Category Archives: Geography

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

Peder Furubotn

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

Chapter 7: Resistance in Norway

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

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

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

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

Routes of Arctic Convoys

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

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

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

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

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

Professor Titlestad

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

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

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

Reichskommissar Terboven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stalin and Churchill

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

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

Chapter 8: Conclusions

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

Lancaster at Yagodnik

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

Etnedal

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

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

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

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

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

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

617 Squadron Badge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nikolai Bukharin

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

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

Postscript

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

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

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

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

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

The Lofotens

Chapter 5: Intelligence Manœuvres

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

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

Hugh Dalton

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

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

Frank Foley

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

The Lofotens Raid

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

Reprisals after Telavag
Norsk Hydro, Vermork

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

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

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

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

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

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

Voskresenskaya-Rybkina

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

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

The deHavilland Mosquito

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

The Mosquito Bomb-bay

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

Chapter 6: Stalin’s Organs

‘Smersh’ by Vadim Birstein

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

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

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

Mikhail Ryumin

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

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

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

Group Captain McMullen

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

Pavel Sudoplatov

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

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

Voskresenskaya-Rybkina

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

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

Pechenga

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘At Last the 1948 Show’

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

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

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

Chapter 2: 1934-1939 – Building Connections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rex Leeper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 3: 1939-1945 – Propagandist in War

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

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

Major-General Frederick Beaumont-Nesbitt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moura Budberg (some years earlier)

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

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

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

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

Chapter 4: 1946-1948 – The 1948 Show

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Antony Terry
‘Sarah Gainham’ (Rachel Terry)

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

‘Encounter’, December 1984

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

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

Terry keeping Woolf fascinated at the Kinsky Palace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 5: 1949-1951 – Evidence of Espionage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Turned Towards the Sun’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 6: 1952-1961 – Survivor and Diehard

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

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

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

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

Smolka with Sir Stafford and Lady Cripps

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

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

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

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

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

Rudolf Slansky at his Trial

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the Smolkas in Vienna

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

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

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

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

Summary & Conclusions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Memorial at Saupeset

Chapter 3: The RAF in Yagodnik

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

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

Routes to Yagodnik

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

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

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

The Airstrip at Yagodnik

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

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

Tirpitz in Kafjord, inner to Altenfjord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 4:  The Crash at Saupeset

Nesbyen Cemetery

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

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

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

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

PB416’s Flight Loss Card

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

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

The Grave at Saupeset

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

Squadron-Leader Wyness (front left)

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

Memorial Panel

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

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

Wyness’s plane grounded

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

In Memoriam
In Memoriam

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

Final Report on PB416

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

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

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

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

Defence Attache Matt Skuse in Nesbyen Graveyard

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

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

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Special Bulletin: ‘The Airmen Who Died Twice’ – Part 1

Hallingdal, Norway

Preface:

This Special Bulletin consists of the first two chapters of a report ‘The Airmen Who Died Twice’, the culmination of a project to investigate a mysterious airplane crash in Norway in September 1944. The events were first described in June 2022 on this website at  https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-airmen-who-died-twice/. The complete article contains eight chapters: I shall publish two more in each of the following three months. In that way, the full account shall be available for the British authorities to respond to in time for the solemn eightieth anniversary of the crash of PB416 at Saupeset in Norway on September 17, 2024. I believe the relatives of those crew members killed in the accident deserve a proper apology for the deception and attempt at a cover-up that quickly followed the incident.

I want to give full credit to the role that my collaborator, Nigel Austin, played in this research project. The original idea was his. He discovered some traces of the clumsily muddled story, and uniquely identified the contradictions in what little archival material existed. He then doggedly chased down resources and spokespersons for various organizations that were involved. He contacted me for assistance in providing some method and structure to his endeavour, and I was gripped enough by the drama and paradoxes in his outline to want to work with him. Unfortunately, some personal problems prevented Nigel from completing his side of our agreement, and I decided to take over the project before the details escaped from my overtaxed brain. I thus performed some original research on my own, and also turned Nigel’s observations into a narrative that I hope both instructs and explains. I also believed that it was very important that the story be published well before the eightieth anniversary, and, since no commitment from any historical magazine had been secured in time, I decided to use coldspur as the medium.

Readers will notice that the report lacks any Footnotes. I took this approach in order to broaden the appeal of the text. However, I believe that the narrative is adequately sprinkled with references that will convince readers of the scholarly nature of the investigation. Sources can be supplied, and I shall list them separately, later. On the other hand, many of the communications that must have occurred are not traceable, and probably never will be. That is in the nature of highly confidential government undertakings. Thus the work is a hypothesis lacking firm proofs, but offering enough credible evidence to provide as watertight an argument as can be expected. I hope that, through the publication of these eight chapters, readers around the globe may be prompted to discover and present fresh memoirs, letters, or other documents that will flesh out the story. Or, of course, blow it apart. Because historiography is never finished.

Appearing here on February 15: Chapter 3 (‘The RAF in Yagodnik’) and Chapter 4 (‘The Crash at Saupeset’). Enter the date in your calendar now! And, if you have observations or details to add to the story, please send them to me at antonypercy@aol.com.

Chapter 1: Introduction and Historical Background

The saga of ‘The Airmen Who Died Twice’ is a story about a rash deviation from a serious World War II aerial operation that went horribly wrong. It is a tale about hazardous decisions made under pressure, in a climate of tensions across political, geographical, linguistic, cultural and temporal boundaries. It contains aspects of deep secrecy, betrayal, deception and self-delusion, and has ever since remained a mystery to most British government officials who have had to deal with its legacy. And, above all, it is a story of sacrifice, of brave young men who, having committed to risk their lives in genuine opposition to a real enemy, perished in an unnecessary and highly risky enterprise that should never have seen the light of day.

Battleship Tirpitz

The official – and well-documented – engagement was Operation PARAVANE, which was prepared in August 1944, and took place the following month. PARAVANE was a project undertaken by the RAF to bomb the Nazi battleship, Tirpitz, lying in a Norwegian fjord, and ready to attack the British-American convoys that were transporting valuable matériel to Stalin, via the ports of Murmansk and Archangel. After the foray against the Tirpitz was completed, launched from Soviet territory, and a reduced set of aircraft was being prepared to bring the airmen home to the United Kingdom, a decision was made to re-route one of the aircraft over Swedish airspace to a location over southern Norway, where two parachutists were to be dropped to undertake a dangerous mission. Having arrived at its destination, the plane crashed into a mountain, and all aboard lost their lives. This series of articles offers an explanation of what events and negotiations led to the disaster.

At the time that Operation PARAVANE was executed, the war against the Axis forces was considered by most military experts to have been nominally won. The Western Allies had made a successful re-entry to Normandy in June 1944, and were advancing steadily towards the German borders. By the end of August, Paris had been re-occupied. The Soviet Red Army had advanced on a broad front from Bucharest to the River Dvina in Latvia, and General Rokossovsky’s Army was approaching Warsaw. British, Canadian and American troops had begun to cross the Gothic Line in the Apennines of Italy. Inside Germany, opposition to Hitler was mounting. On July 20, the plot to assassinate him had taken place, although the dictator escaped with injuries. The Allies demand for ‘unconditional surrender’ meant, however, that many more months of intense fighting would take place before the Germans capitulated.

Great Britain and the Soviet Union had always enjoyed a fragile relationship in the conflict with Nazi Germany. When the contradictions of the Nazi-Soviet pact were unveiled by Hitler’s attack on Russia in June 1941, Churchill had immediately expressed urgent support for his erstwhile ideological foe, who had helped Germany with valuable matériel in its assault on Britain. Stalin had responded by quickly making unreasonable demands on Britain, and used his network of spies to gain intelligence, and his agents of influence and ‘useful idiots’ to further the Soviet cause with the British citizenry. After making a private foolish and unauthorized commitment to Stalin about launching a ‘second front’ in France way before the Allies were ready, Churchill was continuously nervous about the dictator’s moods. Yet, after the Soviets repelled the German advance at Stalingrad in February 1943, the balance of power shifted markedly.

In this context, Churchill’s desire to destroy the battleship Tirpitz might be viewed as a bit obsessive. The U-Boat threat in the Atlantic had been largely eliminated, but Britain was still committed to delivering matériel to Stalin through the Arctic Convoys, and the presence of Tirpitz at Altenfjord in Northern Norway represented a large menace to their safety. After the disastrous scattering of the convoy to Murmansk, PQ17, in July 1942, the convoys had been suspended for a few months, and again in the summer of 1943, because of preparations for Operation TORCH. On October 1, 1943, however, Churchill, always eager to appease the demanding Stalin, had assured the Soviet leader that they would resume in mid-November. Moreover, the Soviets had been difficult and prickly over the British presence in Murmansk, ordering two communications stations there to close. In April 1944, British aircraft had tried to attack the Tirpitz from Scottish bases with Barracuda bombers, but they had caused little damage. They followed up during the summer with six further futile attempts, at considerable expense of fuel and ammunition, but were foiled by bad weather and the ship’s defences.

Shrewd observers –  especially in the War Office – had already recognized that the Soviet Union was going to be an ideological and maybe real adversary after the war, as Stalin’s plans for subjugating the countries of eastern Europe became clear. Despite the Foreign Office’s enduring belief that Stalin and his commissars would behave like English gentlemen if they were approached with a spirit of cooperation, the Soviets remained uncompromising, suspicious, secretive, and very protective of their country’s subjects. Any intrusion from the West was interpreted as espionage, and as an initiative designed to subvert the Communist empire. Attempts to share intelligence between Britain’s services (i.e. SOE and MI6) and the NKVD had collapsed in mutual incriminations, and SOE was ready to withdraw its station in Moscow in the spring of 1944. Thus the opportunity for cooperation over bombing raids on the Tirpitz would have seemed to be unpromising.

Such qualms would be reinforced by the scandalous behaviour of the Soviet Union during the Warsaw Uprising, which had started on August 1. It was on the Poles’ behalf that Britain had declared war on Germany back in September 1939, and a vigorous Polish government-in-exile in London was keen to see it resume a traditional role in a freed Poland after the Germans had been expelled. Churchill (and, to a lesser extent Roosevelt) was anxious to provide all the help he could to the beleaguered Poles in Warsaw, but was restricted in having to launch support flights from bases in the United Kingdom and in Brindisi, Italy. Stalin had other ideas: he had created the so-called Polish Committee for National Liberation on July 22, and planned to install a Communist regime in Warsaw when the Soviets took the city from Germany. He refused to offer any support to the rebels from his troops on the other side of the Vistula, and rejected Churchill’s requests for landing-grounds behind Soviet-held territory. Stalin was now more universally accepted, even by Britain’s Foreign Office, as an untrustworthy partner.

Thus the Cold War could be said to have started, not with the revelations about Soviet atom spies in September 1945, not at the Yalta Conference in February 1945, but on the banks of the Vistula in September 1944. When Churchill later met Stalin at the ‘Tolstoy’ talks in Moscow in early October, a rather cynical carve-up of Europe was arranged. At this convention Stalin also made stringent demands for a new Polish-Russian border, roughly equating to the old Curzon Line, but forcing the important city of Lvov to be on the Russian side. Churchill was required to return to London to take this dismal message to the Poles, having already upset them with his refusal to challenge Stalin on the circumstances of the Katyn massacres of 1940. The political climate for the British gaining a high degree of collaboration from the NKVD and Soviet Air Force on an aerial mission that required the use of Soviet airfields for an assault on the Tirpitz would therefore seem to have been entirely hostile.

Yet some measure of cooperation had taken root in the summer of 1944. A combined military mission to Moscow had been established as long ago as July 1941. At that time the role of the 30 Mission (as it was dubbed) was more of an intelligence-gathering exercise, as the British War Office and Foreign Office believed then that the Soviet Union would collapse in a matter of weeks before the Nazi onslaught. It was led by a rather foppish Major Macfarlane, whose intelligence background irritated his hosts. In April 1944, however, just as NKVD-SOE relationships had broken dramatically apart, a Lieutenant Abercrombie was sent out to try to define some manner of shared objectives. These background negotiations turned out to be pivotal for the ability of Bomber Command to make rapid changes to its plans at the beginning of September 1944. After the success using the Tallboy bomb in raids on French ports, a fresh approach using these new weapons was considered, initially involving bombers stretching their fuel resources by flying again from Lincolnshire and Scotland to the northern fjords of Norway.

It was in this context that the plans for Operation PARAVANE were made.

Chapter 2: Planning for PARAVANE

Tirpitz in Kafjord, inner to Altenfjord

It was only after June 1944, when successful operations using the 12,000 lb. Tallboy bomb were carried out in France, that the Royal Air Force started to consider using the weapon against the German battleship Tirpitz, berthed at Altenfjord in northern Norway. Yet there was a catch: the only aircraft that could carry such a heavy bomb was a modified version of the Avro Lancaster. After detailed analysis RAF Bomber Command concluded in August that an operation to deploy a squadron of Lancasters for a direct raid from Scotland was not feasible because of the aircraft’s fuel capacity. They thus considered using a base in the northern Soviet Union, Vaenga 1, near Murmansk, as an intermediate refuelling station after the raid.

This airfield, Vaenga 1, was already known to the RAF, as it had been used by Coastal Command (151 Wing) back in 1941, shortly after the Soviet Union became an ally. Hampdens and Mosquitoes had been sent there for training Soviet crews. In April 1943, Coastal Command had evaluated Operation HIGHBALL, using the newly formed 618 Squadron with specially modified Mosquito aircraft, and the Barnes Wallis-designed bouncing bomb, to attack the Tirpitz. Vaenga had been considered as a possible destination, or even launching-site for the operation, but concerns were expressed about the security aspects of exposing technological secrets to the Soviets, and for a variety of reasons the project was abandoned.

Hurricanes at Vaenga Airfield

At the instigation of the Americans, who first came up with the idea of using Soviet bases for shuttle bombing, General Ismay, at the Moscow Conference of October-November 1943, had made a request for the provision of such bases on Russian territory. The Joint Chiefs of Staff also made a request for the Russians to exchange codes and procedures for communicating weather information, and instructed the US and GB Missions in Moscow to follow up. In April 1944, the question of bombing the Tirpitz was raised by Admiral Fisher at the first Mission Conference held by General Burrows (who had replaced General Martel in March). In May Burrows started defining procedures for how airmen stranded in Soviet territory should identify themselves, suggesting strongly that some agreement for the RAF to operate over Russia had been worked out. Briefly, negotiations appeared to improve, as the Soviets articulated plans for attacking the Germans in Northern Norway, which the British believed might assist the BODYGUARD deception. While that venture came to nothing, by August 1944 it appears to have been Bomber Command’s understanding that gaining approval for an operation that required landing on Soviet soil would be a formality. A message dated August 28 indicates that permission would nevertheless have to be sought through the Mission in Moscow.

The formal request was made on September 1, for an operation scheduled to take place on September 7 – an alarmingly short period for gaining approval, and then planning and implementing all the support and infrastructure required. While that approval appeared to be very quickly forthcoming, however, a setback occurred. Vaenga was quickly deemed to be unsuitable. The same day, Air Vice-Marshal Walmsley of Bomber Command, working on a survey recently undertaken by a Squadron Leader in the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit, wrote to Air Commodore Bufton in the Air Ministry requesting that alternatives in the Archangel area be investigated. The primary obstacle seemed to be that Vaenga’s proximity to the target meant that it could be exposed to raids from the German Air Force (although it should not have needed photographic research to confirm that). Moreover, the runways were probably of inferior quality.

Yagodnik Airfield

The outcome was that from a shortlist of a few other airfields, Yagodnik, on an island south-west of Archangel, almost 400 miles from Murmansk, rapidly became the favourite. It possessed a solid runway that could be extended to 1500 yards – shorter than that at Vaenga, but adequate, as the minimum length required was 1400 yards. One intriguing fact is found in a report describing the airfield, dated as far back as May 22, 1944. That survey pointed out that Yagodnik had been used by fighters and bombers, specifically the Petlyakov PE-8, a rather clumsy and accident-prone heavy bomber formally known as the TB-7. The fact that British personnel had been given permission to inspect such facilities, without any accusations of spying, suggests that negotiations for possible use by the RAF had been going on for some time. That may explain why Air Marshall Harris could take for granted at this late stage that the Soviets would agree to such an initiative, despite their customarily extreme wariness of foreigners. Any such move would have had to be approved by Stalin, and the role of 30 Mission as an intermediary in Moscow reinforces that assumption.

The willingness of Stalin to cooperate needs to be analyzed in the context of events in the recent past. Chapter 1 of this story described the ill feeling that had been engendered by his lack of support for the air drops of his western allies, who were trying to assist the Warsaw Uprising. Yet a lesser known scheme involving the United States at Poltava (an airbase in the Ukraine, west of Kharkiv) should also be taken into account. This precedent for the use of Soviet airbases had recently occurred as Operation FRANTIC, whereby the Soviets granted rights to the USA Air Force to conduct bombing-raids from Poltava on German territory between June and September 1944. This operation was not without controversy, however: the Americans were abused by the Soviets, especially when, on June 21, Soviet air defences failed to prevent a highly destructive raid on US aircraft by German airplanes, all of which escaped intact. Moreover, by that time, with the Soviet land forces moving close to Germany, the value of the base had sharply diminished. The important manufacturing targets identified by the Soviets were actually closer to Great Britain than Poltava.

Poltava Airfield

What is more, the Soviets had exploited the presence of American aircraft on their soil by stealing technology secrets. In the light of their own very weak capabilities in this domain, they were keenly interested in the American technique of strategic bombing. Stalin issued strict instructions that every detail of American advanced technology be recorded by the Soviet Air Force, and the latter salvaged materials from aircraft that had crash-landed on Russian soil. They also learned all about the procedures of American ground-to-air-to-ground communications. Thus the opportunity to learn from the RAF about the Tallboy bomb and its method of delivery would have been highly valuable for future Soviet military capabilities. Stalin may have been sympathetic to the project to eliminate Tirpitz, but he had more devious goals in cooperating with Bomber Command. While the vozhd was extremely wary of any Soviet citizens’ being exposed to foreign influences, and the NKGB and SMERSH were trained to consider all such persons on their soil as spies, the arrangement of procuring advanced British technology on Russian soil (or swamp) would deliver more important prizes.

In fact, a more detailed examination of the War Diary of 30 Mission indicates that Stalin had become a more encouraging force behind the project for launching air operations over Norway. When General Burrows took over from the rather ineffectual General Martel, he started to introduce more discipline and determination into his dealings with the Soviets, including better treatment for casualties from convoy operations, and a loosening of the absurd rules about the issuance of visas to returning British officers. He pursued more aggressively the return of radio equipment seized by Soviet customs officials. And, as mentioned above, he started seeking procedures for assisting British aircrew members, possibly stranded on Soviet soil, to help identify themselves to the Red Army or the NKGB, a measure that must indicate that he expected British planes to be operating over Soviet territory. The Soviets were habitually unco-operative, but Burrows learned that they responded better to hard bargaining.

In any case, following the positive signal from the Kremlin, more detailed preparations were briskly made. To accompany the squadrons of Lancasters, Liberator aircraft would be required to carry maintenance engineers and spares. Group Captain McMullen was made responsible for the discipline, quartering and messing of all crews, and was scheduled to fly out in a Liberator in advance of the Lancaster squadrons. His role was to establish communications protocols, and rules for the use of beacons, and relay them to the UK, so that the arriving aircraft could safely find their way to Yagodnik. He had to arrange for the provision of fuel and oil to supply the aircraft for their journey home. He was also to be responsible for dispatching the operational air party on its return flight, or should the original operation have been abortive, on a repeat operation. He was to keep in close contact with British Naval authorities in Archangel and the Air Attaché in Moscow.  All in all, it was an astonishingly complex and difficult task to be completed in just a few days, with issues of terrain, security, politics, language and electronic communications to be sorted out. Despite all the challenges, on September 7, the Operational Order was issued for all aircraft to be moved to the forward bases at Lossiemouth, Kinloss and Milltown.

Yet a very late revision to the plan occurred. As a further complication, Bomber Command had, after intense calculations and trials, concluded on September 11 that PARAVANE would better be launched from inside Soviet territory (and not simply use such bases for refuelling). The reason offered later was that the weather was primarily responsible, but also because the closeness of the Russian bases to northern Norway was less demanding on fuel requirements. In addition, the location would enable a surprise, and thus potentially more successful, attack from the south-east, since German Radio-Detection Finding apparatus would be less effective in spotting raids from that direction. Thus the new plan required the squadrons to fly directly to the Archangel area, there to rest and refuel, before launching the attack on the Tirpitz, and then returning to Yagodnik.

Operation PARAVANE (revised)

Who actually conceived this new plan is an enigma: the conclusions appeared to have been arrived at without consulting the Soviets. More sympathetic messages had recently been arriving from Stalin, however. At the end of August, he had floated the idea of creating an International Air Corps, to which Churchill responded enthusiastically. And on September 9, Stalin had announced that he would allow Allied planes to be launched from Ukrainian territory to support the Warsaw uprising – a hopelessly late gesture to save the Poles, but an indication that the presence of the RAF in northern Russia would now be treated more positively. This move was all the more significant since the Soviet Foreign Minister Vyshinski had recently forbidden any US planes assisting the Warsaw Uprising from returning to their base at Poltava.

This change of plan also presents some paradoxes. The archive does not state who made the decision: some historians claim it was Harris. At the end of August, Air Vice-Marshal Cochrane had been involved in intense trials with Squadron-Leader Tait that suggest that he had set out to ‘prove’ that the Tirpitz would be out of range, as if he had been commissioned to provide evidence for a decision already made. Despite coming to conclusions, presumably, that a direct flight to Altenfjord for the assault before landing in northern Russia would not be feasible, the existing plan must have been passed up to Harris for him to adjudicate. Why did Cochrane not propose an alternative plan? He either a) wanted the whole operation called off; b) was not aware of the possibility of an alternative approach by launching the attack from Soviet territory; or c) was party to an elaborate ruse, and pretended to play the innocent.

One account suggests that the USAAF had been the Soviets’ preferred choice as a collaborator for the assault on the Tirpitz. While Stalin did not have serious designs on occupying Norway (he was not even considering re-entering his contiguous neighbour Finland, despite the fact that it had been an adversary during the war), he was interested in gaining part of the Finnmark territory to the North, which would give him access to valuable mines, but yield a short frontier with Norway. In this regard, he still considered the Tirpitz a threat. But he disparaged the multiple, expensive, but unsuccessful series of raids on the battleship by the British, and hoped that the Americans might consider a second base in northern Russia. The Americans had been too chastened by the Poltava experience, however, and, with Germany on the run, Roosevelt was not interested in further buccaneering exploits in the European theatre of war. Thus Stalin turned to the British.

The archival material does suggest that a higher authority was involved. Harris’s memorandum announcing the change is directed to the Admiralty, with a copy sent to Bottomley at the Air Ministry. A memorandum from the Air Ministry informing 30 Mission of the change of plan has a time-stamp of three minutes earlier, however, indicating perhaps that both Bomber Command and the Air Ministry had recently been informed of the new directives. The Air Ministry memorandum attributed the change of plan to ‘weather conditions’ in the target area being too variable: Harris does not provide that as a reason. Moreover, Harris does not take responsibility in his own text, writing instead that ‘It has now been decided’ that the bombers will fly directly ‘from English bases’ (i.e. not via Lossiemouth or Unst) to Yagodnik. The implication is that the decision to launch the attack from Yagodnik had already been made, and it was the details on the route that were important. It is clear, from the anomalous and incongruous cables exchanged between Bomber Command, the Air Ministry, the Admiralty, the Naval Station in Murmansk, and 30 Mission in Moscow that an elaborate smokescreen was being created to conceal the secrecy and irregularity of the agreement with Stalin to use Soviet bases. The apparent rapid decision about a direct flight would have alarming and fateful consequences.

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A Wintry Miscellany

A Memorial : The Shooting of Protestors at a Soviet Prison Camp in December 1923

In Memoriam: On December 19, 1923, six prisoners were shot at the Savvatievsky monastery compound, which was located on an island in the White Sea and had been converted by the Cheka into a camp for political prisoners. The four men and two women, from ages 23 to 37, had staged an open protest about living conditions at the camp, and either perished on the spot, or died soon after from their wounds. The remembrance of this event is especially poignant since Memorial, the Russian organization that has striven to keep alive records of the crimes of Lenin and Stalin, such as this, has been shut down by President Putin.

While I wish all coldspur readers the compliments of the season, I warn them that this bulletin does contain some cheerless, even curmudgeonly, observations.

Contents:

  1. Personal Files at Kew
  2. Was Kim Philby a Bigamist?
  3. Hannah Coler’s ‘Cambridge 5’
  4. The Rejuvenation of Dick Ellis
  5. The Book Review Magazines
  6. Research Agenda
  7. ‘The Airmen Who Died Twice’
  8. ‘This I Cannot Forget’
  9. J. B. Priestley’s ‘English Journey’
  10. The coldspur Archive
  11. Mental Health
  12. Coffeehouse Talk

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

  1. Personal Files at Kew

The Personal Files (PFs) maintained by MI5 represent a rich but often enigmatic resource. They are sometimes converted into a new series of identities in the KV/2 class, KV being the Reference for the Security Service (MI5). Thus most descriptors of individual KV/2 units will declare the number of the PF from which its content is assembled. Yet many PFs have not been released: there exists no master list of such files, but some of their identities can be easily detected since they appear as unredacted annotations made on the pages of many released files. Furthermore, the system used for PFs appears to have allocated numbers in sequential order, with the result that the approximate date of the creation of ‘ghost’ PFs can be quite readily determined.

For example, coldspur readers will by now be familiar with the PF number allocated to Litzy Philby, 68261, since handwritten inscriptions made on items in the Tudor-Hart files (and in others) request that a copy of certain items (letters, memoranda, etc.) be placed in her file – which she may well have shared with her husband. Thus a stab could be made at establishing when her file was opened by studying the dates of released files of PFs holding numbers close to hers. In fact I have started to create a spreadsheet in which I record the PF numbers and their corresponding KV/2 identities, and if a PF has not been released, I enter it in sequence with a reference to the KV in which it appears. I thus have codes for a) unreleased, b) released but undigitized, and c) released and digitized entries, and, if possible, a date on which the file was created. (Undigitized files have to be inspected on site, or, since I have not travelled to Kew for several years, to be photographed professionally by my London-based researcher.)

I have found anomalies. For instance, it appears that a bevy of PFs was created after the disappearance of Burgess and Maclean, with numbers allocated, as the investigation gathered steam, to suspected associates as well as the escapees themselves, such as Philby (PEACH), Blunt (masked as BLUNDEN because of his wartime employment by MI5), and Goronwy Rees (who had volunteered vital information soon afterwards). Yet the suggestion that the collection of material was initiated at this time (May-June 1951) is belied by the fact that the released file on Rees (for instance) contains material that derives from the 1930s. A reference to Philby’s file (PF 604502), dated November 1946, can be seen in the file of the Sicherheitsdienst officer Protze (KV 2/1741). That would suggest that pre-existing PFs on some of these characters had been maintained for some years, but that they were suppressed, for reasons of ‘security’, and that the appearance of a completely fresh inquiry was promoted by the creation of ‘new’ files that may have incorporated older material, and may even have been in existence for a while.

Thus a large number of identifiable but unavailable files exist (unless some of them have been destroyed). Why have they not been released? It could be that the authorities are embarrassed – by the unnecessary surveillance of persons who were of no danger whatsoever, or by the ineffective observations of individuals who were clearly guilty of subversive or treasonable activity. Sometimes specious reasons about protecting family members are given. (I have recently started a project to list all the archival material related to Guy Burgess that appears in the National Archives Directory, consisting of two or three hundred discrete items, mostly in the Foreign and Colonial Office records. It is a shocking story – with many items permanently retained, and many closed but due for opening in the next few decades, including some not to be released until January 2073 (!) – that I shall report on fully in a future coldspur bulletin.)

I have a very pragmatic and inquisitive approach to interpreting all this. One of my on-line colleagues (who has a background with British intelligence) claims that he knows how the system works, and that any anomaly he finds in the records is due to mistakes made by officers, or by the custodians of the Registry. You might call his methodology an a priori interpretation. Since I have no preconceived notions of how the system was designed and implemented, I am a little more sceptical. I tend to regard all manifestations as features of the system, supplemented by possible attempts to cover tracks. You could call my approach an a posteriori one.

One of the anomalies is the fact that certain individuals were given separate classifications, under the KV/6 reference instead of KV/2, representing so-called ‘List’ files. An example is Georg Honigmann (KV 6/113 & 114), whose source is given as L169/65. The Kew Catalogue describes this category rather obliquely and circuitously in the following terms: ‘relating to investigations carried out on related individuals or organisations (for example, investigations into SOE personnel forming part of the SOE ‘list’)’. That is not very helpful. In what way, for instance, would Honigmann have been considered part of a ‘list’ when he arrived in the UK in 1931? I am looking out for other persons of interest in the KV/6 series in an attempt to derive a pattern, and have already collected a small but interesting set.

My study has been complemented by the inspection of some archival material concerning the Registry itself, namely KV 4/21: ‘Report on the Operations of the Registry During the War 1939-1945’. DDO (‘R.H.’, namely Reginald Horrocks) started by describing the state of the Registry in June 1940, when ‘the organization of the service had all but broken down’. The Registry had been allowed to lapse ‘into a most lamentable position’. It seemed that inertia had encouraged information to be gathered in ‘subject’ files, which made extraction of intelligence on individuals particularly difficult. He summarized the problem as follows:

            The basic system of filing was inefficient and inelastic. While a diminishing number of individual files were made the records of those individuals on which interest centred (Aliens, Right and Left Wingers) were filed on a subject basis (i.e. Communists in Northumberland). [‘Seriously?’ – coldspur] The effect was, that to obtain complete information regarding an individual several files were needed, many of which were required by other Offices for other individuals. So few obtained the files they needed and Officers’ rooms were stacked with unanswered correspondence and with files all awaiting other files which could not be obtained. Personal files were classified in series, this being a quite unnecessary complication in the process of file making.

Happily, this mess was rapidly cleaned up, and new systems were introduced. Unfortunately, a bombing raid in September 1940 destroyed some of the records of the new Central Index, but its reconstruction was completed by June 1941. According to Jack Curry, this extended period of turmoil, which severely affected morale, was brought to an end only when Petrie approved Horrocks’s scheme. The former chaos, however, may help to explain why searches were often unsuccessful when they should have uncovered incriminating material. Whether the ‘subject’ files corresponded in some way to ‘List’ files is not clear however. The Kew rubric on ‘Lists’ refers, for example, to SOE, which was not created until this exercise was under way. The fact that Georg Honigmann remained in a ‘List’ file, and was never granted a Personal File, may indicate that he was of no particular interest. On the other hand, an alarming note in the report states that ‘In 1940 a number of the old files of no current interest were destroyed’. [How did they know the files contained nothing of interest?] Perhaps the survival of Honigmann’s file is a lucky accident.

Lastly (for the time being, anyway) I refer to one critical file revealed by this practice. In a recent post (https://coldspur.com/kim-philby-always-working-for-sis/ ) I expressed my incredulity that, if a file had been opened on John Lehmann when he travelled to Vienna as an obvious left-winger, one would not have been opened on Kim Philby. Lehmann’ s PF number is 41490, and the first entry in it is dated October 1, 1932. In fact, MI5 picked him up after he was mentioned in a letter by Gerald Hamilton, a few months before he went to Austria. The highly dubious Peter Smolka (later to be named Smollett) had a file opened on him when he arrived in the UK in November 1930. Its number is 39680. And when Smolka asked the Home Office to allow him to set up the Intercontinental News Agency with his colleague H. A. R. Philby, in November 1934, a handwritten note on the letter (visible at ser. 62a in KV/2 4167) indicates that the aforementioned Philby has a PF numbered 40408. That would appear to show that a file on Philby was probably started during 1931, when he was up at Cambridge . . .  I wonder what happened to it.

Smolka’s Letter of November 15, 1934

2. Was Kim Philby a Bigamist?

There once was a person from Lyme

Who married three wives at a time.

            When asked: ‘Why a third?’,

            He said: ‘One’s absurd,

And bigamy, sir, is a crime.’

(attributed to William Cosmo Monkhouse)

A brief synopsis of the saga of Kim Philby’s ‘divorce’, as conventionally represented, runs as follows: He failed to divorce Litzi when they drifted apart, even when he started cohabiting with Aileen Furse in 1940, and had children with her. In August 1946, he reputedly woke up to the idea that he should legitimize his relationship with Aileen, and confessed the existence of his marriage with Litzy to his former boss at MI6, Valentine Vivian. He subsequently contacted Litzy (who had left England by then), and gained her agreement to a divorce, which was finalized in Paris (or maybe Vienna) in early September. He married Aileen on September 25. Litzy was then free to marry Georg Honigmann, which, by most accounts – including the memoirs by their daughter-to-be, Barbara – took place later that year, or in early 1947. Yet records maintained by Barbara Honigmann’s extended family on the genealogical website, Geni, indicate that Litzy and Georg were ‘partners’, not ‘spouses’. Litzy’s Wikipedia entry states merely that she lived with Honigmann, with no mention of marriage. In his biography of Stewart Menzies, ‘C’, Anthony Cave-Brown wrote that Kim married Aileen bigamously, without offering evidence either way, or even investigating why, if he was correct, the events were not pursued by the authorities.

One of the most astonishing aspects of this case is the lack of curiosity on the part of those writers who have blandly accepted Philby’s account of the ‘divorce’, without any tangible evidence, and who have ignored the absurdities of the arrangements by which he gained his decree – which would presumably have been an essential piece of evidence for his marriage to Aileen. (Otherwise why did he bother? He had already lied to a colleague in MI6 that Litzy had been his ‘first wife’.) I have thus been drawn into the dark web of Geni, in an attempt to pin down the evidence that Georg and Litzy were only ‘partners’, not husband and wife. Of course, in principle, based on hearsay and memoirs, it is far easier to suggest that the couple were legally married than they were not, especially as the Berlin marriage records will not be released until eighty years after the event, thus in 2026 (or 2027), and the ‘fact’ of Kim’s marriage to Aileen would strongly suggest that he was a single man again at the time. When we can inspect those records, the matter should be settled one way or the other.

Geni is not wholly satisfactory. The data is maintained by a string of semi-anonymous characters, who apparently do not have to show their accreditation when they maintain genealogical information, are not required to identify sources, and all too often rely on Wikipedia for relevant ‘facts’. They offer email addresses, but often fall into desuetude, and do not respond to inquiries. Yet some valuable details can emerge. While I have not been able to get a response from the person responsible for the information concerning Barbara and her parents’ partnership, I have succeeded in exchanging messages with some genealogists and serious amateurs who have given me some important leads. As for Barbara herself, she is reported to dislike any ‘prying’ into her life, which I thought was a bit rich. After all, if you are going to try to draw in the public by writing very personal memoirs (Ein Kapitel aus meinem Leben, about her mother, and Georg, about her father) that contain multiple untruths and contradictions, you can hardly expect the intellectually curious to turn off their inquiries when matters become a little sensitive. It reminds me of Peter Cook, and his pastiche on Greta Garbo (‘Emma Bargo’), who goes around with a megaphone declaring ‘I Vant to be Alone!’. [see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGVcgZkMxWk]

Peter Cook as Emma Bargo

I have discovered some important facts. When I wrote about Georg’s cousins in last month’s posting, I assumed that Andreas and Johannes were the children of Georg’s brother Heinrich. But Heinrich died in World War I, unmarried, before the boys were born (and Barbara understated their ages, for some reason). On reinspecting Barbara’s text, I noticed that she had described Andreas as ‘ein Cousin zweiten Grades’, which can mean either ‘second cousin’, or ‘first cousin once removed’. The latter relationship turns out to be the correct one: Andreas and Johannes were Schuelers, the grand-children of Georg Senior’s (Georg’s father’s) sister Elise. Elise married Baruch Spitz, and their daughter, Hedwig, married Alfred Schueler. They had the two sons. Hedwig was thus Georg Junior’s first cousin. I also learned that Barbara Honigmann has two (unidentified) siblings, by all accounts also the children of Litzy and Georg, although the displayed genealogical information is very confusing. Barbara’s husband (Oppermann) is recorded on Wikipedia as having taken Barbara’s surname as his own, but one of her siblings also married an Oppermann while assuming the Honigmann surname. In contradiction of this intelligence, Barbara declared in her memoir that she was an only child – and she surely was the expert in this matter. I am not sure what is going on here.

When I tried to contact the primary author (Decker) of the posting about the ‘partnership’, however, I was thwarted, and received no response. On the other hand, I did manage to initiate an email exchange with two other members of the extended Honigmann clan, who were able to supply comprehensive details of the family tree (excluding living members, apart from Barbara). From open information, however, I was able to identify a great-nephew of Barbara, one Leon Rieding, who is apparently in agreement with Mr. Decker’s posting. I attempted to get in touch with him through a surrogate to determine whence comes his intelligence, but he was one of those shadowy figures who do not respond to emails.

And then I returned to Barbara’s memoir Ein Kapitel aus meinem Leben (A Chapter from My Life), and discovered some startling disclosures. She writes of her mother: “In marrying my father in Berlin, she evidently completely blocked out her second marriage with Philby, being content to produce the divorce decree from her first marriage. The requirement to produce a certificate of capacity to marry was certainly fulfilled in a formal fashion, but it was bogus.” She also reveals an extraordinary ‘admission’ from her mother, who told her: “It was in 1942, I think, that I divorced Kim, or perhaps in 1944 or 1945, unless it was in 1946. I have forgotten what year it was that we saw each other for the last time.” Barbara is stupefied that her mother cannot recall the date of her divorce: Litzy is clearly trying to cover up in some confusion, but all that she can add is that she cannot even recall the date when she divorced Georg, as if she suffered from amnesia in this department.

Later, Litzy tells her daughter that she left the UK for Paris ‘in the spring of 1946’ – definitely untrue – and made her way to Berlin. Yet she had to take a detour via Prague, where she met up with her schoolfriend Lotte, the wife of Smolka, before taking the train to Dresden. At no stage of this explanation does she make any reference to her divorce from Kim, in contrast to her husband’s very dramatic, though detail-free, narrative. It is quite incredible that she could have failed to recall such life-defining events if she had indeed managed to gain the divorce decree in Paris or Prague, and she tries on the pretense that the legal separation had taken place some time before.

Of course, the obvious place to gain their divorce would have been the city where they married – Vienna. Borovik, in The Philby Files, claimed that Kim saw Litzy in Vienna. And indeed, Kim has been recorded as making a secret visit there ‘after the war’. The infamous Note 19 in Chapter 1 of Gordon Corera’s Art of Betrayal cites the tape by Bruce Lockhart making a reference to Kim’s presence there, an item ‘since  . . . withdrawn from the Imperial War Museum’. Yet Litzy made no mention of visiting Vienna, and the records discovered by British Military Intelligence in January 1952 (where they astonishingly refer to Litzy’s marriage to ‘Harold Adrian Russel’ on February 24, 1934) show no recognition of their subsequent divorce, and no knowledge of the couple since they left for England on April 28. If the divorce had been made official there, presumably MI6, as well as Kim and Litzy, would have found it useful to provide evidence.

These claims to Barbara about her divorce and subsequent ‘marriage’ to Georg are thus highly provocative. It would appear that Litzy maintained the fiction that her marriage to Honigmann took place, despite the frauds committed. Otherwise why would Barbara reveal such an unlikely tale? And why (and when) did Litzy confide this truth to her daughter? (I cannot believe that Georg was unaware of the lapse.) Thus we then have to consider the scenarios:

1) The authorities were convinced by the evidence, and approved the marriage, while Litzy and Georg were complicit in a bigamous arrangement, about which no one else knew until Barbara dropped her clumsy hints. Presumably Litzy would have had to show an ID at the ceremony, and her current British passport would have declared her to be a ‘Philby’: the methods of the East Berlin authorities are unknown by me.  (How concerned they were about such bourgeois considerations is another matter, I suppose. If MI6 could prevail on a London registry office to connive at a bigamous marriage, I am sure that the KGB could do the same.) In that case, if a marriage was formalized, a ‘divorce’ could have been accepted in 1953, or whenever it was, but the deception would endure through George’s further two marriages.

2) The marriage was not allowed (or even attempted), and Georg and Litzy were indeed just ‘partners’ (as Mr. Decker indicates), but they were not punished for any attempted deception, since the KGB was partly responsible for the predicament they were in. Barbara was consequently misled. Thus, when the affair fell apart, Georg was free to re-marry, but Litzy was not. And that might explain her later very sentimental reflections on Kim, and her resistance to joining in matrimony with any of her several admirers, since she was still Kim’s legal wife.

I favour the second interpretation. The evidence I have assembled (the claims from Cave-Brown, the very improbable logistics, Litzy’s vagueness and selective amnesia over some of the major events in her life and her later nostalgia for Kim, the bold assertions on the Geni family tree,  the nervousness in the Home Office and MI5 about Litzy’s possible return to the UK, and the Home Office’s apparent determination to keep the Honigmann file closed) suggests to me that the divorce never took place. And that has monumental implications for the Philby and Honigmann families.

Lastly, I reproduce an astonishing article (tracked down by one of my collaborators through the Geni link) from the Vienna press of May 1934, filled with untruths about the circumstances of Kim’s sojourn in Vienna, and obviously placed by MI6 in an attempt to distance Kim and Litzy from their communist actions, and present them as closely tied to Kim’s father, the fascist, Hitler sympathizer and Arabist Harry St. John Philby, while emphasizing Kim’s ‘aristocratic’ background. This is a story with enormous implications that I shall return to next month.

Report on Philby Marriage: ‘Illustrierte Kronen Zeitung’, May 24, 1934

3. Hannah Coler’s ‘Cambridge 5’

Some coldspur readers may recall my distant and short-lived contact with the prickly and elusive historian Jonathan Haslam, and his subsequent disinclination to respond to my written letter during my investigations into ‘Gibby’s Spy’. I have discovered that he is now the partner of the German historian Karina Urbach, whose book Go-Betweens for Hitler I had enjoyed several years ago. I even exchanged emails with her afterwards (in 2014 and 2017), and have been able to retrieve from my personal computer archives our very positive conversations about the Hohenlohes, and my researches on Churchill, Halifax and Burgess. Urbach is definitely a class act. She and Haslam co-edited a book titled Secret Intelligence in the European States System, 1918-1989 that, I must confess, I have not yet read.

‘Cambridge 5’

Somehow I discovered that Urbach had written a novel, in German, bearing the title Cambridge 5: Zeit fűr Verräter (‘Time for Traitors’), but appearing under the pseudonym ‘Hannah Coler’. The topic was clear: I had to read it. The book arrived, and I retrieved my 1968 German skills to work on it. Only when I was three-quarters of the way through its 400-odd pages did I learn – after inspecting Urbach’s Wikipedia page – that what appeared to be an English translation had been prepared and published! A search on amazon (not on ‘Coler’, but on ‘Urbach’) had come up with the rather mysterious title The Cambridge Five: A Captivating Guide to the Russian Spies in Britain Who Passed on Information to the Soviet Union During World War II, with the author’s name rather bizarrely offered as ‘Captivating History’. (I do not see how the ‘Urbach’ in the Search found its target.)

I am sure, however, that this is not the novel, but simply a potted guide, maybe based on the imaginary thesis on Philby written by Wera, one of the characters in the book. Large chunks of her work are ‘extracted’ in the book’s pages. I am not going to acquire the English book to prove my hypothesis. I am not sure why this enterprise was thought worthwhile: indeed the German texts presented could act as an informative guide to German readers who know no English, and have thus not been exposed to the wealth of books about the Five, but another publication in English about Philby would appear to have little new to offer.

But back to the novel. It really was quite enjoyable, mainly because Ms. Urbach is obviously very familiar with Cambridge, and the English scene in general, and writes with flair, humour, and a wry affection for the personalities and pretensions of those figures who coloured media and academic life in the early 2010s. The plot revolves around three generations of students: the Cambridge 5, their leftist successors, engaging in protests in the 1970s, and three doctoral students in 2014, working on their theses under one of the previous activists, the womanizer Professor Hunt. Hunt becomes involved in a murder mystery, since one of his former colleagues (and the father of one of the trio of doctoral candidates) is found stabbed to death in Hunt’s rooms at New College. Thus echoes of 1930s revolt, attachment to causes, recruitment by the Russians, betrayal and revenge reverberate across the three generations.

The main thread of the book is the idea that Wera, the German student (whose name echoes that of Urbach’s mother: the author also explains in a postscript that her elderly father had worked as an agent for the CIA) has selected as her thesis a detailed analysis of Kim Philby, and occupies the rooms at Trinity College that were once Philby’s. The novel is interspersed with chapters of her findings as they evolve, and as they are presented to her supervisor, Professor Hunt. She exploits the Mitrokhin Archive (with the help of a Russian girl called Polina), and is presented as revealing hitherto unknown ‘facts’ about Philby. This was, for me, the weakest part of the book, although I can imagine that German readers would be fascinated. The texts of the thesis are unannotated, and thus lack sources, and the ability of Wera to comprehend the multiple cultural and social aspects of the 1930s milieu is unexplained.

The sources for Urbach’s findings about Philby and his traitorous colleagues would appear to consist of the writings of Macintyre, Knightley, Modin, and Philby himself, as well as the usual suspects of background literature (e.g. Andrew, Costello, West, and her partner Haslam). She does also list Barbara Honigmann, but there appear no breakthrough insights. She lists nothing from the National Archives in her Sources, which is astonishing. Admittedly, the Flora Solomon file was released too late for the project, but the Honigmann and Tudor-Hart folders should have been inspected by the time Urbach wrote her book, and what little has been released about Philby’s interrogations in 1951 should also have provided a richer context.

Some early observations caught my eye. Hunt, who is initially very disdainful of Wera’s ability to shed any fresh light on the paradoxes of Philby’s career, is impressed by her spunk, ambition, and skills of observation. He gives her some advice on the research process. He is very disparaging about the role of authorized historians who are fed documents to analyze, and are thus manipulated. He encourages her to look for details that other historians might have overlooked, and advises her to learn Russian, so that she will not be reliant on translators who might deceive her.

All this was very close to my principles, as I have repeatedly written on coldspur, and I wondered whether this exchange was a key to the eventual plot, and resolution of the skullduggery to come. As it turned out, it was a red herring. But I was energized enough by what must be Urbach’s beliefs about ‘official’ historiography of intelligence matters to reach out to her by email, and draw attention to my recent articles on Philby, which I thought might throw Wera’s apparent ‘breakthrough’ up into the air. I sent a congratulatory and very amiable message to her. It was not rejected outright (as if her address were no longer valid), but in the six weeks since, I have received no acknowledgment or reply. I know that she now resides in Cambridge, England, ‘with her family’. I hope that Haslam is not influencing her modus operandi, but she now appears to have taken on the persona of a media celebrity who needs to be protected from the public at large. She has her own website (at https://karinaurbach.org.uk/ ), and the ‘Contact’ button directs potential communicants to her agent. My opinion of her has gone down.

4. The Rejuvenation of Dick Ellis

Over the years I have had dozens of exchanges – well over a hundred – with persons around the world who discovered coldspur, and had some observation or question for me. Apart from Henry Hardy (whom I actually approached early on in my researches) I have not met any of these people, but I appreciate you all. I have spoken on the telephone to merely two or three. Some disappear suddenly, and then reappear years later. Others appear to go off the radar, as if they had been trapped by the 21st-century equivalent of Radio Direction Funding – email surveillance. One or two, I have regretfully learned, have died. Many wish to remain anonymous. Each of them has idiosyncratic ways of communicating, and follows different email etiquette. I try to match them, but I find it strange that some ‘correspondents’, having received an encouraging reply from me, decline to acknowledge it. (If I have failed to respond to anyone trying to contact me, or not thanked a contact for a contribution, or have left a query hanging in the air, I apologize.)

After my recent book review of Jesse Fink’s Eagle in the Mirror, I received a series of emails pointing to useful material from someone with an email name of ‘Dr. Jonathon Empson’, who did not introduce himself, or describe his background, or explain why he was sending me the links. He sounded like an academic (rather than a medical practitioner), one who has studied intelligence matters, or even worked in such organizations. He drew attention to two of the well-known photographs of Ellis that appear in Fink’s book, suggesting that the subject had aged considerably between 1923 and 1927, when a photograph of him had been taken by the British Chamber of Commerce in Vienna. Readers can compare the two:

Dick Ellis in 1919 & 1927

The Doctor merely observed that there was a ‘discernible difference’ between the two images, describing the second as follows: ‘a different person – haunted, and may hint to his first undeclared contact with an opposition service’. I do not believe he was suggesting that the photograph was actually of someone else. When Fink presented the second photograph, he simply noted that Ellis ‘had aged rapidly’. Yet it now occurs to me: can it really be the same person? Apart from the filling-out of the face, and the receding hairline, are the ears not markedly different?

And then there is a third photograph, also reproduced by Fink, taken at a wedding in London in 1933, six years later, with Dick Ellis on the right (see below). Has he not regained some of his youthful demeanor, with his face regaining its less fleshy shape? Fink does not comment on it. I sent an email to Fink just after I received the Doctor’s message, without mentioning the photographs, as I incidentally wanted to point out to him the fact that Ellis’s book on the League of Nations may have been written by the Communist Konni Zilliacus (Fink had referred to the article making the claim, but had not mentioned it in detail), and also to alert him to the fact that Jimmy Burns’s very poor new book on the insignificant Walter Bell, The Faithful Spy, contained excerpts of correspondence on Ellis that he would probably be interested in.

Dick Ellis (on right) in 1933

For several weeks I never heard back from Fink, so had not presented this enigma to him. I imagined that he was still upset over my review, as his post on coldspur suggests. And then, on December 14, I did receive a message from him: he had completely overlooked my message in his inbox, so I was able to rewrite this paragraph in time. As for the Doctor (whose name is almost certainly a pseudonym), I do request of my informants that they identify themselves properly, although I of course always respect any desires for secrecy and confidentiality if their position requires it. One primary rule of intelligence gathering is to try to verify the reliability of a source. The Doctor, despite his flattering remarks and apparently astute observations, is an obvious ‘dangle’, and an irritation. At the same time, I somewhat wryly deemed that Fink was perhaps a double agent, who couldn’t work out whether he should be working for the Potboilers or for the Scholars, but professional relations between us have been restored, and we have discussed a quite shameful review of Fink’s book by Nigel West in The Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence.

But does anyone else have an opinion about the puzzling rejuvenation of Dick Ellis? Recall that, when discussing the testimony of Protze, Kim Philby had stated that the Ellis whom Protze had encountered was shown to be ‘(a) a White Russian and not an Englishman, and (b) a fraud and a forger’. Answers on a postcard, please, or via a posting on coldspur, or an email to antonypercy@aol.com.

5. The Book Review Magazines

I subscribe to four journals dedicated primarily to reviewing books, Literary Review, the Times Literary Supplement, the New York Review of Books, and the London Review of Books. I occasionally write letters to the Editors of each, some of which I have reproduced on coldspur, and the writing of this section has been prompted by the non-publication of a recent letter by me.

The best of the four is undoubtedly Literary Review. It offers reviews of a wide range of books across many subjects, both fiction and non-fiction. The reviewers are almost always very well qualified, and directed to write concise and compact critiques of the volumes selected. They are obviously encouraged to give unfiltered opinions about a book’s merits and flaws, such as the novelty of its research, or its overlooking of important sources. There is no room for them to expand on all they know about the subject, and then briefly mention the writer towards the end, which is a policy some other magazines appear to promote. In addition, there is no apparent log-rolling, although I do find a little hypocritical the semi-apologies for expressed ‘quibbles’ and ‘niggles’ when they list mistakes they have found. Its Letters section is its weakest part, publishing mostly uncontroversial and trivial comments – but it allocates very little space to this intrinsically rewarding exercise. I wish all the magazines under review would provide more space for readers’ letters, and also offer more details about the qualifications of the reviewers it engages.

The Times Literary Supplement comes in second ahead of the two Book Reviews. It maintains a weekly schedule, and offers a fairly broad array of topic headings, with some reviews much shorter than others, although it sometime strains to find capable objective reviewers in all the domains it covers, and is liable to offer weak assessments based on good fellowship or potential mutual admiration. It does not take itself too seriously: it provides a full page for readers’ letters, although what is published tends to be on the dull side, dominated by sometimes pedantic corrections from around the world, and frequently including ripostes from authors who feel that they have been short-changed or misrepresented in earlier reviews. It regularly covers film, television and other media, which to me is supererogatory, and outside its mission. The style of the reviews is overall lively and engaging: the editor since 2020, Martin Ivens (who formerly was editor of the Sunday Times), overall maintains an expert but ironic touch.

I place the fortnightly New York Review of Books above its London cousin because, while they both occasionally (but not frequently enough, in my opinion) publish outstanding critical reviews, and both select too many very obscure and marginal items, the NYRB does not contain as much political polemic as does the LRB. It covers a gratifying number of books pertaining to Europe, which is important, as I regret my interest in USA history and political affairs is not as great as it should be. I always welcome Ferdinand Mount and Geoffrey Wheatcroft, as well as Marina Warner and Miranda Seymour, who are regular though infrequent contributors: in a brief column in the TLS on October 20, on the achievement of the NYRB’s sixtieth anniversary, recognition of the British influence on the magazine was stated. (I was also pleased to see that the editor, Emily Greenhouse, is allergic to the expression ‘the lived experience’.) The Letters section is, however, the weakest of all four, dedicated primarily to long and fairly abstruse debates between authors and critics.

So why do I subscribe to the London Review of Books (also a fortnightly)? It is sadly still in the shadow of the rather dire Mary-Kay Wilmers (her of the Eitingon family), who, having retired from the editorship a year or so go, still endures in an advisory capacity as ‘Consulting Editor’. But her enthusiasm for very long leftist essays (and her taste, presumably, for really dreadful ‘poetry’) remains, with such as Perry Anderson to the fore among several writers, often from Embankment universities, who indulge themselves mostly in Pikettyish criticisms of free enterprise –  presented often as the phenomenon of ‘late-stage capitalism’. Deploring Trump has also been a popular hobbyhorse in articles (not book-reviews!), and I have asked the editors why I should be paying for such obsessions when the magazine is supposed to be a London Review of Books?

I have received no answer.

Yet occasionally an issue of the LRB will be so spectacular that it makes the annual subscription worthwhile, such as that of early October this year, which featured a superbly entertaining review by Lorna Finlayson on some books on animal rights and speciesism (by Peter Singer and Martha Nussbaum), as well as an outstanding review of Orwell material by Colin Burrow. Thus I persevere, bypassing some very ordinary submissions, waiting for the next masterpiece. Moreover, one aspect of the LRB amazes me: it employs a simply gigantic staff, which it proudly lists on its title page. It puts the respective display by the TLS to shame (see images below). How on earth a straightforward literary magazine can afford to sustain all these positions is quite remarkable – and these are only the heads of departments. Could they not double up on some of these duties? And what do all these people do in the afternoons? One wonders whether it is all being subsidized by some generous benefactor, such as the Soros foundation. If it were, I am sure the truth would have come out, but it is all very mysterious to me.

The London Review of Books staff
The TLS Staff

This is all as way of introduction to another unpublished letter. In August, the TLS published a review by a Professor Krishnan Kumar titled This Is Britain. I do not need to quote any part of it, as I believe the letter I sent to the Editor adequately reflects the problem. It ran as follows:

I wonder whether I was the only reader to be profoundly disturbed by some of Professor Kumar’s remarks in his review of books on the vexed issue of ‘race’ (‘This is Britain’, August 11).  Most alarming was his statement that, in Britain, ‘mixed-race people are now the fastest-growing ethnic group’. The implication behind this assertion is that each partner in a ‘mixed-race’ marriage (or relationship) must be of ‘unmixed’ or ‘pure’ race, which is not only nonsensical, but also deeply insulting, by resuscitating a doctrine that has been clearly discredited. Kumar compounds his error by classifying such pairs as an ‘ethnic group’, which, given the undeniable different backgrounds of the members, makes the integrity of that highly questionable concept even more absurd.

He makes further categorical mistakes, such as reinforcing the notion that it makes sense to collect ‘Asians’ in a group, and make stereotypical observations about them (‘they are less inclined to intermarry’), as if it made sense to consider immigrants from Iran to Japan, and everywhere in between, as a viable entity worth studying, and one that displayed consistent behavioural characteristics.

It is sad to see how the sociological academics and the census bureaucrats, initially in the USA, but now, apparently, in Britain, too, have ousted the anthropologists and evolutionary biologists in occupying the spheres of social influence. Their obsession with racial classification has encouraged millions to believe that their ‘identity’ can be defined primarily by some tribal heritage, when all it does is to encourage stereotypes, and to promote some unscientific thinking.

My letter was not published. Thus is this sub-Marxian claptrap further established. Kumar, the current Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia, was educated at Cambridge University and took his postgraduate degree at the London School of Economics. He presumably developed his ideas when he was studying for his doctorate, and encountered no resistance. He was then appointed Professor of Social and Political Thought at the University of Kent, and was able to guide the curriculum and modes of thinking. Since 1971, he has published several books, which his academic colleagues probably praised. Having been away from Britain for twenty years, he was invited to submit a review of three books on ‘race’ and ‘race relations’, and the Editor was either unable or unwilling to challenge him on the primitive and undisciplined points he made. When these absurd ideas, with their outrageous definitions, appeared in print, several readers may have been shocked, but I may have been the only subscriber to take the trouble to write. And the editor decided to ignore my letter.

In such a fashion do insidious and dangerously divisive ideas become accepted. The cult of defining everyone by the so-called ethnic groups or classes that they are claimed to have belonged to since birth, inheriting the victim or oppressor status of their predecessors, is rammed home without any subtlety or scientific understanding. And, as I was writing this piece, I came across a relevant passage by Lionel Trilling (whose windy abstractions and vague generalisations I am mostly not a fan of) in The Sense of the Past (1942), published in The Liberal Imagination:

            This is the great vice of academicism, that it is concerned with ideas rather than with thinking, and now the errors of academicism do not stay in the academy; they make their way into the world, and what begins as a failure of perception among intellectual specialists finds its fulfillment in policy and action.

Soon after, I read the following, written by John Gay in his new book The New Leviathans, and cited by John Banville in his NYRB review of December 21:

            In schools and universities, education inculcates conformity with the ruling progressive ideology. The arts are judged by whether they serve approved political goals. Dissidents from orthodoxies on race, gender and empire find their careers terminated and their public lives erased. This repression is not the work of governments. The ruling catechisms are formulated and enforced by civil society.

If I had not just passed my seventy-seventh birthday, I might get really steamed up about this travesty. Yet it appears I have allies. On the other hand, maybe I would gain greater attention if I wrote on Christ Church notepaper: the first letter published in the December 15 issue of the TLS was written by Richard Swinburne, from Oriel College, and contains the following nonsense:

            Of course ‘an extreme improbability is not an impossibility’, as Edward Greenwood writes (Letters, December 8); but the issue is whether it is rational to believe (in the absence of contrary evidence) that an event (such as the universe being so precisely fine-tuned for life) that would be extremely improbable if it had occurred without a cause, did not have a cause. We should only do this if we cannot postulate a simple explanation of it. But in the case of the universe, we can postulate a very simple explanation, that it was caused by a very simple cause (God, one entity with one essential property, omnipotence), which, I have argued, would make its occurrence probable.

Between superstition and pseudo-science lies sense.

6. Research Agenda

At the beginning of the year, I never expected to be spending so much time on Kim Philby and his various associates, and thus several projects that I had planned have been deferred. Yet they remain on my active list, and I make notes occasionally in preparation for tackling such themes seriously when a vacant spot in the docket turns up.

There is still some unfinished business concerning the Philby investigations. I want to explore more thoroughly where Milmo derived his facts about Kim and Litzy in his December 1951 report, and why White failed to disclose them in his report issued just beforehand. I need to unravel the very strange ‘Stevenson’ business in the Tudor-Hart files, and try to ascertain whether the mystery informant was indeed Graham Greene. A major new thrust will be an in-depth examination of the files on Peter Smollett/Smolka. A cursory look – supplemented by research into Graham Greene, and his dealings with Smolka in Vienna in 1948 – has convinced me that several major anomalies exist in the relationship between Philby and Smollett, and these have been glossed over in all the literature. I need to explore exactly what MI5 knew about Guy Burgess before the notorious escape, and analyze closely the post-mortems that occurred. My analysis of the complete Burgess trove at Kew needs to be completed, and the recently released Rothschild files are straining for my attention. I also have a daunting set of Russian books on intelligence lying on a table, waiting to be tackled.

Matters of peripheral interest endure. I want to compare Chapman Pincher’s fanciful accounts of what Roger Hollis was allegedly doing in Soviet counter-espionage after the war with the more mundane accounts that can be found in source records, such as in the diaries of Guy Liddell, who sprinkles his journals with valuable tidbits concerning the actions of Roger (including his frequent periods of leave and sickness). I’d like to engage in a thorough analysis of the phenomenon of ‘double agents’, and to produce examples from a broad set of initiatives beyond the rather hackneyed and mis-represented set of that species, namely the ‘Abwehr’ agents manipulated to deceive the Germans over the Normandy crossings. I want to investigate the controversies and lawsuits that challenged the first appearance of M. R. D. Foot’s SOE in France. [This topic has been partially addressed by Christopher J. Murphy in a recent article in Intelligence and National Security, published on-line on December 22 at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02684527.2023.2291873 , but I believe Murphy has refrained from touching the serious, more long-lasting, issues associated with the debacle.] Now that I have acquired the files of the prominent Sicherheitsdienst officers who were interrogated after the war, I also want to develop a more rigorous schematic of the activities of Dick Ellis, and what he was claimed to get up to, probably by scouring the original German transcripts of the interrogations.

Other projects go some way back. I have always wanted to understand better exactly what codebooks John Tiltman managed to recover from Petsamo, and when, how they were passed on to the Americans, and how they helped the VENONA project. One longstanding exercise is an investigation into the inquiries that Alan Foote made into the Gouzenko affair, and the connections between the Canadian spies and the Rote Drei in Switzerland. I have not yet studied closely the massive set of Petrov files, which I believe may have much to reveal about Soviet techniques, and possible links to agents who have not been properly identified. I want to examine the cables that were sent by MI6 and the Embassy from Kuibyshev and Moscow in 1943-44, as I believe that George Graham had passed over the cipher- and code-books, and the information transmitted in such telegrams may shed a shocking light on how much Stalin knew about Allied tactics. I also want to pick up my story about the ‘heretic’ communists who fought for the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil war, and then apparently switched their allegiance, such as Humphrey Slater.

Lastly, I have a few more administrative projects to accomplish. I plan to finish my topographical guide to the coldspur collection, and publish it early next year. I’d like to spend some more serious effort on the post-war organization of MI5, which has not received the attention it deserves. Over time, I shall flesh out my spreadsheet of missing cross-references of MI5 Personal Files, offer some sort of chronology, and, maybe with the help of recently photographed files concerning the Registry, describe the processes by which it was maintained.

I thus have plenty to occupy me for a while, and I shall be a much older man than I am now when I complete this assignment – if ever! I am always eager to hear from coldspur readers of other topics worth investigating, as I may find them automatically engaging and thus worthy of elevation in priorities (such as Jesse Fink and his study of Dick Ellis), but I may have to decline. Of course, if Calder Walton wants me to contribute something to his much-awaited three-volume Cambridge History of Espionage and Intelligence, of which he is General Editor, he only has to contact me, and I shall name my fee . . .

STOP PRESS: As I was tidying up this piece on December 29, I was alerted to a large new release of files from The National Archives, involving much on the ‘Spycatcher’ case, as well as on Joan Miller’s One Girl’s War, and on Victor Rothschild’s grumblings. From a quick inspection the Joan Miller material looks very disappointing, but it will mean a lot more work – and I haven’t yet studied the already released Rothschild files. Maybe I need to hire a research assistant, but, hang on, that would be contrary to my principles  . . . (I note in my Commonplace file this month an incident where a Professor tried to blame an example of plagiarism on sloppy work by his research assistants. Tsk! Tsk!)

7. ‘The Airmen Who Died Twice’

A few correspondents have asked me what happened to this project (see https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-the-airmen-who-died-twice/ ). My colleague Nigel Austin and I were rattling along quite well, having completed six chapters of a planned ten, when Nigel sadly succumbed to some personal problems, and was consequently unable to fulfill his side of the research and writing. I waited patiently for many months, but my interest (alongside my ability to understand and explain work already done) was starting to flag, so I had to let him know that I would have to complete the project by myself. It is a fascinating and ground-breaking story, and I am very keen to see it published.

One of the major chapters to be written, however, concerns the state of Norwegian Resistance during World War II, the political tensions between the different factions, and how Stalin hoped to exploit them. This is not a topic that I am intimately familiar with, and I have performed very little of my own research. I am thus going to have to dedicate a large amount of time in between my other monthly projects to attempt to gain some kind of expertise over the subject-matter. I do not want to start publishing earlier segments (which are in good shape, I believe) until I am confident that the complete story has coherence and quality, and that it is properly defensible. When I am ready, I plan to publish a couple of chapters at the mid-point of each month, as a contrast to the monthly bulletins, in a way that will allow the narrative to have some momentum. I’ll report again in a month or two.

8. ‘This I Cannot Forget’

‘This I Cannot Forget’

One of the most moving books that I read this year was the memoir by Anna Larina, the widow of Nikolai Bukharin, who was executed after one of Stalin’s show trials in 1938. Larina was twenty-six years younger than Bukharin, but had known him since she was a child, since her step-father was a colleague of Bukharin’s in early Bolshevik days. She and her husband knew that the inevitable would happen as the noose tightened, and previous friends began to denounce Bukharin for bogus plots to re-install capitalism and assassinate Stalin. Before the trial, she was exiled, with her infant son sent to a children’s home, then learned of her husband’s death, was interrogated and incarcerated in prison-camps, and was fortunate not to have been executed herself by the NKVD.

Before he was arrested, Bukharin managed to persuade his wife to learn by heart a testimony protesting his innocence, something she repeated to herself every day, occasionally committing it to paper, but each time destroying it because of its incriminating implications for her. Eventually, after Stain’s death, and Khrushchev’s ‘secret’ 1956 speech denouncing the dictator and his crimes, and the relative Thaw that followed, Larina in 1961 delivered the testimony to the Central Committee of the Communist Party, hoping that it would be published. It did not appear until 1988.

I had conveniently seen Bukharin only as a noble victim, someone who had had the guts to stand up to Stalin, and to attempt to moderate such disasters as the forced collectivization of the peasants, someone who had tried to put a human face on communism. Stalin never forgot a slight, or a challenge, and had planned the murder of those who had ever disagreed with him, or stood in his way, over many years, manipulating them at his will. His victims would appeal to him, stupidly imagining that it was the NKVD that was at fault, when in fact it was merely a creature carrying out his bidding.

And then I read Bukharin’s testament in Larina’s book. An early paragraph runs as follows:

Dzerzhinsky is no more; the wonderful traditions of the Cheka have gradually receded into the past, those traditions by which the revolutionary idea governed all its actions, justified cruelty towards enemies, safeguarded the state against any counter-revolution. For this reason, the organs of the Cheka won a special trust, a special honor, an authority and respect.

Bukharin went on to contrast the nobility of the Cheka with the ‘degenerate and dissolute organs of the NKVD’. Yet these are not the words of a humanist communist: they reflect the opinions of a bloodthirsty and vengeful Bolshevik, ready to approve the extermination of all ‘class enemies’, including the barbarous treatment of the protestors at the Savvatievsky monastery. For that is what the Cheka, with its ‘wonderful traditions’, was under Lenin – an executor of terrorism and persecution for its own sake, with anyone who showed the smallest sign of ‘privilege’, from Boy Scout medals to aristocratic background, as someone worthy of being exterminated. Any sympathy I had had for Bukharin instantly disappeared.

Nikolai Bukharin

I wrote about the horrors of the Red Terror last year, in my review of books by Antony Beevor and Donald Rayfield. And I was recently exposed to a personal account of exposure to it when I read The Unmaking of a Russian, by Nicholas Wreden. (I bought a copy of a 1935 first edition of this work, signed by the author, for $4 in a second-hand bookstore a few years ago, but had never got round to reading it until I catalogued it in ‘LibraryThing’.) Wreden offers a fascinating description of the chaos of Petrograd in 1918, how ‘enemies of the people’ were summarily executed by the Cheka, and his narrow escapes from such a fate. He also has a gripping story to tell about fighting for the Whites in Estonia, before he manages to gain a retreat to Denmark. Ironically, from his eventual seclusion in the United States, he saw the NKVD on the road to reform by the early nineteen-thirties – an opinion directly opposed to that of Bukharin.

Remarkably, only one of the quoted letters from readers reacting to Larina’s publication in Znamya in 1988 displayed the same reaction that I had. Professor Yevgeny Stanislavsky, after suggesting that all those who had facilitated Stalin’s rise to power were themselves guilty, wrote: It occurs to me that if we had not had the most brutal so-called Red Terror immediately after October [1917], when we exterminated the better part of the Russian intelligentsia or forced it to abandon Russia, and simultaneously exterminated or expelled the technical specialists, the progressively minded bourgeoisie, when we destroyed anyone who was ‘not with us’, when we savagely shot the entire family of Romanovs, including the children, if we had not had that, we would not have had Stalinism.

He finished his letter by writing:

But reading the memoirs of victims of Stalin’s repression, I feel my blood ‘run cold’ and involuntarily there come to mind the atrocities of the German fascists, whom we properly judged (alive and dead) with the full severity of the law.

Well said, Professor.

9. J. B. Priestley’s ‘English Journey’

This summer I read J. B. Priestley’s English Journey. I had acquired a handsome Folio Society edition some years back, enhanced by some period photographs of the time, and an introduction by Margaret Drabble. Priestley is an author who seemed to go out of favour in the latter half of the twentieth century, although there has been a recent revival. I regret that I have read very few of his other works, although my father must have been an enthusiast in the 1930 and 1940s, as I recall that he had a prominent copy of J. W. Dunne’s Experiment with Time lying around the house, as well as editions of Priestley’s ‘time’ plays that were influenced by it.

J. B. Priestley

A very clear recollection of listening to a radio version of Priestley’s An Inspector Calls stays with me, however. It must have been in about 1960 (I can find no record or cast-list on the Web), and I was enthralled. My younger brother, Michael, my mother, and I listened to it on an evening when my father was out at some committee meeting: I was not only captivated by the plot, but recalled how my mother instructed her two boys not to inform our father that we had listened to it. She did not explicitly say why, but, since the play involved rape, prostitution and alcoholism, it was very clear what the reason was. Those were not subjects that youngsters in 1960 should have been exposed to, and she would have been criticized for allowing us to listen in. Nowadays, I notice, the play is a GCSE set text.

I was astounded to learn that An Inspector Calls was first produced on stage in Moscow in August 1945, purportedly on the grounds that no theatre in England was available for staging it. I find that hard to believe, and it was a very foolish decision by Priestley, about whom suspicions of communist sympathies were immediately expressed. I noticed also that, in his recent sequel to his biography of John le Carré, The Secret Life of John le Carré, Adam Sisman records his subject’s nervousness about the role of his biographer. Le Carré had written to his brother, Tony, that it was odd ‘to have an “Inspector Calls” in one’s life, going round ringing doorbells from one’s past, & not always coming up with very edifying results . . .’

And then, while I was ready to complete the writing of this month’s edition of coldspur, I came across during a book-cataloguing stint a copy of Priestley’s Margin Released, in a black faux leather edition published by Heron Books in 1962. It has a price of £2 inside, so I must have bought it in England, but had never read it. It is subtitled ‘A Writer’s Reminiscences and Reflections’, and I have enjoyed fewer books more this year. Priestley is opinionated, but engaging, unpretentious, and eminently sensible, and writes in flawless English about his experiences in various fields of writing. Occasionally he is pompous and deceptive. He gives no account of his lawsuit for libel against Graham Greene, about which I read in Norman Sherry’s biography of the rival writer. On page 63 he offered the following insight, however: “Managers who were obdurate if the mill girls wanted another shilling a week could be found in distant pubs turning the prettiest and weakest of them into tarts. (Over thirty years later I made some use of these discoveries in a play, An Inspector Calls, set in 1912.)”

To return to my main topic: English Journey is a wonderfully crafted portrait of a country just starting to emerge from the worst of the Depression, published in 1934, and Priestley’s only rarely sinks into sentimentality. As a proud Yorkshireman, he was distressed at the apparent wastage of human capability that was evident from wide scale unemployment, but he admired the resilience of the affected communities that he encountered, with a familiar divide affecting the North and The South (where light industry was starting to take off). His socialism was obvious, but it was never dogmatic, and he was clear that the rigours and cruelties of Communism should never be part of any political response. His love of, and appreciation for, the countryside, as well as his delight in literature and music, are always apparent. Towards the end, he becomes somewhat repetitive, and occasionally maudlin, but I found the book very evocative of a fascinating period in English social history.

1933 had been a critical year for Europe. Hitler had come to power, and banned the Communist Party. Many of its members fled to the Soviet Union: most of them were later shot by Stalin. Stalin himself had become emboldened by his ability to endure unchallenged the horrors of dekulakization and the Ukrainian famine (the Holodomor) to prepare for a fresh series of purges, starting with the assassination of Kirov. Just as Britain started to crawl out of its slump, Kim Philby decided to throw in his lot with the Communist horror. English Journey remains a timely contrasting perspective.

10. The coldspur Archive

I am happy to report that I have signed an agreement with an academic institution that commits me to entrusting to it my library and archive, with the university allocating a separate space for my collection, and providing indexing and electronic gateway access. I look forward to providing more detail about this arrangement early next year.

The good news is that I now have a home for my library without it’s being broken up and its contents dispersed, or even destroyed. I believe the accumulated volumes are so much more valuable as a unit, and that my collection constitutes a unique set of books on twentieth-century history and literature. The bad news is that at some stage in the next few years I shall be deprived of instant access to my non-electronic resources. Thus, with a full agenda of research still to be executed, I may have to re-assess my plans!

Meanwhile, I continue with my project to record every volume (or, at least, all those books that will be of interest for the Special Collection) on LibraryThing for eventual export to the university authorities. I have now started a routine whereby, every Sunday morning, I spend a couple of hours cataloguing another hundred books, and, as of this date, have entered about 2,200 volumes. Several more months of work await me  . . .

11. Mental Health

A couple of months ago I underwent my annual medical check-up, and shortly afterwards received an invoice from my doctor. It was not a large one, for an amount not covered my Medicare, but I was startled to read a couple of line items in the statement. The listing describes the treatment, the standard fee that the doctor would charge for someone uninsured (‘Initial Cost’), the adjustment to reflect the fee agreed with Medicare (or other insurance provider, presumably) for the treatment (‘Insurance Adjustment’), the amount actually reimbursed to the doctor (‘Insurance Paid’) and any remaining amount owed by the patient (‘You owe’.)

‘Wellness Visit’

As can be seen my treatment included a ‘Medicare Annual Depression Screen’, estimated to take 5-15 minutes, and a ‘Medicare Annual Alcohol Misuse Screening’, also 5-15 minutes. I recall telling the nurse that I enjoyed one glass of white wine a day (I could have lied, of course), and discussing with the doctor for a couple of minutes what depressing times we live in, what with tribal conflicts around the world, Trump, Putin, Xi, Netanyahu and other monsters, as well as the challenges of dealing with Greta Thunberg and Sam Bankman-Fried. I thus thought that this allocation was a bit excessive. After all, what would anyone do about my ‘depression’? The fact is that everyone seems to be concerned about ‘mental health’ these days, and media icons even self-diagnose, as if they were quite competent in distinguishing between various forms of mental stability or instability. Yet anxiety, grief, even despair, are part and parcel of human existence, and, if one is not allowed to feel depressed occasionally about the reality and prospects of old age, then the world has come to a pretty pass. I thought of Hugh Kingsmill’s parody of A. E. Housman:

What? Still alive at twenty-two?

A fine, upstanding youth like you.

I suppose the authorities at Medicare need to be on the alert lest I convert any dire thoughts into harmful actions against my fellow-citizens, but this whole process appears to me at a piece of bureaucracy run amok. Plus it is deceitful. The doctor was paid for processes that were completed in a minute or two. When I paid my bill, I suggested to him that we drop these ‘screenings’ next year, and divert to those who truly need help the taxpayers’ $40 it will probably cost by then. As for my predicament, as Mona Lott said in the World War 2 wireless series It’s That Man Again: “It’s being so cheerful that keeps me going.”

‘It’s That Man Again’

12. Coffeehouse Talk

Some time earlier this month, I was sitting in one of Wilmington’s more fashionable coffee-houses, when I couldn’t help overhearing a monologue from a woman at the next table. I made a few mental notes on what she was saying to her companion . . . .

“I think that everyone should have access to free child-care staffed by competent professionals who probably don’t have children of their own to care for so that all can undertake safe, well-paid and fulfilling stress-free jobs that allow them to stay out of poverty, and live in a solar-powered home in a crime-free and multi-ethnic neighborhood, close to good schools with excellent teacher quality and teacher-to-student ratios, while not actually depriving anyone else from an underprivileged minority of the employment opportunity, and should be able to enjoy healthy foods, the cultivation of which does not require the exploitation of the labor of any children or disadvantaged persons, as well as enough material goods that also do not derive from any similar exploitation, and certainly did not in their manufacture cause any environmental degradation, or challenge the survival of any threatened species, or damage to a World Heritage site, or harm any local cultural traditions that should nevertheless evolve to be respectful of women’s and minority rights (especially of the LBGTQ community), and be able to enjoy the occasional holiday abroad while maintaining a low carbon footprint, thus without negatively affecting climate change (although I worry about the enormous demands for water that converting airplanes to run on ethanol will cause), as well as having free access to first-rate medical care, including the availability of a cardiologist and endocrinologist within a twenty-minute drive, using suitably qualified immigrants if necessary while not exploiting anybody and not depriving underdeveloped or developing countries of the home-grown skills they need to emerge from poverty (in a way that avoids the perennial social injustices and ills of developed countries), and enjoy the benefits of a well-staffed care-home nearby, subsidised by the government, so that their aged parents can be looked after by dedicated carers, but can be visited regularly at weekends, and that their investments for their own retirement income grow regularly, with the companies they own shares in making satisfactory (but not excessive) profits while pleasing all their ‘stakeholders’ and engaging in sustainable business models without having to behave in a predatory manner by underpaying their workers or indulging in practices that might harm the planet or contribute to global warming, and can use an eco-friendly car to exercise their right to explore the country and visit protected national parks without interfering with the rights of indigenous peoples to indulge in traditional practices (that may in fact be harmful to them, and in poor taste), or worrying whether such areas in other countries where the laws are less restrictive will have to be exploited for the rare earths that have to be mined for the construction of the batteries needed for such vehicles, or that the surveys that have to be carried out for offshore wind farms will not harm the fragile whale populations, and that their implementation will not require excessive use of energy and steel, or result in massive blots on the landscape, or damage populations of any rare bird species, or that the mining of cobalt, graphite and other elements required to manufacture such items will not cause environmental devastation, civic discord, or harm to any tribal heritage (although the whole notion of tribes that have to stay on their reservations and marry within their own community in order to preserve their tribal identity is a deeply troubling one for any progressive and emancipated thinker . . . and were you aware that many of the Cherokee Indians on the protected reservations are not Cherokees at all, but black slaves who were captured ? . . .)”

I had heard enough. I drank up my Reserve Hazelnut Bianco Latte and left.

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Four Spy-Books

The Eagle in the Mirror by Jesse Fink: Black and White Publishing (2023), 319 pages

Follow the Pipelines by Charlotte Dennett: Chelsea Green Publishing (2020), 349 pages

Agents of Influence by Mark Hollingsworth: Oneworld Publications (2023), 310 pages

Spies by Calder Walton: Simon and Schuster (2023), 672 pages

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

‘The Eagle in the Mirror’

The Eagle in the Mirror by Jesse Fink

A few months ago I was contacted by a new ‘recruit’ to coldspur, Jesse Fink, who had been following my coverage of the identity of ELLI. He wanted to know whether I had rejected Charles Ellis (known as ‘Dick’), the MI6 officer, as a candidate for the elusive penetration agent in British intelligence named by Gouzenko. Given the close equivalence between the two names (and the NKVD’s frequently unimaginative choice of cryptonyms), this was a very reasonable inquiry. I replied that I thought it highly unlikely, for reasons of chronology and logistics, but did at the same time refer to Ellis as a ‘scoundrel’.

Mr. Fink was quick to point out that Ellis’s disreputable reputation was probably unjustified, and I have since had to admit that my judgment was based on what has been written about him by such as Nigel West, Chapman Pincher and Peter Wright, without any scholarly safeguards. I had not studied any source documentation myself, and the exercise reminded me that I should never offer an ‘expert’ opinion on anybody in the intelligence world without having performed the proper research myself, or absorbing what someone with a respectable methodology has done him- or her-self. Mr Fink did offer me some flattering comments on the coldspur site: he also told me that he was working on a biography of Ellis that would be published in the summer of 2023, and that his book would rehabilitate Ellis.

I immediately ordered it from amazon.uk: it arrived a few weeks later, and I set about it at the beginning of September. I have dedicated a large amount of space to this review because a) a proper account of the life of Ellis needs to be told; b) Fink has performed an admirable job of tracking down some diverse and obscure sources, and has thus made a highly significant contribution to the literature of intelligence; and c) the exercise brings up a number of issues to do with tradecraft and terminology that interest me greatly. Yet I confess that I am less than enthusiastic about Fink’s rather shrill treatment of the material, and the promotion of the book. For example, Fink chose to title it The Eagle in the Mirror because, as he asks, perhaps rhetorically, on p xxxix:

Where did his loyalties lie? For a man whose name was inextricably linked with the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and the United States of America, what national eagle – Russian, German, American – was staring back at him? Was he truly innocent or guilty?

‘Inextricably linked’? By whom? When? Moreover, since Fink concludes his analysis by asserting that Ellis was an innocent man, and a loyal servant of the Crown, it would appear that he has performed the extrication himself, and that he would judge that his hero saw no eagles but instead the Lion and the Unicorn when he looked into the mirror.

In addition, in the interests of gaining commercial success with his work, I believe Fink has allowed his agent and publicity machine to hyperbolize the questions surrounding Ellis, and his resolution of them. ‘The Greatest Spy Story Never Told’; ‘In Search of War Hero, Master Spy [sic!] and Alleged Traitor’, and a quote from Phillip Knightley claiming absurdly that Ellis ’was James Bond’ adorn the covers. Fink would assert that such exaggeration is needed to help make the book sell at the airport bookstalls, but once the reader is captured, he or she (in my opinion) could well handle a more sober story.

Jesse Fink

The author has fallen into the trap of what I now call the ‘Max Archer Dilemma’ of writing on intelligence, after the fictional character in Matthew Richardson’s Agent Scarlet (see https://coldspur.com/summer-2023-round-up/ ). In August I wrote, firstly citing Richardson:

            “He’d glamorized them, emphasized the sex and the danger, even hoped they might be optioned in a splashy bidding war by Hollywood and hungrily consumed by the masses.” That is absurd: you cannot be the pot-boiling Ben Macintyre and the dryasdust Michael S. Goodman at the same time.

(Not that Max Archer, or his creator, appeared to recognize the Dilemma – unlike Mr Fink, an established author, who described to me the exact same quandary in which he found himself.) The problem is that an author can melodramatize the events for the benefit of a large, popular readership, but those readers will not appreciate the scholarly references and endnotes. The serious readers, meanwhile, will be dismayed by the writer’s joining the potboilers, and not treating the material in a disciplined fashion.

The verifiable facts of Ellis’s career are meagre, and the allegations about him predictably murky. He was born in Australia in 1895, and came to the United Kingdom just before World War I, in which he served with distinction. He was sent to Transcaspia, on a mission against the Bolsheviks. After studying Russian at St. Edmund Hall at Oxford University (or maybe the Sorbonne), he joined MI6 in 1923, and was assigned to various posts around Europe. That year he also married a Ukrainian ‘White Russian’, Lilia Zelensky. In 1928 he published a long and ‘impenetrable’ (according to Fink) book titled The Origin, Structure and Working of the League of Nations. He returned to the UK in 1938 to supervise the interception of telephone communications between Ribbentrop’s Embassy and Berlin. He then spent a short time collecting intelligence in Berlin, where he used the services of his brother-in-law, Zelensky, and a notorious ‘trader’ of information, Vladimir von Petrov, who was another White Russian working at the Japanese Embassy. For most of World War II he worked for William Stephenson’s British Security Coordination in New York, taking charge of intelligence interests, and then helping to establish the USA’s OSS. After the war, he worked for MI6 in the Far East, and helped set up the Australian Intelligence Service. He retired in 1953, and died in Eastbourne, England in 1975.

Matters took an eerie turn in 1946, when captured Sicherheitsdienst officers described to their interrogators a ‘Captain Ellis’ who had provided them with intelligence secrets. Chief among them was Richard Protze, and investigators in Chile tried to follow up the connection with von Petrov after a tip from MI5 located Ellis’s sometime informant there. This led to discovering an association with another dubious character, Anton Turkhul, a colleague of von Petrov’s, who ran a White Russian resistance movement in Paris (certainly infiltrated by the NKVD). When this information was brought to Kim Philby’s attention in the summer of 1946, he oddly denied that he knew anyone named ‘Ellis’. Furthermore, Ellis was at some stage suspected of being blackmailed by the Soviets (since they knew of his indiscretions, von Petrov may have always been their creature, and they may have had some power over Ellis’s wife’s relatives) to work for the Moscow cause, but details of this claim are very skimpy. (Fink’s Index is not completely reliable, and on trying to re-establish the root of the Soviet allegations, all I could come up with were some vague claims made by Peter Wright that echoed an unpublished MI6 report.) Later, in 1954, Ellis was reported to have fled from Australia in somewhat of a panic after learning that a Petrov was about to defect: presumably Ellis believed that ‘Petrov’ was ‘von Petrov’, and might thus unmask him. As Mr Fink points out, Richard V. Hall debunked this theory in A Spy’s Revenge, showing how the chronology simply didn’t work.

The outcome was that Peter Wright, as part of the FLUENCY operation that investigated Soviet penetration of MI6 after Philby’s abscondment in 1963, began a serious study of Ellis’s possible treachery. Fink hints at a deeper study that had been carried out by MI6 officer William Steedman for many years, but the details of that project, named EMERTON, are very sparse. (Nigel West has informed me of the existence of a report that Steedman wrote, which might shed some important light on the events, but it has not been released outside MI6.) In 1966 Ellis was apparently prompted to confess to handing over intelligence to the Nazis shortly before the Venlo incident of 1939, but vigorously denied ever acting as a Soviet agent. This whole sordid story is covered by Fink – although not in a very logical and straightforward manner. (His narrative moves around in time, in that post-modern manner favoured by many writers: it is a technique I find unappealing.) What makes the claims so challenging is that no record of Ellis’s interrogation or confession has been shown to exist.

So where do the stories come from? Primarily they were fed to Nigel West, by Arthur Martin, and to Chapman Pincher, by Peter Wright, complemented by off-the-record interviews with senior or retired MI6 officers, whose intentions regarding Ellis may not have been truly honourable. This is a shockingly disreputable phenomenon. Mr Fink records the leakages, but fails to engage seriously with the duplicity on the part of the authorities, who, while stressing selectively the importance of honouring the Official Secrets Act, allowed such transgressions to pass unremarked and unpunished. I shall return to this aspect of the case later.

One of Fink’s sources for the EMERTON project is Nigel West’s At Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and I believe that it is important to add some context here. The head of Counter-Intelligence in MI6 at the time (1965-66) was Christopher Philpotts, who, though a leading candidate to replace Dick White as Chief, had not been recommended by him, and was then overlooked for the post of the deputy to the new Chief, John Rennie, who favoured Maurice Oldfield. Philpotts had been appointed Director of Counter-Intelligence, and had been conducting a vigorous purge of suspect officers, especially those who had concealed their Communist sympathies or affiliations. Out went Andrew King and Donald Prater: Tony Milne (Litzi Philby’s one-time lover) was forced to resign. West comments that the ‘ebullient’ Philpotts became a very unpopular figure. He had also supervised the inquisition into Ellis, who had ‘confessed’ to betraying information found in Nazi files that had been misattributed to the victims of Venlo, Best and Stevens. Yet he was not punished in any way for this transgression (he had retired in 1953), even though West writes that Steedman’s report concluded that Ellis ‘most likely had succumbed to Soviet pressure after the war’.

Charles ‘Dick’ Ellis

Is that all there was? A disgruntled ex-Royal Navy officer making vague assertions that were essentially unverifiable? What was the evidence that Ellis had been blackmailed by the Soviets after the war? The accusations were ‘unresolved’. Steedman took early retirement in 1970, but presumably felt free to brief journalists such as Nigel West in informal meetings that were not blessed with official authority, but presumably also tacitly allowed to occur. This aspect of the case seems rather preposterous to me, and may have been swollen only by the obsessions of Peter Wright (who served alongside Philpotts on the FLUENCY Committee and its successor, K7). The case against Ellis for undisciplined and possibly traitorous behaviour towards the Nazis seems strong, but the accusations of aiding Moscow come across as very flimsy.

Mr Fink very precisely nails the highly speculative aspect of these accusations. West’s pronouncements display the precariousness of these charges. West had raised the canard in his 1982 history of MI5 between 1945 and 1972, A Matter of Trust, where he wrote, very hypothetically, “As a German linguist, Ellis had been one of the MI6 officers assigned to translating the [Hitler–Von Ribbentrop] transcriptions. Might he have betrayed it to the Russians, who in turn had told their ally, Nazi Germany?” Yet in April 1983, he was quoted by the Daily Telegraph as saying: “There is only minimal, circumstantial evidence to support the contention that Ellis was ever a Soviet agent.” And I point out, that, when West’s Molehunt appeared in 1987, nary a mention of the accusations against Ellis was made. Yet, in the 2014 edition of the Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence, edited by West, the entry for Ellis includes these very speculative sentences:

The news that Ellis had partially admitted his guilt was revealed by Peter Wright, who also subscribed to the view that the KGB would have been bound to exploit his treason immediately after the war, if not sooner. Wright was convinced that because Ellis’ first brother-in-law was a known Soviet agent it was almost a certainty that he had succumbed to a KGB threat to expose him.

I find this casual citing of Wright as an authority rather disgraceful. It is certainly unscholarly.

Yet, in his ‘Author’s Notes’, Fink poses the rhetorical question: ‘Was Ellis a traitor or forgotten war hero or both? That is ultimately for the reader to decide’. Fink’s own conclusion is to deem Ellis innocent of both charges (namely working for the Nazis as well as the Soviets), which would appear to undermine the invitation he offers, and to misrepresent the probable reality by drawing an equivalence between the Nazi and Soviet allegations (the two ‘eagles’). I believe, moreover, that the question has been wrongly posed, as it presents an exaggeratedly false contrast.

I have to declare that I think much of the confusion about what posterity thinks of Ellis comes down to misuse of terminology. Mr Fink cites William Stevenson, the biographer of the BSC chief Bill Stephenson, who described Ellis as a ‘super-mole’. Yet, instead of debunking the absurdity of this categorization, Mr Fink tries to exploit it by raising the temperature and asking the rhetorical question: ‘Was Ellis a super-mole?’. I would state emphatically that Ellis was never a ‘mole’ (let alone a ‘super-mole’, which I think is really melodramatic), or a double (or triple) agent. If anything, he could have become an ‘agent-in-place’, exploited by a hostile intelligence service, but not for an extensive time. This re-assessment completely changes the tenor of the debate.

Mr Fink adopts the popular notion of ‘double agent’ to cover a multitude of roles, which I would organize as ‘vertical’ and ‘horizontal’. (For a refresher on classifications of agents, I refer readers to my piece at https://coldspur.com/double-crossing-the-soviets/.) For example, a ‘vertical’ double- (or triple-) agent would be Agent Zigzag (Eddie Chapman), who bounced between British Intelligence and the Abwehr, with no one being sure where his true allegiances were. Another example would be Hilde Beetz, who worked for the Sicherheitsdienst in trying to secure the Ciano Diaries, but then fell in love with Mussolini’s son-in-law, and tried to sabotage the project. (‘Turning’ someone ideologically is a very unlikely process, as SOE found when it tried to insert ‘turned’ German POWs into Austria and Germany. John Bevan of the London Controlling Section preferred to call the spies sent in by the Abwehr, and managed by the XX Committee and B1A, in MI5 as ‘controlled enemy agents’ rather than ‘double agents’.) The point being that characters who allow themselves to drift into double-agent status quickly abandon any political allegiances, and focus almost exclusively on their own survival, and eventually have to be discarded, incarcerated or destroyed (by either side) since they become a liability, and too dangerous. The service that believes that it originally recruited such an agent, but now questions whether he or she is betraying it, has to be very careful extricating itself from the arrangement, lest the enemy come to learn about the means by which the treachery was discovered (such as intercepted radio messages), and thus expose other relationships.

On the other hand, Mr Fink also classifies as ‘triple agents’ characters like von Petrov, who sold information to three (or four) different intelligence services – even though his prime allegiance was claimed to be to the GRU. Yet such horizontal figures should not be called such: they are really ‘traders’, not directly employed by any individual service, but seizing opportunities where they can, and thus in no way should they be described as ‘moles’ or ‘double agents’. On page 59, for instance, Mr Fink writes about Ellis and his high-stakes game of running double agents like Turkhul and von Petrov. What does this mean? That he (but not his bosses) knew they were working for the Germans as well (vertical) or that they were traders (horizontal) whose information might not be reliable or exclusive and were entitled to do what they did so long as they could get away with it? The GRU, the Abwehr and MI6 all thought they were ‘running’ von Petrov: none of them was.

As Mr Fink points out, Ellis was ideologically opposed to the Communists, and that poses for him the question: how could he have been a Soviet agent? He was also opposed to Nazism, but that didn’t stop him taking money from a tainted source, apparently. Yet ideology doesn’t come into it when you can be blackmailed, or threatened by potential harm to relatives in the Soviet Union. In my recent Round-up (https://coldspur.com/summer-2023-round-up/) I listed several MI6 officers who were exposed in this way. Ellis should probably be added to that list, as his Ukrainian wife (and her family) could have given an opportunity for the NKVD to suborn him – as they did with so many others in that situation, such as Harold Gibson. Contrary to what Ellis appeared to believe, there was no dishonour or suspicion attached to speaking Russian, or having a Russian wife. That was a characteristic considered desirable by MI6 recruiters in the inter-war period.

The main point I have been trying to make in recent coldspur posts is that, just because a spy or informer works for an intelligence service, that does not automatically make him a ‘double agent’. (This is a fiction that Adam Sisman lazily helps to perpetuate in his recent Secret Life of John le Carré.) Philby was a penetration agent whose loyalty was always to the Soviet Union. He was an officer in MI6 (by the way, it is only in the USA-FBI that ‘officers’ are called ‘agents’: in MI5 a spy employed off the books by Maxwell Knight to infiltrate, say, the CPGB, would be classified as an ‘agent’), and calling Philby a ‘double agent’ causes great confusion when comparisons are made with phenomena like the Double-Cross operation. Ellis did not ‘penetrate’ MI6 as an impostor: he was employed by the Service as a candidate with assuredly noble ambitions, but may have engaged in dubious transactions without official approval, probably succumbing to manipulation because of his money problems. My conclusion is that Pincher’s and West’s and Wright’s accusations about Ellis severely miss the point in making comparisons with Philby, and Ellis in his defence in 1965 must have been too flummoxed to respond properly.

The book could have benefitted from the production of a reliable time-line for Ellis’s activities, for I found it impossible to trace his movements. What was he doing in 1938-1939? Translating intercepted messages between Ribbentrop and Hitler? Vacationing in France? Sending reports back from Berlin to London? Masquerading as an Englishman in Belgium or the Netherlands? And if Ellis was a Soviet agent, how did the GRU/KGB contact him after the war? I regret I also found it very difficult to track the incriminating statements from the Protze files, for example. It would have been very useful if Fink could have supplied more precise references, namely serial numbers. No dates for the encounter with ‘the Russian posing as a Captain Ellis’ in Brussels (not Paris!) are provided by the archive. I need to inspect the exact context in which ‘Captain Ellis’ was referred to, and to examine closely Philby’s documented but bizarre claim to be ignorant of who ‘Ellis’ was. (It appears that Gwyer of MI5 presented only a summary of Protze’s testimony to Philby, not the original translation.) I have since downloaded those files (on Protze, Wehr-Bei, etc.) that have already been digitized, and I have also commissioned photographs of the von Petrov archive.

Mr Fink has performed some extremely important research, looking into many original sources. He provides an excellent Bibliography. Yet he occasionally nods, citing secondary references (including me) rather than the originals. For instance, he quotes Wright (of all people!) on Krivitsky. Yet Krivitsky, during his interrogation by MI5, never stated that von Petrov had a source in British intelligence, contrary to what Pincher and Wright claimed. Krivitsky said that he checked von Petrov’s reports, discovered that they had probably been translated from articles in the Times written by ‘Augur’, and when von Petrov was challenged, his reputation fell. I note also that Anthony Cavendish, in Inside Intelligence, wrote that George Young, who was responsible for dissolving the Sicherheitsdienst after the war, had recalled that ‘the OKH (Army High Command) pre-war files on the United Kingdom largely contained cuttings from the News of the World.’ Thus do intelligence-gatherers weave their magic, trying to sustain their existence and to enhance their reputation.

I have since investigated, and I have learned that ‘Augur’ was in fact Vladimir Poliakoff (1864-1956). Indeed, a Poliakoff brother is mentioned as a possible source in Appendix 10 of KV 2/2468, p 40 – one of the files pertaining to Helmuth Wehr-Bei, who worked for Protze. A few other errors appear. Fink describes Roger Hollis as ‘Philby’s superior’ (p 130). His coverage of Philby’s movements in 1947 is inaccurate. He quotes without correction Montgomery Hyde’s claim that Ellis was recruited by ‘SIS’s Colin Gubbins’ to purge British intelligence files (p 154), but Gubbins never worked for SIS. On page 136 Fink records that Philby resigned from MI6 in July 1951: on page 148 he states that he was sacked ‘by a reluctant MI6’ in 1955.

In any event, Ellis was assuredly not entirely innocent. Working from Fink’s material, I compiled a list of errors that Ellis probably made:

  1. Trusting his brother-in-law and von Petrov (poor tradecraft)
  2. Handing over secret information (the MI6 ‘battle plan’) without authority (although it would probably have been denied)
  3. Not considering implications of exposing himself to the Abwehr and the GRU
  4. Not cutting off contacts with von Petrov once his relationships were established (decontamination)
  5. Handing over details of the Ribbentrop telephone interceptions (though the proof of this activity is still debatable)
  6. Getting into money problems (which may not have involved his wife’s medical expenses, contrary to what he claimed)
  7. Pocketing money that he was given, and not revealing it
  8. Drawing Stalin’s attention by criticizing the Soviet Union
  9. Deleting his first marriage from his ‘Who’s Who’ entry
  10. Wrongly describing son Olik as by Barbara, second wife
  11. Lying about his fiancées [sic] back in England
  12. Trying to contact Philby on his return to the UK, despite instructions not to do so

Maybe there were others: in any case, this is not the behaviour of a man with no conscience. But it does suggest someone who lacked the guile and suspiciousness to be a successful agent-handler. One wonders, therefore, about his effectiveness as a developer of the OSS’s methods in such areas: his deep interest in the workings of the League of Nations is not suggestive of the type of mind that is attuned to the world of intelligence and counter-intelligence. Mr Fink’s book shows that he was something of an idealist, and he should have been given some careful tuition and guidance before being thrown into the dangerous world of deception, subterfuge and disinformation.

What is the source of the ‘confession’? This seems to me to be crucial. Without any documentation, how much are we to believe? Apart from the major divulgences from Martin and Wright, Nigel West told me that it was also recounted to him by Christopher Philpotts, the chief security officer, in the presence of Michael Wrigley, another MI6 officer, as if it had been an in-house briefing. He then later indicated that the subject came up in conversation at a casual lunch between the three, well after Philpotts had retired. What was Wrigley doing there? Was Philpotts in contravention of the Official Secrets Act? Were the claims malevolent, as part of the anti-Philby ‘Hollis as mole’ movement? Did it suit MI6 to have serious slurs thrown on Ellis’s reputation? Or were the stories accurate, but blown out of proportion by West and Pincher?

This incident seems remarkable to me in the way that it eerily echoes what transpired at the Spycatcher trial in Melbourne in 1985-86. Malcom Turnbull, defending Peter Wright, challenged the British Government in the shape of Sir Robert Armstrong over its failure to prosecute Arthur Martin, who provided Nigel West with information for his book on MI5, A Mattter of Trust, as well as Wright himself, who provided Chapman Pincher with his insider stories for Their Trade is Treachery and Too Secret Too Long. Turnbull also persisted in asking why the Government chose not to try to prevent publication of the two books. If the facts of Ellis’s ‘confession’, which may have been extracted under pressure, are true, his admissions and protestations seem vaguely convincing: maybe there is no smoke without fire. Yet what I think is scandalous is that MI6 very selectively released information on Ellis to writers – none of them professional historians – whereupon the latter delivered conclusions, harmful to Ellis’s reputation, based on material that cannot be inspected, verified or contested by anyone else.

Richard V. Hall is one who – correctly, in my opinion – draws parallels between the leakage of information concerning Hollis, and that about Ellis. It was as if the authorities failed to prosecute West and Pincher because it was convenient to cast slurs about Hollis’s loyalty as a method of covering up the deficiencies and oversights of both MI5 and MI6 in dealing with Soviet penetration agents, from Fuchs to Blake and Philby. Neither Hollis nor Ellis was around to defend himself. Yet Mr Justice Powell explicitly rejected Turnbull’s assertion that there had been a conspiracy to achieve that goal, while not acknowledging that there could have been any other reason, except for laziness or incompetence in the sluggishness of Sir Robert Armstrong and his office. What is also remarkable (as Mr Fink carefully explains) is the fact that both White and Oldfield were convinced of Ellis’s overall integrity, but did not have the guts to step in and quash the allegations. As I have written before, it suited the devious White to have indeterminable questions hanging over Hollis as a way of distracting the world from his own failures (Fuchs, Blunt, etc.), and Ellis may have fallen into the same mould. Both gentlemen were dead, and could not defend themselves.

In summary, if we scale back the ‘super-mole’ allegations, and concentrate on the indiscretions in Germany in 1939, we have a much simpler case to consider. Ellis was obviously not in that category – not a Philby – but, at the same time, I don’t think he can be vindicated and rehabilitated in the confident manner in which Fink concludes his analysis. I would adjust my assessment of him as a ‘scoundrel’ to perhaps a ‘fool’, or, maybe more appropriately, an intelligent and well-intentioned man who was naive in many respects, and did several foolish things.

Devotees of possible subversion of MI5 and MI6 should read this book, but not get distracted by the hyperbole and rhetoric, which represent (to me, at any rate) a rather regrettable variety of disinformation. Do read the excellent Endnotes carefully, and follow up where you can. And we should be thankful that, owing to the hopes of Mr Fink’s publisher for a success of Macintyresque proportions, The Eagle in the Mirror did actually reach the bookstalls. Otherwise it would have been difficult for any of us intelligence mavens to have enjoyed the benefits of Mr Fink’s industry. I suppose that is the price we have to pay for bringing fresh research into the open, and I trust that coldspur will be indulged for a more methodical analysis and refinement of Mr Fink’s excellent hard work in a way that enhances rather than impairs his commercial success.

Follow the Pipelines by Charlotte Dennett

‘Follow the Pipelines’

Charlotte Dennett is an American investigative journalist who has been on a mission to discover whether any foul play was involved in the death of her father in an aircraft accident in Ethiopia on March 24, 1947, when she was only six weeks old. I was drawn to Dennett’s story because a search that I initiated indicated that she suspected that Kim Philby might have been responsible for arranging the sabotage that brought down the plane. Charlotte’s father, Daniel, was working at the time for the Central Intelligence Group – the precursor to the CIA – and the plane was carrying 2000 pounds of highly secret radio equipment to Addis Ababa. As unlikely as it seemed to me that Philby would have been involved in such violent exercises just after he had been sent out to Turkey, in January 1947, I thought I ought to check out her story.

Charlotte’s brother, Daniel C. Dennett III, may be a better-known name than Charlotte. He is an eminent cognitive scientist and philosopher, famous for his forthright atheism. (A review of his autobiography, I’ve Been Thinking, by Julian Baggini, combined with an interview, appears in the November issue of Prospect, and a deeper review, by Nigel Warburton, appears in the Times Literary Supplement of October 20.) He was invited to write a Foreword for Follow the Pipelines where he rather bewilderingly spends most of its three-page text speculating whether Kim Philby was in fact a ‘triple agent’ when he turned up in Moscow in 1963. (That inevitable confusion over ‘double agents’ again.) Dennett implies that MI6 knew that Kim was always loyal to the British cause, and that he could thus safely be despatched to impart disinformation to his KGB handlers. Dennett even provides an imaginary speech of one-hundred and twenty words that Philby’s superior officers gave to him some time after they interrogated him in 1951, and instructed him to continue giving information to Moscow.

Daniel Dennett

This is such obvious nonsense that I am amazed that Dennett was allowed to get away with it. Baggini quotes from Dennett’s book, where the author states that it is the story of ‘how I became such a good thinker’. Not a modest man, clearly. But we should be wary of philosophers like Dennett and the late Derek Parfit telling us what to do. They are not the most practical of people, their expertise is not automatically transferrable to other fields, and, like economists, they disagree wholeheartedly amongst themselves, as Warburton shows. (Apparently, Dennett is a ‘compatibilist’, like his hero, David Hume, but ‘compatibilist’ is not a word that my Chambers Dictionary recognizes.) Warburton also reports that Dennett ‘adored’ his father, which sounds a little precocious for a boy who was just five years old at the time of the sad event. Would Charlotte’s analysis turn out to be any more sober, I wondered?

When Ms. Dennett sticks to writing about the machinations of oil companies, and their manipulation of governments in their attempts to construct pipelines that will take the petroleum to ports in the Mediterranean for their Western customers, she writes very well. She includes several highly useful and well-designed maps that display the proposed routes, and the sometimes hostile and barren territories that they had to cross over, in the sixty-five years since the end of World War II. Despite deploying that irritating technique of jumping around chronologically, as if the reader would be excited and fascinated by the choppy experience the author had in discovering the facts and rumours surrounding her father’s sad demise, she keeps a firm grip on the main outlines of the story concerning the competition for oil revenues in the Middle East.

But I do not want to discuss or analyze that dominant story in this review. It is the possible linkage between Philby and the unexplained plane crash that absorbs me. How did Dennett arrive at Philby? The author’s quest had started in a classically novelettish way – by inspecting a trunk in the attic after her mother died, and finding letters and papers. She interviewed an old comrade of her father’s, tried to gain the release of documents from the US National Archives, read many contemporary news stories, and studied the history of the region and the search for oil. She learned from some sources that the plane crash was probably due to sabotage. She came to the conclusion that it was not just the Russians who were butting heads with the Americans in 1946 and 1947 in the region: French and British colonial interests were clashing with the American plans for expansion and oil exploitation as well. And she identified Kim Philby as one of the ‘purported enemies’ of her father at the time of the fatal flight.

I believe that Dennett’s whole thesis is greatly undermined by the circumstances of her father’s death. She explains that a more important person, the US military attaché in Saudi Arabia, Colonel McNown, was scheduled to fly on the ill-starred flight, and that Dennett at the last minute gained the seat reserved for McNown, as the latter deplaned in Jidda, thus aborting his planned trip to Eritrea and Ethiopia. If indeed an assassination attempt was being planned with some meticulousness, and Dennett had been the real target, the fortuitous event of McNown’s change of itinerary does not make sense. Be that as it may, Charlotte Dennett resolutely pursues her prey.

The CIA had refused to hand over any documents from the period January 1 to March 31, so Charlotte delved around herself. Yet her account of Philby’s status and movements is a little suspect. She introduces her target by stating (p 121) that ‘he had become an acute embarrassment to both the British and the Americans for having moled his way into the highest levels of British intelligence on behalf of the Soviets, and in the process had sent many Western operatives to their deaths.’ That is a heavy brew for the end of 1946: Philby was indeed under deep suspicion at that time, and his posting to Istanbul could be interpreted to indicate that MI6 realized that such a questionable officer had to be removed from the leadership of Section IX, Soviet counter-intelligence.

Yet the implication that Philby’s treachery was broadly accepted at that time (‘an acute embarrassment’) is very much overstated, and the suggestion that he had sent ‘many operatives to their deaths’ premature. Moreover, it directly contradicts what her brother asserts about the awareness of Philby’s guilt by his bosses! I imagine that Dennett is referring primarily to Operation VALUABLE, whereby Philby may have betrayed plans for infiltrating guerrillas into Albania, but that did not occur until October 1949. (According to Stephen Dorril, SOE was fomenting unrest in Albania in 1946, but Philby was not involved then.) If Dennett was thinking of murkier deeds betraying agents in Austria, that might have occurred in 1946, but the evidence for that is hazy, and Dennett does not appear to be familiar with any details. Any such betrayal, moreover, did not involve ‘sending operatives to their deaths’.

It is true that Philby had been appointed, in the autumn of 1946, chief of counter-intelligence in Istanbul – not for the whole of the Middle East, as Dennett claims, but with a much more focussed responsibility, according to most sources, namely trying to determine the activities of Soviet spies in Turkey. He had been sent out there (according to E. H. Cookridge) in February 1947. In The Third Man, Cookridge emphasized that Philby had been asked to visit Arab states in an effort to discover how they were responding to Soviet approaches, and Kim’s father was viewed as a useful intermediary in that role. But that visit did not leave much time or opportunity for Philby to carry out devious schemes before the death of Dennett’s father in March. The author speculates on how much Philby would have revealed to the Soviets – and the British – about her father’s activities in the region. She claims that Philby spent most of January 1947 visiting his father in Saudi Arabia, and that the two of them flew to the British military base in Taif, above Jeddah, where Kim spent thirty-six hours with the head of the military mission before ‘returning’ to Istanbul. On March 10, Dennett likewise visited Taif, but the significance of that coincidence is not explored.

I wish I had a good handle on Philby’s movements in January 1947. Anthony Cave-Brown (in Treason in the Blood) writes that Philby left London for Istanbul ‘in January 1947’, travelling via Cairo. He then apparently went on to Jiddah, and then Riyadh, where he spent ‘five nights and six days’, before spending a couple of days in Taif. “Then,” Cave-Brown writes, “Kim left for Istanbul, where he formally took up his position in the middle of January.” (He later corrects that assertion to state that Philby arrived in Istanbul as station commander on January 26.) Cave-Brown’s sources are not specified clearly, but he may have been using the St. John Philby papers at St. Antony’s College, and a biography of him by Elizabeth Monroe, Philby of Arabia.

Yet I was under the impression (thanks to Jesse Fink) that, on January 24, 1947, Philby was still in London, writing to Joan Paine of MI5 about the status of the German Sicherheitsdienst officer Richard Protze, who had provided testimony in the Charles Ellis case. That did not square up with a Philby tour of the Middle East before ‘returning to Istanbul’. So I returned to Protze’s files (in this case, KV 2/1741) and concluded that, while the letter from MI6 to Paine followed up a signed letter from Philby in November, this one was not from him. The office location was the same, but the name of the author had been redacted, and, unlike the circumstances of the preceding November 1946 letter, there was no handwritten annotation to request that the letter be copied to the ‘PHILBY’ file. He must have left London by then. I believe that Mr Fink agrees with my assessment.

Philby’s presence in the area, however, did not alone signify his culpability. What other evidence was there? Philby was entirely a suspect by association: Dennett claims that his name ‘had come up’ in connection with the death of Sikorsky in a plane-crash off Gibraltar in July 1943, since he was head of the Iberian section of MI6, and he had visited Spain two months beforehand. (While quoting Cave-Brown liberally, she somehow chooses to overlook his statement that the crash was caused by a lunch bag left behind by a workman that broke loose and interfered with the controls.) Philby had been an educator at SOE: therefore he must have been familiar with explosives. (!) He had married a Jew, so he would have developed Zionist sympathies. (Most of the Communists in London, including Litzy, were more focused on installing Communism in their homelands than dealing with the intricacies of Zionism.) And Dennett’s rhetorical questions then reach new heights: might the interests of Philby’s dual masters (the British and the Soviets) converged? “Might they have arranged, through Philby, to have the Irgun Zvai Le’Umi or Greek communists to do their dirty work?”, she asks.

It was at this stage that my patience began to run out. Yet Dennett was not finished. She suggests that Philby had been keeping an eye on events in the Levant from his office in London. She cites a report that he sent to the Foreign Office on July 9, 1946, warning of an imminent ‘Irgun plot to attack British diplomatic personnel and facilities in Beirut’, a notice that apparently prompted the British [Foreign Office? It is not clear] to send to Lebanon two of the country’s highest intelligence officers in Palestine – an unsourced claim. “Some of Philby’s chroniclers [unidentified]”, she writes, “have interpreted this as a ploy by Philby’s Soviet handlers to divert senior British Intelligence officers away from Palestine to Lebanon at the very time when the Irgun’s plot to bomb the British King David Hotel in Jerusalem was about to happen”. (The latter event did take place on July 22.) That sounds to me a rather clumsy way of implicating Philby in nefarious behaviour, if it were true. Yet Dennett goes on to state that bombing of the British and American Embassies in Beirut did in fact occur on August 9. So what is your point, madam? She explains it all as a ruse by Philby to stay in good stead with his British handlers, as they might have otherwise suspected that he was the ‘double agent’ that he in fact was. But hadn’t she earlier written that they knew he was a mole already?

I had to read this report by Philby. Palestine, after all, was a British mandate, and, as such, MI5 was responsible for its security, through its SIME office in Cairo, not MI6. The officer Anthony Cavendish had been posted there in the summer of 1946, and was working for B Division of SIME, under Maurice Oldfield’s leadership, trying to counter the activities of the illegal organizations working against the British in Palestine. So how could Philby have been meddling in MI5’s business? Dennett cites Calder Walton’s Empire of Secrets, p 103, as her source, so I turned to it. In fact, Walton interprets the warning as being an inaccurate pointer to the Beirut bombing, but waffles about Philby’s motivations. Irrespective of other considerations, Philby would not have done anything so reckless without precise directives from Moscow, whose policy towards Palestine, in Walton’s words, ‘had not yet crystallized’. Moreover, Walton gets the reference wrong. He cites it as serial 108b in KV 4/36, and gives it a date of July 9, 1945 (!). I determined that the file is actually KV 5/36, and it is accurately identified as such by Bruce Hoffman in his book Anonymous Soldiers.

I rapidly commissioned photographs of KV 5/36 from London. Philby’s contribution turns out to be a quite unremarkable entry. On July 9, 1946, he indeed passed on intelligence received from ‘a usually reliable source’ indicating that several members of the Irgun Zvai Leumi (the most violent of the three Jewish underground organizations) had arrived in Beirut, with a supposed mission of sabotaging His Majesty’s Legation building. This letter was sent to the Foreign Office, the Colonial Office, and MI5, and was part of Philby’s role as the liaison with MI5. It was one of the permanent irritations for British intelligence that, while MI5 and MI6 were organized on geographical lines (MI5 handling the Empire, MI6 foreign territories), agents working for their enemies, e.g. the NKVD, the Abwehr, and Irgun, would obstinately not respect  these artificial boundaries, but cross them, and make surveillance more difficult. Intelligence-sharing between MI5 and MI6 was thus absolutely critical.

The SIME station in Jerusalem was duly informed of the warning, and deeper insights were requested of it. On July 21, Oldfield and Isham  – actually Sir Gyles Isham, the Defence Security Officer, to whom Cavendish reported administratively – responded  by cable that they could not shed any light on the matter, as they were not in possession of any relevant intelligence. The very next day, the deadly blast at the King David Hotel occurred. It does not sound as if SIME was distracted by the Lebanon threat, but that the message was passed on too sluggishly, and that Oldfield and Isham were not on top of things to the extent that they later claimed. Irgun later admitted that the loss of life (British and Jewish) had hurt their cause: an attempt to find signs of Soviet manipulation behind the scenes does not convince at all.

Thus Dennettt suggests a scenario of absurd proportions. Philby, who had no field experience, and no knowledge of sabotage exercises or materials, as a prelude to his posting in Istanbul to focus on the Soviets, is sent on a semi-private mission to visit his anti-Semitic father and gain intelligence from the Saudis. During this short visit, he manages, despite the fact that Palestine is MI5’s territory, not MI6’s, to make contact, unnoticed by SIME, with a Jewish underground organization in order to arrange the assassination of an American who was not even scheduled to be on the plane that crashed two months later on a flight from Saudi Arabia to Ethiopia. Moreover, he draws attention to himself by passing on a legitimate warning of a terrorist attack that is not taken seriously enough. If his name had ever been associated with the project, it would have caused a massive stink with the Americans, the British, the Saudis, and the Soviets, and his career in Turkey would have been over.

Charlotte Dennett

Charlotte Dennett is understandably upset about the mystery that surrounds the death of her father, and she is probably justified in believing that information is being withheld from her. Her practice of selectively plucking possibly incriminating evidence of Philby’s culpability from her published sources is, however, simply irresponsible. To allocate blame to Kim Philby may be cathartic, but is, in my view, quite absurd. The man was odious, and thus his reputation encourages undisciplined writers to ascribe all manner of evils to him. As an example, Anthony Cavendish, referred to earlier, was quick, when Philby absconded, to blame him for the miserable failure of the project to insert exiled Latvians behind the lines in 1949-1950 (Operation JUNGLE), even though Philby had been in Washington at the time. Moreover, it may suit those who know more to have the cloud of suspicion hang over him. It reminds me again of Dick White, happy to have unending and irresolvable investigations into the deceased Roger Hollis as a Soviet mole being carried on, as the process distracted attention from his own obvious failings. Some of the research in this highly-flawed book is admirable, but its dominant thesis is pure self-delusion and rhetoric. In that respect, another work in the infamous ‘Kim &’ series (see https://coldspur.com/2021-year-end-roundup/ ): Kim and the Dybbukim.

Agents of Influence by Mark Hollingsworth

‘Agents of Influence’

Between the 1930s and the 1960s, a hierarchy of Communist sympathizers existed. First were the signed-up members of the Communist Party itself, unashamed of their allegiance, openly declaring their commitment to the Leninist-Stalinist cause, such as Dave Springhall. Next were the fellow-travellers, those who did not go so far as to join the Party, but openly expressed their sympathies for the movement, such as The Red Dean, Canon Hewlett Johnson, or the lawyer Denis Pritt – the classical ‘useful idiot’. More shady were the Comintern or NKVD agents, resident legally, perhaps by marriage, acting as couriers and recruiters, and sometimes propagandists, such as Edith Tudor-Hart and Peter Smolka. Then there were the Illegals, probably bearing a false identity that allowed them to maintain residence in the UK for a while, and act as recruiters for Moscow, or as clandestine messengers, such as Arnold Deutsch. Next were the notorious native penetration agents, disguising their commitments, and exploiting their background to gain entry into the corridors of power, and betray secrets to their Soviet masters, such as Donald Maclean and Kim Philby. But perhaps equally as dangerous were the agents of influence, acting to support the Communist revolution, but being careful to perform their task with subterfuge and subtlety, never openly indicating their allegiance, and ensuring that they were never contaminated by any hint of espionage. The best example was Victor Rothschild, who recommended that MI5 hire Anthony Blunt.

I titled Chapter 6 of Misdefending the Realm ‘Agents of Influence’, and I used it to highlight the pernicious effects that the actions of Isaiah Berlin and Victor Rothschild had on the ability of MI5 to defend the realm, in that, between them, they made Marx respectable and minimized the dangers of academic communists, thus encouraging counter-intelligence officers to lower their resistance. For those few coldspur readers who may not have a copy of the book readily at hand, I reproduce here a key paragraph:

The subject of ‘agents of influence’ has not received the attention it deserves, yet some commentators assert that such persons could be even more dangerous than ‘penetration agents’, spies who handed over documents. While spies provided the enemy with information that might help with policy or with negotiations (such as Soviet preparation for the Yalta conference), agents of influence could directly manipulate policy so that such manoeuvres were no longer necessary. Such agents worked in a twilight world: not members of the Communist Party, but identified by the Soviets as allies with an ability to influence domestic policy. (Such figures were frequently named in messages exchanged between the rezidentura and Moscow, as the VENONA decrypts show. Not all persons identified were agents of influence, but the cryptonyms of many who must have performed damage have still not been assigned to their real counterparts.) These agents were careful never to be engaged in the act of passing physical information to a Soviet handler, but might consort with Soviet diplomats in their official roles.

One important aspect of the term is that it refers to ‘agents’, suggesting that the hostile power has some sort of relationship with them, if not direct recruitment, at least a familiarity with them, and maybe some control over their behaviour (in the case of Berlin, for instance, who still had relatives in the Soviet Union). The literature has not been served well in this regard: the Wikipedia entry is a mess, as its ‘talk’ section confirms, and there is a tendency to include conventional spies (such as Alger Hiss) in this category. Thus my interest was provoked, a few months ago, when I learned that a book titled Agents of Influence had been published.

Mark Hollingsworth

It is written by Mark Hollingsworth, described as ‘a journalist and historian’ on the flyleaf. Hollingsworth is further described as ‘author of ten books, notably Londongrad: From Russia with Cash, Saudi Babylon, an acclaimed study of MI5 and a biography of Mark Thatcher’. That uncertain punctuation is misleading. Is the ‘acclaimed study of MI5’ in apposition to Saudi Babylon, further describing it, or is it a separate volume? Presumably the latter, but if so, and if it has been ‘acclaimed’, surely the title merits being given? An inspection of Hollingsworth’s website indicates that no such book is listed, and it took a trawl of amazon to discover that it must refer to a 1999 volume titled Defending the Realm: MI5 and the Shayler Affair. Yet I then read in a frontispiece to the book under review that Hollingsworth had co-authored a book with Nick Fielding bearing that same initial part of the title, but subtitled ‘MI5 and the War on Terrorism’. So I do not know where the acclaim came from, and I have no idea what is going on. Not a good start if the author himself wants to conceal the existence of one his major works, or to cast some mystery over its title.

The book does not have a very inspiring beginning. The first chapter (‘The Covert Art of War’) plods through all the familiar territory of the evolution of Soviet intelligence since the Revolution, and then informs us that, on March 13, 1954 ‘the KGB was born.’ That led me to believe that this was going to be a book about the KGB era. And then Hollingsworth stumbles as he tries to get into his stride in Chapter 2: ‘Agents of Influence’. He introduces the person of Peter Smolka via a discussion on Graham Greene’s screenplay for The Third Man, on which Smolka had reputedly advised the author on the plot-line, as well as showing him the sewers in the communist sector of Vienna, and writes:

But what nobody knew at the time was that Smolka was in fact an NKVD agent of influence and had been secretly working for the Soviet Union since late 1939, after being recruited by the notorious double agent Kim Philby.

I find so much to dispute in this sentence that I could probably dedicate a whole coldspur bulletin to it – and shall probably do so, one day. The notion that Philby had recruited Smolka (or Smollett, to which he had changed his name after British naturalization) was one that Philby himself promoted, but it is far more likely that Smolka had become a servant (with the cryptonym ABO) of the NKVD much earlier, and Borovik’s book subtly suggests this. Nevertheless, Philby got into trouble with Gorsky, his NKVD handler, for approaching Smolka without authority. (In that case, one might ask, why was Smolka given the cryptonym ABO by Moscow Centre?) Smolka was thus as much an ‘agent of influence’ as was Philby a ‘double agent’. He was surely sent to the UK to penetrate British institutions, and ended up exerting influence, since he was hired by the Ministry of Information to help with propaganda efforts, and thus abetted the cause of the Soviet Union quite dramatically. If conventional agents wielded no ‘influence’ at all, they would not be of much use, but to categorize every agent who assists with propaganda or disinformation as an ‘agent of influence’ diminishes the whole debate.

Peter Smollett (Smolka)

Did ‘nobody’ know of Smolka’s loyalties at the time? I find it hard to believe. When Smolka arrived in the United Kingdom in 1931, he had red flags over him from a police report in France. He was known to be a communist, he travelled at least once to the Soviet Union and wrote an unpleasant book extolling its merits, and yet he was granted naturalization, was recruited by the Ministry of Information to head its Russian Section, and even given an O.B.E. Moreover, he had been in close contact with Philby since 1934. Hollingsworth mentions that Litzi Friedman was a close friend of Smolka’s, but does not reveal that his wife, Lotte, had been Litzi’s closest school-friend. Hollingsworth also claims that Smolka had returned to Vienna, and that he, Litzy and Kim, had helped smuggle Austrian socialists through the sewers. Yet he does not provide a source for this anecdote: I suspect it may come from Smolka’s godson, Peter Foges. Moreover, in a feeble interrogation by the inept Arthur Martin in 1961, Smolka claimed that he was not aware that Kim had married Litzi until he met him in the autumn of 1934.

In this instance (and probably others), Smolka was almost certainly lying. His story has not been fully told, and a detailed inspection of his extensive archival material (released in 2015) reveals some very troubling facts. I have started to inspect Smolka’s embarkation and disembarkation records in an effort to define his movements in the nineteen-thirties, and have come across much that is startling, and very provocative, on which I shall report in due course. E. H. Cookridge, who was in Vienna at the time, does not mention Smolka in The Third Man. Information on Smolka supplied by such as Boris Volodarsky is very confusing. Yet other snippets, including Smolka’s co-operation with Graham Greene on the script of The Third Man (the movie, not directly related to Cookridge’s book) suggest that some of Smolka’s activities in the mid-thirties must have been connived at, and concealed, by MI5 and MI6. Purvis and Hulbert, in The Spy Who Knew Everyone, have provided the best coverage of Smolka that I have seen so far, but they are far too trusting of Kim Philby’s testimony, and ignore some important markers in Smolka’s files.

I do not propose to analyze the rest of the book in any detail. Hollingsworth is really writing an account of Soviet subversion and propaganda. While he has many interesting anecdotes to impart, I merely offer the flavour of his material, by reproducing an important paragraph:

The term ‘agent of influence’, a literal translation of the Russian term ‘agent Villanova’, is both elastic and multifaceted. Many such agents are not official spies in the conventional sense – that is hired to complete a mission assigned by a KGB case officer. Some are not even aware that the Soviet diplomat they are meeting is in fact an intelligence officer. Only a few become registered agents. Instead the relationship is informal and covers a broad spectrum of social and professional relationships – from casual lunch partners to close personal friendships. Usually they are journalists, politicians, civil servants, bankers, lobbyists, and, in more recent years IT and social media specialists. Their mission is simple – to secretly exert influence, spread disinformation and destabilize the enemies of Russia.

I think Hollingsworth’s agenda is clear.

After describing the antics of Victor Louis, another famous ‘agent of influence’, Hollingsworth then deviates wildly off the rails, spending chapters on surveillance in Moscow, and honey-traps: as his blurbs from such as Edward Lucas and Christopher Steele testify, his story is simply another account of Soviet intelligence operations against the West. Thus he spends many pages relating the processes of inveigling victims such as Jeremy Wolfenden and Anthony Courtney, and includes the notorious paid stooge Robert Maxwell in his gallery of ‘agents of influence’. Maxwell even appears in a photograph with his crony Leonid Brezhnev, and is boldly described as a Soviet agent. (Nothing subtle or discreet about that.) Hollingsworth does, however, provide a useful Appendix of KGB Forgeries, but the book has drifted far from the subject by then.

One last aspect I shall comment on. Edward Lucas says that Hollingsworth’s history of active measures is ‘deeply researched’. Hollingsworth describes himself as an historian, but it is clear that most of the work he undertook was having conversations with various intelligence personnel, ‘many of whom were anxious to remain anonymous’. In his Acknowledgements, however, he gives credit to ‘George Nixon, my brilliant researcher, who did a fantastic and tireless job in tracking down obscure documents from archives, compiling profiles of individuals and tracing sources. His Russian language skills were also useful’. Indeed: I can well imagine. But how did Hollingsworth assess Nixon’s ability to distinguish between facts, lies and disinformation, and to handle the inevitable contradictions that arise from intelligence archives? Serious historians work at the coalface themselves, and perform their own interpretations.

Spies by Calder Walton

‘Spies’

I have to admit that I approached Calder Walton’s panoramic study of the intelligence wars between ‘East’ and ‘West’ with a good measure of diffidence. The first reason was the author himself, who has studiously ignored me on a couple of occasions, and whom I have been tempted to mock gently (see my December 2021 Round-up at https://coldspur.com/2021-year-end-roundup/ ). I had been encouraged to contact him because of a project on which he had reputedly embarked – the Cambridge History of Espionage and Intelligence – of which he is stated to be General Editor, alongside his long-time mentor, Christopher Andrew. The Belfer School at the Harvard Kennedy Center informs us that the publication of this three-volume work will appear in 2022 [sic]. I can only assume that the crackerjack international team of ‘historians and ex-intelligence practitioners’ was held up by the discovery of the coldspur trove, which necessitated a careful revision of many of the work’s chapters.

The second reason is that I find it difficult to get excited about fresh encyclopedic coverage of broad subjects such as this. A new comprehensive study surely needs a major set of revelations from new archival material – especially from foreign sources – or a dramatically new philosophical approach, in order to justify the quantity of analysis offered. Walton makes some claims, mainly about newly released Russian archives (which I shall investigate more deeply later), but it is hard to conclude that they contribute to any major new findings. It seemed to me that ninety per cent of what Walton wrote here was familiar, even if I could not unerringly identify the source on every occasion. Yet, if the reader has digested Christopher Andrew’s KGB, MacDonald Hastings Secret Wars, Phillip Knightley’s Second Oldest Profession, David Dallin’s Soviet Espionage, Stephen Dorril’s MI6, John Haynes’s Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, any number of books on the Cambridge Five, and a few other popular titles, I suspect that most of what Walton lays out will be familiar.

In many respects, it is a very enjoyable read. Walton romps through the decades in a sprightly fashion, and presents many examples to explain how intelligence wars developed over a hundred years, and to reinforce his primary message of the importance of continual investment in espionage and counter-espionage to be maintained by the West in the face of the threats from the East, which now, of course, includes China. That is perhaps not a surprising message, and thus I looked for fresh insights as to exactly what our intelligence services should be doing differently. But to whom is the book targeted? It appears to be the only marginally-informed general reader, and it is not clear how his or her knowledge will be able to influence strategy. For instance, at one point (page 90), he writes: “The most important intelligence body during World War II was one that you have probably never heard of, the London Controlling Section.” That sounds a little condescending, and if his target reader is going to be that ill-informed, I do not see how he or she will appreciate or understand the wealth of arcane sources cited in the Endnotes, which include a number of books and archival material in Russian.

Walton also has a rather irritating practice of preening over his exclusive access to secret archives, and his one-on-one interviews with important intelligence personnel, British, American and Russian. He proudly reminds us of his privileged access, under the patronage of Christopher Andrew, to MI5 files when he contributed to Andrew’s authorized history, and he frequently quotes conversations he has had with presumably influential officers on both sides of the East/West divide. Whether he should have trusted what those persons told him is another story. Writers should always be on their guard when they are being flattered by bigwigs who may view their contacts as useful mediums by which to transmit a message: one thinks inevitably of Peter Wright and Chapman Pincher. “GCHQ insiders confidently told me . . .” is one such example (p 250). Others include: “SOE’s official historian, M. R. D. Foot, once told me. . . .” ( p 84); “As the then director of US National Intelligence, James Clapper, told me. . . .” (p 509); “A former MI6 senior officer, on the condition of anonymity, said. . . .” (p 414); “According to former Soviet intelligence officers. . . .” (p 333).

Calder Walton

All of which brings me round to methodology. Walton describes his methodology in the following terms: “synthesize contemporary records and newspapers, private papers, memoirs, and oral interviews”. But that is not a methodology, it is a process crying out for some discipline. Moreover, missing from those sources is archival material, the recently released Russian variety of which he is eager to quote, although submerged in so much vagueness that it is difficult to verify. One of Walton’s somewhat obtuse techniques is to present a paragraph that contains multiple assertions, and then affix an Endnote number at the end. (This is a technique he tried to defend in his first book, Empire of Secrets.) When one looks up the reference, one may encounter multiple sources, and it is impossible to associate any of them with any single feature of his text. And I am not sure that all these are trustworthy. For instance, a typically controversial passage runs as follows:

Within the Kremlin today, Soviet agents from early in the Cold War, like Fuchs and the five Cambridge Spies, occupy pride of place in the annals of foreign intelligence. The SVR showered them in hagiographical terms on its centenary in 2021. The reality is different. Contrary to the impression given by the SVR, these agents conducted their hugely damaging espionage for Moscow at times despite, rather than because of, the KGB and Stalin. The damage they inflicted on British and American national security was the result of their motivation and skill as spies, not the professionalism and methods of the KGB, which at times badly let them down. Furthermore, contrary to what the SVR portrays today, British intelligence came close to catching all of them.

This paragraph contains such a mixture of provocative assertions and unlikely claims that I was very eager to read what sources it was based on. ‘Catching’ spies, especially those who were native subjects or who had been granted naturalization, was a problematic concept in the administration of British democracy, with confessions normally required (c.f. Fuchs and Blake), and the publicity of criminal trials avoided. Thus I imagined that the statement about the spies’ proximal capture must surely have come from some previously unreleased British source. The relevant Endnote runs, however, as follows:

Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki, Rossiyskoy Federatsii 100 let, p. 98, and chaps. 7 [pp 89-93], 13 [pp. 146-159]; Primakov, Ocherki ob Istorii Vneshney Razvedki, vol 3. 20-60; Dolgopolov, Kim Filbi, p. 17.

Now, as you rush to your local library to check out these works, I shall point out that I do have a copy of Dolgopolov’s biography of Philby, and page 17 contains nothing of relevance to these matters. I do not believe that the bland reference to forty pages of another text of a probably propagandist nature, without any discrimination or analysis, constitutes serious scholarship. If Walton had focused in his book on a detailed analysis of such new writing from Russia, he might have made a significant new contribution to his area of study, but I can only stand in amazement at such haughtiness. (In another donnish aside, in Chapter 17, Note 55, he writes: “This is disputed, of course, in commentaries such as Shebarshin, Ruka Moskvy, pp. 264-66.” ‘Of course’! How could I have overlooked them?)

Thus Walton wraps his manuscript in a series of references to obscure and almost impossibly unverifiable sources. He even has the effrontery to suggest that some of these archives were opened for his unique benefit. (“Russian archives, uncovered for this book, suggest that the FBI’s suspicions about Nambiar were correct.” p 371). Yet it is never clear who inspected these archives, namely the Archive of the President of the Russian Federation, the State Archives of Ukraine, the Russian State Archive of Contemporary History, and the Russian State Archive of Sociology-Political History. Walton does not confess to a knowledge of Russian, and he omits any mention of a visit to Russia under his brief Appendix ‘Methodology and Sources’. His Acknowledgments contain no message of thanks to any translators, or Russian citizens who ploughed the State archives. Can he personally attest to the reliability of the material cited? It is a mystery, and I think it is a very dubious performance.

In fact, Walton’s text sometimes gives the impression of having been written by a committee. Early on, he stresses that one of the lessons he wants to impart is that the Cold War did not end with the dismantling of the Soviet Empire in 1991. Yet multiple times he refers to the ‘end of the Cold War’ (e.g. p 22, p 324, p 329, p 432, p 448). His mentor Christopher Andrew is thanked for reading the whole text, but I wonder how carefully he attended to some of the pronouncements from the pulpit? Several judgments seem ill-considered: though not startling enough to shock, they are so carelessly phrased as to indicate less than sustained reflection, and misrepresent an often more complicated reality. For example:

P 7: From 1917 onward, these three powers, the Soviet Union in the East, and Britain and the United States in the West, have thus waged an intelligence war based on two competing ideological systems, vying for global supremacy.      

Whether the muddle of liberal democracy should be considered an ‘ideology’ is highly debatable. Unlike the Soviet Union’s belief that Communism would eventually prevail everywhere, neither the USA nor Great Britain pursued a strategy of ‘world domination’: the omission of Nazi Germany in this summary is bizarre. Russia no longer promotes an ideology of world supremacy, but a nationalist philosophy intent on regaining traditional lands and trying to protect a mythical sense of Russian identity.

P 37: MI6 archives reveal that it had little intelligence from inside Russia in the first chaotic months of Bolshevik rule.

In fact, the early months of Bolshevik rule were probably the only time that MI6 had any good intelligence coming out of Russia, from such as Paul Dukes, Robert Bruce-Lockhart, George Hill, and Stephen Alley. The Cheka was soon to manipulate Western attempts at espionage through the ‘Trust’ operation. MI6 never controlled any spies (penetration agents) in the Soviet Union.

P 84: SOE’s official historian, M. R. D. Foot, once told me that its greatest success was to ‘give resistance movements in occupied countries the moral courage to fight”. Hastings has correctly noted: ‘true achievement was felt after the war, not during it.’ “Never could enemies of democracy claim that Britain and the United States had abandoned the occupied nations to their fate.

The issue of SOE’s role, and its reputation with occupied countries, is far more complex, given (for example) the various betrayals and incompetence shown in France and the Netherlands, and the abandonment of the Poles. Reprisals discouraged subversion in Norway, and eliminated it in Czechoslovakia.

P 91: Thanks to ULTRA, London’s intelligence chiefs identified every wartime Axis agent sent to Britain, approximately one hundred and fifteen in total. MI5’s counterespionage outfit, B Division, captured and turned thirty of them into double agents, using them to send disinformation back to the Axis powers in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

This is a great distortion. ULTRA did allow MI5 to trace the acceptance of a few agents managed by the Abwehr. But the number of 115 seems to have been plucked out of the air, ULTRA made little contribution outside Europe, and Petrie’s claims are exaggerated.

P 191:  In truth, the KGB badly let Philby down, and he, in turn, betrayed his fellow Soviet agents, Burgess and MacLean.

It is not clear in what way the KGB let Philby down. He had behaved irresponsibly in inviting Burgess to lodge with him in Washington. He did, indeed, draw attention to doubts about Burgess and Maclean in an attempt to save his skin when he knew they were lost. Moscow did, however, ‘rescue’ Burgess, Maclean and Philby.

P 301: In 1945, the United States and Britain had different strategies for the postwar world. Their differences centered on Europe’s empires. As Churchill roared, he did not become prime minister ‘to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.’

Roosevelt had continually undermined Britain’s imperial ambitions throughout the war. Soon after the war, Churchill was ousted, and Attlee took over. The quotation derives from 1942. Churchill did return to the Premiership, but the main dismantling of the Empire is generally attributed to Attlee and Macmillan.

P 518: At key moments, Soviet intelligence officers badly let down the Cambridge spies, failing to appear at meetings and placing so much pressure on them that at least one, Donald Maclean, had a nervous breakdown.

One might ask how much of the pressure on the spies was self-induced, since one would not expect the NKVD/KGB to act in any other way. In a way, the Foreign Office was far too indulgent to Maclean’s ‘mental health’ issues.

P 532: It would alas be unsurprising to discover that a Chinese Kim Philby or Rick Ames is already working inside U.S. or British intelligence, disclosing Western secrets.

There might well be mercenary spies providing secrets to the Chinese, or Chinese citizens in the USA or GB legally doing the same, but it is highly improbable that any US or British native has committed himself to betrayal because of a conversion to the strange Chinese political cause of authoritarian party control and managed capitalism, analogous to the commitment that Philby made to Communism.

P 539: While there is not a clash now between communism and capitalism, the century’s struggle does have an ideological component to it: between authoritarianism and liberal democracy.

This restatement is incorrect. The original clash was indeed between totalitarianism and liberal democracy, not communism vs. capitalism, which was an item of Leninist/Stalinist propaganda, too simplistically adopted by many western commentators. This century’s clash is more of an economic one, yet China and Russia present very different threats in their dealings with the West.

These few examples reinforce the point I made about the risk of ‘encyclopedic’ studies (see coldspur of November 2022 at https://coldspur.com/an-armful-of-history-books/ ) struggling to show authority over a wide range of topics. If you are going to set yourself up as an A.J. P. Taylor or a Simon Sebag-Montefiore, you need to have strong credentials and to have done your homework thoroughly.

Moreover, Walton makes several minor mistakes in territory that should be closer to home – and should have been picked up by Christopher Andrew. He ascribes the policy of recruiting idealistic young university graduates to Arnold Deutsch (p 56), when Deutsch was one of the executors of the policy. (I cannot locate the source, but I believe the architect was Trilisser, or maybe Artuzov.) He writes that MI6 chief Sinclair acquired Bletchley Park at the outbreak of the war (p 72), but the purchase occurred in 1938. The ‘Jedburgh’ teams of SOE/OSS agents were not named after the place where they were trained (p 82): the name just happened to be next in the list of codenames. The inquiries into Nunn May in Canada in 1945 were not carried out by MI5’s liaison officer in Ottawa, Cyril Mills (p 131), as he was already on his way home, having been demobilized. Jane Archer was no longer Jane Sissmore, and about to marry John Archer, in 1945( p 133): she had married him on the outbreak of war. Stalin’s military aims in the late 1940s were not an unknown factor (p 150): the defector Tokayev had described them in Stalin Means War. It is not true that Philby and Burgess worked out their plan without informing the KGB rezidentura (p 191): the KGB had been alerted, and it was never Philby’s intention that Burgess should accompany Maclean to Moscow. The NSA and its defence contractors did not replace vacuum tubes with computers using magnetic tape and tape drives for their calculations (p 246): tapes are storage devices. Walton does, however, sensibly judge that Roger Hollis was not a Soviet mole, as he would in that case have alerted the KGB to the danger that Gordon Lonsdale was in (note on p 590.)

The final chapter, on the Chinese threat, appears to have been written in a rush. Abbreviations are not explained: that dreadful phrase ‘the intelligence community’ appears seven times in just over one page, showing a lack of serious thought, and the arguments are often trite. Walton goes to town in explaining the Chinese threat, providing a rich set of examples of how it is attempting to subvert western institutions, steal technology, hack into important data centers, and play havoc with social media, mimicking much of the traditional Soviet playbook. Yet he appears to forget that the advice he had offered in his Foreword (“What is required is forward thinking and imagination: open-source intelligence collection, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), and super-computing.”) is simply inadequate and outdated – a laundry list that any alert non-specialist could have compiled.  The Chinese have advanced far in the deployment of technology itself, not only to challenge Western security (Walton does not mention the threat to encryption embodied in quantum computing improvements, for example), but to impose strict controls on its own citizens, that conventional mechanisms are no longer adequate.

Walton ignores the fact that pluralist Britain and the USA are at a great disadvantage when dealing with the authoritarian control of the Chinese Communist Party. In the West, governments are temporary and fractured: they do not control business, academia or the media. Walton never mentions dubious projects such as the China Forum at Jesus College, Cambridge, which is an echo of those ‘Friends of Russia’ and ‘Peace Movements’ sponsored by Soviet intelligence. His prognostication is shallow, and his advice usually obvious or second-rate: ‘Good intelligence will be key for Western policymakers’; ‘The West must seek well-placed spies like Gordievsky to complement open-source information’; ‘Strategy toward China must be based on strategic empathy’ [without explaining what that entails]; ‘A campaign for digital literacy is required to counter disinformation’; ‘Western governments must expect the intelligence wars to persist’; ‘The U.S. government must disclose, challenge and debate clandestine Chinese activities’.

What the average reader is supposed to do with this woolly advice is not clear, nor do I expect that the diverse organs of Western civilization (‘the West’) will pick up his entreaties with vigour and single-mindedness. Liberal democracies are indeed a muddle, but we should celebrate and value them for that superiority over any stifling authoritarian governments. Perhaps the Chinese ‘experiment’ will collapse under its own contradictions, but, as with Putin, we can never know whether what replaces President Xi and his oppressive edifice will be better or worse, or how the Communist Party will react to growing dissatisfaction and frustration among its citizens. (“A people’s revolution, comrades? Oh, perhaps not. We tried that already.”) Untangling tight business relationships with China will undoubtedly be messy, but that would appear to be the number one priority.

It is probably clear to coldspur readers by now that the more I delved into this meretricious book, the less I liked it. If Walton had chosen a particular theme, such as the revelations that recently uncovered Russian archives throw on intelligence matters (and why they should be trusted), or a detailed study of the practices of Chinese subversion and counter-intelligence, he might have made a valuable contribution to intelligence studies. Instead he dispenses his self-satisfied and cliché-ridden analysis to no great effect, and displays some bizarre judgments and opinions. On lighter matters, at one stage he writes of ‘the impossibly named Kermit Roosevelt’, an appellation that strikes me as no more absurd than ‘Calder Walton’ (or even ‘Walton Calder’). He also offers (on page 91) an arch observation on T. A. Robertson of the XX Committee, noting that Robertson ‘delighted’ his fellow officers in MI5 when he turned up for work in trews or kilt. In what was certainly Geoffrey Elliott’s weakest book, his profile of Robertson titled Gentleman Spymaster, the author informs us that, at the outbreak of war, Robertson sported his Seaforth Highlanders trews, and was soon given the name ‘Passion Pants’ by the secretarial staff in MI5. I suspect that it was more likely that his colleagues mumbled: “Look at that prat Robertson, prancing around in that Scottish rig, trying to charm the ladies. Who does he think he is? Bonnie Prince Charlie?”

We shall never know.

(P.S. I heartily recommend The Red Hotel by Alan Philps, a very sure-handed and insightful account of how Stalin manipulated the foreign Press Corps in Moscow between 1941 and 1945, and, for those who enjoy more recherché history, who may have liked my article Homage to Ruthenia (https://coldspur.com/reviews/homage-to-ruthenia/ ), or have savoured the works of Joseph Roth or Gregor von Rezzori, I point you towards Goodbye, Eastern Europe, by Jakob Mikanowski. This is a rich account of the way that distinctive local communities, from Riga to Tirana, had over the centuries held together but had then been broken tragically apart, and drawn into mortal conflict, when they came under the scourge of the twin monsters of Nazism and Communism.)

‘The Red Hotel’ by Alan Philps
‘Goodbye Eastern Europe’ by Jacob Mikanowski

(Latest Commonplace entries can be seen here.)

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

Kim Philby’s German Moonshine

Philby & ‘Spycatcher’

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

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

  • What was Philby up to in Europe in 1945?

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

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

Contents:

Introduction

Histories

Memoirs and Biographies

A Small Town in Germany

Conclusions

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Silent War (Kim Philby, 1968)

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

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

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

He went on to describe his sorties:

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

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

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

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

Histories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allied Control Commission: Berlin, May 1945

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet West continues the myth. Thus:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Dorril wrote:

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

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

Stephan Bandera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cambridge Comintern (Robert Cecil, 1984)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An intriguing letter dated two weeks later (July 16) reflects some fascinating light on the fortunes of some of Philby’s colleagues, while enabling the KGB to prepare for the coming assaults. Major Charles de Salis ‘looks after Western Europe’, and is scheduled to be posted to Paris ‘around August 1945’ – an important date, given Philby’s itinerary. On his move to France, he will be replaced by Sir Colville Barclay.  (Attentive coldspur readers may recall that Barclay once came under suspicion of being a Soviet spy himself: see https://coldspur.com/two-cambridge-spies-dutch-connections-1/ .) And ‘looking after the Middle East’ is none other than Anthony Milne, the sometime lover of Litzy Philby, who had joined Section IX in May 1944, and was forced to resign for concealing the fact – but not until twenty-five years later! The list has its comic touches: John Ivens, ‘a fruit merchant by profession’, has, as his current job, ‘dealing with the Western Hemisphere’. So comforting to know that these regions of the world were in such capable and experienced hands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Philby Files (Genrikh Borovik  – 1994)

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

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

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

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

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

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

Memoirs and Biographies

Seale and McConville, Knightley & Macintyre

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

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

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

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

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

Knightley then provides an anecdote about a Latvian, Felikss Rumniceks, who had reportedly been recruited by Philby in Stockholm in May 1945 to infiltrate Soviet Latvia, and had miraculously survived the Gulag to tell, in 1988, the tale of his betrayal. (The Soviets presented him for an interview: Philby died in May of that year.) This factoid must be highly dubious. The timing of this exploit – right at the end of the war, so early in Philby’s tenure, before the project of re-organization, at a time when SOE was still independent, in conflict with how Knightley dates Philby’s travels – would be a stunning disclosure if verifiable. It is true that the Latvian independence movement had been in touch with MI6 officer McKibbin in Stockholm, and radios had even been supplied, but for MI6 to be recruiting and infiltrating agents at this time seems to me highly unlikely. (McKibbin actually worked for Dunderdale’s SLC: he did later lead Operation JUNGLE in the Baltics. Jeffery on page 709 does record such an operation in 1949, but Philby was out of the picture by then. See also  https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/1396086.pdf  for more information on this fascinating issue.) In any event, Philby had earlier told Knightley that he was unrepentant over sending agents to their death in such cases, and especially in Albania.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Malcolm Muggeridge

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

The Climate of Treason (Andrew Boyle, 1979)

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

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

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

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

            “Why not?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now Cave Brown returns to Muggeridge and Paris.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anthony & Tim Milne

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

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

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

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

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

Lookalikes

Flit
Niersteiner
Niersteiner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Strange Intelligence’

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

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

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

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

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

A Small Town in Germany

British Intelligence Stations in North-Rhine Westphalia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

(Recent Commonplace entries are available here.)

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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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