Three months ago, the Editor of The Journal of Intelligence and National Security, Mark Pythian, informed me (see https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-prosper-the-letter-to-jins/) that he was aware ‘that there is some debate and disagreement among historians’ on the question of the demise of the PROSPER network. Not knowing where such a debate was taking place, and, indeed, inferring from some of the statements made by such as Mark Seaman, the so-called ‘SOE historian’, that he judged that the matter had been satisfactorily closed, I solemnly inquired of Pythian: “Could you perhaps inform us [Patrick Marnham and me] which qualified and independent historians are involved in this debate, and where their arguments appear?”
Professor Pythian did not respond to my inquiry. And now, since a new contributor to the study of Henri Déricourt and the PROSPER network, Dr. Robert Lyman, has emerged, introducing some very provocative statements about the topic, I am happy to open the pages of coldspur to an inspection of Lyman’s claims. He has recently issued two bulletins concerning his research into Déricourt. I was mildly interested by the first, although I regarded its arguments with scepticism, but the second I found ill-mannered and arrogant, consisting largely of a reckless assault on Patrick Marnham, and his carefully compiled book on the collapse of the PROSPER network, War in the Shadows. I immediately sent an email to Lyman, expressing my dismay at what I considered a very unprofessional piece. He acknowledged what I wrote, but did not want to discuss it.
On reflection, it occurred to me that Mr. Marnham might want to respond to this undisciplined sally, and he was gratifyingly keen to accept my offer to post a response via coldspur. This Special Bulletin is thus dedicated to reproducing the text of Lyman’s second communiqué, followed by Marnham’s detailed response to several inflammatory or simply incorrect statements that appeared in Lyman’s reports. (For those of you not familiar with all of Mr. Marnham’s publications, I note here that his book, The Private Eye Story: the First Twenty-One Years, appeared in 1982.)
I defer to Marnham, and his eloquent and incisive response, for a thorough dismantling of Lyman’s pieces, but also take some space to record a few of my personal reactions to what Lyman wrote. First, I judged his approach to the research project utterly inappropriate. I found the pompous reference to his ‘Déricourt journey’ when he ‘hoped that the ahistoricisms of the conspiracists would in time die a natural death’ highly self-incriminating. It showed that he had effectively made his mind up before he started his research. In my view, he needs to be strongly criticised for this lack of scholarly curiosity and sense of objective inquiry. Second, Lyman appears to be mightily confused over many matters, but especially those of ‘double agents’, and the events of 1943.
In his first piece, Lyman wrote: “It was clear during the war that Henri Déricourt was a double agent . . .” Apart from the vagueness and easy refutability of such an absurd statement (clear to whom? – if so, he should have been shot as a traitor), Lyman in the second piece contradicts himself by writing: “The fact that Déricourt was known by some in SOE to have had contacts with the Germans was used as the extrapolated and exaggerated basis for suggesting that he must therefore have been a double-agent, working for the British while pretending also to work for the Germans.” As coldspur readers will know (see https://coldspur.com/dericourts-double-act/), the question of ‘double agents’ is a very complex one. Despite my invitation to Lyman several weeks ago to read (and discuss) my piece, he appears not to have done so, and continues to show his misunderstanding of these matters.
Lyman’s historical knowledge is also defective. He confuses the events of the summer of 1943 with the D-Day landings of June 1944, and poses the question: “Why would Britain go to all the effort to set Europe ablaze only to nefariously put out this fire by handing these nascent networks in France to the Gestapo?” But that is the wrong question. As I have explained before, the appropriate question would be: “Why would the PROSPER network have been encouraged to prepare for guerrilla activity to support an imminent landing when the Chiefs of Staff had recently forbidden the French Resistance to engage in any sabotage or paramilitary action?”
I leave readers to judge for themselves the wisdom of Lyman’s observations, and hope that you enjoy Patrick Marnham’s patient and careful response. I reproduce first the text of Lyman’s second bulletin, melodramatically titled ‘The Origins of the Prosper/Déricourt Conspiracy and the Death of Truth’.
Robert Lyman’s Second Bulletin
As many of you will know, I have embarked on my account of the traitor in SOE, Henri Déricourt. How much of a traitor I will reveal in due course, but suffice it to say he is not the smoking gun of Allied deception as some have and continue to claim. Nor was he responsible for the tragic fall of Francis Sutthill’s Physician reseau in June 1943. The fall of Prosper (Sutthill’s code name) is a tragic story, but Déricourt’s role in it was largely incidental. The story of Déricourt himself is, I believe, one that is simply told. It is one of human frailty and, above all, material greed. From a humble, even socially humiliated background, Déricourt was a man desperate to secure the material guarantors of respectability and build a life cushioned from the embarrassment of being a person of no consequence. Money lay at the heart of everything he did, as was a desire to be liked, to be respected, to be admired. My view – (though there is much more to come) – is that Déricourt was un espion très ordinaire, perhaps even just un petit espion. There is simply no evidence, circumstantial or factual, to suggest otherwise.
Yet over the years the maggots have crawled over the carcase of SOE, building a series of fanciful foundations for a building in which the role of Déricourt is made out to be a puppet in the evil hands of the deep British state. These buildings inevitably fall over in a moderate wind, though it is remarkable how many continue to be built, most by journalists, TV presenters or superannuated researchers for Private Eye. My book will, I hope, be one of those moderate winds, toppling the towers of Babel that the ignorant have and continue, sadly, to create. (Incidentally, as one who has worked in and for the British government, I always laugh at the notion of a ‘deep state’, one so secret that only a small cabal of evil genius’ – inevitably members of Boodles or Whites – pull the puppeteer’s strings. Anyone who has done likewise realises with a shock at an early stage in their career just how shallow this supposedly ‘deep state’ really is.)
Jean Overton Fuller, who spent much of her life fishing for answers in the sea that is the murky history of SOE, traced the origins of the conspiracists to the American journalist Anthony Cave Brown, who was notorious in historical circles for simply making things up. In Bodyguard of Lies, published in 1976, he posited the notion that Prosper had been deliberately fed information about deception measures about the forthcoming invasion of France. Somehow, though the logic of his thinking entirely evades me, members of the resistance would be fed information about the timing and location of the invasion that they would then feed, under torture, to their German captors. Parts of the resistance would thus be deliberately ‘burned’ (brûlée) by double-agents like Henri Déricourt, who in the uncritical imaginings of this argument, must surely have been employed by SIS, to ensure that the Germans would receive this important but false intelligence. Cave Brown never examined the illogicality of this argument. Why would Britain go to all the effort to set Europe ablaze only to nefariously put out this fire by handing these nascent networks in France to the Gestapo? The argument depended on the reality that in London someone believed the resistance to be so expendable that it could be deliberately expended for ‘the greater good.’ This, even to Cave Brown, would have been unbelievable were it not the work of the very highest person in the land, Winston Churchill himself.
Likewise, to believe this one needs also to believe in the malicious cynicism of some people in London who were (bizarrely) happy to aid and abet Gestapo terror. Indeed, the idea that agents of SOE would be deliberately and secretly given information about the greatest secret in London – that of the date and location of D-Day – in the hope that they would then blurt this information to their captors as their fingernails were being extracted, is – let’s call it for what it is – patently stupid. Likewise, the idea that MI6 would be allowed deliberately to set up parts of SOE for burning is equally fantastical. Yet this is what some people, prompted originally by Cave Brown and fed by others after him, seem to want to believe. Incidentally, there is a very well evidenced psychopathology of conspiracy, in which people want to believe in the existence of the puppeteers and their strings, and to build imaginary worlds in which these evil monsters prey on the rest of us. It seems to me to be the responsibility of sensible historians – and I include myself in this number – to do our best to bring these crazy structures crashing to the ground.
Cave Brown was followed by Larry Collins in 1982, with a novel called Fall from Grace in which – in his footnotes – he deliberately blamed Churchill for using Prosper to sow disinformation and, ultimately, to kill lots of brave Frenchmen. This is an obvious lie, as it hangs on a supposed meeting between Sutthill and Churchill. It is one, however, that people seem keen to believe.
Before long the BBC jumped on the bandwagon with a particularly ignorant analysis of Physician in a Timewatch programme in 1986 in which Déricourt was presented without any argument as an SIS spy. The fact that Déricourt was known by some in SOE to have had contacts with the Germans was used as the extrapolated and exaggerated basis for suggesting that he must therefore have been a double-agent, working for the British while pretending also to work for the Germans. The very idea of a double-agent made it very easy for people to make two plus two equal conspiracy and suggest that it was the obvious route by which those SOE agents with the carefully inserted bacillus were identified by the Abwehr and/or Gestapo and burned by the agent working for SIS. Déricourt thus became the puppet on SIS’s string. It was easy, thereafter, to identify the puppeteer. Find a person whom many people disliked within SIS and hey presto, this man, Claude Dansey, fitted the bill perfectly and a myth was created. Dansey and MI6 had suddenly become the evil genius’s of the British deep state that had attempted to burn Prosper and Physician as a means of infiltrating disinformation into German hands. As an aside, all the conspiracists have another weapon in their armoury. This is the accusation that the ‘deep State’ continues to withhold in the ‘SIS archives’ the real secrets of its perfidy.
Except that none of it, as rational people can see, is true. The supposedly logical steps that link these facts only existed in the imaginations of Cave Brown, Larry Collins and the BBC Timewatch team. They were speculations, and ill-founded ones at that. This didn’t stop one producer of the Timewatch team, Robert Marshall, from publishing All The King’s Men in 1988, which made up the calumny that Déricourt was an MI6 agent specifically directed to contact the Gestapo and to ‘burn’ Prosper. As Jean Overton Fuller asserts, and I agree, this was a deliberate libel of ‘three men, all of them dead: Churchill, Dansey and Déricourt.’ In 1992 a further book appeared by an ex-SOE agent Bob Maloubier, published only in France, written in collaboration with the novelist Jean de Larteguy. The same inflated charges were made, in which Déricourt and Churchill were presented as agents, literally, of the devil. Its excited claims make this supposed book of history yet another example of a fictional genre.
When I started out on my own Déricourt journey in 2012 I had rather hoped that the ahistoricisms of the conspiracists would in time die a natural death. In this I was naïve, for in 2021 Patrick Marnham produced War in the Shadows, which added a new spin to this stale story by alleging a link between the arrest of Prosper and that of Jean Moulin. Both men were arrested on 21 July 1943. I find this argument the least convincing of all, for Marnham is the epitome of the deep state conspiracist, alleging all sorts of imaginary policies and relationships on the basis of excited speculation. I too have been through the Déricourt files and simply don’t accept the speculative interpretation he places on a couple of the files and which form the basis of his proposition regarding Déricourt.
My book will be no where as exciting as the semi-fictional accounts presented by Cave Brown, Collins, Maloubier and Marnham, but the facts need to have their say. I hope that mine will do just that. The dead of SOE deserve nothing less.
Patrick Marnham’s Response
In two recent website posts a historian based in Oxford, Robert Lyman, has announced that he is writing a book about Henri Déricourt, the French pilot trained by SOE in 1942 to work in France as an air movements officer. Déricourt was also a paid agent of the Paris Gestapo. In both articles Lyman refers to my book War in the Shadows in which I told the story of the downfall of the SOE network ‘Physician’ (better known as PROSPER after the codename of its commander Francis Suttill). At the time of its downfall in June 1943 PROSPER was SOE’s largest network in Occupied France.
The conclusion I reached in that book, after many years of research in British and French archives, was that the loss of PROSPER was connected to a deception operation run by British Intelligence codenamed ‘Starkey’, and that Déricourt’s activities on behalf of the Gestapo were known to British Intelligence which had continued to employ him in that deception operation as a ‘double’ agent. In the book I produced documentary evidence that showed, for the first time, a direct connection between the traitor/double agent Déricourt and Claude Dansey, the executive head of MI6, who was one of those directing ‘Starkey’.
Lyman’s reasons for writing about Déricourt are unclear. Is he setting out on an open-minded enquiry into the fate of PROSPER? Or is he simply intending to bolster the longstanding official version of PROSPER’s failure? – i.e. that it was not connected to a British Intelligence operation but was chiefly due to German police work and the incompetence of Francis Suttill and his colleagues. I ask the question because Lyman’s chief interest in both papers appears to be discrediting my arguments through misrepresentation and occasional abuse.
Defending the official version of history is a perfectly reasonable position, although a rather slim basis for a new book. But in neither of his initial articles does Lyman produce any fresh evidence. Nor does he attempt to fill any of the gaping holes in the official account. His research is clearly incomplete, because he makes no mention of any of the French archives or authorities. Yet even before he has completed his research he announces where it will lead him.
Lyman’s criticisms are imprecise and confused. He frequently refers to several earlier books that queried the official account but then muddles up the conclusions reached, over a period of 30 years, by their several authors. He next attributes conclusions found in their work to mine. Although his first paper was brief, he found room in it for several factual errors. Since Lyman fails to publish any new evidence one is left with nothing to dispute.
In his second article he abandons any pretence of objectivity and digs himself into several deep holes.
Lyman’s second article(His words in ITALICS, my response in BOLD).
As many of you will know, I have embarked on my account of the traitor in SOE, Henri Déricourt. How much of a traitor I will reveal in due course, but suffice it to say he is not the smoking gun of Allied deception as some have and continue to claim. Nor was he responsible for the tragic fall of Francis Sutthill’s Physician reseau in June 1943.
The enquiry is into the reasons for the arrest of Major Francis Suttill. Suttill’s name is misspelt, throughout this paper.
The fall of Prosper (Sutthill’s code name) is a tragic story, but Déricourt’s role in it was largely incidental.
Déricourt was not responsible for the arrests of 21-23 June, and I have never suggested that he was. But his role in ‘PROSPER’s destruction was clearly more than ‘incidental’ since he had been arranging for the Gestapo to observe SOE landing operations, and track the incoming agents, for months. Furthermore he had been showing SOE agents’ correspondence to Boemelburg at Gestapo HQ in Paris. This helped the Gestapo to convince Gilbert Norman and ‘Prosper’ – and several other captured agents – that there was a German spy in Baker St. And this made stubborn resistance to interrogation appear to be pointless. In consequence, the arrest of five SOE agents was followed by the identification of hundreds of French resisters.
The story of Déricourt himself is, I believe, one that is simply told. It is one of human frailty and, above all, material greed… There is simply no evidence, circumstantial or factual, to suggest otherwise. Yet over the years the maggots have crawled over the carcase of SOE…
The ‘maggots’ in this remarkably silly reference are various historians Lyman sets out to discredit – notably Anthony Cave Brown, Robert Marshall and myself. He does not mention any of the leading French authorities with their contrasting views, such as Azema, Wauquiez, Michel, Noguères, Douzou, Bedarida, Guillaume, Dreyfus, Aron, etc. He makes no reference to the records in the Archives nationales, the Service historique de la défense or the numerous national and departmental archives available in France. Nor does he refer to the published work of Resistance and Gaullist veterans such as Cordier, Aubrac, Frenay, Passy, Cremieux-Brilhac and so on. The consensus over the years among many French historians is that the destruction of PROSPER was collateral damage in a British deception operation.
… Yet over the years the maggots have crawled over the carcase of SOE, building a series of fanciful foundations for a building in which the role of Déricourt is made out to be a puppet in the evil hands of the deep British state.
‘Maggots’ are apparently erecting ‘a building’ which turns out to be ‘a puppet’ (?) There is a good rule about writing. If you are not writing clearly it is probably because you are not thinking clearly.
… a puppet in the evil hands of the deep British state.
This is a clumsy attempt to associate War in the Shadows with the current plague of ‘false news’. I have absolutely no interest in, and have never theorised about, a peacetime ‘deep British state’. The evidence of complex depths in the structures of wartime intelligence has emerged slowly over the last 75 years from the work of reputable historians such as Morgan, Masterman, Howard, Hesketh, Bennett, Holt, Mackenzie, Jeffery – and so on. After the war everything possible was done by the British intelligence agencies to conceal the existence of this wartime structure for predictable and responsible reasons of peacetime policy.
These buildings [we are back with Lyman’s ‘maggots’– see above] inevitably fall over in a moderate wind, though it is remarkable how many continue to be built, most by journalists, TV presenters or superannuated researchers for Private Eye.
Oh dear me… Journalists in the archives!! Whatever next? Superannuated infantry officers?
The American journalist Anthony Cave Brown… was notorious in historical circles for simply making things up.
Anthony Cave Brown was not American. He was an experienced British newspaper reporter who counted Philby, Boris Pasternak and Vivian Fuchs among his contacts and covered the Hungarian uprising, as well as wars in Algeria and Vietnam. After retiring from journalism he carried out a prodigious amount of original research, mostly in US archives, into WWII intelligence matters. Unfortunately he tended to publish far too much of his raw material. He was actually better known for exaggerating his conclusions rather than ‘making things up’. Not used by me as a source, except for one brief reference to his interview with the wartime chief of MI6/SIS. Cave Brown’s book had absolutely no connection with my conclusions. Where possible I restricted use of Cave Brown, Robert Marshall and JO Fuller to information that could be corroborated from another source. Lyman fails to mention that, apart from being unevenly reliable, Cave Brown was the first writer to reveal the existence of Operation Starkey. Robert Marshall built on his work by conducting invaluable interviews with wartime intelligence veterans.
In Bodyguard of Lies, published in 1976, Anthony Cave Brown posited the notion that Prosper had been deliberately fed information about deception measures about the forthcoming invasion of France…
I have never suggested that agents were fed false information about D-Day in 1944 since I was concerned with the summer of 1943. For my explanation of the false info’ that agents were fed during Operation Starkey in 1943 see War in the Shadows, in particular Chapter Seven and pp. 108-113 and 288-290).
The argument depended on the reality that in London someone believed the resistance to be so expendable that it could be deliberately expended for ‘the greater good.’
No. The loss in June 1943 of one SOE network that had already been penetrated by the Paris Gestapo, via Déricourt, did not equate to the destruction of the French Resistance.
…The idea that agents of SOE would be deliberately and secretly given information about the greatest secret in London – that of the date and location of D-Day – in the hope that they would then blurt this information to their captors as their fingernails were being extracted, is – let’s call it for what it is – patently stupid.
Once again, we are in June 1943. Operation Starkey had nothing to do with D-Day. What is ‘patently stupid’ is to attack a book – War in the Shadows– repeatedly, for material that it does not contain. Those who were fed false information in the early summer of 1943 about the likelihood of early landings in France included the head of ‘F’ section SOE, Maurice Buckmaster, and the SOE agents Francis Suttill, France Antelme and Claude de Baissac, as well as the political and military leaders of the French Resistance, Jean Moulin and Charles Delestraint.
Likewise, the idea that MI6 would be allowed deliberately to set up parts of SOE for burning is equally fantastical.Yet this is what some people, prompted originally by Cave Brown and fed by others after him, seem to want to believe.
In War in the Shadows there is no question of ‘deliberately setting up parts of SOE’. The deputy head of SOE, and several other senior intelligence officers were among the ‘some people’ who were informed, early in the summer of 1943, that a decision had been taken to ‘make use’ of the discovery that PROSPER had been infiltrated by German intelligence.
Incidentally, there is a very well evidenced psychopathology of conspiracy, in which people want to believe in the existence of the puppeteers and their strings, and to build imaginary worlds in which these evil monsters prey on the rest of us.
Of course there were wartime intelligence ‘conspiracies’. The repetition of Foot’s original glib dismissal is usually evidence of lazy, convenient and/or officially directed research. The real reason why the official account continues to be queried is because it is so implausible. It has nothing to do with ‘psychopathology’ – (another discipline in which Lyman may not be entirely reliable).
It seems to me to be the responsibility of sensible historians – and I include myself in this number– to do our best to bring these crazy structures crashing to the ground. Cave Brown was followed by Larry Collins in 1982, with a novel called ‘Fall from Grace’ in which – in his footnotes – he deliberately blamed Churchill for using Prosper to sow disinformation and, ultimately, to kill lots of brave Frenchmen. This is an obvious lie…,
No. It’s not. Larry Collins was a novelist. It’s a novelist’s invention. Novelists tend to do that. It’s their job. I have never read this novel which is totally irrelevant to my own research.
… This is an obvious lie, as it hangs on a supposed meeting between Sutthill and Churchill. It is one, however, that people seem keen to believe.
The groundwork for this ‘imaginary’ meeting between Churchill and Suttill was not laid by a novelist but by Professor MRD Foot, who in 1966 published the wrong date for ‘Prosper’s return to France (SOE in France, pp. 308-9) and did nothing to correct it until 2004. [See War in the Shadows p. 245, and Antony Percy in Coldspur, 30 January 2023, 31 August 2022, passim]. Incidentally, Lyman does not seem to know that Professor Foot was among those prepared to believe that Churchill did sometimes summon SOE agents to his office in order to deceive them. (see Foot SOE: 1940-46 p.43, and War in the Shadows p. 245).
The fact that Déricourt was known by some in SOE to have had contacts with the Germans was used as the extrapolated and exaggerated basis for suggesting that he must therefore have been a double-agent… The very idea of a double-agent made it very easy for people to make two plus two equal conspiracy… Déricourt thus became the puppet on SIS’s string. It was easy, thereafter, to identify the puppeteer. Find a person whom many people disliked within SIS and hey presto, this man, Claude Dansey, fitted the bill perfectly and a myth was created.
To return to the facts: the sheer nastiness of Claude Dansey is hardly ‘mythical’ and has been vividly described by several of his colleagues. And in War in the Shadows I established both Dansey’s involvement in Operation Starkey and I published for the first time the evidence of his direct interest in the operational activities of Déricourt.
As an aside, all the conspiracists have another weapon in their armoury. This is the accusation that the ‘deep State’ continues to withhold in the ‘SIS archives’ the real secrets of its perfidy.
And what would Lyman know about SIS/MI6 archives? Is he in the privileged position of reading them? Or has he been given ‘assurances’ – such as Leo Marks was given before his SOE coding records were destroyed by MI6? EVERY SIS FILE IN THE SOE ARCHIVE HAS BEEN REDACTED. Professor Foot (in 1966) said that he was not allowed to consult SIS records, and his research into SOE was closely monitored by an SIS officer. Professor Howard (in 1990) said that he had seen a large amount of information about deception operations which would never, to his regret, be published. TA Robertson – who ran the XX Committee’s deception agents during the war – noted in Déricourt’s security file that he held ‘valuable information’ about Déricourt that would ‘greatly supplement what appears on our files’ (War in the Shadows, p.284). For an intelligence historian Lyman seems to be remarkably incurious.
When I started out on my own Déricourt journey in 2012 I had rather hoped that the ahistoricisms of the conspiracists would in time die a natural death. In this I was naïve, for in 2021 Patrick Marnham produced ‘War in the Shadows’, which added a new spin to this stale story by alleging a link between the arrest of Prosper and that of Jean Moulin. Both men were arrested on 21 July 1943. I find this argument the least convincing of all, for Marnham is the epitome of the deep state conspiracist, alleging all sorts of imaginary policies and relationships on the basis of excited speculation.
It is Lyman who seems to be getting excited. (In his first letter he described me as ‘a great writer and a fabulous researcher’. Subsequently, I apparently went off my trolley). My arguments are not ‘imaginary’ but are based on interviews with French Resistance veterans, the records of the post-war treason trials in Paris, the depositions of captured SS officers who had worked with Karl Boemelburg and the full transcript of an interrogation of two of the principal characters in the story by six French historians.
I too have been through the Déricourt files and simply don’t accept the speculative interpretation he places on a couple of the files and which form the basis of his proposition regarding Déricourt.
For Lyman’s information, my conclusions are not ‘based on a couple of’ the Déricourt files in the National Archives at Kew. They are developed over the length of the book. Research started in the Diocesan Archives in Lyons in 1985 and continued, on and off, over the next 35 years in England and France. It has led to two books, so far. The source notes include identified documentary references drawn from five official archives in three countries, with additional information from both Nazi and Soviet records. The bibliography and notes run to 26 pages, and my research was highly commended by an Oxford University historian considerably more distinguished than Lyman – who described it as an entry ticket ‘for ‘the Oxford History Faculty’.
My book will be no where [sic] as exciting as the semi-fictional accounts presented by Cave Brown, Collins and Marnham…
When Lyman has actually published a book on this subject and produced the evidence which has so far evaded him it may be possible to have a debate. Until then I hope he will understand if I regard his reflections as ill-informed bluster rather than research.
… The facts need to have their say. I hope that mine will do just that. The dead of SOE deserve nothing less.
This mawkish reference to ‘the dead of SOE’, is little to Lyman’s credit. I have at least as much respect as he claims for the men and women who survived, or died in, that war. I certainly knew hundreds more wartime survivors than Lyman has ever met. Their courage and self-sacrifice gave my generation a lifetime of peace. The study of history depends on discussion, disagreement and revision, not unsourced assertions and personal abuse. The task of all ‘sensible’ historians – 80 years after the death of those gallant men and women – is to respect them sufficiently to continue enquiring into how and why they died.
In last month’s posting, I reported that Patrick Marnham and I had sent a letter to the Editor of the Journal of Intelligence and National Security expressing our disappointment that he had decided to publish a rather feeble article by Francis Suttill about the collapse of his father’s network (see https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02684527.2022.2159115 ). I eventually heard back from Professor Mark Phythian, the editor, who informed me that it was not the policy of the Journal to publish letters. I accordingly told him that I would publish the correspondence on coldspur, and it thus appears below.
Percy and Marnham to JINS (January 31, 2023)
As two historians who have investigated the PROSPER affair with some thoroughness, we were dismayed by your decision to publish Francis Suttill’s article on the collapse of his father’s network, in which he attempts to prove that British Intelligence could not have contributed to the demise of the PROSPER circuit. We believe that Mr Suttill deserves much sympathy over the loss of his father, and much respect for the work he has done in tracing the activities of the PROSPER network in France, but, regrettably, he does not bring a methodological approach to analyzing the paradoxes inherent in the records of its destruction. He brings no fresh evidence to the table, and ignores much of what has been laid out already. Moreover, by focussing attention on one narrow set of events, his article misses the major controversial aspects of the treatment of the network by the British military and intelligence organizations. Mr Suttill appears not to have read Patrick Marnham’s War in the Shadows or Antony Percy’s supplementary series of analyses of the events of the summer of 1943 available at www.coldspur.com. *
A thorough rebuttal of Mr Suttill’s claims would probably require as much space as he took up in his article, so we limit our observations here to nine major points.
No New Information: The primary claim for the appearance of his article appears to be that ‘newly released information enables the sequence of events that led to the disaster to be set out in detail’. Yet that assertion is both incorrect and irrelevant. The only new archival source he presents relates to the trial records of the prosecution of Pierre Culioli in 1949. With the exception of the evidence given in camera by the Swiss PROSPER agent Armel Guerne – incidentally a very mendacious witness, as his Personal File at The National Archives confirms – these records have all been available for public inspection in French national and departmental archives for many years. And nothing in his article sheds any significant new light on the sequence of events leading to the arrests, which several books (e.g. War in the Shadows, Stella King’s Jacqueline) have already described. The provision of more detail on the disaster, including the description of the sudden speed with which the Gestapo exploited the information they had gathered, reveals nothing about any decisions being made by political, military or deception committees in London.
Valid Conspiracy Theories: Mr Suttill’s main objective appears to be the debunking of so-called ‘conspiracy theories’ concerning the betrayal of the PROSPER circuit. (Such theories, in his mind, apparently spawned without any identified actors being responsible for them.) Yet ‘conspiracy theory’ is a fashionable pejorative term, and disguises the fact that, if evidence of conspiratorial activity is noted, an analyst is bound to develop some theory to explain the phenomenon. This process is not the same as ‘search[ing] for a scapegoat’, in Mr Suttill’s terms. Ever since the 1948 trial of Henri Déricourt, who had undeniably been in contact with the Gestapo while acting as an air movements officer for SOE, but who was saved from a probable death sentence by the evidence of Nicolas Bodington, the Number 2 in SOE’s F Section, questions have been asked about the motivations of SOE officers in failing to withdraw Déricourt from circulation. Mr Suttill refers elliptically to the fact that Déricourt ‘was believed to be a double agent’, but refrains from issuing any firm opinion himself.
SOE Inaction: The immediate antecedent events are very important. SOE failed to take action when the first suggestions of German infiltration of its networks came to light in the spring of 1943. The PROSPER network was already exposed to a degree, since it had recruited some dubious individuals from the discredited CARTE network, but Major Suttill had begun to distrust Déricourt and to suspect that he might have betrayed information about his network. He reported on his suspicions to his commanders when he was in London in May 1943. While it is true that the network had also been undermined by a series of very poor tradecraft practices (a topic which Mr Suttill finesses), a security-conscious intelligence organization would have immediately closed down the circuits to control the contagion, and undertaken a proper investigation. Instead Major Suttill was encouraged to put his ‘secret armies’ on the alert, something admitted by the authorized historian, M. R. D. Foot, as well as by Mr Suttill.
False Antithesis: Mr Suttill titles his article ‘Was the Prosper French resistance circuit betrayed by the British in 1943?’, and concludes that the circuit ‘could not have been betrayed by the British as part of a deception plan’. Yet his attention focuses solely on the events that led to the arrest of Pierre Culioli and Yvonne Rudellat, alongside the recently parachuted-in agents McAlister and Pickersgill. We do not believe that any historian, journalist or biographer has ever made the claim that a British intelligence service manipulated a Gestapo operation leading to the capture of SOE personnel by the Gestapo, including Suttill, Norman and Borrel. It is however apparent that these arrests were the consequence of a strategy that had already dangerously ignored the evidence of German infiltration of the greater PROSPER network. Thus Mr Suttill’s painstaking reconstruction of the events of the June arrest is directed at a strawman opponent. The question of the manner of the arrests is orthogonal to that of British deviousness.
Difficulties with Authorized History: A vitally important aspect of the case ignored by Mr Suttill are the movements of his father during the second half of May 1943, and the beginning of June. For almost forty years after M. R. D. Foot’s authorized history of SOE in France first appeared in 1966, the record stood that Major Suttill returned to France on June 12 after spending a few weeks in London on ‘consultations’ (this despite the fact that Foot made careful reference to Suttill’s presence in Paris in early June, and that Pierre Culioli’s file makes reference to his return to France in May). The Foreign Office (representing the interests of the defunct SOE) supported Foot’s date, which was subsequently echoed in the narratives of such as E. H. Cookridge and Robert Marshall. Yet, when the second edition of the history appeared in 2004, Foot changed the date of Suttill’s return to May 20, without modifying any other associated part of his account. He had been persuaded by Mr. Suttill (who brought strong evidence of his father’s movements in late May) that his father had returned to France on that date. The Foreign Office has accepted this new version of the history without question: indeed, the SOE ‘historian’, Mark Seaman, has stated that Mr Suttill’s version of events constitutes ‘the last word’.
F Section Misled: Mr Suttill unwittingly provides strong evidence to undermine his own case when he describes how the French Section of SOE was misled by either SOE’s senior officers or the Chiefs of Staff. “The French Section was not aware at this time that a 1943 invasion was no longer on; they were not told until the end of July,” he writes. Such a disclosure (which does not represent any new research) is truly shocking, since the authorities were either guilty of gross negligence (i.e. forgetting to inform a sabotage organization of a critical change in policy) or massive duplicity (i.e. encouraging the unit to carry on with its subversive activities, and preparation for battle, in the knowledge that such efforts would be in vain in the summer of 1943). Suttill attempts to dispose of this catastrophe by indicating that ‘the deception planners’ (unidentified) connived at the increase in arms shipment to France carried out by SOE, even though it was in fact in direct contravention of the policy of the Chiefs of Staff after the Casablanca Conference. Suttill does not appear to be aware of the proceedings of a highly secret TWIST committee that worked apart from the more familiar XX (Double-Cross) Committee.
The Build-up of Arms: In fact, the arms build-up had been occurring for months, as the internal historian William Mackenzie first reported, and as publicly available SOE records from the National Archives are able to confirm. The allocation of aircraft to support this effort could not have taken place without the approval of the Chiefs of Staff and the (reluctant) acquiescence of Air Chief Marshal Harris, who wanted his heavy bombers to be directed exclusively on bombing campaigns. Thus a dangerous build-up of arms, that had to be stored and maintained, took place, when no insurrectionist attacks were authorized to be initiated until the D-Day landings of early summer 1944. This was a disaster waiting to happen. SOE in France was supposed to be engaged solely in sabotage at this time, not in the premature arming of disorganized guerrilla forces.
The Manipulation of Major Suttill: What probably happened is that Major Suttill made a short return visit to the UK at the beginning of the June 1943 ‘moon period’, and during this visit had a meeting with Winston Churchill, an encounter that was recorded both by Cookridge and Marshall. This is a very complicated scenario, as the archival material is contradictory, and the testimony of many witnesses (such as that of Pierre Culioli, whose case Suttill follows in great detail) utterly unreliable. At the same time, the evidence provided to Foot and Suttill by the SOE advisors was equally misleading. Part of Mr. Suttill’s argument for diminishing the possibility of duplicitous behaviour on the part of the British is his (correct) claim that his father could not have met Churchill in May since the Prime Minister was out of the country. Yet, if Major Suttill did fly in to France on June 12, as was maintained for so long, he could well have had a meeting with Churchill just before then. (These theories are being developed and substantiated by us.) It is also worth mentioning that Foot himself, in SOE: The Special Operations Executive: 1940-46 (first published in 1984), wrote that Churchill may have ‘seen individual agents on their way into the field, and misbriefed them to suit a deception plan of which only he and Colonel Bevan (who headed the deception service) held the key’.
Cavalier Dating: A last significant flaw in Mr Suttill’s approach is his handling of chronology. His dating of events frequently flies in the face of other accounts. Two examples stand out: the arrival of Gaston Cohen (WATCHMAKER), an ancillary wireless operator, destined for the JUGGLER circuit; and the dropping of canisters that exploded at Neuvy. In contradiction of Cohen’s account of the events, in which he stated that he arrived on June 10/11, Mr. Suttill endorses an SOE-manipulated amendment to Cohen’s testimony that pushes his arrival back three days, thus removing ‘evidence’ of PROSPER’s presence in France before the ‘official’ June 12 date of his return. On the other hand, in defiance of several other witness accounts that describe the Neuvy incident as occurring on June 13-14, Mr. Suttill places it a couple of days earlier, perhaps to counter E. H. Cookridge’s suggestion that the operation had been launched as part of a fresh campaign, encouraged by Major Suttill, to accelerate delivery of material to the secret armies.
Mr Suttill describes himself as ‘an accidental historian’. But one does not become a historian by accident: it requires training, and the application of methodology. Unfortunately, Mr Suttill has not applied any discipline to his researches, and has privately admitted that, if he encounters statements or assertions that appear to contradict his main argument, he ignores them since an inspection would involve ‘speculation’. Yet proper historiography requires exploring such paradoxical evidence, and developing hypotheses in an attempt to distinguish the authentic from the fake, and to offer a convincing explanation of what really happened. Dismissing such attempts as ‘conspiracy theories’ is simply inadequate. Historians sometimes have to develop conspiracy theories because there is evidence of a real conspiracy.
Antony Percy (M.A., D. Phil); author of Misdefending the Realm and of ‘Courier, traitor, bigamist, fabulist: behind the mythology of a superspy’ published in this journal (December 2020)
Patrick Marnham; (author of War in the Shadows, The Death of Jean Moulin, and several other volumes)
I am getting in touch as Editor of Intelligence and National Security in response to your email about Francis Suttill’s piece on the PROSPER circuit, which has been passed on to me.
Our intention is to publish this piece in the journal as a Research Note, as it draws on recent archival openings or availability to update an existing line of analysis or argument. In this case, it is the documentary evidence publicly available from the trial papers of Pierre Culioli, which Francis Suttill has used as a basis for further reflection on the question of responsibility for the collapse of the PROSPER circuit. As you know, this is a case that he has studied over many years, including publishing a piece in Intelligence and National Security over a decade ago, co-authored with M.R.D. Foot (this appeared in issue 26/1, 2011). As such, this Research Note represents a short update on his earlier work.
At the same time, I am aware that there is some debate and disagreement among historians on this question given issues of evidence and the documentary record, as there can be in relation to other areas of SOE’s operations.
If you, either alone or together with Patrick Marnham, would like to write an article in response to the line of explanation advanced by Francis Suttill that sets out your preferred explanation for the collapse of the PROSPER circuit, the evidence that makes this your preferred explanation, and perhaps acknowledging where gaps in evidence remain and might possibly be filled in the future, then I would be very interested in taking this forward for publication in the journal. SOE continues to be a subject of great interest to its readers, and I am keen to promote academic debate in the journal.
If this is something that might be of interest to you, I will be very happy to discuss it further.
Professor Mark Phythian FAcSS School of History, Politics & International Relations University of Leicester
Percy to Phythian (February 10)
Many thanks for your response. Forgive me, but I am a little confused by it.
When I first read your message, I gained the impression that you were planning to publish our letter as a ‘Research Note’, but, on re-reading it, I concluded that it was Mr. Suttill’s piece over which you were declaring your intentions. Yet that does not make sense to me, as the piece has already been published. (Indeed it was I who brought its appearance to the notice of Mr. Suttill, who was not expecting it until the summer.)
Could you perhaps inform us of your intentions for publishing our letter? As you can imagine, Mr. Marnham and I put a lot of thought and care into it, and should be disappointed if it fell on stony ground, as we believe that it constitutes an important corrective to Mr. Suttill’s text.
I wonder whether you could also tell us something about the editorial cycle of Mr. Suttill’s piece. On the on-line SOE forum, Mr. Suttill wrote as follows: “At the end of last year, I wrote an article summarising the evidence concerning the arrest of my father and showing that not only did no one in Britain orchestrate it but that they could not have done so even if they had wished to. The journal Intelligence and National Security agreed to publish it in their June issue to coincide with the 80th anniversary of the events but I have just discovered that it is already available online.” I found Mr. Suttill’s explanation of the gist of his piece very bizarre, and incorrect in its claims, and wondered why the Journal would so quickly agree to help promote an external commemorative event. Is that an editorial policy? I imagine the piece must have gone through the customary peer review, but Mr. Marnham and I wonder who could be more steeped in this issue than the two of us.
Patrick and I look forward to receiving your response.
Best wishes, Tony.
Phythian to Percy (February 13)
Thanks for your email. I was referring to publication of Francis Suttill’s piece in an issue of the journal. At present, it is available electronically via the journal website as one of the ‘Articles in Press’ that are queued up for publication in a future issue of the journal. The journal itself is published seven times per year. It is just coincidence that this piece is due to appear in the issue dated June 2023. This is when the piece will be sufficiently close to the top of the queue to be included in an issue. It is not designed to coincide with an anniversary.
I’m afraid we do not publish letters. However, as I mentioned in my email to you, if you are interested in putting a response in academic article format, I would be interested in taking it forward. I should emphasise that this would need to go through a peer review process, as do all the pieces we publish.
Percy to Phythian (February 16)
Thank you for your response. Patrick Marnham and I regret that you cannot publish our letter. I shall accordingly publish the correspondence on my personal website, www.coldspur.com. It had been our intention to give you a chance to use the letter first, but it will now enjoy unrestricted access.
We were puzzled by your previous statement about the matter: “At the same time, I am aware that there is some debate and disagreement among historians on this question given issues of evidence and the documentary record, as there can be in relation to other areas of SOE’s operations.”
We are not aware of any ‘debate’ or ‘disagreement’ being carried on ‘among historians’ in any serious outlet, apart from a short flurry of letters in the Times Literary Supplement a couple of years ago, after Patrick’s book was reviewed. As we explained in our letter, Mr Suttill and his colleagues have in fact have done all they can to stifle debate. Mr Suttill has declined any invitation to discuss the controversial aspects of his story, and Mark Seaman, who describes himself as the ‘SOE historian’, declared in his Foreword to Mr Suttill’s book that it ‘finally puts to rest a 70-year-old debate’. He furthermore characterized any alternative analyses as ‘persistent, indiscriminate conspiracy theories’, which is not the language of an open-minded scholar. That opinion was reinforced by Duncan Stuart (the last ‘SOE Advisor to the Foreign Office’), stating that the publication constitutes ‘the definitive account’ of the PROSPER circuit. Those actions do not indicate to us evidence of a desire to engage in creative inquiry. Could you perhaps inform us which qualified and independent historians are involved in this debate, and where their arguments appear?
You will perhaps understand why we shall decline your invitation to submit a ‘response’ in ‘academic article format’, as we believe it would dignify Mr Suttill’s ‘Research Note’ with a scholarliness that it does not deserve.
(And that’s it. If I receive any further explanation from Professor Phythian, I shall post it here.)
The French operations of SOE in the first half of 1943 have been beset by confusion and contradictory instructions. The Chiefs of Staff have dithered between acknowledging that a serious assault on Normandy cannot take place until 1944, while maintaining vain hopes that some minimal attack may be made in later in 1943, if only to distract German forces from the Russian front. Winston Churchill has continued to promote the cause of striking a bridgehead in Normandy. Both British and American Chiefs of Staff have lost focus on what SOE should be doing to support these muddled policies. SOE itself has received new orders which reduce France to a lesser priority than Yugoslavia and Italy, and emphasize sabotage rather than providing weapons to secret armies. Yet in the first few months of 1943, the parachuting in of weaponry to potential guerrilla forces in France has increased markedly, even while SOE officers are being warned that the important PROSPER circuit has been infiltrated by Abwehr spies. These officers are also aware that Henri Déricourt, an organizer of landing-sites in France, has been in touch with Sicherheitsdienst officers in Paris. Lt.-General Frederick Morgan, aka COSSAC (Chief of Staff to the Supreme Allied Commander, this Commander in fact not yet having been appointed), has received bizarre instructions from the Chiefs of Staff, and has started planning diversionary campaigns for Northern Europe, under the umbrella codename of COCKADE. Francis Suttill, the leader of the PROSPER circuit, makes two visits to Britain, the first at the end of May, and a second shorter one in early June. The guidance and instructions that he receives during these two visits will turn out to have tragic consequences.
In this report, I address the following research questions:
In what manner was the proposal for COCKADE approved?
What effect did its approval have on Suttill’s behaviour and eventual demise?
Why were the infiltrated circuits not closed down immediately German infiltration had been detected?
How did the decision affect SOE? Why did arms shipments to France continue to increase after the 1943 assault was called off?
What did the Chiefs of Staff know about the LCS/SOE rogue deception plan?
And the overarching question remains: Why has the Foreign Office behaved so obstructively in withholding information about the PROSPER case?
Morgan and Operation COCKADE
While discussions between John Bevan, the Controlling Officer, and the Joint Planning Staff had been going on for some weeks, on June 3 Lt.-General Morgan completed his draft of Operation COCKADE, the deception scheme designed with a view ‘to pinning the enemy in the West, and keeping alive the expectation of large-scale cross-Channel operations in 1943’. General L. C. Hollis circulated it to the Chiefs of Staff two days later, this group having just returned from the TRIDENT conferences in Washington, D.C. COCKADE itself consisted of three subsidiary operations, STARKEY, WADHAM and TINDALL, all of which were designed to culminate in September of 1943. STARKEY is the most relevant to this story: WADHAM was entirely a deceptive operation designed to convince the Germans of an American landing in Brittany in September, while TINDALL represented a distraction in Norway. It is thus worth reproducing STARKEY’s description here:
An amphibious feint to force the GAF [German Air Force] to engage in intensive fighting over a period of about 14 days, by building up a threat of an imminent large-scale landing in the PAS DE CALAIS area. The culminating date should be between 8th and 14th September.
The first startling aspect of STARKEY was that it involved some real assaults, not just rumours. Morgan’s instructions had specifically called for the German Air Force to be brought into battle. Yet such ‘feints’ designed to engage the G.A.F. (‘intensive fighting’) were necessarily dangerous, since, if the latter responded to the bait, lives might have been lost, and the political backlash when the attack turned out to be half-hearted could have been disastrous. (Morgan drew attention to such ‘undesirable repercussions’ in the last paragraph of his submission, but recommended that considerations of them not influence the decision.) The second important dimension was the location of the threatened large-scale landing, namely in the Pas de Calais area, away from the coasts of Normandy where the 1944 entry would take place, but on a heavily-defended area where the German response would be expected to be very robust.
The proposal for STARKEY is very odd. Its objective is implicitly declared to be ‘to present a realistic picture of an imminent large-scale landing’. Morgan’s reasoning seems to be that the German Air Force would be brought to battle only ‘by the threat of an imminent invasion of the Continent’, since its forces were severely depleted. “To give our fighters the greatest advantage the threat must be mounted against the PAS DE CALAIS”, he added. Yet, since that area was so strongly defended, the operation would require heavy involvement of the Royal Navy, the RAF, as well as the US 8th Air Force, and would constitute a diversion from strategic heavy bombing efforts. Why would those forces commit so readily to something that was only a feint? If the objective had been to destroy what remained of the GAF, and it were accompanied by a high degree of confidence, Morgan’s plan might have received vigorous enthusiasm from his military colleagues. Yet he bizarrely refers merely to the chance of succeeding ‘to draw the GAF’, and that ‘14 days intensive fighting is probably the maximum that we can reasonably maintain’. Was Morgan recommending an air battle that the Allies could well lose, or was he just rather casually indicating that the threat of invasion would not be taken seriously without such a provocation?
Apart from the fact that the feint itself was an illusion, as it did include a real desire to engage the enemy, the focus on the Pas de Calais was itself very risky. Morgan himself admitted that it was a very well-defended region. Would the Germans take hints of an attack in that area seriously? It should be recalled that they had successfully obliterated the Dieppe Raid the previous year. Yet the overall desire ‘to keep the enemy pinned throughout the summer’, as Morgan later qualified the objective, thus hoping to improve the chances of the advance on Sicily, and providing help to Stalin in the East, dominated the plan. After all, these were the express instructions issued by the Chiefs of Staff back on April 26. Moreover, part of it mysteriously suggested that, should the GAF be beaten and a rapid seizure of the Pas de Calais achieved, that would signal a possible ‘complete German collapse or withdrawal’.
Yet this naïve thinking about targets constituted a fatal flaw. The detailed text of the COCKADE plan included some puzzling sentences concerning the choice of the Pas de Calais. Having explained how heavily fortified the area was, and the most strongly defended, Morgan described the level of bombardment that would be required ‘over a limited period’ (a very unmilitary, evasive and indefinite bureaucratic phrase) to give the impression that a large-scale landing was imminent. But then, amazingly, Morgan went on to write:
Port capacities in the PAS DE CALAIS are insufficient, even when undamaged, to supply a force of more than about nine divisions. We cannot therefore expect the GERMANS seriously to believe that invasion of the Continent is intended if we leave our deception plan to this area, and certainly we shall not contain all his reserves, if they are badly wanted elsewhere. At the same time the paucity of landing craft (actual or dummy) available in this country . . . . will make it clear to him that simultaneous cross-Channel operations in more than one sector are not feasible. We must therefore lead him to suppose that a major part of our plan is a long sea voyage ship to shore operation partly from this country but mainly from the USA.
Surprisingly, given the short timetable involved, the minutes of the War Cabinet show no further discussion of COCKADE for a while. Indeed, on June 17, Morgan moved on to the real and authentic 1944 Operation, apologizing to the Chiefs of Staff for the delay in submitting his initial plans for OVERLORD, and added they would be available on July 15. The next reference to COCKADE appears in a note by General Hollis on June 23, where he presents a response from Lieutenant General Jacob L. Devers of the US Army, and Commanding General of ETOUSA (European Theater of Operations, United States Army), in which Devers agrees generally with the conclusions of the Chiefs of Staff Committee meeting of June 21 concerning COCKADE. Then, rather incidentally, the matter of COCKADE is brought to the Prime Minister’s attention by General Hollis on June 23, where we learn obliquely that the War Cabinet has approved the operation. (Churchill would of course have been briefed on the plan before the War Cabinet set eyes on it. The official minutes for the meeting at which the approval was made do not appear in the official series.) It is in fact Louis Mountbatten, Chief of Combined Operations, who is responding to Churchill’s request for information on raids (Mountbatten’s bailiwick), whereupon Mountbatten refers to concurrent raids being undertaken as part of COCKADE. Thus the fact of the War Cabinet’s decision on COCKADE appears only as Annex 2 to Mountbatten’s note.
Yet valuable details about the negotiations can be found elsewhere. It is in the War Office archives (WO 106/4223) where a fuller account of some of the discussions that took place earlier in the month appears, and some highly important observations are evident. For example, as early as April 29, Sir Alan Brooke had voiced his disagreement that the news of the setting up of expeditionary forces ‘should be allowed to leak out through the channels at the disposal of the Controlling Officer’. Yet that recommendation does not appear in the report as listed, and must have derived from discussions. This cryptic statement presumably means that he disapproved of a policy of using ‘double agents’ through Bevan’s TWIST committee, although he did not explain why he was sceptical about that channel, nor did he offer an alternative.
A discussion took place at the Chiefs’ meeting on June 8, just after the return from Washington, when it was resolved to discuss the plan with Morgan while the Joint Planning Staff performed its detailed analysis, and then to meet with Morgan again. Morgan started off by stating that it might be difficult to bring the GAF into battle, and that ‘in order to provide a sufficiently convincing display of force, that battleships for bombarding the German coast artillery had been included for use in the later stage of the plan’. This worried Admiral Sir Dudley Pound, the First Sea Lord, who urged ‘very careful considerations’ before the employment of battleships in the Channel could be sanctioned. Likewise, Sir Charles Portal, Chief of the Air Staff, could not agree to a major diversion of bombers to meet Morgan’s requirements.
Later, a discussion concerning, rather archly, ‘Control of Patriot Organisations’, followed. The meeting recognized the importance of preventing premature risings in the occupied countries ‘and it was generally agreed [not unanimously?] that all patriot organisations must be warned that there must be no general rising without our definite instructions.’ Morgan was invited to consult with S.O.E. on this matter. On these, and other topics (such as the shortage of landing-craft) the Joint Planning Staff was instructed to report.
Further doubts surfaced the following day. A significant commentary – presented anonymously, from the War Office – appears, dated June 9. The note encourages the more detailed analysis being performed by the Joint Planning Staff, but ‘ventilates’ for the preliminary discussion the following two important points:
Air Battle: One of the main advantages, which it is hoped to attain is a profitable air battle. Is the Chief of Staff convinced that we can be sure of obtaining this advantage?
Political Repercussions: We shall eventually find ourselves in a position where German propaganda can represent that an attempted invasion has been repelled. Premature rising by Resistance Groups on the Continent may be difficult to avoid and their action might be detrimental to success on a later occasion.
Having received an individual invitation to do so, John Bevan, Controlling Officer of the London Controlling Section, responded to Morgan’s plan, and his memorandum was presented to the Chiefs of Staff on June 11. His opinions were strangely meek and uncritical, but then he was after all the architect of the plans, since their conception had antedated Morgan’s appointment. He appeared to approve of STARKEY and WADHAM, but pointed out that the Germans were unlikely to believe that the Allies could carry off three such operations simultaneously in September. His comments were mainly directed at TINDALL, and the chances of the Germans transferring forces hardened by cold weather to the Russian front. He completed his report by suggesting that, after the operation had been called off, it should be described as a ‘dress rehearsal’ rather than a feint, in order to protect ‘secret sources’, presumably the network of ‘double agents’ passing on intelligence about the operation to their Abwehr controllers. In his diaries, Alan Brooke records that Morgan came to see him on June 17 ‘to discuss various minor difficulties he has come up against’. What they were is not said, but Bevan presumably wanted Brooke on his side at the coming meeting.
The Chiefs of Staff took note of Bevan’s memorandum, but accepted his recommendation about publicity. In any case, on June 21, the Joint Planning Staff (JPS) issued its comprehensive Draft Report. In its introduction, it somewhat surprisingly expressed confidence in the plan’s conception, but added, rather weakly, the opinion that it ‘should succeed in pinning German forces in the west’, and that ‘it may also provoke an air battle and will provide most valuable experience’. It moved quickly over WADHAM and TINDALL and focused on STARKEY, where it boldly pointed out that:
11. The object of the plan, as stated, is to convince the enemy that a large scale landing in the Pas de Calais area is imminent and to bring the German Air Force to battle,
12. There is no intention of converting STARKEY into an actual landing if sudden German disintegration appears to be imminent. Entirely separate plans are being made for the possibility of an emergency return to the Continent.
The planning of Operation STARKEY is accordingly being limited to purely deceptive measures involving no plans for a re-entry to the Continent.
These were very significant reminders to the Chiefs of the Casablanca resolutions, and the seriousness with which they were taken is shown by the fact that the recommendation of ‘should therefore’ in the printed text has been emended to ‘is accordingly being’ in manuscript, reflecting that the Chiefs had endorsed this particular observation.
The JPS also highlighted the political repercussions, and, in consequence, a vital paragraph soon appeared in the protocols, running as follows:
The reactions to these operations of the inhabitants of the occupied territories will require to be controlled by the issue in advance of the most careful directions. The Political Warfare and Special Operations Executives have therefore been instructed to prepare detailed plans setting out the measures which should be adopted in order to prevent any premature rising by the patriot armies.
This is also a very important statement. While the plan had explicitly excluded any role for ‘patriot armies’ in the STARKEY operation, the JPS implicitly ordains that SOE agents should in no manner encourage French resistance members to expect or support any invasion in 1943. (Given the confirmed policy that invasion could not occur until summer 1944, ‘premature’ presumably meant any time before then.) As far as the build-up of arms, and exhortations over the wireless were concerned, however, all this well-intended foresight was too little, too late, and appears to have been expressed in complete ignorance of what was happening on the ground. In France, many ‘patriot armies’ had been supplied, and were eagerly expecting the invasion.
The War Office records include the minutes of the decisive meeting that took place on June 21. There were several caveats: Mountbatten agreed with Pound on the battleship issue; Portal appeared to have succumbed half-heartedly to the demand for bomber support; Brooke raised an important point about the repercussions from bombing targets in France, and possible civilian deaths. Some awkward questions were deferred, but the plans were essentially approved.
The argument behind the whole COCKADE plan thus appeared to be:
We shall launch an unserious attack on the Pas de Calais.
We hope to engage the GAF, but have a slim chance of destroying it.
The Pas de Calais is the best defended area of the French coastline.
The area is not large enough to support an invasion-capable force.
The Germans will not take this attack seriously.
We hope to supplement the air attack with bombardments by battleships (if the Royal Navy agrees).
We are, however, not confident that a presence of battleships will be useful.
We shall thus pretend to launch an assault on Normandy as well, with an even flimsier feint.
We shall augment this with the pretence of the unlikely arrival of a fleet from the USA.
In this way the Germans will be convinced that a massive assault is imminent.
It does not take the brain of a military strategist to conclude that this was an absurd proposition. Why on earth would the Germans be taken in by it, especially as Allied forces were amassed in the Mediterranean in preparation for an assault on Sicily or the Balkans? Was German intelligence so bad that the Wehrmacht would take seriously the threat of a major assault across the Channel as well? Even on August 7, the Chiefs of Staff were discussing what reduction of German forces would be necessary to make a 1944 cross-Channel operation possible. Moreover, Churchill, responding to Stalin’s querulous complaint about the further deferral of the assault, wrote to him on June 18 about the futility of wasting vast numbers of military personnel:
It would be no help to Russia if we threw away a hundred thousand men in a disastrous cross-Channel attack such as would, in my opinion, certainly occur if we tried under present conditions and with forces too weak to exploit any success that might be gained at very heavy cost.
That opinion should have put the kibosh on any notion of exploiting ‘German disintegration’.
What is more, the COCKADE plan is evasive and uncomfortable about the use of propaganda, misinformation and leakage to abet the project, especially when it relates to SOE and MI6 networks in France. Yet, at the time they considered the COCKADE plan, the Chiefs of Staff must have known about the recent increase in shipments of arms to France, and the campaigns already organized by the PWE to encourage the notion of an imminent invasion. If that activity ceased, the Nazis would conclude that the military movements were indeed a sham. But if they continued, in order to bolster the credibility of the feint, the Germans would take a very serious interest in infiltrating the networks in an effort to learn more about the date and place of the opening of the ‘Second Front’. That outcome could only be disastrous – in various ways. Therein lay the extreme moral dilemma: deceptions can exploit ambiguity about the location of a surprise attack, but they cannot dice with the actual existence or nonexistence of such events.
And the outcome of the assault could also have been catastrophic. What were the chances of success of any bridgehead, if substantial German forces were maintained in France (hardly ‘pinned’, it should be stated)? The continued presence of such strength was, after all, the objective of the Allies, and the outcome might be that a weakly supported bridgehead would have to face a vigorous backlash, and probably be destroyed or expelled. As further evidence of muddled thinking, just a week before, at the TRIDENT Conference in Washington, Sir Alan Brooke, in apparent defiance of CASABLANCA resolutions, had enigmatically stated that the ‘dispersal of German forces is just what we require for a cross-channel operation and we should do everything in our power to aggravate it’ – exactly the opposite of what was then planned. Strategic thinking was all over the place: it was a mess.
About this time the whole flimsy infrastructure fell apart. On June 24 Francis Suttill (Prosper) was arrested in Paris, and soon afterwards, he and Gilbert Norman, in a sad effort to save lives (but not their own), encouraged their networks to reveal where their weapons, smuggled in by SOE, were hidden.
COCKADE and the Historians
The coverage of the early days of COCKADE by the prominent historians has been spotty. Michael Howard, in Volume 5 of British Intelligence in the Second World War, records the drawing up of COCKADE plans, but leaves its timing (June 3) to an Endnote. He then haphazardly goes on to describe how resources (‘double agents’ of B1A) were enlisted to communicate aspects of COCKADE: “From the beginning of May, a stream of messages passed through more than a dozen sources, reporting rumours, government announcements and regulations and observed troop movements.” That is a clumsy and obvious anachronism: such events may well have been going on, but they were in support of other initiatives (or put in process by premature anticipation of COCKADE, as I showed in my analysis of XX Committee minutes), and not activated as a formal response to an inchoate and unapproved COCKADE. Howard then swiftly moves on to the preparations for late summer, and reports how the Germans did not rise to the bait, the OKW failing to be deceived as to Allied intentions. Nevertheless, he relates how von Rundstedt, Commander-in-Chief West, anxiously watched air-drops to resistance movements in France. That was on August 31, however, when the mop-up of the PROSPER network had been under way for some time. Even when STARKEY had been called off, von Rundstedt reputedly feared a major landing as late as November 1943. Yet no forces were transferred to prepare for any such threat. In fact, the opposite occurred.
In his insider history of FORTITUDE, Roger Hesketh gives scant attention to COCKADE. He dubs STARKEY an obvious failure, as it did not succeed in engaging the German Air Force. Moreover, he points out the fallacies in drawing the enemy’s attention to its most sensitive spot – the Pas de Calais. He drily added: “To conduct and publicise a large-scale exercise against an objective that one really intended to attack during the following year would hardly suggest a convincing grasp of the principle of surprise.” In Operation Fortitude, Joshua Levine likewise classifies COCKADE as a failure, but submits that the exercise offered useful experience for the double-cross system, and, rather weakly, that it gave the planners ‘the opportunity to consider the logistics of a cross-channel operation in advance of OVERLORD’. On the other hand, the only mention of COCKADE or STARKEY in M. R. D. Foot’s SOE in France is an (unindexed) amendment he made in 2004, when he had to concede that SOE agents were exceptionally used for purposes of deception in the promotion of STARKEY. This is a very telling addition that Foot slipped past the Foreign Office censors.
It was Anthony Cave-Brown, in his monumental Bodyguard of Lies, who actually moved closest to the truth, although his rather chaotic approach to chronology and his tendency to add irrelevant detail subtract from the clarity of his thesis. As with the other authors, he mixes up pre-COCKADE planning with the events in July and August. Using American archival sources that came to light in 1972, however, he is able to show that SOE agents were used in July and August, right through to the conclusion of STARKEY on September 9, 1943, to mislead the French patriot armies about the imminent invasion – a probable source for Foot’s amendment. In this way he is able to counter the claim that Bevan’s wartime deputy Sir Ronald Wingate made in 1969 that there was no connection between the LCS and SOE. The tension is clear: the Foreign Office wanted to bury the notion that SOE had been acting contrary to official policy, but the facts had come out.
Moreover, Cave-Brown lists the exploitation of the media that occurred, mainly in August 1943, to project the certainty of a coming invasion. The United Press put out a bulletin that informed the world of a move by the Allies in Italy and France ‘within the next month’, and even the BBC, on August 17, broadcast an ambiguous message that must have been interpreted by Frenchmen and Frenchwomen to mean that they should prepare for the imminent assault. As Cave-Brown writes: “The Associated Press and Reuters picked up this broadcast and made it world news.” All this activity by SOE and the Political Warfare Executive (PWE) caused major concerns for Bevan and his team at the LCS. Such efforts were of course in defiance of the careful edict issued by the Chiefs of Staff about avoiding premature action by patriot forces. Matters were out of control.
Cave-Brown also points out that COCKADE was a failure because Hitler was convinced that the Allies were bluffing, and actually withdrew over two-thirds of his army from the West.
Between April and December 1943, a total of twenty-seven divisions of the thirty-six in the western command were pulled out for service in Russia, Sicily, Italy and the Balkans – a compliment to A-Force’s Zeppelin operations on the Mediterranean at the expense of LCS’s Cockade operations in London.
Thus the aims of COCKADE were directly confounded by the clumsiness of the plan. Moreover, the withdrawal of these German divisions could ironically have allowed the Allies (in Cave-Brown’s opinion) to have ‘walked ashore’ in Brittany in the summer of 1943, virtually unopposed – a theory that demanded analysis in depth elsewhere. For example, Walter Scott Dunn, in Second Front Now, was one who claimed that the reduction in strength of the German Western Army in the autumn of 1943 could have permitted an Allied assault to take place if the Combined Chiefs of Staff had taken the possibility seriously.
Yet Cave-Brown massively mixes up the timetable when he moves to Prosper’s arrest, the subsequent mopping up of his networks, and the confiscation of arms, making the same mistake that others have made – that the events leading to the betrayal of Prosper were part of the COCKADE/STARKEY deception plan. As he writes (p 338: his sources are not identified, and the details are unreliable):
Moreover, the SOE/PWE plan for Starkey made provision for deliberately misinforming F section agents in the field; even before that plan had been approved by the Chiefs of Staff and become fully operational in mid-July 1943, certain key F section agents were flown to London for “invasion” briefings, and others sent to France with instructions to carry out “pre-invasion” activities. They were to be informed, at the proper moment, that Starkey was only a rehearsal; but by then, for some of them – including Prosper – it would be too late.
While it is true that John Bevan, in early May, collaborated with Morgan on the first drafts of the COCKADE plan (as I reported in April), Bevan exploited the presence of a real (but insubstantial) attack on the Pas de Calais planned for September as an arrow in the quiver of the rogue operation that was already under way with Prosper’s network.
What everyone failed to note was that, when Suttill arrived in London in May for his briefings, the notion of an invasion in the summer of 1943 was still boiling in some quarters – and that excited him. But when he came back for the express meetings in early June, after Churchill’s return, and when Morgan had just prepared his COCKADE plans, Suttill learned how matters had changed. He was either told the truth, namely that the new programme involved a massive feint, and that he was being asked to support that activity by continuing to ready his circuits for something that had to be described as real, or he was deceived into thinking that an invasion was still on the cards, but had been deferred until September. It was almost certainly the latter, as if the authorities had set out to manipulate him and his circuits, they would not want to run the risk of his undermining the whole project. And, if they had the nurtured the evil objective of having Suttill reveal the date only under torture, the extraction of the truth under pressure would have been even more convincing. What they probably told him was thus not a total lie. In any case, he was devastated.
As I described in my April posting (https://coldspur.com/feints-and-deception-two-more-months-in-1943/) , the various accounts of Francis Suttill’s reactions to what he was told in London are all flawed because they deal inconclusively with the contradictions in his arrival and departure dates. (I presented then an original theory that Suttill made two visits to the UK, in late May and early June, a hypothesis that neatly resolves all the contradictions in the various accounts.) Thus all the hints and attributions that appear in the works of Foot, Fuller, Marshall, Cookridge, Suttill and Marnham have to be re-interpreted in the light of Visit 1 (where Suttill is encouraged to believe that a real assault is imminent) and of Visit 2 (where he is made aware of the COCKADE plan that refers to some form of attack in September, and learns of the need to restrain his forces until then).
For example: When Cookridge writes that “Suttill had also arranged at Baker Street for the pace of arms and explosive deliveries to be stepped up” (not that that was in his power), it indicates clearly that the meetings must have occurred at the end of May, when Suttill’s enthusiasm was bolstered by the increased activity, and hopes of an early invasion. Since Marshall (relying very much on what Henry Sporborg told him) imagines there was only one visit, and concentrates on the post-COCKADE briefing, he asserts that the visit was not initiated by Suttill’s request, but that he was called back to London specifically by Churchill, even though Churchill was not in London at the end of May. “Could the great network hold out until July?”, he imagines Suttill thinking before the invitation. Marnham, echoing Suttill Jr., obviously cannot explain the call from Churchill, and declares that Suttill requested the May visit himself, because he was concerned about security, and needed to talk to his bosses about it.
Further: When Marshall, in turn citing Fuller, reports that Suttill informed Jean Worms (the leader of a sub-circuit called JUGGLER) that ‘they would have to hold out until September’ (p 178), that statement confirms that the discussion must have taken after his second visit: not only that, he gives the impression that a real invasion will be occurring in that month, confirming that the STARKEY plan (or a part of it) has been explained to him. (We cannot confidently tell whether that is how the COCKADE operation was described to Suttill, or whether he decided to misrepresent reality in the cause of the greater deception.) Marshall had earlier (p 161) asserted that Suttill had been ‘knocked sideways’ by the news that the invasion would not take place until the first week of September. Again, it is not clear whether this was the impression given to Marshall by Sporborg, who would have known at that time (unlike Buckmaster) that it was untrue, but may have also represented the facts to Suttill dishonestly.
When Marnham writes (p 116) that rumours started in the Sologne at the end of May that an invasion was imminent, the author accurately echoes what Cookridge wrote, while providing an accurate date for Suttill’s first return from London. Yet, a couple of pages later, when Marnham describes Suttill as returning from London, with the belief that an invasion was imminent, and on June 13 refusing to pay heed to Culioli’s requests that parachute drops be stopped, the chronology does not allow him to point out that this occurred after the second visit, when Suttill was aware that the invasion was no longer imminent. (Marnham has recently communicated to me his agreement with my hypothesis that there were two visits.) Suttill’s actions here suggest that he was putting his whole weight behind the rogue LCS deception plan.
On the other hand, when Francis Suttill Jr, describes his father’s decision that the area behind the Normandy coast was ‘one of the areas where arms were most needed to support an invasion’, but that the drops (on June 10) took place further south because of the presence of German troops in the area (pp 176-177), the author simply reflects a total ignorance of the circumstances by which arms were still being flown in in contravention of the new COCKADE policy. Earlier (p 161), Suttill had introduced a drop near Mantes on June 16/17 where ‘some of the material was destined for the communists . . . .; the rest was hidden for the group to use in the expected invasion’, he likewise is completely tone-deaf about the political climate and machinations. He bases his dismissal of his father’s briefing by Churchill purely on the fact that Churchill was not in the UK at the end of May, and ignores the evidence of a June encounter.
It is thus impossible to determine with complete assurance what went through Suttill’s mind, whether he was given the full and accurate account of the STARKEY deception plan, and thus decided that he should be responsible for possible sacrifices to aid the deception, or whether he was misled into thinking that it would culminate in an invasion in September that could be supported by resistance forces, and was therefore justified in keeping his networks on the alert. What his cited statements do confirm, however, is that he believed an invasion was imminent when he returned at the end of May. The overwhelming evidence from the arms build-up in the spring, and the continued shipments into June and beyond after the COCKADE plan had been approved, suggests that he was a victim of the unsanctioned cowboy deception effort being masterminded by LCS, with the complicity of senior SOE officers.
Irrespective of both visits, Suttill was doomed. I can add little to the story of how Pierre Culioli and Yvonne Rudellat were trapped by the Sicherheitsdienst at a checkpoint, where the Germans discovered hand-written names and addresses being carried, and crystals to be passed to wireless operators. Careless talk and casual meetings led to the inveiglement of Suttill after Norman and Borrel had been arrested. Readers can turn to the works of Foot, Marshall and Marnham to learn the details. When Gilbert Norman was shown copies of private letters that Déricourt had carried back and forth between France and the UK, he gave up. He was impersonated in his role as wireless operator, and brought to despair when London rebuked him (in fact his ghost operator) for not performing the necessary security check to indicate that he was not transmitting under duress. He and Suttill then made a deal with their captors that, in exchange for the lives of their agents and collaborators, they would reveal the locations of the arms-dumps. The deal was not honoured. Scores of resistance workers were quickly executed, as were Suttill, Norman, Borrel and others, later, in 1944.
Suttill believed that there was at least one traitor in his midst: after all, that is why he sought the recall in late May. His colleague Henri Frager, who was being manipulated by the deceptive Hugo Bleicher of the Abwehr, had been complaining about Déricourt, and these criticisms had resonated with Suttill, who recalled Déricourt’s overall casualness in his operations, as well as his unjustified interest in the private lives of his contacts and passengers. Just before he was arrested, Suttill confided these fears to Madame Balachowsky, who, with her husband, a distinguished biology professor, had organized a circuit in the Versailles area. He also mentioned to her that he believed that the Germans had an agent in Baker Street.
When the initial investigations by MI5 into Déricourt’s possible unreliability took place in November 1943, a curious flashback to July took place. In one of the Déricourt files at the National Archives (KV 2/1131, p 16) appears an extract from notes that a Miss Torr had taken on July 9, during a study of GILBERT (Déricourt) and ‘the PROSPER circuit and its connections’. It runs as follows:
The arrests in this circuit started . . . . . in April (1943) . . . . When PROSPER went back to France at the end of May, he found the security of his circuits further compromised by two things . . . . . secondly GILBERT (see below) had had a good deal of trouble, partly through being too well known in his former identity, partly through the indiscretions of HERVE, trained by us but sent out by the D/F section on a special mission. GILBERT went south to lie low, and for a while everything went well.
This is an extraordinary entry, as much for what it does not say as for what it reveals – and for its timing. The ellipses clearly refer to some embarrassing information. The arrests of April were of the Tambour sisters by the Gestapo: Suttill foolishly tried, through an intermediary, to pay a ransom for their release, but was shockingly hoodwinked. The first of the items excised from Torr’s report may have been the suspicions that Pierre Culioli was indulging in Black Market transactions, or it may have been the fact that Edward Wilkinson was arrested on June 6, and that subsequent German raids ‘led to the recall of Heslop a few weeks later’ (as Francis Suttill, Jr. records). In any case, there was enough serious concern about infiltration and betrayal to demand protective action.
How HERVE contributed to Déricourt’s problems is elusive. (I have not yet been able to establish who he was. Buckmaster refers to an agent Hervé in They Fought Alone.) Elsewhere in the file, it is reported that, after his return to France on May 5, Déricourt found his security endangered by the fact that his colleagues were far too careless in their social gatherings in Paris, and that his real identity was known to too many people. The note continues:
When he was finally asked by someone at a bar if he had had a good Easter in London, he felt it was time to take steps, and therefore he went down to Marseilles, partly to see someone we wished him to exfiltrate, and partly to lie low. Here he came up against the Luftflotte, and owing to their attentions, had to go about with some of his old friends and make a show of being friendly with the people who put had put up his name to the Luftflotte.
This was an obvious lie that Déricourt used to suggest that these encounters were the first that he had with the German authorities.
The note then goes on to say that Déricourt ‘came back to Paris to help organize the June Lysander operations’, without offering any dates. Suttill’s son remarks, however, that, on the same night (June 20) that his father spoke to Madame Balachowsky about his concerns, ‘a Lysander operation organized by Déricourt failed because he did not appear, nor had he collected the two passengers who were booked to return to London, Richard Heslop and an evading RAF officer’. Using the file HS 6/440, and quoting the testimony of Jacques Weil, Suttill Jr. states that Déricourt had been arrested for a short time before Prosper’s arrest, and concludes:
It is also possible that he may have been warned by the Germans about something that was planned that night not far from the landing grounds he was proposing to use at Pocé-sur-Cisse, near Amboise’.
A cool analysis might suggest that, with these exposures well-known, the senior officers of SOE should immediately have taken precautionary measures to inoculate against further infiltration, such as sealing off circuits, stopping meetings and the sharing of resources, terminating flights and shipments for a while, and ensuring the general quiescence of all network activity until the hubbub appeared to have subsided, and a full investigation had been completed at Baker Street. Yet, as has been made clear, nothing of the sort took place. In fact, when Déricourt sent a letter to F Section at this time, explaining his contacts with the Germans at the Luftflotte, Nicolas Bodington (Buckmaster’s number 2) on June 21 made his infamous annotation, available on Déricourt’s file: “We know he is in touch with the Germans and also how and why.” Robert Marshall crucially reported on what he was told by Harry Sporborg on March 21, 1983:
There existed a standing instruction (though SOE tended to think of it as more of an understanding) that when it was known that one of their networks had been penetrated, then the LCS had to be informed (usually through MI5), ‘so that the network in question might be exploited as quickly as possible for deception purposes’. In this case the information had travelled in the opposite direction and the LCS was simply informing the SOE that the decision to exploit PROSPER had already been taken. Neither Colonel Buckmaster nor any of the other F Section officers was ever informed of this decision. (All The King’s Men, p 162)
After three days of intense interrogations of Suttill, Norman and Borrel, on June 28 Kieffer of the Sicherheitsdienst presented his prisoners with photocopies of correspondence carried on flights organized by Déricourt, identified as deriving from the agent known as BOE/48. The manner of their betrayal became obvious to the three.
From any perspective, contact by an agent of officer of SOE with a member of one of the enemy’s intelligence or security services should have been regarded as highly dangerous and irregular. Thus it is difficult to conclude that the decision to encourage or allow Déricourt to maintain his contact with Boemelburg was either innocent, or propelled by serious policies of tradecraft. Yet the possibility that Déricourt was somehow able to mislead the Sicherheitsdienst to the advantage of SOE’s objectives in landing agents and supplies has been allowed to remain in the air. When M. R. D. Foot wrote about the events, he referred with minimal commentary to Déricourt’s testimony of February 11, 1944, under interrogation:
German intelligence services did better out of intercepted reports from the field, which they certainly saw, and saw by Déricourt’s agency. When challenged on this point, he made the evasive reply that even if he had made correspondence available to the Gestapo, it would have been worth it for the sake of conducting his air operations unhindered. (SOE in France, p 270)
This must be one of the most outrageous statements ever made about the history of SOE, implying that, for some reason, if the Sicherheitsdienst turned a blind eye to the arrivals and departures taking place under their nose, they would ignore the implications, and forget about the possible threat to the Nazi occupation of France in the form of saboteurs and secret armies. And yet, this was presumably the mindset of Buckmaster and Bodington, who repeatedly came to Déricourt’s defence, and expressed their regard for him and his work. With Buckmaster, it was out of ignorance and naivety: with Bodington, duplicity and conspiracy. (The renowned and very security-conscious SOE agent Francis Cammaerts said that Bodington ‘had created a lot of death’ in France.) Even after MI5 and SOE learned, through interrogations in early 1945, about the purloining of courier mail, they both continued stoutly to defend Déricourt.
Thus one returns to the overarching question concerning the motives and behaviour of Boyle (responsible for Security), Gubbins (responsible for all of western Europe), Dansey (Assistant Chief of MI6), and Bevan (head of the London Controlling Section): what were they possibly thinking by allowing Déricourt to consort with the Nazis, and why on earth did they believe that the Sicherheitsdienst would be fooled by any ploy that they concocted? After all, Déricourt had been spirited out of France to Great Britain, and had soon returned under control of a British Intelligence Service. The Nazis would be naturally very suspicious, even brutal. If SOE/MI6 believed that, since they had employed him, when he was out of their sight he was controlled by them, they were under a delusion. Similarly, if they believed that Déricourt could act as a useful transmitter of disinformation to the Germans without damaging the integrity of their networks, they were similarly massively mistaken. It is very difficult to conclude other than their motivations concerning the safety and security of PROSPER and other circuits were dishonourable.
The obvious question must be asked: If the objective was to ‘pin’ German forces in NW France in September, why was Déricourt not used simply to pass on by word of mouth the date of the phony STARKEY attack? What was his role? The answer is that he was engaged well before the COCKADE operation was conceived, and thus was deployed for more devious ends. Déricourt was not told of the details of STARKEY: he was a lowly air movements officer, and would have been such an obvious plant that the Germans would not have trusted what he said, or expected him to be able to gain such secrets. It would all have been too clumsy and transparent.
On the other hand, a whole subcurrent of suggestions (for example, from Rymills) has flowed that Dansey had been trying to infiltrate the Sicherheitsdienst for a couple of years, and that Déricourt was his latest candidate. Marshall is one of those observers who suggest that Déricourt was installed in France to gain intelligence on the working of Boemelburg’s organisation, presumably to help safeguard MI6’s agents in France, but such a dangerous game would have been hardly worth the candle. In any case, given Déricourt’s background, as someone who had passed through Britain’s security apparatus, the Germans would have been very cautious before exposing any valuable information to him.
The essence was that Déricourt had not been a Vertrauensmann, sent to Britain to infiltrate British intelligence by convincing the British authorities of his loyalties, with the goal of then being sent on a mission to France. If SOE’s intentions were devious but benign, the only way that Déricourt would have been able to survive would be by claiming he was a Nazi sympathizer, after which the Sicherheitsdienst would have made demands on him that would have threatened the circuits. And that is what happened: he volunteered a level of cooperation to the Gestapo, subsequently being given his BOE/48 appellation. Boemelburg must have wondered why, if Déricourt were willing to reveal details of SOE landings and take-offs, he would behave so indiscreetly over his contacts with the Germans, which (as is clear) were being communicated back to London. They were nevertheless happy to take the obvious facts and exploit them, as the process carried no risks for them, but would have been suspicious of any more covert messages. As Rymills wrote, questioning the account of Déricourt’s actions by the Sicherheitsdienst officer Goetz:
However intelligent or unintelligent one believes Boemelburg might have been, it does not ring true that he would have accepted Déricourt’s account of his visit to London under British Intelligence auspices without demur. Anyone who confessed to the head of an enemy’s counter-intelligence that he had been recruited and trained by British Intelligence before being parachuted back into France as their Air Movements Officer would most certainly have been subjected to a rigorous interrogation in depth lasting a considerable period of time. Apparently, he did not even spend three days in the German equivalent of the London Holding Centre. Would anyone with one iota of common sense believe a story about London seething with communists? Could it possibly have been a simple as that? If it were, Déricourt was taking a gigantic risk – literally putting his head in the lion’s mouth.
The nature of the leakage was probably more subtle. Suttill knew the date of the invasion, but would probably reveal it only under torture – which is what happened. And, as has been suggested by Frank Rymills (see https://coldspur.com/dericourts-double-act/ ), some of the letters that Déricourt allowed the Gestapo to photocopy may have been forged by MI6 specialists, and carried revealing messages about the circumstances of the planned invasion. Déricourt was the courier and purloiner for these deeds: the events occurred at the same time as the famous MINCEMEAT deception operation of early May 1943. The Germans were much more likely to be taken in by well-crafted forgeries than obvious disinformation. As Marshall writes (p 190):
From all the interrogations and written material that had been gathered, Boemelburg was sufficiently confident to send a report during the third week of July to Kopkow in Berlin that stated the invasion would fall at the Pas-de-Calais during the first week of September.
In one respect, therefore, the ruse had been successful. The Sicherheitsdienst passed on the planned date of STARKEY to von Rundstedt and Army Group West.
SOE’s Strategy & the Chiefs of Staff
What was going through the minds of Hambro and Gubbins, if, indeed, they were in control of SOE’s destiny? Marshall (in the anecdote cited above) indicates that the fact that COCKADE was a deception plan, and that the decision had been made to exploit PROSPER, was communicated to SOE ‘about the time’ that Suttill met Churchill, namely in early June. Yet the TWIST Committee’s conspiracies, and the increase in shipments of arms and supplies to France, had been going on for months already. Déricourt was already some kind of ‘agent in place’, in contact with Boemelburg, All this suggests that the maverick project to promote the notion that a real assault on the North-West French coastline was planned for 1943 – probably because Churchill devoutly hoped it to be true when the Committee was set up towards the end of 1942 – was very much alive and kicking, and that the notion implicit in STARKEY that the feint could conceivably be turned into a reality allowed the TWIST activity to gain fresh wings without flying completely in the face of military strategy.
A more resolute Hambro and Gubbins could have stood up to the COCKADE presentation, and said: ‘Enough!’, especially as the details of the plan did not then allow for, or encourage, the idea of subterranean work by SOE to further the work of the deception. In principle, their circuits could have been protected until the time of the real invasion. They could have insisted that the military aspects of the plan be pursued as specified, without any hints of assistance and preparation across the Channel, or, better still, they could have advised that a poorly conceived project like COCKADE should be abandoned immediately, as it would jeopardize assets needed for OVERLORD the following year. They then should have called for a suspension of arms shipments to France.
Yet, with the pressure for COCKADE to be launched, the SOE leaders were hoist with their own petard: movements were already in place for providing weapons and ammunition to an evolving patriot army, and, if that process suddenly ground to a halt, the illusion of an assault in September would have evaporated completely. If there had been no predecessor introduction of arms, the Germans might not have been suspicious. So Hambro and Gubbins had to buckle under, and hope that the inevitable sacrifices would not be too costly.
The Chiefs of Staff must have known what was going on, even though the outward manifestations of their thinking suggest otherwise. The early minutes studiously avoid any discussion of the possibility of SOE’s defying the established rules to support patriot armies in France (no longer a top tier target country) prematurely. In his diaries, General Sir Alan Brooke very carefully stressed that, if any impulses for carrying out an invasion in 1943 were still detectable, they came from his American counterparts (Marshall and King), and he earnestly repeated his assertion that such ideas issued from those who had not studied and imbibed the Casablanca strategy that outlined why southern Europe had to be engaged first. Yet one activity must have been known to the Chiefs: the increased use of aircraft to fulfil SOE’s greater demand for drops. Given the previous fervent opposition by Air Marshall Harris to the diversion of planes from its bombing missions over Germany, and the reliable evidence of the increase in shipments in the spring of 1943, it is impossible to imagine that this change of policy was somehow kept concealed from the eyes and ears of the Chiefs of Staff.
One might conclude that, at some stage, the Chiefs came to the conclusion that the presence of substantial SOE networks in France, and their connections with armed resistance groups, instead of being a hazard that had to be controlled, could instead become the main source of rumours of the invasion, a much stronger factor than all the dummy operations in the Channel. At the end of June (as I described above), the PWE and SOE had been invited to suggest what actions they might take to forestall any premature risings. This led to some very controversial exchanges.
SOE and the PWE are on record as approving the COCKADE plan. On July 18, General Hollis introduced to the War Cabinet Chiefs of Staff Committee a paper, dated July 8, developed by PWE, with SOE’s ‘full consultation’, that outlined the plans to deal with some of the less desirable fallouts from the STARKEY Operation. The brief is given as:
To counter the repercussions of STARKEY upon the patriot armies in Europe,
To counteract the effects of the enemy’s counter-propaganda presenting the outcome of STARKEY as a failure to invade.
The report constitutes a very bizarre approach to STARKEY, as it manifestly assumes that the effort will be entirely a feint, with no references to an engagement with the GAF, or to the following-up with possible beachheads to take advantage of a German disintegration. On the contrary, the paper reminds readers that ‘the operations contemplated include no physical landings’. Thus it is a recipe for dealing with the disappointments when STARKEY is shown to be a blank.
A quick explanation of the political problem is set up, but with very woolly terminology. The anonymous author observes that ‘the expectation of early liberation is at present the main sustaining factor in resistance’, but he does not make any distinctions between groups dedicated to sabotage, and the misty ‘patriot armies’ that are supposed to be waiting in the wings. In any case, these bodies (the author states) will be in for a major disappointment as winter approaches. The argument takes a strange turn, presenting the fact that, since there will be no landings, there will be no obvious cue for uprisings that would then have to be stifled, and further states that ‘it is to our advantage’ that:
. . . the Occupied Peoples of the West, while prepared for the intervention which the operations imply and for active co-operation in such intervention, would naturally prefer that their own countries should not be devastated by the final battles.
This seems to me to be an utterly irrelevant, illogical and unsubstantiated hypothesis. It is not clear who ‘these Occupied Peoples of the West’ are, but if pains must be taken not to subdue the enthusiasm of potential ‘patriot armies’, what were the latter expecting would happen in the ensuing invasion? That the major battles would all take place in other countries, and that the Nazis would fold? Then why were the French being supplied with so much weaponry? The author is surely delusional. Yet he goes on to say that ‘the peoples of the West’ will overcome their dismay that COCKADE was only a diversion because they will learn that HUSKY is giving encouraging results.
The paper then goes on to outline what PWE and SOE should do, namely engage in a communication and propaganda exercise to convince the patriot armies to stay their hand until they receive the order from London to start the uprising. The report includes the following startling paragraphs:
15. It is suggested, however, that the P.W.E./S.O.E. has a positive contribution to make to the success of COCKADE itself.
16. the object would be:
To assist the deception by producing the symptoms of underground activity, prior to D day, which the enemy would naturally look for as one preliminary of a real invasion.
It goes in to give examples of operations ‘on a scale sufficient to disturb the enemy, but would be so devised so not to provoke premature uprisings or to squander any stratagems or devices needed in connection with a real invasion ’such as printed instructions on how to use small arms, and broadcasts by ‘Western European Radio Services’ on how the civilian population could make itself into ‘useful auxiliaries’.
This seems to me to be utterly cynical. During a period immediately after the arrests of Suttill, Norman and Borrell, and the betrayal of arms and ammunitions dumps, when news of the crackdown by the Gestapo was being sent to London by multiple wireless operators (including over Norman’s hijacked transmitter), the PWE and SOE contrived to recommend coolly the creation of ‘the symptoms of underground activity’. This suggestion was made at exactly the time that SOE and MI5 were performing a careful inquiry into the penetrations and arrests. [N.B. The news was not confined to SOE.] Either the spokesperson was completely ignorant of what was going on (highly unlikely) or he was wilfully using STARKEY as an opportunity to provide an alibi for the collapse of the networks.
Furthermore, for the seven days leading up to D-day (actually the September 1943 date for STARKEY), the units suggested that leaflets should be dropped addressed to ‘the patriots’, telling them that the forthcoming activity was only a rehearsal. Astonishingly, the author then suggests that the B.B.C. should be brought in ‘as an unconscious agent of deception’, encouraging the notion that a coming assault were real until the broadcasting service, like the press, would be informed that the operations were only a rehearsal. This initiative was a gross departure from policy, since the B.B.C. had carefully protected a reputation for not indulging in black propaganda, and instead acted as a reliable source for news of the realities of war throughout Europe.
A final plea (before outlining a brief plan as to how the PWE and SOE should play a role in this deception) is made for a concerted effort to enforce the idea that patriot armies should be subject to the control of the Allied High Command, but it is worded in such an unspecific and flowery way that it should have been sent back for re-drafting:
We should, from now on, even more systematically build up the concept of the peoples of Occupied Europe forming a series of armies subject to the strictest discipline derived from the Allied High Command in London.
Build a ‘concept’? To what avail? How would ‘peoples’ form a ‘series of armies’? How would discipline be enforced – for example, with the Communist groups, or even with de Gaulle’s loyalists? The paper seeks to maintain that, only through the communications of the Prime Minister and others to the ‘contact points’ established within western Europe, and ‘upon the evidence of the genuineness of our D day instructions, will depend the favourable or unfavourable reaction to COCKADE’.
If the Chiefs of Staff had spent any serious time reviewing this nonsense, they should have immediately cancelled the whole COCKADE operation, as its rationale and objectives were surely nullified by the probable embarrassing fallout. In any event, their concerns should have been heightened by an ancillary move that occurred soon afterwards. As Robert Marshall reported, on July 26, Stewart Menzies, the head of MI6, sent a note to the Chiefs of Staff, via Sir Charles Portal, that claimed that SOE in France was essentially out of control, and that SOE should be brought under MI6’s management. Of course, this was an utterly cynical move as well, since Dansey had been responsible for infiltrating Déricourt into the SOE organisation. But Gubbins could hardly accuse the vice-chief of MI6 of being ultimately responsible, since he would then have to admit how woefully negligent he had himself been in exercising proper security procedures in his units.
Instead, Gubbins read the note, was highly embarrassed, and tried to counter that the groups under his control ‘had not been penetrated by the enemy to any serious extent’, rather naively implying that they had of course been penetrated, and that he was confident that the degree of such was minor. He shamelessly tried to conceal the full extent of the damage from his masters, but failed to make his case. On August 1, the Joint Intelligence Sub-Committee recorded their opinion that SOE had been ‘less than frank in their reports about their situation in France’.
SOE was in trouble. Yet STARKEY was not cancelled, and the propaganda campaign continued. Gubbins ploughed on, recommending increasing aid to the French field to the maximum, and noting that ‘the suffering of heavy casualties is inevitable’. And then Hambro, Gubbins’ boss, had to respond to a negative memorandum from Portal about diverting bombers to support SOE’s operations. In a long letter to the Chiefs of Staff dated July 26, Hambro essentially cooked his own goose, since he showed that he was not familiar with official strategy, and that he was also not in control of the (largely phantom) armies whose strength he had exaggerated. He made a plea for more air support, claiming that maintenance of the effort was essential if SOE were to fulfil its mission. He added, however, two damning paragraphs highlighting relevant factors, which merit being quoted in full:
The recent increase in our operations has, as may be expected, resulted in an increase of enemy activities to counter them and a consequent higher wastage rate among our men in the field. The maintenance of our organisations at their present strength and day to day activity therefore requires an increase in our present effort.
People on the Continent are certain that the Allies will invade in 1943. This feeling will be confirmed by the recent developments in ITALY. Daily reports from the field reiterate that people of occupied countries are relying upon the Allies returning to the Continent in the Autumn of 1943.
If the Allies do not return to North-west Europe, there will be a serious fall in morale, and, consequently, in the strength of the Resistance movements, which depend very greatly for their vigour upon the existence of a morale which gives the will to resist. The only way of countering the deterioration will be by showing the people of occupied countries that the Allies have not failed them. This cannot be done by propaganda and broadcast alone, but requires to be backed up by a steady flow of greatly increased deliveries of arms and other essentials.
Hambro was not helped by the propaganda campaign behind COCKADE, but he showed an alarmingly naïve understanding of the military climate, and the realities of SOE operations. His statements about the possibility of a widespread return to the Continent in 1943 were absurd and irresponsible, given the Casablanca decisions, and what the resistance in (for example) Norway was being told.. He simplistically grouped together a large number of disparate nations and their populations (‘People on the Continent’), as if generalisations about their predicament, their hopes and expectations could sensibly be made. Every country was different – a truth with which Hambro was not familiar. He proved that his organisation could not control the aspirations and activities of the groups who were in fact dependent upon SOE, and he showed that the tail was actually wagging the dog. He tried to finesse the matter of ‘wastage rates’ in his field agents without admitting the gross penetration by the Germans that had occurred. In all, he tried to preach to the Chiefs of Staff that they should endorse policies they had already rejected. It was no surprise that he lost his job a month or so later.
The Aftermath, and Conclusions
This chapter essentially closes with the arrest of Francis Suttill (Prosper). Yet there is much more to the story. In late July, Bodington paid a surprise visit to Paris to investigate what had happened to Prosper’s network. It was an extraordinarily rash and stupid decision: he was watched by the Sicherheitsdienst, but was allowed to return home unmolested. The assault aspect of COCKADE turned out to be an abject failure, as the Wehrmacht ignored any rumours, or feints to engage the GAF. (Brooke does not mention it in his diaries.) Even the continued activity of SOE in France, designed to keep many Wehrmacht divisions ‘pinned’, did not prevent the release of troops to the Balkan and Russian Fronts. Arms drops to French resistance workers continued. The Nazis seized more arms caches, and arrested and executed more agents and resistance workers. Déricourt came under fresh suspicion in the autumn of 1943, and was eventually ordered back to the UK, and interrogated at great length. After the war, he was put on trial by a military court in Paris, but Bodington exonerated him. SOE, having been rebuked, came under the control of the military men late in 1943. OVERLORD was, of course, successful, in June 1944, and was abetted in some notable incidents by patriot armies.
I recommend readers turn to Marnham, especially, for the dénouement of Déricourt’s story. Chapter 20 of War in the Shadows, ‘Colonel Dansey’s Private War’, gives an excellent account of the self-delusion and distortion that surrounds the case of his treachery. Yet that may not be enough. I point out again that I believe that Marnham’s account is flawed because of some key misunderstandings or oversights. Déricourt was not a Sicherheitsdienst officer who was ‘turned’ at the Royal Patriotic School in Wandsworth; he was an amoral individual who ingratiated himself with the Nazis by criticizing ‘communist-ridden’ London. The shipments of weaponry in the spring of 1943 were not in early anticipation of the COCKADE plan, but the result of a rogue LCS operation that had been going on for months. COCKADE was essentially the child of Bevan, who passed it on to Morgan. Francis Suttill crucially made two visits back to the UK in late May and early June, which fact has enormous implications for the ensuing events. The SOE tried to deceive the Chiefs of Staff over the penetration of its circuits. These ‘lapses’ do not undermine the strong case that Marnham makes about the tragic manipulation by SOE & MI6 of the doomed French circuits, but it does mean his story is inadequate. And there may be more to be unravelled. At some stage I may want to return to the enormous archival material that consists of the files on Déricourt as well as those on Hugo Bleicher, and other German intelligence officers. Yet it will be an exhausting and challenging task, trying to reconcile the testimonies of so many liars and deceivers.
I believe there is a serious need for a fresh authoritative and integrative assessment of SOE’s role in the events of 1943 and 1944. Olivier Wieviorka’s 2019 work The Resistance in Western Europe, 1940-45 is a valiant contribution, but he skates over the complexities a little too easily, with the result that he comes out with summarizations such as: “The statistics confirm that, before 1944, the British authorities did not believe it useful to arm the internal resistance”, an assertion that is both frustratingly vague but also easily contradicted. (Some of the less convincing conclusions may be attributable to an unpolished translation.)
Halik Kochanski’s epic new work Resistance: The Underground War Against Hitler, 1939-1945, covers a vast expanse of territory in a integrative approach to international resistance, but it therefore cannot really do justice to every individual situation. Some of her chapters are masterpieces of synthesis, but many of her stories are re-treads of familiar material. Moreover, she relies almost exclusively on secondary sources, and treats all as equally reliable. Kochanski nevertheless offers a very competent synopsis of the downfall of the Prosper circuit, and the ripple effect it had on other networks. She mentions Déricourt’s treachery, but does not analyse it in depth, however, merely drawing attention to the contradictions in Buckmaster’s two books. She classifies All the King’s Men as ‘conspiracy theory’, and praises unduly Francis Suttill’s Shadows in the Fog, as if it were the last word on the subject. She does not appear to have read War in the Shadows, and her account lacks any inspection of the historical backdrop. Operation COCKADE does not appear in her Index. In addition, her chronology is occasionally hazy, and she is vague about the intelligence organizations. She does not distinguish between the Abwehr and the Sicherheitsdienst, and misrepresents SOE’s leadership.
David Stafford’s 1980 work Britain and European Resistance 1940-1945 is still the most thorough and scholarly account of the War Cabinet debates over the role of SOE that I have found, but it needs refreshing. His Chapter 5, ‘A Year of Troubles’ delves deeply into the various committee records, and describes well the cognitive dissonance that he frequently perceived in the musings and decisions of the Chiefs of Staff and the Joint Intelligence Committee, but the author casts his net too closely. Stafford resolutely refuses to believe that any manipulation or treachery could have taken place by SOE in the demise of the French networks, displaying too much his trust in the integrity of the leaders he admires. COCKADE is never inspected in his analysis, and STARKEY appears only in one short clause. He focuses too much on official British government sources. He has thus found no evidence to support the charges of betrayal, stating that it appears ‘a far-fetched and highly improbable notion’ because of the risks it would have involved for the 1944 landings, thus perhaps displaying a little too much reliance on the sagacity of the decision-makers. He knows nothing of the TWIST Committee. Moreover, his chronology for 1943 is all over the place, and he fails to point out the contradictions in such phenomena as Selborne insisting that the constant distribution of arms (that were not supposed to be used at the time) was necessary to maintain the morale of patriot forces.
The minutes of the War Cabinet, with their omissions and elisions, are not a reliable guide to how the Chiefs of Staff debated these thorny issues. One could easily gain the impression that the Chiefs had a short attention span, did not really understand what SOE was up to, and found the whole business of clandestine activity, double agents, subterfuge and unofficial armies all very unorthodox and unmilitary, and thus irrelevant. Yet I suspect that they did have a good idea of what was happening, but did little about it because of the sway of their leader. The whole saga has Churchill’s brushwork on it – from the enthusiasm about SOE’s sabotage activity, through the romantic attraction of dirty tricks, to the love of haphazard tactical impulses that drove Brooke to distraction. Churchill plotted with Bevan and Dansey; Gubbins was his favourite; and the notion that he engineered the activities of the TWIST Committee behind the backs of the XX Committee is utterly plausible. His bringing Suttill back to the UK for urgent private consultations is completely in character. And the whole melodrama was driven by the fact that Churchill had made a fatal private commitment to Stalin about the ‘Second Front’, and he was absurdly in awe of the Generalissimo.
A paper-trail that comprehensively explains the events of summer 1943 will probably never be found, so we must rely instead on steadily improving hypotheses. I believe that the plotting by Claude Dansey to undermine, if not destroy, SOE coincided with Winston Churchill’s desire to show Joseph Stalin that a substantial offensive effort was to be undertaken in North-West France in 1943, and the initiatives converged in the secret processes of John Bevan’s TWIST Committee. Thereafter, the monster took on a life of its own, and was impossible to control. The real project to supply more arms to the French Resistance suddenly came face-to-face with an official Chiefs of Staff/COSSAC deception plan, which specifically forbad premature use of ‘patriot armies’. The Chiefs however then realized that the agencies of SOE could provide a more telling indication of a coming invasion than any movements of phony troops and war-craft could. The directors of SOE fell into a trap, and, knowing they had Churchill’s backing, made the impermissible mistake of trying to deceive their bosses. Churchill did not punish Dansey for his chicanery, nor Bevan for his secrecy, and he overlooked Gubbins’ appalling supervision of SOE, since he had supported the Prime Minister’s whims. Gubbins’ career was thus saved. But it was all a very dishonourable episode in the conduct of the war.
Gubbins’ embarrassment in this saga is particularly poignant. Two months ago, I explained why I thought his reputation has been grossly exaggerated. After the war, Gubbins tried to put the blame for the destruction of the PROSPER network on Dansey. As Lynne Olson reports in Last Hope Island, quoting Anthony Cave-Brown’s biography of Stewart Menzies, “C”, Gubbins told William Stephenson, who had headed British Security Control in New York, that Dansey had betrayed a number of his [presumably, Gubbins’] key agents in France. This opinion was conveniently echoed by Gubbins’ deputy, Harry Sporborg, the witness who provided so much testimony to Robert Marshall:
Make no mistake about it. MI6 would never have hesitated to use us or our agencies to advance their schemes, even if that mean the sacrifice of some of our people.
Such dissembling is highly disingenuous. (By then Dansey was dead.) Gubbins was supposed to be a tough, military man. Was he suggesting that he could be outwitted and undermined by the rather effete Claude Dansey? No, Gubbins knew exactly what was going on, and could have been forthright enough to pull the plug at any time, had he been paying attention, and taken the time to think through the implications. Whatever Dansey’s motivations and machinations were, Gubbins behaved equally as irresponsibly. The cynical treatment of the French partisans was, moreover, replicated exactly in Greece at the same time, in an attempt – a successful one, admittedly – to convince the Germans that an attack was coming through the Balkans rather than through Sicily.
Some analysts might conclude that the sacrifice of the PROSPER network was justified if it helped Stalin’s cause, and discouraged him from making another pact with the Nazis. But that would constitute another colossal misjudgment of the dictator’s attitude and intentions: he would not have cared less about the attempts by western politicians to appease him, and considered their approaches contemptuous. He learned from his spies what their games were, and he would do exactly as he pleased to further his own ambitions for power and survival. He was able to manipulate Churchill and Roosevelt with devastating results for eastern Europe.
Introduction: In this segment, I continue my close analysis of the intersection of events in SOE, MI5, MI6, the XX Committee, the London Controlling Section, and the Chiefs of Staff in the first half of 1943, as they relate to SOE’s misadventures in France in the summer of that year. My original intent was to carry the story forward until the end of June, and then summarize the aftermath, but I discovered so much material concerning Suttill’s visit to the UK in late May that I decided to defer the unfortunate happenings in June to a later report. I shall take a break from PROSPER, and the run-up to FORTITUDE, for a month or two before returning to chronicle the events of June and July, and to offer a deeper analysis of what contributed to PROSPER’s capture and demise, the discovery and confiscation of stores of armaments, and the arrest of hundreds of members of the French Resistance.
If you simply want to learn about the breakthrough theory that resolves the contradictions in the accounts of Francis Suttill’s movements, scroll down to ‘A Breakthrough Theory’, and then decide whether the investigation itself is of interest to you.
John Bevan, the new head of the London Controlling Section, was encouraged by MI6 to set up a new deception committee, the TWIST Committee, to assist in Operation OVERTHROW in September 1942. This Committee stole some of the limelight from the joint XX Committee. The British and American Chiefs of Staff then struggled mightily with offensive priorities at the CASABLANCA Conference in January 1943, seeming to acknowledge that, after the assault in the Mediterranean had been decided upon, a re-entry to Northern France would be impossible that year. Meanwhile the dubious agent Henri Déricourt, recruited by SOE/MI6 despite his connections with German intelligence, started his operation in Northern France, arranging drops of agents in ‘safe’ landing-areas. In March, SOE received a new directive that diminished the role of France in the plans of the Chiefs of Staff, but arms drops to that country began to accelerate markedly. Churchill was still uncomfortable at the turn of events because of the personal commitments he had made to Stalin about the invasion, and the American Chiefs of Staff seemed not to have bought in completely to the ideas of Sir Alan Brooke, the British CIGS.
One might expect that the requested radical changes to Bevan’s Deception Plan would have occasioned appropriate revisions in policy and directive from the Chiefs of Staff. Having received Bevan’s stern missive of March 31, with Morgan also making some vigorous noises and presenting organization charts, the Chiefs issued a fresh edict on April 1, in the form of a Directive to the Chief of Staff to the Supreme Commander (designate). (Morgan’s appointment was not formally announced until April 13. Alan Brooke’s advice to him when he outlined the job was: “Well, there it is. It won’t work, but you must bloody well make it.”) Yet their first initiative was astonishing. It decreed:
You will accordingly prepare plans for the following operations:-
(a) An operation in 1943 on the largest scale that resources permit with the object of testing the degree of resistance. This may find or produce a situation which may lead to
(b) A return to the Continent in the face of German disintegration at any time from now onwards with whatever force maybe available at the time.
(c) An invasion of the Continent in 1944.
This was presumably a step forward in declaring that the ‘invasion’ would not take place until 1944, but the preamble about embarking upon an operation in 1943 ‘on the largest scale that resources permit’ in order to assess the strength of German ‘resistance’ was a flagrant snub in the face of the US Chiefs of Staff. Yet the draft was sent to Washington, so that that body would have an opportunity to view it. General Morgan himself, in his memoir Overture to Overlord, states that he was authorized to proceed on the terms of the draft, assuming American approval.
At this stage, the Chiefs and their aides had probably not internalized Bevan’s Revised Plan, but the Chiefs themselves must have been aware of the messages arriving from Washington in late March about reducing BOLERO commitments (the importation of troops and material from the USA). Yet before Bevan’s new plan was formally presented, they had to deal with a different matter. The Ad Hoc Committee on Equipment for Patriot Forces presented its long-awaited report, on April 3. This Committee, chaired by two Brigadiers at the War Office (Oliver, and then Curtis, from February 24), contained a number of services men, as well as Cavendish-Bentinck of the JIC, and Grierson and Rowlandson from SOE. Its mission was to apply some structure to the challenge of providing equipment to Patriot Forces.
The scope of the report is too large to be analysed here, so I shall focus on the most relevant highlights for this story. It made distinctions between ‘Resistance Groups’ and ‘Patriot Forces’, the latter entity being realized only when such forces became active in areas liberated by Allied armies. (These ideas had already percolated into the March SOE Directive.) It provided an Appendix which, based on numbers provided by SOE, claimed a figure of almost 700,000 members of Resistance Groups in Europe in December 1942, which could rise to 1.25 million (with a number of 225,500 given for France), and thus had the potential to evolve into ‘Patriot Forces’. It laid out a very ambitious and comprehensive projection of the materials needed by such armies. And its predictable conclusion was that ‘air transport . . . should be considerably increased’.
The Committee seemed to have been carried away, and unduly swayed by persuasive SOE gusto, since it did not pay enough attention to the vital details of how this mass of equipment would be stored and then made available before the allied armies arrived, or how isolated guerilla groups could be morphed into an effective military organization. The aspirations of this conclave would have to be dampened soon, but at this juncture the Chiefs quickly had to turn their attention back to Bevan’s revised Deception Plan, discussed on April 7.
What is extraordinary about the new paper is how little has changed. It is the result of some very careless work, maybe attributable to Bevan’s extended absence in North Africa during March. The Controller still introduces his recommendations with the comments about Germany assuming that ‘the Allies will not attempt a large-scale invasion of France and the Low Countries until the summer of 1943’. His general proposal still claims that the first (dummy) operation planned should be ‘the invasion of the Continent by means of an attack across the Channel’, when the US Chiefs of Staff had declared that such feints would be a waste of time. All the details about BOLERO, and the overstatement of Allied strength, etc. remain in the text. The only significant changes noticeable appear as an expansion of the goal of exaggerating strength in the UK, which now reads:
7 (B) (i) Prudently exaggerate Allied strength in the U.K., both in men and material, including the rate of the build-up of BOLERO. No equipment or supplies required for actual operations will be diverted for this purpose.
And he qualifies it all with a Note, namely:
The success of this deception plan will largely depend upon the enemy being able to obtain visual evidence of the presence of adequate numbers of ships and landing craft; however the limitations stated in 7 (b) (i) above must govern.
In other words, dead on arrival. Astonishingly, the Chiefs of Staff approved it, and circulated instructions to their Commanders-in-Chief in the Middle East and the Pacific, as well as to Eisenhower in Algiers. Were they merely inattentive? One wonders how seriously they were taking deception efforts at this stage of the war.
It does not appear that any information on the new plan reached the XX Committee, which had a placid beginning to the month. No reply to Masterman’s letter to Bevan concerning W/T cover for SPARTAN had arrived, but Bevan was abroad for most of the month. Wingate, his deputy, had to stall for time. MINCEMEAT was a hot topic, but the Committee had to reduce its potential with DAs (erroneously so-called ‘double agents’), since it was having problems maintaining the integrity of its notional agents. On April 8, it was decided that FATHER would be dispensed with, that BRUTUS should announce the capture and execution of CARELESS, that RAINBOW should be allowed to fade away, and that even TATE (a real agent) should ‘send messages indicating that he was beginning to get badly scared’. While GARBO sent his first wireless message under control at this time, the XX Committee was overall playing a muted role in deception activities.
And then, on April 14, Churchill began to show some alarm, after meeting the US General Lee, and hearing of his plans for an operation that involved some fairly drastic clearing out of the local population in parts of Devon for training purposes. Churchill wrote to ‘Pug’ Ismay, his chief staff officer, for the benefit of the Chiefs of Staff:
Here you have these very keen men trying their utmost to mount an operation which we have all decided cannot physically take place. Far-reaching preparations are being made and money and labour wasted. We really must come to some clear-cut decision and issue the necessary orders to prevent dissipation of effort. We must reach a decision with the American Chiefs of Staff and the President.
To what was Churchill referring here? The suggestion of an operation which has been unanimously been abandoned must surely mean ROUNDUP (the full-scale re-entry, the eventual OVERLORD) rather than the opportunistic SLEDGEHAMMER (the plan for a bridgehead in the Cotentin peninsula, to take place if the Germans showed signs of disintegration). While ROUNDUP had been delayed until 1944, SLEDGEHAMMER, which had originally been an American idea, would now, with the deferred BOLERO build-up, have been able to proceed only with British troops, so the allusion to the involvement of US forces indicates that Churchill was dismayed by a proposed American contribution to a non-existent ROUNDUP plan that was not a deception exercise. Had General Lee not been indoctrinated? Churchill went on to write about ‘camouflaging’ the decision, and invited the Chiefs of Staff to ‘mark time’, or stop BOLERO altogether.
It is difficult trying to parse Churchill’s thought-processes here. One might conclude that he
was unaware of the recent deception study that recommended using such build-ups as Lee’s to promote the notion of a 1943 re-entry, but had forgotten that the Combined Chiefs of Staff had recently ruled such a deception to be a waste of time and resources. In any event he added:
I do not propose to inform Marshal Stalin of these developments, hoping that events in VULCAN [the attack on German positions in Tunisia] and HUSKY and thereafter will show substantial results.
Yet Churchill had already informed Maisky of the delays in BOLERO. What was he thinking? Moreover, Alan Brooke recorded in his diary entry for April 13 that he had discussed with Churchill that same evening the advisability of removing all landing-craft from the UK to the Mediterranean in 1943, and indicated that he had persuaded the Prime Minister of the merits of dedicating all energies on the South, as a way of producing the greatest dispersal of German forces and ‘making the going easier for the Russians’. “Luckily PM finally agreed”, he wrote.
Churchill followed up a day later with a memorandum that would appear to confirm the hypothesis in the preceding paragraph, in which he declared that ‘no important [sic!] cross-Channel enterprise is possible this year’, indirectly suggesting that ‘unimportant’ crossings might be feasible. He added that
It is nevertheless highly important that this fact should not become widely known, and that powerful camouflage and cover operations should continue in order to pin the enemy to the French coast and not to discourage our Russian allies.
Here, the Prime Minister appeared to be drawing distinctions between ‘money and labour wasted’ (in pursuit of vain actual operations) and ‘powerful camouflage and cover operations’ (as a mechanism of deception). Under which category did General’s Lee’s project come? It is not clear. In any case, such an edict was of course too vague to be enforceable. The Prime Minister continued, writing that he wanted BOLERO to continue, but be slowed down with a goal for 1944 re-entry. It was important that the impression be given that the American troops ‘are continuing to arrive in large numbers’. He was now getting nearer to the kernel of the deception plan, but his view of it still seems to be as a ploy to deceive the Russians more than outwit the Germans. He was so wound up by his ‘Second Front’ commitments to Stalin that he felt it more convenient to deceive him about the reality of 1943 re-entry plans than convince him of the seriousness of the project to maintain German forces in Western Europe, and keep them away from the Soviet theatre.
On April 18, he issued a more precise – and much quoted – message, in which he back-tracked from the opinion that SLEDGEHAMMER could take place in 1943, but presented his conclusion as if it were an original thought that had just occurred to him. It led with the following sentence:
A German collapse being extremely unlikely and not to be counted upon this year, and neither American reinforcements nor landing craft being available, we cannot do “SLEDGEHAMMER” this year.
He then gave new instructions for General Morgan’s organization to engage in ‘camouflage and pretence’ in order to ‘pin the enemy in the west by keeping alive the expectation of invasion’. Yet Churchill must have been the only person who had in April still carried the idea that SLEDGEHAMMER could have been a possibility in 1943. (Last month’s report showed how he still nurtured the idea strongly in March.) The idea had been abandoned by the Americans in 1942 (as Michael Howard reports), had again been rejected at Casablanca, the Chiefs of Staff had just approved Bevan’s plan that dismissed any operations in North West France, and Churchill himself had leaked to Stalin via Maisky the impossibility of launching any attack in 1943. SOE had been said to have acknowledged the fact since the previous year. And Churchill still seemed to have not internalized the fact that, by virtue of the strategy of helping Stalin by keeping German divisions ‘pinned’ in western Europe in 1943, any half-baked engagement such as SLEDGEHAMMER was bound to end in failure.
Churchill’s message concluded as follows, in highly perplexing terms, with words that would seem to confirm that his earlier comments were referring to ROUNDUP:
If it gets about, as I fear it must, that any SLEDGEHAMMER is off for this year, it should be insinuated that this is part of our cover, and that the real preparations are going forward. Very large preparations should be made at the embarkation ports, and the assembly of the greatest amount of barges and invasion craft should be made culminating in July and August.
To whom were such ‘insinuations’ directed? And why ‘insinuate’? ‘Insinuation’ suggests the propagation of a lie in an underhand manner, usually with the intent to harm. Which group would have known about SLEDGEHAMMER (whether coded or not), should be prevented from learning the fact of its cancellation, but must be induced to believe that its abandonment was to conceal the idea that a real operation was going ahead?
It cannot be the Germans, as Churchill must have assumed that they were clueless about SLEDGEHAMMER and it therefore would not make sense that they would pick up news of its closing down through rumour. It could possibly be the French Resistance forces, whose confidence in a 1943 re-entry Churchill might have thought was important to their morale, and to the overall strategy for keeping German forces in Western Europe, but insinuation would have been a sordid treatment of them. It could conceivably be SOE’s French sections, having to handle the expectations of their networks, but that would surely be no way to treat some of Churchill’s darlings.
I suspect that Churchill had two groups in mind, both ‘frenemies’ of some kind. The first was the leaders of the Free French, since he and Brooke had the previous month made vague promises to Delestraint and Moulin of a ‘bridgehead’ to be made before the autumn of 1943. The second target was most surely Stalin and his gang, who were supposed not to have direct access to War Cabinet plans, but might conceivably hear about them, and would need to be disabused of their impressions. When SLEDGEHAMMER inevitably turned out to be an empty threat Churchill would be relying on VULCAN and HUSKY to ‘pull his chestnuts out of the fire’, in Stalin’s memorable phrase. Yet, for these audiences, Churchill had turned deception policy on its head: instead of dummy operations intended to indicate a proper but non-existent assault, the rumours of a cancelled operation were supposed to mask the fact that a real one was still viable!
The Chiefs did not seem to be fazed by Churchill’s insights, or want to point out how bizarre and illogical his proposals were. They simply took over the baton. On April 22, General Hollis laid out the requirements for the difficult challenge of involving the armed forces in deception exercises, couching it in terms of ‘deception must be regarded as the best means at our disposal for containing enemy forces in North-West Europe’, and implicitly abetting the ‘help the Soviet Union’ policy. On April 26, the Chiefs re-issued their final version of their directive to Morgan, accompanied by a note from General Hollis that indicated it had been ‘finally agreed by the Combined Chiefs of Staff’. Yet again, however, the balloon of a 1943 re-entry is floated. To support the ‘Object’ of defeating the Germans in North-West Europe (which was to be delivered by OVERLORD in 1944, of course, not HUSKY), the rubric set out:
To this end the Combined Chiefs of Staff will endeavour to assemble the strongest possible forces (subject to prior commitments in other theatres) in constant readiness to re-enter the Continent if German resistance is weakened to the required extent in 1943. In the meantime the Combined Chiefs of Staff must be prepared to order such limited operations as may be practicable with the forces and material available.
SLEDGEHAMMER and its associated waffle (‘a return to the Continent in the event of German disintegration’) were well and truly alive. Then, as if to acknowledge their error, on April 30 the Chiefs of Staff submitted to the War Cabinet a report on ‘Amphibious Operations from the United Kingdom 1943-1944’ which boldly explained that there would be not enough landing-craft in the UK even for training purposes, following up with the Churchillian phrases:
Consequently, there is no possibility of any substantial cross-Channel operation in early autumn of 1943 against organized opposition. . . . The abandonment of this operation makes it all the more necessary that there should be a vast scheme of cover and camouflage, in order to pin the enemy in the west by keeping alive the expectation of invasion.
So much for the opposition becoming ‘disorganized’. Morgan should have been mightily confused, but appeared not to be.
Though MI5 was not yet fully committed to this ‘insinuation’ business, it undeniably had the mission of ensuring that no confidential stories leaked overseas, and it had been intensifying its procedures against dubious arrivals from abroad. On April 3, Guy Liddell wrote in his diary that John Curry had written ‘a very good memo on penetration of SOE and SIS’. I do not believe that this memo has survived, but the very astute though neurotic Curry wrote expansively, in his in-house history of MI5, about measures to improve security at the London Reception Centre at this time. On February 12, a section known as B.1.D/UK had been set up to deal with British subjects who were returning to the country under circumstances similar to those of aliens, such as claiming to have escaped from prison or prison camps when they might have been suborned. The Germans liked to use them to learn more about escape routes. Such characters had to be treated carefully, since, as UK citizens, they could not be refused leave to land, but they also could be vital sources of information, and had to be interrogated gently.
Curry presents some very cogent analysis about the methods and the maintenance of the Information Index used to hold all intelligence gathered, and also comments on the co-operation of SOE, and the distinct obstructiveness of SIS, who wanted to protect information such as addresses used abroad. He wrote:
There were several major disasters, some of which might have been avoided if S.I.S. and S.O.E. had arranged from the beginning for all the information about their organisation to be centered at one point in the L.R.C. S.I.S consistently refused to do this, but S.O.E were anxious to do it as soon as they realised the nature of the dangers and the protection which the L.R.C. could afford.
Déricourt could well have been one of the unnamed ‘major disasters’. Having wormed his way through the L.R.C. once, however, he was now an accredited agent, and did not have to be checked again.
Those latest discussions of the Chiefs of Staff did not mean that SOE received any revisions to its March Directive: the Chiefs were at this time waiting to receive Hambro’s ‘appreciation’ of it. In any case, it might not have travelled as far as Buckmaster and Section F, where projects of infiltration continued. The instructions to agents at the beginning of the month were highly provocative, expressing a hope that was not warranted. In his memoir of his father, PROSPER: Major Suttill’s French Resistance Network, Francis J. Suttill quotes the briefing that was given to Claude de Baissac on April 1 (available in HS 9/75):
At the present stage of the war, our orders are to cause the maximum damage and confusion in the shortest possible time. This will continue to apply even if France is not the scene of actual hostilities during the next few months, since we have been and must still be successful in pinning down a large number of troops who would otherwise be available for other sectors.
‘Even if’? This is a vitally important document, as it offers proof that the Resistance at this time had been encouraged to believe that the early arrival of Allied forces (‘actual hostilities’) in France was highly probable. And the possible hidden sacrifice of ‘pinning troops’ (a questionable use of terminology in the circumstances) was quite clear, even though the identity of ‘other sectors’ (i.e. the Eastern Front) was not.
Déricourt undertook his second operation, a double Lysander landing in the Loire Valley, on the night of April 14/15. The occasion was marked by two sinister events, however. The first involved the presence of a Gestapo team at a nearby school, which has been explained as coincidental, but which alarmed Henri Frager, who had just arrived on the first flight. According to Foot ‘the incident gave Frager a bad opening impression of Déricourt’. The second event was more controversial. Déricourt was recalled to England, on London’s orders, and he flew back as the sole passenger on April 22/23.
Why was Déricourt recalled? Foot downplays the whole episode, discounting the agent’s own explanations, and merely notes that he had ‘a few day’s staff discussions’. Only in an Endnote does Foot raise a very provocative point: “In fact he had been summoned back to receive a reprimand from his friend Verity, for having endangered a Lysander through an ill-placed flarepath.” Hugh Verity would appear to confirm the story, reporting that Déricourt had placed the landing-flares too close to a tree, and thus caused Jimmy McCairns to damage his plane. His account is worth reproducing in full:
The difficulty I thought must be that Déricourt was getting over-confident after a number of successful pick-up operations. He was an experienced pilot and he may have thought he knew too much about it to bother to obey the rules. To make sure he did not take chances of that sort again I decided he should be ‘torn off a strip’, i.e. informally reprimanded. I informed SOE ‘F’ Section, through the usual channels, that we would not do any more landings with Déricourt (apart from one to pick him up) until he had been back to us for refresher training. I also thought that he might have been overdoing it in France and that a short rest in England would do him good.
This does not make sense, and Verity needlessly overegged the pudding. Déricourt had undertaken only a single operation before this one, so the reference to ‘a number of successful pick-up operations’ is spurious. If in fact he had achieved several successes, the less justification there would be for hauling him back to Britain for rebukes and training. In any case, the remedial action seems excessive for such a transgression: a sharp message would surely have caused him to follow procedures more closely. Similarly, the argument that a rest-cure in England would address any problems due to Déricourt’s ‘overdoing’ things in France is absurd. He could simply have gone to ground for a while rather than engaging in two hazardous flights across the Channel.
The pilot Frank Rymills was sceptical of this account. In his memoir on Déricourt, Rymills questions McCairns’ story, and notes that Peter Vaughan-Fowler made a successful landing in the same field, thus implying that the mistake was McCairns’. Rymills also questions the details of Déricourt’s return in Verity’s plane, since it was given a unique operational name (‘Tony’) [actually ‘Tomy’: coldspur], and Déricourt was the only passenger, and he concludes:
Someone must have considered it imperative he returned to London that Easter. I would suggest the tree incident was used as an excuse which could be used by way of an explanation to Boemelburg to cover his hurried recall to London.
One has to wonder who was fooling whom here. Did SOE/SIS really believe that the Sicherheitsdienst would be taken in by an obvious dangle of an agent, recently flown in clandestinely, who was arranging other aircraft drops, and somehow conclude that his activities were harmless, and that they would be suitably misled by the claim that he had to be recalled for training? Even Foot draws attention to the claim that Déricourt made to Jean Overton Fuller that it was only during that stay that ‘another organization in London’ (i.e. SIS not SOE) had authorized him to contact the Germans on his return to Paris. Yet the SOE historian does not consider the implications, simply debunking the assertion in favour of the reprimand story. Rymills, on the other hand, adds commentary to the effect that Boemelburg had met Déricourt in late March, had asked him about the PROSPER circuit, and that Déricourt was regularly lunching with Suttill at this time. Rymills adds a provocative and maybe too imaginative thought:
In the third week of April, Déricourt had a further meeting with Boemelburg who warned hm to keep away from Henri Frager and his contacts because his Donkeyman network had been penetrated by the Abwehr [sic!]. Was this the information which spurred Déricourt in returning to London that Easter?
That would suggest that the return was Déricourt’s initiative, when Rymills had earlier indicated that the urgent recall had been initiated by London. We are well into the territory of the Wilderness of Mirrors now.
In All The King’s Men, Robert Marshall supplies further evidence of skulduggery from the oral testimonies given him. He has Déricout having another meeting with Boemelburg a few days after the March operation, when Déricourt provided the SD officer with ‘a detailed description of everyone who had travelled in on the Lysanders’. According to what Dr Götz (in charge of surveillance at the SD, who also became Déricourt’s contact) told Marshall in December 1982, Déricourt had approached Boemelburg soon after his arrival, and offered his services because he had been sickened by the ‘rampant Bolshevism’ apparent in London. The rationale and motivations of both SIS and the SD in this case merit closer analysis another time, since it seems incredible that either could take seriously the claims that Déricourt made separately to them, and build a project of robust tradecraft out of what they were told. Moreover, Marshall raises what I consider a highly dubious and supererogatory goal for Dansey’s intrigues – that Déricourt was to gain an insight into the SD’s operations, and that it would be ‘a coup comparable to deciphering their ENIGMA codes’.
Yet Marshall’s narrative does impart one intriguing insight, also bequeathed by Horst Kopkow. During the conversation that Déricourt had with Boemelburg in late March, as I recorded last month:
Boemelburg asked him if he knew anything about PROSPER, to which Déricourt replied that he had heard it had something to do with the invasion.
Marshall adds, in his Endnotes, that ‘Boemelburg’s first priority was PROSPER and the invasion. Information about flights was secondary’. This leads to two challenging questions: How and why had Déricourt been told about a coming invasion? And why was PROSPER singled out as being connected with invasion plans, when arms drops had been increasing to all French circuits? In any case, the relationship between Déricourt and Boemelburg solidified. Déricourt was paid, and became agent BOE/48.
Charles Hambro was probably unaware of what Déricourt was up to when his rather coyly worded ‘Appreciation’ of SOE activities in 1943, responding to the March Directive and dated April 21, was distributed to the Chiefs of Staff on April 24. It gave a tour d’horizon of SOE’s capabilities and strategies around Europe. As far as France was concerned, it patted itself on the back, claiming that the ‘tide of resistance’ was mounting steadily, but then made a rather startling statement:
Apart from sabotage groups, S.O.E. is in contact with, and assisting to organise and equip, widespread Resistance Groups who are preparing for action on a large scale when our invasion of the Continent begins.
It went on to suggest that ‘50,000 men could be brought in for guerilla warfare on invasion, granted adequate supplies could be delivered.’ Hambro’s report also indicated that the expected reductions in operations in Northern Europe would be counterbalanced by the ‘increasing demands for operations to France and the Low Countries’, and that 186 operations were planned ‘for the April moon’. The final statement regretted the ‘inadequacy of air transport’ and indicated that it would be impossible to maintain resistance at its present pitch with the resources allocated. ‘Demands exceed the means of delivery by about 200%’. In an Annex, Hambro referred to the problem of reconciling short-term and long-term objectives, and characterized the policy dilemma as follows:
Since one of the essential characteristics of Resistance Groups is that, unless they are served sufficiently to enable them to retain their dynamic quality they tend to disintegrate, the demand for supplies is progressive and the lack of adequate transport facilities not only retards their expansion but threatens their very existence. Quite apart from this practical requirement, the degree of support afforded by air transportation is regarded by the Resistance Groups as a token of British interest in their activities and the indispensable condition of their co-operation.
Did these generalities apply to all country groups, or was the proximity of France driving the analysis? Since no invasion was planned for at least twelve months, a perspicacious and attentive reader might have wondered what the expectations of these French guerrilla groups were, and might also have questioned the degree to which the cart was dragging the horse in these matters. Why was Hambro describing the invasion in terms that suggested it would be happening soon? Was it not the responsibility of SOE to lead and control these ‘demands’? And what was that about ‘co-operation’? For whose benefit were SOE’s activities being pursued, and with what finesse, if SOE needed to gain ‘co-operation’ from those whose cause they were trying to advance, and such assistance was thrown out as a bargaining tool? Hambro was all at sea. Moreover, if questioned, the chief might have had to admit (according to Buckmaster’s testimony in his History – see last month’s report) that April had been a very productive month for shipments to France.
Still, no major dissension from the conclusions appears in the minutes. As they show (at CAB-79-27-6), attention was drawn to one paragraph, in 5(a), which the Committee, ‘after a short discussion’, judged ‘to be at variance with the policy of H.M. Government’. This controversial paragraph qualified the degree that open revolt could be triggered in Italy, suggesting that ‘less onerous peace terms’ might be gained if the Resistance there committed to overthrowing the Fascist regime. The Chiefs then kicked the ball into the long grass by delegating tougher issues to the Joint Planning Staff, ‘on the assumption that their recommendations on Future Strategy were finally accepted’, with the instructions to report on the following:
(a) The most profitable areas for S.O.E. activity;
(b) In view of other commitments, to what extent the additional requirements of S.O.E. should be met, indicating an order or priority by areas, and whether economies could be effected in less profitable areas;
(c) Anything in the above appreciation at variance with the policy approved by the Chiefs of Staff, and to recommend what further instructions should be issued to S.O.E.
It was as if the Chiefs had forgotten about the priorities they had laid out in the March Directive.
Behind all this the TWIST Committee was pursuing its objectives. At the April 15 meeting of the XX Committee, Colonel ‘Tar’ Robertson graciously updated the assembly on its proceedings. The minutes read:
Colonel Robertson reported on the functions of the Twist Committee and on the arrangements being made for putting into effect the troop movements and physically carrying out the deceptive policy agreed by that Committee. This would be under the control of the Chief of Staff who had been appointed to the Supreme Command of the West. The question of putting over traffic suggested by the latter, by means of double agents, was discussed and it was agreed that all traffic, whatever the source, should continue to be submitted to the appropriate Approving Authorities before being sent.
Given that Morgan was to receive his final directive just two weeks later (after American approval), this statement might be said to have been jumping the gun, although Morgan had been given the authority to proceed anyway. If the TWIST Committee had really ‘agreed to’ a deception policy, whence had that policy derived? Should it perhaps have been refreshed given the urgent new events in the second half of April? And were the communications of Déricourt to be considered as part of the traffic that needed to be submitted to the Approving Authorities? It does not appear that anyone asked such questions at the time.
In fact, at this time a section known as Ops (B) was set up within COSSAC, chartered to deal with deception, and headed by Lieutenant-Colonel John Jervis Read. Roger Hesketh (who wrote the internal history of FORTITUDE) was recruited to handle the processes of ‘controlled leakage’, namely the passing of any information to the enemy. In this function Hesketh used Bevan’s TWIST Committee exclusively, and would attend its meetings to present requirements, after which the committee would determine what the most suitable method was for conveying the misinformation to the enemy. Hesketh himself reported that COCKADE was the only deception operation sponsored by COSSAC. Yet whether the TWIST Committee was intended to survive beyond the OVERTHROW operation is highly questionable: Bevan was no doubt delighted to have a new customer.
As for Déricourt, on the last day of April, a disturbing letter from the Free French arrived on Captain Beaumont’s desk at MI5. Beaumont was E1A, responsible for Control of Aliens from France (see Déricourt’s Double Act), and must have been astonished to read a missive dated December 7, 1942, from Captain Vaudreuil, Chief of French Counter-Espionage, addressed to Major Younger, the assistant to the head of E1, Brooke-Booth. (I had erroneously stated, in my November 2021 report, that the letter had been weeded from the archive, but it can in fact be located in KV 2/1131/3, at 24b). Beaumont sent a copy of the report to Flight Lieutenant Park at SOE, with the following message:
I enclose a copy of a report on your agent DERICOURT, which has reached us from the French. Unfortunately, there has been considerable delay in it coming to me. However, I think you should have the information, especially as the source is entirely different from the report about which I told you in my letter of 21st January 1943.
The puzzle of the delay, and of Beaumont’s reaction to it, is more bewildering when the text is studied. Vaudreuil’s text runs as follows (my translation):
I confirm for you the information given orally to Captain Beaumont on the 5th of this month. One of his long-time friends from before the war, who met him several times in London, informs us as follows:
Since the armistice in France, DERICOURT has started to frequent German locales in Paris. Afterwards he was often seen in Toulouse, visiting ladies of easy virtue in the pay of the Germans. DERICOURT now claims he will be returning to France in a few days on behalf of a British service, something that appears dangerous to us. On the other hand, he has asked our informant, an officer of the F.A.F.C., whether he could get hold of buttons [‘boutons’: ‘wireless knobs’?], compasses and other objects of that type, something that was of course refused him.
Park replied on May 7, simply thanking Beaumont and noting the contents of Vaudreuil’s report.
Several questions remain. What caused the delay in the delivery of the letter? Did Younger or Beaumont conceal it? Why did Beaumont not respond to the oral advice he was given? Did Beaumont explore what had caused the delay? Was the letter ‘discovered’ only because Déricourt had returned to London, and had been seen? Was Beaumont’s protestation of surprise to Park genuine? When did Beaumont learn that Déricourt was working for SOE, since on January 21 he had informed Park that the agent was leaving on a mission to America? Did Park enlighten him then? Why was Park’s reaction so cool and incurious? All is speculation.
Thus April ended in disarray. Churchill was in a world of his own, but his authority held sway. The Chiefs of Staff did not have the attention span to focus on what directives it had given to SOE, and fumbled the ball. General Morgan appeared not to be paying attention to the details, and the US Chiefs of Staff were also oddly careless. Charles Hambro surely had no idea what was happening in the bowels of SOE, especially in Section F, where Déricourt’s reliability was coming under broader inspection. And the shipments of arms to France, where the Resistance was expecting an early arrival of Allied troops, were increasing in contravention of declared strategy.
2. May: The TRIDENT Conference
General Morgan started the month off by issuing a rather bizarre report to the as yet unappointed Supreme Allied Commander. He began by informing his boss that, after a meeting of his Principal Staff Officers on May 1, when an outline deception plan was discussed, ‘detailed examination of this plan is now in progress’, indirectly indicating that it was Bevan’s plan that his staff were inspecting. Yet he then makes a puzzling reference to WWI:
Examination of that portion of my Directive which deals with the preparation for “A return to the Continent in the event of a German disintegration” shows that it is necessary to ask for certain amplification thereof.
Recollecting the events of 1918 it is conceivable that, in the circumstances mentioned, my major object, the defeat of the German resisting [? not clear] forces, will have been in great measure achieved before the “return” from the N.W. begins. In this event the battle of the beaches [?] may be sharp and short and our forces will be available at once for the next step.
What Morgan seems to be requesting is clarification of the notorious paragraph 5 (b) about ‘German disintegration’, although he presents it in rather oblique and unmilitary language. “I suggest that it is desirable that some military objective should be designated now for attainment immediately after the cracking and penetration of the coastal thrust.” In this regard, he seems at this stage to be judging the chances of ‘German disintegration’ to be much higher than the Chiefs of Staff probably assessed them.
In his memoir Overture to Overlord Morgan carefully and tactfully dissected the dilemmas of the multiple objectives, and explained his reference to 1918, where ‘disintegration’ had occurred in a few short months. He pointed out the paradox of having as a goal ‘the defeat of German forces in north-west Europe’ alone, without indicating the objective of securing the total surrender of the Wehrmacht. He identified the challenge of not knowing what territorial goals should be set, in view of the speculation about what progress the Soviets would have made in 1944. He drew attention to the short amount of time available for any exercise, whether operational or deceptive, before the ‘invasion season’ closed in September. And he did point out that the eventuality of the disintegration (‘should the Germans begin to wilt’) ‘looked depressingly unlikely at that time’. What Morgan did not draw attention to, however, was the contradictions inherent in the objective of boosting German forces in north-west Europe in 1943 as a method of diverting them from the Russian Front, and the hypothesis about ‘disintegration’. I cite two of his most important observations in full:
It soon appeared that the three plans required were merely in fact three facets of the same plan. For it was of vital importance that nothing should be done in the course of diversionary operations in 1943 that should in anyway react to the detriment of the invasion plan for 1944.
In the first place the diversionary operation for 1943, if it was to deceive anyone, must in fact culminate at a time at which cross-channel operations on a big scale would be practically possible.
The long and the short of it was that Morgan’s process was very much one of trial and error. “In the event, of course, the usual compromise was reached and the whole affair was thrashed backwards and forward many times,” he wrote. Soon, the pressures of time would impose a very tight and disciplined approach.
On the night of May 5/6, Déricourt returned to France after completing his ‘discussions’. He was ‘parachuted blind near Mer on the Loire’ (Suttill fils). Soon thereafter, he arranged for Suttill himself (PROSPER, the eponymous leader of the circuit) to be picked up and flown to England, on May 13/14. Suttill was the only passenger, but crossed with Madame Besnard, who had just undergone training, and was to become Déricourt’s courier and cut-out (i.e. third-party contact) in Paris.
What had Déricourt achieved in London, if re-training had been a cover? The only account of any substance comes from Déricourt himself, as he described it to Jean Overton Fuller, and recorded in her book DoubleWebs. His is not a reliable story, however: he admits that at his military trial in 1948 he lied about the timing and manner of his recruitment by the Sicherheitsdienst, and he vigorously denies that he was agent BOE.48 (who was ‘another GILBERT’). Yet his description of his time in Britain in April-May 1943 is probably accurate, since it is implicitly confirmed by the testimony of Nicolas Bodington, Maurice Buckmaster’s second-in-command. Déricourt stated that he had been authorized to maintain contact with the Germans, not by the French Section, but by ‘another organisation in London’, which can only mean SIS (MI6). Déricourt went on to say:
It was not by the ‘French Section’ that I was authorized, but it was by London all the same. Some of my chiefs were for me, others against me. London at one moment did not trust me. I was not really authorized, for a moment, because the whole thing had got too big and too desperate. For a time I had to carry on without being really authorized, but I succeeded and then everybody was on my side.
For some reason, Fuller did not follow up on what Déricourt’s ‘success’ had been, although she did later charge him with handing over mail entrusted to him by Suttill and his assistant Gilbert Norman (ARCHAMBAULT), and thus being responsible for their arrest – a topic I shall cover in a later posting. Yet, according to his account, he carried out a project that caused ‘everybody’ to overcome their objections or hesitations. He also told Fuller several significant items. First, he claimed that that he had informed SIS that Buckmaster’s French Section F had been penetrated ‘at a very early stage’. By this he must surely have meant Bodington, who knew Boemelburg before the war, and was recruited by SOE in 1940, even before Buckmaster took over. Second, he confirmed that the nucleus of the PROSPER network had been penetrated even before Suttill arrived on the scene (referring indirectly to the contamination from the CARTE circuit). Third, he declared his respect for Colin Gubbins, pointing to the fact that he had met him, not just casually, but he also said that the ‘manœuvre’ for which he had been credited did not originate within SOE.
That Gubbins, but not Buckmaster or Vera Atkins, knew what was going on appears to be confirmed by what the two officers told Robert Marshall in the mid-1980s. In All The King’s Men, Marshall relates how Atkins, who had claimed that she was suspicious of Déricourt when she first met him, had changed her opinion. He writes:
Vera Atkins, one of the few F Section officers who saw Déricourt during that trip, lunched with him at a little restaurant in Soho. By this time she had come round to the view Buckmaster and others had shared from the start; that Déricourt was an exceptional asset to the section. Her only reservation was that during the course of their meal she was alarmed that he spoke, with scant regard for security, about people he’d just left in Paris. Atkins cautioned him to keep his voice down, but he ignored her. Though he talked freely about PROSPER and the others, he naturally never mentioned that the network was seriously comprised and in mortal danger. Nor in any conversation with Buckmaster did he mention anything that might have given cause for concern.
One would conclude from this narrative that speaking loudly was part of Déricourt’s cover, but it is also evident that he withheld the details of his exchanges with Dansey from Buckmaster and Atkins. Thus claiming that ‘everybody was on my side’ was clearly spurious. Yet Déricourt went on to suggest to Fuller that, since the PROSPER network had already been penetrated, it was probably sacrificed ‘to keep the Germans occupied’, ‘to distract their attention’, words that eerily echo the charter recently handed down to SOE.
In the middle of May, soon after Déricourt had returned to France, some of the senior officers at SOE were told that PROSPER had been compromised. This evidence is again oral, and derives from what Gubbins’s deputy, Harry Sporborg, told Robert Marshall in March 1982. The news, so Sporborg said, came from MI6, a ‘usually reliable source’, since it had provided such information to SOE before. Apparently, it was so confidential that inside SOE only Gubbins, his deputy Sporborg, the Director of Intelligence, Archie Boyle, ‘and perhaps one or two other senior officers’ were in on the secret – the clear intimation being that no one in F Section knew about it. Yet Marshall neglects to point out that the source was probably Déricourt himself, since the Frenchman had later declared to Fuller that the allegation was part of his report to MI6.
And then Marshall presents, without additional commentary, a very controversial statement:
The only reason anyone in SOE was informed at all was because a decision had been taken to exploit PROSPER’s situation and this would require a certain amount of co-operation from SOE itself.
Is this not shocking? That an external decision had been taken affecting the integrity and credibility of SOE without Hambro and Gubbins being informed by their bosses, instead of which they heard it from their hostile brethren in intelligence, MI6? It is beyond belief. Sporborg must have been dissembling, although very clumsily. Hambro and Gubbins were surely in on the decision already, and it is difficult to imagine such a super-ministerial decision (i.e. across the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Economic Warfare) coming from anyone except Churchill.
The very same day on which Déricourt returned to France, May 5, Churchill and a large party, including the three Chiefs of Staff, left on the Queen Mary to go to Washington for the TRIDENT talks, described by Reynolds and Pechatnov as ‘a particularly fraught Anglo-American conference’. The parleys occupied the remainder of the month, and Brooke and Churchill, after a sojourn in Gibraltar and North Africa, did not return to the UK mainland until early June.
In a way, TRIDENT was the USA’s home fixture after they had been outwitted at Casablanca, and they were now better prepared. It was as if none of the CASABLANCA decisions (and the ensuing deception plans) had been ratified, with renewed American demands for an early re-entry into France, as well as strong promotion of a swing towards the Pacific. Brooke considered that the Americans simply did not understand what the purpose of the Allied actions in the Mediterranean was about, with King, Marshall and Leahy being particularly obtuse. Yet Churchill, with his continuous impulsive changes of mind, and willingness to appease Roosevelt and his friends, was of little help, either. “Winston’s attitude at the White House Conference was tragic”, noted Brooke, even in the cold light of day, as his diaries were being prepared for publication.
While TRIDENT was underway, Bevan continued (in ignorance of what was going on across the ocean) to inspect the details of real operations in order to form his deception plan. He had had a meeting with Morgan on May 5, and wrote a memorandum on May 10 that highlighted the calendar challenges of the proposed attacks against the Pas de Calais and French Atlantic ports in September. September was too late, but there would not be enough landing-craft available before then. He concluded his minute:
Though it seems impossible to advance the dates of General Morgan’s Deception Plans, I am, however, doing everything possible to convey the impression to the enemy that we intend to undertake operations against the Continent in the summer or early autumn, though I fear that there is not much hope of success in this connection until signs of preparations are actually visible to enemy air reconnaissance.
‘Doing everything possible’? What direct avenues did Bevan have outside his TWIST committee? The PWE and the BBC perhaps: Lionel Hale was a member of his Committee.
In his address in Washington on May 12, Churchill picked up the question of possible German ‘disintegration’. Even though only one United States division was so far available in England (the minutes stated), ‘. . . plans were being made for an operation to provoke an air battle, and we were standing ready to exploit a German collapse should this by any chance take place. He wished to make it absolutely clear that His Majesty’s Government earnestly desired to undertake a full-scale invasion of the Continent from the United Kingdom as soon as possible.” Yet Roosevelt appeared to dismiss any forays in 1943. While preparations for BOLERO should begin at once, “He felt that all agreed that no ‘ROUNDUP or ’SLEDGEHAMMER’ was possible of accomplishment this year, but if one or the other were to be mounted in the Spring of 1944, preparations should begin now.” He did, however, question the taking of Italy, adding, rather elliptically, and with a lack of strategic insight, that ‘the most effective way of forcing Germany to fight (and thus taking weight off Russia) was by carrying-out a cross-channel operation’. If the objective were to help Russia, how would a cross-Channel operation in 1944 contribute to that goal?
Churchill would not give up. On May 19 (at the Third Meeting), he elicited an admission from Brooke that, after a meeting of the Combined Chiefs of Staff earlier that day, ‘an agreement which provided for a build-up in England of a sufficient force to secure a bridgehead on the Continent from which further offensive operations could be carried out’. That bridgehead again – but no dates, no details, except for the fact that nine divisions would be available in the initial assault.
Had Brooke caved in under pressure? Elsewhere in the proceedings he had stated (at a Combined Chiefs of Staff meeting on May 13) that ‘only by continuing in the Mediterranean could we achieve the maximum diversion of German forces from Russia’, and added that a lodgement in Brest peninsula would not be a decisive blow, as there were not enough forces to debouch into the Continent. Implicitly and correctly contradicting Roosevelt’s assertion, he stated that now was the time when action was required to relieve the pressure on Russia, and that was through the incursions in the Mediterranean, and taking Italy out of the conflict. The minutes of the background meetings of the Combined Chiefs of Staff show admirals, generals and air marshals continually going round in circles on these matters, and at this stage Brooke more realistically pointed out that a bridgehead would probably be expelled by a concentration of Wehrmacht forces. The bewilderment was noted by William Manchester, a Churchill biographer, who wrote:
The date agreed upon was May 1, 1944. But whether this was to be the small-scale landing, Sledgehammer, or the larger investment, Roundup, was not decided. So much confusion attached to just what exactly these code names meant that at the State Department and around Eisenhower’s headquarters, the newly proposed operation was referred to as Roundhammer. Whatever they chose to call it, it meant that yet another pledge made at Casablanca, and the most important to Stalin – to put men somewhere into France by August 1943 – would go begging for another year.
The Prime Minister was nevertheless able to express some satisfaction after this session.
The Prime Minister indicated his pleasure that the conference was progressing as well as it was, and also that a cross-Channel operation had finally been agreed upon. He had always been in favor of such an operation and had to submit its delay in the past for reasons beyond control of the United Nations. He said that he thought Premier Stalin would be disappointed at not having an invasion of Northern France in 1943, but was certain that Mr. Stalin would be gratified by the results from ’HUSKY’ and the further events that were to take place this year.
Some magisterial and sophistical twaddle, in other words.
Roosevelt and Churchill still had to break the news to Stalin, who was still under the illusion that the ‘second front’ would be opened in 1943. May had in fact been dominated by other matters; the Nazis had discovered the mass graves of Polish officers at Katyn, and pointed clearly at Soviet responsibility. The outrage from the Polish government-in-exile prompted Stalin shabbily to break off political relations with the Poles, and Churchill and Roosevelt cravenly appeased the Soviet dictator. Yet Stalin appeared not to be too perturbed by the cessation of the Arctic convoys. After TRIDENT, on June 2, Roosevelt sent, under his and Churchill’s name, a letter (with a text drafted by General George Marshall) that coolly stated that ‘the concentration of forces and landing equipment in the British Isles should proceed at a rate to permit a full-scale invasion of the Continent to be launched at the peak of the great air offensive in the Spring of 1944.’ They then sat back and nervously awaited Stalin’s response.
Yet Stalin had already received inside information about the discussions between Churchill and Roosevelt in Washington, maybe from an ancillary meeting. The VENONA transcripts reveal that a cover-name of ‘Source No. 19.’ was reported in a KGB to Moscow message (812), dated May 29, to have participated in a private conversation about the second front. The text of the message has been only partially deciphered, but Haynes and Klehr write in Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America:
It is clear, however, that Source No. 19 reported Churchill’s views that an Anglo-American invasion of continental Europe in 1943 was inadvisable. The message also reported that Zamestitel supported a second front and that it appeared that Roosevelt had been keeping Zamestitel in the dark about “important military decisions”.
Neither Zamestitel [‘deputy’] nor Source No. 19 has been confidently identified. Eduard Mark made the case that Source No. 19 was probably Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt’s Special Assistant (see https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02684529808432474). Hayes and Klehr suggest he may have been British. (But a British spy temporarily in Washington would not have had quick access to his controller.) In any case, Stalin learned about the opinions of his Allies before they constructed their written statement to him.
Thus May drew to a close. MI5 and the XX Committee were still very muted in ‘double-agent’ activities, although, on the last day of the month, Guy Liddell (who had been on sick leave with jaundice) reported a startling success with GARBO and the codes that the Abwehr had given him. John Curry, Liddell’s incisive critic of techniques for vetting dubious arrivals, had been moved over to MI6 to lead its embryonic Soviet counter-espionage section. Stalin had recently announced the dissolution of the Comintern, but Liddell & Co. treated it as an empty gesture. Arms shipments were increasing in France, and agents there were expecting an imminent invasion, but the Chiefs of Staff were still dithering over what were tentative operations, and what were feints. Churchill was still haunted by the promises he had made to Stalin.
3: May-June: PROSPER is Summoned
While these debates were going on in Washington, Francis Suttill (PROSPER) returned to London. Yet the recall of PROSPER and his eventual return to France represent one of the most problematic episodes in this story, and merit a dedicated chapter.
The current conventional account, published by the officer’s son, Francis J. Suttill, in Prosper, and endorsed by several commentators, is that he arrived on May 14, 1943, and stayed in England for about a week. The documentary evidence for this sojourn is however scanty: no record of it appears in Suttill’s personal file at the National Archives, and we thus have to rely on a miscellany of less-than-reliable inputs – what Suttill himself said, what Maurice Buckmaster wrote and spoke, what the Foreign Office SOE Adviser fed M. R. D. Foot, what contemporaries told E. H. Cookridge and Robert Marshall, and what Suttill’s son has collated from a close inspection of air force records and his own family records. The combined story does not make sense.
One of the major conundrums is that, for almost forty years, an account that had Suttill returning on June 10 (or 12) was echoed in several publications, including the authorized history by Foot. Nobody ever challenged this assertion until Foot himself, in the 2004 edition of his SOE in France, slyly replaced his statement about a June 10 return to France with one that stated ‘late May’. He did not explain why he made this change. I thus employ my familiar methodology of working serially through the accounts in chronological order, and testing the claims against other evidence. The problems, however, are not just with the dates themselves, but with the reasons for Suttill’s recall, and how he spent his time in England.
I start with the two books by Maurice Buckmaster, Suttill’s boss, the head of F Section, who contributed much to the confusion. In Specially Employed (1952), he wrote (p 186):
His decision was final, and, when he [Prosper] was established at the beginning of 1943, arms and munitions began to flow to the different groups in a satisfactory manner . . .
As early as April 1943, the rumour ran like wildfire that the Allies were about to land in France. The patriotic surge of enthusiasm was dangerous. It had to be quelled. Prosper did not know whether the rumour was founded in fact or not. For reasons of security, we could not tell him by radio. We decided that we must bring Prosper back to London. . . . .
His detailed report was extremely encouraging. It was clear that the Allies, when they landed, would be assured of magnificent support from French patriots. But the Allies were not ready to return to the Continent in the summer of 1943, as so many Frenchmen confidently hoped. The fires of enthusiasm would have to be damped down, without, however, being extinguished. Only a first-class man like Prosper could convey that message successfully. Prosper would have to return as soon as possible.
Indeed, after a week in England, he was begging to let him pursue his mission, for he realized that each day’s delay was dangerous. Within ten days he was back in Paris, on 20 June, 1943.
The overall message from this version is clear: the details are haphazard. Contrary to Buckmaster’s own in-house History of F Section, PROSPER is correctly indicated as becoming active only at the end of 1942. The increase in arms shipments appears to coincide with PROSPER’s establishment and activity. But Buckmaster strikes a very disingenuous pose over the spread of rumours about the coming invasion, as those signals were issued to agents by Buckmaster himself. PROSPER’s new mission is described as indeed being to quash such enthusiasms, suggesting, perhaps, that the March directive to SOE about the switch in emphasis from France to the Balkans, and from patriot armies to sabotage, had reached Buckmaster. Buckmaster’s narrative suggests that it was around June 10, towards the end of his sojourn, when Suttill insisted on returning, after he had been in London for about a week, which would establish a date of, say, June 3, for his arrival. Yet that ‘within ten days’ is not precise. The following ‘moon-period’ started on June 10, so he could have left then, or soon after, and gradually made his way to Paris.
After the passage of a few years, in They Fought Alone (1958), Buckmaster wrote (pp 185-186):
In the middle of 1943 we had a top secret message telling us that D-day might be closer than we thought. This message had been tied up with international politics on a level far above our knowledge and we, of course, had acted upon it without question. In the event, it had not come true and, as everyone knows, our friends in France – and the whole world – had to wait another year before the liberation began. Nevertheless it was from the reception of this message that a certain change in our objectives can be dated. From the middle of ’43 we were specializing much more in the planting of arms dumps and the training of a secret army than we had up till then: earlier we had concentrated on sabotage and ‘economic warfare’ – attacks on key targets in accordance with directives from the Ministry of Economic Warfare.
Now we attempted to serve two masters, the M.E.W. to whom we were technically responsible, and Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), newly come into existence, with whom we were strategically linked. The pace increased. And this increased pace was, to some extent responsible for the flurry of arrests which, in some areas, temporarily dislocated the French Section of S.O.E. It was much easier to indulge in sporadic sabotage and get away with it than it was to organize large clandestine armies without allowing a single weak link to infiltrate a section and betray his comrades. . . .
When the time came for the change over from economic warfare to planning for D-Day, the necessary re-thinking was so sweeping that we decided the best thing would be to bring Proper over to England for his new briefing . . . We had many conferences with Allied high-ups and then, a fortnight later, Francis returned to France . . ..
I cannot feel now that I was wrong to leave him in Paris, bitterly though I regret that I did not pull him out in that May of 1943.
Why the 180° turn? Now Buckmaster is passing on to PROSPER the mission of contributing to the coming Allied re-entry. He alludes to the increase in arms dumps in the summer of 1943, a phenomenon which was strictly in contravention of the March Directive to SOE. The vagueness about dates is, however, very telling. He states that he wishes he had pulled Suttill out in May – which must be interpreted as saying that Suttill had arrived in England in that month – and could have been kept there for the duration. ‘The middle of 1943’ is when these ‘top secret’ messages arrived (why would such messages be any more confidential than anything else?), yet by the summer, the plans for any operation in France were for deception purposes, even though the hope for a re-entry was still nurtured by Churchill, mainly, in the vain prospect of ‘German disintegration’. Certainly no change of policy had been made by the Chiefs of Staff that would warrant such instructions – unless of, course, SOE was being sucked into the deception, too.
Tales of Betrayal
What had happened was that, in the late nineteen-fifties, the books written by Jean Overton Fuller, Heinrich Bleicher and others had aired the very probable notion that the networks had been penetrated and betrayed (as Buckmaster acknowledges above, and in the lines directly after what I have quoted). So, in 1958, Buckmaster had to mask SOE’s incompetence by introducing SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces), and orders from high command. Yet SHAEF was not created until the end of 1943. It replaced COSSAC, which itself had hardly got started in May 1943 – the month that Buckmaster identifies as the time when he could have extracted Suttill from his doom. This date also explicitly contradicted Buckmaster’s timetable from 1952. Thus he apparently tried to blame the spate of arrests on the increased subversive activity ordered by higher government agencies. It is overall a very shabby affair.
Yet confusion remains about the exact period of Suttill’s stay in London. For a while, Buckmaster’s 1952 ambiguous assertions for early June were the baseline. In Double Webs (1958), Jean Overton Fuller confidently wrote that Suttill left for London under Déricourt’s guidance on June 10, and returned to France on June 20, to Culioli’s reception. She thus offered the first variation to Buckmaster’s story, perhaps misreading Buckmaster’s ‘within ten days’. On the other hand, E. H. Cookridge, in his Inside SOE (1966), which was published just before Foot’s authorized history, had a breathtaking alternative, presenting Suttill as arriving on May 14/15, and not returning until June 12. That would have been a long time for a recall dedicated to ‘consultative talks’, but the bookends have substance.
Cookridge described Suttill’s visit to London in terms of an opportunity for him to express to his bosses in SOE his concern that the PROSPER network had been infiltrated, and he reported several arrests that had taken place in April and May. One of the setbacks that had upset him (as recorded by Cookridge) was the arrest of Edward Wilkinson (ALEXANDRE) – but Wilkinson was not arrested until June 6, a fact that would indicate that Suttill must have expressed his concerns after that date, and was probably in London at the time. Moreover, Suttill may not have told his bosses about his efforts to bribe the Sicherheitsdienst in an attempt to rescue Germaine and Madeleine Tambour. The former had probably been betrayed by the traitor Roger Bardet, and had been arrested on April 22. Suttill was indeed instructed to try to rescue them, but he inserted himself into the affair in a reckless manner, and was eventually duped by the Germans. Also, while he was away, two members of the Abwehr, claiming to be escapees from Holland seeking the route to the UK, and impersonating known SOE agents, infiltrated themselves into Suttill’s network. Cookridge wrote (p 225)
It cannot be verified whether Suttill suspected ‘Gilbert’ [i.e. Déricourt] of double dealing. Nor is it certain whether he was told in London that British Intelligence chiefs had knowledge of ‘Gilbert’s’ contacts with the Germans. But I know that after his return to France on 13 June 1943 Major Suttill told his friends that ‘someone who enjoyed his trust must be a double agent’. Surviving members of Suttill’s network, such as Madame Guépin, Madame Balachowsky and Armel Guerne, have confirmed my belief that this was Suttill’s feeling.
The Authorized History
In the first edition of SOE in France (1966, with second revised impression, 1968), M. R. D. Foot had Suttill sent back to Paris ‘about June 12 with an “alert” signal, warning the whole circuit to stand by’, ascribing the details to an interrogation of Cohen on October 11, 1943. (This must be Gaston Cohen, ‘WATCHMAKER’: he was being interrogated about Suttill’s participation in the mismanaged affair of the Tambour sisters.) Yet it is not clear whether Foot derived the facts about the alert and the date from Cohen, or took the date from the same source who provided Cookridge with his information. For some strange reason, Gaston Cohen’s Personal File is not listed in the National Archives, and thus the facts of his ‘interrogation’ are not verifiable. (I have asked the chief independent collector of SOE information, Dr Stephen Kippax, a stalwart of the Special Forces Club, for a transcript of the interrogation, but he has not seen it, although he said that it has probably been shown to Francis J. Suttill – only.)
For almost forty years, however, this statement lay unchallenged and unquestioned: no apparent anomalies or counterfactual evidence were presented. And yet what is remarkable is the fact that the Foreign Officer adviser, Edwin Boxshall, in the Chronology he prepared for Foot, did record Suttill’s departure as occurring on May 20. His report was released in 2006, two years after the new edition of SOE in France, but it had been prepared as far back as 1960. Why had Foot ignored or rejected this datum for so long?
In 2004 a bizarre amendment to Foot’s text appeared. In the new edition of SOE in France Foot was moved to correct the date of Suttill’s return to France to ‘late May’, but left the sentence otherwise unchanged. Foot declined to offer any reason for his alteration, yet by making no other changes he suggested that the interrogation of Cohen was still the source. That was not good scholarship. Foot had a new paragraph to insert, however, which ran as follows:
There is a long-standing rumour that he had had a personal interview with Churchill, who gave him a misleading brief on purpose; this is baseless, as a look at the dates make clear. While Suttill was in England in May 1943, Churchill was not; they cannot have met.
Such logic is, at best, sophistical. It would appear that Foot arbitrarily changed the dates. It is true that Churchill did not return from his Washington/Mediterranean journey until June 5. Yet for decades Foot was quite happy to have his record state that Suttill was in London in early June. He credits his fresh insight in an Endnote: “I owe this simple point to Suttill’s son and namesake, properly jealous of his father’s memory.” But the point is by no means simple, and the method is devious. The fact of the date collision would have voided the story of the Churchill encounter, but would not have warranted reconstructing the timetable. The date was changed to fit the politically correct story.
Robert Marshall & Fresh Challenges
What had happened in the interim? The main event was the furore caused by the publication of Robert Marshall’s All The King’s Men in 1988. Marshall embellished the story of the Churchill encounter in his book (pp 158-164), where he actually reported that it was Bevan and the London Controlling Section that decided to recall Suttill, and that Churchill himself even requested to see Suttill personally. He added flourishing details describing how Lord Selbourne [sic] and Suttill ‘rode in the back of a large staff car down Baker Street’ to see Churchill. The meeting is not dated, but Marshall recorded an important minute by COSSAC as occurring on May 28 ‘soon after Suttill’s return to London’ – again an unforced error.
. . . when Francis Suttill emerged from the CWR [Cabinet War Room] he was a changed man. He had been charged with what he believed was the greatest secret of the war – the date of the invasion. Unfortunately, the new rather knocked him sideways. He was told the invasion would take place at Pas-de-Calais, on the northern coast of France, sometime during the first week of September. More than three months away.
Marshall was unfortunately rather vague about dates. If indeed, the events he described were claimed to take place in May, his story falls apart. The main problem is that, as is evident, Churchill was indeed out of the country for almost all of May – alongside nearly all the top brass. As Alan Brooke wrote in his diary entry for May 5, as he travelled on the train from London to Greenock:
Our party consists of PM, Averell Harriman, Beaverbrook, Leathers, Charles Wilson, Cherwell, Wavell, Peirse, Somerville, 3 Chiefs of Staff, all Joint Planners and in addition shipping, movement, administrative, intelligence etc. staff officers from the Admiralty, WO and Air Ministry, and finally many clerks, detectives, etc.
In other words, the only significant relevant players left behind were Dansey, Bevan, Morgan, Hambro and Gubbins. As Brooke records, the major figures in the TRIDENT party arrived back in London on June 5.
Yet Marshall had an unexpected ally in Maurice Buckmaster himself, who was bold enough to express in a BBC programme, on October 31, 1985, the following startling revelation:
Churchill told Suttill he wanted to increase the amount of sabotage operations and general unrest in the west of France so he could have some defence against Stalin’s claim we weren’t doing enough to help him. Suttill was encouraged by Churchill to run enormous risks, to forget his security training and produce violent explosions in and around the Paris area, so that Churchill could turn to Stalin and say – now, look at what we’re doing.
This was an astonishing claim, and a fresh explosion from an insider against the carefully established ‘truth’ that the PROSPER circuit had not been sacrificed on purpose by Allied high-ups.
Marshall used this evidence to show that Suttill, when he returned to France, was ‘convinced the invasion was coming in September’. But when does he place Suttill’s return? He first describes the fateful rendezvous at Capucine’s restaurant in Paris on June 9, where Agazarian set up the fake Dutch SOE agent for a meeting with some members of Prosper’s circuit, an encounter which Déricourt was able to avoid, and then informs us:
Four days after the incident at Capucines, Francis Suttill prepared for his return to France. He was expected to return to one of Déricourt’s receptions, but instead chose to parachute to a reception in a field in the Sologne.
According to Marshall, Suttill apparently wanted to be met by Pierre Culioli, who had first welcomed him on his first flight to France, back in November 1942. On the night of June 11/12, however, a disaster had happened, when a container exploded. The Germans poured into the area the next day. Culioli tried to warn London, recommending they halt all air operations for a while, but his message never got through, and Culioli was informed that Suttill would be parachuted in on June 13/14. Suttill then briefed Culioli and his comrades about further drops, and the invasion in the autumn, and then moved to stay in Paris. Thus Marshall in fact echoed Cookridge – and Foot Mark 1 – concerning the timing of Suttill’s return to France. He was still in London in early June.
The Contribution by Suttill’s Son
Lastly, Francis J. Suttill, in Prosper (2018), published initially as Shadows in the Fog (2014), has Suttill being picked up on May 14/15 and returning five days later. As primary evidence of his father’s arrival and stay, he offers two pieces of evidence: his mother’s account of travelling up to London to see her husband, and Buckmaster’s diary entries. The arrival on May 14/15 seems solid. Hugh Verity in We Landed By Moonlight writes (albeit with some tentativeness): “We must have brought back to England one of Buckmaster’s best agents, Major Francis Suttill . . .” , and he adds that Suttill returned by parachute on May 20/21. Francis Suttill notes that his mother visited his father in London that week, and he also cites several items from Maurice Buckmaster’s diary from May 15 until May 20, Buckmaster apparently meeting Suttill every day. His father left with France Antelme (RENAUD) on May 20.
Yet an enormous paradox still remains. Suttill also quotes Buckmaster’s BBC interview (given as occurring in 1983), in which the SOE officer revisited his claim that Churchill had seen PROSPER during the latter’s visit. Suttill Jr. repeated Buckmaster’s statement that Churchill himself had wanted to meet Suttill, and continued as follows:
Buckmaster claimed that my father was closeted with Churchill and the Cabinet Office for a long time as Churchill explained that Stalin was bullying him into making more trouble in France. He claimed that Churchill then asked, ‘Are you prepared to risk your life in these circumstances? I want you to make as much disruption as possible. Ignore the security rules, stir things up.’ And that my father replied, Yes, sir’.
Buckmaster (as in the quotation above) naively represents Churchill’s commandment to Suttill as being one to increase sabotage activity, to please Stalin in the short term, not one to prepare the patriot armies to assist a summer invasion. Apart from a failure to point out that Stalin would not have been very impressed by the actions of a few saboteurs, or even spasmodic uprisings, Suttill’s lack of commentary is puzzling. He does not explore why he thinks Buckmaster delivered this story, and simply attempts to refute it by hammering home the point that the meeting could not have happened because of Churchill’s absence during that week. Yet, elsewhere, he ascribes Buckmaster’s misconceptions to a faulty memory. Defective memories, however, tend to distort details of actual events rather than invent Walter Mittyesque episodes completely. Moreover, if Buckmaster’s memory was impaired (and he was still in his fifties when he wrote his two books), one would think he would have considered consulting his diary to check the facts of the case before mounting his media platform. And did Suttill inspect Buckmaster’s diary for early June?
The SOE Adviser and the Register
What Suttill did have access to was the document prepared by Edwin Boxshall for M. R. D. Foot, to which I referred earlier. Unfortunately, the numbers of Suttill’s Endnotes are frequently wrong, but this is clearly what he describes as Chronicle of SOE Operations During World War II, and lists it as residing at the Imperial War Museum. The document is in fact titled Chronology of SOE Operations with the Resistance in France During World War II, and, a little alarmingly, its introduction states: ‘Originally produced in London, December 1960 by Lt. Col. E G Boxshall. Later manuscript amendments by Professor M. R. D. Foot, author of “SOE in France”’. Thus we have a highly selective compilation massaged for the benefit of the authorized historian, who himself sees fit to emend the text without leaving a paper-trail of the changes he made, and why. One of the remarkable features of this document is that Boxshall lists Suttill’s return to France as occurring on May 20/21, but a hand-written question mark – presumably one of the annotations made by Foot that the issuing civil servant acknowledged – has been added against the date. The authorized historian presumably took his intelligence from elsewhere, quixotically ignoring the advice from his Foreign Office mentor. Suttill never recognizes this anomaly, which is breathtaking.
Suttill found several mistakes in Boxshall’s text (and must have been amazed when he saw Boxshall’s original typescript), so he decided that ‘it would be wise to accept statements from this document only if they were supported by information from other sources’. And Suttill displayed considerable energy and thoroughness in examining not only the files that were eventually transferred to the National Archives, including the RAF records of flights undertaken on behalf of SOE, but also French records. His painstaking approach could have delivered a very valuable register of the air movements in 1943, but, sadly, what he has published is very confusing.
The first problem is one of nomenclature – not Suttill’s responsibility, of course, but something he does little to ameliorate. The PROSPER circuit was also known as PHYSICIAN, but leaders of a circuit were frequently identified by the network they led. Thus, when (say) ‘PHYSICIAN’ is listed, it sometimes refers to an Operation for the network (when a number follows the code), and sometimes to PHYSICIAN himself (with no suffix). If the operation was successful, the name appears in bold. Agents can be referred to by one of their many aliases. Another problem is the gaps in the record. In his book, Suttill states that the ATF Operational Instructions for May and June were missing, which would cast doubt on the reliability of the data. However, Mr. Suttill has also told me that his assertion in the book is in error, and that it is the June and July orders that are missing. How Suttill derived his register for June (the record stops on June 23/24) is not clear.
By adopting a very inconsistent method for identifying passengers, Suttill does not alleviate this confusion. His Key includes the following item: ‘1M/10C/1P = number of men, containers and packages dropped’. Apart from the fact that women were frequently among the personnel who landed, Suttill does not employ this coding consistently. For instance, for the critical INVENTOR pick-up and landing on May 14/15 (the codename for one of Déricourt’s operations), Suttill informs his readers that those who landed were ‘J. Aisner, V. Leigh, S. Jones and M. Clech’, and that F. Suttill was picked up, yet he provides no code of ‘4M’. For the operation on May 20/21, named CHESTNUT4, he lists PHYSICIAN and BRICKLAYER (France Antelme, the leader of the BRICKLAYER circuit, not identified here by Suttill: one has to go back to his original drop in November 1942 to find the equivalence) as completed, with two passengers noted (‘2M’), but he does not list who they were, the implication being that, since they both appear in bold without a suffix, they must have been the respective circuit-leaders. Yet for June 12/13, where his text indicates that WATCHMAKER (Cohen) was dropped, and he provides WATCHMAKER in bold, he merely notates ‘5C/2P’ (five containers, two packages) without listing any ‘Men’. One could imagine that Cohen might have been accompanied.
Even though Mr. Suttill has informed me that CHESTNUT4 was the flight on which his father returned, he cannot explain to me why he does not list his father’s name in this entry, nor why he does not list passengers comprehensively. His father’s name does not appear anywhere else.
PROSPER in France
Thus another avenue of research would be to trace PROSPER’s activities and movements in France during this controversial period of May 21 to June 12. The evidence is slender. Suttill introduces his ‘Disaster’ chapter, however, as follows:
One of the first things my father did on his return from London on 21 May was to visit Trotobas in Lille to pass on instructions. These confirmed that everyone was still anticipating an imminent invasion as the instructions are remembered as ‘Attack in June, July, August, as quickly as possible in view of the events which can take place at any moment’.
This journey has an ironic geographical aspect, as Lille is on the Belgian border, further away from Orléans, near where Suttill was dropped, than is Tangmere, the airport from which he left the previous night. He would presumably have had to catch a train to Paris, and then switch to another one for the journey to Lille, where he had to be very careful, as the region was much more heavily guarded, and he had relatives there. But PROSPER did have urgent business with Trotobas, and this witness statement seems reliable.
The second item is PROSPER’s presence in Paris. The file on WATCHMAKER, Edward Mountford Wilkinson (HS 9/1593-2), aliases ALEXANDRE or PRIVET (the name of his network), provides part of the answer. ALEXANDRE had been recruited by PROSPER, and operated out of Nantes, but frequently stayed in Paris with the Perraults (as Patrick Marnham describes in War in the Shadows). The Gestapo had visited him with questions on May 15, and on June 5 he had a meeting scheduled with Inspector Imart of the French Police, who had helped him escape after an arrest the previous year. Wilkinson was arrested the next day, and, after dreadful torture, was executed at Mauthausen in 1944.
Further evidence about WATCHMAKER comes from the interrogation on August 6, 1945, in London, of Armel Guerne (GASPARD, or TUERNE), who was suspected of having been a Gestapo agent. He was familiar with the TAMBOUR case, and his interrogation thus mirrored that of Gaston Cohen. His file (HS9-631/5) is revealing in several aspects. For instance, the report states very provocatively, in a Note: “PROSPER, during his visits [sic!] to London, left two letters to be delivered by the organization to his wife.” And one important factoid emerges when the interrogation turns to the arrest of ALEXANDRE:
‘ALEXANDRE’ had previously been arrested in the Unoccupied Zone but had escaped with the help of a French detective. He met PROSPER, ARCHAMBAUD [Gilbert Norman, PROSPER’s wireless operator] and GUERNE at GUERNE’s house and told them that the following day he was to meet in a French café the French detective who had helped him to escape. In spite of their warnings, ‘ALEXANDRE’ kept this appointment and was arrested by the Gestapo on a Sunday in June 1943 [actually June 6].
Thus PROSPER was clearly in Paris in early June. Yet Foot elides over the whole ALEXANDRE episode: evidence of PROSPER’s presence in Paris in early June would not fit with his initial chronology.
The last occasion, at the time when Suttill was originally reported as returning to France, is more controversial. Francis J. Suttill describes the events of June 10-13 as follows:
He [PROSPER] must have received Culioli’s request to suspend drops in the Sologne following the explosions at Neuvy on 10/11 June just before he went to Bazémont to receive Gaston Cohen on 12/13 June, as he went straight to meet Culioli afterwards. My father refused Culioli’s request as he had already told him that he did not want to waste time, feeling that the invasion was imminent, and he was so serious about this that he gave Culioli the order to continue with receptions in writing.
Suttill notes that the son of his father’s hosts at Avaray, Alain Brossard, remembered helping set up PROSPER’s receiver so that he could listen out for BBC messages. But Suttill’s analysis is tentative: ‘he must have received Culioili’s request’; he has no evidence so support it. He describes his father’s understanding of an imminent invasion as ‘feelings’, rather than fresh intelligence and instructions that PROSPER (according to other sources) had just been given.
Indeed Cookridge wrote, in Inside SOE (p 229, as I introduced above), that it was Culioli who received PROSPER:
On 13 June Culioli received Major Suttill, whose arrival had been announced by radio signals and in a ‘personal message’ on the BBC. Culioli expressed surprise that Suttill was dropped in the Sologne, despite his warnings; but Suttill did not offer any explanations.
Thus the WATCHMAKER/PHYSICIAN 42 flight on 12/13 June takes on a special significance, with two accounts of the same drop being in sharp contradiction. Patrick Marnham also presents the episode with the explosion as happening on June 12/13, and accompanies his analysis with some strong witness statements, and information from French archives at Blois. PROSPER could well have arrived the same night as the explosions occurred, and had his tense discussion with Culioli soon after he landed. Yet Marnham also lists Suttill’s Shadows in the Fog (the earlier edition of Prosper) as one of his sources, without drawing his readers’ attention to the clash in dates.
On closer inspection, Suttill’s account is flimsy. He makes the case that the drop with the explosions occurred on the night of June 10/11, explicitly contradicting the evidence of the abbé Guillaume by emphasizing the recollections of one Dr Segelle, who was nephew of one of the reception team. Segelle gives a superficially precise date ‘the Thursday before Pentecost, the 10th June, towards 1 a.m. in the morning’ in Suttill’s pleonastic translation: the ecclesiastical calendar is correct, but that morning would have been June 11. Suttill then embellishes his report with an assertion by Alain Bossard, with whose parents PROSPER stayed, that he helped PROSPER set up the aerial for his wireless receiver in the garden. PROSPER would not, however, have carried any wireless equipment with him; he had no reason to listen to the BBC in the middle of the night; in any case he could have used an ordinary domestic radio to tune in, had he needed to. (Suttill also has his father busily cycling to the train station ‘the next morning’ – presumably June 11.) Lastly, Suttill provides as a source for the account of the PHYSICIAN 54 explosion the file HS 8/143 at the National Archives. I have inspected the file: it contains nothing about the flights of June 1943.
In that case, Suttill’s tentative evidence that PROSPER was already in the neighbourhood could be seen as being devised to refute any account of his second return to France through the introduction of items that would appear to give verisimilitude, but that can be shown to be hollow. Mr. Suttill has declined to respond to my several questions about the facts surrounding this critical flight and PROSPER’s presence at the time of the PHYSICIAN 54 episode.
A Breakthrough Theory
So how should all this be interpreted? It occurs to this unreformed conspiracy theorist that the extension of Suttill’s spell in London until June 12 would assist the case of those who claim that he had an audience with Churchill, while the insistence on the earlier, late May, return would help the case of those who asserted that such an encounter would have been impossible. And what is still not explained is why Buckmaster, as early as 1952, when there was no pressure on him from published accounts of betrayal, would be so open and confident (and wrong) about the date of the June return to France.
The inescapable conclusion for this researcher is that Suttill crossed the English Channel four times that summer. His first sojourn was May 10 to 14/15; the second was June 10 (probably) to June 12/13. Only in this scenario can all the contradictory claims be reconciled. Foot picked up the same information as Cookridge and Marshall, and did not trust what Boxshall had written, as it contradicted what he was being told by others. Boxshall tried to guide Foot to the first return on May 14/15, probably having been instructed to bury any evidence about a second visit to meet Churchill. Yet Foot could not bring himself, out of some misguided loyalty, to declare openly what happened in the face of the fresh evidence that emerged from the archives. And then, many years later, he started receiving pressure from the Suttill camp of ‘anti-conspiracy-theorists’ (including the SOE ‘historian’, Mark Seaman) who wanted to submerge the whole notion that Suttill may have received dangerously false information from Churchill about an imminent invasion.
The evidence is rich:
i) Guerne’s file refers to multiple returns that PROSPER made to the UK in 1943.
ii) PROSPER surely accompanied Cohen on his second return to France. The report of Cohen’s interrogation has been withheld; Cohen’s personal file likewise. They are too volatile, as Cohen presumably gave evidence of his flight with PROSPER.
iii) The personal testimonies given to Cookridge and Marshall all indicate that PROSPER had a meeting with Churchill, which could not have occurred until after the Prime Minister’s return to the UK on June 5.
iv) Foot maintained for thirty-eight years that PROSPER did not return to France until June 12, based on the information from Cohen’s interrogation report.
v) PROSPER was reported to have expressed concern about Wilkinson’s arrest. That happened on June 6, so PROSPER must have spoken to his bosses at SOE after that date.
vi) The evidence for PROSPER’s initial return to France on May 14/15 is practically irrefutable. The error has been in Suttill’s and Foot’s insistence that it was his final journey to the UK.
vii) PROSPER was certainly active in France (with Trotobas, Wilkinson and Guerne) in the last week of May and the first week of June.
viii) Foot elides over this whole period, including the archival evidence on Wilkinson. (His Footnote No. 89 on page 494 of SOE in France, referring to Guerne, gives only the single digit ‘9’ as a reference.)
ix) Francis J. Suttill’s primary evidence for PROSPER’s presence in the Sologne on the night of June 10/11 is highly dubious, and contradicts the memories of other witnesses to the events (such as the abbé Guillaume), as supplied by Cookridge, Marnham, and even Suttill himself.
The theory must be accompanied by some assumptions. First of all, PROSPER must have been picked up by a flight that was ‘under the radar’. (He could conceivably have made his second passage to the UK by sea, but that would have been a long and dangerous journey, and inappropriate given the urgency.) The flight was probably not even made by 161 Squadron, which was responsible for landings, but arranged secretly by Churchill. As Marshall reported, Churchill had asked to see Suttill personally, and the Prime Minister presumably ordered the SOE officer’s recall when he found out that Suttill had been in London while he was overseas. When the Foreign Office engaged Foot to write the history, and started releasing records, they could not have been aware of the controversy that would be aroused by indications that Suttill had not returned until about June 12. Records of Suttill’s movements were surely concealed or destroyed. When former SOE members started talking to Cookridge, and Foot himself, the Foreign Office instructed Boxshall to list only Suttill’s first flight, and omit details of the second excursion. Foot questioned that account, however, knowing that Boxshall’s summary did not tell the whole story, but he was persuaded not to reveal all because of the extreme sensitivity of the revelations. In his text, however, Foot perpetuated the date of the second arrival. If the censors noticed the anomaly, they said nothing, observing that Cookridge (in particular) had arrived at a substantially correct assessment of the facts. They presumably hoped that no one would notice. They were right: Foot’s account lay unchallenged for over thirty-five years.
What I have hypothesized has the advantage of accommodating all the published facts about Suttill’s movements, except for those that understandably present minor errors in details over dates. It should receive objections only from those commentators who i) assert that Suttill’s sole visit to the UK was between May 14/15 and May 20/22; or ii) maintain that Suttill arrived on May 15 but did not depart until June 12 (or near that date). I introduced this theory to Patrick Marnham earlier this month, and he informed me that he had been thinking along similar lines. My last set of questions to Francis J. Suttill has remained unanswered, although I hinted to him the path I was pursuing. Steven Kippax has similarly gone silent. That is intelligence in itself. A full analysis of the implications of these conclusions will have to come in a later posting.