Category Archives: Travel

Kim Philby’s German Moonshine

Philby & ‘Spycatcher’

[This report was updated on July 17, 2023, to include information from reports submitted by Philby to his Soviet controllers in 1945 concerning his visits to Europe, and some brief analysis. The information comes from Genrikh Borovik’s ‘Philby Files’.]

I use this month’s report to address an outstanding question regarding Kim Philby and his actions on taking over Section IX of MI6, namely:

  • What was Philby up to in Europe in 1945?

During this analysis, I shall be bearing in mind the subsidiary questions:

  • Which of the dates and locations of Philby’s visits can be verified from other sources?
  • What authority and what mission did Philby carry at those times?
  • What was the strategy of MI6 at the time of these visits?
  • How did the activities of Section IX relate to military strategy at the end of the war?




Memoirs and Biographies

A Small Town in Germany



Kim Philby’s travels in Europe in 1945, described in his memoir My Silent War, may turn out not to be highly significant, but they are worth inspecting because they occurred at a critical time in the post-war evolution of MI6 (SIS), and because his account of them contains some implausibilities. The details are not easily verifiable, suggesting some possible deception. What fascinates me is the fact that Philby’s undisciplined account has, so far as I know, not been challenged anywhere (although it has been distorted). This suggests to me either a) that no one with any knowledge of the background has paid much attention to the anomalies inherent in his account, or b) that it is more convenient to let Philby’s fantasies endure, since they obscure some more embarrassing secrets that the authorities probably wanted to remain concealed.

Philby had only recently (October 1944) been appointed to head Section IX of MI6, which had been established in March 1943, dedicated to Soviet counter-espionage and counter-intelligence. Philby replaced John Curry, who, having been loaned by MI5 to MI6 to lead and build the unit, returned to MI5 in November 1944.  Section IX was an outgrowth of the wartime Section V that targeted the Abwehr and other Nazi intelligence groups, in which Philby had led the Iberian section.  Such resources and skills that drove Section V’s success were now required for the task of frustrating the Soviet Union’s designs for communist subversion. Philby had managed to persuade Valentine Vivian to give him the job in place of the natural candidate, the diligent but difficult Felix Cowgill, who had managed very well Section V’s operation of Special Control Units embedded with the British Army. Cowgill had, however, made himself unpopular with MI5 because of his reluctance to share decrypted ULTRA intelligence, and Philby skillfully courted his allies (Liddell and White) within MI5 to secure the position.

Philby gave a grudging appreciation of Cowgill’s skills in a report to his Moscow bosses, crediting him with an enormous capacity for work, aided by a prodigious memory, and combative in standing up for his principles. But he had few social graces, was unable to delegate and failed at any task of diplomatic negotiation. Thus Cowgill’s ambitions were quickly snuffed. He returned from a visit to the USA, and a further journey to Germany, in November 1944, and resigned in a huff when he discovered how he had been stabbed in the back.

It is not my intention here to offer a comprehensive analysis of the evolution of Section IX – a difficult enough challenge anyway, given the paucity of sources. Rather it is my goal to provide an accurate context for Philby’s initiatives after he assumed leadership of the Section, thereby shedding light on his movements in 1945, and maybe revealing more about how he was viewed in MI6. It was a critical and sensitive time. As the war began to wind down, and the fresh threat of Soviet expansion in Europe and Communist subversion of the democracies was recognized, a gradual shift in resources took place. Yet the assumption evident in the expressed plans was that the transition from performing counter-intelligence against one totalitarian state to building an organization to thwart the incursions and threats of the Soviet Union would be relatively smooth. That was an analysis that at first failed to register some significant differences.

The strength of Section V had been the successful exploitation of wireless traffic undertaken by German military and intelligence units. Operating on occupied territory, the enemy forces had been required to use radio instead of more secure land-lines. A massive investment in message capture (by the Radio Security Service) and decryption (by the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park) of the so-called ULTRA traffic had allowed Section V (in collaboration with MI5) to build up an extensive map of German units, movements, officers, and missions, alongside information about their deployment of agents. This was supplemented by intelligence gained from air reconnaissance, as well as contributions from citizens of these occupied territories who could provide ancillary information to fill out the inventory. A vital storehouse of data was captured and maintained that helped the Allied military effort.

The situation with the Soviet Union was very different. First of all, it was still technically an ally, and there were factions, especially within the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and in the Foreign Office, who looked forward to cooperating with the Soviet Union after the war. They would have tried to suffocate any plans for expanding Soviet counter-intelligence. Work on the external communist threat had however been sadly neglected during the war, both in MI5 and MI6. Wireless traffic was still very much a closed book. Even though some Soviet messages may still have been collected, decryption efforts had stopped after Barbarossa in June 1941. Not until 1943, when renewed efforts by the exiled Poles at Boxmoor, and a successful project based at Berkeley Street in London, under Denniston, to decrypt ex-Comintern communications in Eastern Europe, was the process of intelligence-gathering resumed. In addition, the Soviet Union was a heavily-guarded citadel: SIS had no agents at all on its territory, and SIS’s officers in outlying stations were known to the NKVD. For example, when Archie Gibson moved from Turkey to Sofia in September 1944, he was expelled a couple of weeks later. What SIS officers (apart from Philby, of course) were not aware of was that details of their complete organization, personnel, and mission had been regularly handed over to Moscow. It was not a level playing-field.

My Silent War (Kim Philby, 1968)

Philby’s own account of his travels is elliptical. He starts: “At the beginning of 1945, when the section [IX] was adequately staffed and housed, the time came for me to visit some of our field stations”, and, after a paragraph complimenting himself on the way that he had repaired the damage done by Harry Steptoe (according to Philby Number 2 in Section IX under Curry – whom Philby spells as ‘Currie’: any writer who lazily follows Philby’s example should be treated warily), with his station commanders universally approving Philby’s decisive sacking of the man, he offers an assessment of the state of counter-intelligence:

            Our real target was invisible and inaudible; as far as we were concerned, the Soviet intelligence service might never have existed. The upshot of our discussions could be little more than a resolution to keep casting flies over Soviet and East European diplomatic personnel and over members of the local Communist parties. During my period of service, there was no single case of a consciously conceived operation against Soviet intelligence bearing fruit. We progressed only by means of windfalls that literally threw the stuff into our laps. With one or two exceptions, to be noted later, these windfalls took the form of defectors from the Soviet service.

One wonders whether he presented such a bleak outlook to his bosses at the time: this would have seemed to be no recipe for success, and he would surely have had to present a more positive and energetic front to justify his expansion plans.

He went on to describe his sorties:

These trips, which covered France, Germany, Italy, and Greece, were to some extent educative, since they gave me insight into various types of SIS organization in the field. But after each journey, I concluded, without emotion, that it would take years to lay an effective basis for work against the Soviet Union.

Indeed. He then regaled his readers with a series of anecdotes from ‘that summer’ including ‘the wine-glass of chilled Flit which I drained in Berlin’, under the impression it was Niersteiner, as well as memories from Rome, Bari, and Larissa (in Greece).

My instant reaction on re-reading this recently was one of disbelief, for several reasons. First, the timing is impossible. The implication given is that Philby visited such stations early in 1945. For Paris and other liberated cities, that would obviously have been practicable, but for Germany it would have been absurd, since the Nazi surrender did not take place until May 7.  And we should remember that Philby was back in London in August 1945, just before the Gouzenko and Volkov events took place, jarring interruptions that disrupted his peace of mind. In any case, were the outlying stations in previously occupied Europe reconstituted that quickly? And would it not have been easier for Philby to have briefed the station-leaders in London? The second is to do with responsibilities. Since Philby had been appointed to head Section IX only in October 1944, it would have been premature and inappropriate for him to refer to ‘his’ station commanders, who reported to a different section. Moreover, Philby had been with MI6 for only three years, had been working in what was essentially a desk-job (analysis), and had no experience in recruiting and handling agents (operations). The third is to do with MI6’s strategy and organization at the time. I recalled vaguely that a deep study of MI6’s post-war structure and mission was carried out during 1944, with a report not coming out until the end of the year, and that further studies continued well into 1945. Thus the new structure, job definitions, and personnel assignments, as well as the methods by which the roles of counter-intelligence officers would be carried out, would not have been established until several months had passed.

I had to start digging around in the literature. First, the histories.


The Secret History of MI6 1909-1949 (Keith Jeffery, 2010)

Even though it is not the first, chronologically, Keith Jeffery’s authorized history of MI6 (SIS) was the obvious place to start. In many ways I find this a frustrating volume: it is crammed with facts, but Jeffery dances around the chronology so erratically, preferring to concentrate on exploits by geography, that he misses the chance to offer real integrative analysis. No account of the activities of Section IX in its short lifetime was to be found – an extraordinary omission. I consequently discovered that I had to compile my own interpretation of what decisions were driving what events.

Jeffery judged that the three-man committee under Nevile Bland, chartered with reporting on the future organization of the S.I.S., did deliver, in October 1944, a document that was ‘crucial in the history of the service’. Since this was the same month in which Philby had been appointed to head Section IX, the timing of his career ascent was not the most auspicious. Apart from the controversial recommendation that the functions of SOE be absorbed into SIS, the report seems largely unsurprising, making (for example) the case that that SIS be kept independent of MI5, its tone poignantly echoing the name of its chairman. It did discuss a more professional approach to recruitment, recommended that SIS improve its communications with its consumers, and took on the thorny problem of how SIS officers abroad should be disguised. It emphasized the growing importance of scientific and technical intelligence, and managed to stave off a push by the Joint Intelligence Committee to make SIS more subservient to military needs.

Yet matters did not move quickly, as if nothing should happen until the war were won. Moreover, Menzies wanted more deliberations. Jeffery wrote: “Menzies, in fact, had begun planning for the postwar Service early in the spring of 1945, evidently as a response to the Bland Report, with the C.S.S. committee on S.I.S. organization” being established. This entity consisted of Maurice Jeffes, who had been Director of Passport Control since 1938, Dick Ellis [yes, him who had the dubious past], Bill Cordeaux and Kim Philby. The Committee did not report until November 13, 1945, long after Philby’s reputed excursions around the European stations, and just after the Gouzenko and Volkov episodes, which one might expect to have coloured both the conclusions of the report as well as the formal reception of it.

What this Committee recommended was a wholesale re-organization of SIS, to be divided into four main branches, namely Requirements, Production, Finance and Administration, and Technical Services (which absorbed much of SOE). The largest section of the Requirements Branch was to be the counter-intelligence section, headed by Philby, and Jeffery oddly notes that this section would absorb ‘its predecessor’, Section V, but fails to offer any acknowledgment of the recent birth and presence of Section IX. (Only in an observation concerning 1948, when R5 was split into two, does Jeffery mention Section IX. But Philby had long been despatched to Istanbul by then.) At the same time, the report prescribed some streamlining of the Production Branch, which essentially consisted of the field stations gathering intelligence, and confounding enemy thrusts to undermine them. This new system of five Regional Controllers did not, however, operate until ‘late 1945’. Remarkably, Jeffery offers no names to fill all these exciting new posts (apart from Philby in Requirements, and Wilfred Dunderdale, heading his mysterious so-called ‘Special Liaison Controllerate’), perhaps responding to SIS’s desire for anonymity of its officers.

The adoption of these new structures took place in 1946, and only here does Jeffery inform his readers that the Requirements Directorate came into being that spring under Claude Dansey. Yet that does not make sense. By all accounts, Dansey had retired by then, and he died in 1947. Jeffery eventually lists those who took over responsibility for Production in January 1947 (Sinclair overall in charge, with Ellis, Cohen and Teague as his Chief Controllers). The infrastructure and achievements between the end of the war and 1947 are thus a sorry blur, and Jeffery records nothing about any sorties by Philby into Europe. In fact, almost immediately after he had settled in, towards the end of 1946, Philby was summoned by Sinclair (according to Philby’s account) and informed that it was time for him to have a tour of duty overseas. (Might Sinclair’s decision to move him out conceivably have been provoked by the alarming news of Philby’s bigamous marriage in September 1946? That is something over which Anthony Cave Brown speculated.) Jeffery is completely silent on this appointment, until he reaches 1948 in his saga, when, in an aside to the description of a disastrous exploit to infiltrate a couple of Georgians (the ‘Climbers’) into the Soviet Union, he mentions that they were welcomed in Istanbul by the head of station, Kim Philby. It is all a very unsatisfactory performance by the authorized historian, but he was severely inhibited by the selection of material shown to him.

The Friends: Britain’s Post-War Secret Intelligence Operations (Nigel West, 1989)

At times, the narrative in Nigel West’s account would appear to be describing a different world. As an introduction to SIS’s transition from war to peace, West (who never mentions Bland) refers to the fact that Findlater Stewart, the former head of the recently disbanded Home Defence Executive, was commissioned by Winston Churchill, before he was ousted by Attlee, to recommend how the British Intelligence Services should be organized to meet changing needs. Stewart delivered his report on November 27, 1945. West imputes this study as applying to both MI5 and MI6, and gives as an example for such initiatives as having SIS incorporate the rump of SOE in its organization, including several key officers, such as Robin Brook and Dickie Franks.

What is bizarre about this analysis is firstly that the Stewart report actually concerned itself with MI5 (as the National Archives reveal to us), including only marginal comments about relationships with MI6. Attlee and Petrie negotiated over its recommendations until as late as April 1946, when Attlee signed off on it. Secondly, Christopher Andrew completely ignored the existence of such a report and subsequent process in his authorized history of MI5. West acknowledged at the time that the Stewart report had never been published: it was an imaginative guess on his part to attribute to it the mandarins’ recommendations for MI6, but he had been wrongly informed. Thereafter, West provides a little more detail on the new SIS organization than was to be provided by Jeffery, two decades later.

First, he disposes of Cowgill, without mentioning Philby’s role, describes the continued structure of the Sections, including both V and IX, and introduces three Deputy Directors to Menzies, representing the three services, Cordeaux, Payne and Beddington. Then he starts to coincide with Jeffery, outlining the members of the committee that Menzies established in the summer of 1945, adding Hastings, Arnold-Forster and Footman to the list, but dropping Ellis. The structure of the eventual recommended organization is identical: West states that Menzies approved much of the report, but offers no date. He does identify the nine ‘R’ (Requirements) sections, with Philby’s Counter-intelligence being R5. And he adds the fact that Kenneth Cohen was appointed Director of Production, and that three European regional controllers, Gallienne (Western Area, namely France, Spain and North Africa), Carr (Northern Area, namely the Soviet Union and Scandinavia) and King (Eastern Area, namely Germany, Switzerland and Austria) served under Cohen. (Andrew King had to resign from MI6 in the 1960s for concealing his Communist past; a fact not admitted here by West.).

West spends a fair amount of space in describing the role of Passport Control Officer that continued to serve as cover for SIS officers abroad, despite the fact that it was an open secret. He reveals a surprising fact: that during the immediate post-war period, Charles de Salis and John Bruce Lockhart were manning the SIS station in Paris, and two MI5 officers were also on the staff, namely Jasper Harker (the old chief who was lampooned by Jane Archer), and Peter Hope. This might be relevant in that Paris was one of the stations Philby claimed to have visited, and (as will be revealed) the one with the most solid evidence of his presence.

Allied Control Commission: Berlin, May 1945

We can find nothing in West’s study about the activities of Section IX before the reorganization took place, but he does provide some useful information about the Allied Control Council, the entity that governed Germany, the members of which were drawn from the separate Allied Control Commissions. He writes:

            SIS had offices in the British Control Commission for Germany (BCCG) at Lancaster House on the Fehrbelliner Platz and requisitioned a building adjoining the Olympic Stadium, where SIS opened a station in 1946. Since the BCCG was eventually to employ a total of 22,520 staff, it was easy enough to provide further cover by attaching SIS personnel to the BCCG’s Intelligence Division (ID), a small unit run discreetly by Brigadier J. S. (‘Tubby’) Lethbridge.

The Berlin connection is interesting: but, of course, it post-dates Philby’s assertions about his travel to that city. West also informs us that, in the year following Germany’s surrender, numerous SIS outposts were established in Germany, the most important being located at Bad Salzuflen, between Düsseldorf and Hanover, under the command of Harold Shergold.

West stresses how important the BCCG was as the frontline of the intelligence war: it was for this group that Dick White of MI5 worked for a year or so, and thereby gained experience and a reputation that helped him in his future career. As West puts it: “  . . . dozens of sites throughout the occupied lands sprang up to house intelligence personnel, train forces, provide wireless interception bases, debrief potentially useful sources and interrogate suspects.” He points out that the focus on denazification, complemented by Soviet-appeasing noises from the Foreign Office, meant that anti-Soviet operations received short shrift, and were frustrated in any case by the communist spy Leo Long, who had been given the responsibility of running agents into the East. Another well-placed spy worked in the BCCG’s Press department, but West was unable to name him in 1989, as he was still alive. While admitting that he had been a Communist, this character denied having spied for the Reds.

The author dedicates a whole chapter to Philby (‘Kim Philby and VALUABLE’), providing some additional facts. When Philby took over Section IX, he left his Westminster schoolfriend Tim Milne in charge of Section V, ‘which also happened to employ Philby’s younger sister, Helena’. West gets the date of Section V’s formation wrong, stating that it was in September 1944, indicating that Curry and Harry Steptoe led it, when that was in fact the time that Curry gave up the post, and returned to MI5. He does record that Steptoe had been selected to make a tour of the Mediterranean stations to rebuild SIS’s organization after the invasion of Italy, an event that would tend to undermine the fact that Philby had to perform this task again himself. Steptoe later became Head of Station in Tehran, but West provides no dates. One might interpret from these sparse sentences that Steptoe was sent to Iran before he could carry out his Mediterranean tour. West’s narrative here could be interpreted to assert that SIS’s reorganization (where R5 replaced Sections V and IX) occurred before the end of the war. His chronology is distressingly vague.

After providing a detailed exposition of Philby’s career, West returns to 1945. Unfortunately, he relies almost exclusively on what Philby wrote in My Silent War, adding a flourish of his own:

While in his new post, Philby made several sorties abroad during the summer of 1945. He visited France, Germany, Italy and Greece, partly to reconnoitre the facilities that might be available for extending SOE’s covert war against the Soviet Bloc, and partly to indoctrinate SIS’s field personnel into Menzies’ plan for continuing irregular operations into the peace.

Where does this embellishment come from? It is not clear. What ‘facilities’ had to be inspected? What ideas did the unimaginative Menzies come up with for ‘irregular operations’? And what was a counter-intelligence officer doing promoting and explaining plans for subversive operations? And all this apparently occurred before Menzies’s internal study was completed in November 1945. It does not make sense.

Yet West continues the myth. Thus:

            Since it was ex-SOE personnel who were going to be expected to spearhead SIS’s anti-Communist campaign in the Balkans, Philby undertook a length tour of inspection. His journey in the summer of 1945 took him to visit Charles de Salis and John Bruce Lockhart in Paris, Monty Woodhouse in Athens and SOE’s outpost in Bari.

Paris would have been a very critical element in Balkan subversion, of course. And what happened to Germany? Moreover, SOE was not formally closed down, and absorbed by SIS, until January 1946. It would have been highly irregular for Philby to be nosing around in sabotage or subversive plans at this time, and Gubbins would have been in uproar. There were no deployable ‘ex-SOE’ personnel in existence at this time. The whole account is nonsensical. ‘The importance of chronology’ raises its head again.

MI6: Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service (Stephen Dorril, 2000)

Dorril presents a slightly different time-line. He erroneously has Menzies re-constituting the anti-communist Section IX in March 1944, under Curry, with Philby taking charge of Section V in May, while Cowgill was negotiating agreements with the Americans on intelligence exchange – BRUSA. Philby led a team of 250 officers who performed a valuable task of compiling records on members of the German security services. Before long, however, Valentine Vivian gave him his new assignment:

            In August 1944, Philby, who had expected to begin work on the illegal organisations of the Nazi Party and, when the war ended, to work in Berlin as chief of counter-intelligence, was informed that Vivian wanted to appoint him the operational chief of MI6’s anti-communist work in place of Curry.

This came as no surprise to Philby, of course, since he had been manœuvering for it ever since his Soviet bosses told him how imperative it was that he win it. Why ‘operational’ is italicized is not clear.

Dorril goes on to describe how SOE’s demise was arranged, quite quickly, by a committee set up in June 1945, composed of Cavendish-Bentinck, Menzies, Gubbins, and representatives of the chiefs of staff and the Treasury. Gubbins was outnumbered, and accepted the inevitable dissolution of his province as early as July 16, 1945. With the war over, Menzies apparently sent Philby to Athens, and then Frankfurt, ‘where he saw the chief of Allied Intelligence in Europe, General Long’. Thus an apparently genuine confirmation of Philby’s travel appears – but no mention of Berlin. Elsewhere, Dorril appears to accept Philby’s description of his visit to Bari in summer 1945, although he very illogically asserts that this event confirms that SOE was still operational. It was, but Philby had nothing to do with it.

On the other hand, some new intriguing links appear. Dorril frequently refers to Tom Bower’s biography of Dick White for this period – and Dick White was working at the time for Montgomery as chief of counter-intelligence at Bad Oeynhausen, a few miles north of Herford in Rhine-Westphalia. Dorril also reports that that highly dubious character Goronwy Rees – up until the time of the Nazi-Soviet pact an enthusiastic supporter of the Comintern – was also installed there as a person of some influence, senior intelligence officer to Sir William Strang, political adviser to Montgomery. Rees, the character whom Guy Burgess had sought permission to assassinate just a few years ago was now ‘responsible for diplomatic relations with the Russians’.

Dorril, also relying on Tom Bower’s The Red Web (1989), describes how Philby enthusiastically picked up what the old MI6 warrior in Scandinavia, Harry Carr, was trying to organize with Alexander McKibbin – anti-Soviet guerrilla activity in satellite nations like Latvia, Belarus and Ukraine.

As Dorril wrote:

            War planning soon became an integral part of MI6’s activities and much thought was given to the setting up of anti-Soviet Stay Behind (SB) networks throughout Europe.

Furthermore, Dorril wrote that Philby was helping with the links to the various exile movements, and was even ‘recruiting among the exiles’.

Stephan Bandera

The archival evidence, however, for exactly what contacts Philby had with such rogues as the Ukrainian nationalist Stephan Bandera in the summer of 1945 is sketchy at best. In his history of the CIA, The Old Boys, Burton Hersh wrote (1992):

It had been Philby’s job all through the postwar months as Chief of Section 9, the Soviet intelligence branch of the SIS, to revise British control over anti-Bolshevik malcontents, and he was quickly in touch with Bandera and his Ukrainians along with the Abramtchik schismatics. Before long the cost of subsidizing these émigré encampments was breaking the English. Unloading ‘the Communist-infiltrated Abramtchik organization upon the all-too-eager Wisner’, Loftus writes, would stand as ‘Philby’s biggest coup.’ ‘Philby also threw in the entire NTS network to serve as the foundation for a Pan-Slavic anticommunist bloc in exchange for access to the intelligence produced.’

Yet this seems to me a mangling of chronology. The author he cites, John Loftus, provided in The Belarus Secret (1982) no archival evidence that Philby was in touch with Bandera at this time, and his text suggests – Loftus is likewise irritatingly vague over his dates – that Mikola Abramtchik (president of the Belarusian Democratic Republic in exile) was not recruited until 1947 or 1948. Nevertheless, Philby was no doubt causing mayhem in many ways already. Such connections and rivalries, and the dampening effect of White’s pragmatism, would probably turn out to be a major influence on subsequent events.

With SOE taken care of, Menzies then set up his Reorganisation Committee (although Dorril presents the deliberations as occurring in October and November 1945). Dorril names the usual suspects, adding Alurid Denne, who, rather improbably, is described as having ‘control of the USSR region’. (Some region: some control.) Philby would indicate that Denne was in fact the secretary to the committee, ‘a careful, not to say punctilious, officer who could be relied on for complete impartiality because he had a comfortable niche awaiting him in the Shell Oil Company’. Hardly the man to cause knee-quaking in the Kremlin. (Dorril attributed the details of his coverage of this committee to West’s book analysed above.)

The outcome, according to Dorril, was similar to that described by West:

            Philby was still responsible for supervising the worldwide collection of all anti-Soviet and anti-communist material, intelligence which, according to Philby’s reports to the Soviets, was used ‘to discredit individuals in Soviet embassies and communist activities in other countries, to create provocations against them, to force or encourage them to defect to the West’. A great deal of attention was paid to interrogating former Soviet POWs and other displaced Russians. Philby discovered that the mostly low-level defectors did not know very much about the Soviet Union but were ‘very eager to tell whatever they thought British intelligence officers wanted to hear’.

Dorril here uses Noel Annan (Changing Enemies, p 230) and Borovik as his sources. Yet it all sounds very exaggerated in Philby’s words, and was in reality a poor cousin of what the KGB was actually doing at the time. Indeed, Annan’s message sounds to me antithetical to the sentiments expressed here. Annan wrote, from the page Dorril cited:

            It was almost impossible to plant agents in Russia or its satellite states when security was so intense that diplomats were not free to travel where they wished. Yet although the nomenklatura were reluctant to learn that the working class were not starving in the West, the steady stream of defectors, some from the KGB itself, showed that truth did penetrate the Soviet defences.

One yearns for more details here. Who carried out these interrogations – solely Military Intelligence? Were some defectors brought to London? Or did Philby travel to the places where the defectors were detained? And how were the Requirements formulated? What did Philby’s Section IX actually create and distribute in the way of intelligence? Again, details on the work of Section IX are very hard to come by, and the historians try to bluff their way through the fog.

The Cambridge Comintern (Robert Cecil, 1984)

In 1984, Christopher Andrew and David Dilks edited an intriguing set of essays published under the title The Missing Dimension: Governments and Intelligence Communities in the Twentieth Century.  One of the contributors was Robert Cecil, who had replaced Patrick Reilly as Stewart Menzies’s private secretary in the summer of 1943, and then moved to the Washington Embassy in April 1945. His essay, The Cambridge Comintern, is notable because he was intimately involved with the creation of Section IX.

Cecil makes some background observations: for example, that ‘contrary to what is asserted by Philby in his book, the Foreign Office had no hand in the manœuvre by which he ousted Cowgill’. When it came to delineate the size and scope of the new anti-Communist section, ‘consultation with the Foreign Office was doubly necessary’, owing to budgetary concerns, and the sensitivities of Heads of Mission who might object to MI6 officers working under their wing. As the intermediary to the Foreign Office, Cecil was given the courtesy of seeing, ‘in late February or early March 1945’ a document written by Philby. It was the proposed ‘charter’ of Section IX. Here Cecil discloses that the proposal described how MI6 officers overseas would be reporting directly to the head of Section IX, and it was couched in language that emphasized the challenges of increased surveillance, and thus the requirement for deeper diplomatic cover. Cecil objected, but was not determined enough:

            My vision of the future was at once more opaque and more optimistic; I sent the memorandum back to Philby, suggesting that he might scale down his demands. Within hours, Vivian and Philby had descended upon me, upholding their requirements and insisting that these be transmitted to the FO. Aware of the fact that I was in any case due to be transferred in April to Washington, I gave way, but I have since reflected with a certain wry amusement on the hypocrisy of Philby who, supposedly working in the cause of ‘peace’ (as Soviet propaganda always insists), demanded a larger Cold War apparatus, when he could have settled for a smaller one.

This is a strange passage. Did Cecil simply give way, and pass the document on to the Foreign Office? And did that mean that Permanent Under-Secretary Cadogan automatically approved it? In the absence of any countervailing evidence, one presumably has to accept that Philby and Vivian got their way, and might thus have become carried away with the idea of promoting their mission at stations abroad. The notion that an analytical department head would have officers in stations abroad reporting him seems, on the surface, quite absurd, and would surely have received fierce opposition from the operations leaders. And such a move would fly in the face of the more deliberate approach by Menzies to activate a committee during the remainder of the year to make recommendations on MI6 organization. Menzies would surely have had to approve the foreign travel. Etc., etc. The anecdote does, however, reinforce the fact that Vivian was thick with Philby at this stage, and thus would not have been easily discouraged when the business of the Litzi divorce came up the following year.

Triplex (edited by Nigel West and Oleg Tsarev, 2009)

Perhaps the most remarkable contribution to the investigation comes with the collection of secret documents passed on by the Cambridge Five to their Soviet masters, published as Triplex. What is unique about these items is that they have never appeared in their native English form: they are translations back from the Russian of documents passed on to their handlers by the spies, which were then put into Russian by the NKVD/KGB. It was my old friend Geoffrey Elliott who performed the re-translation, along with Dina Goebbel, and the two of them did an extraordinary job of creating material that appears almost totally accurate and plausible.

Philby has a generous allocation of thirty documents, although, for some inexplicable reason, Nigel West does not present them in chronological order. It is possible, nevertheless, to trace a narrative that shows how the fledgling Section IX found its feet (and wings). Valentine Vivian, with the title of DD/SP (Deputy Director, Security) described the problem of ‘Communist activity’ (XK) in a memorandum of September 6, 1944, and, in an adjacent note, pressed for the appointment of Curry’s successor, and for accelerating hiring, bringing his readers’ attention to the ‘heavy load of investigative and collation work needed to enable PCO and SIS officers to handle operational tasks abroad’. The material needing to be analyzed was probably the ISCOT (i.e. Berkeley Street-Comintern) decrypts, since he referred to the fact that ‘in the subsequent fifteen months’ (since Section IX was created), Section IX had become significantly more effective, and had drawn up a picture of how ‘organised Communism is moving at the present time and its ties with the Soviet government’. He continued: “The staffing of Section IX as a whole needs discussing and then resolving, with an eye in particular to the handling of top-secret material within the section and the changes needed to rectify the shortcomings of CR (the Central Registry).”  Vivian then laid out an ambitious scheme for staffing up in stations around the world.

What is fascinating is that Vivian then introduced a very comprehensive paper submitted by Harold Steptoe – ‘22850’s very clear report’. Steptoe had just completed a ‘major swing through the Middle East region to train selected representatives in SIS requirements’ (thus clarifying the vague comments that West made), and Vivian highlights Steptoe as being ‘fully trained’ for the purpose. Philby included the report in his dossier handed over to his NKVD controller, and it makes fascinating reading, showing that Steptoe was a very capable officer who indeed had some excellent insights into the state of the game. Thus, if Vivian thought so highly of him, it is somewhat perplexing why Philby boasted of getting him fired so promptly. (After all, Dorrill wrote that he was moved to head of station in Tehran, which was the job that Vivian sought for him. Philby surely never imagined that Steptoe’s report would ever come to light.) Maybe Philby saw him as a threat, since he had been Curry’s leading man, and had had a solid career in Shanghai as consul. Sadly, Steptoe died just a few years later, on March 15, 1949, at the young age of 56. He suffered a heart attack while serving as the minister to El Salvador. I trust his demise was not suspicious, but in the cases of ex-intelligence officers who came too close to the action, one can never be sure.

At the end of the month, Menzies responded by issuing a memorandum that described the mission of Section IX, and outlined an important directive for overseas work.

In the overseas system the work of Section IX should not be confined to Section V personnel stationed abroad. Although the training and techniques of Section V officers make them the best suited for Section IX operations, nevertheless only Section V officers occupying posts appropriate for the task are to be employed for this purpose.

While clumsily worded, this suggested that not all Section V officers were suitable for communist counter-intelligence, and that, despite the considerable size of Section V, suitable staff would have to be drawn from other sections. Menzies hereby announced that Philby would take over Section IX on October 1, and would be ‘ready to assume executive authority’ by November 13, at which point John Curry would return to MI5.

Somewhat surprisingly, Philby’s impulse (in a report of a meeting that he submitted in December) was to argue against the idea that officers of Section V attached to the military staffs in Italy and France should be used for investigating the Communist movement. He wanted a more careful selection of certain Section V officers to be recalled from other military staffs and first trained for this work (something that I actually suggested, in the passage above, would have been sensible). The other attendees at the meeting apparently agreed with him, identified two officers in Rome and Vienna who were suitable, and resolved that ‘all heads of station should in future receive instruction in this field before taking up their posts’. Whether Philby really wanted the cream of the crop, and how he might go about training such persons, are not clear.

In a memorandum from the month before, to Menzies, Philby had made a very noteworthy recommendation, actually proposing a more pro-active approach to intelligence-gathering, echoing ideas that his predecessor, Curry, had made:

            However, recent events and especially the position described in Curry’s memorandum have led me to wonder whether we should not in fact be looking at the problem as an integral part of the military situation, intelligence on which might be of real significance for the foreign secretary and the prime minister in determining policy and which should at a minimum provide reliable and useful background even before hostilities cease and far in advance of the peace negotiations.

While this suggestion would appear to contradict one of the key proposals of the Bland Committee’s recommendations, one can perceive how paradoxical Philby’s situation was becoming: in trying to be more effective in his role, he would presumably be aiding the military cause of preparing for conflict with the Soviet Union. One wonders to what degree the Kremlin internalized this message. At the same time, he may have hoped, by working more closely with Military Intelligence, to learn about plans for conflict in a scheme that would benefit his masters. This initiative may have influenced his travel plans for 1945.

The record for the first half of 1945 is bare. Yet evidence of Philby’s pre-occupations is present in a report that he submitted on July 6, when he described how eight meetings of Menzies’s reorganization committee had taken place over the past month (another important chronological pointer). Menzies was nominally chairman of the Committee, but attended only the first meeting, after which he was represented by Arnold-Foster (sic: actually Christopher Arnold-Forster, Chief Staff Officer). The deputy chairman was Maurice Jeffes, and the permanent members were the naval representative, Colonel Cordeaux (whom Philby respected), Dick Ellis, and Philby himself. Gambier-Parry, Hastings, and Footman were ad hoc members, called upon for specific issues. Philby’s observations on the careers and personalities of all these characters are enlightening, and he gives a detailed account of the resolutions and recommendations of the committee.

One of the most vital insights is the fact that Section IX was designed to become a much more aggressive counterintelligence organization rather than a more passive counter-espionage unit. The distinction is important. Since MI6’s charter was to cover non-British territory (and thus not Imperial domains), the role of counter-espionage would necessarily have been restricted – presumably to the movements of agents of Soviet espionage sometimes operating on alien turf, and efforts to infiltrate British embassies abroad. Philby and Vivian had far more grandiose ambitions: Philby’s paper talks openly of ‘targets’ and ‘penetrating the USSR’. “The whole purpose of the operational regionalization is to facilitate penetration of the USSR from the north, south, east and west.” This was of course a futile gesture, but also a monstrous provocation.

Yet what is puzzling about Philby’s early exposition is that he refers to four directorships – for functions identified as Production, Operations, Administration and Technical Services. This scenario would attempt to grant Production (the division designed for Philby himself) a much greater influence in the whole set-up, since the division would be ‘concerned with evaluating, collating and distributing to user departments  . . . all material obtained by British intelligence’. As has been shown above, Philby’s vaunted ‘Production’ was reduced to ‘Requirements’, and the ‘Operations’ sector became ‘Production’. Philby must have had his wings clipped during the subsequent negotiations. What is clear, however, is that – contrary to the way some accounts have represented it – the Operations Division would be organized on tight geographical (as opposed to functional) lines ‘since penetration was the cornerstone of the effort’.

An intriguing letter dated two weeks later (July 16) reflects some fascinating light on the fortunes of some of Philby’s colleagues, while enabling the KGB to prepare for the coming assaults. Major Charles de Salis ‘looks after Western Europe’, and is scheduled to be posted to Paris ‘around August 1945’ – an important date, given Philby’s itinerary. On his move to France, he will be replaced by Sir Colville Barclay.  (Attentive coldspur readers may recall that Barclay once came under suspicion of being a Soviet spy himself: see .) And ‘looking after the Middle East’ is none other than Anthony Milne, the sometime lover of Litzy Philby, who had joined Section IX in May 1944, and was forced to resign for concealing the fact – but not until twenty-five years later! The list has its comic touches: John Ivens, ‘a fruit merchant by profession’, has, as his current job, ‘dealing with the Western Hemisphere’. So comforting to know that these regions of the world were in such capable and experienced hands.

Perhaps the most extraordinary item at this time is a report on Commander Dunderdale’s SLC (Special Liaison Control), since it shows that a parallel intelligence-gathering operation was carrying on, containing an ‘Atlantic’ section, dealing with the USSR, and a ‘non-Atlantic’ one, dealing with everything else. As Philby writes:

            The Atlantic section gets intelligence on the USSR from the following sources:

  1. Decrypting of radio telegraph traffic;
  2. Radio telegraph messages en clair;
  3. Radio-telephone intercepts; and
  4. Sundry overt sources such as the Soviet press.

Philby goes on to describe the hush-hush activities of the Poles in this endeavour, with interception stations in Stanmore and in Scotland, and a code-breaking bureau in Boxmoor.

While Philby expresses admiration for the energy executed in his mission by Dunderdale (another character familiar to coldspur readers: see ), he also points out that Dunderdale ‘claims that the barriers erected around the USSR are so watertight that the old methods, i.e. agents, are virtually impossible to use. Moreover, the strict controls existing inside the country make rapid detection of agents virtually certain’. Such a judgment would obviously diminish Philby’s more expansive plans for penetration. It would be fascinating to know how this dynamic was worked through in successive months. Yet, by highlighting what the SLC did, and emphasizing that SIS would have to rely on techniques deployed by it, as described, Philby gave a clear indication to the Kremlin as to where it needed to tighten up its signals security.

No reports are available on the debates that followed the Committee’s ruminations and recommendations, and the next report is dated March 8, 1946, where Philby describes the new organization, although the final touches are awaiting budgetary approval. The report is rather a muddle: one wonders whether the NKVD officers could make any sense of it, since it displays contradictory information about the gathering of intelligence, and how the management hierarchy works. What is evident is that Philby does not exert as much influence as he imagined he would. John Sinclair has been brought in as deputy director, and reportedly has five directorates reporting to him, which Philby describes as Intelligence (including all stations engaged in counter-intelligence), Information, Finance and Administration, and Development. (He seems to have overlooked ‘Production’ in this list, which is led by Kenneth Cohen, responsible for ‘execution of intelligence operations’. Yet Philby then states that such a function lies with the Intelligence Directorate.)

Moreover, the Intelligence Directorate is headed by Easton, now third in the SIS hierarchy after Menzies and Sinclair, and Philby shares only a deputy role alongside Footman. Philby’s R5 section (‘Counter-Intelligence’) is, however, the largest, and is expected to have a staff of fifteen by the end of the year. And Philby draws attention to a vital new section, the Co-ordination section, which has ‘the very important task of comparing the value of intelligence procured with the price of procuring it, a comparison that it is required to make across very region and every issue’. This section is in the very capable hands of one Squadron Leader John Perkins. Of Dunderdale’s Special Liaison Section nothing is said. Philby’s ally Vivian has been moved out to a staff post as Advisor on Security Policy. Philby adds a short note to the effect that a small group from SOE is being merged into SIS, but it is not clear yet exactly what they are going to do.

All in all, a remarkable collection, a tale of knavery and ambition, but also including a number of pointers (dates, personnel appointments) that help shed light on the puzzling travel arrangements of Philby in 1945.

The Philby Files (Genrikh Borovik  – 1994)

An important contribution is made by Borovikh, in that he quotes some of [sic] the reports that Philby wrote for his handler, Yuri Modin, on his ‘inspection tours’ of ‘the European capitals’ in 1945. Because of their immediacy, and the nature of the communication, one might expect these accounts to be of greater reliability than what Philby wrote in his memoir.

The first relevant report is dated March 1945, and describes Philby’s visits to Paris and Rome. He spoke to the MI6 head of counter-intelligence about prospects for anti-Communist work, but the unit was small, and concentrating on ‘German diversionary organisations’. In Rome, the station was more guarded. It had decided ‘to keep Section 9 from any degree of contact with local counter-intelligence service – French, Italian and so on – since they fear that those services could be infiltrated by Soviet agents’.

After reporting (in May) about an OSS project to install a microphone in the building where Togliatti works, the following month Philby recorded a visit to Athens, then Rome, before he flew to Frankfurt (on Menzies’s orders) for a conversation with General Long, chief of Allied military intelligence on the Continent. The objective was to organise ‘gathering of military and political information about the Red Army’. The narrative continues: “S [Söhnchen] reports on his conversation with Long and other members of intelligence in Frankfurt with his material”, indicating that there was further information not disclosed here.

A final relevant report (and I note that these few are probably only a selection) is dated July, and it reflects the deliberations of the committee on how MI6 should be organized best to perform espionage against the USSR. That statement would tend to confirm the suggestion I made earlier that any claims that Philby made about rallying ‘his’ people in the first half of 1945 would have been premature, and that his visits must therefore have been very exploratory. What is significant is the omission of any account of Philby’s and Milne’s expedition to Germany and Austria in July and August. One would expect that the time spent in the hotbed of Allied intelligence would have been of intense interest to Moscow. Philby may have glossed over the whole experience because of the embarrassment of the Niersteiner incident. Alternatively, the KGB might have decided not to release such a report because of its high-level strategic importance. Borovik’s evidence suggests that Philby made only two trips in the first half of 1945: one to Paris, and another to Athens, Rome and Frankfurt. As with many of these records, what is missing is sometimes as critical as what appears. But one can only guess.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

In summary, the histories told a confusing story.  Much guessing, some inept dating and several unlikely events, a few regular clues, a possible justification for early visits to stations in 1945, as well as some provocative links with Army Intelligence in the British Sector. Perhaps various memoirs and biographies could tell me more?

Memoirs and Biographies

Seale and McConville, Knightley & Macintyre

It is odd how this critical period in Philby’s career is overlooked by many of his biographers. Patrick Seale and Maureen McConville, in Philby: The Long Road to Moscow (1973) took a languid detour around the events of this time. They recognized Philby’s achievement in gaining the headship of Section IX, but laconically dismissed the period as follows: “  . . . from the British point of view the section was not very effective in the immediate post-war period, as its information was largely pre-war and needed extensive updating”. They moved on to the Volkov incident, and then covered the Philby divorce. While they no doubt did not have access to the records now available, they did trust to an excessive degree the surely mendacious account of the events that Vivian vouchsafed to them in letters. After some further rather desperate psychological analysis, and a brief mention of Philby’s contribution on the reorganization Committee (‘in the autumn of 1945’), they recorded Philby’s posting to Istanbul in February 1947.

Phillip Knightley, in The Master Spy (1990), having had the dubious benefit of interviewing Philby in Moscow, had a different spin on this period. He likewise attributed to Philby the achievement of making Section IX a much more aggressive operation, and explained why Cecil was so shocked at Philby’s ambitious goals in wanting to include in his charter the task of gathering intelligence in the Soviet Union. After Cecil backed down, according to Knightley, Philby ‘pushed ahead with the expansion of his section as fast as he could’, with the result that it employed ‘a staff of more than thirty’ within eighteen months – a rather more aggressive build-up than Philby acknowledged to his masters in that summer of 1945.

With no recognition of the reorganization process, or the new structures (had Knightley not even read West’s Friends at this time?), the author went on to write: “In the winter of 1945-6, Philby visited France, Germany, Sweden, Italy and Greece to brief station chiefs on what Section IX planned to do and what it would require”. He had either ignored My Silent War, or decided that he had better correct Philby’s faulty memory (without explaining why), or was simply guessing. Maybe he was using what Philby had told him more recently in Moscow, but it was a very careless treatment. He made, however, an astonishing observation that might point to a strategy that Philby had devised, but one which showed extraordinary naivety:

            SIS was not surprised to discover that some of its agents, arrested by the Germans in the general round-up of 1939-40, had been recruited to work in Eastern Europe against the Soviet Union. With a typical display of pragmatism, some of the agents were now rehired by SIS, which argued that their anti-Soviet experience would be invaluable.

I am not sure what is ‘pragmatic’ about a tactic that concludes that a sweep of ‘agents’, who at that time would have had ‘anti-fascist’ and thus harboured possible communist sympathies, had been able to survive the war by working in Eastern Europe against the Soviets, and were now willing to be recruited to do it all over again, working for SIS, would turn out to be a winning gambit. This fragment, however, does perhaps provide a hint as to what Philby may have been up to in Germany in 1945.

Knightley then provides an anecdote about a Latvian, Felikss Rumniceks, who had reportedly been recruited by Philby in Stockholm in May 1945 to infiltrate Soviet Latvia, and had miraculously survived the Gulag to tell, in 1988, the tale of his betrayal. (The Soviets presented him for an interview: Philby died in May of that year.) This factoid must be highly dubious. The timing of this exploit – right at the end of the war, so early in Philby’s tenure, before the project of re-organization, at a time when SOE was still independent, in conflict with how Knightley dates Philby’s travels – would be a stunning disclosure if verifiable. It is true that the Latvian independence movement had been in touch with MI6 officer McKibbin in Stockholm, and radios had even been supplied, but for MI6 to be recruiting and infiltrating agents at this time seems to me highly unlikely. (McKibbin actually worked for Dunderdale’s SLC: he did later lead Operation JUNGLE in the Baltics. Jeffery on page 709 does record such an operation in 1949, but Philby was out of the picture by then. See also  for more information on this fascinating issue.) In any event, Philby had earlier told Knightley that he was unrepentant over sending agents to their death in such cases, and especially in Albania.

In A Spy Among Friends (2014), Ben Macintyre is both lax and inattentive. He misattributes the setting-up of Section IX to Philby’s idea in March 1944, with Curry initially being placed in charge. While acknowledging that the section’s mission quickly evolved to running intelligence operations, not just counter-espionage, Macintyre then focuses on Philby’s close friend, Nicholas Elliott, before covering the Gouzenko and Volkov incidents, which he places in September 1945 and August 1944 [sic]respectively. He covers the sordid details of Philby’s marriage to Aileen, after ‘an uncontested and amicable divorce’ from Litzi in Paris – with no evidence offered to support his assertion – before moving smoothly on to Menzies’s directive to Philby ‘late in 1946’ that he would be sent to Istanbul as station chief. His replacement as head of Section IX (which in fact no longer existed) would be Douglas Roberts. Of the reorganization, and of Philby’s travels, Macintyre writes nothing.

I next turn to some accounts that contain a little more beef.

The Philby Conspiracy (Bruce Page, David Leitch, and Phillip Knightley, 1968)

The above-mentioned Knightley collaborated with two other journalists on the ground-breaking 1968 publication. I find it impressive in many ways, since it uncovers aspects of the case that could not have been documented at the time, and which many commentators since have ignored. Since their story is based primarily on conversations with other MI6 officers and Foreign Office personnel, it does contain errors, but overall it is insightful and accurate. The authors describe Philby’s moving from Section V in Ryder Street to his new position in Section IX, in Broadway, ‘early in 1944’. They then carry out a sharp analysis of whether the mission of Section IX was counter-espionage or more offensive activities, with one officer informing them that “It was certainly an offensive espionage operation. Philby was supposed to be setting up networks in east European countries for operating against the Russians”. This is not a convincing assertion: the timing must be premature, and Philby had no skills in that domain.

Yet they correctly judge that, because of all the information that Philby passed on, the Soviets must have retained their ‘paranoia’ about the West. They correctly assess that, while the founding of the new section took place before D-Day, its real expansion occurred afterwards. And then they make the very powerful observation about the rivalry between MI5 and MI6 over special intelligence for Eisenhower’s armies, when the responsibility was taken away from SIS, who had expected the role to fall into its lap:

            But it did not. Instead, against what one participant described to us as ‘bitter’ opposition from the SIS, a special intelligence organisation was set up called the Cabinet War Room. This was an extremely successful organization, and it was controlled, de facto, by the star of MI5, Dick White. It would have been difficult to think of anything which could have outraged the SIS more. Theoretically, an SIS man was joint head of the War Room: but White was the more formidable figure, and the practical effect. The undeniable fact was that MI5, together with a gaggle of wartime ‘amateurs’, was running perhaps the most exciting foreign-intelligence operation in British history.

While the statement about White is incorrect (White was in Germany with SHAEF at the time: the MI5 officer who supervised the War Room was T. A. Robertson, of the Double-Cross Committee), the claim that the War Room, which was nominally an instrument jointly managed by OSS and MI6, was usurped by MI5, is right. It was set up in June 1944 to service Cowgill’s Special Counter-Intelligence Units (SCIUs) by providing them with the current intelligence on agents, collaborators, location of documents, enemy premises, etc. as the allied armies moved east. MI5 claimed that its greater experience in managing ‘double agents’, and the strength of its Registry, made it a more suitable body to take charge, and Tim Milne of SIS (who had replaced Philby in Section V) was not felt to be a strong enough character to manage it. (Philby famously described his friend, in a report to Moscow, as ‘a very good brain, though inclined towards inertia’.) Menzies bristled, but had to concede.

The War Room is another phenomenon that has not been adequately covered, although Chapter 15 in Hinsley’s and Simkins’s Volume 4 of British Intelligence in the Second World War gives a thorough account (while scrupulously failing to identify any names), and Edward Harrison adds some useful detail in The Secret World. Surprisingly, Andrew makes no mention of it in his history, although Guy Liddell, in his diaries, is expansive about the feuds with MI6 that surrounded it. The authors make an imaginative point that the increased aggressiveness of Section IX was developed out of pique over this slight, and thus should not have been taken seriously. “It is the very presence of Philby as director of the new section which argues that it could hardly have represented the most serious intentions of the British administration”, they wrote, and went on to marvel at SIS’s naivety. “Once again, the question arises of whether the leaders of the SIS simply knew nothing about Philby’s past or whether they knew about it and failed to investigate and take account of it”, they continued, sentiments that approach very closely my theory about the Philby ‘conversion’.

Malcolm Muggeridge

Page, Leitch and Knightley conclude their account by describing Philby’s visit to Paris to see Malcolm Muggeridge (although they do not date it). This is an important subject to which I shall return. They cite Muggeridge’s statement that Philby pointed out to him the flat where he had stayed with Litzi: Muggeridge did not mention the incident to anyone at the time. They also describe how Philby managed to survive the intense vetting process carried out by SIS in 1946. “Numerous officers were re-vetted, and some were asked to leave the Service. Philby was not one of these: he remained an important departmental executive.” Coldspur readers who have come this far will not be surprised by that assessment. Yet the authors trip over their discovery: they (erroneously) declare that Philby was moved to Turkey ‘early in the summer’ of 1946, without evidently considering that the move may have been associated with the purge of the same year.

The Climate of Treason (Andrew Boyle, 1979)

Boyle’s book was the breakthrough volume that led to the outing of Anthony Blunt. He was helped by scores of persons, many of whom he could not name for security reasons, and, of course, in this process he may well have been led astray by some who wanted to obfuscate the issue. Yet his exchanges with such as Malcolm Muggeridge and Felix Cowgill enabled him to shed some fresh light on the events of 1944 and 1945. Boyle was able to benefit from the publication of Muggeridge’s Chronicles of Wasted Time (1973) – which I inspect below – but also learned some valuable information from exclusive conversations with the ex-MI6 officer.

His treatment of J. C. Currie [sic] as the ‘makeshift’ initial head of Section IX is uncharitable and unfair, although he indicates that Cowgill denied Curry access to ‘the pre-war files’. What these files were, or what they contained, Boyle does not say, but Curry would have been intimately familiar with the files maintained in the MI5 Registry. Boyle then follows Philby’s account of his project to usurp Cowgill as the legitimate head of Section IX, with Vivian (‘a weak character who had long smarted under Cowgill’s self-righteous scorn’) easily being enrolled to the Philby cause. Boyle mistakes Robert Cecil for Patrick Reilly as Foreign Office representative, but observes that, when Philby encouraged Menzies to seek the approval of MI5 officers before he accepted the job, director-general Petrie was less than enthusiastic. Boyle writes: “Petrie, in fact, privately disapproved of the underhand scheming which eventually forced Cowgill to swallow his pride and resign from the secret service.” (That insight was provided by Cowgill himself, and Boyle offers a lengthy paragraph on Cowgill’s fruitless ongoing protests and chagrin over his treatment.)

Yet two outlying critics endured in the persons of Graham Greene and Malcolm Muggeridge. Greene rather ostentatiously resigned when Philby was appointed to head Section IX. As for Muggeridge, after his work in Mozambique, and then tours of duty in Algeria and Italy, he had been despatched to liberated Paris in mid-August 1944. He related to Boyle an incident that had occurred some weeks before the Cowgill business had come to a head, when the Personnel Chief of MI6, Kenneth Cohen, sought Muggeridge’s opinion of Philby. Cohen had ventured that ‘anyone so able and energetic as Kim would almost certainly be found a permanent post’. While this is the only indication I have found that Philby’s employment in MI6 was perhaps only temporary, Muggeridge was vehemently opposed to the idea.

            “You can’t be serious, Kenneth,” Muggeridge expostulated. “I like the man as well as you do, but I wouldn’t give him house room.”

            “Why not?”

            “For one good reason. Kim simply can’t be trusted. He happens to be one of nature’s farouches, a wild man capable of turning the place upside down for his own ends.”

Cohen did not act upon Muggeridge’s advice, and Philby advanced. Boyle then recounts the meetings between Muggeridge and Philby ‘during the bleak winter of 1944-45’ in Paris. I shall leave the details of these encounters (when Muggeridge developed solid beliefs about Philby’s treachery) when I cover Muggeridge’s memoir (and may thus be able to date Philby’s visit more precisely). Muggeridge added other anecdotes, however, that did not make it into his memoir. The first was quite remarkable, and involved Rothschild and Philby. At a heated dinner, Rothschild had vehemently criticized the policy of withholding Bletchley Park intercepts from the Soviets, and Philby had joined him in asserting that such cooperation should override any security concerns. The second incident involved an apparent lack of interest on Philby’s part in Soviet infiltration of the French government, and a contemptuous dismissal of information volunteered by a Colonel Arnould, described as ‘the war-time head of the SIS network in France’.

The major episode that provoked Muggeridge took place after an expensive dinner that Muggeridge had reputedly shared with Philby. He tried to discern why it was that Philby had come to Paris to see him. To fire him, perhaps? No. He didn’t work for Philby then. Muggeridge knew that Philby ‘had lately fired Steptoe, a splendid character, straight out of the pages of P. G. Wodehouse, who’d worked for a while with me in Mozambique and then temporarily succeeded Currie [sic] in Section Nine before Philby’s permanent appointment was promulgated’. He fondly imagined that Philby might have wanted to recruit him (Muggeridge), ‘a well-known anti-Communist’, to his empire. For some reason, Philby funked the offer, maybe because he did not want to be rejected in the way Greene had demeaned him. In any case, Muggeridge made a major point to Boyle that he was distanced from Philby, never worked for him, and had spotted signs of his treachery early.

But why was Steptoe so cruelly let go? And what was he doing as a temporary replacement for Curry when Philby had already been anointed? And how had he managed to cause such ‘damage’ during his short tenure? Here is another testimony to Steptoe’s qualities, yet Philby was able to exert some strange power over him, without a whimper from the allies that Steptoe had in MI6. It is very odd. In The Crown Jewels, West and Tsarev write:

            He [Philby] was not averse to introducing some humour: at the conclusion of this report he adds ‘Rest in Peace’ to the news that Harry Steptoe, formerly the SIS head of station in prewar Shanghai, has been posted to Algiers. Philby despised Steptoe, an old Far East hand who had been interned by the Japanese and exchanged in Mozambique together with other diplomats after long hardship. Steptoe was later to be appointed deputy head of Section IX, the anti-Communist section that was to prove such an irritant to Philby.

Section IX an ‘irritant’? That does not make sense. In any case, Muggeridge was not having anything of it, however. He told Boyle that, after the events in Paris of that winter, he couldn’t get out of SIS fast enough.

The culmination of that social evening with Philby was the incident that Muggeridge does describe in his memoirs, namely Philby’s rather absurd and flamboyant gestures outside the Soviet Embassy, where he appeared to express his frustration at the impenetrability of that institution, and the whole Soviet intelligence apparat. Muggeridge did not know what to make of it, but considered it was ‘most irregular, if not reprehensible, behaviour on the part of a senior MI6 officer’.

Treason in the Blood (Anthony Cave Brown, 1994) & The Perfect English Spy (Tom Bower, 1995)

I conjoin these two volumes because, despite the slender contribution they make, they are contemporary, and together predictably offer further confusion to the chronology. Bower’s biography of Dick White relies heavily on conversations that the chief of MI5 and MI6 had with Andrew Boyle as well as Bower, and I have shown before what a vain and deceptive raconteur White was. Yet he would not obviously have had reason to lie over some of the events in Paris.

Bower has White arriving in Paris at the end of August to join SHAEF, and sharing coarse living accommodation with ‘about ten British intelligence officers from MI5 and SIS, including Malcom Muggeridge, Desmond Bristow and later Kim Philby’. White at some stage saved Muggeridge from being deported by irate Americans over his attempts to aid the escape of P. G. Wodehouse. Bower then described ‘a contretemps over several [sic] meals with Rothschild and Philby’, also attended by Muggeridge. While Bower seems to analyze the events in some confusion, it appears that White was present at a dinner at which ‘shortly after arriving in Paris [sadly undated] Philby and Rothschild had agreed that the Russians should have been given the Ultra intercepts’. Muggeridge disagreed, but Rothschild grabbed some of those precious messages and pushed them through the letter-box of the Soviet Embassy. White was also able to witness Philby shaking his fist at the Embassy, apparently out of frustration at his inability to penetrate Soviet intelligence. What is extraordinary about this testimony is that White claimed that he was present at two of the scenes described by Muggeridge, yet Muggeridge left White out of his chronicles completely.

And then Bower writes: “As autumn approached, the deteriorating atmosphere in the small mess was aggravated by the cold.” Now this suggests to me that these bizarre goings-on occurred in late September, or possibly early October, unless White and Bower got their chronology hopelessly wrong. The ‘approach of autumn’ is far from Boyle’s ‘bleak mid-winter’, and, since Philby did not take command of Section IX until November 13 (see Triplex above), it sounds as if he was on an exploratory tour, and that Muggeridge may have conflated multiple visits into one. For example, how would Muggeridge have been able to comment, in late September 1944, on the firing of the unfortunate Steptoe?

I turned to Cave Brown. His books are always a mixed blessing. His ‘encyclopedism’ (as Trevor-Roper called it in an infamous review) can be infuriating, and he shows little discrimination in reproducing all the insights that have been entrusted to him over the years. His chronology is perpetually chaotic, and he does not have a nose for following up on ambiguous answers or statements. Yet, in between the overblown narrative, one can expect to find some useful nuggets. So it is with his Treason in the Blood, subtitled H. St. J. Philby, Kim Philby, and the Spy Case of the Century.

Typical is his coverage of Section IX. He introduces it by declaring how Churchill, in September 1944, had instructed Menzies to revive his anti-Soviet service. Yet he next asserts that Menzies responded to that command by re-establishing Section IX in March 1944, and then cites Philby’s memoir, where he explains how Philby’s Moscow bosses urged him to win the prize, and outwit Cowgill. Cave Brown then makes a meal of Graham Greene’s resignation from Section V on June 2, 1944, ostensibly because he was shocked by Philby’s intriguing and lust for power. (Other writers have questioned Philby’s role in ousting Cowgill, indicating that he was on the way out, anyway. Liddell, for example, wrote that Cowgill was fired.) Cave Brown then covers the exchanges with Robert Cecil, implicitly undertaken in March or April 1945.

Next comes a typical item of Cave Brownian flim-flam. “More or less immediately Philby began to recruit men of high quality . . .” I do not know what ‘more than immediately’ might mean, but the impression Cave Brown gives is that a stream of suitable loyal Philbyites ‘began to leave London and to situate themselves at every important outpost on foreign territory; their mission was to keep Philby informed about Soviet, American, British, and French intelligence activity in their areas of operations and to establish working relations with the local foreign counterespionage and security systems where they existed’. I am not sure what these gallant gentlemen did in their afternoons, but it strikes me as odd that such a wholesale surge of busyness could occur at exactly the time that Menzies was initiating his project to consider the new organization of MI6.

Now Cave Brown returns to Muggeridge and Paris.

            As each Western European country was liberated, Philby went to its capital to restore the old prewar counterespionage alliance that had formed the basis of the cordon sanitaire against the Soviet Union. The first and the most important of the new liaisons was with General Charles de Gaulle’s Services Spéciaux in Paris. First he sent Malcolm Muggeridge to represent him and then he himself arrived soon afterwards.

Philby was reportedly installed at the Rothschild mansion on the Avenue Marigny – no chilly fleapit for him, then. And then Cave Brown, exploiting Muggeridge’s memoirs, recites the story of the drunken meal with Philby that ended up with the spy gesticulating wildly at the ‘hermetically sealed [Soviet] Embassy’. He also reproduces the spat over the Ultra disclosures carried on by Rothschild and Philby against Muggeridge, but does not source it to Boyle. Instead he refers to pages 186 and 187 of Muggeridge’s memoir, where the incident described did not take place in Paris, but in London, probably in late 1943, and Philby alone was involved, not Rothschild.

The discerning reader will by now have spotted several anomalies. Despite Muggeridge’s protestations that he would have turned down any offer by Philby to work for him, it seems that he was actually on Philby’s team when these events happened. But Cave Brown implies that they happened after the episodes with Cecil, and the roll-out of Philby’s cavalry to points around the world – thus not before April 1945. Given Muggeridge’s period of residence in Paris (see below), that would have been impossible. And Cave Brown’s own timeline is very hazy: if he really meant that Philby’s tours took place ‘as each western European country was liberated’, one might have expected that Paris (liberated August 1944) would have been graced by Philby’s visit a lot earlier. Moreover, the confusion over the place, timing and locale of the Rothschild/Philby protestations about ULTRA is utterly unforgiveable.

Maybe it was time to check what the source (Muggeridge) wrote.

Chronicles of Wasted Time: Number Two – The Infernal Grove (Malcolm Muggeridge, 1973)

Muggeridge is also characteristically vague about chronology. Some events are dated: we learn that he arrived in Paris on August 12, 1944. He soon met up with his MI6 colleague, Trevor-Wilson, and some time after that he was joined by Victor Rothschild, whose arrival enabled Muggeridge to move into the Rothschild mansion in the Avenue Marigny, where Victor Rothschild was de facto head of the family. (His sardonic description of Rothschild could not have endeared him to the ‘Socialist millionaire’.) The business with P. G. Wodehouse took place a few days after his arrival. The memoirist describes the ‘cold fuel-less winter months’ that came along, and confirms that he was representing MI6 in Paris, ‘trying to sort out the position of purported British agents who had been arrested as collaborators by the French police’.

The nearest we get to a specific date appears in the following statement: “When I had been in Paris some months, a directive came from London about a new MI6 department which had been setup specifically with Soviet intelligence activities, including sabotage and subversion. The directive had been drafted by Philby  . . .” It is here that Muggeridge makes a brief reference to Steptoe, again suggesting that Philby had managed to oust him from control of Section IX rather than the maybe more deserving Cowgill. A further pointer is offered by a reference to Ambassador Duff Cooper’s anger over the Yalta Conference (which took place between February 4 and 11, 1945). Muggeridge then writes:

            It was around this time I received an intimation that Kim Philby was coming over to Paris in connection with his new duties as head of the department concerned with Soviet espionage, and that he wanted to see me. He stayed in the Avenue Marigny house, and we arranged to dine together.

After Muggeridge curries favour with Philby by gratuitously insulting Vivian (whose name he mis-spells) and the unfortunate Steptoe, Philby then takes him for a stroll, and points out a block of flats where he had lived with his first wife. Muggeridge writes:

            This was the first time he had ever mentioned a previous wife to me; and it was only afterwards, when his past came to be minutely explored, that I learned that she had been a German Jewess and Communist Party member, whom he had met while covering the Spanish Civil War on the Franco side for the Times, and who was generally assumed to have played an important part in his development into a party activist and Soviet agent.

Several mistakes here, of course. Litzi was not his ‘previous’ wife, but his current one, which suggests that the story of Philby’s ‘divorce’ had been successfully stifled. Litzi was Austrian, not German, and it is not clear where Muggeridge gained his intelligence about how they met. His comment about Litzi’s role in educating Philby (‘generally assumed’) is typically weaselly and evasive. He had obviously not been researching very deeply into the business.

Next Muggeridge presents the oft-quoted passage about Philby shaking his fist at the Soviet Embassy. I emphasize again – Philby alone. There is no mention of Rothschild or White, which prompted me to start thinking about the timing of the claims that incriminated Rothschild in this scandalous behaviour of declaring an unnatural sympathy for the Soviet Union in the business of the decrypts. In 1973, when he wrote his memoir, Muggeridge probably had to be cautious, but he abandoned that concern when he supplied written testimony to Boyle before the publication of The Climate of Treason in 1979. Why did Rothschild, a naturally litigious person, and very sensitive about accusations of his Communist sympathies, not threaten to sue – especially since Muggeridge had vilified him earlier in his memoir?

Perhaps it was because there was a witness who would have supported Muggeridge’s assertions, namely Dick White. Muggeridge and Rothschild both died in 1990, so, when Bower’s biography of White came out, the stage was clear. Moreover, White had apparently also witnessed the melodrama in front of the Soviet Embassy, and was comfortable telling Bower about it at that late stage in the game. Muggeridge had been typically slippery, and had transposed the Ultra incident to an earlier year, and a different location, and to Philby alone in his memoir. Yet he must have felt more aggrieved, or more confident, or less wary of Rothschild, a few years later when he had his intense exchanges with Boyle.

I wondered whether Richard Ingrams’ biography of Muggeridge (simply titled Muggeridge), issued also in 1995, might add some vital evidence to the puzzle. As I recalled when I first read it, it is a rather weak and lazy offering. It says nothing about the Rothschild/White/Philby incidents, includes a paltry list of ‘Books Consulted’ (that does not include The Climate of Treason), but does provide two relevant insights. Ingrams does note that Muggeridge had returned to England by May 18, 1945, which places a bookend to the period in which the shenanigans took place, and he reports that Muggeridge owned a big debt to Dick White, who saved him from being sent back to England when the Americans expressed annoyance with Muggeridge’s tendency to sympathize with those accused of collaboration. This in turn, echoes what Bower recorded about Muggeridge’s indebtedness to White over the Wodehouse business. As a mark of gratitude, Muggeridge may have wanted to spare White from any adverse publicity that may have arisen from tales of his mixing socially with Rothschild and Philby.

Overall, Muggeridge’s writings on the events display a familiar measure of humbuggery and deception. He probably lied about his awareness of the creation of Section XI, and his employment by Philby on it. He contradicted himself in testimony given in his memoirs, and in his communications to Boyle. As with many reminiscences of this kind, his main purpose was to show himself in the best of lights, to display moral superiority, and to settle old scores.

The next place to turn was the memoir of Philby’s old schoolfriend, and deputy in Section V, Ian Milne, known as ‘Tim’. (Tim was the brother of the notorious Anthony, one-time paramour of Litzi Philby, who served with MI6 from 1944 to 1969, and to whom Arthur Martin wrote the infamous 1946 letter requesting information on Litzy Feabre.)

Anthony & Tim Milne

Kim Philby: The Unknown Story of the KGB’s Master Spy (Tim Milne, 2014)

Milne had written his memoir about his experiences with Philby as far back as 1979, and was ready for publication, but had to submit his manuscript to MI6 to gain permission to go ahead. That permission was denied, and it was not until four years after his death, at the age of ninety-seven, that his daughter was able to give permission for the memoir to be published (with some noticeable updates that reflect events since that year). The work does provide a sturdier framework for Philby’s activities in 1945.

Milne took over the headship of Section V in December 1944, when Cowgill resigned. He judged that Philby ‘may have overestimated the difficulties he faced in getting the Section IX job, as Cowgill’s career history, relevant knowledge, and recent contretemps made him a less than ideal candidate’. What is bizarre is the fact that Milne never mentions Steptoe in his account: if Steptoe had been a temporary replacement for Curry, Milne surely should have known about it, which makes the whole imbroglio even odder. Yet he does comment on the War Room, and rejects the argument that its establishment under largely MI5 control was a massive defeat for MI6 and Section V. Only Cowgill bristled over it, and it seems that everyone else was happy with the selection of T. A. Robertson to head it.

The first trip abroad that he made was in March 1945, to Paris (where Muggeridge and Trevor-Wilson were operating), Brussels, and ‘Germany west of the Rhine battle-line’ – a necessary qualification. He does not mention Philby accompanying him on those visits. It was not until after VE-Day (May 8, 1945) that he and Philby came round to thinking that it was time ‘to take a combined look at some of our V and IX people abroad and at SIS stations generally’. Kim’s purpose, Milne wrote: ‘was to examine with the stations the scope for and strategy of future anti-Soviet and anticommunist intelligence work’. Ian also mentioned the possibility of ‘a little relaxation after four very hard years’.

They did not set out until the end of July, going first to Lűbbecke in north-west Germany. Two days later, they drove to Berlin, where a Section V representative, James, was already installed. (The Russians had had exclusive occupation of Berlin until early July, when the first Americans and Britons were allowed in.) James was spending most of his time in drinking-bouts with the Russians, and had acquired, with the help of captured Nazi party members, a comfortable flat for the pair to stay in. Milne points out that he and Philby were in fact reprising the trip to Berlin they had made in 1933, again suggesting there could have been a recreational purpose to the visit.



It was on their last day that the cook-housemaid, who had been working for the Russians, produced a ‘fine bottle of hock’ from the refrigerator, whereupon Philby and James quickly gulped down their glasses. Only the ‘hock’ had been pure Flit, an insecticide, and it left Philby violently ill for 36 hours, while he was driven back to Lűbbecke. Who opened the bottle? Had it been resealed? Did the boozers not even sniff the contents first? Could sozzlers like Philby and James not even distinguish the smell of a Niersteiner from that of an insecticide? * Do the liquids look the same? Why would you move Flit from its normal can, and pour it into a wine bottle? Why would you store insecticide in a refrigerator? How did the attendees establish that it was Flit? Was this a murder attempt? Did they think of seeking out antidotes? Would it have been better for Philby to have rested in place rather than being rushed back to Lűbbecke? Milne provides no analysis of, or speculation about, these extraordinary events. It all reminds me of the attempt to kill Jane Stanford (the cofounder of the university), when someone put rat poison in her bedside bottle of Poland Spring water.

[* Readers who have actually sampled both products are encouraged to write to me with their experiences.]

After Philby’s recovery, the couple flew to Klagenfurt, the HQ of the British zone in Austria, a journey arranged by the local head of station in Lűbbecke, whereby the RAF flew them down in an American Mitchell bomber. After arrival, they motored through glorious scenery to Trieste, where there was time to swim and sunbathe and think of peace. Here they heard rumours of the Japanese surrender, which brings us to about August 12. They then set out to drive back to Klagenfurt, and on to Salzburg, where they heard that the war was over (August 14). They arrived back in Lűbbecke via Frankfurt, and then returned to London. Rather disappointingly, Milne does not date the date of their return, but does suggest that Volkov’s request from Istanbul (August 27, although Milne shows ignorance of the exact timing of Volkov’s approach) took place shortly before their arrival. In that case, there is an unexplained and very provocative couple of weeks in Lűbbecke in the itinerary, about which Milne says nothing.  In December, Milne took up a new position as Staff Officer to Jack Easton, the new Assistant Chief of MI6.

Despite Milne’s obvious oversights and evasions (e.g. the Soviet hospitality in Berlin, the Flit incident, the precise driving arrangements, the hiatus in Lűbbecke), I believe that some major conclusions may be safely drawn from his account.

  • The timing of the major trip (to Germany, Austria and Italy), after the Menzies planning meetings in the summer, and after VE-Day, makes much more sense.
  • Philby’s account of separate trips to four countries would appear to be contradicted by what Milne wrote. [And the Borovik files indicate only two trips.] Philby’s visit to Paris in the spring is well-documented, but outside the scope of the official summer tour.
  • Philby’s assertion about visiting Greece is apparently unverifiable – apart from the Borovik source, which provides no details. Milne skims over the Austria visit, perhaps because it was largely recreational, and there was no SIS resident there yet.
  • Philby vastly overstated the scope and achievements of these sorties. His phrase ‘insight into various types of SIS organization in the field’ is simply eyewash.
  • Milne’s account suggests that the July/August visit was largely for recreational purposes, yet the provision of special travel facilities indicates there was a high seriousness of purpose concerning their exploits.
  • The involvement of the Soviets in the Berlin activities of Milne and Philby is highly problematic, from the drinking sessions with James, through the recruitment of a housemaid who had been working for the Russians, to the extraordinary episode of the Flit in the refrigerator, at a time when Berlin was under massive stress. Would a head of a Soviet counter-intelligence unit in MI6 not have been expected to exercise some caution in making contact with the enemy intelligence force? Should Goronwy Rees have been involved in organizing such an encounter? (I have not discovered anywhere a suggestion that he was behind the attempted poisoning, and it would be reckless and irresponsible of me to hint at such a conspiracy.)

The silence over the final fortnight in Lűbbecke is similarly very enticing. The beginning of that period happened to coincide with the surrender of Japan, and a meeting was probably arranged for various intelligence bodies after the first successful bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6 may not have been entirely coincidental. There was one last source to investigate at this stage, the memoir of an air intelligence officer posted to Lűbbecke in July 1945.

Strange Intelligence: From Dunkirk to Nuremberg (S. John Peskett, 1981)

‘Strange Intelligence’

In early 1945, Peskett was appointed lecturer at the Control Commission School (Air), training officers for the government of Germany and the takeover of the Luftwaffe. After the German surrender, he was promoted to Wing Commander, and was flown on July 13 from Northolt to the German Air Force station at Detmold. Here he was driven to Lűbbecke, the site of the Control Commission Headquarters, ‘a pleasant little town of no distinction whatever lying to the west of Minden’. After settling in, he drove over to Bad Salzuflen, which was to be his home later on.

A German-speaker, Peskett was much involved in travelling round the country gathering intelligence. That included a visit to Berlin ‘about the middle of August’, which would appear to be roughly coincidental with the return of Milne and Philby to Lűbbecke. He describes the passage as follows: “It was a long and tedious journey with the usual delays where the autobahn had been damaged. We passed the Russian check-point at Helmstedt without difficulty and thereafter had to keep going.” (Milne made no mention of the hardships in their expedition either way, by the same road.) Despite what seemed like an extended stay in Berlin, Peskett managed to be back in Lűbbecke to encounter Milne and Philby.

Shortly after his initial arrival, Peskett was moved to Bad Salzuflen, ‘a little spa town in Lippe’, also taken over largely by the military and the Control Commission. (This was where Dick White was working under Field-Marshal Montgomery.) Here Peskett shared a large house with one or two senior officers, and they kept some of the rooms available for visiting dignitaries from London. Peskett’s chronology, like that of so many of these memoirs, is woefully undisciplined, but he provides his readers with the following insight:

            My modest house in Bad Salzuflen was shared first with a senior S.O.E. brigadier and then with a colonel who had been a master at Eton, both stimulating companions to live with. Among our guests from both branches of Intelligence were the late Airey Neave, a man of great charm and ability, to whom I owe my assignment to Nuremberg, the redoubtable Professor Norman, oddly disguised in a wing-commander’s battle-dress, and Kim Philby, who wore no uniform. I found Philby a very pleasant and forceful character, as indeed he must have been to have fooled us all for so long. His speech impediment could be embarrassing but it could have proved an advantage as it gave him at times a good ten seconds to think up an answer. Another guest was Christopher Robin’s cousin [i.e. Milne], which added an odd note to the strange assortment gathered in our exclusive little club.

In other words, a simple confirmation of the presence of Milne and Philby, which must place it at the end of August, but no indication of what the pair were up to at the time.

A Small Town in Germany

British Intelligence Stations in North-Rhine Westphalia

Within this north-east corner of North Rhine-Westphalia, some important allied intelligence units had been set up. The political division of the British Control Commission had been established in Lűbbecke, and Noel Annan had moved there in June 1945. MI6 had set up its main station at Bad Salzuflen, under Harold Shergold (although the date of his arrival is uncertain). SHAEF had moved to Frankfurt in May, and Field-Marshall Montgomery’s Army Group to Bad Oeynhausen, where Dick White was his intelligence officer, and Goronwy Rees was negotiating with the Soviets. What possible concerns might they have shared in August 1945 that demanded an intensive meeting?

In May, the Chiefs of Staff had been instructed to draw up a military plan for opposing the Soviet Union: Project UNTHINKABLE. This supposedly highly-secret project had two aspects – a pre-emptive strike to reclaim Poland in the light of the Soviet Union’s betrayals after Yalta, and a more defensive one, to provide an undercover organization in Germany should Stalin venture further east. The details were refined during July: the successful atom bomb test at Alamogordo on July 16 encouraged the hawks. Churchill imposed restrictions on visits to the Soviet Union. On July 24, Stalin learned about the bomb from Truman at Potsdam, and immediately intensified demands for atomic intelligence, and acceleration of the Soviet Union’s own bomb delivery. After Hiroshima (August 8), Attlee contacted Truman, recommending a joint declaration to exploit atomic power. The project to decrypt Soviet diplomatic traffic was re-initiated mid-month.

With this backdrop, it would not be surprising if such a cluster of intelligence stations did not host a discussion about the threats to security, and their joint ability to handle a number of possibly conflicting challenges. How did the prospect of trying to establish a network of agents within the Soviet sphere of interest co-exist with the requirement to create and maintain a structure in territory that Stalin’s Red Army might be about to overrun? Could supposedly sympathetic German resources be engaged in this task? And how did these demands overlap with the more patient mission of attempting to denazify the country, and have it properly administered by British organs?

The British civilian effort was already under stress: no one wanted to hang around Germany for an extended time. Dick White was one officer who was overwhelmed by the task of attempting to denazify the British zone. As Tom Bower wrote about this precise period:

            Bemusement in the face of Soviet distortions was matched by dismay about contradictory policies followed in the American zone. While the US military government hounded Nazis with ferocity, officers in the Counter-Intelligence Corps and OSS were negotiating with German intelligence officers for their services. Emphatically, White refused any relationships with those Germans: ‘I would have objected to the use of a Nazi as an agent, and the prospect never arose.’ Unknown to him, while he was rejecting outright offers by Abwehr officers to co-operate against the Russians, and while British officers were arresting members of the staff of Richard Gehlen, responsible for military intelligence and counter-intelligence against the Red Army, ‘The Americans were negotiating with Gehlen and didn’t tell us. And that was just the start’.

Richard Gehlen, chief of Fremde Heere Ost, had surrendered in May 1945, promising lists of agents to be used in the coming fight against the Communists. Philby had expressed a desire to get closer to military strategists, and Lűbbecke probably gave him that opportunity. The missing fortnight at the end of August might have been occupied by a meeting of the minds to determine to what extent it were possible to develop a network of ‘stay-behind’ agents who would be a source of intelligence in the event of a Soviet invasion after Allied forces had left. I have found no evidence of such a gathering, and it would not surprise me to learn that no record was made or kept – especially in the light of the fact that the British authorities would have had to acknowledge that a Soviet mole played a large part in the debate. (Andrew Lownie, in his biography of Guy Burgess, Stalin’s Englishman (2015), suggests that Burgess passed to his Soviet bosses a May 1945 report by the Chiefs of Staff on UNTHINKABLE, and states that Oleg Tsarev confirmed the authenticity of the document to him in Moscow in May 2003. The document was dated August 11, 1945. The leaker may well have been Philby.)

Yet, when it came to thrashing out tactics for using clandestine forces, one might imagine that Philby’s desire to exploit tainted Nazi expertise in forging fresh Soviet counter-intelligence networks clashed with White’s moral high ground, and maybe more practical sense of the improbability of being able to probe Soviet defences. White had learned some hard lessons about the French leftists who had fought Nazism quickly aligning themselves with Moscow. (For an insightful analysis of this controversial period, I recommend pages 202-220 of Noel Annan’s Changing Places, including a description of Tom Bower’s critical contribution.)

On the other hand, my loyal coldspur contributor David Coppin has made a suggestion that Philby’s presence in Lűbbecke at this time has something to do with nuclear power matters, and he detects a trend of Philby’s being involved with the dissemination of atomic secrets to Moscow. Coppin notes (for example) that other residents at Bad Salzulfen were members of the ALSOS mission. (The ALSOS mission was a combined US/GB effort to retrieve, dismantle and remove German technological developments, especially in the area of atomic warfare, but was winding down by the summer of 1945. See Intelligence officers such as James Jesus Angleton made much of the fact that Philby was used to pass on disinformation on such subjects to the Soviets.

I find such theories unlikely. The register of guests at Bad Salzuflen is probably coincidental. It is true that Philby would turn out to be a key informant in the cases of Fuchs, Pontecorvo and Nunn May, but not at a level of his understanding any of the technical issues. The Soviets would have been on their guard if any such material had come their way via Philby. They had enough sources elsewhere, and, if Philby understood he was being blackmailed [when?] to pass on disinformation, he would simply have told his handler that that was what was happening. There may be other clues to follow on this theory, but I do not judge any of the above relevant to espionage on atomic weaponry.


Intelligence memoirs are 25% guesswork, 25% bluff, 25% misinformation, and 25% facts. The problem is knowing which quartile is which. And yet ‘serious’ historical works on intelligence promiscuously quote from such works, displaying no methodology in their selection of ‘relevant’ insights. Philby’s moonshine is as bad as Muggeridge’s humbuggery. The historians cannot admit that they do not know whether certain claims are true or false, that they are unable to verify many assertions, and that they themselves are consequently bluffing much of the time. This exercise has not revealed any special new insights, but I believe it has reinforced the fact that without cross-verification, a precise chronology, a consideration of geography, and even – for want of a better word – an understanding of psychology, these broad-based studies of the byways of British Intelligence, delivered so much with the insider focus (‘What Colonel Vivian told me in a private letter’), or presented as memoir with the goal of burnishing the author’s reputation, are practically worthless.

(Recent Commonplace entries are available here.)


Filed under Espionage/Intelligence, General History, Geography, Management/Leadership, Politics, Travel

Litzi Philby Under (the) Cover(s)

Litzi Philby



Topical News

Litzi Philby

The Martin Interview

Candidates for the Mystery Interviewee

Helen Fry & ‘Spymaster’

A Fragile Marriage

Kim’s First Spell in Spain

Kim’s Second Spell in Spain

Litzi in France

The Approach of War

The Honigmann Era

Life in the East


Postscript: Charlotte Philby & ‘Edith and Kim’

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *


From comments offered by readers of coldspur, I understand that substantial interest endures in the affairs (both political and amorous) of Kim Philby and his first wife, Litzi. In recent months several useful contributions have been posted, and I now take up the challenge of trying to make sense of the fragmented archival material and memoirs that exist. To me, the burning questions outstanding could be framed as follows:

  • Why was Litzi deployed by Soviet intelligence when there was a severe risk of exposing Philby in so doing?
  • Why were Philby’s connections with Litzi and her communist associates not picked up and taken seriously by British intelligence?

and, as a specific inquiry into a very bizarre period:

  • What was Philby up to in Europe in 1945?

I originally intended to address all three questions in this month’s report, but I had so much material on the first to consider that I shall defer addressing the latter two until next month.

But first, I want to comment on some recent relevant events.

Topical News

A few weeks ago, one of my most loyal readers, David Coppin, alerted me to an on-line article from the Daily Mail that described Andrew Lownie’s efforts to have a ‘Seventh Man’ identified (see I have to admit that my first impression was that this was a recent revelation, until I saw that the item was dated September 19, 2016. Nevertheless, since I had not seen the piece before, it set my mind racing, and I wondered about the unreality of it all. It referred to a letter in which the ‘seventh man’ had been identified, and that he was moreover part of the 1950s Cambridge spy ring. Yet the person could not be named because, as the judge Sir Peter Lane explained in his ruling, he was still alive and it was ‘quite possible that personal relationships could be jeopardised’. Tut! Tut!

Now, by the 1950s, this Cambridge ‘spy ring’ was in disarray. Burgess and Maclean had debunked to Moscow in 1951, Philby was under suspicion, Blunt was dormant, and the outlier Cairncross had had to retire from the Civil Service in 1952 because his ‘indiscretions’ had been detected. Wilfred Mann lived in the USA. To be genuinely part of that ‘ring’, any spy would have had to be one of the ideological true believers of the 1930s, and would thus have been born in the years between 1905 and 1915. For any such person to have survived until 2016, he would be a centenarian of some repute, and I thus cannot understand how the judge could confidently maintain that such a person (not George Blake, who was never a member of the Cambridge ring anyway) was both a close associate of the Cambridge Five and also among the living in 2016. (Even Eric Hobsbawm had died in 2012.) Had an MI5 officer perhaps rather playfully referred to a ‘seventh man’ even though he might have been a less harmful fellow-traveller, or even a less important younger agent who had been convinced of the righteousness of Communism? Remember, after the brutalities of Stalinism in Eastern Europe after the war, there were few fresh champions of Soviet-style Communism in the West. Most spies from this time had mercenary motives, or were blackmailed into the game.

The article did not mention the Oxford Group (Wynn, Floud, Hart & co.), but they too were, as far as we know, all dead anyway. How many ‘men’ there were in this cabal is a source of endless fascination – even whimsy. I can imagine a cricket-team of Stalin’s Men, all A-listers, with a twelfth man waiting in the pavilion should any one of the select XI become disabled. I see them taking the field, with Rees and Maclean to open the bowling. Mann is behind the stumps, Philby and Blunt can be seen discussing who should be at Third Man, Burgess perches uncomfortably at Square Leg, Leo Long has a despondent air at Long Off, Cairncross and MacGibbon are crouching nervously in the slips, Michael Straight has been correctly placed at Silly Gully, and, my goodness, could that be Lord Rothschild patrolling the covers as captain . . .? Despite such bathetic ruminations, I still wondered where this Freedom of Information inquiry stood. Seven years later – surely Sir Peter Lane, who is apparently still busy on his various benches, must have volunteered some fresh insights by now. Was his mystery man still alive?

I decided to contact Andrew Lownie, whom I knew from several years ago, and had met in London. I had also tracked his tribulations with the Mountbatten papers in Private Eye. He responded very promptly, but was singularly unhelpful and unimaginative. His first message stated that ‘the case was still rumbling on’ (shades of Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce), and he asked me whether I had any ideas who the person might be. Not having seen the evidence, I declared I had no idea, and explained my reasoning given above. I asked him for further details on what he had found, and he merely wrote back ‘All I know is the original file number which is in the tribunal decision’. And there the matter lies: all very unsatisfactory.

Next, an obituary in the New York Times on February 19 caught my eye. It was of Arne Treholt, a Norwegian diplomat convicted in the mid-1980s of spying for the Soviets. Here was a trusted high-flyer, discovered with sixty-five confidential documents in his briefcase as he tried to leave Oslo airport to meet his KGB handler, Colonel Gennady Titov, in Vienna. Tipped off by Soviet defectors, the Norwegian authorities had already found piles of cash in his apartment. After his plea of idealism, ‘wanting to lower tensions between nuclear-armed antagonists’, failed to influence the court, he resorted to claims that he had been subject to blackmail after compromising photographs had been taken of him at a party in Moscow in 1975. Treholt was sentenced to twenty years in prison – the maximum allowed – but then was inexplicably released and pardoned in 1992.

Arne Treholt

But worse was to come, as the Times reported: “After his release, Mr. Treholt received the equivalent of about $100,000 from an anonymous donor, money he used to start a new life in Russia. Along with his investment activities, he became an advocate for Russian interests: most recently, he wrote articles defending the Russian invasion of Ukraine.” Thus the idealistic peacemaker, abetting the brutal communist regime, effectively switched sides, supporting the neo-Fascist Putin, whose policy of trying to come to the help of ‘ethnic’ Russians living in places like Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Latvia most closely resembles that of Hitler, trying to bring ‘ethnic’ Germans scattered from the homeland into a greater Reich.

To call Treholt a ‘worm’ would be an insult to the entire worldwide vermiform community. It reminds me of Kim Philby, professing how he could not turn down an offer to join an elite force. So long as that membership gave him attention, and made him feel that he was doing something worthwhile in the vanguard of humanity, it probably did not matter which totalitarian secret police force it was, either the Gestapo or the KGB. But at least Philby didn’t accept piles of cash.

To show how allegiances have been turned upside down in the twenty-first century, I next cite the case of Carsten Linke, a former German soldier, who was recently arrested in Bavaria on charges of treason and spying for Russia. No clear financial incentives had been detected, but Linke was known to have been linked to the far-right party, AfD (the Alternative fűr Deutschland). As the New York Times reported: “Over the years, far-right groups have grown increasingly sympathetic to Russia, enamored of Mr. Putin’s nationalistic rhetoric.” The German Federal Intelligence Service (the BND), notoriously leaky from Cold War days, had recently appointed Mr. Linke to head personnel security checks, and he probably passed on masses of information about possible informants to his Russian controllers. The same KGB officer in Leningrad who plotted to help overthrow the imperialistic and fascist West, Vladimir Putin, has now become the role model for the worst tendencies of a movement whose mission had originally been to demonize the Communist regime that Putin defended and served so loyally. And yet Putin characterizes those who assist Ukraine as ‘fascists’.

Lastly, a mention of Nigel West’s latest book, Spies Who Changed History. It is more out of a sense of duty than excitement that I have acquired West’s recent publications, but I diligently ordered this new item, despite the trite and overused formula of its title. (Of course no one ‘changes’ history, as history is invariable.) It is subtitled The Greatest Spies and Agents of the 20th Century, not to be confused with West’s 1991 offering Seven Spies Who Changed the World, which somewhat diminishes the focus, if ‘agents’ (recruiters, couriers, agents of influence and the like) were to be included. So which central figures were to be given this fresh analysis?

‘Spies Who Changed History’

My heart skipped a beat when I noticed a photograph of Edith Tudor-Hart (née Suschitzky) on the cover, since I was naive enough to believe that I might learn a lot more about this intriguing character who played a perhaps overstated role in England as recruiter, courier, and photographer in the Comintern’s conspiracies of the 1930s and beyond. Yet she is not in the list of West’s fourteen history-changing agents, a roll-call that ranges from Walter Dewé to Gennadi Vasilenko (yes, of course you recognize those names!). The only reason that she appears on the cover is that she was one of the prime recruits of Number 4 in West’s catalogue, Arnold Deutsch, who was never a spy in his life, but a Soviet illegal. (That portraiture on the cover must constitute some kind of misrepresentation.) To distract his readers even more, in his Acknowledgements West offers his gratitude to over a hundred persons who assisted his research, nearly all of whom are dead, and whose number include Anthony Blunt, John Cairncross, Len Beurton, and Ursula, Robert and Wolf Kuczynsky [sic]. I hope they all advised him with honesty and integrity. This is a very sorry work, replete with pages and pages of transcribed archival material, that should never have been published. A few decades ago, Nigel West developed a brand that indicated high competence in research: for example, this month I read his excellent 1989 book, Games of Intelligence, which gives a fascinating overview of the intelligence and counter-intelligence institutions of the UK, the USA, the Soviet Union, France and Israel, and their successes and failures. What a falling-off there has been.

But to return to my main topic . . .

Litzi Philby

Matters were relatively simpler back in the 1930s. Diehard communists for the most part remained loyal to their totalitarian boss, even though they had a devilish time concealing their ideological roots when they went under the cover of the British intelligence services and other institutions. Litzi Philby (née Kohlmann, then Friedmann, then Philby, then Honigmann, with several lovers throughout this period) was an extraordinary exception, since, as an open Communist Austrian-born Jew, she never hoped or planned to be able to work for the British establishment, but neither did she make much effort to conceal her loyalties. She remained an agent of the NKVD, acted as a vital courier, was lavishly supported by the NKVD for a while, and even sent back from Paris to England in 1940 as the Nazis approached. In approving and effecting her return to her husband’s haunts, however, it would seem that her bosses undertook an enormous risk that Kim Philby might thereby be exposed. Why did they do it? I explore that conundrum in this text.

For those readers who may not be closely aware of the role that Litzi played in Philby’s treacherous career, I refer to her Wikipedia entry at This is overall a serviceable though flawed summary, and shows the difficulties of trying to verify details of her life and background from somewhat dubious sources, including the mendacious account of her own life that she bequeathed to her daughter. It also omits some critical events in her career. Moreover, why she should be known as Litzi Friedmann, I have no idea. Her maiden name was Kohlmann, her marriage to Friedmann lasted only about a year, and she was Mrs Philby from 1934 to 1946, which represents the essence of her puzzling career trying to stay under cover.

Tracing the recruitment of Soviet agents with confidence is a notoriously difficult business. In Misdefending the Realm (pp 37-39) I detailed seventeen different accounts of how, when and where Kim Philby had been recruited, and I cited the author Peter Shipley, who wrote: “No fewer than twelve individuals have been identified as the recruiters, and, or, controllers of Kim Philby between 1933 and 1939”. Moreover, the event of ‘recruitment’ is necessarily fuzzy. Potential serious candidates for infiltration may have worked first as couriers or spotters; they may have been given a cryptonym before being ‘officially’ recruited – a process that required approval from Moscow. They may have been members of the local Communist Party, or one of its cover organizations. A superficial distinction was made between working for the Comintern and the more serious Russian Intelligence Services (the NKVD or the GRU). Memoirists may have had ulterior motives in misrepresenting what happened: drawing attention to their own successes as a recruiting-officer, for example, or concealing the importance of another agent by misrepresenting the role of a minor figure. Kim and Litzi plotted how they should separately explain their story should they be blown: Litzi openly lied to her daughter about the course of events, but claimed that she had forgotten many of the details – maybe a protection mechanism against decisions and activities she later regretted.

The outline of the story seems uncontested. In 1933, Philby, on the guidance probably of his Cambridge tutor Maurice Dobb, sought out the IOAR (International Organization for Aid to Revolutionaries) in Vienna, a communist front. He discovered that Litzi headed the group in the ninth district, lodged with her and his parents, and was seduced by her in between more formal activities of helping communists oppressed and chased by Dollfuss’s government. Philby became the treasurer of the branch, raising and distributing money. His British passport enabled him to travel as a courier to Prague and Budapest. With Litzi under threat, they married on February 24, 1934 to give her authority for making her escape to the United Kingdom, with her new spouse in tow. They arrived, via Paris, in early April.

The Martin Interview

In October 1951, in the wake of the abscondment of Burgess and Maclean, Arthur Martin of B.2.B in MI5 was busily investigating the possible involvement of Philby. He had invited a known acquaintance of Edith Tudor-Hart to an interview on MI5 premises, and he was accompanied by an unidentified ‘Captain’. (Tudor-Hart was a forerunner of Litzi’s. She had been a Communist in Vienna and had married a British doctor, thus enabling her to reside in Britain, where she led a nefarious cell – the Austrian Communist Party in exile.)  Martin explained that the enquiry was ‘more than usually confidential’, and thus he requested utmost secrecy from his interviewee. He further explained that the subject of the enquiry was Lizzy [sic] Philby, and that he wanted his subject to recount all that he knew about her. [The record of the conversation is held in one of the Tudor-Hart files, KV 2/1014, at the National Archives. Unsurprisingly, Litzi Philby’s file has not been released.]

The interviewee, whose name has been redacted from the report, started by saying that he had met Litzy ‘spasmodically’ between 1944 and 1946 in London, and thus had personal exposure to her, but that most of the knowledge of her background came from Edith Tudor-Hart. Martin recorded his assessment of her character as follows:

             . . . a woman who, though an out and out Communist, enjoys good living and is certainly not the self-sacrificing type. She is attractive to men. Xxxxx said that he had always been curious about Lizzy because she was so obviously above the level of card-carrying Communists and never seemed to want for money. He compared her standing in the Party with that of Arpad Haasze, a Communist he had known in Vienna in the early 1930’s. Haasze, said Xxxxx, had definitely worked for Soviet Intelligence.

Now, is this not a startling testimony? The interviewee appears to know a lot about Litzi’s life-style, and admits that he had ‘always’ been curious about her. That is a strange choice of qualifier for an acquaintance that has outwardly been only occasional, and restricted to a couple of economically austere years at the end of the war. Furthermore, the overt reference to movement in Communist circles in Vienna in the early 1930s provides a solid clue as to the person’s identity, while also casting doubts on the honesty of his narrative. How did he learn about Litzi’s ‘standing within the Party’ from meetings in war-time London? I shall return to this matter, but Martin had further questions about Lizzy’s pre-war activities, and wrote up Xxxxx’s responses as follows:

Xxxxx had heard that Lizzy was first married (he presumed in Vienna) to a wealthy Austrian whose name he could not remember. He did however make a guess which was sufficiently close to convince me that he meant FRIEDMAN. Xxxxx did not know when or whence Lizzy came to the U.K., nor did he (until a few weeks ago) know anything more about her second husband than his name was PHILBY. He still has no idea when or where they were married or when they were divorced. His one firm conviction was that Lizzy had lived in a flat in Paris before the war on a fairly lavish scale. When asked how he knew she lived well while in Paris, Xxxxx said that he remembered Lizzy had a bill for £150 for storage of her furniture in Paris throughout the war, from which he had deduced that her possessions there must have been fairly substantial.

How kind of Litzi to confide to such a nodding acquaintance the secrets of her personal finances! Martin, however, did not follow up on this provocative assertion. He moved quickly on to their subject’s association with H. A. R. Philby, to which Xxxxx responded (apparently forgetting what he had stated a few minutes earlier): “Xxxxx said that (until a few weeks ago) he knew nothing of PHILBY except that he and Lizzy were divorced by 1944.” Martin notes that this latter fact was not true, but does not record that Xxxxx had been found out in an obvious lie, he having previously denied knowing when they had been divorced. Unfortunately, the bottom of this page of the record is torn and undecipherable, although it does indicate Martin’s apparent interest in how Xxxxx had learned of the event.

Moreover, the character whom the interviewee compared with Litzi, Arpad Haasze (or Haaz), was known by MI5 to have been Edith Tudor-Hart’s partner (both professional and amorous) in Vienna at this time. The tracking of Haasze went back many years: a note from May 3, 1935 records that Edith had cabled £25 to Arpad Haas [sic] in Zurich. Haas also had had a Personal File (68890) created for him at this time, although the author said that Haas ‘is probably quite O.K.’  MI5 would in time learn otherwise. A note in Edith’s file, dated February 24, 1947, records that she had worked for Russian Intelligence (she confessed this fact to MI5), ‘and ran a photographic studio in Vienna as a cover for her Intelligence work, together with a Russian who was also her boy friend.’ And a further note, dated August 16, 1947, includes the following:

            Mrs TUDOR-HART’s partner in the Russian Intelligence set-up in Vienna before the war, who after the discovery of the ‘activities’ by the Austrian authorities, fled from Austria and was later reported dead by the Russians, has suddenly appeared in the Russian Zone of Austria. Mrs Tudor-Hart recently received a letter from him in which he stated that he is now working with the Russians. He does not give any details of his work. He is an Hungarian named Arpad HAAZ and gives his address as: c/o U.S.S.I.W.A , 25 Glauzing Gasse, Vienna XVIII.

Through these hints of familiarity, the interviewee shows himself be a close friend of Edith Tudor-Hart (whom he describes in the record as ‘a sick woman, highly neurotic, and suffering from persecution mania’). He indicates that he has been having regular conversations with her.

I shall return to the remainder of the interview later, when I analyze Lizzy’s relationship with Georg Honigmann, but I need to speculate here on the identity of the interviewee. Here is what we know about him (apart from the fact that he is a clumsy deceiver):

  • He is an apparently well-trusted source, a man of some standing
  • He is someone who was intimately involved with communist movements in Vienna in the early 1930s, to the extent of being acquainted with assuredly genuine Soviet agents, such as Haasze
  • He knows Litzi from occasional encounters between 1944 and 1946, yet is aware of her standing in the Communist Party
  • He knows Litzi had been married again, to someone called Philby
  • He did not know who ‘Philby’ was until a short time before the interview
  • He knew that the Philbys had been divorced in 1944
  • He is much more familiar with Edith Tudor-Hart

Yet what is also remarkable is the reaction of Martin and his partner, and their subsequent interaction. They appear to be utterly unsurprised by Xxxxx’s admission that he was familiar with the communist underground in Vienna in 1933, and, likewise, Xxxxx does not attempt to conceal such activity. They are, moreover, completely incurious about the man’s activities in Vienna, having presumably failed to do any homework, and miss the obvious opportunity to ask how he had not been aware of the collaboration and affair between Kim and Litzi. They never ask why he has associated with both Litzi and Edith Tudor-Hart, both of whom were known to MI5 as dedicated communists, probably involved with espionage. Why would Edith have told this person so much about Litzi Philby? While listening solemnly to the account of how the interviewee knew many details of Litzi’s extravagances in Paris, they never ask why the facts about her marriage to Philby were not revealed to him. Why did the name ‘Philby’ mean nothing to him until the autumn of 1951, when Litzi would have borne the name ‘Philby’ when he met her in the mid-forties, and presumably provoked his interest? It is all utterly unreal – and unprofessional –  as if the whole exercise were a charade.

Candidates for the Mystery Interviewee

It is time to speculate on who the mystery man was. The redacted space where the name would have appeared is about five letters long. Two candidates come to mind: Eric Gedye and Charles ‘Dick’ Ellis, both of whom worked in some capacity for Thomas Kendrick, the head of the SIS station in Vienna, in 1933. It would have required such a presence for the person to be that intimately familiar with both Edith Tudor-Hart (Edith Suschitzky until she married Alexander Tudor-Hart in Vienna in August 1933) as well as the notorious Haasze. Yet there must be a major question-mark against both candidates.

(I should add that the journalist E. H. Cookridge could conceivably be considered a candidate, since he was born Edward Spiro, and that surname would fit. But I discounted him for several reasons: 1) It is unlikely that Cookridge, a foreign-born journalist, would have been welcomed easily into the interrogation halls of MI5; 2) He would probably have been known as ‘Cookridge’, not ‘Spiro’, at that time, since he published books in the late 1940s under that name; 3) He had surely not been embedded enough in intelligence in Vienna in 1933/34 to know Haasze; 4) Since he had been the most closely involved with Kim and Litzi in Vienna, he could hardly have got away with implying that he did not know about their marriage; and 5) Given his knowledge of Philby’s visits to the Soviet Embassy in Vienna, he would probably have volunteered such information in the wake of the Burgess-Maclean fiasco. Of course, if he were the interviewee, he may have done just that, but such insights might simply have been omitted from the transcript.)

Eric Gedye

Gedye was a journalist who had at one time worked for the Times and then represented the Daily Telegraph and the New York Times.  Yet he was also an MI6 asset, passing on intelligence to the Vienna head-of-station, Thomas Hendrick, and, when Kendrick was eventually arrested in 1938, Gedye reported instead to Claude Dansey as part of the Z network. The main challenge to the theory is the fact that Gedye had been intimately familiar with both Litzi and Kim: he must otherwise have been dissimulating grossly to Martin and the Colonel. According to Boris Volodarsky, it was Gedye who welcomed Philby in Vienna by immediately recommending him as a lodger with the Kohlmann family, and Kim famously, by his own admission, took several suits from Gedye’s wardrobe as clothing to help his oppressed colleagues.

‘Betrayal in Central Europe’ (or ‘Fallen Bastions’)

Gedye was in fact an accomplished political analyst with strong left-wing persuasions. He wrote Fallen Bastions (titled Betrayal in Central Europe when published in the USA in 1939, as my copy shows) and in his despatches was reported to have exerted a strong influence on Winston Churchill. Yet there was something very paradoxical about him. His Wikipedia entry includes the following statement: “In Vienna he became known among colleagues as ‘The Lone Wolf’ for keeping a certain distance from the group of Anglo-Saxon correspondents who often gathered in the city’s cafés and bars, including  Marcel Fodor, John Gunther and Dorothy Thompson.” That strikes me as somewhat phony, as if Gedye himself were promoting that impression. In his book about Kim Philby, The Third Man, E. H. Cookridge wrote:

            There were in Vienna several permanent British newspaper correspondents; their doyen was the genial and omniscient Eric Gedye, who had represented the Times since 1926 and was now working for the Daily Telegraph and the New York Times. These and other British and American journalists had made the Café Louvre their regular haunt, where they discussed the situation.

            Gedye presided at these gatherings. Every afternoon and evening he received some furtive visitors, who darted in and out of the café, and imparted to him whispered messages. They were leaders and members of the illegal socialist groups, who has sprung up immediately after the putsch.

Some ‘Lone Wolf’. Moreover, Cookridge was one of those who gave information to Gedye. And it was at the Louvre that Cookridge met Kim Philby, who sometimes brought with him a woman whom he introduced as his fiancée, even though they had been married a fortnight after the putsch, on February 24. Thus, if the interviewee was Eric Gedye, he was behaving as ingenuously as Martin was acting obtusely. If, as he had claimed, the name ‘Philby’ meant nothing to him until the Burgess and Maclean affair, it was a monumental dissimulation: he must have earnestly wanted to conceal any connections, and he must have imagined that his interlocutor would not have the knowledge or the means to penetrate his deceptions. A riposte would be that this exchange shows that the interviewee was not Gedye, since the man in question was evidently unacquainted with Philby, and, despite his close relationship with Litzi’s close friend Edith Tudor-Hart, had not been informed about his marriage to Litzi until 1951.

One important factor working against Gedye’s being the interviewee is chronology. According to his ODNB entry, Gedye spent the later war years with his future wife (also called Litzi) in Turkey and the Middle East, working for SOE. They were arrested by the Turkish police in 1942, released shortly afterwards, and relocated to Cairo. After the war, he apparently returned to Vienna, reporting for the Guardian, and was appointed bureau chief for Radio Free Europe in 1950. So it seems improbable that he could have mixed socially with Litzi Philby and Edith Tudor-Hart in London between 1944 and 1946, or have been available for an impromptu interview in October 1951.

Irrespective of the timeline, the proposition has its own absurdities. How could Eric Gedye, having introduced Philby to Litzi, and assisted Kim in his underground activities, not have heard about Philby and his marriage? After all, Hugh Gaitskell and his future wife Dora, Muriel Gardiner, John Lehmann, Stephen Spender, Flora Solomon, Naomi Mitchison, Teddy Kollek – and probably many others – all knew about what Philby was up to in Venna, and of his very public marriage to the communist Litzi. The scenario is preposterous either way. . (For my account of the adventures – amorous and otherwise – of Muriel Gardiner and Stephen Spender, please see the March 2016 piece, Hey, Big Spender!.)

So perhaps the mystery man was Dick Ellis? Yet that hypothesis contains its own paradoxes. Dick Ellis was a scoundrel in his own right, although the indictment of his career, recorded in Stephen Dorrill’s MI6, as well as in Nigel West’s Dictionary of British Intelligence, comes predominantly from Peter Wright in Spycatcher, and various writings of Chapman Pincher. Care is thus required.

Charles ‘Dick’ Ellis

Ellis was certainly working officially under Kendrick in Vienna in the early 1930s, so his testimony concerning Haasze can be regarded as authentic. Yet exactly the same criticisms of his statements that I have made about Gedye apply: how could a person in such a position be ignorant of the Kim/Litzi shenanigans, or expect to get away with denying any knowledge of them to an MI5 interrogator, unless the latter were an absolute greenhorn, or were contributing to a cover-up himself? Moreover, Ellis came under suspicion himself in the nineteen-fifties, in a case that has so many twists that it makes the head of the most patient sleuth spin.

The career of the four-time married Ellis is an extraordinary story of mis-steps and indulgence. He was born in Australia, and educated at Oxford. After the First World War, he was recruited by MI6, and posted to Berlin in 1923. He then moved to Paris where, like many of his colleagues, he made the bad judgment of marrying a White Russian woman – his betrothed bearing the name Zilenski. Yet this woman was connected to an agent named Waldemar von Petrov. Walter Krivitsky, the GRU defector called to London in January 1940, actually informed Jane Sissmore of MI5 that the GRU had recruited Petrov, who was working for the Abwehr, shortly before the war. Dorrill picks up the story:

            When an Abwehr officer was interrogated after the war, he confirmed that von Petrov had claimed to have had an excellent source of information inside MI6. He said that he had worked through an intermediary called ‘Zilenski’, whose source, ’Captain Ellis’, had supplied documents revealing MI6’s ‘order of battle’ and information about specific secret operations, including the tapping of the telephone of the German ambassador in London, von Ribbentrop. Disturbed by the allegations, MI5 sought permission to interrogate Ellis, but MI6 refused, contemptuously dismissing the allegations by suggesting that the German officer had faked the evidence.

Could Martin have been unaware of these events? Dorrill’s account suggests that the aborted investigation occurred soon after the war, but Peter Wright indicates that MI5 began to re-evaluate Krivitsky’s depositions seriously only after the Burgess/Maclean defections in 1951 – that is, at exactly the time of the Martin interview. Yet Wright’s chronology is typically loose. He wrote, after describing how MI6 had rejected the possibility that Ellis could have been a spy:

            In any case, Ellis had opted for early retirement, and was planning to return to Australia. Dick White, newly appointed to MI5 and not wanting to aggravate still further the tensions already strained to breaking point by the gathering suspicions against Philby, agreed to shelve the case.

Ellis, who headed MI6 in Singapore, retired to Australia in 1953. (Wright also wrote: “Within a year of Philby’s falling under suspicion Ellis took early retirement, pleading ill-health”, which is also incorrect.) 1953 was the year White became MI5 chief, not ‘newly appointed to MI5’. If, indeed, MI5 did not pick up the Krivitsky threads until the time of the White regime, it might, however, explain how MI6 was able to fob off an unsuspected Ellis to MI5 in October 1951.

Wright’s account of the investigation into Ellis (pp 325-330) is fascinating otherwise, and one of the most convincing sections of his book. The fact is that Ellis eventually (much later, the date is not given) confessed – in the same room where Martin carried out his interview – to passing on secrets to the Abwehr, through his brother-in-law, when under financial pressures. He also came under suspicion of being a Soviet informant, perhaps being blackmailed by Russian Intelligence because of his known Abwehr connections. Contributory photographic identification was gained from the widow of Ignace Reiss, Elizabeth Poretsky, and from Mrs. Bernharda Pieck (the wife of Henry Pieck, the Dutch agent of the GRU, who had worked for Reiss), but Ellis was not conclusively pinned as such.

The dates fit much better for Ellis. He worked for British Security Coordination in New York and was appointed head of the Washington office in 1941.  He spent some time in Cairo in 1942, rejoined BSC later that year, and then returned to London in 1944. Thus he would have been around to renew his contacts with Edith Tudor-Hart, as he described them. And if, indeed, the revivified investigation into the Krivitsky files did not take place until 1953, he would have been a safe choice by MI6 to condescend to speak to MI5 and lie on behalf of the service. Yet the same urgent questions apply to the lack of disciplined follow-up by Martin and the Colonel. Why did they not interrogate the interviewee about his admitted interactions with the two women, and why did they not challenge the contradictions in his story? Why did Martin’s boss, Dick White, not challenge the officer over his inept performance, and why did MI5 post such a damaging report in the archive? Whoever the mystery interviewee was, this entry looks like an elaborate charade.

Helen Fry & ‘Spymaster’

Helen Fry’s ‘Spymaster’

One writer who has questioned the activities of MI6 in Vienna at this time is Helen Fry. The revision of her biography of Thomas Kendrick, Spymaster is sub-titled The Man Who Saved MI6, and it was issued in 2021. As I have written before, it is in many ways an irritating book, containing too much irrelevant material and unexplained asides, and stylistically very clumsy. For example, it suffers from overuse of the passive voice (‘it is believed that’, ‘it is thought that’) with the result that the reader has no idea which persons are responsible for various activities and opinions. Yet Fry has read widely, and is prepared to stick her neck out in admirably unconventional ways when dealing with paradoxical information. In this respect, she finds much that is bizarre in the conduct of Philby, Ellis and Kendrick during the frenzied events of 1933-1934 in Vienna.

Since Kendrick had proved himself to be a very adept spymaster, and had shown an ability to penetrate communist networks, Fry finds Kendrick’s lack of interest in Philby’s associations with Litzi quite astonishing, and wonders to herself why had Kendrick not been tracking her before Philby arrived on the scene. She introduces the hypothesis that Philby may actually have been given the task to infiltrate Communist networks rather than being coincidentally led to Litzi by Gedye.  She supports this theory by mentioning that E. H. Cookridge noted that Philby had made contact with two figures at the Russian embassy in Vienna, one of whom, Vladimir Alexeivich Antonov-Ovseyenko, was suspected of being a Russian spy’. (He was later to supervise activities for the Soviet mission in Spain during the Civil War before being recalled and executed in the Purges.) Cookridge in fact claimed that Philby told him he could get money to help the socialist groups that Cookridge worked with, and he concluded:

            The money which Philby offered could only have come from the Russians, and the last thing my friends and I wanted was to accept financial help from Moscow. Philby was told this in unmistakable terms and our relations with him and his friends came to an abrupt end.

Yet no breach with Kendrick occurred, nor any reprimand. “Could the spymaster have instructed Philby to get close to members of the Russian embassy there? Was Philby, in fact, one of Kendrick’s agents?”, writes Fry. She thus ventures the possibility that Philby was sent to Vienna in 1933 to penetrate the communist network for SIS, and uses this conjecture to explain the indulgence of SIS, in 1940, over the fact that their new recruit had an overtly communist wife. It would also explain Philby’s apparent insouciance during the war concerning a divorce. He may have believed that he did not have to distance himself from Litzi so demonstrably, since his bosses knew the real story.

Thomas Kendrick

Even if that were true, however, Philby did not have to further his enterprise to the extent of marrying Litzi, an action that gives a whole new dimension to the notion of penetration. And that union may have been directed as a Soviet counter-thrust: have Litzi seduce a naïve Englishman, and then marry him, in order to allow a valiant female agent to become installed legitimately in Great Britain. After all, Litzi already had a firm CP and agent pedigree: she had been the mistress of Gábor Péter, a communist activist from Hungary who (according to Philp Knightley) was the first officer to recruit her. The Soviets had already accomplished the same objective with Edith Suschitsky, and, of course, Ursula Kuczynski would (in 1940) become another famous beneficiary of marriage arrangements that granted UK citizenship to women who took advantage of it to set about undermining their adoptive country.

A Fragile Marriage

Neither Kim nor Litzi expected the marriage to last long. According to Seale and McConville, Kim informed his parents, when writing to them about the event, that he expected the marriage to be dissolved ‘once the emergency was over’ – a strange formulation that perhaps suggested that he thought that Litzi would before long be able to return to Austria. Litzi declared that she had held some true affection for her husband, but she was in no two minds about the precipitate course of events, and for what purpose the two of them had been united. Predictably, Litzi was not warmly welcomed by Kim’s mother at Acol Road in Hampstead (his anti-semitic father being in Saudi Arabia at the time): she found Litzi too strident and showy, and the fact that she was Jewish, a communist, and a divorcée did not help her cause.

And Kim needed a job. While his left-wing ideas blocked him from a civil service career, he looked for a post in journalism, and in the summer of 1934 (or maybe early in 1935) was appointed editor of Review of Reviews.  Meanwhile, Litzi socialized regularly with other Austrian communist exiles, such as her close friends Edith Tudor-Hart and Peter Smolka, whom both she and Kim had known from Vienna. What is surprising about this period is the nonchalance with which both went about their business, Litzi mixing with friends who were being watched by MI5, and Kim collaborating with Smolka to set up a press agency, the London Continental News, Inc. It would appear that, at this stage, Kim did not have a clear idea as to how he could be useful to the Communist cause.

By the end of 1934, Kim had been officially ‘recruited’ by Arnold Deutsch. The accounts of this engagement have been grossly melodramatized over the years: Edith Tudor-Hart has been identified as being the queenpin in the operation to spot new recruits, but it all seems rather ludicrous. Anthony Blunt famously named Edith as ‘the grandmother of us all’, but it is hard to reconcile such a categorization with the frail, neurotic, exploited and clumsy woman who could not even carry out her photographic business without drawing hostile attention to herself. It is far more likely that Blunt described her as such to distract attention from Litzi herself. Moreover, Deutsch had known Litzi and Edith in Vienna: Borovik claims that he had ‘recruited’ Edith back in 1929, and that Edith ‘recruited’ Litzi as MARY in 1934, after which Edith talent-spotted Philby. Yet, according to what Philby told Borovik, he had also known Deutsch in Vienna. Why did Deutsch therefore have to undergo such clandestine efforts to meet Philby and check him out?

After his formal recruitment at the end of 1934, Philby was told (via Edith) to keep away from party work in London, and to distance himself gradually from his ideological background. Thus Philby began to recommend his Cambridge friends, more suitably placed and with less obvious drawbacks in their curricula vitae, for conspiratorial work while his own career was still in limbo. Yet Philby was obviously not ordered to separate from Litzi at this time, an omission in policy that seems quite extraordinary: in fact they spent the summer of 1935 together on a holiday in Spain. One interpretation could be that the NKVD at this stage considered Litzi a much more vital asset than Kim, even if she was public in her affiliations. Significantly, Nikolsky (known as Orlov), who for a few months in 1935 was a rezident at the Soviet embassy in London, observed that ‘with such a wife, Philby had hardly any chance of getting a decent job.’ Volodarsky notes that no-one expected him to be able to join the secret service, and thus be of use to his masters.

Litzi, as MARY, continued to be busy, and Nigel West has identified her in the clandestine wireless traffic between the Comintern and its agents in London that was picked up and decrypted by the Government Code and Cypher School. While some of the references to MARY in the transcripts seem to denote a male character, one entry for November 7, 1934, appears to point incontrovertibly to Litzi:

            ABRAHAM: ‘MARY has arrived safely and she asks you to take special care of her artist friend who you will meet and who is a very special person.’ HARRY.

As West observes: “If MI5 had succeeded in linking MARY to Litzi Friedman, and then connecting her to Kim Philby, his subsequent career might have taken a rather different course.”

Kim started his gradual process of moving to the right, and distancing himself from his communist connections. This strategy had both public and personal aspects. Edward Harrison informs us that a friend from Westminster School, Tom Wylie, introduced him to a businessman named Stafford Talbot, who was planning a journal focussed on Anglo-German trade. (Historian Sean McMeekin states that Wylie was the agent named MAX, who supplied information to Burgess and Philby from the War Office.)  Both Talbot and Philby joined the Anglo-German Fellowship, a move that was designed to provide his Soviet bosses with intelligence on covert links between the German and British governments. As Phillip Knightley wrote:

            Philby had worked so enthusiastically part-time for the Fellowship that in 1936 it offered him a full-time job. He was to start a trade journal, which would be financed by the German Propaganda Ministry, and which would have the aim of fostering good relations between Germany and Britain. Philby flew to Germany several times for talks with the Ministry and with the Ambassador in London, von Ribbentrop.

Yet this initiative stalled, as the Fellowship selected a rival publication as its outlet. The Anglo-German Review was launched in November 1936. While Knightley judged that, despite that setback, ‘Philby’s control must have been pleased with him’, Edward Harrison claimed on the other hand that, since Philby’s efforts to secure Nazi financial backing for his trade journal had failed, ‘by the end of 1936, Soviet intelligence described the situation as a fiasco and Philby’s attempts to spy on unofficial Anglo-German relations had yielded little’. It was a very tentative start by Philby to a career in espionage, and his bosses had to look for a new role for him. Moreover, the presence of his Jewish, communist wife was a permanent handicap. In June 1936, Philby divulged to his old coal-miner friend Jim Lees that he would have to get rid of Litzi. Lees stormed out of his house over Philby’s attitude towards Germany and his proposed treatment of his wife.

What is extraordinary about this period is the amount of travel that Litzi was undertaking – activities that MI5 was apparently watching closely. When Helenus Milmo interrogated Philby in 1951, he presented him with the following dramatic description:

            He further concedes that his wife had no resources of her own and was earning no money. Nevertheless, it appears that between 6th March 1934 and 15th April Lizzie Philby made no less than three journeys into Czechoslovakia from Vienna on her British passport which she obtained two days after her marriage. Philby is unable to explain the purpose of any one of these visits. On their return [sic] to England, she went to France on 4th September 1934 and entered Spain on the following day. Ten days later she left a French port and on 21st September 1934 she entered Austria where she remained over a month. On 8th April 1935, she paid a week’s visit to Holland and on 16th August she arrived in France, entering Spain on the following day. On 3rd April 1936 she entered Austria and a week later went on to Czechoslovakia, returning to Austria again on 22nd April. Between 25th May 1936 and 22nd July 1936, she made a visit by air from this country to Paris and on 22nd July and 28th December 1938 she made further journeys across the channel.

Philby must have been crushed by these revelations, but admitted nothing. Yet what is perplexing is why these peregrinations drew no attention at the time. Were the facts collected only in retrospect? If she had been tracked closely at the ports during this period, one might have expected MI6 to have been invited to investigate who her contacts were in all these places.

Kim’s First Spell in Spain

In February 1937, on the instructions of Theodor Maly, Philby travelled to Spain, in an endeavour to breach General Franco’s security, and to determine how he might be assassinated. At some stage after that, Litzi left the UK for France. The role of Litzi in supporting Philby’s exploits in Spain, by acting as a courier to take messages from him to Soviet controls in Paris is, unsurprisingly, a not well-documented one, and pinning dates on their encounters is a very hazardous exercise. The primary source for events at this time is Genrikh Borovik’s Philby Files, but that work – by a planted KGB officer –  is severely impaired by Philby’s own dissimulations in speaking to Borovik, the latter’s gullibility in accepting what Philby told him, the confusing information in the NKVD files, Borovik’s own unfamiliarity with the personages involved, his lack of foreign languages, and his inability to bring any discipline to his analysis. Matters were further complicated by the consequences of Stalin’s Purges, whereby several agents who had recruited or controlled Philby and his colleagues had been executed, with a loss of ‘corporate memory’, and a distrust of anybody who might have been recruited by such counter-revolutionaries and ‘foreign spies’.

Philby’s first visit to Spain was brief, for about three months, when he travelled as a freelance journalist, with letters of accreditation from The London Central News and the London International News Service, as well as from the Evening Standard. His status was not fully trusted by Moscow Centre.  Maly reported that Soviet Intelligence in London (maybe the GRU) had discovered papers in Philby’s flat in London that suggested that he was working for the Germans. Maly had to clarify matters for Moscow, and rebuke Philby on his return. The major incident during this period, however, was when Philby was arrested, and had to surreptitiously swallow some paper containing his secret codes for communicating with Paris.

At this time, Philby was sending out information, written in invisible ink, in letters to a Mlle. Dupont in Paris. (Philby was later to discover that the address to which he sent these letters was in fact the Soviet Embassy – an atrocious piece of tradecraft that, if Franco’s intelligence had been on the mark, would have ensured his death.) Borovik implies that Litzi received these missives, as he was accustomed to receiving quick responses from ‘MARY’. But, when Philby wrote requesting a new dictionary, the response came not from MARY but from Guy Burgess, who suggested that they meet in Gibraltar. And here, Borovik starts to trip over his own details, writing: “As for Mary, he never saw her again”. Awkwardly, there were two MARYs in Philby’s domain. The first (according to what Philby told Borovik) had been a Russian woman whom Maly had introduced him to in London, a good-looking woman in her twenties, who was designated as being the person he should contact in an emergency. But it hardly makes sense that messages would be sent via Paris to MARY in London, with responses being able to be sent thence by her frequently and openly to him in Spain. Moreover, that would have undermined the whole point of an ‘emergency’ contact. Philby makes no mention of this association in My Silent War. This was surely an invention by him, and probably designed to confuse Borovik (which he did) and divert attention from the true MARY.

Indeed, in a letter to Moscow Centre dated March 9, 1937, Maly briefed his bosses about the slowness of the mails, since  ‘the censors hold on to the letters for a long time’ (so much for Philby’s statement that ‘he didn’t have to wait long for an answer’), and indicated that he needed help from a cut-out to get the nature of the current assignment (the assassination of Franco) to their man. He mentions a woman candidate, INTOURIST, but she is unwilling to travel, as she would be too conspicuous. Moreover, she and Philby have never met (so she could not have been the London or the Paris MARY). So Maly suggested that Litzi, who would have a valid reason for contacting her husband, should try to arrange a meeting, and also carry the murder equipment with her. Even more confusingly, he states that he will refer to Litzi as ANNA.

Yet, according to what Philby told Borovik, by April 9 Maly had found a new candidate for emissary – Guy Burgess. Exactly what Burgess brought with him to Gibraltar is not clear, but Philby had neither the means, the gumption nor the opportunity to attempt to kill the Nationalist leader. And, if he had tried, it would have been a disastrous failure and a colossal embarrassment.  Whether this emissary really was Burgess must be questioned: Philby may again have been trying to minimize his wife’s involvement. Litzi’s daughter, Barbara, wrote that her mother told her that she and Philby ‘met in hotels in Biarritz or Perpignan, and even in Gibraltar, where he gave her information that she then carried to her control officer in Paris’.

What it does suggest, however, is that Moscow did not think highly of the enduring value of Philby (now known as ‘SÖHNCHEN’ – SONNY) for their cause – risking his life in two ways, one, by encouraging him to send incriminating letters to France, and two, by encouraging him to sacrifice himself in a probably hopeless assassination attempt. (Ben Macintyre, rather incongruously, regards this fiasco as evidence of Philby’s ‘growing status’ in Moscow’s eyes.) Philby left Gibraltar at the end of April ‘with his tail between his legs’, as Edward Harrison writes. Maly informed Moscow that Philby had returned on 12 or 13 May ‘in a very depressed state’ because of his ineffectiveness. Maly was, however, able to direct Philby to write some attention-grabbing article about the Spanish situation for the Times, an initiative that sealed the next stage of Philby’s career. As for Maly, that was his last act before being recalled to Moscow, to be shot.

Borovik adds that when Philby arrived in Southampton, Litzi was there to meet him, and he notes: “In Kim’s absence Otto [Deutsch] had maintained constant contact with her, and so she could tell her husband when he could meet his Soviet colleague.” This, again, is puzzling. Had Litzi been in the United Kingdom all this time, and not sending replies to her husband from France? Alternatively, how had Deutsch managed to stay in constant contact with her over a three-month period?

Kim’s Second Spell in Spain

Philby’s successful articles, submitted to the Times, had gained him a permanent appointment with the newspaper on May 24, 1937. It is probable that Litzi moved, semi-permanently, to Paris soon thereafter, in the summer of 1937, staying there until early in 1940. So was Litzi acting as a courier for her husband when residing in Paris? The mainstream biographies of Philby are very vague about his methods of communication with his controllers: Harrison is the most careful, but when he writes:

            Before Philby returned to Spain, Deutsch explained the schedule for future meetings with his spymaster. Once a month Philby was to cross the border into France and take the train from Bayonne to Narbonne, where he would meet his contact and provide both a written and an oral report. This contact turned out to be Alexander Orlov, whom Philby had already met in England.

Harrison’s source is stated to be Knightley (p 66). But Knightley says no such thing: all he writes is (on p 60):

            Philby would make an excuse to The Times for a visit across the border, to Hendaye, the town astride the frontier, or to St Jean de Luz, where most of the correspondents took their leave periods. These places seethed with gossip and intrigue, and were thus not only convenient for passing of information but for gathering more.

Moreover, Orlov would have been a very unlikely courier. He had been appointed head of the NKVD operation in Spain in February 1937, and was busy exterminating Stalin’s enemies.

Frances Doble

Seale and McConville are similarly vague, describing the sorties into Hendaye, but veiling their ignorance with colourful digressions, such as an account of the dancing skills of Philby’s new lover, Frances Doble. Burgess is re-introduced as his contact, without any source being given:

            His orders were to transmit his information by hand to Soviet contacts in France or, in the case of urgent communications, to send coded messages to cover address outside Spain. This fitted in well with the pattern of his movements as a journalist, and it was one of his regular excursions to the Basque country that he again met Guy Burgess who, Kim later revealed in his book, brought him fresh funds.

Just like that. This seems simply a careless transposition of dates, with no attention to chronology.

Thus I have to return to Borovik to try to establish what role Litzi played as a cut-out. Borovik suggests that Philby sent over a report ‘with Guy Burgess’ in mid-1937 that reached Moscow.  That may however be a misunderstanding of how it actually reached his colleague. After Philby’s near-death in a bombing incident, and his commendation by Franco, Moscow was apparently ‘pleased by the information coming from SONNY’, Borovik noting afterwards (probably based on what Philby told him) simply that Philby turned in his monthly or bimonthly report to his Soviet colleague. Yet Philby spun Borovik a tale when the latter asked him whether Litzi knew about his affair with Frances and whether she worked with him:

            Yes, she knew about my work for Soviet intelligence. She was a good friend. When we moved to London from Austria and I started working for the KGB, she was in a delicate situation. She had to break her ties to the Left, like me, stop working with the Communists, otherwise she would compromise me. But it was too great a sacrifice for her. I understood. We discussed the whole problem calmly and decided that we would have to separate. Not right away, but as soon as there was a reasonable opportunity.

This is vain and sophistical nonsense. It exaggerates Philby’s standing at the time. It ignores the facts, since Litzi was not easily able to shed her persona, nor did she attempt to. They could have separated immediately, if they had been so ordered. Their personal lives were not carried on at their own discretion and preferences. Philby was again trying to conceal his wife’s role.

Indeed, Philby’s account of his contacts with his Soviet handlers/cut-outs is both contradictory and absurd. He claimed that, before his second departure to Spain, he was told that he would take the train from Bayonne to Narbonne, two or three weeks after his arrival, and meet his man there. The figure would be Orlov, whom he knew from London, and he was scheduled to meet him once a month, to hand over written and oral reports. They met at the railway-station square in Perpignan, and Orlov got out of a big car, very obvious in a bulging raincoat, and they chatted carelessly for a while, as Orlov told him of his exploits in ‘suppressing’ the Trotskyite organization.

This is like a scene from a bad movie. To think that the chief executive of the NKVD in Spain would so brazenly step out in a public place to spend hours chatting to a reporter associated with the Nationalists, is beyond belief. It was all part of a game by Philby to boost his reputation, and give him a chance to offer an opinion on the loyalties of Orlov (who defected a year later, having performed a remote deal with Stalin not to reveal anything.) Moreover, it goes completely against the grain of what the official story was. A few pages later, Borovik writes:

            According to the documents, when Philby came to Spain for the second time in the summer of 1937, he did not have a meeting with Orlov right away. His first contacts with the Centre were apparently through ‘Pierre’ (Ozolin-Haskin, from the French residence, later shot in Moscow).’Pierre’ would take the materials from Kim and bring them to Paris, from where they would be sent on to Madrid (sometimes via Moscow).

Borovik adds that this process was very slow, and that, in September 1937, Philby would meet Deutsch in the lobby or café at the Miramar Hotel in Biarritz, as Maly had suggested, where Deutsch would tell Philby that he would be working with Orlov. But Maly was dead by then. In addition, Borovik later undermined his own shaky testimony by pointing out that Ozolin-Haskin did not take over the Paris rezidentura until some time in 1938, replacing the anonymous ‘FIN’. A farrago of disinformation.

Litzi in France

So did Litzi play a role here? In another flight of fancy, Kim informed Borovik that Litzi was spending her time in France by attending the university in Grenoble, but that was not the life as Litzi herself recalled it. She did explain to her daughter that his mission in Spain ‘had been the first real assignment that the Soviet espionage service had given him’, and that she had therefore taken an apartment in Paris so that she could be his cut-out, his intermediary. In fact she spent most of her time partying – and having fun with her new Dutch lover, an artist.

Yet this rather hedonistic period was interrupted by a very bizarre event that needs to be noted first. I believe it was first recorded by Seale and McConville (1973), and then echoed by Knightley (1988), that Litzi returned to Vienna in 1938 to exfiltrate her parents and bring them to London. Neither author gives a source for this story, or explains under what conditions the venture was able to take place. It is presented as if it were more in the nature, say, of a day-trip down to Worthing to bring the aged Ps up to the Metropolis. To accept that Litzi could have somehow contacted her parents and gained their assent, returned without fear of arrest to Vienna, convinced the authorities to grant them an exit visa, to have prepared the Home Office in London to allow them entry and permanent residence, and then fund and arrange their travel before herself returning to Paris, all without noticeable alarm from MI5 or the Home Office, stretches one’s credulity to absurd limits. Was this story really true?

I doubted it, until I started to explore and other records of detained aliens in 1939.

The registers are a little confusing, since there was more than one Israel Kohlmann who escaped to England at this time, but I eventually found the proof I needed – two death certificates from 1943. Adolf Izrael [sic] Kohlmann is registered as dying in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, in April 1943, although his birthdate (December 31, 1868) is here given incorrectly, reflecting another refugee of the same name who was born in Nűrnberg, Germany in 1879. (I am confident about this analysis, although as I returned to verify, I could not trace my exact steps.) The death of Izrael’s wife, Gisella (nee Fűrst) Kohlmann, who was born on April 14, 1884, occurred in July 1943, in Amersham – her name is incorrectly listed as ‘Kollmann’. Moreover, an item in the Appendix to Helenus Milmo’s report on Philby in early 1952 (FCO 158/28) runs as follows:

            In 1939, Lizzie’s mother, in an application to the Aliens’ Tribunal for release from restrictions, stated that PHILBY was paying £12 per month towards her maintenance.

MI5 was clearly keeping a close eye on the activities of Litzi and her clan at this time.

What were Litzi’s parents doing in the heart of what would become Philby country, either side of St Albans? How could they have been ceremoniously dumped in the British suburbs, with their daughter returning to France, and their son-in-law in Spain? Their escape must have had assistance from MI6, but the lack of curiosity on the part of the traditional historians in this remarkable exploit is to me dumbfounding. And what caused their deaths, in that same summer of 1943, in towns separated by a few miles? I am tempted to order up their death certificates, but I wonder whether any coldspur reader can shed light on this strange episode.

Meanwhile, our communist heroine was living it up. As she told her daughter:

            Soon after my arrival in Paris, I collected a group of artists around me, painters and sculptors, students of Maillol, mostly Hungarians or Dutchmen. The Hungarians were terribly poor, the Dutch relatively well off, but at that time I was quite well off, since I was picking up a check every month at Lloyd’s, Kim’s salary from the Times, with which I maintained the apartment. Never again in my life did I live in such grand style and toss money around that way – it was all great fun. I bought clothing and hats – you know my passion for hats – big hats with wide brims, with feather boas, dernier cri, nouvelle collection! And my artist friends gave me paintings, pieces of sculpture, and drawings. And that’s when I bought the two Modigliani drawings that got lost along with all the other things somewhere in London, sometime or other, with all the moving from one place to another during the Blitz.

That observation about her husband’s salary was utter nonsense, of course: the NKVD was funding her very lavish lifestyle, but would eventually claw back on such self-indulgence. Ozolin-Haskin (‘PIERRE’) confirmed her occasional role as a cut-out. When the newly installed officers in Moscow Centre, mystified as to who these agents were, asked about SÖHNCHEN and MARY, PIERRE wrote, on December 25, 1938, that MARY was SÖHNCHEN’s wife, that she worked as a messenger, and was ‘totally aware of the work of SÖHNCHEN, MÄDCHEN [Burgess] (despite the fact that I meet MÄDCHEN separately), and many other people whom she knows from her old work in England.’

After this, the trail becomes very confused. According to a report in late March 1939, Philby apparently met Maclean in Paris, and complained about the irregularity of communications. Pavel Sudoplatov in Moscow Centre questioned why no materials had been received from SÖHNCHEN. Gorsky (‘KAP’, the new rezident in London) then entered the stage, but Borovik declares that he was soon shot as a Polish spy. That was not true, and Gorsky survived to have an illustrious career in London and the United States, where he was honoured to have clandestine meetings with Isaiah Berlin. PIERRE, before he was hauled back to his death in Moscow, had again to explain who MARY was, and that she was most easily reached through MÄDCHEN. KAP then took over, and had to confess his bewilderment in a message of July 10, 1939:

            MARY raised the question about paying EDITH. I asked her to write about it and I am sending you her letter. I know nothing about this case, and your instructions would be highly appreciated   . . . MARY announced that as a result of a four-month hiatus in communications with her, we owe her and MÄDCHEN £65. I promised to check at home and gave him £30 in advance, since she said they were in material need . . . MARY continues to live in the SCYTHIAN’s country [identified as ‘the OGPU residence in France’] and for some reason, she says on our orders, maintains a large apartment and so on there. I did not rescind those orders, since I do not know why they were given; however I would ask that you clarify this question.

Litzi, if she had been a messenger, had clearly not been a very frequent or effective one, and was living high on the hog in the meantime. A few days later, a sterner reply was sent by Moscow, after someone had presumably performed some homework in the files:

            Inform KAP that at one time, when it was necessary, MARY was given orders to keep an apartment in Paris. That is no longer necessary. Have her get rid of the apartment and live more modestly, since we will not pay. MARY should not be paid £65, since we do not feel we owe her for anything. We confirm the payment of £30. Tell her that we will pay no more.

It looked as if the sybaritic days were over for Litzi, and she would have to behave like a good Communist again. Meanwhile, the Centre also concluded, from deeper investigation of its files, that it did have a good assessment of SÖHNCHEN, who was ‘very disciplined’. It admitted that ‘communications with him were very irregular, particularly of late.’

The functions of the NKVD residences in Paris and London between 1937 and 1939 are overall very puzzling, as unnecessary travel seemed to be involved in getting messages to Moscow when more local approaches might have worked better. In London, there was a hiatus between Deutsch’s return to the Soviet Union, and Gorsky’s appointment in December 1938, during which an incomplete transition to the ineffectual Grafpen took place. Guy Burgess (for example) was handled by Eitingon in Paris until Gorsky’s arrival, and he was then shifted to control through London in March 1939. For Paris also had its troubles, with the doomed Ozolin-Haskin also falling into disfavour. That may explain why complex chains of messengers were used in both directions to route important information to Moscow Centre.

The Approach of War

As the Spanish Civil War wound down, with Moscow Centre stabilizing somewhat after the blood-letting, Litzi’s prestige and standing appeared to improve. In June, PIERRE wrote to Moscow with suggestions for how SÖHNCHEN should be deployed, and cited MARY’s recommendation that he should work in the Foreign Office, since his father was now back in the UK, and could presumably grease the wheels for his acceptance. Sudoplatov agreed, but then Borovik goes off the rails. Here occurs the incident over STUART that was the subject of some very useful annotations on coldspur a few months ago. (see Comments following

Litzi had clearly made a visit to London, since KAP (Gorsky) reported, on July 10, 1939, that she had met there ‘one of her intimate friends’, a certain STUART whom, she says ‘we know nothing about’. Had Litzi made the trip back to the UK to meet her husband on his return? Harrison says that Philby left Spain ‘in July’, which hardly allows enough time. (Borovik says ‘late July’.) Yet she obviously felt free to meet with Gorsky, since she followed up by writing a detailed report on STUART, who had already recommended that SÖHNCHEN be considered for a post in ‘the illegal ministry of information’. She also gives the impression that she has seen Philby recently, as she talks about his ties with people in the British Intelligence Services as if they had discussed them in the very recent past.

When I first read this passage, it did not seem to me that the reference to STUART (Donald Maclean’s cryptonym) implied Maclean, as Borovik surmised and puzzled over, for any number of reasons, not least the fact that this STUART was working in London, while Maclean was with the Embassy in Paris. And the dedicated coldspur reader Edward M., who had been diligently trawling round, came up with the name of Sir Michael Stewart (not to be confused with the Labour Minister of the same name) who had been a contemporary of Philby’s at Trinity College, Cambridge, and (as Tim Milne recorded in his memoir) had accompanied Philby on a motor-cycle trip to Hungary in 1930. He would later be appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador in Greece. Furthermore, Edward quoted a passage from Nigel West’s At Her Majesty’s Secret Service:

            By the time Elliott was sent back to Beirut to confront Philby ten days later, he had disappeared. Tim Milne, then at the Tokyo station, was investigated and cleared, although his brother Antony, who had been at the Montevideo station between 1961 and 1965, was fired for failing to have declared a past relationship with Litzi Friedman, Philby’s first wife. A British diplomat, Sir Michael Stewart, who also had shared Litzi’s favours, was rather more lucky, and was appointed to Washington DC before going to Athens as ambassador, and receiving a knighthood. 

I was intrigued to know where West had derived this information, and an inquiry from Keith Ellison ascertained that the sources were Peter Wright and that other impeccable functionary, Arthur Martin, MI5’s ‘legendary’ mole-hunter and incompetent interrogator. During the Blunt post mortem in 1980, the Cabinet Office reported that Sir Michael Stewart was one of Blunt’s acquaintances who had been investigated and (though the language is ambiguous) consequently cleared (see PREM 19/3942). The scope of the investigation has not been published.

Sir Michael Stewart

Stewart remains a very elusive figure, but the connection sheds a little more light on the influential role that Litzi was playing behind the scenes, encouraged to move around between Paris and London in 1939 despite the Centre’s disapproval of her bourgeois extravagances. A likelier explanation was that she was preparing the ground for her husband’s return rather than welcoming him in person, although, if Philby and Stewart had been close friends for years, it seems odd that she would be needed as an intermediary in helping her husband find a job. (In the files on Victor Rothschild recently released by TNA can be found a note confirming Philby’s friendship with Stewart, and the fact that Stewart’s sister Carol was married to another dubious character, Francis Graham-Harrison.) This might explain why a vetting-form for Philby was filled out by SIS on September 27, 1939, as Keith Ellison notes in his e-book at On the other hand, Philby’s candidature may have been part of a routine sweep: Valentine Vivian informed Seale and McConville that his name came to SIS’s notice from a ‘pool’ – a list of potential recruits drawn up early in the war.

By then, however, great political shifts had occurred. The Nazi-Soviet Pact was announced, causing great heartache to Stalin’s loyalists in the West, and Britain declared war on Germany. Gorsky’s plans for sending Philby to Berlin or Rome were dropped. Philby arranged an important job for Peter Smollett (né Smolka), whom he had known in Vienna, and on October 9 the Times appointed Philby as Special War Correspondent with the British Expeditionary Force. Harrison suggests that he set out soon after that date, and whatever hopes he had for joining SIS were obviously shelved. Meanwhile, Litzi was apparently stranded in Paris.

This was a difficult period for Philby. In September, he managed to inform the London residency of his mission in France, and Gorsky set up rendezvous arrangements for him in Paris for late October and early November – not with Litzi, but with a representative named ALIM, who did not know him by sight. Philby had been unnerved by the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, and was unable to get away to Paris for his encounter until the back-up date of November 1. He presumably saw Litzi at this time as well, because a 1941 report referred to the disillusionment with Ozolin-Haskin at this time that he had expressed to her. Nevertheless, Philby handed over information about the British Expeditionary Force’s capabilities and equipment that could have been construed as treacherous, given that his Soviet masters might have passed it on to the Germans.

The fact that Litzi was able to regain entry into the United Kingdom, arriving at the port of Newhaven on January 2, 1940, is most intriguing. We owe it to a short item in the Minute Sheet of the personal folder of Kim’s father (KV 2/1181-1) for the confirmation of her arrival. That Philby facilitated her transit is shown by what he told Borovik:

            When the war started. I knew she would be better off in England. If the Germans took Paris, she would not survive. At that time any movement between France and England – except for military movements – could be made only with permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I wrote a letter requesting permission for her to return to England. Legally she was still my wife, and they had no reason to refuse. The ministry gave its approval, and she moved back to London.

I find this a remarkable statement, for several reasons:

  1. December 1939 was a very early time to be making and executing emergency flight plans. The Germans were nowhere near to ‘taking Paris’. The haste is noteworthy.
  2. The NKVD would have made their own arrangements for exfiltrating their assets. Kitty Harris (Donald Maclean’s courier and former lover) was moved, with a false passport in the disguise of a wife of an Embassy official, to the Soviet Union as the Germans approached in May 1940. (Obviously, Philby would not have acknowledged that parallel.)
  3. The NKVD would have directed Litzi’s next move. It shows how highly they regarded her that, despite her irresponsibly prodigal lifestyle using NKVD funds in Paris, she was approved for a new assignment in the United Kingdom (instead of being sent ‘home’ to Moscow in disgrace), and they saw no risk in this decision. (Litzy had been making regular visits back to England in the preceding couple of years.)
  4. The installation of a well-regarded agent in London occurred at exactly the time that the rezidentura in London was being closed down, and Gorsky recalled to Moscow for the best part of a year.
  5. Philby must surely have met Litzi during this period, to make the arrangements. This assumption is confirmed by the fact that Gorshakov in the Paris residency reported that Philby provided valuable information in the period September – December 1939.
  6. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs saw nothing unusual or suspicious in allowing a known Communist to regain entry to the United Kingdom, at a time when the Nazi-Soviet pact was in effect, and it reacted extremely promptly to Philby’s request.
  7. Philby’s implication is that, if he had been divorced from Litzi by this time, she would not have been allowed in the country. This represents a significant argument as to why they had indeed remained married for so long.
  8. Many years later, Litzi told her daughter that, after the outbreak of the war, she and Kim had returned to London, and that she had been able to terminate her relationship with the Soviet secret service. That was a double lie: Kim was still in France when she arrived, and individuals were not able to break away from the NKVD at their own whim.

Yet there are two further twists to this very odd tale. The first can be found in the Appendix to Helenus Milmo’s report (see above) where he writes as follows:

            What I regard as particularly important and significant in this connection is a letter which PHILBY wrote to the Passport Office on 26th September 1939 in order to enable Lizzie to obtain the requisite facilities to get to France. If PHILBY’s story is to be accepted, at that time he did not know what his one-time Communist wife had been doing with herself in the course of the previous 2½ years.

What is going on here? Litzi was apparently already in France at this time, and Kim was not appointed BEF correspondent of the Times until October 9. Why, if travel restrictions had been imposed, would Philby so clumsily attract attention to his wife’s ambitions on the Continent? Milmo goes on to write: ‘The letter which he wrote contains a number of falsehoods and of course could only have been written because PHILBY was still Lizzie’s husband in name.” Apart from noting the fact that Milmo’s evidence would tend to support the fact that a file on Philby had been maintained at the time, I shall suspend judgment on this bizarre artefact until next month.

The second twist appears in a report submitted by MI5’s E5 (Alien Control: German and Austrians) to F2B (Subversive Activities: Comintern Activities and Communist Refugees) on September 13, 1945, which describes members of Edith Tudor-Hart’s circle. Here a reference to a ‘LIZZY FEABRE or FEAVRE née Kallman’ is made. It states that this woman was born in Vienna, which she left in 1934, and that later ‘she went to France, where she lived for three years and married an Englishman there thus acquiring British nationality’. The note then introduces her relationship with Georg Honigmann. (It is perhaps ironic that, the very same day that this report was written, Guy Liddell was meeting with John Marriott and Kim Philby to discuss what should be done with Nunn May after the Gouzenko revelations.)

There is no doubt that this is a weakly-veiled description of Litzi Philby. ‘Kallman’ is an obvious rendering of ‘Kohlmann’. Indeed, the scribe has annotated that the entry should be copied into ‘PF 62681 PHILBY’, but what is going on here? Had someone tried to conceal Philby’s marriage to Litzi by inventing a spurious anecdote about an Englishman in France? And is it a feeble ruse, with FEABRE perhaps being a clumsy French representation of PHILBY, perhaps misheard during telephone surveillance? Or was Litzy being encouraged to join Tudor-Hart’s circle of Austrian Communists under a false name? It sounds as if the watchers in E5 (led by J. D. Denniston, the classical scholar) had no clear idea of what was going on, and were being misled. On the other hand, the canny recipient in F2B probably Hugh Shillito, assisted by the redoubtable Milicent Bagot (although Shillito resigned in frustration around this time) knew very well what the circumstances of Litzi’s marriage were, but did not bother to correct overtly the muddled information that had been presented to him.

On June 14, 1946, Lizzy Feavre is again described as being a member of Edith Tudor-Hart’s circle, and observers (in Germany) have clearly been very diligent, as the memo describes her as having been very active, and lists contacts she has had in Paris. A hand-written annotation authoritatively confirms that ‘FEAVRE’ is ‘Lizy Philby’. And in a later report dated November 6, 1946, submitted by B4c, Litzy is directly identified as ‘LIZZY PHILBY @ FEAVRE”, indicating that ‘FEAVRE’ was the cryptonym used by MI5 to refer to her. This all suggests that MI5 had for some time been familiar enough with Litzi’s movements and contacts to be keeping a watchful eye on her. Yet the charade becomes absurd: in A. F. Burbridge’s profile of Edith Tudor-Hart, dated December 1, 1951 (from B2a) as part of the PEACH investigation (PEACH being the cryptonym for Philby), Lizzie Feavre and Lizzy Friedmann [sic] are presented as if they were two separate persons, and the memo is routed to both the PEACH and FEAVRE Personal Folders. It is difficult to work out who was trying to fool whom.

My conjecture would be that MI5 must have opened a file on Litzi Philby as soon as she arrived in Britain, and kept a close eye on her from 1934 until 1937, when she moved to France. After her return in 1940, however, and her husband’s entry into MI6, B4a must have received instructions that they were to conceal her identity under a pseudonym, and PHILBY (Litzi) became FEABRE/FEAVRE, with a ‘legend’ (in the sense of a fictitious biography) constructed for her. The watchers of E5 would not have been brought into the plan, and newer members of B2a were also kept in the dark. Litzi’s Personal File (PHILBY #62681) is clearly a different one from that of Harry St. John Philby (#40408). The existence of any file on Kim has not been admitted apart from that of the PEACH inquiry, yet it would be extraordinary if one had not been started for him in 1933, when he went to Vienna. The report written by Helenus Milmo after his interrogation of Philby strongly suggests that there were comprehensive files maintained on both Kim and Litzi. (I shall explore that highly important topic next month.)

In general, it is hard to make sense of the first few months of 1940, as described by Borovik – who seems to be unaware that the residency was vacated for most of 1940. By February, Gorsky had been recalled and the residency in London was unmanned. Yet Borovik cites a message sent by the chief of the London residency dated April 1, 1940, that describes the ‘irregular contact’ that it has (had?) been having with Philby, and how their agent had bridled at the lack of political instruction he had received. One might perhaps conclude that what Borovik was quoting was a report by Gorsky written when KAP had returned to Moscow. In fact, KAP had also written a report just before he left, on February 20, informing Moscow that ‘the source SÖHNCHEN had lost touch with KARP, the Paris residency agent, and couldn’t re-establish it.’  But, if Philby was in France at this time, why was KAP in London, not KARP in Paris, reporting that state of affairs, and how did that intelligence reach Gorsky? Perhaps Litzi brought that news to Gorsky, and there was a delay in communication.

Whatever the circumstances, a few days later Moscow ordered KARP to break off all contact with SÖHNCHEN. Maybe his disgruntlement was beginning to grate with the NKVD bosses. Thus he was unanchored when he returned on Britain on May 21. (Some accounts indicate that he did not escape until just before the Armistice of June 22.) A few weeks beforehand, however, he had written to Maclean in Paris, urging him to try to arrange for a rendezvous, as he had ‘extraordinary valuable materials’ to impart. This initiative provoked a flurry of interest in the Lubianka, with Kreshin pressing for Gorsky to return. Yet the Commissar for Security turned the opportunity down: Philby was not considered important or reliable enough at this time. So Philby resumed his quest for a more important role in the intelligence machinery.

The Honigmann Era

According to what Philby told Philip Knightley, when he returned from France, he found that Litzi was now living with George Honigmann, ‘a German communist refugee who had a job monitoring German broadcasts for the news agency Extel’. It is highly improbable that this statement is literally true: Litzi may have told him that she had been living with Honigmann, but the fact is that Honigmann was shipped off to Canada as a Class A alien on June 7, 1940, and had surely been mopped up as one of the 8,000 Germans and Austrians who were placed in detention in May 1940. In fact Milmo’s Appendix states that they did not begin living together until 1942.

Georg Honigmann

Moreover, Honigmann was not a recent acquaintance. It was Kim’s and Litzi’s mutual friend Peter Smolka who had set up London Continental News in 1934, and Smolka and Philby contributed news articles to the Exchange Telegraph Company [Extel], which Smolka himself joined in 1938. Seale and McConville describe it as ‘a haven for left-wing refugees from fascism’. (Peter Smolka recommended that Philby be appointed a nominal director of Extel in August 1939.) Exactly what was Honigmann’s background is unclear: some accounts state that he was a former member of the German Communist Party; others that it was Litzi who converted him (see below). His Wikipedia entry (in German) states that he fled to Britain as early as 1933, and worked there as an independent journalist with Extel and then as head of the European Service of Reuters, until 1946.

The Martin interview asserts that Honigmann had been interned in Canada, and had there met a man named ‘Hornic’ (actually Leopold Hornik). Martin’s interviewee deemed that it was probably through Hornik that Honigmann had subsequently entered the Tudor-Hart circle, and it was also this gentleman’s impression that ‘he had no firm political views until he met Lizzy’. Hornik was a dedicated Viennese Communist who had arrived in Britain in 1938, and had subsequently been interned on the Isle of Man and in Canada. Edith Tudor-Hart wrote warm letters to him during his absence, and he resumed his vigorous membership of the Austrian Communist circle when he was released in 1942. Honigmann was probably not such a danger as Tudor-Hart or Litzi, as he was a vague, irresolute character, and easily swayed, but the fact that he mixed with the band of Austrian Communists necessarily brought him under suspicion. What is perplexing is how the interviewee knew all these fascinating facts about Honigmann, and was familiar with the nest of vipers at Extel, whom MI5 was carefully watching. Perhaps Martin and his colleagues left the record of this interview for posterity in the confidence that it would be accepted as plausible and reliable.

What Litzi was occupied with in 1940 has given rise to a lot of speculation. Peter Wright had written of Litzi’s role in establishing contact with the Soviet residency after Deutsch left, and Nigel West has suggested that Litzi reprised this activity when she took over Gorsky’s role, acting as courier – even ‘handler’ – for Blunt and Burgess, during Gorsky’s absence in 1940. Yet this prompts the question: to whom did she deliver information if there was no NKVD representative in London? Wright wrote that messages passed the other way, from Litzi through Edith Tudor-Hart, to Bob Stewart at the CPGB headquarters, asserting that he was ‘the official responsible for liaison with the Russian [sic, actually ‘Soviet’] Embassy’. But that would have been very dangerous and irregular, and MI5 had the CPGB premises bugged. Moreover, Blunt was hardly active in 1940, having returned from France himself, and then being recruited by MI5 in the summer, where he took a few months to find his feet. It is all very confusing – and maybe it is supposed to be.

An item in the recently released Victor Rothschild file appears to give Litzi a more important role at this time – and a more visible presence. A report shows that Blunt, under interrogation, offered the following:

            He also recalled that during the time from December of 1940 onwards when Lizzie Philby had acted as his contact he had met her on several occasions in Bentinck Street in Burgess’s presence. He commented that perhaps Tess Rothschild [the former Tess Mayor, who also lived at Number 5: she would later marry her boss at MI5, Victor Rothschild] would remember the visits although, on reflection, he thought that Lizzie PHILBY might have called only when she knew that Tess would not be there. He had also occasionally met Lizzie at the Courtauld Institute. He went on to say that Lizzie Philby had made no secret of the fact that BURGESS and PHILBY were also ‘in the game’ and that she was taking the material which they gave her to Bob Stewart at Party Headquarters. He remembered that she had said that STEWART had been given all their names.

How much of this can be relied upon is obviously dubious. A typed annotation states that ‘None of this is new information’, but has it been recorded in this form beforehand, or was it simply ‘not new’ to the investigators at this time? Litzi might not have wanted to be seen by Tess Mayor, specifically, if she considered that her presence might alert Tess to some mischief, and be reported back to MI5, but Litzi was nonetheless taking an enormous risk in visiting 5 Bentinck Street, and possibly being surveilled. After all, Dick White and Guy Liddell were regular visitors, and Blunt was behaving irresponsibly if he allowed Litzi to use the house as a Treffpunkt. His disingenuous second thought concerning Litzi and Tess is very telling. Philby had clearly not enforced any distancing. It is all very provocative: I shall inspect this alarming phenomenon in greater detail next month.

With Philby temporarily dropped from the team, in August 1940 he managed to get himself recruited, with Guy Burgess’s help, by D Section of MI6, which was very soon afterwards spun off as a separate entity, the Special Operations Executive, where he worked until his successful admission to Section V of MI6 in August 1941. Thus it took about seven years from his original recruitment for the ‘master spy’ to gain access to one of Britain’s diplomatic or intelligence departments, having been beaten to the punch by Maclean, Blunt, Cairncross and Burgess, all of whom had worked for the Foreign Office, the Treasury, GC&CS, or MI5.

Little appears to have been written about Litzi’s occupations after her arrival in the United Kingdom. The Barbarossa invasion of June 1941 obviously put the role of defenders of the Soviet Union in a new light, and she took advantage of the new climate (not that she had been particularly disadvantaged up until that time.) Two incidents stand out from this period: her involvement as a messenger for Engelbert Broda’s stolen intelligence, and her application for some government job.

Engelbert Broda

In January 1943, Engelbert Broda (ERIC), who was one of Edith Tudor-Hart’s paramours, and who had gained a position at the Cavendish Laboratory working on the Tube Alloys project on atomic weaponry, passed documents on to Litzi, via Edith. According to Gorsky’s report, Litzi (MARY) apparently met the NKVD officer Barkovsky (GLAN) outside a London tube station in January 1943. Yet this was not Litzi’s first exposure to the potentiality of new power sources. Borovik reports of an encounter back in 1938 (one confirmed in Litzi’s reminiscences to her daughter) where Litzi asked Philby to set up a meeting for her with his Soviet contact. “She had met a man whose friend was working on problems developing new forms of energy.” Some have suggested that this person was Fuchs, which would shed a brand new light on the betrayals of that spy. In any case, it indicated that Litzi was keeping her nose very close to the ground, and mixing with important sources. Borovik writes that, since Philby had no Soviet contacts at that time, he passed the information on to Burgess, who presumably handed it on to his controller, Eitingon, in Paris.

We owe it to Tim Milne, who worked for Philby in the Iberian subsection of Section V at Glenalmond, St Albans, for the insight on the second incident, Litzi’s job application. The event probably happened towards the end of 1943, and Milne describes it in the following terms:

            I seldom saw Kim even sightly disconcerted. Once, the officer who dealt inter alia with vetting questions and acted as a kind of security officer came up to him. ‘Sorry to bother you, Kim – mere formality. It’s about your wife’s application for a job – she’s quoted you as a reference. I just need the usual good word.’ Kim looked utterly blank. Then his face lit up. ‘Oh, you mean my first wife  . . . yes, she’s ok.’ Presumably Lizy, who had returned to England soon after the war began, had not let him know that she was giving him as a reference for some job she was seeking, and I imagine they were not in touch.

Thus did MI6’s redoubtable security officers go about their work.

The incident is in many ways remarkable. Here is Litzi, so confident of her position and reputation, that she believes she can apply for a sensitive job without any risk of her – or her husband – being unmasked. (A note in the Tudor-Hart file states that she worked in a factory concerned with aircraft, and that she was a shop steward there: maybe that was the sensitive post suggested here.)  Furthermore, she does not even bother to inform her husband of her use of his name as a reference. And Kim, in some kind of delusion that he was ‘married’ to Aileen Furse despite never having divorced Litzi (an impression over which he misled Borovik, later), perpetuates the illusion by indicating that Litzi was his first wife. Was he confident that the security officer, and whoever was guiding him, would not verify those details? Or did he believe that Litzi was invulnerable, anyway?

It is useful to point out the ironies of this period of the war – between July 1941, when all hands were suddenly on the pump to help ‘our gallant Soviet allies’ in defeating Hitler, and August 1944, when Stalin’s plans for tyrannizing Eastern Europe became apparent. I quote the infamous report that Philby sent in March 1943, detailing a briefing that Valentine Vivian had given to Section V. It includes this passage:

            Vivian said that the Russians had known about Operation TORCH in advance, repeating what he had already told me – namely, that the Russians had had accurate intelligence on the codes, beaches, medical supplies, etc., for the operation long before it was launched. In his words, senior officers in volved had gone straight from their desks at the War Office to clandestine rendezvous with Communists. Frank Foley then asked where those officers were now. Vivian replied that they were still in their jobs, ‘We did not want to make a big thing of it’, he added. This reply of course leads one to assume that the authorities know who these officers are, although I cannot vouch for the accuracy of what Vivian said.

In such a climate, Litzi’s performance seems conventional.

At the same time, the trustworthiness of the Cambridge Five came under fierce scrutiny in Moscow. It started with Philby’s unapproved recruitment of Smolka (ABO), and continued through 1943 with his apparent failure to pass on details of a telegram from the Japanese ambassador. These events caused Elena Modrzchinskaya to conclude that their agents were under control of British Intelligence, and passing on disinformation.  A special exercise to verify the reliability of their intelligence was ordered, and it was Philby’s contributions that helped prove their loyalty. Yet it took until August 1944 for the confidence of Moscow Centre in the Cambridge ring to be restored.

Life in the East

The spotlight now turns on Georg Honigmann. The records are inconsistent, but it seems that, when the war ended, the Control Commission for Germany decided to send him to that country to help in its denazification. Seale and McConville write that the Commission posted him to Hamburg, ‘to help set up a proposed German news agency’. That would appear to be an incongruous choice, nominating a suspected Communist for the job: the Commission presumably was not aware that he was living with an RIS agent, the more vigorous subversive Litzi, whether her surname was Feabre or Philby. In any case, Honigmann never arrived in Hamburg. He ‘had been given permission to travel by way of Berlin’, but was thought lost ‘in the great confusion of the immediate post-war months in Germany’. That was a poor excuse. His Wikipedia entry states that he did not arrive in Germany until May 1946, when the war had been over almost a year. Governments did not simply ‘lose’ officials so carelessly: in fact Honigmann moved promptly to the Soviet sector of Berlin after his arrival, where he took on various roles in journalism, becoming editor-in-chief of the Berliner Zeitung in 1948. Honigmann’s friend Peter von Mendelssohn, a native German writer who had become a naturalized Briton, had recommended Honigmann for the Control Commission post, and was distraught when he learned about his friend’s abscondment.

Litzi did not accompany her partner at first. (Seale and McConville note vaguely that she ‘eventually’ joined him, but the timetable shows that only a few brief months elapsed between Honigmann’s arrival in May and the divorce settlement in September.) Honigmann was still married to his first wife, Ruth, whom he had wed in Britain, and Litzi was of course still married to Philby.  An entry in Edith Tudor-Hart’s file (the same one cited above in connection with Litzy FEABRE) records that Litzi had been living with Honigmann, but had left him recently ‘owing to a disagreement’. It is possible that Litzi disparaged Honigmann’s decision to accept a job in the British Sector, and eventually persuaded him that their duty was to help construct the socialist paradise in East Berlin. Arthur Martin’s report suggests that Litzi convinced him to use the Control Commission offer as a ruse to travel to the Soviet Sector.

Honigmann was not known for his resolution: his Geni entry (in German) indicates that he had been greatly influenced by a ‘Herr Martin’ (certainly Leopold Martin Hornik: see above) while in internment in Canada, that he jumped from marriage to marriage, and from job to job, and that later he was too bourgeois for the comrades, and too bohemian for the bourgeois. [“Für die Genossen war er zu bürgerlich. Für die richtigen Bürger war er zu bohèmehaft.”]. Arthur Martin’s interviewee also thought that he ‘was not a strong personality’. Yet Litzi was still surely under orders, and she left the United Kingdom, via Czechoslovakia, to join him in East Berlin. This seems certain, because it was at this time that Kim decided that he had to open up about his marriage, and get a divorce. At least that is what he said, but he was of course under orders as well. Now that Litzi was in East Berlin, she no longer had need of that residential protection by virtue of her marriage.

Philby’s account of the agreement is characteristically cynical and untrue. He claimed that it was only now that his career ambitions required him to regularize his relationship with Aileen, and gain a divorce from Litzi – just at the time when she was least accessible. As Ben Macintyre reports the events:

            He approached Valentine Vivian, the man who had so casually waved him into the service in the first place, and explained that, as an impetuous youth, he had married a left-wing Austrian, whom he now planned to divorce in order to make an honest woman of Aileen. The revelation does not seem to have given Vee-Vee a moment’s concern.

(In this unlikely scenario, Vee-Vee – even out of his depth as he notably was – would have been the only officer in ‘the intelligence community’ not to have known that Kim and Litzy were husband and wife.) And Macintyre continues:

            Philby now contacted Litzi, now living in Paris, arranged an uncontested and amicable divorce, and married Aileen a week later, on September 25  . . .

Meanwhile, Vivian put in a routine request for a trace on Litzi to MI5. Seale and McConville record that ‘The reply (on information from ‘Klop’ Ustinov, via his boss Dick White) was that Litzi was a Soviet agent.’ The authors ascribe this remarkable insight to a private communication from Vivian himself, deceased by the time the book was published (1973). No doubt Vivian did not ‘want to make a big thing of it at the time’, even though gross suspicions of Philby’s involvement in the Volkov incident the year before must have been fresh in his mind.

Only Litzi was not living in Paris, but in Berlin. Moreover, Philby told Borovik that they met in Vienna. And Philby would have had to know how to contact her, and Litzi would have had to gain permission to leave the Soviet sector for a while. Did he gain her consent through the mails, as is implied? Presumably his travel had to be approved by the Foreign Office, and no one has written about what legal circumstances made it possible for an agreement to divorce made in a foreign capital to hold legal standing in a British divorce court. And Litzi might have protested: ‘Why didn’t you do that earlier’? and even refused the divorce without some financial settlement. Seale and McConville write that ‘in due course Litzy petitioned for a divorce on the grounds of her husband’s adultery’, but where was the petition heard? It all went smoothly, however: they were both adulterers, and they were no doubt following orders.

Thus Litzi was now free to marry Georg, although there were clearly tensions in the relationship. A daughter, Barbara, was born in February 1949. Litzi found a job as a sound dubber with the East German film corporation, DEFA, to which her husband moved in 1953. The marriage had broken up by then and Honigmann married the playwright Gisela May in 1963. Litzi thought of her lost love, the Dutch sculptor, Pieter, but lost track of him. And she was surely now disillusioned by the drab, oppressive realm of communist East Berlin, and apparently regretting her services to the cause of that oppression. She must have missed her Modiglianis and fancy hats. She told her daughter that she did not believe that the Rosenbergs had been wrongly executed – an utterly heretical claim for a member of the Party (and one ridiculed even by many non-communists in the West), and something that Kim Philby or Ursula Kuczynski would never have let pass their lips.

Litzy, Karl, Rina, Denny (Rifikim, 1967) [from the Richard Deacon archive, now owned by coldspur]

Thus it is perhaps not surprising that Litzi sought to escape to the West. Her well-appointed villa, ‘with its spacious book-filled room, with low settees in primary colours, suggested the setting of a well-paid woman at the BBC’, Neal Ascherson of the Observer wrote, and Litzi expressed to him her regret at not being able to go back to London. She managed to gain a temporary exit visa to travel to her home-town of Vienna, and then simply did not return. She died there in 1991.


Kim and Litzi both lied about their experiences, Kim out of a need to magnify his own importance and achievements and diminish those of his wife, Litzi probably out of a sense of shame at what they both had done. Litzi was the one who matured out of her youthful indignation: Kim was the stolid unwavering ideologue. And yet the chronicle of events shows that Moscow Centre looked far more favourably on the future apostate than it did on the ‘master spy’.

Philby was a failure for most of his career. He was too obviously attached to the left-wing cause to be considered a serious candidate for infiltration into the British establishment. Unlike the colleagues he recruited, he failed to land a job with potential, and moved into the less effective world of journalism. He fumbled his awkward switch of persona as a fascist sympathizer. He was installed in Spain, but exposed to such dangers that it showed that his Soviet masters thought him disposable. His reports were infrequent and lacklustre, and he regarded himself as a failure. On his return to Britain, he missed out, for various reasons, on being employed by GC&CS or MI6, and ended up in another uninfluential journalist’s job. His ineffectualness, compounded perhaps by his questioning of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, meant that Moscow decided to drop him. He slowly worked his way into intelligence, through the sideshow of Section D and SOE, until he rather fortunately gained an important position with Section V in MI6. No sooner had he become established there than the apparatchiks of the NKVD started suspecting – because of his impetuous actions – the entire Cambridge Ring of being controlled by British Intelligence. Not until late 1944, and when Litzi left for East Berlin, did he come into his own, and perform his worst damage. Yet he should have been exposed by the Volkov incident of September 1945.

Litzi, on the other hand, led a charmed life. She was surely an elite agent, selected to gain entry to the West by marrying an Englishman. She had overall a well-respected and important role as a courier, and her opinions on Kim’s future career were listened to by the NKVD high-ups. In the mid-thirties, she was able to visit several other cities in Europe without let or hindrance, and was presumably a very important and much-esteemed courier. The NKVD thought well enough of her to help fund an exorbitant life-style in Paris, and apparently never punished her for it. She passed freely between Paris and London, was able to return to Vienna to rescue her parents, and gained the help of the British authorities in escaping to England in 1940, where it seems that she may have been designated as the temporary replacement for Gorsky. She used her amorous skills to engage in relationships with intelligence officers and diplomats, such as Anthony Milne and Michael Stewart, without damaging her credentials with either side. Through Stewart she may have been instrumental in getting Kim his job with MI6. She frequented the potentially dangerous Bentinck Street location, without being ostracized or persecuted. She kept her eyes open to assist in the project to steal atomic weapons secrets.

In other words, the reason why the NKVD felt confident in deploying her without risk of exposing Philby (my original question) was that she herself was regarded as the vital agent, and Philby was the sideshow. Thus the puzzle next reverts to the passivity of MI5 and MI6 in indulging this overt Communist, even known as a ‘Soviet agent’, in their midst, even before the troublesome era when Great Britain and the Soviet Union were temporary allies, committed in the war against the Axis powers. The NKVD did not force an abrupt breach between Litzy and Kim, in order to protect the Englishman, but brazenly deployed agent MARY in a number of roles that should not have escaped even the shallowest surveillance techniques.

It is something of a mystery. I have at least to consider that Helen Fry may have been on to something, when she hinted at Litzi’s role in Austria, and Philby’s rapid discovery of her. Yet, for reasons that I shall explain next month, I am not convinced that Philby could in any sense have been used by MI6 at that time. It is possible, however, that some background deals were performed in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The paradox lies in the fact that Soviet Intelligence continued to deploy her as if she were invulnerable, while British Intelligence allowed her to operate as if they believed that they had a controllable cuckoo in their nest, in the manner of Ursula Kuczynski. They let Litzi fly around unchallenged in the hope, perhaps, that she would lead them to more dangerous entities, or assist in the transfer of disinformation. It is difficult to explain away all the multiple occasions where Litzi’s subversive work was detected, but nothing was done about it. I have a theory, and shall pick up this perplexing business in next month’s report. In the interim, please let me know of any insights on these matters, or challenges to my reasoning, that occur to you.

Postscript: Charlotte Philby & ‘Edith and Kim’

As I was performing research for this piece, I read Edith and Kim, a ‘novel’ by the grand-daughter of Kim Philby, Charlotte Philby. Despite the laudatory blurbs and the enthusiastic reviews that the book has received, I consider it a very poor production. It lies in that tradition of novelization of true intelligence events such as Transcription by Kate Atkinson and An Unlikely Spy by Rebecca Starford (see, whereby authors think that if they selectively take some real-life characters, mess around with the facts and chronology a bit, and introduce some new agents and activities, they will somehow produce a more convincing psychological truth than can be derived from a proper analysis of historical characters and events. At least, that is what I imagine they think they are doing.

In this latest mess, the figures are (if course) Kim Philby and Edith Tudor-Hart. Charlotte P., who came across the Tudor-Hart archive fairly late in her journalistic career, had the inspiration that building up the very flimsy relationship that Kim had with the Austrian photographer into something more significant would make for a great story. In her introductory note, the author writes:

            What follows is not meant as a comprehensive re-telling of a highly contentious period, but a work of fiction based on the facts as I have variously found them, reimagining the lives of two people from starkly different backgrounds whose very existence transformed one another’s, and changed the course of history.

‘Changing the course of history’, again. It sounds as if she has been studying Nigel West. And the ‘transforming’ of each other’s lives is purely fanciful.

Ms. Philby admits that she distorted events, and omitted characters, if they didn’t serve the version ‘as she reconstructed it’, and impishly displays a slogan ‘All history is fiction’ at the start of her story. (She might have chosen ‘All memoir is fiction’, which would have been a better signpost for her grandfather’s contribution.) I am not sure what that unattributed post-modernist statement means, but fiction is certainly not history, and it seems to me that Ms. Philby is looking for an alibi. She is no Hilary Mantel. In her ‘reconstruction’, a highly contentious nomenclature, by the way, she makes out (for instance) that Edith was a great lover, adding Arnold Deutsch and the psychologist she consults to help with her mentally-handicapped son to her list of sexual partners, while omitting to include her paramour and business-partner Arpad Haasze from Vienna. She intersperses her plot (admittedly studded with several accurate but familiar episodes, embellished of course by imagined conversations and several distortions) with letters that Philby might have possibly written to Edith from Moscow before her rather sad death in Brighton in 1973. Yet the epistolatory nonsense continues through the Thatcher and Reagan eras right up until 1988, and the death of Klaus Fuchs, as if Philby imagined Edith were still alive, reading his letters. It is all very absurd.

That is not to say that the book lacks style, or art. For instance, Charlotte P. must have had great fun compiling the letters that her grandfather ‘wrote’: they come across as pastiches of the ‘Dear Bill’ letters in Private Eye, where the communications of a crusty and reactionary Denis Thatcher were purportedly directed to his old pal, William Deedes, editor of the Daily Telegraph, only in this case by a communist version of him. But to imagine that Philby would have bothered to send such letters to a neurotic Austrian woman whom he knew only vaguely, or that Edith would have appreciated his mixture of cynicism and English humour, is quite absurd. (No letters from Edith to Philby are included.)

In her Acknowledgements, Charlotte expresses her gratitude to such persons (friends) as Philip Knightley and Chapman Pincher who ‘supported, inspired and informed the book’. I am not sure why those two gentlemen would have encouraged the endeavour, but maybe the fictional aspect attracted them. Moreover, they have both been dead for several years: I wonder what that says about the gestational effort of the work. She also thanks her editor/co-pilot Ann Bissell, ‘who understood from the outset what I was trying to achieve with this book, and knew just how to make it happen’. But she does not explain to her readers exactly what it was she was trying to achieve, so I suppose that aspect will remain a mystery. Still, the film rights have been sold (see , and I suppose that the movie-going public will be able to compare the eventual outcome with the production of that other largely fictional work, Agent Sonya.

I hope someone introduces this piece to Charlotte Philby. Perhaps she might then acknowledge that, instead of indulging in decade-long fantasies about a largely mythical relationship between Kim and Edith, she could have spent her obvious talents (she was shortlisted for a prize in investigative journalism in 2013) on a much more fascinating story to be unveiled about her grandfather – but one concerning his first wife. And it does not need ‘fictionalizing’ to move closer to the truth – just some old-fashioned journalistic sleuthing.

Late News: In the first session of play in the cricket match described above, Goronwy Rees was regrettably struck with a hamstring injury, and had to withdraw. His place was taken by the Twelfth Man, Bernard Floud. And I notice that the series A Spy Among Friends is now available on MGM. More creative license, and new characters introduced, I see.

(New Commonplace entries can be seen here.)


Filed under Espionage/Intelligence, General History, Geography, Literature/Academia, Management/Leadership, Philosophy, Politics, Travel

Prosper’s Flit

A Westland Lysander in 1943

[A word of caution: this is a meticulous analysis of a few days in June 1943, and may present quite a challenge to the casual reader. Yet I consider it a vital contribution – and an essential legacy for posterity – to the establishment of a more accurate account of several aspects of World War II: the collapse of the PROSPER circuit; the leadership of SOE; the management of, and instructions to, potential ‘secret armies’ in France; the directives of the Chiefs of Staff in planning deception campaigns; and the behaviour of Winston Churchill in trying to appease Stalin. Above all, it highlights the deficiencies of authorized histories, the unreliability of personal ‘memory’, and the naivety of any historian, biographer or journalist who lays too much trust in what such sources say.]

I return to the vexed problem of the movements of Major Francis Suttill (‘PROSPER’) in June 1943. I have earlier presented the hypothesis that PROSPER made two visits to the UK from France in the summer of 1943, an idea that neatly accommodates all the conflicting accounts, from various sources, of his movements in that fateful period. Having spent considerable time inspecting most of the relevant archival material, in November I attempted a renewal of my aborted email discussion with Suttill’s son, Francis Suttill Jr. This gentleman had published a revised version of his 2014 work Shadows in the Fog as PROSPER: Major Suttill’s French Resistance Network in 2018, but I found much of what he wrote confusing. Gratifyingly, Suttill then responded to my outstanding queries, and we exchanged some further emails on the subject in early December 2022, after which I sent him a comprehensive challenge to the chronology he presents in his book. In this piece I examine closely the various explanations of PROSPER’s whereabouts in the middle of June 1943.


Introduction: Who, When, Where, Why, What and How

The Essential Problem

M. R. D. Foot’s ‘SOE in France’

E. H. Cookridge’s ‘Inside SOE’

Stella King’s ‘Jacqueline’

Patrick Marnham’s ‘War in the Shadows’

Francis Suttill’s ‘PROSPER: Major Suttill’s French Resistance Network’

My Letter to Suttill

The Relevant Documents

  • i) Boxshall’s Chronology
  • ii) The Interrogations of Gaston Cohen
  • iii) The Evidence of Pierre Culioli

The Flit

Francis Suttill’s Article


*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

Introduction: Who, When, Where, Why, What and How

The events concern SOE’s F Section, consisting mainly of British agents in France (as opposed to the Free French RF Section), led by the mustard-keen but incompetent Maurice Buckmaster. Managing the networks around Paris is PROSPER, who was parachuted into France in October 1942. His close colleagues are Gilbert Norman (ARCHAMBAUD), his wireless operator, and Andrée Borrel (DENISE), his courier. They are based in Paris, and meet socially too frequently for their own good. PROSPER is trying to rebuild circuits after the previous CARTE organization was found to have been infiltrated by traitors, and to prepare secret armies for the invasion he expects later that summer.

The period under study runs from June 10 to June 16, 1943. PROSPER harbours suspicions about the reliability of his landing officer, Henri Déricourt (GILBERT), who actually features minimally in this episode, but who fatally exposed the network through his contacts with the Sicherheitsdienst (see ). PROSPER is also concerned that his second wireless officer, Jack Agazarian (MARCEL) has been transmitting across networks on behalf of too many agents, and thus represents a security risk. PROSPER also has to deal with Pierre Culioli (ADOLPHE), who runs an eponymous network in the Sologne under PROSPER’s control, Culioli being a sometimes difficult but energetic character who – perhaps with some justification – bears some resentment against the English. Another wireless operator, Gaston Cohen (WATCHMAKER) is scheduled to be flown in to assist the JUGGLER circuit. Arnel Guerne, a member of PROSPER’s circuit, is a vital witness, even though he was a proven liar.

June 10 is a significant date since it defines the beginning of the monthly ‘moon period’, during which flights bringing in agents and supplies (arms, equipment and luxuries) are possible. Since navigation has to be undertaken by sight, moonlight is necessary: several operations have to be abandoned because of bad weather. Two squadrons, based in Tempsford, Bedfordshire, are involved: 138 Squadron, using primarily Halifaxes, is deployed mostly for parachuting operations, while 161 Squadron, using Lysanders and Whitleys (and one Hudson), is mainly involved in landing on French territory, thus being able to pick up passengers as well as drop them off. (It occasionally runs parachute operations as well.) Thus the requirement arises for experts to select suitable landing-grounds and prepare flares and signals to direct and welcome the arriving aircraft.

The territory covered is extensive. Rather mysteriously – and provocatively –  the first two maps provided with Foot’s SOE in France (as endpapers in my 1966 edition) describe the state of the circuits in August 1942 (i.e. two months before PROSPER arrived in France) and in August 1943 (i.e. two months after he was arrested). Thus the precise areas of coverage, and the key drop areas, in June 1943, are not marked on either map. (I have inserted some important locations on the copy shown here.) Travel is somewhat hazardous: motor traffic is not practical for long journeys, so the rail network – which requires passing through the minor hub of Orléans, and the major hub of Paris in order to move from the Sologne to northern sectors of the PROSPER network –  becomes an indispensable factor in the travels of Suttill and other agents.

PROSPER’s movements (according to Francis Suttill Jr.)


A         Chaunont-sur-Tharonne (May 20)

B         Lille (May 21)

C         Neuvy (June 10-11)

D         Paris (June 11)

I (1,2,3) possible reception sites: Trie-Château, Neaufles, Lyons-le-Forêt (June 11-12)

E          Paris (June 12)

F          Bazemont (June 12-13)

G         Romorantin (June 13)

H         Avaray (June 13)

For an analysis of the activities of this critical month, several archival sources are invaluable, although practically all are flawed in some way. Several reports of Operations at Tempsford, including a Daily Summary, and individual pilots’ reports for both squadrons have been released to the National Archives, but Pilots’ Reports for 138 Squadron for June and July 1943 are unaccountably missing, as are 161 Squadron’s Operational Instructions for May and June. Francis Suttill’s Personal File is woefully thin. Gaston Cohen’s is non-existent, and a critical fragment reputedly passed on to M. R. D. Foot by the SOE Advisor, Edwin Boxshall, exists only in bootleg form. Some other reports and transcriptions appear as if they have been edited or redacted before publication. Patrick Marnham has reported on some important items in French archives. The official histories of F Section overlook this troublesome period. The memoirs published by Maurice Buckmaster are scandalously duplicitous and self-contradictory: parts of his diary were inspected by Francis Suttill, Jr., but are not generally available. Much of the contribution from Cookridge and Marshall comes from interviews with participants, but no transcripts of what they said are available, and their testimonies cannot automatically be trusted, as they are frequently contradictory.

The Essential Problem

Why are the activities of PROSPER at this time important? In explaining their significance, and the events leading up his arrest on June 24, 1943, I shall first re-present analysis that I have published here before, but give it a slightly different emphasis. The fact is that multiple histories of SOE have stated that PROSPER, having left for the UK on May 14 for consultations, did not return until some time between June 10 and June 14, and their accounts include the fact that he had meetings with Winston Churchill during the period he was away. Such discussions reputedly encouraged PROSPER to believe that an invasion of Northern France was imminent, and that his underground armies should get ready to assist it. An initiative of that kind, however, would have been entirely contrary to what the Chiefs of Staff were planning at that time. The re-entry to Europe (the so-called ‘Second Front’) had been deferred until the first half of 1944, and premature deployment of ‘secret armies’ had been forbidden.

Francis Suttill Jr. has correctly pointed out that his father returned to France on May 20 (although the detailed Appendix in his book fails to list him as one of the persons parachuted in on the corresponding CHESTNUT 4/BRICKLAYER operation), and that, since Churchill was out of the country during that period, no encounter with PROSPER could have taken place. The problem is, however, that he uses this datum to argue that the British authorities must have been innocent of any deception concerning F Section and its resistance forces in France, and that the collapse of PROSPER and his network was due entirely to some careless practices in tradecraft, and to the ingenuity of the Abwehr and the Sicherheitsdienst. This argument has been enthusiastically endorsed by British officialdom, in the person of Mark Seaman, the so-called ‘SOE historian’, and thus risks becoming the default statement on the record of SOE and the Chiefs of Staff in those hectic months of 1943.

Thus, while ignoring most of the evidence that suggests that F Section was badly misused, Mr Suttill, in a lengthy concluding chapter in his book, rubbishes all other histories and biographies that question the integrity of the British authorities. He thereby accuses the authors of these works of perpetuating a shabby ‘conspiracy theory’. Yet for several decades, the alternative version of PROSPER’s itinerary has persisted, and was even, in outline, a staple element of M. R. D. Foot’s authorized history. The SOE – and, after its dismantlement, the Foreign Office –  promoted and supported the story that PROSPER returned to France on June 12, and then, when Francis Suttill Jr. showed that his father had dropped back in on May 20, immediately forgot their traditional position and, like the worst Communist apparat, boosted the new version of the ‘facts’.

Thus every new entrant to the field has to deal with the fact that PROSPER was for some reason energized to try to ramp up the volume of arms shipments, and exhort the secret armies to prepare themselves, while accepting the impossibility that he could have received an individualized order from the Prime Minister. Patrick Marnham, for instance, in War in the Shadows, attributes PROSPER’s actions to what he heard from his boss Maurice Buckmaster, while he was in London.

So why would so many authors adopt such a controversial story? On what evidence were they basing their narratives? What could the substance behind such claims be? It starts with M. R. D. Foot, and his SOE in France, which first appeared in 1966.

M. R. D. Foot’s ‘SOE in France’

In the first edition, having described how Déricourt had arranged PROSPER’s pick-up, on May 13-14, ‘by Lysander from a ground in the Cher valley a few miles east of Tours’, Foot then presented his return as follows: “Suttill, in any event, was sent back to Paris from London about 12 June ‘with an “alert” signal’, warning the whole circuit to stand by’.” His source for this datum was an interrogation of Gaston Cohen dated October 11, 1943. Rather mysteriously, the record of this interrogation (or any remnant of Cohen’s Personal File) has not been made available to the National Archives. Cohen, whose codename was WATCHMAKER, was a wireless-operator who had been flown out in the middle of June 1943, and subsequently escaped back to the UK. I shall inspect his story later in this piece.

Remarkably, as a feature of the ‘authorized’ history, this account remained unchallenged for thirty-eight years. When the new edition of SOE in France was published in 2004, the passage above remained unchanged, except that ‘about 12 June’ was replaced with ‘in late May’. No other explanation was offered. The same reference to the Cohen interrogation was given. The Cohen file is still not available. Quite extraordinarily, Francis Suttill has explained to me that he himself convinced Foot to make the change, based on the records of his father’s return in late May (from personal items, and Maurice Buckmaster’s diary). The ‘authorized historian’ caved in without explaining why the material he had used forty years beforehand was no longer valid.

One highly important aspect of this scenario is the fact that the Foreign Office, having advised Foot of Suttill’s return to France on June 12, tried to be careful to maintain that fiction as he carried out his researches. In other words, no trace of Suttill’s presence in France between May 20 and that date should have been allowed to escape. Unhappily for them – in an aside that no one appeared to notice in forty years – was Foot’s observation, on p 314 of the 1966 edition, that ‘E. M. Wilkinson (ALEXANDRE) for example was picked up by the Germans in Paris on 6 June, in a police trap Suttill and Antelme had vainly begged him not to enter’. How and why this paradox evaded Foot and the censors is inexplicable. To reinforce the story of PROSPER’s return in May, both Henri Déricourt and Jack Agazarian, in their separate reports to their SOE bosses (in HS 9/421 & HS 9/11-1, respectively) refer to ‘PROSPER’s return’ in the context of late May, when the recently arrived agents ELIE (Sidney Jones) and SIMONE (Vera Leigh) are instructed to wait for his arrival to receive instructions as to what they should do next.

A further indication of a return by Prosper in June (thus echoing the long-standing ‘official’ story, but now reinforcing the hypothesis that Prosper undertook two journeys) was the contribution by the Tempsford pilot Frank (‘Bunny’) Rymills, who actually flew the Lysander that brought in ELIE and SIMONE. Rymills wrote, in Henri Déricourt; Double or Triple Agent (a publish-on-demand book edited by Bernard O’Connor, which was first available ca. 2015): “Prosper parachuted back into France to Culioli’s reception on the night 14/15 and warned him on landing to expect two Canadians within a day or two. He also arranged for Culioli to bring them to Paris around the 22 June. Déricourt had been on holiday in the Loire valley during the first two weeks of the month but had returned in time to receive a double Lysander operation (Teacher) on the night 15/16 June.”

Another significant implication was that the details of Cohen’s movements had to be concealed –except that his drop could not be avoided completely. When the fragments were shown to Foot, the emendations that ‘corrected’ Cohen’s arrival date from June 10 to June 13 (which I also analyze below) were clear, and thus were able to confirm the official story. Yet the changes were made at the time, in October 1943, as the typed English-language translation of Cohen’s interrogation shows. That proves that the deception was conceived and executed soon after the events. SOE leaders must have recognized, after the massive rebuke that they received from the Chiefs of Staff that summer, with Hambro’s subsequent dismissal, what an embarrassment it would be if Suttill’s sudden June visit to the UK were disclosed. The conspiracy ran deep – even to the extent of doctoring the operational records of Squadron 138 with a late annotation. Therefore, if he had been alert and professional, Foot should have had a serious re-think when he received Francis Suttill Jr.’s insights about the May 20 return. He did not re-assess anything: by then he was probably totally fed up with the whole business, and with the way in which he had been deceived.

Patrick Marnham has reminded me that Foot himself, in SOE: The Special Operations Executive: 1940-46 (published in 1999), wrote that Churchill may have ‘seen individual agents on their way into the field, and mis-briefed them to suit a deception plan of which only he and Colonel Bevan held the key’.

Some other historians, having access to some of the participants in the events, told a story that was largely consistent with Foot’s original narrative.

E. H. Cookridge’s ‘Inside SOE’

Cookridge’s book was published the same year in which Foot’s authorized history appeared – 1966. Yet he wrote it without any help (guidance) from the Foreign Office, and had no direct access to SOE archives in the UK. (Foot believed that he may have been given surreptitious access to source material by Colonel Sammy Lohan.) He was helped by hundreds of interviewees, and was able to inspect SOE records that had been imported into some foreign archives. Cookridge claimed that he was able to ‘check, corroborate, and, if need be, reject eye-witness accounts obtained from surviving SOE agents and Resistance leaders and members’, but, since the first name he singles out for special mention is the mendacious and manipulated Maurice Buckmaster, the reader needs to be on his or her guard.

His coverage of the events under inspection is uneven. He is under the impression that Suttill stayed in London from May 14 until June 12, during which time he expressed his fears that the PROSPER network had been infiltrated by the Germans. As an example, Cookridge cites the (undated) arrest of Captain Wilkinson, the head of the network in Angers. Yet Wilkinson was not arrested until June 6: if still receiving consultations in London, Suttill would thus have not known the details. Buckmaster, moreover, must have encouraged Foot and Cookridge to accept that Suttill did not return to France until June 12/13, the details in Buckmaster’s Diary (which are not available to the public, and seemed to confirm to Suttill’s son that his father returned on May 20) being conveniently forgotten or overlooked by him.

Cookridge reinforces his chronology by mentioning that Suttill was still in London when Gaston Cohen (JUSTIN) was flown in, thus consolidating Cohen’s claim that he arrived on June 10/11 – but contradicting the facts about his reception by PROSPER, the archival evidence to which Cookridge obviously did not have access. He then goes on to describe the first drop resulting from Suttill’s ‘stepping-up’ of the pace of arms and explosives while he was in London – the notorious operation to Neuvy, south-west of Orléans. He describes the large group of resistance members gathered to receive a large drop of containers – over a dozen. After twelve were dropped, one of them flared and exploded, and others were ignited. Despite the known presence of German field police at Fontaine-en-Sologne, only three kilometres away, no Germans arrived, and the group was able to salvage a few containers. The next day, however, the German police was aroused by calls with information, and the Gestapo from Blois became involved. This resulted in punitive operations in which many persons were arrested.

Culioli, in whose territory the drop occurred, was horrified. In Cookridge’s words, he ‘sent an urgent message to Déricourt asking him to tell the French section to cancel all air operations in the area for the time being’, and added: “It is an unsolved mystery whether this message was ever sent to London.” But it is also puzzling why Culioli would have thought to contact Déricourt, who was simply an officer responsible for arranging landing-areas for Lysanders, not involved with parachuting supplies in through the use of Halifaxes, and who supported Squadron 161, not 138. Culioli would more naturally have used his courier channel to contact ARCHAMBAULD (Gilbert Norman) and PROSPER himself. After all, by the revised accounts delivered by Francis Suttill, Jr, PROSPER had been in the country since May 20, and was busy in Paris at the time.

Cookridge then stumbles over the next events. He goes on to describe how Culioli received Major Suttill on June 13. His arrival had been announced ‘by radio signals and in a “personal message” on the BBC’. Cookridge goes on to write: “Culioli expressed surprise that Suttill was dropped in the Sologne, despite his warnings.” But this does not make sense. If Suttill had parachuted in on the same night as the explosions occurred, it would have been impossible for Culioli to have forestalled PROSPER’s arrival, and presumably impracticable for him to act as reception for two different drops on the same night. Cookridge was being sold a false bill of goods by someone, and did not show enough perspicacity to detect the illogicalities. “Suttill did not offer any explanation”: indeed. Apparently, the pair of them had an opportunity to talk, only a short one, at the home of Guy Dutems, Culioli’s brother-in-law, where Suttill explained to Culioli that he had wanted to be received by him, implicitly suggesting that he had not wanted to entrust his passage to Déricourt. After dinner, Suttill was reportedly driven to Amboise (a town on the Loire, about 100 kilometres from Orléans) and caught a train to Orléans, where he changed for Paris. This might have seemed a dangerous manœuvre, what with all the Gestapo activity around. Yet the journeys apparently completed without a hitch.

Robert Marshall’s ‘All the King’s Men’

‘All The King’s Men’ by Robert Marshall

Robert Marshall’s account (published in 1988) provides further evidence that the imprecise identification of night operations covering two dates can lead to confusion. He relies largely on interviews he had with leading participants (e.g. Culioli, Harry Sporborg – Gubbins’s deputy at this time), as well as familiarity with Paul Guillaume’s La Sologne. Marshall draws attention to the unreliability of witnesses such as the Abwehr agent Richard Christmann, but one must also wonder how reliable Sporborg was, and whether he (in 1983) stubbornly supported the line that Foot had been given about Suttill’s extended presence in the UK until mid-June. Certainly, Marshall gives no indication that PROSPER was around when the Abwehr tried to set a trap for Déricourt at the Restaurant Capucines on June 9. (Marshall tells a vibrant and dramatic story about PROSPER’s meeting with Churchill, but it is unfortunately coloured by some imaginative detail about car-rides shared by Lord Selbourne and Suttill on their way to the Cabinet War Room in Whitehall. Marshall provides no source for this encounter, and, since the period in question was over the Whitsun weekend, the details are highly unlikely.)

His narrative concerning the explosions and PROSPER’s arrival differs slightly from that of Cookridge. While he claims that his story is based on the same Guillaume account that largely influences Marnham and Suttill, the Neuvy incident (although the location is not specified) is reported as taking place on June 11/12, with roughly the same outcome. Yet Marshall in 1986 also interviewed Culioli, who told him that he ‘sent a message to London’ the next day (presumably June 12), requesting they cancel all air operations for a while. By courier to ARCHAMBAUD, for further transmission? To Déricourt, as Cookridge was told? Marshall does not say. The very next night, however (presumably that of 12/13), Culioli was informed that Suttill was arriving by parachute on June 14 (June 13/14 or June 14/15?), and wanted a reception. It does not seem possible that this could have been a pre-arranged BBC message, since that would have required a negotiated activity to be confirmed though a coded meaningless sentence. “For some reason, Culioli’s message had not reached London,” wrote Marshall. But why Culioli imagined that a message could have been passed through the normal channels and transmission schedules, and then processed and acted upon in that short period of time is never examined.

PROSPER duly arrived, and the discussions at the house of Culioli’s brother-in-law are confirmed. PROSPER explained to Culioli his concerns about being received by anyone else, and expressed his disappointment about the coming invasion – not that it had been called off altogether for 1943, but that it had been delayed until the autumn. He then made arrangements for the arrival of the Canadians Pickersgill and Macalister, who were due to arrive on June 15/16, suggesting perhaps that this was fresh news that he had brought with him directly from the UK.

Stella King’s ‘Jacqueline’

Stella King’s ‘Jacqueline’

In 1989, Stella King published her biography of Yvonne Rudellat, sub-titled ‘Pioneer Heroine of the Resistance’. Rudellat became the co-leader of Culioli’s ADOLPHE circuit, as well as Culioli’s lover. Ms. King unfortunately does not provide any itemized references for her account of the events of mid-June, but she admits that she relied largely on the testimony of Pierre Culioli (as well as the assistance from the usual suspects in SOE and from the Foreign Office Advisors). Her chronology is, however, somewhat hazy. She has PROSPER, for some inexplicable reason, returning to France after his consultations at the beginning of May. When such gross errors are made, one has doubts about the organization of her material.

Yet King is very clear about the dating of the Neuvy incident, stating that it occurred on the night of June 13/14. She identifies the BBC message that heralded it; she names the captain of the Polish crew that controlled the Halifax Number Z179; she states that it arrived in the Neuvy area at 1:30 in the morning; she declares that the crew had no idea that any containers had exploded; she records that the plane returned to Tempsford at five past four ‘in the early hours of Whit Monday’. “Like onlookers at any accident, descriptions vary in small details as to what happened next,” she wrote, “although Pierre Culioli had no doubt at all.”

In fact, Culioli and Rudellat were present only as observers. Albert Le Meur was in charge, and the event was being used as a training exercise. After the work to tidy up and reclaim the undamaged containers, Culioli and Rudellat apparently bicycled back to their retreat at Nanteuil. And then the divergent accounts begin. According to Le Meur, a stormy meeting took place at the ADOLPHE headquarters ‘a day or so later’, attended by him, Culioli, Rudellat – and Suttill. Le Meur tried to convince PROSPER to suspend any more drops until matters had quietened down. But Suttill was adamant, and assured Le Meur that he would receive the order to continue – a somewhat strange construction, as the issuance of written orders would have been highly irregular and dangerous, and Suttill presumably had the authority to issue an oral one then and there. Le Meur told King that Culioli disappointed him by not participating in the argument, an assertion that is astonishing in its own right.

Yet, according to King, Culioli denied that the meeting ever occurred. She wrote: “He told me that the day after the Neuvy incident he sent, by courier Gaston Morand, a very detailed account of the events to the PROSPER chief, including the phrase ‘The Royal Air Force bestowed on us the gift of fireworks over and above the material they dropped’, and asking what action Reseau Adolphe should take.” (Such flowery, wordy messages would have been discouraged, and certainly not committed to incriminating paper.) Note that this testimony includes no inherent appeal to suspend operations: it is submissive. Culioli then (no date given) showed Le Meur PROSPER’s reply, which stressed that the explosions should not be exaggerated and that the drops should continue ‘without further anxiety’. He told King that Le Meur must have ‘with the passage of years’ fancifully converted the text of the letter into an imaginary meeting. Lastly, King has Suttill reputedly making even more strenuously his demands that preparations continue, since he was convinced that the invasion was imminent, as was the arrival of ‘at least one parachute regiment’.

At least one person is lying in this drama. Culioli apparently gave sharply differing testimonies to Marshall and King, all over a close period of time. In one account, he requests guidance; in the other he protests and wants operations suspended. According to King, he sends a written message by courier to PROSPER, who responds promptly by the same medium, and maybe follows up with a visit to reinforce the message. When speaking to Marshall, Culioli claims that he sent a message to London, and affects surprise when PROSPER parachutes in a day later. And Culioli apparently told Cookridge that he sent a message to Déricourt, of all people. “He had no doubt at all” – a ridiculous supposition concerning an obviously mendacious character.

Patrick Marnham’s ‘War in the Shadows’

‘War in the Shadows’

War in the Shadows appeared in 2020, after Francis Suttill’s publication [see below], so the first major change in the historiography is that it explicitly accepts Suttill’s account of his father’s (final) return to France as occurring on May 20. Thus Marnham spends no time exploring any possible activity on French soil by PROSPER at the beginning of June. He explains that PROSPER voiced his concerns about Déricourt’s reliability to his bosses in London, and expressed a desire to drop by parachute and be received by Culioli when he returned, even though he had damaged a leg when parachuting in in October 1942. Marnham declares that there is no evidence of PROSPER’s briefings while in London, but asserts that ‘we do know that when he returned to France it was with a new conviction in mind – that the long-awaited allied landings were imminent’. Yet that message differs in substance from how Marshall had represented PROSPER’s stance at the time.

Marnham then swiftly turns to the night of June 12/13, when, after hearing the BBC message ‘Les mousquetaires sont assis par terre’, an experienced group, including Culioli and Rudellat (JACQUELINE) gathered to receive a large parachute delivery outside the village of Neuvy. (The names of the attendees come from French departmental archives.) Then, using de Bayac’s 1969 account, Marnham reports that nine containers had been released when the explosions occurred. He includes vivid details of the damage caused, derived from statements of those present, and describes, although minimally, the increased activity by the Germans that was engendered by the commotion.

Rather bizarrely, Marnham quotes Suttill when describing that there was ‘a blinding glare as though from a phosphorous bomb’. This is doubly odd, since Suttill gives the date of the event as June 10/11, choosing to use the testimony of a Dr Paul Segelle, who was merely the nephew of one of the participants, rather than any of those who actually attended. This is in direct contradiction of Marnham’s chronology, and Suttill presents it as being heralded by the BBC message of ‘Le chien eternu dans les drapes’ (itself a misrepresentation of the signal as it is recorded in the National Archives at HS 8/444). The description, moreover, in fact comes from Guillaume’s ‘La Republique du Centre’ article, of 13/14 September 1947, Guillaume being a witness whom Suttill had elsewhere disparaged for getting the date wrong!

The emphasis thereafter shifts, with memories becoming a little vague. The character called Le Meur [see King, above] claimed that he was the prime mover behind the request to suspend operations; in any case, the members of the Sologne resistance pressed their leader, Culioli, to negotiate the pause. Le Meur said that ‘he had been present at a meeting at the “Le Cercle” hideout (a cottage in the woods near the village of Vielleins, a few kilometres north-west of Romorantin) with Pierre and “Jacqueline”, and that “Prosper” also attended’. But PROSPER refused to call a halt. This sudden and apparently incidental appearance of PROSPER is enigmatic, and not commented on by Marnham. Was he present at the reception? Apparently not. Then what brought him to Neuvy so soon after the explosions? (Marnham’s account appears to rely largely on Stella King’s ‘Jacqueline’, but ignores the fact that Culioli denied that the meeting ever happened.)

Marnham’s narrative closes by describing PROSPER as being ‘very tense’, the leader having returned from London with the conviction that the landings were imminent. If indeed he had just arrived with fresh instructions, however insincere or manipulative, he surely might have been tense. In the timeline that lies behind Marnham’s current assumptions, however, PROSPER had received his guidance over three weeks beforehand, should probably have calmed his nerves by then, and probably would have had discussions with Culioli already. Marnham concludes with the assessment: “ . . . he seems to have regarded Culioli’s sensible request as a near mutiny by the Reseau ADOLPHE; accordingly he sent Culioli a written order to continue organizing receptions.” This last datum also appears to have been derived from Stella King’s book. The written order has not survived (if it ever existed), but it is a very telling exchange.

Francis Suttill’s ‘PROSPER: Major Suttill’s French Resistance Network’

‘Prosper’ by Francis J. Suttill

Suttill’s book was first published as Shadows in the Fog in 2014. I refer exclusively to its re-appearance in 2018 under the title given above. It is driven by the firm belief that the author’s father returned to France on May 20, and stayed there until his eventual arrest on June 24 (although it is difficult to discern the exact date from Suttill’s rather tangled narrative). A critical part of the author’s argument is that PROSPER could never have met Churchill, since the latter was out of the country during the period of PROSPER’s visit, and he thus diminishes the whole betrayal aspect of the collapse of the network, ascribing it more to carelessness and to German schemes and infiltration. He does, however, point out that F Section had not been informed of the deferment of re-entry plans to France to 1944, thus highlighting the fact that the Chiefs of Staff and SOE leaders were guilty of either gross negligence or blatant duplicity.

Where Suttill differs, therefore, in his exposition is the presentation for a series of activities for PROSPER to cover the first two weeks in June, and especially after June 10, when the moon period began. These episodes must necessarily consist of meetings and receptions that evaded the notice of the other commentators, and their provenance must therefore be inspected closely. If it turns out that Suttill discovered items in the official archives that point to PROSPER’s presence in early June, one has to ask i) how SOE overlooked such pieces, and ii) why other historians were not able to view them (the Personal Files were not released until 2003).

The following events represent PROSPER’s movements and meetings, as understood by Suttill:

A) June 2: PROSPER meets Braun in Paris (source: Jean Overton Fuller in Déricourt: the Chequered Spy)

B) June 5: Meets Edward Wilkinson in Paris. Wilkinson is arrested the next day (source: Armel Guerne’s Personal File)

C) June 11/12: Out of town at reception (source: Jack Agazarian interrogation on July 5)

D) June 12: Meets Agazarian in Paris, where he informs Agazarian of above

E) June 12/13: Attends reception for Gaston Cohen (WATCHMAKER) (sources: emended fragment of October 1943 interrogation, possibly released to Foot, and subsequently to Suttill; Boxshall’s Chronology of JUGGLER circuit; Squadron 138 records)

F) June 13: Meets Culioli, and stays night at Avaray (source: Bossard family records)

G) June 14: Returns to Paris (source: Bossard)

Source A (not actually listed in Suttill’s bibliography) was not issued until 1989, and, given that Fuller had written other books on Déricourt, it was easy to overlook. Source B, Armel Guerne’s Personal File, was not released until 2003. (It incidentally also makes the dramatically revealing statement that Suttill made two return trips to the UK, another incisive supporting item for my thesis.) Likewise, Source C (and D) – the Jack Agazarian Personal File –  was not released until 2003: this is very much hearsay evidence, and PROSPER’s claim that he attended a reception cannot be verified. No Personal File for Cohen was ever released, and the fragments described above (Source E, part 1) have never been made available to the public. The original text (in French) shows that Cohen asserted that his arrival took place on June 10/11, namely before PROSPER had ‘officially’ returned to French soil, and that is echoed in a later interrogation in 1945. (I shall discuss Source E, part 3, later.) The Source for F & G clashes with other oral records in its details, but Suttill depends on this for his claim that PROSPER travelled to the Sologne because he ‘must have received’ Culioli’s post-mortem request for suspension of operations after ‘the explosions of June 10-11’.

My Letter to Suttill

At this stage, having followed up Mr Suttill’s careful observations, and checked some items with Patrick Marnham, I sent Mr Suttill (on December 30, 2022) a detailed letter, in which I challenged his version of events, and his apparent lack of methodology. (I had not read Stella King’s Jacqueline, her biography of Yvonne Rudellat, at this time, which explains why I do not cite in my message further evidence that Suttill has his dates wrong.) The text ran as follows:

Dear Mr Suttill,

I have been contemplating your account of the events of June 1943, and have come to the conclusion that I really cannot follow your line of reasoning. Your thorough researches, which constituted a stellar job in uncovering many of the activities of the PROSPER network, and in confirming your father’s movements in May, incidentally exposed the clumsy efforts of the Foreign Office to obfuscate the details of your father’s return to France. Yet you have stepped back from investigating why they bothered to do so.

I say this with utmost seriousness, as I learned while working on my doctoral thesis in Security and Intelligence Studies that a careful methodology is essential for analyzing the highly deceptive world of intelligence, espionage and subversion. At that time, and in my subsequent research activities, I developed a process for distinguishing between the Genuine (that which is evidently issued by its authorized source), the Fake (which is evidently not), the Authentic (which is an accurate account of events, irrespective of its source), and the Inauthentic (the object of which is to deceive). This broadly follows the classifications of Barzun and Graff in The Modern Researcher.

This applies both to recognized archival sources as well as to records of interviews, and to memoirs. Testimony collected may be Information (which is accurate and true), Misinformation (which may be based on ignorance, misunderstanding, hearsay, or faulty memory), or Disinformation (which is erroneous, and designed to mislead). In analyzing such testimony, one has to perform rigorous cross-checking, as well as apply the rules of chronology and geography, and try to establish a clear understanding of the subject’s role and probable motivations.

For example, in research that I have recently published on coldspur, I have shown that an officer in MI6 (probably Dick White) leaked inaccurate anecdotes (disinformation) to Chapman Pincher, reinforced by Peter Wright. Pincher subsequently published it unwarily (misinformation), following which it was picked up and accepted by more independent historians/journalists and irresponsibly presented as reliable facts (information).

I do not understand what you mean when you say that you ignore any evidence that requires ‘speculation’. On the one hand, you become involved in speculation yourself, for example when you write that your father ‘must have been reassured’ (p 126), and that he ‘must have heard from Culioli’ before his visit to him on June 13 (p 191). Yet you appear to discard any evidence that might challenge your core thesis (that your father returned to France on May 20, and stayed there until his arrest) on the grounds that any investigation would be ‘speculative’. This is despite the overwhelmingly strong assertions made by Foot, Cookridge, Marshall and others, echoing the careful propaganda of the Foreign Office, that he did fly in about June 12. My opinion is that such evidence has to be closely inspected to determine the reasons it exists: ‘speculation’ is an essential part of the process of creating hypotheses. If the claims can easily be disproved, they should be discarded. If not, new hypotheses have to be developed. Mark Seaman, in his Foreword to your book, writes of your ‘clear-headed, forensic manner’, but a truly forensic approach would not ignore any evidence that happened to be inconvenient.

I can identify several major conundrums in the accounts of these events:

  • The overridingly significant one is the failure of F Section to be informed of the cancellation of any plan to return to France until after your father’s arrest, as you point out. This is an enormous subject, and I have written about it at length on my website. (I assume that you have read my postings, but, if not, they can be seen at and in preceding reports.) The problem is that the Chiefs of Staff (or the SOE chiefs) were either negligent, or duplicitous, and in either case their behaviour was inexcusable, and needs to be called out officially.
  • The second enigma that I detect is the dating of the flight to Neuvy that resulted in explosions, where your record differs sharply from most other testimonies.
  • The third puzzle is the dating of Cohen’s (WATCHMAKER’s) arrival in France, since his two accounts differ markedly from the manner in which SOE interrogators saw it, and from the record that you outline in your book.
  • The last conundrum is the integration of these two pieces, namely the conflicting claims about your father’s return to French soil, where you are adamant that his sole return was on May 20, while several other historians indicate that he returned some time between June 12 and June 14 (admittedly in the belief that that was the return of his outgoing flight from May 14). This necessarily requires a close inspection of your father’s movements between June 10 and June 14.

I believe that an attempt to develop a chronology concerning the events covered in the last three items is essential.

The Neuvy Explosions

As I understand your timeline (confirmed by you in your recent email), you have your father receiving Cohen on June 12/13, and then responding to Culioli’s plea to stop drops after the explosions at Neuvy on June 10/11, travelling by train to Mer, near Orléans, on June 13 to meet with Culioli. Your primary evidence for this is the testimony of Dr Segelle (a nephew of one of the reception team) of September 1947, declaring that some containers exploded on an arriving flight on June 10/11. You have concluded that the operation must have been [sic] PHYSICIAN 54, since the monthly summary for June in HS 8/143 lists the Neuvy operation as having undergone such an accident. Yet that reference in the monthly summary is undated: your conclusion is ‘speculation’. You correctly point out that there are contradictions in the way that the PHYSICIAN 54 operation (and the PHYSICIAN 42/60 operation) are registered in the Squadron 138 records.

Multiple witness reports, however, counter this narrative, including your own. On page 191, you state that ‘Guillaume and others’ [who?] give the date of 13 June for the drop here [i.e. Neuvy], while your only testimony comes from the nephew of one of the reception committee. Marshall offers another date June 11/12  and then indicates that Culioli was informed on the night of 12/13 that PROSPER was arriving by parachute on June 14. Yet other sources confirm that the explosions occurred on the night of June 12/13. In ‘Inside S.O.E.’ Cookridge offers a vivid description of the events, derived from persons assembled there on that very night. Patrick Marnham has informed me that in the Musée de Resistance in Blois there is a wall-chart recording RAF parachute drops in the area between 1941 and 1943, including the legend that ‘two containers exploded at Neuvy’ on June 12. (That could, admittedly, be the night of June 11/12 or that of June 12/13. I notice that, on page 163 of your book, you record your visit to this museum, but declare that you found there ‘less evidence to support the dates that I already possessed’.) Furthermore, in ‘War in the Shadows’, Marnham names several of the twelve members of the reception committee, including Culioli and Rudellat. That testimony is based on information from the Archives départmentales de Loir-et-Cher, Blois (AD55J3).

I notice that you refer to Paul Guillaume’s book several times in your account, yet you fail to reflect his contribution properly. Guillaume cites four independent accounts three of them from resistance veterans for the date of June 12/13, including the Dr Segelle whom you mention. The title of the reference is ‘Dr Segelle’s response concerning the parachute drop of 13 June’. Dr Segelle was not actually present to witness the explosions, but those who informed him were indeed there, and appear to be unanimous about the date.

Returning to the AIR records, I find they are confusing. In your Appendix you describe PHYSICIAN 54 as completing successfully, but then identify it as the Neuvy operation, where containers exploded. You choose to cite the Monthly Summaries in HS 8/143 as your source, but the brief mention of PHYSICIAN 54 as one of the two examples where ‘Containers blew up’ looks as if it is a late addendum. Furthermore, the details indicate that PHYSICIAN 54 was a successful operation. This judgment is confirmed by AIR20/8252 (Daily Summary of Special Operations for 138 Squadron) and AIR20/8459 (138 Squadron Diary). The former tells us that PHYSICIAN 54 was a success, dropping five containers, while its companion mission ROACH 47/48 (a RF endeavour) had to jettison ten containers because of engine failure. The latter source confirms that information, with no indication of problems with the PHYSICIAN 54 operation. Even if the author of the diary at the time had not been aware of the explosions, the monthly summary informs us that nothing was amiss no explosions recorded.

It is surprising that the two operations highlighted as having containers exploding (SCIENTIST 35 & PHYSICIAN 54) are both recorded as being successful in this monthly summary. Neither is listed in Appendix C (unsuccessful operations) of HS 8/143. Moreover, neither AIR20/8459 nor AIR20/8252 lists any operation on June 12/13 (or June 13/14) that might correspond to the Neuvy incident. In both archives, the only PHYSICIAN sortie for June 12/13 is the PHYSICIAN 42/60 (WATCHMAKER) operation. The records for the sister Squadron 161 are missing substantial sections, and we have to rely largely on pilots’ reports at AIR 20/8498. You list from those PHYSICIAN 32 on June 11/12 recorded as ‘missing’, and CHESTNUT 5 on June 12/13, but the latter’s co-ordinates indicate that it performed a drop near Chartres, not at Neuvy. Likewise, AIR 20/8461, Squadron 161’s Operational Reports, does not list any other operation that can reliably traced to the Neuvy incidents. Records from both squadrons are included in the monthly summary at HS 8/143.

Thus, despite the strong evidence that the incident of the exploding containers was witnessed by several local observers, in SOE and AIR archives there is no dated confirmation of the episode, and no recognition of it, outside the vague June Summary Report. Patrick Marnham has suggested that PHYSICIAN 42 carried on after dropping WATCHMAKER, and its dropping zone could well have been Neuvy. The crew may not have reported exploding containers, and reported the operation as ‘successful’, as they would have been several miles away before the containers hit the ground. This theory, however, would confirm the dating of WATCHMAKER’s arrival in contradiction of what Cohen himself said.

The arrival of WATCHMAKER

Thus the arrival by parachute of Gaston Cohen (WATCHMAKER) is likewise beset with controversy. You record this as occurring on June 12/13, as part of the combined PHYSICIAN 42/60 operation, and indeed ‘WATCHMAKER’ has been inserted into the operational details maintained by Squadron 138. Yet you point out a bizarre phenomenon: Cohen reported that the bomb door jammed after he jumped, thus preventing the release of the PHYSICIAN 60 containers. (Elsewhere, you have written to me that the containers would have been released before the passenger jumped, so I do not know how you explain this contradiction.) The record at AIR 20/8252 states, however, that the PHYSICIAN 60 segment of the operation released only one passenger and one packet: no containers were destined for this drop, and PHYSICIAN 42 successfully dropped five containers and two packages at its intended destination. AIR 20/8459 confirms that the total operation dropped one passenger, five containers and two packages, and was judged ‘successful’. So where does Cohen’s testimony come in?

I find it extraordinary that M. R. D. Foot has very little to say about Cohen’s arrival. His commentary is limited to recording that he arrived ‘ten days before the troubles, to a PROSPER reception’. I can imagine that the authorized historian was so confused by the material shown to him by Boxshall that he steered clear of it. Cookridge, who had been told that PROSPER returned from London on June 12/13, states that Suttill was still in the UK when Cohen was parachuted in, thus showing that he (Cookridge) was unaware of Cohen’s testimony about his expansive reception committee, but thereby reinforced the accuracy of the earlier date.

For, as we know, Cohen asserted, under interrogation, that he arrived on the night of June 10/11. In the first statement, transcribed first in French from his interview of October 11, 1943, he is quite clear that he arrived on June 11, was received by PROSPER, ARCHAMBAUD and DENISE, and was taken to a safe house where he had to wait for four days before DENISE took him to Paris. This record has been emended by an SOE office to show that he arrived on June 13, and the translated version reflects this ‘correction’, not using Cohen’s original words. Here Cohen also talks about the containers that should have been dropped at the same time becoming jammed in the aeroplane. Yet there were no containers directed at this location solely Cohen’s personal package. Why would Cohen invent such a story?

Remarkably, Cohen was interrogated a second time, a year later, and you provide a reference to the file at HS 6/568. (The file, unusually, does not have a release date in the National Archives Directory.) The interrogation took place on December 8, 1944. His arrival is presented as follows:

“Informant jumped on the night of June 10th 1943 to a Reception Committee, organised by PROSPER, near VERSAILLES, and it was successful, Informant dropping about a yard from the first light.” (I notice that you cite some of these words in your account, although you do not acknowledge the details of the date given.) It goes on to report that Cohen was received by PROSPER and ARCHAMBAUD (DENISE is not mentioned), both of whom he knew personally, and was then taken to a safe house, where he stayed for four days before DENISE picked him up and took him to Paris. There is no mention of obstructed containers, or doors jamming: the operation is presented as being completely successful. Moreover, no one sees fit to correct the dates that Cohen has presented. Was that ‘correction’ no longer considered necessary, had the authorities recognized that the date Cohen gave was in fact correct, or had they simply grown careless after the course of time?

I notice that the SOE editor of Cohen’s interrogation, while changing the date of his landing, did not alter the interval between Cohen’s arrival at the safe-house and his being picked up by DENISE and taken to Paris. The safe-house was in Versailles, just outside Paris. DENISE was present at the reception. What, we have to ask, was she doing in the intervening three days?

We need to consider the possibility that the Foreign Office, and the SOE Advisor, in their efforts to maintain the fiction of PROSPER’s presence in the UK until June 12, for Foot’s benefit, tried to conceal any reference to PROSPER in operations that occurred at the beginning of the June moon period, or any activities involving him in France between May 20 and June 12. This, I believe, has enormous implications for the stories of Wilkinson and Cohen, at least.

Thus another pivotal incident in the events of mid-June is covered in confusion, with the testimony of participants clashing with the official record, while the record itself does not reflect the realities of the operation as it took place above and on French soil. And, if Cohen was not telling the truth, why was he dissimulating?

The Implications for PROSPER

Resolving these contradictions is a difficult task, but it appears that the leadership of SOE was exceedingly embarrassed by the events of June 10-14. They withheld much of the evidence: they inserted other false items into the archive. Even some of the operational records at Tempsford seem to have been purged or emended. The Foreign Office channeled some very dubious records to Foot. The Chronology supplied by Boxshall for the PROSPER circuit specifically declared that, for the period June 12-21: ‘No details as to recipients, dropping-grounds or contents of containers available’. The testimony submitted by Pierre Culioli was cut back to avoid the events before June 16, and also to ensure that no mention of PROSPER before June 12 appeared in his statement. (I point out, however, that, in Culioli’s report, he claims that, in May 1943 ‘quand Prosper est revenu de Londres’, i.e. on his return, not before his departure, PROSPER promised him that he, Culioli, would have control of his own circuit. Such minutiae were obviously correct, but would immediately have undermined the story had Foot had access to them.) The interrogation report in Guerne’s Personal File very clearly explains that Wilkinson, PROSPER and ARCHAMBAUD met with him on June 5, the day before Wilkinson’s arrest. Agazarian reports rather blandly (and ambiguously) that he saw PROSPER on the afternoon of June 12, and assumed that he had just arrived from the countryside since he had just returned from a reception. Cohen may have been encouraged to distort his experiences.

The apparent transposition of the events involving the arrival of Cohen and the incident at Neuvy is probably key to the whole deception. When the authorities came across the facts about Cohen’s arrival, they concluded that that information would be a major obstacle in their project to set your father’s sole return as occurring on June 12. So they set about changing the facts. The deferring of Cohen’s reception by PROSPER and his team gave an alibi for their presence at Versailles at a later date, and tried to draw attention away from an unlikely grouping on June 11. It avoided focusing analysis on an ‘impossible’ presence of PROSPER before his ‘official’ return to France. The bringing forward of the weird Neuvy explosions, so oddly not reflected in any detailed operational report, might have been designed to give cause for PROSPER to respond to Culioli’s call for intervention, however difficult it is to imagine the message getting to him that easily. It may simply have been a necessary corollary to changing the date of Cohen’s arrival. (Cookridge has him arriving that same night.)

As you know, I regard your account of PROSPER’s movements between June 10 and 14 as unlikely very demanding, and largely uncorroborated. I cannot discard the multiple accounts that have your father returning from England during this time, and suspect that SOE and the Foreign Office tried to muddy the waters in order to conceal what would have been a very embarrassing revelation for them. (For instance, Agazarian’s claim that PROSPER was at a reception on June 11/12 is the first official negation of the story of PROSPER’s movements as ‘revealed’ to Foot.) The crux of the issue is that the authorities had at first to withhold any evidence that PROSPER was in France before June 12, in order to maintain the fiction for Foot, but then had to create evidence that he was busy around Paris at the time of his short return after June 10. Yet their strong emphasis on a June 12 return date, as forced upon Foot, and defended for so long, proves that they were aware that your father did indeed make a return flight at that time. These two strategies clashed, the Foreign Office could not purge all the relevant archival material that was released over the years, and could not control what was published overseas.

The irony is that the Foreign Office, initially aware that PROSPER’s return occurred on June 12, and that it was ‘common knowledge’, managed to maintain that fiction for sixty years, forty of them during the period of the authorized history’s first life. They achieved that since archival evidence for PROSPER’s second flight was even more elusive than what you retrieved about his May itinerary. Amazingly, when your book appeared, there had been no discovery of the scattered evidence of your father’s presence in France in early June, and no one until now has bothered to question why the authorities would so determinedly have abetted the alternative narrative. Thus the SOE ‘historian’ has grabbed on to your story with great relief and enthusiasm.

Mark Seaman asserts that your book ‘will surely be the definitive account of Francis Suttill and the tragic story of his PROSPER circuit’. That is a foolish and premature judgment, in my opinion. The contradictions that I have highlighted here demonstrate incontrovertibly that a fuller and more accurate story remains to be told. It may sadly not be enabled by the release of any fresh archival material: after all, for sixty years, the SOE/Foreign Office promoted and supported the notion that your father returned to France on June 12 without offering any documentary evidence, so it is unlikely that any details of his second pick-up will appear. The historians among us must continue nevertheless to refine our hypotheses.

Lastly, a few miscellaneous observations:

  1. CHESTNUT 4 drop zone: you wrote that you did not list your father’s arrival here, because it ‘went to a completely different DZ’. I assume you implied that it was the BRICKLAYER Operation (part of the same flight) that technically carried the two ‘men’ involved, your father and Antelme (neither identified), while the CHESTNUT 4 segment dropped off containers elsewhere.
  2. Your claims under PHYSICIAN 42, and what Cohen wrote about the containers jamming after he jumped, are in contradiction with your earlier reply to me that ‘containers were released first to avoid a wayward container hitting an agent’.
  3. The correct text of the BBC message for Neuvy is ‘Le chien eternue sur les draps’ (from HS 8/444)
  4. Was the nephew of Dr Segelle a doctor, too? I am surprised that you rely on hm so much as a ‘witness’.
  5. The testimony from Alain Bossard is at variance with that given to Cookridge, who wrote that PROSPER dined with Culioli’s brother-in-law, Guy Dutems, and was then driven to Amboise to catch a train to Orléans. (I note that you record both Dutems brothers as having been killed by the Germans.)
  6. Guillaume (p.70) explicitly queries the reliability of Ben Bossard as a witness. He describes Bossard sarcastically as a person ‘with a fertile imagination… who gave a fictional account of the arrest of Culioli on 21 June in a letter he sent to La Republique du Centre that was published on 8 September 1947 under the heading ‘a titre documentaire’.
  7. The Bossard entries in the Index need to be corrected, as most of them refer to Ben (the father).
  8. Stalin did not attended CASABLANCA (p 273).



I did not expect to convince Mr. Suttill of my argument, but I felt that it was important to give him a chance to comment on my objections, and fresh hypotheses. When he replied, a week later, he did not engage in any debate, merely suggesting that I had not interpreted the squadron records correctly, and stuck to his guns, being unpersuaded by any of my arguments. I responded my pointing out in detail how contradictory and unreliable the surviving air records are.

The Relevant Documents

I now turn to examining some important documents that have been cited as evidence (or completely ignored!), in order to highlight the contradictions and paradoxes inherent in these early June movements.

i) Boxshall’s Chronology

M. R. D. Foot was very reliant on a document prepared for him in 1960 by Colonel Edwin Boxshall, the first ‘SOE Advisor’ in the Foreign Office, titled Chronology of SOE Operations with the Resistance in France During World War II. A copy is held at the Imperial War Museum (see ): the Catalogue indicates that the papers were filed between 2005 and 2007, i.e. not until after the revised edition of Foot’s History had been published. (An Introduction titled ‘Technical Corrections’, by Thomas L. Ensminger, is dated November 2006.) The document claims to provide a comprehensive history for Foot to work on, but, through its omissions, betrays the fact that the first two weeks of June were an uncomfortable period for SOE to accept or discuss.

The screed is broken down by ‘network’ (‘réseau’), and the evolution of the PROSPER network, initiated in October 1942 to replace the broken CARTE circuit, is explained. The chronology is somewhat sparse: Major Suttill is listed as returning to London for consultations on May 14/15, and the next entry indicates that he returned to France on May 20. A hand-written question-mark appears against this statement: presumably Foot, having learned from informal (but reliable) sources that Suttill did not return until June 12, thought that Boxshall had made an error. He passed it by. Yet the evidence (which Suttill’s son would pursue fifty years later) is clear.

Boxshall then lays out the organization of the PHYSICIANPROSPER network, with the leaders of its sub-circuits identified, including Pierre Culioli of ADOLPHE, described as covering the Indre et Loire area, out of Mer. Yet, for this critical period a large gap exists. A laconic note states that, for the period June 12-21, “No details as to recipients, dropping-grounds or containers available.” This is an obvious prevarication, since subsequently revealed archives have shown that the beginning of the June 1943 moon period was a very active – though controversial – stage of PROSPER’s story. William McKenzie’s internal history of SOE (written in 1947, but not published until 2002) runs (on pp 574-575) as follows: “Up to June 1943 the whole Suttill circuit had received 254 containers of stores, and in ten days in June it beat all records by receiving 190 more containers.” Why such coyness from Boxshall? And why did Foot, who had access to Mackenzie’s text, although he was not allowed to interview him, not challenge this evasion by the SOE Advisor?

Boxshall’s account specifically ignores the fact that the moon period actually started on June 10/11, and, in his account of the PROSPER circuit elides over the dropping-off of Cohen (WATCHMAKER – whether it occurred on June 10/11, as Cohen claimed, or a few days later, as SOE management preferred). While he describes Cohen’s arrival under his section on the JUGGLER circuit, he avoids any mention of Suttill’s return on June 12, the misadventure with the exploding containers at Neuvy, and several other operations that the AIR records have revealed. His Chronology then moves to list the parachuting in of Pickersgill and McAlister, received by Culioli, on June 15/16, and the Lysander landing on June 16/17, from which Noor Inayat Khan deplaned, and which Jack Agazarian and his wife boarded. It then picks up the story with the arrest of Culioli, Rudellat, Pickersgill and McAlister on June 21.

ii) The Interrogations of Gaston Cohen

Two interrogations of Gaston Cohen (WATCHMAKER) are known to have taken place. His arrival in mid-June is significant since he was received by a large group including PROSPER, ARCHAMBAUD (Gilbert Norman) and DENISE (Andrée Borrel) – at least the presence of the latter trio does not seem to be disputed by anybody, and it thus gives confirmation of PROSPER’s presence in the region. The date of his parachuting in is, however, more controversial.

Interrogation of Gaston Cohen (page 1)

The first interrogation of Cohen took place on October 11, 1943 – in French. The transcription (see Figure) is fascinating since Cohen confidently provides the details of his arrival and reception near Versailles. He arrived on June 10 (presumably shortly before midnight), was met by PROSPER, ARCHAMBAUD and DENISE, and then taken to a safe house where he had to stay for four days until DENISE picked him up to take him to Paris. He adds that ten containers that were supposed to be dropped at the same time jammed in the plane, and his interrogator observes that Cohen believed that they had been safely dropped the following night.

Yet the handwritten ‘corrections’ can be clearly seen on the document, emending the date of his arrival to June 13 – and, rather mysteriously, pushing back the date that Cohen gave for the arrest of PROSPER, from June 20 to June 24 (the latter being the correct date). Whether this was a mechanical process by the editor, or whether it just happened that Cohen was vague about the latter event, is not clear. One would expect him, so soon after his parachutage, to be able to recall the day of the week, and hence the date, of his arrival in France both easily and accurately.

The emendations become more formal in the English translation, since the date originally supplied by Cohen is not visible. June 13 appears to be now inscribed officially as the date of his arrival – although whether his parachuting in occurred late at night that day, or in the early morning, is not clear. And the story about the jammed containers endures, even though the records at AIR 20/8252 record that no containers were being dropped for that segment of the journey. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the operation was re-tried the following night. Suttill himself claims that the PHYSICIAN 60 operation was re-attempted on June 16/17.

The mystery is made murkier by the evidence from Cohen’s second interrogation, on December 8, 1944, available at HS 6/568, and I refer readers to my letter to Suttill for details. Cohen reiterates his narrative about arriving on June 10, and at this stage his account is not challenged. The operation was successful: Cohen landed about a yard from the first light, a quite remarkable achievement, especially considering that this was his first live parachute drop. On this occasion, Cohen also made no mention of jammed containers. Why would he continue to claim that the date was accurate? Had he not been informed of the ‘correction’ that had to be made the previous year? At the end of this report (i.e. not from Cohen’s own words), the author, very oddly, comments: “The only Reception Committee about which Informant has no information [sic], is the one to which he jumped. At this there was a minimum of twelve men, including PROSPER, ARCHAMBAUD and DENISE. Arrangements had been made for the transport of material which was supposed to be dropped with Informant, namely that it was to have been taken to the farm, near the ground, that night, and collected the following day by a lorry and taken to Paris, in fact, the material never left the plane. On that occasion he came two or three days later.” This is a very enigmatic observation, but is perhaps an elliptical re-statement of the ‘jamming’ problem, and could explain why a large reception party needed to be at hand – at least in the narrative outlined by the interrogator.

The assertion that Cohen arrived later is made in Boxshall’s Chronology under his coverage of the JUGGLER circuit, since the latter, under Jean Worms, was WATCHMAKER’s destination. Boxshall’s text runs as follows: “June 12: Parachute – 1st mission. Lieut. Gaston Armand COHEN (Justin) was dropped to act as W/T operator to this CHALONS-sur-MARNE Circuit. He landed at La MAULE, near Verseilles [sic] and was met by Major Suttill, Major Norman and Miss Borrell.” (There is, significantly, no mention of the extended reception party.) “The ten containers which were to be dropped simultaneously jammed in the bomb-bays, but were delivered the following night.” Boxshall follows up by indicating that Borrel (DENISE) took Cohen to Paris on June 16.

Of course the very selective and cautious disclosure of the first two documents is very shady. No Personal File on Cohen has been released, and yet these pieces are clearly marked as ‘Appendices’. And did Foot even see them? One claim that Foot made (in his very sketchy account of Cohen’s arrival) is that it was Cohen who told the authorities that Suttill brought with him ‘an alert signal’ for the expectant secret armies, and Foot names the source for this as the interrogation described here. Yet the fragments extant contain no such affirmation, a conundrum that again raises questions about Foot’s methods. One might postulate that he either: i) had access to other Cohen-related documents that have not seen the light of day; or ii) was told about that important signal by someone who ascribed it to the Cohen interrogation, and solemnly repeated what he was told; or iii) never actually saw the Cohen fragments, and simply guessed that the intelligence was revealed there; or iv) got his notes confused, or was told by his source that he could not reveal where he derived the insight, and thus bluffed his way through.

But why would Cohen be established as the source of that very controversial ‘Alert’ signal? If it had been official, why would it have not been recognized and confirmed by someone like Buckmaster? Yet admitting to the fact that the guerrilla armies were being prepared for imminent action would have been a disastrous admission of political irresponsibility. One thus has to conclude what an unreliable datum this message is, for the following reasons:

i) No document has been shown to confirm the event;

ii) Foot used it indiscriminately to support two conflicting theories separated by almost forty years; that PROSPER returned on May 20, and that he parachuted back in on June 12;

iii) Cohen’s surviving testimony is in any case notoriously flawed, as if words had been fed to him;

iv) It would be very unlikely that Cohen alone would be the carrier of that message, if indeed PROSPER had brought it back with him;

v) Any authorized history of SOE in France would want to minimize any suggestion that PROSPER had been charged with energizing secret armies for an imminent revolt in support of an invasion.

It therefore seems more likely that Foot was fed this allegation by a disgruntled SOE officer or employee who wanted the truth to be told, and that, when Foot’s text was submitted, the implications of this vital observation were overlooked.

On the other hand, senior SOE officers may not have known about a secret instruction from Churchill to Suttill, something that Cohen may indeed have learned when he interacted with PROSPER after his arrival, and the hidden account of his interrogation confirmed that an ‘Alert’ signal had indeed been communicated to the networks. Finally, it astonishes me that no one thought to try to interview Cohen (who changed his name to Collin, and lived until 2007) to ascertain whether he was willing to explain what really happened in 1943.

iii) The Evidence of Pierre Culioli

The third significant document is the report made by Pierre Culioli (ADOLPHE), the leader of the eponymous sub-network in the Sologne, under PROSPER. After Culioli, who had been arrested on June 21, 1943, had escaped while being transported from one prison camp in Germany to another, he came to the attention of SOE. A memorandum in his file, dated 21 April, 1945, informs F Division of SOE that Culioli has just been picked up in Frankfurt, and notes that ‘in our view Adolf [sic] Culioli is a most important witness in the PROSPER case’, and that he should therefore be brought to Paris for interrogation.

Culioli had a controversial career with SOE, one that is bedevilled by minor contradictions. Having been recruited by Raymond Flower, he came under suspicion as a traitor, to the extent that Flower requested that a poison pill be delivered to kill him, and it was Gilbert Norman who actually carried the pill with him into France. When he found out about this, Culioli and his partner Yvonne Rudellat, agent JACQUELINE, were naturally furious. Flower was recalled, and Culioli set up his network in the Sologne. He knew PROSPER well, having received him when Suttill was first parachuted in in October 1942, but doubts about Culioli’s commitment to the cause, and beliefs about his desire for power, continued to hang around in Baker Street. Francis Suttill has asserted that Culioli’s statements about the autonomy of his so-called ADOLPHE circuit were simply pretentious, but Suttill gave a positive assessment of Culioli’s contribution when he was in London in May.

My discussions earlier of Culioli’s unreliability as a witness show how impossible it is to determine an accurate account of what happened after the Neuvy incident. And yet historians and biographers continue to harvest indiscriminately from these faulty memories and deliberately distorted reconstructions. Francis Suttill, for instance, casually observes that many chronicles record a date different from the one he selected for Neuvy: he has clearly read ‘Jacqueline’, since he cites it in his narrative. The story there, however, is very specific about the timing of the launch of the operation, and the return on Whit Monday. Nevertheless, Suttill prefers to rely on the testimony of a young man who was not present indicating that the events took place on the Thursday before Pentecost. One way to interpret the advancement of the date of the Neuvy explosions a few days to June 11 is that, in the light of PROSPER’s documented return on June 12, the arrival of substantial explosives could not be attributed to any new incendiary campaign arranged by PROSPER during his absence, an attempt, perhaps, to negate the point that Cookridge made – that the Neuvy operation was the first in the ‘stepping-up’ campaign. Yet it is all very clumsy.

Thus the curious researcher might well be encouraged to think that an official report from Culioli, who, while many of his colleagues had been murdered or had died in German prisons (including his partner Rudellat in Belsen), had managed a miraculous escape, would be able to shine some much-needed light on the affair PROSPER, as the SOE chiefs hoped. Yet gross disappointment ensues. In the report that resides in his Personal File, Culioli writes of no events that occurred between a meeting with Suttill after the latter’s arrival from London in May (that second vital datum that confirms PROSPER’s first return) and the dropping-off of Pickersgill and McAlister on June 16/17. There is not even a redacted section that might have described the critical events of June 10 to June 15. Culioli must have been instructed to keep his mouth shut.

One strange insight has leaked into Suttill’s story, the account so enthusiastically adopted and promoted by Mark Seaman as ‘the last word’ on the downfall of PROSPER. On pages 191-192 of his book, Suttill writes that, at the meeting he had with Culioli on (probably) June 13, PROSPER ‘refused Culioli’s request [to suspend drops] as he had already told him that he did not want to waste time, feeling that the invasion was imminent, and he was so serious about this that he gave Culioli the order to continue with receptions in writing’. Suttill offers Culioli’s report at HS 9/379-8 as the source of this claim, the very same described here. But no such statement appears in the report: Suttill agrees with me on this, and can now not recall whence he gained this rumour. Thus we have the strange phenomenon of both Foot and Suttill echoing a story that undermines their chief argument (that PROSPER was not betrayed by British duplicity), while neither of them can offer a verifiable source for the allegation. It would have been highly irresponsible, in any case, to commit any orders in writing, as the evidence would have been incriminating, if found, and useless, if destroyed.

The Flit

Since the events of June 10-15 are clouded in almost impenetrable confusion, it is impossible to determine exactly when and how PROSPER made his express return to the United Kingdom. No flight records indicate a plausible pick-up and drop-off, whether by parachute or landing. Yet perhaps the regular rules of historical verifiability do not apply here: after all, for forty years the fact of PROSPER’s arrival on June 12 was recognized via the authorized history as being correct, when neither archival evidence, nor any witness statement, was presented. Affirming the accuracy of that event, while making a corollary assertion that he had not been out of the country since May 14, is hardly revolutionary, and coexists well with the other known details of PROSPER’s activities.

The records of Squadrons 138 and 161 are frustratingly opaque and inconsistent – and many of the vital registers for this period have not been made available, maybe lost, maybe destroyed, maybe simply withheld. If PROSPER was picked up by a Lysander, and made a return by parachute or landing, it is entirely probable that the relevant records were kept secret. Yet the much-quoted date of a June 12 return falls between some conflicting accounts of a noted arrival – that of Gaston Cohen.

Consider the following features of the notorious PHYSICIAN 60 operation that was combined with WATCHMAKER:

i) On two occasions, under interrogation, Cohen claimed that he was dropped on June 10/11.

ii) On the first of these interrogations, the transcript was emended to read June 13/14.

iii) The official Air Ministry reports indicate that WATCHMAKER completed on June 14.

iv) In his first interrogation, Cohen indicated that ten containers had become jammed, and failed to drop. (It is uncertain how he knew this: in his book, Suttill says he would have dropped before any containers; in a private email to me, he wrote that he would have dropped after them; Boxshall in his notes writes that the drops were simultaneous.)

v) Cohen also claimed that the shipments were successfully made the next night. It is not clear how he knew this. The records do not reveal a follow-up the next day/night.

vi) In his second interrogation, Cohen fails to mention the jamming episode.

vii) The Air Ministry reports do not indicate that any containers were dropped, nor do they record that the operation was a failure.

viii) The transcript of Cohen’s interrogation has never been officially released, and is listed as an Appendix to an unknown and unavailable report.

ix) Cohen’s Personal File has never been released.

x) Ernest Boxshall, the SOE Advisor, in the Chronology he provided for M. R. D. Foot, guided him to Cohen’s testimony rather than any other official source.

xi) Cohen, on his very first parachute drop, was reported to have landed a yard from his target.

xii) Cohen listed only three members of a reception squad, but by other accounts was reputedly met by a reception team of twelve, including Balachovsky. That would appear to be an unnecessarily large contingent to welcome a new wireless-operator, but would be required if a large set of containers were due to arrive at the same time.

xiii) Cohen was taken to a safe-house, where he had to stay for three or four days before Borrel was free to take him to Paris.

xiv) M. R. D. Foot studiously ignored the details of Cohen’s arrival.

Now even the most cautious investigator might question the authenticity of this assembly of contradictory factoids, and struggle to determine exactly what happened. One might conclude that Cohen had been trained to develop a story-line that bolstered the particulars of his arrival, but by adding improbable details in the cause of imagined verisimilitude, actually undermined the whole charade. The overwhelming conclusion for me out of all this is that the Foreign Office had to maintain and support a narrative that placed the undeniable presence of PROSPER at Cohen’s reception after his established arrival on June 12, that date having been precisely chronicled by the authorized historian. If the records showed that the events occurred on June 10/11, highly embarrassing questions would be asked. I thus posit a very tentative hypothesis: that Cohen arrived on June 10/11, landing by Lysander rather than being parachuted in, and that Suttill was picked up by the same airplane. It is possible that Norman and Borrel accompanied Suttill, which would explain why Borrel was not able to shepherd Cohen to Paris until she returned a day or two later.

Another scenario comes to mind: that the special flight of His Majesty King George VI was used instead. The commander of Tempsford station was Group Captain E.H. Fielden, known as ‘Mouse’. As Hugh Verity (author of We Landed by Moonlight) wrote: “He had been the Prince of Wales’ personal pilot and the Captain of the King’s Flight, and had formed 161 Squadron”. A single Hudson aircraft was maintained in operational readiness at Tempsford in the event that King George VI had to be evacuated in an emergency. Since that possibility diminished after 1941, the plane was actually deployed for other purposes – ‘vaguely unauthorized flights’, in the words of Stella King. These included the rescue of important Polish and French generals. Winston Churchill was recorded as making special requests through SIS, and, when he asked for a flight to be arranged to bring back General Georges and his party from the Massif Central in May 1942, the Group Captain himself took the controls. Fielden also piloted the Hudson on which Yvonne Rudellat flew to Gibraltar on her way to being put to shore by felucca in southern France in the summer of 1942.

Thus it would not seem a surprise if Churchill had made a similar request, when he returned from his travels abroad in early June, and learned of PROSPER’s recent visit, that he be brought over for further ‘consultations’, and that the royal Hudson was again seconded for duty. Patrick Marnham has studied the Prime Minister’s movements after he flew in from Gibraltar on June 5, based on Volume VII of Martin Gilbert’s biography of Churchill. Churchill left London for Chequers in Buckinghamshire, north-west of London, on Friday June 11, but spent part of the weekend at Chartwell, his private house in Kent, before returning to London on June 14. Chartwell would have been more convenient for RAF Tangmere in West Sussex (which was also used by the Tempsford squadrons), and thus his presence there could have coincided with PROSPER’s arrival on June 11, and with his departure the following day, the date that has been cited by so many as that of his return to France.

Francis Suttill’s Article

As I was working on this piece in early January, I happened to notice that the Journal of Intelligence and National Security had published on-line, on December 27, 2022, an article by Mr. Suttill. It was titled ‘Was the Prosper French resistance circuit betrayed by the British in 1943?’. My interest was immediately piqued. Now, I am not a subscriber to the Journal: as I have explained before, the Taylor and Francis organization makes it punitively expensive for the private historian or researcher to acquire its publications, or individual articles. Had Mr. Suttill been reading my research, perhaps, and changed his opinions? Regrettably, no. The abstract made it quite clear that he did not believe that British Intelligence had been responsible for the demise of his father’s network –  at least not via ‘betrayal’, though perhaps incompetence had been a factor. Yet the author suggested that ‘newly released information’ had consolidated his judgment of their innocence. I accordingly wrote to Mr. Suttilll, asking him for one of the free access rights that he is entitled to distribute, and saying that I was keen to read what fresh arguments he was offering.

After a couple of days I heard back from Mr. Suttill, and he indeed granted me access. But it was only via the SOE forum that I learned soon after that he had not been aware that his article had been posted on-line! I was in fact the bearer of the news. In advertising its publication to the group, he explained that the Journal had agreed to publish his article in the June 2023 issue, to coincide with the eightieth anniversary of the events, and introduced his comments by writing that his article shows ‘that not only did no one in Britain orchestrate it [the arrest of his father] but they could not have done so even if they had wished to’. That seemed to me a rather tortuous and misguided line to take.

I shall make no further comments here, except to say that Mr Suttill’s argument contains no new information, and he continues to miss the point. Patrick Marnham and I have prepared a riposte that will be sent to the Editor very soon after the day on which this report is being posted, and I shall defer publishing the letter on coldspur lest the Editor want to use it in the Journal.


This is not an open-and-shut case, and much of the evidence is circumstantial. Yet the current record of events, represented by the authorized history and a number of independent studies, is so paradoxical, implausible and contradictory that it cannot be allowed to stand as a statement of fact, no matter what the unqualified and irresponsible SOE ‘historian’ claims. I submit this text as an initiative to try to advance the debate, in the perhaps vain hope that the Foreign Office will see the hopelessness of its current pretence, and discover and release some further files (such as the Gaston Cohen collection) that will allow a more accurate story to be told. If this could occur before June 2023, it would allow, by the time of the octogennial remembrance of the events, a more honest appraisal of the activities that led so many courageous men and women to lose their lives.

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

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‘Bridgehead Revisited’: Three Months in 1943

Casablanca Conference

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

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

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



1. January: Decisions at Casablanca

2. February: Churchill’s Faux Pas

3. March: SOE Receives its Directive

4. Arms Shipments to France

5. Interim Conclusions


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

The key research questions seem to me to be:

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

* Who authorized this change of policy?

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

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

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

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

The story so far:

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

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

The Status of SOE:

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

Charles Hambro

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

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

1. January: Decisions at Casablanca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lysander and Pilots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. February: Churchill’s Faux Pas

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

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

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

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

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

            (iii) Initiate intensive invasion training.

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

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

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

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

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

Churchill & Maisky

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

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

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

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

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

Alan Brooke

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

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

On February 25, Brooke posted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lionel Hale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. March: SOE Receives its Directive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frederick Morgan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Douglas Dodds-Parker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ewen Montagu

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

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

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

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

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

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

            Within days of the March operation, there was another meeting with Boemelburg – a kind of re-appraisal, with a view to formalizing the situation. At that meeting Déricourt provided Boemelburg with a detailed description of everyone who had travelled in on the Lysanders. Boemelburg asked him if he knew anything about PROSPER, to which Déricourt replied that he had heard it had something to do with the invasion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

4: Arms Shipments to France

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

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

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

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

4) Informal statements by German army veterans; and

5) Occasional contributions in personal memoirs of participants.

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

                                                Poland             Czech              France             Total

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

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

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

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

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

Containers                               10,5000           12,500             7.875               30,875

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                  January    February  March    April     May    June

Stens                           87                    64        32        644     1006   2353

Incendiaries                 35                 74        –           1044    1877   10,790

Pistols                          24                   63        34        421       716      877   

Grenades                     36                  98        163      2508     4489     5537

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Interim Conclusions:

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

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

(New Commonplace entries are available here.)

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Dericourt’s Double Act

‘Secret War’ DVD

1. Introduction

2. Déricourt’s Enigmatic Role

3. The ‘Double-Agent’ Examined

4. Déricourt’s Possible Status?

5. The Fragmentation of MI5

6. Déricourt’s Recruitment by SOE

7. The Passage to Gibraltar

8. Déricourt’s True Status

9. The Aftermath, and Research to Follow

10. Postscripts


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

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

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

Episode 10 of ‘Secret War’

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

Déricourt’s Enigmatic Role 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Royal Victorian Patriotic School (LRC)

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

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

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

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

Hugo Bleicher

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

The ‘Double-Agent’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. David Robarge (CIA)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Déricourt’s Possible Status?

Henri Dericourt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Déricourt arrived in Britain, he could have:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fragmentation of MI5

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

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

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

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

A Division: Administration and Registry (Butler)

B Division: Espionage (Liddell; deputy White)

            B1 (Espionage)

                        B1A (Special Agents: Robertson)

B1B (Special Sources Case Officers: Hart)

B1C (Sabotage, Inventions & Technical: Rothschild)

B1D (London Reception Centre: Baxter)

B1E (Camp 020 & 020R: Stephens)

B3A (Censorship: Bird)

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

C Division: Examination of Credentials (Allen)

            C2 (Military Credentials: Stone & Johnson)

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

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

            D3 (Air Ministry, etc, : Archer)

                        D3A (Liaison with Air Ministry: Sargant)

            D4 (Security Control at Ports: Adam)

                        D4A (Travel Control & Permits: Mars)

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

            E1 (Western Europe, etc,)

                        E1A (French: Beaumont; USA: Ramsbotham)

                        E1B (Seamen: Cheney)

            E2 (Eastern Europe: Alley)

            E3 (Swiss & Swedes: Johnston)

            E4 (AWS Permits: Ryder)

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

            E6 (Italians: Roskill)

F Division: Subversive Activities (Hollis)

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

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

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

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

Déricourt’s Recruitment by SOE

SS Llanstephan Castle

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

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

Andre Dewavrin (Colonel Passy)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vera Atkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Passage to Gibraltar

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

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

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

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

Marshall responded to me as follows:

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

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

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

[* I thank ‘Marcel Treville’ and his extraordinary website at for much of this information.]

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

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

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

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

James Rusbridger

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

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

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

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

Déricourt’s True Status

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

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

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

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

The Aftermath, and Research to Follow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Further Postscript

Frank Rymills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Commonplace entries can be found here.


Filed under Espionage/Intelligence, General History, Geography, Management/Leadership, Politics, Travel

A-Rovin’ with Greensleeves

Dene Farm, Chipstead. September 24, 1976.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rossetti’s ‘Greensleeves’

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

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

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

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

‘Born 1820: Still Going Strong’

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

‘The Blue Lamp’

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

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

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


Geoffrey Marlar

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

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

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

‘Tripping Hither’ (not the Whitgift School performance)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mrs Haynes

Goes jiving in Staines,

While Olga

Dances the polga.

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

The themes from the German literature we were given as set books were too frequently beyond the ken of secluded and protected sixteen-year-olds like me. Thus Gretchen’s passion and torment in Goethe’s Urfaust were rather bewildering (‘abhorrence of a virgin’s womb’? Mr. Chester would never have discussed sex or pregnancy with us), although the role of Mephistopheles in introducing Faust to Roving was unmistakably evil. (Was Gretchen’s  “Meine Ruh’ ist hin” a ghostly echo of  “my ru-i-in”?) And Goethe’s development of the ending, where Gretchen’s Old Testament fate (“ist gerichtet” – “judged”) evolved eventually to one of New Testament salvation (“ist gerettet” – “saved”) cut no ice with me. On the other hand, the Cambridge Examiners, in their fashionable wisdom, set the Communist Bertolt Brecht’s turgid Leben des Galilei as the second set book. Definitely no cleavages on view there. The last book, Heinrich von Kleist’s Der Prinz von Homburg, was an extraordinarily modern psychological study, Shakespearean in its combination of historical drama with study of period-independent human failings. It was thus for me the most accessible of the three set texts. Kleist died in a joint suicide with his Greensleeves, the mortally ill Henriette Vogel, in 1811. No more a-rovin’ for you, Heinrich old chap. But your work lives on: ‘Born 1777 – Still Going Strong’.

Heinrich von Kleist

Thus a rather confused and hesitant candidate applied for entrance to Oxford University.


Christ Church, Oxford

It was a strange business, landing up at Christ Church, of all places, the home of the Oxford Cathedral, and alma mater of countless Prime Ministers. My acceptance was surely not because of my scholastic record or potential, and I can only assume that they must have picked me for one of three reasons:

            1) They thought I was a fairly close relative of the Duke of Northumberland, they hadn’t had many Percys enrolled in recent years, and imagined I might be a useful addition to the beagling set;

            2) They hadn’t filled their quota of infidels for the year, and needed to take some immediate affirmative action to balance the numbers;

            3) They needed a versatile rugby three-quarter, who could play fly-half, centre, or full-back, and preferably someone who could bowl a bit as well.

In fact, I may have been admitted through a misunderstanding. When I had my interview, one of the dons suddenly asked me: “Have you done any roving?”, to which I immediately piped up, replying: “Not much, but I certainly expect to take it up enthusiastically if I am accepted!”.  One or two heads nodded at this, which was quite encouraging. It was not until a few hours later that it occurred to me that the distinguished academic had perhaps been impressed with my strapping 6’ 4” physique, and that the question might have been: “Have you done any rowing?”.  I must have disappointed the Senior Common Room when I did not take my place on the boats.

Yet it was a bit of a culture shock. The cathedral was obviously a dominant presence, and there was a fairly vigorous Church Militant group from such places as Wellington and Marlborough.  I was not even like the agnostic worshipper at the Cathedral quoted in Peter Snow’s Oxford Observed: “I am conscious of communicating if not with Christ then with the whole of English history and tradition.” And I soon found that I, as an obvious non-cathedral-service attendee, was to be excluded from some of the key social events – such as the Chaplain’s sherry parties. (Such discrimination would not be allowed in 2021, where chaplains, now probably called Spiritual Care and Outreach Officers, presumably have to administer to everyone, including Buddhists, Rosicrucians and atheists, and to attend to their emotional needs when they are offended by the presence of statues of benefactors of less than stellar integrity. And I notice that Harvard University recently appointed an atheist as its Head Chaplain.) One of my few god-fearing friends did however encourage me to gatecrash one of those parties, but I was sent away with a flea in my ear – not what I considered very charitable behaviour. Yet I learned one thing: One did not go to the Chaplain’s sherry parties to meet Greensleeves. No sirree.

But the theologians! I could not believe how many canons and readers and students of Theology there were. What on earth was ‘Theology’ and how could one pursue a course of study in it? The study of ‘God’ or of ‘gods’? Even today, when I pick up a recent copy of Christ Church Matters, the House magazine, I find that most of the books by Christ Church alumni that receive reviews are on matters of religion (e.g. ‘Theologically Engaged Anthropology’, ‘The Study of Ministry’, ‘Theology and Religion: Why It [sic] Matters’; ‘Interfaith Worship and Prayer: We Must Pray Together’;  etc. What is going on? How can such superstition occupy so many serious minds for so much of their time? I find it astounding. And then there are the editorials from the Dean, written in language that has no meaning at all for persons like me.

This lesson was brought home to me recently when I read an article in Prospect, titled ‘How to Build a New Beveridge’. It was written by someone called Justin Welby, who I assumed was perhaps the offspring of Marcus Welby, M. D., until the footnote informed me that he apparently occupied a role described as ‘Archbishop of Canterbury’. Welby started his article as follows: “An apocryphal riddle for theology students goes thus: ‘Could God create a rock so heavy that God couldn’t lift it?’ The problem, of course, is that if God can’t, then he’s not omnipotent. If God can, he can’t lift it, and so he’s not omnipotent.” (The rest of the essay was a depressing parade of preachy homilies, worthy of Private Eye’s J. C. Flannel.)

Apocryphal, eh? We all know about the Apocrypha, don’t we, and how they relate to truly genuine canonical texts. So that is what theology students were doing to earn their degree, discussing nonsensical questions like that, while I was slaving away, doing really useful stuff, such as trying to make sense of the High German Consonant Shift, and exploring the use of symbols in Chekhov’s plays! It reminded me of that other no doubt apocryphal essay question on the PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) finals paper at Oxford: “Is this a question?”. One candidate was inspired enough to write simply: “If it is a question, this is an answer”, and was awarded a First on account of it. That is presumably how the Church, the Cabinet, and the Foreign Office were staffed – with people who could so ably tackle such urgent questions, and such achievements led them on to believe that they could ‘solve’ the pressing problems of their time, like ‘the problem of social welfare.’ Harrumph.

J. I. M. Stewart & ‘Michael Innes’

‘But enough of politics, what about your social life?’, I hear you cry. Well, a little roving went on. I’d like to report that, as in Philip Larkin’s imaginings with the women he encountered in books, ‘I broke them up like meringues’, but that would not be strictly true, and the National Profiterole and Meringue Authority might have had something to say about such a micro-aggression. Yet I shall necessarily have to draw a veil over such activities. More engaging for a mature audience, perhaps, might be some of my other social encounters. When I was a member of the Nondescripts, the Christ Church sporting club, I recall attending a cocktail party hosted or attended by J. I. M. Stewart, the English literature don who had rooms on my staircase in Meadows 3. Now, not all of you may know that Stewart wrote detective novels under the name of Michael Innes, so I thought I would be very clever, showing off how familiar I was with his œuvre, and I thus asked him something about the plot of Landscape with Dead Dons. He paused, looked at me rather quizzically, and observed: “Forgive me if I am mistaken, but wasn’t that work written by Robert Robinson?”. I suddenly felt very small, and wanted to hide behind the sofa.

Christ Church JCR Officers with the Senior Censor

Now it has all changed. The latest issue of Christ Church Matters, received last month, celebrates ‘Forty Years of Women at the House’, and a wonderful milestone it is, indeed. The magazine is dedicated completely to women, with a very impressive Introduction by the Senior Censor, Professor Geraldine Johnson, who informs us that ‘Unlike Catherine Dammartin, whose corpse was temporarily buried in a dung heap in 1557 for daring to live within the confines of Christ Church despite being the wife of a Regius professor, today’s women know that they belong at the House, front and centre.’ And indeed they do, as all the little darlings [Is this usage wise? It sounds very patronising and 1970s  . . . Ed.] can be seen in a wide range of glittering photographs, in their blue stockings, green sleeves, and black gowns, alongside the senior members of faculty, and all those in the Cathedral, Steward’s Office, Hall, Lodge, Library, etc. etc. who make the place hum. Completely unexpected in 1965, when I arrived and was matriculated.

Staff and Students at Christ Church, June 2021

And then came a passage to the real world: teacher training, with a term at Bognor Regis Comprehensive School (where I was sent on an emergency mission to teach Russian and German, since the previous incumbent had turned out to be far too energetic a rover with one of his pupils), and then a move away from academia to business, and IBM. After a while, I met my Greensleeves, as I have described in It all started because, during my extended stay in hospital (four months, in fact), I saw the invitation outside the hospital window: ‘Please Help Our Nurses’ Home’, and somehow failed to notice the apostrophe. That was in the summer of 1973, and Sylvia and I were married in September of 1976.


We have lived more than half our lives in the United States, and nearly half of that period in Southport, North Carolina – far longer than I have ever lived in one place. My accent still seems to be a source of fascination to many, and I am accustomed to being asked by the check-out personnel in the supermarket, even when I have explained that I have lived here for twenty years: ‘Do you like it here?’.

Bill Bryson & ‘The Road to Little Dribbling’

In The Road to Little Dribbling Bill Bryson lists some of the features of his adopted country that he likes: Boxing Day; Country pubs; Saying ‘you’re the dog’s bollocks’ as an expression of endearment or admiration; Jam roly-poly with custard; Ordnance Survey maps; I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue; Cream teas; the 20p piece; June evenings, about 8 p.m.; Smelling the sea before you see it; Villages with ridiculous names like Shellow Bowels and Nether Wallop. I could quickly add a few from my own collection of favourite UK phenomena, namely Stonehenge; the Listener crossword puzzle; Promenade Concerts; Jeeves; sheepdog trials; clerihews and limericks; the Wisden cricketers’ almanack; the Bluebell Railway. Yet if I had to come up with a list of similar Americana, it would run: Thanksgiving, the Grand Canyon  . . . and, er, that’s it.

Thus, while the USA has been an overall very positive experience for us, it does not contain many truly endearing features. And several things about the country and its habits and customs sometimes drive Sylvia and me to distraction. But, if they came to be really unbearable and unavoidable, we presumably would move elsewhere – but whither? In our seventies, an upheaval moving to some remote island, like my wife’s St. Vincent, or Maui, or Mauritius, or the Isle of Wight, does not seem very appealing It would be a hard adjustment: moreover, once you have kids who really have not lived anywhere else, and then the grandchildren arrive, that effectively seals the deal. So we live with all the oddities and frustrations of the USA, and its Bible Belt.

It is a droll irony that, while the Protestant Church in the United Kingdom is established (i.e. recognised as the official church, in law, and supported by civil authority), but the level of public unbelief is distinctly high, in the United States, there is supposed to be a constitutional separation between Church and State, while Christian fervour is an unavoidable presence in the public sphere. A few years ago, the local electricity company, Brunswick County Public Utilities, decided to have ‘In God We Trust’ inscribed on all its support vehicles. Lord knows how devolving everything to a deity would help in the reliable delivery of power to the local citizenry, and I found this an unnecessarily divisive and pointless initiative, at an unjustifiable expense. It was my Micro-Aggression of the month. (I was effectively told to clam up, and was referred to the minutes of the council meeting where the majority decision had been made.)

When we first moved to Southport, one of the first questions our neighbours asked us was: ‘What Church do you belong to?’, something that would still be considered horribly crass in the UK, I imagine, as what one’s friends believed in, or what they worshipped, was none of anyone’s business, but the interrogation seemed perfectly natural to Americans who did not even know us. I think they got the message when we held our first dinner party, and did not offer a prayer of ‘Grace’ before the meal, a ceremony that can be seen quite frequently in public restaurants, with participants holding hands around the table. In Brunswick County can be found churches of practically every conceivable Christian denomination: Pentecostal, Evangelical, Baptist, Lutheran, Quaker, Methodist, Presbyterian, Reformed, Unitarian, Mormon, Apostolic, African Methodist Episcopal, Catholic, as well as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Scientists. I have no idea what doctrinal differences separate these institutions, and have no wish to find out.

We attended the memorial service for a neighbour at the Episcopal Church in Southport a few months ago. I was astonished at how high-church it was. Swinging censers, the ritual of the eucharist, and the congregation all declaiming earnestly their belief in the Apostles’ Creed, and especially Eternal Life. When obituaries in the local paper state that the deceased (who normally has not ’died’, but ’passed’) has ‘gone to be with Jesus’, or ‘taken by the angels’, those who mourn him or her mean it quite literally. The after-life is ‘a better place’. But I can’t help but feel that if such people accepted that this life on earth is the only one they are going to have, they might value it rather more than they do. Ascribing disasters and premature or avoidable deaths to ‘God’s will’, or to His ‘Plan’, in the belief that everything will be well when we are all re-united, is a deeply depressing philosophy, in my opinion. It suggests that life is merely some dire metaphysical project akin to the Communist Experiment. And it is also a little hypocritical. When survivors of a tornado are pulled from the wreckage of their houses, their first statement is frequently: ‘The Lord saved me’, the implication being that the person down the street who did not survive was unworthy of such grace.

And yet. The charity . . . . The organisation of food-pantries when disasters like tornadoes and hurricanes strike  . . . The helping hands offered to neighbours and strangers. All very splendid and admirable, but not a little perplexing.

Someone (Meister Eckhart, C. S. Lewis, Teilhard de Chardin, Cardinal Newman?) once said that one believes in this rigmarole purely because it is utterly irrational and inexplicable, which seems to me an argument for anything, like believing in the Tooth Fairy. And that line can take you into the Paul Johnson school of theology, namely that ‘because Christianity inspired great art, it must be true’. What is astonishing to me is that if otherwise smart persons are taken in by such nonsense, are they not likely to be taken in by a lot of other absurd theories that circulate – especially on the Web? Why should the particular mythology that was instilled into them at primary school have any greater significance and durability than any other? And what happens – heaven forbid! – when politicians take some disastrous course of action to which they say they were divinely inspired? Or fundamentalist Christians (or those claiming to be so) resort to quoting the Bible to avoid having to be vaccinated against Covid-19?

Bishop John Spong

As I was putting the finishing touches to this piece I read, in the New York Times, an obituary of John Shelby Spong, a bishop in the Episcopal Church. He was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1931. His mother was a strict Calvinist ‘who refused to sing hymns because they were not the word of God’, and it was apparently such fundamentalism that prompted Spong’s subsequent rejection of Christian orthodoxy. Thus Spong called on his flock to reject ‘sacrosanct ideas like Jesus’ virgin birth’ (no questions of womb-abhorrence for Spong, then) and ‘the existence of heaven and hell’, and in 2013 he preached that several of the apostles were ‘mythological’, also claiming that the notion that Jesus’ blood had washed away the sins of Christians was ‘barbaric theology’. But why stop there? If you start dismantling the whole edifice as superstition, there will not be much left. I was not surprised to read that the Bishop of Brisbane had barred Spong from speaking in his diocese.

God granted episcopant Spong

A life that was wondrously long;

This in spite of the breach

When Spong started to preach

“What the Bible reveals is all Wrong!”

Still, not much else I can do about it all, especially if some insiders have woken up to the truth. And it is not as if we atheists get together in pressure-groups, or go on marches. No point in having meetings to discuss policy: “Still no God, then?”; “So who brought the donuts?”; “Same time next month?”.  I do occasionally venture out into the public sphere, however. Several years ago, the local paper printed a letter from a local citizen who had become angered that Walmart had replaced its ‘Happy Christmas’ welcome sign with one saying ‘Happy Holidays’. I was moved to respond, and the State Port Pilot published my letter, which ran as follows:

May I respond to Mr Livingston’s letter (‘Xmas’) with a few anecdotes?

In the country where I was born, the UK, where there remains an established church, the religious aspects of the Christmas festival had long been melded with pagan traditions. And to me, the beautiful Festival of the Nine Lessons and Carols, from King’s College, Cambridge, was as much a cultural event as a religious ceremony. Thirty years ago, there was no awkwardness about calling the period ’Christmas’, although today the members of the European Union are divided as to the degree to which they should acknowledge their Christian heritage.

When I came to the US, in 1980, I was quickly reminded how socially inept it was to send a Christmas card to friends who were Jewish, no matter how loosely religious they were. And a few years later, the new (Jewish) wife of an old friend of mine stormed out of the room when I – a non-believer  ̶  put on some ‘Christmas’ music. (And it wasn’t Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer). But how was I supposed to know? And wasn’t that a bit of an overreaction?

When I came to Southport a few years ago, I was astonished that a Christian prayer was said at a secular business meeting, and I am still surprised that your columnists refer to ‘our Lord’, as if the Pilot were a parish magazine. But it does not surprise me that Walmart should have decided that it wanted to post a message of seasonal goodwill to all its customers, whether they be Jews, Sikhs, Moslems, Buddhists – or even atheists – as well as the dominant sects of Christianity. Mr Livingston can continue to enjoy making his personal celebrations in his church.

Finally, Happy Holidays to you and all your readers!

In conclusion, this extended anecdote is really a celebration: I did not find God, but I found my Greensleeves. I look back on my life of almost seventy-five years, with many important decisions made and a good number of lucky breaks accepted, of which meeting Sylvia was the best. My thanks to my beautiful and adorable wife for supporting me for so long.

James (son), Coldspur, Sylvia, Julia (daughter), with Alyssa, Alexis and Ashley (granddaughters): St. James Marina, 2018

Greensleeves was my delight,
Greensleeves my heart of gold
Greensleeves was my heart of joy
And who but my lady Greensleeves.

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


Filed under Geography, Literature/Academia, Personal, Philosophy, Travel, Uncategorized

Who Framed Roger Hollis?

Who Framed Roger Hollis

Coming soon to a movie-theatre near you, starring

Donald Pleasance as Stewart Menzies

Tom Cruise as Kim Philby

Ronald Fraser as Roger Hollis

Bob Hoskins as George Hill

Anthony Hopkins as Guy Liddell

Ian Richardson as Dick White

Keira Knightley as Jane Archer

Beryl Reid as Milicent Bagot

Michael Caine as Peter Wright

Tom Courtenay as Arthur Martin

Vladek Sheybal as Igor Gouzenko

Christopher Plummer as Chapman Pincher

With a special guest appearance from Lotte Lenya as Luba Polik

‘It makes Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy look like Dad’s Army’ (Michel Foucault)

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


1. The Story So Far and Dramatis Personae

2. Anomalies and Misconceptions:

a) The BSC Report and Roger Hollis

b) Peter Wright and VENONA Telegrams

c) Guy Liddell and the RCMP

d) Roger Hollis and Counter-Espionage

3. Background Clarification:

a) Stephen Alley

b) George Hill

c) George Graham

4. Guy Liddell’s Moves:

 a) Petrie and Sillitoe

 b) Security Issues

 c) The Voyage to the Americas

5. Conclusions:

1. The Story So Far:

In September 1945, a Soviet GRU (military intelligence) cipher-clerk, Igor Gouzenko, defected in Ottawa, bringing with him evidence of espionage in Canadian government institutions. William Stephenson, the head of British Security Coordination, the wartime intelligence unit in the United States, immediately took a keen interest in the matter. For various reasons, the growing news about Gouzenko’s revelations arrived in London at the desk of Kim Philby of MI6, who alerted his Moscow bosses via his handler, Krotov, and passed on the information with less than urgent dispatch to his colleagues in MI5. While the initial concern of MI5 was about the imminent departure for London of Alan Nunn May, the premier spy named by Gouzenko, the Security Service was also interested in the identity behind another person labelled as ‘ELLI’. ELLI was stated to have been a spy working within the intelligence services in the UK in 1942 or 1943, and had been revealed by Gouzenko’s colleague in Moscow at the time. MI5’s Roger Hollis, responsible for the surveillance of domestic subversives such as the Communist Party of Great Britain, returned from holiday to be sent immediately to North America to co-ordinate the handling of the Nunn May case, and the political fall-out from the defection. At the time he left, he almost certainly knew nothing of ELLI, and he did not see Gouzenko before returning after a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, Guy Liddell, head of B Division, responsible for Counter-Espionage, ruminated on the possible candidates for ELLI, concluding from the meagre descriptions received thus far that he probably had been associated with SOE, the Special Operations Executive. During the period in question, SOE had had a representative in Moscow, George Hill, and it liaised with the NKVD representative in London, Colonel Chichaev. Roger Hollis returned to the Americas, and had a short interview with Gouzenko in November. Liddell then discussed possible security exposures with Archie Boyle, who had been head of Security for SOE during the war. Politicians dithered about detaining and prosecuting the suspects, not wanting to upset Stalin.

Dramatis Personae (status in November 1945, unless otherwise indicated):


Attlee                          UK Prime Minister

Dalton                         Chancellor of the Exchequer: Minister for Economic Warfare 1940-42

Bruce Lockhart          Deputy Under Secretary of State, Political Warfare Executive 1941-45

Findlater Stewart       retired: previously Chairman of Home Defence Executive

Mackenzie King         Canadian Prime Minister

Robertson                   Canadian Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs


Petrie                           Director-General (retired April 1946)

Sillitoe                         Director-General (appointed November 1945)

Harker                         Deputy Director-General (retired 1946)

Liddell                        Director of B Division

White                          Deputy-Director, B Division

Curry                           historian: previously Director of F division, then transfer to MI6

Hollis                           (Assistant) Director of F Division (Subversive Activities0

Alley                           E2 (Alien Control of Finns, Poles & Baltic States)

Rothschild                  B1C (Sabotage)

Blunt                           B1B (Diplomatic)

Wright                         joined in 1954

Orr                               Room 055, War Office

Mills                            Canadian representative: demobilized September 1945

Shillito                        F2B & F2C (Communism & Left-Wing Movements: retired August 1945)

Bagot                          F2B

Stewart                       active in 1972


Menzies                      Chief

Cowgill                       head of Section V: retired in 1944

Philby                         head of Section IX

Archer                         Section IX (returned to MI5 in 1946)

Curry                           established Section IX in 1943: moved back to MI5

Dwyer                         representative in BSC

De Mowbray              joined in 1950

SOE (Special Operations Executive):            

Nelson                         chief 1940-42

Hambro                      chief 1942-43

Gubbins                      chief 1943-46

Senter                         MI5 liaison

Boyle                           head of security

Hill                              Russian section representative in Moscow until May 1945

Graham                       aide-de-camp to Hill

Truskowski                 assistant to Hill

Seddon                        head of Russian section 1941-44

Manderstam               head of Russian section 1944-45

Uren                            officer, spy; imprisoned

JIC (Joint Intelligence Committee):

Cavendish-Bentinck   Chairman


Sudbury                      Russian cryptanalyst

RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police):

Wood                          Commissioner

Rivett-Carnac             head of intelligence (Commissioner 1959-60)

Gagnon                       deputy Commissioner

Harvison                     head of Criminal Investigation (Commissioner 1960-63)

Leopold                       deputy to Rivett-Carnac; first translator; chief of Intelligence Branch (October 1945)

Black                           second translator

McLellan                     Inspector (Commissioner 1963-67)

BSC (British Security Co-ordination):

Stephenson                 head

Dwyer                         MI6 representative: head of MI6 station (1945)

Evans                          colleague of Dwyer

FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation):

Hoover                         Director

Harvey                        counter-intelligence (moved to CIA in 1947)

Whitson                      expert in communism

Lamphere                   agent: espionage expert

OSS (Office of Strategic Services) & CIA (Central Intelligence Agency):

Angleton                     OSS counter-intelligence (chief of CIA counter-intelligence 1954)

GRU (Soviet military intelligence):

Zabotin                        Colonel, military attaché & head of station, Ottawa

Gouzenko                   cipher clerk

Kulakov                      cipher clerk

NKVD (or KGB, Soviet Security):

Ossipov                       Major-General, liaison to SOE in Moscow (Ovakimyan)

Chichaev                     [JOHN], Colonel, liaison to SOE in London (1941-45)

Krotov                         [BOB], controller of Philby (Krötenschield)

Gromov                       [VADIM], rezident in Washington since 1944 (Gorsky)

Kukin                          [IGOR], rezident in London, replaced Gorsky in 1944

Pravdin                       [SERGEY], officer in Washington (Abbiate)

Poliakova                    Lieutenant-Colonel (on loan from GRU)

Polik                            manager at the National hotel in Moscow


Worthington               Toronto Sun

Picton                          Toronto Star

Pincher                        Daily Express

2. Anomalies and Misconceptions:

My overall approach has been to step through these events in strict chronological sequence. Judging from some of the feedback I received after my first instalment, however, I sense it will be useful to comment on some of the anomalies and misconceptions that have been published, and echoed, in recent accounts of the Gouzenko affair, in order to crystallize how the events of 1945 have been consistently misrepresented. [With the goal of improving the independent coherence of this piece, I re-present some material from the previous article.]

‘How the Cold War Began’

a) The BSC Report and Roger Hollis:

One dominant story that has entered the mythology is that of Roger Hollis’s reputed interference in the investigation by creating a false trail. For example, Amy Knight, in her 2005 book How The Cold War Began (which is frequently cited as the ‘standard’ work on the subject), writes (p 237): “Gouzenko’s information about ‘Elli’ was first conveyed during his interview with MI5’s Roger Hollis (with the RCMP present), who visited Gouzenko shortly after the defection. According to the report from the British Security Coordination, written in mid-September 1945, presumably after Hollis’s visit,

            Corby [the codename for Gouzenko] states that while he was in the Central Code Section [in Moscow] in 1942 or 1943, he heard about a Soviet agent in England, allegedly a member of the British Intelligence Service. This agent, who was of Russian descent, had reported that the British had a very important agent of their own in the Soviet Union, who was apparently being run by someone in Moscow. The latter refused to disclose his agent’s identity even to his headquarters in London. When this message arrived it was received by a Lt. Col. Polakova who, in view of its importance, immediately got in touch with Stalin himself by telephone.”

Knight, rather mysteriously, here gives the source of this statement (from ‘the BSC Report’) as ‘Intelligence Department of the Red Army in Ottawa’, p 30. (On page 60, she indicates that that was actually the title of the BSC report.) The text is exactly the same as that identified by William Tyrer as coming from the Canadian National Archives, and Tyrer assumes that the message is numbered serial 2a in ELLI’s Personal File in London (as a reference to such a posting, but not the note itself, appears, in KV 2/1420, immediately after a September 15 report on the NKVD).

Yet Knight seems not to have inspected the archives in a disciplined fashion, instead relying too heavily (for example) on the account of Hollis’s activity provided by Dick White to his biographer, Tom Bower. She describes Hollis as MI5’s ‘point man’ for the Gouzenko case, and quotes Bower (The Perfect English Spy, pp 79 & 80) as follows: “MI5’s communist expert flew to Canada to meet Gouzenko on the shores of Lake Ontario”, adding: “Instead of tickling Gouzenko’s vanity and absorbing lessons about Soviet intelligence techniques, Hollis abruptly left the defector after just one hour and flew back across the Atlantic to chase Nunn May, now living in London.” As I shall show, this is pure fantasy. Knight’s ‘presumably’ reflects pure speculation.

Knight then inserts another observation, concerning an interview on October 29, conducted by the RCMP, and recorded only in handwritten notes, at which Gouzenko ‘elaborated’ on his story (p 238). He said (of ELLI) that it was ‘possible he or she is identical with the agent with a Russian background who Kulakoff [Kulakov, Gouzenko’s successor, who had recently come from Moscow] spoke of – there could be 2 agents concerned in this matter’. Knight’s account continues:

Corby handled telegrams submitted by Elli  . . . Elli could not give the name of the [British] agent in Moscow because of security reasons. Elli [was] already working as an agent when Corby took up his duties in Moscow in May 1942 and was still working when Kulakoff arrived in Canada in May 1945. Kulakov [sic] said agent with a Russian connection held a high position. Corby from decoding messages said Elli had access to exclusive info.

This is presented as an extension of Hollis’s account of his interview with Gouzenko.

The significance of these claims becomes apparent when Knight later turns to the later re-investigation of the ELLI story on page 243. She reports on the visit by Patrick Stewart of MI5 to Canada in the autumn of 1972. Armed with ‘the notes of the initial debriefing of Gouzenko’, which the RCMP had generously just handed to him, Stewart met the defector in Toronto, showing him a copy of the BSC report, as well as the notes from his interview with the RCMP shortly thereafter, ‘both of which had Gouzenko saying Elli was working in British Intelligence, MI6, not counterintelligence, MI5’. Knight then states:

“Gouzenko went into a fury and threw the papers across the room. He claimed that he had not said what was written in the BSC report, that someone had falsified his statements. As for the notes of the RCMP interview, which were in the handwriting of the translator, Mervyn Black, Gouzenko said they had been forged. He demanded, to no avail, that he be allowed to take the notes home so he could compare them with his copies of Black’s handwriting.”

Knight’s explanation for this outburst is that Gouzenko had been disappointed that the officer who interviewed him in September 1945 had granted him only a few minutes of his time, and did not seem interested in ELLI. When he later learned of that officer’s identity (Hollis), and that Hollis was suspected of being a mole, he believed that Hollis must have deliberately misrepresented his statements to conceal the fact that he was ELLI.

Knight was also basing her narrative on a 1984 compilation by John Sawatsky titled Gouzenko: The Untold Story. Chapter 20 of this book is titled The MI5 Interview, and various journalists, lawyers, broadcasters contributed to the investigation. These persons appear to confirm the following ‘facts’: an unnamed British fellow interrogated Gouzenko shortly after his defection; the meeting was brief; Gouzenko was asked very few questions, and he did not see the interrogator again; the Briton shielded his face; Gouzenko had identified a mole in British Counter-Intelligence [MI5]; Gouzenko was shown a thick report in the early 1970s by a different man from British intelligence; Gouzenko threw the report across the room as it contained ‘all lies’; Gouzenko had asserted that the British could not have a high-ranking mole in the Kremlin, ‘not when Philby was sitting as head of MI6’.

Several aspects of Knight’s account are very tangled. The story that she appears to tell all derives from her strong belief in Hollis’s meeting with Gouzenko in mid-September, and runs as follows, with my commentary in parentheses:

i) When Stewart arrived in Toronto, the RCMP showed him notes of the original debriefing of Gouzenko. (Why only then? Had MI5 never seen them before? How did they correspond to the reports sent over by Dwyer? Did they concern just a single debriefing, and in what way was it ‘original’? Knight suggested that the RCMP debriefing(s) occurred after the BSC interrogation.)

ii) Stewart showed Gouzenko ‘a copy of the BSC report and the notes from his interview with the RCMP shortly after’. (What was the ‘BSC report’? According to Knight, it was the account of the September meeting where Hollis was present. She confirms that the BSC report had been written ‘in mid-September’: yet she knew that Hollis did not fly out until September 16. Elsewhere (p 60), she describes it as having been written by Evans and Dwyer, and that it was based on interviews with Gouzenko and an analysis of his documents (C293177, September 23). Moreover, in a message from London on October 1, after his return from Canada, Hollis informed the RCMP that MI5 had made ‘an extra copy of the interim report produced by EVANS and also of the additional pages I brought back’, apparently confirming Evans’s authorship, and that he, Hollis, was only the messenger (see KV 2/1412, sn.31A). And were ‘the notes from his interview with the RCMP shortly after’ the record of the October 29 meeting, or did they correspond to the ‘additional pages’ that Hollis brought back at the end of September? She does not say.)

iii) Gouzenko introduced the name of ‘ELLI’ when he spoke to Hollis in mid-September. (Knight appears adrift over this issue on two counts. She confuses references to an as yet unnamed agent with a later example of direct usage of that name, and she presents a muddled story about when that latter event occurred. The first citation above – where ELLI is not mentioned  – is echoed on page 238, where she states that Hollis reported allegations about ELLI, ‘which is why they appeared in the BSC report’, after his ‘first’ meeting with Gouzenko, allegedly in September. She later quotes the RCMP report (above) of October 29, where Gouzenko talked about ELLI.  Elsewhere, however (on page 62), Knight states that ‘ELLI’ was first recorded in a November 1945 RCMP report. She then (page 238) refers to Hollis’s ‘second’ meeting with Gouzenko (in November), and then implies that Liddell responded at that time by looking into the ELLI matter, and sent a telegram to Ottawa about possible identification. Yet she notes that this telegram was dated September 23! It is an unpardonable mess.)

iv) Hollis spent an hour with Gouzenko (at Camp X) before flying back to London. (This flies in the face of what Gouzenko claimed about the shortness of Hollis’s interrogation, which lasted ‘three minutes’, according to John Picton’s testimony in Gouzenko; The Untold Story. Camp X was a long way from Ottawa, and Gouzenko was not moved there until late October. Hollis’s interrogation at the end of November was indeed short.)

v) The main message from these reports was that ELLI was working in British Intelligence, MI6, not Counterintelligence, MI5. (This is not only incorrect factually, but inherently useless  – a false contrast. Both MI5 and MI6 had counter-intelligence sections. In 1945, MI6’s counter-intelligence capabilities were stronger than MI5’s. Besides, Hollis’s report of November said no such thing. Interestingly, Genrikh Borovik, in The Philby Files, recorded that Gouzenko’s revelations pointed to a spy within SIS (MI6).)

vi) Gouzenko then went off the deep end, claiming that he had never said what was written in the BSC report, and that the statements were falsified. (Without knowing the exact text provided by Stewart, it is hard to inspect Gouzenko’s objections, but if the challenge was over the denial of the statement about a spy in Moscow, he was apparently wrong. The passage that Knight cites corresponds to what is available in the Canadian Archives, confirming that Gouzenko himself introduced this information. Yet I should note that, in his May 1952 testimony, Gouzenko made no reference to the existence of spies in Moscow, thus giving the denial from the Sawatsky book some merit.)

vii) Gouzenko challenged the notes of the RCMP interview ‘which were in the handwriting of the translator, Mervyn Black’, but he was not allowed to take them home to compare them with his copies of Black’s handwriting. (Black was most certainly not the translator at the time of the RCMP interrogation(s). Was this a simple mistake, with Stewart unaware of John Leopold’s role, and thus innocently misrepresenting the authorship? Or did Black’s name appear as the signatory, and had it been provided by MI5, in the belief that Black had been the translator in September, which would indicated dirty dealings?)

And what would Gouzenko have known about Philby in 1945? Of course Philby was never ‘head of MI6’, and he had a fairly junior role in MI6 in 1942-43. Gouzenko’s comment shows some retrospective imagination that failed to refute what he was claimed to have said at the end of the war. Sadly, Knight did not analyse any of these conundrums, but the distortions have reinforced some highly dubious mis-statements about the Gouzenko interrogations.

Chapman Pincher

For example, Chapman Pincher echoed Knight’s story faithfully in order to solidify his case against Hollis (p 243 of Treachery, where he reprised the account he had first laid out in Their Trade Is Teachery). Gouzenko was shown ‘a substantial typewritten report that was allegedly Hollis’s account of his original interview’, including the claim about a mole in the Kremlin, he claimed. (This assertion would again fly directly in the face of the accusation that Hollis held only a peremptory interview with Gouzenko.) Pincher continued: “Gouzenko said that the document attributed other false statements to him guaranteed to discredit him as a witness and create the impression that he was unreliable. He told Peter Worthington, then editor-in-chief of the Toronto Sun, ‘whoever wrote that report about a fake interview had to be working for the Soviets’. Worthington put his account on record in a letter to The Spectator on 2 May 1987.”

Earlier, even Nigel West (who favoured Graham Mitchell rather than Hollis as the mole known as ELLI) had got in on the act. In A Matter of Trust (1982), West had rather imaginatively written that William Stephenson had facilitated Gouzenko’s extrication to Camp X: “Here, on the outskirts of the town of Oshawa, Gouzenko was interrogated at length by Stephenson, Hollis, and the Mounties” – an assertion wrong on at least three counts. Later, without providing any sources, West described, in his 1987 book Molehunt (p 79), Patrick Stewart’s visit to Toronto, with Stewart, in the presence of three armed RCMP officers, reading Gouzenko a copy of Hollis’s original report [sic] dated September 1945. “Gouzenko denounced the report as a fabrication,” wrote West, “and insisted that the remarks attributed to him by the author were bogus and had been manufactured with the intention of discrediting him. When asked about the authenticated signatures, Gouzenko insisted that they were forgeries.” West then openly wondered whether the report represented more evidence of the duplicity of DRAT [the codeword for the mole], or simply constituted additional proof of Gouzenko’s paranoia.

Again, in Gouzenko: The Untold Story, the contributors (including Gouzenko’s widow, Svetlana) appeared to corroborate the assertion that the Stewart package was a forgery, clumsily assembled, and something of an embarrassment to the RCMP officers who attended the meeting. Svetlana Gouzenko declared that the report had been pasted together from several separate documents, with inconsistent handwriting. She and Igor had suspected that the words in Black’s handwriting, confirming that Gouzenko had made such and such a statement, were not his, and that is why they wanted to compare the document with what they had at home. She was supported in her objections by the reporter John Picton, who described how the Mounties snatched the report back from Gouzenko. All this gimcrackery was later ascribed to Hollis’s malevolence.

The arrival of Molehunt provoked a lively review by the author’s ex-employer Richard Deacon in The Spectator, and a correspondence to which the journalist Peter Worthington (as noted by Pincher, above), and others, contributed. Deacon attempted to debunk the ‘guilty Hollis’ theory on the basis that i) the allegation about  a mole in MI5 did not come up until a much later cross-examination of Gouzenko by the RCMP; ii) Norman Robertson, the Canadian permanent secretary for foreign affairs, came to London after Gouzenko’s defection, and briefed the heads of MI5 and MI6 on Gouzenko’s revelations, so Hollis’s obstructions would have been pointless; and iii) while Hollis was in Ottawa at the time of Gouzenko’s first interrogation, he spoke no Russian, and Nicholson of the RCMP (who was fluent in the language) conducted the interrogation. (The introduction of Nicholson has not apparently been endorsed by any other writer. Deacon’s ramblings did not help in any elucidation.)

This review prompted a spirited riposte by Worthington, who was convinced of Hollis’s guilt, basing his judgment on Gouzenko’s objection to the lies in the report ‘that had been made by the British intelligence officer who had interviewed and debriefed him in 1945 after he defected.’ Worthington especially drew attention to the claims made about the penetration of the Soviet system by British agents, and he reminded his Spectator readers that ‘the British security officer who came to Canada to interview Gouzenko in 1945 was Roger Hollis’. Worthington also boasted that Gouzenko had written, in 1952, ‘a special memorandum directed to British Intelligence’, which Worthington published in the Toronto Telegram 18 years later, and subsequently gave to Chapman Pincher in connection with his book Too Secret Too Long’, and which appears therein as Appendix A.

Yet, in their rush to jump on the band-wagon, all these writers seriously missed several vital points. Moreover, rather surprisingly, recent analysts, with a clearer canvas of archival material available, have failed to tidy up the mess. For example, two important articles that have been published in the intelligence press over the past few years have missed the opportunity to set matters straight. William Tyrer hinted at the confusion, but failed to come to grips with the problem in his rather convoluted coverage in ‘The Unresolved Mystery of ELLI’ (International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, 29, 1-24, 2016). David Levy, in his article ‘The Roger Hollis Case Revisited’ (International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, 32, 146-158, 2019) skated towards the paradox, but then avoided exploring it. Both writers were equivocal about Hollis’s contribution in September 1945.

Gouzenko in Ontario

The first point is that Roger Hollis did not interrogate Gouzenko in September 1945. The archive is quite clear that his September mission was to deal with the courses of action deriving from the exposure of Nunn May. Gouzenko had been secluded, for security reasons. He and his wife were moved at the beginning of October to a safe-house in Kemptville, and, after a couple of nights, to one at Otter Lake (about 100 miles from Ottawa), and, two weeks later, to Camp X, which was situated near Whitby, on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, about two hundred and fifty miles from Ottawa. No casual meeting would have been allowed, and even the MI6 members of the now resident BSC team (Dwyer and Evans) were not given an audience. Dick White’s testimony about Hollis interrogating Gouzenko ‘on the shores of Lake Ontario’ represents a dangerously naive attempt to add verisimilitude. Hollis’s first interview with Gouzenko was on November 21, and the report I cited in my March article (the one discovered by William Tyrer, dated November 23, 1945) constitutes the record of that interview, when Gouzenko was brought from Camp X to Ottawa. (The fact that that meeting took place is confirmed by a telegram from London to New York of May 23, 1946, visible at KV 2/1423-2, sn. 216A.) On the other hand, the information about an Allied agent in the Soviet Union (including the reference to Polakova/Poliakova) was provided on September 15, the day before Hollis left for Canada the first time.

(By the time he wrote Cold War Spymaster (2018), Nigel West had modified his stance. He corrected the chronology, although he wistfully reflected on his previous assertion in the following terms: ‘While there is no evidence that Hollis actually met Gouzenko in September 1945  . . .’.)

Thus the second fact ignored by the commentators is that Hollis did not introduce the notion of a British spy in Moscow. The name ‘ELLI’ was known by September 15, and the transcripts of the telegrams received by Liddell in September show very clearly that this idea was transmitted by Dwyer, based on the RCMP interviews with Gouzenko. The insight stimulated both Dwyer and Liddell to focus, separately, on possible SOE links. The October 29 evidence from Gouzenko confirmed the earlier ‘agent in Moscow’ story that he had supplied in September, but also severely muddied the waters before Hollis ever had a chance to meet him. Gouzenko was here relying on further hearsay evidence from another clerk, and thus possibly merging the details of two individuals, as well as casting doubts on the strength of the ELLI identification process. This recognition is confirmed by Liddell’s diary entry of November 5, well before Hollis’s interview with Gouzenko.  The passage cited above by Knight corresponds to the RMCP interrogations that must have occurred in September and October. All that Hollis’s report states about the agent in Moscow is to confirm the previously offered insight that the attaché in Moscow would not reveal the name of his agent.

A third distortion occurs in the authorship of the so-called ‘BSC report’. As this was compiled before Hollis arrived on the scene (as is now obvious), it was clearly written by Peter Dwyer and John-Paul Evans, the MI6 representatives attached to BSC, who flew to Ottawa as soon as the Gouzenko case broke. (Knight records this authorship.) Yet neither Dwyer nor Evans interviewed Gouzenko in person. The BSC report was based on information provided by RCMP officers. Moreover, by some vague process of ahistorical drift, it is represented by Pincher and Worthington as being written by Hollis, but Hollis did not compile any report on Gouzenko (as opposed to one on Nunn May) until he had seen the defector, in late November. What he did accomplish, as noted above, was to bring a copy of the Dwyer/Evans report with him when he returned to the UK at the end of September.  All of Knight’s analysis is based on the premise that the November 1945 interview that Hollis had with Gouzenko was his second exposure, and she thus presents earlier events (such as the RCMP interview on October 29) as elaborations on what she claims Hollis had discovered in September. Yet all information at that time came from the RCMP via Dwyer and Evans.

The fourth important matter overlooked by these writers is that Gouzenko was correct for the wrong reasons. He suspected forgery, but was let down by his faulty memory, and the wiles of MI5.It is somewhat astonishing that he could not distinguish, even twenty-seven years later, between the circumstances of his several interrogations at the safe house and at Camp X in September and October by RCMP officers (when John Leopold was the interpreter/translator), and his short interview with Hollis in November, which took place in Ottawa (by which time Mervyn Black had assumed the role). Gouzenko claimed to have been interviewed by an MI5 officer (presumably Dwyer, but certainly not Hollis!) in September, when, by all other accounts, not even Dwyer (of MI6) had direct access to him. Gouzenko failed to recall what he had told his RCMP interrogators, including the important intelligence about the British agent in Moscow, and mixed up those interviews with his encounter with Hollis. He rightly was suspicious of the document that Stewart showed him, but was in a muddle about what constituted British counter-intelligence (it could be MI5 or MI6), and allowed himself to be convinced that Hollis had concocted the whole mishmash. [Problems remain with Gouzenko’s testimony, which I shall analyze in a future report. And the possibility must not be discounted that the transcription of his earliest statements was in error, since he never signed off on it.]

In such a way do untruths accumulate. Amy Knight’s lack of chronological discipline causes her whole analytical scaffolding to collapse. Instead, the evidence all suggests a very clumsy attempt by MI5 to frame Roger Hollis, one that was abetted by Gouzenko’s erratic memory, and his strong suspicions of possible traitors around him.

b) Peter Wright and VENONA Telegrams:

Peter Wright

Strangely, Peter Wright, in Spycatcher, made no mention of the Patrick Stewart visit to Canada in 1972. In contrast (p 282), he described his own efforts to interview Gouzenko in the mid-1960s, but was told that by then ‘he was an irretrievable alcoholic.’ “I sent a request to the Canadian RCMP for permission to interview Gouzenko once more, but we were told that Gouzenko had been causing problems for the Canadian authorities through his alcoholism and badgering for money. They feared that further contact with him would exacerbate the problems, and that there was a high risk Gouzenko might seek to publicize the purpose of our interview with him.” It is not clear why the RCMP changed their minds a few years later. Chapman Pincher took pains (Treachery, p 248) to relate that whenever he spoke to Gouzenko, and at the time Stewart interviewed him, the defector was coherent and rational in all respects, and that ‘the previous conviction in MI5 that he was a hopeless drunk was an internal deception’. Pincher does not explain why the RCMP originated this slur: nor does he say why or when it became a ‘conviction’ in MI5 rather than perhaps an excuse by the RCMP for limiting visits.

On the other hand, Wright did throw fresh confusion in the works through his citation of VENONA telegrams as a factor in reinforcing the treachery of ELLI, and the claim that Hollis was the probable candidate. First, he recorded that the RCMP told him that the original notes of the debriefing had been destroyed (thus implicitly questioning the authenticity of what Stewart later presented). Yet, as Wright puzzled over the evidence in intelligence files, and pondered over the reasons why Hollis had been sent out to Canada, he focused on Hollis’s apparent attempt to have Liddell’s diaries destroyed, since those journals had speculated on the identity of ELLI. [No matter that the Diaries never betray any suspicion that Hollis was ELLI: in fact they would help the cause for Hollis’s innocence.]

Then Wright recorded a somewhat miraculous breakthrough in breaking out VENONA traffic. He introduced his story by referring to the famous VENONA message that constitutes the confirmation from the KGB about the GRU, but he misrepresented its essence. Wright strongly implied that Hollis was sent to Canada in September to interview Gouzenko, and based his text on that assertion. “We have it from VENONA, however, that the KGB was unaware of the existence of a GRU spy in MI5 when Hollis travelled to Canada and interviewed Gouzenko,” he wrote. As I showed in the previous article, this is a great distortion, one that was reinforced by Pincher. That telegram states no such thing: it was dated September 17, before Hollis arrived in Ottawa, and merely confirmed Philby’s information about GRU spies in Canada. Moreover, Philby’s report of November 18 (which is reproduced in full on pages 238 and 239 of Nigel West’s and Oleg Tsarev’s Crown Jewels, and appears in Vassiliev White Notebook p 27) deals exclusively with the Nunn May case, and its political fall-out, and makes no mention of ELLI or other spies within the intelligence services.

The breakthrough (according to Wright) came with the analysis of a week’s traffic from September 15. It began that day, ‘with a message to Krotov discussing, with no sense of panic, the precautions he should take to protect valuable argentura [sic: agentura] in the light of problems faced by the ‘neighbours’ in Canada’. Wright interpreted this to mean that the KGB had no reason to fear that any of its agents in Britain had been compromised by Gouzenko. Yet, by the end of the week, on September 22, ‘the tone of the messages is markedly different’. “The relaxed tone disappears, Krotov is given elaborate and detailed instructions on how to proceed with his agents. ‘Brush contact only’ is to be employed, and meetings are to reduced to the absolute minimum, if possible only once a month.”

Wright then asked GCHQ to conduct a search on the London to Moscow traffic – but it could not be read. The only significant message they could identify was a Moscow to London message sent on September 19-20 ‘which they could tell was a message of the highest priority because it overrode all others on the same channel’, and Wright concluded that its significance was obvious, as it had been sent the day after Philby had received the MI6 telegram containing Gouzenko’s description of ELLI in ‘five of MI5’. “Indeed,” he wrote, “when GCHQ conducted a group-count analysis of the message, they were able to conclude that it corresponded to the same length as a verbatim copy of the MI6 telegram from Canada which Philby removed from the files.”

Wright and Geoffrey Sudbury (his colleague at GCHQ then sat down made a determined attack on a high-priority message sent by Moscow in reply. It was sent at the end of the week (i.e. about September 22), and eventually they were able to break it out. According to Wright, it read: “Consent has been obtained from the Chiefs to consult with the neighbours about Stanley’s material about their affairs in Canada. Stanley’s data is correct.”

In many respects, this account looks like a farrago of nonsense. First of all, the Vassiliev Notebooks (Black, page 54) inform us that, in light of the increased local surveillance measures, a generic message for all stations (VADIM, SERGEY, BOB and IGOR) about the need for extra caution was despatched as early as September 10. It is worth citing the bulk of the message:

It is essential to carefully prepare for every meeting with agents; operatives should meet with agents no more than 2-3 times a week. Arrange work with agents in such a way that the work of the operating staff is indistinguishable from the work of other members of the Soviet colony. Select authoritative and confidential group handlers from among the local citizens and operate the agents through them. High level workers should meet with group handlers as rarely as possible and only for briefing and to go over assignments.

This message was not decrypted under VENONA.

Thus it would have been not only logistically impossible but also in contradiction of instructions for Philby to have received the message about ELLI, arrange a meeting with Krotov, have his handler send a message to Moscow, and the KGB then investigate the matter with their superiors and the GRU, and then send a message in return the next day. Moreover, we have it on record that the famed ‘confirmation’ message to Krotov (BOB) was sent on September 17, i.e. before Philby received the news about ELLI. Certainly, further warning messages were sent. A message dated September 21 (‘surveillance has been increased’: Vassiliev, Black, p 57) was directed at the USA (VADIM, in Washington) only, and identified agents operating in the USA. A similar message from Moscow to London on the same day (VENONA 34) includes the same precautionary language, and corresponds to the message identified by Wright above, but its main emphasis is on HICKS (Burgess). A further message that day (VENONA 64A) contains a specific warning about maintaining secrecy in meetings with STANLEY (Philby). Furthermore, according to the evidence, the phrase ‘five of MI5’ never appeared in any of the September reports: the indication of some association with ‘5’ in intelligence came in Hollis’s report at the end of November.

The conclusion must be that the precautionary messages had nothing to do with ‘ELLI’. In fact, Philby had requested an urgent meeting with Krotov on September 20 (using Burgess as a courier) in light of the Volkov news from Istanbul. Of course, Peter Wright was writing in 1987, long before Vassiliev got to work, and did not know then that the VENONA transcripts would eventually be published. He therefore thought he could get away with falsifying the record. He presented the confirmatory message about Philby as arriving several days later than it actually did, as if it had been provoked by an alert from Philby about ‘ELLI’ that in fact was never articulated.

c) Guy Liddell and the RCMP:

Guy Liddell

One of the dubious stories that has gained traction is Gouzenko’s claim that, when Guy Liddell visited Ottawa in 1944, this information was leaked by someone based in London. For instance, the claim can be found in the Spartacus profile of Gouzenko at The source given is Philip Knightley’s Master Spy (1988), page 130. Yet no trace of that assertion can be found on page 130 of the book – nor on any succeeding page. Nevertheless, Chapman Pincher echoed this story (Treachery, p 24), where he (correctly) pointed out that Liddell did pay a visit in 1944 to advise the RCMP on German counter-espionage. Pincher quoted Gouzenko as suggesting that this leak meant that ‘Moscow had an inside track in MI5’.

Pincher’s opinions evolved through the creation of Their Trade is Treachery, Too Secret Too Long, and Treachery, as was only natural, given the paucity of archival sources in the early days, and the proliferation of rumours. Regrettably, instead of admitting that he did not know certain things, or that the information was ambivalent, Pincher would use every snippet to try to bolster his accusations against Hollis. (I shall investigate in depth, in a later article, Pincher’s interactions with Gouzenko.) The story about Liddell is just such an example. Gouzenko’s claim can be seen in the Report he submitted to Sergeant McLellan of the RCMP, after a request from MI5, on May 6, 1952. (As I indicated earlier, the whole report appears as Appendix A in Too Secret Too Long.)

Here Gouzenko described some ‘indirect, but possible evidence’. “In 1944, (the latter part, or maybe the beginning of 1945), in the embassy, Zabotin received from Moscow a long telegram of a warning character. In it, Moscow informed that representatives of British ‘greens’ (counter-intelligence) were due to arrive in Ottawa with the purpose of working with local ‘greens’ (R.C.M.P.) to strengthen work against Soviet agents, and that such work would definitely be stepped up.” After outlining the precautionary actions that were taken, Gouzenko commented: “Now it could be that Moscow just invented these representatives who were supposed to arrive in Ottawa, in order to make Zabotin more careful. On the other hand, it might be genuine, in which case it would mean that Moscow had an inside track in the British MI5.”

That is hardly the unqualified assertion as expressed by Pincher. Yes, Guy Liddell did pay a visit to Ottawa, in July-August 1944 (not at the end of the year). He was there to discuss with Cyril Mills a possible double-cross operation against the Germans, and advise the RCMP, which was in fact a police force, not a counter-espionage organisation. There is no evidence that MI5 recognised at that time a problem of Soviet agents in Canada, and Liddell travelled alone. Of course, Anthony Blunt (NKVD, not GRU) might have been the source of the information about Liddell’s visit. For example, on July 7, 1944, he provided Moscow with a full report on the Double-Cross system, and would have been very aware of Liddell’s movements.

Roger Hollis

d) Roger Hollis and Counter-Espionage:

Much has been made of the fact that Roger Hollis was MI5’s expert in Soviet counter-intelligence. Nominally, this might have been so, but, in truth, he was far from being able to fulfil that role. In September 1945, he was head of F Division, ‘Counter-Subversion’.  F Division had been split off from B Division in April 1941 by the new Director-General Petrie, as part of his ‘new broom’ reorganization, so that Liddell’s team could focus on the Nazi threat. John Curry had been its first chief, but had moved across to a staff position under Petrie in October of that year, allowing Hollis to take his place. In May 1943, Curry moved over to MI6 to help set up the service’s Soviet counter-espionage section (Section IX).

The mission of F Division was very much on constraining and defanging domestic ‘subversive activities’. When Hollis was placed in charge of F2 (‘Communism and Left Wing Movements’), he had Clarke watching over Policy Activities of the CPGB (F2A), a vacancy for the position managing ‘Comintern Activities generally, and Communist Refugees’ (F2B), and Pilkington representing ‘Russian Intelligence’ (F2C). By April 1943, when Hollis had taken over the Division, Hugh Shillito had replaced Pilkington, and was responsible for F2B and F2C. Thus F Division was very thin on experience with the Soviet espionage threat. In his in-house history, John Curry lamented the fact that the only officers who knew anything about Soviet espionage (Liddell, Harker and Archer) had all been diverted to activities directed against the war enemy.

A major part of the problem was that the movements of communist subversives did not respect the artificial boundaries that divided the responsibilities of MI5 and MI6 into the territories of the Empire, and foreign countries, and thus MI5 was totally reliant on the co-operation of MI6 when it came to providing information about the backgrounds of dubious characters trying to enter the UK, or any imperial territory. The protective policies of Felix Cowgill caused serious rifts during World War II, especially over ISOS (Abwehr ENIGMA) decrypts that revealed German analysis of the results from double-agents, and MI5 also clashed with SOE over escaped agents being too hurriedly allowed into the country without proper vetting. The officers in charge had no direct exposure to the decade of the ‘Great Illegals’ in the 1930s, and the lessons that Walter Krivitsky had provided were too easily overlooked.

Hugh Shillito seems to have made a game attempt to overcome the inattention, and he doggedly pursued the cases of Oliver Green and Sonia, while receiving discouragement from senior officers. In these endeavours, he was determinedly backed up by Milicent Bagot, who assuredly knew the history, but they were both greatly rebuffed in their inquiries. As Curry wrote: “The only palliative to this situation [the inferiority of MI6 records] was that F.2.b was in the hands of Miss Bagot, whose expert knowledge of the whole subject enabled her to find and make available a large variety of detailed information based on the records of the past.” By the autumn of 1945, Shillito (whom Hollis had more than once, probably unjustifiably, characterised as ‘idle’ and ‘ineffective’ in complaints to Liddell, but of whom Curry thought highly), had left the service. Bagot was also fed up, and wanted a transfer.

What is more, MI5 at that time lagged severely behind MI6 in developing structures to handle the Soviet threat. MI6’s Section IX had been set up in May 1943 by Curry, and Kim Philby had engineered his takeover of it by November 1944, when Curry retired from the job. The result was that MI5 dithered. Liddell knew implicitly that the problem had to be addressed by MI5, as his diaries constantly show through the winter of 1945-46. Yet, even though he was the expert on what the Soviets were up to, it was not in his power exclusively to solve the problem. F Division, Petrie’s creation, did not report to him. Hollis, who had at least shown some imagination over the Soviet threat, and written several monitory reports in his vantage point in F Division, obviously did not want his stature diminished by reporting through Liddell.

Hollis was known as somewhat of a plodder, one who preferred the quiet life. He was not temperamentally suited for the role of counter-espionage chief. He did not have a first-rate brain, showed little intellectual curiosity, and would have been bemused by the layers of deception inherent in spycraft. He knew no Russian, and had not been exposed to the structures and techniques of the NKVD and the GRU. He was not a practised or natural interrogator. As K. D. Ewing, Joan Mahoney, and Andrew Moretta wrote, with some equivocation, in their 2020 book MI5, the Cold War and the Rule of Law: “That in 1945 Liddell chose to describe Hollis as an ‘expert’ on counter-espionage was arguably an accolade which reflects [more] the dearth of knowledge about Soviet intelligence operations against the west than upon Hollis’ qualities as a Security Service officer” (note 25, p 454).

Thus it is not surprising that Liddell himself eventually sought an audience with Gouzenko. Amy Knight completely mis-represented Hollis’s role when she described him as MI5’s ‘point-man’ on Gouzenko, and it appears that Kim Philby himself wrote a tissue of lies in his report to the KGB (Should Agents Confess?) when he described setting up meetings with Hollis and lawyers immediately the news about Nunn May came though. Hollis was on holiday at the time. (Unless, of course, Liddell was lying, and Philby’s account is more reliable  . . .)

3. Background Clarification:

a) Stephen Alley:

Stephen Alley

Readers will recall, from my March posting, how Guy Liddell’s analysis of hints provided by Gouzenko through Peter Dwyer led him to discern an SOE connection in the person of ELLI. The fact that, under Operation PICKAXE, the Special Operations Executive had developed a liaison with the NKVD in Moscow and in London suggested to him that an indication of leakages hinted at by Gouzenko might involve security lapses at both ends. There is strong evidence that Stephen Alley, because of his fluent Russian, and his role within MI5, was the officer who shepherded Colonel Chichaev, the NKVD military attaché who represented Moscow in London. Liddell considered Alley as a possible candidate for ELLI before quickly rejecting the idea as absurd.

A close inspection of the conclusions of Dwyer and Liddell is provocative. As I described in March, Dwyer came up with Ormond Uren’s name as a candidate for ELLI. But Liddell instantly dismissed that hypothesis. On November 1, 1943, however, he had recorded in his diary that Uren had ‘divulged the complete lay-out of SOE’s organisation’. Thus something in the information provided by Gouzenko must have indicated to him either a) that there were corners of SOE’s organisation that were not known to Uren, or b) that the disclosures had occurred either before his recruitment to SOE (in 1942) or after his arrest (in July 1943), or c) that the additional hints about ‘Russian descent’ excluded Uren. The third alternative seems the most likely, and may have pointed him towards Alley. In addition, Uren was known to have worked by supplying secrets to Dave Springhall, not to a Soviet handler from the Embassy.

In my previous posting, I drew attention to the astonishing way in which Alley has been excised from the historical record. He makes three brief appearance in the published extracts from Liddell’s Diaries (Volume 1, pages 66, 158 and 245), but Nigel West does not judge him important enough to be listed in his introductory ‘Personalities’. Alley does not appear in the Index of Christopher Andrew’s Defend the Realm, nor does John Curry list him there in his in-house history of the Security Service. Similarly, Nigel West overlooks him in his account of MI5. Curry does show Alley in his organisation charts, however: for June 1941, as Major Alley, sharing responsibility with Mr. Caulfield for E2, a section of Alien Control that managed Nationals of Baltic, Balkan and Central European countries, and, in 1943, maintaining a similar role in that Division.

Yet Alley had a remarkable background. He was born in Russia, and thus had a stronger claim to have been ‘of Russian descent’ than any other candidate for ELLI. As Keith Jeffery recounts, Lieutenant Alley accompanied Captain Archibald Cumming as a member of the mission sent to Petrograd on September 26, 1914. By February 1917, Alley had been promoted to captain in MI1(c), and was responsible for controlling passengers travelling from Russia to England or France, for counter-espionage and the coordination of intelligence matters with the Russian Secret Service. Claims have been made, dependent on the verification for authenticity of a letter that Alley wrote to his colleague John Scale, that he was involved in the murder of Rasputin. Others suggest that he was party to the unsuccessful attempts to save the Romanov family from their execution. In his Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence, however, Nigel West brings Alley’s colourful career down with a thud. After being evacuated in 1918, Alley ‘served in MI5 for three years and then moved to Paris, where he ran a business trading in commodities’.

[In my previous piece, I referred to Alley’s memoir, held by Glasgow University, which rather shockingly tells how Alley was dismissed from MI6 for declining to assassinate Stalin. I have succeeded in contacting the Librarian at the University, but, because of the Covid lockdown, the staff were not allowed into the archive to inspect the status of the memoir for me. A verification of this astounding item will therefore have to wait a while.]

An analysis of MI5 files at Kew, and especially Guy Liddell’s Diaries, shows that Alley was involved in several significant activities with MI5 during World War II. He was the officer who welcomed Walter Krivitsky ashore in January 1940, impressing the defector with his excellent Russian, and thereafter acted as translator for Jane Archer (Sissmore) during the interrogations. Liddell records him having a last confidential discussion with Krivitsky before he returned to the Americas. When the Poles planned to assassinate Rudolf Hess in June 1941, in the belief that such an action would avert peace talks, Alley was brought in to investigate, and produced a report for Liddell – all of which is reported in Nigel West’s Encyclopedia of Political Assassinations.

When Liddell first identified Colonel Chichaev, the NKVD officer liaising with SOE in Operation PICKAXE, in his diary entry for July 19, 1943, the name of the officer who was introduced to Chichaev by the Czech, Bartik, was later redacted, but it is highly probable that it was Alley. Chichaev’s background in Finland and Reval was mentioned, and it would need MI5’s premier (and maybe only) Russian speaker in MI5 to engage with him. It is apparent that the officer had had a lengthy interview with Chichaev in order to assess his character. Alley’s name fits in the redacted space, and Liddell wrote of this officer: “He thinks that provided the odds are not too much against him, he can handle CHICHAEV without making the slightest concession to the amour propre of the man himself or the country he represents.” The fact that Alley had a prominent role in handling Chichaev is confirmed by numerous items concerning Chichaev’s engagements that appears in his file at the National Archives. They have the rubric “No action to be taken on this report without reference to Major Alley” boldly displayed on them.

Alley is also mentioned several times in the period in which the Gouzenko affair unfolded. He had apparently been drawn in to try to help the Dutch set up a counter-intelligence department, and Alley negotiates with Liddell and Colonel Eindhoven over providing training, in order to pre-empt the American OSS from taking over. It can thus be safely concluded that Alley’s name was considered persona grata for most of the war. For some reason, a direct association with Chichaev was later considered a little too sensitive, drawing attention unwittingly to what must have been an embarrassment.

Finally, Alley was friendly with George Hill, which brings him more closely into the net of the ELLI business. Exactly what Alley’s political sympathies were at this time is impossible to gauge (yet), but the role of this vital, knowledgeable, and influential personality in the Gouzenko affair has clearly been overlooked in the accounts to date. Last month, I emailed Nigel West to ask him why he thought that Alley had been ignored in all the histories (including his own). He replied that his impression was that Alley was not well-liked, and was regarded with some suspicion, by other MI5 officers. Yet West did not answer my question directly. I would have thought that the perceived lack of trust in Alley on the part of his fellow-officers should provoke greater interest in his career and influence, not less.

b) George Hill:

George Hill

Far more has been written about Stephen Alley’s long-time fellow-agent and friend, and counterpart in the SOE Russian operation, George Hill. He wrote two published memoirs, Go Spy the Land (1932), and Dreaded Hour (1936), and an unpublished record of his WWII experiences, Reminscences of Four Years with N.K.V.D. (ca. 1967), is freely available from the Hoover Institution. As with any memoir, but especially those concerning intelligence matters, the material needs to be treated with caution. Furthermore, Peter Day has written a biography of Hill, Trotsky’s Favourite Spy (2017), which relies heavily on his subject’s memoirs, but also incorporates much archival and other material. Day informs us that, when Alley returned to Britain in 1919, he had ‘set up an unofficial lunch club for intelligence officers known as Bolo, short for the Bolshevik Liquidation Club, and George Hill had been a member alongside such as Sidney Reilly and Paul Dukes’. In Dreaded Hour, Hill describes how, in 1923, he bumped into his ‘old friend’, ‘Major Stephen Ally [sic], M.C. one time Assistant Military Attaché in Petrograd’ in London, whereupon the latter engaged him to help liquidate the Bulgarian branch of a huge British tobacco concern. Thus their anti-Bolshevik credentials had at that time been strong.

Hill’s appointment as SOE’s representative in Moscow was thus a controversial one, initially because the Foreign Office thought that his track-record in Russia would make him unacceptable to the NKVD, and on those grounds he had sceptics within SOE, too. After consulting Stafford Cripps, the ambassador in Moscow, Dalton was able to push though his nomination, and some have even stated that MI6 helped in the appointment – perhaps to weaken the unit. In January 1943, Menzies, who was a fierce critic of SOE, vented to Bruce Lockhart of the Political Warfare Executive about ‘the nomination of a hopeless adventurer like ‘Flying Corps’ Hill as their man in Moscow’, perhaps unaware that his underlings may have abetted the appointment.

More serious reservations emerged after Hill was installed, moreover. MI5 and others judged that he had become too easily manipulated by his Soviet counterparts, and feared that his character defects would lead him to be naturally exploited. He had been introduced to SOE through Lawrence Grand and D Section of MI6, and had actually shared training duties at Brickendonbury Hall and at Beaulieu with Kim Philby, who recalled Hill in his own memoir. The conflicts and disputes that endured over Hill’s time in Moscow are too complex to be covered in detail here, but can be summed up as consisting of the following: a) security exposures in the Moscow station; b) Hill’s indiscretions in getting too close to Ossipov, his NKVD counterpart, and giving him confidential information; c) Hill’s dalliance with the hotel manager, Luba Polik, who was surely under the control of the NKVD; and d) Hill’s evolving sympathies with his hosts’ politics, which drew him into a massive clash with the head of the Russian section of SOE, Len Manderstam, over the propaganda role of Soviet citizens forced to serve in the Wehrmacht.

For the purposes of the ELLI investigation, the claims about Hill running an agent in Moscow are of the most relevant. Recall the vital phrase from the BSC report: “The British had a very important agent of their own in the Soviet Union, who was apparently being run by someone in Moscow.” In his Reminiscences, George Hill describes how, in March 1942 he was accosted in his hotel by a man, Sergei Nekrassov, whom he did not recognize at first. When the man identified himself as Hill’s ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’, Hill realized who he was: ‘my best White Russian agent, 1919-1922. A Tsarist cavalry officer from a crack regiment, fearless, resourceful, who loathed the Reds, and went through their lines like a needle through a haystack.’

When Hill went to drink brandy in Nekrassov’s room, he quickly conjectured that Nekrassov had been sent as a provocation, and, overcoming the temptation to re-use Nekrassov as a source, he complained by telephone to Ossipov, who claimed to know nothing about Nekrassov. But before Ossipov arrived (at 5:30 in the morning), Hill wrote out a report on the incident, with one copy for Ossipov, and a second to the Foreign Office via the Embassy diplomatic bag. Thus, when Hill returned to the United Kingdom in the autumn of 1943, Liddell and White presumably had some knowledge of the incident. Part of Liddell’s diary entry for October 5, a long account of the discussion he had with Hill, alongside Dick White and John Senter (the MI5 liaison in SOE), accompanied by two other unnamed SOE members, runs as follows:

The Russians had sent him a man who had worked for him in 1920, and who had made suggestions about working for him again. Hill did not fall for this but immediately rang up the NKVD. The man was removed from the National Hotel where Hill stays with apologies. Three of four months later however he made another approach. Hill then became exceedingly annoyed. The man disappeared again and Hill was told that he had been severely dealt with. The whole thing was an obvious plant. It was however an interesting example of Russian distrust. Hill had never made any attempt to disguise his past activities in Russia which were of course well known to them owing to the publication of his book. He thinks he was accepted because he was regarded as a professional. The Russians have a liking for professionals and experts.

This passage is, I believe, significant in several aspects. First, it confirms what Hill wrote in his memoir, namely that he objected violently to the approach, and made his reaction known to Ossipov. (Whether that account is entirely true cannot be assessed, of course.) Second, Liddell was clearly familiar with the story of Hill’s encounter with an ‘agent’ in Moscow – although that figure was supposed to have been retired long before then – and appeared to accept Hill’s account at face value. Yet, in November 1945, Liddell was unable to associate this anecdote with the disclosure emanating from Gouzenko [see my March report]. Perhaps most startling, however, is the method by which the story could have been leaked – and possibly misinterpreted. Hill had sent a copy of his letter to the Foreign Office, and here, apparently, were two junior officers in SOE who were being regaled with the same information. Had Hill told them this story beforehand? It is not clear. Since Liddell also reported on the fact that Hill said that Chichaev ‘had received instructions from Moscow not to hold official conversations with U.35’ [‘Klop’ Ustinov, an MI5 agent: coldspur], it would seem a gross misjudgment by Liddell and White, on security grounds, to have Hill talking so freely on these matters.

In any case, it is perhaps easy to imagine how the story about Hill’s ‘agent in Moscow’ made the rounds, and became distorted in the process. If Alley was informed, he may have shared it with Chichaev, not even thinking that it was a confidential matter. Chichaev may not have understood the subtleties of the incident, but would have been bound to report such matters to his bosses in Moscow, with the inevitable result of alarm-bells ringing. Poliakova would have taken the news to the Kremlin, whereupon Ossipov would have smoothed matters over.

A question mark must remain over Hill’s honesty, as well as his judgment, however. Chapter XIV of his Reminiscences, purportedly written in 1945, starts off as follows:

“Uncle Joe”, had skilfully gained his aim. The Polish Provisional Government in London was powerless to prevent the Lublin Committee becoming the Lublin Provisional Government, and not much later the Government of Poland. Prime Minister Mikolajczyk due to pig headedness and failure to face realities and utter miscalculation of Mr. Churchill’s strength and the intention of dying President Roosevelt. Thus Poland as planned by Stalin became communist; a satellite of Moscow. General Mihailovic was out, Yugoslavia was to be governed by Marshall Tito, a satellite of Moscow. Bulgaria was communist, Comrade Vyshinsky saw to that. Czechoslovakia was still Democratic, but not for long. Truly those ‘Planners’ in London, drawn from the Foreign Office and State Department had made a mess of their task.

Yet in a report to his SOE bosses in January 1944, Hill had written the following:

All this means what I have endeavoured to point out in previous despatches that the moral leadership of the new Europe has passed to the Soviet Union in much the same manner as England had the moral leadership in the nineteenth century when Liberal movements were astir in Europe. The day has passed when this new movement should be considered in terms of ideologies. It is no longer a matter of communism versus capitalism or even socialism versus capitalism. It is rather a struggle of the peoples of Europe to free themselves of some of the vested interests of the past. These vested interests have been throttling the efforts of the people to attain that degree of political and economic security they feel will put an end to the miseries which have vitiated the lives of a whole generation. The peoples have been looking forward to the leadership of one of the great powers and in this way they have been finding it in the Soviet Union. It is up to the real democracies of the West not to lag behind but to keep in step with the progressive movements now preparing the way to a brighter future for the oppressed people of Europe. (from HS 4/338 at The National Archives)

This echoed a pitch he had given Bruce Lockhart in March 1943. It is pure Marxist propaganda, straight from the editorials of Pravda. Hill was a humbug, and a dangerous one at that. He had gone native. The efforts of ELLI pale beside this rampant example of ‘useful idiocy’. Yet, a third leg of the stool –  alongside Hill’s romantic dalliances, and his Stalinist sympathies – eclipsed any security threat that may have been posed by the obscure ELLI. And that concerned Hill’s aide-de-camp, George Graham.

c) George Graham:

Readers will recall, from my March posting, the meeting that Liddell had with Archie Boyle on November 16, 1945, where they discussed, among other concerns about the Moscow outfit, their suspicions about George Graham. When Hill travelled to Archangel, at the end of September 1941, on the minesweeper HMS Leda, the other two members of his team were on another ship of the convoy, and arrived at the same time after a difficult three-week voyage. The first member, Major Richard Truszkowski (‘Trusco’), had been foisted on Hill at the last moment, and Hill complained bitterly about him in his memoirs, as he was the son of a well-known Pole who had fought Russia ‘tooth and nail, in Tsarist days’. The Polish faction in SOE had demanded that they have a representative with the Polish forces in the USSR, and Frank Nelson and Hugh Dalton had given in. Hill thought his appointment would only arouse the NKVD’s suspicions. (Hill had himself been cleared, despite his similar background.)

About Graham, Hill said little, only that the Lieutenant was in the Intelligence Corps, and that Hill had selected him as his A.D.C.  Nevertheless, he relied upon him extensively. One of the items that the Hill party took with them to Moscow was a heavy Chubb safe in which to lock the codes and ciphers each night, but when the embassy was evacuated to Kuibyshev, soon after their arrival, because of the proximity of Hitler’s army, the safe had to be left behind. When an apartment had been found for the SOE office in Kuibyshev, Hill wrote in his diary: “We take care never to leave the flat alone; poor Graham is practically chained to it. Our files and codes are kept under lock and key when not in use. Not in a safe, deary – we ain’t got one – but in our largest suitcase, which is nailed to the floor.” [Much of Hill’s memoir derives from letters that he sent his wife.]

Yet a few months later, Graham and Hill were separated. When it was safe, after a few months, to return to Moscow, Ossipov went first, followed by Hill in early February. But Hill had to leave ‘Trusco’ and Graham behind, much to Hill’s chagrin. “I don’t like being separated from Graham, though, especially on account of coding,” he wrote. Trusco was scheduled to return to England in mid-February, so Graham would have sole responsibility for the flat. Before Hill left (by train), he had to write out orders for Graham, ‘covering every likely eventuality’. “Codes and cash we deposited with the Embassy, otherwise poor Graham would have been tied to the flat for keeps: he will do his coding at the Embassy”, he continued.

Hill’s chronology is annoyingly vague (and not much helped by Peter Day in Trotsky’s Favourite Spy), but it seems that Hill did not see Graham again until he returned to Kuibyshev in about July 1942, to renew his passport, as he had been recalled to London for discussions. Even (or especially) in wartime, strict diplomatic protocols had to be obeyed. Thus Graham had been left for several months without any kind of formal supervision. As a member of the Intelligence Corps, his credentials were presumably considered impeccable.

At some stage, concerns about SOE’s security in the Soviet Union must have been raised. Initially, this focused on physical security: SOE’s premises had been previously used by the Yugoslavs, and Soviet technicians must have placed bugs in them before Hill took over. Even Kim Philby knew about this. “A very belated security check of his conference room in Moscow revealed a fearsome number of sources of leakage”, he wrote in My Silent War, suggesting he knew about it at the time, or soon after. Yet the security problem did not stop there. And that is why the infamous Liddell diary entry for November 16, 1945, becomes so relevant. Archie Boyle, who was head of Security for SOE during the war, describes to Liddell the close relationship between Hill and Graham: “Archie says he cannot understand how a man like Hill can possibly be acceptable to the Russians unless they are getting some sort of quid pro quo, the more so since they banished his mistress to Siberia and then brought her back after a certain delay.”

Boyle also revealed something astounding. George Graham’s real name was Serge Leontieff, and he was a White Russian. Now, it would have been questionable enough for the Intelligence Corps to have recruited someone with such a history without a very careful background check, but to send him on a mission to Moscow, even under deep cover and an anglicised name, was surely irresponsible. If he truly was a White Russian (i.e. a person born in tsarist times, of probable aristocratic lineage, and against the revolution), the Soviets would be merciless, either rejecting him immediately, or accepting him in the knowledge that they would be able to suborn him by threats to surviving family members. And if he had arrived, apparently freely, from the Soviet Union at some later stage (perhaps in the early 1930s), that should have rung alarm bells about the circumstances of his escape, and the purpose of his arrival. No Soviet citizen was able to leave the country at that time without some ulterior motive on the government’s part.

Serge Leontieff’s Naturalization Certificate

A certain Serge Leontieff received his naturalization papers in London on December 20, 1933. He had been born in Peterhof, near Petrograd, on August 18, 1910, and his parents were given as Alexander Ivanovitch Leontieff and Olga Shidlovsky (formerly Leontieff), with Olga having British citizenship. Serge was single, gave his trade as Clerk (Journalist), and lived in Earl’s Court. The records suggest that his parents had been accepted to the UK some years before, but the circumstances of Olga’s second marriage are not clear. Nor is it explained how and why she alone took up British citizenship. A newspaper report (in the Winnipeg Tribune) shows that Alexander Leontieff, a former Colonel of the Imperial Guard, led the Old Moscow Balalaika Orchestra at a concert in London on May 30, 1931. Another short piece (in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram) informs us that on November 10, 1934, Alexey Leontieff, a former colonel in the Czarist Army, and manager of a local machine supply office, faced a firing-squad in Novosibirsk, for failing to provide proper machinery to a nearby collective farm. Were Alexander and Alexey brothers? And did ‘Serge’ want to try to determine what happened to his uncle? Pure conjecture at this time. Yet Graham’s past would turn out to be more complicated.

4. Liddell’s Moves:

In this context of mismanagement and deception Guy Liddell faced the combined challenge of the ELLI threat, and the disturbing news about SOE security lapses in Moscow, as well as concerns about his own professional status in MI5. (For a more detailed analysis of Liddell’s career, and the events of this time, I recommend to readers that they turn to ).

a) Petrie and Sillitoe:

David Petrie

Guy Liddell had a difficult time with his boss, David Petrie, during this period. Liddell admitted that he lost his temper with Petrie back in February, and threatened to resign, over what seemed to be a relatively minor matter concerning the Channel Islands, when Petrie interfered after forgetting what Liddell had briefed him on beforehand. When Petrie planned his retirement (his sixty-fifth birthday fell on September 9, 1945), and considered who should replace him, Liddell was not his recommendation. Jasper Harker, Petrie’s nominal deputy, was not yet sixty, but was not a candidate, and retired in 1946. Various accounts have been put forward as to why Liddell was overlooked at this time, but the influence of the Attlee government, and MI5’s reputation for being anti-socialist, must have contributed to the decision to bring in an outsider. Findlater Stewart, so busy in trying to define the future of the intelligence services, had wanted Petrie to stay on for a couple of years ‘to put MI5 on a good peace-time footing’ (as Howard Caccia told Liddell), but he was overruled.

Petrie’s behaviour was decidedly odd. John Curry gave hints of his enormous stress and disappointment at the end of the war, hinting at ‘tragedy’, as if Petrie would have been glad to get out of the hothouse. Yet he took an unconscionably long time in leaving, and botched the handover. Liddell found him very listless over the Gouzenko case: on October 18, he recorded a frustrating meeting he had with Hollis and Petrie after Hollis’s return from Canada, when the two officers were seeking some high-level directive on signals security. Petrie did not want to speak to the Prime Minister (Attlee) himself, and merely suggested that Liddell and Hollis talk the matter over with Menzies, and have him make the approach to Downing Street. Overall, it was a poor performance by Petrie: he neglected to solve the problem of Soviet counter-intelligence himself, he failed to give Liddell the authority to do so, and he protected his own broken structures, all while knowing that his successor would be bewildered by the challenge.

Percy Sillitoe

Moreover, Petrie did not have the guts to inform Liddell himself that the next Director-General would be a policeman, Percy Sillitoe, the Chief Constable of Kent. Liddell heard the rumour on December 10, when Desmond Orr, a member of Petrie’s staff, and the liaison with the War Office told Liddell that he had learned ‘on good authority’ that a policeman in the UK had been appointed. The story was relayed to Liddell more strongly on December 17, so Liddell went to Petrie’s office, where the news was confirmed. Petrie, rather uncomfortably, explained that the choice had been between Liddell and Sillitoe, but that (as Liddell recorded Petrie’s words) ‘the Committee possibly having thought that it might be better that I should have my hands free to deal with the Intelligence side of things’. This was a weaselly and sophistical excuse – what else was MI5, if not ‘Intelligence’? And Petrie hypocritically did not divulge to Liddell the recommendations he had made in a report submitted in 1943, which specifically called for an external career police officer to take over. Liddell had been invited to appear before the Whitehall interviewing committee, but his diary entry for the interview, on November 14, does not reflect a convincing and authoritative display. The committee had seen several other impressive candidates (e.g. Strong, Eisenhower’s intelligence chief,  and Penney, a senior military intelligence officer), and was perhaps going through the motions with Liddell. As confirmation of his shiftiness, Petrie did not want to make any formal announcement: he wanted the news to ‘leak out’.

Liddell was naturally very disappointed, and listed his reasons why choosing an outsider policeman was a bad idea, for practical considerations, and especially for morale. But then Petrie told him that he was going to stay on until April 1946, which left Liddell in a very invidious position. Petrie would be filling ‘Shillito’ (as Liddell’s secretary mis-spelled the newcomer’s name) with all the wrong ideas (such as separating Russian espionage from F Division, and inserting it in B), while Liddell and his team would have to perform the grunt-work of implementing new organisation and policies. Liddell eventually met Sillitoe – but not until February 8, his judgment being that he seemed ‘a pleasant person’. That had more the ring of Barbara Pym describing a new curate despatched to the parish by Lambeth Palace than a senior officer heralding a steely new director-general ready to take on the Gremlin from the Kremlin. MI5 needed more than leadership by a nice chap.

Yet one more clash with Petrie occurred. Liddell was keen to pay a visit to the United States – ostensibly to reinforce good relations with the FBI, but also for personal reasons. Rather than simply declare his intentions, he sought permission, and raised the matter with Petrie on February 4. Budgets must have been tight, and Petrie was not enthusiastic. Hollis had recently journeyed there, and Lord Rothschild also had a visit coming up. Petrie wanted to have Liddell around in March, when Sillitoe would be visiting regularly, and suggested he go in June instead. For reasons that will become apparent, that did not suit Liddell, and a compromise was suggested, whereby Liddell would pay half his passage if he insisted on leaving sooner. The next day, Liddell accepted those terms, but felt insulted by the way he had been treated. “I feel rather like a schoolboy who has been accused of wangling a day’s holiday on the excuse that he is going to his aunt’s funeral.” There was, however, a grain of truth behind that implicit grievance.

b) Security Issues:

In the previous piece, I left Liddell at the end of 1945 attempting to derive information from Stephen Alley, and pursuing military records in the quest for learning more about George Hill’s set-up in Russia. The follow-up with Alley is inconclusive: no entry in his diary refers to any explanation from Alley as to what the ‘ELLI’ reference might mean, but Alley still crops up, with regularity, and without any apparent suspicion expressed by Liddell. The visits by the Dutch counter-intelligence officers are mentioned. Alley wrote what must have been a controversial report on Polish organisations, destined for Cavendish-Bentinck at the JIC, and Cavendish-Bentinck has been told that he will receive ‘an expurgated edition’. Alley was also involved in checking out the activities of Poles recruited at sensitive government establishments. Part of Liddell’s entry for February 12 reads: “Alley has got a case of a Pole employed by RAE Farnborough. I understand that there are quite a number there always getting in touch with the pro-Russian group of Poles in this country. This may or may not be significant, but in any case there are over 80 British CP members in Farnborough through whom there is doubtless a complete leakage of information to the Russians.” A diary entry for February 21 shows that Alley had been tracking possibly illicit Polish use of wireless transmissions.

Thus it appears that Alley was a competent and well-respected member of the senior counter-intelligence staff, and one should perhaps conclude that Liddell had by then received a satisfactory explanation from the officer to the effect that the ELLI revelations had all been an unfortunate misunderstanding. If Alley had suggested otherwise to Liddell, but convinced Liddell that he himself was not ELLI, one might expect Liddell to have picked up the quest urgently elsewhere, and in his diary set to rest the suspicions over Alley.  Yet he does neither (unless the relevant comments have been redacted).  Moreover, questions he raises about ELLI’s identity later in the year, and, in 1951, when Kim Philby’s name is introduced as a possible ELLI candidate, suggest that Liddell was either very confused, very forgetful, or very negligent. As I shall explain in a future piece, he also does not appear to have shared his conclusions with Roger Hollis.

Moreover, the trail on military records, and the reliability of the Moscow staff, also goes completely cold. It is difficult to imagine that this is because interest in the case dissolved: it is much more likely that the findings were too embarrassing for Liddell to report. If Liddell had delved into the records (as I have done in recent weeks), he might have discovered some disturbing facts. Readers will recall that George Graham (born as Serge Leontieff) declared on his naturalization papers that his parents were Colonel Alexander Leontieff (b. 1887, d. in Hendon, 1957) and Olga Shidlovsky (b. 1892, d. in Tunbridge Wells, 1975). When he married Edith Manley Axten (1906-1980) in Amersham in April 1941, however, he gave his parents as Philippe Leontieff and Anna Grigorieva.  It must be the same Serge Leontieff, since the birthdate is the same (August 18, 1910), and his address from the 1939 census (31 Longridge Road, Earl’s Court) is the same as that appearing on the naturalization record. Serge’s trade/profession is given as Air Raid Precaution Warden.

Before Graham’s final return from Russia, he and Edith had a son, Christopher J., who was born in March 1945 in Amersham. Thus Serge must have been in the UK in June 1944: indeed, the archives of the Russian section of SOE show that Graham (D/P 103) arrived in London on leave on May 4. Graham (recently promoted to Major) was with Hill at the latter’s farewell dinner in Moscow in May 1945, and had apparently returned from a visit to London with him in March. The father could therefore have been present at the birth. The son is listed as Christopher J. Graham, thus confirming that Leontieff changed his name to Graham at some stage between his wedding and his departure for Archangel. Christopher died in Wycombe in December 1949. Moreover, at her death in 1980, in Horsham, Sussex, Edith’s name is given as Edith Graham. I cannot yet determine the date or location of Serge’s death, since a few candidates with the 1910 birth-year appear, and such a discovery will require further information about Graham (such as a second initial, perhaps, and an inspection of the death certificate).

It would appear that two examples of fraud are at work here. Serge misrepresented his parentage at his marriage ceremony (for all I know, those two people never existed). Was it perhaps a union of convenience, to help establish his bona fides? And George Hill certainly misled his bosses when selecting Serge as his ADC, unless other forces decided to pick him and give him a new identity. Records show that this ‘George Graham’ was never in the Intelligence Corps. If Archie Boyle was really ignorant of it all until 1945, might Hill have been blackmailed by the Soviets into bringing Serge in, and was the very odd suggestion, coming from Novosibirsk, of the imminent execution of Alexey Leontieff in 1934 a warning? At a time when millions of Soviet citizens were being killed for utterly specious reasons, it seems very odd for a very specific press release like this to be made available to the West.

Did Boyle and Liddell interrogate George Graham? That would have been the obvious response, if they could track him down. Yet, even if they had done so, and the outcome was as disastrous as the evidence suggests it could have been, Boyle and Liddell would not have been able to do much more than try to wrap a discreet veil over the whole business, maybe concluding that the quid pro quo that Boyle referred to back in November 1945 had some substance to it. And George Hill would have become persona non grata. The possibility of a furtive mole called ELLI still being active in British intelligence would have been thrown into the shade had George Hill actually been working for the Soviets. That is what Len Manderstam believed. In From the Red Army to SOE he wrote: “I was sure George Hill was a triple agent. There was, in my opinion, no other explanation for his conduct and for subsequent events than that he was feeding information to the British, the Russians and the Germans. Even when he was liaising with the NVD on an official basis, I believe Hill supplied to them a great deal of important information and received little in return. He had been promoted to the control of SOE’s Mission in Moscow through his pre-war connections with the SIS and helped by the grandiose claims which he made for himself”. And Manderstam knew nothing about the George Graham fiasco, it seems.

Meanwhile the CORBY case opened up. On February 5, Prime Minister Mackenzie King set up the Royal Commission (the Kellock-Taschereau Commission) to investigate Gouzenko’s allegations, and it began secret hearings soon afterwards. A telegram of February 14 reported to MI6 that Gouzenko had been making a good impression.  On February 6, Hollis had brought Liddell a transcript of a speech about Gouzenko made by Drew Pearson in the USA, thus breaking the silence, and the Gouzenko affair became public knowledge in the UK a week later. On February 20, Nunn May confessed to Commander Burt that he had indeed spied for the Soviets. The day before, Hollis had complained to Philby about his attempt to control the Gouzenko business, and he firmly requested that Philby relinquish it. On February 27, Liddell left on the boat-train with Victor Rothschild for Paris, and thence to Washington, courtesy of an RAF flight. Yet, partly because of inclement weather, he did not fly out of Paris until March 7.

c) The Voyage to the Americas:

Guy Liddell did not write up his diary entries for his visit to the Americas until he returned to the UK at the end of April. One of the most beguiling series of entries concerns his meetings with someone called ‘Gay’, whom he meets in the company of Carl Paulson, ‘a nice quiet type of American’ [yes, they do exist], on March 10. He sees her again in New York on March 16, and also the following day, and he would afterwards accompany her to Chicago and San Francisco. Yet this was not a conventional series of trysts. Liddell never identified ‘Gay’ in his diaries, but it is clear that she was his daughter, Elizabeth Gay.

Mrs. Calypso Liddell and the Liddell Children

Liddell had lost custody of his four children with Calypso (née Baring), and they had returned to the United States in 1941. Yet his elder daughter had obviously stayed in touch with him, and wanted him to meet her intended fiancé – even to give his approval to the match, perhaps, as she was not yet eighteen years old. Indeed, on April 5, 1946, the announcement was made that Elizabeth Gay Liddell, of Anselmo, California, was engaged to Ensign Carl G Paulson of the United States Naval Reserve, and they were married on May 4. Liddell was obviously not able to attend the wedding ceremonies, but the reasons for his hasty trip now become evident.

Not that he did not have important business affairs to deal with. He met members of the Security Council, discussing joint approaches to the Soviets, and then had a meeting with Lish Whitson and William Harvey of the FBI on communist matters. Liddell confided in his diary that ‘he was not au fait in any great detail about the Canadian case’, betraying his mental occupations elsewhere. He was much more comfortable on deception, and the Double-Cross System in WWII, and was able to explain to Colonel Sweeney in the Pentagon why a similar system against the Russians could not be effective in peacetime.  On March 15, he had his meeting with J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI, who talked so much that Liddell missed his train to New York. Liddell took the opportunity to ask Hoover whether he would object if MI5 placed an officer in Passport Control in Washington. Hoover had none.

And next – to Ottawa. He was met by Rivett-Carnac and Gagnon of the RCMP, and on March 18 witnessed Mackenzie King speak in the House of Commons. He dined with Peter Dwyer and his wife, so was presumably updated on proceedings with Gouzenko, but had a further opportunity to be briefed when he had lunch with a distinguished group at RCMP headquarters. (“We discussed the espionage case.”) On the morning of March 20, he had a talk with Leopold (the Gouzenko translator), and with Gagnon, and with Mead. And in the afternoon, Liddell spent an hour with Gouzenko himself, whom he found alert and intelligent. Liddell’s report (from his Diaries, not from the Gouzenko archive) runs as follows:

He will not be drawn into making any statement about matters of which he has no first-hand knowledge. He is somewhat temperamental, though when I saw him he was much elated by the fact that MAY had not been given bail and by Mackenzie King’s statement in the House of Commons commending his (CORBY’s) action. I asked him how it was that Russia had been going on in its present state for 28 years and how it was that the Russian people fought so well. He said that if I had been brought up on Marxian dialectics from the age of 6, if I had heard nothing but Soviet press and radio telling me that conditions abroad were far worse than any conditions in Russia, in fact that the rest of the world was living in squalor and revolution, if I had known what it was to walk down a street with my best friend and feel I could not talk freely, and if I had no opportunity of comparing my standards with those of anybody else, I should have been thinking as he did before he came to Canada. The impact of Canadian conditions was so terrific that he had been completely converted and had realised that from his youth up he had been completely deceived. He said that although he was under guard day and night by 3 officers of the RCMP he had never felt freer. I had no idea what it meant to him to be able to go out and buy a bag of oranges and a pound of hamburger. As a matter of fact it meant quite a lot to me on this occasion.

            I then asked CORBY whether the Russians had deliberately let the Germans into their country in 1941. He said emphatically no. He was at the time at intelligence headquarters. The Russians were in fact running away and throwing away their arms to an alarming extent. It was only at Rostov on Don that anything like a halt was made. On this occasion Stalin put the NKVD behind the troops and gave them orders to fire on anyone running away. Subsequently there had been a tremendous wave of nationalist propaganda recounting deeds of Soviet heroism. In this way the tide had just been turned at Stalingrad.

Liddell had some further talks with RCMP officers, as well as Peter Dwyer, before returning to New York, and resuming the private part of his tour in the Americas – to Chicago and San Francisco with Gay.

I find this whole episode astonishing, for many reasons. The first is that no official record of the interview has been placed in the Gouzenko files, and the context of the experience that Liddell enjoyed has been completely overlooked. Did he not report on the encounter to Petrie and Sillitoe on his return? As an experienced officer, he would surely have followed protocol, and posted a memorandum on file. And there does not appear to be anything sensitive in his account that would require it to be weeded. It is all very bewildering. Christopher Andrew quotes a few sentences (pp 349-350), but appears not to grasp how bizarre the focus of the discussion was, given the recent revelations, the interrogations of the RCMP, the telegrams from Peter Dwyer, and the Hollis interview at the end of November 1945. Here was an opportunity for the head of British counter-espionage to ask searching questions of the defector who (according to the misguided beliefs of Amy Knight) was the person who provoked the Cold War, and who had provided alarming hints at Soviet spies in the fabric of British Intelligence, but Liddell failed to grasp the nettle. Instead he simply tried to satisfy his own intellectual curiosity.

There could be multiple explanations. Liddell could have invented the whole incident: yet, given the context, the ambience of the RCMP and the company of other intelligence officers, and the details in his report, that theory can be instantly discounted. More probable is that his account is incomplete. He probably did discuss – or broach –  other matters (such as ELLI), but did not want them recorded. And if there were more sensitive revelations, it is quite likely that, for similar reasons, any report that he did submit to the Gouzenko file was buried, or subsequently weeded. Yet it also possible that, by that time, Liddell considered the whole ELLI business dead and buried, as if Alley had convinced him that it was all a harmless misunderstanding.

One must also consider the situation from Gouzenko’s side: perhaps he had grown so dismayed by MI5’s representation by then that he was not willing to speak about any confidential matters with such an officer, and glided over the more incisive questions. The first sentence of Liddell’s entry could be interpreted as saying that Gouzenko kept his lips sealed about the claims that his colleagues had made to him, using that pretext as an excuse for not opening up before another MI5 officer. Yet Liddell must have used an interpreter, and an RCMP witness. Was there no RCMP record of the interview? Gouzenko’s behaviour would surely have been worthy of remark.

Thus Gouzenko’s apparent poor recollection of the interview is also extraordinary. In Gouzenko: the Untold Story there is no mention of Liddell’s interview in March 1946. It is inconceivable that Gouzenko did not know to whom he was talking. Indeed, in his submission to the RCMP in 1952, he described how ‘on two occasions representatives of MI5 talked with me in Ottawa during the Royal Commission investigation’. (And we should note the length of Liddell’s interview – one hour, exactly the duration White attributed to Hollis.) The first of these was the encounter with Liddell.  But by this time, Gouzenko had made up his mind. He was apparently convinced that ELLI was in MI5, and that the job of investigating him (or her) should thus have been entrusted to an outside agency, like Scotland Yard or the Army. ‘The result, even beforehand, could be expected as nil’ was how he characterized any outcome of the search for the agent. He must thus have decided to say little when Liddell appeared, and regarded the whole episode as inconsequential.


This was no well-oiled intelligence machinery at work. It all began with the disastrous lack of vetting of George Hill and his aide-de-camp when the SOE operation in Moscow was set up. When the Gouzenko defection occurred, the RCMP was hopelessly unprepared to handle the situation, and MI5 had vacated its representation. No disciplined interrogation of Gouzenko took place. MI5 failed to control the project, and allowed Kim Philby and MI6 to keep a rein on communications. As the Canadian, US and British governments dithered out of a desire to appease Stalin, MI5 dithered over its implementation of structures to handle Soviet intelligence attacks. It should have immediately seconded Jane Archer from MI6, to be accompanied by Stephen Alley, so that the team that handled Krivitsky so well could have reprised its success in Ottawa. Hollis was not the right candidate for either handling the political fall-out of the Nunn May case or interrogating Gouzenko. Liddell or Petrie should have taken on the former task, with Hollis instructed to keep close tabs on the ELLI business in London. If Hollis had been required to interrogate Gouzenko, he should have been well briefed, and been given a precise agenda. Boyle and Liddell should have doggedly pursued the leads on SOE security, and ensured that the ELLI identification was either pinned, and disposed of, and the outcome well communicated, or an action plan outlined to resolve the issue. Liddell should not have approached his opportunity to interview Gouzenko so casually.

The open identification of ELLI had not been conclusively determined, and questions about the merging of the features of multiple agents remained. The ‘dubok’ reference would not suit Alley easily, for example. Yet, what all this muddle meant was that fertile ground had been prepared for sowing confusion later on, and for Hollis to be conveniently framed as ELLI. Twenty years later, when the ELLI business was resuscitated, the screenplay turned out to be not so much Who Framed Roger Rabbit as Murder on the Orient Express, with a cast of guilty characters that included Dick White, Arthur Martin, Peter Worthington, Maurice Oldfield, Patrick Stewart, Chapman Pincher, Peter Wright, Stephen de Mowbray, James Angleton and Robert Lamphere, with Igor Gouzenko even dragged in as an accomplice himself.

Further Research Questions:

1) What secrets did Stephen Alley leave behind? I hope to be able to track down Alley’s memoirs when the Glasgow University Archive opens up again, but has any coldspur reader inspected these pages? Do any of you live in the Glasgow area, and could you possibly visit in person?

2) Where did George Graham come from, and what happened to him? Graham, né Leontieff, appears to have disappeared from the scene without trace. Does anyone have any knowledge of him or his wife, Edith, living in Amersham after the war?

3) What are the facts of the burglary at the Chichaev residence? I believe I now have discovered the official account, but has anyone read the Russian version of George Hill’s memoir, referred to by Dónal O’Sullivan in Dealing with the Devil? O’Sullivan has not replied to my email messages to (California State University, Northridge).

4) What is the full story behind the security problems in the Russian Section of SOE? I thought Christopher J. Murphy (author of Security and Special Operations) might have some answers, but my phone and email messages to him at the University of Salford have been ignored. Does anyone know how to contact him?

And much to report on in later bulletins: ELLI in 1946 and beyond; a detailed analysis of Gouzenko’s statements, including what Pincher claimed he said to him; the composition of the NKVD intelligence organisation in London, 1941 to 1945; and maybe more.

For a fascinating perspective from Igor Gouzenko’s widow, see:


Gouzenko files at TNA (KV 2/1419-1429)

Guy Liddell Diaries at TNA (KV 4/185-196; KV 4/466-475)

Operation Pickaxe files at TNA (HS 4/331-351)

Chichaev file at TNA (KV 2/3226)

The Vassiliev Notebooks

The VENONA Archive

The Unresolved Mystery of ELLI, by William Tyrer (in International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, 29, 1-24, 2016)

The Roger Hollis Case Revisited, by David Levy (in International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, 32, 146-158, 2019)

The CORBY case: the defection of Igor Gouzenko, September 1945, by Gill Bennett (from FCO publication From World War to Cold War)

How the Cold War Began, by Amy Knight

Defend the Realm, by Christopher Andrew

The Secret History of MI6, by Keith Jeffery

MI5, the Cold War, and the Rule of Law, by K. D. Ewing, Joan Mahoney and Andrew Moretta

Security and Special Operations, by Christopher J. Murphy

Intelligence, Security and the Attlee Governments, 1945-1951, by Daniel W. B. Lomas

The Crown Jewels, by Nigel West and Oleg Tsarev

The Security Service 1908-1945, by John Curry

MI5, by Nigel West

MI5: 1945-1972, by Nigel West

Molehunt, by Nigel West

Cold War Spymaster, by Nigel West

Their Trade is Treachery, by Chapman Pincher

Too Secret Too Long, by Chapman Pincher

Treachery, by Chapman Pincher

Spycatcher, by Peter Wright

The Perfect English Spy, Tom Bower

The Private Life of Kim Philby, by Rufina Philby

My Five Cambridge Friends, Yuri Modin

The Philby Files, by Genrikh Borovik

Dealing With the Devil, by Dónal O’Sullivan

Churchill & Stalin’s Secret Agents, by Bernard O’Connor

From the Red Army to SOE, by Len Manderstam

Trotsky’s Favourite Spy, by Peter Day

Gouzenko: the Untold Story, by John Sawatsky

This Was My Choice, by Igor Gouzenko

My Silent War, by Kim Philby

To Spy the Land, by George Hill

Dreaded Hour, by George Hill

Reminiscences of Four Years with N.K.V.D., by George Hill

Master Spy, by Philip Knightley

The Diaries of Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, 1939-1965

Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence, by Nigel West

Encyclopedia of Political Assassinations, by Nigel West

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Sonia & MI6’s Hidden Hand

[This report lays out the detailed arguments behind the recent article in the ‘Mail on Sunday’ that featured research by Professor Glees and me. We claimed that MI6 had engaged upon a reckless exercise to try to manipulate Sonia as some kind of ‘double-agent’, but had been fooled completely by Sonia’s working as a courier for the atom-spy Klaus Fuchs. This piece reproduces and recapitulates some of my earlier research on Sonia, but also presents some new analysis.]

Sonia’s Home in Switzerland

Background and Sources

The story starts – probably – in the summer of 1939. One has to qualify many of the Switzerland-based events in this saga with ‘probably’ because so much of the evidence is provided by Ursula and Len Beurton themselves, who, in their testimonies to British immigration officials, told so many lies that it is difficult to trust anything they said. Moreover, Ursula (agent SONIA) then compounded the mendaciousness in her GRU-controlled memoir, Sonjas Rapport. We can recognise the first set of untruths because the statements are often self-contradictory, and easily refuted through an examination of the archival record. Many of Sonia’s claims in her book have been shown to be false by simple inspection of time and space, or by other records that have come to light that show persons she talks about were simply not where she said they were at the time, or by knowledge of the modus operandi of her employer, the GRU. Yet Sonia’s account has been cited by numerous historians as if it were a reliable version of what happened.

The primary source for assembling the story is a rich set of files at the UK National Archives – not just on Sonia, but on her family, the Kuczynskis, and her husband Len Beurton, on the senior International Brigader she recruited for her team in Switzerland, Alexander Foote, and on other Communist agents such as Oliver Green, whose exploits reflect usefully on the policies and practices of MI5. The files on the primary spy for whom Sonia acted as courier, Klaus Fuchs, are also very relevant, as are, to a lesser extent, the Diaries of Guy Liddell, the head of counter-espionage at MI5 at this time. (I have taken one hundred pages of notes from the on-line Diaries, without recording a single reference to Ursula, Kuczynski, Hamburger, or Beurton. The absence of nocturnal canine latration, whether because of redaction or by Liddell’s choice, is highly significant.) MI6 files are regrettably not available, but correspondence between, and memoranda to and from, officers of the Security Service and the Secret Intelligence Service are scattered among the files, as are occasional items from the Home Office and the Foreign Office. These records are complemented by a variegated set of files concerning the Radio Security Service (RSS), which was responsible for wireless interception in WWII.

More recently, some analysts have been promoting the value of files held in Russian archives, although nearly all of these derive from KGB (State Security) records rather than those of the GRU (Military Intelligence), for whom the Beurtons worked. William Tyrer and Svetlana Chervonnaya (see ), have cited items of relevance, yet the existence of actual documents is hard to verify. What Chervonnaya shows are primarily American, not Soviet documents, and her focus is on American history. Moreover, her website appears to have fallen into disuse in recent times. The Vassiliev Papers, again focussing on KGB matters, are a highly reliable source, and show some important facts about Sonia, at a time when the KGB was exerting more control over the GRU.  They also reveal some interesting information about Sonia and her brother after they escaped to East Germany.

Solid literature on Sonia is sparse. Alexander Foote’s memoir, Handbook for Spies, brings some psychologically convincing insights into his time with Sonia in Switzerland, as well as plausible observations on Sonia’s marriage to Len, but we have to recall that the book was ghost-written by MI5’s Courtenay Young. John Green’s 2017 study of the Kuczynski clan, A Political Family, is a useful compendium in some ways, drawing much from Kuczynski family memoirs and interviews, and helping with a few facts, but it contains many errors, and is too adulatory of the family’s ‘fight against capitalism’, thereby side-stepping any awkward anomalies in the records. (For example, he writes of the family’s ‘overall achievements and its contribution to our humanistic legacy’, a statement straight out of the Felix Dzerzhinsky playbook.) I have started to inspect one or two books in Russian: Vladimir Lota’s book on the GRU (cited in last month’s coldspur post) provides convincing proof of the communications of the Rote Drei in Switzerland (although nothing of Sonia’s), and presents photographs of decrypted GRU telegrams. I ordered V.V. Beshanov’s book on Sonia, Superfrau iz GRU on May 3 of this year, but it has not yet arrived: I hope to be able to report on it in a later bulletin.

What is certain is that Sonia was stranded in Switzerland in the summer of 1939. She had moved from Poland, where her daughter Janina, by her lover in China, Johannes Patra, had been born in 1936, but the affair had damaged her marriage to Rudolf (Rolf) Hamburger. Sonia’s visa was due to expire at the end of September: she and Rolf had acquired Honduran passports, but they were of dubious stature. If Sonia were to be extradited to her German homeland, she would almost certainly face death as a Jew and Communist. She had recruited the International Brigaders Alexander Foote and Len Beurton as wireless operators, but they were working as spies in Germany during the summer, and were not withdrawn until just before war broke out.

Exactly what happened in those months is difficult to determine. Sonia’s account is illogical and inconsistent, and John Green skirts around that period, as if he didn’t trust her version of events, but also didn’t want to draw attention to the deceits. I gave an account in Sonia’s Radio: Part 2, but it is worth delving a little more deeply now, as the subterfuges hint strongly at strings working behind the scenes. The anomalies point strongly to the first plottings by the MI6 representative in Switzerland, Victor Farrell. What is certain is that Claude Dansey, the head of the shadow Z Organisation within MI6, and the deputy to the new Director-General, Stewart Menzies, had established its base in Geneva at the beginning of the war, and that Dansey himself was around to watch as these intrigues progressed, including Sonia’s divorce from Rolf Hamburger. Dansey did not return to Britain until November 1939.

In Handbook for Spies, Alexander Foote indicates that at this time Sonia’s husband, Rolf (identified as ‘Schultz’) was ‘incarcerated in a Chinese jail for Communist activities’. In Foote’s version of the story, therefore, Rolf never appears in Switzerland, and Foote records his visit to Sonia’s chalet, where she lived singly with her two children and the nurse. Foote then collapses the whole story of Sonia’s divorce and marriage as follows: “Sonia was increasingly dissatisfied with the life and work and wished to return [sic: she had never stayed there for long] to England. The main obstacle, apart from Moscow’s views, was of course her German passport. Therefore, in order to get British nationality, she managed to persuade Bill [Len Beurton] to agree to marry her if she could get a divorce from Schultz. She managed to obtain a divorce in the Swiss courts early in 1940, and straight away married Bill and was thus entitled to a British passport.” He adds that, throughout this whole exercise, ‘she had no intention of being unfaithful to Schultz’, but the charade of a mariage de convenance fell apart when she and Len fell in love. This is all nonsense, of course, because of her affair with Patra, and Foote’s suggestion that Sonia was feeling useless and ‘homesick’, with Moscow resisting her plans to withdraw from espionage. Sonia would have done what she was told.

Ursula Beurton (Sonia)

In Sonya’s Report, the author imaginatively has both her husband and her lover in Switzerland at the same time that summer, but the chronology is gloriously vague. “In the early summer of 1939, as the danger of war increased daily, an expired German passport was useless to an emigrant. My Honduras passport did not give me real security either. Centre asked what possibilities there might be of obtaining another passport for me. We proposed that, before Rolf left Europe, we should start divorce proceedings and I would enter into a pro-forma marriage with an Englishman.” Apart from the somewhat premature series of activities described, Jim [Foote] won the lottery, since his age was closer to Sonia’s: Rolf came to see Sonia for the last time. “When his return to China had been approved, Centre enquired whether he would be prepared to work under Ernst [Patra]. Generous and principled as he was, Rolf had a high opinion of Ernst and agreed.” The display of lofty unselfishness is comical: the notion that Soviet agents would have the freedom to accept or decline Centre’s instructions is absurd.

Sonia then compounds the unlikelihood of this domestic drama by having Ernst visit Switzerland, to see his daughter for the first and only time, and she then (apparently in about July 1939) sees off her husband and her lover from the train station in Caux. (Green informs us that Sonia and Patra did not see each other between 1935 and 1955.) Helpfully, Rolf, before he left, had written a letter to facilitate the divorce proceedings, which Sonia ‘ever since the spring’ had been trying to finalise. (So much for Sonia’s suggestion to ‘start divorce proceedings’ in early summer.) Why Rolf could not have more actively contributed by playing his part while in Switzerland is not explained. But then Foote tries to back out of the arranged marriage, claiming some difficulties with a girl in Spain, and a possible breach of promise. Why he had not thought of that earlier is likewise not explained, but Foote then recommends Len to take his place, and Len gallantly accepts the assignment, with Sonia saying that she will divorce him as soon as required. By February 1940, Sonia had collected all the documents she needed in order to marry.

When Foote was interrogated by MI5 and MI6 officers in late 1947, however, a different story emerged. In a report distributed by Percy Sillitoe (from KV 2/1613-1, pp 23-28), Foote’s first testimony claimed that Sonia’s divorce had been put through without Hamburger’s knowledge, ‘Foote providing the principal false evidence of Hamburger’s misconduct in London’. Later, however, Foote was shown information at Broadway (MI6’s head office) suggesting that Hamburger had been in Switzerland in 1939, indicating that the Security Intelligence Service was already keeping close tabs on the extended members of the Kuczynski clan. Foote was shown a photograph of Hamburger but was apparently ‘quite unable to identify it’.

When challenged later, Foote revealed even more to the MI5 officers Hemblys-Scales and Serpell, the latter writing the report: “Foote replied blandly that he had been the sole witness in the case. It was on his false testimony that Sonia obtained her divorce from Rudolf Hamburger and Foote made no bones at all about the perjury he had committed in the Swiss courts. When I asked him what was the false evidence he had produced, he said that it had been a story of Rudolf Hamburger’s adultery with one of Sonia’s sisters in a London hotel. I asked which sister was selected for this episode and Foote replied, Mrs. Lewis. After these revelations, I can no longer feel surprised at the anxiety shown by the Beurtons over the Hamburger divorce during their conversations with Mr. Skardon and myself at Great Rollright.” And, if Foote’s testimony were truthful, he would obviously have had to tell the Geneva court that he knew what Hamburger looked like. In fact, he had committed obvious perjury, as he now confessed.

Lastly, we have the records from Moscow acquired by William Tyrer, although his story contains its own contradictions. In a personal communication to me, he claimed that Sonia and her husband lived with Honduran documents after she and Rolf went to the Honduran consulate in Geneva, some time in mid-1939. Tyrer then, somewhat implausibly, suggests that, with her Swiss mission completed, she set her sights on going to Great Britain, where she would be more useful, and moreover closer to her family – but that this desire awoke only after August 1940! He then cites a reliable-sounding but undated document (Tsa MO RF, Op. 23397, delo 1, l. 33-37: The Central Archive of the Ministry of Defense of RF, op. 23397, file 1, pp. 33-37) that purports to record a wireless message from Sonia to Moscow Centre in late August 1939. It is remarkable in many dimensions, not least because it suggests that the thought of divorce has only just occurred to her, directly contradicting what she wrote in her memoir, and because it also asserts that Rolf is already working in China, a fact of which Moscow Centre would clearly have been aware, if it were true, and about which it would thus not have to be informed.

The text of the message (the name of the translator is not given, but it could be Chervonnaya, since the English is choppy) runs as follows: “In case of war, I will be sent to Honduras, where I won’t be able to work on your assignments. In this connection, I have the following suggestion. The idea is, that I divorce officially with Rolf and marry “Jim” or “John”. The marriage would be fictitious, but it would help me to obtain a permanent British passport, with which I’d be able to travel around the European countries without any obstacles and would be able to go to Britain at any time.

     … At present, I am still on a firm footing in Switzerland – my husband works as an architect in China, myself with two kids, I am unable to travel to join him, because China is in war. Waiting for my husband’s arrival, I am taking a rest with the kids at a mountain resort. With the help of my father, I am maintaining ties with some officials of the League of Nations, which also helps to improve my credibility.”

Fortunately for Sonia, Moscow Centre went along with her plan. For some reason, they did not point out to Sonia that, in the event of war, she would not be able to gad around Europe purely on the basis of a British passport. But why, if she was proposing to divorce Rolf, would she lament that she was unable to join him in China? (Note that Sonia here, in September 1939, first recommends the idea of divorce, while claiming in her memoir that Rolf had left the previous month, having already agreed to it. That the divorce was ‘unofficial’ beforehand is evident.) And how would she know, having just seen Rolf off at the train-station in Caux, that he was already working there as an architect? Even more incredibly, why would she be waiting for her husband’s arrival in late August 1939, if they had agreed to split? And, if Moscow had just approved Rolf’s return to China, why would he be on his way back again?

The conclusion must be that this document is a clumsy fake, inserted into the archive at some unspecified time, and forgotten when the GRU helped Sonia write her memoir. It is much more likely that Moscow approved the divorce plans much earlier, ordered Rolf to return to China so that he was out of the way and thus could not mess up the legal process, and then engaged in orchestrating Sonia’s new British citizenship and infiltration into the United Kingdom as a courier. And it is at this stage that MI6 starts to consider the possibilities of using the opportunity to manipulate Sonia.

Step One: Facilitating Sonia’s divorce and re-marriage

The marriage certificate of Len and Ursula Beurton

There is no doubt that Alexander Foote had been recruited by MI6. The file KV 2/1613-1 specifically records how in 1947, after his desertion and return to Britain, MI5 warned Foote not to talk about his intelligence experiences, using the claim that he had been a deserter from the R.A.F. as a threat hanging over him. One does not have to buy in to the argument that he was eventually used as a medium for passing on packaged ULTRA secrets to the Soviets (as I do) to conclude that he had been infiltrated into the Swiss network in order to gain insights into its wireless techniques. Indeed, one might assume that he started passing on the practices described in Handbook for Spies to his controllers in Berne as early as 1940, when he became the leading operator for the Rote Drei.

Thus, when faced with the prospect that Sonia intended to marry Foote when she had gained her divorce, MI6 would have been appalled at the plan. It would not have helped them to have Foote repatriated to the United Kingdom as soon as he had become effective. Yet the notion of potentially manipulating Sonia was attractive: Len Beurton would be proposed as the replacement candidate to marry Sonia. Foote would then come up with a bogus explanation as to why he could not go through with the marriage, and would instead provide false evidence against Rolf Hamburger, since the Swiss courts were apparently rather sticky when it came to granting divorces against absent spouses. Whether Rolf actually provided the letter that was supposed to grease the wheels is dubious: apparently it was not enough to convince the authorities.

So how did MI6 hope to use Sonia at this stage of the war? Of course, the Soviet Union’s pact with Nazi Germany was in effect: in principle, she might have been able to inform them of strategic intelligence. Yet her utility in Britain would have been very constrained. Any activity on UK soil – including contacts with as yet undiscovered sources – would transfer to MI5’s area of responsibility, and the Security Service would therefore have to be party to the plot, and take over the supervision and surveillance of Sonia. Perhaps they thought that she would lead them to other GRU agents in Europe, and would repay her new masters for their kindness in saving her from persecution in Germany. I suspect, however, that the real agenda was to use her as some kind of ‘double agent’ *, perhaps to feed her disinformation that she would be bound to transmit to Moscow Centre, and thereby gain further insights into her encipherment techniques. When her messages were intercepted (so went the plan), the fact that she had been passed texts that she would encode would provide an excellent crib for assisting in decryption – a technique that mirrored what RSS and GC&CS were performing with transmissions performed by the Abwehr.

(* ‘Double-agent’ is not really the appropriate term, as it suggests a continuing dual role. ‘Controlled enemy agent’ is the preferred description. I shall explore this phenomenon further in the coming final chapter of ‘The Mystery of the Undetected Radios’.)

According to her marriage certificate, Sonia received her divorce on December 29, 1939 (not in October, as she for some reason told UK immigration officers later), and was married to Len Beurton on February 23, 1940. Yet one further action hints at the connivance of MI6.

The anecdote appears in both Foote’s and Sonia’s narratives, although the details and motivations differ slightly, and it involves Olga Muth, Sonia’s nanny. Muth had been hired shortly after Nina’s birth in April 1936, and accompanied Sonia to London, back to Poland, and then to Switzerland. Sonia presents Olga as becoming distraught over the prospect of being separated from Nina, Sonia’s daughter, and, in the knowledge that Sonia had a wireless transmitter, goes to the British consulate in Montreux to denounce her as a spy. Foote states that Olga was distressed by Sonia’s disloyalty to Rolf in not just marrying Len, but subsequently falling in love with him.

In Foote’s account, Olga rings up the Consulate to denounce Sonia and Len as Soviet spies, telling them where the transmitter was hidden. In both versions, her broken English was incomprehensible, and she was thus ignored. During his interrogation in London, Foote additionally claimed (KV 2/1611-1) ‘that Ursula and Beurton were considered by Moscow to have been compromised by the action of Olga Muth, and it was the basis of their return to England.’ This is quite absurd: if they had been rumbled in Switzerland by the British, they would hardly have been allowed to settle in Britain. MI5’s Serpell sagely made a note, questioning why Sonia and Len would have been denounced to the British authorities rather than the Swiss? One might thus ask: Had the whole business been a ruse concocted to suggest distancing of the Beurtons from MI6 in Switzerland?

Step Two: Providing Sonia with a Passport

Milicent Bagot

On March 11, 1940, Sonia visited the British Consulate in Geneva to apply for a British passport, based on her marriage to Beurton (who was known as ‘Fenton’ in the MI5 files). She records that the reaction of the Consul was ‘distinctly cool’, Victor Farrell no doubt affecting a lack of enthusiasm for the whole venture. Mr. Livingston passed her application on to the Passport Office in London, adding the annotation that the purpose of her marriage was probably to confer British nationality on her, and then he rather provocatively appended the strange observation: ‘Husband is understood to be under medical treatment, and intends to return to Switzerland after escorting the applicant to England.’ Why Beurton, if he had recovered enough to make the arduous journey across Europe to Britain in war-time, would jeopardise his health, and then want to repeat the ordeal by returning to Switzerland for medical treatment instead of seeking it in the UK, is not evident.

I have described the events that took place next in Sonia’s Radio: Chapter 2, and Chapter 8, but it is worth summarizing them here. The application was processed quickly, before Milicent Bagot, who was very familiar with the Kuczynski family, could advise against it. Sonia’s brother Jürgen had actually been interned as a dangerous communist, collaborating with another noted incendiary, Hans Kahle, in organizing espionage, but was conveniently released at about the same time that Sonia’s passport application was approved, in May. Len Beurton was on the C.S.W. (Central Security War) Black List, and thus not a person whose re-entry was to be encouraged. Cazalet in MI5 too late pointed out the anomalies, but stated that Sonia’s passport should be issued for limited duration, and should not be used for travel.

One bizarre item in the KV 6/41 file shows that Sonia, perhaps concerned that the application was not moving fast enough, actually sent a letter to her father (addressed mystifyingly as ‘Renée’: his forenames were Robert René) requesting local pressure on the Passport Office. In this missive, she curiously refers to herself in the third person (‘Maria’), and informs her family that ‘Maria’s husband’ (aka ‘Georgie’) has just written to the Office to advance his claim. As it happened, the passport had been approved the day before: it is not clear how Len’s personal approach would have helped his suit, unless he perhaps thought that making an overt breach from his chequered past would somehow make the Passport office look on his submission with more favour. Len’s letter has not survived, but it was not necessary.

Thus it is apparent that MI6 was able to bulldoze through the application, even though Sonia was known to be one of a dangerous Communist family, with lower-level officers in MI5 speaking strongly against the award, at a time when the Soviet Union was supporting Nazi Germany in the war effort against Great Britain. It is quite extraordinary that, during a period when any German refugees were looked at with great suspicion, and as rumours of a dangerous ‘Fifth Column’ of hostile aliens were gathering momentum, MI6 would go to strenuous efforts to facilitate the entry into the United Kingdom of a known German-born revolutionary. Laconically, Sonia reported in her memoir: “In the late autumn of 1940, Centre suggested that Len and I move to England”, as if the thought had just occurred to them. (This is presumably the sentiment that Tyrer echoes in his notes.)

Step Three: Exploiting Len’s Extended Presence in Switzerland

Len Beurton

Len’s status in 1940 is a little perplexing. We know from the infamous ‘Geneva Letter’ (see The Letter from Geneva) that Farrell must have engaged him for some intelligence-gathering purposes, with the Falkenberg connection providing a vital insight into how prominent German minds against Hitler might be thinking. Yet it surely cannot have been MI6’s intention to prevent his leaving with Sonia, as it would draw undue attention to her situation, and would make her passage more hazardous. Was the statement about his returning to Switzerland a blind, when they knew that he would struggle to gain a transit visa, and might be even less welcome in the UK than Sonia was?

Sonia wrote that ‘as a former member of the International Brigade, Len could not travel through Spain and had to stay in Geneva until we [Moscow? The British Consulate?] could find a different route for him.’ Yet she presents this observation very late in the cycle, after she and Len had received instructions from Moscow towards the end of 1940. It is difficult to imagine that they could have been so uninformed at this stage. She confirmed the fact when she was interviewed by customs officials in Liverpool on February 4, 1941, saying (after lying about how long she had been in Switzerland) that her husband had been unable to leave Switzerland as he could not obtain a Spanish visa.

The untruths about Len’s poor health (and other matters) start here. There are two interrogation reports on Sonia on file: one dated February 8, from Security and Immigration, and the other February 15, from the Home Office. In the former report, she is quoted as saying that Len had been in Switzerland for about two years ‘for health reasons’. She cannot give a date for when she first met him, but claims she went to Switzerland for the last time ‘just before the outbreak of war’, and that Len had paid visits to Germany during the previous nine months in an attempt to secure money owed her. She married Beurton in February 1940, ‘having secured a divorce from her former husband’. Fortunately, Len had now recovered from his tuberculosis, but had not been able to acquire a Spanish visa necessary for reaching Portugal, because of his membership of the International Brigades. Yet, despite Len’s ‘recovery’, she still cites his ill-health as an counter to the Spanish government’s obduracy, suggesting that his inability to fight should remove their concern.

The Home Office Report gives a slightly different story. Now Sonia claims that she had been in Switzerland since February 1940, thus eliding the circumstances by which she had been able to acquire her divorce papers. She was presumably not questioned as to where she had been prior to her arrival. She again says that Len had gone to Switzerland for health reasons, but now embroiders the reason why she had to leave Switzerland without him – that she was, as she coyly admitted, ‘afraid to stay any longer owing to her connection with a well-known anti-Nazi family’. That family was of course the Kuczynskis, to which she was rather tightly bound, not simply ‘connected’. She does not indicate here that Len has recovered, and thus leaves the argument that he was unfit to be a fighting man in place.

The report goes on to say that the Spanish visa ‘has been refused by the Spanish authorities as he is still of military age and when it was pointed out to them that he was medically unfit they said that the grounds for refusal were that he was an engineer and therefore as valuable as a fighting man.’ It is not clear whether the officials derived this information from Sonia herself, or another source, but it does confirm that Len’s invalidity has already been raised as a reason for letting him depart. Sonia rather ingenuously concluded her statement by indicating that ‘Mr. Beurton would attempt to leave France by a cargo boat from Marseilles’. A simple cross-check between different statements to customs officials and Livingston’s passport application would have turned up an enormous contradiction about the supposed frailty of Len’s health and his desire to join his wife in England as soon as possible, as well as a cavalcade of lies about their movements in Europe. MI5 and MI6 were simply not interested

In any case, Len surely did face a challenge in trying to pass through France and Spain because of his history as an International Brigader, and this fact would consume some more of MI6’s devious energies later. Meanwhile, he made himself useful. In Handbook for Spies, Foote stated that Len gradually extricated himself from the Soviet organisation, and that contact ceased after March 1941 (when Sonia was safely ensconced in Oxfordshire). This was the period when Farrell presumably nurtured him, believing him also to be an ally, and indebted to the British authorities, and used him for intelligence-gathering purposes. Some time after his return to the United Kingdom, Len apparently tried to revive his career with MI6. In the Alexander Foote archive, in KV 2/1612-2, can be found a statement that Beurton ‘gave information about his work with KWEI, Z.156 [presumably von Falkenberg] and Rolf SUESS which was of little value, and he tried to obtain employment with British intelligence. This offer was refused, and in July 1943 he asked for help in joining the R.A.F. on the strength of “having rendered valuable assistance in Switzerland”’.

The exact sequence and timing of events is uncertain, but K 6/41 tends to undermine the ‘intelligence’ application in favour of the ‘R. A. F’ story. There, Colonel Vivian of MI6 confirms the approach, informing Shillito on August 17, 1943 that Beurton presented himself at the War Office with an introductory letter, asking for an interview with (name redacted). (But why else would Vivian have been involved?) Yet Beurton waited a long time to make this approach, as if he was not certain whether he was working for the GRU, or MI6, or both. He must have been getting rather desperate. Shillito had picked up the case again, and was busy asking questions at this time. Perhaps the combination of Farrell’s reminder in March, the imminent birth of his and Sonia’s baby, and his failure to find employment were making Len a bit desperate. MI6 in London were obviously quite aware of his services to the Swiss station, but had no wish to recruit him. If they were interested in taking him on, they would surely have acted soon after his arrival.

Step Four: Arranging the passage of Sonia and her children to Lisbon

The Grande Hotel, Estoril

Refugee literature informs us how arduous was the trek across France and Spain to the relative safety of Portugal. For a lone woman travelling with a nine-year-old son and a four-year-old daughter, it must have been especially difficult. Yet Sonia’s children (Maik and Janina) almost did not make it. The original passport application had specified that Sonia wanted her children added to the passport, but it seems that this inclusion did not guarantee their ability to travel, presumably since they had been born as German citizens, and had not been naturalized. This discovery occurred very late in the day. Sonia did not notice the dilemma until shortly before she left, apparently, or may have assumed that their status as appendages to her passport gave them right of entry. Else she may have considered that perhaps the original plan was for her to travel alone, leaving the children in Len’s (or somebody else’s) care. Sonia ignores the whole issue of her children’s approval process, merely stating that she planned to leave at the end of December.

Yet KV 6/41 shows that an urgent plaintext telegram was sent from Geneva to London on November 21, 1940, reflecting the recognition that the children might be turned away on attempting to land. (The question of whether they would have got past the Embassy in Lisbon is not raised.) Extraordinarily, the cable states, even at this late stage, that the children would be accompanied by their parents [sic, plural], and throws in the name of Sonia’s father, (“Doctor Kuczynski of London University’), as if that impressive academic touch would seal the deal. Mystifyingly still, Cazalet’s response of December 10 misses the point entirely, stating that MI5 (to whom the request was addressed) ‘have no objection to the names of Mrs. Ursula BEURTON’s children being added to her passport and the children accompanying their mother to this country’. His memo to Stafford of the Passport and Permit Office, dated December 4, clearly indicates that the problem was due to the fact that they were ‘German born children’.

Once she and her children arrived in Lisbon, Sonia faced multiple challenges in planning her transit. This section of her memoir is probably one of the more reliable parts, in the bare outline of their movements. She wrote a letter to her parents in which she described the horrendous journey, the unheated bus through France, the icy cold in which they stood waiting at customs houses, alleviated by a more comfortable train ride from Barcelona to Madrid, and then a more stressful passage to Lisbon, where they arrived on December 24, 1940, with all three of them ill. The British consulate explained that Sonia was ‘about the most insignificant person on the long list’, so she moved, somewhat incongruously, to a comfortable hotel up the coast in Estoril (the ‘Grande’, “once the setting for the European aristocracy to spend its summers”), using monies from Moscow Centre’s account. “After about three weeks, the consulate informed me that we would be taken to England by ship”, she wrote. Yet the letter she wrote to her family on January 4 indicates that she already knew then that the waiting-time would be ‘about three weeks’ – not a bad prospect for someone so lowly on the pecking-order. She had been granted a Category ‘C’ endorsement (no internment required) on January 10. It appeared that MI6 had primed the consulate: Sonia gave the game away again.

Moscow also helped with the expenses involved in transporting Sonia and her family across Europe. While funding was tight in Switzerland, and caused special stresses, Foote informed his interrogators that ‘Albert’ (Radó) managed to send $3,500 to her in Portugal. This was obviously essential for Sonia’s living expenses while staying at the Grande Hotel. Sonia admitted this contribution in her memoir. Yet she was clearly indebted to MI6 for working behind the scenes to advance her priority up the queue of desperate refugees waiting to gain a spot on one of the ships bound for Liverpool. No questions were apparently asked about her source of funds or her lavish accommodation.

Step Five: Helping Sonia Settle in Britain

‘The Wake Arms’ in Epping

In two respects, MI6 helped Sonia with her accommodation and trysting arrangements in England. In one extraordinary item of testimony, Foote told his interrogators (KV 6/43-243A) that, before Sonia left Switzerland, she asked Foote to send a message to Moscow giving the address in Essex where her GRU contact was to meet. Foote’s notebook revealed that Sonia was to ‘meet with the Russians on 1st & 15th of every month at 3pm GMT at Wake Arms in Epping’. This location has an especial interest, since some of the items of correspondence intercepted at the Summertown address in September and October 1942 came from Epping. It would nevertheless not have been an easy place to travel to and from for a mother with two young children resident in Oxford. Yet Epping had its enduring attractions. In 1944, Sonia consequently decided to send Nina, aged seven, to a ‘boarding school in beautiful rural surroundings near Epping Forest’, Micha having already won a scholarship to a boarding school in Eastbourne, Sussex. Nannies and boarding-schools: those are the emblems of the truly dedicated Communist with important work to do.

What is astonishing about this item is how Sonia must have gained the intelligence. Unless the claim was a gross invention by Foote (which seems unlikely, given its detail, and the context), we have to consider the alternatives for the source of a message that was to be sent to Moscow. It therefore could not have originated from Moscow, but we also have to consider why Moscow would need this information. Did Sonia believe that Moscow would have to pass it on to her GRU contact in London, so that she and her handler could meet successfully? Surely not: Moscow was in constant touch with London. Or was she simply confirming what her GRU contact had told her already? Yet, even if she had been able to contact the GRU in London, by wireless, or possibly by coded letter to her sister or father, there would have been no need for her to inform Moscow, as her relatives must have derived the data from the local GRU residency.

Thus we have to assume that the address was given to her by Farrell in MI6. The implication that MI6 was in communication with GRU officers in London about the plan to bring Sonia to Britain, and aiding the process of setting up her treffs, is too scandalous and impossible to consider. I suggest one tentative interpretation. What probably happened is that Sonia had been able to inform Moscow that MI6 was going to recommend a suitable meeting-place (presumably with the objective of surveilling it closely), and, at the last minute before she left, it gave her the times and location for Epping. Her message thus constituted a warning to her bosses that this place was not to be used. There is no other evidence that she travelled regularly to Epping, which would have been an arduous journey from Oxford, although much easier from Hampstead, if that is where MI6 believed she would probably take up residence.

The fact that Foote had to inform Moscow of the arrangement must mean that the GRU was aware that Sonia was negotiating with MI6. That was in principle also a dangerous path, as such collaboration was severely frowned upon. In late 1943, Radó received a royal carpeting when he suggested to Moscow that he and Foote seek shelter in the British consulate in Geneva when the Gestapo started applying pressure to the Swiss, and mopped up the Rote Drei network. Sonia must have wisely told Moscow everything, and gained their approval for going along with MI6’s game, as it represented the best chance of gaining the foothold in Britain that they all desired.

The other instance where MI6 helped her was in her attempt to learn where her destination in England would be. I laid out in Sonia’s Radio: Chapter 8 how she sent a desperate letter from Lisbon to her father’s address in London, which was redirected to the address in Oxford that she would later give, as her destination, to the immigration officer in Liverpool. Whether Oxford was chosen as part of a deep strategy by the GRU, as a sensible idea by MI6, or out of a firm preference from the Kucyznski family is unclear. It may well have been the latter, as Jürgen Kuczynski had expressed dismay that Sonia was coming to Britain, where she might draw undue attention by MI5 and Special Branch to his own subversive activities on behalf of the Party. The anguish in her letter shows that Sonia must have known already that she was not welcome in London, and would be directed elsewhere. Yet Sonia did learn what this address was before she arrived in Liverpool. Some emissary from MI6 must have provided this information care of the Consul in Lisbon: there is no other reasonable explanation. In Chapter 8 I put forward one speculative notion.

The voyage to Liverpool took three weeks: the Avoceta arrived on February 4. After the interrogation(s) (in which she was now able to provide a destination address), Sonia managed to find a hotel to stay in, and after an air-raid interrupted night, the next morning travelled smoothly by train to Oxford. Thereafter, her account does not ring true. She claimed that her parents were staying with friends at the Oxford address (78 Woodstock Road, as the MI5 files tell us: they followed her there), but that they had to return to London ‘because their room was needed by their friends’ relatives’. Implausibly, Sonia states that, because house-hunting in Oxford was ‘hopeless’, she tried to find something in the bombed cities, but that was impossible too. (Did she travel to Portsmouth? Coventry? Liverpool? She does not say.)  ‘At last’ she found a furnished room, but had to send the children away, as the landlady insisted on only one renter. So she found a room at the vicarage in Glympton, near Woodstock, settled down, and started her fortnightly visits to London.

If one were not aware of her brother’s objections, one night ask why on earth she didn’t move to the bosom of her family in London, so she would have grandparents to look after her children, and be able to carry on her trysts so much more easily? Apparently ‘moving in with them was out of the question’, as her parents were staying with friends in an overcrowded house’. In April 1941, she conveniently found the furnished bungalow in Kidlington, with no landlady, and the ability to keep her children with her. What she also omitted to mention, however, was that, during these hectic weeks, she was actually residing with her sister, Barbara, Mrs Taylor, at 97 Kingston Road, Oxford, as the constabulary report of February 24 informs us. Barbara’s husband, Duncan Burnett Macrae Taylor, was a trainee wireless operator in the R. A. F., and thus may well have been the officer Sonia claimed to have developed as an informer (‘James’) when she boasted of her ‘network’ in her memoir. Moreover, the report says that her parents are still living at 78 Woodstock Road. It is no wonder that Sonia fails to describe this part of her life in Oxford in any detail.

Step Six: Allowing Sonia to Carry On Unsurveilled

Kidlington Airport

What is clear from the archives is that a minimal surveillance of Sonia was undertaken, but it was of the generic kind of instructing the local constabulary ‘to keep an eye on her’, as if they might surprise her in the act of planting a bomb somewhere. It extended to intercepting her mail, but specifically did not track her movements. The problem is that much of the initiative came from younger officers, like Hugh Shillito, who were trying to do their job, but had clearly not been filled in on the bigger picture. Shillito (B.10.e) wrote to Major Ryde in Reading (the Special Branch representative) on February 7, suggesting that Sonia might want to ‘be kept under observation’. Yet he gives no indication that she is a communist, and related to subversives who have been interned. He merely states that she ‘clearly comes from an entirely different social stratum, and it appears that the marriage was one of convenience’. He says that Len’s ‘present whereabouts are unknown’. It is obvious that he has not been briefed properly, has not spoken to Milicent Bagot, has not read the immigration reports, and is completely unaware of the Communist group that Sonia was part of. He ends his request with the statement: ‘I shall be very interested to hear the result of any enquiries you may make’, but one could hardly expect Major Ryde to jump into action on the basis of this weak letter.

Shillito in fact copied his letter to the Oxford Constabulary, and Ryde did send it on to the Oxford City Police. Acting Detective-Sergeant Jevons did make enquiries, and discovered the facts about the Taylors, and also that Sonia’s father held ‘strong Communist views’, facts that he reported to Shillito on February 24. The very next day, Hyde sent a letter to Shillito, enclosing a copy of the Beurtons’ marriage certificate. This is shocking and absurd: Why did these dedicated civil servants have to educate an MI5 officer about the details of the case? I have noticed that MI5 officers often seemed remarkably ignorant of the marital status of Len and Sonia: when Sonia’s application for a passport came through in March 1940, Cazalet had even indicated that they thought Len was in Germany, in February 1940, which would have been a ridiculous supposition if he had married Sonia the previous month.

Thus Shillito appears to have been kept in the dark, deliberately. His response to Ryde of March 1 suggests that the marriage is all news to him. In any case, at that point Shillito effectively signs off, deeming no further action required, and again expresses the perennial hope that ‘an eye can be kept’ on Sonia. The file is passed to B4, as it appears to be a Communist Party matter. Thereafter, Sonia and Shillito disappear from the archival radar, the case not taking on new life until her husband’s repatriation in July 1942, by which time Shillito has been heavily involved with the business of Oliver Green, a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and a spy who had been convicted and imprisoned, not for espionage, but for forging petrol coupons. In the reorganization of July 1941, after Petrie’s arrival, Shillito had been moved into the new F Division, tracking CP members, and was given a new assignment.

According to Sonia’s account, the hounds (if that is how these tentative inquisitors must be characterized) must have been called off at about the time she first met with her controller in London, in May, after several abortive attempts. She travelled up to London every couple of weeks, to speak to her father, and colleagues like Hans Kahle. She stayed with her parents, or one of her sisters, presumably leaving her children behind. She never explains how they were taken care of. It was in 1941, of course, that Peter Wright claimed that she maintained ‘a nest of spies’, something that surely should have gained the attention of any agency chartered with ‘keeping an eye on her’. As readers of these bulletins will know by now, I largely discount Wright’s allegations, although it is possible that Sonia developed contacts in important scientific research organisations in Oxford.  And yet, throughout the rest of 1941, no one apparently noticed any of her journeys and absences, or pondered how a mother was able to leave her kids behind so regularly.

The political environment changed in 1941, of course. The Battle of Britain was over; the threat of invasion receded; the search for parachuted German agents waned; Hitler turned his attention eastwards and invaded the Soviet Union on June 22. With Churchill’s immediate message of support to Stalin, and signals from the Y Board and the Foreign Office that counter-intelligence operations against the Soviet Union should be wound down, Sonia would have been seen in a different light. What possible harm could a lone and disconnected housewife perform to the cause of the war?

MI6’s need for insights into Soviet decryption techniques, however, did not go away, and GCHQ never completely abandoned its plans for attacking Soviet traffic. It was in the summer of 1941 that Sonia, having assembled her wireless transmitter at Glympton, began transmitting regularly to Moscow, and the only surviving message concerning her wireless activity (not from her directly, but from the Soviet Embassy) dates from July of this year. As I have outlined, her attempts to contact her bosses at that time were made from Kidlington, and were (apparently) never picked up. Thus it would appear that MI6 fell into a fallow period with Sonia, not certain what to do with her, and perhaps frustrated in noticing that, having installed herself as a competent wireless operator in Oxfordshire, she stubbornly refused to co-operate by sending any messages that could be intercepted.

The circumstances surrounding Sonia’s broadcasts in 1941, and the apparent failure of RSS to pick them up, are still perplexing. Since her messages needed to reach Moscow, she would have had to use a higher band-width (probably over 1000 kcs) than would have been used by postulated Nazi agents trying to reach Hamburg, or enemy wireless operators working on the Continent. Such signals should have immediately drawn attention, but they would have been harder to pick up at that wavelength, and it is probable that the Voluntary Interceptors (VIs) had not been instructed to perform General Searches in this range. We can only speculate as to how well MI6 understood the technicalities of waveband selection for the cuckoo they had transplanted into their nest, or how reluctant they would have been to divulge too much about her presence to RSS officers who were supposed to detect her.

We do know that, by early 1942, a VI picked up such a signal from the Soviet Embassy, but location-finding techniques still had great difficulty in tracking it down. It may be that, not until MI6 took over the fixed direction-finding stations from the Post Office in late 1941, and built new ones, and connected them all, was the RSS able to include in its ambit a greater range of frequencies, and pass some of them to the VIs. One RSS officer, Bob King, assured me that the complete spectrum of wavelengths was monitored, and, moreover, that Sonia’s transmissions were picked up, and instructions received to ignore them, but the dating of such events suggests they were post-war. I shall pick up this fascinating aspect of the story in the conclusion to my series The Mystery of the Undetected Radios.

The final anomalous oversight of this period was Sonia’s momentous meetings with Klaus Fuchs. Yet those encounters properly belong to the time after Beurton’s arrival back in the United Kingdom, which was an important scheme by MI6 in its own right. It would be Len’s controversial arrangements for rejoining his wife that would gain Hugh Shillito’s attention again.

Step 7: Orchestrating Len’s Repatriation

Eleanor Rathbone

One extraordinary aspect of the whole project concerning Len’s repatriation is the extreme lengths that MI6 went to. When far more-deserving candidates, such as escaped prisoners-of-war, were struggling to gain passage back to England, Beurton, a known communist, agent in a Swiss spy network, and member of an official Black List, benefitted from the provision of false papers, and the advantage of an aircraft return to Poole, Dorset instead of the dangerous and slow sea journey that most refugees had to endure. (The busy MI9 route out of Gibraltar also used aircraft.) It is difficult to imagine that MI6 would go to such extreme lengths purely because of the pressure applied by leftist friends of the Kuczynskis, and for the office of the Foreign Secretary to become involved only draws attention to the anomaly.

Readers will recall that, when Sonia arrived in Liverpool in early February 1941, one of the accounts that she gave of Len’s absence was that he had gone two years ago to Switzerland for treatment for tuberculosis, that he had recovered and was thus fit to travel, but that the failure of the Spanish to grant him a transit visa had prevented his accompanying her. (And that this intelligence was in contradiction of what the passport application from Geneva had indicated.) Unsurprisingly, the testimonies now differ. Sonia reported that Radó had applied pressure on Len, saying that his work in Switzerland was more important, and Len had been influenced by him. But when he asked Moscow what he should do, they told him to ‘do as Sonya says’ – an extremely unlikely interchange.

Foote described it differently: “Bill [Len] then pulled out of the organisation, and though he remained in Switzerland until 1942 he had no more official contact with us after March 1941. Moscow allowed him to try to make arrangements to leave at the end of 1941 and even assisted him in obtaining a British passport by getting a leading British politician to intervene on his behalf. The politician concerned acted, I am sure, quite innocently in this as worked through a number of cut-outs, and the person in question would probably have been horrified at the thought of assisting a Russian spy.” Probably a more accurate account, and a useful commentary by the MI5 ghost-writer, to be sure. Radó echoed Foote’s account in Codename Dora, indicating that ‘John’ [Len] stayed on to provide training (‘at Central’s request’) but then observed that Len was able to leave the country by the spring of 1941. Even if Radó was mistaken over the date of Len’s derparture, it strongly suggests that Len was not occupied with the Rote Drei any longer.

Sonia made much of Len’s struggles to gain any priority with the consulate in the queue of escapees trying to reach Britain, and she said she then contacted Hans Kahle, who, in turn invoked the support of Eleanor Rathbone, the left wing MP, who pleaded on the basis of Len’s eagerness to join the British Army. It might have suited MI6 to keep Len in place for a while, since he was providing useful information on anti-Nazi thinking from his association with General von Falkenhausen, but someone obviously concluded that he would be of more use back in Britain. Events then took some extraordinary turns, involving some barefaced lies that apparently did not concern the authorities, who were, after all, responsible for some of them.

For example, Sonia wrote that Rathbone must have asked a question in Parliament, along the lines of : “Why is a British citizen and anti-fascist with military experience in the Spanish Civil War, who is abroad and wants to volunteer for the British Army, not being given the support of His Majesty’s Government in order to return to his home country?” She overlooked the obvious paradox that, in order to gain a transit visa necessary for repatriation and then enlisting, Beurton had to be declared unfit for military service in Geneva. A veritable Catch22. [I cannot find, in the 1942 Hansard records, this question from the MP for the Combined Universities, but Miss Rathbone was a vigorous and regular critic of government policy.]

When Rathbone wrote to Alexander Cadogan, the Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, on February 18, 1942, she explained that Beurton had gone to Switzerland before the war for health reasons, and then underwent a serious ski-ing accident that prevented him from leaving. For good measure, the International Brigade Association secretary, Mr Jack Brent, threw in (orally) that Beurton probably had tuberculosis as well, and would therefore be unfit for military service, thus undermining Rathbone’s appeal. This submission conveniently reinforced the ‘legend’ that Sonia had built up about Len’s affliction, yet rather over-egged the pudding with the details of Len’s misfortunes while ski-ing. Of course, the myth that Len was unfit for military service was necessary in an effort to convince the Vichy French and Spanish authorities that Len could not contribute to the war effort, but it rather undermined the urgency of the reasons why the British authorities would be eager to repatriate a tubercular, crippled Communist subversive. Did they perhaps not recall that Klaus Fuchs’s brother Gerhard had arrived by aeroplane in the UK from Switzerland in July 1939, but had been denied entry, and had been forced to return, because he had tuberculosis?

In any case, the Foreign Office wisely pointed out that Beurton would probably need to be pronounced unfit by an impartial medical board in order to gain transit visas from the French and Spanish authorities. On June 3, Livingston, of the Geneva consulate, informed Sir Anthony Eden, the Foreign Secretary, that Beurton had been trying to leave for two years (some slight exaggeration), but he was able to supply the good news that, in April, the doctor attached to the French consulate had declared him unfit for military service. Thereafter, they had applied for French and Spanish visas. The Spaniards, not smelling a rat (or possibly receiving some form of encouragement), had granted the visa, but the French were still delaying things. Yet what Livingston did not state at this juncture was that Beurton had already, on March 9, been issued with a false passport in the name of John William Miller. This fellow must have been a really important asset.

The final visa was issued on July 8, Beurton left Geneva on July 13, and Livingston reported his departure on July 20. There is no record of his journey on file, but Beurton apparently was given VIP treatment, not taking the regular MI9 route for escaped POWs and agents from occupied Europe via Madrid to Gibraltar, but enjoying instead the diplomatic route, and the comfort of a quick plane from Lisbon. He arrived at Poole Airport on July 29, hale, but a little peeved that the he had to undergo an interrogation, as he felt that the authorities in Lisbon should have warned immigration about his arrival. He confidently declared that his passport was a forgery, denied that he had gone to Switzerland for health reasons, indicated that he had gone to Germany in January 1939 to retrieve property owned by Rudolf Kuczynski, and intimated that he had an affair with the latter’s daughter, Ursula. He boasted that he had survived on a $20,000 legacy that he had been carrying round in cash. Furthermore he stated that he and Ursula were married in May 1940, and that they did not leave Switzerland at the beginning of the war as they were waiting for his wife’s divorce papers to come through. He was, however, quick to mention his contact from the League of Nations, L. T. Wang.

A more incriminating farrago of lies would have been difficult to concoct. On August 5, Vesey (B4A) wrote to MI6 expressing surprise that the Passport Control Officer would have issued a false British passport to man whose history must have been known. MI6 replied to Vesey that he had been given a faked passport as he had been refused a transit visa in his own name, adding that the PCO in Geneva was ‘of course’ not aware of the ‘individual circular’ concerning Beurton, who had in the meantime approached the ‘Passport Control’ (i.e. MI6 itself) to join the Armed Forces. MI6 was meanwhile very interested in Wang and Kwei. Vesey and a representative from MI6 would interrogate Beurton in October about the questionable legacy and his actions with Sonia’s friend Marie Guinzberg at the UN in gaining a Bolivian passport. Yet interest in all these suspicious activities was buried.

Step 8: Suppressing Leads on Sonia’s and Len’s Activities

Klaus Fuchs

I have written at length on the apparent confusion surrounding MI5’s surveillance of the Kidlington and Summertown addresses, and the Beurtons’ telephone and mail (see, of March 19, 2020). Sonia claimed that she and Len had to move out of the Kidlington house very soon after Len’s arrival, but was fortunate in finding accommodation in the annex to the house owned by Neville Laski and his wife. Sonia was careful in picking landlords of impeccable standing: Laski was a notable jurist, and may have acted as a solicitor for MI5 at some stage. When the Beurtons moved to The Firs at Great Rollright after the war, they rented from Sir Arthur Salter, the Member of Parliament for Oxford University from 1937 to 1950.

My main conclusion was that Hugh Shillito, having been emboldened by a successful investigation of Oliver Green’s espionage activities, shifted his attention back to the Beurtons soon after Len’s arrival in July 1942, but was firmly discouraged by senior MI5 officers from pursuing the leads too energetically. For example, the apparent failure to follow up on the provocative batch of letters listed on file is perplexing. Just after the time (November 1942) when he had gained the enthusiastic support of Director-General Petrie, and his immediate supervisor Roger Hollis, for his prosecution of the Green case, Shillito made the outlandish suggestion that Sonia and Len were probably Soviet spies. Yet this was information that some senior officers did not want to hear.

It would be quite plausible that Liddell and White had been drawn into the plot by MI6 at this stage, but that Petrie and Hollis (who had replaced his former boss, John Curry, as head of F Division in November 1941), had not. F2 was responsible for ‘Communism and Left-wing Movements’, but Sonia and Len were not associated with the Party, or visibly part of any ‘movement’, so they, along with many other free-flowing communists (such as Jürgen Kuczynski and Fritz Kahle) were allowed to behave unhindered. Perhaps a case was made on those lines that the Beurtons should be ignored. As late as July 1943, however, when the very disgruntled but severely anti-communist Curry had been transferred to MI6, Shillito was still grumbling to his former director that he thought the Beurtons were Soviet agents.

Yet it is the Fuchs business that dominates this period. Sonia had been introduced to Fuchs through her brother, Jürgen. From Sonia’s account, one would get the impression that she cycled out to the Banbury area a dozen times or more, sometimes meeting Fuchs in person, sometimes leaving a message in a shared ‘letterbox’ to arrange a subsequent meeting. When Fuchs passed her a hundred-page book of blueprints, she had to travel to London to inform her handler (by a secret chalk sign) that they would meet outside Oxford, and she then had to pedal out to the junction of the A34 and the A40 to hand over the formulae and drawings. Frank Close echoes the account of these idyllic trysts, even quoting what Sonia later told the local Oxford newspapers: “During the final months of 1942, and throughout 1943, Fuchs and Sonya met at regular intervals near Banbury, always at weekends. She would come from Oxford by train in the morning, Fuchs arriving from Birmingham in the afternoon. One meeting was in Overthorpe Park, two miles east of Banbury, and within easy reach by bicycle or on foot.”

One can already see the contradictions. Did Sonia bike the whole thirty miles to Banbury, or did she take her bicycle to the train station, and then ride out to Overthorpe Park? Remember, most of these adventures would have occurred in the windy and rainy English winter of 1942-1943: moreover the Beurtons’ son, Peter, was born in September 1943, which would have hindered Sonia’s cycling excursions in the latter part of this period. Fuchs would not have been able to make regular forays to duboks in North Oxfordshire just to inform Sonia when the next meeting should be. Sonia promoted the notion that they walked around arm-in-arm, as if they were lovers, to throw off any suspicions. Yet most of this must be fantasy.

Sonia probably met Fuchs for the first time in a café near Birmingham railway station, in late summer 1942, and on that occasion they probably only checked each other out. The Vassiliev Papers record that she had reported that Fuchs had already passed papers to her by October 22 (and they also inform us that Fuchs’s previous handler, Kremer, had returned to the Soviet Union in August 1942). MI5 later claimed that such meetings occurred only every two or three months (echoing what Fuchs told them in his confession), and lasted only a few minutes, which would appear to make more sense, with Fuchs needing to be careful about absenting himself from Birmingham. If Sonia had indeed been taking her bike to Oxford station at regular intervals, surely ‘keeping an eye on her’ would have quickly led to her being stopped, and interrogated about her business? And what happened if her bicycle had broken down and she had secret plans in her basket?

Sonia’s handling of Fuchs lasted only one year. They had their infamous ‘Quebec Agreement’ meeting in mid-August 1943, and a final tryst in November. So, even allowing for MI5’s possible distortions to cover their ineptitude, she and Fuchs probably met only about three or four times before, which, logistically, makes much more sense. More poignantly, this period happened to coincide almost exactly with Len’s presence, and idleness, before being enlisted in the R. A. F. on November 18, 1943, as a trainee wireless operator. Len had expressed to Vesey, in October 1942, his annoyance at being turned down by the Air Force, whom he was keen to join, for health reasons. But his ill health was a myth. Had MI6 been working behind the scenes to disrupt his application? And what about the support of Rathbone, Cadogan and Eden for getting this man into the fight against the Nazis? Did Rathbone conveniently forget about the vociferous appeal she had made on behalf of the valiant British fighting-man?

That there might be significance behind the apparent coincidence of Fuchs’s productivity and Len’s wireless activity is too horrendous to consider, but Beurton had surely taken over the operation of the radio in Kidlington from Sonia. Was that what MI6 conceived as his role? Unless they were interested purely in improved marital relations for Sonia and Len, MI6 must have had plans for him. Yet he could not be used for intelligence purposes in the UK, and he could possibly be a danger if used in the Armed Forces, as his later problems in being accepted reveal. Farrell’s letter of March 1943 remains puzzling, but could have been a coded reminder that Len needed to re-commit to the cause of British Intelligence, and advice from his new-found ‘friend’ would be timely.

Whether Sonia actually used her apparatus to transmit from the new address in Summertown is mainly speculation. The discovery of her set in January 1943 has been analysed studiously. Certainly she claimed that she transmitted regularly, and that her children confirmed her nocturnal activities, but the evidence is sparse. GCHQ, on behalf of RSS, claimed very unscientifically to Peter Wright that she could not have transmitted undetected, but of course her messages might have been intercepted, and decisions made to leave Sonia untouched and uninterrupted. Wright himself wrote vaguely of Sonia’s lost messages, and scoured the globe for them. William Tyrer’s dossier contains a number of unverifiable, mostly undated, messages from Moscow to Sonia, but they are largely very unbusinesslike and novelettish, and mostly predate the Fuchs era or are placed after the war. If she did transmit anything from the Summertown address, it would have been relatively harmless material, and used as a distraction to draw attention away from Kidlington.

With her knowledge and experience from direction-finding in Poland, however, it would have been career suicide for her to transmit repeatedly from a single address in densely populated England, and expect not to be detected. Thus one must assume that either a) if she had been a genuine, freely-operating spy, she would not have used her apparatus (maybe surprised that the authorities did not investigate her equipment), but would have taken advantage instead of Len and the Soviet Embassy to ensure that her secrets reached Moscow; or b) if she had been aware of MI6’s attempts to control her, she would have transmitted only her variant of ‘chicken-feed’, which would be enough to keep her watchers busy, but would never reveal any information that might cast doubt on her ‘new’ loyalties, even if GC&CS were able to decipher her messages. In any case, MI6 were stuck with the cuckoo in their nest, and, at the peak of Great Britain-Soviet Union ‘co-operation’ in 1942-43, had to sit back and let things take their course. Even though the extent of Sonia’s espionage may have been overstated, she certainly duped British Intelligence in her coup with Fuchs.

Step 9: Keeping the Lid On, 1944-1946

‘The Firs’ at Great Rollright

After Fuchs’s departure for the USA in December 1943, and Len’s enlistment in the R. A. F., Sonia’s espionage activities waned. She claimed that she maintained her contacts, and continued to use her wireless, even stating that she sent her son, Micha, and daughter, Nina, to boarding-schools in Eastbourne and Epping respectively so that they would not notice her nocturnal transmissions. How the financially strained Beurtons found the money to pay for private education is never explained, although MI6 has been known to help out in this manner for well-deserving cases. Certainly Sonia helped Erich Henschke and other anti-fascists in the OSS project to drop agents into Germany, in late 1944, but since her brother Jürgen was actually engaged by the American OSS at the time, her actions would not have been regarded as suspicious.

She also had some contact with Melita Norwood (TINA) who was probably of even more use to the Soviets than was Fuchs, but this lasted only for a short time in 1945. Melita’s mother was on friendly terms with Sonia’s mother, and Sonia and Melita had met shortly after Sonia’s arrival in 1941. It would not have been efficient for Sonia, based in Oxfordshire, to have couriered for Norwood, who was, after all, a KGB agent. The Vassiliev Papers (Yellow Notebook No. 1: File 82702) tell us that, even though Norwood had been recruited by the OGPU as far back as 1935, the receipt of papers from her in June 1945 was only the second batch she handed over. Moreover, she had left her job at the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association in 1943 to bear her child, and was out of action for over a year. Thus the claim that David Burke makes in The Spy Who Came In From the Co-Op (p 14), that Sonia ‘was Melita Norwood’s controller between 1941 and 1944’ should be quickly dismissed.

MI5, in the person of Shillito, continued to dig around, noticing the anomalies in Beurton’s sickness record.  Shillito also noted that Sonia’s first husband Rudolf had been arrested as a spy in Persia, which resuscitated his suspicions about Sonia. Sargant of O.D.3a had to respond to Air Ministry questions about Len’s dubious story concerning money and health. It was apparent that the Service was now having a difficult time keeping up consistent appearances of the plot to which it had colluded, and struggled to explain why Beurton had been given a fake passport. The rumours even reached the US Embassy, who in August 1944 were anxious to track down Rudolf Hamburger’s wife and family. Roger Hollis himself was called upon to respond to an inquiry from M. J. Lynch. In a letter dated August 10, 1944, Hollis made the best fist he could, admitting that the Beurtons had ‘communist sympathies’, and had probably been funded by the Soviets, adding, however, that MI5’s enquiries had come to nothing, and that neither Mr or Mrs Beurton had been noticed performing anything nefarious. He clearly hoped the problem would go away.

In any case, Moscow Centre at this time decided to loosen its ties with Sonia, although it articulated this message via the Embassy, which had become a much safer way of exchanging vital information by this time. One of the more convincing messages cited in William Tyrer’s dossier, dated January 15, 1945, and sent to Sklyarov in London, runs as follows:

“For your personal information. In the mountain country [Switzerland] Sonia was in contact with Albert [Rado] and his wife. The counterintelligence in your country knows about Albert’s activities in the mountain country and his work for us. There are grounds to suppose that to some degree the counterintelligence may learn about Sonia’s work during her stay in Albert’s country.

     In this connection:

     1. Any personal contact with Sonia should be ceased and not to be resumed without our authorization.

     2. To forbid Sonia to be engaged in our work. She should lead the life of a model mother, wife and housekeeper. Report on the execution. Direktor.”

Moscow was apparently alarmed by the break-up of the Swiss Ring, and the fact that Alexander Foote and Radó might have betrayed information about Sonia’s past activity. Yet there is a trace of disingenuousness here: how could they have imagined that British counter-intelligence was ignorant of Sonia’s career? Nevertheless, the pressure increased, with Gouzenko’s defection in Canada in September 1945 causing panic, and the closing down of multiple agents. The Vassiliev Notebooks (Yellow Notebook, No, 1, p 86) confirm that Moscow cut off all contact with Sonia in January 1946. When Fuchs returned to the UK in 1946, he had to seek out a new go-between. Thereafter, while Sonia was said to communicate occasionally (the language is ambiguous and puzzling), her sister Renate was used as an intermediary to get funds to her. Sonia claimed that she still used her wireless set at this time, having moved to The Firs in Great Rollright, and Bob King of the Discrimination Section of RSS reported to me that he was certain that her messages were picked up by the RSS interceptors, but buried by senior officers.

Before the dramatic defection in July 1947 of Alexander Foote, back to the British, and his subsequent interrogation by MI5, one last twist in the story occurred, revealing the awkwardnesses of MI5 officers having to explain the situation. In April 1946, the FBI, still trying to establish the whereabouts of Rudolf Hamburger, through J. Cimperman, contacted MI5 to determine whether they might approach Ursula Beurton. This time, it fell upon John Marriott (him of the XX Committee, now F2C), and he shared the remarkable information that a letter from the FBI of July 13, 1945 had referred to an address in Geneva (129 Rue de Lausanne), reportedly the address through which Hamburger could be contacted, which was the same address where Mrs. Beurton had last stayed in in Switzerland. Furthermore, she had indicated in 1941, when he arrived, that she thought her husband was still resident there.

One might imagine that an astute officer would either have concealed this information from the Americans, or, alternatively, shown great enthusiasm in following up this extraordinary coincidence. Marriott used it, however, to suggest to Cimperman that the relationships between the two men and Mrs. Beurton made it ‘undesirable’ to approach the lady. Yet he did promise to make further enquiries. The wretched Hamburger meanwhile had been taken back to Moscow from Persia, cruelly interrogated on the suspicion of being a spy, and sentenced to a long stay in a labour-camp. Peter Wright claims in Spycatcher that Hamburger had been an MI6 spy, although John Green comments that this story has never been corroborated.

Maybe foolishly (why would he think that Hamburger still had a link with Geneva?), Marriott agreed to follow up, and turned to the MI6 office responsible – Kim Philby. The same day, he wrote to Philby, explaining the situation, and asking him to make enquiries about the address, and provide, if possible, information on the whereabouts of Hamburger. Marriott revealed his discomfort about Cimperman’s approach directly to Philby, stating: “For a variety of reasons I do not feel able to comply with this request,. . .”, hinting at a tacit, awkward understanding between the two. Two weeks later, Philby, having initiated the appropriate search, responded with a very enigmatic explanation, also confirming that his contact was trying to establish whether Beurton was still living at that address. Continuing to play his role of the simpleton, he added that ‘we have no knowledge of the present whereabouts of HAMBURGER’. Marriott was soon able to enlighten Philby that Beurton was now a Guardsman with the 1st Battalion of the Coldstream Guards in the B.A.O.R. He then sent a very useless and bland letter to Cimperman, which did nothing to shed light on the mystery of the shared address. Apparently nobody followed up with Len or Sonia to learn more about what may have been a Soviet safe-house. Philby clearly wanted to bury the story.

Step 10: Foote and Fuchs: Allowing Sonia and Len to Escape

Alexander Foote

Two challenges remained for the Beurtons – the defection of Alexander Foote, and the arrest of Klaus Fuchs.

The GRU had always harboured its suspicions about Foote’s loyalties, because of his relationship with the British consulate in Geneva, and especially when he encouraged Radó to take cover with him there in November 1943. After Foote was released from prison in November 1944, he made his way to Paris, where he made the extraordinarily bold decision to travel to Moscow to face the music, arriving in mid-January 1945. During the next couple of years, MI5 and MI6 communicated desultorily on Foote’s fate. Foote, meanwhile, was undergoing intense interrogation, and his brazenness in afforming his loyalty must have impressed the Soviets. He was sent to spy school, and on March 7, 1947, left Moscow for Berlin, with a new identity, and a mission to operate as a Soviet agent in South America. On July 2, he defected to the British authorities in Berlin. Claude Dansey did not see his hero return: he had died, discarded, disliked and dejected, on June 11.

Foote was initially interrogated by MI6, and quickly revealed, as is evident from the first Interrogation Report of July 14, that he had worked alongside ‘Sonia’ in the Rote Drei, and that ‘Sonia’ was the alias given to her by the Russian Secret Service, her real name being Ursula KUTSCINSKI’ [sic]. MI5’s Serpell (who had replaced an exasperated Shillito by then) was sent out to interrogate Foote, who immediately voiced his concerns about Sonia’s probable espionage in Britain.  Foote was brought back to the UK, under an assumed name, and arrived at Northolt on August 7. All this must have been a little embarrassing for MI6, who know saw matters spiralling out of control, with officers who had not been ‘indoctrinated’ in the case, including the new Director-General, spreading the news around. Percy Sillitoe contacted the Canadians about the Gouzenko connection; Serpell excitedly got in touch with the American Embassy. Foote, meanwhile, had a crisis of conscience: Sonia had, after all, been his collaborator and tutor, and he sent her a furtive message via Fred Ullmann, another International Brigader who had originally helped recruit him, that she and Len should be on their guard.

This news re-awakened MI5, with the familiar Marriott (now B1b) seeking information on the Beurtons’ whereabouts, since they had lost track of Len since his discharge in August 1945.  He immediately requested a Home Office Warrant check put on the Beurton’s correspondence, as it had apparently just come to his notice that they had both been Soviet spies in Switzerland during the early part of the war. Further revelations from the interrogation of Foote came to light: “Foote suggested that another symptom of SONIA’s continued link with MOSCOW after she reached England was contained in a message he had from Moscow in 1941 about the efforts to get BEURTON back to the U.K. The message said that ELEANOR RATHBONE and others were helping.”

Marriott treated the deluge of Foote’s divulgements as if they were all news to him, and wrote, apparently without irony: “It is not clear why Ursula Beurton left Switzerland as she did at the end of 1940 to proceed to this country, but on the evidence of Foote she did so with at least Russian concurrence and the possibility therefore cannot be excluded that she came here with a  mission.” (Indeed. Had he not read the files in the Registry?) On August 18, he disingenuously tried to finesse the issue by noting that ‘the circumstances of the issue of this latter passport are known to me, and are not relevant to my inquiries.’ The outcome was that Serpell, accompanied by William Skardon, went to The Firs on September 13, to interrogate Sonia and Len.

This extraordinary encounter has been thoroughly reported on, by such as Chapman Pincher and John Green. It seemed the intention of Serpell and Skardon was to put Sonia at her ease, by assuring her that they knew that she had not engaged in any espionage activity in Britain, but instead indicating that they wanted to learn more about what had happened in Switzerland. Yet Sonia had been prepared for the visit by Foote. While Serpell’s continued references to her marriage unnerved Sonia, she realised that if she stuck to her guns, and remained silent, no ill could come out of the exercise. After all, British Intelligence had as much to lose from the truth coming out as she did.

While the focus of the questions seemed to be on events in Switzerland (and Marriott’s notes had indicated that questions concerning Len Beurton’s passport were uppermost in his mind), Serpell and Skardon seemed singularly uninterested in Len, who joined the gathering later, and even indicated that he thought that he was on their side (which, of course, he had been, for a while). The behaviour of the officers in this encounter bewildered Sonia: it was as if MI5 had been trying to catch her out, but they performed with total clumsiness. Serpell and Skardon revealed events in Switzerland that could only have been communicated by Foote. Certainly, the visit confirmed that any espionage activity by her and Len would have to cease at that stage, but Moscow had already decreed that outcome. Or was it a subtle indication that MI5 knew all about her, and that she and Len should make their escape while the going was good? That is an interpretation that John Green hypothesizes. Remarkably, the Home Office Warrant letter checks on not only Sonia, but on other members of her family, were withdrawn immediately after this encounter. So life carried on smoothly for a couple of years.

The arrest of Fuchs, on February 3, 1950, was more alarming. Sonia feared that he would reveal everything under interrogation, and, indeed, as early as February 20, J. D. Robertson (B2A) remarked that Sonia might be induced to talk because of the announcement of his arrest, although it is not clear what prompted him to make that connection. Fuchs had indeed spoken of a female contact he had had encounters with in Banbury, which should have set some MI5 pulses beating faster. Sonia herself wrote that ‘when the press mentioned that Klaus had been meeting a foreign woman with black hair in Banbury I expected my arrest any day’. Frank Close, in his biography of Fuchs, Trinity, reports that ‘the files record enigmatically that she was “touch not”’, but indicates that a pencilled annotation explained that this should be “tough nut”. Quite so: I have not been able to verify this, but the message is clear.

In any case, Sonia jumped the gun, and escaped with her two youngest children to East Germany on February 27, while Fuchs’s trial was under way. The extraordinary gaffe in this exercise was that no effort at preventing her departure was made, despite the obvious recognition that MI5 had shown (such as in Robertson’s note) that she might have been connected to the case. It was obviously easier to have her out of the way. She was untouchable.  As Sonia herself wrote: “Either it was complete stupidity on the part of MI5 never to have connected me with Klaus, or they may have let me go with it, since every further discovery would have increased their disgrace.”

Sonia’s departure must have been recorded, yet many MI5 officers remained in the dark. They even expressed the desire for bringing her and Len in for questioning. Fuchs continued to reveal more. On June 16, Robertson reported that Jürgen Kuczynski was the person who had originally put Fuchs in touch with the Russians.  On June 22, a letter was sent to the GPO, requesting a Home Office Warrant for Sonia, as ‘we have recently received information which indicates that Ursula Beurton has not relinquished her connection with Soviet espionage since her arrival in the 1941’. Even Director-General Sillitoe was on the act, asking Rutherford on July 25 about the whereabouts of Sonia and her husband. On June 27, Len Beurton, who had been recovering from a broken leg sustained in a motorcycle accident, was also allowed to leave the country untouched. On August 22, Robertson at last learned that Sonia had flown the coop. Not until November did Fuchs, obviously having been informed that Sonia and Len had safely left the country, admit that Sonia was his contact, and on December 18 he recognized her in a photograph. All through 1950, Liddell made no comment in his diaries about the Kuczynski link – or, if he did, the passages have been redacted. When Sonia was at last identified, his chagrin, and that of all senior officers in MI5 and MI6, must have been immense.


Claude Dansey

What started out as an imaginative opportunity for MI6 turned into a nightmare. It enabled the entry into Britain of a spy dedicated to the communist cause, one who helped her masters acquire secrets that would have been used to destroy the pluralist democracy. No doubt encouraged by the fruitful achievements of the emerging MI5 operation of developing double-agents (at that time, SNOW), Claude Dansey, the deputy to Stewart Menzies, alighted upon the availability of Ursula Hamburger to implement a similar project for Soviet spies. He was in Switzerland from September to November 1939, as Sonia’s divorce proceedings culminated. His man, van den Heuvel, and Farrell, the Passport Control Officer who was van den Heuvel’s deputy, became the instruments to make the plan a reality. In believing that they were saving Sonia’s life by abetting her escape, MI6 succumbed to the illusion that she and Len would be permanently beholden to them.

Yet managing so-called ‘double-agents’ is a hazardous business. It requires both very tight operational security, restricting knowledge of the project to as few persons as possible, and maintaining exclusive control over the agents’ movements and communications. The handling agency can never be sure that the person assumed to having been turned has made an ideological about-face, and switched his or her loyalties. Thus, unless a very tight rein is held over the agents’ behaviour, there is always the risk that, in their communications, they will betray the fact that they are being manipulated, or even arrange unsurveilled meetings where they will be able to describe what is going on. That is why they are properly called ‘controlled enemy agents’. MI5 knew this; the Abwehr knew this; the CIA, in its enthusiasm for transplanting the Double-Cross techniques to their own theatre of operations after the war, were slow to recognize the truth. For some reason MI6 did not think through the implications of bringing Sonia and Len into their fold.

The brunt of the burden fell upon MI5, who were responsible for domestic security against subversion and espionage. And the archive shows clearly how the service was divided over how to handle Len and Sonia once they arrived in Britain. The senior officers (Liddell and White, but not the Director-General) were surely complicit with MI6 in the scheme. Junior officers and recruits (such as Shillito, Cazalet, Reed, Vesey, J. D. Robertson, Bagot, Serpell) were kept in the dark, and left to stumble around, pursuing leads, until they became too energized in their suspicions, recommended some kind of interrogation or prosecution, and had to be gently talked out of it. (At a high-level meeting on January 25, 1950 between Lord Portal, Roger Makins, Liddell and White at the Ministry of Supply, this uncomfortable truth was even admitted.) The middle ranks (such as Marriott, Hollis, and Curry) were no doubt brought, at least partially, into the subterfuge, and were delegated the unpleasant tasks of dealing with other organisations, such as the Foreign Office, MI6 and the FBI. As can be seen, primarily in Marriott’s anguished correspondence, they struggled dismally with explaining away the inexplicable. The complexities of the project and its intelligence ramifications were clearly too deep to be entrusted to the Directors-General, one a soldier (Petrie) and the other a policeman (Sillitoe), although Petrie’s anti-communist vigour would mean that he probably had to have things explained to him after the Green case.

Above all, the exercise shows how improbable the theory must be that Roger Hollis single-handedly, as a Soviet mole, managed to protect Sonia (and Len) from the attention and prosecution that they obviously deserved. This theory has taken root so deeply that new historical works and biographies regularly appear that take it for granted that the assertions of Chapman Pincher and Peter Wright should be accepted unquestionably. Hollis’s guilt is affirmed purely on the basis that he must have protected Sonia (Len is rarely mentioned). The mass of detail that shows how Sonia and Len were nurtured, supported, assisted, recruited, even lied for – and then deliberately ignored, and allowed to escape – proves that it could not have been because of Hollis’s skills in throwing a blanket of ignorance around the couple with the outcome that they were thus able to remain unmolested. Even if Hollis had possessed the power and authority to insist that they were harmless, the widespread knowledge about their background, the illicit marriage, the recruitment of Len by MI6, the phony stories about ex-husbands, tuberculosis, and ski-ing injuries, about forged passports, dubious medical certificates, and unlikely inheritances would have made his protestations a laughing-stock.

In the English edition of her memoir, Sonia wrote: “I know no Fifth Man, and I must also spoil the speculation or, as some writers state, ‘the fact’ that I ever had anything to do with the one-time director of MI5, Roger Hollis”. That may be one of the few true statements she made in her book. Later in life, however, she wryly admitted that she mused over the possibility that someone in MI5 was protecting her. Indeed, madam.

As for the GRU, Sonia’s penetration of British atomic research was a coup, although perhaps not as astounding as the mythology has made it. Fuchs was her source for only a year, and modern assessments indicate that, as far as the United Kingdom was concerned, Engelbert Broda and Melita Norwood were probably far more valuable contributors to the Soviet’s purloining of weapons secrets. Sonia’s connection with Norwood has often been overplayed. Yet Sonia’s achievements were a significant blow to the prestige of British Intelligence, which had held a worldwide reputation now revealed to be unmerited. In the first couple of decades after the war, the Soviet Union and East Germany openly denied the activities of their spies, wanting to impress their citizens that their scientific achievements were attributable to Communist ingenuity.

Only when the spy scandals were rolled out in the United States and Great Britain did the mood change to one of pride in how their intelligence services had outfoxed the West’s. Then they lauded openly the achievements of their ‘atomic spies’, promoting memoirs like Sonia’s. President Putin, relying on his public’s fragile connection with history, after a brief fling promoting Soviet spy exploits (see the case of Svetlana Lokhova and The Spy Who Changed History, at ) seems now to want to return to the Cold War status quo ante, reinforcing the idea that the Soviet Union’s success with nuclear weaponry owed more to Russian skills than it did to underhand espionage and the theft of the discoveries of former allies.

One has to assume that the GRU in Moscow knew exactly what was going on at the time, and took a back seat while MI6 floundered. Immediately Sonia or Len was first approached by MI6 with any sort of feeler, each would have reported it to Moscow. Thus all further moves would have been passed on as well. Anthony Blunt was keeping his bosses informed, and relayed to them the lukewarm attention that Hugh Shillito paid to CP and GRU spies. The GRU must have wondered exactly what MI6 was up to, if it believed the opposition’s service could manipulate Soviet agents with such naivety. Indeed, around this time, the GRU’s sister service, the NKGB (as the NKVD-KGB was known at that time), was so dumbfounded by the fact that British Intelligence could allow the Cambridge Ring to flourish that it issued an internal report suggesting that the whole exercise was one of disinformation. Referring to the Double-Cross (XX) Committee as one of the vital institutions involved, Elena Modrzchinskaya, the head of the Third Department of the NKGB’s First Directorate, published the report in November 1942: it took almost two years for the suspicions to be disproved, and credibility in the sources re-established.

Yet, if MI6 and MI5 showed an alarming amateurishness about the whole process, the GRU’s agents likewise put on a dismal display of tradecraft. Before placing ‘illegals’ in the western democracies, the GRU and OGPU/NKVD invested an enormous amount of time in creating solid ‘legends’ for their agents, where, supported by false passports, individuals of indeterminate central and eastern European origin were allowed to establish convincing identities and occupations in the cities from which they operated. The GRU could not have exerted any influence on the stories that Sonia and Len concocted before embarking on their journeys to Britain, yet they – especially Sonia – should have been well indoctrinated into the necessity of maintaining a coherent narrative about their previous travel, objectives, sources of funds, business activities, and disabilities.

Sonia and Len behaved, however, completely amateurishly. Their accounts to the immigration authorities were absurd. It was as if they did not even discuss what their separate stories should be if they were interrogated, and how these rigmaroles would mesh together. The resulting narrative was so ridiculous that it should immediately have been discredited, and the suspects hauled in. We now know, of course, why that did not happen. Perhaps the Soviets, and Len and Sonia in particular, were so sure of MI6’s game-plan that they felt that they did not need to bother. But that assumption would have been based on granting the fragmented and pluralistic British intelligence services a discipline and unity that may have existed in the Soviet Union, but simply was unrealistic in a democratic society.

What it boils down to is that the truth is indeed stranger than anything that the ex-MI6 officer John le Carré, master of espionage fiction, could have dreamed up. If he ever devised a plot whereby the service that recruited him had embarked on such a flimsy and outrageous project, and tried to cover it up in the ham-fisted way that the real archive shows, while all the time believing that the opposition did not know what was going on, his publisher would have sent him back to the drawing-board.

This month’s Commonplace entries can be found here.


Filed under Espionage/Intelligence, General History, Geography, Politics, Travel

Homo Sovieticus

Aeroflot Advertisement, New York Times, 2017

A few months ago, I noticed an advertisement that Aeroflot, the Russian carrier, had placed in the New York Times. The appearance reminded me of an approach I had made to the airline over forty-five years ago, in England, when, obviously with not enough serious things to do at the time, and maybe overtaken by some temporary lovelorn Weltschmerz, I had written a letter to its Publicity Manager, suggesting a slogan that it might profitably use to help promote its brand.

Miraculously, this letter recently came to light as I was sorting out some old files. I keep telling my wife, Sylvia, that she need not worry about the clutter that I have accumulated and taken with me over the years – from England to Connecticut, to New Jersey and to Pennsylvania, and then back to Connecticut before our retirement transplantation to North Carolina in 2001. The University of Eastern Montana has generously committed to purchasing the whole Percy archive, so that it will eventually be boxed up and sent to the Ethel Hays Memorial Library in Billings for careful and patient inspection by students of mid-twentieth century social life in suburban Surrey, England.

I reproduce the letter here:

Letter to Aeroflot, March 1972

It reads:

“Dear Sir,

I notice that you have started advertising on London buses. I have for some time thought that a good slogan for Aeroflot would be: ‘Happiness is just an Ilyushin’, which is a pretty awful pun, but a fairly Russian sentiment. E.G.

. . .В себя ли заглянешь, там прошлого нет и следа;

И радость, и муки, и всё там ничтожно . . .  (Lermontov)

Yours faithfully, R. A. Percy”

[Dimitri Obolensky, in the Penguin Book of Russian Verse, translates this fragment of an untitled poem as follows: “If you look within yourself, there is not a trace of the past there; the joys and the torments – everything there is worthless  . . .”]

I am not sure why Aeroflot was advertising on London Transport vehicles at the time, since the Man on the Clapham Omnibus was probably not considering then a holiday in Sochi or Stalingrad, and anyone who did not have to use the airline would surely choose the western equivalent. Nevertheless, I thought my sally quite witty at the time, though I did not receive the favour of a reply. Did homo sovieticus, with his known frail sense of humour, not deem my proposal worthy of merit? After all, humour was a dangerous commodity in Soviet times: repeating a joke about Stalin might get you denounced by a work colleague or neighbour and sent to the Gulag, while Stalin himself derived his variety of laughs from ordering Khrushchev to dance the gopak late at night, and forcing his drinking-pals on the Politburo to watch him.

I think it unlikely that the state-controlled entity would have hired a Briton as its publicity manager, but of course it may not have had a publicity manager at all. Maybe my letter did not reach the right person, or maybe it did, but he or she could not be bothered to reply to some eccentric Briton. Or maybe the letter was taken seriously, but then the manager thought about Jimmy Ruffin’s massive 1966 hit What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted? (see , and considered that its vibrant phrase ‘Happiness is just an illusion/filled with darkness and confusion’ might not communicate the appropriate atmosphere as Aeroflot’s passengers prepared to board the 11:40 flight from Heathrow to Minsk. We shall never know.

The Stalin-Class S. S. Baltika

My first real encounter with homo sovieticus had occurred when I was a member of a school party to the Soviet Union in the summer of 1965. As we went through customs after disembarking from the good ship Baltika, I recall the officer asking me, in all seriousness, whether I was bringing in ‘veppons’ with me. After verifying what he had asked, I was able to deny such an attempt at contrabandage. I had conceived of no plans to abet an armed uprising in the Land of the Proletariat, as I thought it might deleteriously affect my prospects of taking up the place offered me at Christ Church, Oxford, the following October. Moreover, it seemed a rather pointless question to pose, as I am sure the commissars would have inspected all baggage anyway, but perhaps they would have doubled my sentence if they had caught me lying to them, as well as smuggling in arms. Yet it showed the absurd protocol-oriented thinking of the security organs: ‘Be sure to ask members of English school groups whether they are smuggling in weapons to assist a Troyskyist insurrection against the glorious motherland’.

At least it was not as naïve as the question that the US customs officer asked me, when I visited that country for the first time about eleven years later: ‘Do you have any intentions to overthrow the government of the United States?’. Did he really expect a straight answer? When H. G. Wells asked his mistress, Moura Budberg, whether she was a spy, she told him very precisely that, whether she was a spy or not, the answer would have to be ‘No’. That’s what spies do: lies and subterfuge. If I really did have plans for subversion in the United States, the first thing I would have done when I eventually immigrated here would be to plant a large Stars and Stripes on my front lawn, and wear one of those little pins that US politicians choose to place in their lapels, in the manner that Guy Burgess always sported his Old Etonian tie, to prove their patriotism. So the answer in Washington, as in Leningrad, was ‘No’. That was, incidentally, what Isaiah Berlin meant when he wrote to his parents in July 1940 that Americans were ‘open, vigorous, 2 x 2 = 4 sort of people, who want yes or no for an answer. No nuances’. These same people who nailed Al Capone for tax evasion, and Alger Hiss for perjury, would have to work to convict Tony Percy for the lesser charge of deceiving a customs official.

H.G. Wells, Maxim Gorky & Moura Budberg

I did not manage to speak to many homines sovietici during my time in the Soviet Union, but I did have one or two furtive meetings with a young man who was obviously dead scared of the KGB, but even keener to acquire nylon shirts and ballpoint pens from me, which I handed over at a night-time assignation in some park in Leningrad. That was clearly very foolish on my part, but it gave me an early indication that, despite the several decades of Leninist, Stalinist, Khruschevian and Brezhnevian indoctrination and oppression, the Communist Experiment had not succeeded in eliminating the free human spirit completely. Moreover, despite the ‘command economy’, the Soviets could not provide its citizens with even basic goods. When the Soviet troops invaded eastern Europe in 1944, among other violations, they cleared the shelves, grabbed watches, and marvelled at flush toilets that worked. As Clive James wrote in his essay on Coco Chanel: “It was the most sordid trick that communism played. Killing people by the millions at least had the merit of a tragic dimension. But making the common people queue endlessly for goods barely worth having was a bad joke.”

Piata-Victoriei Square, Bucharest

My only other direct experience with life behind the Iron Curtain was in Bucharest, in 1980. In an assignment on which I now look back on with some shame, I was chartered with flying to Romania to install a software package that turned out to be for the benefit of the Ministry of Home Affairs, probably for the Securitate. I changed planes in Zürich, and took a TAROM flight (not in an Ilyushin, I think, but in a BAC-111) to reach Ceausescu’s version of a workers’ paradise. The flight crew was surly, for they had surely glimpsed the delights of Zürich once more, but knew that they were trapped in Romania, and had probably been spied upon as they walked round one of the most glittering of the foreign cities. And yet: I had been briefed beforehand to bring in some good whisky and a stack of ‘male magazines’ to please my contacts among the party loyalists. This time, I was able to bypass customs as a VIP: my host escorted me past the lines directly to the car waiting for us, where I was driven to my hotel, and handed over my copies of The Cricketer and Church Times for the enjoyment of the Romanian nomenklatura. I spent the Sunday walking around the city. The population was mostly cowed and nervous: there was a crude attempt to entrap me in the main square. During my project, I was able to watch at close hand the dynamics of the work environment in the Ministry, where the leader (obviously a carefully selected Party apparatchik) was quick to quash any independence of thought, or attempts at humour, in the cadre that he managed. A true homo sovieticus daciensis.

The fantasy that occupied Lenin’s mind was that a new breed of mankind could be created, based on solid proletariat lineage, and communist instruction. The New Man would be obedient, loyal, malleable, unimaginative, unselfish, unthinking. Universal literacy meant universal indoctrination. The assumption was accompanied by the belief that, while such characteristics could be inculcated in captive youth, inherited traits of the ‘bourgeoisie’ would have to be eradicated. The easiest way of achieving that was to kill them off, if they did not escape first. There were almost as many executions in the Red Terror of 1918 as there had been death sentences in Russian courts between 1815 and 1917, as Stephen Kotkin reminds us in Volume 1 of his epic new biography of Joseph Stalin. Kotkin also recounts the following: “Still, Lenin personally also forced through the deportation in fall 1922 of theologians, linguists, historians, mathematicians, and other intellectuals on two chartered German ships, dubbed the Philosophers’ Steamers. GPU notes on them recorded ‘knows a foreign language,’ ‘uses irony’.” Irony was not an attribute that homo sovieticus could easily deploy. What was going on had nevertheless been clear to some right from the start. In its issue of June 2, 2018, the Spectator magazine reprinted an item from ‘News of the Week’ a century ago, where Lenin and Trotsky were called out as charlatans and despots, and the revolution a cruel sham.

The trouble was that, once all the persons with education or talent had been eliminated or exiled, there were left only hooligans, psychopaths, or clodpolls to run the country. Kotkin again: “A regime created by confiscation had begun to confiscate itself, and never stopped. The authors of Red Moscow, an urban handbook published at the conclusion of the civil war, observed that ‘each revolution has its one unsightly, although transient, trait: the appearance on the stage of all kinds of rogues, deceivers, adventurists, and simple criminals, attaching themselves to power with one kind of criminal goal or another. Their danger to the revolution is colossal.’” This hatred of any intellectual pretensions – and thus presumptions about independent thinking – would lead straight to Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, with their execution of persons wearing eyeglasses, as they latter could obviously read, and thus might harbour ideas subversive to agrarian levelling.

Oleg Gordievsky

Oleg Gordievsky, the KGB officer who defected to Britain in 1985, crystallized the issue in his memoir Next Stop Execution. “Until the early 1970s I clung to the hope that the Soviet Union might still reject the Communist yoke and progress to freedom and democracy. Until then I had continued to meet people who had grown up before the revolution or during the 1920s, when the Soviet system was still not omnipotent. They were nice, normal Russians – like some distant relatives of my father who were engineers: not intellectuals or ideologues, but practical, decent people, embodying many of the old Russian engineer characteristics so well described by Solzhenitsyn. But then the last of these types died out, and the nation that emerged was composed purely of Homo sovieticuses: a new type had been created, of inadequate people, lacking initiative or the will to work, formed by Soviet society.” [The author acknowledged the ungrammatical plural form he used.] Thus Gordievsky classified both the common citizenry intimidated into submission and the apparatchiks themselves as homines sovietici. He also pointed out that what he found refreshing in English people generally was their capability for spontaneity, their discretion, their politeness, all qualities that had been practically eliminated in Russia under Communism. He may have been moving in sequestered circles, but the message is clear.

I sometimes reflect on what the life of a Soviet citizen, living perhaps from around 1922 to 1985, must have been like, if he or she survived that long. Growing up among famine and terror, informing against family members, with relatives perhaps disappearing into the Gulag because of the whisperings of a jealous neighbor, or the repeating of a dubious joke against Stalin, witnessing the show-trials and their ghastly verdicts, surviving the Nazi invasion and the horrors of serving in the Soviet armed forces, and then dealing with the long post-war deprivation and propaganda, dying before the curtain was pulled back, and the whole horrible mess was shown to be rotten. Yet some citizens had been taken in: they believed that all the suffering was worthwhile in the cause of Communism. In Secondhand Time, the nobelist Svetlana Alexievich offers searing portraits of such persons, as well as of those few who kept their independence of thought alive. Some beaten down by the oppression, some claiming that those who challenged Stalin were guilty, some merely accepting that it was a society based upon murder, some who willingly made all the sacrifices called for. Perhaps it was a close-run thing: the Communist Experiment, which cast its shadow over all of Eastern Europe after the battle against Fascism was won, almost succeeded in snuffing out the light.

(Incidentally, in connection with this, I recommend Omer Bartov’s searing Anatomy of a Genocide: The Life and Death of a Town Called Buczacz, published this year. Its title is unfortunate, as it is not about genocide. It tells of the citizens of a town in Galicia in the twentieth century, eventually caught between the monsters of Nazism and Communism. It shows how individuals of any background, whether they were Poles, Ruthenians, Ukrainians, or Jews, when provoked by pernicious demagogues or poisonous dogmas, could all behave cruelly to betray or murder people – neighbours – who had formerly been harmless to them. All it took was being taken in by the rants of perceived victimhood and revenge, or believing that they might thus be able to save their own skins for a little longer by denouncing or eliminating someone else.)

I was prompted to write this piece, and dredge out some old memories, by my reading of Odd Arne Westad’s The Cold War a few months ago. In many ways, this is an extraordinary book, broad in its compass, and reflecting some deep and insightful research. But I think it is also a very immoral work. It starts off by suggesting, in hoary Leninist terminology, that the battle was between ‘communism’ and ‘capitalism’ – a false contrast, as it was essentially between totalitarianism and liberal, pluralist democracy. (For a fuller discussion of this issue, please read Chapter 10 of Misdefending the Realm.) Westad goes on to suggest that the Cold War’s intensity could have been averted if the West had cooperated with the Soviet Union more – a position that ranks of sheer appeasement, and neglects the lessons of ‘cooperation’ that dramatically failed in World War II. (see  But what really inflamed me was the following sentence: “There were of course dissidents to this ameliorated view of the Cold War. In the Soviet Union and eastern Europe some people opposed the authoritarian rule of Communist bosses.” On reading that, I felt like hurling the volume from a high window upon the place beneath, being stopped solely by the fact that it was a library book, and that it might also have fallen on one of the peasants tending to the estate, or even damaged the azaleas.

Some people opposed the . . .  rule’? Is that what the Gulag and the Great Terror and the Ukrainian Famine were about, and the samizdat literature of the refuseniks, and the memoirs of Nadezhda Mandelstam and Yevgenia Ginzburg, and the novels of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and many many more? Did these people protest noisily in the streets, and then go home to their private dwellings, resume their work, perhaps writing letters to the editors of progressive magazines about the ‘wicked Tories’ (sorry, I mean ‘Communists’)? How on earth could a respectable academic be so tone-deaf to the sufferings and struggles of the twentieth century? Only if he himself had been indoctrinated and propagandized by the left-wing cant that declares that Stalin was misunderstood, that he had to eliminate real enemies of his revolution, that the problem with Communism was not its goals but its execution, that capitalism is essentially bad, and must be dismantled in the name of Equality, and all that has been gradually built with liberal democracy should be abandoned. Roland Philipps, who recently published a biography of Donald Maclean (‘A Spy Named Orphan’), and who boasts both the diplomat Roger Makins (the last mandarin to see Maclean before he absconded to Moscow) and Wogan (‘Rockfist’) Phillips (who served as an ambulance-driver with the Republicans in Spain) as his grandfathers, asked Wogan, shortly before he died in 1993, where he stood on the durability of Communism. “He said that Stalin had been a disaster for the cause but that the system was still inherently right, would come round again, and next time be successful.” Ah, me. Wogan Phillips, like Donald Maclean, was a classic homo sovieticus to the end.

Wogan (‘Rockfist’) Phillips

As we consider the popularity of such as Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, it is as if all the horrors of socialism have been forgotten. A few months ago, the New York Times ran a full-page report on the disaster of Venezuela without mentioning the word ‘socialism’ once: it was apparently Chávez’s and Maduro’s ‘populism’ that put them in power. A generation is growing up in China that will not remember Tiananmen Square, and the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution will not be found in the history books. Maybe there is an analogy to the fashion that, as a schoolboy, I was given a rosy view of the British Empire, and was not told of the 1943 famine in India, or the post-war atrocities in Kenya. But I soon concluded that imperialism was an expensive, immoral and pointless anachronism, and had no interlocking relationship with liberal democracy, or even capitalism, despite what the Marxists said. This endemic blindness to history is ten times worse.

So why did my generation of teachers not point out the horrors of communism? Was it because they had participated in WWII, and still saw the Soviet Union as a gallant ally against Hitler?  Were they really taken in by the marxisant nonsense that emerged from the Left Bank and the London School of Economics? Or were they simply trying to ratchet down the hostility of the Cold War, out of sympathy for the long-suffering Soviet citizenry? I cannot recall a single mentor of mine who called out the giant prison-camp for what it really was. Not the historians, not the Russian teachers. The latter may have been a bit too enamoured with the culture to make the necessary distinction. Even Ronald Hingley, one of my dons at Oxford, who was banned from ever revisiting the Soviet Union after his criticisms of it, did not encourage debate. I had to sort it out myself, and from reading works like Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror, Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, Marchenko’s My Testimony, Mandelstam’s Hope Against Hope and Hope Abandoned, and Ginzburg’s Into the Whirlwind. On the other hand, under the snooker-table in my library rests a complete set of the Purnell History of the Twentieth Century, issued in 96 weekly parts in the 1960s. (Yes, you Billings librarians: soon they too shall be yours.) In part 37, that glittering historian, TV showman, hypocrite and Soviet stooge A. J. P. Taylor wrote: “Lenin was a very great man and even, despite his faults, a very good man.” For a whole generation, perhaps, the rot started here. That’s what we mostly heard in the 1960s. But Lenin was vicious, and terror was his avowed method of domination.

President Putin is now trying to restore Stalin’s reputation, as a generation that witnessed the horrors of his dictatorship is now disappearing. So is Putin then a homo sovieticus? Well, I’d say ‘No’. Maybe he was once, but he is more a secret policeman who enjoys power. The appellation should be used more to describe those cowed and indoctrinated by the regime rather than those who command it. Putin’s restoration of Stalin is more a call to national pride than a desire to re-implement the totalitarian state. Communism is over in Russia: mostly they accept that the Great Experiment failed, and they don’t want to try it again. More like state capitalism on Chinese lines, with similar tight media and information control, but with less entrepreneurialism. As several observers have noted, Putin is more of a fascist now than a communist, and fascism is not an international movement. Maybe there was a chance for the West to reach out (‘cooperate’!) after the fall of communism, but the extension of NATO to the Baltic States was what probably pushed Putin over the edge. The Crimea and Ukraine have different histories from those in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, and I would doubt whether Putin has designs on re-invading what Kotkin calls Russia’s ‘limitrophe’ again. He is happier selectively cosying up to individual nations of Europe, especially to those countries (e.g. Poland, Hungary, and now maybe Italy and Austria, and even Turkey) whose current leaders express sympathy for his type of nationalism, while trying to undermine the structure of the European Union itself, and the NATO alliance.

So whom to fear now – outside Islamoterrorism? Maybe homo europaensis? I suspect that the affection that many Remainers have for the European Union is the fact that it is a softer version of the Socialist State, taking care of us all, trying to achieve ‘stability’ by paying lip-service to global capitalism while trying to rein it in at the same time, and handing out other people’s money to good causes. And it is that same unresponsive and self-regarding bureaucracy that antagonizes the Brexiteers, infuriated at losing democratic control to a body that really does not allow any contrariness in its hallways. (Where is the Opposition Party in Brussels?) I did not vote in the Referendum, but, if I had known then of all the legal complexities, I might have voted ‘Remain’, and fought for reform from inside. But my instincts were for ‘Leave’. If the European Project means tighter integration, political and economic, then the UK would do best to get out as soon as possible, a conclusion other countries may come to. The more oppressive and inflexible the European Union’s demands are (to discourage any other defectors), the more vigorously should the UK push against its increasing stranglehold. That does not mean goodbye to Goethe and Verdi, or those comforting ’cultural exchanges’, but it does require a bold stance on trade agreements, and limitations on migration of labour. We should beware of all high-faluting political projects that are experimental, and which remove the responsibility of politicians to their local constituents, as real human beings will be used (and maybe destroyed) in the process. A journalist in the New York Times wrote a few weeks ago that he was ‘passionate’ about the European Union. That is a dangerous sign: never become passionate over mega-political institutions. No Communist Experiment. No New Deal. No Great Society. No European Project. (And, of course, no Third Reich or Cultural Revolution.) Better simply to embrace the glorious muddle that is liberal democracy, and continue to try to make it work. Clive James again: “It is now part of the definition of a modern liberal democracy that it is under constant satirical attack from within. Unless this fact is seen as a virtue, however, liberal democracy is bound to be left looking weak vis-à-vis any totalitarian impulse.”  (I wish I had been aware of that quotation earlier: I would have used it as one of the headliners to Chapter 10 of Misdefending the Realm.)

I close with a riposte to A. J. P. Taylor, extracted from one of the great books of the twentieth century, The Stretchford Chronicles, a selection of the best pieces from Michael Wharton’s Peter Simple columns in the Daily Telegraph, from 1955 to 1980. These pieces are magnificent, daft, absurd, hilarious, and even prescient, where Life can be seen to imitate Art, as Wharton dismantles all the clichéd cant of the times, and anticipates many of the self-appointed spokespersons of loony causes and champions of exaggerated entitlement and victimisation who followed in the decades to come. Occasionally he is simply serious, in an old-fashioned way, as (for example) where he takes down the unflinching leftist Professor G. D. H. Cole, who in 1956 was trying to rally the comrades by reminding them that ‘while much has been done badly in the Soviet Union, the Soviet worker enjoys in most matters an immensely enlarged freedom’, adding that ‘to throw away Socialism because it can be “perverted” to serve totalitarian ends is to throw out the baby with the dirty bath-water’. Writes Wharton:

“This is familiar and most manifest nonsense. What has gone ‘amiss’ in Socialist countries is no mere chance disfigurement, like a false moustache scrawled by a madman on a masterpiece. It is Socialism itself, taken to its logical conclusion.

The death of freedom, the enslavement of the masses, the withering of art and culture, the restless, ruthless hunt for scapegoats, the aggressive folie de grandeur of Socialist dictators – these are no mere ‘perversions’ of Socialism. They are Socialism unperverted, an integral and predictable part of any truly Socialist system.

We are not faced here with so much dirty bath-water surrounding a perfectly healthy, wholesome Socialist baby. The dirty bathwater is Socialism, and the baby was drowned in it at birth.”

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The main purpose of my visit to the U.K. this month was to attend the degree ceremony at the University of Buckingham and to receive formally my doctoral award. As many readers will recall (wake up at the back, there!), my thesis covered the subversion of MI5 by communist agents and influences at the beginning of WW II. A symptom of this institutional failure was the later indulgence shown to the Soviet spy Leo Long after he was caught red-handed passing military secrets from MI14 in 1943, my claim being that this ‘Sixth Man’ may have been even more dangerous than the pentad of Cambridge graduates that has gained practically all the publicity. (The latest issue of Christ Church Matters, the alumni magazine of my Oxford college, contains an article about my research, titled ‘The Moscow Plot’, and it can be viewed here.) Followers of my subsequent research on ‘Sonia’s Radio’ may also have noticed that I have hinted at the remote possibility that the 1956 death of Alexander Foote may have been faked by MI5 (with the connivance of SIS) to prevent his assassination by Soviet military intelligence. The relevance of these two items will become clear by the end of this blog entry.

On the first evening of my trip, after I had arrived early in the morning at the Battersea residence of my brother, Michael, and his wife, Susanna (who has courageously and gratifyingly recovered from her cancer treatment), Michael and I went to the Instituto Cervantes  near the Strand to attend an interview with Professor Sebastian Balfour, Emeritus Professor of Contemporary Spanish Studies at the London School of Economics. Professor Balfour and Michael had become friends when they were both in hospital, and the Professor had very kindly ensured that Michael received special attention when he was in dire straits. I had met the Professor and his wife, Grainne, at Michael’s house on my previous visit, and was eager to learn what the Professor had to say about Spanish matters in the last century, and later even, right up to the secession attempts now being made by Catalonia. What with Philby’s association with Franco, Spender’s mission on behalf of the Comintern, Foote’s action with the International Brigades, as well as the whole sorry story of the Soviet-directed elimination of the anarchists, and the orchestration of the stealing of Spain’s gold by Orlov on Stalin’s behalf, the events of the Spanish Civil War were very relevant to my research area.

Professor Balfour offered us some excellent insights, skillfully weaving the experiences of Spain in the twentieth century into the fabric of today’s cultural and ideological dynamics. Moreover, at the party after the event, I was pleased to meet Mark Ezra and his wife, who were neighbours of the Professor. Mark turned out to be a film-producer, and I was happy to take his address as a possible contact for arranging a deal for the script (based on the central event of my thesis) that my friend and colleague Grant Eustace has been trying to place. Moreover, in one of those strange coincidences that tend to aggregate as one gets older, I discovered later that Mr Ezra had attended Ampleforth College, and had been educated both by Susanna’s father (Haughton) as well as by her first (deceased) husband (Dammann).

After the Spanish event, Michael and I took a taxi to Chelsea, where Susanna was winding down a dinner with four long-standing friends, all outstandingly bright professional women, and wonderful company.

Nicola, Nemeen, Mo, Janie & Susanna

The conversation was lively, and one of the friends (Mo, who is a psychotherapist) decided to issue nicknames to us all. I was given the cryptonym POLARBEAR, (surely in ignorance of my austere reputation as COLDSPUR), which prompted me to respond that my times must be numbered, as the beast ran the risk of soon becoming extinct. This was a highly enjoyable and lively end to the day, which had started by seeing me deplane at Heathrow at what was in fact 3 am in Southport, North Carolina (already on summer time), and which closed by my collapsing into bed at midnight local time.

I had arranged to meet Grant Eustace for lunch in Victoria the following day (Friday 10th), and was able to pass him the lead. Grant and I exchanged sympathies over the struggles with making headway in the worlds of publishing and the media, but maybe something will become of this opportunity. In any case, Grant is always working on some stimulating project, and I enjoy learning about his new ventures. On Saturday morning, I had to catch a train to Newcastle, in the North of England, since I was attending, as my more impulsive alter ego of HOTSPUR, the annual Listener Crossword Setters’ Dinner in Gateshead. I had not attended this event for ten years, but the opportunity was too great to pass up, even though I was a bit embarrassed by the mistake in my centennial Alan Turing puzzle of five years ago. I need not have worried: I was not booed on arrival. It was an excellent occasion, where I re-encountered some old friends, and established new ones. The pseudonyms of the setters often resemble the cryptonyms of agents working for Soviet Intelligence: thus my friend Ian Simpson (who was one of my testers) bears the same sobriquet (HOMER) as the Cambridge Spy Donald Maclean. The photo below shows Ian sitting next to Richard Heald, a renowned solver. THIRD MAN (Richard England, not Kim Philby), who holds the current record of most consecutive Listener puzzles correctly solved (103, I believe, and still active), was supposed to be in the photo, but he, who remembered me as a fellow London Society Rugby Football referee, somehow was recorded only in a short video-clip. (‘Third men’ customarily prefer being airbrushed out of history.) I was honoured to be sitting next to SHACKLETON (John Guiver), who won the prize for the best puzzle of 2016. This event is a very British affair, and a great institution, populated by smart, inventive and congenial people, who love words, and crosswords, and all the cultural trappings that accompany the Listener puzzle. But 2017 will probably be my last dinner.

Ian Simpson & Richard Heald

The Elusive Third Man (Richard England) (video not yet displayable)

Hotspur & John Guiver

I took the return train to London the following morning, arriving back in Battersea in mid-afternoon. That evening I was fortunate enough to meet the philosopher John Hyman, Professor in Aesthetics at the University of Oxford, who is also a friend of Michael’s and Susanna’s, and had been invited to dinner. John had expressed interest in my thesis since he knew Isaiah Berlin (indeed he had once been on a bus with him, and thus considered Isaiah and himself ‘fellow-travellers’) and asked me several penetrating questions. I was happy to discuss the implications of Berlin’s friendship with such as Guy Burgess, Lord Rothschild, and, most of all, Jenifer and Herbert Hart, since Jenifer had been Berlin’s lover, and Herbert had been a most important influence on jurisprudential philosophy, being acknowledged several times in Hyman’s recent Action, Knowledge and Will, a volume I might perhaps not have picked up otherwise. I prepared for the occasion by reading the most relevant chapters on the train from Gateshead, but (perhaps fortunately) we ran out of time before I could be questioned on the arguments. (I regret I am a bit slow on these matters: I am still trying to come to grips with ‘Freddie’ Ayer’s 1936 Language, Truth and Logic.) But again, a most enjoyable evening.

Monday saw me meeting my old friend David Earl, who picked me up at East Croydon Station, whence we repaired to a pub for lunch and caught up with each other’s news. David has always shown a solicitous interest in my research, and asked me again whether I had been ‘tapped on the shoulder’ over my subversive line of inquiry. I suggested to him that it might be a bit late for that, and that any such warnings would now only aid publicity for my forthcoming book. Later that afternoon, I went to Whitgift School, where I was able to see two long-standing friends, Tia Afghan, the Head Librarian, and Bill Wood, the Archivist, before preparing to attend the AGM and Annual Dinner of the Old Whitgiftian Golf Society, a group I had joined on a previous visit to the U.K.  Some of the gentlemen attending I had never met before, a few I had played golf with, but I was delighted to see again some old colleagues from the rugby and cricket fields, such as Mike Wilkinson, Paul Champness, Alan Cowing, Howard Morton, and Jeremy Stanyard. It was another highly enjoyable evening: golf is thriving at the School, and while the Headmaster chose the occasion to give a rather supererogatory motivational speech, it did not detract from the sense of fellowship. Howard Morton kindly drove me home to Battersea.

Messrs. Stanyard, Wilkinson & Champness (centre)

Peter Abel (left) et alii

Work followed on Tuesday. I went to the National Archives at Kew, where I had to wait to get my Reader’s ticket renewed, and then hung around while my requested files were retrieved. My goal that day was to dig around in the records of the Radio Security Service to discover what attempts had been made to intercept unfamiliar and unauthorised radio traffic either being received or transmitted within the UK’s shores in the 1940s. I also managed to inspect the missing volume of the files on the Rote Kapelle: for some reason, the third volume of biographical information on RK members and affiliates had not been digitised, and thus I had been unable to download it from my home in Southport. When I brought this oversight to the attention of the Kew authorities a few weeks ago, they could not explain it, and committed to rectify the problem, but were in no rush to do so, especially as I was about to visit the Archives. I discovered several nuggets, some that addressed enigmas, some that provoked new ones.

The next day saw Michael, Susannna and me driving to Oxford, where we were scheduled to be shown round the exhibition on Volcanoes at the new Weston Library of the Bodleian by its lead curator, David Pyle, Professor of Earth Sciences at the University. This visit had been arranged by another coincidence: I have been a Friend of the Bodleian for some years, and when I met Jessica Brown of the Development Office last summer, I had happened to mention that my wife Sylvia had been born in St. Vincent. A few weeks later, astutely recalling the connection, Jessica contacted me about the Volcanoes plans, saying that the eruptions of La Soufrière on the island constituted an important part of the coming exhibition, and would I be interested in it? I was able to inform her that Sylvia and I had trekked up to the top of the mountain in the autumn of 1978, whereupon our guide – who had never seen smoke emanating from the base  ̶  wanted immediately to dash back down the mountain for fear it were about to erupt again. Moreover, I was able to extract from my files a report on the adventure that I had written back in May 1979, after the major eruption that occurred on Easter Friday. (See here.) The long and short of it was that I agreed to help fund a video and audio display about the Caribbean volcanoes in the transept space at the exhibition, and the personal attention of the kind and expert volcanologist, Professor Pyle, was our reward. The exhibition contained a remarkable set of accounts, illustrations, and maps from the Bodleian Libraries, as well some items borrowed from outside. I heartily recommend a tour: the exhibition closes on May 21.

La Soufrière at the Bodleian

Michael, Susanna & I on the roof of the Weston Library

We then moved on to Christ Church, my alma mater, where I had arranged a visit to the Library. Dr Cristina Neagu, who is keeper of the Special Collections, was able to show us a rich and assorted set of documents, from commentaries by Maimonides to recently discovered notebooks and publications by Lewis Carroll, as well as the remarkable Graz camera that is contributing to an exciting digitisation project at the Bodleian. The wealth of the Special Collections is extraordinary, and is being made more broadly available through the interpretation of scholars, and the efforts of Cristina and her team, supported by innovative digitisation techniques. This was another very fascinating experience, and we returned to our hotel at Peartree Road well stimulated, ready for some excellent refreshment and dinner at the Trout at Godstow.

No relaxation! The next day (Thursday), Susanna was seeing a friend in Oxford, so Michael drove us to Bletchley to spend a day at Bletchley Park, the wartime home of the Government Code and Cipher School (renamed Government Communications Headquarters at some stage during the war). While I knew a fair amount about GC&CS from my reading (especially about the analysis of ENIGMA traffic), I had never visited the place itself. For me, much of the inspection of the various huts was less than overwhelming, but the experience was enhanced by a brief tour of Bletchley Park House itself (in which the office of its chief, Alastair Denniston, stood), and capped by a remarkable exhibition in Block B, where a moving account of Alan Turing’s life and tragic end was given, as well as a crisp and articulate demonstration of a reconstructed ‘Bombe’ at work. An ENIGMA message was decrypted with the help of a ‘crib’ that relied on the fact that no letter could ever be encoded as itself, the multiple wheels rotating until a trial set of complete matches was made. The (volunteer) demonstrators performed a superlative job: one of them told us that her father had worked at Bletchley Park during the war, and then, after learning Russian, had moved on to manage English Accessions at the Bodleian. But the exhibition was also a little coy about the controversies that still surround wartime security and management. For example, in the Visitor Centre, three plaques show Stewart Menzies (head of SIS, to whom GC&CS reported), Alastair Denniston (who led GC&CS from 1921 to 1942), and Edward Travis (director from 1942 to 1952). Menzies is graced with his ‘Sir’, but with no dates. Denniston and Travis are both given their years of birth and death, but no titles, although Travis was given his knighthood a few months after his appointment, while Denniston was shamefully never given one. Maybe embarrassment over this snub still lingers.

Susanna took the bus from Oxford to Buckingham to join us on Thursday evening, where we were staying in preparation for the degree ceremony on Friday. Friday turned out to be the coldest day of my stay: I had to pick up my cap and gown in good time before setting off for a meeting with Christopher Woodhead, the editor at Buckingham University Press. We had not met in person, so it was good to discuss across the table plans for the book based on my thesis  ̶  indexing, illustrations, cover, launch. We appear to be on target for a September publication. And then   ̶  off to the Church of St Peter and St Paul for the secular Convocation for the Conferment of Degrees. This was a very well planned and executed ceremony, one of five held over two days, so that each graduand could receive a personal introduction. Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice-Chancellor of the University (and also my internal examiner) gave a bravura performance in orchestrating the ceremony, which was enhanced by a wise and amusing speech by Lord (Mervyn) King, former Governor of the Bank of England, and honorary graduand for the School of Humanities. It was followed by an excellent buffet, where we were pleased to be joined by my supervisor, Professor Anthony Glees, and Sir Anthony Seldon, as well as by the MP for Buckingham (and Speaker of the House) John Bercow. The whole event was a grand example of British pluralism: persons of many countries, creeds, colours and cultures (and ages) coming together (in a Protestant church) to celebrate academic achievement and to be individually recognised, before dispersing to their different groups and associations. Pluralism, not multi-culturalism, in the spirit of the endorsements in my thesis. A very satisfactory day, and I am proud to be associated with the sole independent university in Britain with its motto  ̶  Alis Volans Propriis (‘Flying On Our Own Wings’). I was sorry that Sylvia and Julia could not be there to witness it, but the support of Michael and Susanna meant a lot.

Sir Anthony Seldon & Michael

Susanna & John Bercow

So then back to London, and champagne. The next day I had a reunion of the 1965 School Prefects at Whitgift, held at a pub near Hyde Park Corner. On my way there, I saw Howard Morton, who lives in Chelsea, and I was introduced to his charming Rwandan-born wife, Yvonne, and son, James. Twelve prefects attended the lunch: three of them I had not seen in over fifty years. Of course we each had perfect memories of what happened all that time ago, even if they did not all coincide, but Peter Kelly had brought along a few artifacts to provide documentary evidence, and to provoke lively discussion. We all fondly remembered our former leader and Head Prefect, John Knightly, who had sadly succumbed to cancer a couple of years before. I was sorry that not all could make the event, but Peter kindly arranged it at fairly short notice, and it was good to see so many old friends again. One remarkable fact that arose from the occasion was that Andrew Jukes (one of those whom I had not seen for fifty years) told me that he was in Washington (where his father worked in the Embassy) at the time that Burgess and Maclean absconded in 1951  . . .

Percy, Earl, Flood, Stewart, Hislop & New

Kelly, Rawlings. McCombie, Jukes, Kirk & Singleton

Sunday was a day off. I needed a rest, and to catch up. On Monday morning, I took the train to Minster  ̶  between Canterbury and Ramsgate  ̶  to have lunch with Nigel West (Rupert Allason), the doyen of writers on intelligence and espionage matters. I have read (and own) several of his books, but I keep encountering vital titles that I have overlooked and need to read. Nigel had attended the seminar I held at Buckingham a few years ago, so I was able to update him on the progress of my research and conclusions. We covered a lot of ground, including ELLI’s identity, Sedlacek and Roessler, Alexander Foote and Claude Dansey, the mistreatment of Denniston, the ISCOT program, and Sonia’s broadcasts. (Nigel once interviewed Sonia.) Nigel is not surprised by Denniston’s lack of a knighthood, pointing out that neither R. V. Jones nor Commander Godfrey was thus honored, but I continue to maintain that there is a deeper, murkier story behind the insult. Nigel also explained to me the reason why one’s effects are checked before entering the Archives at Kew: an academic had been detected inserting falsified documents into files, and then claiming breakthrough ‘findings’ some time later. (Not in my field, I hope.) That story can be inspected in West’s latest book, Cold War Counterfeit Spies. I was also very happy to meet Nigel’s charming wife, Nicola, a professional violinist, and the time went all too quickly before I had to catch the train back to London.

I needed one more day at Kew, so on Tuesday I caught the train from Clapham Junction to Richmond, switching to the ‘Underground’ to Kew Gardens, with an easy walk to the National Archives. I had a few files I needed to re-inspect, namely Dick White’s apologia to the Cabinet Office, the records of Leo Long, as well as the Kuczynski files that are not available on-line, in order to catch any details I had overlooked beforehand. I also discovered another intriguing RSS file, which included a highly provocative 1943 letter from Richard Gambier-Parry (head of Section VIII in SIS) to Claude Dansey, requesting his support in an attempt to tighten up radio security in the light of unauthorized foreign traffic from England. This was interesting, since Guy Liddell of MI5 Counter-Espionage frequently complains about Gambier-Parry’s lack of concern for such matters, while Dansey has never been known as showing much interest in wireless technology. Gambier-Parry also wrote, alongside SOE, about a unit named ‘P5’, which I had not encountered before. (The structure of wartime SIS is a highly confusing topic: the authorised historian of SIS Colin Jeffery suggests that P5 was a group liaising with Vichy France, while Phillip Davies indicates it dealt with the Polish government-in-exile and the Free French, which is a much more likely scenario.)

Before I left Kew, I bought a copy of West’s Cold War Counterfeit Spies, as well as Peter Matthews’ SIGINT: The Secret History of Signals Intelligence 1914-1945, which appears to fill an important gap in the literature by concentrating on German interception and decryption techniques.  From a quick scan, I noticed that Matthews makes the confident assertion (on p 196, though curiously without providing a reference or source, or even listing Foote in the index) that Alexander Foote was working for SIS in Switzerland, and passing on to the Soviets the valuable ULTRA information. (This is a hypothesis I am attempting to prove in ‘Sonia’s Radio’.) Thus casually do narratives get confirmed in the historical record, so I was naturally intrigued in the evidence after which he came to this conclusion, which directly contradicts what Professor Hinsley, the authorised historian of British Intelligence in WWII, has written about the release of ULTRA information to the Soviets. I look forward to reading the work from cover to cover, but have already succeeded in making contact with Mr. Matthews, and he has just informed me that he was actually with the Army in Berlin when Foote defected there in 1947! (He also carried out at that time several interviews with German radio intelligence officers.) He has promised to inspect his files to find out what sources confirm the impression he had at the time. But I certainly agree with him in one respect: Foote’s life story ‘could fill another book’.

Time to come home. I left Battersea for Heathrow at 5:30 on Wednesday in order to catch my 8:50 plane to Charlotte. It left at 9:30, and arrived half an hour early, which can be explained only by extraordinary tailwinds, or a padded schedule that leads to improved on-time arrival records. So I had plenty of time for my connection to Wilmington – too much, in fact. The plane coming in from Columbia, SC, was delayed because of maintenance problems, so that, instead of leaving at 4:10, it taxied off to the runway at about 7:00. As we were about to take off, the pilot announced that we would have to return to the gate since one of the flight attendants would otherwise exceed her working time for the day. This was doubly ridiculous: American Airlines should have known what was happening and made a decision beforehand, and the policy that a flight attendant would be dangerously overworked, having spent three hours in Columbia presumably doing nothing, and when the 30-minute flight to Wilmington does not even allow for serving drinks in cabin class, is an example of regulation at its most absurd. Furthermore, we then waited another half an hour until the replacement crew member arrived, while American Airlines told us nothing. What about regulations helping passengers? By the time I arrived home, I had been travelling for twenty and a half hours – something my doctor has advised me not to do. Of course, I do not seek expensive regulations to support frustrated passengers. I want choice of airlines, and less government interference when safety is not an issue. But the options are currently few without even longer flights and journey segments.

Lastly, a strange coincidence. On the train to Newcastle on March 11, I had started reading Charles Cummings’s The Trinity Six, an intelligence thriller about an academic, Sam Gaddis, who chases down a story about a notorious ‘Sixth Man’, and even encounters, at the National Archives, a beautiful SIS officer disguised as a helpful employee. The death of the Sixth Man turns out to have been faked by MI5/SIS, so that his existence can be concealed from the Soviets, who have even more interest than SIS in shielding the public and press from the real story behind his betrayal. I recommend the book wholeheartedly. What is noteworthy, however, is that Chapter 26 begins with the following sentence: “Forty minutes earlier, Tanya Acocella had been passed a note informing her that Dr. Sam Gaddis – now known by the cryptonym POLARBEAR because, as Brennan had observed, ‘he’ll soon be extinct’ – had visited an Internet café on the Uxbridge Road and purchased an easyJet flight to Berlin.” Is this art imitating life, or vice versa, or simply a normal occurrence in the world of spooks? I had never met Susanna’s friend Mo before, she knew nothing about me, and I had not opened a page of Cummings’ book at that time. Gaddis does not fall victim to the multiple murders being carried out by the Russians, which is a good sign, I suppose: on the other hand, no sultry temptresses welcomed me at Kew.  Yet I suspect that it will be MI5 who may not be very happy with me when my revisionist history of that institution comes out this autumn. Is POLARBEAR a marked man? My friend David may think so. I arrived in Britain, however, on my UK passport, and left on my American one. This highly sophisticated ruse   ̶  one learned from my handlers  ̶  may have thrown them off the scent. POLARBEAR landed, but never took off again.

This month’s Commonplace entries appear here.

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