communist camp? And did they then start to dangle his pal Philby in a similar manner when they discovered what he was up to with Litzy? And had that part of the plot even been dreamed up in London?

I shall return to that controversial conjecture next month, and here tidy up the loose ends of 1934. In any case, Arnold Deutsch left Vienna for London in May, quickly on the heels of the newlyweds (some write that he left before them). If we are to believe Philby’s account of the events that followed, the spy was recruited after some furtive meetings with Deutsch, arranged through the intermediary Edith Tudor-Hart. Yet that schemery was not necessary: it is much more likely that Deutsch was dispatched to verify the determination and loyalty of the OGPU’s new recruit after the rumours in Vienna.  Moreover, Philby’s timetable is impossible: if he left Vienna on April 28, and travelled via Prague and Paris by motorcycle (as Cookridge recorded), he would not have been able to attend the May Day parade in Camden (as Philby later claimed).

An alternative scenario, as described briefly in the later chapters of memoir by Philby (published in The Private Life of Kim Philby) suggests that he and Litzy travelled by train, via Berlin and Paris.

Meanwhile, what were the Smolkas doing during the summer, how did they survive, and when did they return to the UK? No record appears to exist. Maybe he was being maintained safely by his Soviet protectors until they gained verification that his comrade from the sewers was reliable, and that it was safe for him to return to the United Kingdom. The owners of the Neue Frei Presse were presumably still complaisant. And then Smolka returned to Vienna in early August, 1934. Perhaps his task was to inform his bosses, in person, that the ring was safe, to confirm that Philby was reliable, and had been formally recruited by Deutsch. For the Comintern wheels were in motion again.

The very same day that he returned, on September 4, Litzy left England for France, and then Spain. Orlov left Vienna for Paris, then London, in mid-September, and his family joined him soon afterwards. Guy Burgess (who had written to Isaiah Berlin in May, informing him that Philby had just returned from ‘fighting in Vienna’) wrote to Berlin early in September to let him know that Philby was staying with him. The PEACH files even inform us that Litzy returned to Vienna, for one month, on September 21 – a dangerous exploit had she not been protected by her British passport. In October, Edith Tudor-Hart recruited Arthur Wynn at Oxford, and Philby was instructed to introduce Donald Maclean to Ignaty Reif. On November 7, the MASK traffic reported that MARY (Litzy) had arrived back safely in London.

MI5 did not appear unduly surprised or excited about Smolka’s re-appearance, as if it were completely routine for a communist under surveillance to have taken another trip to a highly volatile city. One might expect urgent confabulations with MI6 to have taken place: if they did, nothing has survived in MI5 files. A week after Smolka’s return, ‘Tar’ Robertson requested of the G.P.O. a ‘return’ of all correspondence addressed to him, such intervention to last for a fortnight. This is an unusual formulation: a warrant for inspection of a suspect’s mail conventionally ran as follows: “I hereby authorize and request you to detain, open and produce for my inspection all postal packets and telegrams addressed to  . . .”. Similar requests had been made in October and November 1933: it seems that a list of all correspondence, with senders identified only if they appeared on the envelope, was the result. Vienna again features strongly, and there is an intriguing letter arriving on September 17 from Guetan in Spain, against which someone has scribbled a half-obscured note mentioning ‘Lizy’. In any case, Robertson was interested enough to request the Home Office file (638153) on Smolka, which contained his Alien record, and the correspondence with the Home Office from November 1933.

Jasper Harker then picked up the baton, writing to Sir Arthur Willert at the Foreign Office for a list of all accredited representatives of the Neue Frei Presse. Willert was under the impression that Smolka, the chief representative of the publication, had been chief for some years, and had just announced that he had hired an assistant, Dr. Robert Ehrenzweig. In a handwritten note, Willert added that Smolka is ‘rather a bore, but decent’, and had an office at the Times premises on Printing House Square. No obvious action results from this inquiry.

As all this busy re-energizing of networks was taking place, and MI5 rather laboriously started paying attention to Smolka again, he then took what might have appeared to be an unnecessarily bold step. Writing as London Editor of the Neue Freie Presse, on notepaper listing its address as Printing House Square, on November 15 he alerted the Undersecretary of State at the Home Office to his intention to form the London Continental News Ltd., along with his British colleague Mr. H. A. R. Philby. He hopes that the Home Office will not raise any objections, and adds in a handwritten addendum: “I have at the same time informed the Press Department of the Foreign Office on this matter.”

While it may seem a little premature for Smolka to have informed the Foreign Office before he had gained permission from the Home Office, this seems a remarkably flamboyant way of drawing attention to his association with Philby. Was it really necessary? The formal response is not included in the file, but extracts from the Home Office papers indicate that a letter was sent to him on January 3, 1935, stating that the Office had no objections, and Harker concurred with that decision.

As so often occurs with these sagas concerning British Intelligence and Communist agents and spies (Ursula Kuczynski, Tudor-Hart, Litzy and Kim Philby, Smolka), one has to pose the challenging questions: Why was the OGPU/NKVD/KGB so brazen in the gestures it threw out? And why were MI5 and MI6 so sluggish and inattentive in their response? It was surely unnecessary for Smolka to draw the attention of the British authorities to his close association with someone who had been watched contributing to leftist subversion in Vienna. One can only assume that he did it as an act of bravado, to prove to himself (and maybe his bosses) that he and Philby were both considered harmless.

As for MI5, who clearly maintained an active file on Philby, the passivity over this letter from Smolka, however superficially uncontroversial, is astounding. The letter was not weeded out at the time. Either someone who had no idea who Philby was (despite the recognition that he had been allocated a PF) added it to the file in innocence, and no senior officer checked what was happening. Alternatively, someone in authority decided that this was all above board, and gave no cause for concern. And why did the document not ring alarm-bells when it was discovered in the late 1940s (as it surely must have been), when Philby began to fall under suspicion? Yet, even in 2015, no one deemed that the publication of the letter was damaging, and that the lack of activity thereafter might prompt some awkward questions.

I offer another explanation for the remarkable number of hints about Philby’s misdemeanours to be found in the archive. MI5 officers were dismayed by the conduct of their ex-chief, Dick White, when he was transferred to lead the rival organization, MI6, and later shown to have been taken in by Anthony Blunt during the war. White then compounded his guilt by allowing Philby to flee unpunished, and then by initiating a damaging search within MI5 for the fictitious ‘agent ELLI’, bringing Hollis, Mitchell, McBarnet and others under suspicion. A generous sprinkling of notes incriminating Philby, and thus embarrassing MI6, was made across various files, awaiting someone in posterity to integrate them into a coherent story, and thereby clear MI5 of any further betrayal.

The last observation I make at this juncture is that another familiar pattern shows itself – the fact that senior officers in MI5 (and probably MI6) made decisions of highly strategic import that they did not confide to their underlings. Thus we encounter the familiar phenomenon of organizational dissonance: a story of eager young officers asking searching questions, but being discouraged when their managers try to diminish the significance of their inquiries, and attribute the suspicious signals to misunderstanding or some kind of prejudice.

Conclusion

This investigation has perhaps been the most challenging that I have ever set myself. The source material is cluttered with lies, deceptions, omissions and evasions. Yet behind it all there must be a narrative that makes sense. There always is. All the actors must have believed that each step that they undertook was either furthering their career (or perhaps preventing it from coming to a grisly end), contributing to the success of the agency for which they worked, or even helping the cause of the nation or movement to which they were ultimately committed. Their priorities were normally in that order. Yet I do not believe that any documents are suddenly going to come to light that will undeniably and permanently clear matters up.

Those readers who have been following my posts over the past few years will probably be able to guess where this line of research is leading. Next month I shall present my analysis of the final five chapters of the Smolka story. In the meantime, however, I appeal to you to get in touch with me – on errors of fact, on mistakes of logic or interpretation, on overlooked source material, on misunderstood procedures. I need all the help that I can get.

(New Commonplace entries can be seen here.)

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Special Bulletin: ‘The Airmen Who Died Twice’ – Part 1

Hallingdal, Norway

Preface:

This Special Bulletin consists of the first two chapters of a report ‘The Airmen Who Died Twice’, the culmination of a project to investigate a mysterious airplane crash in Norway in September 1944. The events were first described in June 2022 on this website at  https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-airmen-who-died-twice/. The complete article contains eight chapters: I shall publish two more in each of the following three months. In that way, the full account shall be available for the British authorities to respond to in time for the solemn eightieth anniversary of the crash of PB416 at Saupeset in Norway on September 17, 2024. I believe the relatives of those crew members killed in the accident deserve a proper apology for the deception and attempt at a cover-up that quickly followed the incident.

I want to give full credit to the role that my collaborator, Nigel Austin, played in this research project. The original idea was his. He discovered some traces of the clumsily muddled story, and uniquely identified the contradictions in what little archival material existed. He then doggedly chased down resources and spokespersons for various organizations that were involved. He contacted me for assistance in providing some method and structure to his endeavour, and I was gripped enough by the drama and paradoxes in his outline to want to work with him. Unfortunately, some personal problems prevented Nigel from completing his side of our agreement, and I decided to take over the project before the details escaped from my overtaxed brain. I thus performed some original research on my own, and also turned Nigel’s observations into a narrative that I hope both instructs and explains. I also believed that it was very important that the story be published well before the eightieth anniversary, and, since no commitment from any historical magazine had been secured in time, I decided to use coldspur as the medium.

Readers will notice that the report lacks any Footnotes. I took this approach in order to broaden the appeal of the text. However, I believe that the narrative is adequately sprinkled with references that will convince readers of the scholarly nature of the investigation. Sources can be supplied, and I shall list them separately, later. On the other hand, many of the communications that must have occurred are not traceable, and probably never will be. That is in the nature of highly confidential government undertakings. Thus the work is a hypothesis lacking firm proofs, but offering enough credible evidence to provide as watertight an argument as can be expected. I hope that, through the publication of these eight chapters, readers around the globe may be prompted to discover and present fresh memoirs, letters, or other documents that will flesh out the story. Or, of course, blow it apart. Because historiography is never finished.

Appearing here on February 15: Chapter 3 (‘The RAF in Yagodnik’) and Chapter 4 (‘The Crash at Saupeset’). Enter the date in your calendar now! And, if you have observations or details to add to the story, please send them to me at antonypercy@aol.com.

Chapter 1: Introduction and Historical Background

The saga of ‘The Airmen Who Died Twice’ is a story about a rash deviation from a serious World War II aerial operation that went horribly wrong. It is a tale about hazardous decisions made under pressure, in a climate of tensions across political, geographical, linguistic, cultural and temporal boundaries. It contains aspects of deep secrecy, betrayal, deception and self-delusion, and has ever since remained a mystery to most British government officials who have had to deal with its legacy. And, above all, it is a story of sacrifice, of brave young men who, having committed to risk their lives in genuine opposition to a real enemy, perished in an unnecessary and highly risky enterprise that should never have seen the light of day.

Battleship Tirpitz

The official – and well-documented – engagement was Operation PARAVANE, which was prepared in August 1944, and took place the following month. PARAVANE was a project undertaken by the RAF to bomb the Nazi battleship, Tirpitz, lying in a Norwegian fjord, and ready to attack the British-American convoys that were transporting valuable matériel to Stalin, via the ports of Murmansk and Archangel. After the foray against the Tirpitz was completed, launched from Soviet territory, and a reduced set of aircraft was being prepared to bring the airmen home to the United Kingdom, a decision was made to re-route one of the aircraft over Swedish airspace to a location over southern Norway, where two parachutists were to be dropped to undertake a dangerous mission. Having arrived at its destination, the plane crashed into a mountain, and all aboard lost their lives. This series of articles offers an explanation of what events and negotiations led to the disaster.

At the time that Operation PARAVANE was executed, the war against the Axis forces was considered by most military experts to have been nominally won. The Western Allies had made a successful re-entry to Normandy in June 1944, and were advancing steadily towards the German borders. By the end of August, Paris had been re-occupied. The Soviet Red Army had advanced on a broad front from Bucharest to the River Dvina in Latvia, and General Rokossovsky’s Army was approaching Warsaw. British, Canadian and American troops had begun to cross the Gothic Line in the Apennines of Italy. Inside Germany, opposition to Hitler was mounting. On July 20, the plot to assassinate him had taken place, although the dictator escaped with injuries. The Allies demand for ‘unconditional surrender’ meant, however, that many more months of intense fighting would take place before the Germans capitulated.

Great Britain and the Soviet Union had always enjoyed a fragile relationship in the conflict with Nazi Germany. When the contradictions of the Nazi-Soviet pact were unveiled by Hitler’s attack on Russia in June 1941, Churchill had immediately expressed urgent support for his erstwhile ideological foe, who had helped Germany with valuable matériel in its assault on Britain. Stalin had responded by quickly making unreasonable demands on Britain, and used his network of spies to gain intelligence, and his agents of influence and ‘useful idiots’ to further the Soviet cause with the British citizenry. After making a private foolish and unauthorized commitment to Stalin about launching a ‘second front’ in France way before the Allies were ready, Churchill was continuously nervous about the dictator’s moods. Yet, after the Soviets repelled the German advance at Stalingrad in February 1943, the balance of power shifted markedly.

In this context, Churchill’s desire to destroy the battleship Tirpitz might be viewed as a bit obsessive. The U-Boat threat in the Atlantic had been largely eliminated, but Britain was still committed to delivering matériel to Stalin through the Arctic Convoys, and the presence of Tirpitz at Altenfjord in Northern Norway represented a large menace to their safety. After the disastrous scattering of the convoy to Murmansk, PQ17, in July 1942, the convoys had been suspended for a few months, and again in the summer of 1943, because of preparations for Operation TORCH. On October 1, 1943, however, Churchill, always eager to appease the demanding Stalin, had assured the Soviet leader that they would resume in mid-November. Moreover, the Soviets had been difficult and prickly over the British presence in Murmansk, ordering two communications stations there to close. In April 1944, British aircraft had tried to attack the Tirpitz from Scottish bases with Barracuda bombers, but they had caused little damage. They followed up during the summer with six further futile attempts, at considerable expense of fuel and ammunition, but were foiled by bad weather and the ship’s defences.

Shrewd observers –  especially in the War Office – had already recognized that the Soviet Union was going to be an ideological and maybe real adversary after the war, as Stalin’s plans for subjugating the countries of eastern Europe became clear. Despite the Foreign Office’s enduring belief that Stalin and his commissars would behave like English gentlemen if they were approached with a spirit of cooperation, the Soviets remained uncompromising, suspicious, secretive, and very protective of their country’s subjects. Any intrusion from the West was interpreted as espionage, and as an initiative designed to subvert the Communist empire. Attempts to share intelligence between Britain’s services (i.e. SOE and MI6) and the NKVD had collapsed in mutual incriminations, and SOE was ready to withdraw its station in Moscow in the spring of 1944. Thus the opportunity for cooperation over bombing raids on the Tirpitz would have seemed to be unpromising.

Such qualms would be reinforced by the scandalous behaviour of the Soviet Union during the Warsaw Uprising, which had started on August 1. It was on the Poles’ behalf that Britain had declared war on Germany back in September 1939, and a vigorous Polish government-in-exile in London was keen to see it resume a traditional role in a freed Poland after the Germans had been expelled. Churchill (and, to a lesser extent Roosevelt) was anxious to provide all the help he could to the beleaguered Poles in Warsaw, but was restricted in having to launch support flights from bases in the United Kingdom and in Brindisi, Italy. Stalin had other ideas: he had created the so-called Polish Committee for National Liberation on July 22, and planned to install a Communist regime in Warsaw when the Soviets took the city from Germany. He refused to offer any support to the rebels from his troops on the other side of the Vistula, and rejected Churchill’s requests for landing-grounds behind Soviet-held territory. Stalin was now more universally accepted, even by Britain’s Foreign Office, as an untrustworthy partner.

Thus the Cold War could be said to have started, not with the revelations about Soviet atom spies in September 1945, not at the Yalta Conference in February 1945, but on the banks of the Vistula in September 1944. When Churchill later met Stalin at the ‘Tolstoy’ talks in Moscow in early October, a rather cynical carve-up of Europe was arranged. At this convention Stalin also made stringent demands for a new Polish-Russian border, roughly equating to the old Curzon Line, but forcing the important city of Lvov to be on the Russian side. Churchill was required to return to London to take this dismal message to the Poles, having already upset them with his refusal to challenge Stalin on the circumstances of the Katyn massacres of 1940. The political climate for the British gaining a high degree of collaboration from the NKVD and Soviet Air Force on an aerial mission that required the use of Soviet airfields for an assault on the Tirpitz would therefore seem to have been entirely hostile.

Yet some measure of cooperation had taken root in the summer of 1944. A combined military mission to Moscow had been established as long ago as July 1941. At that time the role of the 30 Mission (as it was dubbed) was more of an intelligence-gathering exercise, as the British War Office and Foreign Office believed then that the Soviet Union would collapse in a matter of weeks before the Nazi onslaught. It was led by a rather foppish Major Macfarlane, whose intelligence background irritated his hosts. In April 1944, however, just as NKVD-SOE relationships had broken dramatically apart, a Lieutenant Abercrombie was sent out to try to define some manner of shared objectives. These background negotiations turned out to be pivotal for the ability of Bomber Command to make rapid changes to its plans at the beginning of September 1944. After the success using the Tallboy bomb in raids on French ports, a fresh approach using these new weapons was considered, initially involving bombers stretching their fuel resources by flying again from Lincolnshire and Scotland to the northern fjords of Norway.

It was in this context that the plans for Operation PARAVANE were made.

Chapter 2: Planning for PARAVANE

Tirpitz in Kafjord, inner to Altenfjord

It was only after June 1944, when successful operations using the 12,000 lb. Tallboy bomb were carried out in France, that the Royal Air Force started to consider using the weapon against the German battleship Tirpitz, berthed at Altenfjord in northern Norway. Yet there was a catch: the only aircraft that could carry such a heavy bomb was a modified version of the Avro Lancaster. After detailed analysis RAF Bomber Command concluded in August that an operation to deploy a squadron of Lancasters for a direct raid from Scotland was not feasible because of the aircraft’s fuel capacity. They thus considered using a base in the northern Soviet Union, Vaenga 1, near Murmansk, as an intermediate refuelling station after the raid.

This airfield, Vaenga 1, was already known to the RAF, as it had been used by Coastal Command (151 Wing) back in 1941, shortly after the Soviet Union became an ally. Hampdens and Mosquitoes had been sent there for training Soviet crews. In April 1943, Coastal Command had evaluated Operation HIGHBALL, using the newly formed 618 Squadron with specially modified Mosquito aircraft, and the Barnes Wallis-designed bouncing bomb, to attack the Tirpitz. Vaenga had been considered as a possible destination, or even launching-site for the operation, but concerns were expressed about the security aspects of exposing technological secrets to the Soviets, and for a variety of reasons the project was abandoned.

Hurricanes at Vaenga Airfield

At the instigation of the Americans, who first came up with the idea of using Soviet bases for shuttle bombing, General Ismay, at the Moscow Conference of October-November 1943, had made a request for the provision of such bases on Russian territory. The Joint Chiefs of Staff also made a request for the Russians to exchange codes and procedures for communicating weather information, and instructed the US and GB Missions in Moscow to follow up. In April 1944, the question of bombing the Tirpitz was raised by Admiral Fisher at the first Mission Conference held by General Burrows (who had replaced General Martel in March). In May Burrows started defining procedures for how airmen stranded in Soviet territory should identify themselves, suggesting strongly that some agreement for the RAF to operate over Russia had been worked out. Briefly, negotiations appeared to improve, as the Soviets articulated plans for attacking the Germans in Northern Norway, which the British believed might assist the BODYGUARD deception. While that venture came to nothing, by August 1944 it appears to have been Bomber Command’s understanding that gaining approval for an operation that required landing on Soviet soil would be a formality. A message dated August 28 indicates that permission would nevertheless have to be sought through the Mission in Moscow.

The formal request was made on September 1, for an operation scheduled to take place on September 7 – an alarmingly short period for gaining approval, and then planning and implementing all the support and infrastructure required. While that approval appeared to be very quickly forthcoming, however, a setback occurred. Vaenga was quickly deemed to be unsuitable. The same day, Air Vice-Marshal Walmsley of Bomber Command, working on a survey recently undertaken by a Squadron Leader in the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit, wrote to Air Commodore Bufton in the Air Ministry requesting that alternatives in the Archangel area be investigated. The primary obstacle seemed to be that Vaenga’s proximity to the target meant that it could be exposed to raids from the German Air Force (although it should not have needed photographic research to confirm that). Moreover, the runways were probably of inferior quality.

Yagodnik Airfield

The outcome was that from a shortlist of a few other airfields, Yagodnik, on an island south-west of Archangel, almost 400 miles from Murmansk, rapidly became the favourite. It possessed a solid runway that could be extended to 1500 yards – shorter than that at Vaenga, but adequate, as the minimum length required was 1400 yards. One intriguing fact is found in a report describing the airfield, dated as far back as May 22, 1944. That survey pointed out that Yagodnik had been used by fighters and bombers, specifically the Petlyakov PE-8, a rather clumsy and accident-prone heavy bomber formally known as the TB-7. The fact that British personnel had been given permission to inspect such facilities, without any accusations of spying, suggests that negotiations for possible use by the RAF had been going on for some time. That may explain why Air Marshall Harris could take for granted at this late stage that the Soviets would agree to such an initiative, despite their customarily extreme wariness of foreigners. Any such move would have had to be approved by Stalin, and the role of 30 Mission as an intermediary in Moscow reinforces that assumption.

The willingness of Stalin to cooperate needs to be analyzed in the context of events in the recent past. Chapter 1 of this story described the ill feeling that had been engendered by his lack of support for the air drops of his western allies, who were trying to assist the Warsaw Uprising. Yet a lesser known scheme involving the United States at Poltava (an airbase in the Ukraine, west of Kharkiv) should also be taken into account. This precedent for the use of Soviet airbases had recently occurred as Operation FRANTIC, whereby the Soviets granted rights to the USA Air Force to conduct bombing-raids from Poltava on German territory between June and September 1944. This operation was not without controversy, however: the Americans were abused by the Soviets, especially when, on June 21, Soviet air defences failed to prevent a highly destructive raid on US aircraft by German airplanes, all of which escaped intact. Moreover, by that time, with the Soviet land forces moving close to Germany, the value of the base had sharply diminished. The important manufacturing targets identified by the Soviets were actually closer to Great Britain than Poltava.

Poltava Airfield

What is more, the Soviets had exploited the presence of American aircraft on their soil by stealing technology secrets. In the light of their own very weak capabilities in this domain, they were keenly interested in the American technique of strategic bombing. Stalin issued strict instructions that every detail of American advanced technology be recorded by the Soviet Air Force, and the latter salvaged materials from aircraft that had crash-landed on Russian soil. They also learned all about the procedures of American ground-to-air-to-ground communications. Thus the opportunity to learn from the RAF about the Tallboy bomb and its method of delivery would have been highly valuable for future Soviet military capabilities. Stalin may have been sympathetic to the project to eliminate Tirpitz, but he had more devious goals in cooperating with Bomber Command. While the vozhd was extremely wary of any Soviet citizens’ being exposed to foreign influences, and the NKGB and SMERSH were trained to consider all such persons on their soil as spies, the arrangement of procuring advanced British technology on Russian soil (or swamp) would deliver more important prizes.

In fact, a more detailed examination of the War Diary of 30 Mission indicates that Stalin had become a more encouraging force behind the project for launching air operations over Norway. When General Burrows took over from the rather ineffectual General Martel, he started to introduce more discipline and determination into his dealings with the Soviets, including better treatment for casualties from convoy operations, and a loosening of the absurd rules about the issuance of visas to returning British officers. He pursued more aggressively the return of radio equipment seized by Soviet customs officials. And, as mentioned above, he started seeking procedures for assisting British aircrew members, possibly stranded on Soviet soil, to help identify themselves to the Red Army or the NKGB, a measure that must indicate that he expected British planes to be operating over Soviet territory. The Soviets were habitually unco-operative, but Burrows learned that they responded better to hard bargaining.

In any case, following the positive signal from the Kremlin, more detailed preparations were briskly made. To accompany the squadrons of Lancasters, Liberator aircraft would be required to carry maintenance engineers and spares. Group Captain McMullen was made responsible for the discipline, quartering and messing of all crews, and was scheduled to fly out in a Liberator in advance of the Lancaster squadrons. His role was to establish communications protocols, and rules for the use of beacons, and relay them to the UK, so that the arriving aircraft could safely find their way to Yagodnik. He had to arrange for the provision of fuel and oil to supply the aircraft for their journey home. He was also to be responsible for dispatching the operational air party on its return flight, or should the original operation have been abortive, on a repeat operation. He was to keep in close contact with British Naval authorities in Archangel and the Air Attaché in Moscow.  All in all, it was an astonishingly complex and difficult task to be completed in just a few days, with issues of terrain, security, politics, language and electronic communications to be sorted out. Despite all the challenges, on September 7, the Operational Order was issued for all aircraft to be moved to the forward bases at Lossiemouth, Kinloss and Milltown.

Yet a very late revision to the plan occurred. As a further complication, Bomber Command had, after intense calculations and trials, concluded on September 11 that PARAVANE would better be launched from inside Soviet territory (and not simply use such bases for refuelling). The reason offered later was that the weather was primarily responsible, but also because the closeness of the Russian bases to northern Norway was less demanding on fuel requirements. In addition, the location would enable a surprise, and thus potentially more successful, attack from the south-east, since German Radio-Detection Finding apparatus would be less effective in spotting raids from that direction. Thus the new plan required the squadrons to fly directly to the Archangel area, there to rest and refuel, before launching the attack on the Tirpitz, and then returning to Yagodnik.

Operation PARAVANE (revised)

Who actually conceived this new plan is an enigma: the conclusions appeared to have been arrived at without consulting the Soviets. More sympathetic messages had recently been arriving from Stalin, however. At the end of August, he had floated the idea of creating an International Air Corps, to which Churchill responded enthusiastically. And on September 9, Stalin had announced that he would allow Allied planes to be launched from Ukrainian territory to support the Warsaw uprising – a hopelessly late gesture to save the Poles, but an indication that the presence of the RAF in northern Russia would now be treated more positively. This move was all the more significant since the Soviet Foreign Minister Vyshinski had recently forbidden any US planes assisting the Warsaw Uprising from returning to their base at Poltava.

This change of plan also presents some paradoxes. The archive does not state who made the decision: some historians claim it was Harris. At the end of August, Air Vice-Marshal Cochrane had been involved in intense trials with Squadron-Leader Tait that suggest that he had set out to ‘prove’ that the Tirpitz would be out of range, as if he had been commissioned to provide evidence for a decision already made. Despite coming to conclusions, presumably, that a direct flight to Altenfjord for the assault before landing in northern Russia would not be feasible, the existing plan must have been passed up to Harris for him to adjudicate. Why did Cochrane not propose an alternative plan? He either a) wanted the whole operation called off; b) was not aware of the possibility of an alternative approach by launching the attack from Soviet territory; or c) was party to an elaborate ruse, and pretended to play the innocent.

One account suggests that the USAAF had been the Soviets’ preferred choice as a collaborator for the assault on the Tirpitz. While Stalin did not have serious designs on occupying Norway (he was not even considering re-entering his contiguous neighbour Finland, despite the fact that it had been an adversary during the war), he was interested in gaining part of the Finnmark territory to the North, which would give him access to valuable mines, but yield a short frontier with Norway. In this regard, he still considered the Tirpitz a threat. But he disparaged the multiple, expensive, but unsuccessful series of raids on the battleship by the British, and hoped that the Americans might consider a second base in northern Russia. The Americans had been too chastened by the Poltava experience, however, and, with Germany on the run, Roosevelt was not interested in further buccaneering exploits in the European theatre of war. Thus Stalin turned to the British.

The archival material does suggest that a higher authority was involved. Harris’s memorandum announcing the change is directed to the Admiralty, with a copy sent to Bottomley at the Air Ministry. A memorandum from the Air Ministry informing 30 Mission of the change of plan has a time-stamp of three minutes earlier, however, indicating perhaps that both Bomber Command and the Air Ministry had recently been informed of the new directives. The Air Ministry memorandum attributed the change of plan to ‘weather conditions’ in the target area being too variable: Harris does not provide that as a reason. Moreover, Harris does not take responsibility in his own text, writing instead that ‘It has now been decided’ that the bombers will fly directly ‘from English bases’ (i.e. not via Lossiemouth or Unst) to Yagodnik. The implication is that the decision to launch the attack from Yagodnik had already been made, and it was the details on the route that were important. It is clear, from the anomalous and incongruous cables exchanged between Bomber Command, the Air Ministry, the Admiralty, the Naval Station in Murmansk, and 30 Mission in Moscow that an elaborate smokescreen was being created to conceal the secrecy and irregularity of the agreement with Stalin to use Soviet bases. The apparent rapid decision about a direct flight would have alarming and fateful consequences.

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