Category Archives: Literature/Academia

Dick White’s Tangled Web

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave.

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

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

Contents:

An Uncomfortable Exchange

The Letter from Mr. Even-Shoshan

Re-Assessing Dick White’s Plot

Milicent Bagot’s Dossier

The Strange Reactions of Robert Lamphere

Deeper Implications

White’s Predicament

PEACH

Enter ‘Buster’ Milmo

‘The Imperfect English Counter-Espionage Officer’

Postscript: The Lost Philby Chapters

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

An Uncomfortable Exchange

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Letter from Mr. Even-Shoshan

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

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

I look forward eagerly to your comments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Re-Assessing Dick White’s Plot

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

Dick White

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

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

Milicent Bagot’s Dossier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Strange Reactions of Robert Lamphere

Robert Lamphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deeper Implications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to make of all this?

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

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

White’s Predicament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PEACH

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

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

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

The Philpott Memorandum

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

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

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

Enter ‘Buster’ Milmo

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

Helenus Milmo, Q.C.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘The Imperfect English Counter-Espionage Officer’

‘For he himself has said it,

And it’s greatly to his credit,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J. L. Austin

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

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

Postscript: The Lost Philby Chapters

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

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

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

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

Ms. Kashani replied:

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

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

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

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

(Latest Commonplace entries can be seen here.)

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‘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.

[Latest Commonplace entries can be seen here.]

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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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Summer 2023 Round-Up

J. L. Austin

Contents:

Introduction

The Cyber-Attack

Kim Philby

‘The Scarlet Papers’

What’s New at Kew

Intelligence Officers

The Lady Novelists

Beverly Gage and ‘G-Man

Summer Biographies

  • Ellis, Ker-Seymer, Déricourt, Austin, Orwell, Berlin

The Love-Lives of the Philosophers

Coldspur: Method, Archive & Topography

Introduction

For this August bulletin, I decided I needed to take a break from the intensive research into Kim Philby that has occupied me over the past few months. I suffered a nasty bout of Covid in June, which knocked the stuffing out of me, and also put a dent in my research agenda. So, in this summer round-up, I take instead the opportunity for the more leisurely exercise of catching up with various intelligence-related events and activities. This tour d’horizon has turned out to be a bit more expansive than originally planned: I hope every coldspur reader will find herein something of interest.

The Cyber-Attack

My website suffered a short-lived, but alarming, disruption in early June. I was working from my iPad when I was suddenly unable to access any coldspur page except the home page. I immediately went to my PC, only to find that the same problem occurred, with some message indicating that the page I was seeking was unavailable. This happened in the evening, so I sent off a message to the support desk of my web hoster, and awaited a response. Early the next morning I received a message back suggesting that I clear my browser cache, and, having done so, I saw the apparent return of the complete coldspur site.

So I turned to my PC, and then discovered that there was no cache problem there: the site was available likewise, so I quickly concluded that something else had been at fault. Moreover, I then noticed that a few of the recent comments made by visitors were no longer visible. It looked as if there had been a problem in the regular back-up/recovery procedures. I brought this fact to the attention of the support person, who then dug an even greater hole for herself by stating that such procedures were not the responsibility of her company, and that I needed to get in touch with the outfit that actually hosted the site. Her company was responsible only for managing the WordPress environment.

Now, there are few things that rouse my ire more quickly than technical support organizations who guess, or bluff, or try to deceive me. I have no business relationship with any other entity, and, indeed, I have to declare this outfit as my ‘web hoster’ each year when I renew my contract for www.coldspur.com with GoDaddy. I thus contacted the President of the company in some frustration, and asked him to sort it out. The outcome was that he did get involved, and had to apologize for his support person, who ‘misspoke’, yet he himself was guilty of some prevarication. He started off by stating that the management of the site had indeed been entrusted to a ‘third party’ (which suggests a separate legal entity to me), but he then backtracked somewhat in asserting that the management of all WordPress sites had been consolidated on to a single server. When I pressed him, he admitted that part of his business was in fact outsourced to another company. He could not explain what had happened, but confirmed that the few missing comments were indeed lost for ever.

I am not happy about this at all, and have requested a more thorough approach to data archiving and data quality. In the meantime, I apologize to those couple of coldspur readers whose comments were lost, and especially to David Coppin who took the time to try to re-create his comments.

And then, on the morning of July 30, coldspur became completely unavailable. I informed the web hoster, and soon received an acknowledgment, as well as a message from the President of the company that his team was working on the problem, and that it would contact me as soon it made progress. I wondered whether the outage was due to Chinese malware, since a disturbing story appeared in the New York Times the same day, alerting readers to the exposure of critical national infrastructure by China’s malicious actions. I reflected, however, that the availability of coldspur is probably not vital to the safety and integrity of the social fabric of the United States. I thought it far more likely that MI5, anticipating another blistering post on August 1, and suspecting that coldspur’s defences would be on low alert on a Sunday, had decided to disrupt its availability.

The site was down for about twelve hours. I learned later that the problem had not just affected coldspur: it had been in fact been caused by a Chinese DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack! No virus or malware had infiltrated the servers, but a blitz of messages brought the installation to its knees, and a range of new IP addresses had to be added to the firewall. Who would have thought a relatively minor installation in North Carolina would come under attack? Was this random? Or did the Chinese have some knowledge of which websites were maintained by this hoster? I was also interested in whether the Department of Homeland Security keeps track of all such attacks. The President of the company told me that he had reported the onslaught to his upstream provider (a wholesale manager of IP addresses and traffic), but it does not seem that there is a requirement to inform the government. Given the source of the invasion, and the current ferment over China’s cyberattacks, that strikes me as odd.

Kim Philby

In the Spectator of June 10, Douglas Murray wrote a column ‘How to dismantle history’, selecting as his subject the TV adaptation of Ben Macintyre’s Colditz. He introduced the author in the following terms: “He is a fine popular regurgitator of history who has previously brought to public notice such things as the hitherto untold story of a spy named Kim Philby.” Apart from the fact that the adaptation of A Spy Among Friends apparently contains some creative flourishes that would tend to undermine its reliability as a historical record (I have not watched it), I was struck by the paradox: if the story of Philby is ‘hitherto untold’, how could Macintyre ‘regurgitate’ it?

I did not expect, a few months ago, that I would be dedicating so much of my research and writing time this year to Philby. I know that several coldspur readers have devoured everything they could find about Philby over the years, and I have been much the same – but without paying really close attention to the details (apart from my inspection of all the accounts of his recruitment by the NKVD in 1933-1934, as laid out in Misdefending the Realm.) Thus I succumbed to the familiar broad-brushed arc of his career: the marriage to Litzi, the recruitment by Arnold Deutsch, the assignments in Spain, the attachment to SOE, and then to MI6, the near disastrous exposure by Volkov, the interlude in Turkey, the posting to Washington, the secrets revealed by VENONA, the postulated ‘Third Man’ role with Burgess and Maclean, the investigations, the time in the wilderness, and the eventual escape from Beirut.

Dominating this career was Philby’s memoir My Silent War, which seems to have been cited quite indiscriminately by any number of writers, including the ‘authorized’ historian, Christopher Andrew, even though its source and sponsorship should have given grounds for severe scepticism. I have pointed out before that, when in that text Philby identifies his past employer as MI5, it serves as a kind of radio security check, whereby he informs his readers in Britain that they shouldn’t really take all that he writes very seriously, as everything is under the control of the KGB (who in general never understood the difference between MI5 and MI6.)

Then, at the beginning of this year, a few queries from coldspur readers (and especially some exchanges with Keith Ellison) prompted me again to dig into aspects of Philby’s career, gather a few archives that I had overlooked, re-inspect some folders that I already had on my desk, and start building a chronology for some of the more controversial events in Philby’s career. Writing the reports of the past few months has been a fascinating experience, and has made me believe that a brand new biography of Philby is required, one that would not automatically ‘regurgitate’ all the falsehood of his memoirs, and the exculpatory asides of those officers who were supposed to have been monitoring him, but instead point out some of the anomalies and confront the fact that, on many aspects of his troublesome life, we simply do not know exactly what happened.

And there is more work to be done, for example on the origin of the Litzi Feabre alias, verification of what must have been a very shaky divorce settlement, what was known about Burgess’s connections before 1951, the Foreign Office post-mortems, and the mysteries of Philby’s last few years with MI6, including the falsehoods passed on by Nicholas Elliott. In that context, while reading recently Burton Hersh’s history of the CIA, The Old Boys, I came across the following passage: “He [Wisner] downplayed American annoyances at the pigheadedness of the English at suggestions that they get busy or flutter their people, stop mincing around and bring the Philby situation to a head. At Dulles’s urging, Wisner got close enough to Roger Hollis [1959] to break loose ‘a really valuable body of evidence about Philby,’ Cleve Cram says, ‘which filled in a lot of the chinks and helped overcome the horrified reaction around the Agency when we were given to understand that MI6 was running him still’.” What might Hollis have known, and what could he possibly have told Wisner that would have calmed the concerns of the restless Americans?

Moreover, in recent weeks, fresh leads have sprung up to be investigated: Vivian’s dissimulations of August 1946; Philby’s postwar presence in Vienna and the missing Bruce Lockhart tape; the surprising addition of Philby to the circle of acquaintances of the psychiatrist Eric Strauss; the debate about ‘STEVENSON’; and a suggestion in a recent book by Charlotte Dennett (Follow the Pipelines) that Philby was involved in the 1947 death of her father, the CIA agent Daniel Dennett, in an aircrash. I have ordered the book, and shall report more later. Perhaps most significant is the acquisition of the MI5 December 1939 Staff Lists from the National Archives, that include a ‘Miss Furse’ working in C2b. Keith Ellison has pointed out to me that Yuri Modin wrote, in My 5 Cambridge Friends, that Philby, at the time he was recruited by MI6 in 1941, ‘was having a passionate love affair with Aileen Furse, who worked in the MI5 archive department’. So was Aileen already working for MI5 when she met Kim at the Solomon/Birch luncheon? And was she thus able to wield some power over him?

‘Among Others’ by Michael Frayn

Lastly, towards the end of the month, while reading Michael Frayn’s new collection Among Others: Friendships and Encounters, I learned that Frayn had innocently introduced his college (Emmanuel, Cambridge) friend John Sackur to Harold Evans of the Sunday Times in 1967. The encounter did not go well, since the paper was deep into its investigation of Philby, and Evans discovered (from his deputy editor, Frank Giles) that Sackur worked for MI6. Frayn postulates that Sackur may have been sent to Evans on a mission to try to control the narrative, and that he, Frayn, was used as a channel. Frayn led me back to Evans’s account in his memoir My Paper Chase (which I had read when it came out, but had forgotten the episode), but that did not seem to me to represent the whole story. Where else had I read about it?

Evans refers to Phillip Knightley’s belief that Sackur was a member of a dissident group inside MI6. Knightley had argued in 1998, in an article in British Journalism Review, that Sackur was in fact a member of a ‘ginger group’ who wanted the Philby inquiry to go ahead, so that further Soviet agents could be unmasked. My first thought was that was equally unlikely, and a check on Chistopher Moran’s Classified seemed to confirm that what the Sunday Times was about to reveal was way beyond the control of MI6, or even the UK government. It would have been pointless and clumsy to try to encourage the investigation in person. Moran had suggested that Sackur had probably been sent as a spy to discover exactly what the Sunday Times had put together, and that he reported to his bosses the extent of the possible damage.

I needed to find the article. David Spark, in his book Investigative Reporting, sources Knightley’s comments as Volume 9, Number 2 of the British Journalism Review, in June 1998, where an abstract of Knightley’s riposte to a critical piece by his ex-colleague Bruce Page piece can be seen (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/095647489800900206). It reads: “In the last issue of the British Journalism Review Bruce Page criticired [sic] a former Sunday Times colleague, PHILLIP KNIGHTLEY, for his role in the paper’s investigative campaigns 30 yearr [sic] ago. Knightley now exercises his right of reply.”Yet nothing by Bruce Page in 1998 can be found via a search on the Review’s website. In fact, Page did write a piece criticizing Knightley in Volume 9, Number 1, with his authorship not indexed, but his focus was apparently on thalidomide. I needed to find out how the riposte switched to Philby.

After a while, I managed to get a copy of the Knightley piece, titled ‘The inside story of Philby’s exposure’. The facts are predictably elusive but the interpretation of what happened comes down partly to timing. Knightley starts off by setting the introduction by Frayn to Evans as occurring ‘when The Sunday Times was sniffing around the story’ of Philby, i.e. when any conclusions would have been very tentative, and he reports that Sackur appeared to be taken aback when Evans told him that the paper was looking into the life of ‘your old Foreign Office colleague’, Kim Philby. Sackur’s response was extreme: he immediately elevated the potential political embarrassment such an investigation would provoke, and described Philby as ‘a copper-bottomed bastard’. This exchange would suggest that Evans and his team did not yet know that Philby worked for MI6, and that Evans learned of Sackur’s employer only soon afterwards, when Sackur met Giles. Naturally, Sackur’s outburst encouraged Evans to pursue the case even more determinedly. (Evans recounts all this in his memoir.)

The disagreement between Page and Knightley comes down to the reason why Sackur appeared in Evans’s office. Page believed that it was coincidence, and that Sackur genuinely wanted to leave the ‘Foreign Office’ (i.e. MI6) for a journalistic career, while Knightley was convinced that Sackur was one of the ‘young Turks’ who were disgusted that their senior officers in MI6 would not let him (and Stephen de Mowbray and Arthur Martin) continue their molehunt, and Sackur thus wanted to encourage the exposure of Philby. In this scenario, Sackur must have gained a smell of what the Sunday Times was up to: his surprise was feigned, and his melodramatic response deliberate. Yet Evans’s conclusion was that Sackur ‘was not a plant, but a young man whose conscience would give him no rest’.

Moran, writing in 2013, had had access, however, to the private papers of George Wigg, the Paymaster-General in Harold Wilson’s government, which confirmed that Sackur had indeed gone on a fishing-trip, and, having learned the extent of the investigation, alerted his bosses and sent Whitehall in a tizzy. Maybe his behaviour in front of Evans was to gain the trust and confidence of Bruce Page, which certainly occurred when the leader of the ‘Insight’ team took Sackur for a liquid lunch at Manzi’s seafood restaurant in Soho. In this scenario, the disclosure of facts that Sackur revealed to Page at their meeting may have been a deliberate attempt to distract the paper from the more serious crimes of Philby. Evans even records that Sackur gave broad hints about Philby’s transgressions in World War II rather than in the Cold War, which his team ‘eventually’ was able to determine as relating to Germany’s plans for a separate peace, and the purging of Catholic opposition to the communists in Germany – actually after the war. All very odd. As Frayn describes, Sackur was a deceiver par excellence.

And what happened to John Sackur? Frayn and Evans write that he died young. Outside Frayn’s vignette (Sackur’s non-appearance at a college reunion inspired Frayn’s play Donkeys’ Years), I have been able to find a few references to him. Daphne Park’s best friend was a Jean Sackur. Was she related, I wonder? The answer came from Paddy Hayes, the author of Queen of Spies, his biography of Park. He had interviewed Jean Sackur, who had been married to John, and divorced from him some time in the 1960s. Ancestry.com confirms that Christopher John Sackur was born in Wharfedale, Yorkshire, on February 8, 1933 (his mother née Humphries), and died on January 24, 1986, in Bury St Edmunds. (see https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/241252354/christopher-john-sackur). He married Jean La Fontaine in the summer of 1958, in Cambridge, married a woman named Morgan in 1974, and further married Joanna Butt in May 1985. Hayes writes that Sackur was offered a job by the Sunday Times ‘Insight’ team, but that MI6 would not let him go there, after which he became a successful management consultant. Another report states that Sackur was one of those officers ‘burned’ by the revelations of George Blake to his Moscow bosses, and that John Quine, head of MI6 counter-intelligence, decided that Sackur had to resign. As with all such stories, the truth is hard to pin down.

The Scarlet Papers

As I was drafting the section above, I came across, in the May issue of Literary Review, a short review of a novel by one Matthew Richardson, titled The Scarlet Papers. It started off as follows:

This magnificent spy novel sees disappointed academic Max summoned to a secret interview with Scarlet King, an elderly woman he has never met. His expertise being the history of the intelligence services, he knows that she was once the most senior woman in MI6 and one of the greatest specialists on the Soviet Union.

‘The Scarlet Papers’ by Matthew Richardson

After giving a glimpse of the plot (without really spoiling the reader’s future enjoyment) the author of the review (Natasha Cooper) continues:

Richardson uses plenty of real names to provide authenticity, from John le Carré and Vasily Mitrokhin to Sergei Skripal, Maurice Oldfield and even Churchill’s confidant Professor Lindemann. He draws upon his own experiences as a researcher and speechwriter in Westminster, with the result that his political and civil service characters behave in ways that are entirely convincing.

Well, up to a point, Ms. Cooper. I of course had to acquire the book after this endorsement, and was entertained by the smoothly-written novel. Perhaps it does not need to be mentioned that Kim Philby plays a semi-prominent role, something that piqued my attention even more. But authenticity requires more than dropping in famous names from the world of intelligence, using all the established jargon of spycraft, and scattering dozens of well-known (even overused) anecdotes that have populated the literature over the past fifty years. It requires chronological exactitude, and attention to detail in background, careers, expertise, achievements, psychology and motivations.

The problem starts with Scarlet King herself, who is described as being in her nineties at the time of the action – in fact given more precisely as ninety-five in one passage. Her first assignment with MI6 was in Vienna in 1946. Thus, if she were, say, twenty-five years old at the time, the action would probably be no later than 2016. (At one point, Richardson writes that she was only twenty-one when she took on her first assignment for MI6 in Vienna in 1946 – highly improbable!) Yet, in one scene, Scarlet is accused of possibly meeting Philby at the SOE training school at Beaulieu in Hampshire, since she had worked previously for SOE. Philby was dismissed from SOE in the summer of 1941, however, and soon after joined MI6, which, to require King to be of a reasonable age to be employed by SOE, would probably bring the current events forward a few years. And then we learn that she attended Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford University, gaining her degree in Modern Languages, which means that she must have completed it in the summer of 1939 or 1940 (at the latest) to be recruited by SOE, which would give her a probable birth-year of about 1917.

Now matters start to get stretched the other end. From ‘authentic’ remarks made by MI5 officers, we learn that ‘current’ events must be occurring after 2018, since the attempted assassination on Skripal in Salisbury is referred to as an event worth recalling. Next, we learn that the year must be in the 2020s, as Brexit (January 2020) is referred to as a past happening. Thus Scarlet King suddenly would have to be a centenarian – and a very sprightly one, at that. But then Richardson informs his readers that King was born in 1923, and was ‘recruited’ (by what organization I shall not divulge) at the tender age of thirteen. She then is described as appearing in sub fusc at Oxford, which meant she must have been admitted to the university at a very young age to be ready to work at SOE in 1940. Yet later in the book, we are told that she went up to Oxford after the announcement of the Nazi-Soviet pact in the autumn of 1939, which would make her recruitment in by SOE in 1940 utterly impossible. Nevertheless, King continually draws on her experiences during training at the SOE school in Arisaig. She is again described as being aged ninety-five in what must be 2021 or 2022. It is all a mess.

The curriculum vitae of the historian embroiled in the plot (Max Archer) is just as dubious. He is aged forty-two at the time of the events, which has him born in (say) 1980. He earned a double-first at Cambridge (under Christopher Andrew), took a Master’s degree, and then, having been rejected for a job in MI6 at the end of 2001, was accepted to take a Ph.D. at Harvard. He then returned to the UK, working as an assistant professor at the London School of Economics, which must have taken him up to about 2005. He went on to write two books that gave him his reputation: a volume titled Double Agents: A History, and The Honourable Traitor: An Unauthorized Life of Kim Philby. No dates are given for these publications, but they did apparently necessitate some heavy years of toil. Yet Max is described as having been a consultant to the BBC series The Cambridge Spies (not something one should be very proud of, by the way, because of the way it played around with the facts). That production came out in 2003, however, when Max was presumably completing his doctorate in Boston.

Moreover, the two publications in his name cast serious doubts on Archer’s professional excellence. Richardson himself throws around the term ‘double agents’ carelessly (using them to categorize Philby and Blunt, for example), when what he really means is ‘agents in place’, ‘penetration agents’, or simply ‘traitors’. Just because a person betraying his country happens to work for an intelligence service does not make him a ‘double agent’. (Michael Holzman, Ben Macintyre, Tim Tate, et al., please note.) That Richardson is aware of this semantic error is made evident in a speech that he allocates to Max Archer (p 264): “‘My academic research is on double agents’, he said, steadying his voice. ‘Intelligence officers who officially work for one side but secretly work for the other. The thing is, technically, some intelligence historians dispute the use of the term “double agents” for professional spies like Philby and the Cambridge Five.’” Why, if he were a serious historian who wanted to make his reputation, Archer would go against the grain of what ‘some’ intelligence historians affirm (how many are there, anyway?), and promote an incorrect and unrecognized classification, Richardson does not explain.

Likewise, the account of his biography of Philby is unconvincing and ambiguous. Archer is supposed to have spent years in the archives digging out the facts about Philby, but the whole point of Kim is that there was practically no archival evidence available about him – certainly not in the early 2000s, and the books about him relied largely on the secretive investigations and interviews conducted by the Sunday Times ‘Insight’ team, unreliable memoirs from his colleagues, as well as Philby’s own highly dubious account, My Silent War. Yet Archer is described as taking four years to write his biography, and the Endnotes took twelve months. What they could have contained, for a professedly serious academic publication, would have been very thin gruel. (Even if he had had access to the same MI5 files that Christopher Andrew was able to inspect – impossible, by the way, since there were no historians ‘authorized’ before Andrew – most of his Endnotes would simply have stated ‘Security Service Archives’.) Yet Archer later explains that both his books were tuned for a less demanding market (p 228): “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.

I could cite more – but enough. The book is pure hokum – quite enjoyable hokum – but still hokum. If the fictional characters are too closely tethered to real figures, credibility is quickly undermined, while if they also lack their own coherence in the imagined world, the whole edifice crumbles. What publishers in this sphere need are not Sensitivity readers but Authenticity Readers.

What’s New at Kew

In March of this year, I submitted a Freedom of Information Request to the National Archives at Kew. I had noticed that HO 382/255, a file on Georg Honigmann and his daughter Barbara (by Kim Philby’s former wife, Litzi) relating to their passport status, had been withheld, not to be released until 2061! This was shocking. I could not understand why information on the Honigmanns could still be regarded as sensitive. After all, Georg had absconded to East Berlin in 1946, seventy-seven years ago, and Litzi had joined him soon afterwards, whereupon they were married.  Barbara was born in 1949. The file was closed, it seems, in December 1960, and an arbitrary retention period of one hundred years allocated. Why would the Home Office need to maintain information on these people for so long, and who might be affected by its disclosure? Was something embarrassing about Litzi included, perhaps?

The initial response was not encouraging, but due process was followed. At last, on June 28, I received the following message from the Quality Manager at the National Archives:

Thank you for your enquiry regarding a review of:

HO 382/255 – HONIGMANN, George [sic] Friedrich Wolfgang: German. HONIGMANN, Barbara: German


Please accept our apologies for the delays in responding to your Freedom of Information request.

I can now confirm that a redacted version of this record will be made available for public viewing at The National Archives, Kew by 5 July 2023. We have outlined your options for accessing the record at the end of this response.

We have had to carry out a public interest test.  This was because some of the information you requested is covered by the Section 23(1) exemption, which by virtue of Section 64(2), becomes a qualified exemption where information falling within it is contained in a historical record in a public record office, such as The National Archives. Section 23 exempts from public disclosure, information that is directly or indirectly supplied by, or relates to, certain organisations dealing with security matters listed at Section 23(3).

After careful consideration, the public interest in releasing some of the information you have requested is outweighed by the public interest in maintaining the exemption. 

We have applied the Section 23(1) exemption to information in the file relating to the Security Service. We shall continue to protect such information for the personal security of the individuals involved and the national security of the United Kingdom. It is in the public interest that our security agencies can operate effectively in the interests of the United Kingdom, without disclosing information that may assist those determined to undermine the security of the United Kingdom and its citizens.

The judiciary differentiates between information that would benefit the public good and information that would meet public curiosity.  It does not consider the latter to be a “public interest” in favour of disclosure.  In this case disclosure would neither meaningfully improve transparency nor assist public debate, and disclosure would not, therefore, benefit the public good.

I scanned a copy of a police report from this record in order to obtain the Metropolitan Police’s approval to release their Special Branch generated material, (something I am obliged to do under the Freedom of Information Act).
As they have stated that they have no objection to release, I have attached a copy of the scan so that you at least have some details to look at while waiting for the file to be made available in full.

The file has now been returned to the repository.

My London-based researcher has recently viewed and photographed the file, and I received it on August 9. There does not, at first glance, appear to be anything controversial in it, apart from the fact that Barbara Honigmann (who is still alive), the daughter of Georg and Litzi (sometime Philby) Honigmann applied to spend a month in the United Kingdom when she was eleven years old, in 1960! No doubt there are other secrets within. I shall provide a full report on it in my September bulletin. One thing that had struck me is that Honigmann is described in the header as being ‘German’, yet a sample of the file sent to me by the Quality Manager reports on Honigmann’s application for British naturalization in 1936, on the basis that he promised that he ‘he had no intention for making application to the German authorities for permission to retain his German citizenship if granted British naturalization’. Puzzled, I returned to the Honigmann files previously released, and then discovered that Honigman’s application for naturalization was rejected because of his communist sympathies.

Intelligence Officers

I frequently ask myself: what makes a good intelligence officer, and were those recruited by MI5 in wartime well-suited to their career? Selecting a profession has a high degree of chance about it, in my opinion. I almost went into teaching (and took a post-graduate degree in education), but I think I would have been a very poor schoolmaster. (Several persons I have encountered said that I should have been a lawyer.) Fortunately I joined IBM instead, and finished my career in a job of technology analysis that I believe was ideal for me, demanding business acumen, technical knowledge and experience, good analytical and communications skills, and a healthy lack of idealism. And one thinks of doctors: presumably all doctors who pass their final examinations must be qualified, but one would expect a vastly different set of skills between those who passed with flying colours and those who always confused the ileum with the ilium.

Were the Oxbridge dons, lawyers, and acquaintances from the Club uniquely suited to the positions found for them in MI5 when it was recruiting furiously in 1940? Perhaps on the principle that smart persons can adapt to the demands of any particular job, it made sense, but training and preparation were practically non-existent, and the management infrastructure was woefully inefficient. Moreover, there were different kinds of skill required: more cerebral, contemplative assessment of evidence, with a background of history and politics required; interrogatory skills in challenging and verifying the stories of suspected spies; the more people-oriented capabilities of emotional intelligence and patience in running agents.

Allen Dulles

I recently came across what Allen Dulles, the head of the CIA, wrote about ideal intelligence officers. In The Craft of Intelligence appears the following:

                “When I recently addressed a class of junior trainees at CIA I tried to list what I thought were the qualities of a good intelligence officer. They were:

            Be perceptive about people

Be able to work well with others under difficult conditions

Learn to discern between fact and fiction

Be able to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials

Possess inquisitiveness

Have a large amount of ingenuity

Pay appropriate attention to detail

Be able to express ideas clearly, briefly and very important, interestingly

Learn when to keep your mouth shut.”

As afterthoughts to what he presented in his lecture, he added other desirable characteristics: an understanding of other points of view; no rigidity or closed-mindedness; lack of ambitiousness or rewards in fame or fortune.

It’s not a bad list: I wonder whether his trainees were screened before they were hired, or whether he thought that some of the qualities could be inculcated into them? I might add a hard-headed, even cynical, perspective on how the world works, a degree of humility, and a sense of humour, even to the extent of not taking oneself too seriously. (Are you listening back there, Angleton?) And I was reminded of the sentences that Stella Rimington included in her memoir concerning Peter Wright (that I used in my July coldspur):

            But it [counter-espionage work] is not the quick jumping to conclusions and the twisting of facts to meet the theory which Peter Wright went in for in those days. He was in fact by then [1972] everything which a counter-espionage officer should not be. He was self-important, he had an over-developed imagination and an obsessive personality which had turned into paranoia. And above all he was lazy.

Wright would have failed the Dulles test quite dramatically.

But what about his colleagues, in MI5 and MI6? Were they much better? Consider the very smart and cerebral but rather romantic and impressionable Guy Liddell, lacking confidence in expressing his opinions forthrightly; the ambitious and political Dick White, who manipulated others to protect his position; the bumbling and easily influenced Arthur Martin, who certainly could not keep quiet when he needed to; the insightful but neurotic and demanding John Curry; the vain and detached Valentine Vivian, suffering from depression, who did not have the brain-power to recognize what he was up against; the unpopular and heartless loner Claud Dansey, whose deviousness led him into some dismal traps; the well-intentioned but cautious and unbrilliant Roger Hollis, who really just wanted to stay out of trouble and play golf; the misplaced Percy Sillitoe, treating counter-espionage as a police exercise, who had to call in from the USA for instructions. In comparison with this lot, I suspect that Jasper Harker and Felix Cowgill may have received an undeservedly bad press.

On the other hand, I believe the true stars were more junior officers like Jane Archer (née Sissmore), Michael Serpell and Hugh Shillito, who had their fingers on the pulse, but for various reasons were pushed aside or became disheartened. And one has to recognize that it would take a very persistent and confident MI5 leadership, with carefully prepared arguments and principles, to withstand some of the political pressures. If Petrie, Liddell and White had insisted to the Ministry of Aircraft Production, just after the Soviet Union had entered the war as an ally in the summer of 1941, that Klaus Fuchs should in no circumstances be employed on the Tube Alloys project because he was a known Communist, their careers might have been put in jeopardy.

And what about all those MI6 officers with Russian connections – Alexander McKibbin, Henry Carr, Paul Dukes, Stephen Alley, George Hill, Wilfred Dunderdale, Harold Gibson, George Graham, and maybe others? They were selected because they spoke Russian, and knew the country: some of them had wives from tsarist times. Obvious candidates to handle agents behind the lines. But of course those qualifications represented a massive exposure. Their skills and background stood out a mile to the various Russian Intelligence Services over the years, and they were ideal candidates for manipulation by the NKVD through the issuance of threats to family members still residing in the Soviet Union. Unimaginative heads of MI6 could not spot the danger, and the cause of counter-intelligence – injured of course by Philby – was mortally damaged.

It was not easy. And re-discovering a passage in the 1944 Bland Report (which made recommendations about the future organization of MI6) caused me to reflect that the leadership of the Services sometimes failed to come to grips properly with their missions. Keith Jeffery cites a statement inserted by Stewart Menzies (after influence from the rather flimsy Peter Loxley, Alexander Cadogan’s Private Secretary, who was tragically killed in an aircraft accident on his way to Yalta), which tried to steer an apolitical track:

            We think it is important that those concerned [eh?] in the S.I.S. should always bear in mind that they ae not called upon to investigate such organisations [Nazis, Communists, Anarchists, etc.] because of their political ideology; and that they should therefore only engage in such investigations when there is prima facie evidence that the organization in question may be used as instruments of espionage, or otherwise when specifically requested to do  . . . We consider it to be of great importance that the S.I.S. should avoid incurring any suspicion that it is the instrument of any political creed in this country, and we believe therefore that C would always be well advised to seek guidance from the Foreign Office as to what political parties in foreign countries need special watching, and for how long.

This seems to me to be taking neutrality too far. (It was at a time when factions in the Foreign Office were strenuously promoting ‘co-operation’ with the Soviet Union.) Defending the Realm, the Constitution (no matter how dispersed or vague it was) – even the Empire – was presumably what MI6 and MI5 were supposed to be doing: confounding the knavish tricks of those who wanted to overthrow them could hardly be construed as adopting a political ideology. This must have raised a few guffaws in the Kremlin.

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

But instead, MI5 and MI6 got Hollis and Vivian.

The Lady Novelists

If W. S. Gilbert’s text for The Mikado had had to undergo the surveillance of a ‘sensitivity reader’, we would have been spared the appearance of ‘the lady novelist’ in Ko-Ko’s list of persons who ‘never would be missed’. Lest anyone be under the misapprehension that I carry any bias against members of this category, I hasten to point out that I am an enthusiastic fan of Angel Thirkell, Helen MacInnes, Olivia Manning, Barbara Pym, and Elizabeth Taylor. Thus I trust that my recent criticisms of Kate Atkinson, Rebecca Stanford and Charlotte Philby will not be interpreted as a sad case of male chauvinism. As is evident, I mete out the same harsh treatment to characters like Matthew Richardson.

Unfortunately, when I wrote to Charlotte Philby, suggesting that her obvious talents might be better applied to writing a non-fictional account of her grandfather’s marriage with Litzi instead of an imagined tale of his relationship with Edith Tudor-Hart, she reacted badly, believing that I was being facetious. (An unremarkable conclusion, should she have happened to know me, but in this case I was behaving utterly sincerely.) I immediately tried to repair the damage, but heard no more from her. I wonder whether she has been tracking the saga on coldspur. . . .  Nevertheless, I remain a sucker for picking up these creative attempts to write convincing fiction based on a distortion of historical events.

The latest in this genre that I read was a title that caught my eye on the Barnes & Noble best-selling table – The Paris Spy by Susan Elia Macneal. Since it involved an SOE agent in 1942, as the plans for the ‘invasion’ of France are being made, I thought I should give it a go. Heaven knows, the author might have dug out some new source I had overlooked. When I inspected the bibliography at the back, I could tell that she had immersed herself deeply into the goings-on with F Section, Buckmaster, Déricourt, Atkins, Dansey, Khan and company.

‘The Paris Spy’ by Susan Elia Macneal

The novel turned out to be another mess of fiction and ‘authenticity’. At times, Macneal introduces real characters in her plot, but introduces the main actors by hiding their real-life models behind imagined names. Thus James Lebeau is based on Henri Déricourt, Henry Gaskell on Maurice Buckmaster, Diana Lynd on Vera Atkins, and George Bishop on Claude Dansey. (Occasionally she forgets where she is, and refers to such characters by the names of their prototypes.) The author admits, proudly, that her story is ‘fiction, pure fiction’ but then acknowledges her debt to Phyllis Brooks Shafer, retired Berkeley Professor, as well as Ronald J. Granieri, director of research and lecturer in history at the Lauder Institute at Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania, for their contribution by checking her manuscripts for historical accuracy.

But what can ‘historical accuracy’ mean in such a scenario? The plot is quite absurd, with a larger-than-life appearance by Coco Chanel, implausibly simplified radio transmissions, miraculous escapes – one aided by an accommodating Nazi officer – the seizure of prisoners of the Germans, and an unlikely flight back to the United Kingdom in which the Déricourt character pilots the Lysander, but has to be subdued and rendered unconscious, whereafter the heroine (who has never flown a  plane beforehand) manages to bring it home with the help of a groggy RAF officer. It is not to say that the book lacks style: wartime Paris is described with obvious care, and Macneal has a good knack for dialogue. All harmless nonsense, I suppose, and it seems that there is an audience for such hokum which does not care about the extravagances and distortions.

Beverly Gage and ‘G-Man’

‘G-Man’ by Beverly Gage

One of my summer reading assignments was to read Beverly Gage’s critically acclaimed and Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of J. Edgar Hoover, the long-lasting director of the F.B.I. Now, I have never regarded Hoover as a very estimable or sympathetic figure: I detected a high degree of hypocrisy in his private life, and judged his commitment to dirty tricks disgraceful. I considered that his approach to segregation and civil rights, and his obstinacy in deeming the movements behind them as being inevitably controlled by Soviet intelligence, were simply foolish. I had also been disturbed by Hoover’s inappropriate championing of the Catholic Church – something that Gage dispenses with fairly sympathetically in just three pages – and was thus intrigued to read, in the July issue of History Today, a review of a new book on his influence in this sphere, titled The Gospel of J. Edgar Hoover: How the FBI Aided and Abetted the Rise of White Christian Nationalism, by Lerone A. Martin. The reviewer, Daniel Rey, writes: “From Hoover’s petty squabbling over biblical disputes to his flagrant abuse of the separation of church and state, the details in Martin’s book are astonishing.” I doubt whether I shall get round to reading this – one can take only so much Hoover in one decade – but it just shows that the ‘definitive’ biography will never be written.

Yet Gage manages to describe Hoover as a vaguely respectable character, politically savvy and ready to adjust – obviously something he would have had to perform if he managed to fulfill his duties under eight different US presidents, from Coolidge to Nixon. If a biographer is going to spend that amount of time on any character, he or she will probably present a mostly positive angle on the subject. I was surprised, however, given what I recalled of Anthony Summers’s 1993 biography of Hoover, how little time she spent on Hoover’s secret files on politicians, items that he used to threaten anyone who challenged him. Why, for instance, could Richard Nixon not bring himself to fire Hoover when all his aides were pressing him to do so? Gage also has no room to explore the way her subject was sometimes lampooned. In 1964, the satirist Art Buchwald wrote a column claiming that Hoover was a ‘mythical person first thought up by Reader’s Digest’, which magazine took the name from the manufacturer of kitchen equipment. Hoover was not amused.

Hoover had appeared on my screen because of his demand to have Fuchs interrogated in prison by an FBI officer, because of the episodes involving Philby, Burgess and Maclean, because of his energetic anti-communist stance, and because he had tried to prevent the CIA learning about VENONA. I had always been a bit puzzled about his relative patience with the visits of MI5 chiefs and vice-chiefs (e.g. Sillitoe, Liddell, Hollis) who had gone to Washington in an attempt to appease him, since he must have considered the set-up at the Security Service impossibly leaky and not managed on the strict procedural and hierarchical lines that he prided himself on developing for the FBI. In fact, Hollis and Liddell do not appear in Gage’s index (there is no mention of Hoover’s gift of golf-clubs to Hollis), and Sillitoe is mentioned only in the context of his giving an honorary knighthood to Hoover at the British Embassy in 1951. Gage is very weak on matters of international intelligence, such as the complicated relations between the CIA and the FBI when it came to the handling of Soviet defectors and agents-in-place, most notably Michał Golenewski. That all goes to show, I suppose, that you can write a rich 837-page biography without touching some of the critical aspects of a life, and that Gage has a naturally domestic focus.

Gage overall writes quite elegantly (I do not understand why she capitalizes ‘Black’, but not ‘white’, but observe that this anomalous usage extends to the pages of the Times Literary Supplement), and her narrative moves forward strongly. Yet I wondered whether her perspective lost some of its individuality in the process of writing. In her Acknowledgments she gives credit to no less than one-hundred-and-twenty-eight individuals, and it is difficult for me to see how she could listen to the opinions of that many persons without compromising her independence of voice. For example, she shows a less than authoritative stance on the issues of ‘racial and social justice’, and the competition between ‘capitalism and communism’, and sometimes evades judgments where a more confident scholar would have put her oar in. The sources she gives are overall thorough, although it worries me when a respectable academic relies on Ben Macintyre’s A Spy Among Friends and Phillip Knightley’s The Master Spy for her intelligence on Kim Philby, and she also cites Amy Knight’s highly flawed When the Cold War Began for her information on the Gouzenko case. How can I trust her authority on the topics and authors with which I am not familiar?

One of her woollier assertions really stopped me in my tracks. On page 418, she writes: “One Venona cable even hinted that Walter Bedell Smith, director of the CIA beginning in 1950, might have been turned by the Soviets during his time in Moscow as American ambassador.” No commentary is supplied: no source for this claim is given. I judge that observation so shocking, with highly grave implications if true, that it should never have been allowed to appear in the text so baldly. If the evidence is flimsy, the observation should have been omitted. If it is not, a proper analysis should have been offered. I can find no reference to Bedell Smith in either of the two primary American works on the VENONA project, namely the book by Haynes & Klehr, and that by Romerstein & Breindel. Moreover, I cannot imagine anyone less likely to have been ‘turned’ (whatever that means in this context) than Bedell Smith. I accordingly sent a polite email to Professor Gage, asking her to provide me with the source statement, and to explain exactly what she meant. (Writing emails to authors is frequently a thankless task: non-academics tend to hide behind their agents or their publishers, but academics normally display an email address somewhere on the institution’s website, and that is how I was able to target Professor Gage’s inbox – or spam folder.)

I received no acknowledgment or reply. I put her on the List.

Summer Biographies

It is a rich summer for the publication of biographies. Jesse Fink, who declared himself a coldspur enthusiast a few months ago, is a British-Australian author. His latest offering, as he posted, is a life of the intelligence officer Charles ‘Dick’ Ellis, titled The Eagle in the Mirror, and his objective is to refute the common claim that his subject was a ‘scoundrel’ – contrary to what I, like many others, believed. In order to get my hands on this book as soon as possible, I ordered it from amazon.uk, and eagerly look forward to its arrival, and learning what the facts about this mysterious character are.

I also read in a recent Spectator a review of a recently-published biography of the photographer Barbara Ker-Seymer, written by Sarah Knights. Attentive coldspur readers will recall that I covered this little-known character in a piece from February 2019, Two Cambridge Spies – Dutch Connections (1) ( https://coldspur.com/two-cambridge-spies-dutch-connections-1/) , where I explored Ker-Seymer’s links with Donald Maclean, and whether she was the elusive ‘Barbara’ to whom Goronwy Rees referred. Duncan Fallowell’s review in the magazine was hardly compulsive: “She took some attractive photo-portraits before the war in her studio above Asprey’s and that was it.” I wondered, if Ker-Seymer was so insignificant, why Knights deemed her worthy of a biography. Was anything about Maclean to be revealed in the book? I doubt whether I shall bother to acquire it, since Knights may not have advanced so far as I did in my researches. Maybe somebody out there reading this report will know more, and inform me.

At some stage I am also expecting the arrival of Robert Lyman’s book on the double-agent Henri Dericourt. Lyman, a somewhat arrogant New Zealander (in his self-promotion, he always prefixes his name with ‘Dr.’, in my mind a rather pretentious habit when exercised by those who are not medical practitioners), appears not to have been chastened by the drubbing that Patrick Marnham gave him recently on coldspur (see https://coldspur.com/special-bulletin-patrick-marnham-responds-to-robert-lyman/ ). For example, it has been reported to me that Lyman was enthusiastically touting his ‘new’ researches at the Chalke Valley History Festival in June. Patrick and I are very sceptical that Lyman will have come up with any fresh insights after his time at Kew, and it seems to us that he is being set up by Mark Seaman and the other Foreign Office propagandists as the successor to the now much subdued Francis Suttill. I suppose I shall have to acquire his book when it comes out, in the cause of research completeness, but, again, if any coldspur reader can perform the job for me first, and advise me accordingly, I should be very grateful.

‘J. L. Austin’ by M. W. Rowe

On August 4, I received my copy of M. W. Rowe’s J. L. Austin: Philosopher and D-Day Intelligence Officer, which was reported (in a Spectator review) to have a fascinating account of the Oxford philosopher’s contribution to intelligence in World War II. It weighed in heftily at just over two pounds, with 660 pages. I completed it on August 19: it is a monumental work, a tour de force in many aspects, but ultimately unsatisfactory. The problem is that it actually consists of three separate books: a conventional biography of Austin, a study of military intelligence in World War II, to which Austin contributed mightily, and an account of Ordinary Language Philosophy in post-war Oxford. None of these three subjects is probably worthy of a separate volume, yet, when merged together, they produce something rather indigestible.

Austin tragically died very young, of lung cancer at the age of forty-eight, and the events of his life, outside the war service and the linguistic battles at Oxford, do not contain enough of interest to fill a biography. The cause is not helped by a very stodgy and irrelevant genealogical introduction, which, by focussing on only one patrilineal thread, does not do justice to the scope of Austin’s heritage, and sentimentally makes some rather unrigorous conclusions. I cite here an example of Rowe’s whimsical day-dreaming: “It is pleasing to think that two mordant intellects and fine prose stylists – the J. Austen who wrote Sense and Sensibility and the J. Austin who wrote Sense and Sensibilia – are related, even if their closest common ancestor is to be found in the late fifteenth century.” That is a rather desperate effort.

On the other hand, the middle section, on intelligence on wartime, is fascinating, and sheds vital fresh light on Austin’s contribution, especially concerning the D-Day landings, that has not been published beforehand. Yet the author chooses to include a host of ancillary information about the conflict that has little to do with Austin’s life. The last section is simply tedious: Austin’s apparent obsession with the detailed inspection and promotion of ‘Ordinary Language’ to solve ‘philosophical problems’ (that are undefined) seems to this reader quite futile, since that school of philosophy combines a mixture of the palpably obvious with a failure to understand that language is an infinitely deceptive tool, and that the spoken form, through emphasis and intonation, introduces a whole fresh dimension of significance and meaning. Rowe quotes something that Isaiah Berlin, in a typically arch and equivocal manner, wrote about Austin, as the philosopher was dying, that, to my mind, ironically undermines the whole principle of ‘Ordinary Language’: “  . . . I think on the whole that he is the cleverest man I have ever known – in curious ways also the nicest, perhaps not the nicest, but wonderfully benevolent, kind, good and just, despite all his little vanities, etc.” Analyzing the difference between ‘the nicest’ and ‘the nicest’ could have occupied a whole seminar. I recall reading, in my late teens, Language, Truth and Logic, by Austin’s adversary, A. J. Ayer, followed by Austin’s Sense and Sensibilia, and then Ernest Gellner’s Words and Things, which tried to demolish the kernel of Austin’s ‘Ordinary Language’ ideas. My vague recollection is that I found Gellner, despite his rather lush and imprecise prose, the most convincing.

‘Sense and Sensibilia’ by J. L. Austin

The book is not helped by a too rich set of distracting Footnotes, mostly clarifying who some rather obscure and less obscure persons were – all of which could have been relegated to a Biographical Appendix, so that the reader could more easily discover what nuggets and insights the author wanted to mention that he did not judge were appropriate to include in his narrative. This clutter is reflected in a less-than-useful Index, which is dominated by the same hundreds of personal names, while ignoring many of the more vital entities (such as wartime Operations) in which I had interest. I was also puzzled that no analysis of Austin’s precipitous demise was given. He had been a dedicated pipe-smoker – like thousands of his generation – but why did he succumb so early to squamous cell carcinoma? (My father, who was born a month before Austin, also smoked a pipe intensively until the 1970s, but outlived him by forty-five years.) And how come that Austin, a resolute atheist, was given a grand memorial service in the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin? I should also have liked to learn more about the contribution of Austin’s loyal and admirable widow, Jean, who, as I picked up from a New York Times review of Nikhil Krishnan’s A Terribly Serious Adventure, carried on teaching philosophy at Oxford after her husband’s death. So – a necessary read, in many ways, but it is hard to see at which audience this dense tome is targeted.

And then there are the reissues of two famous works: D. J. Taylor’s biography of George Orwell, and Michael Ignatieff’s revised life of Isaiah Berlin. I have an extensive supply of Orwell-related literature in one of my bookcases, including Taylor’s Life, the biographies by Crick, Meyer, Bowker, Shelden, and dozens of volumes that inspect various aspects of Orwell’s life and works, as well as an almost full set of the magnificent Complete Works of George Orwell, edited by Peter Davison. In view of my breakthrough research in 2004 suggesting that Orwell had Asperger’s Syndrome – a diagnosis later confirmed by Professor Michael Fitzgerald in his 2005 book The Genesis of Artistic Creativity (see https://coldspur.com/reviews/orwells-clock/ ), I was keen to learn how Taylor had treated this information in Orwell: The New Life. I had written to Taylor many years ago, and pointed him to my article posted on coldspur, so he must have been aware of the theory.

‘Orwell: The New Life’ by D. J. Taylor

The book duly arrived. I checked out the index: no mention of Fitzgerald or Percy or Asperger’s. Yet the flyleaf declares that the book uses ‘a wide range of previously unknown sources’, and that it is ‘poignant, far-reaching, and critically astute’. I read all of its 540 dense pages, and enjoyed it, but did not learn much more than I gained from the 2003 version, and it sometimes is simply too encyclopaedic. Indeed, the resident literary lampoonist and satirist at Private Eye captured the spirit of it in a short parody published a few weeks ago. While his contributions are always presented anonymously, I know that the author’s identity is – D. J. Taylor.

So what happened? I was apparently not the only reader to wonder about Taylor’s disdain. Alexander Larman, in a review of the biography in the July issue of The Spectator World, wrote:

“Taylor shies away from any suggestion that Orwell was on the autism spectrum, but judging by many of the actions depicted in this necessarily lengthy but never self-indulgent book, he suffered from at least a moderate form of Asperger syndrome, which might explain his often uncomprehendingly forthright attitude towards his fellow writers.”  Yet that is only partly true. Taylor does not ‘shy away’: he never even engages with the hypothesis, which represents a very bizarre way of treating fresh research. Ignoring coldspur is perhaps pardonable, but pretending that the relevant publication by the very prominent Professor Fitzgerald had no merit is surely inexcusable. Since a review of the book also appeared in Literary Review, I sent a letter to the Editor of that excellent magazine describing my puzzlement, and drawing attention to both my article and the book by Professor Fitzgerald. He declined to print my letter.

Soon afterwards, I read in the Wall Street Journal of August 12-13 a very positive review of a book titled Wifedom, a biography of Orwell’s first wife Eileen O’Shaughnessy, by Anna Funder. The reviewer, Donna Rifkind, wrote:

            Ms. Funder clearly believes that Eilleen’s role in Orwell’s life has been undervalued. She balks at the ways Orwell views “women – as wives – in terms of what they do for him, or ‘demand’ of him.” His exalted status, she implies, has obscured how tyrannical this hater of tyrannies could be, how insensitive he was towards the women who best understood him.

It has been shown that Orwell treated several women in his life in a severely abusive manner. Taylor definitely soft-pedalled this aspect of his hero. It sounds as if a new version of his work is called for . . .

And then there was Michael Ignatieff and Isaiah Berlin. I learned from a Facebook post by Henry Hardy (Berlin’s long-time amanuensis and editor) that a revised edition of Isaiah Berlin: A Life, first published in 1998, was to appear this summer. I awaited its appearance eagerly. After all, in my study of Berlin, most prominently in my 2015 History Today article The Undercover Egghead (see https://coldspur.com/the-undercover-egghead/), in my comprehensive coverage in Misdefending the Realm (2017), and in my elegiac contribution in Isaiah in Love (see https://coldspur.com/isaiah-in-love/), I had done much to disclose Berlin’s involvement with intelligence, frequently of a highly dubious nature, which Berlin, in his conversations with Ignatieff, and in his own writings, had very strenuously denied. Surely Henry Hardy would have alerted Ignatieff to my contributions: Hardy had attended the lecture at Buckingham University where I first unveiled The Undercover Egghead, he was familiar with Misdefending the Realm, and had complimented me (he is not one to dispense praise easily) on Isaiah in Love.

‘Isaiah Berlin: A Life’ by Michael Ignatieff

I had enjoyed the first edition of the Life, but thought it intellectually lazy. I do not know how one can write a serious biography when one is mainly dependent upon the reminiscences of the subject himself. Ignatieff brought a cultured and refined perspective to the incidents in Berlin’s life, but it was far too hagiographic, focused too much on Berlin’s frequently garbled thinking without analyzing it critically, and lacked objectivity and discipline in covering the essence of Berlin’s ‘Jewishness’ (whatever that means), and his adherence to ‘Judaism’ and Zionism. Thus I had great expectations that the new edition would address many of the faults of the first, and take into consideration the bulk of what has been written about Berlin in the past twenty-five years.

The arrival of the book was a colossal disappointment. It is described as a ‘fully revised definitive edition’, ‘a magisterial biography’. No new blurbs are listed, however: Doris Lessing’s tribute is highlighted, but she died in 2013. That was not a good sign. In his Preface, Ignatieff writes that ‘a steady stream of articles, books and commentary have explored Berlin’s ideas. In this new edition, I have tried to incorporate as much of this new material as possible’. He claims that he has also ‘tried to clarify Berlin’s relations with important figures’, but his interest is superficial. He maintains the individual chapters that carved up the first edition. His Endnotes reveal only about three books that have been published since 1998, and two of those consist of reminiscences of Berlin, one of which is by Henry Hardy himself. ‘Definitive’ it is not. Even Hardy agrees that a proper authoritative and objective life of Berlin remains to be written.

Thus we read no fresh analysis of Berlin’s activities in the intelligence world. The story that Guy Burgess was on a mission to Russia, for MI5 (an error, since any overseas engagement would have been undertaken by MI6), and that he wanted Berlin to be appointed as a Press Officer at the British Embassy in Moscow, is carelessly repeated, as is Berlin’s denial that he ‘had ever been sent on a secret mission anywhere by anyone’, in response to Goronwy Rees’s assertions in his People article in 1956. None of the many incidents that I describe in my articles, from the visit to sub-Carpathian Ruthenia in the summer of 1933 (see https://coldspur.com/reviews/homage-to-ruthenia/) , through the strange negotiations with Chaim Weizman at the end of 1940, to the furtive meetings in Washington with Anatoly Gorsky, the previous handler of the Cambridge Five in London, starting in December 1944, is covered.  I also note (something that I overlooked in the first edition) that Berlin ‘gave every assistance to Peter Wright . . . .who called in search of any other accomplices Burgess might have had inside academe or the Establishment’. What possibly might Berlin have known if he was never involved with Intelligence?

Henry Hardy (who worked closely with the author on the notes and sources, and the editing of the book) agrees with me that Ignatieff is guilty of misleading his audience, and wrote to me declaring that ‘he shouldn’t have pretended to have done more than he did, and he should have made the case for leaving the book essentially unaltered’, adding that he didn’t think Ignatieff could be bothered to perform any more research. It is all rather sad, and the Pushkin Press should be embarrassed over this sorry effort to present the thing as a ‘fully revised definitive edition’. I have not seen any reviews yet, but I shall watch out to detect whether anybody has the same reaction as I did. (The Summer Special issue of Prospect carried an encapsulation of Berlin’s ideas by Ignatieff, suggesting that his Concepts of Liberty could act as guidance for the political challenges of today, but I found it too abstract and unconnected – as useless as the ideas of his adversary, John Rawls, Daniel Chandler’s biography of whom was reviewed a few pages on.)

The Love-Lives of the Philosophers

As I read Ignatieff’s book, I made notes on items that I thought were incorrect, or examples of sloppy or imprecise writing. I sent these to Henry Hardy, and some lively exchanges followed. One particular item that caught my eye was a sentence in the first paragraph of Chapter 15, where Ignatieff describes a scene at a beach outside Portofino in 1956. He lists some characters visible in Aline Berlin’s home movie, including ‘Stuart Hampshire and his son Julian Ayer’. Ayer? What did that mean? Had a few words been omitted? I know that Hampshire and Ayer (A. J. or ‘Freddie’, the logical positivist) were closely associated, but why would Hampshire’s son be called Julian Ayer? (Hampshire is of intelligence interest to me, since he worked with Hugh Trevor-Roper in the Radio Analysis Bureau of the Radio Security Service in World War II, and, despite a slightly questionable reputation, was invited by the government to conduct an audit of Britain’s intelligence services, and specifically GCHQ, in 1965.) I also checked out the first edition: there the text runs simply ‘Stuart Hampshire and his son Julian’. So I asked Hardy about it: was this a mistake? His first response was to inform me that Julian was indeed Hampshire’s son, but was known as Ayer. From straightforward research on Wikipedia, I established that Hampshire had married Ayer’s first wife, Renée Lees, and I assumed that Julian was thus his stepson.

Stuart Hampshire

Yet further investigations pointed to something more sinister. Hardy then told me that Julian was not Hampshire’s stepson: he was Hampshire’s biological son, ‘conceived before his parents were married’. This, however, turned out to be something of an understatement, and I sent my consequent discoveries to Hardy: “A long time before his ‘parents’ were married! All very strange. Julian was apparently born in 1939, but Ayer did not divorce Renée Lees until 1945, and Hampshire did not marry her until 1961. Thus Julian’s status at Portofino in 1956 was indeed ambiguous. On-line information on him describes him as Ayer’s ‘adopted son’”. Moreover, when I returned to Hampshire’s Wikipedia entry that morning, references to Julian (that I had picked up a couple of days ago) had disappeared, even though the last date of change was given as July 23. It seems that Hampshire’s daughter, Belinda, was also a product of his liaison with Renée Lees.

I detect some awkwardness over these events. Sadly, Julian was drowned in the tsunami disaster of 2004: maybe Ignatieff judged that it was time to open up about these relationships. By simply adding ‘Ayer’ to ‘Julian’, however, he provoked far more questions than he closed. What were his motivations?

And then, the very same day on which I was pursuing this inquiry, I read a column in the Spectator of July 22 by Charles Moore where he explained that the father of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, was Churchill’s private secretary Sir Anthony Montague Browne. His mother, Lady Williams of Elvel, admitted that she had gone to bed with Browne, ‘fuelled by a large amount of alcohol on both sides’, probably the night before she eloped with Gavin Welby. DNA tests gave a 97.78 probability that Montague-Browne was Welby’s father. What is it about the sexual mores of the Great and the Good, and what do they think they are they up to, lecturing to us about Morality? I knew that Freddie Ayer was a relentless satyr, but it seems that his habits were adopted by many of his friends and contemporaries. One of the fresh revelations in Ignatieff’s book is that Isaiah Berlin, after his marriage to Aline, not only carried on his affair with the sometime Soviet agent Jenifer Hart (which I had learned from Nicola Lacey’s biography of her husband H. L. A. Hart), but also conducted one with the Oxford sociologist (and later head of Newnham College, Cambridge) Jean Floud. Floud, née Macdonald, had married Peter Floud, and joined the Communist Party with him in 1938. Peter Floud’s brother Bernard was probably a member of the Oxford Group of spies, and committed suicide as the net closed in in 1967. Maybe it was over details concerning that circle that Berlin was able to clarify matters for Peter Wright.

Coldspur: Method, Archive & Topography

Method

It occurs to me that it might be useful to describe the method(ology) behind my conclusions posted on coldspur, and how I treat comments submitted by readers. My researches are undertaken with the suspicion that most accounts of events in the world of espionage and counter-espionage are probably inaccurate, and a detailed study frequently reveals anomalies in time, geography and psychology, as well as conflicts between different records. (The full methodology I applied when performing my doctoral thesis can be inspected at  https://coldspur.com/reviews/the-chapter-on-methodology/. )

My writing is designed to counter the baleful influences of at least four groups: 1) Those who write memoirs, or confide ‘remembrances’ to their biographers, when their primary objective is to beautify their reputation; 2) The bureaucrats, such as the ‘Foreign Office advisors’ who guide (for example) SOE researchers away from embarrassing material, and government employees (current or retired) who display indulgence to their ‘colleagues’ for sentimental reasons; 3) The amateur historians who distort the facts out of carelessness or a desire to glorify their subjects, or look for publicity by promoting melodramatic theories; and 4) The authorized historians who breach their professional objectivity by agreeing with their sponsors to constrain their areas of research.

What I am doing is, I suppose, ‘investigative reporting’, but of recent history, not current events. The experts in this subject encourage the maintenance of a large number of human sources – giving as an example the Sunday Times team researching Philby. Yet it requires an open mind and a good nose to distinguish between probable facts and possible disinformation when dealing with such sources: Bruce Page with Sackur, Seale and McConville with Vivian, Chapman Pincher and Anthony Glees with White and Reilly. Thus ‘sources’ can be a two-edged sword. I have enjoyed the contributions of very few ‘live’ inputs during my research. Moreover, it probably explains another dimension of the 70-year rule for releasing archival material. That limitation is frequently explained as a mechanism to protect the living, or their relatives. Yet it is just as useful for the authorities in preventing the insiders from being interrogated by inquisitive researchers, since they are no longer with us.

As I process the information available, and publish my conclusions, I am of course merely developing hypotheses. I never pretend that they are the last word on the subject, and I encourage challenges to them. Contrary to the belief of some, an accurate account of what really happened is not going to magically appear from an exhaustive presentation of all the ‘facts’. Some records may never be released, disinformation has been inserted into the archives, and memoirs are notoriously unreliable. I note the following statement from M. W. Rowe’s biography of J. L. Austin, where the author comments on the challenge of dealing with less than conclusive evidence: “ . . . truth is ultimately more likely to emerge from a bold, crisp and refutable claim than a range of hesitated options; and a full discussion of every option would weigh down the story and take up too much space.”

Well, I suppose my texts could be crisper, but I do believe that recording a detailed exposition of my material is essential for the benefit of posterity, since it will not appear anywhere else. I develop my hypotheses from a meticulous examination of information from multiple sources, and try to interpret/transform a series of discrete events into the structure of a plausible theory (such as my recent hypothesis that in 1939/40 Kim and Litzy Philby presented themselves to MI5 and MI6 as turncoats from Communism). Now a thesis such as this, which helps to explain a number of riddles and paradoxes, could be refuted, but that will not happen simply because one (or more) of the links in the chain can be broken. For example, some readers have challenged my suggestion that the informant to MI5 in 1953 was Graham Greene, and they may be right. Yet, even if that person is never correctly identified, it cannot detract from the fact that someone, almost certainly from MI6, told MI5 that the psychiatrist Eric Strauss knew more than he should have about Philby’s exploits in Turkey.

Thus most of the comments that I gratefully receive on coldspur help me to refine the arguments, and correct errors. So far, no one has submitted any evidence that causes me to retract a theory, though I am ready to do so, if appropriate. To any sceptics, I sometimes reply: “Show me an alternative explanation that fits the facts!”, but that may be unreasonable, as they have neither the time nor the interest to go that far, and they might disagree with me over what the ‘facts’ are. I should love to participate in a forum that explored these rival ideas, such as a debate at Lancaster House (probably not chaired by Mark Seaman), but that is unlikely to happen. Coldspur under WordPress is not the most efficient chat-room for exploring rival ideas, but it is what I have, and the ability to follow up controversies in my own space and time enables me to avoid the noise and muddle of other media. 

Archive

As I have previously written, I have been trying to find a home for my substantial library, and a custodian for coldspur, for the time when I am no longer around. I believe I have found a suitable educational institution who is eager to house my collection and provide a portal to my research and other archival material, but I have nothing in writing yet, so I am reluctant to say any more until a firm agreement has been reached. What has emerged from the discourse so far is the requirement to have my collection of books catalogued, and I have thus been involved in working with a website called LibraryThing (https://www.librarything.com/home) to enter the details of the relevant volumes in my library.

So far I have entered about fifteen-hundred items on intelligence, history and general biography, with a few thousand still to be processed. (It may be that the institution will not want all my library, which contains a large selection of fiction, books on language, poetry and humour, including a particularly rich assortment of volumes of comic and nonsensical verse.) It has been a fascinating exercise: LibraryThing offers a choice of search engines to locate a title, normally by ISBN, such as amazon, the Library of Congress, and the British Library. I have found that amazon is by far the fastest and the most reliable. Very oddly, even when a book is identified with a ‘Library of Congress’ number, for instance, that search capability usually fails to come up with a candidate. For older books, of course, when no ISBN number existed, I have to enter search arguments by title and author, and make annotations. Occasionally no entry at all can be found, and I have to input all the details (publisher, date, etc.) myself. I place a little sticky label on each book entered, in order to control where I am.

One revelation for me has been how chaotic the ISBN system is. It looks as if it maintains an erratic ‘significance’ in its coding (and we data modellers know how error-prone such coding systems can be, as, for example, that used for postcodes in the UK), but I don’t know what it is, and there appears to be little consistency between what should be related entries, and books republished in a different format frequently own vastly different identifiers. I also found that some newish books remarkably have no ISBNs printed within them, and that some have them, but they are wrong, or have been used by other books before them. One of my on-line correspondents has made a detailed study of ISBNs and formats, and I may return to this issue at some stage.

A fascinating benefit from this exercise is that the user of LibraryThing can determine how many other users own the same volumes. This feature is a little unreliable, however, as it does not distinguish between different editions, but works only by title. Thus my owning a very rare nineteenth-century edition of a memoir, for example, may appear to be echoed in a count of other registers when the latter probably reflect much later re-prints. Occasionally, I find that I am the sole owner of a particular volume, which is a pleasing discovery.

I hope to report more on this project soon.

Topography

As the volume of research on coldspur has increased, I find it more and more difficult to track down references, statements and conclusions that I have made. (My bulletins have been going on for over eight years now, comprising what I estimate to be about one-and-a half million words – not all of serious import, of course.) An Index would be highly desirable, but I do not think the creation of one is going to happen. The internal search capability within WordPress is somewhat useful, but it identifies only the entry that contains the reference(s), and is thus very laborious. I do preserve the original Word version of each posting, so I can go back to an individual report and execute a search that highlights each reference. But I have found that an inadequate mechanism.

I know that there are procedures out there that can convert text, even extracted from coldspur itself, and convert into a PDF, maybe with Index entries, and that would be a great help, but would not go far enough. For an Index to be useful, it needs qualification of the entry (how many of you have been frustrated to look up, say, ‘Philby’, in the Index of a book, and find a list of twenty-eight page numbers without any indication of what aspect of ‘Philby’ each covers?). I know, from my experience in compiling the Index for Misdefending the Realm how desirable such a capability is, but also how tedious an exercise it is. 

The other aspect of this dilemma is the fact that I now detect multiple linkages between my research projects that were not obvious beforehand, such as the manipulation of the FBI/CIA by Dick White in 1951 and the investigations into Philby that summer, or the involvement of Claude Dansey in the attempts to ‘turn’ Ursula Kuczynski, Henri Déricourt, and, possibly, Litzi Philby. Thus I plan to provide some sort of guide to the coldspur archive, organized along chronological lines, that will highlight important threads and related events, and provide direct pointers to the urls, as well as the position of the relevant text within the report itself, so that the required information may be found more easily. That is my hope, anyway. I plan to start this project soon, and I hope to deliver the results before the end of the year. 

(This month’s Commonplace entries viewable here.)

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Litzi Philby Under (the) Cover(s)

Litzi Philby

Contents:

Introduction

Topical News

Litzi Philby

The Martin Interview

Candidates for the Mystery Interviewee

Helen Fry & ‘Spymaster’

A Fragile Marriage

Kim’s First Spell in Spain

Kim’s Second Spell in Spain

Litzi in France

The Approach of War

The Honigmann Era

Life in the East

Conclusions

Postscript: Charlotte Philby & ‘Edith and Kim’

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

Introduction

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

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

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

  • What was Philby up to in Europe in 1945?

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

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

Topical News

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

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

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

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

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

Arne Treholt

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

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

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

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

‘Spies Who Changed History’

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

But to return to my main topic . . .

Litzi Philby

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

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

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

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

The Martin Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Candidates for the Mystery Interviewee

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

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

Eric Gedye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charles ‘Dick’ Ellis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helen Fry & ‘Spymaster’

Helen Fry’s ‘Spymaster’

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

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

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

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

Thomas Kendrick

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

A Fragile Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kim’s First Spell in Spain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kim’s Second Spell in Spain

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

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

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

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

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

Frances Doble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Litzi in France

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Approach of War

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

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

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

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

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

Sir Michael Stewart

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

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

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

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

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

I find this a remarkable statement, for several reasons:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Honigmann Era

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

Georg Honigmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Engelbert Broda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life in the East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript: Charlotte Philby & ‘Edith and Kim’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(New Commonplace entries can be seen here.)

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Enigma Variations: Denniston’s Reward

Alastair Denniston

Contents:

Denniston’s Honour

Secrecy over Bletchley Park

Polish Rumours

GC&CS Indifference?

The Aftermath

Conclusions

Envoi

Sources

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

Denniston’s Honour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secrecy over Bletchley Park

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

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

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

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

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

The Enigma

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

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

Polish Rumours

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

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

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

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

Hans-Thilo Schmidt

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

Harry Hinsley, Edward Travis & John Tiltman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gordon Welchman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GC&CS Indifference?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus Bertrand turned to the Poles.

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

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

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

Wilfred Dunderdale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mavis Batey

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

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

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

Mavis Batey’s ‘Dilly’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dermot Turing’s ‘X,Y & Z’

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

Gustave Bertrand

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

The Aftermath

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

Dillwyn Knox

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

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

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

Marian Rejewski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Envoi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Primary Sources:

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

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

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

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

Bodyguard of Lies by Anthony Cave-Brown (1975)

Ultra Goes to War by Ronald Lewin (1978)

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

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

The Enigma War by Józef Garliński (1979)

Top Secret Ultra by Peter Calvocoressi (1980)

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

The Hut Six Story by Gordon Welchman (1982)

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

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

GCHQ by Nigel West (1986)

The Ultra Americans by Thomas Parrish (1986)

Secret Service by Christopher Andrew (1986)

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

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

Seizing the Enigma by David Kahn (1991)

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

Station X by Michael Smith (1998)

Battle of Wits by Stephen Budiansky (2000)

Enigma by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore (2000)

Thirty Secret Years by Robin Denniston (2007)

Dilly by Mavis Batey (2009)

GCHQ by Richard Aldrich (2010)

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

Decoding Organization by Christopher Grey (2012)

Gordon Welchman by Joel Greenberg (2014)

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

Alastair Denniston by Joel Greenberg (2017)

XY&Z by Dermot Turing (2018)

Behind the Enigma by John Ferris (2020)

(Recent Commonplace entries can be viewed here.)

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2022: Year-End Round-up

[from an original cut paper collage by Amanda White]

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

The SOE On-Line Forum

‘The Airmen Who Died Twice’

Gibson & Gubbins: Further Myths?

Geoffrey Elliott: An Obituary

Coldspur and the archive

Notes and Queries

Dr Austin and ‘Agent Sonya’s Wireless’

John le Carré: Letters & TSWCIFTC

The National Archives

Documents No Longer Talk

Hilary Mantel, Fiction and History

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

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The SOE On-Line Forum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Airmen Who Died Twice

Operation PARAVANE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verb. sap.

Gibson & Gubbins: Further Myths?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geoffrey Elliott: An Obituary

Geoffrey Elliott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coldspur and the archive

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes and Queries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Austin and ‘Agent Sonya’s Wireless’

Dr. Brian Austin

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

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

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

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

John le Carré: Letters & TSWCIFTC

John le Carre

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

TSWCIFTC

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

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

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

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

The National Archives

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

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

Young Stalin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Documents No Longer Talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hilary Mantel, Fiction and History

Hilary Mantel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virginia Stride, Alan Bennett & John Sergeant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaguar

Zebra

Nerz

Mandrill

Maikäfer

Pony

Muli

Auerochs

Wesenbär

Lochtauber

Robbenbär

Zehenbär

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

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

An Armful of History Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *        

Family Betrayal by David Burke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For example:

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

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

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

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

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

Russia by Antony Beevor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For example, one can read such passages as:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Wake of Empire by Anatol Shmelev

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

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

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

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

Baron Roman Ungern-Shternberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stalin and His Hangmen by Donald Rayfield

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

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

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

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

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

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

Felix Dzherzhinsky

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lavrenty Beria

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

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

The OKHRANA Badge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An alle Himmel schreib ich’s an,

die diesen Ball unspannen:

Nicht der Tyrann ist ein schimpflicher Mann,

aber der Knecht des Tyrannen.

Rayfield’s translation runs:

            I write it all over the heavens

That encompass our earthly sphere;  

It’s not the tyrant we should abuse,

But the serf who works for the tyrant.

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

Resistance by Halik Kochanski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet in trying to provide an integrative account of how resistance unfolded, and how the Nazis reacted to it, Kochanski makes too many errors, and fails to follow up her individual observations with a series of patterns. It is a work of painstaking analysis, but of little imaginative synthesis. She does not understand the organization of SOE, MI5 and MI6, and how they interacted. Similarly, she does not distinguish between the Gestapo and the Abwehr in their rival domain and missions in France, or delineate the rivalries and squabbles that characterized their relationship. She similarly does not collect her multiple accounts of SOE’s exploitation of local resistance groups in France, Italy and Greece as a ploy to please Stalin, and to distract German attention from the Normandy landings, often with fatal results, into a coherent narrative. She likewise does not explore fully the way that resistance groups often exploited SOE with their relentless demands for weapons and money: SOE was an organization encouraging sabotage, not armed revolt. She hints at betrayal, but fails to grasp the bull by the horns. In the areas where I have studied the archival material (and the often deceptive memoirs) with some diligence, I found her history seriously wanting, and thus had doubts about the events with which I am not so familiar. On the other hand, I found her re-appraisal of the abuse of Mihailović, and the shady transfer of British support to Tito, a fine piece of revisionist writing.

Her overall assessment of SOE is very weak, merely reflecting some misty-eyed reminiscences of those who would like to see it in an exclusively positive light, and highlighting the opinion of its internal historian, William Mackenzie. The fact was that most European citizens living under the Nazi yoke did not want to see their country ‘set ablaze’, and the cruel reprisals that frequently followed were often indiscriminate and utterly demoralising. The assassination of Heydrich in Prague, and the horrendous reprisals that occurred thereafter, effectively quashed Czech resistance for good. The acquiescence and acceptance of subjugation that many pursued was not a sign of appeasement and treachery, but simply reflected a desire to survive, and no one who did not live through such times can comfortably judge behaviour that may have seemed dishonorable in retrospect. Kochanski several times observes how partisan groups spent more of their energies fighting each other rather than the Germans, but does not elevate these phenomena into any fresh conclusions. It is all very well to justify SOE retroactively on its delivery of intelligence instead of causing mayhem, but there existed other mechanisms  – more discreet – for gathering such information.

One whole aspect of resistance that Kochanski overlooks is the strategy of the occupiers. What did the Germans expect when they invaded a country, and did they adapt their tactics to the circumstances and reactions of the local populace? How did the character and stature of the respective Governor, and his policies, affect the dynamics of resistance? What effect did a royal family in place (as in Denmark and Belgium) have on the conflicts between the occupier and the occupied? It is poignant that, in Ukraine, and in the Baltic states, the Nazis were initially welcomed by many as liberators from the hated Communists, but the monstrosities of the execution squads against the Jews, and the attitudes of the Germans to ‘sub-human’ Slavs, soon showed that the invaders were as odious as the Bolsheviks. In Norway, on the other hand, where the Germans considered the natives as part of the favoured Nordic race, the attitude was far more indulgent, and positive, until the Gestapo concluded that they were generally hated as they were elsewhere. Even if fierce reprisals – demanded by Hitler – partially discouraged further subversion for a while (and that was a bitter source of controversy in Norway), at some stage the SS (Schutzstaffel) should have realized that more intensive terror would be self-defeating. Yet the brutalities of the Wehrmacht and the SS continued – sometimes out of sheer anger and frustration – in France, Italy and Greece, even when the outcome of the war was certain, and individual barbarities could be traced and be punished.

Like most books I read these days, Kochanski’s work could have benefitted from some tighter editing. Far too many statements are made in the passive voice, so that the source of claims is unverifiable, or the reader is uncertain who is making the judgment. She has an irritating habit of misplacing ‘only’, with the result that it does not correctly qualify the intended phrase. Her deployment of terms to describe the various resistance groups is imprecise: for instance, youths fearing conscription by the Germans who run to the woods do not suddenly become ‘maquis’. Thus, in summary, a noble and impressive work, but by no means definitive, with many opportunities missed. Maybe Kochanski did not feel up to the task of taking on what could turn out to be a controversial re-assessment of the contributions to the victory over the Axis powers of SOE and the resistance movements it tried to abet.

Surviving Katyn by Jane Rogoyska

If you read only one of the books I have reviewed this month, it should be Jane Rogoyska’s Surviving Katyn. It is a brilliantly researched and beautifully written account of one of the major examples of the Soviet Union’s brutality and mendacity –  the murder of thousands of Polish officers and professional men at Katyn Forest in 1940, and the subsequent cover-up and denial after the Germans discovered the scene of the butchery in 1943. The deceit, and the hunting down and elimination of many of the witnesses, carried on until the fall of the Soviet Union, when in 1990 Gorbachev faced the inevitable truth. The shameless refusal by the British and American authorities to accept the evidence, because Stalin was an ally, and his ‘good will’ was necessary to secure the defeat of the Nazis, continued through the war crimes trials at Nuremberg, and throughout the Cold War, even after Stalin’s death, and Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin’s crimes.

The Katyn Massacre

It is difficult to determine what qualified and equipped Ms. Rogoyska to execute this project in such a polished fashion. Her Wikipedia entry indicates that her grandfather escaped from Poland to England at the start of World War II, and that his son married an Englishwoman – who bizarrely remains anonymous, even on the author’s own website. Rogoyska is described as a British writer ‘of Polish origin’, although why the matrilineal side of her ancestry should be diminished in favour of the surname she carries is not clear. Moreover, while she studied Modern Languages at Cambridge, we learn that she did not learn Polish until adulthood, which fact makes her close analysis of so much Polish and Russian archival material even more remarkable. Her career has been in film, with no evident experience or training in writing history therefore evident.

Yet her account is utterly painstaking, methodical and carefully dispassionate. She lets the facts speak for themselves, and is sure of judgment when the obvious speculations have to be made. For the lesson of Katyn are still having to be re-learned. Despite the acknowledgment of the responsibility for the massacres, and subsequent cover-up, made by Putin himself, when he attended a memorial event for the victims in 2010, he has been clamping down on the Pamyat (‘Memory’) organization that tries to keep the records of Soviet atrocities alive and available, and has been promoting a twisted image of Stalin as a symbol of a Russia of greater days.

I wrote about Katyn in my post from this summer (https://coldspur.com/summer-2022-round-up/), when I reviewed Jozef Czapski’s Inhuman Land, and thus refer readers to it for a brief synopsis of what happened. Rogoyska weaves Czapski’s story into her account, focusing very sharply on the few reminiscences of those who were exempted, or allowed to escape, from the three camps where the Poles were incarcerated. While the outcome is clear, the struggles of the survivors to discover how thousands of their comrades could have disappeared without trace is poignant and wrenching. Yet Beria, the head of the NKVD, himself gave a colossal hint when he admitted in October 1940 to General Sygmunt Berlinger, a Polish communist sympathizer, and others, who had been invited to discuss the possible organization of a Polish division to fight the Germans, that ‘we made a big mistake’.

The reason for that characterization of the massacre is not clear, and perhaps never will be so. After all, the deaths of a few thousand Poles were not remarkable numerically, given that Stalin’s security organizations had been killing ‘enemies of the people’, and anyone who even potentially opposed Communist orthodoxy, in their millions. Prisoners of war received abominable treatment – both by the Soviets and the Germans, but these Poles were sequestered in more comfortable conditions than regular captives. Thus Beria’s brief admission could have meant several things: 1) we should never have killed so many Polish intelligentsia and officers, as we were bound to be found out eventually; 2) we should not have killed persons who might have been useful in the fight against Hitler when the inevitable invasion of the Soviet Union occurred (remember, Germany and the Soviet Union were allies when the massacres took place): 3) we should have performed a much better job of concealing the graves, so that they would never be discovered by any invading army. Astoundingly, when the Poles were held at the three camps of Kozelsk, Starobelsk and Ostashkov, two of these contingents were moved in a westward direction to their places of execution – towards Poland and Germany – rather than being transported to the depths of Siberia where the evidence of their demise might have been better concealed.

The fact that Beria was ruthless, and may have recommended the decision to execute the Poles to Stalin, rather than being encouraged or instructed by the dictator to pursue it, and that he made this statement to a Pole, suggests to me that explanation number 2 is the most likely. Yet the evolution of the cover-up indicates that he and his associates believed that it was absolutely essential to blame the Germans for the killings, to falsify the evidence in the graves to suggest the misdeeds were performed later, and to exploit the known reputation of the Nazis for mass executions to present themselves as innocent. (I would point out that, over the course of two days in September, 1941, the Germans, assisted by Ukrainian collaborators, murdered 33,771 Jews at the ravine of Babi Yar, outside Kyiv.) And it worked. The German Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, had to admit that he had been outwitted. And the Soviet propaganda machine single-mindedly continued to promote the lie for decades afterwards.

What fascinates and appalls me is the craven response of Churchill, Eden, and other politicians, and the way that the Polish government-in-exile was treated with disdain while Stalin was appeased. One can perhaps understand a certain caution and reticence to push the point home in 1943, when the war still had to be won, and Stalin’s full support to turn the Germans back was essential. The subsequent avoidance of the issue, however, symptomatic of the policy of appeasement of Stalin that the Foreign Office pursued, in the belief that if he were treated like an English gentleman he would start to behave like one, is utterly reprehensible. One notable member of the Foreign Office, Sir Owen O’Malley, who was British ambassador to the Polish government-in-exile, was critical of such subservience and neglect of the truth, but his voice was suppressed and overruled.

All this (or most of this) Rogoyska covers with clarity and style. I do not believe she has any spectacular new revelations in her story, but it is important that the whole saga is encapsulated in one book. Moreover, I learned much in a domain close to my interests – namely the vicious retribution that the Soviet machine exacted on those who might embarrass it. Several of the Poles who escaped changed their names, and went into hiding. One Soviet witness of the executions, Ivan Krivovertsov, who had cooperated with the German investigation, feared for his life, and managed to escape to England, assuming the pseudonym Mikhail Loboda. (A photograph of him being interviewed by the Red Cross representatives in 1943 appears in the book.) He was found hanged in Somerset in 1947. As Rogoyska cautiously writes: “It is possible, although not verifiable, that the ‘suicide’ was the work of the KGB.”

In the past decade, President Putin has severely regressed from his earlier dignified stance. Rogoyska could have referred to incidents in the forest of Sandarmokh, in Karelia, near the Finnish border, where a local citizen, Yuri Dmitrev, has been persecuted for discovering burial mounds of political prisoners executed by Stalin’s secret police. A group sponsored by the Military Historical Society, ‘a state-funded organization notorious for its nationalist take on Russian history’ (as the New York Times characterized it in an article dated April 27, 2020) interfered with the excavations to make it seem that some of the victims were Soviet soldiers executed by the Finns in World War II. Anatoli Razumov, director of the Center for Recovered Names in St. Petersburg, was quoted as saying: “The same tactics are being used to muddle the history of Russia’s most infamous killing-ground. Katyn Forest. . . .”. Dmitrev was convicted of a false paedophilia charge, and resides in jail: the curator of the local museum, who had supported Dmitrev, was arrested on a similar charge, and soon after died in prison hospital ‘from an unspecified illness’. Stalinism lives.

In conclusion, I have just read an article in the December issue of The Atlantic, ‘How Germany Remembers the Holocaust’, by Clint Smith. It is a thoughtful and moving account of how modern Germans come to terms with the atrocities, and Smith makes analogies with the persecution of Native Americans, with the enslavement of Africans, and with the German genocide in Namibia. Not once, however, does he make any reference to the mass murders of Communism, of the tyrannies of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. Maybe he regards the category of victim, or the level of complicity by the people, or the factor of geography, differently; maybe he has simply ‘forgotten’ the Liquidation of the Kulaks, the Holodomor, the Great Terror and the Gulags: one cannot discern. His article concludes: “It is the very act of attempting to remember that becomes the most powerful memorial of all.” Indeed: it is Pamyat, ‘Memory’, that Putin is attempting to destroy.

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The Quiet Don

A Tribute to Ronald Hingley

Contents:

Peter Davison: In Memoriam

Introduction

The Joint Services School for Linguists

Ronald Hingley

The Tsar of All the Russias

Hingley and Chekhov

Martin Clay

Humour in Chekhov

Hingley and Translation

Comparisons

Tarara-boom-de-ay!

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Peter Davison: In Memoriam

Before I move to the main tribute in this month’s piece, I want to pay homage to a great George Orwell scholar, Peter Davison, who died in late August. (See, for sample obituaries, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/peter-davison-obituary-lcnzwlfh0, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2022/sep/04/peter-davison-orwell-scholar-obituary, and https://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/01/books/peter-davison-poet-literary-editor-and-memoirist-dies-at-76.html.) I had the pleasure of visiting Peter and his wife, Sheila, at their house in Marlborough, Wiltshire, a couple of times during the 2000 decade, and he was one of the most modest and engaging persons I have ever met.

What brought me to him was my own enthusiasm for the writings of George Orwell. When I retired, and before I took up the serious study of intelligence matters, I set about reading the complete four-volume Penguin Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus. As I did so, I was fascinated by the various misremembered quotations that Orwell recorded, as an activity of his jackdaw mind, and started delving into their origins, and recording the latter. The exercise also prompted me to suggest a fresh explanation for Orwell’s character and psychology, which eventually resulted in the unpublished article Orwell’s Clock (see https://coldspur.com/reviews/orwells-clock/), that itself anticipated a more authoritative analysis by Professor Michael FitzGerald.

I wrote to Mr. Davison, submitting the fruits of my researches, and he replied enthusiastically. He eventually used much of my work in his 2006 publication The Lost Orwell, which was a supplement to the massive twenty-volume Complete Works that appeared under his editorship in 1998. (I have most of the volumes in a special bookcase.) Among other fascinating pieces, The Lost Orwell contains Orwell’s controversial list of Crypto-Communists and Fellow-Travellers that he sent to the Foreign Office’s Information Research Department in May 1949. In his Foreword, Davison wrote:

      Mr Antony Percy sent many pages identifying passages to which Orwell referred. He had worked from the four-volume Collected Journalism, Essays and Letters and had not then seen the twenty-volume edition which did identify many of these passages. However, there were many that were unknown to me and I am grateful to him, as I am to all those who wrote with suggestions.

I am proud of my contribution to Orwell scholarship, and it was an honour and a great pleasure meeting and working with Mr. Davison.

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Introduction

When the first volume of Mikhail Sholokhov’s novel Tikhy Don came out in translation in the 1930s, it bore the title And Quiet Flows the Don. The publishers presumably thought that prospective readers might think that a book given a literally translated title of The Quiet Don would be about a shy Oxford academic, or even a recalcitrant Spanish nobleman, rather than an emblematic Russian river that quietly went about its business as the Cossacks became engaged with the rustic brouhaha of the Russian Revolution beyond its banks. I dedicate this article to Professor Ronald Hingley, an apparently reclusive academic, who taught me so much about Russian history and literature, about good essay-writing, and about the art of translation.

Ronald Hingley

This Quiet Don was my primary Russian tutor at Oxford, and had a stellar career as a student of Russian history and literature, and, in particular of Anton Chekhov. Surprisingly, he died with little recognition in 2010. Only recently has a Wikipedia entry been created for him, and it is remarkably thin. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has no entry for him. Yet his influence and achievements are great, if only for his unreserved opposition to the monstrous Communist regime of the Soviet Union. He fell into great disfavour with the Soviet authorities, because of his merciless descriptions of the horrors they defended, and was thus presumably an exasperating ‘noise’ in their ears.

While his career appears to have been largely ignored, I suspect that those who were taught by him will recall his contributions and presence very acutely. He always appeared as a very intense, but restrained, figure in the tutorials and classes that he led at Oxford when a fellow at St Antony’s. He had a goatee beard, and pince-nez spectacles, I recall, that gave him the mien of his literary hero – an effect surely intended. He stood out as the leading academic in Russian at Oxford. Professor Fennell was a respected name, but I don’t believe he taught undergraduates, and his specialty was early Russia. I recall attending just one of his lectures. I did have tutorials with Mark Everitt, a priest at Merton College, attended lectures by T. J. Binyon, and probably some by Paul Foote. I also underwent some conversational sessions with a Mrs. Willets – who turns out to have been a Pole married to the historian E. T. Willets. She was a lovely lady, but now I understand why she was a bit puzzled about some Russian constructions, since it was not her first language. If there were other Russian dons, they must have avoided me.

The Joint Services School for Linguists

‘Secret Classrooms’

Geoffrey Elliott wrote about Hingley in Secret Classrooms, the brilliant book he co-authored with Harold Shukman about the Joint Services School for Linguists (JSSL) that operated from 1951 to 1960, training students to become fluent in Russian, as part of their National Service. The blurb on the back describes it as ‘the enthralling and previously untold story of this one-of-a-kind British accomplishment, a heady mix of a high-powered college and a Chekhov play’. That was perhaps not entirely fortuitous, and a rare photograph of the first JSSL course administrator in London, Ronald Hingley, appears in the book. The list of alumni is an illustrious one, containing names such as Michael Frayn, Alan Bennett, Gervase Cowell, Ian Harvey-Jones, D. M. Thomas, Paul Foote, and Dennis Potter.

One famous name overlooked in Secret Classrooms, but hinted at obliquely, is that of Tom Springfield (born Dionysius O’Brien), the songwriter and founder of the Springfields, sister of Dusty, who died this last August. He attended the JSSL school in Coulsdon, and was responsible for compiling a volume called The Samovar Songbook, which is mentioned on page 110 of the book. It is worth presenting the commentary of Elliott and Shukman, delivered with true Hingleyesque verve:

First introduced at Coulsdon, and edited by the kursanty with staff help, it ran to two editions and included folk melodies, and melancholy and passionate pre-Revolutionary gypsy cabaret songs of the sort that aroused Rasputin to priapic ecstasy. There were Ukrainian nonsense songs, the Russian equivalents of Christmas carols, songs sung by wagon-drivers on the steppes, boot-stamping Cossack choruses and more doleful chants of prisoners and Tsarist army conscripts, as well as some of the basso-profundo lyrics popularized in the post-war years by the Red Army Choir when they were not busy crushing East European uprisings.

One can almost imagine Chekhov singing along on his trek across Siberia to Sakhalin, and Springfield’s contribution is almost a let-down. He simply based the award-winning song The Carnival Is Over (recorded by the Seekers) on a nineteenth-century Russian tune known as Stenka Razin, after the seventeenth-century Cossack rebel. Some carnival.

Yet Elliott’s first task was to differentiate Chekhovian Cambridge from the more industrious London. The first two schools were set up in Coulsdon, Surrey (the town where I lived until 1956, but the school was way over the other side of the valley, behind ‘The Fox’ public house, near Caterham Barracks), and in Bodmin, Cornwall. When the pupils had passed their tests in these establishments they were sent on to one of two university schools, in Cambridge and in London. Professor Elizabeth Hill led the course at Cambridge, and Ronald Hingley that in London. There was considerable strife between the two, as Hingley believed that he had taught Hill about the best use of pedagogical techniques, while Hill looked down on Hingley because he was merely a lecturer in the School of Slavonic Studies.

‘The Fox’ on Coulsdon Common

Hill had an exotic background: she was the daughter of ‘a once prosperous Scots-Russian merchant family in St. Petersburg’, and was also the niece of General Miller, who had commanded the anti-Bolshevik White Army in Northern Russia, and in 1936 was kidnapped in Paris and killed by the NKVD. The fact that British intelligence officers were learning Russian at the School of Slavonic Studies in London came to the notice of the NKVD illegal rezident Alexander Orlov, who put Guy Burgess on to investigating what was going on. The leak probably issued from Professor Haldane. Elliot and Shukman reveal some fascinating glimpses into the intelligence exploits of Hill’s extended family (although George Hill, of SOE’s Moscow mission, was not one; Guy Burgess mixed him up with George E. Hill).

Elliott and Shukman wrote that ‘learning advanced Russian under Liza and her team at Salisbury Villas was rather like being at a high-intensity crammer run by a distinctly odd extended Chekhovian family’, and they contrasted the atmosphere in Cambridge with that in London as follows:

If Cambridge was Chekhovian, London’s tone, set less by the shadowy George Bolsover than by its first director Ronald Hingley, might best be called ‘Stakhanovite’, if anyone now remembers that persistently overachieving worker who became a propaganda item of the Soviet era. But it was far from grim, and it achieved results.

In his Introduction to Secret Classrooms, the poet, playwright and translator D. M. Thomas echoed this idea, by recalling how his class at Cambridge was told by Liza Hill to ‘rabotat’, rabotat’, rabotat’ – work, work, work’, ‘and if we did, we would fall in love with ourselves’, which echoes Irina in Three Sisters, committing to work as a relief from her suffering, or Voynitsky in Uncle Vanya, encouraging Sonya that they must ‘work, work’, before they both sit down at the table to check some ledgers – certainly not the type of toil extolled by their Communist successors.

Ronald Hingley

While Hingley might not have appreciated his approach being dubbed ‘Stakhanovite’, his own dedication and commitment to excellence were unrivalled. Moreover, it was here that his opposition to Stalinism became more public, thus incurring the wrath of the Soviet Union. He was particularly scathing about the founder of the British Communist Party Andrew Rothstein, who had greatly influenced the culture at the School of Slavonic Studies, and Hingley characterized the School, in recognizable Hingleyesque style *, as ‘a nest of poisonous Kremlin-fanciers’. It was Rothstein who recruited Melita Norwood, the atom spy whose exploits have been publicized in The Spy Who Came In From the Co-op, a book that Hingley would have derided for its obvious ‘padding’ (a feature of essay-writing that, in my tutorials with him, he strongly advised me to eschew.)

Andrew Rothstein

[* In Misdefending the Realm (p 220) I quote Hingley from his book, The Russian Secret Police: “On 19th December 1967 the same newspaper [Izvestia] published an article Hello, Comrade Philby, quoting the veteran master-spy in praise of Dzerzhinsky as a ‘great humanist’ – the formula commonly applied in Soviet parlance to successful sponsors of mass killings.” (p 249)]

The authors add some important facts about Hingley’s career. He had joined the School in 1947 as a lecturer ‘after a war which included service with the 21st Army Group, SOE and a brief spell at Bletchley Park, where, he was told, he was the first to break a Soviet code; he declined an invitation from one of its leading lights, John Tiltman, to work there.’ I knew about the spell in SOE, since I had discovered Hingley’s name in the archives of the Russian Section, but Bletchley Park surprised me. The reference explicitly states Bletchley Park, not the establishment at Berkeley Street in London under Alastair Denniston that processed diplomatic and Comintern traffic after 1942. The sequence of these duties suggests, however, that Hingley moved to Bletchley Park after his time at SOE. The Russian section of SOE was not established until after Barbarossa (June 1941), while the Bletchley Park project on Soviet ciphers was reportedly terminated in December 1941, but in fact secretly handed over to a Polish group (according to what Ralph Erskine and Michael Smith claim in The Bletchley Park Codebreakers). Perhaps that is further evidence that, contrary to what Harry Hinsley claimed about Churchill’s order that no more work on the decrypting of Soviet traffic should continue after Barbarossa, it did indeed carry on with some British contribution.

The Tsar of All the Russias

I thought of Hingley when I was speaking to Anatol Shmelev (of the Hoover Institution) this last June. At some event, whether during a private tutorial or at his class in Soviet prose translation, I recalled clearly when Hingley had declared that the famous phrase ‘tsar of all the Russias’ (which appears in many history-books and encyclopaedias) was a misnomer. The source (he claimed) was not the imagined original Russian wording ‘tsar vsey Rossiy’ (genitive plural of ‘Rossia’) but ‘tsar vsekh Rossii’ (the tsar of everyone of Russia, genitive singular), which perhaps made more sense, as, apart from White Russia and Little Russia, what other Russias were there in the Russian Empire?

This conundrum has occupied my mind occasionally over the years, but I did not know whom to turn to. Yet it endured, like two other linguistic traps that I have encountered from time to time, both in German: ‘The Old Contemptibles’ and ‘Deutschland Über Alles’. Kaiser Wilhelm II was supposed to have referred to General French’s regular British Army in 1914 as ‘a contemptible little army’, but in fact what he wrote was ‘a contemptibly little army’, where the adverb qualifies the adjective. A letter to the Times in July 1974 explained that what the Kaiser wrote was ‘eine verächtlich kleine Armee’, not ‘eine verächtliche kleine Armee’. As for ‘Deutschland Über Alles’, several observers have interpreted the German anthem as expressing a desire that ‘Germany should be over everything’ (thus implying imperial domination), when in fact it means ‘Above all, Germany’, using the accusative case, not the dative, implying the slightly more subtle message that Germany should have precedence over any other loyalty. ‘Germany over everything’ would be ‘Deutschland Über Allem.’

Thus, when I encountered Anatol Shmelev, born of Russian parents in the USA, and a keen student of tsarist history, I decided to ask him. His first response was that he would look up Hingley’s book The Tsars, but he also dug out a fragment about Ivan the Terrible, presumably in Old Russian or Old Church Slavonic, which represents that Ivan was known as the tsar ‘vseia Russii’. Page 29 of Hingley’s book appears to echo that assertion, stating that Ivan the Terrible ‘made a practice of calling himself ruler ‘“of all Russia”’. That surprised me as a third variant: why would any dictator have to describe himself in those terms, as if there were a possibility that his domain did not extend throughout the entirety of Russia, whatever its geographical boundaries? And what happened to Hingley’s lecturette to his pupils about ‘everyone of Russia’?

I have just started reading Antony Beevor’s book on the Russian Revolution (Russia: Revolution and Civil War, 1917-1921), and I notice that, in describing the Tsar’s unconstitutional abdication in favour of his brother, Archduke Michael, Beevor writes: “The first thing the reluctant Tsar insisted on dropping was the standard formula: ‘We by God’s mercy, Mikhail II, Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias’”. Beevor vaguely notes Donald Crawford and Richard Pipes as his sources. The mystery remains unsolved.

Hingley and Chekhov

No matter. I reflected further on Hingley. I remember his telling me that he had been educated at Kingswood School, in Bath, and that he was a contemporary of C. W. C. (‘Bill’) Edge, who was a history teacher at Whitgift throughout my time there. (They both left Kingswood in 1937: Hingley won an open scholarship to Corpus Christi College, Oxford.) I happened to think that Edge was an appalling history master, but I know that my friend Nigel Platts (who studied History at Oriel College, and went up to Oxford a year before me), thought highly of him. Many teachers at Whitgift were very effective in leading small, well-motivated classes, but often struggled with a larger, diverse set of pupils, and Edge was perhaps one of those. Hingley’s reputation as an historian and translator was secure, however. He edited the standard edition of Chekhov’s works known as The Oxford Chekhov, and it is those editions that I want to turn to next in this bulletin.

Olga Knipper & Anton Chekhov

I had coincidentally been re-reading Hingley’s translations of Chekhov’s plays, in the Oxford University Press paperback editions, earlier this year, perhaps triggered by my reading of Paustovsky, who covered the same era in Ukraine and Crimea about which Chekhov wrote. And I had been thinking how these dramas were presented to us callow schoolboys in the early 1960s. (I was not aware at the time that Chekhov’s wife, the actress Olga Knipper, had died in 1959, only a couple of years before I started learning Russian, fifty-five years after her husband. She had acted the role of Masha in Three Sisters: moreover, Masha was based on the character of Chekhov’s sister, Masha, who died in 1957. Quite extraordinary.) The translations we used at school had been the Penguin editions by Elisabeta Fen, and I recall being rather surprised that they were described by the playwright as ‘comedies’, as I did not at the time find much humour in them. Was that a fault in Chekhov’s conception, a failing in the translator, a misunderstanding by directors of his plays, a deficiency in the schoolmaster who guided us through them, Martin Clay, or was it due to an immaturity in the heads of us fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds?

When I re-read, as a seventy-five-year-old, the Hingley versions of The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard (which I had read in 1967, since they still hold my pencilled annotations), I decided that all except the first explanation were true. I had seen a few productions of the plays in London during those late 1960s and early 1970s which tended to reinforce the notion that there were not many laughs to be found in Chekhov’s drama. I believe this misunderstanding had several roots: the plays were ‘classics’, after all, and ‘classics’ were supposed to be serious, earnest. And there existed the mythology about the Russians – they were a gloomy people, with a mystical and mysterious soul, and oppressed by all manner of existential and religious demons. Russia in the 1890s was not a period for comedy.

This mythology has endured. William Boyd, writing about the novelist William Gerhardie in The Spectator World of August 2022, refers to Gerhardie’s ‘Chekhovian outlook’ that reflects his conception of the ‘humorous tragedy’ of the human condition, and Boyd takes time to remind his readers that Chekhov ‘famously subtitled The Cherry Orchard “a comedy”’, as if the playwright’s intentions had been deceptive and subversive. Yet I doubt whether Chekhov would have acknowledged that his plays were about ‘the human condition’, whatever that meant. He would have found it all frightfully pompous.

William Gerhardie

(I went back to Gerhardie’s book on Chekhov, written in 1923 as an outgrowth of his B. Litt. thesis at Oxford. It spends much more time on Chekhov’s stories, and his notebook, than it does on the plays. I found it insightful, but a bit too flowery and abstract for me – which it probably was for Hingley, too. I recall Hingley talking disparagingly about critics who try to generalize their opinions by referring presumptuously to the manner in which ‘we’ react, and it could well have been Gerhardie he had in mind, since he makes many such declarations. While I detected much metaphysical nonsense in Gerhardie’s work, also, it does contain some choice phrases, such as: “But if pressed to do so, I would rather say that Chekhov’s outlook in a nutshell was that he thoroughly distrusted nutshells.”)

Hingley himself offered an explanation of the comedic aspect in his Introduction to his translations (The Oxford Chekhov, Volume 3), when he wrote:

The fact is that you find as much humour in Chekhov’s plays as you are qualified by your own sense of humour, or assisted by skilled interpretation, to find. The plays, like many of the stories, are built on tension between the humorous and the serious, so that it is not really possible to assess the extent to which they are serious – quite apart from the fact that ‘humorous’ and ‘serious’ are not concepts which necessarily exclude each other.

Martin Clay

I do not think that Martin Clay, who taught us Russian and German, really understood this distinction. He was a forbidding and strict individual. That discipline was reasonably effective when he was teaching Russian grammar, although his techniques sometimes left something to be desired. When pushing his pupils on translation, he would sometimes urge them to make a stab at some elusive word: ‘Save Your Life!’ was a frequent invitation for inspiration. When one of my classmates struggled with the word ‘ploog’ (meaning ‘plough’), and, when forced to save his life with a guess, came up with ‘plug’, he was immediately humiliated by being told ‘Don’t make stupid guesses!’. His life was presumably not spared. Thus were adolescents encouraged to learn in 1961.

And Clay’s querulousness let him down in more subtle environments. I recall composing a short story, in Russian, on a journey into space – a theme he had set us – and I decided to place my narrative in some future time when space travel was so routine that the craft was able to alight on the wrong planet, to the relative dismay of the crew, as if, on a day-trip, they had landed up in Eastbourne instead of Brighton. I was quite pleased with my confection, but when the stories were returned in class, Clay accused me of being ‘frivolous’, and reamed me out, as if I had personally insulted him. I am not sure what the punishment would have been, but, fortunately, he decided to pass my work by his colleague Tom Savage, like him a graduate of the JSSL, for a second opinion. Clay then had to back down, since Savage (who I knew disliked me) found the theme quite amusing and inventive.

Whitgift School (with cricket pavilion at lower right)

It was not that Clay could not enjoy any jokes, but you had to be careful not to smirk at any of his more extreme utterances. When he arrived at Whitgift to teach us Russian in 1961, he was not immediately allocated a permanent classroom, and we had to walk down to the cricket pavilion for our lessons with him. On one memorable occasion he reported to us on the lack of progress towards a regular and durable home: “Space has not yet materialized”, a paradoxical and highly philosophical observation that I found supremely amusing. I had to suppress my smile, as Clay would not have relished the explanation for my mirth. I didn’t think of it at the time, but it occurs to me now that it was something that Solyony in The Three Sisters might have said.

Humour in Chekhov

I privately found some of the situations and lines in Uncle Vanya (our set A-Level text) quite amusing. When, in Act Four, Marina informs the audience, with a sigh, that ‘I haven’t tasted noodles for ages, old sinner that I am’, the juxtaposition of sinning with such a bland food as noodles (not that I knew what they were in 1961) made me laugh out loud, and I recall regaling the members of the Percy family with the anecdote at dinner-time that day – to be met with rather an awkward silence. But perhaps I was not supposed to find that funny, and it was my sense of humour that was at fault. These were fin de siècle Russians, after all, and Sin, and the role of noodles in their diet, what with all those strange Orthodox Church practices, was perhaps part of a ritual that I did not understand.

Moreover, much of the plots of Chekhov’s plays revolve around jealousy, unhappy marriages, adultery, infidelity, and thwarted passion. This was not a subject for humour for many schoolmasters, who would have found it difficult to discuss such matters with adolescents. (I have written beforehand about the embarrassing details of Gretchen’s seduction by Faust in Goethe’s great work, and how John Chester was very uncomfortable talking about the circumstances and outcomes.) Poor Martin Clay was betrayed (like the schoolmaster Kulygin in Three Sisters) when his wife ran off with another master, and thus tensions between spouses might have been something he wanted to avoid discussing in class.

And what did we youngsters know about such things? How could we possibly write essays about these dramatic situations, given our inexperience? When Vanya declares his love for Helen Serebryakov, the Professor’s wife, I probably imagined that was how Russians actually behaved all the time – rather like the French, I suppose – while we English would behave much more staidly. Our view of romantic affairs would be sustained more by the very suppressed passions of Brief Encounter, or the later image of Lady Antonia Fraser being captivated by Harold Pinter at a party, and mildly requesting of him ‘Must you go?’. Thus there was a tendency to interpret all the ambiguous statements of the cast in Uncle Vanya as serious reflections of the Russian character, and not as symptoms of comedic conflict.

Antonia Fraser & Harold Pinter

The critical emphasis that Clay encouraged consequently focused on those great Russian themes: ‘the superfluous man’ (lishny chelovek), as in Lermontov and Turgenev; ‘laughter through tears’ (smekh skvyoz slyezi), as in Gogol; ‘the tortured Russian soul’, as in Dostoevsky; ‘the sweep of historical fate’, as in Tolstoy, since the landowning class awaits the apocalypse; the untranslatable concept of ‘poshlost’ (a mixture of smugness and condescending vulgarity); or even on what was supposed to be Chekhov’s unique contribution, the creation of mood (nastroyenie), via such devices as distant breaking strings that may have been indicative of untold mining disasters. This was presumably what the examiners wanted their entrants to be taught about, and that is therefore what we learned to regurgitate. (I suspect that today Astrov’s plea for preserving the forests would be adopted as an early Save the Planet campaign.) Such interpretations were consonant with some early stagings of the dramas. Chekhov was distraught when he discovered that the director Stanislavsky had decided, in his absence, that his last play, The Cherry Orchard, should be presented as a tragedy.

It was Ronald Hingley who drew my attention to all the humour in the plays, and, when I recently re-read them after more than a fifty-year gap, I found fresh evidence. Chekhov was a doctor, but it does not stop him being satirical about his profession. This characteristic derived from his own career as a doctor: in 1886 he wrote a letter describing a wedding where he was going to be best man: ‘a doctor is marrying a priest’s daughter – a combination of killer and undertaker’. And he occasionally betrayed the fact that he was not averse to the occasional quack remedy himself, as when he advised his sister, Masha, in 1898, in response to her recurring headaches ‘to abstain from alcohol, tobacco, fish, to take aspirin, then subcutaneous arsenic, potassium iodate and electric shocks, and if that doesn’t help, then wait for old age, when all this will pass and new diseases will start’ (Rayfield, p 464). The evidently durable Masha survived afflictions far worse through the Revolution, the Civil War, the Purges, World War II, and the generic horrors of Communism.

In the first minute of Uncle Vanya we are introduced to Astrov, clearly identified as a doctor by Marina, and the second thing he says is: ‘No, it’s not every day I drink vodka’ – the vodka-doctor presumably being the Russian equivalent of Graham Greene’s whisky priest. Dr Dorn, in The Seagull, a womanizer but a sympathetic character, casually suggests valerian drops as a remedy for any ailment that his friends undergo. In Three Sisters, Chebutykin confesses that ‘they think I’m a doctor and can cure diseases, but I know absolutely nothing’. He had been responsible for the death of a patient a few days before, and now copies out remedies from a newspaper article. Donald Rayfield wrote that The Cherry Orchard ‘is the progenitor of modern drama from Artaud to Pinter’. The plays also reveal a road that leads to ‘Doc’ Morrissey of Sunshine Desserts in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.

Reginald Perrin and Doc Morrisey

Another classic is the exchange between Chebutykin and Solyony in Act 2 of Three Sisters, where they have a pointless debate about the essence of two Caucasian dishes (a dialogue that raises some interesting aspects of translation, as I shall explain below). They talk at utter cross-purposes, apparently because of a misunderstanding over similar-sounding words. But the tenor and effect are exactly like Monty Python’s Argument Clinic. And I offer another example: the masterly transition from the end of Act 1 to the start of Act 2 in Three Sisters, where the beguiling and adored Natasha suddenly appears as an exploitative termagant, is hilarious.

I could cite more but the point is that the plays are strewn with self-absorbed characters who simply do not listen to what others are saying to them. Chekhov loves to show the delusional facets of mediocre people who try to convince themselves that they are original or interesting, in order to provide themselves some sense of self-worth. These characters frequently display eternal facets of behaviour that are instantly recognizable in any era or location: the passive/aggressive emotional manipulation by Arkadina of her son, Konstantin, in The Seagull; the grouchy victimhood of the indulged Professor Serebryakov and the vanity and frustrated ambitions of Voinitsky in Uncle Vanya. On reading Donald Rayfield’s outstanding 1997 biography of Chekhov, I realized how much of such behaviour had originated from Chekhov’s observation of his close family and friends, especially his self-pitying father, Pavel, and his selfish oldest brother, Aleksandr.

One would not be able to detect what a bohemian, even bawdy, life the young Chekhov led from his more restrained publications, and for a long time the seamier aspects of his life were withheld, thus contributing to the notion that the writer was a sober and earnest gentleman who needed to be taken very seriously. (What is remarkable is that the four great plays were written when Chekhov suffered regularly from haemorrhaging of the lungs, the symptoms of tuberculosis that he knew would kill him before long. It is breathtaking to consider the equanimity and humour with which he endured the last few years of his life.) For example, when I first encountered Voinitsky’s declaration that he ‘could have been a Schopenhauer, a Dostoevsky’ I took it all rather literally, deeming his presumptions legitimate: it needed a few more years for me to perceive the absurdity of such claims. After all, Chekhov might have thought that Schopenhauer was a frightful charlatan or a windbag, and who would have wanted to live the life of Dostoevsky, what with that mock execution, and those gambling obsessions?

I believe part of the problem with Chekhov’s stage humour is that the rest of the cast does not seem to be encouraged to break out into guffaws when the more absurd speeches are made, and the lack of reaction tends to diminish the level of humour in the audience’s eyes and ears. That is one reason why actors have complained that the dramas do not lend themselves to proper ensemble acting. (Gerhardie wrote: “The company on the stage, as indeed in life, is to all purposes an ensemble of solitary souls.”) The cast members must wonder what what they should be doing when (for instance) Gayev makes his speech honouring the bookcase in The Cherry Orchard. At my first reading I must have thought to myself: ‘That is what Russians do. They address inanimate objects in emotional terms’. But even in rural Russia in 1900, any normal acquaintances of Gayev would have interrupted the fellow after a few words in the hope of being spared any further embarrassments, or at least rolled their eyes, shaken their heads, thrown their hands up in the air, or gesticulated to him to stop.

Hingley and Translation

Hingley set much store in the art of translation, a topic that still fascinates me. He took a class in Russian prose, and we used his book Soviet Prose, which included some rather dire extracts from ‘socialist realist’ writers. Tackling these pieces presented the familiar challenge of trying to find the correct English words to represent characteristics and events that were relatively contemporaneous, but still far removed from familiar 1960s Britain. Yet, with Chekhov’s settings, the problem was far more intense. How faithful should a translator be to the original? What manner of the English vernacular should be applied to the speeches of a variety of Russians in the 1890s? Should a translator try to be very faithful to the idioms and references of the time and place? Should the leading characters perhaps talk like Galsworthian land-owners and gentlefolk? Or should the exchanges be packaged up – a little distorted, possibly – for a modern audience?

Hingley explained his approach in his Introduction to Volume 3. He set out to produce versions for the stage – a goal that might appear to be obvious – but added that his versions were intended for reading as well as acting. Yet, since his opinion was that the best stage version ‘must automatically be the best version for reading purposes as well’, his distinction could be seen as superfluous. He went on to write:

An attempt has been made to use modern English which is lively without being slangy. Above all, an effort has been made to avoid the kind of unthinking ‘translationese ’ which has so often in the past imparted to translated Russian a distinctive, somehow ‘doughy’ style of its own with little relation to anything present in the original Russian.

Now I might challenge Hingley a bit on his terminology. It puts me off a bit that the two key words in this second sentence are both encapsulated in inverted commas, as if they are not real terms. Why are there not proper English words to describe what he wants to communicate, and, if they are not proper English words, how is the reader supposed to interpret them? The word ‘translationese’ does not appear in my Chambers Dictionary, but on-line dictionaries define it ‘as an over-literal approach to translation’ and state that the term originated in the early 20th century, so Hingley could presumably have used it without quotation marks. And, admittedly, he gives examples: the Russian verb ‘filosoftsvovat’’ is used much more freely and vaguely than a native English speaker would deploy ‘to philosophize’ (perhaps ‘shoot the breeze’?), and Hingley does not always translate ‘dusha’ as soul, given that the word (according to his estimation) ‘is now almost confined to theological contexts’. One could confidently conclude that Hingley was not a fan of Arthur Conley.

Arthur Conley & Sweet Soul Music

But ‘doughy’? The word means ‘pallid’ or ‘pasty’, but I would assume that Hingley was suggesting more ‘lumpy’, or ‘indigestible’ even. I think I know what he meant – where the language neither reflects an accurate rendering of the original, nor sounds like the idiom or register of what any normal person would naturally express. And this is a very important point. He goes on to explain how Chekhov uses French forms of address ‘to create an antipathetic, vulgar, “genteel” [those quotation marks again!] (or one might wish to say “pseudo-genteel” effect), a system that will not work in an English setting.’ He follows up with:

It would be a mistake for an actress to pronounce these French sentences with a good Parisian accent. On the English stage they would probably sound best spoken in some suburban English accent, which, however, like everything else with Chekhov, should not be overdone.

And here we meet the challenge of ‘modernity’. What made sense in 1964 might not be appropriate in 2022. What, after all, is a ‘suburban’ accent today, when estuarine vowels and consonants can be heard all day on the BBC World News? (Come back, Alvar Lidell.) There is a risk of all the prejudices about ‘Received Pronunciation’ coming to the surface. Yet Hingley overall does an excellent job of rendering Chekhov’s lines in a natural and colloquial idiom that has lasted well the past sixty years. And his pupil, Michael Frayn, produced translations for all the plays in the 1980s that appeared to have goals similar to Hingley’s. In his Introduction to The Cherry Orchard (commissioned for Peter Hall’s production), Frayn wrote:

I have tried to observe two basic principles. The first is that a proper line of dialogue is what that particular character would have said at that particular moment if he had been a native English-speaker; this sometimes involves a quite different construction. The other is that, in a text intended for production, like this one, every line must be as immediately comprehensible in English as it was in the original; there are no footnotes on the stage.

Michael Frayn

But one might well ask: “What is a native English-speaker in this context?”. Frayn’s translation of Three Sisters was also commissioned, by Caspar Wrede, for production in Manchester, and his principles thus still applied, but what native English-speakers declare their passionate yearnings for returning to Moscow?

I do want to record two important statements made by Hingley and Frayn about the art of translating Chekhov. Hingley wrote:

A tendency to repeat words or phrases is a feature of conversational Russian shared by English, but not to the same extent. Thus, Chekhov’s characters, in moments of frustration, often say Я не могу, не могу [ya ne mogu, ne mogu] (literally, ‘I cannot, I cannot’). Once again the mechanical reproduction in English of a feature of the Russian is not necessarily always consistent with the spirit of the original though there are of course occasions when it is. For example, the above phrase is probably better rendered as something like ‘I can’t stand it, I tell you, rather than by ‘I can’t stand it, I can’t stand it’.

And Frayn:

Another considerable problem for the translator is finding consistent equivalents for the many recurring words and phrases. The hardest – and most ubiquitous – is vsyo ravno and its variants, which I have rendered as ‘It doesn’t matter’. ‘It’s all the same’ would be closer, but is less capable of being adapted to all the different situations in which it occurs. The effect of repetition must, I think, in a play where it is used so consciously, take precedence over exactitude.

(I immediately thought of Gilda Radner, and her trope of ‘Never mind’, on Saturday Night Live. Does it take a certain generation – and domicile – to appreciate that?)

Comparisons

It is instructive to compare the translations of Fen (1954), Hingley (1964), and Frayn (1987). This could be the subject of a thesis, but I shall cite a couple of examples. In the first scene of Uncle Vanya, where Astrov is complaining about his life, he speaks of the eccentricities of people around him:

(Fen) “This sort of life drags you down. You’re surrounded by queer people – they’re a queer lot, all of them, and after you’ve lived with them for a year or two, you gradually become queer yourself, without noticing it.”

(Hingley) “It gets you down, this life does. You’re surrounded by the oddest people, because that’s what they all are – odd. Spend a couple of years among them, and you gradually turn into a freak yourself, and don’t even notice it.”

(Frayn) “It drags its feet, this life of ours. You’re surrounded by cranks and crackbrains – there’s something odd about the lot of them. Live with them for a few years and gradually, without noticing it, you start getting a bit odd yourself.”

First, it is obvious that Hingley and Frayn wanted to move away from the associations of ‘queer’, the meaning of which had taken a new departure. Hingley also transforms the formal prose of Fen into a more colloquial format, as does Frayn, but then they both introduce sharper slants on the notion of ‘oddness’ – Hingley deploying ‘freak’ (which is surely a bit of an exaggeration), and Frayn using two more extreme nouns, ‘crank’, and ‘crackbrain’, both of which seem inappropriate to me. A ‘crank’ is normally someone with distorted and irrational opinions, while ‘crackbrain’ which goes back to the sixteenth century, suggests insanity. Chekhov was merely suggesting eccentricity, I believe: ‘crackpot’ might be better than ‘crackbrain’. These versions may not be ‘doughy’, but I do not believe they are faithful to the original. Ironically, in Act 2, when Astrov declares that there is not anything odd about him, Fen uses ‘crank’, Hingley deploys ‘freak’, and Frayn returns to simply ‘oddness’. Amazingly, Frayn omits completely some passages that present linguistic challenges, such as the speech impediments of Astrov’s assistant. Hingley is the obvious winner, to me.

Another testing passage appears in Act II of Three Sisters, where Chebutykin and Solyony debate the relative merits of Caucasian food. The joke revolves around the supposed similarities between the words ‘chehartma’ (a meat dish) and ‘cheremsha’ (a kind of onion). It is not a very elegant exchange: Chebutykin is made to spell out for the audience what chehartma is, while it is difficult to see how Solyony could mishear what Chebutykin says (unless he is being deliberately obtuse). But it is a prime example of Chekhov characters speaking at cross-purposes.

Fen is faithful to the original, using the Russian terms. Hingley tries to anglicize the exchange by replacing the foods with ‘escalope’ and ‘shallot’, which is a fairly clever transposition of meat and onions (but might ‘scallions’ have been a better fit?). Frayn reverts to the native Russian of ‘chehartmá’ and ‘cheremshá’, and adds for our benefit the fact that the latter is known as ‘ramson’, which appears to be botanically accurate, but is an extraneous and unnatural insertion that draws the translator into a tangled metaverse. Why would a Russian character translate the native Russian word into English, even if he was supposed to be ‘a native English speaker’? If that is the principle the translator is heeding, the Hingley approach of attempted naturalisation, and not trying to explain too much, is preferable.

One aspect of this process which may have been overlooked is that, in the attempt to render the complete playscript colloquial, the translators do not pay enough attention to the unique registers of each individual speaker (a technique I have complimented John le Carré on). The speech mannerisms of the minor characters in Chekhov are well-defined, but the major characters tend to be more homogeneous – at least in translation. I have not studied the Russian text closely enough to determine whether Chekhov invested much effort into providing distinct speech patterns. For instance, the language of the upstart peasant businessman Lopakhin, in The Cherry Orchard, sounds just like that of his landowning colleagues. (One might have expected him perhaps to have had a ‘suburban’ accent –  ‘Del Boy’ Lopakhin, perhaps.) Whether it is truly so in the original, I cannot yet say.

Tarara-boom-de-ay!

Ta! Ra! Ra! Boom De Ay!

Lastly, the intriguing matter of ‘Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay’, the refrain sung by Chebutykin in Three Sisters, as a mere mannerism, or perhaps as a gentle commentary on the absurdity of what is going on. The song, with its suggestive lyrics, dates from 1891, and became popular throughout Europe, even in Russia, but the American originally published version presents the famous line solely as a refrain, with no balancing lyrics.

Constance Garnett leaves the refrain unimproved. Fen represents it as follows: “Tarara-boom-di-ay . . . . I’m sitting on a tomb-di-ay. . . .”, with a rather morbid reference. Hingley, however, introduces a completely different idea: “Tararaboomdeay, let’s have a tune today”, while Frayn presents it as “Ta-ra . . . ra . . . boom-de-ay. . . . Sit in my room all day. . .” Lastly, at the conclusion of his book, Gerhardie describes the scene as follows:

Only a few minutes earlier the old army doctor has been singing softly to himself the well-worn refrain, ‘Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay; this is our washing day’ – a trashy tune; which only throws into relief the mood of the three sisters, the most searching of which the human heart is capable.  

[Eh?? Hingley would have red-pencilled that last clause.]

So what is going on here? How can these experts be all over the place so haphazardly?

What Chekhov wrote was: “ Tara…ra…bumbia. . . Cizhu na tumbe ya . . . “, but it is not clear whether that is his invention, or whether the song became Russified that way. The second part means, literally, ‘I sit on a bollard’ (i.e. not a ‘tomb’, which is how Elizabeth Fen chose to translate ‘toomba’: she must have fallen in love with the rhyme. Martin Clay would presumably have rebuked her for making a stupid guess.) But where the others get their ideas from is not clear – and how could they claim that their versions were faithful to the original?

I suspect that several parodies, or imitations, were going round over the decades. I recall Martin Clay reciting to us that the second part of the refrain went: ‘I washed my socks today’, which sounds like some barrack-room jingle dreamed up by overworked JSSL pupils at Caterham-on-the-Hill perhaps, although it echoes Gerhardie’s creation from the 1920s. But why not come up with something that resembles the original? My mind went immediately to George Formby and Leaning on a Lamp-post, since perhaps Chekhov’s idea was perhaps that boulevardiers would sit on a bollard and watch all the girls go by.

Yet Chekhov might have wanted to suggest that it was the singing of the refrain by an alluring woman that fascinated him. The fact that it had a connotation of the original sexual attraction for him is shown by a letter he wrote to Leontiev Shcheglov in December 1896, after Shcheglov had advised him to get married. Chekhov specified that his future wife should be ‘a blue-eyed actress singing Tara-ra-boom-de-ay’ (Rayfield, p 410). The writer was apparently irresistible to women, with his quizzical, humorous and ambiguous manner, but he led a dissolute bachelor life, and treated all his admirers very badly. He was eventually tamed and charmed by Olga Knipper (who reportedly had ‘small eyes and a large jowl’), and married her. I thus look out eagerly for a new translation that does justice to the matter. But where are you, Ronald Hingley, when we need you and your insights?

(New Commonplace entries viewable here.)

Postscript: November 20, 2022

I have since read Donald Rayfield’s ‘Understanding Chekhov’, and find that he writes (on page 214, in his chapter on ‘Three Sisters’) the following:

“The third English (or American) element which had already served Chekhov as a leitmotiv in the story ‘Big Volodia and Little Volodia’ was the music-hall song ‘Tarara-boom-deay’, which spread from America in 1891 to all Europe in countless variations. In English (and in French) its verses were sung by a louche schoolgirl (‘Not too shy and not too bold, Just the sort for sport I’m told’), while an enthusiastic male chorus sings ‘Tarara-boom-deay’. In Chekhov’s work the refrain became a euphemism for sexual intercourse. In Russian versions the text was sadder. The main verse might be the story of a man fallen into depravity and the chorus a bitter lament. The song, however, was orchestrated and became an artillery regimental march. Undoubtedly, the officers of Chekhov’s fictional battery, as they leave the northern town where they have enchanted, and disenchanted, the three sisters, march out to the tune of ‘Tarara-boom-deay’, the very song that Dr Chebutykin sings (as all Chekhovian males sing songs) to heighten the distress of the heroine to whom it applies.” Rayfield points out that Chebutykin sings the refrain at the death of Tuzenbach from a duel, thus increasing Irina’s distress.

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Summer 2022 Round-Up

The Ultimate Fridge Magnet

I ♥ Coldspur Fridge Magnet

I received the above item in the mail a few weeks ago – completely out of the blue. It arrived from Greece, and the envelope included a packing-slip that informed me that the item had been bought from Mundus Souvenirs on Amazon Marketplace, and that the buyer’s name was ‘David’. The condition of the item was described as ‘New’, so I was happy that I was not the beneficiary of a re-tread. But who could the semi-anonymous donor be?

I know of only three ‘Davids’ who are aware of coldspur, and also have my home address. None of them is renowned for wearing his heart on his sleeve, but maybe each does adorn it on his refrigerator. It was a superbly innovative and generous gesture, and I determined to get to the bottom of it.

Maybe coincidentally, I happened to hear from David Puttock soon after. David lives in Hamilton, Ontario. We go back a long way: we studied together in the Sixth Modern at Whitgift, and we both went on to read German and Russian at Oxford, David at New College, I at Christ Church. We have met only once since 1968 – at a Gartner Group conference in Toronto ca. 1990, but have maintained a sporadic email correspondence, and the exchange of Christmas cards (heathen that I am), since his retirement. And, indeed, when I asked him about the magnet, he admitted that he was the benefactor.

David told me that he found the item by googling ‘coldspur’, and that the amazon link appeared on the first page of the selection. When I performed that function, however, amazon was nowhere to be seen, but my site gratifyingly appeared before the township of Coldspur, Kansas. The magnet was probably intended for the good citizens of that community, who may think they have stumbled into an alternative universe if they mistakenly look up www.coldspur.com. In any case, those coldspur enthusiasts who feel an urge to have their ardour more durably expressed know where to go. I vaguely thought of buying a stock of magnets, and making an arrangement with Mundus to send them out to well-deserving readers of coldspur, those who post congratulatory or innovative posts in response to my bulletins, but it all sounded a bit too complicated. For about $8.00, you can buy your own. (The SKU is mgnaplilo103600_1, in case you have difficulty. See
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08RZBNVJ3?ref_=cm_sw_r_ud_dp_F2MAMV1SC49R799FBKWJ
.) Lastly, I am of course delighted with the magnet, as my enthusiasm for coldspur is boundless. But what about David? Did he purchase one for himself at the same time, for proud display to his friends on the Puttock refrigerator? I hope so.

Contents:

Introduction

Sonia and The Professor

Operation PARAVANE

The Coldspur Archive

‘Hitler’s Spy Against Churchill’

An Update on Paul Dukes

The PROSPER Disaster

2022 Reading:

            General

            Spy Fiction

            ‘The Art of Resistance’

            ‘The Inhuman Land’

            ‘Secret Service in the Cold War’

            ‘A Woman of No Importance’

Language Corner

Bridge Corner

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

Introduction

Since I spent two weeks in Los Altos, California, in June, staying with our son and his family (whom we had not seen for two-and-a half-years), my research has been somewhat lagging. So I thought for my July bulletin I would perform a mid-year round-up instead. Not that there is much new material to report, but I usually find a few points of interest when I carry out this exercise. Moreover, the exercise of writing it all up helps to clarify my opinions on these research topics, and acts as a kind of journal and memoir should posterity (i.e. my grand-daughters) ever want to track down what was really going on.

I suppose that I must record a certain disappointment that my research in the first half of the year has resulted in a resounding tinkle. I would have thought that the disclosures that Henri Déricourt had definitely been recruited before he arrived on British shores in 1942, that SOE was harbouring a dangerously vulnerable cipher officer in George Graham when it set up its mission in Moscow and Kuibyshev in 1941 and 1942, and that Graham was later driven to madness, that M. R. D. Foot’s history of SOE in France is evasive and unscholarly, since Francis Suttill almost certainly made two visits to the United Kingdom in the months of May and June of 1943, shortly before he was arrested, that Peter Wright behaved in a scandalously irresponsible and mendacious manner when he claimed that Volkov’s hints in 1945 pointed to Hollis rather than to Philby, and that Colin Gubbins was not the innovative hero that his biographers have made him out to be, might have provoked some rapt attention in the world of spy-watching and intelligence connoisseurship. While I have received several private messages of support and approval, I have seen no public recognition – nor any challenge to my theories expressed. If I cannot receive due publicity for my pains, I would rather have someone step up and protest that my theories are hogwash, so that I could at least engage in a serious discussion about these outstanding puzzles.

If I were resident in the United Kingdom, I would eagerly take up any invitation offered to me to speak at any historical society that showed an interest in my subjects of study. I have undertaken a few such activities in the United States, but the good citizens of Brunswick County, while listening politely, are overall not particularly interested in predominantly British spy exploits of the 1940-1970 era.

Sonia and The Professor

Flyer for On-Line Talk by Glees & Marnham

Thus it was with considerable excitement that I heard from Professor Glees a few months ago that he had agreed to speak to an historical interest group in Oxfordshire (the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum) about Agent Sonya (or Sonia), as I imagined this would generate some interest in coldspur. When I looked at the promotional material, however, I was slightly perturbed by the rather two-edged endorsement of my research. While Professor Glees spoke glowingly of my investigations, his overall message was that I was in reality a side-show to his own endeavours. “This is not just my story, it is his.” Considering that, according to my analysis, Glees has not written a word about Ursula Kuczynski since his book in 1986, I considered this observation rather troublesome. I was further dismayed when I listened to and watched the recording of his presentation. Coldspur gained only one mumbled acknowledgment. While the promotional material for the talk highlighted Ben Macintyre’s biography Agent Sonya as a teaser, Glees ignored completely my careful review of the book, which demolishes most of the falsehoods that Macintyre promulgated about his subject.

Furthermore, I believe that Glees grossly misrepresented my researches, and dug himself a hole when attempting to answer a question as to whether Sonya had been a ‘double agent’. Glees seems to be under the impression that it is he alone who has revealed that Sonya had been ‘recruited’ by MI6, but that her intentions may not have been entirely honourable. (“I made it very clear that the archival research aka ‘the trees’ was yours, not mine, & the thought that Sonya was an SIS agent aka ‘the wood’ was mine,” he wrote to me afterwards.) He appeared to be unaware of what I had published on coldspur back in 2017, when I showed that MI6 had been fooled by Sonya when she agreed to their terms in order to be exfiltrated from Switzerland, and her life effectively saved. She had no intention at all of serving British Intelligence loyally, and would have had to contact her Moscow masters in order to gain approval for the scheme of her marriage to Beurton, the resultant adoption of UK citizenship, and her subsequent escape to England. The fact that she then became a courier for Klaus Fuchs proves that she never intended to be of any useful service for Menzies and his pals, who were grossly hoodwinked. I do not know where Glees derived the illusion that it was he who prised out these discoveries.

When I gently protested to Glees about his misrepresentations, and his failure to give credit to my discoveries and analysis on coldspur, he was very patronising and dismissive, exaggerating his own ability to see ‘the woods’, and suggesting that I had been concentrating on ‘the trees’, while at the same time he compounded his forgetfulness (or inattention) over what I had written. In a responding email he wrote: “As I explained the release of KV 6/41 a few years ago, found by you, dissected by you, and read by me, thanks to you and esp[ecially] the Farrell letter which I ‘decoded’ to you, if you recall, & was imo [in my opinion] key to solving the riddle. You’ll remember that I put this to you, along with the notion that the simple fact this file from 1941 existed, showed that MI5 were aware of Sonya’s existence in Oxford.”  

But that is absurd. Glees did not ‘decode’ the letter for me. My researches in 2017 showed quite clearly that MI5 was aware of Sonya’s presence in Oxford at that time. Glees’s ignorance is dumbfounding. I did indeed introduce him to the file KV 6/41, which Glees appears to believe constitutes an exclusive exposure of Sonya’s activities. But it stands out because it is the only digitized file on the Kuczynskis: I had inspected the others at Kew several years ago, and published my analysis of them. I tried to explain to Glees that these other files revealed much of her goings-on in Oxfordshire, but he did not want to listen. I am confident that he has not looked at these files (although I have shared my notes on them with him).

And his claim that he alone can see the ‘big picture’ (he is a ‘woodsman’, while I am only a ‘trees’ man’) is insulting and patently absurd. His distinction between different aspects of the forest was nevertheless exceedingly murky: in his talk he made some bizarre assertions that Sonya must have developed some useful contacts within the Oxford intelligentsia, without offering a shred of evidence (‘the trees’, about which matters he was punctilious when he was my doctoral supervisor).

He then accused me of behaving like M. R. D. Foot (the historian of SOE) wanting to stake proprietary claims about a sphere of research, and trying to prohibit anyone else from stepping on his turf. After saying that “No one will want to engage with someone who fires off furious emails at the drop of a hat”, he wrote:

You know I’m one of the biggest admirers of your work & have always made others aware of it. It’s easy to be cross & resentful, as MRD Foot, for example, excelled in being (an academic version of ‘outraged of Tonbridge Wells’) but much better to be charitable, particularly where you ought to be as here. You’re really way off beam here. Few people have done more to bring your work to the attention of others but at the end of the day it was I, and not you, who were giving this talk.

I graciously accept the compliment inherent in this, but on this public occasion Glees did all he could not to bring my work to the attention of others. Second, my email was not ‘furious’: it was regretful and calm, and tried to discuss real issues  – which Glees side-stepped. (I could make the email available to anyone who is interested.) His reaction merely points to his own prickliness and egotism. Moreover, I am not sure where ‘charity’ comes in. Am I really supposed to be grateful for Glees for mangling my research. and failing to give me proper credit? And perhaps I should be pleased to be compared with M. R. D. Foot, a famous ‘authorized’ historian?Yet I could really not harbour any such protective ambition, as I was communicating through a solitary private email from 4,000 miles away! And then Glees tripped himself up over the absurd ‘double agent’ business. It appears that the professor has not bothered to read my research carefully, and does not understand the distinctions between penetration agents, traitors, and double agents. I have thus ignored his lectures to me. Some woodsman; some lumber.

It is all rather sad. I do not understand why an academic of Glees’s reputation would want to engage in such petty practices, and try to distort my researches in such a non-collegial manner. (I have indeed helped him on several matters when he has sought my advice.) Yet, in a way, I do understand. I have seen enough of the goings-on at the University of Buckingham to be able to write a David Lodge-type novel about the pettiness and jealousies of provincial English university life. I have described some of those exploits on coldspur already: I shall refrain from writing up the whole absurd business until another time (I would hardly want to lower myself precipitately to that level, would I?), as I presently have more important fish to fry. When I have run out of other research matters, I may return to the shenanigans at the University of Buckingham.

Yes, I admit this is all rather petty on my part, too. It was just the Soldiers of Oxfordshire museum, not an invitation on In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg. But, if ‘one of my biggest admirers’ can get things so wrong, what is he doing the rest of the time? I wanted to set the record straight. Besides, it is quite fun to bring the Prof down a peg or two.

And then, by one of those extraordinary coincidences that crop up more frequently than they should, I read these words in the July Literary Review, by the biographer Frances Wilson: 

. . . . most memoirs, if not loaded guns, are written for the purpose of retribution and revenge. This is by no means a criticism: retribution and revenge are strong reasons for writing a book. You want to put the record straight, to tell your side of things, to correct a wrong. Even the mildest-mannered memoirs have reprisal at their hearts.

Thank you, Ms. Wilson.

Operation PARAVANE

I have not yet received anything substantial on the piece compiled by Nigel Austin and me, The Airmen Who Died Twice. That does not surprise me much, as the PARAVANE operation is a little-known episode, a side road to the main WW2 excursion. Yet the posting of my bulletin on June 3 placed an important marker for the story, and immediately made a synopsis available worldwide as a reference point for anyone who might be trawling on the Web for information on PARAVANE.

I shall not reveal here the astonishing denouement of this extraordinary series of incidents, but one aspect of the exploit merits some attention. And that is the uncharacteristically cooperative behaviour of the Soviet Air Force. It was only at the end of August 1944 that RAF Bomber Command concluded that an attempt to use the new ‘Tallboy’ bomb in a direct raid from Scotland was not feasible because of fuel capacity, and considered using a base in the northern Soviet Union, near Murmansk, as an intermediate destination after the raid at Alta Fjord. That Air Marshall Harris could take for granted at this late stage that the Soviets would agree to such an initiative indicates that negotiations for such must have been in place for some time, as the Russians were extremely wary of allowing foreigners on Soviet soil. Any such move would have had to be approved by Stalin, and recent events at Poltava and Warsaw had indicated that the Soviet military command was keen to obstruct any such cooperative operations.

For the relationships between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union were indeed at their lowest ebb at this time. (See https://coldspur.com/war-in-1944-howards-folly ) Stalin, having encouraged the Warsaw Uprising over the radio, then refused permission for air support operations by the western Allies to the Poles to be launched from Soviet territory, the missions having to be directed from the UK, and from Brindisi in Italy, and back. It was at the end of August, when the PARAVANE operation was being planned, that Churchill pleaded with Stalin to allow Soviet airfields to be used to support the Warsaw rebels, but Stalin was obdurate, and Roosevelt would not join Churchill in his appeal. Soviet forces waited the other side of the Vistula river until the uprising was quashed by the Nazis, at enormous loss of life.

Moreover, a precedent for the use of Soviet airbases had recently occurred in Operation FRANTIC, where the Soviets granted rights to the USA Air Force to conduct bombing-raids on German territory between June and September 1944. I have recently read books by Glenn Infield (The Poltava Affair) and Sergii Plokhy (Forgotten Bastards of the Eastern Front) which tell the sad story of how the Americans were misused by the Soviets, especially when, on June 21, Soviet air defences failed to prevent a highly destructive raid at Poltava by German airplanes, all of which escaped intact. By then, in any case, with the Soviet land forces moving close to Germany, the value of the base had sharply diminished.

Thus when Bomber Command had a further change of plan, and was apparently able to decide, on September 4, without further consultations with the Soviet Air Force, that the aircraft of the PARAVANE operation would better land in Soviet territory, and preferably at an airfield further away from German airbases than Murmansk, and thus less likely to be strafed, it was extraordinary (in my opinion) how smoothly and quickly the negotiations continued. In a matter of days, Yagodnik had been identified as suitable, and made available, but a week later, an even bolder version was aired. The new plan – to have the squadrons fly directly to the Archangel area, and rest and refuel, before launching the attack on the Tirpitz, and then return to that airbase – was likewise immediately approved by the Soviets. I believe that the groundwork must have been prepared some time before, and that the Number 30 Military Mission to Moscow (Air Section), which had been boosted in the summer of 1944, must have presented a case for the usage of airfields well before early September.

The fact is that Stalin 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. While the cause of protecting convoys to Murmansk was no doubt genuine, it was becoming less important by this stage of the war, and Stalin must have had ulterior motives (such as the acquisition of the latest military technology) in granting such rights to the British squadrons. The Foreign Office, in its misguided belief that ‘cooperation’ with the Soviet Union would lead to harmonious relationships when the war ended (an echo of the attitude taken by President Roosevelt and his sidekick Harry Hopkins), was quick to see this offer as a sign of Soviet goodwill – a ridiculous mistake. I have started to investigate the 30 Mission records for further clues, as the RAF records are disappointingly vague.

I was able to make email contact with Professor Plokhy, and asked him whether he had any insights into the complementary PARAVANE operation. Unfortunately he did not, but he directed me to someone who, he thought, would be able to help, a Liudmila Novikova, in St. Petersburg, an expert (so Plokhy said) on British units in the Soviet Union. I was unable to gain any response from her; perhaps I went straight into her spam folder, or maybe she has uprooted because of the recent turmoil. Does anyone know her?

Lastly, one correspondent, having read the PARAVANE piece, drew my attention to another mysterious aircraft accident of 1944, in Newquay, Cornwall, the details of which have ever since lain in obscurity. The informant was Mark Cimperman, the son of the FBI’s wartime representative in London during the war, Frank Cimperman (who appears frequently in Guy Liddell’s Diaries). I tracked down the event at http://wartimeheritage.com/storyarchive2/storymysteryflight.htm , and was astonished at the eerie characteristics that patterned those concerning the crash at Nesbyen a few months later. Mark told me that the researcher for the story, David Fowkes, had written to the Cimpermans, believing that Frank might have known something about the accident. Sadly, Cimperman had died of cancer in 1968 at the age of sixty.

The Coldspur Archive

As part of my project to preserve the coldspur archive, I made contact in early May with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in Palo Alto, and eventually received a very courteous response from Dr. Anatol Shmelev, a research fellow and Robert Conquest curator of the Russia and Eurasia Collection. Over email, he had advised me to seek out a smaller university as a destination for my book collection, as he believed there would be too many overlaps with what the Institution held for Hoover to be an appropriate donee. I have thus since attempted to contact the Librarians at a couple of other universities, but have received no response to my approaches. I arranged, however, to have a meeting with Dr. Shmelev, during my visit to the area, and it turned out that he and his family live a few minutes away from our son in Los Altos.

On June 11 I thus enjoyed a very pleasant lunch with Anatol and his wife, Julia, who was born in St. Petersburg, and who acted as research assistant to Robert Conquest in the latter years of his life. Robert Conquest was someone I admired greatly (another significant writer whose hand I hoped to shake, but he was too infirm by the time I wrote to him just before his death): his Great Terror and Harvest of Sorrow made a deep impression on me, as they must have done on many students of Russian history. He was also a close friend of Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin, two more of my enthusiasms, although their private correspondence betrays opinions that are highly inappropriate in today’s sensitive times. It was a privilege, nevertheless, to meet two academics who had worked so closely with Conquest.

Anatol gave me some further tips about finding a home for my books, suggesting that I seek the support of members of the history faculties at such universities rather than the librarians/archivists themselves. We had a lively and fascinating discussion about many topics of Russian literature and history, and intelligence matters, as well as regretting the obvious fact that many book collections are simply pulped when the cream has been skimmed off them. I would hate to see that happen to mine, but that is presumably what everyone says. I did also immediately order Shmelev’s recent book, on Russia’s path immediately after the Revolution, In the Wake of Empire. I expected it to be a fascinating companion to Antony Beevor’s volume Russia, Revolution, and Civil War, 1917-1921, which has received excellent reviews in the British press already, but will not be available in the USA until September.

‘In the Wake of Empire’ by Anatol Shmelev

Indeed, Shmelev’s book was absorbing – quite brilliant. The author had access to a large trove of correspondence between the exiled Russian diplomats and their military counterparts, such as Admiral Kolchak and General Denikin, and has exploited them to show the futility of a fractured opposition to the Bolsheviks. I had not understood all the dimensions of the conflict, what with outlying nations of the old Russia straining for independence, the struggles between those wanting to restore the old land-owning aristocracy, or even an emperor, and those who accepted that land reforms and a more democratic constitution were absolutely essential in order to give credibility and authority to any future regime. The challenge for pluralist political entities to counter effectively a determined and single-minded dictatorial force was brought home to me by the fact that not only did the Whites disagree among themselves, the Allies all had diverse interests, as did the borderland national territories of old Imperial Russia, and, even within one nation’s administration, the British War Office disagreed with the Foreign Office on policy, and within the Foreign Office itself, factions had sharply divided views on what the representation and constitution of the future Russian governing body should be. Eventually, Communist Might meant Right. Shmelev’s judgments are sure – authoritative without being dogmatic – and shed much light on the tortured dynamics of the civil war. I shall defer a full discussion until later, when I have read Beevor’s book.

Incidentally, Dr. Shmelev also wrote a book on Russian émigrés, titled Tracking a Diaspora:
Émigrés from Russia and Eastern Europe in the Repositories
, and I believe that the story of Serge Leontiev (aka George Graham) and his forbears, friends, and associates will be of interest to him.

‘Hitler’s Spy Against Churchill’

‘Hitler’s Spy Against Churchill’

This book, by Jan-Willem van den Braak, is now available – both in the UK and the USA – and I encourage coldspur readers to acquire it. It constitutes a very valuable addition to the chronicle of the Abwehr spies sent to the United Kingdom in the autumn of 1940, its subject, ter Braak, managing mysteriously to remain undetected for several months before committing suicide, or so the story goes. (I did supply an Afterword for the book, which I would not have done had I not thought that the author had carried out a stellar piece of research. In that piece I voice an alternative theory about the spy’s demise.) I have not seen any reviews of the work yet, but I know these things take time.

An Update on Paul Dukes

In my piece on George Graham, I had expressed some puzzlement over the behaviour of Paul Dukes in the 1930s, finding the official biographical records somewhat wanting. And then, while I was researching the Volkov business, I discovered that Keith Jeffery, in his Postscript for the new paperback edition of his history of MI6, had inserted some new analysis of Dukes’s activity at this time.

The essence of the account is that MI6 did attempt to exploit Dukes’s plans, in May 1934, to take a predominantly Russian troupe of ballet-dancers to Eastern Europe and to the Soviet Union. When Admiral Sinclair, the head of MI6, heard about this, he sent Harold Gibson to Vienna to discuss how Dukes might help develop intelligence sources in the U.S.S.R., since MI6’s sources there were practically non-existent (if, indeed, there were any at all). Yet the project soon foundered. Illness and disappointing box-office returns meant that the company never reached further than Italy, and, twelve months later, Dukes was in such bad favour that Sinclair told Monty Chidson, head of station in Bucharest (who asserted that Dukes was involved in arms dealing with Sofia) that he was to have nothing to do with Dukes.

MI6 belatedly realized that Dukes was a faded product: he had mixed too closely with White Russian emigrants (very true), and he would now constitute quite a security risk. Valentine Vivian issued him some advice before Dukes left London in August 1934, warning him to minimize his risks, but then minuted that the characteristics that had helped him become a valuable agent in 1919 would work against him now. Later, MI5 apparently took an interest in him, for Vivian posted another memorandum in February 1940, where he was forced to concede that Dukes’s finances were considered to be ‘catastrophic’, and that his sense of balance was considered by some to be ‘deficient’. Perhaps that was intelligence-speak that he was losing his marbles. Vivian went on to write: “His temperament is essentially artistic, and while his knowledge of things and people is encyclopaedic, his tastes rather run towards the eccentric and he would not be acceptable to those who look for a uniform service mentality”. In other words, no bohemians wanted.

The evidence I collected for my piece suggests that Dukes was trying to rehabilitate himself for a foray into the Soviet Union after these setbacks (John Stonehouse-like faked death, pro-Soviet writings), but it is not clear why anyone would have been sponsoring his intelligence-gathering aspirations. And, if he did now have an official assessment as being a loony and a spendthrift, why would anyone have listened to him when he came to recommend Serge Leontiev/George Graham as cipher-clerk for George’s Hill’s mission to Moscow? Sinclair was dead by then, but what was Valentine Vivian thinking? It is all very odd.

And then I alighted on another odd reference to Dukes while checking something in Michael Smith’s Station X (about Bletchley Park). While discussing the imaginary British spy Boniface (who was used as an alibi for Enigma decryption sources) Smith quotes R. V. Jones, who reported something he had been told:

            Gilbert Frankau, the novelist, who held a wartime post in intelligence, told me that he had deduced that the agent who could so effectively get into German headquarters must be Sir Paul Dukes, the legendary agent who had penetrated the Red Army so successfully after the Russian Revolution.

This statement does not appear in Most Secret War, so probably comes from an article that Jones supplied to the journal Intelligence and National Security in 1994. I note that appalling use of ‘legendary’ again, presumably not meaning that Dukes was a mythical being, but that many tales were told about his exploits, and that a good proportion of them were tall. The irony here was that, instead of Dukes being able to infiltrate the Nazi command, he had, through his recommendation of George Graham, unwittingly enabled the Soviets to break into the supposedly clandestine exchanges of MI6 and the Foreign Office.

The PROSPER Disaster

As I was starting to write this piece, the thickness of the fog that surrounds the relationship between the Allies in the UK and French resistance during World War II was brought home to me. I was reading a review of Graham Robb’s France: An Adventure History in the Wall Street Journal when I encountered the following sentence: “Rather, he notes the Allies’ fatally tepid support of the Resistance and turns a sad gaze on the reprisals that tainted every corner of the mountains with ‘some ineradicable act of cruelty’.” The impression – and I suppose that it is Robb’s, but one endorsed by the reviewer –  is that a potentially decisive opportunity was lost by the Allied armies (or SOE and OSS) in not supporting an extensive secret army that was simply waiting in the wings for a chance to make vigorous assaults on the German occupiers. Yet the story in fact played out on the following lines: initial experimental attempts to infiltrate agents; some vastly exaggerated claims about the size of secret armies; struggles to get the RAF to ship arms and equipment; betrayals to the Germans; stepped up shipments with the false promise of an early Allied assault; disillusionment and multiple arrests; a recalibration in the months before the Normandy landings; some vicious attacks and reprisals by the Gestapo and the Wehrmacht; a few spectacular successes in support of the Allied armies. And then de Gaulle attacked anyone who had co-operated with the Allies and tried to perpetuate the myth that the French exclusively had liberated themselves. Thus the representation of Allied strategy as being a failure to support the Resistance is both a distortion and an oversimplification of what actually happened.

I have still to post the concluding segment to my analysis of the betrayal of the PROSPER circuit. This will involve a close inspection of the minutes of the War Cabinet and Chiefs of Staff in June and July of 1943, as well as a closer study of the Bodington and Déricourt files. I do not intend to reproduce simply what has been published before, but I believe the current accounts are deficient in different ways. Robert Marshall’s All The King’s Men is on the money, but it is a little too hectic, and relies too much on oral testimony that cannot be verified. M. R. D. Foot’s SOE in France is packed with detail, but is fatally flawed by the constraints laid upon him and is still rooted in a 1960s perspective, which means that he evades the strategic issues. His Chapter XIV, Strategic Balance Sheet, completely ignores the premature attempts in 1943 to arm resistance forces with promises of an imminent arrival of Allied forces. (Moreover, the text of that summarization remained unchanged in 2004, nearly forty years after it first appeared – an extraordinary gesture of disdain towards all who had written about SOE in the interim.) Francis Suttill’s Prosper is driven by a need to track down all the details of his father’s circuit, but it is error-strewn, and he ignores the evidence in front of him in his eagerness to discount any conspiracy behind his father’s demise. Patrick Marnham’s War in the Shadows is very sound overall, but choppy: Marnham misrepresents some of the key events of 1942 and 1943, in my opinion, and weakens his case by introducing the Jean Moulin side-plot.

I therefore judge that my account of the saga needs a tidy conclusion, and I suspect that the evidence from the archives will embellish the assertion confidently made by Marnham and Marshall that the French Resistance was willfully misled as to the imminence of an Allied re-entry to the French mainland in the summer of 1943. I believe that my hypothesis that Suttill made two trips to England in May and June 1943 (see https://coldspur.com/feints-and-deception-two-more-months-in-1943/) contributes to a clearer picture of his motivations and disappointments. My next report on this saga will appear at the end of August.

It is a continuing research question of mine: what strategy was SOE executing when it tried to ship weapons to sometimes unidentifiable teams of resistance members in 1942 and 1943? According to their own records, at least 50% of arms were lost or fell into the hands of the Nazis. The submissions of SOE to the Chiefs of Staff about the potential of ‘secret armies’ showed that they had been completely misled by the claims of some of their agents. Furthermore, they showed a dismal lack of understanding of what would be required to store and maintain weaponry in good condition, and to train guerrilla forces in how to deploy it. Supplemented by some further reading of memoirs and biographies, such as in my study of Colin Gubbins last month, and the new biography of Virginia Hall (see below), I plan to provide soon a more detailed exposition of the controversial events of the spring and summer of 1943. Moreover, I have ordered a copy of Halik Kochanski’s Resistance: The Underground War in Europe, 1939-1945, in the hope that its 932 pages may reveal some fresh insights on the events of 1943 that the primary histories (including Olivier Wieworka’s recent The Resistance in Western Europe: 1940-1945) have in my opinion severely mismanaged.

P.S. As I was putting the finishing touches to this piece, I came across the following sentences in The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War (2020), by Scott Anderson (p 294):

            In most Nazi-occupied countries of Western Europe, whatever partisan formations existed only became a factor on the battlefield when the arrival of Allied armies was imminent. Nowhere was this truer than with that most vaunted of partisan forces, the French Resistance. Despite the popular notion of a France united in undermining the rule of their German conquerors, in reality, the Resistance was little more than an intermittent and low-grade pest to the Nazis until their numbers suddenly swelled in June 1944.

Precisely! This was the colossal mess that Gubbins presided over, and which M. R. D. Foot, either through lack of imagination, or by intimidation, failed to reveal in SOE in France.

2022 Reading

As I peruse the Times Literary Supplement, the London Review of Books, and the New York Review of Books, I am constantly reminded of the earnest volumes that are issued by the University Presses. Should I be reading The Kingdom of Rye: A Brief History of Russian Food, or Legacies of the Drunken Master: Politics of the Body in Hong Kong Fu Comedy Films, or Harry Potter and the Other: Race, Justice and Difference in the Wizarding World (all titles advertised in the June 17 issue of the TLS)? Probably not: life is too short. And sometimes I can’t help feeling that my speculative second book, The Unauthorized but Authoritative History of MI5 (affectionately known as TUBA), might have a better chance of commercial success than some of these rather dire works. And then the reviewers! Most of them are able to boast what their last published book is, but occasionally one is signalled by such phrases as ‘she is currently working on a collection of essays’. It all sounds rather drear, like those American waitpersons who approach you to ask whether you have ‘finished working on your meal’ so that they might take the plate away. But my work is fun (mostly). And I don’t have to consider the dreadful chore of dealing with publishers and editors: I just post my current essay on coldspur, and move on to the next one.

On reviewing my spreadsheet of Books Read for the year so far, I note that it consists mainly of volumes related to my researches, of which more later. Yet I do try to relax with lighter works in between. I started reading the fiction of Elizabeth Taylor: I was not very impressed with the short stories in You’ll Enjoy it When You Get There or the somewhat clumsy A Game of Hide and Seek, but enjoyed Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, and the well-drawn A View of the Harbour. And I am a keen reader of memoirs and biographies, The new edition of Konstantin Paustovsky’s Story of a Life, in a fluid and sparkling translation by Douglas Smith, gained some excellent reviews: I had let this work pass me by when it came out many decades ago. The reviews were merited: it is a beautifully written memoir of a vanished world, Paustovsky showing an ability to recall smells, sights, sounds, persons, conversations and situations without becoming over-lyrical or extravagant. As a picture of life before the revolution in eastern Europe (mainly in Ukraine), it is probably unmatched. For the short time about which he writes after the revolution, as in the escape from Odessa (Odesa), it lacks the irony and incisiveness of Teffi (Nadezhda Lokhvitskaya), whose Memories I read last year, but gives a very insightful picture of the rapid disillusionment that followed the drama and expectations of 1917.  Paustovsky was a survivor in Stalin’s prison-camp: when many of his contemporaries were oppressed or even murdered, he managed to outlive the dictator (1892-1968), so must have had to compromise to be allowed to continue writing and avoid persecution.

Spy Fiction

I have also dabbled in a genre that is called ‘spy fiction’, and has received much media attention of late. I read Gard Sveen’s The Last Pilgrim because it is a book about the Norwegian resistance, and includes in its cast a real person, Kai Holst, who was of interest to me because of his strange death in 1945 soon after the Swedes received secret cipher material from the Abwehr. Holst was a Norwegian resistance fighter, resident in Stockholm, who died in mysterious circumstances in June 1945. Some writers have suggested that he was murdered because he knew too much about Operation Claw, a venture whereby the Americans and the Swedes gained vital intelligence material on Soviet ciphers from the Germans, something that would have embarrassed the Swedish government because of its claimed neutrality. The file at Kew, FO 371/48073 (https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C2805368) was supposed to be released under the 75-year rule in 2020, but is still marked as being retained by the Foreign Office. As for the book, it won several awards, but I found it rather laborious and repetitive, and the mixing of real and fictitious persons and events irritating.

And then there was Mick Herron. I read a few reviews of his Slow Horses, and decided that I ought to give him a try, and have since also read Dead Lions, Real Tigers, and Spook Street, volumes in his series concerning Slough House, an imagined dumping-ground for MI5 officers and personnel who committed some career-breaking faux pas during the cause of duty, and have been exiled to this dumpy office in London. The books are hilarious. Slough House is managed by a very sharp but foul-mannered slob, Jackson Lamb, who makes Horace Rumpole look like Jacob Rees-Mogg. Herron captures the essence of his characters with wickedly humorous speech patterns and dialogue, and his prose has a Wodehousian creativity and zaniness about it. I found the larger-scale plots a bit absurd (for instance, could there really have been a colony of communist sleeper agents of influence in the British countryside in the 1990s?), but they were not damaging enough to spoil the rollicking fun. I see that a TV series has been made of Slow Horses: I have not seen it yet, but Aunt Edna would probably not approve of the language (although these days, of course, Aunt Edna probably swears like a trooper).

One important point occurred to me as I read Herron’s books. The plots of spy fiction these days have to be dependent upon, and coherent with, the technology of its time, yet that technology is constantly changing. I vaguely recall reading a thriller by Charles Cummings a decade or so ago, sprinkled with Nokia mobile phones, VCRs, payphones, and SCART connections, all of which immediately date it, but also drove the plot. (I am constantly amused that my 2011 edition of Chambers Dictionary includes an entry for ActiveX.) Between the time an author starts writing his text and the date of the book’s publication, much of the technology must change radically. Herron sensibly does not identify many products so specifically, but such features as Google, (which was there in Cummings’ world of 2010), YouTube, and the dark web are prominent in his plot, and Twitter appears in Spook Street. Yet there must still be risks: I was astonished how Herron allows so many mobile phone-calls between different members of MI5 to be carried on in unencrypted mode. Was nobody listening? And how come no one seems to use their phone-camera? Pinpointing current technologies, and lavishly exploiting them, give verisimilitude  – but also raise questions of accuracy and authenticity. And future novels involving flashbacks will have to be very precise about the technical context of the time. (‘Snapchat was not around in 2010!’) That was not a problem faced by Arthur Conan Doyle, or Eric Ambler – or even John le Carré.

I also picked up, on an impulse, An Unlikely Spy by Rebecca Starford, who is described as ‘the publishing director and cofounder of Kill Your Darlings, and, more alarmingly, as having ‘a PhD in creating writing from the University of Queensland’. I am not sure how Fyodor Dostoyevsky or Charles Dickens managed to be successful without some degree in Creative Writing, but then I am an old fuddy-duddy. The plot sounded intriguing, however: “In 1939, with an Oxford degree in hand and war looming, Evelyn finds herself recruited into an elite MI5 counterintelligence unit” (as opposed to those non-elite Slough House-type backwaters, I suppose).

I soon discovered that the book was originally published in Australia with the title The Imitator, so I suppose the reworked version was superior, as I doubt whether my eye would have been caught by the rather drab earlier headliner. And it turned out to be well-written, although it did carry that annoying post-modern trick of jumping around in chronology all the time, rather than approaching events in an orderly serial manner. (Is that what your Doctors of Creative Writing tell you to do? Do you get extra credits for displaying this habit?) I thus quickly entered the spirit of the plot, and started to acclimatize myself to the carefully placed markers of London in 1940, and the offices of MI5 at Wormwood Scrubs, as Evelyn Varley is recruited to help out with deciphering work.

A flicker of recognition then slowly dawned upon me, however. Evelyn Varley was a thinly-veiled representation of Joan Miller, author of One Woman’s War; Bennett White, her boss, was clearly the MI5 officer Maxwell Knight; Nina Ivanov was undoubtedly Anna Wolkoff. The whole story was a re-play of the Tyler Kent story, where the American cipher clerk stole copies of documents from the US Embassy in order to have them passed to the Germans. It reminded me of another clumsy effort at faction, Kate Atkinson’s Transcription, about which I wrote a few years ago. I really do not see the point of these ‘novels’: the authors take some characters from history, and then massage events and names to make it appear as if they have created a convincing psychological study. I quickly lost interest.

Ms. Starford admits her ruse in her ‘Reading Group Guide’, where she is also vain enough to offer some ‘Questions for Discussion’. She proudly describes her research activities (including a generous acknowledgment of Christopher Andrew’s history of MI5), and how she decided to ‘create’ Evelyn from the scraps of Miller’s memoir, and even manages to bring in ‘Brexit, the rise of far-right populism in Australia and abroad, and the ascent of Trump’ as a relevant backdrop to her writing, and even claiming that the fear and anxiety that those phenomena provoked found its way into her characters. What nonsense! And how pretentious to offer a review of her own book as collateral!

Moreover, she also offers an ‘Author’s Note’ to explain her deceptions, writing that she ‘tried to remain as faithful as possible to the history of these events’, but then declares that she had to make some ‘adjustments’ in order to provide a convincing story. She then lists a catalogue of her chronological changes to events that explicitly undermines the integrity of her story. All utterly unnecessary and distracting. In sum, I do not know why such works are attempted or encouraged. Either perform some innovative research to uncover the true facts about events, or use your imagination to create a convincing artificial world. These factional books are not for me.

The only interesting item I derived from the book is the statement from Stanford that Joan Miller ‘died in a mysterious car crash in the 1980s not long after she had published a memoir about her time in MI5’. Readers of Misdefending the Realm will recall my analysis of why MI5 tried to get her book banned, but this was the first I had heard about a suspicious car-crash. Sounds like an echo of the demise of Tomás Harris, or the accident involving George Graham’s son.

The Art of Resistance

‘The Art of Resistance’ by Justus Rosenberg

I have also read some remarkable books peripheral to my main course of research. Justus Rosenberg published his memoir The Art of Resistance in 2020, and in an epilogue wrote:

I will not write here of my extensive travels in the Soviet Union and its satellites during the Cold War, in Cuba just after the revolution, in the People’s Republic of China, of my visit with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, or of the interesting material I found about me in my FBI file under the Freedom of Information Act. Nor will I explore my years of teaching at Swarthmore, the New School for Social Research, and Bard College. I hope to deal with all these things in future memoirs.

The main problem with this plan was that Rosenberg was ninety-seven years old when he completed his memoir, and died in September 2021 at the age of 100. If his follow-up had been as action-packed and insightful as The Art of Resistance, it would have constituted another extraordinary work. Rosenberg’ s life was of interest to me mainly because of his experiences with the French Resistance in World War II. Born in Danzig in a secular Jewish family, Rosenberg managed to conceal his ‘race’ from the Germans when he escaped to France, where he eventually linked up with the American Varian Fry. After the latter had to return to the United States in some disgrace in 1941, Rosenberg worked in various roles for the French Resistance, achieved a miraculous escape from a prison hospital by simulating the symptoms of peritonitis (although I wondered whether he had in fact swallowed those special SOE pills that triggered the symptoms of typhoid), and ended the war by joining the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. He then gained a visa to the United States, where he enjoyed a distinguished career as a professor of literature.

I found Rosenberg an exceptionally level-headed and unmelodramatic chronicler, as well as a brave man. He was clearly a very smart and practical thinker, and was not caught up with the rhetoric of any ideology or religion. He has some illuminating things to say about Varian Fry (whose contribution to the escape of many European intellectuals has been over-romanticized), and scatters his memoir with many incisive vignettes and anecdotes. On two elements, I question him. He is one of those many who errantly contrast Soviet communism and ‘American capitalism’ as rival ideologies, when (as I pointed out in Misdefending the Realm) that it is a false contrast, since capitalism is neither a totalitarian ideology nor a political system, but an approach to the creation of wealth, and the comparison should be made between totalitarian communism and various forms of constitutional, pluralist democracy, whether presidential or parliamentary.

And I found him very loose on the practices of armed French resistance. He lists various categories: ‘partisans’, ‘freedom fighters’, ‘maquisards’, ‘guerrillas’, ‘underground armies’, ‘resistance fighters’, ‘saboteurs’, without explaining what characterized each. He recognizes the differences required in occasional guerrilla raids and the full engagement of an occupying army, and describes the rigorous training that was required to bring a raggle-taggle band up to proper military strength. Yet he also relates how ‘the French Underground Army’, described as ‘Resistance fighters waiting to join the Allied forces’ suffered a catastrophic defeat in the Vercors mountains, when a large section was annihilated by a glider-led force of 12,000 SS paratroopers. This vexed issue of the remote management of insurrectionist forces is a perennial interest of mine, as I believe that proper justice has not been performed to the topic in the writings about SOE and OSS in France. A book titled The Art of Resistance disappoints when it covers authoritatively such matters as the practices of secrecy, clandestine communications, and the isolation of networks, but does not explore what the implications of providing weapons to ‘secret armies’ were, and how such tasks should have been executed.

The Inhuman Land

‘The Inhuman Land’ by Jozef Czapski

Another valuable work was Jozef Czapski’s The Inhuman Land. I found that I had a copy of the 1951 edition on my bookshelf – a volume that I had never got round to reading. It has recently been resuscitated by New York Review Books, with an introduction by Timothy Snyder, but my edition (according to the price on abebooks) is now something of a rarity. Czapski’s book is vital, since, with the post-war knowledge that the NKVD had in the spring of 1940 slaughtered twenty-thousand Polish officers (of whom 4,421 were executed in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk), the author, who had managed to avoid the killings, described his attempts to discover what had happened as he worked as propaganda minister for General Anders’ emerging Polish Army, gathered in the Soviet Union.

The evil of the NKVD’s massacre was compounded when the Soviet Union tried to transfer the blame to the Nazis, who had themselves uncovered the graves in April 1943. When the Polish government-in-exile requested that the International Red Cross investigate the incident, Stalin broke off relations with the Poles. What made the whole business even more sordid was the fact that Churchill and Roosevelt, while privately acknowledging the Soviet guilt, did not dare challenge Stalin on the matter, fearful that they might lose his support, and that he might even abandon them in some fresh deal with the Germans. It was an abject display of appeasement.

What is remarkable about Czapski’s work is the fact that he was essentially allowed a free hand, from inside the Soviet Union, to investigate what had happened to so many of Poland’s elite force, who appeared to have disappeared from the face of the earth. He maintained a file of all missing officers, and was allowed even to make inquiries of the NKVD, when a careless and grudging admission that ‘mistakes were made’ led him first to conclude the awful truth. The other side of this effort was that he also learned at first hand a lot about the hideous cruelty of Communism from all manner of oppressed tribal people, forcibly migrated national groups, common citizens who had been split apart from lost family members, or dispossessed because of dekulakization, or who had simply witnessed the barbaric cruelty of the Soviet organs. And that he was able to commit it all to memory, or write and conceal encrypted notes, which allowed him to tell the whole grisly story after the war. The Inhuman Land was first published in French in 1949.

Amazingly, Czapski, born in 1896, died as late as 1993. I regret coming round to his work so late in life. One of the many whose hand I should simply like to have shaken before they died. Like Gregor van Rezzori (1914-1998), or Robert Conquest (1917-2015), or the recently encountered Justus Rosenberg, all long-lived witnesses to such chaotic times, who wrote about them so poignantly.

Secret Service in the Cold War

‘Secret Service in the Cold War’ by John and Myles Sanderson

Readers may recall that I noted, in my recent study of the Volkov affair, the existence of the interpreter Sudakov at the Ankara consulate in 1945. “The name of ‘Sudakov’ is an intriguing one.  In An SIS Officer in the Balkans (2020), John B. Sanderson and Myles Sanderson write: “The First Secretary of the Soviet Embassy in Ankara was a Brigadier General Sudin, in charge of “illegal residents” (spies), within Turkey, some of whom were Bulgarians. Penkovsky was a friend of Sudakov’s (Sudin’s alias) and would have passed over to his SIS handlers useful intelligence on Bulgarian espionage in Turkey, picked up in conversation with his high-ranking friend.”

From the sources given by Myles Sanderson, it did not appear that any fresh light would be shed on the character of Sudakov, but I acquired the book, of which the full title is Secret Service in the Cold War: An SIS Officer in the Balkans. It is a compilation by the subject’s son, using unpublished memoirs of his father, and supplemented by some lengthy description of Cold War politics. It is an unusual, and overall praiseworthy study, as it tries to provide a thorough political background to all the espionage and counter-intelligence activities going on throughout John B. Sanderson’ s career. Yet, as time marches on, the contribution that Sanderson Senior made to counter-intelligence activity becomes very thin and strained, and thus the focus of the book likewise becomes very fuzzy.

The good points: as a general compendium of significant historical events, and the intelligence activity behind them, the book is probably unmatched, as many of the reviews posted on amazon confirm. Nearly all general histories of the winding-down of WWII, and the onset of the Cold War, do not do justice to the contribution made by Stalin’s agents to the ability of the Soviet Union to manipulate and outwit the democracies, especially Great Britain and the United States. Studies of intelligence and espionage are normally so wound up in the intricacies of spycraft and treachery that they do not pay enough attention to the political results of such activities. The second major quality of the book is the insight that it gives on the exploits of John B. Sanderson in his early career, culminating in a valiant role at the battle of Sangshak in Burma in 1944. He then served as a military intelligence officer in Eastern Europe, primarily in Bulgaria (Bulgarian being a language he had learned), when the show trials were held.

Yet the lack of discrimination in using sources drags the book down. Myles Sanderson (who seems not to be a qualified historian) has assimilated a vast number of books – many of which were new to me – but uses them in a completely unselective way. If Peter Wright (for example) states something he thinks might be relevant, he quotes it, and that goes for countless other references. Thus a large number of misunderstandings and errors have crept into his text, such as an endorsement of Wright’s fresh interpretation of Volkov’s letter, a reference to the perpetuation of SOE beyond 1946, the claim that Britain had a crew of agents working inside the Kremlin, and a simplification of GCHQ’s successes in ‘finally cracking the Soviet ciphers’ in 1976.

And a major question must revolve around the fact of whether Sanderson was an MI6 officer or not. His son even claims that his father was about to replace Philby as liaison officer with the CIA in Washington, and could even have risen to be chief of the Secret Intelligence Service – quite an astonishing assertion. Yet Sanderson pêre was a military attaché, and there is no clear evidence that he was ever strictly employed by MI6, as opposed to being someone who provided them with intelligence occasionally. Stephen Dorrill (who wrote a long, unauthorized history of MI6) expressed strenuous doubts about Sanderson’s affiliation in a brief review in 2019, and I had a similar reaction, based on the evidence shown in this book.

Sanderson was a military attaché in the key years after WWII, and that role itself induces some degree of amazement from me. What on earth would a military attaché be doing in a capital such as Sofia, except trying to gain intelligence about Bulgarian and Soviet intentions clandestinely? Such figures seemed to spend a lot of time at cocktail parties, where they would mingle with their counterparts from other western countries, and even banter with the opposition. Sanderson relates an incident where Sanderson suggests to a Soviet officer that he ‘come over to our side’, and the latter indicates that, despite his obvious criticism of communism, his life is too comfortable to be disrupted. And then, during that second tour of Sofia in 1961, Sanderson is caught photographing aircraft at an airfield outside Sofia. After claiming diplomatic immunity, he makes a quick escape across country so that he can evade the indignity of being expelled, something that he suspects would have damaged his career irretrievably. Astonishingly, he receives no reprimand on his file for behaving so stupidly. But maybe that was because it was not a surprise? Did his bosses expect him to gain such intelligence by using a camera himself, or should he have tried to use an agent? If he blew it, then he blew it, and should have been rebuked. On the other hand, might expulsion have been a point of pride in a Foreign Office career? The episode is all rather absurd.

In summary, Secret Service in the Cold War will be a rattling good educational read for the novice who is rather confused about the significance of various espionage stories during the post-war years, and how they related to each other, but will be somewhat irritating compilation for the more sophisticated reader, who will demand greater discipline, and an evident methodology in the exploitation of all the rich sources that Myles Sanderson has mined.

Lastly, I was going through the War Diaries of the 30 (Military) Mission to Moscow for 1943 and 1944 (to be found at WO 178/27 at Kew) when my eye alighted on the entry for June 8, 1943:

            General Martel [head of the Mission] and Colonel Turner met General Dubinin and Colonel Sudakov, who appears to be Dubinin’s P.A. for the present discussions.

Could it be the same man? A promotion from Colonel to Brigadier by 1945 makes sense.

A Woman of No Importance

‘A Woman of No Importance’ by Sonia Purnell

Sonia Purnell’s 2019 biography of the SOE-OSS agent Virginia Hall, A Woman of No Importance (which I read in the 2020 Penguin edition) arrived with an impressive set of blurbs from such as Clare Mulley and Sarah Helm, as well as a number of prestigious media outlets, even selected as ‘Best Book of the Year’ by the Spectator, the Times, and others. Were such encomia merited? I was keen to investigate.

Notwithstanding its bizarre title, the book is indeed very well written, and reflects a thorough exploration of many obscure sources on Hall’s life. It offers a very sympathetic – even hagiographic – version of the life and career of the American socialite who transformed herself (even with a partially amputated leg) into an effective recruiter and in some ways leader of guerrilla groups in southern France, working initially for SOE and then, in 1944, for the American OSS. Purnell has collected some startling information about the odious Abbé Alesch, who infiltrated F Section’s circuits on behalf of the Abwehr (and was executed in 1949), that I do not believe has been published before. (Alesch has no entry in M. R. D. Foot’s Index to SOE in France.) She describes the escape at Mauzac (engineered by Hall), and the maquisard attacks at Le Puy with great verve. The account of Hall’s escape across the Pyrenees is breathtaking. Purnell has a fascinating light to show on the relationship of Nicolas Bodington (familiar to readers of this site because of his dealings with Déricourt) with Hall. He in fact recruited her, and thus followed her progress with great interest, which must cause a re-assessment of Bodington to be made. She offers some tantalizing suggestions that the Germans may have been tipped off about Sicily (cf. Operation Mincemeat!) and about the Dieppe Raid, both stories that I need to investigate more deeply. All in all, a biography of Hall was earnestly required, and this work will fulfill that function – to some degree.

But is it a wholly reliable account? I have several reservations. I could not detect any methodology behind Purnell’s analysis of sources: she is a bit too keen to trust anything that she reads in official archives, and is caught out particularly when she quotes Maurice Buckmaster, both from his memoir and from his in-house history, which works reflect a lot of wish-fulfillment and outright deceit. It is as if the book had been compiled from a cuttings library of anything that mentioned ‘Virginia Hall’, and was then transformed into a Ben Macintyre-like adventure. The author treats SOE very superficially, neglecting even to identify officers when there is no enigma behind their identity. She overlooks the tensions between MI5, MI6 and SOE – maybe not the book she wanted to write – but in that way she drastically oversimplifies the politics that were driving subversive activities in France. She dismisses Britain’s Intelligent Services generally as being populated by ‘posh boys’ – far from the truth. She continually misuses the term ‘double agents’ when she intends to describe traitorous spies in the pay of the Germans, infiltrators, or penetration agents. She has swallowed verbatim too much mythology about German radio-detection techniques, and recounts some bizarre stories about guerrilla teams intercepting Nazi wireless messages – an assertion that cries out for stronger evidence. Her coverage of Hall’s activity under OSS, and the manner in which OSS exploited SOE resources, when SOE make remarks about her performance, is muddled. She breezes past the destruction of the Prosper circuit without any indication that she understands the way it was betrayed.

Furthermore, her narrative reflects a lot of contradictions. Even though Purnell describes Hall as continually ‘recruiting, training and arming’ guerrilla groups, it is not clear what expertise she really had. She did not go through comprehensive SOE training, and seemed to derive her expertise solely from reading the SOE Handbook, so it is unlikely that teams of raw recruits would be able to become proper saboteurs under her direction, especially given her gender. Indeed, elsewhere, Purnell reports Hall as waiting intently for experienced SOE trainers to supplement her meager knowledge. In some places, she insists that guerrilla groups had to work in isolation: at others, she indicates that they should have been more coordinated. Moreover, M. R. D. Foot plays down her role in direct operations, representing her more as a liaison officer, a role that involved a lot of travelling, but nothing too arduous or dangerous. He claims that her cover remained intact, ‘mainly because friends at Lyons police station took care not to inquire too closely into her doings’.

The coverage of the supply of arms is bewildering. Purnell observes that, as early as late 1942, the secret armies were being provided with the munitions for the Allied assault – but D-Day did not happen until almost two years later. By then, according to her, some arms had started to rot, and were frequently discarded, or even thrown into rivers in despair, contradicting the blithe statements from Buckmaster that Purnell cites. She encapsulates the activity in early 1943 in a weakly casual way (“Parachute drops of arms and explosives were generally being stepped up when clear skies and light winds permitted”), showing that she has not internalized the complexities of the situation. This topic cries out for a more close-grained analysis. Purnell moreover never resolves the ongoing question as to how closely sabotage activities were directed by SOE in London. Hall herself was admittedly undisciplined, frequently made her own decisions without approval from Baker Street, and herself complained about the wastage and unauthorized sabotage that was frequently undertaken. Foot writes that she had ‘an imperturbable temper’.

Purnell scatters her text with multiple examples of shoddy tradecraft, from ruinous meetings like that at the Villa des Bois and excessively prolonged wireless time on air, through careless and disastrous carrying of papers that revealed names and addresses of contacts, the casual mixing of circuits against instructions, the issuance of false banknotes with consecutive serial numbers, to the failure to deal with traitors ruthlessly. These patterns receive no analysis from the author, who also provocatively claims that Hall’s name was given to the Gestapo by MI6, but does not explore the implications and reasons for such a dramatic and severely troublesome move. The source for this story is probably a mysterious footnote 68 to Chapter XI of Foot’s SOE in France, where he archly reports, on Hall’s second mission in 1944: “It was not known in SOE that her real name and her role on her first mission had been communicated to the Germans late in 1943 in the course of a wireless game played by another British secret service.” (Foot chose not to identify MI6, even in 2004, unless he was simply lazy: the footnote remained unchanged after forty years.) Foot gives the impression that Hall had been re-accepted by SOE as a wireless operator at this time, since they had disqualified her as a courier, but he seems to be unaware that it was OSS who had signed her up for the second mission.

Perhaps Alesch was a figure in this dastardly MI6 plot, the details of which are probably hidden in some dusty file, and cry out for further investigation. (Was Bodington perhaps a common element in this sickly charade?) Hall herself was fooled by Alesch, even though he was reported to have come from an MI6 cell, and had not been vetted. He caused immense harm: Hall was identified, and could have been arrested by the Abwehr. The unit held off, hoping to entrap more members of the Resistance, and Hall narrowly escaped the Gestapo entry into Lyon, and consequently made her escape over the Pyrenees. Many arms-drops were carelessly carried out and equipment lost; money was handed out indiscriminately to groups who were fighting rival resistance groups as much as the Germans. Too many loose ends and unsubstantiated claims.

On one important event Purnell appears to venture a challenging opinion. When Paul Vomécourt (Lucas) discovered, in January 1942, that his wireless operator Mathilde Carré (‘La Chatte’) had become the lover of the Abwehr officer Hugo Bleicher, and betrayed dozens of her comrades, Vomécourt decided to try to play her back in the hope of deceiving the Germans. Purnell writes: “At this point, Lucas should have eliminated la Chatte, gone into hiding, and immediately contacted Virginia to let her know she was at best compromised, at worst about to be arrested.” Such an action would have reflected Gubbins’ rules (as I explained last month), and sealed the circuit from any further contamination. It is not immediately clear how Purnell derived this standpoint other than reflecting proper SOE policy.

But, of course, SOE policies were not carried out in a disciplined fashion. And Bernard Cowburn, who was an integral member of the ensuing deception concluded after the war that the attempted ‘triple-agent’ play had been successful. He considered (in his 1960 memoir No Cloak, No Dagger) that the ruse had prevented the Germans from exercising a ‘North Pole’ scheme against the French, in the manner they had exploited the Dutch, and wrote that he thought that Lucas had handled the situation in the ‘best possible way’. Cowburn met Bleicher after the war, and recorded:

            He then looked at me almost pleadingly, and suddenly asked, ‘Tell me, I beg of you  . . . La Chatte  . . . is it true she was double-crossing me?’ This proved beyond a doubt that our manœuvre had succeeded and that for once the Germans had been properly fooled.

Yet I believe that is naïve. For Bleicher to have imagined that his mistress’s act against him was a double-cross without considering the nature of the deaths that she had incurred beforehand, was simply vain and amoral. He was probably more concerned about the shallowness of their affair. Cowburn, moreover, appeared not be aware of the more drastic ramifications of Carré’s treachery.

I think Purnell’s judgment is spot-on, although she probably derived her response from what M. R. D. Foot wrote about the incident: “The correct course for him to take was to vanish at once, not even pausing to assassinate her if her death was going to complicate her escape.” When Vomécourt eventually escaped to England, he had to be rebuked by Gubbins when he suggested that he and Carré return to France, to rescue what was left of the circuit, and also assassinate Bleicher. Gubbins put his foot down, and forbad such exploits: Carré was incarcerated for the rest of the war, then sent to Paris, where she was tried, sentenced to death, and then reprieved. She died in 2007, at the age of ninety-eight. A case-study in treachery: all a very messy business, with several lessons on how to deal with traitors, and on the perils of playing with such in the guise of thinking they can be ‘turned’ at will.

None of this sub-plot detracts from the bravery of Hall, but it does undermine the hyperbolic claims made about the contribution to the overall war success of Purnell’s subject, described in the book’s blurb as ‘the American Spy Who Changed the Course of the War’, a completely unwarranted assertion. Purnell is relentless in promoting Hall’s skills and achievements, but a less breathless assessment is called for. It appears that the author had too many sous-chefs, who may not have been rigorous practitioners themselves, assisting her researches. To write with depth and authority in this realm, you have to immerse yourself, work close to the coalface, get your hands dirty, and not rely on too many intermediaries. I do not believe that Purnell has done that.

Lastly, I note that a movie on Hall’s life is now under way, perhaps to accompany a hypothetical one on Agent Sonya, ‘the Soviet Spy Who Changed the Course of the Cold War.’ Oh, lackaday! ‘A Woman of No Importance’ is a significant contribution to the history of French resistance in WWII, but it should not be regarded as a definitive account, and needs to be integrated with and checked against more serious histories.

P.S. I should have made room to discuss Stephen Tyas’s SS-Major Horst Kopkow. I have read some clunkers on intelligence matters over the past couple of years, but this book, about the notorious Gestapo officer who engineered the sham deal with Suttill and Norman, and provided testimony that sent Kieffer to the gallows, is excellent. A must-read.

Language Corner

Regular readers of coldspur will be familiar with my high sensitivity to incorrect spelling and grammar, especially when such solecisms are committed by professional writers and broadcasters. My biggest gripe is with those who cannot deploy ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘myself’ properly, and end up with such monstrosities as ‘between you and I’, and ‘he gave it to my wife and I’. I almost threw Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time (all twelve volumes) across the room because of his clumsy and excessive use of the reflexive ‘myself’ when he couldn’t work out whether he should have been using ‘I’ or ‘me’. I decry the decline of the subjunctive in conditional clauses, and, as a devoted student of German verb conjugation, get annoyed by any evident confusion over lie/lay/lain and lay/laid/laid.

Some of my objections are directed at the careless use of vocabulary that reflects lazy thinking, or politically correct viewpoints, such as Nobel Prize winning economists who use ‘plutocrat’ when they mean ‘rich people’ (Yes, Krugman P. at the back there, I am talking to you!), or the New York Times journalists who describe some region as ‘impoverished’, when they simply mean ‘poor’. (‘Impoverished’ implies that the region was at some time wealthy, but then was denuded by some oppressor, which is presumably the sub-marxist impression that the writers want to bequeath.)

My continuous and long-standing beef, however, is with the New York Times, and its inability to instruct its journalists to understand and use properly singular and plural forms of Latin words, even though the correct usage appears in its Style Guide. (I have been told as much.) This defect is shown mostly in the use of ‘bacterium ’and ‘bacteria’: dozens of articles over the years have deployed ‘bacteria’ with a singular verb, and I have collected the messages that I have sent to the editors in a single document, inspectable at NYTBacteria. I have surely not captured all the incidences during this period, since I must have overlooked many, and some I ignored because I forgot to write, but I believe the collection is rich enough. And now it is on-line, and the editors at the paper can use it as a teaching-tool. Bravo! (I would get out more, but my piles of books on intelligence are blocking the exit-doors.)

Bridge Corner 

With the COVID epidemic ebbing, I have resumed playing face-to-face duplicate bridge, and normally play three times a week. It is an absorbing pastime, where the rewards are finding out how well you and you partner handle deals that will be played by all the other pairs of the same orientation during the session. Thus all the East-Wests compete against each other, as do all the North-Souths. The goal is to get a ‘top’ score on each hand, and minimize the disasters. One recent hand has absorbed me recently. I picked up as East:

(Spades):  ♠ A K 10 9 6

(Hearts) ♥ A 6 3 2

(Diamonds) ♦ 8 3

(Clubs) ♣ 9 4

My partner, West, opened the bidding with 1 D; I responded 1 S; the opposition was silent; he replied 2S (showing 4 spades and regular opening values); and I jumped to 4S (a game contract that delivers extra points if made during the play), as I had 5 excellent Spades, and an outside Ace.

South led the King of Hearts, and West laid done his hand as Dummy, showing me the following cards:

♠ Q J 5 4

♥ 8

♦ K J 6 5

♣ A K 6 5

This was fine, but then every other pair would probably bid game, and thus face the same challenge. It looks fairly straightforward, as there is no side-suit that can be developed after trumps are drawn: win the Ace of H, draw trumps, hoping they split 2-2, take the Club winners, and trump Clubs and Hearts in both hands leaving a Heart loser, and the Diamonds to guess. (Who has the Ace? Who has the Queen?)

I thought I saw a superior play that would ‘guarantee’ 11 tricks, and maybe make 12, by exploiting my higher-value trumps, and get rid of that last pesky Heart loser, if Spades did indeed split 2-2. (And, if they don’t, I would at least match the less enterprising pairs). Thus I imagined 11 tricks: 2 Clubs, 1 Heart, 3 Spades in dummy, and 5 in hand, with a Diamond still to come as a possible twelfth. Win the Ace of Hearts, and trump a Heart. Play the Ace, then the King of Clubs, and trump the 5 of Clubs with the 9 of Spades (in case Clubs split 5-2), trump another Heart, play the last Club and trump with the 10, and lead the last Heart, trumping with the Queen. Lead the last spade to the Ace, and hope to draw the last two trumps with the King. Then see what the opponents do when I have to break Diamonds. I’ll hold on to my last trump just in case the owner of the Ace leads a Club or a Heart. (Defenders do not always keep count of the number of cards played in each suit.) South probably has two Diamonds and a Heart left, but probably not the Ace of Diamonds, as he or she might have bid over my 1 Spade with all those Hearts and the Ace of Diamonds. North probably holds two Diamonds and a Club: if he or she has Ace and Queen of Diamonds, it doesn’t matter, and just 11 tricks make (and all the ’conventional’ pairs will make only ten tricks). If South has the Ace of Diamonds, he or she will probably go up with it on the Diamond lead, and I am home and dry. If not, I have to play the Jack from dummy, losing to the Ace. I then make 12 tricks.

But I never got there! The Spades did indeed split 2-2, but the Clubs split 6-1, and South was able to trump the King of Clubs before I got going. Thus I had to guess the Diamonds properly in order to even make the game (10 tricks). Seven of the other pairs all made 11 tricks the obvious way (presumably), and must all have guessed the Diamonds correctly. Thus my partner and I received only 1 point, while seven pairs got 5 points each. A certain ‘Top’ was converted to a near ‘Bottom’ in an instant. The ninth pair made only nine tricks: presumably their East (a good player), played the same line as I chose, but mis-guessed the Diamonds. So much for enterprise and imagination. Those cursed computer-arranged hands!

The full deal:

                                                            North

                                                            ♠ 8 3

                                                            ♥ 7 5 4

                                                            ♦ A 4

                                                            ♣ Q J 10 8 3 2

West    ♠ Q J 5 4                                                                      East     ♠ A K 10 9 6

♥ 8                                                                                           ♥ A 6 3 2

♦ K J 6 5                                                                                  ♦ 8 3

♣ A K 6 5                                                                                ♣ 9 4

                                                            South                          

                                                            ♠ 7 2

                                                            ♥ K Q J 10 9

                                                            ♦ Q 10 9 7 2

                                                            ♣ 7

Such is the endless fascination (and frustration) of bridge. (‘A Bridge Too Far’? Do not worry: this column will not be repeated unless I receive overwhelming demand.)

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