Category Archives: Espionage/Intelligence

Special Bulletin: Patrick Marnham Responds to Robert Lyman

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 ispatently 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.

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Kim Philby: ‘Always Working for SIS’?

Kim Philby denying he was the ‘Third Man’

Contents:

Introduction

Philby’s Personal File?

Early Recruitment by MI6?

The Internment of Harry Philby

Edith Tudor-Hart‘s Files

Informers

A Theory

Litzy Feabre

Interest in the Honigmanns

Summary and Conclusions

Postscript

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

Introduction

In last month’s report, I investigated how it was that the NKVD risked using Litzi Philby so energetically in espionage activities without appearing to consider that such a strategy might jeopardize the cover of her husband. I concluded that, for almost all the time that she was resident in England and France (1934-1946), she was considered a far more important asset than Kim. In this bulletin, I address the first of the two questions left over from that report, namely:

  • Why were Philby’s connections with Litzi and her communist associates not picked up and taken seriously by British intelligence?

My exploration of this topic, which unearthed some startling facts, led me to some fresh conclusions, and provoked me to raise another question worthy of attention:

  • How did MI5 and MI6 process the evidence of Philby’s treachery when he came under direct suspicion in June 1951?

Owing to the amount of detail in the exegesis of the first topic, I shall have to defer analysis of this subsidiary question until next month. I shall also have to hold over once more the third question: ‘What was Philby up to in Europe in 1945?’, and address it later. I shall also cover then the Sun Engraving Company, which Edith Tudor-Hart rather clumsily engaged for propaganda purposes.

I start by cataloguing all the events that could have led to, or contributed to, Philby’s exposure, from the time that he attended Trinity College, Cambridge up to his interviews and interrogation in 1951. I exclude from this list the highly important and very visible project that Philby took on to help the socialists being oppressed in Vienna in 1933, simply because it was so public and obvious. In itself, it might have been explained away as an impulsive action of exuberant youthfulness, yet it was complicated by ancillary activities that should have provoked – and eventually did trigger – severe warning signals about the nature of Philby’s true allegiances. Not all these events were internalized or recorded at the time. Some were noted by observers, but their significance was not recognized until much later.

  1. Treasuryship of the Cambridge University Socialist Club (1932): Philby had joined the Club in 1931. His tutor, Maurice Dobb had founded it, and it was as much the symbolism of Philby’s membership of an extreme left-wing group, as the intimacy with other firebrands, such as the openly Communist James Klugman, that could have incriminated him.
  2. Visiting the Soviet Embassy in Vienna (1933): E. H. Cookridge claimed that Philby had told him that he had made contact with two officials at the Soviet embassy, Vorobyev and Antonov-Ovseyenko, both of whom were NKVD agents. Cookridge apparently did not reveal this fact until he published The Third Man in 1968.
  3. Marriage to Litzi Friedmann (1934): Philby’s decision to marry Litzi, even out of sympathy with her plight, constituted an unnecessary step in his commitment to the Soviet cause. And his failure to disentangle himself quickly from the union would bedevil him for over a decade.
  4. Application to Join (Indian) Civil Service (1934): Philby’s application required references, and he sought out two Cambridge dons, both named Robertson. They drew attention to his unsuitable ‘sense of political injustice’, so he apparently withdrew his application.
  5. Association with Edith Tudor-Hart (1934): Litzi introduced her husband to Tudor-Hart, who was being watched by Special Branch as a communist subversive.
  6. Incomplete Separation from Litzi (1935): When Philby started to express to Jim Lees his rejection of Communism, his sympathy for the Germans and his need to jettison Litzi, he nevertheless failed to cut off contacts with her, or initiate divorce proceedings. (Source: Lees’s correspondence with Seale and McConville.)
  7. Litzi’s travel around Europe (1934-1938): Philby’s interrogator of 1951, Helenus Milmo, revealed that MI5 had tracked Litzi’s movements during this period very closely, although it is not clear whether these were recorded at the time, or harvested later.
  8. Sudden Switch to Fascism (1936): Philby’s joining the Anglo-German Fellowship was a sudden and surprising volte-face for someone of avowed communist leanings. This move would later be questioned by Archer, Martin and Bagot when Philby was being considered as a possible future chief of MI6.
  9. Invitation to Flora Solomon (1937): Philby revealed to Flora Solomon that he ‘was doing important work for peace’, and invited her to join him. She declined.
  10. Funding for Spain Venture (1937): Philby could not have afforded the expenses of living as a free-lance reporter in Spain. He later lied about the source of funds to his interrogators.
  11. Assurance to Erik Gedye (1937): From Spain, Philby sent a message to his friend Eric Gedye to re-assure him that his leftist allegiances had not changed. Gedye apparently revealed this fact to Seale & McConville only after Philby’s escape.
  12. Litzi’s Drawing on Philby’s Bank Account (1937): Milmo wrote that Litzi had no money to support her travels, and was using her husband’s bank account to the tune of £40 per month.
  13. Interrogation of Tudor-Hart over Camera (1938): In 1938 receipts for a Leica camera used by the Percy Glading group to photograph documents stolen from Woolwich Arsenal were made out to Edith Tudor-Hart. This showed that the Austrian Communist cell was not a purely intellectual group, and Philby could have been linked through Litzi to its felonious activity.
  14. Introduction to Aileen Furse & Cohabitation (1939-1940): Flora Solomon introduced Philby to Aileen Furse on September 4, 1939, the day after war was declared. They met again, and Aileen and Kim decided to cohabit, when Philby returned from France. Since Philby declined to divorce Litzi, Aileen changed her name by deed poll. Aileen would later suspect that Philby was a Soviet spy.
  15. Litzi’s Mother’s Request on Internment (1939): Milmo’s report indicates that Litzi’s mother (recently extracted from Vienna), in an application to relieve internment restrictions, pointed out that Philby was paying £12 a month towards her (presumably the mother’s) maintenance.
  16. Litzi’s Permission to Go to France (1939): Milmo reported that Philby had requested permission for Litzi to return to France on September 26, as if she had been stranded in the UK when war broke out.
  17. Vetting Form for MI6 (1939): An MI6 Vetting form for Philby was recorded in his father’s Personal File, dated September 27, 1939. This probably resulted from a meeting Philby had with Frank Birch, who had just re-joined GC&CS. Any job application might consequently have drawn attention to his dubious career, and his statements to Flora Solomon. It alternatively may have been related to the initiative from Michael Stewart to have Philby recruited. Further notes indicate correspondence concerning ‘G. Egge’ and Litzi Philby.
  18. Litzi’s Permission to Return to UK (1940): The Personal File on Philby’s father indicates that a Form of Interrogation, after intervention by the PS (Private Secretary) to the Secretary of State on December 8, 1939, was sent to Newhaven for the purpose of cross-examining Litzi on her arrival from France in early January. Philby admitted that he had applied to the authorities to facilitate her return (but omitted to mention the earlier request to allow Litzi to passage to France).
  19. Evidence from Krivitsky (1940): During his interrogation in London, the GRU defector Walter Krivitsky told Jane Archer that the NKVD had deployed to Spain ‘a young Englishman, a journalist of good family, an idealist and fanatical anti-Nazi’.  This lead was not followed up.
  20. Residing with Aileen Furse and Burgess at Flora Solomon’s (1940): Philby unwisely advertised his association with Burgess by inviting him to join him and Aileen at Flora Solomon’s residence.
  21. Interview for position in Section D (1940): According to Cave-Brown, in June, Vivian interviewed Philby for a position in the sabotage unit Section D, before it was taken away from MI6 and incorporated into SOE (in August).
  22. Deceit on SOE paperwork (1940):  Philby lied about his marriage when entering SOE (Cave-Brown).
  23. MI6 recruitment & Vetting (1941): After a recommendation from Tomás Harris, Philby was approved for a position in MI6’s Section V. Valentine Vivian believed his name may have come from a pool of potential recruits: his process of vetting was to have lunch with Philby’s father.
  24. Deceit on MI6 Paperwork (1941): Philby lied about his marital status when completing MI6 entry paperwork.
  25. Litzi’s Wartime Associations (1940-1945): Litzi mixed regularly with Tudor-Hart’s circle of Austrian Communist refugees.
  26. Litzi at Bentinck Street & the Courtauld (1941-44): Litzi met Blunt and Burgess at Victor Rothschild’s House at 5 Bentinck Street, and also visited Blunt at the Courtauld Institute.
  27. Litzi’s Job Application (1943): Litzi applied for a government job, and used her husband’s name as a reference. Taken aback, Philby declared that his ‘first wife’ was ‘OK’.
  28. Leakage of Intelligence (1944 & 1945): Maurice Oldfield, then working for SIME in Cairo, believed that Philby might have been involved in leaking information about the defection of the Vermehrens, and the arrest of the head of the LUCY network, Sando Rado. (source: Richard Deacon)
  29. Stalin’s Challenge (1945): Stalin hinted strongly that he had received intelligence about US/GB-Germany negotiations for peace that took place in Bern, Switzerland.
  30. Gouzenko’s Revelations (1945): In Ottawa, the GRU defecting cipher-clerk Igor Gouzenko described a Soviet agent in British counter-espionage.
  31. Volkov Incident (1945): The would-be defector Konstantin Volkov contacted the British in Istanbul, offering to hand over a list of agents in Counter-Intelligence and in the Foreign Office, including the head of a Counter-Intelligence Department. Philby engineered his own role in travelling to Istanbul to investigate. Volkov was extracted by the Soviets, and killed.
  32. Evasion on MI5 Questions concerning Litzi Honigmann (1946): When MI5 officers sought information from MI6 about the Honigmanns in East Berlin, Philby concealed the fact that Mrs Honigmann had been his wife.
  33.  Guy Liddell’s Suspicions (1947):  Liddell told MI6 officer Eric Roberts that he believed that MI6 may have been penetrated by the Soviets.
  34.   East European Failures (1946-1949): Several MI6/CIA exploits in Eastern Europe failed, most spectacularly the project to insert insurrectionists in Albania. Philby played a part in these disasters.
  35. Change to Soviet Cyphers (1949): Three months after Philby was indoctrinated into VENONA, Moscow changed its encryption methods, thus closing off further traffic to analysis by US/GB. (William Weisband was later judged to have been responsible for the leak.)
  36.  Burgess Cohabitation in Washington (1950): When Guy Burgess was posted to Washington in 1950, Philby agreed to take him under his wing, and they shared accommodation.
  37.  Attempted Distancing from Maclean (1950): In Washington, Philby dissembled over his acquaintance and familiarity with Donald Maclean.
  38. Martin/Archer Report (1950): A report commissioned by Menzies and Vivian from MI5 (Archer and Martin) drew attention to Philby’s sudden conversion to fascism in the mid-1930s.
  39.  Tudor-Hart Photograph of Philby (1951): Tudor-Hart was worried about negatives of photographs of Philby that she had kept.
  40.   Kollek in Washington (1951): Teddy Kollek, who knew of Philby’s role and associations from Vienna, and had attended his wedding, warned James Angleton that Philby could be a Soviet spy.     
  41.   ‘Third Man’ Business (1951): After the abscondment of Burgess and Maclean, Philby immediately came under suspicion as the ‘Third Man’ who had warned Maclean of his imminent call to be interrogated.

Commentary:

  1. While the reliability of all these events may not be total, most of them have indeed been verified and accepted. Some possess only thin evidence. For example, Anthony Cave-Brown, in Treason in the Blood, does not offer any source for the events listed at 21 and 22. Yet such assertions are inherently no less respectable than Chapman Pincher’s attributions to ‘confidential inside sources’, Christopher Andrew’s unidentified references to the ‘Security Service Archive’, or even the dubious statements of many memoirists (including those of the subject himself) that have made their way into the Philby lore.
  2. The volume of these incidents is both impressive and shocking. While the outrageous behaviour of Guy Burgess should have disqualified him from ever being recruited by the Diplomatic or Intelligence Services, and Donald Maclean’s outburst in Cairo should have been treated much more suspiciously, the extended pattern of hints and clues displayed by Philby, with an accompanying disregard by the authorities, is exceptional. (These are what Guy Liddell described as ‘the cumulative effect of points against him’, a conclusion reached too late in the game.)
  3. While many of these events have been reported in several books, I do not believe that they have been consolidated into one single dossier anywhere, and thus the possible relationships have not been explored. For instance, was the lethargy in following up Krivitsky’s hints concerning a journalist in Spain related to any change in status of Philby in the considerations of MI5 and MI6?
  4. The declarations by such as Milmo point to the fact that a Personal File on Philby had been created. Indeed, it would have been extraordinary if one had not been started when he went to Vienna in 1933. A burning question is therefore: what happened to Philby’s PF? Was it buried, or closed at some stage? The fact that items concerning Philby were noted in his father’s file towards the end of 1939 suggests strongly that his own PF had been retired by this time.
  5. The same criteria apply to Litzi Philby’s PF. The comments about her from Milmo’s report strongly suggest that comprehensive notes were being taken about her from the time she arrived in the United Kingdom, yet the PFs of (for example) Edith Tudor-Hart are devoid of any reference to Litzi until the bizarre introduction of Litzi Feabre, and a PF pertaining to her, in 1945. The absence of such notations might provide clues to Litzi’s role during this period.
  6. In the absence of the PFs themselves, or supporting memoranda, it is difficult to determine at what stage certain remarks were made. For instance, were Milmo’s descriptions of Litzi’s travels in the mid-thirties collected from observations at the time, and stored, or was a trawl through port and customs records undertaken in the light of later suspicions? A possible explanation is that the annotations were recorded at the time of the events, and were not considered startling or damaging when they occurred, but were ‘discovered’ later by a third party.
  7. One not completely obvious lesson from the events is the fact that sections of the Intelligence Services sometimes kept other groups in the dark, such as when an alias for Litzi Philby was created. This was not an unusual phenomenon, and could be compared with the activities of the rogue TWIST committee in World War II, or the efforts made by senior MI5 and MI6 officers to conceal from their subordinates the project to manipulate Ursula Beurton (née Kuczynski).
  8. In any case, a critical change of circumstances appears to take place after the outbreak of the war, in September 1939. This coincides with several important other events, such as the death of Sinclair and the contest for his successor as MI6 chief, the Venlo incident, after which the European MI6 organization was essentially destroyed, and Claude Dansey’s attempt to merge his back-up Z Organization into MI6, during which activity he returned from Switzerland in November of that year.

What this leads me to believe is that at some stage Philby made an approach to MI6, indicating that any Communist sympathies he may have shown in the past had now waned, and that his wife was no longer an agent dedicated to the cause of the NKVD. MI6 was taken in by this ruse, took Philby to its bosom, and planned to treat Litzy as a valuable source of information on émigré Austrian communist circles. I now present my chain of reasoning as I explored the archival material.

Philby’s Personal File?

One intriguing avenue of research is seeking evidence that Kim Philby had a Personal File (PF) created for him early in his career, and, if so, what happened to it. Information on him is scattered: he turns up frequently in communications between MI5 and MI6 at various times, but data on his activities as someone possibly under surveillance are elusive. I identify seven potential major sources for information on him: 1) The PF on his father Harry St. John Philby (KV 2/1118-1 & -2); 2) The ‘PEACH’ files, that collect information regarding the investigation begun in 1951 into Philby’s possible guilt as the Third Man, ‘PEACH’ being the codename assigned to him (FCO 158/27 & 28); 3) The Personal File on Philby apparently opened at the time of the PEACH investigation (or shortly before, early in 1951), which assembled various facts about Philby from other files (PF 604584); 4) The Maclean/Burgess files created in the 1955 investigation into Philby (FCO 158/175); 5) The file opened for Litzi (of course not released, and thus useful only by external references to it), which is bizarrely identified in the main as being the record of Litzi Feabre, with occasional admission that this person is Litzi Philby (PF 62681); 6) The files on Litzi’s partner and later husband, Georg Honigmann, which, by inclusion or oversight, provide some clues to the relationship (KV 6/113 & /114); and 7) Flora Solomon’s files, which contain some very provocative information, including the annotation that PF 604584 included a Volume 8, a pointer that shows there is much still to be released (KV 2/4633, 4634 & 4635).

John Lehmann

There is a good case to be made that Philby would a priori have had a file opened on him when he travelled to Vienna in 1933 to help the socialists. A precedent is the case of a similar subversive, John Lehmann (KV 2/2253-2255), who also went to Vienna at this time, and was likewise encouraged in his activities by Maurice Dobb, a Cambridge don who was noted as an inspirational mentor with communist convictions. Lehman was tracked very closely, and it is difficult to imagine that Philby would not have come under the same close surveillance. Thus one might conclude that at some stage his file was removed or destroyed as an embarrassment. So what facts can be assembled from elsewhere?

The file on Kim Philby’s father is very revealing, since it contains some early references to Kim’s socialist activity, as well as some fascinating exchanges between Guy Liddell and Valentine Vivian on Philby’s recruitment by MI6 through Section D (which I shall explore later). Thus one has to ask the question: do these items appear here because a) his father’s PF was a convenient postbox for storing Kim’s activities; b) they were put here in error, or out of confusion; or c) they were rightly placed (maybe copied) there because of a genuine link between Kim’s activities and his father’s situation?

The earliest note appears in the Minute Sheet dated September 7, 1933 (as with many such files, not all items listed in the Minute Sheet are preserved in the body of the file), and states ‘Extract-re H.A.R. PHILBY – taken from list in office of ‘Labour Monthly’. A handwritten annotation further informs us that this item was ‘Transferred to PF604584 11/6/51’. Three more entries obviously pertaining to Kim then follow (the last dated 15.11.34), before the substance returns to Harry Philby matters. The next entry related to Kim is dated 27.9.39, and concerns an SIS Vetting Form (although that description has been taped over the original type), and is followed by two more entries (the first relating to Kim, the second to Litzi and a certain G Egge, which are listed with the rubric that they should both be moved to PF68261, i.e. Litzi’s own PF.

Thus the references to Kim in his father’s file constitute a motley assortment, the placement of which reflects no obviously consistent policy. The long void between September 1933 and November 1934, as well as the abrupt termination of any entries thereafter, could mean that these were accidental, and that a more comprehensive account had been maintained elsewhere. Or it might mean that Kim Philby was no longer considered a person worthy of interest, as if it had been determined that he was ‘friend’, not ‘foe’. To consider that aspect, I return to Helen Fry and her suggestions about Philby’s loyalties in Vienna.

Early Recruitment by MI6?

As introduced above, my working hypothesis, as a means of explaining the indulgence shown by MI5 to Litzi Philby throughout her life in the United Kingdom, is that Kim at some stage managed to take advantage of an opening to mislead the authorities about his wife’s true role. The extreme version of this theory would be that Kim was an MI6 asset from the beginning. As I reported last month, Helen Fry makes the suggestion that Philby’s activities in Vienna may have been undertaken with MI6’s approval. In the revised edition of her book, Spymaster (2021), she makes a controversial statement, one expressed, however, in a decidedly equivocal manner:

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

There is a large gulf between ‘possible’, and ‘not yet definitely proven’, and it is not clear what kind of proof Ms. Fry expects might appear at this late stage of the game.

Helen Fry

Moreover, Fry’s case is tenuous. She attributes Kendrick’s success in ‘identifying and tracking Russian agents operating in and out of Vienna and the region’ to the wiles of Philby and Hugh Gaitskell (the future Labour Party politician who was attending the University of Vienna on a Rockefeller scholarship), implying, without any evidence, that they had both been working ‘loosely’ for the British Secret Intelligence Service at this time, and had been ‘sent out to Vienna to gather intelligence’. Fry concludes her analysis by asserting that these actions enabled SIS to ‘assess the ongoing threat to western democracy’, and she even identifies Engelbert Broda as one of the victims of this campaign, subsequently tracked by MI5 in Britain.

Yet the irony in Fry’s argument is that MI5 and MI6 failed dismally in their endeavours. They did not assess the threat clearly. They did not prevent Broda being recruited to the Tube Alloys project and revealing secrets of atomic weaponry through Litzi Philby. They even bungled the warnings from Walter Krivitsky. Fry also suggests that the contribution that Philby made explains why he (and Gaitskell) were so easily taken up by British intelligence in 1939-40. She does not explore why, if Kim had been recruited as some kind of asset by MI6, he would not have joined the service officially much earlier. She bizarrely mentions only briefly in passing the complications that marrying Litzi, ‘a high-level threat to Britain as a Soviet agent’, brought to the equation.

I believe it highly unlikely that Kendrick used Philby in any capacity that suggests that he was ‘working’ for MI6.  His previous movements, and guidance from Maurice Dobb, give no indication that MI6 had any role in his endeavour. If Kendrick had had any role in his mentoring in Vienna, he would not have allowed a greenhorn like Philby to contact the Soviet Embassy, and would have been appalled at Kim’s marrying Litzi Friedmann. Kim’s actions in Vienna went far beyond what a more careful observer such as Gaitskell, who was scathing about the adventures of the extreme left-wingers, undertook. The circumstances of Kim’s return to the United Kingdom, and his steps thereafter, do not indicate that MI6 saw him as one of theirs. When Fry considers how Philby succeeded in being recruited by MI6 in 1940 she appears to minimize the bad marks against Kim and Litzy earned during the 1930s, regarding them as somehow less significant than a possible short-lived relationship between Philby and MI6 in 1934. (In fact, Philby was not recruited by MI6 proper until 1941.)

Hugh Gaitskell

And then Keith Ellison pointed out a sentence from Fry’s book, writing to me: “On Philby, Fry writes of one unidentified source who claimed that Philby ‘was working for SIS and always did work for us – though it will destroy the book if you say so openly’ (p 81)”. This was an astonishing revelation. I did not recall the statement. I thus looked up page 81 of Spymaster, but could not find the sentence. We swiftly determined that Keith was using the earlier edition published by Marranos Press in 2014: Fry had removed this startling claim from the Yale University Press edition of 2021. I also own that earlier edition, so I was able to retrieve the relevant section. I immediately sent a message to Helen Fry via her website, asking her to explain why she had dropped this startling assertion, and received the following reply: “In the revised expanded edition of Spymaster, a decision was taken by myself to take out that sentence. I felt it was not my place to keep it in without further evidence to justify it.”

Apart from the evasiveness of this reply (and why not the more active: ‘I decided to take out that sentence’?), I found it perturbing, both from a procedural and substantive perspective. I have earlier noted the perplexing way that the 2021 edition of Spymaster was brought out, with no reference to the preceding publication (see https://coldspur.com/2021-year-end-roundup/ ). For the author to have apparently landed a scoop, and published it, ‘openly’ I suppose, although without contributing anything to the identification of the source or analyzing what he or she meant, and then retracting it, certainly not ‘openly’, seemed to me to be a great dereliction of authorial duty. Indeed, was the first version of her book ‘destroyed’ on that account? One can only wonder what the motivations of her leaker were, to grant her such a loaded rumour, and then threaten her not to deploy it.

It sounded to me that Ms. Fry had been ‘nobbled’, i.e. coerced through some sort of threat, to remove that allegation, however tenuous it was. After all, she makes so many vague and uncertifiable claims about various persons in this business that citing ‘the lack of evidence to justify it’ as the reason for deleting this particular assertion seems particularly feeble. Any scrupulous researcher would have followed up to determine exactly what her informant meant: How long back did “always” go? Had that assertion been made anywhere else? Why was the informant telling Fry if he or she did not want her to publish? Furthermore, why did the authorities (as I believe they were surely involved) move so clumsily over the deletion of the claim? The book was published: the facts could not be erased. Did they really believe that no one would notice the excision that had been made, and simply accept Fry’s ‘expanded’ (but actually ‘diminished’) account?

Yet the outcome is that the reading public could encounter a hint that Philby had at some stage come to an accommodation with MI6. When did that happen? (How long back did ‘always’ go?) The sources are, of course, woefully thin, so first I move forward to a critical moment in Kim Philby’s career.

The Internment of Harry Philby

I turn now to the events of summer 1940, when Philby at last managed to get his foot in the door of MI6. At that time, Guy Liddell in MI5 and Valentine Vivian in MI6 were in intense discussions about the proposed internment of Kim’s father, Harry St John Philby, who was scheduled to arrive in Liverpool in October 1940. (This exchange is covered by Edward Harrison in Young Philby, though I believe he overlooks some of the subtleties of it.) Harry Philby had been detained in India under emergency regulations while travelling from Saudi Arabia to the USA, as his pacifist and pro-Nazi statements expressed in intercepted letters led the Foreign Office to judge that he had been engaged in treasonable activity. In a letter to Liddell of September 12, H. L. Farquahar in the Foreign Office expresses the confident hope that his office ‘can safely leave it to you and the Home Office to deal with him suitably when he arrives’. Farquahar engages in the classic buck-passing procedure of advising his interlocutor to ‘do what’s right’.

Harry St, John Philby

What did Liddell know about the case? Intriguingly, at the beginning of the Harry Philby PF (KV 2/1118-1), a handwritten note in red ink – apparently initialled by MI5 chief Vernon Kell – states: ‘Capt. Liddell knows Philby well and can supply any information’. It is dated June 18, 1932. This item caught my attention: so early, soon after Guy Liddell had joined MI5 from Special Branch. Was he really known as ‘Captain Liddell’ at that time, bringing over some rank from WWI? And how was it that he knew Philby well? It must surely refer to Harry Philby, as Kim would still have been at Cambridge at that time. Was it perhaps Guy’s father, also a retired Captain, to whom Kell was referring, perhaps as a consultant familiar to MI5 officers? No, it could not be, since Liddell père had died in 1929. Nor was it Guy’s older brother, Cecil, who was not brought into MI5 until 1939. It must be Guy, and his knowledge of Harry.

Yet in his letter to Vivian of September 19, where he seeks guidance from Vivian, Liddell signs off as follows: “I recollect that you know PHILBY fairly intimately”, as if he himself were not so well acquainted. I puzzled over this conflict until Keith Ellison suggested that Liddell had long been familiar, not with Harry Philby personally, but with his case-history, since he had been tracking him in some way since his days in Special Branch in the 1920s. Even if that were the case, however, it suggests that Liddell was perhaps not quite the expert that Kell had set him up to be, had possibly let his attention lapse during the 1930s, and was perhaps introducing notions of intimate friendship into the process of professional business a bit too eagerly.

Valentine Vivian

Vivian replies, expansively, on September 24, indicating that Liddell’s letter was ‘one of the hardest letters to answer, which you have ever sent me’. He did indeed know Harry Philby well, ‘a bullet-headed young Assistant Commissioner in the Punjab’, and explained how he had gained the enmity of the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office, Vivian’s final judgment being that Philby was not disloyal, but merely ‘insufferably arrogant’. He then, however, introduces the following aside:

Now, the curious thing is that his son (the person to whom I believe he refers to as “Kim” in one of the letters returned herewith is one of our D. officers. In that capacity I have met him once or twice and found him both able and charming. He himself told me that his father had cooled down in the strength of his views in the last few years, but that would not appear to be so from the letters. Young Philby was, of course, in D’s section being taken over by Dalton, but, as that has happened fortuitously, the son will be more or less under the direction of a man known to his father, with whom I believe the latter has had quite a number of semi-covert dealings. I mention young Philby simply because I think it will make it more difficult to take any repressive measures against his father.

Apart from the ironic way Vivian has been taken in by charm (Harry Philby would later convince Vivian, who was ‘vetting’ Kim for entry into Section V, that Kim had discarded his youthful socialist beliefs), this passage suggests a mismeasure of Vivian’s responses. First of all, it strongly suggests that he had not interviewed Kim personally for the job in Laurence Grand’s Section D. Secondly, he is mistaken about Kim Philby’s position – unless by ‘our’ he means His Majesty’s intelligence forces – since, as he indicates, D Section had by then been split off from MI6 and absorbed into the new Special Operations Executive (July 1940). It was then led, at ministerial level, by Hugh Dalton, a fait accompli that Vivian explicitly recognizes. (It is true that there was a delay in the announcement of the re-organization, but that had all been squared away at Menzies’ level well before the time of this correspondence, as Alexander Cadogan’s Diaries confirm.) But why should Vivian be so sensitive about the reactions of a recent recruit outside his bailiwick, someone who could clearly be sacrificed if necessary, in the light of his father’s detention? Did he perhaps fear the hostility of the much disliked Dr. Dalton, or was he afraid of what the reaction of Philby fils might be? In any case, Vivian cowardly passes the buck as well. He thinks that it is urgently necessary not to give Harry Philby any further grounds for grievance, but acknowledges to Liddell that the Foreign Office and the Government would ‘gladly see you using strong-arm tactics’: “With this uncomfortable problem I must leave you to deal.”

S.S. City of Venice

Liddell’s response was to pass on meekly Vivian’s comments almost verbatim, without indicating his source. The matter was elevated to Wilson-Young of the Foreign Office, who replied curtly on October 12, stating that a Detention Order against Philby had been issued by the Home Secretary, and that the S.S. City of Venice was expected to dock in a few days. In a postscript, he indicates that the Home Office ‘cannot agree with the estimate of Mr. Philby given by your informant’. Liddell’s weakness is shown in his letter to Vivian of October 21, where he, having recently passed on an anonymous report (by Vivian) to the Foreign Office, now complains that an unknown person in that latter department is using the same tactics when questioning Philby’s loyalty to anyone but himself. His letter concludes:

            . . . I cannot help feeling that it may be a very unintelligent remark and that a gross blunder is being committed. Do you think there is anything to be done, particularly owing to the fact that the son is in your employ?

I think this was a feeble but provocative performance by Liddell. Harry Philby was arrested by the Liverpool City Police when he arrived on October 18. All of Liddell’s ruminations were for nothing, and his standing must have been reduced with the Home Office. But why ‘particularly’? Why should that mean so much, especially when Kim Philby was not in Vivian’s employ? And why should Liddell’s professional judgment of Harry Philby’s culpability be so easily undermined by a desire to protect the son? After all, Kim himself had been a member of the Anglo-German Friendship Society, and his affiliation was open. The arrest of Harry, and the thought that ‘the apple does not fall far from the tree’ should perhaps have given Vivian and Liddell some second thoughts about Kim’s recruitment rather than simply expressing concern about Harry’s internment. (The trace requested from MI5 on Kim came up with nothing, according to Edward Harrison.) Maybe it is possible to overread the significance of this very bizarre exchange between Vivian and Liddell, but it suggests to me an unhealthily close relationship between the two weak officers and a junior recruit whose career future should have been a minor consideration for them. In their choice of language, both gentlemen hint that Kim Philby is more closely linked to MI6 than the facts warrant.

Another interpretation comes to mind. Rather than absent-mindedly overlooking the organizational changes with SOE, perhaps Vivian and Liddell were implicitly reinforcing the fact that Philby was indeed considered an asset of MI6 at that time, though not officially on the books. That might point to an arrangement whereby Kim, possibly after being challenged on his past history, had been able to turn the tables, to suggest that he could contribute to counter-espionage in some way. Harry Philby was eventually released on March 18, 1941: it was accepted that his detention had been illegal. When Vivian was asked to endorse Kim’s appointment to Section V a couple of months later, he queried his newly rehabilitated friend Harry about Kim’s communist spell at Cambridge, a somewhat anomalous question in light of the fact that Kim’s latest interest had been Anglo-German Friendship. The inability of Vivian (and Liddell) to detect any artifice in these postures is a sign of their essential unfitness for the jobs they held.

What is also noteworthy is that Liddell makes no mention of the Harry Philby controversy, or his exchanges with Vivian about it, in his Diaries. Moreover, in a diary entry for November 1, 1940, he comes across strongly against any relaxation of detention for prominent B.U.F. (British United Front) members, which would appear to be hypocritical. But where to go next on this trail? I returned first to the Edith Tudor-Hart files.

Edith Tudor-Hart’s Files

While the archival material on Edith Tudor-Hart is very rich, that on Litzi is very sparse. ‘Was that in itself a clue?’, I wondered. If Litzi had been such a close associate of Edith in the Austrian Communist Party cell in London, I would have expected her name to come up more frequently – apart, of course, from the time that she was in France, which ran from early 1937 to January 1940. So I re-inspected the files on Edith, registering the key dates and methods of intelligence collection.

The first batch (KV 2/1012) covers the period January 1930 to October 1938. It consists almost exclusively of reports via MI6 from Vienna, of Special Branch surveillance reports, and many intercepted and photographed letters. It also contains a damaged version of the interrogation of Tudor-Hart after her camera had been used in the Percy Glading espionage activity. Special Branch was also able to determine, from an agent’s report, that Edith was hosting meetings of a local branch of the Communist Party in 1935. Yet one item that stood out for me was the report that Edith arrived with her mother Adela (actually Adele) at Dover on August 27, 1937, Adele being given permission to stay in the country for three months.

What was going on here? Why was the Home Office allowing the parents of known Communist subversives to join their daughters for residence in the United Kingdom? This was an exact echo of the passage of Litzi Philby’s parents from Vienna to England at about the same time. And Adele outstayed her welcome.  Ancestry.com shows that she went to live in Bournemouth, and, according to the 1939 census, was still living there, supported by ‘private means’. As an alien, she was also fortunate enough to satisfy the tribunal in November 1939 with ‘no restrictions’ applied. Indeed, a profile in Tudor-Hart’s fresh file at KV 2/4091, dated December 1, 1951, records (alongside similar information about Edith’s brother and two cousins) that her mother resided in Cricklewood at that time. Records show that Adele outlived her daughter, dying on May 24, 1980 in The Bishop’s Avenue, London N2.

This apparent charitable behaviour of the British authorities was a puzzling phenomenon, to be stored away. I moved on to the next batch, namely KV 2/1013. This series covers the period from November 1938 to March 1946, although the Minute Sheet tantalizingly contains some additional few entries that take it up to May of that year, but which are not present in the body of the file. Yet the period 1938 to April 1940 is very sparsely covered – merely two entries concerning attempts to rescue CP members from Europe, before the reports start up in earnest in April 1940. The first flurry appears to have been provoked by interest in the activities of Alexander Tudor-Hart, now divorced and with a new partner, Constance, who has come to the attention of the Shrewsbury Police. (The divorce between Alexander and Edith was not made absolute until October 11, 1944: like Aileen Philby, Constance changed her surname by deed poll in order to project respectability.) The file picks up in earnest in March 1941, when the Special Branch’s surveillance efforts are considerably boosted by the work of the agent KASPAR, revealed by Brinson and Dove in A Matter of Intelligence to be Joseph Otto von Laemmel, and also by Kurt Hiller, both members of the Freie Deutsche Kulturbund. (Hiller provided much information on the Kuczynskis.)

A sudden shift in tempo is shown on March 14, 1941, where a very comprehensive report on the Central Committee of the Austrian Communist Party in the UK, compiled by B24G, appears. It lists such luminaries as Eva Kolmer (Secretary), Franz West (Political Leader), Edith Tudor-Hart (Accountant, presumably Treasurer) and Ing. [Engelbert] Broda (Training Leader), as well as fourteen other names. There follow extracts from intercepted correspondence between Tudor-Hart and Martin Hornik in internment in Canada. During 1942, Special Branch kept a close watch on Tudor-Hart’s movements, even inspected her bank account, and reported through B6 to Milicent Bagot in F2B. The file then meanders listlessly through 1943 and 1944 until it covers the clumsy propaganda business with the Sun Engraving Co. Ltd., in 1945.

Towards the end of 1945, an undated memorandum appears that runs as follows:

            Edith Tudor-Hart is said to be in touch with a certain Anna WOLF who is apparently attached to the American diplomatic representative in Vienna, and is a close friend of Lizzy FEAVRE [identified as belonging to PF.Y.68261]

This appears to be the first recorded reference to Litzi Philby’s alias: a letter of September 9, 1945, from E5L to F2B, displays a list of members of Tudor-Hart’s circle, including Loew-Beer, Mahler-Fistolauri, Dennis Pritt, Bunzl, ‘Hafis’, and the infamous ‘Lizzy Feavre or Feabre née Kalmann’ (as described in last month’s coldspur).The last is accompanied by the fictitious legend that she left Vienna for the UK in 1934, and later went to France where she married an Englishman ‘thus acquiring British nationality’. It would appear that E5L has no idea about Feabre’s true identity.

The Austrian group is now nervous and on the alert, after the breaking up of the Soviet spy-ring in Canada (September 1945) has been revealed. MI5’s interest in the Tudor-Hart circle intensifies, and suspicions are cast upon Broda, because of his working for Tube Alloys. Yet it seems that MI5 has an insider still at work. On March 12, 1946, E5L sends a report to Marriott (F2C), describing Tudor-Hart’s newest associates, one of whom, Dr. JANOSSY, employed by ICI ‘has stumbled upon a new invention which may prove to be more effective than the atomic bomb.’

One might whimsically imagine that an appropriate response at this juncture would have been to ‘collar the lot’. Of course, it was not that simple. Yet this file has one more extraordinary surprise to offer: in the very last entry, a memorandum from B2B to Marriott of F2C, dated March 18, 1946, records the arrival of a mystery visitor to Edith Tudor-Hart’s residence, a suspected snooper with an Oxford accent. Tudor-Hart believed that the call was related to Broda, and, indeed, the latter visited her a few days later to report that his landlord had discovered an intruder trying to break into Broda’s room. (This search was no doubt occasioned by Broda’s meetings with Nunn May when the latter returned from Canada, and was arrested and convicted for espionage.) Apart from shedding light on the occasionally clumsy enterprises of Special Branch, an intriguing question must be posed. How did B2B know about this event?

Engelbert Broda

The astonishing fact is that the memorandum openly states that Tudor-Hart opened the door in the presence of LAMB, that name presumably being a cryptonym. Who was LAMB? The reason that this disclosure astounded me is that I had only the same day re-inspected the Honigmann archive that I had received since last month’s posting. A document there reproduces an excerpt from the critical interview between Arthur Martin and an unidentified interviewee from the Tudor-Hart file, where the name was redacted, and I hazarded some guesses about his identity. Only here, the name is not redacted: the name of the interviewee appears as ‘LAMB’. The link was clear. No wonder the interviewee knew Edith Tudor-Hart intimately from 1944 onwards. I shall return to this breakthrough later.

The last volume, KV 2/1014, picks up the story from May 1946, and carries on until October 1951. The watchers continue to monitor Tudor-Hart’s circle, maybe still assisted from inside. A report dated June 14, 1946, starts off by stating that ‘Lizzy FEAVRE has been more active during the last few weeks’, no doubt preparing to join her partner, Georg Honigmann, who had received clearance to travel to Germany on May 10. By June 11, she is reported as having joined Honigmann in Berlin, while Tudor-Hart maintains discrete communications with Broda. She is still trying to foment the revolution in Britain, and Arthur Wynn and Professor Joliot-Curie appear in her list of contacts.

By February 1947, however, Edith has been interrogated, and has ‘at last’ admitted that she used to work for the Russian Intelligence in Austria and Italy in 1932-1933, and had collaborated with a Russian who was also her boy-friend. That was assuredly Arpad Haasze, since she received a letter from him in August 1947. Matters then drift: a report of December 13, 1948 indicates that ‘Edith Tudor-Hart is hardly engaged in any CP activities at present’. Edith took on the alias ‘Betty Grey’, and the authorities were confused for a while, but concluded by August 1951 that the two were in fact one person by analyzing their handwriting. In October 1951, Simkins of B2A requested a fresh Home Office Warrant on Edith’s mail, because of ‘a connection with a current case of suspected espionage’.  And that leads up to the Martin interview of October 3 that concludes the file. From this we learn that LAMB had still been enjoying Edith’s confidences, as he had reported in 1948 on Litzy’s movements, and described the essence of correspondence passed between Litzy and Edith since the former moved to Berlin.

Informers

An overriding question concerning the Tudor-Hart disclosures is – how did MI5 glean its information, apart from the mechanisms of surveillance, telephone taps, and intercepted mail? The role of KASPAR is now very evident, as he was a member of the Kulturbund, and was presumably trusted enough by Edith for him to become a close acquaintance, to the extent that he was accepted as a guest in her lodgings. Yet can the very detailed report on the membership of the Central Committee of the Austrian Communist Party be attributed to KASPAR? It is not sourced as coming from him in the Tudor-Hart files *, unlike other reports. And Brinson and Dove, even though they credit KASPAR with this important report – without any explanation, and probably faute de mieux – point out how irresponsible it was for Edith to have confided in KASPAR. They write, after expressing surprise that Broda would even have shared confidential information about atomic energy with Tudor-Hart:

            There is, however, a third and equally astonishing aspect to this report (from September 1946), namely that Tudor-Hart, a Soviet agent herself, would have talked so freely to ‘Kaspar’, that is Josef Otto von Laemmel. Certainly she would have known Laemmel from the earliest days of the Austrian Centre, when both held a position there, but she would also have known that Laemmel would have been forced out of the Centre, and was extremely disgruntled with the Austrian Communists as a result, and that he was a leading member of the tiny Austrian Christian Socialist group in exile and very far removed from her own political position.

[* As I was putting this piece to bed, I noticed that an identical copy of the report in the Broda files at KV 2/2350 explicitly identifies the source as KASPAR. It looks genuine, as if typed at the same time, but I still have reservations, to be investigated at another time. It might have been delivered to KASPAR by someone else, as Brinson and Dove suggest. I cannot believe that Laemmel could have worked so closely with the inner circle of the Austrian CP of GB inner circle, at this time, or any other.]

As I noted, in that extract from the Martin interview in the Honigmann files, the name ‘LAMB’ is unredacted, which led me to think that it was perhaps the interviewee’s real name. But I could not find any diplomat or officer bearing that surname. And then I stumbled on the report in KV 2/1013 that identified indubitably that Edith’s companion at the door was ‘LAMB’. Who could have got so close to her? It was Nigel West who came to the rescue, since in his book that I panned last month, he explains, in his Notes to the chapter on Broda:

            Josef Lemmel’s [sic] codename was changed from KASPAR to LAMB, probably to avoid confusion with a technical source in the CPGB headquarters in King Street, actually a microphone codenamed TABLE and the KASPAR.

KASPAR and LAMB were the same person. [Indeed, Brinson and Dove reveal this on page 158 of A Matter of Intelligence. I had overlooked it. The Broda archive also explicitly confirms the equivalence.]

‘Laemmel’ is obviously a derivative of the German word ‘Lamm’ = ‘lamb’, so the choice of cryptonym was as unimaginative as that of EDITH. Thus the enigma about the identity of the interviewee was solved. It was neither Gedye, nor Ellis, nor Cookridge (né Spiro). MI5 had hauled in one its most effective spies in the Austrian émigré organizations to help flesh out their knowledge of Litzy. Moreover, Laemmel’s career included relevant experience in Vienna, which sealed the deal, and made the testimony recorded by Martin more acceptable. As Laemmel’s Austrian biography detail informs us:

From 1928 to 1933 he held the post of secretary of the Styrian Writers’ Association and was then press officer for the ‘Ostmark Sturmscharen’ until 1938 and emigrated to London via Switzerland because of the threat of persecution. There he joined the ‘Austria-Center’ and worked as head of the library. Because of the increasing communist influence, he left the organization in 1940, was then secretary of the ‘Association of Austrian Journalists in England’ until 1945 and worked on radio programs of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

His presence in Vienna might thus enabled him to have had exposure to Haasze, but as an Austrian, he would not have been close to the Philby-Gaitskell circle, and therefore would not have known about the Kim-Litzi marriage. It makes sense.

Yet did it explain everything? LAMB explained to Martin that he had become acquainted with Edith closely only in 1944. The report on the composition of the Committee had been compiled in March 1941, and it would have been very unlikely for Laemmel, given his political convictions, to have gained access to the CP’s closest and most secret forums. Brinson and Dove are quick to ascribe reports on the Austrian Communist Group to Laemmel’s own set of informers, but there is no evidence of that. Moreover, in the Honigmann archive lies a note from KASPAR dated September 9, 1945, that reports about Edith Tudor-Hart’s circle of Communist friends and sympathizers, as if this were intelligence freshly gained. It could not possibly have been provided by the same person who had the insider knowledge from 1941.

What struck me in the survey of the members of the CP Committee was the absence of one name that one would expect to be prominent – Litzi Philby. If Litzi had been as dedicated a member of the communist underground as anyone, had been a close friend of Edith Tudor-Hart, and had collaborated and conspired with her during the war, as every historian and biographer has asserted, one might expect that the informer, whoever he or she was, would have listed her name. After all, she was so intimately embedded in the circle that she was chosen to be the courier to meet Broda clandestinely and in 1943 to collect his papers purloined from the Cavendish Laboratory. Yet it is only in 1945 that her name appears, and then under a pseudonym. Was she forced out of the covers by some mischance, and a poorly disguised scheme devised to conceal her true identity? Had Litzy perhaps been the source of the intelligence of the communist cell, and had MI5 perhaps been distracted from her true mission? It would not have been out of character for Moscow Centre to have diverted attention to the earnest but essentially harmless rumblings of the Party itself, while more important work was being performed away from it.

A Theory

This analysis led me to solidify my hypothesis that, at some stage, Kim Philby came out of the cold, and struck some sort of deal with his intelligence opposition. I had at first considered that this might have been performed in 1937, before the parents of Edith and Litzi were so magically spirited out of Austria, but I now think that that phenomenon was simply coincidental, and perhaps the result simply of a legal and humanitarian policy, since both Edith and Litzy were British nationals by then. Before the Anschluss of March 1938, the Home Office was far more relaxed about accepting refugees from Austria. I think it much more probable that the event occurred in September 1939.

The Anschluss

The signing of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact gave even the most hardened Communist, committed for years to the fight against Fascism, pause for thought. Goronwy Rees rebelled against it, and Guy Burgess wanted him killed for his apostasy. Arthur Koestler abandoned his belief. Harry Pollitt, leader of the CPGB, lost his job by challenging the Moscow Line. To begin with, Philby was incredulous, and, according to Gorsky’s report of May 1940, it took several conversations to bring him around. Yet it would have given Philby a singular opportunity to play a subtle but dangerous game: “Look, it is true that Litzi and I had communist sympathies, but that is all changed now. I have convinced her that the world has changed. With her connections, Litzi is prepared to provide you with insights into the membership and activities of the Austrian Communist Party in exile. And I can work with you to help defeat the Nazis and their allies, the Soviets.” He later tried to maintain this fiction. When Philby was interviewed by Dick White in June 1951, he told him, in an effort to minimize the danger of the Litzy connection, that he had ‘subsequently converted her’ (Liddell Diaries, June 14).

We know that Philby was in some form of contact with MI6 at this time, because a vetting-form from MI6 was recorded in his father’s file on September 27, 1939, and it would appear to be linked to Philby’s conversations with Frank Birch of GC&CS.  The circumstances behind this event are very provocative. Flora Solomon’s file shows that she had the impression that Kim was still fervently Communist even after the announcement of the Nazi-Soviet Pact (thus contradicting what Gorsky claimed). And yet she still encouraged Birch, the partner of her close friend and employee, Aileen Furse, to interview Philby for a job. Philby had expressed a desire to her to enter British intelligence, and Birch only that same month had rejoined GC&CS. Solomon conveniently arranged a lunch where they could meet.

Flora Solomon

Birch and Philby had a private chat. While Birch deemed that Philby was unsuitable for cryptographic work, he apparently used his connections to instigate interest in him, later that month, from elsewhere in MI6. (GC&CS reported to MI6.) Hence the vetting request of September 27. And when Philby returned from France in May 1940, Birch apparently helped him gain entry elsewhere (into Section D, presumably). While the testimony of Flora Solomon may not be completely reliable, it was an astonishingly reckless action by Philby at exactly the same time to reinforce his Communist sympathies and advertise his objective of entering British Intelligence. Birch obviously knew where the lead came from, and any serious trace would have put the spotlight on Solomon.

I find much that is phony –  even furtive –  about this account, given by Solomon in 1962 to the incompetent interrogator Arthur Martin. First of all, it would have been very irresponsible of Flora Solomon, knowing that Philby was a committed Soviet agent, to recommend him for intelligence work, especially as she claimed that she had just switched her allegiances because of the Pact. Second, it would be highly irregular for her to know about Birch’s posting, and what Bletchley Park was about. If Aileen Furse (Birch’s lover, and employee of Solomon’s at Marks and Spencer) had leaked it to her, that would likewise have been irresponsible, and Birch, when he found out, should have been aghast that a Communist sympathizer had been informed of his role in cryptographic work, and the location of his workplace. Thus Birch’s willingness to speak  to Philby privately (after that lunch also attended by Aileen, and Solomon’s boy-friend, Eric Strauss), and then apparently recommend him for work elsewhere, is a third shocking event, suggesting that he might also have been implicated in the scheme. A fourth consideration is the fact that Kim and Aileen began to cohabit in the summer of 1940 – an event that might well have spurred some dangerous antagonism on Birch’s part – yet Solomon claimed that Birch was responsible for Philby’s gaining his post in intelligence at that time. (That fact appears to be confirmed by a third-unidentified party, as is evidenced in Solomon’s file.) Why Martin did not follow up on these conundrums is unfathomable.

Frank Birch

Thus there is much that is bogus about these events. That was not all, however, that was going on at this time. We also know that Philby lied about the travel arrangements for Litzi. He explained to Borovik that his efforts in December 1939 had been made to secure Litzi’s safe return to the United Kingdom from Paris, but he did not admit that his original request of September 26 (as related by Milmo) was to allow Litzi to return to Paris – presumably to collect or store all her belongings, and tidy up her affairs, and maybe to pass on to her controllers what the ruse was about. For it would have been suicidal for Philby to have taken any such initiative without the approval of his bosses. Thus, by the winter of 1939-1940, MI6 and MI5 must have believed that they had a Communist renegade on their books. This turn of events would have fitted in supremely well with the machinations of Claude Dansey, who was at the time arranging for Ursula Kuczynski to gain a British passport in Switzerland, Dansey likewise believing that he was actually controlling Sonia rather than the reverse.

This timing would also explain why MI5 did not respond energetically to Krivitsky’s warnings about a young British journalist who had been sent to Spain. Krivitsky arrived in Liverpool in January 1940, and underwent intense interrogations managed by Jane Archer and Stephen Alley. They should certainly have identified Philby quickly, but could have re-assured themselves: “Oh, yes, we know about him. But he is now on our side, so we don’t have to do anything.” Thus, when Philby returned from France in May 1940, the primary objections to his recruitment by any of the intelligence services had disappeared, and, after a respectable period, he was accepted by MI6 after a very perfunctory interview process.

The fact that Philby was accepted by the establishment by this time is reinforced by anecdotes about Hugh Gaitskell, who had attended the wedding in Vienna. When he joined SOE, Philby sought out Gaitskell, who was at that time principal private secretary to Hugh Dalton, the minister responsible for SOE, for guidance on British long-term plans for Europe. Edward Harrison cites a conference on May 24/25, 1941, where it was agreed that Philby should perform the training of propaganda agents, a decision that Gaitskell agreed with. Either Gaitskell was foolishly colluding with Kim’s objectives, or he had been brought into the confidential agreement concerning the new Philby.

Yet the complications regarding Litzi would not go away. To complete the pretence of ideological separation, Kim and Litzi should have divorced, for both professional and personal reasons. He needed to show the world a complete break from Litzi’s fanaticism, and to be free to marry another. She needed to show that she was still a devotee (which indeed she was) to secure the confidence of Edith’s cell while carrying on a more vital task of couriership supporting espionage. Moscow surely ruled that they should not be divorced, lest Litzi lose her residential qualification, and it did not relax that requirement until her job was finished, the war was over, and she had retreated to East Berlin. Philby would use the excuse for not divorcing Litzi that she might thereby have lost her citizenship, but that was nonsense. She gained permanent citizenship through her marriage, and it could not be taken away, unless, like Fuchs, she were convicted of a serious offence. As Kim became more of an asset, however, the Philby moniker attached to Litzi became a severe annoyance.

Litzy Feabre

What is astonishing is the degree that officers in MI5 appeared to be in the dark – unless a deception game of mammoth proportions were being played. The fact that Kim Philby had married Litzy Friedmann (and was still married to her) was known to members of a select group, who may have had their separate reasons for not promulgating the information. It is sometimes hard to project, from the world of universal data in 2023, the more closed environment of 1943. Yet certain anomalies remain: for example, how could Valentine Vivian claim to Seale and McConville that (in 1946) he had been ignorant of Kim’s first marriage, that he was affected by Philby’s admission about ‘a youthful escapade’, and that he needed a search to discover that Litzi was a Soviet agent, unless he were confident that he could carry off such a monumental show of disingenuousness? And the authors appeared to be taken in by it.

It appears to me that Vivian was trying to string a line to the journalists about his obvious innocence in the business. What he told Seale and McConville was that Dick White informed him, in that summer of 1946, based on information from ‘Klop’ Ustinov, that Litzi was a Soviet agent. But why was Klop used, and what did he know about it? Dick White had an informer, Laemmel (KASPAR), who was providing information during the war about the Austrian Communist circle, and had revealed to Arthur Martin in October 1951 that Litzi had been a Soviet agent, even likening her to Arpad Haasze. Did Laemmel not tell his handlers at the time, or did the information inexplicably not reach White? It is more probable that White and Vivian were being obtuse.

Thus, when ‘Litzy Feabre’ first appears on the scene, several MI5 officers and men (and women) seem to be deceived by the charade. For a while Litzy remains a shadowy figure with an uncertain past. (The documents referring to her are all plastered with hand-written notes inserted much later that she is really ‘Philby’.)  And it is not until she has left the country, in the summer of 1946, that questions start to fly around, as MI5 starts to investigate the strange disappearance of Georg Honigmann. The adventure starts off harmlessly: in April Honigmann had been granted a military permit for a one-way journey to Germany, requested by the Control Commission, even though his past Communist activities were known.

[I should mention, incidentally, that the Aliens Department of the Home Office owns Personal Files on Georg and Barbara Honigmann, identified as HO 382/255, containing information ranging from 1936 to 1960. They reside at the National Archives at Kew but have been retained for one hundred years, and will thus not be viewable until 2061. That decision was made in 2017, apparently in deference to the appearance therein of ‘personal information where the applicant is a third party’. I have no idea why the release of such information might endanger national security or embarrass any surviving relatives, and a couple of months ago I thus submitted a Freedom of Information request. I received a mildly encouraging response, but have not heard anything further since then.]

But then the exchanges take on an eerie character. B. H. Smith, in F2ab of MI5, judges that MI6 needs to be informed of Honigmann’s appointment, and thus sends, on May 10, a memorandum to Kim Philby, informing him of the granting of the permit, and describing Honigmann’s communist past. He concludes his letter:

            Although his permit was granted at the request of the Control Commission he is not so far as we are aware working for them, but is believed to be employed in the Hamburg area. The Intelligence Bureau of the Control Commission have been given a brief note of our information.

If Philby reacted to this, his response has not been recorded. But it could not have been comfortable. Perhaps he knew of the plans for Georg and Litzi at this time: Litzi was still in the UK. In any event, matters quickly became murkier, and implicitly more dangerous. On May 28, the dogged KASPAR reports to B2B that a Captain Atkinson, with the R.A.M.C., has been in contact with Lizzy Feavre ‘whose friend, Dr. Georg Honigmann recently left for Berlin where he joined the Communists’. This message is passed on to Smith in F2ab.

How Laemmel knew about this exchange, and what Captain Atkinson was up to, will probably remain a mystery for a long time. Was Atkinson the go-between between Honigmann and Litzi, bearing a message that it was now safe for Litzi to join him? Yet the revelation that Honigmann had flown the coop to join the Communists should have been a great shock for MI5 and the Foreign Office. It seems, however, that this intelligence was not acted upon. The Tudor-Hart archive shows that Litzi had been known to have been very busy at the end of May and the beginning of June, and was confirmed as having joined Honigmann by June 11, yet no effort was made, despite Honigmann’s defection, at interviewing Litzi, and preventing her departure. It suggests either incompetence or collusion. Moreover, this factoid surely shows that Laemmel surely did not know Litzi’s true identity, an ignorance he was to claim when interrogated by Martin a few years later. Moreover, if he had been introduced to Litzi through Edith, Edith must have been indoctrinated into the charade. That would have been an essential part of the plan so that Edith would have no doubts about Litzi’s motivations and objectives.

For some reason, another month passes before B2B confirms KASPAR’s insights to Smith in F2ab. He now has an update from KASPAR, however (June 28): “He [Honigmann] is in communication with his friend Lizzy FEAVRE, and the latter reported scornfully that the whole British Security Service and the Police in Germany have been searching for him on the assumption that he had been kidnapped by the Russians.” (Did she learn that from her husband?) Yet this is a strange construction, stating that Honigmann is in ‘communication’ with Feavre, suggesting that she has not yet joined him. Litzi’s comment could otherwise mean that it was KASPAR with whom she had been in contact. According to the Tudor-Hart file, Litzi had joined her partner in Berlin, apparently travelling via Paris and Vienna. Philby claimed to Borovik that at some stage during this summer he opened up to Vivian, and explained that he needed a divorce. If indeed he did go to France to arrange the settlement, it was probably when Litzi was en route to Berlin. It had no doubt all been arranged beforehand. After all, the divorce was granted on September 17, and he was able to marry Aileen a week later, on September 25 at the Chelsea registry office, witnessed by Flora Solomon and Tomás Harris. Yet this timeline would be shockingly undermined by a memorandum to be found elsewhere, in the Broda archive.

On July 20, MI5’s B2B posted another report from KASPAR-LAMB, which reinforced KASPAR’s confusion about the identity of Lizzy, who has clearly been speaking to KASPAR directly. The main portion of it runs as follows:

            It would appear that E. BRODA and his former collaborators have been withdrawn from intelligence work and are more or less inactive at present. This holds good for Edith TUDOR-HART too and even for Lizzy FEAVRE who seemed to play a somewhat more important part during the last few weeks and still displays much more activity than the others, but she admitted that she had to refrain from such work owing to the fact that her friend, Dr. Georg HONIGMANN, had taken up work in the Russian zone (see report of 26.6.46). She intends to go to Paris on the 5.9.46 and from there on a special party mission to Prague. She also intends to visit DR. HONIGMANN in Berlin. She has already got her passport and visas and also the ticket of the Air France, issued in the name of Lizzy Philly which seems to be her real name, though she has always been called FEAVRE and even received mail under this name.

The gradual metamorphosis from Feavre/Feabre through Philly to Philby is taking place, and Litzi’s identity as ‘PHILLY’ appears to have received official recognition from the passport office. Litzi is boldly described as being busier than most, and is even ‘on a special party mission to Prague’. KASPAR/LAMB is still confused: MI5 appears to be unimpressed and unconcerned. A handwritten notice even picks up the charade, indicating that the report should be filed in PF 68261 PHILLY [sic].

Interest in the Honigmanns

This was a quite shocking state of affairs. The Foreign Office and MI6 had to confront the fact that a nominee for the Control Commission, a known Communist, had debunked to East Berlin. He had left behind his partner, overtly an even more rabid Communist, who was still the wife of a senior MI6 officer. The authorities had to arrange for the Philbys to gain a quick divorce, preferably not on British soil. And they had to conceal the identity of Honigmann’s partner from prying eyes, such as the Press, and inquisitive officers in MI5. No doubt they believed that they were engaged in some sort of coup, infiltrating a friendly Soviet agent whom they had ‘turned’ into the den of the enemy. Indeed, it may well have been MI6’s original plan to use Honigmann‘s appointment with the Control Commission as a ruse to insert him and Litzi into East Berlin.

Matters quickly turned farcical, however. Questions were being asked in several quarters. The Headquarters Intelligence Division of B.A.O.R. writes to MI5 on November 11, 1946, asking for verification of the rumours about Honigmann’s defection. Graham Mitchell in B1A responds, essentially confirming what MI5 has been told, and indicates that further enquiries are being made. So whom does Mitchell turn to? None other than Kim Philby himself. A letter of November 22 refers to Honigmann’s employment in Karlshorst, and includes the following appeal:

            Have you any confirmation of these reports? If they are true it would be very helpful to have them amplified, with particular reference to the nature of HONIGMANN’s work.

A week later, a response under Philby’s name comes through, indicating that Mitchell’s query has been referred to the field, and, a month later (December 23) Philby provides an account ‘based on information from a source who knows Honigmann personally’. After a brief potted history of Honigmann’s career in the United Kingdom, the story evolves into pure flannel, and merits being quoted verbatim:

            On calling at Reuters [in May 1946] source was told that HONIGMANN had left for Berlin a few days previously. Later a mutual acquaintance (not in Reuters) said that HONIGMANN was now in Berlin; as far as source can remember, it was also said that HONIGMANN was no longer working for Reuters, and that his job appeared to be somewhat mysterious.

            Source paid no particular attention to this remark at the time, as he had no reason whatsoever to connect HONIGMANN with clandestine activities. He knew that HONIGMANN had Left-wing views, like almost every German or Austrian émigré, and that he was a subscriber to Cockburn’s News Letter, but this was thought to be for professional reasons. Politics were in fact never discussed except on a professional basis.

            Reuters will presumably be able to say whether HONIGMANN did in fact go to Berlin on their behalf. Source may also be able to discover more details from discreet enquiries.

Philby must have thought he might get away with this astonishing display of chutzpah. After all, his (MI6) bosses were on his side at the time. The Reuters story was no doubt the official MI6 line, else Philby would have been caught out in a sorry deception. And maybe he did escape unscathed for a while. In 1947, however, MI5 picked up the threads again. On July 7, 1947, B1 presented a memorandum to Vivian concerning ‘Alice (Lizzy) HONIGMANN @ FEAVRE née KOLLMANN or KOHLMANN’, the author still blissfully unaware of the subject’s real identity. What is highly significant here is the formulation ‘@ FEAVRE’, indicating that ‘FEAVRE’ was a cryptonym for an asset, analogous to Laemmel’s ‘KASPAR’, a singular confirmation that Litzy had been working as an informer for MI5.

This memorandum included the following text (in fact a subset of the report from KASPAR on the events supplied above, but excluding the information about Busy Lizzy):

            Two months later [i,e. after Honigmann’s departure] it was reported that Alice HONIGMANN, although still a keen member of Edith TUDOR-HART’s circle, had had to restrain her activities as HONIGMANN had taken up work in the Russian zone. Her contacts abroad were said to include Magda GRAN-PIERRE, Budapest 12, Kovas utoza No. 46, who was reputed to be an important agent in the Hungarian Communist Intelligence network.

            Alice HONIGMANN left England at the end of August 1946 [sic!] and went from Paris to Prague on 5th September. In November 1946 it was reported that she was in Berlin working with Dr. HONIGMANN to whom she has since been married.

I do not follow the logic (‘although . . . . as’) of this assessment. Yet one might conclude that Litzi had gone to Hungary to meet her former lover Gábor Péter, now head of the Hungarian Secret Police, and wreaking havoc. This itinerary nevertheless implies that Philby did not go out to Paris to negotiate the divorce with Litzi until late August. It was all very much a shotgun affair: one can only marvel at the speed with which a London Registry Office was able to recognize the legality of a divorce executed on foreign soil, just a week earlier. And the change of departure date from June to August turns the focus much more intently on MI6’s inability (or unwillingness) to interview Litzi. They had over two months, after her partner had absconded, in which to carry out an investigation, and interview Litzi. Yet they apparently did nothing. Furthermore, had Honigmann perhaps been subjected to some intense interrogation, so that the NKVD could verify Litzi’s loyalty before authorizing the divorce and her departure from the United Kingdom? One might expect such a procedure.

Two days after the creation of the memorandum above, the persistent Milicent Bagot (now B1c) wrote to Anthony Milne of MI6 (no doubt unaware that the latter had been one of Litzy Philby’s lovers, but who had not yet been unmasked and dismissed). Bagot’s objective was to pass on information about Alice Honigmann. The ignorance about Litzy’s previous name endures: the same formation of her identity is used. The famed MI5 Registry has either been purged, or the cross-referencing system is not working. The file then peters out, before recording the fact that a Peter Burchett, Reuter’s correspondent in Berlin, who had been a member of the CPGB for some time, had been responsible for Honigmann’s contract with the Russians in Berlin.

What is noteworthy about this period is the fact that no reference to the Honigmann business appears in Guy Liddell’s Diaries. That could be because a) he was not aware of what was going on; b) he knew about it but did not consider it worth recording; c) he knew about it but considered it too sensitive to write about; or d) he did write about it, but the passages have been redacted. I would plump for the last. For there are indications that Liddell nurtured some serious concerns about the penetration of MI6 at this time. Long-standing coldspur readers may recall my commentaries from 2019, where I expressed my frustration with Christopher Andrew, who successfully suppressed a story he had helped air on the BBC about Eric Roberts, an MI5 officer who was transferred to MI6 and went to Vienna in 1947 (see  https://coldspur.com/a-thanksgiving-round-up/ ). I wrote at the time:

Before Roberts left for Austria in 1947 (no specific date offered), on secondment to MI6 (SIS), Liddell ‘hinted that he suspected MI6 might have been penetrated by the Soviets’. On his return in 1949 (‘after just over year’, which suggests a late 1947 departure), dispirited from a fruitless mission trying to inveigle Soviet intelligence to approach him, Roberts talked to Liddell again, looking for career advice. But Liddell ‘changed the subject’, and wanted to know whether Roberts suspected that MI5 had itself been infiltrated by a traitor. He followed up by asking Roberts how he thought MI5 might have been penetrated.

One can imagine Liddell’s bewilderment (unless he had been a party to the whole scheme). A journalist of dubious merit has been selected for a position with the Control Commission. He quickly disappears to East Berlin. And then MI6 and the Foreign Office sit on their hands, declining to detain and interrogate his partner, known to be a Communist agent, yet one married to the head of Section V in MI6. And that office then tries to fob off junior MI5 officers, clearly communicating an official SIS line. By 1949, Liddell has been nobbled, too.

What of the Honigmanns? Philby obviously informed Moscow Centre what was going on, and that his soon-to-be ex-wife was an innocent pawn in the game. They were allowed to pursue their journalist careers untouched for a while, until January 1953, when they were caught up in Stalin’s purge against the ‘Jewish Plot’, and arrested and detained. The Honigmann file contains press clippings of the measures. Those events must have helped sour Litzi’s confidence in the righteousness of her ideological home. If any insider who knew that Lizzy Honigmann had previously been married to a certain Kim Philby, and thought that the public might be interested in such a disclosure, he (or she) kept quiet, no doubt concerned about his (or her) future career. After all, in 1953, who was Kim Philby?

The Honigmanns arrested – from the ‘Daily Express’

The story comes full circle with the interview of Laemmel by Arthur Martin on October 3, 1951. Late in the cycle of its investigations into Kim Philby, MI5 attempts to discover more about the activities of his first wife as it prepares its report for the Foreign Secretary. The bizarre way that MI5 and MI6 proceeded in dealing with the evidence it had uncovered during this fateful year will be the subject of next month’s coldspur bulletin.

Summary and Conclusions

I have presented a theory as to why and how Kim Philby was protected for so long, and why MI6 was so reluctant to admit that it had nourished a traitor in its corporate body. No smoking gun for this hypothesis exists, but the behaviour of MI6 over the Honigmann case provides strong evidence that the service had been hoodwinked by Kim and Litzi Philby.  In the belief that they had acquired a reformed communist sympathizer, and an NKVD asset who was now working for them, MI6 senior officers attempted to keep the whole project a secret – until it was too late. The theory explains many enigmas previously that were previously perplexing or simply insoluble: the clumsy and foolhardy approaches by Philby to gain a job with GC&CS in September 1939; the insouciance of MI5 over the contribution of Solomon and Birch; the machinations by Philby to get his wife home from Paris when war broke out; the failure of MI5 to follow up Krivitsky’s most obvious hint; Liddell’s and Vivian’s clumsy attempts in 1940 to protect Philby when his father was interned; Philby’s smooth acceptance as a recruit to MI6 in 1941; the 1941 insights into the structure of the Austrian Communist Party in exile; the ability of Litzi Philby to roam around untouched during the war, including her work as a courier for the atom spy, Broda; the creation of the ‘Litzy Feabre’ persona; the delay until Kim and Litzi divorced, and the timing of their eventual separation in 1946; the obscure abscondment of Georg Honigmann that same year; the deceptions over the timing of Litzi’s departure from the UK.

A prominent objection to this hypothesis would be (as Keith Ellison has pointed out) that a Counter-Intelligence organization would be very wary about recruiting a former enemy operative into its service, and should be very suspicious of deploying anyone tainted by such connections in intelligence work. That must be correct, but I would counter with the following arguments:

  1. MI5 and MI6 had no evidence that Philby was a serious Soviet agent (as opposed to an erstwhile communist agitator) when he approached MI6. He was not regarded as such by the NKVD at the time; in truth, he was considered a failure. The occasion of the Nazi-Soviet Pact had given Philby a highly plausible reason for changing his allegiance. MI6 discounted the overt political beliefs of his youth.
  2. Any such discretion did not apply to Litzi Philby. Laemmel had identified her as a committed RIS agent, yet MI5 and MI6 indulged her, and allowed her to roam around unchecked. Admittedly, she was not actually recruited by MI5, but both Dick White and Valentine Vivian pretended that they did not know her true status. In his interviews with White, Philby claimed that he had ‘converted’ her.
  3. The case is mirrored in that of SONIA (Ursula Beurton). She was known to have been a GRU agent (and gave no indication of having switched her loyalties), yet was rescued from Switzerland and abetted by MI6 for reasons that remain obscure, but may have involved aspirations for code decryption, or the transmission of disinformation.

1950 and 1951 had been a bad period for MI5 and MI6. Learning about Klaus Fuchs’s trial, Ursula Beurton (SONIA) fled (or was encouraged to escape) to East Germany in February 1950. Fuchs was soon afterwards convicted. In September, Bruce Pontecorvo disappeared. In November, Fuchs, in prison, admitted to recognizing from photographs his courier, SONIA. In March 1951, the British VENONA team developed a short-list of suspects for HOMER, based on VENONA transcripts. Burgess and Maclean decamped just before Maclean was to be interrogated. Suspicions fell on Philby as the ‘Third Man’, and MI6 may have realized that Litzi might have been a courier for Engelbert Broda, who left the UK for Vienna in 1947. Between them, MI5 and MI6 had facilitated the purloining of valuable atomic weaponry secrets by overlooking contacts between Fuchs and the GRU courier, SONIA, and between Broda and the cut-out from the NKVD, Litzi. And in the summer of 1951 the Americans were starting to ask embarrassing questions about the level of information on atomic energy that Broda had been able to access.

What I find truly astonishing is the perpetual inactivity of MI5 officers in following up tips and leads, and their reluctance to take what would appear to be obvious steps to interview persons who might have been able to help in their inquiries. This pathology has two dimensions: the failure to pursue opportunities given before Philby was judged to have been a Soviet agent in the summer of 1951 (such as the Krivitsky hint, and the inertia over Honigmann), and the passivity after White’s interviews and Milmo’s interrogations of that year disclosed the pattern of behaviour exemplified in my dossier at the start of this piece. It is as if they wanted to put a brake on the whole project, as they knew that what they found would be embarrassing to the service. I shall explore that phenomenon closely in next month’s report.

Above all, the story highlights the ingenuity of the GRU and the NKVD. Male agents were expendable, and could be killed when their usefulness had expired, or they had become infected by Western laxity. Female agents were of a different calibre. Both Litzy Philby and Ursula Kuczynski were encouraged – nay, ordered – to exploit their femininity to inveigle unsuspecting enemy agents, or bewilder lazy counter-intelligence organizations. It was a disaster for MI6, and, to a slightly lesser extent, for MI5, something that, even over seventy years later, neither institution can acknowledge.

First, I hereby thank Keith Ellison, who was kind enough to review an earlier version of this article, and to offer me suggestions for improving it.  While he is probably supportive of many of my conclusions, the opinions expressed here, and any errors that appear in it, are of course mine. Second, as preparation for my May bulletin, the analysis within which will start with Philby’s arrival in London on June 11, 1951, after he was summoned back from Washington, readers should re-inspect two coldspur reports from four years ago, namely The Importance of Chronology, at https://coldspur.com/the-importance-of-chronology-with-special-reference-to-liddell-philby/ [the first section may be skipped], and Dick White’s Devilish Plot, at https://coldspur.com/dick-whites-devilish-plot/. These pieces reveal how Dick White and Arthur Martin had by June already compiled a comprehensive dossier on Kim Philby, and had successfully placed the evidence for his probable guilt with the CIA agent William Harvey. Lastly, if you have any comments or insights on these bizarre events, please post them on coldspur, or send me an email at antonypercy@aol.com.

Recent commonplace entries can be seen here.

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Litzi Philby Under (the) Cover(s)

Litzi Philby

Contents:

Introduction

Topical News

Litzi Philby

The Martin Interview

Candidates for the Mystery Interviewee

Helen Fry & ‘Spymaster’

A Fragile Marriage

Kim’s First Spell in Spain

Kim’s Second Spell in Spain

Litzi in France

The Approach of War

The Honigmann Era

Life in the East

Conclusions

Postscript: Charlotte Philby & ‘Edith and Kim’

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

Introduction

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

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

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

  • What was Philby up to in Europe in 1945?

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

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

Topical News

A few weeks ago, one of my most loyal readers, David Coppin, alerted me to an on-line article from the Daily Mail that described Andrew Lownie’s efforts to have a ‘Seventh Man’ identified (see https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3797379/The-seventh-man-Letter-reveals-new-1950s-Cambridge-spy-suspect-judge-rules-t-named-alive.html). I have to admit that my first impression was that this was a recent revelation, until I saw that the item was dated September 19, 2016. Nevertheless, since I had not seen the piece before, it set my mind racing, and I wondered about the unreality of it all. It referred to a letter in which the ‘seventh man’ had been identified, and that he was moreover part of the 1950s Cambridge spy ring. Yet the person could not be named because, as the judge Sir Peter Lane explained in his ruling, he was still alive and it was ‘quite possible that personal relationships could be jeopardised’. Tut! Tut!

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

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

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

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

Arne Treholt

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

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

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

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

‘Spies Who Changed History’

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

But to return to my main topic . . .

Litzi Philby

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

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

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

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

The Martin Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Candidates for the Mystery Interviewee

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

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

Eric Gedye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charles ‘Dick’ Ellis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helen Fry & ‘Spymaster’

Helen Fry’s ‘Spymaster’

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

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

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

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

Thomas Kendrick

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

A Fragile Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kim’s First Spell in Spain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kim’s Second Spell in Spain

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

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

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

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

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

Frances Doble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Litzi in France

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Approach of War

As the Spanish Civil War wound down, with Moscow Centre stabilizing somewhat after the blood-letting, Litzi’s prestige and standing appeared to improve. In June, PIERRE wrote to Moscow with suggestions for how SÖHNCHEN should be deployed, and cited MARY’s recommendation that he should work in the Foreign Office, since his father was now back in the UK, and could presumably grease the wheels for his acceptance. Sudoplatov agreed, but then Borovik goes off the rails. Here occurs the incident over STUART that was the subject of some very useful annotations on coldspur a few months ago. (see Comments following https://coldspur.com/2022-year-end-round-up/)

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

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

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

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

Sir Michael Stewart

Stewart remains a very elusive figure, but the connection sheds a little more light on the influential role that Litzi was playing behind the scenes, encouraged to move around between Paris and London in 1939 despite the Centre’s disapproval of her bourgeois extravagances. A likelier explanation was that she was preparing the ground for her husband’s return rather than welcoming him in person, although, if Philby and Stewart had been close friends for years, it seems odd that she would be needed as an intermediary in helping her husband find a job. (In the files on Victor Rothschild recently released by TNA can be found a note confirming Philby’s friendship with Stewart, and the fact that Stewart’s sister Carol was married to another dubious character, Francis Graham-Harrison.) This might explain why a vetting-form for Philby was filled out by SIS on September 27, 1939, as Keith Ellison notes in his e-book at https://www.academia.edu/50855482/Special_Counter_Intelligence_in_WW2_Europe_Revised_2021_?email_work_card=view-paper. On the other hand, Philby’s candidature may have been part of a routine sweep: Valentine Vivian informed Seale and McConville that his name came to SIS’s notice from a ‘pool’ – a list of potential recruits drawn up early in the war.

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

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

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

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

I find this a remarkable statement, for several reasons:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Honigmann Era

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

Georg Honigmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Engelbert Broda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life in the East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript: Charlotte Philby & ‘Edith and Kim’

As I was performing research for this piece, I read Edith and Kim, a ‘novel’ by the grand-daughter of Kim Philby, Charlotte Philby. Despite the laudatory blurbs and the enthusiastic reviews that the book has received, I consider it a very poor production. It lies in that tradition of novelization of true intelligence events such as Transcription by Kate Atkinson and An Unlikely Spy by Rebecca Starford (see https://coldspur.com/summer-2022-round-up/), whereby authors think that if they selectively take some real-life characters, mess around with the facts and chronology a bit, and introduce some new agents and activities, they will somehow produce a more convincing psychological truth than can be derived from a proper analysis of historical characters and events. At least, that is what I imagine they think they are doing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(New Commonplace entries can be seen here.)

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Enigma Variations: Denniston’s Reward

Alastair Denniston

Contents:

Denniston’s Honour

Secrecy over Bletchley Park

Polish Rumours

GC&CS Indifference?

The Aftermath

Conclusions

Envoi

Sources

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

Denniston’s Honour

As I declared in my posting last December, my interest in the career of Alastair Denniston was revived by my encounter with some incorrect descriptions of the acquisition by the Government and Cypher School (GC&CS) of Enigma models, and evidence of decryption successes, from Polish Intelligence shortly before the outbreak of World War II. These anecdotes reawakened my interest in exactly what Denniston’s contribution had been. Irrespective of any mis-steps he may have made, I have always considered it inexplicable that Denniston, who apparently led GC&CS so expertly between the wars, should be the only GC&CS or GCHQ chief who was not granted a knighthood.

Now I am not a fan of the British Awards and Honours system. As someone whose career was exclusively in competitive commercial enterprise in the UK and the USA, my experience is that, if you did your job well, you kept it, or might be promoted, and if you failed, you were sacked (or demoted, or put in charge of ‘Special Projects’, or be moved over to an elephants’ graveyard, if your organization was large enough to sustain such an entity). Occasionally you could perform a stellar job, and still be sacked – probably because of political machinations. And the idea that someone should receive some sort of ennoblement because of his or her ‘services to the xxxxxxx industry’ displays a woeful understanding of how competitive business works.

Thus I am very antipathetic to the notion that awards of some sort should be handed out after a career that simply avoided noticeable disasters. (And in the case of one notorious chief of MI6, even that is not true.) It does not encourage the right sort of behaviour, and grants some exalted status to persons who have had quite enough of perquisites and benefits to sustain their retirement. Nigel West describes, in his study of MI6 chiefs At Her Majesty’s Secret Service, how senior MI6 officers were concerned that the pursuit of moles might harm the chances of getting their gongs.

What is more, as I learned when studying SOE records, the level of an award is directly associated with the rank an officer of official has already received, which often meant that those most remote from the action were awarded ribbons and medals much more distinguished than those risking their lives on the frontline, such as those SOE agents who ended up with civilian MBE medals – quite an insult. I am also reminded of a famous New Yorker cartoon where one general is admiring all the ribbons on the chest of one of his colleagues, and points to one he does not recognize. ‘Advanced PowerPoint Techniques: Las Vegas, October 1998’, boasts the celebrated general. (I don’t see it at the cartoon website (https://cartoonbank.com/), but, if you perform a search on ‘Medals’ there, you can see several variations on the theme, such as ‘This one is for converting a military base into a crafts center’.)

As I was preparing this piece, I made contact with Tony Comer, sometime departmental historian at GCHQ, and he explained to me that, in June 1941, Denniston received only a CMG rather than a knighthood. But that did not make sense to me. Denniston was not demoted until February 1942. The notorious letter to Churchill that reputedly sealed his fate, composed by Welchman and others, was not sent until October 1941. What was going on? Fortunately, a follow-up email to Mr Comer cleared up the confusion.

Mr Comer patiently explained that the headship of GC&CS did not qualify, in Whitehall bureaucratese, as a ‘director’-level position. The CMG was indeed the appropriate award for someone at the ‘Deputy Director’ level. Stewart Menzies (who took over as MI6 chief from Sir Hugh Sinclair after the latter’s death in November 1939) was the director of GC&CS, and thus was entitled to the KCMG awarded him on January 1, 1943.  In early 1942 Denniston was effectively demoted, while still maintaining the Deputy Director (Civil) title, after the mini-rebellion and his replacement as head of Bletchley Park by his deputy Edward Travis, now Deputy Director (Service). Denniston thereupon moved down to Berkeley Street to work on diplomatic traffic.

In 1944, Travis was promoted to full Director, while Menzies was promoted to Director-General. Travis was thus, owing to his newly acquired rank, awarded the KCMG in June 1944, despite having led the service for only two years, while Denniston, who had by all accounts performed very creditably for two decades (although he struggled during 1941 with the rapid growth of the department), was left out in the cold. Thus all Denniston’s valiant service as chief between 1919 and February 1942 was all for nought, as far as a knighthood was concerned. Since then, every chief of GC&CS, and GCHQ (which it became after the war) has benefitted from the raising of the rank to full directorship.

Thus it would appear that Denniston was hard done by, as several commentators have noted. For example, his biographer, Joel Greenberg, echoes that sentiment, albeit somewhat vaguely. In Alastair Denniston (2017), he offers the following opinion: “It is hard not to come to the conclusion that any public acknowledgement of AGD’s work at Berkeley Street from 1942 to 1945 might have drawn unwelcome attention to a part of GC&CS that the British intelligence community prefers to pretend never existed. Even the award of a knighthood to AGD might have raised questions about British diplomatic Sigint, both during the war and immediately afterwards.”

Yet this judgment strikes me as evasive and irrational. It would have been quite possible for the authorities to have awarded Denniston his knighthood without drawing attention to the Berkeley Street adventures. After all, as Nigel West informs us in his study of MI6 chiefs, when the highly discredited John Scarlett returned from chairmanship of the Joint Intelligence Committee to head MI6, at least one of the senior officers who resigned in disgust at the appointment (Mark Allen) was awarded a knighthood when he left for private enterprise. Moreover, Denniston was also treated badly when he retired in 1945. He was given a very stingy pension, and had to supplement his income by taking up teaching. This appeared to be a very vindictive and mean-spirited measure. Why on earth would Stewart Menzies have harboured such ill will towards a dedicated servant like Denniston?

I decided there was probably more to this story. I found Mr Greenberg’s book very unsatisfactory: it regurgitated far too much rather turgid archival history, without analysis or imagination, and frequently pushed Denniston into the background without exploring the dynamics of what must have been some very controversial episodes in his career. It was, furthermore, riddled with errors, and poorly edited – for example, the Index makes no distinction between the US Signals Intelligence Service and the British Secret Intelligence Service, and the text is correspondingly sloppy. I had an authoritative and technical answer to my question about Denniston’s awards, but continued to believe that there was more to the account than had been revealed, and suspected it had much to do with Enigma.

Secrecy over Bletchley Park

My main focus in this piece is on the pre-war negotiations over the acquisition of Enigma expertise. There is no question that Denniston struggled later, in the first two years of the war: his travails have been well-documented. He lost his boss and mentor, Hugh Sinclair, soon after the outbreak of war, and had to report to the far less sympathetic Stewart Menzies. A furious recruiting campaign then took pace, which imposed severe strains on the infrastructure. There were two hundred employees in GC&CS at the beginning of the war: the number soon rose into the thousands. Stresses evolved in the areas of pay-grades, billeting, transport, building and cafeteria accommodation, civilian versus military authority, as well as in the overall challenge of setting up an efficient organization to handle the overwhelming barrage of enemy signals being processed. All the time the demands from the services were intensifying. In the critical year of 1941, Denniston made two arduous visits to the United States and Canada, underwent an operation for gall-bladder stones, and suffered soon after from an infection. It was a predicament that would have tried and tested anybody.

But Denniston was a proud man, and apparently did not seek guidance from his superiors – not that they would have known exactly what to do.  What probably brought him down, most of all, was his insistence that GC&CS was historically an organization dedicated to cryptanalysis, and should remain so, when it became increasingly clear to those in the forefront of decrypting the messages from Enigma, and carrying out the vital task of ‘traffic analysis’ (which developed schemata about the location and organization of enemy field units largely – but not exclusively, as some have suggested – from information that had not been encrypted), that that tenet no longer held true. A very close liaison between personnel involved in message selection, decryption and translation, collation and interpretation, and structured (and prompt) presentation of conclusions was necessary to maximize the delivery of actionable advice to the services.

Yet it took many years for this story to appear. All employees at the GC&CS (and then GCHQ) were subject to a lifetime of secrecy by the terms of the Official Secrets Act – largely because it was considered vital that the match-winning cryptanalytical techniques not be revealed to any current or future enemy. It was not until the early nineteen-seventies that drips of intelligence about the wartime activities of Bletchley Park began to escape. The British authorities had believed that they could maintain censorship over any possible disclosures of confidential intelligence matters, but failed to understand that they could not control publication by British citizens abroad, or the initiatives of foreign media. This was a pattern that repeated itself over the years, what with J. C. Masterman’s Double-Cross System, published in the United States in 1972, Gordon Welchmann’s Hut Six Story, also in the USA, in 1982, Peter Wright’s Spycatcher, which was published in Australia in 1987, as well, of course, by the memoirs of traitors such as Kim Philby and Ursula Kuczynski.

As with the memoir of the Abwehr officer Nikolaus Ritter (Deckname Dr. Rantzau), which appeared in 1972, GCHQ was taken aback by the appearance in 1973 in France of a book by Gustave Bertrand, Enigma ou la plus grande énigme de la guerre 1919-1945. Bertrand had been head of the cryptanalytical section of the French Intelligence Service, and claimed that he had been prompted to write his account after reading a rather distorted story (La Guerre secrète des services speciaux français 1939-1945) of how the French had gained intelligence on a German encryption machine from an agent in Germany, written by Michel Gardet in 1967. Less accessible, no doubt, but probably much more revealing, was Wladyslaw Kozaczuk’s Bitwa o tajemnice [Battle for Secrets]published in Warsaw in 1967, which made some very bold claims about the ‘breaking’ of the German cipher machine that surpassed the achievements of the French and the English.

Thus, in an attempt to take control of the narrative, Frederick Winterbotham, who had headed the Air Section of MI6, and reported to Stewart Menzies, received some measure of approval from the Joint Intelligence Committee to write the first English-language account of how ULTRA intelligence had been employed to assist the war effort. (Note: ULTRA included all intelligence gained from message interception, decryption, translation and analysis, and was not restricted to Enigma sources.) Winterbotham had been responsible for forming the Special Liaison Units (SLUs) that allowed secure distribution of ULTRA intelligence to be passed to commanders in the field. His book, The Ultra Secret, appeared in 1974, and had a sensational but mixed reception, partly because many old GCHQ hands considered he had broken his vow of secrecy, and partly because he, who had no understanding of cryptanalysis, misrepresented many important aspects of the whole operation.

The Enigma

As an aside, I believe it is important to mention that Enigma was sometimes ‘broken’ (in the sense that it did not remain completely intact and secure), but never ‘solved’ (in the sense that it became an open book, and regularly decrypted). That distinction can sometimes be lost, and too many authoritative accounts in the literature refer to the ‘solving’ of Enigma.  Dermot Turing’s recent (2018) book on the Polish contribution to the project, XY&Z, is sub-titled The Real Story of How Enigma Was Broken, and thus technically represents the project according to the distinctions above, but might give the impression that a wholesale assault had been successful. The Enigma machine was a moving target; before and during the war, the Germans introduced new features (e.g. additional rotors) that made it more difficult to decrypt. And each of the German organizations using Enigma deployed it differently. The degree of its impenetrability was very dependent upon the disciplines that its operators exercised in setting daily keys with their opposite numbers, and how casually they repeated text messages that could be used as cribs by the analysts. It supplemented very complex enciphering mechanisms (i.e. translation of individual characters) with the use of rich codebooks that allowed substitution of words and phrases with numerical sequences. Many variants of Enigma discourse were thus never broken. Mavis Batey’s biography of Dillwyn Knox is carefully subtitled The Man Who Broke Enigmas – but not all of them.

My approach that follows is overall chronological – to explore how the pre-war discovery of Enigma characteristics was understood and represented by various authors, and how the accounts of dealing with Enigma evolved. In this regard, it is important to distinguish when some accounts were written, and to what sources they had access, from the time that they appeared in print. For example, the report that Alastair Denniston wrote, The Government Code and Cypher School Between the Wars, was written from his home in 1944, but did not see the semi-public light of day until his son arranged to have it published in the first issue of the Journal of Intelligence and National Security in 1986 (see https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02684528608431841?journalCode=fint20) . About a decade later, it was released by The National Archives as HW 3/32.

Polish Rumours

For a concise and useful account of the relationship between Bletchley Park and the Poles, the essay Enigma, the French, the Poles and the British, 1931-1940 by Jean Stengers, found in the 1984 compilation The Missing Dimension, edited by Christopher Andrew and David Dilks, serves relatively well. It has a very rich set of Notes that lays out a number of primary and secondary sources that explain where much of the mythology of Enigma-decryption comes from. Yet the piece is strangely inadequate in exploring the early communications between the French and the British in 1931, and also elides over the exchange between Dillwyn Knox and Marian  Rejewski in July 1939 which showed up Bletchley Park’s failings in pursuing the project, but then allowed the British endeavour to assume the leading role in further decryption.

When Winterbotham published his book in 1974, it contained some recognition of a Polish contribution. Yet this was based on a rumour that must have been encouraged within GC&CS, while being utterly without foundation. The French writer Colonel Gardet, in La Guerre Secrete [see above], had claimed that a Polish mechanic working on the Enigma had been spirited out of Germany and had reconstructed a replica in Paris – a story that Winterbotham picked up with enthusiasm. It was later embellished by that careless encyclopaedic author Anthony Cave-Brown. And it was Cave-Brown who introduced the imaginary character, Lewinsky. He also implicated ‘Gibby’ Gibson, who reputedly spirited Lewinsky and his wife out of Poland, as well as the SOE officer Colin Gubbins, reported as taking Enigma secrets with him to Bucharest in September 1939. Both these preposterous anecdotes have found eager champions on the Web.

Yet these tales took time to die, and the claims about a spy in the heart of Germany’s cypher department (the truth of the matter) were initially distrusted. In Ultra Goes to War (1974), Ronald Lewin, perhaps overestimating the confidences told him by Colonel Tadeusz Lisicki (who had worked on the Enigma team, and took up residence in England after the war) echoed the claim that the Poles had, in 1932, ‘borrowed’ a military Enigma machine for a weekend. Lewin had read Bertrand’s account, but considered it ‘overblown’. He was very sceptical of the story that a Polish worker had smuggled Enigma parts over the border, but considered the assertion that an officer in the Chiffrierstelle had made overtures to the French in 1932 [sic: the occurrence of ‘1932’ instead of ‘1931’ is a common error in the literature, originating from Bertrand] only slightly more probable.

In fact, it was a review by David Kahn of Winterbotham’s book in the New York Times (on December 29, 1974) that brought the name of the spy, Hans-Thilo Schmidt, to the public eye. (see https://www.nytimes.com/1974/12/29/the-ultra-secret.html?searchResultPosition=2). In his later publication, How I Discovered World War II’s Greatest Spy & Other Stories of Intelligence and Code (2015), Kahn described how he had tracked down Schmidt’s name, and then confronted Bertrand with his discovery. Bertrand had wanted to keep his spy’s identity secret, and was outraged at Kahn’s disclosure. Yet, even at this late date (2015), Kahn misrepresented what actually happened, and failed to explain the true story about the Poles’ success – as I shall outline below.

Hans-Thilo Schmidt

And the muddle continued. In Most Secret War (1978), R. V. Jones declared that the Poles ‘had stolen the wheels’ of an Enigma machine, and the following year, a rather strange account by F. H. Hinsley appeared in the first volume of British Intelligence in World War II. Hinsley attempted to bring order to Gardet’s garbled story, and Bertrand’s subsequent controversial response, by openly describing the contribution of Schmidt, incidentally identified by his French cryptonym ‘Asché’, which appears to represent nothing more than the French letters ‘HE’. At the same time, however, Hinsley introduced his own measure of confusion. (He had not been a cryptanalyst.) Perhaps out of a desire to undermine the claims of the Poles, he reported that a 1974 memorandum by Colonel Stefan Mayer, head of Polish intelligence, made no mention of Asché’s papers and explicitly cast doubt that espionage had played any part in the project, as if it had been pure Polish ingenuity that had achieved the results. Moreover Hinsley contributed to the mythology by adding that  ‘from 1934, greatly helped by a Pole who was working in an Enigma factory in Germany, they [the Poles] began to make their own Enigma machines’.

Harry Hinsley, Edward Travis & John Tiltman

Yet Hinsley stated that he had discovered evidence of the French approach in the archives, although he circumscribed Bertrand’s account by characterizing what the Frenchman wrote as merely ‘claims’. (It appeared that he had, at least, studied Bertrand’s book.) Hinsley had also been prompted by a letter to the Sunday Times in June 1976 by Gustave Paillole [see below] that contested Winterbotham’s version of the events. Hinsley wrote (without identifying the archival documents):

GC and CS records are far from perfect for the pre-war years. But they confirm that the French provided GC and CS (they say as early as 1931) with two photographed documents giving directions for setting and using the Enigma machine Mark 1 which the Germans introduced in 1930. They also indicate that GC and CS showed no great interest in collaborating, for they add that in 1936, when a version of the Enigma began to be used in Spain, GC and CS asked the French if they had acquired any information since 1931; and GC & CS’s attitude is perhaps explained by the fact that as late as April 1939 the ministerial committee which authorized the fullest exchange of intelligence with France still excluded cryptanalysis.

This passage is important, since it strongly suggests that senior GC&CS members were aware of the French donation of 1931, and in 1936 rightly tried to resuscitate the exchanges of that time to determine whether any fresh information had come to light – a behaviour that strikes me as absolutely correct. Nevertheless, the official historian should have displayed a little more enterprise in his analysis. The head of GC&CS himself had apparently forgotten about the 1931 approach. When Denniston wrote his memoir in December 1944, all he stated about the French/Polish contribution was (of an undated event some time in 1938 or 1939): “An ever closer liaison with the French, and through them with the Poles, stimulated the attack.” Joel Greenberg cited a statement made by Denniston in 1948:

From 1937 onwards it was obviously desirable that our naval, military and air intelligence should get in close touch with their French colleagues for military and political reasons. The Admiral [Sinclair] had always wished for a close liaison between G. C. & C. S. and SIS but I have always thought that Dunderdale, then in Paris, was the man who brought Bertrand into the English organisations. Menzies, it is true, had a close relationship with Rivet under whom Bertrand worked but I think it was Dunderdale who, entirely ignorant of the method of cryptographers, urged the liaison on a technical level.

This appears, to me, to be a very naive observation by Denniston. It contradicts what Bertrand asserted about direct relationships with GC&CS and overlooks the 1936 overtures to the French, noted by Hinsley. By highlighting the lack of expertise in the matter held by the chief officer in MI6’s Paris station at the time, his statement might help to explain the embarrassments of 1931. At the same time, the comments of both Hinsley and Denniston suggest that the edicts of the ‘ministerial committee’ that prohibited discussion of cryptanalytical matters with the French could perhaps be defied.

Frank Birch, a history don who re-joined GC&CS in 1939 as head of the German Naval Section (he had worked in Room 40, which had been a Sigint Centre for the Royal Navy, between 1917 and 1919), and later became GCHQ’s historian, also covered that period superficially. When he wrote his internal history of British Sigint (he died in 1956 before completing it), he was similarly laconical about the pre-war co-operation, writing: “In the summer of that year [1939], as a result of staff talks with the French and the Poles, the head of GC&CS and Dillwyn (Dilly) Knox, a pioneer of Enigma research, visited Warsaw. There they learned of some successful solution of some earlier German traffic and the construction of an electrical scanning machine known as ‘la bombe’.” Just like that: staffs decided to converse. It was a very superficial account.

Yet there was at this stage evidence of a desire to conceal the fact that the British had been approached by Bertrand in 1931. Józef Garliński had published his account, Intercept, in 1979, and acknowledged the help he had received from Colonel Lisicki. (Garliński had served in Polish Intelligence, and was an Auschwitz survivor who did not come to England until after the war: he is best known for his memoir, Fighting Auschwitz.) He explicitly described the approach by Schmidt to the French in 1931, but omitted any reference to Bertrand’s first turning to the British. As he wrote about Bertrand’s reactions after receiving the first documents:

            Captain Bertrand’s thoughts immediately turned towards Poland. He knew that Polish Intelligence had for some years past been trying to break the Germans’ secret. The Poles had been co-operating and exchanging information with him and now he could present them with a discovery of incalculable value.

This grandstanding account directly contradicts what (for example) Dermot Turing later wrote –  that Bertrand turned to the Poles almost in despair after the British and Czechs had shown no interest. Moreover, there was no discussion of sordid financial negotiations, apart from the statement that Schmidt ‘had been given a substantial advance payment’. The impression given is that the French were quite happy to pay Schmidt, but passed on his secrets to the Poles for free. The author never suggests that the French might have turned to perfidious Albion first. Yet Garliński, in his Acknowledgments, singled out Harry Golombek and Ruth Thompson from Bletchley Park, and listed several other veterans who had helped him, including Mavis Batey, Anthony Brooks, Peter Calvocoressi, and Frederick Winterbotham He also paid thanks to a few British subjects close to the participants, a group that included Robin Denniston, Penelope Fitzgerald and Ronald Lewin. Did none of them attempt to put him right about the British Connection, or did they simply not know about it? Were they not aware of the archival material that Hinsley exploited in his publication of the very same year? One would expect these people to meet and talk, and at least be aware what was being written elsewhere. Significantly, perhaps, Garliński had not interviewed Hinsley or Wilfred Dunderdale.

Gordon Welchman also admitted his confusion when his Hut Six Story was published in 1982, not knowing how much to trust the various accounts of the Poles’ access to Enigma secrets. Apart from his exposure to Stengers, Hinsley, Lewin, and even William Stevenson’s highly dubious A Man Named Intrepid, Welchman had started to pick up some of the information disclosed in non-English media. He was aware of the activities of Schmidt, and described how the latter had passed documents to Bertrand in December 1932 [sic]. Notably, however, he referred solely to the fact that, since French Intelligence was not interested, Bertrand had passed the material to the Poles. There was no mention of any approach to the British at that time.

Gordon Welchman

After publication (and the furore that erupted with American authorities about security breaches), Welchman realized that he needed to make changes to his account. As his biographer, Joel Greenberg, wrote: “He had learned some of the details of the pre-war work by the Poles on the Enigma machine too late to include them in his book.” He was also engaged in some controversy with the Poles themselves. Kozaczuk had diminished the contribution of the British in his 1979 work, Enigma, and in the 1984 English version had explicitly criticized The Hut Six Story. At the same time, Welchman had come to realize that Hinsley’s official history was deeply flawed: Hinsley had not been at Bletchley Park in the early days, and had obviously been fed some incorrect information. Welchman judged that Hinsley had been unduly influenced by the sometimes intemperate Birch.

Welchman gained some redemption when Lisicki came to his rescue, confirming the original contributions that Welchman and his colleagues had made, and eventually even Kozaczuk had to back down. The outcome was that a corrective article (From Polish Bomba to British Bombe: the Birth of ULTRA) was published in the first issue of Intelligence and National Security in 1986 –    and eventually appeared in the revised edition of Welchman’s book. (Denniston’s son was manœuvering behind the scenes, as his father’s wartime memoir also appeared in that first issue of the Journal.) The issue at hand was, however, the contribution from British innovation and technology in 1940 – not the question of access to purloined material in the early 1930s.

Similarly, Christopher Andrew, in his 1986 work Her Majesty’s Secret Service (titled simply Secret Service when published the previous year in the UK), and subtitled The Making of the British Intelligence Community, left out much of the story. He obviously credited Stengers, who had contributed to the anthology that he, Andrew, edited with David Dilks [see above], and he also referred to Garliński’s Intercept (re-titled The Enigma War when published in the USA). Andrew echoed Garliński’s claim that Rejewski had gained vital documents from Schmidt back in the winter of 1931. Yet Andrew gave no indication that the British had been invited to the party at that time: he merely observed that, since the French cryptographic service had shown no interest in the documentation, Bertrand passed it on to the Poles. One might have imagined that the discovery of a spy within the Chiffrierstelle would have sparked some greater curiosity on the part of the chief magus of our intelligence historians, and that Andrew would have studied Hinsley’s opus, but it was not to be. And the story of Bertrand’s approach to the British was effectively buried.

Thus the decade approached its end without any confident and reliable account. Nigel West’s GCHQ (1986) shed no new light on the matter, while Winterbotham, in his follow-up book The Ultra Spy (1989), felt free to reinforce the fact that the French had been approached by a German spy in 1934 [sic], but that Bertrand had then turned to the Poles, echoing Andrew’s story that the British had been told nothing. It still seemed an inconvenient truth for the British authorities to acknowledge that GC&CS (or MI6) had treated with too much disdain an approach made to them in the early 1930s, and the institution’s main focus was to emphasize the wartime creativity of the boffins at Bletchley Park while diminishing the efforts of Rejewski, Zygalski and Różycki.

One final flourish occurred, however. In Volume 3, Part 2 of his history of British Intelligence in the Second World War, published in 1988, Hinsley (assisted by Thomas, Simkins and Ransom) issued, in Appendix 30, a revised version of the Appendix from Volume 1. (Tony Comer has informed me that this new Appendix was actually written by Joan Murray. I shall refer to the authorship as Hinsley/Murray hereafter.) She wrote as follows:

Records traced in the GC and CS archives since 1979 show that some errors were introduced in that Appendix from a secondary account, written in 1945, which relied on the memories of the participants when it was dealing with the initial breakthrough into the Enigma. Subsequent Polish and French publications show that other errors arose from a Mayer memorandum, written in 1974, which apart from various interviews recorded in British newspapers in the early 1970s was the only Polish source used in compiling the Appendix to Volume 1.

Oh, those pesky unreliable memoirs – and only a short time after the events! While the paragraph issued a corrective to Colonel Mayer’s deceptive account, Hinsley/Murray seemed ready to accept the evidence of two ‘important’ French publications that had appeared since Bertrand’s book of 1973, namely Paillole’s Notre Spion chez Hitler, and an article by Gilbert Bloch in Revue Historique des Armées, No. 4. December 1985. Hinsley/Murray went on to confirm that Bertrand ‘acquired several documents, which included two manuals giving operating and keying instructions for Enigma 1’, and added that, ‘as was previously indicated on the evidence of the GC and CS archives, copies of these documents were given to the Poles and the British at the end of 1931.’ Yet this was a very ambiguous statement: by ‘these documents’, did Hinsley/Murray imply simply the ‘two manuals’, as he had indicated in the earlier Volume of his history, or was he referring to the ‘several documents’? The phrasing of the quoted clause clearly suggests that the Poles and the British were supplied with the same material at the same time, but his own text contradicts that thesis.

The puzzle remained. Exactly what had Bertrand passed to the British in 1931, and who saw the material?

GC&CS Indifference?

In 1985, Paul Paillole, a wartime officer in France’s secret service, published Notre Spion chez Hitler, which, being written in French, did not gain the immediate attention it deserved. (It was translated, and published in English – but not until 2016 – under the inaccurate title The Spy in Hitler’s Inner Circle.) Paillole’s role in counterespionage in Vichy France is very ambivalent, and he tried to show, after the war, a loyalty to the Allied cause that was not justified. Nevertheless, his account of the approach by Schmidt to the French, and the subsequent negotiations with the Poles, has been generally accepted as being reliable.

Paul Paillole’s ‘The Spy in Hitler’s Inner Circle’

Paillole had joined the Deuxième Bureau of the French Intelligence Department on December 1, 1935, and, hence, was not around at the time of the initial assignments made between Schmidt and Rodolphe Lemoine (‘Rex’), a shady character of German birth originally named Rudolf Stallman, who was detailed to respond to Schmidt’s overtures of July, 1931. Paillole first learned of the spy in the Chiffrierstelle from Gustave Bertrand, who had joined the department in November 1933 as head of Section D, responsible for encryption research. His book is many ways irritating: it has a loose and melodramatic style, and lacks an index, but it contains a useful set of Notes, and boasts an authoritative Preface by someone identified solely as Frédéric Guelton (apparently a French military historian of some repute) that reinforces the accuracy of Paillole’s story. It also includes references to KGB archival material, and the involvement of two fascinating and important NKVD spy handlers, Dmitry Bystrolyotov and Ignace Reiss, which could be a whole new subject for investigation another day.

Typical of Paillole’s rather hectic approach is his account of how Bertrand told him the story about Schmidt. We are supposed to accept that, one day early in 1936, Bertrand pulled Paillole into his office and started to deliver a long description of the negotiations, a discourse that continued over lunch. Moreover, an immediate conflict appears: while Guelton had indicated that Bertrand ‘arrived on the scene’ in November 1933, Bertrand claimed that he had established Section D in 1930. Notwithstanding such chronological slip-ups, Bertrand told a captivating story.

Somehow, Paillole was able to reproduce the whole long monologue without taking any notes, including the details of the material that Schmidt had handed over in late 1931, namely seven critical items mainly concerning the Enigma, including ‘a numbered encryption manual for the Enigma I machine (Schlűsselanleitung. H. Do. G. 14, L. Do. G. 14 H. E. M. Do. G. 168)’. Since this information must have come from a written report, it is hard to understand why he felt he had to dissemble. (This represents an example of an ‘Authentic’ release of intelligence, but not a ‘Genuine’ one.) For the purposes of this investigation (the exposure to the British), however, the exact form of Bertrand’s report is less significant. Early on, Bertrand offered the following insight: “I’ve used the good relationships our Bureau has with allied bureaus in London, Prague and Warsaw to comparing our level of knowledge with theirs and work to share our intelligence efforts. The British know less than us. They show a faint interest in the research in Germany and cryptography. The only ones who are passionate about these problems are the Poles.”

Now, one might question the timing of this activity: ‘I’ve used’, instead of ‘I used’ suggests a more recent event, but that may be an error of translation. Yet a later section expresses the idea more specifically. After presenting the documentation to Colonel Bassières, the head of the Intelligence Department, and receiving a depressing rejection because of the complexity of the challenge, and the lack of resources to undertake the work, Bertrand described how he approached his British allies:

In Paris, I entrusted the photographs of the two encryption and usage manuals for the Enigma machine to the representative of the Secret Intelligence Service, Commander Wilfred Dunderdale. I begged him to inform his superiors of the opportunities that were available to us. I proposed to go to London to discuss with British specialists the common direction we should take for our research.

If any approach were to succeed, I had secretly hoped that it would encourage the interests of French decoding services. Naturally enthusiastic, Dunderdale, convinced of the importance of the documents I possessed, immediately went to England. It was November 23, 1931. On the 26th, he was back. From the look of dismay on his face, I knew that he had been hardly any more successful than I had been in France.

Thus Bertrand turned to the Poles.

Certain aspects of this anecdote do not ring true. This was of course the same Dunderdale who, in the words of Denniston, ‘was entirely ignorant of the method of cryptographers’. Yet it is he who immediately understands the importance of the documents, while his superiors in London reject them. (My first thought was that Denniston deliberately downplayed the insightfulness of Dunderdale in an attempt to extinguish any trace of the 1931 exchanges.) Moreover, if Bertrand enjoyed such a good relationship with the ‘allied bureau’ in London (GC&CS, presumably, not SIS/MI6), and knew enough to be able to state that his British counterparts were less well informed than the French, why did he not indeed visit London to meet Denniston himself, instead of relying on an intermediary with less experience? (Tiltman visited Paris, but not until 1932, to discuss Soviet naval codes, and struck up a good relationship with Bertrand, which aided in Tiltman’s inquiries with the French over Enigma in September 1938.) Can Bertrand be relied upon for the intelligence that Dunderdale actually went to London himself to make the case?

Yet the account presented a tantalizing avenue for investigation. Was there any record of that British response to be found in internal histories of British Sigint, or in memoirs of those involved?

In Seizing the Enigma (1991), David Kahn, the celebrated author of Codebreakers, tried to dig a little further, although he was largely dependent upon the accounts of Bertrand and Paillole. At least he brought the French sources to a broad English-speaking audience, as well as the voice of authority. One significant aspect caught my eye. When Bertrand brought his photocopies to Colonel Bassières of French Intelligence, he waited two weeks before returning to find out how he had progressed: it took that long for Bassières to digest the contents of the material, and to conclude that it would be very hard to make any progress without knowledge of the wiring of Enigma’s rotors and of the settings of the keys on any particular day. Yet only three days elapsed between Dunderdale’s receipt of the same material (in Paris, on November 23) and his report that the British likewise judged them to be of little use.

Wilfred Dunderdale

Is that not astonishing? Surely, MI6 – and GC&CS, if it were contacted – would not have made any judgment based on a cabled summary from Dunderdale? They would have demanded to be able to inspect the source documents carefully. Bertrand implied that Dunderdale took them with him to England. But for him to set up meetings in London, travel there, have the documents assessed, and so swiftly rejected, before returning to Paris, seems highly improbable. He was informed on a Monday, and was back on the Thursday to deliver his verdict. Did the cryptographically challenged Dunderdale really follow through? Had he actually taken the samples with him to London?

The 1988 analysis from Hinsley/Murray appears to confirm that Dunderdale did manage to get his material through to GC&CS in London, and that, as Bertrand reported, the two manuals giving operating and keying instructions were received by the appropriate personnel. And Hinsley/Murray confirmed the lukewarm response:

On the British lack of interest in the documents, GC and CS’s archives add nothing except that it did not think them sufficiently valuable to justify helping Bertrand to meet the costs. It would seem that its initial study of the documents was fairly perfunctory [indeed!] since it was not until 1936 that it considered undertaking a theoretical study of the Enigma indicator system with a view to discovering whether the machine might be reconstituted from the indicators if enough messages were available.

The suggestion that GC&CS personnel did truly get an opportunity to inspect the two documents in 1931 is vaguely reinforced by an Appendix to Nigel de Grey’s internal history of GC&CS, although his text is irritatingly imprecise, with a lack of proper dating of events, too much use of the passive voice, and actors (such as ‘the British’) remaining unidentified. He acknowledges that GC&CS had access to two documents from Bertrand, but his evidence of this claim is a memorandum from September 1938.

Silence from the British camp over the incident appears therefore to have derived from embarrassment, not because the transfer never happened. Yet the Hinsley/Murray testimony introduces a new aspect – that of money. It suggests that Bertrand may have been requesting payment, or perhaps a commitment of investment, for the treasure he was prepared to hand over. At the time of that revisionist account, all the senior figures who could have been involved were dead: Denniston (1961), Knox (1943), Travis (who might have used any misdemeanor to disparage Denniston, 1956), Tiltman (1982), and Menzies (1968). No one was around to deny or confirm.

On the other hand, Bertrand had not been entirely straight with the British. His account never indicates that he asked the British for funds, but that he was offering a sample out of his desire for cooperation. If he turned to the British first, why did he offer them only two items, when he handed over the complete portfolio to the Poles a week later? It is true that the remaining documents might not have been so useful, but why did he make that call? As it happened, the Poles were overjoyed to receive the dossier on December 8, although they eventually would come to the same conclusion that they were stymied without understanding the inner workings of the machine, and some daily keys. Moreover, no account that I have read suggests that Bertrand asked the Poles for payment. Yet the French Security Service needed cash to pay Schmidt, and it is unlikely that, having been turned down by the British, they would agree to hand over the jewels to the Poles for free. They needed to sustain payments for Schmidt, but were not making use of any of the material themselves, and were not even being told by the Poles what progress they were making. It does not make sense.

Nevertheless, over the next few years, Bertrand continued to supply the Poles with useful information from Schmidt, and Rejewski’s superb mathematical analysis enabled the Poles to make startling progress on decrypting Enigma messages. The British heard nothing of this: Hinsley/Murray report that a memorandum as late as 1938 indicates that they had not received any fresh information since 1931. They also wrote:

In all probability the fact that GC and CS had shown little interest in the documents received from Bertrand in 1931 is partly explained by the small quantity of its Enigma intercepts; until well into the 1930s traffic in Central Europe, transmitted on medium frequencies on low power, was difficult to intercept in the United Kingdom. It is noteworthy that when GC and CS made a follow-up approach to Bertrand in 1936 the whole outcome was an agreement to exchange intercepts for a period up to September 1938.

This strikes me as a bit feeble. (Since when was Germany in Central Europe? And was interception really a problem? Maybe. The British were picking up Comintern messages in London at this time, but the Poles would have been closer to the Germans’ weaker signals.) Yet surely GC & CS should have been more imaginative. They had acquired a commercial Enigma machine: they could see the emerging German threat by the mid-thirties, and they were intercepting Enigma-based messages from Spain during the Civil War. (Hinsley/Murray imply that no progress had been made on this traffic, but de Grey, in his internal history, reported that Knox had broken it on April 24, 1937.) It is also true that the Poles were better motivated to tackle the problem, because of their proximity to Germany and the threats to their territory, but Denniston and his team were slow to respond to the emergent German threat, no doubt echoing the national policy against re-armament at the time, but also failing to assume a more energetic and imaginative posture.

After all, if the War Office had started increasing the interception of German Navy signals during the Spanish Civil War, it surely would have expected an appropriate response from GC&CS, whether that involved shifting resources away from, say, Soviet traffic, or adding more cryptographic personnel. GC&CS did respond, in a way, of course, since Knox set about trying to break the Naval codes. He had had much success in breaking the messages used by the Italians and the Spanish Nationalists, but, soon after he switched to German Naval Enigma, the navy introduced complex new indicators. He thus started work on army and air force traffic under Tiltman. GC&CS might have showed a little more imagination, but, as Hinsley/Murray recorded, they were constrained (or discouraged?) from discussing decryption matters with the French. Despite that prohibition, Tiltman was authorized to go to Paris to discuss cryptanalysis with Bertrand in 1932. Was he breaking the rules?

I looked for further confirmation of the nature of the material handed over, and who saw it. That careful historian Stephen Budiansky covers the events in his 2000 book Battle of Wits. He lists an impressive set of primary sources, including the HW series at the National Archives, but admits that he was very reliant on Ralph Erskine ‘the pre-eminent historian of Naval Enigma, who probably feels he wrote this book himself’ for supplying him with answers to scores of emailed questions. He writes, of Bertrand’s transfer of material to the British: “Copies of the documents were sent to GC&CS, which dutifully studied them and dutifully filed them away on the shelf, concluding that they were of no help in overcoming the Enigma’s defenses.” Yet his source for that is the Volume 3 Appendix, and his comments about defenses contradicts what Hinsley/Murray wrote about Enigma not being considered a serious threat at that time. This is disappointing, and strikes me as intellectually lazy.

Mavis Batey

And then some startling new insights appeared in Mavis Batey’s profile of Knox, Dilly, which appeared in 2009. Batey had joined GC&CS in 1940, and had worked for Knox until his death in February 1943. She introduced some facts that bolster the hints of the mercenary character of Bertrand’s offer, but at the same time she also indulged in some speculation. Batey suggested that Bertrand’s main liaison was Dunderdale (this minimizing his claims about close contacts in London), and that, when he offered Dunderdale the documents, Bertrand demanded to be paid for them. Yet her text is ambiguous: she writes that Bertrand ‘wanted a considerable sum for any more [sic] of Asché’s secrets’, thus implying that he had already received some for free. Moreover, when Dunderdale contacted London, he received a negative response, for reasons of cost.

            The request was turned down flat. It was a political matter of funding priorities and it seems that Denniston, Foss, Tiltman and Dilly [Knox] were not consulted. Dunderdale did have the original batch of documents for three days and in all probability photographed them, allowing Dilly to analyse them later, but the ban on paying any money for them cut the British off from the rest of Asché’s valuable secrets.

This is an astonishing suggestion – that no employee of GC&CS, and probably no MI6 officer, either, even saw the documents at the time, but that MI6 (Sinclair?) simply sent a message of rejection by cable based on a message from Dunderdale. If that were true, it might explain the singular lack or recollection of the events on the part of Denniston and others. (One has therefore to question the Hinsley/Murray interpretation of the archive.) But the text is also very disappointing. Batey does not identify the ‘original batch’: were they the set of seven, or just the two on operating instructions and key settings? Did Dunderdale actually photocopy them, or was that not necessary, given Bertrand’s indication that he offered those two – which were themselves photographs, of course –  for free? Did Knox really analyze them later? (The evidence of others suggests that this is pure speculation.) And, if the documents that Asché provided in the following years were truly ‘valuable’, to what extent was the British decryption effort cruelly delayed? (The Poles would later admit that the stream of documents after 1931 was critical to their success.) Did the quartet complain vigorously when they were able to inspect Dunderdale’s copies, and did they inquire about the source, and whether there was more? Unfortunately, Batey leaves it all very vague. What she does confirm, however, is that, in 1938, Sinclair ‘anxious to increase co-operation with France, authorized Denniston to invite Bertrand over for a council of war’.

Mavis Batey’s ‘Dilly’

One might imagine that, with the passage of time, greater clarity would evolve. Yet that is not the case with Dermot Turing in his 2018 book X, Y & Z, the mission of which is to set the record straight on the Polish achievements. While his coverage of the Polish contribution is very comprehensive, Turing shows a muddled sequence of events in the early 1930s, and his analysis is not helped by a rather arch, journalistic style. He refers to ‘Bertrand’s sniffy friends across the Channel’, and informs his readers that ‘the British had sniffed around the Enigma machine before’. Nevertheless, he is ready to describe John Tiltman as ‘the greatest cryptanalyst’ they had, and explains that Tiltman had visited Paris around this time, as I noted earlier.

            In 1932, he had been in Paris, asking the French to help with a perennial problem – that Britain’s precious Navy might be under threat from the Soviets. Tiltman came with an incomplete set of materials on Soviet naval codes, which he hoped the French might be able to complement. Alas, the answer was no, but the potential for cooperation had been established.

Unfortunately, Turing then moves from this event to declare that, after an Enigma machine had been inspected back in 1925 by Mr Foss, who made a detailed technical report that was put on file, the link established by Tiltman facilitated an initiative by the British to discuss the Enigma with the French. He writes:

            But now Captain Tiltman had made the diplomatic link between GC&CS and Captain Bertrand’s Section D, perhaps the boffinry [sic] might be extracted from its file and put to good use. The question was duly put, via the proper channels, which is to say MI6’s liaison officer in Paris.

            Bertrand’s bathroom photographs were carefully evaluated at MI6. The photography was good, but MI6 independently came to the same conclusion as the Section de Chiffre. The documents were, unfortunately, useless.

Turing, perhaps not unexpectedly, provides no references for this mess. Tiltman’s initial visit occurred after Bertrand made his 1931 approach. Turing provides no rationale for the British suddenly making timely overtures to the French. (He was probably confusing the 1938 overtures with the events of 1931.) He has MI6, not GC&CS, making the evaluation, which is superficially absurd, and may echo the reality that Batey described, but undermines his disparaging comments about the sniffy boffins at GC&CS. Yet his conclusion is the same: ‘the British were a dead end’.

Dermot Turing’s ‘X,Y & Z’

And what of Gustave Bertrand? He was a very controversial figure: he was arrested by the Germans in 1944, but managed to escape to Britain, claiming that he had agreed to work for the Nazis – though what he was going to reveal, how they would control him, and how he would communicate with them is never stated. Paillole himself investigated the affair, and determined that Bertrand was innocent of any treachery. Dermot Turing also gives him the all-clear in X, Y & Z, but it would not be out of character for Bertrand to have withheld some information from the British in 1931 when he wanted to keep much of the glory to himself and the French service. His petulant behaviour during, and immediately after, the war, when he showed his resentment at the achievements of the British, was noted and criticized by the Poles. He was not going to give anything away in a spirit of co-operation, and he left for posterity an inadequate account of the financial aspects of the deal. He may also have handed the documents over to the Czechs, as he hinted at in his book, and as David Kahn claimed he told him. If so, they would have been forwarded immediately to the Russians.

Gustave Bertrand

Whatever Bertrand’s motivations and actions, however, I have to conclude that GC&CS did not show enough energy and imagination in the second half of the 1930s decade. It moved too sluggishly. The fact that GC&CS historians felt awkward in admitting that it would not have made sense to pursue the matter in 1931, but affirmed that the service should have revisited it in 1936, suggests to me a widespread embarrassment over the advantage that they unwittingly conceded to the Poles. While we are left with the conflicting testimonies from Denniston and Hinsley/Murray, it seems clear that neither Sinclair nor Denniston was prepared to take a stand. Yet the vital conclusion remains that, if indeed MI6 had concealed Bertrand’s approach, and the accompanying documents, even from the chief of GC&CS, the responsibility for the lack of action must lie primarily with Sinclair.

The Aftermath

Especially in the world of intelligence, the evidence from memoirs and interviews is beset with disinformation, the exercise of old vendettas, and a desire for the witness to show him- or her-self in the best possible light. So it is with the Enigma story. The whole saga is beset with contradictory testimonies from participants who either wanted to exaggerate their achievements, or to conceal their mistakes. One has to continually ask of the participants and their various memories: What did they know? From whom were they taking orders? What were their motivations? What did they want to conceal? Is Mavis Batey implicitly less trustworthy than Frank Birch or Alastair Denniston? Thus the addressing of the two important questions: ‘To what extent did the hesitations of the early thirties impede the British attack on the Enigma?’, and ‘How was Denniston’s reputation affected by the leisurely build-up before the war?’ has to untangle a nest of possibly dubious assertions.

Dillwyn Knox

Of all the cryptanalysts who might have felt thwarted by any withholding of secret Enigma information, Dillwyn Knox would have been the pre-eminent. It was he who led all efforts to attack it in the 1930s, although the accounts of his success or failure are somewhat contradictory. According to Thomas Parris in The Ultra Americans, Knox had been on the point of retiring in 1936, wishing to return to teach at King’s College, Cambridge, but was persuaded to stay on to tackle the variant of Enigma used by the German Military, Italian Navy and Franco’s forces during the Spanish Civil War. (The claim about his retirement aspirations may be dubious, however. It cannot be verified.) Stengers wrote that Knox had applied himself to the task with vigour, and had ‘cracked’ the cipher. On the other hand, Milner-Barry stated that Knox had been defeated by ‘it’, but he was probably referring to Knox’s efforts in tackling the more advanced German naval version. Denniston’s son, Robin, wrote that a more intense project had started after the Spanish civil war, and that Knox worked on naval traffic, with some help from Foss, while Tiltman concentrated on German military uses, and Japanese traffic. He also mentioned that Knox had cracked the inferior version used by the Italian navy. Those were Batey’s ‘Enigmas’. And she strongly challenged the view that Knox would have been ‘defeated’ by anything.

Knox was by temperament a querulous and demanding character, and was outspoken in his criticisms of Denniston over organizational matters in 1940, which the chief sustained patiently. Thus, if he had believed that he had been let down by GC&CS over the acquisition of Enigma secrets, he surely would have articulated his annoyance. But all signs seem to point that he was unaware of any negotiations between the French and the British, or of the existence of a long-lived chain of communication from internal German sources to the Poles when he had the famous encounter with Rejewski at Pyry, outside Warsaw, in July 1939. After the initial fencing, when neither side was prepared to reveal exactly what progress it had made, Knox posed the vital question ‘Quel est le QWERTZU?’. By this, he wanted Rejewski to describe how the keyboard letters on the Enigma were linked to the alphabetically-named wheels (the ‘diagonal’). When Rejewski rejoined that the series was ABCDEFG  . . ., Knox was flabbergasted. One of his assistants had suggested that to him, and he had rejected it without experimenting, believing that the Germans would not implement something so obvious.

The irony was that Rejewski had experienced that insight back in 1932, and had been helped by the supply of further keys and cribs from Schmidt since then. (According to Nigel de Grey, Rejewski later implied that the information on the diagonal came directly from Schmidt, and de Grey cites, in French, a statement from Rejewski that, even so, ‘they could have solved it themselves’. Most accounts indicate that Schmidt was never able to hand over details of the internal wiring of the machine.) Knox knew nothing of that. He was sceptical of the ability of the Poles to have made such breakthroughs unaided, but he never understood the magnitude of the advantage they had. Admittedly, in a report he compiled immediately on his return from Poland, he mentioned that Rejewski had referred to both ‘Verrat’ (treachery), and the purchase of details of the setting as contributing to the breakthrough, but Knox never explored this idea. Rejewski’s more mathematical approach was superior to Knox’s more linguistic-based analysis, it is true. But seven years in the wilderness! Welchman wrote in 1982 that Knox could have made similar strides and ‘arrived at a comparable theory’ if he had had access to the Asché documents, yet (as Tony Comer has pointed out to me) that judgment ignores the fact that no mathematical analysis was possible at GC&CS until Peter Twinn joined early in 1939.

Marian Rejewski

Why did the services of the three countries – all potential sufferers from German aggression – not collaborate and share secrets earlier? It boils down to money, resources and lack of imagination on the part of the British, money, proprietorship of ownership, and skills with the French, and primarily security concerns with the Poles. Because of geography, and political revanchism, the Poles were the most threatened. They believed for a long while that they could handle Enigma on their own and, moreover, had to protect against the possibility that the Germans should learn what they were up to. In 1931, two years before Hitler came to power, they could not count on Great Britain as a resolute ally against the Germans. They therefore did not share their experiences until the pressures were too great.

An important principle remains. If Sinclair, in 1931, justifiably did not press for funds to pay for Schmidt’s offerings, a time would come when the German threat intensified (perhaps with the entry to the Rhineland in 1936, as I suggested in On Appeasement) to the point when he should have taken stock, recalled the missed opportunity of 1931, and followed up with Bertrand to try to revivify the relationship, and the sharing of Enigma intelligence. That might have involved a confrontation with the War Office, but, as I have shown, that Ministry was then starting to apply pressure off its own bat. Hinsley/Murray make the point that an anonymous person did in fact attempt such contact, but that the outcome was sterile, because of policy. The general silence of inside commentators over the decisions of the early 1930s suggest to me that they were not comfortable defending Sinclair’s initial inaction (which was, in the political climate of 1931, indeed explicable), or his lack of follow-up when conditions had sharply changed.

While Denniston can surely be cleared of any charges of concealing important intelligence from his lieutenants, the accusations made that he had been too pessimistic over the challenge of tackling Enigma have some justification. Denniston’s position was originally based on his opinion that radio silence would be imposed in the event of war (an idea derived from Sinclair), but also on a conviction that the demand on costs and resources would be too extravagant to consider a whole-hearted approach on decryption. Frank Birch became a strident critic of his bosses:

            To all this, are added the ‘most pessimistic attitude’, ascribed to the head of GC&CS ‘as to the possible value of cryptography in another war’ and the fear expressed by the director of GC&CS [i.e. Sinclair] after the Munich crisis ‘that as soon as matters became serious, wireless silence is enforced, and that therefore this organisation of ours is useless for the purpose for which it was intended.

His disdain became very personal (to the extent that he even spelled his boss’s first name incorrectly as ‘Alistair’), and over the crisis of 1941, when Denniston resisted the introduction of  wireless interception and analysis into his province, Birch resorted to undergraduate cliché to characterize Denniston’s approach: “Commander Denniston’s attitude was consistent with his endeavour to preserve GC&CS as a purely cryptanalytic bureau and, Canute-like, to halt the inevitable tide that threatened to turn it into a Sigint Centre.” Birch was no doubt thinking of Room 40, where Denniston, Birch and Travis had served.

Yet even Denniston’s initiative to change the intellectual climate at Bletchley Park came under attack. Some commentators, such as Kahn, Aldrich, and Ferris, have commended Denniston for starting the drive to recruit mathematicians, after the experience at Pyry. John Ferris even wrote, in Behind the Enigma, that Denniston had prepared his service for war better than any other leader of British intelligence, a view also anticipated by Nigel West:

For almost twenty years Denniston succeeded in running on a shoestring a new and highly secret government department. When his resources were increased on the eve of war, he began the expansion which made possible the achievements of Bletchley Park. [DNB] Many of his best cryptanalysts would not have taken kindly either to civil service hierarchies or to a Chief devoted to bureaucratic routine, Denniston’s personal experience of cryptography, informal manner, lack of pomposity and willingness to trust and deal get to his sometimes unorthodox subordinates smoothed many of the difficulties in creating a single unit from the rival remains of Room 40 and MI1b.

Maybe these positive assessments were based too much on what Denniston wrote himself. Again, Birch took vicarious credit for the execution of the policy. Ralph Erskine, in his Introduction to Birch’s History, wrote: “From about 1937 onwards, Birch played a major part in advising Alastair Denniston, the operational head of the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS), on choosing the academics, including Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman, who were to become the backbone of GC&CS’ wartime staff.”

The verdict on Denniston must be that he was a very honourable and patient man, a dedicated servant, and a very capable cryptographer, but one who excelled in managing a small team – as he again showed when he was moved to Berkeley Street. In an internal note, Tony Comer wrote:

His memorial is that he built the UK’s first unified cryptanalytic organisation and developed the values and standards which made it a world leader, an organisation which partners aspired to emulate; and that he personally worked tirelessly to ensure an Anglo-American cryptologic alliance which has outlived and outgrown anything even he could have hoped for.

I believe that is a fair and appropriate assessment. Denniston perhaps did not show enough imagination and forcefulness in the years immediately before war broke out, and the stresses of adjusting to the complexities of a multi-faceted counter-intelligence campaign taxed him. But he surely deserved that knighthood. There was nothing in the treatment of the French approaches, and the consequent negotiations, that singled him out for reproach, and he was out of the picture when the general desire to muffle the actions of 1931 became part of GCHQ doctrine. The initial suspicions I had that some stumbles over Enigma might have caused his lack of recognition were ungrounded, but the exploration was worth it.

Conclusions

As I noted earlier, one might expect that the historical outline would become clearer as the procession of historians added their insights to what has gone before. “All history is revisionist history”, as James M. Banner has powerfully explained in a recent book. But sometimes the revisions merely cloud matters, as with Dermot Turing’s XY&Z, because of a political bias, and a less than rigorous inspection of the evidence: the ‘definitive’ history eludes us. I believe I have shown how difficult it is to extract from all the conflicting testimonies and flimsy archival material an authoritative account of what really happened with the Asché documents. Perhaps the key lies with that intriguing character Wilfred Dunderdale – like some of his notable MI6 colleagues, born in tsarist Russia – who was at the centre of events in 1931, and for the next fifteen years, and thus could have been the most useful of witnesses. Denniston praised his role: the man deserves a biography.

It is nugatory to try to draw sweeping conclusions about the behaviours of ‘the British’, ‘the French’, and ‘the Poles’ in the unravelling of Enigma secrets. Tensions and conflicts were the essence of a pluralist and democratic management of intelligence matters, and that muddle was clearly superior to the authoritarian model. Sinclair was too cautious and he probably mis-stepped, Menzies was out of his depth, Denniston lacked forcefulness, Knox was prickly, Birch caustic, Travis conspiratorial. The mathematicians, such as Welchman and Turing, were brilliant, as was that cryptanalyst of the old school, Tiltman. Lamoine was devious and treacherous (he betrayed Schmidt in the end); Bertrand suspicious, resentful and possessive.

A significant portion of recent research has set out to correct the strongly Anglocentric view of the success of the Enigma project, and Dermot Turing’s XY&Z is the strongest champion of the role of the Poles. Perhaps the pendulum has temporarily moved too far the other way. His Excellency Professor Dr Arkady Rzegocki, the Polish Ambassador to the United Kingdom, wrote in a Foreword to Turing’s book:

            In Poland, however, the story is about the triumph of mathematicians, especially Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Różycki and Henry Zygalski, who achieved the crucial breakthroughs from 1932 onwards, beating their allies to the goal of solving Enigma, and selflessly handing over their secret knowledge to Britain and France.

‘Solving’ Enigma again. No mention of the exclusive access the Poles had to stolen documents in the race with their allies (who were not all formal allies at the time), or who paid for the traitor’s secrets. No reference to the fact that they kept the French in the dark about their progress until they realized they desperately needed help. ‘Selflessly’ does not do justice to their isolation and needs.

Other experts have bizarrely misrepresented what happened. David Kahn (he who originally revealed Schmidt’s identity) in 2015 revisited the man he described as ‘World War II’s Greatest Spy’. He asserted that Poland had ‘solved’ the Enigma (while two other countries had not) because it had the greater need, and greater cryptanalytic ability – and was the only country to employ mathematicians as cryptanalysts. Yet in that assessment he ignores the fact that the Poles had exclusive access to purloined material that made their task much easier. It is a careless comparison from a normally very methodical analyst.

In summary, the Poles overall acted supremely well, although they were not straight with Bertrand over their successes, and should have opened up earlier than they did. For the same complementary security concerns that they had harboured in the 1930s, when the two surviving members of the trio (Rejewski and Zygalski) escaped to England in 1944, they were not allowed near Bletchley Park. It was all very messy, but could not really have been otherwise. It was a close-run thing, but the assault on Enigma no doubt was the overriding critical factor in winning the war for the Allies.

Envoi

As part of my research for this piece, I read Decoding Organization: Bletchley Park, Codebreaking and Organization Studies, by Christopher Grey, Professor of Organizational Behaviour at the University of Warwick. I picked up what was potentially a useful fragment of his text from an on-line search, and consequently acquired the book.

If the following typical sentences set your heart aglow, this book is for you:

What is problematic, at least in organization studies, is that this process of de-familiarizing lived experience has gone to extreme lengths.

Yet grasping temporality is not easy when research is conducted in a contemporary organization, whereas viewed from a historical distance it becomes easier to see how a process operates, or, as one might perhaps better say, proceeds.

In these and other ways, then, the BP case can serve as an illustration of both the empirical nature of modern organizations as located within a heterogeneous institutional and ideational network and the theoretical deficiencies of conceptualizing organization and environment as distinct spheres.

One of Professor Grey’s messages appears to be that those who experienced the labours at Bletchley Park are not really qualified to write or speak accurately about them, because they were too close to the action, and lacked the benefit of being exposed to organization studies research. On the other hand, the discipline of organization studies has become bogged down in its own complexities and jargon, with the result that the reading public cannot easily interpret their findings. Hence:

What I mean by this is that it has in recent years moved further and further from providing incisive, plausible and readable accounts of organizational life which disclose more of, and explain more of, the nature of that life than would be possible without academic inquiry, but which do so in ways which are recognizably connected to the practice of organizational life. Let me unpack that rather convoluted sentence. As is basic to all social science, organization studies is concerned with human beings who themselves already have all kinds of explanations, understandings and theories of the lives they live. These may be under-examined or unexplored altogether, or they may be highly sophisticated. Yet, as Bauman [1990: 9-16], amongst many others, points out, these essentially commonsensical understandings of human life differ from those offered by special scientists in several key respects, including attempts to marshall evidence and provide reflective interpretations which in some way serve to ‘defamiliarize’ lived experience and common sense.

When an academic writes admittedly convoluted sentences, but fails to correct them, and then has to explain them in print, it shows that the field is in deep trouble. The book contains one or two redeeming features. It presents one notable humorous anecdote: that Geoffrey Tandy was recruited because he was expert in ‘cryptogams’ (mosses, ferns, and so on), not ‘cryptograms’. And Grey supports those who believe that Denniston was poorly treated, and deserved his knighthood. But overall, it is a very dire book. Maybe those coldspur readers who arelocated within a heterogeneous institutional and ideational network might learn where your organization is failing you.

(I should like to thank Tony Comer most sincerely for his patient and wise help during my research for this piece, an earlier draft of which he read. He has answered my questions, pointed out some errors, and shown me some internal documents that helped shed light on the events. While I believe that our opinions are largely coincident, those that are expressed here, as well as any errors, are of course my own. Tony maintains a blog at https://siginthistorian.blogspot.com )

Primary Sources:

The Government Code and Cypher School Between the Wars by Alastair Denniston(1944)

The Official History of British Sigint 1914-1945 by Frank Birch (1946-1956 – published 2004)

The Ultra Secret by F. W. Winterbotham (1974)

The breaking up of the German cipher machine ENIGMA by the cryptological section in the 2nd Department of the General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces by Colonel Stefan Mayer (1974)

Bodyguard of Lies by Anthony Cave-Brown (1975)

Ultra Goes to War by Ronald Lewin (1978)

Most Secret War by R. V. Jones (1978)

British Intelligence in WW2 (Volume 1) by F. H. Hinsley (1979)

The Enigma War by Józef Garliński (1979)

Top Secret Ultra by Peter Calvocoressi (1980)

‘How Polish Mathematicians Deciphered the Enigma’, Annals of the History of Computing, 3/3 by M. Rejewski (1981)

The Hut Six Story by Gordon Welchman (1982)

The Missing Dimension edited by David Dilks & Christopher Andrew (1984)

The Spy in Hitler’s Inner Circle by Paul Paillole (1985; 2016)

GCHQ by Nigel West (1986)

The Ultra Americans by Thomas Parrish (1986)

Secret Service by Christopher Andrew (1986)

British Intelligence in WW2 (Volume 3, Part 2) by F. H. Hinsley, E. E Thomas, C. A. G. Simkins & C. F. G. Ransom (1988)

The Ultra Spy by F. W. Winterbotham (1989)

Seizing the Enigma by David Kahn (1991)

Codebreakers edited by F. H. Hinsley and Alan Stripp (1993)

Station X by Michael Smith (1998)

Battle of Wits by Stephen Budiansky (2000)

Enigma by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore (2000)

Thirty Secret Years by Robin Denniston (2007)

Dilly by Mavis Batey (2009)

GCHQ by Richard Aldrich (2010)

The Bletchley Park Codebreakers, edited by Ralph Erskine & Michael Smith (2011)

Decoding Organization by Christopher Grey (2012)

Gordon Welchman by Joel Greenberg (2014)

How I discovered World War II’s Greatest Spy & Other Stories of Intelligence and Code by David Kahn(2015)

Alastair Denniston by Joel Greenberg (2017)

XY&Z by Dermot Turing (2018)

Behind the Enigma by John Ferris (2020)

(Recent Commonplace entries can be viewed here.)

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Special Bulletin: PROSPER & the Letter to JINS

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)

Dear Sir,

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.

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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’.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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’.
  1. 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.

Sincerely

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)

* See:

https://coldspur.com/claude-danseys-mischief/ (June 2021)

https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-lets-twist-again/ (August 2021)

https://coldspur.com/the-prosper-disaster/ (October 2021)

https://coldspur.com/dericourts-double-act/ (November 2021)

https://coldspur.com/all-quiet-on-the-second-front/ (February 2022)

https://coldspur.com/bridgehead-revisited-three-months-in-1943/ (March 2022)

https://coldspur.com/feints-and-deception-two-more-months-in-1943/ (April 2022)

https://coldspur.com/the-demise-of-prosper/ (August 2022)

https://coldspur.com/prospers-flit/ (January 2023)

Phythian to Percy (February 9)

Dear Tony,  

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.  

Best Wishes,  

Mark  

Professor Mark Phythian  FAcSS
School of History, Politics & International Relations
University of Leicester

Percy to Phythian (February 10)

Dear Mark,

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)

Dear Tony,

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.

Best Wishes,

Mark

Percy to Phythian (February 16)

Dear Mark,

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.

Sincerely,

Tony.

(And that’s it. If I receive any further explanation from Professor Phythian, I shall post it here.)

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Filed under Espionage/Intelligence, General History, Politics

Prosper’s Flit

A Westland Lysander in 1943

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

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

Contents:

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

The Essential Problem

M. R. D. Foot’s ‘SOE in France’

E. H. Cookridge’s ‘Inside SOE’

Stella King’s ‘Jacqueline’

Patrick Marnham’s ‘War in the Shadows’

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

My Letter to Suttill

The Relevant Documents

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

The Flit

Francis Suttill’s Article

Conclusions

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legend:

A         Chaunont-sur-Tharonne (May 20)

B         Lille (May 21)

C         Neuvy (June 10-11)

D         Paris (June 11)

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

E          Paris (June 12)

F          Bazemont (June 12-13)

G         Romorantin (June 13)

H         Avaray (June 13)

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

The Essential Problem

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

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

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

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

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

M. R. D. Foot’s ‘SOE in France’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E. H. Cookridge’s ‘Inside SOE’

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘All The King’s Men’ by Robert Marshall

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

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

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

Stella King’s ‘Jacqueline’

Stella King’s ‘Jacqueline’

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

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

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

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

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

Patrick Marnham’s ‘War in the Shadows’

‘War in the Shadows’

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Prosper’ by Francis J. Suttill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Letter to Suttill

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

Dear Mr Suttill,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Neuvy Explosions

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

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

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

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

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

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

The arrival of WATCHMAKER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Implications for PROSPER

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

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

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

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

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

Lastly, a few miscellaneous observations:

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

Sincerely,

Tony.

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

The Relevant Documents

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

i) Boxshall’s Chronology

M. R. D. Foot was very reliant on a document prepared for him in 1960 by Colonel Edwin Boxshall, the first ‘SOE Advisor’ in the Foreign Office, titled Chronology of SOE Operations with the Resistance in France During World War II. A copy is held at the Imperial War Museum (see https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1030015651 ): the Catalogue indicates that the papers were filed between 2005 and 2007, i.e. not until after the revised edition of Foot’s History had been published. (An Introduction titled ‘Technical Corrections’, by Thomas L. Ensminger, is dated November 2006.) The document claims to provide a comprehensive history for Foot to work on, but, through its omissions, betrays the fact that the first two weeks of June were an uncomfortable period for SOE to accept or discuss.

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

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

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

ii) The Interrogations of Gaston Cohen

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

Interrogation of Gaston Cohen (page 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

iii) The Evidence of Pierre Culioli

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

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

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

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

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

The Flit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Francis Suttill’s Article

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

2022: Year-End Round-up

[from an original cut paper collage by Amanda White]

Seasonal Greetings to all coldspur readers! Thank you for all your comments, hints, corrections, praise, criticisms, messages of support, and challenges throughout 2022! Stay in touch.

The SOE On-Line Forum

‘The Airmen Who Died Twice’

Gibson & Gubbins: Further Myths?

Geoffrey Elliott: An Obituary

Coldspur and the archive

Notes and Queries

Dr Austin and ‘Agent Sonya’s Wireless’

John le Carré: Letters & TSWCIFTC

The National Archives

Documents No Longer Talk

Hilary Mantel, Fiction and History

Envoi: Philip Larkin’s Nightwear & Homo Sapiens and Us

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

The SOE On-Line Forum

The Special Operations Executive appears to have settled into a sedate maturity. Now over eighty years old, its authorized histories have been written (partially); the plaques and memorials of its most brave and intrepid agents have been set up: several biographies – all very flattering – of its most celebrated leader, Colin Gubbins, have been written; the ceremonies of remembrance take place with appropriate dignity and respect; the obituaries of its members are diminishing in number; occasional items on the radio and in the press about the exploits of SOE include a mix of romantic embellishment with more solid facts. Overall, its reputation is good: new histories of the war regularly emphasize the contribution it made to the conclusion of the hostilities, frequently citing the somewhat overstated opinion of General Eisenhower. No academic historian appears to want to rock the boat and present a re-assessment of the practices and achievements of the organization.

I am rather uncomfortable about this state of affairs. I have performed enough research this year, on the incidents involving PROSPER and the Cockade deception scheme, and in a detailed analysis of the contribution of Colonel Gubbins, to convince myself that the current story is inadequate and misleading. Part of this conclusion emanates from the fact that the authorized histories of SOE are so defective. The only substantial volume covers France, but the original 1960s edition was severely censored, and, when the author, M. R. D. Foot, came to revise it in 2004, he neglected to analyze subsequent research, and failed to reconcile conflicts in his story. Meanwhile, the air has been cluttered with a host of memoirs and biographies that casually mix archival records with highly dubious assertions about events.

Thus, earlier this year, I was energized to discover an SOE forum/chat-group on the Web, and joined it. I thought that a colloquium of serious students of SOE would lead to a more profound assessment of all the new evidence about the strategies of SOE, and its relationship with the Chiefs of Staff, with MI6, and with the London Controlling Station. The members of the group whose postings I have read are almost exclusively dedicated and estimable persons who are sincere about establishing the facts about a number of SOE actions and projects. They include some distinguished authors of books on military history and intelligence. They share their findings, and encourage others (many of whom are performing family-based research) in their aspirations, and guide them in their inquiries. They are led by a member of the Special Forces Club, which was created to perpetuate the heroics of members of SOE.

Yet I rapidly became disenchanted. The group is very absorbed with (and efficient at) resolving questions such as: At which country house did the Poles get their training? What airport was used for launching Operation X? What medals were awarded to the members of Mission Y? Exactly what firearms did they carry? What was the background of Agent Z? Whenever a matter of more controversial substance arises, however, I have noticed that a sepulchral silence takes over. I have been prompted a few times, by the raising of a topic close to my research on SOE (such as my coverage of PROSPER, or the career of Colin Gubbins, or the troublesome history of the Russian Section), gently to draw attention to my researches on coldspur by providing a link. While I have received some private messages of encouragement arising from such introductions, the only public statements from the forum have almost exclusively been intemperate and dismissive lectures from one of the senior members.

It seems to me that the group is somewhat in awe of Francis Suttill, and he has a cabal of supporters who rally round him. Now, I happen to think that Mr. Suttill deserves a lot of sympathy and respect: sympathy, because his father was cruelly murdered by the Nazis in March 1945, and respect, because he has performed some painstaking (but flawed) research into the exploits of F Section of SOE in WWII. But that does not entitle him to maintain a closed mind on the tribulations of 1943, which standpoint he has unmistakably adopted. He is in the thrall of M. R. D. Foot, the late historian of SOE, and of Mark Seaman, the successor to the advisors from the Foreign Office, and it appears to me that he is not really willing to engage in calm and constructive debate about the surviving anomalies of SOE’s French adventures in 1942 and 1943.

When in early November I drew attention to my research on coldspur, and my theory that Francis Suttill Sr. probably made two journeys back to the UK in May and June 1943, Suttill Jr. responded on the SOE forum with an ill-mannered attack on my scholarship. I ignored it, as previous direct exchanges with him had proved fruitless, and he had abandoned me mid-stream in April after we had started an email dialogue about the events of summer 1943. And then, a few days later, a person identified as ‘Emma’ submitted his complete tirade to me on coldspur, and I decided to approve the whole message, while pointing out that neither she nor Mr Suttill had apparently read what I had written. I said I would welcome any serious response, and would be delighted to engage in debate. Emma then replied, expressing her surprise at what I had written, while erroneously suggesting there was evidence that Suttill had never made a second visit to the UK (an almost impossible task to prove, incidentally).

All those postings can be seen at https://coldspur.com/feints-and-deception-two-more-months-in-1943/, following the text of the article. At this stage I decide that Emma needed to come out into the open, and I accordingly sent an email message to the address supplied with her WordPress posting, where I explained that she needed to divulge to me (confidentially) details about her real name, her residence, and her qualifications and connections before we moved forward. I then discovered that the email address she gave me was a non-existent one, and I alerted her (via coldspur) that she was henceforward disqualified from posting any comments on my site until she came clean with her name and affiliations. (The original email, and the subsequent posting, can also be inspected on coldspur.)

That was not the last I heard from ‘Emma’: a few days later she explained that she had mis-spelled her email address, and did not want to divulge her full name. That was enough for me: my policy is not to allow anyone to enter serious debate (as opposed to offering incidental comments) on coldspur who is unwilling to confide to me his or her name and qualifications. ‘Emma’ may not have been a woman; she may have been one of Suttill’s acolytes put up to goad me. I have no idea. In fact, since she has not offered one single argument of any merit, but simply shown herself as a shill for Suttill, it doesn’t really matter. But the whole farrago seems to be exceedingly sad: that a group established to investigate SOE (and promote the memory of its gallant agents, of course) should so smoothly slide into such incurious and obstinate behaviour, and that one of its members should so naively dissemble in an effort to discredit my own careful and professional researches, reflect poorly on the state of serious historical inquiry.

And then, out of the blue, at the end of November, I received a conciliatory email from Mr. Suttill, apologizing for taking so long to respond to my questions from last April. I thanked him for his insights, promised to follow his advice and delve carefully into the records, and on December 11 sent him a long and careful email listing a number of questions I had concerning his conclusions. A week later, I received a detailed reply, for which I was very grateful. It communicated a very useful message, although the text confirmed to me that Mr. Suttill really has no methodology behind his researches. Shortly after Christmas I consequently sent a long screed to Mr Suttill, in which I explained my methodological approach, and outlined in detail the flaws that I believe exist in his account of the events. I shall report on the outcome next month.

The Airmen Who Died Twice

Operation PARAVANE

Several correspondents have asked me where this project stands. I presented a teaser article back in early June of this year, where I described the crash of a Lancaster aircraft in Norway in September 1944, on a return from a bombing raid on the Tirpitz using a temporary airbase in Yagodnik, in northern Russia. I suggested that the records of the anomalous casualties had been covered up, as two of the fatalities initially reported survived only to be killed by the Germans on the Swiss border a month later, and I committed that a full explanation would be forthcoming.

It has proved to be a fascinating exercise. Nigel Austin (with whom I am collaborating) and I have now completed seven chapters of ten, and plan to complete the project by early 2023. What will happen with our story is uncertain: we hope to find a reputable outlet that will issue the story, although its length may be challenging. As a back-up, we have coldspur, and, if we decide to use that medium, shall probably release a chapter a week in order to make it a more manageable serial.

The ramifications of the accident have been wide-ranging. Our researches have taken us into such fields as: the strange, late decisions that were made on the logistics of the Tirpitz raid; Stalin’s SMERSH organization, and its relationship with the NKVD; the Warsaw Uprising; the use of bases in Poltava by the USAAF; SOE’s relationships with Norway’s resistance organization, MILORG; Communist factionalism in Norway; the Soviet Union’s plans for regaining territory in Finland and acquiring some in northern Norway; Stalin’s desire to acquire Allied technology clandestinely; the controversies surrounding the British Military Mission in Moscow; disagreements over policy between the War Office and the Foreign Office; and SOE’s relationship with the NKVD representative in London, Colonel Chichaev. The investigation is thus multi-faceted, and the conclusions are shocking. Watch this space for more information.

One of the most fascinating parts of the project has been studying the records of the communications between the Foreign Office, the Chiefs of Staff, the Air Ministry, the Joint Intelligence Committee, the Embassy in Moscow, and the 30 Military Mission (which was strictly independent of the Embassy and its own attachés representing the armed forces). A continual battle took place in 1943 and 1944 between the appeasers of the Foreign Office (rather surprisingly supported by Cavendish-Bentinck, Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee) and the Chiefs of Staff, who demanded a more rigorous approach by the Head of Mission in order to overcome Soviet intransigence and lack of co-operation. The Foreign Office managed to have General Martel recalled, presumably because of his arrogance and obstinacy, and arranged for the more conciliatory General Burrows to replace him. Yet Burrows quickly encountered the same difficulties as Martell had experienced, and started to echo Martell’s tune, much to the embarrassment of the Foreign Office mandarins.

One anecdote in this business I found very amusing. Sir Anthony Eden, the Foreign Minister, believed that he had established a strong personal relationship with Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet Foreign Minister, and wrote a personal note to him introducing General Burrows, assuring Molotov that he would take to Burrows ‘because he is a close personal friend of mine’. How Old Stonearse responded privately to this message is not recorded, but the allusion might have been lost on him. In the Soviet Union, ‘friends’ were people you informed upon and betrayed, lest they do the dirty on you first. Molotov himself failed to come to the rescue of his own wife, who was arrested and incarcerated by Stalin as an obvious member of the Great Jewish Conspiracy, and he subsequently divorced her. It just shows how little the Foreign Office understood the nature of the Soviet system.

Coincidentally, as I was concluding this section, I found an observation by George Kennan (at the time deputy to US Ambassador in Moscow Averell Harriman) made during the Yalta conference in February 1945. When asked to comment on personal relationships (Roosevelt had boasted of the ‘friendship’ he enjoyed with Stalin), Kennan said:

            For a Soviet official to do anything or say anything in deference to a personal relationship which one would not have done or said in a straight performance of official duties would be considered equivalent to acting in the interests of a foreign state.

Verb. sap.

Gibson & Gubbins: Further Myths?

When I wrote recently about Harold Gibson, and his imaginary spy in the Kremlin, I drew attention to the fact that an eager crew of writers was ready to promulgate the myth on the shakiest of evidence. As I delved more deeply into the stories surrounding Gibson, I discovered that Colin Gubbins, the SOE chief from September 1943 onwards, about whom I had somewhat disparagingly written earlier in the year, had also been infiltrated into some historical narratives, and such tales now appear as facts in many serious-looking article on the Web.

It all started with Frederick Winterbotham, who, in 1974, in his book The Ultra Secret, broke the silence on Bletchley Park and the decryption of ENIGMA (and other) signals that became known as ULTRA. Unfortunately, Winterbotham had only a vague idea of exactly what was going on, and he was assuredly ignorant of how the expertise in the internals of the ENIGMA machine had been developed. Someone must have fed him a line, since he described how, in 1938, a Polish mechanic working in Eastern Germany on ENIGMA got himself sacked and was sent back to Poland. In Warsaw, he reputedly contacted British Intelligence in Warsaw. The head of MI6, Hugh Sinclair, delegated the project to his deputy, Stewart Menzies. The Pole was smuggled out to Paris with the help of the Polish Secret Service, where the Deuxième Bureau gave him a workshop in which he constructed a model of ENIGMA.

Unfortunately, none of this was verifiable, but it did not prevent Anthony Cave-Brown from enthusiastically picking up (and embellishing) the story in his 1975 publication Bodyguard of Lies. He described how, in June 1938, Gibson issued a report on a visit he made to Warsaw, where he had met a Polish Jew named ‘Lewinsky’ (not his real name), who had worked at a factory in Berlin where the ENIGMA was produced. He had been expelled because of his religion, but felt he had valuable information to sell, and requested ₤10,000, a British passport, and a resident’s permit in France for him and his wife. He claimed that he knew enough to build a replica. Menzies was suspicious, but when the technical data were examined, the judgment emerged that his information was genuine. In August 1938, he sent two experts to meet Lewinsky in person, Dillwyn Knox and Alan Turing. If that distinguished twosome were satisfied that Lewinsky was genuine, they were to arrange with Gibson to take the Pole and his wife to Paris.

Now the careful student might at this stage raise some questions. Turing was not recruited by GC&CS until September 1939, so it would be unlikely that Knox would have selected him for such a sensitive project at that time. In any event, as Cave-Brown reported, they went to Warsaw and met Lewinsky, ‘a dark man in his early 40s’, as Wilfred Dunderdale, resident MI6 officer in Paris, described him. Knox and Turing returned and advised Menzies that the bargain should be accepted. Lewinsky and his wife were taken by Gibson through Gdynia and Stockholm to Paris, where Dunderdale took them under his wing. Lewinsky created the replica of the Enigma machine from his apartment.

Now this whole adventure is probably a complete hoax – and Dunderdale might have been complicit in it rather than responsible for providing an authentic-sounding testimony. In August 1939, a successful visit was made by GC&CS personnel to Polish Intelligence to gain information on, and a replica of, the Enigma machine. In several stories that can be found on the Web (at least one by a published author), Gubbins’ arrival in Poland just after the war broke out, on a military intelligence mission, has been presented as part of this successful exploit, but the claim does not hold any water. I shall explore and explain the whole shifty and contradictory story of how the Poles actually contributed to the success of the Enigma project in a posting early next year, but simply make the point here that the British, the French, and even the Poles, all out of reasons of national pride, or to cover up their own inadequacies or exaggerate their own creativity, all contributed to the haze that has surrounded the transfer of cryptologic skills to Bletchley Park, and their subsequent development.

The particular poignancy that this story has for me concerns Alastair Denniston, and the cruel way that his contributions between the wars were diminished when he was removed from his leadership in 1942, becoming the only head of GC&CS/GCHQ not to receive a knighthood. (I wrote about this puzzle in https://coldspur.com/sonias-radio-part-iv/ ) Now I believe I may understand why. I suspect that he made a fateful blunder in the early 1930s, when he rejected an approach from the French about gaining a copy of the specifications of the ENIGMA machine from Polish sources. That must have caused enormous frustration to Knox when he learned about it, and the British campaign to provide mechanisms to decrypt Enigma messages was set back several years. I shall pick up this story in my coming account, and also inspect the occasional claim made that the Gibson aspect of the adventure may have some truth to it.

Geoffrey Elliott: An Obituary

Geoffrey Elliott

Earlier this year I was invited to contribute an obituary on Geoffrey Elliott for the on-line newsletter published by the Whitgift Association, under the auspices of Whitgift School, which establishment we both attended (although Elliott left a year before I arrived). My father, who attended Whitgift from 1922-1930, was a master there for over thirty years, acted as honorary archivist, and wrote the History of Whitgift School, had also taught Elliott. The following duly appeared in October:

Geoffrey Elliott (1949-1955) was born in April 1939 to Kavan Elliott, a bohemian character who worked for the Special Operations Executive during World War II, and Sonia Redstone, the daughter of emigrés from Siberia. With his father engaged in both forced and unforced absences from the family home, Geoffrey’s mother had moved Geoffrey and his sister Jennifer to Purley, probably because Dick White, then a senior officer in MI5 (who had taught at the School in the early 1930s) had recommended Whitgift as an institution suitable for her son.

His career at Whitgift was unremarkable (described with wit in Geoffrey’s memoir about his father, I Spy), but in 1957 Sonia Elliott was killed by a drunk driver in Purley High Street. In Elliott’s words ‘life span out of control for a while’. Yet, with the support of his grandfather, he managed to find a position working as an articled clerk for the illustrious lawyer Lord Goodman, one of the two major influences in his life. Goodman had been the solicitor for the Balkan Sobranie tobacco business run by Geoffrey’s grandfather and great-uncle.

National Service then called, and Elliott entered the Intelligence Corps. Having applied to learn Arabic, he was then sent on the last of the courses for interpreters in Russian, and spent an enjoyable couple of years journeying between Cambridge and London. He starred at this assignment (despite never having learned any Russian from his grandparents). The rewards, however, were unexciting. As he wrote: “Not for me the clandestine delights of supposedly chance encounters on that well-worn Regent’s Park bench with some charismatic unfrocked Hungarian priest coyly sounding me out for membership of the Whitgift Twelve.”

Instead, his training led him to a productive spell of translating, where his main customer was ‘that bow-tied bullshit artist’ Robert Maxwell. He married Fay (who predeceased him by two years), and moved to Reuters, where he very successfully monitored Soviet radio broadcasts. It was at this time that he worked in some capacity for ‘the Firm’ (MI6), following his father, who had undergone painful experiences in Hungary after being arrested there in 1948 with the cover of an executive for Unilever. Elliott became a senior associate member at St Antony’s College, Oxford, and his friends and colleagues there became an important part of his research activities in later life. He was elected to an Honorary Fellowship there in 1997.

The second major influence on Elliott was the banker Siegmund Warburg, the head of an ‘arriviste’ but very successful banking-house, who had refreshing ideas about recruitment and training. Elliott prospered there before being tempted to move to the USA, where he became Managing Director for Morgan Stanley. In 1990 the Elliotts retired to Bermuda, where they embarked on a generous and culturally rich course of philanthropy. Geoffrey became Chairman of the Bermuda National Gallery, and was awarded the OBE in 2004 for his contribution to Bermuda’s cultural heritage. In 2002, Geoffrey and Fay also donated an exceptional assortment of rare books and manuscripts to the Special Collections Library of Leeds University.

Geoffrey Elliott was a widely-read individual, with a broad interest in many matters of history and culture, and he devoted much of his retirement in a quest to learn more about his errant father’s life and exploits, as well as the exotic background of his maternal grandparents. He left two outstanding memoirs, I Spy (primarily about his father), and From Siberia, With Love, which is an extraordinary account of how the Redstones met in prison, married, and made their way to London before returning to Siberia and escaping a second time. His books are percipient, witty, and allusive, a combination of the content, style and anecdotage of John le Carré, Fitzroy Maclean and Alan Furst.

Yet one unique achievement occurred in a more covert way. Elliott contributed to other books, such as Secret Classrooms, with Harold Shukman, which tells the story of the Joint Services School for Linguists, and with Igor Damaskin to a biography of Kitty Harris, Donald Maclean’s lover, The Spy With Seventeen Names. He was also in demand as a translator, applying his skills to Rufina Philby’s memoir, and more exquisitely, translating documents from the KGB archive for Nigel West’s book on government secrets purloined by the Cambridge Five (Triplex), which the Soviets had translated into Russian. Since many of these original papers have not been released by the British Government, Elliott’s re-translations of these back into English are the only available versions.

This obituarist had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with Elliott (by email and telephone) while researching his doctorate in Security and Intelligence Studies a few years ago. Geoffrey was modest, insightful, patient, amusing – and sometimes very waspish. The character and wisdom of the man came through immediately, and I was very grateful for his guidance on some problematic matters of intelligence.

Geoffrey Elliott’s heritage was surely more exotic than most. Yet in some way it perhaps mirrored that of many Whitgiftians. Mysterious backgrounds tend to be subdued in the uniforms and conventionality of suburban schooling, and the subjects probably believe their lives are just as normal or abnormal as that of every other boy. And then they take their experiences to make some sort of mark in the wider world. In Geoffrey’s case, he underwent a few apparently mundane years in Surrey suburbia, plagued by teenage worries and bizarre schoolmasters. A full life then followed, an outstanding career in several fields of endeavour, all carried out with aplomb but little trumpeting. He concluded in his retirement that he had become a ‘rootless cosmopolitan’, but, despite his lack of sense of belonging, Elliott left a deep and positive impression everywhere he worked and lived. He died in Bermuda on May 1, 2021.

(Soon after this piece was published, I heard from my friend Nigel Platts, who edits the newsletter in which it appeared, that he had recently encountered a close schooltime friend of Geoffrey Elliott’s on a social occasion. This colleague mentioned that, when he and Elliott took O-Level Latin, Elliott left Big School after 20 minutes or thereabouts, not because he was stumped by the paper but because he had completed it. His friend said that Elliott was a most remarkable linguist – it was no surprise that he went through the JSSL or that he prospered in investment banking.)

Coldspur and the archive

Since I wrote about the challenges of preserving my library of books and papers, and making it available for a future generation of researchers, a few correspondents have expressed sympathy with my efforts to find a suitable home, and have offered some suggestions. I am grateful to them all, and am happy to report – rather cautiously, as nothing has been signed yet – that I am engaged in very positive discussions with an institution that is very enlightened about ‘special collections’, appreciates the unique substance of my collection of books and archival material, and is also imaginative as to how some of my research aids, such as the very detailed Chronology of Events supported by hundreds of sources, could be deployed electronically to empower students of twentieth-century history. I shall report further as the project evolves.

Two other aspects of the archive occupy my mind occasionally. I am frequently stressed to recall in which posting an important reference occurs. The internal search capability provides some introductory information, but is not adequate for detailed inspection, and I have to switch to my Word versions to obtain highlighted incidences. A comprehensive Index would be very desirable, but, owing to the density of the texts, would be a mammoth exercise that I am not prepared to undertake. Perhaps an undergraduate project at some stage.

The other exercise would be to create PDF versions of major pieces, a feature that a few correspondents have asked about. (Some find the on-line version unwieldy to read, and I do provide Word versions of each piece on request.) PDFs would presumably give the articles greater substance and identity, and maybe increase their utility and availability. I do not have a full license for Postscript, so have not been able to experiment with such a process, but, if any reader has insights and advice on this topic, I should be happy to receive them.

What about the short term? Over the holidays I was reading about the new ‘chatbot’ (dreadful word!) ChatGPT, and how it was amazingly producing elegant responses to routine inquiries. So I decided to try it out, to see how it would respond to the question ‘Who was ELLI?’, and thereby advance the cause of human knowledge. I thus went to the OpenAI site, requested a download for the free trial, entered my email address, and then responded to the verification message by entering my telephone number. I then received the message: “SMS Verification is not supported by landline phones”.

Ha! I wasn’t falling for that! The oldest trick in the book! My cellphone sits in my drawer, turned off, for 98% of the time, and is only powered on when I go out. (Though I expect that, before too long, I shall need to reveal it in order to access my own bank account . . .) I don’t give the number out to anyone: the only two persons who know it are our son and my wife. So OpenAI isn’t that smart, is it? On the other hand, perhaps someone else who is more liberal in passing out his or her mobile phone number could try out ChatGPT, and let me know the answer to the ‘ELLI’ question.

So what about coldspur in 2023? On the docket: PROSPER’s secret return to the UK; the truth behind Alistair Denniston and ENIGMA; the resolution of The Airmen Who Died Twice; the structure of Soviet counter-espionage in MI5 at the end of the war; John Tiltman’s mysterious exploits in Finland; a study of wireless traffic probably betrayed by George Graham; an inspection of the recently release MI5 files from Kew; perhaps more on ELLI and Archie Gibson  . . . . (although, at some stage during 2023, I might hand over the writing of the blog to ChatGPT. I doubt anyone will notice). Don’t touch that dial!

Notes and Queries

I frequently receive from correspondents tips on matters of intelligence, some of which seem particularly fruity, and need to be followed up. Yet I always ask the following questions:

  • Who is the source?
  • Is there any documentary evidence?
  • May I quote you?

And if any of the answers are negative, I tread very carefully, lest I appear like Chapman Pincher, fed spurious information by ‘good authorities who have to remain anonymous’.

One recent item sounded plausible. I was told that MI5 applied a lot of pressure on Leo Marks (and his publishers) when he wrote Between Silk and Cyanide, as he had included some very critical remarks about SOE’s performance in WWII, and the service had successfully managed to keep such comments out of the book. Now that would not surprise me, as Marks made some fairly scathing observations about Colin Gubbins, and what he had originally written might ‘help me with my inquiries’ into the deceptions of F Section. My informant said that Marks’s original manuscript existed somewhere, waiting to be inspected, but could not tell me any more. Can anyone out there help?

My second query relates to Genrikh Borovik’s Philby Files. Keith Ellison and I have been working closely on this very chaotic book recently, trying to resolve its many errors, paradoxes and contradictions. For instance, Borovik’s claim that Ivan Chichaev handled Philby during the war turns out to be almost certainly false, since Borovik equates VADIM with Chichaev, and has him handling Philby in early 1941. But Chichaev did not arrive in London until December 1941, and VADIM was Anatoly Gorsky.

A passage that has particularly engrossed us is the transcription of a report made by Gorsky (then named ‘KAP’) from London, to Moscow Centre, on July 10, 1939. It runs as follows:

            Very soon, ‘S’ will come here to resolve the question of future work. While here, ‘Mary’ met one of her intimate friends, a certain ‘Stuart’, whom, she says, we knew nothing about. She has written a detailed report on him. This ‘Stuart’ is now working on some top-secret project, probably for the illegal ministry of information and, in his words, has already recommended ‘Söhnchen’ for this work to his bosses. The question will be decided while ‘Söhnchen’ is here.

(‘S’ and ‘SÖHNCHEN’ are Philby. ‘MARY’ is Litzi Philby, domiciled primarily in Paris, where Donald Maclean is currently stationed. Maclean’s cryptonym is now STUART, it having been changed since Kathy Harris, his courier and lover, revealed his previous cryptonym, LYRIK, to him, against all the rules.)

Keith and I disagree about the probable identity of ‘Stuart’. He thinks that it refers to Maclean, and that Maclean was probably involved with Guy Burgess’s project at the Joint Broadcasting Company (the ‘illegal ministry of information’). He deems it unlikely that two agents would have been given the name of STUART. My thought is that ‘Stuart’ is the person’s real name. Litzi Philby strongly suggests that the person is working in London, and that she had a meeting with him there. Maclean, moreover, would hardly have been spending time on any such surreptitious projects from Paris.

There is ambiguity in the phrase ‘we knew nothing about’ him. Is ‘we’ the London residency, or the NKVD overall? The London station was being rebuilt, and trying to discover who its agents were. Yet, if Litzi knew that her ‘Stuart’ was actually Maclean, why would she have to write a detailed report on him, since she could have referred Gorsky to Moscow Centre, which was receiving Maclean’s reports from the Paris residency? It sounds to me as if ‘Stuart’ is a potential new contact working in the government (and probably not Stuart Hampshire, who, while having a slightly dubious reputation in this business, was a fellow at All Souls’ College at this time). ‘Stuart’ knows Philby well enough to want to recommend him for a job, and is surely working on the wrong side of the blanket if he is an ‘intimate friend’ of Litzi’s.

Ironically, this may not be the only occasion where confusion over cryptonyms has reigned. In SOE’s F Section in 1943, Henri Déricourt was known as ‘GILBERT’. In some communications, GILBERT was taken as referring to Gilbert Norman (ARCHAMBAUD), PROSPER’s chief wireless operator, with unhappy outcomes. For instance, in May 1943, the Abwehr agent Richard Christmann, posing as a Belgian resistance worker called ‘Arnaud’, asked the proprietor of a Paris restaurant where members of PROSPER’s group frequently met if he could put him in touch with GILBERT, and the owner naively led him to Gilbert Norman.

Borovik uses this incident to show the confusion at the Lubyanka over the identity of their sources, but perhaps it has a simpler explanation. Can anyone help? How would you interpret this passage? And can you shed light on who ‘Stuart’ might be? Answers on a postcard, please.

Dr Austin and ‘Agent Sonya’s Wireless’

Dr. Brian Austin

Coldspur readers may recall Dr Brian Austin, now retired, who was a distinguished academic in the Department of Engineering and Electronics at Liverpool University, and is a noted historian and biographer (of Sir Basil Schonland). Over the years, he has been very helpful in guiding me on wireless matters, and he contributed a vital column on coldspur in December 2020, where he explained the difference between wavelengths and frequencies. He is also a keen follower of intelligence matters, and has tracked with great interest the erratic accounts of Sonya’s adventures with wireless. He even wrote to Ben Macintyre to challenge the popular author’s claims, but his appeals went unanswered.

That interest was recently converted into a fascinating and comprehensive analysis of the unlikely exploits that Sonya must have undertaken to achieve the results attributed to her in Macintyre’s largely fanciful account of her enterprises in espionage, or, more accurately, couriership. Dr Austin’s article, ‘Sonya’s Wireless: fact, fiction, fantasy and fable’ was published by Signal magazine in August of this year. Unfortunately, the publishers of Signal do not offer an on-line version, but Dr Austin has generously allowed me to post the PDF of his article on coldspur, and it can be viewed at Sonya’s Wireless.

[I regret that I have experienced a few problems installing and using the Plug-In for importing PDFs to WordPress, which may not have been tested with the release of the product that I use. The result is not as clean as I hoped: the PDF can appear only as a ‘Post’, not a separate ‘Page’, and I cannot correct the text, or its erratic disruption of paragraphs. I may try scanning the individual pages into a separate document. My apologies.]

I am sure all coldspur readers will be impressed by Dr Austin’s scholarship and insights. He brings to what could easily have become a dry-as-dust study a wonderfully entertaining analysis, laced with wit and wisdom. His article deserves wider distribution. One item to which I want to draw attention, however, is Dr Austin’s link to my review of Ben Macintyre’s book on the website of the Journal of Intelligence and National Security. Since the review will be blocked from non-subscribers, I remind readers that they can access it on coldspur, at https://coldspur.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Courier-traitor-bigamist-fabulist-behind-the-mythology-of-a-superspy.pdf.  Now, if only we could persuade Ben Macintyre to study our articles seriously. . . .

John le Carré: Letters & TSWCIFTC

John le Carre

My copy of John le Carré’s Letters, A Perfect Spy, arrived earlier this month, and I have been reading it with mixed reactions. Overall, it is rather a bland and routine collection, where the letter-writer rarely gives much away of the secret self that he protected for so long. Le Carré carefully selected which of his letters should be preserved, although the editor, his son, Tim, was able to supplement the trove with items from various addressees, and their archives. I had to turn back to Adam Sisman’s unsatisfactory biography (he appeared to lose interest as his subject aged) to fill in some of the pieces. A few extracts appear, but no letters written to le Carré are included, a phenomenon that always gives a one-dimensional aspect to the dialogues that must have gone on. Only occasionally does the wit, drive and magnetism that made le Carré such an attractive partner come through – as in a very impassioned letter that he wrote to his lover, Susan Kennaway, who was, with her husband, close friends of le Carré and his first wife, Ann. Here he essentially breaks off the relationship, but the inclusion is surely made to remind readers of his essential decency. While I should have liked to read the letter le Carré claimed he sent to Stalin, expressing his support for opening the ‘Second Front’, and complaining about his boarding-school,  I was distressed to read his letter to Ben Macintyre of August 31, 2020, complimenting him on Agent Sonya: ‘ . . . it’s absolutely terrific; an elegantly assembled, scrupulously researched, beautifully told compulsive read, and an extraordinary slice of history’, and ‘But best of all you made us over time love and admire Sonya herself’. ‘Love and admire’? ‘Us’? Pass the sick bag, Alice.

TSWCIFTC

Over the holiday I also watched the DVD of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, which I had acquired a few months ago. I had imagined that I must have seen this film back in 1966, soon after it came out (when I had already read the book), but I could recall only one scene –  the event in the grocery-shop where Leamas attacks the proprietor for not granting him credit –  and the bulk of it seemed entirely fresh, so maybe I just saw a trailer. I know I did not understand all the twists when I read the book as an eighteen-year-old, so I brought a more seasoned perspective to the story in 2022.

It was an engrossing experience in many ways. The views of 1960s London were fascinating, and it was good to see again some familiar faces (e.g. Robert Hardy, Michael Hordern, Rupert Davies, and the delightful Claire Bloom, still with us, I happily notice, at age ninety-one). The sets were suitably damp and noirish, and the acting was generally excellent. But the scenes in cars looked very phony (why did drivers think they had to twist childishly the steering-wheel left and right all the time to suggest they were really manipulating a vehicle?), and the proceedings of the DDR tribunal, all being carried out in impeccable English, were jarring. If those scenes were re-done, I imagine they would take place in a mixture of English and German, but with sub-titles.

The actions of the East German traitor, Mundt, troubled me, and I wondered whether le Carré had got in a bit above his head. Mundt has inveigled Leamas’s lover, Nan Perry (Liz Gold in the book) into the country, in order for her to show the tribunal that she knew George Smiley, and that MI6 was paying her rent. Leamas himself is shown to be a false defector, under control of MI6, and would face a hefty sentence. (In the book, he kills an East German guard: I did not notice that in the movie.) Mundt is in a quandary: he knows that he is expendable to the British, and that he must be being watched carefully by the DDR government. Nan is a British citizen (though a member of the Communist Party), and would be expected to be able to make an open return to the UK. But she knows too much, and could betray him. Mundt would have little ideological sympathy for Leamas, since he himself is a mercenary, not an ideological, traitor, but he presumably feels he has to send Leamas back somehow to please his controllers in London.

So why the ruse to have Leamas and Perry make a dangerously arranged flight over the Berlin Wall (although the murder of Perry was always planned that way)? Why did Perry go along with it? And why didn’t Mundt simply arrange for them to have been unfortunately killed in a car accident, disposing of them relatively quietly, and washing his hands of them, instead of organizing a highly unlikely escape from their place of incarceration? No doubt I am missing something. The recruitment of Mundt, and the matter of his psychology and motivations, must present challenges that are not easily side-stepped. I shall have to go back and re-read the book. (I note that le Carré, in a 1994 letter to a German reader who spotted inconsistencies in the novel, wrote: “The book was always a rough instrument and underwent none of the fine editorial tuning to which I and my publishers have subjected my more recent work.”)

The National Archives

On October 11 a considerable number of MI5 files was released to the public. They contained files ‘on people with links to the Cambridge spy ring, including Fred Warner, Jack Hewit, Victor and Tess Rothschild, and Goronwy Rees’. I am sure that Victor Rothschild would have objected violently to being described in those terms, as it suggests that he was in some way associated with the ring itself, as opposed to just being on friendly terms with its members, but the categorization is just. What is regrettable that the files on the spies themselves have not been released, and the supposed reasons (such as members of a family having to be protected) are obviously spurious in the case of Guy Burgess, who had no offspring.

I have not inspected carefully any of these files yet, but plan to do so in 2023. One of my correspondents, Edward M, has beaten me to the punch, and he has posted a comment against my November 2019 Round-up concerning Rothschild’s attempts to alert Peter Wright to the true identity of ‘PETERS’ (the MI5 investigation into the reliability of Graham Mitchell). William Tyrer has alerted me to a 1961 investigation into Jenifer Hart as a possible ‘ELLI’ suspect. Keith Ellison has also dug into the file on Harold Philby (actually released in 2002), and discovered some references to vetting procedures being explored with Litzi Philby (Kim’s first, Communist, wife) and Kim himself at the end of 1939 and early 1940, before Philby’s official interview with Valentine Vivian of MI6 in July 1940. Keith has written these up in his e-book (page 22), for which a link appears in my recent report ‘Gibby’s Spy’.

Young Stalin

My interest was piqued by the fact that the files recently released included records of the notorious rabble-rouser Joseph Stalin, as if he were one of those dubious characters that MI5’s watchers should ‘keep an eye on’ if he managed to gain entry to the country via Harwich or some other port, perhaps in some disguise. In fact the Personal File on Stalin was created only on December 13th, 1920, when he was recognized as a ‘revolutionary propagandist’, and most of the file concerns reactions after his death in 1953, and various rumours about his death, and his possibly having been a spy for the Okhrana in his younger days.

Yet Stalin had visited the United Kingdom in 1907, and was watched by the Special Branch. As Stephen Kotkin wrote in the first volume of his biography, Stalin: Paradoxes of Power 1878-1928:

. . . Jughashvili [Stalin] stole across the border to attend the 5th Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party Congress held between April 30 and May 19, 1907, in north London’s Brotherhood Church. Congress luminaries were lodged in Bloomsbury, but Jughashvili stayed with the mass of delegates in the East End. One night, utterly drunk, he got into a pub scrape with a drunken Brit [serious historians should never refer to subjects of HRH as ‘Brits’. Ed.] , and the owner summoned the police. Only the intercession of the quick-witted, English-speaking Bolshevik Meir Henoch Mojszewicz Wallach, known as Maxim Litvinov, saved Jughashvili from arrest.

Who was that heroic citizen who, with a better-guided punch, might perhaps have caused a career-stopping injury to the future dictator? He should have been given an OBE on the spot. And if Stalin had been arrested, could not an unfortunate accident have been arranged that would have taken him permanently out of commission? What worldwide pain and suffering might have been averted had he come to a sticky end in Stepney! In any case, the Special Branch appeared not to start a tab on him. And maybe the survival of Litvinov (who married an English girl, Ivy Low, in 1916) owed something to the fact that he had intervened to save his room-mate and pal back in 1907. Anastas Mikoyan, however, suggested that Stalin had had Litvinov murdered in a motor accident in 1951.

One significant item in the file is a somewhat portentous obituary written by Sir Alvary Trench-Gascoigne, the British Ambassador to the Soviet Union at the time of Stalin’s death. He composed a tribute to Stalin for the attention of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Anthony Eden, rather understating the Marshall’s cruelties while exaggerating his leadership qualities. It is titled ’Some of the Main Facts in Stalin’s Life’. Thus we learn that, when Stalin became supreme ruler of Russia [sic: actually the U.S.S.R.] in 1924:

            He ruthlessly disposed of his enemies, replaced the ‘old’ intelligentsia with his own bureaucratic henchman [sic], and finally purged the party of most of the remnants of the old guard Bolsheviks, sending many thousands of guilty and innocent alike to death or concentration camps.

Thousands? Maybe that was the best assessment the Foreign Office had at the time, but the summary ignores all the horrors of the Holodomor, the Purges, and the immensity of the Gulags. Gascoigne (as he signs himself here) goes on to praise Stalin’s personality:

            He has played an outstanding part on the world scene for almost thirty years of this century. His position was due to his extraordinary tenacity and strength of character, his salty realism, shrewdness and common sense. In company he knew how to relieve his normal dourness of manner with striking flashes of humour and undoubted reserves of personal charm. His personality had the quality of greatness, the proof of which is the way in which he transformed Russia from a backward semi-agrarian economy into a military-industrial State of first importance.

What a mensch! About the only thing Gascoigne left out was that Stalin ‘was a man you would want to go tiger-shooting with’. It is all rather gruesome and feeble. Here was a man who had recently extended his prison-camp over the whole of eastern Europe, and had designs on bringing the western countries under his orbit, by force if necessary. And Gascoigne appears to be oblivious to the threat. Still, that had been the dominant Foreign Office view of the man, and of the Soviet Union, for a while.

Documents No Longer Talk

Documentstalk was a website that I occasionally used to visit. It was managed by someone called Svetlana Chervonnaya, and she introduced it with the following text:

            I live in Moscow, Russia, and by education and professional experience I am what we call here an ‘Amerikanist’ – a scholar whose occupation is the study of the United States of America.

Chervonnaya’s mission was to shed light on fresh revelations from Soviet archives on the exploits of Soviet espionage in the United States. It appeared that she had access to files that were not available to other researchers, although I questioned that assertion, as her explanations were not convincing. William Tyrer, who performed some valuable original research on Igor Gouzenko, and also had some challenging experiences with the Cleveland Cram archive, was in regular touch with her.

Yet www.documentstalk.com  is no more. At least, the substance has disappeared. President Putin must have decided that such open discussions acted counter to Russian interests, and closed it down. The website is now just a shell. However, by clicking on it, one can discover a replica of its final status maintained elsewhere, at http://deadlypass.com/wp/highlights/.

An intelligence insider told me the following: “Chervonnaya’s site was taken down. Its mission to spread historical defamation was unpopular as she tended to complicate rather than correct. She was a collector of suggested anomalies in US cases. There was fear of leakage too from other official historians. Agentura.RU was useful for the contemporary scene.  But it has also been closed down by Putin although the SVR director is a ‘keen historian’. He was assigned by Putin to rewrite the school history curriculum.”

For better or worse, such a fate probably does not await coldspur. An inferior destiny than having too much attention paid, however, is not having any attention at all. What I would give to gain the notoriety of having coldspur suppressed by the authorities! I have illusions that Calder Walton is feverishly emending his Cambridge History of Espionage and Intelligence, because of disclosures that he has read on coldspur; that tense meetings are being held at Vauxhall Cross, owing to my revelations about the ‘legendary’ MI6 officer, Harold Gibson, and for fear of publicity about George Graham’s betrayal of secret codes and cyphers in the wartime Soviet Union; and that Mark Seaman, ‘historian’ at the Cabinet Office, is nervously polishing his MBE medal under the supposition that the colossal mis-steps of SOE in 1943 are about to be made public. When I next travel to the United Kingdom, I shall be ready for that ‘tap on the shoulder’ as I attempt to pass through Customs.

Hilary Mantel, Fiction and History

Hilary Mantel

During my researches, I continually come across the challenge of deciding what archival material is authentic, and what is spurious – that is, issued as a means of disinformation. In the world of intelligence, fiction masquerading as history is a common occurrence, whether it is Ben Macintyre regurgitating Sonya’s ‘memoir’, MI6 officers passing on stories to Chapman Pincher, or the SOE adviser guiding M. R. D. Foot through selected massaged reports and memoranda. Thus, when a colleague a few weeks ago introduced me to statements made by Hilary Mantel in her First 2017 Reith lecture, comments that described how she viewed the roles of historical fiction and history-writing, my interest was piqued. I am a fan of Hilary Mantel, have enjoyed her Cromwell books immensely, and support most of her ideas about writing historical fiction. I responded very positively to some of the statements she made, such as: “To retrieve history we need rigour, integrity, unsparing devotion and an impulse to scepticism”, but I had to disagree with many of her comments, which I found sentimental – even mystical – and lacking in that intellectual rigour she admitted to admiring. I hereby comment on some excerpts:

We carry the genes and the culture of our ancestors, and what we think about them shapes what we think of ourselves, and how we make sense of our time and place. . . . . My concern as a writer is with memory, personal and collective: with the restless dead asserting their claims. . . . . . I have no names beyond my maternal great-grandmother – but let me introduce her, as an example, because she reached through time from the end of the nineteenth century to form my sense of who I am. . . .

The first assertion is both a truism, and untrue. Of course we carry the genes of our ancestors, but to select a partial ancestor (as Mantel does) to create some kind of mystical linkage is simplistic. She has eight great-grandparents: why does she single out her maternal great-grandmother, just because she is the only great-grandparent she knows anything about? What did the other seven contribute to her sense of who she was? (What does that mean, anyway? Is this a 21st-century fetish about ‘identity’?) And what does this whimsical notion of her great-grandmother’s ‘reaching through time’ mean? (It was Mantel who performed the ‘reaching’.) If you go back six centuries to the Tudors, one’s potential ancestors could maximally number about sixteen million, at a time when the population of England was about three million. The conclusions are obvious. Duplication compresses the number, so why and how can anyone reduce one’s lineage to a known few? Moreover, we do not ‘carry the culture of our ancestors’: that is absurd. ‘Culture’ is not magically imprinted into DNA, but transferred through teaching and practice. And again, why single out the ‘culture’ (whatever that means) of a few whose behaviour and beliefs are known to us? This is just sloppy thinking.

There is no such entity as ‘collective memory’, or ‘living memory’. It resembles that other fashionable trope – ‘the lived experience’, as if there were any other kind. If facts about previous times are passed on, that is a version of history, or possibly folk history. (Later in the lecture, Mantel writes: “When we remember – as psychologists so often tell us – we don’t reproduce the past, we create it”, thus openly admitting that ‘memory’ is a flaky construct.) The notion that the ‘restless dead’ assert their claims is mystical nonsense. Her concern as a writer is more about ‘imagination’, how to attribute, based on facts about an era and possibly imperfect knowledge about the lives of her subjects, how they might well have thought and acted, given some universal insights into ‘human nature’ (again a very dubious concept – as Mantel herself conceded in answering a question at the time).

We remember as a society, with a political agenda – we reach into the past for foundation myths of our tribe, our nation, and found them on glory, or found them on grievance, but we seldom found them on cold facts.

I do not know who this ‘we’ is. Does Mantel claim to speak for all of ‘society’, or does she grant that quality to historians or other historical novelists? Which are our ‘tribes’ in twenty-first century Britain – the Freemasons? the MCC? The Iceni? I agree that ‘foundation myths’ are frequently perpetrated erroneously (as I was taught about the British Empire as a boy), but to unify everybody into a ‘political agenda’ whereby history is used supposedly to achieve political ends is simply absurd. What about those scholars who step outside the ‘tribe’ and try to deal with ‘cold facts’? What are the ‘cold facts’ that Mantel recognizes? Which historians established them? What method does she use to distinguish cold facts from lukewarm ones?

Nations are built on wishful versions of their origins: stories in which our forefathers were giants, of one kind or another. This is how we live in the world: romancing.

Again, some truth in the legend-making of much historiography – see Putin or Arthur Marshall – even Churchill. But to universalize the notion by suggesting that ‘we’ all live in a world this way is patronizing and incorrect.

Historians are sometimes scrupulous and self-aware, sometimes careless or biased. Yet in either case, and hardly knowing which is which, we cede them moral authority. They do not consciously fictionalize, and we believe they are trying to tell the truth. But historical novelists face – as they should – questions about whether their work is legitimate. No other sort of writer has to explain their trade so often. The reader asks, is this story true?

Again, who is this ‘we’, and why generalize all historians this way? Who ‘cedes them moral authority’? Of course, some are careless or biased, but, if they are, other historians should point that out, and refine the story – which is precisely what happens. Mantel indicates this when she writes: “Any worthwhile history is a constant state of self-questioning, just as any worthwhile fiction is”, although the comparison with the tasks of historical fiction is irrelevant. As someone dealing with the challenge of highly dubious archival records I try to do this all the time, especially with the ‘authorized’ historians of intelligence. But the response should be – better history, not more historical fiction.

The problem is that when ‘public intellectuals’ advance in the public eye, are invited on to Any Questions, and then rise to the status of being a ‘national treasure’, which is what Mantel became, persons who should know better treat their utterances with a respect that is undeserved, and consider their opinions on any subject under the sun as coming from authority. (The transcripts of Mantel’s lectures can be viewed at https://bluebook.life/2021/07/19/hilary-mantels-lectures-on-historical-fiction/ .) She was thrown mostly softball questions, and was showered with applause.

Envoi: Philip Larkin’s Nightwear & Homo Sapiens and Us

Virginia Stride, Alan Bennett & John Sergeant

My attention was recently drawn to an article in the Times Literary Supplement that described how the Poet Laureate Simon Armitage had ended up examining the pyjamas of the poet Philip Larkin. I immediately recalled an analogous sketch on the 1960s BBC2 comedy program On The Margin, written by, and starring, Alan Bennett, and it occurred to me that the only two persons on the planet who might remember it were my brother and Alan Bennett himself. My brother, true to form, knew instantly to what I was referring, and I decided to write a letter to the Editor of the TLS. It ran as follows:

            Kyra Piperides’ report on the poet laureate’s ‘bemusement and indignity of excavating Larkin’s pyjamas’ (TLS, November 25) was a poignant example of life imitating art. I recall a sketch from Alan Bennett’s BBC2 series On the Margin (scandalously destroyed by a BBC functionary) where the authenticity of Kafka’s Underpants was discussed by Bennett. Moreover, with the knowledge of Larkin’s enthusiasm for jazz, we now have a reliable explanation for the source of the phrase ‘the cat’s pyjamas’.

Sadly, the Editor declined to publish my letter. Perhaps it was not serious enough for him. I can still today hear the voice of my Russian teacher, Martin Clay, booming to me: ‘Don’t be frivolous, Percy!’

On the other hand, the Editor must have been more impressed with a letter I sent him a week later, where I twitted the faulty logic of Charles A. Foster, a fellow at Exeter College, Oxford, and visiting professor at the Oxford Law Faculty. The Editor, Martin Ivens, published the following in the issue of December 16th, my seventy-sixty birthday:

            In his somewhat excitable review of Paul Pettitt’s Homo Sapiens Rediscovered (TLS, December 2), Charles Foster comes to the provocative conclusion that ‘we’ are all ‘Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherers’. While that might come as a surprise to many of your readers, Foster undermines his logic by stating that ‘when we arrived in Eurasia it was already occupied by other humans – Neanderthals and Denisovans’, whose DNA nevertheless, because of sexual interaction, endures in ‘us’. Thus to exclude Neanderthals and Denisovans from ‘us’ appear a very unscholarly – one might say ‘speciesist’ – analysis of humanoid history.

I wish a very productive and prosperous 2023 to all my fellow Upper (and Lower) Paleolithic hunter-gatherers! As the anthropologist Domenica Lordie said in Alexander McCall Smith’s A Time of Love and Tartan: “I have lived with hunter-gatherers before, you know, and they tend to be utterly charming people, with lots to say.” Of course, there are some ‘climate’ activists who would have us return to those innocent times of hunting/gathering. Though I suspect that fox-hunting would be banned under their régime, a long list of species would be protected from any venery, and the much-maligned ovine community would be shut down as an inefficient protein-conversion agency . . .

Lastly, a bit of animal nonsense for the New Year, from Christian Morgenstern:

Wie sich das Galgenkind die Monatsname merkt [How the gallows-child remembers the names of the months]

Jaguar

Zebra

Nerz

Mandrill

Maikäfer

Pony

Muli

Auerochs

Wesenbär

Lochtauber

Robbenbär

Zehenbär

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

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Filed under Economics/Business, Espionage/Intelligence, General History, Geography, Literature/Academia, Management/Leadership, Media, Personal, Philosophy, Politics

SIGNAL: Sonya’s Wireless

Article Heading

Signal Issue 64

Agent Sonya’s wireless: fact, fiction, fantasy and fable

Brian Austin G0GSF

Two recent articles [1,2] in Signal tell some of the story of the remarkable Soviet agent who plied her trade for almost twenty years, beginning in Shanghai and culminating in her sudden departure from England in 1950. In between, she operated under various names, familial as determined by her various marriages and her codename dictated by the secret nature of her work. For all of what follows, I shall refer to her by that nom de guerre. She was simply Sonya; though Sonia or even Sonja appear too, depending on which source you choose to cite. 

August 2022


Born Ursula Kuczynski in 1907 in Berlin to a wealthy left- wing  intellectual  family,  she  espoused  the  communist cause at an early age. Her older brother Jürgen became an economist of some repute and a prolific author in his field.  He  was  also  an  active  promoter  of  communist philosophy which he pursued, with vigour, after following his parents to London and a post at the LSE following Hitler’s rise to power. In late 1929, Ursula married Rudolf “Rudi” Hamburger, an architect. Work had dried up owing to the worldwide Depression but Rudi was offered a post designing office buildings in Shanghai. The young couple arrived  there  in  July  the  following  year  and,  not  long afterwards, Ursula joined the Chinese Communist Party. Her active promotion of the revolutionary cause in Berlin soon found an immediate outlet in Shanghai, the home of Chinese communism in a country ripe for revolution. Her career as a spy began when she met Richard Sorge, a German, dubbed by some as the most formidable spy in history [3]. And through Sorge she became aware of the part  played  by  radio  communications  in  the  spying business. 

If any aspect of espionage has been misunderstood and misrepresented, sometimes egregiously so, it is probably the  use  of  radio  or  wireless  communications  to  pass messages  between  spies  and  their  headquarters  or, equally, in the opposite direction.  Why this should be so is not hard to fathom. To most people, including most professional  historians,  the  transmission  of  messages ‘through the air’ without the intervention of wires is, at best, mysterious and, at worst, is something of a black art. Its technicalities are not understood at all and the technology to accomplish it requires, apparently, nothing more than a transmitter. That the author should have such a cynical view is, perhaps, best illustrated by the recent book written by Ben Macintyre [4]. The fact that it was a best-seller is certainly testament to Macintyre’s skill as a story-teller with his proven ability to write for a mass audience seeking titillation  as  well  as  a  good  yarn.  This  book  certainly contains both. But it falls down badly when it comes to the technology  of  wireless  communications.  And  it  is  this aspect that I intend to concentrate on here. All the other intriguing details, and there are many, of the ‘spying game’ will be left to the ever-expanding literature on the subject.

“On  the  nights  she  transmitted  to Moscow …”

Clandestine communication is a science as well as an art [5].  Sonya  herself  was  trained  in  Moscow.  At  the instigation  of  Sorge,  she  attended  the  Radio  Training


Laboratory  there  in  1933  where  she  learnt  the  art  of espionage and some of the technicalities of wireless. She was bright and was an excellent student because her heart was  undoubtedly  in  it.  She  also  displayed  an  above- average ability as a Morse code operator. Loyalty to her Soviet masters, and to their cause, had to be absolute and she signed up to it all with fervour. But it wasn’t a solitary activity; Sonya had assistance and assistants: all men. Her husband ”Rudi” Hamburger, though, was never more than a lukewarm communist and so she kept him in the dark. Sorge was the dominant figure and his radio expert was Max Clausen and Sonya absorbed much from him. There were  others  too  and  among  them  was  a  man  called Johann Patra who was to have a significant influence on her clandestine life and it’s at this point that the fantasy begins. Patra was highly intelligent but wholly uneducated, according  to  Sonya.  He  also  struggled  to  read  in  any language, though Macintyre informs us a while later that he  was  struggling  to  read  Hegel’s  Science  of  Logic. Remarkable, to say the least. More mundanely, he soon went “shopping for valves, rectifiers and wiring” with which to build a transmitter. How he went about selecting these components and their very important specific types, given his apparent lack of familiarity with the written word (except Hegelian),  is  not  explained.  One  has  to  assume  that Macintyre was quoting Sonya herself, now writing under the nom de plume of Ruth Werner, since he clearly makes liberal use of her memoir published as Sonjas Rapport, in German, in 1977 and then, as Sonya’s Report in 1991 [6]. And she published more too, in German, on this unfolding saga as listed among the references in [1].

Sonya  and  Patra  went  to  Mukden  in  Manchuria,  as instructed by the ‘Centre’, their headquarters in the Soviet capital. Mukden was occupied by the Japanese and their function  was  to  be  the  point  of  contact  between  the Chinese communist partisans and Moscow. It was Patra’s job to assemble the radio equipment from the components he had recently acquired. From [1] we learnt what the strange  “Hartley  transmitter  three-point  switch”,  as described  by  Sonya  in  her  1977  book,  actually  was. However,  Macintyre,  without  providing  such  technical niceties, called it a transmitter-receiver whereas the circuit diagram in [1] shows nothing more than a simple one- valve Hartley oscillator which would have functioned quite adequately as a QRP transmitter but it was certainly not a receiver. Of course, any transmitter without an antenna is useless and so Sonya climbed onto the roof of the house she’d found in Mukden to erect what she called a Fuchs aerial. This was a half wavelength of wire which was end-


fed, hence presenting a high impedance at that point and thus  necessitating  some  form  of  impedance transformation to a lower impedance transmission line, assuming such were used. Macintyre, needless to say, went into no such detail. But what is particularly important is that this is the only time in his book when any detail at all  is  provided  about  an  antenna.  Where  he  (and presumably she) mentioned it again it was simply a length of wire suspended from the roof of a house to a pole in the garden or secreted behind the panelling of a wooden wall. The assumption clearly being made is that an antenna is simply  a  length  of  wire  whose  dimensions  are  of  no consequence. 

While in Mukden, Sonya only transmitted at night to the GRU (Russian  Military Intelligence) receiving  station in Vladivostok, a distance of around 700 km. Both those facts are important because they involved the ionosphere, a subject  never  aired  by  Macintyre  (and  perhaps  not  by Sonya herself in her multi-volume tomes). None of her radio  activities  was  every  arbitrary:  she  will  only  have acted on instructions. But how they were conveyed to her wasn’t  revealed  anywhere.  As  we  know,  such  long- distance transmissions depend entirely on the ionosphere and particularly on its critical frequency and height at a given  time  and  geographical  location.  Those  features change diurnally, with the seasons and particularly over the approximate 11-year period of the sunspot cycle. We are  informed  that  she  used  one  of  two  agreed wavelengths, though it is far more useful, as we will see, to define them by their appropriate frequencies. Again, this underscores the need for detailed operating instructions in order to “keep her skeds”, as they are referred to in the radio operating trade. Such trivia are not mentioned in Macintyre’s best-seller.

We are led to believe that Sonya was busy at her radio at least  twice  a  week  and  always  in  the  early  hours. Messages consisted of information about partisan morale, Japanese  counter-insurgency  measures  as  well  as political and military intelligence. What never emerges is what radio receiver she used to make all this possible. Brief,  almost  glib,  comments  about  constructing transmitters  –  as  simple  as  they  were  –  were  never accompanied by any details of the receiver. Once again, the impression is gained that Macintyre never appreciated the significance of the receiver even though he frequently mentions her taking down “the fastest incoming signals without making a mistake”. Again, as with the antenna, such things were apparently mundane since every home had a radio receiver and, in those days, they required the inevitable piece of wire to a pole outside. Need anything more be said?  Well, yes. The receiver is by far the more complex  piece  of  apparatus  when  compared  with  the simple transmitters she and Patra constructed. Even had it been as simple as a regenerative detector followed by a single stage of audio amplification, the circuitry to achieve that and the method of yielding optimum performance, were far from trivial yet such details are simply ignored.  And then there’s the matter of operating both transmitter and receiver on the correct frequency.

 “She established a good connection on a frequency of 6.1182 MHz …”

This intriguing gem of information pops up almost in the middle of Macintyre’s account when Sonya was sitting up in bed and just about to press her transmitter into service


to  communicate  with  Moscow.  What  could  be  more convivial?  But  we  need  to  get  there  first  because  this happened when she was in Poland and with yet a few more transmitter-construction projects behind her.

The mission in Mukden ended suddenly. The Japanese had penetrated Sonya’s network. Centre ordered her to pack up and leave as soon as possible for Peking. So, they dug a hole and buried the radio. No more no less. On reaching Peking, Patra, as is the pattern in this racy saga, “gathered  parts  to  build  another  radio”  and  the  first message from Moscow told them to hide the transmitter and take four weeks leave. One can only presume that any technical details are but background noise to the average reader of these fast-paced works of fact-based fiction. But to  those  of  us  who  actually  have  an  interest  in  the technology  they  are  frustrating  and  infuriating  because what is really important is reduced to the level of the almost banal. After this period of holiday bliss “they reassembled the radio” and, again, the first message from the Centre ordered Sonya to make for Shanghai while Patra was to remain where he was. The fact that she was pregnant with his child (though she never told him) was of no interest to Moscow but it added much flesh to the evolving life story of Macintyre’s heroine.

Reunited with Rudi Hamburger, Sonya was informed by her masters in Moscow that she and Rudi, now evidently a committed communist himself, were soon to leave for Poland. Their role there would be to provide the radio communications  links  between  the  Polish  Communist Party, now driven underground, and Centre. The journey to Poland involved a detour to England to be reunited with the Kuczynski family whom she’d not seen for years. They were now well-established in London’s communist circles. MI5 were aware of Sonya’s arrival in England, though to them she was merely Ursula Hamburger neé Kuczynski of interest because of those family connections. Her skill as a radio constructor-cum-operator had not reached them. In view of her German passport, her length of stay was to be brief.

In January 1936 the Hamburgers reached Warsaw but were then sent on to Danzig. There she built a transmitter- receiver, no less. A revelation indeed but details about its electronic  components  and  such  trivia  were  clearly immaterial. This time the transmitter was hidden inside a gramophone  but  the  companion  receiver  escaped mention. And, needless to say, the bothersome piece of wire  going  somewhere  did  too.  An  element  of  reality, however, did crop up when one of her neighbours asked Sonya if she received interference on her radio – the one that  everyone  possessed.  That  sent  a  chill  down  the Hamburger spine because, according to the neighbour, it happened at night and her husband thought it may have been caused by someone transmitting nearby. Sonya had been  in  contact  with  Moscow  the  night  before.  A  new location  was  urgently  needed  and,  once  found,  the transmitter came back to life. Inevitably, after many nights of transmitting and receiving, Moscow’s next instruction was to tell her to move back to Poland (the reader will be aware of the changeable geography in that part of the world occasioned by Nazi and Soviet machinations). At this point, Sonya confessed to her Soviet controller that she felt inexperienced and did not know enough about advanced techniques in radio construction. She requested further  training.  In  the  same  technical  compound  in Moscow where she’d been trained previously, she began


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her course during which she operated a “sophisticated push-pull transmitter” as described in [1]. On completion she  was  informed  that  her  next  destination  would  be Switzerland.

Switzerland and further fables

Neutral  Switzerland,  with  its  long  common  border  with Germany, was the ideal place to gather intelligence on Hitler’s military build-up. Sonya’s task was to set herself up near Geneva, then make contact with the existing Soviet- sponsored  intelligence  network  in  the  country  and,  of course, construct another transmitter. She was also on her own: none of those ultra-masculine companions from her days  in  China  or  her  recent  convert-to-communism husband, who joined her in Poland, would be with her. Switzerland  was  to  be  Sonya’s  solo  performance. Following yet another brief detour via England, Sonya left Dover in September 1938 for Switzerland via France. 

She set herself up in a village overlooking Lake Geneva. Macintyre then informs us that “[A]t night, when everyone was asleep, Ursula constructed her transmitter-receiver from parts bought at hardware shops in Geneva, Vevey and Lausanne”. The parts he mentions are indeed curious: a keypad (he surely means a Morse key since keypads are of our modern age on laptops), an antenna with banana plugs(!)  plus  two  heavy  batteries  “each  the  size  of  a dictionary”. No mention at all of all the components that go to  make  up  transmitters  and  receivers  or,  indeed, transmitter-receivers. How did she obtain the resistors, the capacitors, the valves, the RF chokes, the switches and the  myriad  other  bits  and  pieces  needed  for  even  the simplest  transmitter  and  its  companion,  though  clearly much compromised, receiver? And, most importantly of all

–  a component never mentioned by Macintyre – where or how did she acquire the quartz crystals which determined the frequency on which her transmitter operated? Surely not in a hardware shop no matter how sophisticated such places may have been in pre-war Switzerland. Credibility is  put  under  some  strain  here.  Macintyre  only  ever mentioned the frequency on which she operated, a very precise value of 6.1182 MHz, in a single sentence in his book. Such significant detail was clearly not of concern to him whereas it would have been vital to her and to the Centre.  As  is  well  known,  achieving  such  frequency precision would have been impossible with a variable LC- oscillator  unless  Sonya  had  available  to  her  accurate means of measuring frequency and unless she had also taken considerable care in constructing such an oscillator in order to render it ultra-stable. At this point I should mention that we learnt previously, but only in passing, that she  had  constructed  frequency  meters  on  one  of  her courses in Moscow but we were not enlightened as to how she  went  about  calibrating  such  a  thing.  And,  finally, electronic hardware has to be housed in some suitable box or other container. That requires metalwork, or at least woodwork, both of which need tools – a workshop even – and, of course, connecting all those components together means soldering. There’s ne’er a mention of any such oddities  by  Macintyre  and,  presumably,  not  by  Sonya herself when she came to write her life story many years later.

On the woodworking front we learn that Sonya hid her assembled  equipment  in  a  built-in  wardrobe  behind  a wooden panel held in place by screws. She drilled two small holes in the panel through which she passed the


leads (to and from what is not revealed). This, we are informed,  enabled  her  to  use  the  transmitter  without removing  it  from  the  cupboard.  Surely  the  mysterious receiver  must  also  have  been  nearby  with  its  vitally important headphones since having a loudspeaker blaring out Morse code was probably not a good idea. But she did conceal  those  two  drilled  holes  with  plugs  made  to resemble  knots  in  the  wood.  So,  all  bases  were  well covered and, as noted above, she could sit up in bed while communicating with Moscow. Following the necessary call signs, the messages consisted of groups of five numbers each of which she had encyphered earlier. 

Then we have to contend with a fascinating flight of fancy. Remember  all  this is taking  place  in  September 1938. Sonya  was  “flooded  with  relief”  at  having  successfully passed  the  information  to  the  Centre  and,  being  “too pumped with adrenaline to sleep” she reached out and turned on her transistor (my italics) radio in order to listen to the BBC news bulletin. Since the transistor was only invented at the Bell Telephone Laboratory in New Jersey in 1947 one can only assume that our heroine, or her 21st century biographer, were blissfully unaware of that fact but it made for a good story, particularly as the news bulletin focused entirely on the signing by Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, of the Munich Agreement. Peace with Germany was in the air. This was a horrifying prospect for all right-thinking communists. But, as we know, it wasn’t to last.

The International Brigade and Sonya

Yet another man of much interest, especially to the British security  services,  entered  Sonya’s  world  of  wireless, espionage and much else early in 1939. He was a former member of the International Brigade of volunteers who had enlisted to fight against General Franco’s forces in Spain. Len Beurton had been instructed to make contact with her by  “Mrs  Lewis”  of  Hampstead  in  London.  Mrs  Lewis happened  to  be  Sonya’s  younger  sister  who  was  an avowed  apologist  for  and  active  supporter  of  the communist  movement  wherever  it  happened  to  be. Beurton’s  background  was  mysterious  but  should  not detain us here. It would, however, perplex both MI5 and MI6  as  the  years  unfolded.  His  function,  as  Sonya explained it to him, was to undertake dangerous work in Germany. Beurton’s face evidently lit up at this. He was also smitten by Sonya.

The signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in August 1939 detonated a bomb under Sonya’s spying operation against Germany: Allies don’t spy on each other; well, not usually. But she still had a useful role to play in the interim while her future was being planned for her in Moscow. She should train Beurton  and  another  former  fighter  in  Spain,  one Alexander  Allan  Foote,  codenamed  Jim,  as  radio operators. Foote, also an Englishman, followed a similar route to Beurton’s, though a short while before, in order to reach  Sonya.  It  was  the  same  Mrs  Lewis  who  had interviewed him and then instructed him on what he was to do. Quite simply, he was to attend a designated meeting place in Geneva, at a very specific time, while holding the correct  object  in  his  hand  and  then  responding  to  a particular question, asked by a mysterious woman, with a very specific answer. All good spycraft, of course. Foote was also told to “read up about wireless technology”. He clearly read well for, in no time, we’re informed that he was

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building  transmitters.  And  he  took  over  all  Sonya’s clandestine duties in Geneva, becoming the Centre’s chief radio operator when the time came for her to leave for her new destination: England.

Readers must excuse the detour here in order to expose some of Sonya’s private life. She and Hamburger were divorced  late  in  1939  based  on  perjurious  evidence provided willingly by Foote. In February 1940, she married Beurton  but  not  before  she’d  proposed  to  Foote.  She needed a British passport if she was to be able to live in England – as was Centre’s intention – and to get one she needed a British husband, however contrived. But Foote backed out for reasons we won’t go into, so she turned to Beurton. He agreed. And soon thereafter he excavated a hole  in  the  garden  into  which  they  buried  Sonya’s transmitter  as  the  attention  of  the  Swiss  authorities became ever closer. 

The saga of her passport caused consternation in England 

–  well, in MI5 at least. Beurton had already attracted their attention  and  was  on  a  black  list  of  communist sympathisers where his name appeared as Fenton. Now, his actual name was to be linked to a former Kuczynski and her world of London’s communists. However, MI5’s bureaucratic bungling failed to stop Sonya acquiring the prized document and she duly arrived, in Liverpool, with her two children (but without her new husband) in February 1941. Her immediate destination was Oxford because her parents had recently moved there from London. But it’s at this point that the conspiracy theorists begin to have a field day and none more so than another well-known writer of the spy genre, the late Chapman Pincher. In his sizeable 1984  book  Too  Secret  Too  Long  Pincher  asserts categorically that MI5’s Director General between 1956 and 1965, Sir Roger Hollis, was a Soviet agent. During the war it so happened that Hollis was based close to Oxford at Blenheim Palace and lived within half a mile of Sonya’s father. Pincher went into overdrive and concocted what to some was a very believable story that Hollis was not only a  Soviet  mole  but  that  his  collaborator  was  Sonya. Needless to say, when such accusations were made many years later, they (and Hollis himself) were subjected to intensive investigation. The finding was that there was no evidence  to  support  the  allegation  against  Hollis  but individuals  such  as  the  notorious  Peter  Wright  of Spycatcher fame dined out on it.

Oxford, Fuchs, Sonya and wireless

Sonya  and  her  two  children  moved  four  times  in  four months  after  reaching  Oxford.  Her  radio  operating activities came to a halt, but not permanently. In April 1941 she moved into a furnished house in Kidlington, five miles from the city. MI5 was watching her and intercepting her post. She made regular trips to London and waited on a particular street corner for her expected contact with her Soviet masters. Eventually, after a number of false starts one appeared. His name was Aptekar, whose cover was to act as chauffeur for an attaché at the Soviet Embassy. But to Sonya he was simply Sergei. He asked when she could bring her transmitter back to life. She said in twenty- four hours. Despite her life having seemingly turned upside down over the previous few months, she was apparently able to make contact with Moscow quite effortlessly by the very next  day.  Such remarkable insouciance,  technical


and otherwise, is staggering but it was happily accepted by Macintyre.

With the Soviets now fighting for survival against Hitler, Sonya’s  “intelligence”,  gleaned  from  among  the communist community in London, proved to be important and  it  soon  took  on  quite  earth-shattering  significance when she was introduced to Klaus Fuchs by her brother Jürgen. 

I shall not recount the Fuchs life story here. It resides among the literature and, indeed, the folk-lore of the atom bomb and its consequences for the world. Where Fuchs is important in this saga is that Sonya became his courier and go-between with Moscow. They first met in the centre of Birmingham in the late summer of 1942.  As they parted Fuchs handed her a file of some 85 pages of documents: the secrets of the development of the atom bomb. Her task was to get them to Moscow. Since they contained pages of mathematical equations and diagrams, as well as reams of text, there was no way such information could be sent by Morse code irrespective of the skill of the operator. Sonya used Sergei as the link man to the Soviet Embassy and from there the regular diplomatic pouch service did the rest. She and Fuchs continued to meet in rather more secluded  surroundings  in  the  fields  and  forests  near Banbury. There, while maintaining their anonymity, one to another, for reasons of ultra-security, they walked hand-in- hand to add an element of normality to their country stroll and along the way Fuchs would hand Sonya yet more information. She then used a ‘dead drop’ among the roots of a tree some way off the road to get them to Sergei. Much mythology seems to have been attached to this story and again I shall leave it to others to tell. On one of their regular encounters,  Sergei  handed  Sonya  a  miniature  camera with which to make microdot photographs. He also gave her “a small but powerful transmitter measuring just 6 by 8 inches”, so she told us. This borders on the ridiculous. Small and powerful are simply contradictory in this context. And, yet again, the vitally important radio receiver, as well as the means of powering them both, escaped a mention.  Between them Sonya and Macintyre, her trusting scribe, take most of their readers for granted, at the very least, because such technical details can so easily be ignored but those of us with an interest in such things do bridle!

However, we must assume that Sonya didn’t invent this story,  she  just  attenuated  it.  The  Soviets  did  have  a miniature transmitter and it had its companion receiver and they were both powered by a third unit containing the necessary transformer, rectifier and smoothing circuitry. It went by the name of Tensor or Tenzor (Figure 1) and came into service in 1942, so Sonya may well have been one of its first satisfied customers. The Tensor Mk1 was actually  designed  in  the  USA  (hence  its  collection  of readily identifiable valves) but it was also manufactured near Moscow, no doubt an example of early American lend-lease? Judging by the available photographs, each of those three separate units was of the size mentioned by Sonya  so  yes,  she  may  well  have  had  a  miniature transmitter but it was not powerful since it used a single 6L6 as its class C amplifier and, as we all know, that would have produced an output of 10 watts or so across the lower HF frequencies. According to the Tensor specification, it operated between 3.7 and 14.3 MHz, under either VFO or crystal-control.  The  magical  quartz  crystal  eventually makes its appearance but no thanks to our scribes.


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Figure 1. The Mk1 Tensor. Left to right:  receiver-PSU-transmitter    

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The Tensor receiver used three 6J7 valves with the first two  functioning  as  the  RF  amplifier  and  regenerative detector  and  the  third  as  the  AF  amplifier  driving headphones. Whereas constructing such units was well within the capabilities of a competently-trained technician, which Sonya claimed to be, the nonchalance with which she mentions the production of her transmitter-receivers, almost at will, raises all the issues I referred to above. And shopping for the necessary components, by a woman with a  German  accent,  would  surely  have  raised  the  odd eyebrow in the hardware shops she said she patronised for that purpose.

Between 1941 and his departure for the USA in order to join  the  Manhattan  Project  in  August  1943,  Fuchs  is reported  by  Macintyre  to  have  transferred  “some 570 pages  of  copied  reports,  calculations,  drawings, formulae and diagrams …”, and much more, to the Soviet Union. All would have gone via Sonya’s courier to the embassy. Late in 1942 she, Len Beurton, who was now in England, and their children had moved once again. Their new accommodation was in Summertown near Oxford. It was a cottage in the luxurious property belonging to one of the pillars of society by the name of Laski. His brother was a friend of Sonya’s father. Soon after moving in, Sonya asked permission to erect an aerial between the roof of the building  and  one  of  the  stables.  The  Laskis  never suspected that it was anything other than for improving the medium  wave  reception.  Besides  Fuchs  and  his  more incidental messages, she also had many other sources of intelligence of interest to Moscow. According to Macintyre, they numbered at least a dozen spies and so, by the end of the year, Sonya was said to be transmitting to Moscow two or three times a week. This amount of radio activity, of the non-atomic variety, could not have gone unnoticed and it wasn’t. The Radio Security Service (RSS), a specialist branch  within  MI6,  was  well  aware  of  all  those transmissions  originating  from  the  vicinity  of  Oxford (Figure 2). As was their procedure, all the intercepted five- digit code groups were passed to the RSS Discrimination


Section for assessment and then onward to Bletchley Park for its attention. Macintyre affords the RSS just a single paragraph and concludes that the Soviet’s use of the “one- time  pad”  system  would  have  rendered  its  messages unbreakable. This is probably true but there is no doubt that radio direction-finding techniques would have been capable of obtaining an accurate ‘fix’ on the location of Sonya’s transmitter. If this was done (and it must surely have been) we do not know the outcome. If there is an explanation, it lies in some vault or archive somewhere and is yet to be revealed. For a very detailed and forensic examination  of  MI5  and  its  dilatory  performance, particularly in relation to wartime Soviet activity in England, the interested reader is referred to the book by Antony Percy [7].

Fuchs returned to England from the USA in June 1946. By then he had effectively given the secret of the atom bomb to the Soviet Union. Sonya had been the conduit until his 1943 departure for Los Alamos where an equally effective US-based team of spies had taken over that role.

Sonya and MI5

Soon after VE Day, Sonya moved to the village of Great Rollright (Figure 3) in the Cotswolds, north Oxfordshire. Her new home was called The Firs. It was conventionally fitted out for its time but, according to Macintyre, it lacked an electricity supply. From the point of view of wireless communications this fact it highly significant. It seems, though, not to have struck Macintyre at all since he only mentioned it in passing. Of its many attractions The Firs had a large locked cellar which was ideal for concealing illegal radio equipment and, so we are informed, Sonya’s transmitter was in constant use. 

One  can  only  ask  how  this  was  possible.  The  Tensor equipment, if indeed that’s what it was, required at least a couple of hundred volts (DC) on the anodes of the various valves  hence  a  suitable  mains  supply,  such  as  that supplied with the very Tensor equipment, was a key part


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And the mere fact that she seemed to be able to hide everything in a matter of minutes, whether in holes in the ground or behind a fern-covered rock in  a fence  post,  surely makes that extremely unlikely and therefore was worthy of comment from Macintyre. But there was none. And, needless to say,  the  antenna  never  merited  a mention. 

Sonya wasn’t naïve; she appreciated that  the  more  she  used  her

transmitter the more likely it was that she would be detected. It seemed,

therefore,  only  a  matter  of  time before British security arrived. As we

know, MI5 was indeed aware of her presence and should have been well

aware that an illegal transmitter was being operated in the Oxford area.

But they apparently never made the connection. This was made blindingly

clear when, in September 1947, she was interviewed at The Firs by two

MI5 investigators, one of whom was Jim Skardon, its famed (at least in his

eyes) interrogator. The two men used aliases, as was the way in this world

of  secrets,  and  despite  their  most determined  efforts  Sonya  outwitted

them  by  simply  refusing  to  answer questions.  Since  MI5  had  no

evidence  that  she  was  an  enemy agent,  Skardon’s  case  evaporated.

All  he  had  to  go  on  was  the confession made to MI6 in Berlin by

Alexander Foote when, just as month before,  he  had  defected  from  the

Soviets and presented himself at the legation in the British sector of Berlin.

There he told MI6 almost everything. He explained how Sonya had trained

him and Beurton as radio operators and went on to reveal, in great detail,

the activities of the Soviet-sponsored espionage  network  in  Switzerland.

But he insisted that Ursula Kuczynski was  no  longer  engaged  in  spying

Figure 2. This page (provided to the author by Antony Percy [7] &  wherever she happened to be. MI6 seemingly  swallowed  it  all  and

[10]) comes from the RSS file in the National Archives HW 34/23 and  relayed  their  findings  and shows a listing of daily RSS intercepts made between 16 March and  conclusions to their security service 16 April 1942. Though somewhat cryptic, it is clear that these are the  counterparts  in  England.  Sonya call signs of the stations transmitting and/or receiving. Note the  didn’t know this and naturally feared heading “RUSSIANS”so there’s no doubt RSS knew who they were  that MI5 and the police could arrive at

listening to – at both ends of those links. This is concrete evidence,  any minute. But they didn’t.

if ever any was needed, that RSS were aware of the transmitter  For Sonya, 1947 was consumed with “somewhere in Oxford”.  family tragedy. First her mother died

of the set-up.  At no time is there the merest mention of  and then, not long after so did her some form of DC to AC converter which may have allowed  beloved father. Sonya was now at her most vulnerable but Sonya to overcome this rather unfortunate shortcoming at  Britain’s  security  service  was  either  inept  or  simply  so The Firs. By that, admittedly rather cumbersome means,  hidebound in its procedures that the person best equipped she may have been able to use more batteries than the  to confront her, the highly astute Millicent Bagot, was side-

couple  –  “the  size  of  dictionaries”  –  that  she  had,  lined in favour of the much overrated Jim Skardon. And, apparently, to cart around from residence to residence.  as we have seen, Skardon failed spectacularly. 

Figure 3. A recent view of Great Rollright

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In August 1949, the Soviet Union exploded its first atom bomb, at least four years before the CIA believed they might achieve that exceptionally complicated scientific and technological feat. The reason they were able to surpass all Western expectations was because of Klaus Fuchs, the most dangerous spy in history [8]. And Sonya too.

The flight of Sonya and the fantasy of her radio activity

In February 1950, Klaus Fuchs was arrested and made a full confession that he had passed atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. The next day, the story was all over the newspapers which reported that he had transferred them to “a foreign woman with black hair in Banbury”. Sonya was  gripped  by  fear  but  nothing  happened.  She immediately planned her escape by booking three tickets on a flight to Berlin. She and her two younger children would go, Beurton, who was recovering from a broken leg following  a  motor-cycle  accident,  would  dispose  of  the contents of the house while her elder son would remain at university in Scotland. The final resting place of Sonya’s transmitter was, unsurprisingly a hole in the ground. No doubt,  though  she  never  mentioned  them,  the  other paraphernalia of her spying trade – the receiver and the power supply – also went to earth in an Oxfordshire field. On 28 February 1950, the aircraft carrying Sonya and her children  left  London’s  airport  for  Germany.  She  had escaped. The following day Klaus Fuchs was sentenced to fourteen years in prison.

MI5’s failure to make the connection between Fuchs and Sonya,  despite the  seemingly glaring  evidence against


her, remains one of the catastrophes of Britain’s Security Service history. However, this is not the place to delve into whether it was due simply to incompetence or to some deeper, darker machinations at the very highest levels. Others more competent than I have been there and their opinions are all in print. Remarkably the official history of MI5 ignores Sonya completely never even mentioning her name or, indeed, any of her names [9].

Of more immediate concern to us here is the mythology that  surrounds  Sonya’s  seeming  invincible  ability  to communicate, apparently at will, by radio, with the Centre in Moscow from any number of locations with far from sophisticated  equipment  and  even  in  the  absence  of electrical power. There is no need to go into great detail regarding the propagation of HF signals via the ionosphere but some aspects are so fundamental that they should be mentioned. A knowledge of the so-called maximum usable frequency  (MUF)  is  vital  to  those  planning  a communication  link  between  any  two  points  beyond ground wave range (Figure 4). The fact that the MUF is so variable between day and night, with the seasons and within the period of the sunspot cycle poses issues which have  to  be  addressed  by  those  planning  the  link.  In Sonya’s case, such details were not her responsibility but they were undoubtedly those of the Centre. Since she was alleged to have used her radio equipment from the mid- 1930s until at least the end of the war – a period spanning more  than  one  sunspot  cycle  –  there  will  have  been significant changes in the MUF over the various paths she said she worked. In fact, the sunspot number reached its minimum in February 1944, which means that the optimum communication  frequencies  will  have  been  decreasing


when  she  was  acting  as  Fuchs’s  wireless  link  with Moscow. In addition to the choice of operating frequency, this also has significant implications in terms of antenna length and also atmospheric noise. She will, therefore, have to had made changes to her operating frequencies to accommodate  these  natural  phenomena.  Her  account, and Macintyre’s parroted version, do not enlighten us as to  how  this  was  achieved.  Without  suitable  crystals, supplied to her by her masters in Moscow and not by the local hardware shop, Sonya’s communications activities will have been sorely compromised. And even had she had those crystals, the reliability of such low-power links will have  been  extremely  variable  as  every  QRP  operator knows.

During her long sojourn in East Germany, after fleeing from England so precipitately in 1950, Sonya changed her name to Ruth Werner and became a successful author of children’s  stories.  She  also  wrote  her  memoir,  as mentioned  previously.  The  version  in  English  has embellished  her  reputation  as  a  prodigiously  effective Soviet spy and wireless operator. It also served the cause of her communist masters, most particularly the Stasi, the East German secret police who, we can be sure, played a significant  part  in  carefully  scrutinising  every  word  of Sonya’s Report before it was released to the world.

I  end  with  one  final  reference  to  the  literature  on  this fascinating  woman  and  her  achievements,  but  more particularly  to  the  way  she  was  portrayed  in  Ben Macintyre’s recent best-seller. His book was reviewed in great depth and detail and the published review appeared, in 2021, in an international journal devoted to intelligence matters [10]. As book reviews go, this one is well-worth reading! 

References    

  1. A Thomas.  A  tale  of  two  triodes.  Signal  2022,  62 (February), 46–51.
  2. I Underwood. Red Army GRU Colonel Ursula Maria Kuczynski. Signal 2022, 63 (May),14–16.
  3. O Matthews.  An  Impeccable  Spy-  Richard  Sorge Stalin’s  Master  Agent.  Bloomsbury  Publishing, London, 2019.
  4. B Macintyre. Agent Sonya – Lover, Mother, Soldier, Spy. Penguin Random House, London, 2020.
  5. B Austin.  HF  Propagation  and  Clandestine Communications  during  the  Second  World  War. Journal of The Royal Signals Institution 2009, 28 (1), 35–42.
  6. R Werner.  Sonya’s  Report.  Chatto  and  Windus, London, 1991.
  7. A Percy.  Misdefending  the  Realm  –  How  MI5’s Incompetence  enabled  Communist  Subversion  of British  Institutions  during  the  Nazi-Soviet  Pact. University of Buckingham Press, 2017.
  8. F Close. Trinity – The Treachery and Pursuit of the Most Dangerous Spy in History. Allen Lane, London, 2019.
  9. C Andrew. The Defence of the Realm – the Authorized History of MI5. Allen Lane, 2009.
  10. A Percy. Courier, Traitor, Bigamist, Fabulist: Behind the Mythology of a Superspy. Intelligence and National Security 2021, 36 (7), 1065–1075.


Acknowledgement

Figure 1. The author is grateful to …… for permission to use the featured photograph of Tensor Mk1. 

(a)

(b)

Figure 4. Graphs of the reliability of propagation over the 2560 km Oxford to Moscow path in     June 1942. They show the reliability for a given signal-to-noise ratio over a 24 hour period.      Marked on the graphs are the propagation      modes that would exist at various times for two frequencies of (a) 7 MHz and (b) 10 MHz. They also show the propagation modes of single and double ‘hops’ off the F1 and F2 layers, as 1F1, 2F2, etc. Clearly the 1F2 mode at 10 MHz yields

the highest reliability which peaks at just about

70% at 02:00 UT and falls rapidly after that. The lower frequency is always less reliable. Severe D-layer absorption is evident throughout the    daylight hours, being far worse, again, on the lower frequency. The complexity of the         propagation process should be obvious. In both cases the transmitter power was 20 W and the antenna was a dipole at a height of 6m

~ ~ ~

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An Armful of History Books

Family Betrayal: Agent Sonya, MI5 and the Kuczynski Network by David Burke (History Press, 2021; 292 pp.)

Russia: Revolution and Civil War, 1917-1921 by Antony Beevor (Viking, 2022; 576 pp.)

In the Wake of Empire: Anti-Bolshevik Russia in International Affairs, 1917-1920 by Anatol Shmelev (Hoover Institution Press, 2020; 555 pp.)

Stalin and His Hangmen: The Tyrant and Those Who Killed for Him by Donald Rayfield (Random House, 2004; 541 pp.)

Resistance: The Underground War Against Hitler, 1939-1945 by Halik Kochanski (Liveright, 2022; 936 pp.)

Surviving Katyn: Stalin’s Polish Massacre and the Search for Truth by Jane Rogoyska (Oneworld, 2022; 370 pp.)

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *        

Family Betrayal by David Burke

The title of David Burke’s latest book, Family Betrayal, raises some pertinent questions about who was betraying whom. Was a family betrayed? Or did a whole family betray some other agency? With a sub-title of Agent Sonya, MI5 and the Kuczynski Network, and a hammer and sickle boldly displayed against a red flag on the cover, the suggestion would appear to be that Burke is delving into the world of Soviet espionage and treason. The subjects of his tale, the Kuczynskis, as agents of Stalinism are presumably to be given a bad rap for betraying the United Kingdom, the country that gave them asylum and employment. Such expectations will be rapidly demolished, however. The Kuczynskis, a ‘comfortable German bourgeois family of Jewish origin’ are further described as ‘a remarkable family of Communist refugees from Nazism’, and ‘not only a family who spied but also one of the chief channels of leakage of information to the Soviets from a variety of sources’. This is the language of adulation.

Burke may be familiar to readers of intelligence literature as the author of The Spy Who Came In From The Co-op (2008), about Melita Norwood,and The Lawn Road Flats (2014), which explored the nest of leftist subversion located in the modernist Hampstead address in the 1930s and early 1940s. In both books, the author complemented someremarkable sleuthing with what can only be called padding, where extraneous and much repeated lore about espionage and counter-espionage was trotted out to give the books more substance. Quite simply, there was not enough known about Melita Norwood to form a book, and Burke resorted to writing about such figures as Percy Glading, Klaus Fuchs, Kim Philby and Igor Gouzenko, all of whom had little to do directly with Norwood and the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association where she worked.

A similar pattern emerges with Family Betrayal. Apart from boosting the size and vigour of ‘The Kuczynski Network’, an entity to which the author devoted a whole chapter in the Lawn Road Flats, Burke chooses to enrich his rather thin gruel with a number of profiles of related hangers-on and associates within the broader ‘anti-fascist’ movement, the assorted societies and factions to which they belonged, and the requisite pamphlets and lectures with which they harangued the public at large. Political activities are introduced rather haphazardly, so we learn about the Indian Communist Party and the Greek Civil War, even though such phenomena have only a very vague connection with the shenanigans of the Kuczynskis.

In 2017, John Green published his study of the Kuczynskis (A Political Family: The Kuczynskis, Fascism, Espionage and the Cold War), and last year Ben Macintyre released his rather fanciful profile of the family’s most notable scion in Agent Sonya. So what new information has Burke to offer? He cites Green only once, and the arrival of Macintyre’s book assuredly occurred too late for him to assimilate it. Yet Burke has dug around the archives pertinaciously enough to reveal some useful new (or overlooked) facts about the Kuczynskis (such as the employment at Bletchley Park of Barbara Kuczynski’s husband Duncan Taylor, a tidbit that had eluded this writer). He provides a wealth of detail on the backgrounds of the various lovers and spouses that the six Kuczynski offspring maintained, and their contributions to the cause of Stalinism. It is perhaps no surprise that MI5 failed to decompose this complex web of subversives.

Yet Burke also completely misconstrues some important aspects of their lives, for instance collapsing Ursula’s miraculous escape from Switzerland in a single sentence, and attributing its success to the wiles of a Kuczynski uncle, Hermann Deutsch, who ‘finalized the arrangements to bring Ursula to Britain’. This assertion is in complete contradiction to what Burke described in The Lawn Road Flats (her transfer was ordered by Stalin), and moreover completely ignores how MI6 colluded in her pursuit of a divorce, naturalization, and an exit visa. On Ursula’s ‘spying’, or more accurately, acting as a courier for Klaus Fuchs, Burke repeats the now tired myth that she transmitted Fuchs’s secrets from a wireless concealed at Great Rollright. He has been misled by many mendacious memoirs.

Above all, however, Burke displays a lack of intellectual curiosity that might have given his book some snap. To begin with, it is as if he feels a little guilty about spending so much ink on such a disreputable clan. In his Introduction, he writes:

            How legitimate is spying in defence of a cause? Is it possible to confer the honourable title of anti-Nazi resistance on the Kuczynski family, and have done with it? Or should we condemn the family for its espionage activities on behalf of the Soviet Union that, in the main, targeted Great Britain and the British Empire?

Burke never resolves this question. One of his conclusions is that, from 1920 to 1999 ‘the Kuczynskis never faltered in their unswerving support for the Soviet Union’, and he rewards such Stalinist fervour with the following judgment:

            Anyone writing about the skills of the Kuczynskis as spies confronts a thorny issue: their abilities might be manifest but their Stalinism cannot be glanced over lightly. What makes this a difficult activity is the fact that Stalinism, unless attacked with a moral vocabulary that misrepresents the true nature of the phenomenon, was a system that attracted many good people, the Kuczynskis among them.

Here lies the traditional apology for Stalin’s useful idiots and fellow-travellers –  their sincerity. Some might say that an ability to be duped by Stalin’s monstrous regime, and to try to reproduce it elsewhere, was a sign of moral deficiency, not goodness. Yet the process of ‘glancing over lightly’ is exactly what Burke exercises.

For example:

* In 1938 the paterfamilias, Robert Kuczynski, was appointed Reader in Demography at the London School of Economics, where he concentrated on ‘methodological questions and the study of non-European populations’. What insights he brought to this position is not explained, but he assuredly did not comment on the fact that, when the 1937 census showed that Soviet Union’s population had decreased during the Great Terror, Stalin had the chief officers in the Census Bureau executed, nor, when Robert was offered the post of Democratic Adviser to the Colonial Office in 1943, did he discuss Stalin’s wholesale deportations of nations (e.g. Germans, Kalmyks, Tatars) from their homelands to regions east, as a punishment exercise.

* Jürgen was a consistent critic of labour conditions in the West. In 1938, his book Hunger and Work was published, and Burke informs us that it described ‘seven lean years at the height of the depression from 1931 to 1937’. Yet he makes no comparison with real labour conditions in the Soviet Union (of which Jürgen presented a ‘roseate picture’ the following year), where the economy functioned largely on slave labour, and where prisoners in the Gulag were driven to exhaustion and death, to be replaced by innocent victims in their thousands. Burke presents the work as a defence against such charges, and posts that opinion without comment.

* In 1939, the Left Book Club published Jürgen’s The Condition of the Workers in Gt. Britain, Germany and The Soviet Union. A main theme of the book, Burke informs us, was ‘its damning indictment of the role played by finance capitalism’, and the young firebrand compared Great Britain’s version of ‘finance capitalism’ with Germany’s, concluding ‘Fascism rules’. Burke never inspects what ‘finance capitalism’ meant in the environment of the late 1930s, in what way it made sense to present capitalist enterprises as being driven by non-financial interests, or how the inferred monopolistic tendencies compared to the totalitarian control of industry in the Soviet Union.

Those are just a few of the occasions when a more imaginative writer might have introduced some refreshing context and educational perspective to the questions he himself introduced. Yet Burke’s evasiveness appears to be derived from the fact that he actually admires this family of delusional, mischievous, ungrateful, hypocritical, gossipy busybodies. ‘Good agents need to be more than effective conspirators’, he states in his Conclusion. “They have to be capable of getting their bearings fast in ever-changing political situations and for this reason intelligence work is primarily political work”. And his final judgment is that the Kuczynzkis were undoubtedly suited to this activity. “Norwood and the Kuczynskis were successful not simply because they were adept in the field of their intelligence, but because they had a belief in the certitude of their ideology.”

In summary, this is a weak book, misguided in its conception, and evasive in its execution. The author could have converted his fascinating researches on archival material, newspapers, memoirs, etc. into a valuable analysis of the ferment of ideas that seethed in the totalitarian-dominated 1930s. He could perhaps have explained where fervor ended and knowledge began, and why it was that so many ‘good people’ chose to ignore the realities of Stalin’s massive prison-camp, and instead tried to bring about the Communist utopia to the western world. For those interested in the petty squabbles of the leftist intelligentsia of those times, and the multitude of factions, societies, and pressure-groups that were formed, Family Betrayal may be a useful addition to their library, but even for them, the book’s multiple errors, a style that is frequently clumsy, and the author’s amoral lack of intellectual guidance, will probably leave them disappointed.

Russia by Antony Beevor

“Lenin was a very great man and even, despite his faults, a very good man.” (A. J. P. Taylor)

This is not the first occasion where I have used the above quotation by the historian A. J. P. Taylor in a coldspur piece, nor will it probably be the last. It shocked me when I first read it in 1965, and it astounds me still. To think that Lenin, whose ideas for revolution were ridden with hatred and cruelty from the first, could be considered by any educated person as some semi-saintly figure, is simply perverse. For an influential historian to promulgate such an agenda (in the Purnell History of the Twentieth Century) was strikingly irresponsible and absurd, and yet Taylor exerted a strong influence on British popular imagination.

If testimony were required to reinforce the notion that the Russian Revolution was steeped from the outset in extreme and barbarous killing, Antony Beevor’s Russia should fulfill that role. It is in fact a catalogue of horrors. After the August 1918 killing of the Petrograd Cheka leader Moisey Uritsky, and the assassination attempt on Lenin (both exploits being the work of single subversives), Felix Dzerzhinsky ordered that ‘that all those listed as Kadet party members, police officers, officials of the monarchy, and all sorts of princes and counts imprisoned in Moscow jails and concentration camps were to be executed’. Thus did the Red Terror start – with the slaughter of the innocent, except that, in Lenin’s mind, anyone who opposed the Revolution was guilty.

Not that the Reds had exclusive ownership of excruciating methods of torturing and killing their enemies (e.g. burying alive; tying up in barbed wire, or loaded with stones, and drowning; throwing alive into furnaces; disembowelling by rats; hacking to death with sabres; slow burning; smothered naked by freezing water): the Whites, conscious of the deeds of the Bolsheviks, and the initiation of the ‘Red Terror’, exacted their own revenge in retributions of similar fashion. The strategy of executing anyone who showed resistance to the Revolution, as ‘class enemies’, does not fit easily into current notions of ‘genocide’, which focus unduly on supposed ‘ethnic’ traits as being a reason for extermination, and that is probably why the monstrous massacres of the Reds have not received the attention and scorn that they in fact merit.

I find it difficult to sort out Antony Beevor, if indeed he has to be sorted. He does not have a conventional historian’s background. He was born two days before me, so I can understand his general arc of experience. After Winchester School, and the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, he received a commission in the 11th Hussars in July 1967, but then resigned it in August 1970. The next event in his life appears to be the publication of The Spanish Civil War in 1982. So what had he been up to in the intervening years? It is unusual for any young man with spark – even if independently wealthy – not to pursue some life-expanding profession in his formative twenties, but Beevor appears to keep this dark. Was he perhaps ‘attached to the War Office’, as they use to write of spooks in World War II? Or did he seclude himself away, reading prodigiously and taking copious notes for a decade or more as preparation for writing his first book?

I had read Beevor’s D-Day, and was impressed with its narrative drive, and rich detail. It admittedly takes an especial sense of geography to keep track of all the fronts, salients, flanks, redoubts, bottlenecks, pincer movements, etc. that characterized these battles – or any other, for that matter, and my spatial understanding frequently failed to keep up with the action. Beevor used a broad array of sources to highlight the myriad small disasters that occurred as the often ill-conceived plans of the Allied assault forces were executed on the beaches and in the difficult bocages of Normandy. For example, he was excellent on comparing the tactics of the Germans, fresh with lessons from the Eastern Front, with those of the Americans and British, who had been practicing in the lanes and fields of southern England. But this was a terrain he was familiar with: the geography was localized, the combatants and causes were clear, the archival sources were generally reliable, and he understood well the social backgrounds of the main combatants. He was able to complement the official records with a wealth of personal memoirs. As one review stated: “His account of atrocities on both sides, of errors committed and of surpassing bravery makes for excellent – though often blood-soaked – reading.”

Russia is even more blood-soaked. Yet Beevor faces a vastly different landscape in trying to bring the same technique to the horrors of the Revolution and the Civil War. The territory covered is the Eurasian continental landmass, from Warsaw to Vladivostok. The agents are a mixed lot of nationals, tribes, factions and groups. The historical record is fragmented, and may not be very reliable. Any sense of strategy or historical direction is undermined by the chaos of the punches and counterpunches of the conflict. In some ways, Russia is a magnificent scrap-book, a compilation of hundreds of facts and observations scrupulously arranged by date and location. Yet it frequently comes across as exactly that, with a bewildering collage of names and places that strain even the most patient reader. Without constant recourse to detailed maps (as with D-Day), one is lost.

For example, one can read such passages as:

There was no guarantee that the Baltic States could defend themselves, yet at the same time the White Russian forces planned to attack Petrograd. But neither the Finns nor the Estonians welcomed these anti-Bolshevik Russian supremacists who refused to acknowledge their independence. A White venture to invade Soviet territory was likely to fail and provoke a Red counter-attack. And to complicate the Baltic imbroglio further, while Yudenich applied to the British and French for military support, there was another White Russian force under Colonel Pavel Bermondt-Avalov financed from Berlin, and

Denikin, increasingly angered by separatist tendencies in the Kuban, was outraged to discover that a delegation of the Kuban Rada had signed a treaty of friendship with the Chechen and Ingush who, with Georgian encouragement, had been attacking the Volunteer Army in the Caucasus

only a few times before one’s eyes start to glaze over. This was not a simple civil war.

It is also not clear to me what knowledge Beevor expects his readership to have already. For instance, he lists the factions in the 1917 Provisional Government (Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, Kadets, Socialist Revolutionaries, Progressives) without any explanation as to how they evolved, or what their different agendas were. Of the three likely reasons for eliding this matter, i) he is not interested, or is unaware; ii) he assumes his readers all know this already; or iii) he regards such details as irrelevant to the main story; I must assume that the third is the likeliest. Yet he snows his text with such a cavalcade of names that it is easy to become lost in the torrent. And his rather cavalier and incomplete Index does not help matters. I had a particular interest in three names: Paul Dukes, who played a significant role in intelligence-gathering for MI6; Leonid Kannegiser, who assassinated the head of the Petrograd Cheka, Uritsky (and was related to Rudolf Peierls’s wife, about whom I have written); and General Evgeny Miller, the leader of the Northern Russian Government, who was later abducted in Paris and killed by Stalin’s goons in Moscow. Each individual receives one brief mention in Beevor’s text: none of the names appears in the Index. That seems to me to be irresponsible: Beevor does not declare the rationale for including some key figures in the Index, but not others.

Beevor is stronger, and more forthright, on the actions and mistakes of the Whites than he is on the Reds. The White armies were dispersed, over thousands of miles, with Yudenich leading in the North, Kolchak in the East, and Denikin (constantly at loggerheads with Wrangel, and criticized by many as being too liberal) in the South. Their communications had to be routed via Paris, and consequently took weeks to arrive: if they had enjoyed access to Zoom, matters might have turned out differently. But they were corrupt: many of them drank to excess, or took drugs. They mistreated their ranks, and looted for the benefits of their families, mistresses, and clans. They alienated what peasant allies they might have had by insisting on a return to the old system of land-ownership, and they lost any possible loyalty from populations of outlying territories (e.g. Finland, Estonia, Latvia) by insisting that their goals included restoration of the old imperial boundaries. All that those fighting the Bolsheviks had in common was a hatred of communism.

The Reds, on the other hand, were single-minded. Yet Beevor spends less time on their energies and activities. Lenin is a very shadowy figure during this period. Admittedly, he did not interfere in military affairs in the way that Hitler, Stalin or Churchill did, and other sources inform us that he spent most of his time ordering that anyone disobedient or timid should be shot. Trotsky (also not an expert in warfare) zipped around on his special train, printing pamphlets and broadsides, and exhorting the troops. After intense discussion, Trotsky and Lenin had decided, over Stalin’s objections, that the Red Army needed professional soldiers to develop a proper fighting army, and thus members of the tsarist officer corps were recruited, on pain of death to their families if they showed signs of cowardice, or betraying the revolution, to train the men and lead them into battle. In July 1919, the tsarist General Sergei Kamenev (not Lev, the Bolshevik) was appointed commander-in-chief of the Red Army over Trotsky’s strenuous objections, but makes few appearances on the scene after that, until Stalin berates him and Trotsky for the disastrous Warsaw campaign.

But how were all these armies, and the secret police, recruited? Was the Cheka staffed with criminals and psychopaths, or were the common people convinced of the need for mass terror, and signed up? How did they learn such bloodlust? In a paradoxical aside, Beevor claims that the head of the Cheka, Dzerzhinsky, was something of a softie, leaving the killing to others, but then, a page later, writes that he murdered a member of the left Socialist Revolutionaries, Aleksandrovich , ‘of whom he became rather fond’, with his own hand. Were the organs and soldiers press-ganged? How were the armies populated, trained, supplied, and kept motivated? Beevor failed to engage in such pressing questions, an oversight that leaves his story incomplete. (These were issues he covered well in D-Day.) He spends much more time on Churchill, the British secretary of state for war, who displayed his most picaresque tendencies in his hatred of Bolshevism, and brought Prime Minister Lloyd George to distraction, than he does on the Red Army leaders, and their conduct of the war. He is flimsy on the claims, now apparently confirmed, that the Bolsheviks were very reliant on German gold to finance the war.

Beevor provides some crisp description and analysis. He is sound on the dithering of Kerensky with the Provisional Government; he is incisive in telling the story of Kolchak’s eventual betrayal, trial, and execution; he describes the horrific exodus from Odessa, with the thousands left behind to be murdered, with chilling detail. His prose is mainly elegant, although he shows the occasional lack of language sense, such as with the clumsy lack of agreement in “Yet the presence of British armored cars in Kiev were thought to have prevented a Bolshevik uprising”. I note here some errata to be fixed in the paperback edition: ‘Xenephon’ (Xenophon) on page 126; ‘sunk’ (sank) on page 136; ‘Phyrric’ (Pyrrhic) in note on page 350; ‘kaleidescope’ (kaleidoscope) on page 469. The Index is inadequate.

In summary, a rich, encyclopedic compilation, but rather indigestible. Apart from reinforcing the horrors and widespread brutality of a wrenching Civil War by including a wide section of details from memoirs, Russia does not provide much fresh insight into the motivations and objectives of its combatants.

In the Wake of Empire by Anatol Shmelev

In Russia, Antony Beevor summed up the failure of the Whites as follows: “The different armies of Kolchak in Siberia, Denikin in the south, and Yudenich in the Baltics had never been able to coordinate their operations. The very few communications between them, which went via Paris, took weeks to arrive. The great handicap of the Whites was their dispersion around the central core of Soviet territory, while the Red Army benefitted enormously from interior lines or communication and a more centralized command structure.”

That, in a nutshell, is the subject of Dr. Anatol Shmelev’s In the Wake of Empire, which is a very different compilation. I must declare an interest: I have met Dr. Shmelev, and found his company very rewarding, as I wrote a few months ago, when I gave a thumbnail sketch of his book. But I have unrestrained and objective admiration for the depth of his scholarship in tracking down the minutiae of the Whites’ negotiations with foreign governments during the Russian Civil War. And I wanted to wait until Beevor’s book came out before giving it the full critical appreciation. In his bibliography, Beevor credits Shmelev with three earlier references (including a preliminary and much narrower version of this book, published in Russian in 2017, The Foreign Policy of Admiral Kolchak’s Government, 1918-1919), but clearly has not studied the ‘substantially reworked and broadened volume’ (in Shmelev’s words) that was issued in 2021.

Shmelev is one of those scholars who have been able to take advantage of the considerable number of archives that were opened up in Russia in the 1990s and 2000s before Putin retightened the screws. He received his PhD from the Institute of Russian History of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1996, and thereafter, apart from being able to use familiar archival resources, including the substantial material at the Hoover Institution, he was able to draw on the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF), the Archive of Foreign Policy of the Russian Empire (AVPRI), the Russian State Naval Archive (RGAVMF), and the Russian State and Russian National Libraries, as well as the Library of the Academy of Sciences and the Russian State Historical Library.

The outcome is that an enormous amount of material has had to be sifted through, and Shmelev carries the task out with aplomb. The overall story is perhaps familiar: how the various White factions, dispersed around the fringes of the old Russian Empire, tried to prevail on the western powers to help them oust the hated Reds, but that those countries, exhausted by the travails of the Great War, were reluctant to assist an entity that presented fresh imperial ambitions and might be a threat to them if successful. The Communists were an unknown quantity, and their terrors not yet known: the public citizenry was overall against intervention, and it was left to energetic politicians like Churchill to try to raise money and troops for what would turn out to be a lost cause. The Whites’ insistence on restoring the old Russian imperial boundaries disaffected many potential allies who also detested Bolshevism, in, for example, the former Duchy of Finland, who had more independent aspirations.

Baron Roman Ungern-Shternberg

The author brings fresh depth and insights to the debate, and his judgment over much controversial material is authoritative but not pedantic. His sketches of some of the players who contributed – some well-known, others less familiar – are frequently incisive and innovative. I was captivated, for example, by the name of Ungern-Shternberg, almost as arresting as that of Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, who led the British overseas mission to Moscow in 1939. I was familiar with Roman Ungern-Shternberg, known as the ‘Mad Baron’, a White Russian psychopath (b. 1886) who terrorized Siberia and was executed by the Reds in 1921, and wondered how he was related to the Baron Rolf Ungern-Shternberg, the Russian chargé d’affaires in Lisbon, who gains a couple of paragraphs from Shmelev for rather dangerously supporting Trotsky’s plans for peace proposals. Some searches on the Web led me to multiple branches of the Ungern-Shternberg family tree, but I could not find any connections going a couple of generations back. Estonia must have been riddled with offshoots of the clan.

I also learned much about the tortured attempts by Alexander Kerensky, the leader of the Provisional Government, to gain recognition and support from the western democracies, even while he tried to steer a problematic path between Lenin and Kolchak, represented by the group of leftist activists known endearingly as the ‘ninisty’ (‘neither-nor’; ‘neither Lenin nor Kolchak’). (Were they perhaps the models for ‘the knights who say “Ni!”’ in Monty Python and the Holy Grail?) Even though the initiative might have impressed President Wilson, appealing to the harsh Kolchak, maybe the strongest White officer, that he should become more democratic was a hopeless cause. As Shmelev writes: “For the mainstream Whites, the ninisty remained a symbol of the despised Kerenschina of 1917, hollow and rotten.”

Shmelev’s account is liberally sprinkled with many such illuminating insights and observations. I might challenge, however, one or two perspectives. For instance, he describes how the White ‘appeals for Allied aid and pressure on Finland and the Baltic States show that White foreign policy was being conducted in a vacuum – their representatives not only had no influence over foreign policy, but more often that had no conception of Allied policy.’ I would add that was mainly because the pluralist democracies did not possess a single-minded coherent policy – not just amongst themselves, several different countries with unique histories and territorial outlooks, but internally, within their governments (as the clashes between Lloyd George and Churchill prove), and even within their individual offices of administration, as inside the British Foreign Office itself. So perhaps it was not surprising that the Whites could not discern the intentions of their potential saviours. I also questioned (in a private email) Shmelev’s characterization of Churchill’s attitude to Bolshevism: “Long after the civil war, he continued to inveigh against the dangers of Bolshevism, and it was only the Second World War that brought about an alliance that must have amazed Churchill himself, although the end of the war resulted in the return of the natural order of things.” ‘The natural order of things’, with Stalin’s prison-camp extended over all eastern Europe? That is a bizarre assessment, and one of the very few where I judge Shmelev puts a foot wrong.

One highly illuminating event for me was the issuance of the document known as ‘the Colby Note’. After the Whites had been ousted in Siberia in early 1920, Bainbridge Colby, who had been appointed by USA President Polk as Secretary of State, sent a note to the Italian ambassador describing the attitudes of the United States towards the ongoing Polish-Soviet war. In what could be interpreted as a repudiation of Wilsonian self-determination, it savagely criticized the morals and policies of the Bolshevik government and hinted at official recognition of the previous boundaries of the Russian Empire – except for Finland, ‘ethnic Poland’ [an amorphous entity!], and part of the state of Armenia. in fact, Wilson thought that Bolshevik Russia would self-destruct as it was ‘wrong’ – a woefully feeble assessment. As Shmelev points out, it did collapse – but not until seventy years later. Yet the articulations of an ill-prepared Secretary of State gave hope to many, especially General Wrangel, who stated that the Colby Note represented his own political program. The initiative was unauthorized, too weak, too late, and too muddled, and fizzled out.

What fascinates me is how the White movement tried to persevere after the war, and how determined the Bolsheviks were to eradicate it, partly out of political principle, but also out of vengeance. The memoirs of exiled tsarist officers, trying to maintain a life of dignity in the West (particularly in Paris), but frequently having to work as cab-drivers or kitchen-hands, are exquisitely sad, but also rather pathetic are the aspirations they maintained about the chances of overturning the revolution, and perhaps of regaining their position and prestige. Stalin manipulated such persons most cruelly, infiltrated ROVS (the Russian émigré military veterans’ organization) with OGPU agents, and carefully killed such prominent persons as Generals Miller and Kutepov. Shmelev provides an Epilogue where he summarizes the fates of many of the diplomats who managed to escape (although for some reason overlooks Vrangel [sometimes Wrangel], who was probably poisoned by Stalin’s thugs in 1928), and highlights the role that the treacherous Sergey Tret’iakov played. Tret’iakov had been appointed foreign minister under Kolchak in 1919, but made an ingenious escape to Harbin and Japan before settling In Japan, and then moving to Paris. He was later recruited by the NKVD, and betrayed Kutepov (in 1930) and Miller (in 1937). Tret’iakov was arrested by the Germans in June 1942, and taken to Germany to be shot.

In the Wake of Empire is not the definitive story of the collapse of the White resistance to the Bolsheviks. There probably can be no such volume: neither is Beevor’s. But it should be read as a necessary complement to the blood and thunder of the tales of the Revolution and Civil War. Very little blood is spilled in Shmelev’s book, but a host of fascinating details of what went on behind the scenes is provided instead. Clausewitz said that war was a continuation of politics by other means, but the Whites were forced into war without having a chance to negotiate, to practice their politics. And then they were too fragmented, too dispersed geographically, and lacked authority. Diplomacy is also an aspect of bringing war to a close, but they were outgunned, outmanœuvred and outwitted by the ruthlessness of the Reds.

Stalin and His Hangmen by Donald Rayfield

Donald Rayfield is another historian who has been able to exploit the availability of new Russian archival material, in his case in order to shed fresh light on Stalin’s murderous schemes. He cites the State Archive of Social-Political History and the State Archive of the Russian Federation as his richest sources, while lamenting that the FSB has recently restricted its access to families of the oppressed and former employees, and that the Presidential Archive has become much more conservative in what it releases. Rayfield, who speaks Russian and Georgian, extended his search to the Georgian Central State Archive and the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art as well as several private collections. “There is enough material for seven maids with seven mops for seven thousand years”, he writes in his Preface, ”and much remains unexplored, particularly since archival catalogues give only the vaguest indication of what anything may hold.” Thus we may hope to expect further revelations – so long as historians with the calibre and style of Professor Rayfield are around to inspect them.

For a comprehensive and insightful account of the machinations of the various secret police organizations in Russia (including those of tsarist times), I would recommend Ronald Hingley’s excellent Russian Secret Police (1970), although he was able to use only a much more restricted set of sources. Rayfield is able to go into much more detail on the personalities of the chiefs involved, and their habits and character, as well as expand coverage to a broad set of players.  The author, Professor of Russian and Georgian at the University of London, is a proper man of letters, and I referred to his impressive biography of Anton Chekhov in my September post. Since then, I have also read his book Understanding Chekhov, which sheds penetrating light on the influences on the writer’s works, and skillfully explains how he achieves his effects in the stories and plays. Not unexpectedly, then, Stalin and His Hangmen expresses a flair for language and idiom: moreover, Rayfield displays some of the same stylistic traits of understatement and irony that Hingley used to such great effect.

But why ‘Hangmen’? It was not until April, 1943 that Stalin introduced public hanging as a method of execution, borrowing from the Germans, because he concluded that shooting was ‘too lenient’. Lenin had in fact recommended that method back in 1918, as it would have the educational value of being visible to the public. (In 1943, it also led to spectators stealing clothes from the bodies of the corpses.) The title of the book would better be Stalin and His Executioners, but maybe Rayfield thought that that nomenclature would echo too closely Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners, and thus selected the more figurative term. Then again, his subject is actually the chiefs of his Stalin’s terror apparatus – the Cheka, OGPU, NKVD and the various manifestations of the KGB – those who prepared the lists and sent them to Stalin to sign, who issued the quotas and ordered the extralegal executions. They were not Albert Pierrepoints: Dzerzhinsky, the first head of the Cheka in Moscow, shot someone himself on only one occasion. The victim was a drunken sailor, according to Rayfield (testimony that thus collides with Beevor’s), and it provoked a convulsive fit. Poor sensitive soul. Still, it makes poetic sense to call Dzerzhinsky and his successors all ‘murderers’.

I was pleased to see that Rayfield takes an outspoken stance on the horrors of Stalinism in the 1930s. When I described, in my doctoral thesis (and repeated in Misdefending the Realm, p 282) how Stalin’s massacres of his citizens had vastly outnumbered the murders that Hitler perpetrated against his victims (communists, Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, etc.) in that decade, I received some pushback from Professor Glees, as if I were diminishing the evils of the Holocaust. Yet the facts of Stalin’s own funeral pyre were undeniable – even though Stalin nurtured a set of western ‘useful idiots’ at the time who did indeed deny them, as Rayfield records. I stoutly defended my statements. Moreover, Rayfield points out that not only does the Putin regime not deny the Stalinist evils, it actually celebrates its ‘heroes’. He writes in his Preface:

In 2002, without comment abroad or at home, the Russian post office issued a set of stamps, ‘The 80th Anniversary of Soviet Counterintelligence’: the stamps show Artur Artuzov né Frautschi, one of the most dreaded OGPU leaders in the early 1920s; Sergei Puzitsky, who organized the killing of half a million Cossacks in 1931; Vladmir Styrne, who slaughtered thousands of Uzbeks in the 1920s; Vsevolod Balitsky, who purged the Ukraine and enslaved the Soviet peasantry. Imagine the uproar if Germany issued stamps commemorating Reinhard Heydrich, Heinrich Himmler, and Adolf Eichmann. Nobody in Germany smokes ‘Auschwitz’ cigarettes but Belomorkanal cigarettes, commemorating a camp where 100,000 were exterminated, are still sold in Russia.

State-sponsored terrorism began as soon as the Revolution started, and was aggressively promoted by Lenin. After the assassination attempt on Lenin by Fanny Kaplan, and the successful killing of the head of the Petrograd Cheka, Leon Uritsky, in 1918, the Red Terror started. Anybody who expressed – or even symbolized – counter-revolutionary impulses was in danger. Dzerzhinksy took out his lists, and started killing indiscriminately. As Rayfield informs us: “In 1919 all Moscow’s Boy Scouts, and in 1920 all members of its lawn tennis club were shot.” Thus the slaughter began, complemented by the campaigns of targeted persecution, such as the liquidation of so-called ‘kulaks’, whose only crime might have been to have owned a cow or two, or kept some grain for themselves, which resulted in the frightful famines in Ukraine and elsewhere, and the creation of the Gulags, which few survived, followed by the Great Terror. As late as 1938, 328,618 executions (yes, each death was recorded) for ‘counter-revolutionary activities’ took place. (Robert Conquest estimated that the NKVD killed two million directly, i.e. discounting deaths in the Gulag, in 1937 and 1938.) As if the total population of Nottingham were taken out and shot over the course of twelve months.

Felix Dzherzhinsky

Rayfield describes a grisly series of murderers with panache and energy. To begin with they were mostly non-Russians. Dzerzhinsky was a Pole, and the bulk of his crew were initially Poles and Latvians who had been oppressed in their native countries. Then native Russians joined the slaughter: ‘convicted criminals and certified psychopaths appointed themselves officers of the Cheka’. What is extraordinary is the degree to which cultured individuals, too, such as artists and doctors, could banish any inhibitions and cruelly torture and kill innocent human beings simply because they had been told that they were ‘enemies of the people’. Dzerzhinsky died of ill-health, as did his successor, Menzhinksy, another Pole, whom Rayfield portrays as relatively human. Many of these sadists eventually became victims themselves, including Yagoda (the head of the NKVD from 1934 to 1936), and his successor Yezhov, who, like Kamenev, went to the dungeons of execution bawling for mercy. Yezhov, having been responsible for the horrifying purges in his régime known as the Yezhovschina, was dismissed for not showing enough chekist vigilance, but then condemned to death for his over-exuberance.

The last of Stalin’s hangmen, Lavrenty Beria, comes under some provocative treatment by Rayfield, who bizarrely expresses some kind of admiration for him (p 343). 

Unlike Ezhov, Beria knew when to hold back, when to step back. Beria was not just a vindictive sadist, he was an intelligent pragmatist, capable of mastering a complex brief, and one of the best personnel managers in the history of the USSR. With very slight adaptations, he could have made himself a leading politician in any country of the world.

But he then he goes on to write about Beria’s libertine behaviour (p 459):

As for Beria’s legendary sexual proclivities, he was certainly guilty of many rapes – usually by blackmail rather than force – and of violating young girls. On the other hand, some of his mistresses were fond, or at least respectful, of him. By the standards of some Soviet leaders, who used the Bolshoi Ballet as a brothel, or even compared to J. F. Kennedy or David Lloyd George, Beria was not beyond the pale, even if at intervals during meetings he ordered women to be delivered to his house, as modern politicians order pizzas.

On a pervert like Beria, this judgment appears to me to fall on the wrong side of good taste.

Lavrenty Beria

The crux of the matter was that Stalin harbored fatal grudges against anyone who had ever opposed him, had challenged the righteousness of any Politburo decisions engineered by him, or weaknesses in the Soviet infrastructure (such as fallible aircraft), anyone who had ever voiced sympathy for Trotsky, or assisted in his attempts at propaganda, anyone who had recommended more lenient policies (such as Bukharin), or who had shown him up as flawed in military action (like Tukhachevsky, from the Polish campaign of 1920-1921). He had his spies and surveillance mechanisms, and knew exactly what his detractors said about him. They all had to go, eventually, just like the millions of utterly innocent victims whose neighbours or co-workers may have got their defamation in first, or who were banished to the Gulag on utterly spurious charges.

On Stalin, Rayfield expresses more sceptical opinions on some of the allegations that have populated other biographies of the dictator. When the head of the NKVD in Spain, Alexander Orlov, defected in 1937, it was later rumoured that he had knowledge that Stalin had been an agent of the Okhrana, the tsarist secret police, and had thus bargained his protection out of it. Rayfield appears to dismiss this. The assassination of Sergey Kirov, the party secretary in Leningrad, in 1934, has been broadly stated to have been engineered by Stalin himself, as a way of eliminating a dangerous rival. (Kirov could be seen in relation to Stalin as DeSantis is to Trump.) Rayfield pours cold water on this theory, too, while agreeing that the killing gave Stalin an excuse to purge others in the rival urban centre who threatened him. Here, he goes against the grain of what others – including Hingley – have concluded, with Hingley citing the hints that Khrushchev supplied in his 1956 speech denunciating Stalin. On the Tukhachevsky affair (where the Red Army general was accused of plotting against Stalin, which may well have been true, and was executed with seven other outstanding commanders in June 1937), Rayfield laconically writes: “Stalin’s ingratitude toward the Red Army, without whose brilliance and energy he could have died on the gallows in 1919 or 1920, is attributed by some to a German sting.” The inquisitive reader would be justified in desiring a more forthright and authoritative opinion than that. Likewise, Rayfield classifies Pavel Sudoplatov’s memoirs (Special Tasks) as ‘mendacious’ without explaining where they can be trusted, and where they should be treated with scepticism. It is an uneven performance.

The OKHRANA Badge

Rayfield’s stances are usually bold and vividly expressed, if a little idiosyncratically. I was puzzled as to why he insisted on spelling out Dzierzynski, Ezhov, Iagoda, and Khruschiov, when anyone who has been exposed to only a little Soviet history would be familiar with Dzerzhinsky, Yezhov, Yagoda, and Khrushchev. He whimsically refers to the tsarist secret police as the Okhranka, instead of the Okhrana. His prose is mainly very elegant, although I noticed some clumsy repetitions and flow of logic (for example, consecutive sentences starting with ‘But’), and some incorrect use of pronouns in appositional clauses. He uses the term ‘legendary’ inappropriately, in a journalistic voice. On the other hand, his sometimes waspish observations are almost universally sound and entertaining, as when, in true Hingleyesque style, he describes the atmosphere in 1937: “The streets of Moscow and Leningrad were still dangerous at night, but now that banditry was as severely punished as telling anti-Soviet jokes, some of the public regained confidence.”

Occasionally, his judgment falters, and he indulges in some donnish sermonizing. For example: “As Georgians, Stalin, Beria and Kobulov detested the Ingush and Chechens with that antipathy of lowland townsmen to highland warriors that goes back to the dawn of history and is still felt in Georgia.” This is dubious scholarship: I doubt whether such divisions existed ‘at the dawn of history’, whenever that was, and to characterize the peasant Stalin as a ‘lowland townsman’, as if he were an Edinburgh grocer, is erratic. And the final sentence of his book likewise displays a lack of academic rigour: “Until the story is told in full, and until the world community insists that the legacy of Stalin is fully accounted for and expiated, Russia will remain spiritually sick, haunted by the ghosts of Stalin and his hangmen, and, worse, by the nightmares of their resurrection.” ‘World community’? Who are those persons? There is an important message within this Thunbergian waffle, but Rayfield missed an important opportunity to explain to us how this transformation, and international pressure on Putin, could come about.

Lastly, I want to comment on some of Rayfield’s choice of poetry to amplify his messages. (My editor has generously granted me some extra space to digress on a matter of great personal interest to me.) On page 213, to introduce a section titled ‘The Trophy Writer’, where he discusses the writer Maxim Gorky, Rayfield introduces a fragment by the German poet Christian Morgenstern, which he has translated into English himself. He does not identify the title of the piece, but I can reveal that it is Der Werwolf (The Werewolf).

Christian Morgenstern’s ‘Galgenlieder’ & ‘Der Gingganz’

Dedicated coldspur readers may recall that Morgenstern is an enthusiasm of mine. As a teenager, I was introduced to him by the Cohens’ Penguin Books of Comic and Curious Verse, and I still have those volumes, as well as my dtv copies of Morgenstern’s Palmström and Galgenlieder in my poetry bookcase. He was a writer of nonsense verse, greatly influenced by Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll, and died of tuberculosis shortly before the outbreak of World War 1. Consisting largely of plays on words, his verses are notoriously difficult to translate. The translations in the Penguin series were delivered by R. F. C. Hull (1913-1974), who worked at Bletchley Park in World War II on the Ultra transcripts.

The paradox behind Der Werwolf is the fact that ‘Wer’ means ‘Who’ in German, but has no plural form, and the Werewolf seeks out a dead grammarian who might explain how his family of multiple werewolves can exist. Hull tries to finesse the issue by using the ‘Were’ of ‘Werewolf’ to suggest a problem of conjugating a verb rather than declining a pronoun. He does a decent job of making the poem accessible to readers, but is challenged by the fact that ‘were’ is regularly a plural form already.

What this has to do with Gorky and Stalin is a mystery. Moreover, Rayfield’s attempt at translation is doggerel. He displays no metrical sense, and cuts off the verses before the crux appears. It is all rather pointless. Maybe he is simply a fan of Morgenstern, and wanted to promote him, but it is very bizarre. (My hunch concerning a personal enthusiasm was reinforced when I read Understanding Chekhov: Rayfield rather incongruously introduces Morgenstern by referring to his imitation of Chekhov’s ‘theatre of smell’.) This digression is a rare false note in what is a compelling story. Let those maids with their mops pick up the gauntlet, and insist that Putin recognize the errors of his ways.

Yet there is more of Morgenstern. Rayfield also, rather enigmatically, presents a standalone verse of Morgenstern’s, Allen Knechtschaffenen, translated as To All the Enslaved, as a frontispiece to the book. The verse runs as follows:

An alle Himmel schreib ich’s an,

die diesen Ball unspannen:

Nicht der Tyrann ist ein schimpflicher Mann,

aber der Knecht des Tyrannen.

Rayfield’s translation runs:

            I write it all over the heavens

That encompass our earthly sphere;  

It’s not the tyrant we should abuse,

But the serf who works for the tyrant.

This is very odd. First of all, what was Morgenstern, who wrote these lines in 1906, suggesting? That those suffering under tyranny were responsible for letting it happen? He could not have anticipated the Liquidation of the Kulaks, or the quiescence of the German citizenry under Hitler. While ‘Knecht’ itself has a more moderate meaning (‘servant’ or ‘menial’), the word ‘Knechtschaft’ has a more intense signification of ‘servitude’ or ‘slavery’, and Morgenstern’s title, Allen Knechtschaffenen, would therefore suggest all victims in that miserable state, as Rayfield’s translation endorses. In that case, Morgenstern would appear to be describing those properly enslaved – not those who simply worked for the tyrant, carrying out his bidding. Yet Rayfield is writing about Stalin’s Hangmen, and one would assume that the ‘Knecht’ he alludes to was not a true slave, but represented any one of the despot’s secret police chiefs. (I would have used ‘lackey’, not ‘serf’, to suggest any of the minions who carried out the dictator’s orders.) It is Rayfield, moreover, not Morgenstern, who introduces the notion of ‘working for the tyrant’ rather than just ‘being the tyrant’s slave’. Thus why Rayfield would condemn Morgenstern’s slaves, or why, if he truly meant those who worked for the tyrant directly, Stalin’s hirelings should be considered more ‘disgraceful’, or worthy of abuse, than Stalin himself is not clear. It is all an eccentric and perplexing muddle to me.

Resistance by Halik Kochanski

I detect a competition between the epic new history of an era or event and the minimalist approach. Thus the phenomenon of Mark Galeotti’s A Short History of Russia, limiting an analysis of an enormous entity in space and time to 194 pages (which I have not yet read), competes for media coverage with Halik Kochanski’s monumental account of the underground movements against Hitler, Resistance, running at 960 pages, which I did complete a few weeks ago. In attempting to gain the attention of the critics and the reading public, one would imagine that the former would have a distinct advantage. Yet how could such an abbreviated work, if bringing a fresh revisionist message, deliver the argument convincingly if it lacked a host of supporting detail, and a wealth of references? On the other hand, can any single academic do justice to the scope of such a multifarious and international cause as that of anti-fascist resistance, which would surely merit an encyclopedia?

My preference these days is for neither option. The amount of material that is available to write a comprehensive history of some select subject, performing justice to the social, political, military and intelligence aspects, using archival material, authorized histories, and memoirs and biographies, demands that the period and geography covered be highly localized. Thus John Lukacs’s Five Days in London: May 1940 has more appeal than, say, Antony Beevor’s Second World War (which is sitting on my shelf, waiting to be read). That is the approach I have taken in writing my analyses of SOE and the Prosper disaster, or the complications of Gouzenko’s defection and revelations. Any encyclopedic approach is bound to leave several stones unturned, and the creatures that hide beneath them unexamined.

Kochanski’s work is an extraordinary achievement, yet the nature of her sources is both a strength and a weakness. This book appears to have arisen from nowhere, with Kochanski’s 2012 account of the Poles at war, The Eagle Unbowed, hardly indicative of the massive scope of the research that propelled this volume. Her bibliography lists almost eight hundred items (I assume that she read them all herself), but the works are almost exclusively publications in English (with a few Polish and French volumes and articles thrown in), and many of them are memoirs and biographies of dubious reliability. For example, I counted at least three bearing the sub-title of ‘The True Story of. . . .’, when they are manifestly not such. There is no original primary archival material listed, and nothing from the German – where one might expect some useful insights on the Nazi approach to handling resistance to be found. Thus, without a directional methodology explaining why some sources should be trusted, the reliability of Kochanski’s narrative and judgments must remain an open question.

The scope of Kochanski’s study is the nature of resistance in all the European countries occupied by the Germans, and thus excludes Germany itself, and Austria. The subtitle of the book is The Underground War Against Hitler, 1939-1945, which would tend to suggest that native resistance should very much have been in its focus. In commenting on this choice, Kochanski makes the surprising observation that there was nothing in those countries to resist, as ‘much of the German opposition to Hitler was not anti-German and did not want Germany to lose the war’. This seems to me an oversimplification, and an error of judgment, since it ignores multiple aspects of German resistance, including the broad plots inside the Wehrmacht and the Abwehr, the White Rose faction, and the Communist opposition that included the Rote Kapelle.

In 1994, Anton Gill published a very respectable book titled An Honourable Defeat: Resistance Against Hitler, 1939-1945, which covered civil and military opposition to the Führer. The appearance of that book would tend to confirm that there is an important tale to be told. True, the nature of such resistance was for the most part different, as it involved minimal sabotage, and hardly any guerrilla warfare. The story is nevertheless important since, if the military conspirators had spent less time plotting, and acted more decisively, they could have caused the whole ghastly edifice to come crashing down, and nullified the need for resistance elsewhere. Moreover, the Allies did try to infiltrate agents into German/Austrian territory with the goal of fomenting and exploiting local antagonisms, and such exploits constitute an important part of the overall history.

In fact the whole role of Communists in the Resistance across all of Europe, especially in France and Italy, and especially the way that Stalin insisted on controlling their activities, merits far more attention than Kochanski is prepared to allocate to this vexing subject. Communists were generally much more committed, and unconcerned about reprisals. Their activities, strangely enough, embarrassed both the Britain and the USA, as well as Stalin himself, who did not want premature uprisings in countries that he was not going to control, lest the Lend-Lease programs be jeopardized. The Foreign Office misjudged Stalin completely, and was manipulated by him. Britain’s role in appeasing its autocratic ally, and the misguided way in which it found itself arming Stalin’s servants in contravention of the desires of the relevant governments-in-exile, is almost completely overlooked by Kochanski.

As an encyclopedic survey of the resistance movements, Resistance will act as a splendid (but somewhat heavy) vade-mecum. It gathers a host of fascinating accounts of the efforts in each country for the general populace to come to grips with the presence of Nazi occupation forces. Circumstances in each territory were different, because of German attitudes, the culture of the country, and the nature of its terrain. I learned a multitude of new facts about the mistakes, tragedies and ironies of the conflict. For instance, in 1953, when twenty-one members of the SS Das Reich regiment were put on trial for the massacre at Oradour, it was discovered that fourteen of them were Frenchmen from Alsace, conscripted and fighting to protect their families back home. In 1942 the native Rinnan gang in Norway successfully infiltrated intelligence and resistance groups in the Trondheim region, leading to the execution of about a hundred resisters and SOE agents. As late as November 1944 (when the Warsaw Uprising was essentially over), Stalin still refused to allow the RAF to conduct operations to Warsaw over Soviet territory, even though he had recently encouraged the British to use Soviet bases in northern Russia to launch bombing-attacks on the battleship Tirpitz.

Yet in trying to provide an integrative account of how resistance unfolded, and how the Nazis reacted to it, Kochanski makes too many errors, and fails to follow up her individual observations with a series of patterns. It is a work of painstaking analysis, but of little imaginative synthesis. She does not understand the organization of SOE, MI5 and MI6, and how they interacted. Similarly, she does not distinguish between the Gestapo and the Abwehr in their rival domain and missions in France, or delineate the rivalries and squabbles that characterized their relationship. She similarly does not collect her multiple accounts of SOE’s exploitation of local resistance groups in France, Italy and Greece as a ploy to please Stalin, and to distract German attention from the Normandy landings, often with fatal results, into a coherent narrative. She likewise does not explore fully the way that resistance groups often exploited SOE with their relentless demands for weapons and money: SOE was an organization encouraging sabotage, not armed revolt. She hints at betrayal, but fails to grasp the bull by the horns. In the areas where I have studied the archival material (and the often deceptive memoirs) with some diligence, I found her history seriously wanting, and thus had doubts about the events with which I am not so familiar. On the other hand, I found her re-appraisal of the abuse of Mihailović, and the shady transfer of British support to Tito, a fine piece of revisionist writing.

Her overall assessment of SOE is very weak, merely reflecting some misty-eyed reminiscences of those who would like to see it in an exclusively positive light, and highlighting the opinion of its internal historian, William Mackenzie. The fact was that most European citizens living under the Nazi yoke did not want to see their country ‘set ablaze’, and the cruel reprisals that frequently followed were often indiscriminate and utterly demoralising. The assassination of Heydrich in Prague, and the horrendous reprisals that occurred thereafter, effectively quashed Czech resistance for good. The acquiescence and acceptance of subjugation that many pursued was not a sign of appeasement and treachery, but simply reflected a desire to survive, and no one who did not live through such times can comfortably judge behaviour that may have seemed dishonorable in retrospect. Kochanski several times observes how partisan groups spent more of their energies fighting each other rather than the Germans, but does not elevate these phenomena into any fresh conclusions. It is all very well to justify SOE retroactively on its delivery of intelligence instead of causing mayhem, but there existed other mechanisms  – more discreet – for gathering such information.

One whole aspect of resistance that Kochanski overlooks is the strategy of the occupiers. What did the Germans expect when they invaded a country, and did they adapt their tactics to the circumstances and reactions of the local populace? How did the character and stature of the respective Governor, and his policies, affect the dynamics of resistance? What effect did a royal family in place (as in Denmark and Belgium) have on the conflicts between the occupier and the occupied? It is poignant that, in Ukraine, and in the Baltic states, the Nazis were initially welcomed by many as liberators from the hated Communists, but the monstrosities of the execution squads against the Jews, and the attitudes of the Germans to ‘sub-human’ Slavs, soon showed that the invaders were as odious as the Bolsheviks. In Norway, on the other hand, where the Germans considered the natives as part of the favoured Nordic race, the attitude was far more indulgent, and positive, until the Gestapo concluded that they were generally hated as they were elsewhere. Even if fierce reprisals – demanded by Hitler – partially discouraged further subversion for a while (and that was a bitter source of controversy in Norway), at some stage the SS (Schutzstaffel) should have realized that more intensive terror would be self-defeating. Yet the brutalities of the Wehrmacht and the SS continued – sometimes out of sheer anger and frustration – in France, Italy and Greece, even when the outcome of the war was certain, and individual barbarities could be traced and be punished.

Like most books I read these days, Kochanski’s work could have benefitted from some tighter editing. Far too many statements are made in the passive voice, so that the source of claims is unverifiable, or the reader is uncertain who is making the judgment. She has an irritating habit of misplacing ‘only’, with the result that it does not correctly qualify the intended phrase. Her deployment of terms to describe the various resistance groups is imprecise: for instance, youths fearing conscription by the Germans who run to the woods do not suddenly become ‘maquis’. Thus, in summary, a noble and impressive work, but by no means definitive, with many opportunities missed. Maybe Kochanski did not feel up to the task of taking on what could turn out to be a controversial re-assessment of the contributions to the victory over the Axis powers of SOE and the resistance movements it tried to abet.

Surviving Katyn by Jane Rogoyska

If you read only one of the books I have reviewed this month, it should be Jane Rogoyska’s Surviving Katyn. It is a brilliantly researched and beautifully written account of one of the major examples of the Soviet Union’s brutality and mendacity –  the murder of thousands of Polish officers and professional men at Katyn Forest in 1940, and the subsequent cover-up and denial after the Germans discovered the scene of the butchery in 1943. The deceit, and the hunting down and elimination of many of the witnesses, carried on until the fall of the Soviet Union, when in 1990 Gorbachev faced the inevitable truth. The shameless refusal by the British and American authorities to accept the evidence, because Stalin was an ally, and his ‘good will’ was necessary to secure the defeat of the Nazis, continued through the war crimes trials at Nuremberg, and throughout the Cold War, even after Stalin’s death, and Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin’s crimes.

The Katyn Massacre

It is difficult to determine what qualified and equipped Ms. Rogoyska to execute this project in such a polished fashion. Her Wikipedia entry indicates that her grandfather escaped from Poland to England at the start of World War II, and that his son married an Englishwoman – who bizarrely remains anonymous, even on the author’s own website. Rogoyska is described as a British writer ‘of Polish origin’, although why the matrilineal side of her ancestry should be diminished in favour of the surname she carries is not clear. Moreover, while she studied Modern Languages at Cambridge, we learn that she did not learn Polish until adulthood, which fact makes her close analysis of so much Polish and Russian archival material even more remarkable. Her career has been in film, with no evident experience or training in writing history therefore evident.

Yet her account is utterly painstaking, methodical and carefully dispassionate. She lets the facts speak for themselves, and is sure of judgment when the obvious speculations have to be made. For the lesson of Katyn are still having to be re-learned. Despite the acknowledgment of the responsibility for the massacres, and subsequent cover-up, made by Putin himself, when he attended a memorial event for the victims in 2010, he has been clamping down on the Pamyat (‘Memory’) organization that tries to keep the records of Soviet atrocities alive and available, and has been promoting a twisted image of Stalin as a symbol of a Russia of greater days.

I wrote about Katyn in my post from this summer (https://coldspur.com/summer-2022-round-up/), when I reviewed Jozef Czapski’s Inhuman Land, and thus refer readers to it for a brief synopsis of what happened. Rogoyska weaves Czapski’s story into her account, focusing very sharply on the few reminiscences of those who were exempted, or allowed to escape, from the three camps where the Poles were incarcerated. While the outcome is clear, the struggles of the survivors to discover how thousands of their comrades could have disappeared without trace is poignant and wrenching. Yet Beria, the head of the NKVD, himself gave a colossal hint when he admitted in October 1940 to General Sygmunt Berlinger, a Polish communist sympathizer, and others, who had been invited to discuss the possible organization of a Polish division to fight the Germans, that ‘we made a big mistake’.

The reason for that characterization of the massacre is not clear, and perhaps never will be so. After all, the deaths of a few thousand Poles were not remarkable numerically, given that Stalin’s security organizations had been killing ‘enemies of the people’, and anyone who even potentially opposed Communist orthodoxy, in their millions. Prisoners of war received abominable treatment – both by the Soviets and the Germans, but these Poles were sequestered in more comfortable conditions than regular captives. Thus Beria’s brief admission could have meant several things: 1) we should never have killed so many Polish intelligentsia and officers, as we were bound to be found out eventually; 2) we should not have killed persons who might have been useful in the fight against Hitler when the inevitable invasion of the Soviet Union occurred (remember, Germany and the Soviet Union were allies when the massacres took place): 3) we should have performed a much better job of concealing the graves, so that they would never be discovered by any invading army. Astoundingly, when the Poles were held at the three camps of Kozelsk, Starobelsk and Ostashkov, two of these contingents were moved in a westward direction to their places of execution – towards Poland and Germany – rather than being transported to the depths of Siberia where the evidence of their demise might have been better concealed.

The fact that Beria was ruthless, and may have recommended the decision to execute the Poles to Stalin, rather than being encouraged or instructed by the dictator to pursue it, and that he made this statement to a Pole, suggests to me that explanation number 2 is the most likely. Yet the evolution of the cover-up indicates that he and his associates believed that it was absolutely essential to blame the Germans for the killings, to falsify the evidence in the graves to suggest the misdeeds were performed later, and to exploit the known reputation of the Nazis for mass executions to present themselves as innocent. (I would point out that, over the course of two days in September, 1941, the Germans, assisted by Ukrainian collaborators, murdered 33,771 Jews at the ravine of Babi Yar, outside Kyiv.) And it worked. The German Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, had to admit that he had been outwitted. And the Soviet propaganda machine single-mindedly continued to promote the lie for decades afterwards.

What fascinates and appalls me is the craven response of Churchill, Eden, and other politicians, and the way that the Polish government-in-exile was treated with disdain while Stalin was appeased. One can perhaps understand a certain caution and reticence to push the point home in 1943, when the war still had to be won, and Stalin’s full support to turn the Germans back was essential. The subsequent avoidance of the issue, however, symptomatic of the policy of appeasement of Stalin that the Foreign Office pursued, in the belief that if he were treated like an English gentleman he would start to behave like one, is utterly reprehensible. One notable member of the Foreign Office, Sir Owen O’Malley, who was British ambassador to the Polish government-in-exile, was critical of such subservience and neglect of the truth, but his voice was suppressed and overruled.

All this (or most of this) Rogoyska covers with clarity and style. I do not believe she has any spectacular new revelations in her story, but it is important that the whole saga is encapsulated in one book. Moreover, I learned much in a domain close to my interests – namely the vicious retribution that the Soviet machine exacted on those who might embarrass it. Several of the Poles who escaped changed their names, and went into hiding. One Soviet witness of the executions, Ivan Krivovertsov, who had cooperated with the German investigation, feared for his life, and managed to escape to England, assuming the pseudonym Mikhail Loboda. (A photograph of him being interviewed by the Red Cross representatives in 1943 appears in the book.) He was found hanged in Somerset in 1947. As Rogoyska cautiously writes: “It is possible, although not verifiable, that the ‘suicide’ was the work of the KGB.”

In the past decade, President Putin has severely regressed from his earlier dignified stance. Rogoyska could have referred to incidents in the forest of Sandarmokh, in Karelia, near the Finnish border, where a local citizen, Yuri Dmitrev, has been persecuted for discovering burial mounds of political prisoners executed by Stalin’s secret police. A group sponsored by the Military Historical Society, ‘a state-funded organization notorious for its nationalist take on Russian history’ (as the New York Times characterized it in an article dated April 27, 2020) interfered with the excavations to make it seem that some of the victims were Soviet soldiers executed by the Finns in World War II. Anatoli Razumov, director of the Center for Recovered Names in St. Petersburg, was quoted as saying: “The same tactics are being used to muddle the history of Russia’s most infamous killing-ground. Katyn Forest. . . .”. Dmitrev was convicted of a false paedophilia charge, and resides in jail: the curator of the local museum, who had supported Dmitrev, was arrested on a similar charge, and soon after died in prison hospital ‘from an unspecified illness’. Stalinism lives.

In conclusion, I have just read an article in the December issue of The Atlantic, ‘How Germany Remembers the Holocaust’, by Clint Smith. It is a thoughtful and moving account of how modern Germans come to terms with the atrocities, and Smith makes analogies with the persecution of Native Americans, with the enslavement of Africans, and with the German genocide in Namibia. Not once, however, does he make any reference to the mass murders of Communism, of the tyrannies of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. Maybe he regards the category of victim, or the level of complicity by the people, or the factor of geography, differently; maybe he has simply ‘forgotten’ the Liquidation of the Kulaks, the Holodomor, the Great Terror and the Gulags: one cannot discern. His article concludes: “It is the very act of attempting to remember that becomes the most powerful memorial of all.” Indeed: it is Pamyat, ‘Memory’, that Putin is attempting to destroy.

(Latest Commonplace entries can be seen here.)

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Gibby’s Spy

Harold Gibson in his Office

[This report examines a hoax perpetrated on Chapman Pincher, one that was soon afterwards foolishly picked up by Peter Wright, and later irresponsibly echoed by John Costello and Nigel West. It concerns a deception exercise, named Operation TARANTELLA, probably managed by Joseph Stalin himself, in which a celebrated MI6 officer, Harold Gibson, was sadly misused.]

Contents:

Introduction

  1. Gibby’s Spy
  2. Harold Gibson
  3. Gibson’s Curriculum Vitae
  4. The NKVD Dossier
  5. The Nigel West Theory
  6. The Mis-Education of Chapman Pincher
  7. Count Nelidov
  8. A Spy in the Kremlin?
  9. Hints of Disinformation
  10. Operation TARANTELLA
  11. Sotskov’ s ‘Operation Code – TARANTELLA’
  12. The Gibson-Bogomolets Letters

Overall Conclusions

Introduction

In recent weeks I have been involved in energetic email discussions with Keith Ellison, an intelligence sleuth like me. Mr Ellison is, however, a genuine intelligence expert, having served in Britain’s Intelligence Corps. He has written a very penetrating study of MI6’s Section V during WWII (see https://www.academia.edu/63976327/Special_Counter_Intelligence_in_WW2_Europe_Revised_2021_ ), and discovered coldspur while he was researching wireless usage by the ‘double agents’ of MI5. Keith is engrossed with the identity of ELLI, and challenged me on one or two points of my recent analysis of Gouzenko’s testimony. (He assures me that, despite his name, he is not ‘the son of ELLI’.) Regular coldspur readers will recall that my current supposition is that ELLI was Stephen Alley, identified because of a misunderstanding by Colonel Chichaev over a former agent of George Hill’s, but my analysis is in one aspect flawed in that it does not take into account Gouzenko’s claims about ELLI’s moving ‘to the dubok method’. Such tradecraft would not have been necessary with Alley, since he enjoyed authorized contacts with Chichaev.

Naturally, there is nothing I welcome more than a spirited, well-argued exchange of ideas (unlike some of the unsupported bluster that I do receive from some quarters), and Keith and I entered the debate in a constructive and serious manner. Our discussion kicked off on the question of whether ELLI had been a GRU or an NKVD asset. Since Gouzenko worked as a cipher clerk for the GRU in Toronto, the general assumption has been that he would have had access to GRU traffic only, as the two departments were supposed to have maintained tight compartmentalization. Yet Colonel Chichaev, who reported the fact that George Hill was supposed to be running an agent inside the Kremlin, was an NKVD appointee, and reported to Lieutenant-General Pavel Fitin, head of Foreign Intelligence. The events suggested that encryption and decryption services may have been shared in Moscow by the NKGB (as the foreign sections of NKVD became in 1943) and military intelligence, the GRU. Indeed, the evidence supplied by Walter Krivitsky to MI5 reinforced the notion that sharing of intelligence took place back in Moscow, since Yezhov had been focused on combining the offices of the NKVD and the GRU’s Fourth Department. In Deadly Illusions (p 202) Costello and Tsarev echo the fact that the NKVD’s signals department collaborated with the Fourth Department.

Yet some of these contributions to the record are not precisely dated, and have to be treated cautiously. For example, did Yezhov’s integrative impulses survive his execution? The answer might appear to be ’yes’. Donald Rayfield wrote, in Stalin and His Hangmen, that Beria by 1940 ‘had completed Ezhov’s [Yezhov’s] work destroying Red Army intelligence: everyone of the rank of colonel or above had been shot’. Under those circumstances, how could an independent GRU staff have processed encrypted signals from abroad? Moreover, while Gouzenko appears to suggest that there was a strict division of responsibilities between the cipher departments of the GRU and the NKVD (a chart that he drew for his interrogators in Toronto is ambiguous), one has to question whether the Soviet authorities could afford such dispersal of their cipher teams in times of stress – especially when the units were moved from Moscow to Kuibyshev as the Germans advanced in December 1941. We continue to explore this issue.

As Keith and I delved again into the archival material, and discussed for whom ELLI worked, we agreed that it was indeed probably SOE, but could have been MI6. Guy Liddell had quickly concluded that he (or she) was in SOE, but dismissed the possibility that it could have been the known SOE employee and traitor Ormond Uren, who had been arrested, convicted, and jailed in 1943. We agreed that, as every month and then year passed, the evidential material emanating from Gouzenko for identifying ELLI sharpy deteriorated, and our focus thus turned sharply to the role of Colonel Chichaev. We decided that it was important to verify whether Chichaev did indeed handle any of the Cambridge spies (or their affiliates), to help out Gorsky and Krotov, as Genrikh Borovik claimed in The Philby Files.

And then we changed course. During our email conversations, as we discussed possible moles, Keith incidentally drew my attention to an anecdote reported by Peter Wright in Spycatcher, where the retired MI5 officer described how Anthony Blunt had responded to Wright’s accusation that deaths had occurred because of Blunt’s betrayals, and Blunt appeared to have acknowledged his responsibility in the execution of an MI6 asset behind Soviet lines. I had obviously read this passage when I first encountered Spycatcher, but its implications had not registered very deeply. I decided to investigate.

  1. Gibby’s Spy

The section runs as follows, where Wright describes his attempts to extract further information from Blunt in 1964 (p 220):

I switched tack, and began to press his conscience.

“Have you ever thought about the people who died?”

Blunt feigned ignorance.

“There were no deaths,” he said smoothly, “I never had access to that type of thing . . .”

“What about Gibby’s spy”? I flashed, referring to an agent run inside the Kremlin by an MI6 officer named Harold Gibson. ‘Gibby’s spy’ provided MI6 with Politburo documents before the war, until he was betrayed by Blunt and subsequently executed.

“He was a spy,” said Blunt harshly, momentarily dropping his guard to reveal the KGB professional. ‘He knew the game; he knew the risks.”

Blunt knew that he had been caught in a lie, and the tic started up with a vengeance.

What to make of this? The impression that Wright gives is that the knowledge of ‘Gibby’s spy’, and of his elimination, was common across MI5 and MI6, and that Blunt’s speedy acknowledgment was tantamount to the fact that he had been responsible. The anecdote also suggested a possible source for the asset in the Kremlin who had provided information that appeared in the famous ‘Imperial Council’ report that Walter Krivitsky discussed with his MI5 interrogators in 1940. But can one trust what Wright wrote as an accurate account of what happened? Certainly, he seems to be aware of a person known as ‘Gibby’s spy’, but can we accept that the challenge, and Blunt’s riposte, actually took place? For example, how did Wright know that Gibby’s spy had been executed? Did Blunt tell him??

I decided to dig around a bit. Quite extraordinarily, Nigel West’s 2009 work Triplex, which covers a broad array of documents passed on to Moscow by the Cambridge spies (many of which appeared for the first time in English, since they were translations back from the Russian transcripts of documents that have never been released by the British government) appeared to provide some strong insights and conclusions. [The translations were performed by Dina Goebbel and by a figure familiar to readers of coldspur, Geoffrey Elliott.] After introducing his readers to Blunt’s recruitment by MI5 in the summer of 1940, after Dunkirk, and his ability to gain access to the ‘famed Security Service Registry’, West lays out Blunt’s probable culpability: “Thereafter he seems to have copied whatever files he was requested to, and there can be little doubt that he had a direct hand in copying the four documents contained in the pages that follow.”

Again, it is worth quoting West’s full text of explanation here:

The first among these documents is a summary of the NKVD’s October 1940 interrogation of Aleksandr S. Nelidov, a long-term SIS source who was probably betrayed by Anthony Blunt. When the art historian joined MI5 in May 1940, transferring from the Field Security Police after the Dunkirk debacle, he lost no time in pillaging the Registry for information that would prove his bona-fides to his NKVD controllers. One of the first items he passed on was information about a highly successful agent recruited years earlier by the legendary SIS professional Harold Gibson. Although in the Registry documents a weak attempt was made to protect the source with a code name, there was sufficient collateral data for the ruthless NKVD investigators to narrow the field of suspects, and according to the file released for publication in this volume, it was at this time that they extracted a confession from Nelidov.

West then explains that SIS had ignored the implications of Nelidov’s unexpected arrest, and that Wright’s accusation of Blunt, to his face, was the first occasion on which the connection had been made. (This, in itself, is quite extraordinary. Would MI6/SIS not have undertaken an investigation when their source dried up?) Furthermore, West interprets the passage as indicating that Blunt admitted his guilt, and concludes by observing that ‘In reality, unknown to either Wright or Blunt, Nelidov committed suicide in 1942, having confessed to two decades of collaboration with SIS’. Where West derived this information is not clear. A biography of the Soviet intelligence officer Vasily Zarubin revealed it – but that was in 2015. If West learned of it from his collaborator on Triplex, Oleg Tsarev, one might have expected Tsarev to have attempted to dissuade West from his theory that Nelidov was ‘Gibby’s Spy’.

Yet West is adamant. He next introduces three long confessional statements by the hapless Nelidov. The implication from West is that Nelidov might have been the Kremlin source at the time of the ‘Imperial Council’ affair. The identity of this person – whose existence Krivitsky confirmed from a discussion with his boss, Avram Slutsky, during his last period in Moscow in April or May 1937 – has never been determined. Much analysis has focused on the identity of the mole inside the Foreign Office or MI6 who gave the information to the Soviets (as I wrote about, back in February 2019: see https://coldspur.com/two-cambridge-spies-dutch-connections-1/ ),  but no investigation into the remarkable ability of an MI6 agent to survive in the Kremlin, and pass on intelligence to the British service, has been undertaken, so far as I know. ‘Was ‘Gibby’s Spy’ the person in question?

Yet my reaction to this farrago of nonsense in West’s prelude was utter disbelief (which I shall soon explain). Firstly, however, I set out to explore who this Harold Gibson fellow – ‘legendary’ (mythical) or real-life – was, as part of my methodology of creating a time-line, an understanding of geography and logistics, and developing an analysis of roles and motivations.

  • Harold Gibson

Not much has been written about Gibson in the places where you might expect an officer of ‘legendary’ status to be chronicled. A Wikitree entry gives the following on his early life:

            Harold Charles Lehr Gibson was born in Moscow in 1897 (other sources claim he was born in either in 1885 or 1887 which is probably incorrect). He attended primary school in Moscow from 1909 to 1913 and then completed his education at Tonbridge School. He also studied at the technical faculty of Moscow University. In March 1917 he was recruited into MI6 for his knowledge of Russian, was attached to the British Consulate General in Moscow as a clerk, was transferred to the Military Permit Office of the British Embassy in Petrograd and in March 1918 returned to the Consulate General in Moscow. He left Russia for London in October 1918 with the remnants of the British and French Missions – and probably the rest of his family.

(see also: https://elenawatson.weebly.com/gibson.html )

The primary serious source at hand was Keith Jeffery’s authorized history of MI6, so I set out to determine what feats had transformed Mr Gibson into this figure of renown. Here follows a précis of what Jeffery wrote:

Gibson was a ‘Petrograd veteran’, like Lieutenant Commander Malcolm Maclaren, who had arrived in Odessa in early 1919, and was ‘wanted by the Bolsheviks’. Gibson’s father had managed a chemical works in Moscow, and Harold had become bilingual in English and Russian by virtue of spending so much time there, and was also a qualified interpreter in French, German and Czech. He left Russia through the south in 1919, and was posted in October of that year to the SIS station in what is now Istanbul. After three years there, he was moved to Sofia in Bulgaria in October 1922, and to Bucharest in Rumania two months later. In Istanbul Gibson had reportedly recruited networks of Russian anti-Communist agents, including one former Tsarist officer who moved with Gibson to Bucharest, although Jeffery records (without identifying the authority) that ‘it was thought likely that the OGPU had become aware of him’.

In Bucharest, Gibson assembled a sizable network of sources, including a clerk in the Sevastopol naval base, who ran sub-agents himself placed as far apart as the Ukraine and Irkutsk in Central Asia. Gibson’s intelligence was highly regarded back in London by Menzies, and he took his White Russian agent HV/109 (who had also worked for him in Istanbul) with him on his next posting. In 1931, Gibson replaced Rafael Farina as head of station in Riga, Latvia. Yet he did not stay there long, being transferred again, in February 1934, to Prague. This was a critical period, and in early 1938 Gibson was instructed to make contact with Colonel Moravec, the head of Czechoslovak Military Intelligence. From this association Gibson was able to gain valuable intelligence about German military movements in Austria. Gibson was instrumental in extracting Moravec, alongside his senior officers, and a valuable archive, out of Prague to London on March 14, 1939, and he himself escaped on March 30.

Gibson in Turkey; Gibson and friends on holiday

In 1941 Menzies appointed Gibson as head of operations in the Balkans, where, as SIS representatives withdrew in the face of the Axis advance, he turned out to be responsible not only for Turkey, ‘but also for “stations-in-exile” from Sofia, Bucharest, Budapest, Belgrade and Athens’, operating out of Istanbul. The celebrated SIS officer Frank Foley thought highly of Gibson (and his brother Archie), while commenting on the fact that the station had too many ‘second-raters’. Gibson was dismissive of the expertise and patronizing attitude of the ambassador Knatchbull-Hugessen, who tried to bring SIS under his control, but Gibson’s misgivings were justified when the CICERO spy was uncovered. A brief later experience is regretted by Jeffery, when Gibson was allowed to go into Bulgaria in September 1944 despite the fact that Gibson had apparently been blown to the Soviets as an SIS officer while he was in Istanbul. (I note from FCO 158/193, p 33, that Konstantin Volkov, during his attempted defection there in 1945, disclosed to Reed that the identity and role of Gibson were well-known to the KGB.) Jeffery does not explain the revelation or the misjudgment in any detail, simply referring to the starry-eyed visions of the Foreign Office in aspiring to ‘co-operate’ with the Communists. He also writes nothing about Gibson’s spell in Prague after the war, even though his history is supposed to record events up until 1949. And that is all Jeffery has to say.

What about other histories of MI6? Apart from some fresh insights into Gibson’s handling of the valuable Nazi informer Paul Thümmel, using the contributions of the journalist Eric Gedye (of Philby and Vienna renown), Nigel West’s MI6 has little to add – except for an explosive revelation concerning Gibson’s latter years. It is worth quoting the whole paragraph:

The prospect of long-term penetration of the Secret Intelligence Service led to a review of all the evidence for more extensive wartime and postwar betrayal. Some of the leads had been cold for a long time. Harold Gibson, for example, was one. He had returned to Prague in 1945 and had then been posted to Germany in 1949. After a two-year tour of duty in Berlin, he went back to Broadway and then went to Rome as head of station in 1955. He retired on his sixtieth birthday in 1958 and remained in the Italian capital. On 24 August 1960 he was found shot dead in his apartment at 25 Via Antonio Boso. The British and Italian investigators concluded that he had committed suicide. However, three years later, MI5 re-opened the file following defector reports that the Soviets had indeed planted ‘moles’ in SIS, and that these spies had strong Russian backgrounds or Russian connections. Certainly Harold Gibson had these basic qualifications. He had been born in Russia and had been educated there. English was a second language to him and he had married two Russians. His first wife, Rachel Kalmanoviecz, was the daughter of an engineer from Odessa. She had died in 1947 and the following year he had married Katarina Alfimov. Apart from the suspicious circumstances of his death, there was nothing to suggest that Gibson had been anything other than loyal.

In The Friends (1998), West’s study of MI6 after the war, the author picked up this thread of molehunts, drew attention to Gouzenko’s observation about the ‘Russian connection’, and listed some of the officers who could have been suborned in some way by Soviet Intelligence. “All the SIS White Russians, for different reasons, must have been targeted by the KGB at some time”, he wrote. “Sulakov had worked closely with Philby at the Istanbul Station; Dunderdale had managed Tokaev’s defection in 1948; Steveni had received Boris Bajanov, Stalin’s personal assistant, back in 1928; the Gibson brothers had worked for SIS throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East.” His mentioning of Sulakov is particularly damning since, elsewhere, he writes very casually that, in 1947, Philby left ‘the management of individual agents to Roman Sulakov, the station’s long serving, White Russian assistant who had been recruiting and running spies in the region for at least two decades.’ Some assistant: some spies.

I had three major reactions to this astounding passage in MI6:

  1. It suggests strongly that an MI5 file on Gibson exists (or existed). Enough detail, including the names of his two wives, is presented to indicate that much more information on him was gathered. Yet no one appears to have delved into his post-war activities. Why is this? And why has the file not been released?
  2. The murky circumstances of his death echo the persecution of agents or perceived traitors who may have fallen foul of their KGB oppressors (e.g. Wrangel, Miller, Agabekov, Poynts, Reiss, Krivitsky, Harris?, Foote?, Skinner?, Graham?). The verdict on his death is disturbingly inconclusive. Maybe Gibson had personal demons, but the circumstances of his final hours cry out for further examination.
  3. The nature of his marriages also suggests parallels. To marry a Russian woman once is surely romantic: to repeat the performance perhaps an error of judgment. The Soviet authorities did not allow foreigners to take their brides abroad without suborning them with pressures to spy (e.g. Rudolf Peierls). Moreover, Jeffery stated that Gibson had been exposed as an SIS officer during the war. Where did he meet his second wife, and was she perhaps a loyal servant of the KGB?
Viktor Bogomolets (on left)

Michael Smith, in Six, sheds further light on Gibson and his team when discussing the system of digraphs that identified all MI6 officers and agents, telling us that ‘Victor Bogomoletz [sic] who ran intelligence operations into the Soviet Union for Gibson, was given the designator 31109, indicating that he worked to Gibson’s deputy (31100) as his ninth agent’. This number bears a very close resemblance to the anonymous HV/109 referred to by Jeffery, so it is probably safe to conclude that they are one and the same. Smith goes on to express a very ambivalent judgment about the degree to which Russian émigrés were trusted, suggesting that while some were quite reliable (Bogomolets being included in that category), ‘the Service was extremely wary of Russian émigré sources, largely as a result of the activities of the Trust and the Sidney Reilly affair’. (The Trust was a massive counter-intelligence project by the Cheka and OGPU to suggest to exiled White Russians and the western democracies in general that a vibrant counter-revolutionary organization existed in the Soviet Union.) One MI6 officer is even cited as stating that they treated ‘practically all reports from White Russian circles in the same way, namely on the assumption that they are partly, or wholly inspired by the GPU and we leave them severely alone’.

Smith also gives an account of the career of the defector Boris Bazhanov (West’s ‘Bajanov’), who did indeed work in the Kremlin, and served as secretary to the Politburo and to Stalin, and who might possibly have been a candidate for Harold Gibson’s agent. Yet Bazhanov defected in 1928, and his memoir, Bazhanov and the Damnation of Stalin, gives no indication that he was recruited by British Intelligence. As it happened, his escape route did take him to India, where, according to Bazhanov, the British misunderstood him, since they assumed that he wanted to reside in Britain. His goal had always been to go to Paris, where the vibrant White Russian community lived, and it was there he made his home. He could not avoid MI6, however. Jeffery describes how Bazhanov was interviewed at length by Dunderdale (who was head of station in Paris). Furthermore, Dunderdale managed to extract ‘140 pages of information from him’, and also reported (in a document that is not generally available) that Bazhanov ‘considerably exaggerated the strength of the anti-Bolsheviks and the results attained by them in their secret anti-Soviet work abroad’. Thus, while he proved to be an effective interpreter of propaganda and misinformation emanating from Soviet sources during the 1930s, he could not have been the ‘Gibby’s spy’ active during the era of the Imperial Council leakage.

‘Bazhanov and the Damnation of Stalin’

What Bazhanov did record, however, is the fact that he was able to warn the British about fake documents being handed to them. In his memoir he writes (p 203):

            Some time after my arrival in France [1928-1929], a representative of the British Intelligence Service [presumably Dunderdale] came to ask for my advice. Gaiduk (obviously a pseudonym, not his true name), OGPU representative in Riga, was selling Politburo minutes to the British who, thinking them authentic, were paying dearly for then. In actual fact Gaiduk had never seen real Politburo minutes and was fabricating them according to his own concept of them. The British knew even less than he about the subject. I had, however, written so many of them that I was able to establish beyond doubt that the British were buying fakes. They thereupon stopped doing so.

One can scarcely doubt Bazhanov’s integrity, but the actions of Gaiduk are less clear. The date is vague: it could have well been in 1931, when Gibson was installed in Riga. Was Bazhanov sure of Gaiduk’s affiliations with the OGPU? Was Gaiduk acting with full authority of his masters? If, indeed, the OGPU was encouraging the leakage of fake Politburo minutes, it would presumably have taken greater care over their apparent authenticity. Maybe this misbegotten exercise prompted Stalin to ensure that further releases were utterly credible. As for the British, whether they truly heeded Bazhanov’s advice is up for debate. It may have been lost, or not passed onto the appropriate officers. Whether his prime interrogator was Dunderdale, or (as Nigel West reported) one Major Steveni, Bazhanov’s advice should have been assimilated and acted upon. The unavailability of any of the evidence makes objective assessment impossible.

 (Tantalizingly, Bazhanov also writes about a figure called Vladimir Bogovut-Kolomiets, ‘an adventurer on a grand scale, [who] often visited the Soviet Embassies in London and Paris.’ In an Endnote, Bazhanov describes this colourful character as ‘a Russian émigré who lived, as the British put it “by his wits”. He was motivated by greed and worked secretly for the OGPU while professing anti-communism.’ A ‘known GPU agent’ Bogovout-Kolomitziev [sic] is identified on July 28, 1930 by Guy Liddell in the Agabekov archive (KV 2/2398-3, p 41). Could Bogomolets perhaps be a contraction of Bogovut-Kolomiets?)

One last puzzling account of Gibson’s activities refers to his possible involvement with the extraction of Polish ENIGMA expertise in 1939. An authoritative-sounding Web report, at http://www.alternativefinland.com/first-british-volunteer-unit-atholl-highlanders/, has him meeting ‘Lewinski’ in 1938 in Warsaw, reporting to his bosses on the offer of information on decryption, and in June 1939 assisting in his escape after Dilwyn Knox and Alan Turing of the GC&CS went to Poland to meet him and his colleagues. (The source for this story is surely  Anthony Cave-Brown’s Bodyguard of Lies.) Yet such accounts must be treated very cautiously: David Kahn’s Seizing the Enigma does not even recognize that encounter, and Hugh Sebag-Montefiore’s ENIGMA: The Battle for the Code indicates that it was Knox and Alastair Denniston who met Langer and Cięźki on July 24-25 1939 outside Warsaw. No mention is made of Gibson, who was back in the United Kingdom by then. Alan Turing did not join Bletchley Park full-time until after the start of the war. Other accounts have it that the Poles attending the meeting were Zygalski, Rejewski and Rózicki, who escaped to Bucharest after war broke out, were rebuffed there by the British Embassy, and eventually made their way to Vichy France. After Rózicki was killed the other two made it to England via Portugal. Details of the separate escape to France by Langer and Cieźki in September are murky: they were later betrayed to the Germans in 1943 as they tried to cross into Spain. Another muddle to be cleared up at some stage.

3. Gibson’s Curriculum Vitae

A main part of the puzzle – explaining where West and others had gained their information – was solved when a coldspur correspondent alerted me to a paper written in 2010. The Wikitree extract cited above appears to derive from the family archive held by the widow of Harold’s brother Archibald. The historian Hugh Seton-Watson, who had served with SOE as a translator in Egypt, had in 1983 suggested to his fellow-academic, Dennis Delettant, a historian of Romania, that he contact Archibald’s widow concerning papers she held on the two brothers. Seton-Watson introduced Delettant to Patrick Maitland, who had been a special correspondent for the Times between 1939 and 1941, covering the Balkans. In turn, Maitland, who told Delettant that Gibson’s role as Times correspondent in Romania had been a cover for his position with MI6, introduced him to his widow, Kyra.

Kyra Gibson invited Delettant to use a trunk of papers that she held in her house. Delettant then wrote a monograph in 2010, published in the SEER (Slavonic and East European Review) journal, that exploited a typed curriculum vitae that Harold had written up in October 1958, six months after his retirement from the Foreign Office. This corrects Harold’s date of birth to 1897 (he was seven years older than Archibald), and adds some details about Harold’s time in Russia, also contradicting the suggestion that he left Russia for London in October 1918:

            One month later [i.e. March 1919] he was despatched to the British Military Mission in Odessa as interpreter. In May 1919, he joined the mission of Sir Halford Mackinder to South Russia, to report on the state of the anti-Bolshevist forces led by General Denikin and in July was appointed secretary to a Foreign Office fact-finding commission in Bessarabia. In October 1919, he was sent to the MI6 station in Constantinople under cover of working at the General Headquarters of the Allied Forces of Occupation, to report ’mainly on matters relating to Russian security and refugees’. In December 1922, he was posted to Bucharest as head of station where he worked until March 1931 when he was transferred to Riga.

Delettant’s account also adds some fascinating details about Gibson’s activities in Istanbul as head of station in World War II. He worked with the Czech Military Intelligence representative Lt.-Col. Heliodor Pika, in running the famous German agent A-54 (Thümmel) until Pika’s transfer to Moscow in spring 1941. Gibson then joined the mission in Bulgaria in September 1944, but had to leave the country when all Britons were expelled from Bulgaria by the Russians ‘probably because they were aware of Harold Gibson’s senior position in MI6 and his knowledge of Russian’. Later, in Prague, disaster was to strike Pika. In 1948 Gibson was accused by the Czech authorities of involvement in a plot to undermine the state, and was expelled. But Pika was accused of spying for Britain, tried, convicted, and hanged on June 21, 1949 – in fact the first of hundreds. While he had probably consorted with Gibson, the evidence against him indicating conspiracy was obviously faked. Pika had brought trouble on himself ever since his time in Moscow, when he had openly criticized the Party’s plans for post-war control in Czechoslovakia, and had thus been marked out for punishment.

One last contribution to Gibson’s career comes from a 2015 Finnish source. When the Soviet Union invaded Finland in January 1940, there were calls from the public for intervention, and Gibson was soon appointed director of a committee called the Finnish Aid Bureau, an outwardly private initiative, but in fact an operation sponsored by the British Government. This resulted in a small volunteer force being sent to Finland, but the only way it helped Gibson was to draw the attention of the Soviet régime to Gibson’s involvement with anti-communist activism. The Finnish article also re-presents the bare details of the Bogomolets affair, and echoes the claim that Gibson was exposed only in 1945 – a clear cosmetic treatment of the facts.

In relation to the main story of ‘Gibby’s Spy’, the account of Gibson’s career has other profound implications. Gibson was never posted in Moscow (where SIS apparently had no formal station). If he had recruited his old friend, it must have been on a visit from Riga. For his pal to evade surveillance, and set up a meeting with his old school-friend, would be quite an achievement. For his friend to commit to espionage, and then be able to deliver material to someone other than Gibson, when there was no SIS presence at the Embassy, all through the horrifying period of the Great Purge, is beyond belief – unless, of course, it was a set-up, and his contact was somehow allowed to pass on disinformation that the British Secret Service swallowed. Gibson could not possibly have ‘run’ his agent inside the Kremlin from some other European capital: Wright’s claim must be nonsense.

Tea with the Czechs

Moreover, Gibson’s rather clumsy enterprises in spy-handling (apart from his clever and successful extraction of Moravec and his archives from Prague, endorsed by the General in his memoir Master of Spies) must be questioned. Was it really good tradecraft to take one’s primary asset around with him as he was transferred from capital to capital, and delegate to him the selection of agents? The enemy’s counter-espionage units would presumably track such movements. And that network of sub-agents extending to Irkutsk? Could they really be trusted? Jeffery’s study of the ‘legendary’ career of Harold Gibson is less than thorough.

  • The NKVD Dossier

And yet there exists a much fuller account of Gibson’s career. It astonishingly also appears in Triplex, and consists of a dossier compiled by the KGB in 1949 (although presented by West as the last of the ‘NKVD Reports’). It is clear that the agencies had been maintaining a file on Gibson for some time, and the dossier also intriguingly reflects the contributions of ‘British intelligence agent Vasiliev in 1945’, as well as from source PAVLOV in 1944.

First of all, it makes clear that Gibson was a true ‘enemy of the people’. The report states that he ‘hates the USSR and the People’s Democracies’, and that he even served in the Russian army in the First World War as a soldier and a junior officer. The Czechs, moreover, reported that Gibson had ‘played an active role in a plot against the Soviet regime’ in 1917. The dossier sheds some light on Gibson’s two Russian wives without explaining where they were born, or whether the government considered them Soviet citizens. The first wife is not named, but died in 1947. His second wife, Ekaterina Alfimova, was born in 1920, ‘a dancer, speaks Russian, French, Romanian and a little Turkish’. From 1941 to 1945 she ‘lived in Turkey as the wife [not legally married?] of the British journalist Morton Allen Mackintosh, the correspondent of the Daily Telegraph’, and resided in the UK from 1945 to 1947. Gibson apparently met Alfimova in Turkey in 1941, and married her in 1948.

Ekaterina Alfimova

The structure of Gibson’s Intelligence Group in southeast Europe is then laid out, featuring his brother Archibald as his assistant and secretary, with Victor Bogomolets as his assistant for agent handling. As the various stations are described, it become clear that Gibson relied very heavily on former Russian General Staff officers as his residents in Bucharest, Warsaw, Sofia and Riga. It credits Gibson with being able to infiltrate agents into Soviet territory by recruiting a variety of alienated ex-citizens, defectors, or even Soviet sailors whom the Poles had persuaded to jump ship. Why MI6 believed that such characters would volunteer to return to the Soviet Union as spies, and get away with it, is obviously not explained. One remarkable statement runs as follows:

In 1930 the British station sent to Moscow two agents who were employed in Gosplan, Volodya (a Pole) and Luka (a Ukrainian who sold newspapers in Warsaw). When they returned, they brought with them valuable information on the Soviet Five-Year Plan.

Just like that.

Most of the dossier concentrates on Gibson and his network of contacts in Czechoslovakia from 1945 to 1948. It proceeds with a stunning denouncement of the power and reach of his contacts:

In carrying out his intelligence work in Czechoslovakia, Gibson’s relied on merchants, former plant and factory owners, princes, members of the Czechoslovak diplomatic service, members of the Popular Socialist Party, Social Democrats, Fascists, White émigrés from tsarist Russia, persons owing allegiance to Germany and hostile to the USSR, newspaper correspondents, Czechs and Slovaks who spent the war in England, scientists with reactionary attitudes, heads of national side industries, staff members of the Turkish Embassy and medical workers employed in civilian and military establishments.

Gibson was obviously a very busy man, and approached his intelligence mission with Stakhanovite dedication. Truly a ‘legend’. But what is alarming is the fact that he was being surveilled with utmost Communist diligence: one fears for what happened to this mass of potential dissenters who had unwisely consorted with the MI6 head of station. Heliodor Pika was surely not the only victim who lost his life.

Lastly, a really troubling exposure. The NKVD had access to Gibson’s personal diary for the years of 1927 to 1941 (the year that Gibson met his second wife), which offers, as a possible explanation, that his first wife might have disclosed such confidences to the Soviet counter-intelligence service in a fit of jealousy. The extract shows all the cities, with frequencies, that Gibson visited during the period in question. The fact that Gibson kept such a diary, full of vital meetings, is rather scandalous – unless it were a hoax, which appears extremely unlikely, given the richness of its entries. This exercise constituted appalling tradecraft, and cannot have been encouraged by his bosses at MI6: the revelation that it existed must have come as a great shock to them, whenever it was discovered. If MI6 did indeed gain a suspicion that the OGPU/NKVD had worked out what he was up as far back as Bucharest in 1930, it is not surprising that Jeffery’s History carries a very muted account of his activities.

‘One of the last photographs of Colonel Gibson. For thirty years he had been watched by Soviet Foreign Intelligence’
  • The Nigel West Theory

To return to Nigel West’s theory about ‘Gibby’s Spy’. First of all, the text is a prime example of glib journalese, with the carefully chosen but clichéd epithets and verbs – ‘the famed Security Service Registry’, ‘pillaging the Registry’, ‘the legendary SIS professional Harold Gibson’, ‘the ruthless NKVD investigators’. The assertions are blandly made: ‘there can be little doubt that he had a direct hand in copying the four documents’, ‘Nelidov, a long-term SIS source who was probably betrayed by Anthony Blunt’. Yet West offers no supporting evidence: he does not even explain the origin of the ‘Gibby’s spy’ anecdote, with which, he assumes, his readers are familiar.

Irrespective of the fact that there could had been a spy in the Kremlin, and that his name might have been Nelidov, and Blunt might possibly have revealed details about him in a ‘pillaged’ file (West probably meant to say ‘pilfered’, as Blunt was probably not responsible for the destruction of the records in a fire at Wormwood Scrubs in November 1940), the case, as laid out by West, is absurd:

1) Blunt worked for MI5, not MI6. If there had been records of ‘Gibby’s spy’, they would have been tightly held in the MI6 Registry, famed or not, at Broadway. For a new recruit like Blunt to be able to start poking around in MI6 archives defies belief.

2) Blunt did not join MI5 until June 1940. (In Triplex, West writes that he joined in May: Blunt’s biographer indicates he started in July, but Guy Liddell, in his Diary, points to an early June recruitment.) The first segment of Nelidov’s confession is dated August 1940.  A document of that length, attached as part of the CID paper, would not have been transcribed and transmitted by wireless. It would have gone by diplomatic bag, which was a slow process. That would not have given time for even the ‘ruthless NKVD investigators’ to narrow down their search, arrest the unfortunate Nelidov, and extract a confession from him.

3) The Cambridge Five were in any case without a NKVD handler at this time. Anatoli Gorsky had been withdrawn from London in February 1940 because of concerns about the network’s being compromised, and he did not return until late in the year, meeting Blunt for the first time on December 28. Blunt had no one to pass documents to in the summer of 1940.

West seems slightly aware of the logistical and chronological objections to his account: he even acknowledges and describes the reasons for Gorsky’s absence. Moreover, in The Crown Jewels, co-authored with Oleg Tsarev, he in fact records that Blunt did not pass on his first report until early 1941! Yet while West introduces his collection by writing: ‘The documents reproduced in these pages were translated into Russian in Moscow by the NKVD and now have been translated back into English’, and carelessly highlights Blunt’s contribution by stating that he copied the four NKVD documents that West reproduces, it is clear that this confession is not a stolen document, but simply a Russian original retrieved from the KGB’s archives, a native extended statement written by Nelidov himself.

Then there is the question of whether Nelidov could possibly have been ‘Gibby’s spy’ in the Kremlin – or anyone else’s, for that matter, based on the biography he offered to his interrogators. But, before I analyze the confessions themselves, which appear to be an extraordinary mix of fact and rumour, guaranteed to discombobulate even the sharpest NKVD goon, I want to investigate where West got his ‘Gibby’s spy’ story from.

To begin with, West had first revealed his belief in the ‘Gibby’s Spy’ story in 1989, when he published The Friends. He rather undermined the talents of the ‘legendary’ Harold Gibson by writing: “Apart from all the White Russian émigrés who were of dubious value, there had only been one really good agent run personally by Harold Gibson.” He continued by explaining that, in 1933, in Riga, Gibson had met an old school-friend who happened to be private secretary to Anastas Mikoyan, the Foreign Trade Commissar. While West did not say what the friend committed to do, he did state that Gibson moved to Prague to run his agent, ‘but contact was broken late in 1940 after Gibson had been evacuated to London’. (That escape actually occurred in 1938.). Again, how being resident in Prague helped the process is not explained. And then, to cap it all: “When discreet enquiries were made in Moscow, it was discovered that Gibson’s agent had been arrested and executed.” Discreet enquiries in Moscow? How were such investigations carried out? By careful conversations with the head barman at the Moscow branch of White’s Club? It is all very ridiculous.

  • The Mis-Education of Chapman Pincher

Keith Ellison pointed out to me that John Costello’s Mask of Treachery (1988) constitutes a useful pointer. If you look up ‘Gibson’ in Costello’s index, you will see one entry for ‘Biggy’ Gibson, as if he were a rapper, or possibly an associate of the Kray twins. No matter: he is our man. On page 375, the author reveals more details, and again, for the sake of a complete record, I reproduce the first paragraph in full:

The redoubtable Miss Huggins, however, did not assert her authority over the director [of B Division, Guy Liddell] fast enough to save the life of a Russian mole whom the British had run for seven years on the Politburo staff in Moscow. He was a school friend of an MI6 officer named Harold “Gibby” Gibson, who had been educated in prerevolutionary Russia. While Gibson was in Moscow in 1933 he had been able to persuade his friend, who was then working in the private office of Anastas Mikoyan, that his disenchantment with Stalin could be repaid by espionage. Shortly after Blunt’s arrival in the fall [sic] of 1940, this valuable inside source in Moscow dried up.

Costello then paraphrases what Peter Wright wrote in Spycatcher, in an attempt to seal the deal. His Notes and Sources credit Chapman Pincher for the story: “See Pincher, Treachery, pp. 112-113, for the details, which were subsequently confirmed by Wright, Spycatcher, p 220.” Now I found this a little perplexing. Why was the journalist Pincher, rather than Wright, an MI5 officer, the source of the story? And Treachery was not published until many years later. First I checked out both my editions of that book, to verify that Gibson does not appear in the Index, and that the anecdote had not been re-presented. Costello does not provide a consolidated Bibliography, but I quickly determined that the volume to which he was referring was in fact Pincher’s 1981 work Their Trade Is Treachery.

‘Their Trade is Treachery’

Indeed, on page 112 of that volume can be seen Pincher’s insights. They are a mess. Gibson is described as an MI5 officer, and Pincher reports that his friend, working in Mikoyan’s office, had been working as an MI5 source-in-place for seven years. Blunt apparently admitted that he had passed on one of his reports to ‘Henry’ (Gorsky), and, soon after, Henry told him that the source had been eliminated. It was absurd to present MI5, responsible for domestic security, as having agents in the Soviet Union, let alone the Kremlin. With the knowledge that Gorsky was out of the country all this time, one can swiftly dispense with the story as pure disinformation.

Pincher must have realized that he had been the victim of a scam, a word in his ear, no doubt, by a trusted source in MI6, since, in some embarrassment, he carefully expunged this incident from the greater bulk of his final analytical composition, Treachery. No explanation or apology followed, so far as I can see. John Costello, another student of intelligence, died unexpectedly from apparent food-poisoning on a flight from Miami to London in 1995, and thus did not survive to challenge his colleague, or revise his own work. But what is extraordinary is why Nigel West, in 1989, and then again in 2009, was taken in by the whole rigmarole, and re-presented such loose rumours as fact. He discovered the document on Nelidov, called up the flimsy story about Gibby’s Spy, and put two and two together to make seven, while trying to sound very authoritative about the whole affair. It is a disgrace.

What is astonishing is the fact that John Costello and Oleg Tsarev, in their exploitation of KGB files in Deadly Illusions (1993), echoing Costello’s former opinions, trust completely what Peter Wright wrote about Gibby’s Spy and Anthony Blunt. Having claimed that ‘NKVD records showed that in 1936 Maclean’s reports resulted in an investigation which uncovered one of these traitors in the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs’, they fondly suggest that this person could have been Gibby’s Spy, recruited by Gibson, although they undermine their case by asserting that Gibson ‘was an undercover officer with the British Embassy’ – certainly not true. (In a section below I explore further the manner in which they trip over themselves because of their succumbing to a ‘deadly delusion’.)

I thus see three questions remaining (apart from the riddle that no one has sought to debunk this nonsense, so far as I can judge). Who was Nelidov, and does his profile match up with a possible asset for MI6? Was there a real spy inside the Kremlin who did provide some valuable information to the British in the years immediately before the war? And was Gibson’s network penetrated from the outset by OGPU/NKVD/KGB (which would account for the fact that MI6 has tried to throw a veil over his career)?

  • Count Nelidov

The confessions of Nelidov (in Triplex) are an extraordinary mélange of betrayal, naivety, and disingenuous mendacity. Count Nelidov was an obvious ‘trader’, an acquirer and seller of information without any ideological convictions who at various times served (or claimed to serve) the British, the Germans, and the Soviets. From his account, he was not an ‘agent’ employed by MI6, but actually started off his career as an officer. But we now have to face a troubling dilemma: are Nelidov’s memoirs more, or less, reliable than what the authorized history of MI6 claims? After all, we should not discount the fact that the Secret Intelligence Service might have wanted to put a different spin on its embarrassing experiences with the Russian count.

According to Jeffery, Nelidov was fired by MI6. It was Nelidov himself who claimed that he had ‘obtained a post in the Press Department of the British Secret Service’ in Constantinople as early as 1921. Of course, he may have thought it was the British Secret Service: it may have simply been the Embassy. However, Nelidov’s account of what MI6 was up to is more comprehensive than Jeffery’s, so MI6 may have been guiding their authorized historian down a path that indicated that Nelidov’s ‘offer of service’ was rejected, as they would prefer to suggest that they had washed their hands of him. In any case, Nelidov had a multitude of adventures thereafter, switching allegiances when it suited him, and trying to re-sell information he had given to one intelligence organization to its rival or enemy the next day. There is not the slightest possibility that he could ever have infiltrated his way into any of the departments of the Kremlin. He occasionally indicates that he came across Gibson in his career, but he mentions several other notable MI6 officers, such as Carr and Hill, much more frequently.

Both Walter Krivitsky and Pavel Sudoplatov (in charge of the NKVD’s Administration of Special Tasks from June 1941) had something to say about Nelidov, but, because of the circumstances and timing, admitted contrasting impressions of him. When Krivitsky was debriefed by MI5, he offered his experiences with Nelidov as evidence of the ease with which Soviet intelligence could acquire any information in Berlin in the early 1930s. Nelidov had approached Krivitsky, told him he had worked as a British agent in Constantinople, and offered to bring Krivitsky an enciphered telegram that had been just despatched by the British Legation. Since Krivitsky had access to all telegrams sent by any Embassy or Legation in Berlin, he was able to tell Nelidov, a day later, that the telegram was a forgery. The account of Krivitsky’s statement continued: “The same night he received information through a German intelligence agent that Nelidoff [sic] had offered to work for the Germans, together with Nelidoff’s account of his previous interview with Krivitsky!” The anecdote concludes with an account of how Nelidov sold a document to German Intelligence for $3,000, was confronted by them that it was a forgery, and thereupon repaid the amount – with forged money, consequently being prosecuted by the German police. Nelidov’s behaviour shows all the characteristics of Bazhanov’s ‘OGPU agent’ Gaiduk – but Nelidov surely was not working for the OGPU at this time.

Somehow (the record is not clear) Nelidov ended up working for Admiral Canaris of the Abwehr. As Pavel Sudoplatov, in Special Tasks, reports, Nelidov [actually Neledov in Jerrold Schecter’s translation] was captured by Polish counterintelligence when he was sent to Warsaw on a reconnaissance mission in August 1939. When the Soviets invaded Western Ukraine later that year, they found Nelidov in the Lvov prison, and brought him to Moscow. There he was able to impress Marshal Aleksandr Vasilievsky, later chief of the general staff, and General Filipp Golikov, director of military intelligence, with his knowledge of German war plans, including the critical information that, if the Germans were not able to make deep inroads in the first two or three months of the war, the invasion was doomed to failure.

Nelidov’s own confessions hint vaguely at this change of allegiance. He claims that, on his way to Berlin in 1933, to replace Captain Ellis (the notorious Charles Ellis, who betrayed MI6 secrets to the Abwehr), he stopped in Vienna, where he met the head of Soviet intelligence, and offered him material (which he claimed was accurate and valuable). Having arrived in Berlin, where his mission was to try to penetrate Soviet intelligence, he and Ellis concluded that ‘there was no material at all that might be used to interest Soviet intelligence’. He does not mention his encounter with Krivitsky, but the incident may have provoked that reaction. In a later confession he blandly states: “About two months after my arrival in Berlin, I left the British SIS and went to work for the Third Department of the German General Staff”, which he describes as a cover for the German Intelligence Service since the Versailles Treaty.

One significant outcome from this business was that, at the end of 1933, Nelidov was sent to London to establish a network of agents to report on Foreign Office attitudes to Germany, and claimed that his two leading agents were George Hill (now down on his luck, and short of money, having been dismissed from SIS because he had appropriated funds entrusted to him by Bruce Lockhart), and a Captain Francis, who worked at the Secret Service Registry. Hill was paid a salary of 200 pounds by the Reichswehrministerium, a fact that would no doubt turn out to be of inestimable value to the NKGB when Hill arrived in Moscow as SOE representative in December 1941. Nelidov also tracked Hill down to the consulate in Riga in July 1938, where Hill described how he gained information from the Latvian Police and the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, and laid out details of his Russian Section team for the benefit of his ex-colleague and presumably current Abwehr handler. If all of Nelidov’s account is true, it constituted astonishingly reckless and treacherous behaviour by Hill, and reinforces how stupid the decision was to install Hill as head of the SOE Russian station.

But Nelidov was burned out. He had been seen through by the Russians, and had abandoned the British before they rumbled him, presumably. Canaris must have been really desperate to recruit a rascal such as Nelidov. Once the NKVD had bled him dry, and squeezed out all the information they could from him, he was of no more use to them, and as a ‘former person’ with a noble title, would have been despised and presumably eliminated. It is unlikely that he survived long enough to have committed suicide. (Robert Baker’s biography of Zarubin states that Lt.-General Fitin wanted to use Nelidov as an agent in Turkey, but that, when Zarubin went to brief him, found that he had killed himself. The sources of such a story need to be strictly verified.) And one function Nelidov could never have achieved was to be ‘Gibby’s Spy’ in the Kremlin.

  • A Spy in the Kremlin?

Thus I return to the question: who provided the information from the Politburo meeting that made its way into the MI6 report? To recapitulate the events: Krivitsky recalled that, on two or three occasions when he was in Moscow in 1936 and 1937, he saw printed reports of the proceedings of the Committee of Imperial Defence, as well as other confidential reports, which had been photographed by OGPU agents in London. Moreover, he described how, during his final visit to Moscow in March-April 1937, his boss at INO (the Foreign Department of OGPU), Abram Slutsky, also his friend, had drawn his attention to the latest extracts provided by the ‘Imperial Council’ source, and asked him about a report bound up with it that concerned a special meeting of the Politburo that Litvinov, the Foreign Minister, had attended. Slutsky concluded from the material in the report that British Intelligence must have a source in Narkomindel (the Soviet Foreign Office). His opinion was shared by the man who ran the English section in INO.

Abram Slutsky

Identifying this report was obviously important to MI5 and MI6. Eventually, Jane Archer showed Walter Krivitsky a copy of such a document that included a report from MI6 dated February 25th, 1937. Krivitsky immediately recognized it as the report that he had seen in Moscow in March or April of that year. Furthermore, Krivitsky mentioned that Slutsky was very concerned about identifying the source, since he was uncertain of his own position, and wondered whether Krivitsky had any ideas. One important aspect of the case is that, according to one of the minutes in the record, Krivitsky told Archer that Yezhov himself had asked him about the identity of the spy – a fact that failed to appear in Archer’s final report. But Krivitsky, witnessing the arrests and shootings carrying on at the height of the Purge, had only one thought – get out of Moscow, if he could, before he followed the other victims of Stalin’s desire to exterminate everyone who knew too much, or had been influenced by Trotskyism while abroad. He thus temporized with Slutsky, saying he would look into the matter, but never did.

Slutsky had reasons to be nervous. He had denounced his previous boss, Arthur Artuzov, when Yezhov, the new head of OGPU, started liquidating the men of his predecessor, Yagoda, a group that included Slutsky himself. Slutsky retaliated to save his own skin. Artuzov was sacked on January 11, 1937, arrested on May 13, and shot on August 21. Yet Slutsky gained only a temporary stay of execution. In December 1937, he submitted to his boss, Yezhov, a very creative report on the organization of the agents in Britain, but was killed – probably by poison, or possibly by injection after being subdued by chloroform – on March 17, 1938, in the office of the head of the GUGB, Mikhail Frinovsky. Frinovsky was himself executed the day after the same fate was delivered to his wife and son, in February 1940. Yagoda was shot on March 15, 1938: Yezhov on February 4, 1940. Krivitsky did well to get out of the Soviet Union when he did, but was killed in mysterious circumstances in Washington in January 1941.

It should not be discounted that the leak could have been deliberate, and the snippet of information passed on as something harmless to Soviet interests. If that were true, it is also possible that Slutsky had not been told what was going on. But whom can we trust on the facts behind the events? One of the leading sources is Deadly Illusions by John Costello and Oleg Tsarev, the latter being at the time of publication a consultant to the Press Department of the Russian Intelligence Service. In his Acknowledgments, Costello expressed his homage to professional historians: “I am indebted to historians in academia whose rigorous scholarship sets the standard to which we non-academics – who some would dismiss as ‘airport bookstall historians’ aspire.” Yet writers who so naively swallow the whole ‘Gibby’s Spy’ farrago (as they do on page 203) must be treated very circumspectly (as indeed should ‘authorized historians’ from academia).

Their account of the leakages starts off confidently, but then drifts into confusion. Tsarev had access to the KGB Maclean files, and thus the authors write with assurance about the several occasions when Maclean passed on important Foreign Office reports, since they cite the content of such. Yet their narrative is sadly lacking in specific dates, and contains some startling errors. For instance, they write (p 200), ascribing it to an ‘Orlov memorandum, Maclean file, No 83791’:

The Centre had investigated how the Foreign Office knew about ‘mobilization of Soviet industry as recently carried out in 1932 in the Far East’, from his [Maclean’s] previous report, telling Orlov that it pointed to a British spy operating somewhere in the reaches of the Kremlin apparatus.

But Maclean did not start handling material over until January 1936: Orlov left the United Kingdom for the last time in October 1935. It seems as if the archive was being tainted with false material.

The muddle continues. They assert that items in the Foreign Office reports gave the NKVD ‘vital clues in hunting down spies [sic] who were operating undercover in the Soviet Union for the British’. Further, ‘NKVD records show that in 1936 Maclean’s reports resulted in an investigation which uncovered one of these traitors in the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs’. The implications are clear: there was more than one spy (‘Gibby’s Spies?’), and the first detection occurred before the crucial minutes of the Imperial Council that took Slutsky by surprise. One has to question the authenticity of these KGB archives: to discover one spy with the capability to pass secrets to the British was remarkable, to be harbouring several traitors in that capacity is surely ridiculous. The authors show no evidence of other reports that reproduced intelligence gained from the Commissariat. Moreover, as was recounted by the defector Boris Bazhanov, who did occupy an important post in the Kremlin, and was Stalin’s secretary in the 1920s, controls on the use of documents were very strict.

Costello and Tsarev then claim that it was a report passed on by Maclean in March 1937 that helped identify an agent in the Commissariat, but then, awkwardly, they inform us that the spy had already been betrayed by Maclean, and that this Commissariat secretary had been ‘turned’ to feed false information to the British until Blunt ‘inadvertently stumbled across this double deception operation’. An endnote contradicts this statement, indicating that Mally (the NKVD’s illegal rezident at the time) sent a letter in March 1937 pointing to an as yet unidentified spy. That would be more consonant with the timing of Krivitsky’s discussion with Slutsky about an unknown leaker at Narkomindel, but it is another mess. Slutsky and his lieutenants (e.g. Krivitsky, Mally) were clearly kept in the dark about the disinformation exercise, but it would have helped Artuzov and Stalin to know that their messages were being received and taken seriously.

It is evident that Costello and Tsarev disagreed about the proliferation of such spies. In an Endnote, Costello writes: “Turning the MI6 agent was in accord with Soviet practice (this hypothesis rests on the British author’s presumption that there was only one MI6 spy).” Why Costello would say this, having outlined the existence of multiple spies, is not clear, but it appears that he was fixated on the ‘Gibby’s Spy’ story, as valid testimony of a lone operator, while Tsarev was taken in more by the doctored NKVD records. As for ‘turning’, that is of course nonsense. No ideological conversion would have taken place with a real discovered traitor. He would have been eliminated by the NKVD. But the channel to British Intelligence (a conduit that is never explained by either side) would have been supplied with further (dis)information to maintain the pretence.

Keith Ellison pointed out to me an important passage in The Crown Jewels (pp 211-212):

            Another question which interested the Centre was the information received from Cairncross, through Burgess in September 1938, on the presence of an important British agent inside the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs (NKID), who was alleged to be working as ‘head of non-territorial department’ and from whom British intelligence had received three reports, the most recent dated August 1938, concerning correspondence exchanged between Stalin and Edward Benes. The Centre wanted to know what else Cairncross knew about this British source which Moscow named TEMNY(‘Obscure’).

It is difficult to fathom this. The Great Purge was on. Slutsky had been killed in March 1938. If other spies had already been seized, and presumably executed, why would any bureaucrat encourage a bullet in his head by trying to transfer such routine documents to British Intelligence? Cairncross told Gorsky that he was not sure whether the latest supplier of information was the same agent who passed on Litvinov’s report at the Politburo meeting. He was not the only one confused. Moreover, the advice that Bazhanov had given a decade before, namely that the Politburo minutes were fakes, appeared to have been lost, or ignored.

Lastly, the role of time and place is very important. If the Foreign Office documents had to be photographed, and the films smuggled out by courier to Copenhagen, and then taken to Moscow to be developed and interpreted, there must be a time-lag of weeks, probably. (This seemed to be the operating procedure when the Soviet Embassy with its diplomatic bag could not be touched.)  Thus for an MI6 report dated February 25 to have been submitted to the Foreign Office, included in the minutes of a meeting that were then published, ‘borrowed’ by Maclean (or King, or anyone else), and then routed by surface transport via Denmark and Leningrad to Moscow for processing and analysis, it is a strain to suppose that this could all have been accomplished by the end of March, when Krivitsky was in town. Yet that is what Krivitsky reported.

  • Hints of Disinformation

One can detect from some of the autobiographical records of the time an awareness that there may have been ‘special departments’ (as they were called in Stalin’s bureaucracy) that were active in disinformation schemes. After all, as Krivitsky reported, Stalin manipulated the Gestapo to provide culpatory evidence about Marshal Tukhachevsky’s possible traitoriousness. (A few years later, Sudoplatov’s ‘Special Tasks’ group ran the COURIERS operation, which tried to deceive the Germans by claiming the existence of an anti-Soviet faction within the Russian Orthodox Church.) The OGPU, even if it had shut down its TRUST operation against Russian émigrés in 1927 after its kidnaps and murders had been laid bare in Paris, and it had declined to delivery strategic information requested, was still trying to undermine any White Russian cabals that were still struggling along. Thus a common element in Soviet schemes at this time is the exploitation of ex-tsarist officers.

Elisabeth Poretsky

For instance, in Our Own People, Elisabeth K. Poretsky, the widow of Ignace Reiss (who had been killed in Switzerland in 1937 after sending a defiant message to Stalin), wrote that the NKVD carefully selected candidates for tasks that their conventional European agents would never have performed. Such persons were mostly recruited from the GRU, and famous among them was Elisabeth Zarubin. “These were the people in the N.K.V.D. whom Moscow relied upon for burglaries, kidnappings, and murders. They were also the ones who recruited and directed a special section of former White officers about whom nothing was known outside the N.K.V.D.”, Poretsky wrote. Zarubin (then known by her maiden name Gorskaya, until she married another celebrated agent) was feared because of the way she had seduced Jacob Bluymkin and then in 1929 led him to his death (according to Andrew and Gordievsky). Blyumkin had been partly responsible for the death of the German ambassador to Moscow Count Mirbach, and had foolishly tried to relay a message from Trotsky to Radek while he was in Constantinople.

(The activities of the Zarubins merit further investigation. Sudoplatov states that Zarubin had in fact been married to Blyumkin for some years, and betrayed him because he handed over to Trotsky money intended for illegal operations in Turkey, but references to her as ‘Gorskaya’ would tend to undermine that assertion. She was later to be known as ‘Zarubina’, or under her codename ‘Zabilina’, when she worked with her husband in the USA purloining atomic secrets. Robert K. Baker’s biography of Vasily Zarubin, Rezident, indicates that ‘Gorskaya’ had been in a relationship with Blyumkin until November 1929. Baker also records that Zarubina spent some time in London – probably in 1940 – on a mission to track down the elusive agent ATTILA.)

Poretsky added a revealing note:

            Krivitsky hints in his book that he had been told all about these activities, but neither he nor Ludwig [Reiss] nor Maly was ever officially told anything of the kind. Of course they had their suspicions, gleaned from newspaper items and hints dropped by Slutsky. But to be privy to this kind of information one had to be one of ‘theirs’, and Krivitsky, as he often told Ludwig, was not.

What Krivitsky wrote, in Stalin’s Secret Service, after witnessing Tukhachevsky’s trial, was that Stalin used fake ‘evidence’ taken from the Gestapo to frame his generals, that that evidence was fed to the OGPU [in fact the NKVD after 1934] from Czarist organizations abroad, and that he killed General Miller in order to destroy ‘the one uncontrolled source of information, apart from the Gestapo itself’, as the source of his evidence. One might question that last clause, but the implication is clear. Stalin was using disinformation to hoodwink his own counter-intelligence service so that it would persecute his enemies, and it is thus evident that some of his intrigues were kept secret from even the senior officers.

Artur Artuzov

So who knew? The architect of the TRUST, Artur Artuzov, had been in charge of counterespionage (KRO) in the OGPU until 1929, when, after Yagoda decided to get rid of Trilisser, he was appointed deputy head of the Foreign Department (INO). The semi-authoritative history (KGB: The Inside Story, by Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky) is strangely silent on Artuzov’s term in office, and ignores both his promotion to INO head in 1931, as well as his move to the GRU in 1935, after he angered Stalin at a Politburo meeting in 1934 (according to Jonathan Haslam). The authors move quickly on to the denunciation of Artuzov by Yezhov in March 1937, but rely exclusively on Krivitsky’s account. What had Artuzov been up to, and did he have Stalin’s confidence during these years? Why did Gordievsky apparently not know about Artuzov’s activities? (My anonymous intelligence colleague informs me that Gordievsky, as a political intelligence officer, would not have known anything about counter-intelligence operations.)

  1. Operation TARANTELLA

In April 2007, a story appeared in the Guardian newspaper (see: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/apr/03/russia.lukeharding) that described how, in 1946, Victor Bogomolets, a long-term spy for the British, recruited initially by Harold Gibson, had decided to betray his masters after being deprived of his British citizenship, and had approached the Soviets. As agent BRITT, he provided his new bosses with crucial information at the height of the Cold War. What is more, the report stated that the network of spies developed by Bogomolets within the Soviet Union were all fake, and that they supplied misinformation to the United Kingdom about the strength of the Soviet Union’s military and economic capabilities. This operation was known as TARANTELLA. Yet the story had a strange twist: Bogomolets had apparently stopped working for MI6 in 1934, when Soviet agents tried to lure him back to Moscow, but he had presumably declined, and escaped retribution, and had even resumed work for MI6 in 1944 in Portugal. That all sounded very odd.

The source for this story was a Soviet intelligence veteran, Major General Lev Sotskov, who had reportedly written a book based on newly accessed material in the Russian intelligence archives. He described Bogomolets as ‘a very big fish’, and was quoted as saying: “The only reason that the Russian émigré had not been identified before was that neither the British nor the Soviets had any incentive to unmask him.” Well, as I have shown, Bogomolets had been identified before, although perhaps not with the clarity that this disclosure claimed. But could it be trusted?

I believe the first English-language description of TARANTELLA came in 2015. That year, Professor Jonathan Haslam published a book titled Near and Distant Neighbours, subtitled A New History of Soviet Intelligence. It is rather a choppy compilation, and strewn with errors. (I had a rather difficult email exchange with Professor Haslam over his conflation of Ignaty Reif and Ignace Reiss into one person: he rather testily directed me to read his book more closely until I pointed out photographs of both illegals in Deadly Illusions, and he rather reluctantly conceded his error.) Yet his book also contains much fresh information, and Haslam displays an impressive familiarity with a host of arcane Soviet sources. Moreover, he has a complete sub-chapter (pp 49-53) on Operation TARANTELLA.

Haslam’s story runs as follows. After his success with the Trust, Artur Artuzov, the head of the OGPU’s International section (INO), in 1930 started a new operation to provide disinformation to British intelligence. OGPU had been tracking Victor Bogomolets, and his attempts to establish spies in the Soviet Union under Harold Gibson’s direction, for some time across Central Europe. Key to Artuzov’s plan was former tsarist general Boris Lago-Kolpakov, who had known Bogomolets since his Constantinople days. The narrative is irritatingly tangled at this point, but it seems that Lago (as I shall call him), after being recruited by the Cheka, was betrayed by Bogomolets when Lago turned up in Bucharest, and was imprisoned for several years. On his release Lago offered his services to MI6, who sent him to Vienna, yet the unprincipled trader reported to the Soviet Embassy for a full debriefing. Despite Lago’s disobeying OGPU’s instructions, and publishing memoirs in an émigré newspaper, Artuzov saw possibilities in exploiting Lago, and reinstated him. On his way to make contact with oppositional elements in Odessa, Lago briefed MI6 – on what, is not stated. On his return, he headed to Riga to brief Bogomolets and meet Gibson.

Boris Lago (A/243)

If this catalogue of hoodwinks and double-dealings fails to convince, there was more to come. In February 1934, Abram Slutsky, Artuzov’s deputy, working in the trade mission in Berlin, suggested recruiting Bogomolets to the cause. A young agent called Steinberg confronted Bogomolets with the fact that OGPU had been familiar with every operation with which Bogomolets had been involved. Game over, apparently. Yet Bogomolets resisted the blackmail, loyally told Gibson everything, and was rewarded for his pains by being sacked. Haslam, however, immediately abandons this aspect of the story, and leaves it hanging. He then switches into an account of the notorious Metro-Vickers trials (where British engineers were accused of sabotage), and abandons the whole TARANTELLA operation, and the reaction of Gibson and his bosses at MI6, as an irrelevance. Neither Gibson not Bogomolets has any later entry in the book.

It is difficult to know what to make of this. Haslam does not appear to have any strict methodology in his approach. His management of dates is haphazard. While the events described in the last paragraph are generally ascribed to West and Tsarev, and to Michael Smith (above), he offers no specific references for the sources for the critical encounters that he describes, while he otherwise appears to rely on two books in Russian by a Vadim Abramov, Evrei v KGB. Palachi i Zhertvy [Jews in the KGB: Executioners and Victims] (2005), and Kontrrazvedka. Shchit i mech protiv Abvera i Tsru. [Counterintelligence: The Shield and the Sword against the Abwehr and the CIA]. (2006) Yet, more bewilderingly, Haslam does not pay any attention to Sutskov’s book, which was published just the year after Abramov’s second title appeared, and would seem to present far more concrete evidence about Gibson’s embarrassing activities. He even failed to notice the press release that provoked the story in the Guardian in 2007. Since none of these books is easily available, or accessible to the common reader, one has to be very cautious before accepting this unlikely account of events as a reliable contribution to the development of solid intelligence historiography.

Moreover, the circumstances cry out for further analysis. If that is truly how Bogomolets reacted, one would have expected that he would have been killed by the Soviets, and that Gibson would have immediately closed down all his networks, and informed his bosses. Jeffery’s weaselly comment (in the passive voice) that Gibson and his networks may have been contaminated hints at this betrayal, but the historian utterly avoids explaining what the outcome was. The alarming possibility endures that MI6 was reluctant to give up Gibson – or his informers – completely, and his bosses may have tried to resuscitate his ‘network’ again when they thought the dust had settled. Yet the whole account clashes dramatically with the story promulgated by Sotskov, and picked up by the Guardian. Why would MI6 have picked up Bogomolets towards the end of WW2, and then deprived him of his UK citizenship?

Then, towards the end of this stage of research, a coldspur correspondent drew my attention to a remarkable article that had been published in Estonia in 1989. It essentially pre-played aspects of Haslam’s and Sotskov’s stories. Bogomolets had been an agent of the Russian rebel armies, but then had been recruited by Gibson in Turkey in 1921, and given large responsibilities for espionage against the Soviets throughout Europe. Boris Lago had a similar background, but in 1922, when in Prague, he applied to the Soviets for a visa to return home. They pressed him into performing espionage first, to prove his seriousness of purpose, but he proved to be too conspicuous in Prague and too inept in Berlin and Bucharest, in which latter city he was arrested and imprisoned in 1925, but released four years later.  Bogomolets then offered him a job with MI6, a transaction that Lago reported to the OGPU. They were not at first interested. Then a critical event occurred. After the kidnapping of General Kutepov in 1930, the General Union of Russian Soldiers (ROVS) in Paris decided they needed a propaganda coup, and set about to assassinate Stalin. Bogomolets was the man chosen for the job, and he engaged his new recruit, Lago, as one of his team. Lago again informed his real bosses, the OGPU.

It was then that Artuzov realized that they could exploit this provocation in a much-needed counter-offensive intelligence operation to convince the British that the Soviets should be taken seriously as a counter to growing Nazi strength. Operation TARANTELLA was conceived as a plan to convince the British of the Soviet Union’s military vigour. Lago travelled to Moscow in the guise of an Austrian businessman, and there was allowed to ‘recruit’ imaginary agents in the Moscow Party Committee, the National Economic Council (the location of Gibby’s Spy?), and other institutions, all of whom gave him valuable information to pass on. The British lapped it up. Stalin himself reportedly managed the whole deceit, and, after the murder of Kirov in 1934, ROVS abandoned the idea of assassinating the dictator, since Lago told the British that Stalin was now too closely guarded.

The same year, however, an NKVD agent called Matus Steinberg approached Bogomolets and suggested that he work for the Soviets. Bogomolets was outraged, told Gibson about the approach, and MI6 decided to end the Lago operation. They had learned enough: apparently Stalin had by now gained what he needed. (Though he may have been infuriated that his scheme was blown prematurely, and punished the guilty.) Lago was slowly withdrawn (so as not to arouse suspicion), and TARANTELLA was wound down. Whether Artuzov’s demise was connected with this event is unclear. Lago was apparently shot in the Purges, alongside Artuzov, The article states that Bogomolets stayed away from intelligence duties until 1945 ‘when he was still [??] recruited into Soviet intelligence’, and that the British turned to him in 1946. What Bogomolets had been up to, and for which agency he had been working, between 1934 and 1945, nevertheless remains a mystery.

Yet the fact that internal ‘secret documents’ were still being leaked in 1936-1937, and that they were being taken seriously by MI6, suggests that TARANTELLA had not in fact been wound down.

  1. Sotskov’ s ‘Operation Code – TARANTELLA’
Soltskov’s ‘Codename of Operation – ‘TARANTELLA”

What to make of all these vague and conflicting stories? I decided to acquire Sotskov’s book, published in 2007. It is a struggle to read – and not just because of my rather rusty familiarity with the language. As with all books in Russian that I have bought, it lacks an index, any endnotes or footnotes, and a bibliography. The squat Cyrillic characters do not lend themselves to rapid skimming. And yet it appears to offer some intriguing leads. It contains several photographs of Gibson and his contemporaries, including Bogomolets, Lago, Artuzov, Steinberg, and even Gibson’s second wife, Katerina Alfimova. It includes a photograph of a letter (partial envelope and handwritten text) from Gibson to Bogomolets, sent from London to Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo on August 1946, and the contents of other letters are reproduced in the text. It also presents authentic-looking memoranda, as well as identity cards and diplomatic passes for some of the characters. It makes a strong claim that the Cheka/OGPU/NKVD/KGB had been keeping tabs on Gibson for thirty years, presumably from 1918 to 1948.

But can this book be trusted any more than those by Abramov which were issued shortly before his? The Introduction states that matters took a sharp turnaround at the end of World War II, when Bogomolets, after many years of impeccable service to his English masters, switched his allegiance to Soviet Intelligence. At that stage Operation TARANTELLA was closed down (i.e. not back in 1934), and Bogomolets assumed a new role as BRITT, a master of disinformation. Thus an immediate clash with the chronology and motivations described by Haslam in his interpretation of Abramov’s work appears. Moreover, among the more genuine-looking reproductions of correspondence and memoranda, the book includes some extended conversations between characters (such as Lago and Bogomolets) that must have been invented.

As I started to work my way through the text, it occurred to me that the narrative here might be just as unreliable as Abramov’s, so trustingly echoed by Haslam, and that engaging in a thorough translation might be an arduous yet futile exercise, as there was no reason why any assertions should be believed. I tried to contact Haslam again, to determine whether he was familiar with this alternative account, and how he interpreted it. Unfortunately, the email address I had was no longer valid, and my inquiries to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton (from which he recently retired) have remained unanswered. This project definitely demands an acknowledged expert in intelligence matters with a good command of the Russian language to take control, and Haslam would appear to be the best fit. (I have since written a traditional letter to Professor Haslam at his home address in Princeton, but he has declined to acknowledge, let alone respond to, my communication.)

Pending an eventual response, I set about translating some of the most obvious artifacts in the case – three letters sent by Gibson to Bogomolets in the summer of 1946. Yet, even here, disturbing questions arise. The letter photographed has clearly been sent by airmail from London, dated August 31, 1946, yet the corresponding letter reproduced in the text (which matches the manuscript visible in the photograph) indicates it was written in Prague. Perhaps this was a standard practice, to avoid the censor by putting a letter in the diplomatic bag, and having it re-sent from London. In any case, Bogomolets must have been expecting such a procedure.

As a coda, in June 2022 General Sotskov was found dead in his apartment in Moscow, apparently a suicide by gunshot.

  1. The Gibson-Bogomolets Letters

Here is my translation of the three letters:

No 1: British Embassy, Prague, July 10, 1946.

Dear Victor Vasilevich!

Forgive me for not replying earlier to your letter of June 4th, but I have been away for a whole month, and only found it on my return. I was in London, and asked about you several times. I was told that you were already in Paris, and someone even added that he had seen you in London. I am thus very puzzled over what could have happened with your visa for France, and what led to the rumours about your departure from Egypt. I immediately wrote to London, asking for matters to be accelerated, and hope that my request will be satisfied.

I was very saddened to learn that your health has deteriorated, and offer you hearty wishes for recovery, but the most important thing is that you get out of Egypt soon, as its climate clearly does not suit you.

If, before the arrival of my letter, your question still remains unanswered, then ask me again to make contact, and I shall gain a response for you. I consider it a moral obligation to help you, and therefore please do not apologize for any trouble caused.

My wife is still very ill: that is very distressing for me. But at least she is with me now, which is some consolation after the separation during wartime.

My heartfelt regards to you and yours,

Your Gibson.

No 2: Prague, July 28, 1946

Dear Victor Vasilevich!

I only just received your letter of the 18th. I very much hope that my intervention had the proper effect. Do not thank me prematurely: I just do what friendship and morality require. I understand your situation very well, and very much want to think that you will return to Paris to begin a new life and repair your health. I myself was in Paris a few weeks ago. Judging by my impressions, I fear you will find that much has changed for the worse there. Whatever we do, it is clear that it is our fate to live in a difficult world. Interesting but uneasy times.

Regards to you and your family. I thank you for your good wishes.

Your Harold Gibson.

No 3: Prague, August 27, 1946

Dear Victor Vasilievich!

I received your letter of the 20th yesterday and I am very chagrined by the fact that your affairs have become deadlocked. I shall now apply pressure through my personal connections in Paris. It is truly shocking that you and your family should have to undergo such obstacles. Yet all these things are now sent to try us – for example, I struggled for a year to obtain the freedom of my wife’s mother from one of our officials from a camp in the Soviet zone – an Austrian one. An elderly lady, whose only crime was that she happened to be of Russian origin.

I shall try to achieve all I can for you, because I feel every sympathy for you in your misfortune; indeed, besides that, I feel a moral duty in this matter. Continue to keep me informed.

There have been no special changes with me. My wife is still very sick, which causes me so much heartache.

With warm regards

Your Gibson.

I would draw three major conclusions from these letters, which appear genuine:

  • It is clear that Gibson feels that he has severely let down Bogomolets, and owes him some reparation for previous treatment. Bogomolets has probably been rendered stateless. This is dangerously sentimental behaviour on Gibson’s part, as he should have been on his guard, knowing how the OGPU/NKVD acted. He should have asked himself how Bogomolets had survived.
  • Gibson is not acting alone. He confers with his superiors in London, and uses them as an intermediary to send letters securely to Cairo. Thus it is safe to conclude that bringing Bogomolets back into the fold, and helping him and his family, was approved at higher levels.
  • The Soviet hook of threatening a family member is evident. Gibson’s mother-in-law has been stranded in Austria, and Bogomolets can presumably assist in her extraction. It is poignant that Gibson’s wife, Rachel Kalmanoviecz, is ill: she died the following year, and Gibson married his ballet-dancer friend, whom he had known for several years during the time that he and Rachel were separated, in 1948. Heaven forfend that Gibson assisted in his wife’s demise in any way. (While Keith Ellison has pointed out that, if Gibson’s first wife was separated from him during the war, it is unlikely that she would have had access to his diaries in 1941, I would counter that Gibson wrote ‘during the war’, and that, for the Soviets, the war did not start until 1941, anyway. 1941 was the year in which Gibson met Alfimova, his second wife.)

Might these tribulations have contributed to Gibson’s death in Rome in 1960? Perhaps he discovered how he himself had been betrayed, and realized the suffering he had caused in Prague, especially concerning the execution of his close ally, Heliodor Pika. Or perhaps he had been tracked down by the KGB, and punished for breaking whatever agreement he had with them, or simply because he had been an ardent ‘enemy of the people’.

I shall place these issues on the back-burner for now, hoping to receive a swell of insights from coldspur readers, and perhaps a communication from Professor Haslam.

Overall Conclusions

The anecdote of ‘Gibby’s Spy’ is an example of the saying (often wrongly attributed to Mark Twain) that ‘a lie can travel halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on’. A mischievous aside from an MI6 officer (Dick White?) to Chapman Pincher was picked up by John Costello and exploited by Peter Wright before being endorsed by Nigel West. (According to West, Gibby’s agent in Moscow was the officer’s only worthwhile spy, and, if that theory falls apart, it does not leave the legend with much of a track-record.) Neither Tsarev nor Mitrokhin nor Vassiliev nor Gordievsky has ever referred to such a spy in the Kremlin. Christopher Andrew has not yet (so far as I know) brought his authority to the story, but this embarrassing item of disinformation has established itself well into the lore of intelligence. It is, nevertheless, obviously a myth. The British intelligence-reading public has been badly served by the academic historians (Jeffery and Haslam), the airport-bookstall historians (Pincher, Costello and West), and the MI5 fabulist (Wright).

If information was leaked from the Politburo to western eyes, as showed by the Imperial Council report, it was probably performed as an exercise in managed disinformation, and the project was apparently concealed from Slutsky and his underlings until 1937, even though he had reportedly been exposed to Bogomolets a few years earlier. The mechanism by which this information was passed to the recipients is unclear, but the Soviet agencies presumably used the courier system on which Gibson and others were relying on for their sources in the Soviet Union. MI6 believed in the success of their agents, and the NKVD was happy to reinforce the charade. The authorized history of MI6 gives the impression that the network of MI6 agents within the USSR was regarded as completely genuine.

MI6 and MI5 are surely concealing files on Harold Gibson that would reveal far more than they have let be published about this very controversial character. It is scandalous that Keith Jeffery’s authorized history of MI6 should step so awkwardly around the details of his career, in the belief, no doubt, that nothing would surface from inside Russia to embarrass them. There is a darker story to be told, no doubt, about the undermining of democratic tendencies in post-war Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union’s resolve to install, through the agency of the KGB, a sympathetic Communist government in Prague. MI6’s continued deployment of Gibson, even though they knew that his identity and role had been blown, was a classic error of judgment. (It is startling that the caption to one of the photographs of Gibson from Sutskov’s book asserts quite boldly that he had been watched by Soviet Foreign Intelligence for thirty years.) But how do you superannuate a competent senior officer with an apparently solid track-record?

A fresh examination of MI6 and the ‘Russian Connection’ is called for. MI5 opened a file on Gibson, and questioned his loyalties. His brother Archibald was also an MI6 officer. The Bolsheviks had a grievance against Malcolm Maclaren. Paul Dukes behaved very oddly later in life, and tried to cozy up to the Soviets. Harry Carr was born in Archangel in 1899, and returned to Russia in 1919 as an interpreter for General Ironside. Stephen Alley was a pal of Stalin’s, and was considered for a while as being ‘ELLI’. George Graham was a victim of a honey-trap, and went mad. George Hill was clearly rotten through and through, and Len Manderstam thought he was an agent of the NKVD. Manderstam himself had fought for Trotsky, and narrowly escaped execution in the Lubianka. Even Wilfred (‘Biffy’) Dunderdale, who crops up so frequently in histories of MI6 and SOE, had been born in Odessa of a Russian mother, and thus may have been subject to subornment. Charles Ellis had a White Russian wife, mixed with the White Russian community in Paris, and was suspected by MI6 of having been blackmailed by the KGB after the war. Isaiah Berlin held irregular meetings with Gorsky, the handler of the Cambridge Spies. Nigel West has written about Steveni and Sulakov. Anyone who had family in the Soviet Union was prey. This one will run and run.

The official SVR and other stories about TARANTELLA cannot automatically be trusted, given the lack of rigour in publications in the Russian language. It could perhaps be a gigantic hoax, designed by the SVR (Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki: Foreign Intelligence Service) to boost its reputation. Several aspects of the case cast doubts: i) the bizarre notion that the discovery of a plot to kill Stalin triggered the counter-intelligence exercise; ii) the claim that the purpose of TARANTELLA was to convince the British of the Soviet Union’s economic power, which goal could have been reached by means of conventional propaganda; iii) the lack of original archival records; and iv) the fact that details about the operation were not revealed by Russian sources until 2005. Yet the overwhelming evidence of the Estonian report of 1989 citing TARANTELLA indicates that it was a genuine Soviet-era operation, probably one managed tightly by Stalin without the knowledge of the Russian Intelligence Services. (Yezhov’s apparent ignorance of a disinformation exercise, as revealed by Krivitsky, would confirm that theory.) The notion that the codename TARANTELLA was deployed as a retroactive flowery way of dressing up some conventional counter-intelligence projects is thus flawed.

Yet the dominant lesson teaches about Soviet professionalism and British amateurishness. The Soviets had a deep, long-term strategy of penetrating British institutions. They sent in ‘illegals’ who blended easily into the refugee/émigré world of western Europe/Britain. They selected agents before they had any stature or access to intelligence, and directed their careers into important institutions. Agents had to be approved by Moscow before being recruited. They were not supposed to mix socially (but of course they did). After the demise of the Great Illegals, they were handed off to professional intelligence officers, but, by then, their cover was so good, that it didn’t matter. Their cause was helped by the useful idiots and agents of influence.

And MI6? It was led in central Europe by the rather naive Harold Gibson, an overt enemy of the revolution, on whom the Soviets kept their sights for thirty years. (Philby informed his masters of MI6’s set-up, but that would not have occurred until 1942.) The notion of ‘illegals’ in Central Europe would have been absurd. Gibson was presumably supposed to handle agents himself, but delegated it to a dubious character whom he trailed round Europe with him, and to the charmer Roman Sulakov. It is doubtful whether either person had proper training. Nelidov thought he was employed by MI6: MI6 then denied that. Bogomolets was probably bogus from the start. How were agents selected? If they volunteered their services to you, that was a warning sign. Gibson and his superiors appeared to have no discipline in the process. Tim Bower (in The Red Web) and Stephen Dorrill (in MI6) have described MI6’s agent recruitment between the wars as ‘amateurish’. During the war, Gibson did not keep a low profile, but mixed socially and visibly with the Czech government-in-exile. Most of the Great Illegals were murdered on Stalin’s orders: Gibby became a ‘legend’.

In any case, enough evidence indeed exists (primarily in the Gibson dossier) to indicate that a concerted effort to exploit the frailties of British intelligence was successful in Eastern Europe from the early 1920s onwards, and continued past the well-documented TRUST operation. The fact that the myth of ‘Gibby’s Spy’ has endured so long suggests that MI6 was well and truly taken in to believe that it had effective spies working from inside the Soviet Union, and even inside the Kremlin. What exactly happened with Bogomolets remains to be determined. This must represent a significant opportunity for further research, with the inherent conflicts in the accounts of Abramov and Sotskov to be resolved. TARANTELLA should come out into the open.

(I thank Keith Ellison, and another coldspur colleague who wishes to remain anonymous, for their comments on an earlier draft of this article. The opinions in it are my own, and any errors in it are my own responsibility.)

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