Peter Smolka: Background to 1934

Peter Smolka, 1930



Sources: Smolka in the UK

Sources: Smolka’s Personal File

Sources: The ‘Third Man’ Movie

Research Questions

Chapter One: 1930-1934 – Finding his Feet



The status and allegiance of the influential Austrian Peter Smolka (who changed his name to ‘Smollett’ when he was naturalized in 1938: I shall refer to him throughout my postings as ‘Smolka’ – except when quoting other works directly – as that is the name he reverted to after he returned to Austria) are a matter of some controversy. An apparently tireless worker for the Soviet cause, his role as a Soviet agent has been denied by his son, yet Soviet archives clearly identify him as an NKVD operative with the cryptonym ‘ABO’. In this bulletin, I present the first results of a research project involving the inspection of source material (with special attention to a detailed analysis of the extensive files released by the National Archives in 2015) in an attempt to verify the period for which Smolka might have been active on the NKVD’s behalf, and to discover the interactions he had with British Intelligence. In this first report I survey and summarize the generic literature on Smolka, and present my analysis of his career up to the end of 1934, after a momentous year experienced by Smolka and his colleague Kim Philby, one not without controversy.

Peter Smolka (fourth from left, back row) in Vienna, 1926

I divide Smolka’s career into six main chapters : i) his arrival in the UK in 1930, up to his visits to Vienna in 1934, and the months thereafter: ii) the years spent before the war, up to his supposed ‘recruitment’ to the NKVD by Philby in 1939 (or soon after); iii) his career during the war, highlighted by his prominence in the Ministry of Information; iv) his post-war activity in Vienna up to 1948, including his involvement with Graham Greene over the screenplay for the movie The Third Man, and what that relationship reveals about his early career; v) the renewed interest shown in him between 1949 and 1951, when, after the escape of Burgess and Maclean, documents incriminating Smolka were found in Burgess’s flat; and vi) the desultory investigation that followed, interleaved with one or two dramatic flourishes, culminating in Arthur Martin’s ‘interrogation’ of Smolka in October 1961. I organize this introduction by first describing the literature published before the release of the Kew material in 2015, next by analyzing what has been since issued that exploits those same files, and lastly by inspecting the considerable literature on Graham Greene and Smolka, which merits a category in its own right. I shall then use the Smolka Personal Files as a backdrop for interpreting what the highly contradictory third-party accounts report. In a bulletin to appear next month, I shall cover the last five chapters, including Smolka’s assimilation into, and acceptance by, leading establishment offices, his service as a Soviet propagandist during the war, followed by his return to Vienna as a correspondent for The Times, when he gained the attention of MI6 after it was reported that he had joined the Communist Party. Now that I have performed my preliminary investigation, I believe that the results are very dramatic, and that they will help clear up some earlier mysteries.

A reminder about my approach to archival documents: I do not take them at face value. I ask myself the following questions:

  1. Who is the author of the document?
  2. What did he or she know at the time?
  3. What was he or she trying to achieve in writing this item?
  4. What does the framework and incidental data of the document (modes of address, redacted information, unredacted information, references, handwritten annotations, missing information, etc. etc.) tell me about its context?
  5. Why was this particular document inserted into the archive?
  6. How does the information therein compare with other sources (e.g. memoirs)?

Similar questions have to be addressed to memoirs themselves.

Sources: Smolka in the UK

While long-standing government files occasionally refer to Smolka’s involvement with the Ministry of Information and with the BBC, the primary source material consists of the four files KV 2/4167-4170 representing Smolka’s MI5 Personal File 39680, which were released by the National Archives at Kew in 2015. They cover the period from when he arrived in the UK as an eighteen-year-old in 1930 up until early 1962, shortly after he left the UK for the last time, having undergone a very feeble interrogation by Arthur Martin. These files are thus the prime source for Smolka’s overall career: writers on intelligence matters who discussed Smolka before 2015 had to rely on snippets in general files, informal recollections and anecdotes, or (in one case) bootlegged extracts from official archives that were made available furtively. I point out that a supplemental ‘Y’ file – a highly secure Annex to his Personal File – was maintained by MI5, the contents of which are of course unavailable.

Smolka had started to come to the attention of authors in the 1980s, when documents relating to the wartime Ministry of Information were released. In Their Trade is Treachery (1981), Chapman Pincher made a brief reference to Smolka’s questionable role at the Ministry, and he pointed out that the debriefings of Anthony Blunt (a secret that must have been divulged to him) had confirmed that Smolka had been a Soviet agent. Anthony Glees, while also lacking access to such archival material, picked up the story and made a strong case about Smolka’s pernicious role in his 1987 book, Secrets of the Service. He made the confident assertion that ‘there is now overwhelming evidence to suggest that one of Bracken’s most trusted advisers, Peter Smolka-Smollett, was a Communist mole’. Yet, apart from the familiar tale of Smolka as a cagey propagandist for Stalin in the Ministry of Information, Glees did not provide any evidence that Smolka had actually been recruited by the NKVD at that time. He referred to the regular meetings that Smolka had at the Soviet Embassy, but those arrangements were in no way out of order, given Smolka’s position.

I suspect, however, that Glees was the first to publish Smolka’s detailed strategy for projecting the Soviet Union’s influence on British policy, although it is sometimes hard to follow Glees’s narrative and use of sources. He made much of the fact that Smolka was a close friend of Brendan Bracken (without explaining how that friendship occurred), and that he thereby conspired with him to oust Hugh Dalton as the head of the SOE. I find much questionable about this theory, however. Glees wrote a lot about ‘moles and agents’ within SOE, but few are identified, and it is not clear how they affected propaganda at a time when SOE was focussed primarily on sabotage and secondarily on intelligence-gathering. The overall conclusion, in the context of the timing of the Soviet Union’s entry into the war, of Smolka’s promotion, of the maturity into action of SOE, and of Dalton’s dismissal, does not make sense to me.

Another controversial contribution was W. J. West’s The Truth About Hollis (1989). While professing to have had no access to secret sources – or even knowingly to have spoken to any MI5 officer – West (no relation to Nigel West) had clearly been shown portions of Smolka’s Personal File, no doubt according to some manner of controlled leakage. For West was an overt member of the ‘Hollis is guilty’ school. West’s contribution is nevertheless very useful. Exploiting Foreign Office and BBC archives, he gives a very sensible analysis of Smolka’s ‘adoption’ by Rex Leeper, his collaboration with Guy Burgess, and his extensive propaganda work at the Ministry of Information. He even includes a two-page circular issued by Smolka in February 1943, titled Arguments to Counter the Ideological Fear of ‘Bolshevism’, which he sources to his own earlier 1985 work Orwell: The War Commentaries. It is an astonishingly mendacious piece, and should have raised a storm.

Further anecdotes surfaced in the next two decades, some from unreliable memoirs, others from Russian sources. Discoveries made by Oleg Gordievsky from Soviet archives were revealed in KGB: The Inside Story (1990) by Christopher Andrew and Gordievsky: they stated firmly that Smolka had been a Soviet agent, suggesting that he had been recruited some time before 1939 (the year in which Philby claimed to have engaged him). Through that assertion, without mentioning Philby, since they would not have been aware then of Philby’s claims, they reinforced the notion of Smolka’s longevity as an agent. They also recorded that, during the Slánský trial in Prague, in November 1952, Smolka was publicly denounced as an ‘imperialist agent’, characterizing this charge, perhaps a little naively, as ‘absurd’. A plan to kidnap Smolka from Austria, and to bring him to Moscow to answer allegations that ‘during the war he had recruited another Jew, Ivan Maisky, then Soviet Ambassador in London, to the British SIS’ was abandoned. Andrew and Gordievsky attribute these events to Stalin’s generic purge of Jews from the upper echelons, but Smolka’s escape from his Czech persecutors suggests that some intervention may have taken place.

It was in fact in Genrikh Borovik’s Philby Files (1994), where some dubious but henceforth much quoted reminiscences from Philby about his recruiting Smolka first surfaced, while Yuri Modin’s My Five Cambridge Friends (also 1994) offered one or two important insights. Modin provocatively asserted that Philby had met Smolka in Vienna in 1934 (without explaining anything about the circumstances), and he added that Smolka was an NKVD agent when he worked with Guy Burgess at the BBC in 1941 (but said nothing about the manner and timing of his recruitment). The Crown Jewels (1998), by Nigel West and Oleg Tsarev, exploited documents sent by the London-based spies to Moscow, and eventually inspected in the KGB vaults, in which Smolka occasionally appears. Yet the authors appeared to take at face value what Philby wrote in his reports, and how he later explained them, and they also displayed an inappropriately high degree of trust in what Moscow Centre declared about its relationship with Smolka.

In 2012, Gordon Corera offered up The Art of Betrayal, subtitled The Secret History of MI6, a rather hectic, journalistic approach that includes some valuable source material, but does not regard the dating of events as important. He introduced Smolka in the context of the Third Man saga, and described him, almost casually, as having passed information to the Soviet Union ‘from at least the start of the Second World War’. It is exclusively here that we learn that Philby returned to Vienna for a brief visit after the war, sourced to a tape-recording by Bruce Lockhart that the Imperial War Museum has withdrawn (Chapter 1, Note 19). Yet Corera danced around the circumstances of the friendship between Philby and Smolka, merely noting that the latter was ‘a friend of Litzi’s who had come to London’, the event undated. The author did not acknowledge any contribution by Smolka to the rescue work performed by Kim and Litzi in 1934. Thus Corera neither revealed nor corroborated relevant ‘secrets’ about Smolka and MI6 that had in fact been aired before, although he did re-present the startling insight first voiced by Andrew and Gordievsky concerning the KGB charges against Smolka during the Prague trials. He wrote that Anatoly Golitsyn, before he defected to the British, discovered in late 1954 in his predecessor’s file at the KGB Residency in Vienna an old letter from the head of the KGB British Department requesting ‘the kidnapping of Peter Smollett to answer charges that he had been working for MI6’.

The problem is that so many works show a cavalier approach to what has been written before. They either overlook previous assertions or disclosures, or accept them unquestioningly, but almost always fail to inspect them properly, to attempt to verify them, or to analyze in any depth the contradictions of multiple narratives that are crying out for resolution. For example, as late as 2015 Boris Volodarsky, in Stalin’s Agent (a book purportedly about Nikolai Orlov, but one rambling across many spheres) offered a wild summary on Smolka, with some vague and unattributed claims (‘Some say that Smolka got his job at the Ministry of Information through Brendan Bracken’), and several incorrect dates. Many of these works are similarly not accurately sourced, and, in general, one has to be very careful in determining who is echoing whom, and where the stories started. Anything that the habitual liar Kim Philby wrote should be treated very cautiously. As always, a close examination of chronology and geography is required to test many of the ‘facts’ that are presented by these authors.

For instance, the book by Andrew and Gordievsky, bolstered by the authority that the latter enjoyed by virtue of his inspection of KGB files, claimed that Smolka and his wife were trapped in Prague when Hitler visited it (after occupation, on March 19) in 1939, and that they thus had to seek refuge in the British Embassy. An endnote indicates that this fact derived from W. J. West’s volume. West had in fact dug out a memorandum, dated November 1938, from Smolka to Rex Leeper, laying out his plans to visit Prague, Warsaw, Budapest, Bucharest and Berne. Indeed the assertion about his escape from Prague does appear in West’s text, and he claimed that Smolka got away alongside one Otto Strassner ‘and other anti-Nazi leaders’, after which he and his wife returned immediately to London – which would suggest that the visits to other capitals were abandoned. Yet West provided no source for his story. The chronology in the Smolka files (which were not officially available in 1989, when West’s book was published) leaves a puzzling gap between November 1938 and September 1939, although serial no. 116a in KV 2/4168 states that, in April 1939, Smolka went to Switzerland with letters of recommendation from Rex Leeper (his sponsor at the Ministry of Information). No embarkation or disembarkation records for either of these purported journeys have been made available. Moreover, the Smolkas’ second son, Timothy, was born on October 12, 1938, so it seems to me unlikely that Lotty, even if it had made political sense for her to accompany her husband to Prague, would have abandoned her sons at that critical time. In addition, Smolka was a UK subject by then, so should have been in no danger.

Yet confirmations of Smolka’s presence in Prague are offered by Purvis and Hulbert. In the BBC archives, they uncovered a memorandum from George Barnes, the Assistant-Director of Talks, to Guy Burgess, notifying him that Smolka had been pencilled in for a talk on March 14, 1941, since he had been in Prague when the Germans entered the Czech capital on March 14, 1939. The duo even discovered a sound recording of the programme, and heard Smolka vividly describe what happened, when reporting for the Exchange Telegraph news agency – which must be one of the most genuine artifacts in this messy tale. They add that the Foreign Office indeed had helped to get Smolka out of Prague. Lotty is not mentioned in this scenario, but Smolka presumably quickly returned from the UK to mainland Europe, but for an abbreviated tour solely to Switzerland. But why was the Berne expedition, but none of the Prague incident, recorded in his Personal File?

Somewhere, behind all this, a truth might be found. It would appear that West was working from a different source, since he appears not to be familiar with those particular BBC exchanges. Maybe a reappraisal of the sound recording, or some delving into the activities of Otto Strassner, might reveal more, but the whole sequence of events is typical of the muddle that surrounds these archival remnants.

Sources: Smolka’s Personal File

The contents of the files at Kew are very rich in many ways, and merit close attention, since they display many anomalies that have not been picked up by any commentators, so far as I can judge. There exists also a Home Office file on Smolka’s naturalization request (HO 405/47416) –  superficially not very significant, apart from the fact that two pages of extracts (405/47416/1) are closed, and not to be opened until January 1, 2034. The journalist Mark Hollingsworth (whose book I reviewed in October), had submitted a Freedom of Information request to have this item released immediately. His first appeal was rejected, quite absurdly, on the grounds that an MI5 officer was therein identified. Hollingsworth therefore took the process up to a higher level, but his request was again rejected. The logic for withholding details of a naturalization request from eight-five years ago by someone now accepted as having been a Soviet agent is indefensible: the decision represents sheer bureaucratic obtuseness, and merely draws attention to an area of embarrassment. Of course, there must be something to hide, and matters of institutional pride and shame are at stake. The fact that January 1934 happens to be the centenary of Philby’s presence in Vienna, when he was, according to some accounts, in the company of Smolka, might suggest what matters the closed papers address.

My analysis of the files, in which I integrate the intelligence found there with the surrounding memoirs and histories, will be prominent in the sections that follow. I here summarize recent publications by those who have, to some degree, studied them. As far as independent scrutiny in the recent, post-2015 literature is concerned, I believe the only serious analysis of the KV material has been undertaken by Stewart Purvis and Jeff Hulbert, in their 2016 book on Guy Burgess The Spy Who Knew Everyone. The authors have also brought fresh light on Smolka by their discovery of records in the BBC Archives (many of which were actually first revealed by W. J. West), although these items are remarkable more for their curiosity value than for anything they shed on Smolka’s allegiances, and his ability to outwit his hosts. Purvis and Hulbert also refer to some vital memoirs and histories that help flesh out the story, although, probably because their emphasis is on showing how Smolka contributed to Burgess’s traitorousness, they neglect to discuss some of the anomalies in the record, and avoid any inspection of the Graham Greene connection that helps illuminate the details of Smolka’s career and time-line.

Richard Davenport-Hines, in Enemies Within (2016), also gives a respectable but superficial summary of the Smolka files. He has appeared only to skim them: on the other hand, his analysis is enhanced by his bringing to the discussion some worldly and enlightening insights from contemporary political events. He offers some trenchant (and contentious) judgments, but his canvas is so broad that many of the paradoxes and subtleties of Smolka’s career have eluded him. At least he provides detailed references, and he does provide an original perspective on the Graham Greene connection. Helen Fry misses an opportunity to shed light on Smolka in a very confusing and muddled paragraph in her 2021 book, Spymaster, her profile of the MI6 head-of-station in 1934 in Vienna, Thomas Kendrick.

Mark Hollingsworth’s Agents of Influence (2023) would seem to be the first book that attempts to integrate the available archival material from Kew with the rich seam of narratives on the Third Man extravaganzas (see below). The author offers a useful and colourful synopsis of Smolka’s career. Unfortunately, Hollingsworth undermines his story by presenting Smolka as a prime example of an ‘agent of influence’, rather than a confirmed spy. While it is true that he exerted influence as a propagandist, such a classification understates his more serious role. Hollingsworth cites Corera and Gordievsky in support of his thesis, yet Corera himself reported that Smolka handed over information to the Soviets, and Gordievsky confidently declared that Smolka was a spy. That knowledge is now clear from the reports of information provably originating from Smolka being found in Guy Burgess’s effects after the latter disappeared, a fact that Hollingsworth acknowledges. And if Smolka passed on confidential information to Burgess, he certainly would have done the same to Maisky, the Soviet ambassador. In addition, Hollingsworth, while echoing the dramatic story that Smolka worked alongside Kim and Litzy in the sewers in 1934 (which surely demands closer inspection), nevertheless presents Smolka as being largely influenced by Philby, contrary to the evidence. Hollingsworth also trusts Philby’s account that it was he who recruited Smolka to the NKVD, thus implicitly suggesting that Smolka’s activities were all very innocent up until then.

Sources: ‘The Third Man’ Movie

The fourth chapter primarily concerns Graham Greene, and his visit to Vienna in 1948 to perform research for his screenplay for the film to be directed by Carol Reed, The Third Man. There Greene met Smolka (who had returned to Vienna after the war as a correspondent for the ‘Times’, and did not relinquish that position until May 1949), and the overall evidence points to the fact that Smolka contributed in some way to the screenplay, thereby betraying some of his activities from the 1930s, and probably intimating darker arrangements. The literature in this domain is quite rich. As always, however, the accounts are not consistent, but they are frequently very provocative.

Graham Greene’s ‘Ways of Escape’

Graham Greene: Greene’s account of the adventure in his memoir Ways of Escape (1980) is full of deceit, as would be revealed years after when the archives of the London Films Production were inspected, and Elizabeth Montagu in 1997 started to disclose to researchers sections of her unpublished memoir, which eventually saw the light of day in 2003. Greene makes no mention of his stint at the Ministry of Information in the summer of 1940, where he might have encountered Smolka. He does not disclose how Alexander Korda (the producer of the movie, and an MI6 asset) arranged his itinerary in 1948, and he offers specious arguments for his spending a week in Prague after leaving Vienna, when he was supposed to be in Rome. He never mentions Montagu (who worked for Korda, and apparently arranged his meetings in Vienna): nor does he record his contacts with Smolka, or the controversies that surrounded the latter’s contract with Korda’s film company. He describes an unlikely evening with Elizabeth Bowen, which is nevertheless verifiable from other sources (including Bowen herself), and thus not simply a mask for an outing with Elizabeth Montagu. The overall account is, however, a typical Greenian charade, and serves only to demonstrate that he wished to conceal the nature of the events.

Michael Shelden’s ‘Graham Greene: The Enemy Within’

Michael Shelden: Shelden was the first (unauthorized) biographer of Greene, his 1994 book being published in the UK with the suffix The Man Within and in the USA as The Enemy Within. While much private material was therefore withheld from him, Shelden struggled mightily with the mass of anecdotes he was able to collect, and strained to impart a coherent explanation of what was happening. Significantly, he interviewed Lotty Smolka and her sons, as well as Elizabeth Montagu, who must have shown him some of her then unpublished memoir. In that way, a probably more accurate account of Greene’s activity in Vienna comes out, with his being introduced to Smolka by Montagu, who arranged Greene’s meetings with journalists and businessmen. Thus Shelden attributes to Smolka a role as the source of the anecdotes about the diluted penicillin, the sewers, and the bizarre sharing of facilities by the Four Occupying Powers, since Smolka had apparently written some short stories on these phenomena, which he passed over to Greene. This leads into a startling direct reference to Smolka’s subversive activity in Vienna in 1934, something that Lotty Smolka confirmed to him, yet Shelden sees nothing noteworthy in this extraordinary revelation. He also refers to a contract that Smolka signed with Korda that expressly proscribed him from seeking any other monies or publicity over ‘The Third Man’, and relays Elizabeth Montagu’s disgust and puzzlement over this rather clandestine and suspicious agreement.

While Shelden also explains that Korda was working part-time for MI6 (for such services he had in fact been knighted in 1942 on Churchill’s recommendation), he cannot contrive any coherent explanation for what schemes might have been going on at the time. He does indeed claim that the 1948 trip was cover for MI6 investigations in what was going on (‘keeping an eye on the volatile political situations in both countries’), but MI6 had very capable representatives at the time, especially in Austria, where the distinguished George Kennedy Young was head of station. It sounds like a very lame explanation. He very oddly suggests that Greene was possibly working under private instructions from Philby himself, who was ‘still the blue-eyed boy of the service’ (hardly an accurate representation at this time). He judges it a coincidence that Montagu would lead Greene straight to Smolka, although ‘he was the one man in Vienna who could discuss Philby’s past in detail and who could do it in English’. There is a lot of hidden menace in that suggestion of the Smolka-Philby intimacy, but it remains unexplored: why Smolka would volunteer information about his fellow-agent (a suspected spy) to a former MI6 officer is left unexplained. Shelden is clearly out of his depth.

Norman Sherry’s ‘Life of Graham Greene: Volume 2’

Norman Sherry: Graham Greene selected Sherry as his authorized biographer, and his massive and rather self-indulgent study, The Life of Graham Greene, appeared in three parts, with Volume 2 (1939-1955) – which is the critical item for my analysis – being published in 1994. Sherry had eventually fallen into disfavour with both Greene (who died in 1991) and his family, since he inevitably presented some less illustrious aspects of Greene’s career and personality. Sherry does reflect many incidents of Greene’s employment with MI6, but his preference is for literary analysis, and he is not tuned to the multilayered character of intelligence and counter-intelligence manœuvres. He thus struggles to interpret conflicting information, and leaves several paradoxes unanswered.

For example, his chronology for Greene’s sojourn in Vienna is simply careless. He has Greene ‘reluctantly’ going to Vienna in February 1948: Greene wanted to get his preliminary research for the plot of his screenplay over with quickly, so that he could soon rendezvous with his lover, Catherine Walston, in Rome. Sherry makes an incongruous observation: “He thought of leaving Vienna by train because it would have been easier to reach Italy that way, but for the sake of adventure, he decided to fly.” My research indeed shows that there were no commercial flights between Vienna and Rome at that time: voyagers had to travel by train, but neither were there flights between Prague and Rome. Greene therefore took a plane to Prague, since he apparently did not want to miss an exciting story in the Czech capital. Revolution was breaking out. So much for urgently wanting to be re-united with Catherine: he delayed his assignation unduly.

Sherry does report that Greene spent six or more hours with Smolka on the night of February 17 (which would suggest some very intense discussions), and he next mentions the Elizabeth Bowen cocktail party on February 21. Greene had written to Catherine on February 18, reminding her that he had seen her only a week beforehand (which, if true, would place his departure from England on about February 12), and Greene then stated that he left Vienna on February 23 for Prague, where he stayed for a week. On February 27, a paragraph about him appeared in the News Chronicle. Lastly, Sherry informs us that Greene then met Catherine in Rome in late February, where he started writing his screenplay. Yet, according to the chronology, Greene could not have left Prague until early March. Someone is obviously lying, and Sherry is not shrewd enough to suspect that Greene may have had more official business in Prague.

Greene’s return to Vienna in June, accompanied by Carol Reed, is also covered. Sherry states that the pair went to the Soviet zone, that Greene spent time in the sewers with Elizabeth Montagu and the sewer police, and that on his penultimate day there, the famous Beauclerk told him the story about the penicillin racket. Only now does Sherry concede that Smolka may have been the source of such anecdotes, adding that Greene also visited the Soviet zone with Smolka, and that they spent several nights (evenings?) together. Perhaps uncertain where he stands, Sherry cites Montagu as the authority for the stories of penicillin, and credits Smolka’s short stories as a more likely source than Beauclerk. Whether such tales were ever written must remain a mystery.

W. J. West’s ‘Quest for Graham Greene’

W.J. West: W. J. West returned to the fray in his 1997 book The Quest for Graham Greene. For some reason he is very dismissive of Shelden’s work, and largely ignores Sherry’s, especially when it comes to Smolka. Preferring to believe Greene’s own account, as revealed in the author’s papers at Boston College, he recognizes the contract that Smolka signed, but describes it as a possible ‘cover for some other less avowable reason for payment’. (That is a tantalizing observation, however, that may have a lot of merit.) Yet West seems rather naïve about the context: he describes Smolka simply as a ‘freelance journalist’. He suggests that the papers at Boston College indicate that a priest had apparently written to Greene in 1950, inquiring about the source of the penicillin story, and Greene had replied that he acquired it from the ‘chief of police’ (actually the MI6 officer), Beauclerk. West accepts this at face value, ignoring the evidence that Montagu had provided. He does suggest that Greene already knew about Philby’s adventures in the sewers, without explaining where he gained this insight. It is another very uneven compilation that could have benefitted from some stricter discipline.

Charles Drazin’s ‘In Search of the Third Man’

Charles Drazin: Another author who interviewed Montagu was Charles Drazin, a London-based author and film-historian, who presented a timeline that conflicted with hers in his 1999 book In Search of the Third Man. Here he has Montagu being charged with her mission from Korda in December 1947 (as opposed to her claim of ‘early February’), without any overt explanation as to whether her presence was coincidental, or part of a deeper plot to set the stage. Yet Drazin also dug out a letter of January 5, 1948 from Korda to Greene, instructing him to go to Vienna for three weeks and then to Rome for five weeks for purposes of research work. The proximity of the two events suggests that they occurred in tandem.

Drazin was able to exploit the archives of London Films Productions, and thus presents some original documents. He largely follows the Montagu line about her introduction of Smolka to Greene, and the source of the anecdotes, indicating that Montagu learned about Smolka’s stories before Greene arrived. He adds the fascinating detail that Smolka asked Greene’s literary agents, Pearn, Pollinger & Higham, to handle negotiations of the contract for him, and that he seemed happy with the whole process. Drazin uncovered a signed contract returned by Smolka on September 21, 1948. It all suggests a harmonious and amicable relationship between the couple. He also records that Montagu told him that she suspected duplicity in what Greene was up to –maybe a disingenuous observation on her part.

Elizabeth Montagu’s ‘Honourable Rebel’

Elizabeth Montagu: The part-time OSS and MI6 asset Elizabeth Montagu clearly played a significant role in the affairs in Vienna, but her own evidence is riddled with controversy and contradictions. Montagu, the daughter of Lord John Montagu of Beaulieu, was a member of the Mechanised Transport Corps in France in 1940, and she became stranded when she declined an opportunity to sail back to the UK. Hunted by the Gestapo, she managed to escape to Switzerland, and eventually worked for Alan Dulles of the OSS. After the war she was employed by Sir Alexander Korda, who sent her on a mission to Eastern Europe early in 1948. She had been interviewed by Shelden (and others) in 1993, revealing to him portions of her then unpublished memoir, which revealed much about the bizarre encounters between Greene and Smolka in Vienna in February 1948, and her disdain for the contract that Smolka eventually signed. Yet, when the memoir Honourable Rebel appeared in 2003, a year after her death, the text was much more cautious and restrained. While she described introducing Greene to Smolka, and the fact that Smolka handed over to Greene a manuscript, hoping to get his stories published, she even suggested that Greene might have acquired the penicillin story from other sources in Vienna at the time.

Yet far more serious questions have to be asked about the accuracy of her account. The chronology does not make sense: it is physically impossible. First, she recalls that Korda summoned her to his office to outline her mission in Eastern Europe ‘early in February’. She then describes making an emergency exit from Prague, via a US army plane, to Vienna, just after the February revolution, and then spending a few days in Vienna before receiving a telegram from Korda that Graham Greene would soon be on his way, and that he would need her help. Yet Greene arrived in Vienna, verifiably, on February 12, and left – for Prague, of all places, when he was supposed to be going to Rome! – on February 23. And the revolution in Prague took place on February 21, when Gottwald, on Stalin’s orders, seized power. Montagu’s interviews in Prague must either have been a fantasy, or have occurred after her time in Vienna. It seems to me that she must have been complicit in the whole escapade, was encouraged by MI6 to conceal her tracks after her oral revelations, and then left a deceptive paper-trail in the published memoir, not to be released until after her death. I shall explore this remarkable distortion of the truth in next month’s segment, after I have tried to cross-check dates and sources more deeply, but I suspect that the accounts may be irreconcilable.

Peter Foges: An astonishing contribution to the saga appeared in 2016, in the relatively obscure Lapham’s Quarterly – and then only in an on-line segment, visible at . (I have all fifteen years of Lapham’s Quarterly, a fascinating thematic collection of writings and art, in a pile in my library extension.) It was written by one Peter Foges, a film and television producer, who had been in the enigmatic situation of having Smolka, atheist and Jew, as a godparent. A photograph of this remarkable ceremony, held at Liverpool Cathedral in 1944, appears in the article (see below). Peter Foges’s father had known Smolka in Vienna, and Foges fils informs us that Smolka met Kim Philby through Litzy, who was a good friend of his. Moreover, he states that the three of them worked in the sewers together in 1934, and then Smolka followed them to London. I believe that, while hints have been made about Smolka’s presence in Vienna at this time, this is the first occurrence of any claim that Smolka and Philby had been communist collaborators, and the assertion has monumental implications, into which I shall delve later in this bulletin.

The Baptism of Peter Foges (Smolka in centre); Liverpool Cathedral, 1944

The rest of Foges’s account is error-strewn and woolly. He makes unattributed claims about Smolka’s recruitment by the Soviets (Maly?), and he seems to be unaware of Smolka’s previous time in the UK. He gets dates wrong, and echoes the relationship with Bracken (‘Bracken took a shine to Smolka and fell for his flattery’) without providing a source. He also makes the astonishing claim that Bracken himself ‘dragooned’ Smolka into helping write the script for The Third Man, and that Smolka was even flown in specially for a meeting with Korda and Bracken to plan that the movie take place in Vienna, so that Korda’s wealth locked up there could be exploited. Thus the overall tone of the piece is a bit shrill and questionable, while the first-hand exposure to Smolka that Foges père experienced in Vienna has the ring of truth.

Jean Fromenthal’s ‘Prague Coup’

Jean-Luc Fromenthal: An unlikely contribution to the debate crops up with The Prague Coup, a graphic novel written by Jean-Luc Fromenthal, and illustrated (sometimes very salaciously) by Miles Hyman, which appeared in 2018. The nuggets to be derived do not originate in the story itself, but in the Afterwords. Fromenthal echoes the assertion that Korda wanted to set the film in Vienna since he owned blocked funds in an Austrian subsidiary, Wien-Film, but he also suggests that Greene was actually on a mission to uncover evidence that there was a dangerous mole within MI6 – namely Kim Philby – and that Greene was dispatched to uncover Philby’s tracks. In this context, Smolka’s previous acquaintance with Philby is very poignant, and Fromenthal makes the provocative claim that the pair had met in London, in 1933, i.e. before Philby ventured to Vienna, and that it was Smolka who introduced Kim to Litzy (although the author is incorrect on his dating of Philby’s journey). He boldly declares that Smolka had been an agent of the NKVD, already known as ABO, as far back as 1933. Sadly, Fromenthal does not link any of his assertions to the fascinating Bibliography he offers at the end of the book, so it is impossible to trace these references.

What could also be vital evidence in support of Greene’s mission on behalf of MI6 is the role of one Colonel John Codrington. Fromenthal describes him as ‘a former agent of Claud [sic] Dansey’ (the vice-director of MI6), and he presents his role at the heart of Korda’s organization ‘to facilitate the movement of London Films personnel abroad, during an era in which the British government enforced heavy restrictions in that respect’. Codrington was thus able to make all the arrangements for Greene’s trip to Vienna – and to Prague, the latter excursion being described by Fromenthal as ‘an unforeseen (and to this day unexplained) extension to the journey’. Fromenthal distrusts what Greene said about Beauclerk, and attributes to Smolka the contributions on the penicillin and sewer material.

Thomas Riegeler: Lastly, a prominent article about this whole exercise was written by Dr. Thomas Riegeler in 2020, in the Journal of Austrian-American Studies. Titled The Spy Story behind The Third Man, it trawls widely, and occasionally in depth, through the literature concerning the movie. I learned about several items that had escaped my attention, including the Austrian periodical, The Journal for Intelligence, Propaganda and Security Studies, which devoted a special issue (Volume 12, no.2, [2018]) to ‘The Third Man’, as well as the works by Elizabeth Montagu, and Jean-Luc Fromenthal and Miles Hyman, described above in this report. Riegeler also enjoyed conversations with Smolka’s widow, and their children. (I applied via the Journal’s website to purchase a copy of that important issue, but I have received no reply from the institution.)

Riegeler sets himself an ambitious agenda, describing the role of his article as follows: “By drawing upon archival material as well as secondary literature, this article explores this other history of The Third Man and puts the film in the context of postwar Austria, and highlights how real-life events and personalities inspired its story”. Yet Riegeler unfortunately appears to practice no identifiable methodology, and is very ingenuous. He treats all evidence and testimony as of equal value, and fails to investigate where and why conflicting accounts of the events surface. This defect is especially apparent when he reproduces the statements of Smolka’s son Timothy. These claims fly in the face of what others assert about his father’s activities and loyalties, and Riegeler does not question how objective or insightful Timothy might have been when talking to him.

For example, he weakly characterizes Smolka as ‘a possible Soviet spy’, appearing to trust what Timothy, who downplayed his father’s involvement, told him. Timothy claimed that Smolka père had never been a member of the Communist Party, and never a Soviet agent. Riegeler reports that Timothy stated that his brother Peter had discovered documents in Moscow that Smolka had been judged unsuitable as a spy, as he was ‘far too attached to his family’ – all quite absurd, and flying in the face of what Riegeler himself writes elsewhere, when he cites Andrew and Mitrokhin. Likewise, the other son, Peter, minimized his father’s role in supplying anecdotes about the penicillin scam, ‘as his father never spoke about it’. Elsewhere, Riegeler is haphazard and wrong about dates (for instance when discussing the ‘divorce’, and Litzy’s departure for Berlin, as well as Montagu’s activities in Switzerland). He bizarrely describes the first sacrifice that Philby made was ‘to divorce Litzy’. While Hollingsworth states that the Third Man’s Harry Lime was based partly on Smolka, Riegeler asserts that the inspiration for him was Philby himself.

Additional Material: As a coda, I present two important contributions from MI6 sources. The first is a valuable observation on George Kennedy Young, who was head of the MI6 station in Vienna when Greene arrived. He was a Cold War hawk who constantly criticized Western passivity in the face of Communist aggression. In 1984, he published Subversion and the British Riposte, which described his frustrations. He ran agents, defectors persuaded to stay in place for a while, no doubt, and wrote (p 10) that ‘by the autumn of 1947 the Soviet intention to bring Jugoslavia and Czechoslovakia to heel had become known through defectors’. In a 2020 tribute to Young (see , Rory Cormac wrote that in the autumn of 1947 Young ‘had warned London of the threat of a communist takeover in Prague’. The decision to send Greene to Prague must be viewed in the context of this advice.

The second comes from the writer Jeremy Duns, who has made his writing on intelligence matters available at . After the war, the journalist Antony Terry (who had performed very creditably during the war in various roles, but had been incarcerated by the Germans) was recruited by Ian Fleming’s ‘Mercury’ network, and posted to Vienna to work for MI6, while also being employed as a correspondent for the Sunday Times. Duns relies on the reminiscences of Terry’s wife, Rachel, for some of his accounts of Smolka, whom they encountered there. Terry took over some of Kennedy Young’s agents, and Duns writes: “Also reporting from Vienna at this time was a Daily Express correspondent, Peter Smollett, who was not all he seemed.” He continues:

                After the war, Smolka returned to Vienna as a correspondent, carrying out much the same job for Soviet intelligence as Terry was for M.I.6. Smolka was a familiar face in the British press pack, but Rachel Terry soon began to distrust him. “In November (1947) Picture Post wanted an article on a foreign correspondent’s life in an Occupied city, and Peter Smolka 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 in Palais Kinsky with a woman Russian colonel, whose picture duly appeared with us all in the magazine. 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.”

Rachel Terry wrote this in 1984, and even then was being a little coy: the ‘woman Russian colonel’ was in fact Emma Woolf, a senior Soviet intelligence officer.

Duns assumes that this information would have been passed back to Young, but he notes that the British did nothing at that time, despite Smolka’s obvious links to Soviet intelligence. His article cannot be relied on absolutely: his chronology is erratic, and, like many, he has been taken in by KGB files concerning Smolka’s recruitment by Philby – a subject that I shall take up next month. Yet he revealed a very useful source.

I discovered the published source for these anecdotes. In the December 1984 issue of Encounter magazine, the thriller writer Sarah Gainham (the pseudonym of Rachel Terry, then Ames, née Stainer) submitted a long letter titled ‘Smolka “the Spy”’, which, while casting doubt on the reliability of the claim that Smolka had been a Soviet agent, did describe some aspects of his very unusual behaviour when she became acquainted with him in Vienna after the war. I have acquired a copy of the Encounter issue in question, and I shall report fully in next month’s coldspur.

Research Questions

While the overriding questions: ‘When was Smolka recruited as a Soviet agent?’; and ‘What was his relationship with British Intelligence?’ have driven my research, as I made my first pass through all the material described above, I compiled a list of subsidiary questions, as follows:

  1. Why was Smolka so rapidly approved for naturalization (in contrast to such as Honigmann)?
  2. Why did the authorities ignore the implications of his visits to the Soviet Union and his propagandist book?
  3. Why did MI5 and MI6 show so little interest in Smolka’s travel in 1933, and misrepresent the facts later?
  4. Did Smolka truly assist Philby in the sewers of Vienna in 1934?
  5. Why was Smolka’s presence in Vienna not noticed or recorded by MI6?
  6. Why did Smolka declare that he did not meet Philby until late in 1934?
  7. If he did indeed meet Philby only then, why did they so quickly agree to set up a news agency together?
  8. Why was news of Philby’s open collaboration with Smolka not received with alarm by MI5?
  9. Why did Smolka rise so quickly in government circles, leading to his recruitment by the Foreign Office, and eventually the O.B.E.?
  10. In what manner did Brendan Bracken become convinced of Smolka’s value?
  11. Why were the objections of the MI5 ignored, and why was Smolka’s case deemed ‘difficult’?
  12. Why were the suspicious of leakage from the MoI in 1940, described by Beaumont-Nesbit, ignored?
  13. Why did Rex Leeper, abetted by Vansittart and Peak, support him so actively, ignoring the fact that he surrounded himself with Germans and Austrians at his news agency?
  14. Was it really Moura Budberg who enabled Smolka to be recruited by the MoI?
  15. Why did Vivian of MI6 minimize his importance and influence?
  16. Why did Brooman-White of MI5 trust Philby’s opinion of Smolka in 1942?
  17. Who actually first made contact with Smolka in Vienna in 1948?
  18. Why did Smolka accept such a one-sided contract?
  19. Why did Arthur Martin give him such an inept interrogation in 1961?
  20. Why were the contradictions in his account not picked up?
  21. How did Smolka avoid the Czech show-trials?
  22. How, when he was apparently at death’s door, did Smolka manage to survive another twenty years?
  23. Why were suggestions made that Smolka’s visit to Czechoslovakia in 1948 might have been made on secret intelligence business?
  24. Why did MI5 think it might be able to persuade Smolka to ‘defect’ to the British?
  25. Why are so many of Smolka’s activities omitted from his PFs?
  26. When did MI6/MI5 become convinced that Smolka was a Soviet agent?
  27. Why do critics believe Philby’s claim that he recruited Smolka as an NKVD agent in 1939 as ABO?
  28. Why did Graham Greene and Elizabeth Montagu lie about the details of their itinerary in February 1948?
  29. Why did Greene travel to Prague after Vienna, when he was supposed to be in Rome?
  30. What was the role of George Kennedy Young (head of MI6 station in Vienna) at the time of the Greene-Smolka meetings?

(The relevance of several of these may not yet be apparent to the reader, as they derive from a close study of Smolka’s Personal File.)

I thus turn to a detailed analysis of the story of Smolka’s adventure with the United Kingdom, starting in 1930.

Chapter 1: 1930-1934 – Finding his Feet

Smolka’s Authorization by ‘Der Tag’

A significant fact about Smolka’s arrival at Dover on September 29, 1930 is that he was only twelve days beyond his eighteenth birthday. This was an early age for anyone to start engaging in nefarious activities. Yet his presence was quickly noted by MI5, who received a report in November that Smolka had arrived in Marseilles from Barcelona on August 18, that he had immediately been expelled by the French authorities, on August 20, for taking photographs at the port of Marseilles, and that he was suspected of being an Italian spy. Where he spent the intervening weeks is not clear, but he also came to the notice of the Metropolitan Police when his presence at a meeting of the ‘Friends of India’ society in Trafalgar Square was noticed on November 15. (An MI5 report states that that society ‘is described by I.P.I. as a Socialistic society composed mainly of Quaker cranks and Ghandi [sic, should be ‘Gandhi’] worshippers’.)

Smolka was actually interrogated after this event, and Scotland Yard informed B1b in MI5 of the outcome. Moreover, Smolka misleadingly admitted that he had been detained by the French police after attending a meeting. When the French authorities were consulted, they provided the true story, and added that Smolka had given his occupation as a journalist working for Die Zeitschrift der Neuen Jugend. Smolka produced evidence for the Metropolitan Police that he was attending a course at the London School of Economics, ‘taking a general course as a scholarship student of the Austrian government’. Whether the officials in Vienna knew or approved of their student’s wayward travel and offenses is not stated, but no indication is given that MI5 followed up with the Austrian Embassy to verify Smolka’s claims.

Nevertheless, MI5 increased its surveillance of Smolka, watching his movements, and also applying for a warrant to have his mail opened. They thus learned that he was keen on taking photographs of people in straitened circumstances, that he showed communist sympathies, and that his future bride, Lotty, wrote to him congratulating him on learning Russian. He was successful in getting some of his reports accepted by Austrian periodicals. MI5 also started keeping tabs on some of his friends and associates. His permit required him to leave the country within six months, so he departed from Dover for Ostend on March 25, 1931. MI5 knew from his recent correspondence that his destination was Vienna.

Smolka was away for a couple of years, arriving in Folkestone from Boulogne on May 6, 1933. He was accompanied by his wife, and stated that he was now a journalist for the Neue Freie Presse of Vienna. If Smolka had been recruited by the NKVD, early 1933 would have been the obvious time, as the organization was intensifying its infiltration of the Western democracies. Arnold Deutsch had received his training in Moscow in January. The Orlovs had returned to Vienna in March, and, after a short spell in prison, left for Prague and Berlin, and arrived in Geneva in September. In March, Rudolf Katz was sent by Moscow to join Willi Műnzenberg in Paris. He arrived in the UK soon afterwards. In April, Robert Kuczynski fled to Czechoslovakia, then to Geneva, and arrived in the UK at the end of the month. Edith Suschitzky was arrested in Vienna in May, and married Tudor-Hart in August, thereby gaining her British passport. That same month, Deutsch, back in Vienna, recruited the couple as STRELA. In July, Klaus Fuchs was dispatched from Germany to Paris. John Cairncross spent the summer in Vienna. Ignaty Reif was sent to Britain in August.

And it is now that the record starts to take a strange turn. On August 24, Smolka sent a letter to the Under-Secretary of State at the Home office, in which he referred to a recent conversation he had with a Mr. Hoare of that department. He requested that he and his wife be allowed to stay in the country further, given his new role as special correspondent for the Neue Frei Presse to the Worlds [sic] Economic Conference, indicating that they were economically self-sufficient. On September 6, a Mr E. N. Cooper replied to say that the Secretary of State would ‘raise no objection’ to the prolongment of the couple’s stay in the United Kingdom.

Was something being fixed behind the scenes? The statement that no objection would be raised strongly suggests that others might do so. And who was the Mr Hoare with whom Smolka had spoken? Could it be the future Home Secretary Samuel Hoare, who took up that office in 1937? Hoare clearly did not work for the Home Office at that time, since he was Secretary of State for India, but he spoke Russian, and had been a liaison officer inside MI6 to Russian Intelligence during World War I. John Gilmour, a Scottish Unionist, was the Home Secretary between 1932 and 1935, but does not appear to have achieved much of distinction: maybe he did not know exactly what was going on. Hoare himself was deeply involved with the Round Table conferences discussing India’s constitution that summer (a topic of great interest to Smolka, incidentally), and would not naturally have had reason to be distracted by the appeal of an Austrian émigré. Yet, given his questionable status, how Smolka arranged to have any personal discussion with any Hoare of influence, whether working in the Home Office or not, is something of a surprise.

MI5 appeared not to be disarmed by this recognition. On October 6, they requested the GPO to pass on all of Smolka’s correspondence for a fortnight (‘the usual list of letters’). There were only five letters during this period, but four came from Vienna (their contents were not filed). And immediately this fortnight was over, Smolka started to exploit his new status by some provocative travel. He left Folkestone for Boulogne on November 25, returning to Newhaven on December 12. A further batch of over twenty letters had been intercepted during this period, again mostly from Vienna – not all from the Neue Freie Presse. Thereafter the record turns eerily silent, with the next item constituting Smolka’s departure for Boulogne on August 1, and onward to Vienna, at which time the mail interception process resumes.

What do we know from other sources about Smolka’s movements during this time? Modin wrote that Philby met Smolka in Austria in 1934. Foges stated that Smolka worked with Litzy and Kim in the sewers. Drazin indicated that Smolka had met Philby in London in 1933, and that he returned to Vienna a year later. (That could refer to the August trip.) Drazin also claimed with confidence that Smolka presented Litzy to Philby. That could also not be precisely true: Philby arrived in Vienna in late summer, and he met Litzy soon afterwards. But Smolka, who returned to Britain a month before Philby was directed to go to work in Vienna as a courier, could have given Kim an introduction orally before the latter left. Shelden claimed (probably based on what Lotty Smolka told him) that Litzy introduced her future husband to Smolka, thus placing the encounter between mid-January and mid-February. Yet that sounds like a deception: since Litzy was Lotty’s best friend from their schooldays, it seems more probable that Smolka would have recommended that Philby stay with the Kollmanns when he advised him in the summer of 1933. The various testimonies to Smolka’s contribution to subterranean lore would nevertheless seem to show that he had indeed been active in the sewers.

One of two explanations seem possible to me: a) the accounts of Smolka’s work for the Viennese communists that spring of 1934 are pure fantasy; or b) the British authorities covered up the records of the travel of the Smolkas. The evidence in support of the former is flimsy, of ‘dog in the night-time’ character. No one outside the Smolka family appears to have recorded his presence and activity. Why did no one employed by MI6 (either officially or unofficially) notice Smolka’s presence in Vienna, especially since he was close to Litzy and Kim? Would he have attended the wedding? E. H. Cookridge, who was political editor of an unnamed morning newspaper, does not mention him. G. E. R. Gedye apparently did not notice him. The head of MI6 Station Thomas Kendrick apparently sent no report on him, and there were various English-men and -women floating around Vienna, for example Stephen Spender, Hugh and Dora Gaitskell, John Lehmann, Naomi Mitchison, Emma Cadbury, as well as the American Muriel Gardiner, none of whom appeared to detect or remark on his presence.

Yet, if the testimony of Montagu can be relied upon, Smolka drew upon his experiences to write some insightful short stories. And why would his wife and Foges draw attention to such escapades, except perhaps to elevate Smolka’s heroism? (The photographs of him suggest a fastidious character perhaps rather diffident about soiling himself in the sewers.) Yet several questions need answering. Why would the Neue Freie Presse, having just installed a new head in its London bureau, very soon after call him back to Vienna for several months? – unless it had been compliant in the whole endeavour, which is not out of the question. The major piece in the puzzle lies in the behaviour of the British authorities.

Peter Smolka in London (not dressed for the sewers)

Whether or not Smolka did spend some time in Vienna in the spring of 1934, his Personal File, with its utter lack of entries between December 1933 and August 1934 represents incriminating evidence either way. If Smolka (and his wife) did leave the country – and return to it – during that time, the port officials should have recorded the fact, and informed MI5. If they did so, the information was suppressed. And if the couple never left, one would expect conventional monitoring of them to have continued. But there is nothing. Why would MI5, having been surveilling Smolka closely, suddenly be so casual and uninterested in the activities of a known Communist who made frequent trips to the Continent? Moreover, when Smolka gave an account, in his naturalization request of 1938, of all his movements abroad, he omitted any reference to travel between December 1933 and August 1934, which would have constituted a signed perjurious statement if he had indeed visited Vienna.

Was Kendrick, in Vienna, told to turn a blind eye? He has been accused of negligence. In her biography of him, Spymaster, Helen Fry wrote that he overlooked ‘the majority of the prominent, potentially dangerous, communists in Vienna’, which group may have included Smolka. Her focus shifted, however, as she shifted to make the following controversial statement:

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

I discussed these assertions a few months ago, in, and explained why I thought that hypothesis unlikely. Yet I pointed out that the earlier 2014 version of the book contained an even more shocking claim, made to Fry by a source who wished to remain anonymous, that Philby had ‘always been working for us [i.e. MI6]’. The person told her that it would ‘destroy the book if you say so openly’. Fry did as much, however, by quoting him, and then decided to remove this provocative assertion from the sanitized edition. My conclusion was that she had indeed been nobbled.

Of course her informant may have been a relic who had had ‘intelligence’ passed on to him from the ‘robber barons’ of MI6 who believed that Philby was innocent, and claimed that he had been manipulated by MI6 to pass on misinformation to the Russians. Yet it was a bit ridiculous to assert, as late as 2014, decades after Philby’s escape, confessional memoir, and death, that he had always been a loyal servant of MI6. After all, what did the informant know of 1933? What did ‘always’ mean? Thus the warning may simply have been a traditional smokescreen by current MI6 officers to cause as much confusion as possible. After all, if there was anyone who ‘had always been working’ for the KGB or any of its predecessor structures, it was Kim Philby.

Moreover, there are important issues of tradecraft to be considered. If Philby, as E. H. Cookridge reported, told him that he had close contacts with the Soviet Consul, Ivan Vorobyev, and Vladimir Alexeievich Antonov-Ovseyenko, later to be revealed as an OGPU officer, it was remarkably stupid of the Englishman. It caused a breach between him, on the one hand, and Cookridge and his anti-communist friends on the other: Philby must have misjudged his colleague’s probable reaction. Thus, if MI6 had in reality tried to exploit Philby’s presence in subversive circles to infiltrate the Communist organization in Vienna, Hendrick must have firmly believed a) that Philby was naturally loyal to the British democratic cause, and to MI6; and b) that the Communists could not possibly have any inkling that Philby was working secretly for British Intelligence. If, as seems clear, Philby did spill the beans, he had been remarkably poorly briefed. Indeed, Cookridge assumed that Philby had been compromised by the summer of 1934, and had to leave Vienna in a hurry [in fact in April]. It was more likely that MI6, if it had put out feelers to Philby, suspected that their game may have been rumbled. If the OGPU had smelled a rat, Philby would have been permanently discarded – unless he had been able to convince his contacts at the Consulate that he was in fact loyal to them, and that he was cleverly manipulating Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service. That would suggest, of course, that he had already been recruited by the Soviets.

All this makes the release of information on the Philby wedding to the Austrian Press even more poignant and dramatic. The item (see below) was published in the Illustrierte Kronen Zeitung on May 25, 1934. I extract, highlight, and translate or paraphrase the more significant portions of it. (Readers should recall that Philby had been married to Litzy on February 24, 1934, and the pair had left Vienna on April 28.) The headline reads: ‘A Viennese woman marries into the court of Ibn Saud’, which must have come as a rather startling revelation to those who knew the young leftist firebrand. Litzy was already an agent of the OGPU, was under strict police surveillance, and had probably been set up as part of a honeytrap to capture the young Briton, which makes the following story even more absurd.

Report on Philby Marriage: ‘Illustrierte Kronen Zeitung’, May 26, 1934

The column, having introduced Litzy Kollman [sic] as a student, mentions her marriage to ‘Mr H. K. Philby’, who is identified solely by virtue of his father, a two-decade-long advisor to the King of Hejaz, who had enjoyed such great influence with the King that he was frequently dubbed ‘the secret Chancellor of Ibn Saud’. This was not strictly true. Ibn Saud was the King of Saudi Arabia, and he had annexed the kingdom of Hejaz a couple of years beforehand. No matter. The writer then attempts to set up Litzy as a dedicated scholar with ambitions of becoming a legal expert with the practice of Dr. Joseph Zitter. According to the report, she then encountered Philby in her circle of student-colleagues, ‘a young, elegant Englishman, who, after Eton and Cambridge, and after the obligatory world tour, had come to Vienna to attend the world-famous College of Diplomacy’. Who provided the writer with this nonsense is not clear.

Naturally, the couple fell in love, and the young Viennese treasure is reported to be no longer in her home city. “She is already installed in the lordly mansion of the Philbys, where her husband prepares himself for entry to Great Britain’s diplomatic service”. The writer continues: “Inspired, and still amazed by her fresh good fortune, Lizzy Philby writes to her friends in Vienna of the fairy-tale luxury that surrounds her [no flea-bitten pad in Hampstead, then, under the eye of a sternly disapproving mother-in-law], and also of the long journey that awaits her: H. K. Philby, her husband, is shortly to be transferred ‘with special disposition’ to the court of Ibn Saud.” The column then switches to a long explanation of the history of the region, and of Philby Senior’s role since the end of World War I.

Harry St. J. Philby is described as being ‘a good son of Great Britain and a good friend of Ibn Saud’, but in reality Philby worked mostly against British interests. He opposed the Balfour Declaration, and he worked behind Britain’s back in seeking out agreements on oil concessions with the USA, and even with Spain and Nazi Germany. There are veiled references to Nazi affinities: Philby père is quoted as writing that he considered Ibn Saud ‘the outstanding Arab “Fűhrer” and ‘founder of the incipient Arab “Reich”’ – all very deliberate and weighty words. Readers of the column are advised to watch developments in this sphere closely. “They should expect to hear a lot more about the Arab conqueror Ibn Saud, and, according to past events Philby will surely loom in the background, but not to one side.”

And how does this scenario affect our young, happy couple? The conclusion is muddled, and sentimental. “The petite Viennese Lizzy Kollmann, now Mrs. Philby, will soon reside at the court of the Arab ruler. Whatever the British Foreign Office may demand, and however Arab interests may interfere with Lizzy Philby’s private life – some time during the next year she will return to Vienna: H. St. J. Philby [sic: should be ‘H.K.’] has promised that to his mother-in-law, Mrs Kollmann. And H. St. Philby, the secret Chancellor of Hejaz, has confirmed it.”

How the British Embassy thought it could get away with this charade is unbelievable. After all, there were several Britons still around in Vienna who knew enough about the real life of Litzy and Kim – including the fact that she was not a Kollman at the time of her marriage, and that the innocent young student had already married and divorced one Karl Friedmann. In Treason in the Blood, Anthony Cave Brown wrote of the marriage: “All who were interested heard about it and gossiped about it, and the British community in Vienna was astonished.”  It seems that Kendrick must have been under pressure to show that the British authorities had no knowledge of any subversive activities on the part of Kim, and that he needed to present him as a true cion of his right-wing father. It was trying to send a subtle message to the Soviet Consulate. Yet the column is an extraordinarily clumsy creation. Why did they think the Soviets would be taken in? And why was everyone silent over this disinformation? The visitors from the UK surely must have read it. For example, it is not clear how long Cookridge stayed in Vienna (he was later incarcerated in Dachau and Buchenwald by the Gestapo), but he made no mention of it in The Third Man.

All this sub-plot about the Philby wedding leads back to Smolka, if indeed he were still around. If so, he must surely have read the piece, and he would have enjoyed discussing it with his handlers at the Soviet Consulate. Maybe he even had a hand in composing it, with his journalistic skills, and love of intrigue. For one has to start asking the very searching question that this pattern of activity provokes. Did MI6 believe that they had a similar influence over Smolka at this time as they did over Philby? Had they made overtures to him, back in England in 1933, with the idea that he might become an informer for them in the Communist camp? And did they then start to dangle his pal Philby in a similar manner when they discovered what he was up to with Litzy? And had that part of the plot even been dreamed up in London?

I shall return to that controversial conjecture next month, and here tidy up the loose ends of 1934. In any case, Arnold Deutsch left Vienna for London in May, quickly on the heels of the newlyweds (some write that he left before them). If we are to believe Philby’s account of the events that followed, the spy was recruited after some furtive meetings with Deutsch, arranged through the intermediary Edith Tudor-Hart. Yet that schemery was not necessary: it is much more likely that Deutsch was dispatched to verify the determination and loyalty of the OGPU’s new recruit after the rumours in Vienna.  Moreover, Philby’s timetable is impossible: if he left Vienna on April 28, and travelled via Prague and Paris by motorcycle (as Cookridge recorded), he would not have been able to attend the May Day parade in Camden (as Philby later claimed).

An alternative scenario, as described briefly in the later chapters of memoir by Philby (published in The Private Life of Kim Philby) suggests that he and Litzy travelled by train, via Berlin and Paris.

Meanwhile, what were the Smolkas doing during the summer, how did they survive, and when did they return to the UK? No record appears to exist. Maybe he was being maintained safely by his Soviet protectors until they gained verification that his comrade from the sewers was reliable, and that it was safe for him to return to the United Kingdom. The owners of the Neue Frei Presse were presumably still complaisant. And then Smolka returned to Vienna in early August, 1934. Perhaps his task was to inform his bosses, in person, that the ring was safe, to confirm that Philby was reliable, and had been formally recruited by Deutsch. For the Comintern wheels were in motion again.

The very same day that he returned, on September 4, Litzy left England for France, and then Spain. Orlov left Vienna for Paris, then London, in mid-September, and his family joined him soon afterwards. Guy Burgess (who had written to Isaiah Berlin in May, informing him that Philby had just returned from ‘fighting in Vienna’) wrote to Berlin early in September to let him know that Philby was staying with him. The PEACH files even inform us that Litzy returned to Vienna, for one month, on September 21 – a dangerous exploit had she not been protected by her British passport. In October, Edith Tudor-Hart recruited Arthur Wynn at Oxford, and Philby was instructed to introduce Donald Maclean to Ignaty Reif. On November 7, the MASK traffic reported that MARY (Litzy) had arrived back safely in London.

MI5 did not appear unduly surprised or excited about Smolka’s re-appearance, as if it were completely routine for a communist under surveillance to have taken another trip to a highly volatile city. One might expect urgent confabulations with MI6 to have taken place: if they did, nothing has survived in MI5 files. A week after Smolka’s return, ‘Tar’ Robertson requested of the G.P.O. a ‘return’ of all correspondence addressed to him, such intervention to last for a fortnight. This is an unusual formulation: a warrant for inspection of a suspect’s mail conventionally ran as follows: “I hereby authorize and request you to detain, open and produce for my inspection all postal packets and telegrams addressed to  . . .”. Similar requests had been made in October and November 1933: it seems that a list of all correspondence, with senders identified only if they appeared on the envelope, was the result. Vienna again features strongly, and there is an intriguing letter arriving on September 17 from Guetan in Spain, against which someone has scribbled a half-obscured note mentioning ‘Lizy’. In any case, Robertson was interested enough to request the Home Office file (638153) on Smolka, which contained his Alien record, and the correspondence with the Home Office from November 1933.

Jasper Harker then picked up the baton, writing to Sir Arthur Willert at the Foreign Office for a list of all accredited representatives of the Neue Frei Presse. Willert was under the impression that Smolka, the chief representative of the publication, had been chief for some years, and had just announced that he had hired an assistant, Dr. Robert Ehrenzweig. In a handwritten note, Willert added that Smolka is ‘rather a bore, but decent’, and had an office at the Times premises on Printing House Square. No obvious action results from this inquiry.

As all this busy re-energizing of networks was taking place, and MI5 rather laboriously started paying attention to Smolka again, he then took what might have appeared to be an unnecessarily bold step. Writing as London Editor of the Neue Freie Presse, on notepaper listing its address as Printing House Square, on November 15 he alerted the Undersecretary of State at the Home Office to his intention to form the London Continental News Ltd., along with his British colleague Mr. H. A. R. Philby. He hopes that the Home Office will not raise any objections, and adds in a handwritten addendum: “I have at the same time informed the Press Department of the Foreign Office on this matter.”

While it may seem a little premature for Smolka to have informed the Foreign Office before he had gained permission from the Home Office, this seems a remarkably flamboyant way of drawing attention to his association with Philby. Was it really necessary? The formal response is not included in the file, but extracts from the Home Office papers indicate that a letter was sent to him on January 3, 1935, stating that the Office had no objections, and Harker concurred with that decision.

As so often occurs with these sagas concerning British Intelligence and Communist agents and spies (Ursula Kuczynski, Tudor-Hart, Litzy and Kim Philby, Smolka), one has to pose the challenging questions: Why was the OGPU/NKVD/KGB so brazen in the gestures it threw out? And why were MI5 and MI6 so sluggish and inattentive in their response? It was surely unnecessary for Smolka to draw the attention of the British authorities to his close association with someone who had been watched contributing to leftist subversion in Vienna. One can only assume that he did it as an act of bravado, to prove to himself (and maybe his bosses) that he and Philby were both considered harmless.

As for MI5, who clearly maintained an active file on Philby, the passivity over this letter from Smolka, however superficially uncontroversial, is astounding. The letter was not weeded out at the time. Either someone who had no idea who Philby was (despite the recognition that he had been allocated a PF) added it to the file in innocence, and no senior officer checked what was happening. Alternatively, someone in authority decided that this was all above board, and gave no cause for concern. And why did the document not ring alarm-bells when it was discovered in the late 1940s (as it surely must have been), when Philby began to fall under suspicion? Yet, even in 2015, no one deemed that the publication of the letter was damaging, and that the lack of activity thereafter might prompt some awkward questions.

I offer another explanation for the remarkable number of hints about Philby’s misdemeanours to be found in the archive. MI5 officers were dismayed by the conduct of their ex-chief, Dick White, when he was transferred to lead the rival organization, MI6, and later shown to have been taken in by Anthony Blunt during the war. White then compounded his guilt by allowing Philby to flee unpunished, and then by initiating a damaging search within MI5 for the fictitious ‘agent ELLI’, bringing Hollis, Mitchell, McBarnet and others under suspicion. A generous sprinkling of notes incriminating Philby, and thus embarrassing MI6, was made across various files, awaiting someone in posterity to integrate them into a coherent story, and thereby clear MI5 of any further betrayal.

The last observation I make at this juncture is that another familiar pattern shows itself – the fact that senior officers in MI5 (and probably MI6) made decisions of highly strategic import that they did not confide to their underlings. Thus we encounter the familiar phenomenon of organizational dissonance: a story of eager young officers asking searching questions, but being discouraged when their managers try to diminish the significance of their inquiries, and attribute the suspicious signals to misunderstanding or some kind of prejudice.


This investigation has perhaps been the most challenging that I have ever set myself. The source material is cluttered with lies, deceptions, omissions and evasions. Yet behind it all there must be a narrative that makes sense. There always is. All the actors must have believed that each step that they undertook was either furthering their career (or perhaps preventing it from coming to a grisly end), contributing to the success of the agency for which they worked, or even helping the cause of the nation or movement to which they were ultimately committed. Their priorities were normally in that order. Yet I do not believe that any documents are suddenly going to come to light that will undeniably and permanently clear matters up.

Those readers who have been following my posts over the past few years will probably be able to guess where this line of research is leading. Next month I shall present my analysis of the final five chapters of the Smolka story. In the meantime, however, I appeal to you to get in touch with me – on errors of fact, on mistakes of logic or interpretation, on overlooked source material, on misunderstood procedures. I need all the help that I can get.

(New Commonplace entries can be seen here.)


Filed under Economics/Business, Espionage/Intelligence, General History, Management/Leadership, Politics, Travel, Uncategorized

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

Hallingdal, Norway


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

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

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

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

Chapter 1: Introduction and Historical Background

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

Battleship Tirpitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 2: Planning for PARAVANE

Tirpitz in Kafjord, inner to Altenfjord

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

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

Hurricanes at Vaenga Airfield

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

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

Yagodnik Airfield

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

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

Poltava Airfield

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

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

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

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

Operation PARAVANE (revised)

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

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

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

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

Leave a Comment

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

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.


  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 ( ) 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]

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 ), 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

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 , 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 ). 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.

Latest Commonplace entries can be viewed here.


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

The Tales of Honigmann

‘The Tales of Hoffman’ (no relation)

I recently read Barbara Honigmann’s memoir about her father, Georg, originally published in 2021. (Barbara was the child of Georg and Litzy, née Kohlmann, who had been married to Kim Philby between 1934 and 1946. See,, and for a comprehensive background to his story.) It was a fascinating experience, challenging my facility with the German language, which had lain largely unexercised for more than fifty years. I was pleasantly surprised that I did not have to resort to a dictionary on more than a handful of occasions. The text reflects the German predilection for long, but mostly carefully crafted, sentences containing multiple subordinate clauses (although I was occasionally surprised by the running-on of separate main clauses in a single sentence, without any co-ordinating conjunction). In this report I reproduce key passages from the book, provide my own translations, and offer some commentary on controversial items, and those of particular interest for what they shed on Honigmann’s career. Ms Honigmann’s study relied on both oral and written evidence from her father, as well as communications with other relatives and friends.

‘Georg’, by Barbara Honigmann

P 11     “Außerdem hatte er in Laufe seines Lebens noch viele Geliebte, von denen ich, wie gesagt, manche traf, von manchen nur wusste oder hörte, und von anderen wurde mir erst nach seinem Tod erzählt, dass er nämlich zum Beispiel, als er nach dem Krieg aus England nach Deutschland zurűckgekehrt war, während meine Mutter, die zu dieser Zeit seine Frau war, noch in England darauf wartete, dass er in Berlin eine Wohnung fand, sich dort auch sofort wieder eine Geliebte angschafft hatte.ˮ

Besides, in the course of his life he had several lovers, many of whom, as I said, I met, of many I merely learned of or heard about, while others were described to me only after his death, for instance that he had in fact immediately found a new lover when he returned from England to Germany after the war, at the time that my mother, who was his wife at this time, was still in England, waiting for him to find accommodation in Berlin.

This is an extraordinary statement by Barbara Honigmann, claiming that Litzy was already Georg’s wife when he absconded to Berlin. It directly contradicts what she writes later, and it is amazing that neither she nor her editor picked up the anomaly. Whether Georg carelessly provided such information is, of course, impossible to determine, but the fact that he was not married to Litzy at the time casts a slightly different moral shadow on his romantic affairs, while confirming his reputation as a ladies’ man.

Pp 19-20 “Später in England unterzog er sich einmal ein paar Wochen oder Monate einer psychoanalytischen Kur, wahrscheinlich hatte ihm Ruth, die damals seine Frau war, dazu geraten, denn Georg litt seine ganzes Leben an Depressionen, verstummte and versteinerte dann fűr einige Tage oder Wochen. Das haben alle seine Frauen so erlebt, sie haben es mir so berichtet, Ruth, Litzy, Gisela und Liselotte  . . . ˮ

Later in England he once underwent a psychoanalytical course of treatment for a couple of weeks or months: Ruth, who was his wife at the time, probably advised him to do so, for Georg suffered his whole life from depressive attacks, and would lapse into silence or impassiveness for days or weeks at a time. All his wives experienced it, as they let me know, Ruth, Litzy, Gisela and Liselotte.

Gisela was Gisela May, a famous German actress, who married Georg in 1956. They divorced in 1965, after Gisela had an affair in Italy that was particularly painful to Georg. Barbara constantly refers to her simply as ‘die Schauspielerin’, the ‘actress’.

P 20     “Aber auch űber die Analyze bei Winnicott hatte er nur Schlechtes zu berichten und tat diese Seelenkur, die den Theorien und der ärtzlichen Praxis seines Vaters so nah war und der er sich offensichtlich gegen seinen Willen, nur unter dem Druck seiner Frau unterzog, als Unsinn ab, spottete noch jahrelang darűber. Vielleicht haben dieser Spott und die Ablehnung zur Trennung von Ruth beigetragen, die, nachdem sie wie er Journalistin gewesen war, in England noch einmal Medizin studierte, sich auf die Psychiatrie spezialisierte und dann viele Jahre am Charing Cross Hospital in London an der Heilung gestörter and kranker Menschen arbeitete. Im Gegensatz zu Georg konnte sie kein Heil in der politischen Bewegung entdecken, die er später durch Litzy, meine Mutter, in London kennengelernte – den Kommunismus. Georg aber fűhlte sich vom Kommunismus offensichtlich ebenso angezogen wie von Litzy selbst, und der wurde dann zur ‘dritten Sacheʼ des neuen Paares, die sie einige Jahre zusammenhielt.ˮ

Yet he had only bad things to say concerning Winnicott’s analysis of him, abandoned as absurd this therapy, which was so close to the theories and medical practice of his father, and which he had undertaken openly against his desires only because of the influence of his wife, and ridiculed it for years afterwards. Perhaps this scorn and rejection had contributed to his split from Ruth, who, some time after she had become a journalist, like him, specialized in psychiatry, and then worked for many years at Charing Cross Hospital in London, treating mentally ill and sick persons. In contrast to Georg she could find no solace in political agitation, something that he later became acquainted with in London through my mother Litzy – Communism. Georg felt himself attracted by Communism as much as by Litzy herself, and it then became the ‘third person’ in the new couple’s relationship, which kept them together for some years.

Douglas Winnicott was an influential paediatrician and psychoanalyst who apparently had his own psychological problems. The timing of Georg’s intimacy with Litzy is intriguing: this fragment suggests that Georg was indoctrinated into Communism well before he was interned in Canada, where he apparently came under the influence of Leopold Hornik, and that the relationship with Ruth had by then broken down – contrary to the impression that Georg gave to the Home Office when he was seeking his wife’s release in late 1940. Milmo’s report on the PEACH case indicates that Litzy began living with Georg only in 1942, but Philby had declared that the pair were living together when he arrived back from France in the summer of 1940. Thus we can probably safely conclude that Georg and Ruth were indeed estranged by the time the policy of internment was more aggressively pursued in June 1940, and that serious differences over Communism had contributed to their disaffection. Ruth became a loyal British subject, married Henry Blunden (or Blumenthal) in January 1946, and lived in the United Kingdom for the rest of her life. She died on December 5, 1984.

P 23     “Es war noch vor dem Bau der Mauer, und so fuhren sie einfach los und verbrachten ihre Ferien in ihrer verlorenen Heimat und zeigten sich gegenseitig die Orte, wo sie Kinder gewesen waren.ˮ [Die Schauspielerin]

It was still before the construction of the Wall, and they [Georg and Gisela] were able simply to go away and spend their holidays in their lost home, and they showed each other the places where they had grown up as kids.

The Berlin Wall was built in August 1961, and transit to the West was possible before then. Clearly no restrictions were placed on the Honigmanns’ movements – something that might have alarmed the Home Office and MI5 should they (or Litzy) have wanted to visit the UK, where Georg had several relatives. MI5 later showed some alarm when Litzy was reported to be planning a visit to the UK.

P 49     “Und doch ist es so gekommen, aus dem Bohemien war ein Kommunist geworden. Georg selbst konnte den Zeitpunkt und den Ort genau bestimmen, an dem es geschehen war: während seiner zweiten Ehe, der mit meiner Mutter in London, und dann im Internierungslager in Kanada 1940, wohin die Engländer die enemy aliens verschifften.ˮ

It thus came about that a Bohemian turned into a Communist. Georg could himself accurately pinpoint the place and time where and when it occurred: during his second marriage, that with my mother in London, and then in the Internment Camp in Canada in 1940, where the English shipped out the enemy aliens.

Again, the lie about Georg’s marriage to Litzy is reproduced, and astonishingly overlooked. Moreover, Georg’s clear memory of the conversion is sharply undermined by the fact that he qualifies it with the later experiences in Canada that involved Leopold Hornik.

P 55     “Zu Beginn der Nazizeit konnten seine Eltern noch eine Stelle in Barcelona finden, nach dem Franco-Putsch jedoch fűhlten sie sich dort auch nicht mehr in Sicherheit und schickten deshalb ihre beiden halbwűchsigen Söhne nach London, wo sich Georg als älterer Onkel – immerhin was er mehr als doppelt so alt und hatte eine Frau, eine Arbeit und eine Wohnung – um sie kűmmerte und den jűngeren der beiden Brűder, Andreas, schließlich auch zum Kommunismus hinűberzog, von dem er selbst gerade erst von seiner neuen Geliebten, die später meine Mutter wurde, űberzeugt worden war. So erzählte es Andreas.ˮ

At the beginning of the Nazi era, the parents of Andreas [Georg’s cousin] were still able to find a place in Barcelona, but, after the Franco Putsch, no longer felt safe there and therefore sent their two adolescent sons to London, where Georg, in the role of an older uncle – after all, he was twice their age and had a wife, a job and a flat – took care of them, and eventually converted Andreas, the younger of the two, to Communism, to which he had just been won over by his new love, who later became my mother. That is how Andreas told it.

At last Barbara indicates that Litzy was not yet his wife when he converted to Communism. The circumstances of the acceptance in Britain of his cousins are not clear: Georg’s MI5 records do not reflect their presence at any time, so far as I can tell.

P 60     “Es war Zufall, dass während meines ‘Asylsʼ in Ilmenau auch Andreasʼ Bruder, der nach dem Krieg in England geblieben war und sich seither John nannte, gerade zu Besuch war, und beide Brűder erzählten wieder davon, wie fűrsorglich sich damals Georg ihrer angenommen hatte, als sie 1939 noch als halbe Kinder, ohne Geld, ohne Ausbildung und ohne die Sprache zu kennen, in dem völlig fremden London angekommen waren.ˮ

It was by chance that, during my refuge in Ilmenau, Andreas’s brother, who had stayed in England after the war, and since then was known as John, was visiting at the same time. Both brothers further explained how Georg had welcomed them, when in 1939 they had arrived in the utterly strange city of London as mere children, unprepared, without money, and not knowing the language.

Further startling facts about Georg’s extended family.

P 62     “So kam Georg 1931 als Korrespondent der Vossischen Zeitung nach London, lernte schnell Englisch, ‘denn wenn du Latein kennstʼ, sagt er, ‘lernst du alle anderen Sprachen im Handumdrehenʼ, lebte mit Ruth im gutbűrgerlichen Westen Londons zwischen Hyde Park und Holland Park, und dort heirateten sie endlich auch.ˮ

Thus Georg arrived in London in 1931 as correspondent for the Vossische Zeitung, quickly learned English, ‘for, if you know Latin’, he said, ‘you can learn other languages in a heartbeat’, lived with Ruth in a posh area of London between Hyde Park and Holland Park, and there they eventually got married.

Before being despatched to London, Georg had apparently bluffed his editor at the newspaper about his knowledge of English. Yet another lie appears: from his account, and the records in his Personal File, he returned to Germany to marry Ruth in December, 1932, in Frankfurt-am-Main.

P 63     “1936 hatte er gemeinsam mit Ruth die britische Staatsbűrgerschaft beantragt, die ihnen jedoch verweigert wurde. Seine deutsche Heimat sah er eben siebzehn Jahre später wieder.ˮ

In 1936, along with Ruth, he applied for British citizenship, which was, however, denied to both of them. He did not see his German homeland until seventeen years later.

This statement, rather curiously, excludes the German Democratic Republic as part of his homeland, but does fix a year (1953) in which he and Gisela visited West Germany.      

P 64     “Der Horizont des Kontinents verfinsterte sich mehr und mehr, vor allem nach der Kristallnacht 1938 trafen immer mehr Freunde, Bekannte und Verwandte aus Deutschland in England ein, die Vettern und Cousinen aus Breslau, Hans und Franz, Ernst, Emil, Hedwig und Antonia mit ihren Kindern und einige Kinder und Jugendliche ohne ihre Eltern, wie Andreas und John, der damals noch Hans hieß.ˮ

The horizon of the Continent became darker and darker. After Kristallnacht in 1938, especially, many more friends, acquaintances and relatives arrived in England from Germany, the nephews and cousins from Breslau, Hans and Franz, Ernst, Emil, Hedwig and Antonia with their children and some children and young persons without their parents, such as Andreas and John, who was still known as Hans at that time.

The hitherto anonymous character of the extended Honigmann family and circle is quite remarkable.

P 65     “Von der großen Reportage-Reise durch die USA, die Georg zu dieser Zeit unternahm, hat er später wenig erzählt, zwar erwähnte er manchmal eine Amerikareise, ohne sie aber in eine Zeit einzuordnen oder mit einem Ereignis zu verknűpfen, eigentlich hat er immer nur ganz allgemein vom Autofahren auf den Highways erzählt, was fűr ein Vergnűgen das gewesen sei . . . ˮ

Georg said little about the extensive reporting trip he through the USA that he undertook at this time. He did indeed mention an American visit from time to time without placing the date it took place or connecting it with any particular experience. He always spoke very generally about motoring on the highways, and what pleasure that had given him  . . .

The visit took place in 1938.

P 67      “‘Bevor ich deine Mutter kennenlernte, war ich weit davon entfernt, ein politischer Mensch zu seinʼ, hat mir mein Vater in einem seiner Briefe aus der Kur in Bad Elster geschrieben, die der nun űber sechzigjährige Mann so gut wie jedes Jahr in Anspruch nahm.ˮ

‘Before I met your mother, I was a long way from being a political person’, my father wrote to me in one of his letters from the spa in Bad Elster, treatment that the now sixty-plus year-old claimed for himself practically every year.

A reinforcement of the influence that Litzy reputedly had over him. But can it be trusted?

P 67     “Meine Mutter ist er in London begegnet, geheiratet haben die beiden aber erst nach dem Krieg in Berlin, und dort ließen sie sich auch wieder scheiden. Litzy, die meine Mutter wurde, lernte er durch seinen Kollegen Peter Smolka kennen, der schon 1930 als Korrespondent der großen Wiener Tageszeitung Neue Freie Presse nach London gekommen war und dort zusammen mit seinem britischen Kollegen H. A. R. ‘Kimʼ Philby eine Presseagentur gegrűndet hatte, die die britischen Zeitungen mit Nachrichten aus Mittel- und Ost-europa belieferte und die er später an den Exchange Telegraph verkaufte.ˮ

He met my mother in London, but they did not get married until after the war, in Berlin, and it was there that they applied again for a divorce. He became acquainted with Litzy, who was to become my mother, through his colleague Peter Smolka, who had already arrived in London as correspondent of the major Vienna daily newspaper, the Neue Freie Presse, and who had founded in collaboration with his British friend H. A. R. Philby a press agency, which supplied the British press with news from Central and Eastern Europe, and which he later sold to the Exchange Telegraph.

At last Barbara acknowledges the fact that her parents married in Berlin. (But, concerning the divorce, why the ‘again’? Because they had both been divorced before?) The details about Smolka’s arrival in England are wrong. He was only eighteen years old when he arrived in January 1931, and he was registered as a student. Smolka did indeed, on November 15, 1934, when he was London editor for the Neue Freie Presse, request permission from the Home Office for him and Philby to set up London Continental News Ltd., a rather careless initiative that should have alerted the authorities to Philby’s political alliances. Why Barbara states that ‘Smolka’ later sold it rather than ‘Smolka and Philby’ is provocative, although Philby was in reality a ‘sleeping’ partner. And the origin and timing of his friendship with Kim are left unsaid.

P 68     “Die Frau von Peter Smolka war Lotte, Litzys beste Freundin noch aus Kindertagen, als sie zusammen in Wien zur Schule gingen, ebendie, die mir nach Georgs Tod noch so wűtend von seiner Affäre mit der spanischen Tänzerin erzählte, und Philby war Litzys Ehemann.ˮ         

            “Seit er meiner Mutter bekannt worden war, wurde Georg vom britischen Inlandsgeheimdienst MI5 beobachtet und bekam dort ein Dossier, weil er damit in Kreise eintrat, deren Nähe zu oder Mitgliedschaft in der Kommunistischen Partei bekannt war oder die gar der Spionage fűr die Sowjetunion  verdächtig wurden. Dieser Verdacht hat sich in den meisten Fallen bestätigt und stellte sich Jahre später sogar als noch viel begrűndeter heraus, als es sich der MI5 in seiner schlimmsten Albträumen auch nur hatte vorstellen können.ˮ

            “In dem engen Wiener Kreis um Peter Smolka, Lotte und Litzy traf Georg zum ersten Mal Menschen, meistens junge und viele jűdisch, die schon seit längerer Zeit politisch engagiert und aktiv in Vereinen organisiert waren, links oder zionistisch, oft beides, wie er sie wohl vorher noch nicht getroffen hatte.ˮ

Peter Smolka’s wife was called Lotte, Litzy’s best friend from her childhood days when they attended school together in Vienna, the very same woman who spoke so angrily, after his death, about Georg’s affair with the Spanish dancer. Philby was Litzy’s husband.

Ever since he became acquainted with my mother, Georg was watched by MI5, Britain’s domestic security service, and thus a file was opened on him, since by that relationship he entered social circles whose proximity to, or membership of, the Communist Party was known, and the circles might even have been suspected of spying on behalf of the Soviet Union. That suspicion was in most cases confirmed, and was exposed many years later as having had strong justification, in a way that MI5 could only have imagined in its worst nightmares.

In the tight Viennese circle around Peter Smolka, Lotte and Litzy, Georg met for the first time persons, mostly young and many Jewish, of the left or Zionist, frequently both, whom he could never have come across beforehand.

The important link between Litzy and Smolka is revealed, which explains how Philby and Smolka so easily started to conspire in 1934. (I reported last month that Smolka has been claimed as assisting Kim and Litzy in Vienna in February 1934, a story that Smolka’s family has promulgated orally, and one that has also appeared in the media, since Smolka’s godson, Peter Foges, avowed it in an interview presented in an on-line segment from Lapham’s Quarterly. I have started a research project to investigate this claim, and I shall be reporting more in January 2024. It has very dramatic implications.) Georg was in fact watched by MI5 as soon as he arrived in the United Kingdom, and his movements were noted: the assertions he made to his daughter may have been false, and Barbara, since she claims to have inspected her father’s file, would know about the earlier surveillance. The account of proven espionage is enticing, since it specifically does not include Philby. MI5 later stated that they knew that Litzy was a Soviet agent, yet ‘MI5’s worst nightmares’ would appear to be something of a hyperbole.

P 69     “Litzy und ihre Freunde waren schon vorher in der ‘Roten Hilfeʼ und der ‘Internationalen Arbeiterhilfeʼ organisiert und hatten Geld fűr sie gesammelt, Kleider und Essen verteilt und bei ihren Versammlungen revolutionäre Pläne geschmiedet, und in diesen dramatishen Februartagen wählten sie natűrlich die Seite des sozialdemokratischen Schutzbűndler und schließlich der Kommunisten, obwohl sie meistens aus gutbűrgerlichen Verhältnissen stammten, es war wohl auch eine Revolte der Jugend. Sie gaben sich kommunistische Träumen von Gleichheit und Gerechtigkeit hin, die dann fast ein ganzes Leben hielten, auch wenn sie dabei oft die Augen fest verschließen mussten. Vielleicht weil sie so jung waren, sind sie dabei in ihrem politischen Engagement sehr weit gegangen. Sie ließen sich gleich am Anfang vom Sowjetischen Geheimdienst rekrutieren und haben in den Jahren nach 1934 dann fűr ihn spioniert, nachdem sie in Asyl vor rassicher und politischer Verfolgung gefunden hatten, während der Zeit des Hitler-Stalin-Pakts, als Großbritannien sich Hitler gegenűber ohne Verbűndete fand, und später, als die Sowjetunion zum Allierten Großbritanniens wurde, und schließlich noch viele Jahre darűber hinaus, nach dem Sieg uber Hitler, während des Kalten Krieges.ˮ

Litzy and her friends had already been enrolled in the ‘Red Aid’ and ‘International Workers’ Aid’ organizations, and had collected funds for them, distributed clothing and food, and forged revolutionary plans at their meetings. In these dramatic February days they of course chose the side of the Schutzbund [the paramilitary Defence League] and eventually that of the Communists, even though most of them came from bourgeois backgrounds: it was indeed a youth revolt, as well. They indulged in communist dreams of Equality and Justice, which then lasted for almost all their lives, even though they had to close their eyes tightly while doing so. It was probably because they were so young that they drove their political engagement so deeply. Right from the start, they let themselves be recruited by the Soviet Secret Service, and consequently spied for it in the years after 1934, after they had found refuge from racial and political persecution, during the time of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, when Great Britain was facing Hitler without any allies, as well as later, when the Soviet Union joined Britain’s allies, and finally, for several years more during the Cold War following the victory over Hitler.

Enough said. Having been hooked in, they would not have been allowed to leave, even if they wanted to. Yet what is highly significant about this paragraph is the fact that it states that ‘Litzy and her friends’ ‘let themselves be recruited by the Soviet Secret Service’ in 1934. Since Lotte was Litzy’s closest friend, and she was married to Peter Smolka, and Litzy then married Kim Philby, it appears to confirm that all four became NKVD agents at this time.

P 70     “Als sie Georg durch ihre Wiener Freunde in London kennenlernte, war Litzy noch mit Philby verheiratet, hatte aber schon einen anderen Geliebten, und Philby hatten andere Frauen, ich glaube, sie lebten auch schon in verschiedenen Wohnungen. Georg war noch mit Ruth verheiratet, ihre Wege trennten sich jedoch bald.ˮ

When Georg got to know her through her Viennese friends in London, Litzy was still married to Philby, although she already had another lover, and Philby also had other women in his life. I believe they already lived apart. Georg was still married to Ruth, but they went their separate ways.

At some stage, Litzy had affairs with Michael Stewart and Anthony Milne: there may well have been others. This note would appear to confirm that the relationship between Litzy and Georg started early in 1940, after Litzy returned from France. Philby had affairs in Spain during his time there as a journalist during the Civil War. Part of the ‘living apart’ was the fact that they were both on assignments abroad for much of the late 1930s.

P 72     “Jedenfalls konnte ihm Ruth darin nicht mehr folgen, so bestätigen es auch die files von MI5: G. H. had no firm political views until he met Litzy.ˮ

In any case, Ruth could no longer follow him in his views, as the files of MI5 confirm: G. H. had no firm political views until he met Litzy.

Georg had claimed to believe in ‘pacifist humanism’ up till then. Thus the split between him and Ruth had much to do with political affiliation.

P 73     “Die Berichte der files und Akten aber erfanden fűr mich nun die Vergangeheit eines Mannes aus einer weit entfernten Lebensepoche, eines Mannes, der nicht mein Vater war.ˮ

The reports from the files and documents revealed to me, however, the past of a man from a long-distant period, of a man who was not my father.

This would seem to be self-delusion on Barbara’s part. Georg had pulled the wool over her eyes.

P 74     “Er ließ auch nie Zweifel daran, dass er Amerika England vorzog, und teilte nicht die pro-englische Euphorie seiner ersten Frau und eigentlich auch seiner zweiten, meiner Mutter. ‘Ja, die Engländer sind tolerantʼ, meinte er, ‘aber vor allem sind sie herablassend: ja, sie sind fair, aber nur solange du nicht die Grenzen ihrer Toleranz uberschreitest – da verstehen sie nämlich űberhaupt kein Spaß mehr, und ihr sprichwörtlicher Humor löst such in Luft auf. ʼˮ

He left no doubt over the fact that he preferred America to England, and shared neither the pro-English euphoria of his first wife, nor even that of his second, my mother. ‘Yes, the English are tolerant’, he would say, ‘but above all they are condescending: yes, they are fair, but only as long as you do not overstep the boundaries of their tolerance – in that event they don’t allow any more joking, and their proverbial humour flies out of the window’.

It is perhaps surprising that Litzy’s enthusiasm for England is disclosed: in her own conversations with her daughter, she emphasized her fond memories of Paris.  Thus she may have been a reluctant – but pragmatic – émigré to East Berlin in September 1946. Unlike Georg, of course, she had a British passport, and Georg forever had a grudge because the British appeared to have rejected him on account of his German/Jewish origins. The observations on ‘tolerance’ show the utter hypocrisy of those Communists who sheltered under Britain’s wing and then tried to undermine its way of life.

P 75     “Georg war nämlich zugleich misanthropisch and gesellig, bissig und charmant, immer witzig und zugleich immer ein bisschen traurig, widersprűchliche Eigenschaften, die vielleicht von den ‘miesen Erbschaftʼ stammten, dem ewigen Zwischen-den-Stuhlen-Sitzen.ˮ

Georg was indeed misanthropic and sociable at the same time, mordant and charming, forever amusing and yet always a bit melancholy, contradictory qualities that perhaps derived from his ‘wretched background’, the eternal ‘sitting-between-two-stools’.’

This item of pop psychology makes out as unusual what one could accept as normal behaviour from anyone accustomed to mixing successfully in varied company. Georg sought psychiatric help to no avail: he was perhaps not smart enough to grow up and sort things out himself, and instead blamed what he saw as his failings of character on childhood repressions.

P 76     “Über die Anfangszeit von Georg und Litzy als Paar weiß ich wenig, denn ihre Erzählungen aus dieser Zeit handelten fast ausschließlich vom Krieg, der Internierung in Kanada, den Bomben auf London und waren wohl außerdem von ihren Geheimdienst-Verstrickungen űberschattert.ˮ

I know little about the early days of Georg and Litzy as a couple, for their stories from this period dealt almost exclusively with the war, with internment in Canada, the bombs falling on London, and were besides overshadowed by their entanglements with intelligence work.

Georg was fortunate enough to avoid the Battle of Britain (July to October 1940), since he was interned in Canada throughout. Unless he was being creative, those memories must have derived from Litzy, who was trying to help engineer his release.

P 77     “Er sprach natűrlich fließend Englisch, er las Englisch und schrieb Englisch, aber ohne die Begeisterung meiner Mutter, die űberhaupt bis zum Ende ihres Lebens lieber englisch als deutsche Bűcher las; in den Gesprächen meiner Eltern mischten sich die Sprachen des öfteren, weil das Englische manchmal die bessere Formulierung bereithielt, so wie Georg die Hauswirtin in Hirschgarten die ‘Landladyʼ nannte.ˮ

He of course spoke fluent English, read it and wrote it, but without the enthusiasm of my mother, who overall preferred to read English books rather than German ones to the end of her life; when they chatted, my parents frequently switched between languages, since English often offered a better formulation, as, for example, in Georg’s calling the landlady in Hirschgarten the ‘landlady’.

More insights on the ‘Anglicization of Litzy’. Since the best translation of ‘Hauswirtin’ is ‘landlady’, this example would appear to be suboptimal.

P 83     “Obwohl er mehrfach die Britische Staatsangehörigkeit beantragt hatte und sich wohl bis zur Begegnung mit Litzy sehr gut ein weiteres Leben mit Ruth in London zwischen Hyde Park und Holland Park hätte vorstellen konnen, weigerte er sich hartnäckig, seinen Namen zu anglisieren, davon sprach er später immer voller Stolz wie von einer tapferen Tat, sondern beharrte auf der deutschen Schreibung des Namens und ließ nicht einmal das zweite ‘nʼ in seinem Namen fallen.ˮ

Even though he had applied for British citizenship several times, and up until his meeting with Litzy would have imagined very well an ongoing life with Ruth in London between Hyde Park and Holland Park, he obstinately refused to anglicize his name, and always spoke of that decision as if it had been a courageous deed. On the contrary, he insisted on the German spelling of his name and never let the second ‘n’ in Honigmann ever be dropped.

Fairly petty: ‘Honigman’ would still have looked very German. Maybe it was because he had been refused citizenship that he clung to the German formulation. He was, of course, stateless when in the United Kingdom, since the German government refused to renew his citizenship.

P 87     “Georg fűhlte sich wie viele andere zu den Kommunisten hingezogen, die sich vom ersten Tag an organisierten, manche von ihnen, vor allem die Österreiecher, kannten sich ja schon aus den Bűrgerkriegszeiten in Wien, und sie beeindruckten Georg vor allem dadurch, wie selbstbewusst sie gegenűber der Lagerleitung und Lageradministration auftraten, um bestimmte Bedingungen zu fordern, den unsinnigen Feind-Status abzuwenden und stattdessen den Status all dieser inhaftierten Männer als Nazi-Flűchtlinge anzuerkennen.ˮ

Like many others, Georg felt himself strongly drawn to the Communists who were from the first day well-organized. Many of them, above all the Austrians, knew each other from the civil war days in Vienna, and above all they impressed Georg by virtue of the fact that they confidently stepped up to the tasks of camp leadership and administration, in order to demand certain conditions, to overturn their absurd status as ‘enemy’ and instead to have the status of all internees as refugees from Nazism acknowledged.

This testimony from Canada might tend to undermine Georg’s firmness of convictions arising from his few months with Litzy.

P 88     “Mit diesen Erklärungen warben sie vor allem bei den jugendlichen Internierten, von denen vorher viele Zionisten waren, aber Zion war weit und kompliziert, und der Kommunismus was schließlich so einfach, wurde ihnen erklärt, und obgleich Georg gar nicht mehr jugendlich, sondern inzwischen fast vierzig war, ließ auch er sich vom Elan dieser Leute tragen, schließlich war er ja schon von Litzys Freunden aus dem Wiener Kreis in London, von denen sich auch einige unter den Internierten befanden, initiiert worden.ˮ

            “Jede der verschiedenen Gruppen in Lager konnte einen Kandidaten aufstellen, Georg wurde von den Kommunisten aufgestellt und mit großer Mehrheit auch von den anderen Gruppierungen gewählt, was er nie zu betonen vergaß, ‘auch von allen anderenʼ.ˮ

With these explanations they wooed above all the younger internees, many of whom had been Zionists beforehand. Yet Zion was distant and complicated, and Communism was at the end of it all quite simple, or so it was explained to them, and although Georg was no longer young, but at the time almost forty years old, he let himself be carried away by the spirit of these people. Finally, he had already been initiated by Litzy’s friends from the Vienna circle in London, some of whom were also among the internees.

Each of the various groups in the camp could appoint a representative. Georg was appointed by the Communists and elected as well, by a large majority, by all the other groups, something he never forgot to emphasize: ‘as well by all the other groups’.

Somewhat surprising for a man with an apparently diffident personality. Maybe his language skills, and tact, came to the fore.

P 90     “Wie so viele andere auch hat sich Martin jedoch 1968, nach dem Einmarsch der Sowjetischen Truppen in die Tschechoslowakie, mit seiner Partei űberworfen, und auch fűr Georg war dieses Ereignis ein Wendepunkt, von dem an er in seinen kommunistischen Überzeugungen deutlich nachließ und seine Enttäuschung gar nicht mehr zu verbergen suchte.ˮ

Like so many others, Martin had however fallen out with his party after the invasion by Soviet troops of Czechoslovakia in 1968. For Georg this experience was also a turning-point after which he distinctly abandoned his communist convictions and no longer attempted to conceal his disillusionment.

‘Martin’ (unidentified further in the text) was Leopold Hornik, who had been interned in Canada alongside Georg. One might ask why it took the two of them to wait until the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 to discover a turning-point. Were (for example) the 1952 trials and executions of Slánský and others not enough? Why was the brutality of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 not an adequate stimulus? Perhaps it was not safe to show dissent before 1968, the year that Slánský was exonerated.

P 92     “Georg gehörte zu den ersten, die aus dem Lager in Kanada entlassen wurden, Litzy und seine Kollegen von Exchange Telegraph hatten Himmel und Hölle in Bewegung gesetzt, um die Entlassung zu bewirken. In einem seiner Lebensläufe, die er später während der zahllosen Parteiűberprufungen der frűhen fűnfziger Jahre in der DDR zu schreiben hatte und die ich in seiner Stasi-Akte fand, schrieb er: ‘Nach meiner Freilassung meldete ich mich in London bei der Partei und wurde anschließend als Mitglied aufgenommen. Alle beruflichen Fragen und Entscheidungen, wie beispielsweise mein Eintritt in die Nachrichtenagentur Reuter, wurden mit der Partei abgesprochen.ʼˮ

            “Als er Anfang des Jahres 1941 nach London zuruckkehren konnte, erwartete ihn dort Litzy, seine neue Geliebte, und er zog aus der Wohnung zwischen Hyde Park und Holland Park aus, in der er mit Ruth gewohnt hatte, und lebte fortan mit Litzy in einer Wohnung in St. Johns Wood.ˮ

Georg was one of the first to be released from the camp in Canada. Litzy and his colleagues at the Exchange Telegraph had tried to move heaven and earth to secure his release. In one of his autobiographical accounts that he was required to write during the countless DDR Party examinations of the early nineteen-fifties, which I found in the Stasi-Files, he had written: ‘After my release I reported to the Party in London and was firmly accepted as a member. All professional questions and decisions, for example my entry into the Reuter’s news agency, were disputed by the Party.

When he was able to return to London at the beginning 1941, Litzy, his new love, was waiting for him, and he moved out of the flat between Hyde Park and Holland Park which he had occupied with Ruth, and went to live with Litzy in a flat in St John’s Wood.

That Litzy had become a passionate supplicant on Georg’s behalf is, perhaps unsurprisingly, not found in his MI5 dossier, but points to the fact that she must have become besotted over him in the short time since they met (early 1940) before his detention (July 19). Honigmann’s statements after his own release attest to his devotion and dedication to Ruth’s liberation from internment, since he expresses a desire to be re-united with her and her mother in the family home, but that was evidently a charade. (The word ‘abgesprochen’ is ambiguous in meaning: it strongly suggests ‘refused’, but since Georg was indeed admitted to Reuters, I have selected the variant ‘disputed’ to indicate that no decision was made independently without Moscow approval.)

P 94     “ . . . das war es, wovon Georg und Litzy später am meisten erzählten, das war es, wovon ich wieder und wieder hörte, die Ruhe der Engländer, der Beistand, den sie gegenseitig leisteten.ˮ

            “Meine Eltern haben mir ein ganzes Epos űberliefert von dem stoischen Heldenmut, dem klaglosen Wegräumen der Trűmmer, den gegenseitigen Ermutigungen, und die Bewunderung, die sie dafűr empfanden, klang auch nach vielen Jahren noch in ihren Erzählungen nach und hat mein Englandbild fűr immer geprägt. Umso unverständlicher war und ist mir noch heute die Entscheidung Litzys und ihres Freundeskreise, in die sich Georg hatte hinziehen lassen oder von der er doch wenigstens Kenntnis haben musste, diese so bewunderte Land zu hintergehen und es fűr die Sowjetunion auszuspionieren. Sie haben mir diesen Widerspruch nie erklären können, später in ihrem DDR-Leben war das alles schon weit weg und lange vegangen, oder sie haben es einfach weit weggeschoben; ob sie sich dafűr je schuldig gefűhlt haben, habe ich nie erfahren.ˮ

 . . . that was what, what I heard again and again, and what Georg and Litzy talked about most, the calm of the English people, and how they helped each other out.

My parents passed on to me a complete epic story of stoical courage, of the removal of debris without complaining, of the mutual inspiring of courage. The admiration they felt for it resounded in their description of it to me many years later, and it has stamped my picture of England for ever. The decision made by Litzy and her circle of friends, into which Georg had been drawn, or about which he must have at least known, to deceive this wonderful country and betray it through espionage to the Soviet Union, was all the more incomprehensible to me then, and remains so today. They were never able to explain this contradiction to me: later in their life in the DDR everything was a long way away, and in the distant past, or they simply pushed it far into the background: whether they felt any guilt over it I was never able to determine.

This flattering appreciation of Londoners’ spirit during the Blitz displays a certain naivety on the author’s part. Once her parents had taken the decision to work for the Soviet Union, it was irrevocable. Otherwise they would have probably been found dead in a hotel room, with the symptoms of a heart attack brought about by some untraceable poison, like so many of Stalin’s victims. (Goronwy Rees just escaped assassination: Anthony Blunt alone remained unscathed.)  

P 96     “Der Club wurde jedoch, im Unterschied zu anderen, vor allem judischen Emigranten-Organisationen, mehr und mehr von Kommunisten dominiert, und das entging auch dem MI5 nicht, der trotz oder wegen der Allianz mit der Sowjetunion die neue Sympathie fűr die Kommunisten und deren Aktivitäten genau beobachtet, wenn auch nicht genau genug, um herauszufinden, dass die echten Spionen fűr die Sowjetunion sich nicht gerade in den offen kommunistischen Gruppen zeigten. ‘Mein Gott, wie naiv die Engländer warenʼ, sagte manchmal meine Mutter: sie wusste ja, wovon sie sprach.ˮ

In contrast to the other, primarily Jewish emigrant organizations, the Club was dominated more and more by Communists, and that fact did also not elude MI5, which, despite or perhaps on account of the alliance with the Soviet Union, closely followed the fresh sympathy for the Communists and their activities, though not closely enough for it to discover that the real spies for the Soviet Union did not show their faces in the open communist groups. ‘Dear Lord, how naive the English were!’, my mother used to say: she knew what she was talking about.

The Club was Der Freie Deutsche Kulturbund (the Free Germann League of Culture) which maintained a centre in Hampstead. Indeed, it was the strategy of Moscow Centre to have its espionage activities directed well away from the Party itself. MI5 persisted in believing that any dangerous element of Soviet subversion would automatically have been a member of the party at one time, and would have mixed with members.

P 100   “Die Partei hatte beschlossen, dass Georg und Litzy nach Deutschland zurűckkehren sollten, und zwar in die sowjetisch besetzte Zone, um den Russen zu helfen, dort auf den Trűmmern des nationalsozialistischen Deutschland ein international eingebundenes, das hieß, ein an die Sowjetunion fest angebundenes sozialistisches System aufzubauen.ˮ

            “Georg hat mir selbst einmal gesagt, ‘schon als ich bei Reuters war, habe ich fűr die Russen gearbeitetʼ.ˮ

The Party had decided that Georg and Litzy should return to Germany, to the Soviet zone, of course, in order to help the Russians construct out of the ruins of Nazi Germany a tightly bound international socialist system – that is to say, one inextricably linked to the Soviet Union.

Georg told me himself: ‘As soon as I was employed by Reuters, I started working for the Russians.’

If the Party decided that, why did it ordain that Georg should leave in April 1946, but Litzy not until four months later? After all, the rather airy and impractical Georg was perhaps not first choice for the task of ‘socialist reconstruction’, and leaving Litzy behind might have caused some great embarrassments if MI5 had been on its toes. I am sure that a very suspicious MGB was performing some strenuous due diligence. As for Georg’s joining Reuters, that appears to be another lie. He joined Reuters in December 1943, but had already been working for the Soviet cause for some time.

P 101   “Andererseits berichten die files vom MI5, das musste ihnen jemand zugetragen haben, dass Georg eigentlich gar nicht nach Deutschland zurűckkehren wollte und dass es wieder Litzy war, die ihn dazu űberredete: When, after the war she announced, that they would go to the Soviet sector of Berlin, he was obviously unwilling and held back.ˮ

On the other hand the MI5 files inform us (something that must have been reported to them) that George in fact had no desire to return to Germany and that it was again Litzy who convinced him of the necessity: ‘When, after the war she announced that they would go to the Soviet sector of Berlin, he was obviously unwilling and held back.’

This again sheds light on the paradox. If Litzy was so keen, why did she not travel with her lover? She no doubt informed Georg that it was too late to change his mind about the Communist cause now. But maybe Georg still hoped that a position with the Control Commission would allow him to live in the far more congenial British sector of Germany.

P 102   “Unter Litzys Einfluss jedoch und dem Druck der Partei, die das so geplant hatte, lief er zu den Russen űber und arbeitete fűr sie im Nachrichtenbűro der sowjetischen Militäradministration.ˮ

Under Litzy’s influence, however, and the pressure from the Party, who had planned it that way, he deserted to the Russians and worked for them in the news bureau of the Soviet military administration.

How voluntary this step was must be debatable. The Party did not apply ‘pressure’ as if it were a kind of soft influence. It threatened. And Georg may have been abducted by force.

P 104   “In dieser Zeit muss die Affäre mit der spanischen Tänzerin stattgefunden haben,  . . . ˮ

            “Litzy war zunächst noch in London geblieben, um zu warten, bis Georg eine Wohnung fand . . . ˮ

His affair with the Spanish dancer must have taken place at this time. To begin with, Litzy had stayed in London, waiting until Georg found somewhere to live.

The presence of attractive Spanish dancers in post-war Berlin is a phenomenon to be marvelled at. No doubt this particular example was spying on Georg during their affair. Equally amusing is the notion that Litzy would have been waiting for Georg to scout around and find a desirable accommodation for the two of them. This was rubble-strewn Berlin in 1946, after all, and the Party would have told him where to live.

P 106   “Georg und Litzy heirateten 1947, nachdem sie sich beide zuerst hatten scheiden lassen műssen, Georg von Ruth und Litzi von Kim Philby.ˮ

Georg and Litzy were married in 1947, after they had both evidently arranged their divorces, Georg from Ruth, and Litzy from Kim Philby.

A paraphrase of the facts. Georg had legally divorced Ruth on November 23, 1942. The ‘evidently’ suggests a belief that the Litzy-Kim divorce must have happened in order for the Litzy-Kim marriage to be legal, but no ‘evidence’ is offered.

P 109   “Von den höheren Partei-Kadren, die aus Moskau zurűckgekehrt waren und wussten, dass sie ihr Überleben dort einzig dem Zufall under der völligen Unterordnung unter die ‘Zentraleʼ zu verdanken hatten, zu deren Befehlsempfängern sie jetzt geworden waren, schlug ihnen ebenso großes Misstrauen entgegen, da sie sich nämlich in den westlichen Ländern des Exils vielleicht eine gewisse Freiheit bewahrt hatten. Von dieser letzten inneren Freiheit mussten sie gesäubert werden, und so zog nun eine Säuberungswelle die nächste nach sich, und in allen Ostblockstaaten wurden Prozesse gegen ‘Kosmopoliten, Zionisten und Agenten der amerikanischen Finanzoligarchieʼ inszeniert, in Bulgarien, in Ungarn, in Rumanien und schließlich in Prag, und sie trugen immer deutlicher einen antisemitischen Charakter.ˮ

The upper-level Party cadres, who had returned from Moscow, and knew that they could attribute their survival there only to the happenstance of their utter submission to ‘Moscow Centre’, whose messenger-boys they had become, exercised massive mistrust against them [the emigrants], since the latter had perhaps been able to enjoy a certain freedom in those western countries where they had been exiled. They would have to be purged of this last inner liberty, and thus a wave of purging followed closely after. In all the states of the Eastern Bloc trials against ‘cosmopolitans, Zionists and agents of the American financial oligarchy’ started, in Bulgaria, in Hungary, in Rumania and lastly in Prague, and they took on an ever more clearly anti-Semitic character.

The very sad, but real, fact about the suspicions of the Party organs concerning those who had survived the war in relative comfort, and had thus clearly been exposed to bourgeois influences. A true Stalinist philosophy. Ms Honigmann says nothing about the arrest and interrogation of Georg and Litzy in early 1953.

P 110   “In Georgs Stasi-Akte häufen sich die Berichte der Nachbarn und Ortsparteigruppen-Mitglieder aus Karolinenhof, die ihn ‘westlicher Kleidungʼ, ‘uberheblichen und arroganten Auftretensʼ, ‘Beherrschung der englischen Sprache in Wort und Schriftʼ, ‘reservierten Verhaltens‘, ‘mangelnden Parteibewusstseinʼ, ‘Kontakten zu Ausländernʼ beschuldigten und sehr wahrscheinlicher Verbindungen mit dem amerikanischen Geheimsdienst verdächtigen.ˮ

In George’s Stasi-Files reports from neighbours and members of local party groups in Karolinenhof pile up, accusing him of ‘western clothing’, ‘overbearing and arrogant behaviour’, ‘mastery of the English language, both orally and in writing’, ‘deficient party-consciousness’, ‘contact with foreigners’, and casting suspicions on him of highly probable connections with American intelligence.

Further evidence of the resentment and suspicion.

P 112   “Hätte ich nicht besser in London bleiben sollen, warum bin ich zurűckgekommen, wird er sich wohl gefragt haben, warum habe ich mich zur Kommunistischen Partei drängen lassen, wo ich doch nie űber Herman Hesse hinausgekommen bin.ˮ

‘Wouldn’t I have done better to stay in London?’, ‘Why did I return?’, he must indeed have asked himself. ‘Why did I let myself be forced into the Communist Party, when I had never really escaped from Herman Hesse?’


P 116   “Nach der Scheidung meiner Eltern im Jahr 1956, ich war gerade eingeschult worden, űbernahm Georg das Grundstűck und das Haus mit der Schauspielerin, und unsere letzte Begegnung zu dritt fand auch dort statt, nachdem ich gerade jugendgeweiht worden war.ˮ

After my parents separated in 1956, when I had just started school, Georg occupied the property and house with the actress, and the last meeting between the three of us took place there, just after I had celebrated coming of-age.

Jugendweihe is a German secular ceremony (Youth Consecration) celebrated about age 14 – hence the year would be 1963.

P 120   “Wir besuchten ihn [Wolfgang Gans Edler Herr zu Putlitz] manchmal in seinem Haus und gingen dann zusammen űber die märkischen Sandwege zwischen den Kiefern, Georg und er kannten sich nämlich schon aus England, diese Bekanntschaft is auch in den files des MI5 bemerkt, der Gans Edle Herr wird da Baron gennant.ˮ

            “Genau wie Georg setzte er sich später von der britischen Besatzungszone in die sowjetische besetzte Zone ab und bot den Russen seine Mitarbeit an, die ihn wahrscheinlich schon in der Zeit in London angeworben hatten.ˮ

We frequently visited him [zu Putlitz] at his house, and walked together along the sandy paths that bordered the Scotch pines. He and Georg knew each other well from their time in England, and this friendship is also noted in the MI5 files; the Gans Edler Herr was known as ‘Baron’.

Just like Georg, he deserted from the British occupation zone to the zone occupied by the Soviets, and he offered his cooperation to the Russians, who had probably already wooed him during his time in London.

Wolfgang zu Putltz

Zu Putlitz was another shady character who fled to the British side shortly after war broke out, when he was about to be unmasked as a spy. He was also dispatched (by MI6) to West Germany after the war, but had to return to the UK. Ms Honigmann’s account suggests that zu Putlitz’s and her father’s ‘desertions’ were contemporaneous, but, after taking British citizenship in 1948, zu Putlitz did not defect to East Germany until January 1952. The ‘Gans Edler Herr’ is probably a sarcastic pun: his name was Wolfgang Gans [goose] Edler [noble] zu Putlitz, but the formulation suggests ‘ganz edler Herr’, an ‘utterly noble gentleman’. Why the Soviets thought he might be worth wooing is not clear.

P 129   “Eine Anzahl ehemaliger Emigranten lebte dort, so John Hartfield und Wieland Herzfelde, Giselas und Georgs Nachbarin war Elisabeth Hauptmann, und eine Etage darűber wohnte John Peet, den Georg noch aus England kannte, wie auch dem MI5 nichtentgangen ist, das schon ihre Bekanntschaft in London und ihre Nähe zu den Kommunisten festgehalten hat.ˮ

A number of former emigrants lived there, such as John Hartfield and Wieland Herzfelde, Elisabeth Hauptmann was a neigbour of Georg’s and Gisela’s, and John Peet, whom Georg had known from his London days, lived on the floor above. MI5 had failed to notice their relationship, even though the Security Service had already established their acquaintance in London and their proximity to the Communists.

‘The Long Engagement’ by John Peet

Georg is recorded as deputising for John Peet on the ‘Democratic German Report’ in September 1952, while the latter was on holiday. Peet was a leftist journalist who, while working for Reuters, defected to East Germany in 1950. He wrote a quite amusing memoir titled The Long Engagement (1989). It does not mention Honigmann.

P 146   “Obwohl er in seinem Leben immer wieder Frauen, Freunde, Familie, Wohnungen und Orte verlassen hatte – die Partei verließ er nicht, den ‘stumpfen Kern des Kommunismusʼ hat er doch nicht wahrhaben wollen.ˮ

Even though he had during his life abandoned again and again women, friends, residences and localities, he never left the Party, while at the same time he never wanted to acknowledge the ‘indifferent heart of Communism’.

He was free to abandon his women, but not the Party. His daughter should have known that.

P 151   “Damals wusste ich noch nicht, dass die letzte Frau alles der Stasi zutrug, und ich weiß auch heute noch nicht, ob Georg davon Kenntnis hatte oder es gar tolerierte.ˮ

I did not know at the time that his last wife reported everything to the Stasi, and I still do not know to this day whether Georg knew about it, or even tolerated it.

His fourth wife (born 1930) was Liselotte Honigmann-Zinserling (née Bandow), an art historian, who died in August 2021. She must have been sucked into the Stasi information-gathering net.

P 155   “Als Deutscher bekannte er sich, er hatte schließlich das zweite ‘nʼ in seinem Namen unter den Engländern aufrechterhalten, so war er fűr die Engländer ein Deutscher gebleiben, aber fűr die Deutschen ein Jude. Fűr die Genossen war er zu bűrgerlich, nie űber Herman Hesse hinausgekommen. Fur die richtigen Bűrger war er zu bohèmehaft, er hatte ja nichts aufgebaut, angesammelt oder gar vermehrt, weder Titel noch Besitz, nicht einmal ein geordnetes Leben im einfachsten Sinne hatt er zustande gebracht mit all seinen Ehen und Scheidungen, und wie viel er herumgezogen ist, in wie vielen Wohnungen er gelebt hat, wegen Frauen und wegen Krieg. Er hatte Orte, Adressen und Ehen aneinandergereiht und außer seinen beiden Töchtern und den Bata-Schuhen nichts besessen, und am Schluss war er dann nur noch ein old man in a hurry, wie er seiner Ärztin, die ihn zum Tode hin behandlete, erklärt hat.ˮ

He acknowledged himself as a German: among the English, he decisively preserved the second ‘n’ in his surname, and thus remained a German to them. But to the Germans, he was Jewish. For the comrades he was too bourgeois, and had never escaped the shadow of Herman Hesse. For the real bourgeois he was too bohemian, and had never built, accumulated or created anything, neither a title nor an estate, and with all his marriages and divorces, had not achieved any organized life in any simple sense, no matter in how many places he had lived, because of his wives and because of the war. He had lined up places, addresses and marriages against each other, and beyond his two daughters and his Bata shoes had owned nothing. He was at the end simply ‘an old man in a hurry’, as he explained to his (female) doctor, who treated him all the time until his death.

The expression ‘old man in a hurry’ derives from Winston Churchill. This profile tends to confirm the persona of Georg as something of a ‘Luftmensch’, namely an impractical, contemplative person having no definite business or income. He clearly possessed a lot of charm, but portrayed little backbone, and was easily seduced into the perils of Communism, which really suited him not at all.


Contemplating the strange interlude in the summer of 1946, when Georg was separated from Litzy when in Berlin, I had hoped to learn from this memoir a little more about his relationship with the NKVD. Yet, almost predictably, he presents a very sanitized picture. He is contradictory and elliptical in his account of meeting Litzy and how he was converted to Communism, and avoids any explanation of the events of 1946. Just as Barbara’s mother declined to reveal from her daughter the truth about her work for the NKVD, so did Georg cloak his activities in vagueness and deception. It was as if the two of them grew increasingly regretful and embarrassed about their service with Soviet espionage and counter-espionage, but did not want to admit how cruelly they had been exploited.

Thus Georg’s role, and his importance to the NKVD, remain very enigmatic. Unlike many other emigrés who found themselves inextricably linked with Communist organizations and movements, he did not appear to have imbibed the red juice by the time he arrived in the United Kingdom. Perhaps his affair with Litzy was truly the event that solidified his allegiances, bolstered by his experiences in Canada. One must imagine that Litzy’s cohabitation with him must have been approved by her Moscow masters, as if it created a distance between her and Philby, and even gave her some tortuous ‘respectability’. But, in that case, why did the NKVD not insist that she divorce Philby, and why did they encourage Georg to draw a lot of attention to himself by consorting with the exile communist groups in London? He was not useful to them in other ways: he had no access to secret information, and he had no role as a propagandist for the cause.

As I have argued before, until 1944 Litzy was probably considered a much more important asset than Philby, who was in semi-disgrace, and had not even managed to secure a position in British Intelligence, when she started to live with Honigmann in 1940. Moreover, they might have believed (incorrectly) that Litzy would lose her residential status if she threw off her legal relationship with Philby. Yet they then involved Georg in the extraordinary clumsy business over the Control Commission post, and the subsequent ‘kidnapping’.

We know from the KASPAR/LAMB reports (if they can be trusted, obviously) that Georg for a while resisted Litzy’s strong appeals to him that it was their duty to move to the Soviet sector of Germany, and that they fell out over the idea. Eventually, Georg must have learned that he had no choice in the matter, and, when he accepted the job, he knew that he was not going to end up in a cozy position in the British sector. Yet it again strains the imagination to understand what the NKVD was up to, having him reside in Berlin throughout the summer of 1946, while Litzy and Philby were left high and dry, perhaps ready to be abandoned. Were they perhaps using Georg as an intelligence source, demanding he explain to them exactly what the loyalties of the other two were before allowing Litzy to join him, and only then approving and engineering a very dubious divorce? They must have received the answer they hoped for, but they left themselves exposed should the very unalert and sleepy MI5 have jumped on the bizarre goings-on. As Litzy frequently remarked (p 96 above): ‘How naive the English were!’

[added December 3, 2023]

Yet perhaps the most provocative feature of Barbara Honigmann’s book is the confusion she shows over her parents’ marriage. As the comments posted immediately after the original publication of this piece indicate, the records on the genealogical site Geni, maintained by her extended family, firmly state that Litzi and Georg were not married, but merely ‘partners’. If that were true, her vagueness about the date of their marriage could be attributed to three possible causes:

  1. She firmly believed that they were married, but was uncertain of the date (in which case she showed astonishing carelessness in the way she wrote about it, an oversight that her editors should surely have picked up).
  2. She was uncertain about the regularity of the union, and was putting out feelers to try to receive enlightenment.
  3. She knew that the marriage was illusionary, and was putting out crude hints that reinforced the fact of the sham.

And if they were not married (Litzi, in her discussions with her daughter, spoke of the marriage as fact, but always reflected an uneasiness about her relationship with Philby, sometimes expressing a desire that they get together again), a chain of logic might appear as follows:

  1. Litzi was unable to marry Honigmann because she had never been divorced from Kim.
  2. The very questionable claims made by Philby about a hastily-arranged divorce would thus be undermined.
  3. The marriage between Eileen and Kim on September 25, 1946 was illegal, took place probably with the collusion of the authorities, and Philby was a bigamist.
  4. Those facts would give credibility to the claims made by Anthony Cave Brown in his biography of Stewart Menzies that the marriage was fraudulent (assertions that he irresponsibly failed to follow up).
  5. If the marriage had been shown to be bigamous, Philby would have had to resign from MI6 immediately, and a public scandal would have arisen, thus revealing a number of ugly secrets that MI6 would have preferred to be kept concealed. (Philby denied this accusation virulently, as well he might.)
  6. It would explain the nervousness expressed by MI5 over the prospect of Litzi ‘Honigmann’ (actually ‘Philby’) returning at some time to the UK, and the consequent retention of HO 382/255, given the effect it would have on the status and emotional well-being of Philby’s children with Aileen Furse, and that of their offspring.

I shall follow up on this line of inquiry in due course.

(New Commonplace entries can be seen here.)


Filed under Espionage/Intelligence, General History, Politics

Four Spy-Books

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

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

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

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

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

‘The Eagle in the Mirror’

The Eagle in the Mirror by Jesse Fink

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesse Fink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charles ‘Dick’ Ellis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow the Pipelines by Charlotte Dennett

‘Follow the Pipelines’

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

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

Daniel Dennett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlotte Dennett

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

Agents of Influence by Mark Hollingsworth

‘Agents of Influence’

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

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

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

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

Mark Hollingsworth

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

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

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

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

Peter Smollett (Smolka)

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

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

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

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

I think Hollingsworth’s agenda is clear.

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

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

Spies by Calder Walton


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

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

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

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

Calder Walton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We shall never know.

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

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

(Latest Commonplace entries can be seen here.)


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

Life with the Honigmanns

Ruth Honigmann
Georg Honigmann
Litzi Philby



The Phenomenon of Litzy Feabre:


MI5 Organization

The Source Material:


            One Theory

            An Alternative Scenario

The Honigmann Files:


            KV 6/113        


            HO 382/255




Georg and Litzi Honigmann did not in fact become a couple officially until they married in East Berlin in late 1946. And that event may not have been legal and genuine, if the questionable divorce of Litzi and Kim Philby did not actually take place. That would not have worried the MGB *, but it would have raised severe problems for Kim, since he went through a hasty wedding ceremony with Aileen on September 25. He later vigorously spoke to his interlocutors of the disastrous effects that charges of bigamy would have had on his career. Georg and Litzi were, however, an ‘item’ in the UK between 1942 and 1946, and this report explores aspects of Litzi’s identity during that period, as well as Georg’s very puzzling experiences with the Home Office and Immigration authorities since he first applied for naturalization back in 1936.

(* The NKVD/NKGB was reorganized as the MGB in March 1946: the KGB was not created until 1954. In common with other writers, I sometime use ‘KGB’ as the generic term for the Soviet counter-intelligence service.)

This report is divided into two sections:1) The Phenomenon of Litzy Feabre, and 2) The Honigmann Files.

The Phenomenon of Litzy Feabre


One of the most puzzling phenomena arising from a study of the archives concerning communist activity in Britain at the end of World War II is the alias given to Litzi Philby, the NKVD agent married to Kim Philby. She returned to Britain from France in January 1940, and at some stage afterwards she was referred to in MI5 reports and memoranda as ‘Litzi Feabre’ (sometimes ‘Feavre’), with the first archival evidence dated August 1945. I do not believe anyone has written about this phenomenon: if you perform a Google search on the term, all you will find are two coldspur reports, and Keith Ellison’s e-book, the relevant section of which was spawned by the coverage that I laid out. Keith Ellison and I have been exploring the probable cause and purpose of this nomenclature, and I use this report as a means of describing the debate.

But what are the incidences of Litzi Feabre’s appearance, and where can they be found? I list and reproduce below the entries from the National Archives on Engelbert Broda, Edith Tudor-Hart and Georg Honigmann (including some items closely related that do not mention FEABRE) in chronological order, in The Source Material. Before that, however, a slight detour.

MI5 Organization

In order for the operational dynamics to be understood, I believe that an explanation of the organization of MI5 is essential. Soon after David Petrie became Director-General in June 1941, he moved ‘subversion’ responsibilities (B4) out of B Division (now focused exclusively on German counter-espionage) to F2 in F Division (‘Subversive Activities’), under Roger Hollis. F. B. Aikin-Sneath covered Right Wing and Nationalist Movements in F3, while Roger Fulford was responsible for Pacifist Movements in F4. E Division was responsible for Alien Control, organized primarily around geographical national groups, with the prime section consisting of E5 (German and Austrian Subjects) under J. D. Denniston.

The unit ‘Agents’, a highly secretive section deploying spies to infiltrate potentially hostile organizations such as the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), sometimes referred to as ‘M Division’ because of its pre-war identity, remained in B Division as B2 under Maxwell Knight. B6 was designated ‘Watchers’, responsible for organizing surveillance through the Metropolitan Police Special Branch: its head was probably John Ottaway. In 1942, Knight’s B2 (‘Agents’) became B5b, reporting through Burt in B5 (‘Investigative Staff’) directly to Guy Liddell – as did B6 – and thus bypassing the management by Deputy Director Dick White, who was responsible for the rest of B Division. The B2 slot was thus vacated. E Division remained ‘Alien Control’, but E5 had been renamed ‘German and Austrian Camp Administration and Intelligence’, still under Denniston. F3 and F4 had been consolidated into a new F3, under T. M. Shelford.

At the end of the war, F2 was designated ‘Communism and Left-Wing Movements’, further split into F2a, under David Clarke, monitoring the activities of the Communist Party, F2b, under Milicent Bagot, studying International Communism, and F2c, under Hugh Shillito, monitoring Soviet espionage. E5 remained the same in E Division (still Alien Control). After Percy Sillitoe replaced Petrie in 1946, with the arrival of the Cold War he instituted some changes, at last addressing the anomalous position of Communist counter-espionage. F Division was absorbed into B Division, and designated B1, still under Roger Hollis. Thereafter, B1a covered ‘Left Wing Subversive Activities’, B1b and B1c were both (mysteriously) designated as responsible for ‘Russian and Communist Espionage Investigation’, while Bagot’s unit became B1d (’International Communism’). B2 came back to life as a separate counter-espionage unit concentrating on a vague assortment of non-Communist non-Russian national groups, split geographically into B2a and B2b. B6 endured as ‘Watchers’.

In November 1947 B1b and B1c were shifted into B2, which dealt exclusively with ‘Russian and Russian Satellite Espionage’, and was divided into B2a (‘Investigation’) and B2b (‘Information’). The former B2a and B2b units were subsumed into a new B1d (‘Residual Counter-Subversive and Counter-Espionage Activities’). Bagot’s B1d became B1b (still ‘International Communism’), but rather incongruously located separately from B2. (In the excerpts below, Bagot is seen as representing both B1b and B1c in the months before the November 1947 re-organization.) B5 and B6 were then integrated into a motley B4 section: B6 became B4d, now under Harry Hunter, while Knight’s B5b (‘Agents and Informers’) became B4c.

Further changes occurred during the next few years. In March 1951, the new head of B1, John Marriott, set up a new structure for his section, with Maxwell Knight’s B4c being incorporated into B1 as B1k. Knight’s section thus came to reside under the same roof as the classical counter-espionage units. B1a (‘British Communist Party/Organization’) sat alongside B1b (‘International Communism’), while several other units within B1 covered multiple aspects of Communist activity in the country. B2 was presumably left untouched, since B2a and B2b appear from the evidence to have endured well into 1952. At some stage, William (‘Jim’) Skardon took over B4d.

The important lesson to be taken from this description of some often incongruous and complex transformations is that the surveillance activities of the Special Branch of the Metropolitan Police were consistently distant from the counter-espionage units within F and B Divisions, and that Maxwell Knight’s ‘Agents’ unit was for most of the period under review both logically and physically removed from those same sections, and not under the same management. Moreover, during the war, uncertainty over how to treat ‘refugees’ from German-speaking countries (were they Nazi sympathizers, Communist subversives, or friendly asylum-seekers?) was reflected in the split between geography and ideology represented by dispersal of responsibilities across B, D and E Divisions.  Knowledge could thus be quite easily compartmentalized, and was not easily exchanged or consolidated. It was quite a chaotic set-up.

(I have relied largely on The Security Service, 1908-1945: The Official History by John Curry, and MI5, the Cold War and the Rule of Law, by K.D. Ewing, John Mahoney, and Andrew Moretta (2020), supplemented briefly by Nigel West’s two histories of MI5 (MI5 and M.I.5. 1945-1972) for this analysis of the flux of MI5’s organization. Christopher Andrew’s authorized history is of little value in this domain. I have the archival material used by Ewing, Mahoney and Moretta on my desktop, but have not yet studied it in detail.)

The Source Material

(A) KV 2/1013 (Tudor-Hart)

Serial 88a, from E5 (L), to F2b through F2a (Miss Ogilvie) 9.9.45 (copied into KV 6/113 at serial 40A, identifying source L [LAMB] as KASPAR [an ‘agent’ or ‘informer’ named Laemmel working for Maxwell Knight])

‘Edith Tudor-Hart has gathered around her an interesting circle of intellectuals, some of whom are members of the Communist Party and some only sympathisers. . . .’

‘E T-H’s circle includes: Lizzy FEAVRE or FEABRE née Kalmann of 96 Wellesley Court, N.W.8. She was born in Vienna and left about 1934 for the U.K. Later she went to France where she lived for about three years and married an Englishman there thus acquiring British nationality. She is separated from her husband and was living with Dr. Georg HONIGMANN whom she recently left owing to a disagreement. She is at present ill and is living somewhere in Fitzjohn’s Avenue, N.W.3. She is a member of the British Communist Party and a shop-steward.’

(B) KV 2/1013 (Tudor-Hart)

Serial 93z, extract from xxxxx report, for T-H, 12.2.46

‘Edith TUDOR HART is said to be in touch with a certain Anna WOLF who is apparently attached to the American diplomatic representative in Vienna, and is a close friend of Lizzy Feavre.’

(C) KV 6/113 (Honigmann)

Serial 46a, from B2B via F2ab and Source KASPAR, 28.5.46

 ‘Capt. ATKINSON, 775 Coy. R.A.M.C, C.M.F., is in correspondence with Lizzy FEAVRE whose friend, Dr. Georg HONIGMANN recently left for Berlin where he joined the Communists (see report of *18.1.46).’

* Does not appear in Minute Sheet or File

(D) KV 2/1014 (Tudor-Hart)

Serial 103a, B2b to F2ab (Smith), 20.6.46

‘Lizzy FEAVRE has been more active during the last few weeks, while Ala LOEW-BEER seems to have retired and Edith TUDOR-HART is engaged mainly in Austrian activities in connection with the ‘FRIENDS of AUSTRIA.’

‘Among Lizzy FEAVRE’s contacts the following are worth mentioning: – Catherine WEIZENBAUM in Paris, prominent in the Austrian World Movement; a certain Lubinsky, also in contact with Edith; Dora WIMBORNE, member of the C.P.G.B.’

(E) KV 6/113 (Honigmann)

Serial 47A, from B2b via F2ab and Source KASPAR, 28.6.46

‘It has been learned that Georg HONIGMANN (see reports of the *18.1.46. and 28.5.46.) had left this country some weeks ago to take up a post with the propaganda section of the British Control Commission in Hamburg. After his arrival in Berlin he seized the first opportunity to disappear and is said to be working for the Russians. He is in communication with his friend Lizzy FEAVRE, and the latter related scornfully that the whole British Security Service and the Police in Germany have been searching for him on the assumption that he had been kidnapped by the Russians.’

* Does not appear in Minute Sheet or File

(F) KV 2/2354 (Broda)

Serial 361Z, B2b to F2ab, 23.7.46 from source KASPAR (LAMB), No. 165, 20.7.46

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

(G) KV2/1014 (Tudor-Hart)

Serial 109a, B4c/FCD (F. C. Derbyshire) to B1a (Wethered), 6.11.46

‘Edith TUDOR-HART has resumed contact with J. DESSER and also with Bert BRANDT, a C.P.G.B. member (a close friend of Lizy PHILBY through whom he got acquainted with Edith.)

‘Lizzy PHILBY@FEAVRE (see report of *15.8.46) is in Berlin, working together with Dr. HONIGMANN.’

* Does not appear in Minute Sheet or File

(H) KV 6/113 (Honigmann)

Serial 56A, copy in PF/68261/Y, shown to Col. Vivian by B1 on 7.7.47 on ‘Alice (Lizzy) HONIGMANN @ FEAVRE nee KOLLMAN or KOHLMANN’.

‘Alice HONIGMANN @ LIZZY FEAVRE first came to notice in September 1945 when she was reported to be a member of the British Communist Party and a shop steward, and to belong to Edith TUDOR-HART’s circle of Communists and Communist sympathizers’.

(I) KV 6/113 (Honigmann)

Serial 57a, from Bagot (B1c) to Milne of MI6, 9.7.47

‘Alice Lizzy HONIGMANN, alias Lizzy FEAVRE née KOLLMANN or KOHLMANN, height 5 ft. 5ins., possessing black eyes and brown hair, was born in Vienna on 2nd May, 1910. She first came to notice in September, 1945 when she was reported to be a member of the British Communist Party and a shop steward, and to belong to Edith TUDOR-HART’s circle of Communists and Communist sympathisers.’

‘Alice HONIGMANN first came to England in 1933. She acquired British nationality by marriage, but separated from her husband and lived with Dr. Georg HONIGMANN. The latter left England for Germany in May, 1946. Two months later it was reported that Alice HONIGMANN, although still a keen member of Edith TUDOR-HART’s circle, had had to restrain her activities as HONIGMANN had taken up work in the Russian zone. Her contacts abroad were said to have included Magda GRAN-PIERRE, Budapest, 12, Kovas utcza No. 46, who was reputed to be an important agent in the Hungarian Communist Intelligence network.’

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

(J) KV 6/113 (Honigmann)

Serial 60a from Bagot (B1b) to MI6, 13.8.47

‘We are now informed that this woman (Alice Lizzy HONIGMANN) is travelling extensively in Europe and that she may visit the U.K. in the near future, using her British passport’.

(K) KV 2/2014 (Tudor-Hart) & Extract at serial 61B in KV 6/113 (Honigmann)

Serial 143b, Martin’s interview with LAMB on 3.10.51

‘LAMB met Lizzy PHILBY spasmodically between 1944 and 1946 in London. His impressions of Lizzy were therefore first hand, but his knowledge of her background was derived almost entirely from Edith TUDOR-HART [redactions]. LAMB did not know when or whence Lizzy came to the UK, nor did he (until a few weeks ago) know anything more about her second husband than that his name was Philby. He still had no idea when or where they were married or when they were divorced. His one firm conviction was that Lizzy 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, 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.’ He first met Lizzy in 1944 when she was living with Dr. Georg Honigmann.

            ‘LAMB said that (until a few weeks ago) he knew nothing of PHILBY except that he and Lizzy were divorced by 1944 (note – this is in fact not true). He had the impression, however, that although divorced they were still on good terms.’ [Document torn] ‘Lizzy knew and visited PHILBY’s second [sic!] wife and two children.’

(L) KV 6/113 (Honigmann)

Serial 63A, B4d source report, 16.10.51

‘Edith TUDOR-HART does not know whether Alice HONIGMANN still has her British nationality, but assumes this may be so as the latter once said that was her intention. Edith TUDOR-HART did not know anything about her pre-war activities in France.’

(M) KV 6/113 (Honigmann)

Serial 62A, from Arthur Martin to MI6 [almost certainly Philby], 18.10.51

“We are anxious to obtain any information which may be available in Germany concerning Mrs. Alice HONIGMANN. She was born in Vienna on 2.5.1910, the daughter of Iszo and Gisela KALLMANN (or KOHLMANN), the former a naturalized German of Hungarian origin. Mrs. HONIGMANN first married in Vienna a man named FRIEDMANN of whom no personal particulars are available. In 1934 she married a British subject with whom she lived in the U.K. until 1937. Between 1937 and 1940 she had an address in Paris. 67 Quai d’Orsay, but she frequently visited the U.K. and in 1940 resumed permanent residence here. She met her present husband in 1942, or thereabouts, and lived with him until they both left the U.K. in 1946.’

            ‘We would be very grateful for any information you can obtain about Mrs. HONIGMANN’s past . . .’

(N) KV 2/4091 (Tudor-Hart)

Serial 166a, report by B2a (A. F. Burbidge), 1.12.51

‘From 1945 onwards, xxxxx began to submit regular reports on TUDOR-HART. She was said to have gathered an interesting circle of intellectuals around her and to have organized discussion groups. The circle, which contained such persons as D. N. PRITT, Lizzy FEAVRE, Arthur WYNN and prominent Austrian communists in the United Kingdom, flourished throughout 1945 and up to mid-1946, when it appears to have declined.’

‘Edith TUDOR-HART was first reported to be in touch with Lizzy FEAVRE in the United Kingdom in September 1945, when Lizzy was described as a member of the TUDOR-HART circle. They may, conceivably have been known to each other before that date, having both previously lived in Vienna. Certainly both were in Vienna together between 1931 and 1933. From the reports received from XXXX in 1945 and 1946, Lizzy FEAVRE and George HONIGMANN (with whom FEAVRE was then living) were members of the TUDOR-HART circle . . . .’

‘The parallel of her marriage to Alexander TUDOR-HART and Lizzy FRIEDMANN’s to PEACH is worth some consideration. In both cases the husband, a British national, went to Vienna to marry a woman with a known communist, and possibly R.I.S. or Comintern, background. These marriages were contracted at a time of political turmoil in Austria, when the R.I.S. and Comintern might well have sought such means to protect their agents.’

‘It is also clear that Edith had post-1940 information about PEACH, since she was able to describe him (albeit somewhat inaccurately) as an ace man in M.I.5. This information may, of course, have come from Lizzy.’

(O) KV 6/113 (Honigmann)

Serial 63B, B2a, 9.1.52

‘Cross reference to B.2. A report of an interview with Edith TUDOR HART ostensibly in connection with George HOENIGMAN, the real subject of the inquiry being Lizzie HOENIGMAN and her former husband the subject of PF 604,584. No information of value was gained as a result of the interview, altho’ Mrs. TUDOR HART admitted that she knew HOENIGMAN.’

(P) KV 6/113 (Honigmann)

Serial 66Z, B4d source report, 27.8.52 

re Alice HONIGMANN formerly FRIEDMANN nee KOHLMANN and mentioning George Honigmann [no mention of PHILBY or FEABRE]

(Q) KV 6/113 (Honigmann)

Serial 69A, B4d report to B2a (Simkins), 13.10.52

‘From the enclosed issue of ‘Democratic German Report’ it will be seen that Dr. Georg HONIGMANN, husband of Alice HONIGMANN, formerly FRIEDMANN née KOHLMANN [i.e. no mention of PHILBY!] . . .is at present deputising for the editor of ‘Democratic German Report’ as John PEET is on holiday.”

            [Alice Honigmann annotated as PF 68261: manuscript also indicates ‘Copy to PF Lizzy PHILBY’]

(R) KV 2/2354 (Broda)

 Serial 495A, 14.10.53 in report by Phillimore of B2b

‘April 1946: a vetting inquiry was received for permission for BRODA to lecture in prisoner-of-war camps but P.I.D. decided not to employ him. BRODA was also reported to be in contact with Lizzi PHILBY amongst others.’ [actually KASPAR said ‘Lizzy PHILLY’]


These few entries present several conundrums.

  1. Time-period: There are two entries from August and September 1945, a cluster in the months between May 1946 and August 1947, and an occasional retrospective reference from the early 1950s. Given that Litzi Philby had left the country in September 1946, apparently for good, one might expect that, after that date, any coyness or secrecy about her identity and alias would have been eliminated in the exchanges that took place between various MI5 sections, or even in messages sent to the companion service, MI6. In addition, while the archival material records the existence of the FEABRE alias only after the war, it does not necessarily mean that it was not used earlier.
  • Comprehensiveness:  Apart from the noted missing items (in ‘C’, ‘E’, and ‘F’), the texts hint at an untold story. If LAMB first met Lizzy FEAVRE in 1944 (‘K’) – probably at the time that she and Tudor-Hart joined the CPGB – why was her appearance not remarked upon, and not recorded, until August 1945 (‘B’)? LAMB had presumably been introduced to her by Edith Tudor-Hart, and, given the circumstances, one would expect her entrance to the scene to be worthy of attention. In ‘N’, Burbidge speculates about a possible acquaintanceship between TUDOR-HART and Litzi PHILBY, and even suggests that TUDOR-HART may have gained her knowledge of Kim PHILBY from Litzi –  well before 1945.
  • Formulation: The name ‘FEABRE’ (or ‘FEAVRE’) is presented in multiple ways. Item ‘G’ refers to her as ‘Lizzy PHILBY@FEAVRE’, which strongly suggests that ‘FEAVRE’ is a cryptonym, the ‘@’ sign being a convention used by MI5 to denote agents working under cover. Elsewhere the name ‘Lizzy Feabre’ is used as a simple denominative, as if it were her only name (e.g. ‘B’, ‘C’, ‘D’, ‘E’).  And then it sometimes appears as one of her many names, as in ‘I’, ‘Alice Lizzy HONIGMANN, alias Lizzy FEAVRE née KOLLMANN or KOHLMANN’, where it is undeniably presented as an assumed, not a real, name.
  • Authenticity: The brief biography introduced in ‘B’ (and bizarrely echoed in ‘M’) is clearly bogus. Senior officers in MI5 surely knew when, and to whom, Litzi had been married, and yet a spurious story about her marrying an Englishman in France (with the very un-English surname of ‘FEABRE’) is allowed to flourish. Extraordinarily, Arthur Martin repeats this myth as late as October 1951, in his memorandum to MI6 (‘L’), where he feigns to admit that he does not know that Lizzy had once been married to his addressee, but also omits to record the name of the Englishman whom Litzi had married in France. (It should be borne in mind that Martin had been recruited to MI5 from the Radio Security Service on Kim Philby’s recommendation, so reading between the lines may be appropriate here.)
  • Cognition: Officers in various sections of MI5 display an unbelievable level of cognitive dissonance. For example, why, if Derbyshire in B4c (‘G’) can openly equate Lizzy FEAVRE with Lizzy Philby in the space of one memorandum in November 1946, how is it that Bagot in B1c fails to record the equivalence a few months later (‘I’)? Why would the report by Burbidge (‘N’) fail to connect directly the two identities of Lizzy Feavre and Lizzy Philby?
  • Integrity: The evidence on FEABRE comes almost exclusively from MI5’s agent LAMB, also known as KASPAR, who had inveigled himself into Edith Tudor-Hart’s confidence. He submitted reports to B2, but he would not have had access to MI5’s intelligence gained from telephone or postal surveillance – something that was imposed on Tudor-Hart throughout the war. LAMB is nevertheless reported as describing mail that Litzi has received under her alias: no other evidence of that appears in the archive. Moreover, his apparent knowledge of her correspondence (acquisition of travel tickets, bills from Paris) cannot be explained. It suggests that MI5 officers were perhaps ascribing intelligence gained through telephone and mail interception (about which they might have been embarrassed) to agents who had managed to get close to their targets, and they even inserted such facts into transcripts of an interview (‘F’ & ‘K’).
  • Contradictions:  The statements of LAMB (massaged, no doubt, by his handlers) are frequently contradictory. He originally reported (‘B’) that Litzi had married a man called Feavre in France, but in his interview by Martin (‘K’) he states that ‘he did not know when or whence Lizzy came to the UK, nor did he (until a few weeks ago) know anything more about her second husband than that his name was Philby. He still had no idea when or where they were married or when they were divorced.’ Yet he soon after claims they were divorced in 1944 (an assertion that Philby had already reinforced in 1943, according to Ian Milne’s memoir). In ‘F’ he is reported as saying that Litzi had already got her passport and visas and also the ticket of the Air France, issued in the name of Lizzy Philly [sic]. He adds: ‘. . . which seems to be her real name, though she has always been called FEAVRE and even received mail under this name.’ The use of ‘always’ is ambiguous: on the one hand, it could mean ‘for the longest time’, or on the other, ‘exclusively’, ‘without exception’. Irrespective of which meaning was intended, it is not clear how LAMB could make that claim, since he did not have complete access to all her movements. He was surely not in a position to see her mail, and, in any case, was such mail addressed to FEAVRE or FEABRE? One would expect only one version of the name to be used in correspondence. Maybe Tudor-Hart informed him, but it sounds as if this intelligence came from elsewhere.
  • Deception: In whatever way the evidence is examined, it is clear that a large amount of information is being withheld, or misinformation is being distributed, or that deception (namely the dissemination of disinformation) is being carried out. Either the scribes are in ignorance or misinformed (but then why do their recipients or supervisors not correct them?), or they have been instructed to conceal or distort the truth, or chaos exists to the extent that no one really knows what is the real identity of the person known as FEABRE. For example, why would a really sharp and experienced officer such as Bagot conceal the relationship with PHILBY when she writes (in ‘I’) about Litzy KOHLMANN/FEABRE/HONIGMANN? Why would Litzy’s status as sometime wife of PHILBY be overlooked in ‘Q’?

One highly significant aspect of the fragments, however, is the process of ‘extracting’ or ‘copying’ to other Personal Files. In almost every incidence where the name ‘FEABRE’ or ‘FEAVRE’ appears in a document, a handwritten annotation indicates that the item is to be copied to the PHILBY Personal File (PF 68261), sometimes to the ‘Y’ (Confidential’) folder. This activity strongly suggests that, at the time an original memorandum, letter, or report was written, when it was filed in its native location, the item was recorded in the multiple corresponding files belonging to the persons referenced in it [see extracts from KV 2/1013 below].

KV 2/1013, serial 68a (page 1)
KV 2/1013, serial 68a (page 2)

Why can I be confident that these entries were made at the same time? From a procedural standpoint, it would have been most efficient to populate the relevant files at the time of the event: a later trawl through the archives to discover necessary duplications would have been not only a time-wasting process, but would mean that the files would unavoidably have been out-of-date for a while. Moreover, the annotations look as if they have been made in the same script and ink-colour as other comments. On the figure above, the date ‘16 SEP 1945’ boldly indicates the date the report entered the archive.

Thus it is safe to conclude that the equivalence of Lizzy Feabre and Litzi Philby was known – at least to senior officers, and to the custodian of the Registry – at the time each entry concerning FEABRE/FEAVRE was made. In that case, one has to consider, again, why this fact was not generally known among the junior officers.

One Theory

As readers will recall, I recently presented the hypothesis that Kim and Litzi Philby had approached MI6 (and, vicariously, MI5) in the guise of reformed characters who, in the wake of the Nazi-Soviet pact, wanted to assist the services in countering Soviet subversion. The alternative theory (and the one that has persevered in the literature) is that the Philbys were working exclusively for the NKVD, and successfully concealed their activities from MI5 and MI6. This hypothesis, however, is unable to accommodate a number of startling events, from Kim’s arrangements to bring Litzi home from France at the end of 1939 with the support of the Home Office, through the failure to explore the hints from Krivitsky and the lax surveillance of Litzi during the war when she bore two identities, to the reluctance to interrogate her during the summer of 1946 after Honigmann had absquatulated from a position with the Control Commission in Germany to join the Communists in East Berlin.

My research colleague Keith Ellison is not [yet?] convinced of my thesis, although he has failed to advance any rival theory that can address the paradoxes and enigmas of the archival record. As an example of his scepticism, he has challenged my interim conclusion that ‘FEABRE’ was a (maybe accidental) nomenclature exploited by MI5 to disguise its imagined manipulation of Litzi Philby, and suggests that it was Litzi herself who constructed her alias as a way of disguising her identity from her Communist associates – apart, of course, from her close friend Edith Tudor-Hart. His argument runs (as I understand it) as follows:

Kim Philby did not have MI6 looking over his shoulder in late 1939 when he was helping Litzi in and out of the country, and thus the Secret Intelligence Service would not have known of her existence and movements. Litzi needed to protect the good name and reputation of Kim when she became involved in Communist Party (CP) work in the UK, and thus adopted the alias. She appears (to Ellison) to have been a member of the British CP acting as a liaison to the Austrian CP represented by Edith Tudor-Hart. Since there is no mention in MI5 files of Feabre until September 1945, and no evidence of a link between Feabre and Philby until the report from KASPAR in 1946, it is safe to assume that this was a recent discovery by the Security Service. KASPAR’s report confirms that the communists that she met (apart from Tudor-Hart) all knew her as Feabre, not Philby. The first time that she came to the notice of MI6 in her own right is when she applied for a job in 1943, and used Kim Philby as a referee. In August 1946, Philby approached his boss, Valentine Vivian, to let him know he wanted a divorce: this was the first time that Vivian had heard of Philby’s marriage to a Communist, and he requested a ‘trace’ from MI5. After the war, MI5 exploited Litzi’s alias when they corresponded with external organisations (primarily MI6), although the reason for that strategy is obscure. Likewise, when MI5 corresponded with junior staff in MI6, yet failed to make clear that Feabre and Philby were the same person, they were trying to perform some unexplained cover-up ‘for the record’.

I see several problems with this hypothesis, namely:

  1. My first instincts were to imagine that, during the late 1930s, Litzi’s movements across Europe had probably been closely monitored by MI5, abetted by MI6, which was responsible for surveillance activity on foreign territory. After all, that is what happened to multiple other suspected Communist subversives, and Helenus Milmo’s report on the Philby interrogations strongly indicates such a process. Yet I concede that Keith Ellison is probably correct when he asserts that Milmo’s conclusions may have been derived exclusively from an inspection of Litzi’s passport. That theory raises many more questions, however: Milmo’s project was rushed, and he had no opportunity or time to initiate fresh investigations into Litzi’s past. Thus, if MI5 had indeed acquired Litzi’s old passport in a project between the disappearance of Burgess and Maclean and the presentation of files to Milmo, why did Dick White not exploit the results in his November report? (This is a complex but very important issue, and I plan to analyze it in more detail in a future coldspur bulletin.)
  • Valentine Vivian’s claim about his ignorance about Litzi’s past must be utterly phony. He entrusted his recall of events from August 1946 to Seale and McConville, the biographers of Philby, shortly before he died, but he was surely trying to whitewash his past. He presented himself as Philby’s boss at the time. No independent verification of his assertions is possible, and his attempt to present himself as an ingénu in the whole Litzi Philby saga is simply feeble. What is more, Philby himself supplied information to his Moscow bosses that Vivian had been moved aside to his staff Security position in March of 1946, information that can be confirmed from other sources. Vivian was no longer Philby’s boss in August 1946, and John Easton (to whom Philby now reported) would not have looked kindly on Philby’s bypassing the chain of command.
  • There would have been nothing more obvious to the authorities that Litzi was involved in surreptitious behaviour than an attempt by her to create a new identity. (She would not have dared assume any such role without NKVD’s approval.) Moreover, if she was working exclusively as an agent for the NKVD, the first thing that she would have been instructed to do was to avoid the CPGB. The NKVD knew it was bugged, and the whole point of Moscow-controlled subversive operations was to have them undertaken by non-party agents. It is probable that Litzi joined the CPGB only towards the end of the war (probably in late 1944), as the archive suggests, but, if Litzi seriously wanted to ‘protect the good name and reputation of Kim’ under orders from Moscow, she would have stayed firmly away from the Party.
  • Philby joined MI6 only in 1941, and did not regain the confidence of his Moscow masters until 1944. Before then he was the subsidiary figure to Litzi. Moscow was in no way embarrassed or threatened by having their failed agent Kim Philby associated with Litzi, and even believed that her marriage to him needed to be protected in order for her to maintain residential status.
  • If Litzi had been seen to mix in communist circles at all, and presented herself as ‘Litzi Feabre’, the interest of MI5 would have been perked immediately. She visited the Bentinck Street apartment rented from Lord Rothschild by Blunt and Burgess, and showed her marital status with Kim quite openly. It appears that they were not uncomfortable about her new identity. And she confidently approached her husband for a reference for a job in 1943, not hiding under any spurious alias. Yet a fresh ‘legend’ was suddenly attached to her. The MI5 agent LAMB reported that Litzi had arrived in the UK in 1934, and then moved to France, where she married an Englishman, consequently gaining British citizenship. Apart from the anomaly that an Englishman would be unlikely to bear the surname ‘Feabre’, if Litzi presented this as fact, she would have risked being imprisoned for bigamy, or being deported. If she had been viewed by MI5 as a potentially dangerous Communist agent, presenting a false biography would have immediately gained MI5’s attention. That this did not happen suggests that she was not the source of the story.
  • It would be utterly irresponsible for anyone in MI5, knowing that Litzi’s cover as ‘Feabre’ was bogus and criminal, to pretend that it was not so, and to decide to exploit that subterfuge to deceive their contacts in MI6 by disguising her real identity. LAMB’s note of July 20, 1946 indicates that he then believed that her real name was ‘PHILLY’ (sic), but, up until then, he had not expressed any uncertainty about her name of ‘Feavre’.
  • In the same memorandum, LAMB claimed that Litzi had ‘always’ been called ‘Feavre’, which suggests a far more long-standing arrangement, or a degree of knowledge that he could not possibly claim. While he stated that he had become acquainted with her only in 1944, that assertion either indicates a closer and more enduring awareness of Litzi’s history than is referred to in the archival material, or perhaps reveals what he had been told by others, conceivably Edith Tudor-Hart, but more probably MI5 officers. Moreover, it would hardly make sense for Litzi to live openly as Mrs. Philby for five years, before deciding to change her name.
  • LAMB mentions mail that Lizzy has received under her alias, but no other evidence of that appears in the archive. LAMB, as an agent of MI5, would not have been privy to warrants intercepting mail, and his apparent knowledge of her correspondence, including the acquisition of travel tickets, cannot be explained. This would appear to be an example of MI5’s mis-attributing the acquisition of intelligence through clandestine means such as Post Office Warrants by means of indications that human agents in contact with targets are the source.
  • This narrative cannot explain the extraordinary events of the summer of 1946. Georg Honigmann absconded at the end of May: his relationship with Litzi was well-known. If Litzi had been a hostile Soviet agent, she would immediately have been interrogated, and restrictions placed on her travel. The archives show signs of panic on the part of MI5, yet they never take any steps to re-inspect Honigmann’s curriculum vitae, or explore the connections that Honigmann might have had with other subversive elements. Instead the major activity in this scenario appears to be a contrived negotiation between Kim Philby and Valentine Vivian to organize his divorce from Litzi.

An Alternative Scenario

I believe the sequence of events was more on the following lines:

In September 1939, Kim Philby achieved a deal with MI6/MI5 whereby, since he and Litzi had renounced any sympathies for the Soviet Union after the signing of the Nazi-Soviet pact, he and his wife would work for British interests. While it took Kim a while to be recruited by any intelligence service, Litzi was free to start her infiltration of Communist organizations in Britain, including the Austrian Council run by Eva Kolmer and the CPGB. She would have confided the subterfuge to her friend of long standing, Edith Tudor-Hart, who introduced her to her contacts, including her lover Engelbert Broda, the chairman of the Austrian Communist Party in exile. No doubt, in the spirit of conspiratsia, Litzi’s true name had to be concealed from some less reliable colleagues, and her surname may not have been revealed. Security was tight: Tudor-Hart withheld Broda’s address and telephone-number from other members of the group.

Litzi was active while Kim was trying to make his mark and reputation. She was probably responsible for the long report on the Austrian Council of March 1941 (i.e. before Operation Barbarossa), which was presented in Tudor-Hart’s file anonymously, and she later acted as a courier for Broda, carrying secrets on atomic weapons research. She assumed herself safe, as she visited Lord Rothschild’s apartments at Bentinck Street, accompanied by her husband. But, at some stage, her presence was noted by outsiders, such as the MI5 agent Josef Laemmel (KASPAR/LAMB), and hints to her identity appeared.

According to KASPAR, Litzi did not join the CPGB until about August 1944. Whether this came from pressure by MI5, or an order from the NKVD, is not clear. Even if she had joined earlier, the NKVD would have had to condone the move in the knowledge that she was pretending to be an MI5 snooper. After all, MI5 might have started to make demands on her to deliver more, but she surely would not have dared to disobey Moscow. If she did adopt the ‘FEABRE’ alias at this time (unwittingly or not), it would have been very convenient for MI5 to have her real name disguised, even though it may have happened by accident. There are other aspects of the CPGB connection that may be important. In 1943 Dave Springhall had brought the CPGB into disrepute with Moscow because of the Desmond Uren espionage business, and the NKVD may have wanted to purge the organization. They knew the HQ was bugged, from what Blunt told them. Moreover, Kim Philby had recently been restored to better favour after the doubts of Modrzhinskaya had been dispelled, and Litzi’s project with Broda had been completed. Thus the shift of emphasis moved from Litzi to Kim. The NKVD could not withdraw Litzi from activities altogether, as that would provoke suspicion from MI5.

If MI5, under the delusion that they were in control of Litzi Philby, suddenly heard that she was presenting herself as ‘Litzy Feabre’, they would have asked themselves (and her) why that was. On the other hand, if they believed that she were possibly a hostile element (i.e. a true subversive not under their control), they could have arraigned her for her fable of marrying an Englishman in France, which would mean that she had entered the country under false pretences. Yet when she introduced herself under her real name for the job application in 1943, they were not taken aback by the news at all. Edith Tudor-Hart surely did not imagine that the alias and back-up story would come to the notice of MI5, but Litzi clearly did.

Why FEABRE/FEAVRE? It sounds vaguely French, which might point to her recent residence in France, although that does not tally with the claim that she had married an Englishman there. Why would she (or anyone else) come up with such a strange name? The form is unusual: one might expect an acute accent on the first ‘e’. What is its origin? Is it related to the more familiar French name ‘Lefèvre’, meaning ‘Smith’ (cf. homo faber) – a rather feeble stab at a plausible but not easily traceable heritage? I note that the French traitor in SOE at the time, Henri Déricourt, owned the alias ‘Henri Fabre’ until he became too conspicuous by it, and it was dropped. And the name FEABRE or FEAVRE does not appear to have existed in any register from that period.

Alternatively, was it a phonetic representation of a name that the (Austrian) witness heard – even a distortion of ‘PHILBY’? The fact that it appears in two spellings suggests it might have had that origin, and the duplication is reinforced in the archives. Senior MI5 officers may have been pleased with the fact that there was apparent confusion over her name, even though they knew perfectly well who she was. Every entry to the archives of Tudor-Hart, Honigmann and Broda that mentioned FEABRE/FEAVRE was routinely copied to the PHILBY file. The fact that some experienced MI5 officers (e.g. Bagot, Martin) appeared to go along with the deception in rather a clumsy fashion, while other junior officers (e.g. Derbyshire and Burbidge) seemed to be genuinely in the dark, suggests that control over the archives was strictly administered, and that not everyone was authorized to inspect the files.

Thus when Litzi’s lover, Georg Honigmann, having been approved in April 1946 for a propaganda position with the Control Commission in Germany, decamped to the Soviet Sector, MI5 must have reacted with alarm. At first suspecting that Honigmann may have been kidnapped (as was revealed by Litzi herself, who must still have been close to her ‘handlers’ in MI5), they had to face a stark reality. They had believed that they had been controlling her and Kim, but had to face the possibility that they had made a serious misjudgment. Yet, for two more months, they apparently did nothing. If they interviewed Litzi about her intentions, there is no record of it, and Litzi left the UK for Paris, probably in late August, and moved on to Prague on September 5, taking the ashes of FEABRE with her. We can deduce from the archive that no attempt had been made to prevent her gaining a passport and visa. Perhaps by then MI5 had concluded that having her dumped behind the Iron Curtain was the best outcome, in the same manner that MI6 decided upon the disposition of her second husband seventeen years later.

(A close inspection of the timeline shows how logistically difficult it would have been for Kim and Litzi to have gained their divorce. Since Litzi left Paris for Prague on September 5, it is unlikely that she would have returned to the French capital by September 18, the date on which  – according to Ben Macintyre – Kim found her there, and arranged the divorce, just one week before Kim’s ‘marriage’ to Aileen in London on September 25.)

It is probable that the NKVD undertook a rigorous interrogation of Honigmann in order to verify the loyalties of his mistress, and those of her husband. Indeed, that might have been the prime purpose of his ‘kidnapping’. The doubts about the possible manipulation of Philby (and his Cambridge cohorts) by British Intelligence, which had occupied Moscow minds so earnestly in 1944, had possibly never been completely quashed. The fact that they did not mind drawing attention to Honigmann’s abscondment suggests that they were at that stage quite prepared to sacrifice Kim and Litzi, and that Honigmann might even have been the biggest fish in this particular pool. Having been assured by Honigmann of the Philbys’ reliability, they then gave the go-ahead for the divorce, brought Litzi ‘home’ (since her role was complete), and allowed Kim to pursue his career working for the KGB.

The shock of recognition that the service had been betrayed might explain the curious set of messages sent soon after by Mitchell, Bagot and Martin to MI6. Litzi was from the Philby camp, and her absconding to the Communists must have steeled the collective disgust of MI5 officers for their ‘colleague’ in the Secret Intelligence Service. Thus some acidly disguised pro forma requests concerning Litzi, and MI6’s familiarity with her, could serve both as the correct protocol for due diligence, while also causing the maximum amount of embarrassment to their rival.

The Honigmann Files


I explained the story behind the eventual release of HO 382/255 in my bulletin last month (see ).  My first reaction on learning that a separate file on Honigmann had been created (and retained) was: ‘Why had it been considered necessary or desirable?’, since KV 6/113 contains information about Honigmann’s 1936 application for naturalization. But I quickly realized, since this was a Home Office Aliens file, H 5439, that there may well have been circumstances that MI5 (responsible for maintaining the KV series) was not aware of, and that other political considerations may have come into play. KV 6/113 dips fairly regularly into the HO file on Honigmann. (This account below corrects some minor errors from my previous analysis.)

KV 6/113

Since the bulk of HO 382/255 concerns the naturalization request, it is worth recapping what is covered in KV 6/113. The file starts with Honigmann’s registration as an alien on his arrival on February 23, 1931 at Harwich, coming from the Hook of Holland. (His Wikipedia entry postdates his arrival to 1933, perhaps to suggest that he was a victim of Hitlerism.) At some stage he must have married his wife, Ruth née Bachert, as she appears in an extract from the Aliens file H 5439. (The exact date is recorded later, qv. infra.) The next record is a request to the Special Branch for any information on Honigmann, dated August 15, 1936, as the subject had applied for Certificates of Naturalization on April 18 of that year. The application was refused on July 24, 1937. Several months later, on March 29, 1938, an intervention by Kenneth de Courcy is noted: DeCourcy writes personally to Sir Samuel Hoare, the Home Secretary, stating that Honigmann wishes to ‘go to the Far East to continue his journalistic career’, and, since he has no passport, needs a document of identity, something that was granted exactly four months later.

Exactly where Honigmann went next is obscure – probably not the Far East. On December 17, 1938, he returned to Dover, on his way to see Dr. Nello Zezi, as ‘correspondent of Czech newspapers’. Helpfully, he bore introductory letters from the Foreign Office in Prague. Apparently, Exchange Telegraph wanted to employ him as a journalist for their new service to continental countries. MI5 recorded the request on February 17, 1939, and declared it had no ‘obs.’ (presumably ‘objections’). Honigmann’s career seemed to be flourishing. On April 13, 1939, the BBC sent in his name to MI5 as one to be ‘vetted’.

Soon afterwards, events took a rather bizarre turn. On behalf of an outfit called Moenckemeyer Press Photos in New York, Honigmann wrote on April 14 to the War Office requesting ‘photographs relating to British Rearmament, Recruiting W.A.T.S. etc. for publication in American newspapers and periodicals’, which caused an alarmed Public Relations Officer to contact MI5 to determine what they knew about Honigmann and this relationship. H. H. Bacon replied on April 27, in some confusion, since he believed that MI5 had first taken an interest in Honigmann when he arrived in 1939 (to which someone annotated ‘31’), adding that Honigmann’s 1936 request for naturalization had been refused by the Home Office. Yet, soon after, on August 21, Honigmann again applied for naturalization, and another request to the Special Branch for information on him was made. The result came back: ‘Nothing recorded against’.

This was not a suitable time for German nationals (even if they had had their native passport renewal declined) to be applying for British naturalization, and his application was suspended. The status and presumed loyalties of all German exiles were inspected. While MI5 reported ‘no objections’ on November 9, Honigmann appeared before a tribunal on December 22, but was nevertheless cleared, his bona fides clearly seen as acceptable. Indeed, he was mentioned on a list of persons to be vetted for employment at the Press and Censorship Bureau (of the Ministry of Information, presumably) on January 29, 1940, and he was granted exemption from internment on March 15, 1940.

When Churchill took over from Chamberlain in May 1940, the fears about a ‘Fifth Column’ were mistakenly and artificially intensified, and internment was applied much more rigorously. “Collar the lot” became the watchword, and most Germans and Austrians fell into Category A * as the tribunals met. Honigmann had to face a firmer test on July 19, and was consequently interned on the Isle of Man, and eventually sent to Canada. A later extract from his Home Office file, dated August 7, 1940, declares that a Metropolitan Police report determined his fate: “ . . .as a journalist he would know all the channels for sending information abroad; he had been refused naturalization and did not favourably impress the Chairman.” A minute by MI5’s H.K.D.R. to the Home Office runs as follows:

            We have nothing recorded against this alien, but observe that his application for naturalization was refused in 1937. Further, he was placed in Category “B” by the Tribunal and it may therefore be assumed that he did not make a good impression upon it.

Recent events have presumably restricted the opportunities for propaganda in the Balkans, and the case as it stands at present hardly seems to us to warrant the release of a Category “B” enemy alien.

[* “Upon the declaration of war on 3 September 1939, some 70,000 UK resident Germans and Austrians became classed as enemy aliens. By 28 September, the Aliens Department of the Home Office had set up internment tribunals throughout the country headed by government officials and local representatives, to examine every UK registered enemy alien over the age of 16 (since 1914 all aliens over the age of 16 had needed to register their details at local police offices, a requirement of the 1914 Aliens Registration Act (4 & 5 Geo. V c.12). The object was to divide the aliens into three categories: Category A, to be interned; Category B, to be exempt from internment but subject to the restrictions decreed by the Special Order; and Category C, to be exempt from both internment and restrictions.” from the National Archives website.]

There follows a fascinating report, extracted partly as summaries from the Home Office file, including a detailed timeline of Honigmann’s career since applying for naturalization. It states that he married Ruth at Frankfurt-am-Main on December 12, 1932, and lists items of correspondence that were exchanged after the Naturalization Application was refused. (A Special Branch report of March 1944 indicates that the couple was granted a divorce on November 23, 1942.) The items include summaries of two letters sent by Sir Charles Peake on behalf of Exchange Telegraph, the latter (dated June 7, 1940) claiming that Honigmann ‘is doing important work in the national interest for the company’, and the scribe notes that ‘Sir Charles has heard good reports of him’.

The Home Office appears to be performing some of MI5’s work for them, since the final long paragraph (‘FROM MINUTES’) casts doubt on the indispensability of Honigmann, indicating that he now works for Reuter’s, and explains:

REUTER, working in close co-operation with Ministry of Information, have a very complete service, although I understand they have thought it wise to discharge a number of ‘C’ Class aliens formerly in their employ. HONIGMANN is ‘B’ Class, and on that account alone it would be difficult to justify his release. I understand from a confidential source that this application emanates from a certain SMOLLETT, a naturalized British subject, formerly SMOLKA of Austro-Czech origin. This man was formerly employed by EXCHANGE TELEGRAPH CO., and has succeeded in obtaining a post in Ministry of Information. He was at one time in the service of the ‘Times’, but was dismissed.

The anonymous author then hands over the file to MI5 for follow-up.

Questions over Honigmann’s reliability after his internment (‘arrest’) triggered a search by Special Branch of his premises, a sub-let in Russell Court in Woburn Place, W.C.1., and a few of the items retrieved appear in the file. Among some copies of amateurishly created letters sent to the Home Office pleading his case is a letter dated October 31, 1939, addressed to the Under-Secretary of State. It challenges the restrictions placed up on him by the tribunal of October 19, and is of interest because it lists a diverse set of referees willing to speak on his behalf, including Sir Wilfred King (Chairman and Managing Director of the Exchange Telegraph), Count Huyn (late Press Attaché of the Austrian Legation, c/o British Broadcasting Corp.), Brigadier Lawson (General Manager, The Daily Telegraph), J. Rea Price (City Editor, The Star), and H. P. Smollett (c/o Ministry of Information).

As early as August 20, 1940, a person named H. H. Prestige suggested that Honigmann should be released under category 6, and a Home Office minute of September 12, recorded that the Ministry of Information ‘urgently require this man’. Honigmann was eventually released from internment in Canada, and arrived back in the UK on 11 January 1941, yet still under restrictions with a ‘C’ classification. It took more than a year for Peter de Mendelssohn of the Exchange Telegraph (who features importantly in later events) to write to J. H. Brebner, the Director of the News Division at the Ministry of Information, to request his help in having these restrictions removed. Brebner wrote to the Home Office; the Home Office contacted MI5; and on March 20, 1942, F.B. Aikin-Sneath of E2b (formerly head of F3, I note) reported that the section had no adverse record of Honigman – or any of the other three journalists listed. Another extract from the Home Office file states that Honigmann was originally refused naturalization (in 1937) because ‘not enough evidence of identifying himself with this country and had married a German wife in 1932’ – hardly a convincing and copper-bottomed reason, one might think. Meanwhile, an informer had let MI5 know that Ruth had expressed un-British opinions, but on April 5 G. G. Hardie of E5 dismissed the allegation, and expressed confidence in both Honigmanns.

Yet the doubts continued. A spy in the German League of Culture (‘M.D.’) reported to E7(S) in MI5 of questionable alliances by Georg. A report dated June 8, 1942, runs as follows:

            . . . . . HONIGMANN, a journalist with the EXCHANGE [TELEGRAPH] and Dr. Jan PETERSEN, also believed to be employed by the same press bureau both play a very important part in the Kulturbund. Although they are not members of the Communist (KPD) they take part in certain meetings of the Party. Their connections with British circles are very valuable to the Party. Apart from this they provide the “Inside Germany” office with very important news items. They both belong to the propaganda department of the Kulturbund and look after its archives. At the moment they are in the process of building up the newly created Press Department of the Kulturbund. Ilse KRONER, former member of the KJVD who now has an important job in the “Inside Germany” office works in the closest collaboration with them.

This revelation piqued the interest of a certain ‘W.A.Y.’ (in fact W. A. Younger) in B2, who accordingly on July 7 wrote to Milicent Bagot in F2b, letting her know that the Party was concerned about Honigmann’s ‘attachment to Communism coming out in the open’, and seeking her opinion on the subject. KASPAR reported on July 24 that Honigmann had been accepted as a member of the communist National Group of German Trade Unionists, and a further memo on August 10, based on a Special Branch report, indicated that Honigmann had joined the “Kader Organisation” and was receiving training in Red Guard techniques (from 1917) in order to prepare for the revolution after Hitler’s fall from power. This was a serious development.

Bagot detected an anomaly, however. On September 20 she made a request to E5 for any information that KASPAR could provide on Honigmann, ‘as it seems curious that a man who has been backed in the past by Kenneth de Courcy should now be described as a Communist and a member of the Cadre Organisation set up by the Central Committee of the German Communist Party here’. (De Courcy was a notorious right-winger who caused constant trouble to the authorities when distributing his Intelligence Digest, as is shown in Guy Liddell’s Diaries.) Bagot had clearly picked up the fact of de Courcy’s earnest support of Honigmann back in 1938 (qv. supra). Perhaps because of this unlikely alliance, in a memorandum of October 25, Bagot expressed her scepticism of the danger, and judged that Honigmann’s status had been exaggerated. By then, however, the Home Office had supplied her with further items from its Aliens file.

Kenneth de Courcy

A memorandum (from the Home Office) to the Special Branch, dated September 24, points out that, contrary to the statement made by de Courcy, Honigmann almost certainly never went to the Far East. It requested the Branch to acquire further information about the members and Headquarters of the Cadre. On October 1, E5, using intelligence gained from LAMB, wrote to Bagot in confident tones:

            There can be no doubt that this man belonged to the German Communist Party for many years. He comes from a bourgeois family, and never took part in political activities in Germany, where, as here, he adopted a bourgeois camouflage. It is only during the last few months that he came into the foreground in the press section of the Kulturbund, in which he has developed considerable activity.

This assessment would appear to grant the rather timid and indecisive Honigmann a deviousness and guile that he probably did not possess. Moreover, I recall that it was the same LAMB who told Martin that he did not believe that Honigmann had any firm political views until he met Litzi. On the other hand, it was possible that Honigmann had been indoctrinated by the communist agitator Leopold Hornik while in internment in Canada, and he kept up correspondence with him after his (Honigmann’s) release – letters that were intercepted by the Post Office and Special Branch. Nevertheless, Bagot was concerned, and wrote a memorandum to Younger (now mysteriously identified as ‘M.S./London/WAY/C’), drawing his attention to the recent Special Branch report, and the fact that Younger’s testimony of July 7 had not been included there.

Thereafter, the Home Office and MI5 appear to be tracking each other’s investigations, and extracting each other’s reports into their files. Rather surprisingly, an E5 memorandum relays that LAMB had now established that Dr. Honigmann of the Kulturbund is the same person as Dr George [sic] Friedrich Honigmann who appears in MI5 files. This is represented in Home Office files as coming from source ‘Hi’, and is in turn extracted by MI5. ‘Hi’ (namely LAMB) had reported that, at the Annual General Meeting of the Kulturbund, a new committee was elected, under the administration of three returning officers, the notorious Jűrgen Kuczynski (brother of SONIA), Louis Holzinger, and Alfred Ungar, and that Dr. Hoenigmann (sic) was elected as a London delegate.

The archive then becomes more fragmented. On July 7, 1943, Honigman is reported to be a member of the “Advanced Progressive” Group of the KPD, and thus a hard-liner, even while he is still working at the Ministry of Information. By August 23, he has joined the staff of the Freie Tribűne, as E5 reports to Bagot (F2b). On November 16, Miss Wendy Ogilvie in F2a is told that Honigmann will soon be leaving the Exchange Telegraph for a job with Reuters, as Co-ordinator of Foreign Services. In April 1944, Special Branch issues a dossier that sums up Honigman’s career (including the date of his divorce), and includes the fact on September 9, 1943, he had sent a telegram of support to Erich Weinert, the chairman of the National Committee of Free Germans in Moscow. A further revelation from KASPAR (aka LAMB) on November 4, 1944, states that Ruth Honigmann is ‘largely in sympathy with Communist aims’, but was not so active politically as her former husband.

This section of the file concludes with Honigmann’s military permit to travel (on a one-way ticket) to Hamburg at the request of the Control Commission. A note from a Colonel J. H. Adam (probably attached to the Home Office) to the Intelligence Staff, dated May 7, 1946, notifies the addressee (Lt.-Col. A. W. McMurray) of the permit, but adds:

            Our records show that he has belonged to the German Communist Party for many years, though it is only recently that he came to the foreground in the Press Section of the Kulturbund, in which he has developed considerable activity. Prior to this he kept Communist activities under close cover.

It would appear to constitute a very equivocal endorsement of such an appointment. McMurray should have been alarmed. On May 10, B. H. Smith of F2ab wrote a letter to Kim Philby (in this case clearly named at the foot of the letter, including his O.B.E.) reproducing for him Honigmann’s bio, and letting him know that, even though Honigmann was not actually employed by the Control Commission, he would be working in the Hamburg area. No doubt Litzi had already told Philby of this assignment. As the ‘Sources’ above confirm, Honigmann had by the end of the month joined the Communists in Berlin.


This detailed study provoked multiple reactions and questions in my mind, which I group in four major sectors: Chaotic Surveillance, Honigmann’s Ideology, Relationships, and Selection by the Control Commission.

Chaotic Surveillance:

What strikes me as extraordinary – almost unforgiveable – is the shambles of the surveillance of Honigmann, and the failure to analyze the evidence properly. Apart from the fact that the Home Office appears to be carrying on its own investigations, the attention to Honigmann is scattered all over the map of MI5. Memoranda are passed around the divisions, speculative profiles are created, claims and assertions are lazily echoed, but no one wants to own the problem. It is not for lack of resources, since vast amounts of time were obviously spent in tracking Honigmann’s movements, but not a single officer has the perspicacity and energy to try to make sense of it all, and to sort out the wheat from the chaff. Even Milicent Bagot, normally the shrewdest of operatives, is diffident, perhaps unsettled by the de Courcy endorsement.

Thus all manner of signals are missed or underestimated: the funding of foreign travel in the 1930s, the phony visit to the Far East, the employment by the Exchange Telegraph, the communications with Hornik, the support from Smolka/Smollett, the associations with Communist groups, including Edith Tudor-Hart’s circle, the appointment to the Kulturbund, the connection with Jűrgen Kuczynski (at a time when Honigmann is working for the Ministry of Information), the slowness of reconciling two ‘Honigmanns’, the Cadre training for violent insurrections, the telegram of support to the ‘Free Germans’ in Moscow. All this is complicated by the contradictory testimony of KASPAR/LAMB, who cannot be sure when Honigmann was first radicalized. It is all a mess.

Honigmann’s Ideology:

Was Honigmann actually a deep Soviet agent from the start? One has, perhaps, to be sceptical of the later obituaries that presented him as a wishy-washy milquetoast figure who was easily swayed – and did not become a convinced communist until he met Litzi. (He would not have met Litzi unless he were already closely involved with Communist groups.) The fact that Moscow exfiltrated him first in 1946, perhaps as a way of verifying the loyalty of Kim and Litzi, could well lead to the conclusion that he had been an important asset for many years. Thus the influence that Hornik was claimed to wield over him in Canada could also be illusionary. If so, the endorsement by de Courcy was a master-stroke, and Honigmann must have performed a clever job in convincing the disciple of the far right (though not a Fascist) where his sympathies lay.

Otherwise, his progress in the ranks shows the determination of the typical apparatchik. As a member of the new department of the Exchange Telegraph formed to promote anti-fascist propaganda to central and eastern Europe, he quickly gained respect. After release from internment, he joined the ranks of the necessary communist organizations, and made the right noises (although his attendance at meetings was rather spotty). It would have been difficult for any serious analyst to doubt his commitment, with the only possible reservations emanating from the fact that, post Barbarossa, he was working in the cause of a ‘gallant ally’, and between 1941 and 1944 speaking up against the Soviet Union had its political disadvantages in Britain.


But where was Litzi in all this, when did their relationship take off, and why was her intimacy with Honigmann not investigated more closely? First of all, I have to dismiss (again: see ) the claim that Kim Philby made when he spoke to Phillip Knightley, namely that, when he returned to London in the summer of 1940, he found that she was living with Honigmann (The Master Spy, p 75). If that had been so, Honigmann’s wife, Ruth, would presumably have been up in arms and clamouring for a divorce much earlier. Moreover, Honigmann was re-arrested, interned on the Isle of Man in July, and sent to Canada on August 7, 1940 (not in June, as I reported in that earlier posting).  And Georg made a determined effort to get Ruth released from internment after his return from Canada at the beginning of 1941, which suggests that their relationship was still on stable footing at that time. When his lodgings were inspected during his absence in 1940, there is no indication that Litzi was holding the fort for him.

I find it much more probable that Honigmann met Litzi after he was introduced to Edith Tudor-Hart’s circle. Indeed, as I have also previously recorded, Helenus Milmo’s Appendix to the PEACH case specifically states that Litzi started living with Honigmann in 1942. This liaison must surely have been authorized – or even ordered – by Moscow Centre. The fact that the Honigmanns were granted their divorce in November of that year suggests that Ruth discovered the relationship fairly soon after it was established. She may, of course, have been party to the whole arrangement. The archive suggests that she was not a vigorous communist, although she was broadly in support of her husband’s political activities, and thus she was not likely to have sought a divorce on grounds of some philosophical incompatibility.

Yet the dominant question remains. Given the knowledge of Litzi’s background and activities, why did MI5 and the Home Office not make more of the association to determine Georg’s role, and why did the NKVD encourage such a liaison that could, and should, have drawn unneeded interest to the subversive activities of their agents?

Selection by the Control Commission:

What is astounding is the fact that Honigmann, with all his ideological baggage, should have been selected as a suitable person to help with the denazifying process in the British Zone of control. The makers of notes on file seem completely comfortable with the fact that, despite Honigman’s track-record as a Communist agitator, he should be approved (with a one-way ticket, admittedly) for a position in Hamburg. This was May, 1946, after all, when the Cold War was well under way. All that B. H. Smith, representing F2ab, can say, to Major Mars in C1 on May 1, 1946, is that Mars should probably warn his link with the Control Commission that their man is a Communist. I note here that Honigman’s colleague, Jűrgen Kuczynski, was selected by the OSS to help in survey work, and with vetting agents for insertion into Germany, but OSS was a notoriously pro-Communist organization, unlike its British counterparts.

It may be worth recording that Anthony Cave-Brown, in his biography of Stewart Menzies (pp 694-695), asserts that Honigmann was ‘a man who was known to SIS and MI5 as a Soviet secret agent’, and he implies that Litzi was a subsidiary character in such activities. He provides no source for this affirmation, but is characteristically slipshod in his account of that summer, since he has Philby’s request to Vivian ‘for leave to request a divorce’ occurring when Litzi had already arrived in Berlin, and was cohabiting with Georg. Cave-Brown declares that Philby’s marriage was bigamous, but never explores the obvious conundrum that, if his bosses believed that Litzi were already in East Berlin, the mechanics of the couple’s gaining a divorce would have been practically impossible.

I have noted beforehand the fact that Peter von Mendelssohn of the Exchange Telegraph had recommended Honigmann for the Control Commission post, and that he was distraught when he learned that his man had flown the coop. Mendelssohn may well be innocent, as he was not directly involved with the communist cell set up under the banner. It is much more likely that Honigmann’s crony Peter Smollett (aka Smolka), occupying an influential post at the Ministry of Information, had helped set him up. I note also that Honigmann had joined Reuter’s in November 1943, and had at some time become head of its European service. While that appointment begs the question of who was responsible for hiring him, it helps to explain the prestige he owned. Yet it is still dumbfounding that, unless the Control Commission was riddled with personnel who believed that the best way to neutralize ex-Nazis was to inspire them with Communism, anyone in authority would have accepted Honigmann, given his track-record, and his presumed objective of having the British Sector of Germany incorporated into the Soviet Empire. I recall, however, that in 1946 the Labour Party was at its most vocal in chanting ‘socialist revolution’ as the remedy for the sins of Nazism (and the errors of the Tory Party at home), and it would not have regarded a friend of Moscow such as Honigmann as an unsuitable appointment.

In conclusion, I then turned to HO 382/255 in the hope that it might answer some of my questions.

HO 382/255

I remind readers of one of the paragraphs I received from the Kew Security Officer when it informed me of the (partial) release of the file:

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.

This was tasty, hinting at sensitive secrets that I might be able to winkle out by spotting the reacted segments, and applying some analysis. But how could the security interest of 2023 be possibly undermined by passport information recorded over sixty years ago?

The file is in one respect vastly disappointing. It contains 260 pages: the first 228 consists of Honigmann’s Home Office file. This initial section contains only one redacted item of information – apparently an MI5 report on the letter of March 1942 from a Swiss-born Mrs. Penton to her friend Mr. Bluett in the Internment Camps Division, denouncing Ruth, and making accusations about her loyalty. (Was this perhaps related to the alienation of her husband’s affections by Litzi Philby?) The file thus serves mainly to contribute details to the story of Honigmann’s internment and occupations during World War II, but really adds little of importance to the account that can be derived from reading KV 6/113 and 6/114, apart from the presentation of some relevant documents. In fact it offers a much sparser account of his travails. The sensitive material that must have provoked the file’s retention is contained mainly in the second section, which includes correspondence and items relating to a short visit made by Barbara Honigmann, the daughter of Georg and Litzi, to the UK in 1960.

The reader can thus learn from this first section more details about Honigmann’s application for naturalization, including his turning for professional help after working by himself to start with. A Metropolitan Police Report of December 12, 1936, gives full details about his life, employment and finances. It claims that Honigmann ‘does not appear to have any subversive inclinations or associations’, and ‘appears to be respectable and loyal to this country’. (Yet the refusal to grant naturalization was based on a judgment that Honigmann ‘has not yet sufficiently identified himself with this country’ – a bizarrely expressed opinion, to say the least.) The backgrounds of his referees are listed.

Honigmann made his first request in 1936, which was refused in July 1937. He then turned to a solicitor, who made an appeal, offering the names of several prominent citizens who would support his cause, including the M.P. for Smethwick, A. R. Wise, and Kenneth de Courcy. In fact de Courcy wrote two personal letters to Sir Samuel Hoare, the Home Secretary, the first on March 16, 1938, and the second on March 29, which would appear to be a gross abuse of the acquaintance he had with that politician. The first letter is a long appeal on Honigmann’s behalf, since the journalist reputedly wanted to go to the Far East. (Someone has scrawled: ‘Honigmann is [redacted] good’ on the second letter, which suggests a pejorative remark.) Hoare informed the firm that he could not re-consider it, but declared that Honigmann could submit a fresh application, although ‘no undertaking can be given that it will be successful on this occasion’.

After a few entries concerning Honigmann’s successful application for a Certificate of Identity (essentially a Nansen passport for a stateless person enabling him to travel) the file moves to restrictions placed on Honigmann’s mobility after the outbreak of war. His second application for naturalization – again endorsed by de Courcy – had been interrupted. Honigmann wrote an appeal to the Under Secretary of State on October 31, pleading his case for tight travel restrictions to be removed  – and incidentally telling an untruth when he claimed that he had ‘remained in England’ ever since 1931. (His earlier request for identification papers had listed multiple holiday trips he had made around Europe, as well as an extended visit to the USA.) One remarkable entry is a letter to Sir Alexander Maxwell (the new Permanent Under-Secretary at the Home Office), dated June 14, from a gentleman whose name is indistinct (see Figure below). It includes the following statement:

As I explained on the telephone, I know Dr. Georg Honigmann and his wife and also her sister and brother-in-law, Baron and Baroness von Hirsch who have been living at my country house near Haselmere for some months.

This must be Baron Donald von Hirsch, the first husband of Ruth Honigmann’s sister Katherine Bachert, who had fled to England from Merano in September 1938.

Letter from Sydney Arnold

The ingenious sleuth Phil Tomaselli was able to inform me that the author of the letter was Sydney Arnold, 1st Baron Hale, formerly both a Liberal and Labour MP and a one-time Paymaster General (see,_1st_Baron_Arnold). Furthermore, in Sept 1939 the von Hirsches were staying with Arnold at Marley Corner [maybe Marley Manor?], Haslemere: the host rather mysteriously described himself as ‘a retired stockbroker’. What is striking about this relationship is that Arnold was a noted appeaser who had been a co-signatory of a letter to the Times advocating conciliation with Hitler.

Honigmann gained fresh championing of his cause to be released from travel restrictions, including the ever-present de Courcy, on December 1, 1939. But then the clamp-down of May 1940, when the Fifth Column scare was loudly trumpeted, ensured that both Georg and Ruth were interned as members of Class ‘B’, the order being issued on May 26, with the process itself occurring on June 13. On July 4, Honigmann sailed to Canada on the S.S. Sobieski, while Ruth remained on the Isle of Man in Port Erin. Almost immediately, pleas were made on his behalf. On July 19 MI5 informed the Home Office that nothing justified his release, but Sir Charles Peake of the Exchange Telegraph soon started to apply pressure, which was reinforced by the Ministry of Information. The Ministry identified several other journalists whose ‘release is regarded as in the national interest’ including Fritz Kessler and Ernest Meyer. In a report compiled by the Exchange Telegraph, the relationship between the service and the Ministry was clearly outlined:

            Since the outbreak of the war, the Continental Dept. of the Exchange Telegraph Co. have to a growing extent cooperated with the Foreign Publicity Dept of the MOI with the result that they have now completely sub-ordinated themselves to the MOI and are virtually acting as one of the Ministry’s direct publicity channels in neutral countries.

The outcome was that a decision to release Honigmann was made on September 23, and a request to do so was sent to the High Commissioner for Canada (in London) on October 11. He wrote a letter agreeing to the decision on November 6, but because of an unexplained delay Honigmann did not land in Liverpool until January 11. A Home Office letter to his solicitors, written as late as December 20,  states that ‘it has been decided to bring G. Honigmann back from Canada’. His wife was also affected: a strong testimony to her loyalty to Britain was communicated by prominent names at the Manchester Guardian, but unfortunately, a bureaucratic mix-up contributed to Ruth’s still being held at the time of her husband’s arrival. Georg had to write a letter of appeal: she was interviewed on January 24, and declared that she wanted to go back and live with her husband again. Her release order was issued on February 3, and she and Georg were reunited at the flat of Ruth’s mother at 2 Hillsleigh Road, London W.8.

What of the remaining section? It seems that MI5 had approached the Home Office in February 1953, sending some information that caused the file to be given a higher secrecy rating. This fresh initiative was surely prompted by the recent arrest for questioning of Georg and Litzi in Berlin, since KV 6/114 records that it was decided on February 19 that Honigmann would not be allowed back in the UK. (This occurred after J. D. Robertson, maybe unwisely, had suggested to MI6 that overtures should be made to the disgraced Honigmanns with a view possibly to bringing them back to the UK so that MI5 could learn more about Soviet espionage. Unsurprisingly, this idea apparently did not go far.) The file thereafter underwent a review process around every seven years. A letter that month from Chief Inspector C.P. J. Ruck to the Immigration Officer appears to articulate a concern that Honigmann might visit the UK some time soon. It requests that his ‘UK address, and particulars of foreign visas and documents of interest, arrival and departure’ should be obtained ‘discreetly’ and sent to MI5. As supplementary evidence, Honigmann’s application for a new military Certificate of Identity, dated April 11, 1946, is enclosed: Honigmann stated that he might plan to return to the UK ‘if occasion arises’.

A note dated February 19, 1960 indicates that the file has been reviewed, that the present classification should remain, and that MI5 should be approached again in another seven years. Part of the message to ‘Box 500’ (MI5) of March 3, 1967 has been redacted: a week later, a note echoes the process (with some acceleration), indicating that the ‘Almanack’ should be reviewed on February 25, 1970. On that date, MI5 is again consulted to determine whether the ‘S.C. No. 18465’ has to be retained. A further, more substantial, segment has been redacted, and another, on February 25, 1974. On that date a Mr Anderson notes to Miss Spencer: “Honigmann is no longer listed in the Directory of S.I.F.O.s. Perhaps you could discover if Box 500 still have an interest in this man.”

What ‘SIFO’ stands for I have no idea (Suspect Index for Observation?), but it is clearly a file of suspicious persons of some sort. Spencer further writes, on August 22, 1974: ‘Have you any recent information on this man or comments on the cancellation of the suspect circular for him?”. And the saga continues – more reviews, more redacted segments, until a stamp on October 4, 1977 boldly declares: Deleted from Suspect Index’. What is also clear is that, in June 1965, Honigmann’s file had been amended from ‘Secret’ to ‘Confidential’.

The last few pages concern the May 1960 application for an entry visa for Honigmann’s daughter, Barbara, aged 11, who has been invited to stay with her father’s friends, the Newmarks, in Tring for four weeks. The Home Office can see no reason why it should not be granted. It is specified that her parents will not travel, but what is remarkable is the fact that her mother, Litzy Honigmann, is never mentioned in the exchanges. The visa was granted, Barbara arrived, and MI5 presumably breathed a sigh of relief when she returned to East Germany, and they had avoided having to deal with her two notorious parents. It seems that the planned retention period of a hundred years (2060) was probably coincidental to Barbara’s visit, however.


Two primary questions occupy me: ‘Why was Honigmann’s application for naturalization refused in 1938?’ and ‘What prompted the consternation in February 1953?’. Both questions may, of course, be directly related to the initial decisions to maintain his file as ‘Secret’, and then ‘Confidential’. Considering them might help contribute to a better understanding of his status, and the alarm it caused.

The rejection by the Home Office is very strange. Honigmann appears to have all the qualities that an applicant should display: he is cultivated, urbane, manifestly anti-Nazi, and has sophisticated and respectable allies and sponsors who testify to his merits. The fact that this list includes both the right-wing de Courcy as well as the leftist Smollett might suggest that he was an intellectual of some independence of mind. On the other hand, Smollett (who had first arrived in Britain as Peter Smolka in 1930) successfully applied for naturalization in 1938, upon which event he changed his name. Yet Smolka had been expelled from France as a spy, was known to have voiced communist opinions, had travelled to the Soviet Union twice during the 1930s, and published a book sympathetic to the Soviet regime.

Honigmann was overtly rejected because he had ‘not yet sufficiently identified himself with this country’, even though the Metropolitan Police gave him a positive assessment of his loyalty, and MI5 harbored no objections. By 1938, ‘anti-fascism’ rather than ‘anti-communism’ would have been a more acceptable ideology. He apparently did not carry himself well in his interview, but it is difficult to see how he could have spoiled his chances unless he had been very clumsy. Did the Home Office have access to other information that might have disqualified him? After all, the rejections occurred before all the subversive incidents catalogued above occurred, and he was considered reliable enough to be offered the position by the Control Commission in 1946. Thus it seems unlikely that he had been identified by the Foreign Office as a dangerous subversive: Smolka (agent ABO of the NKVD) had been constantly surveilled and his correspondence intercepted, yet managed to evade any intense scrutiny when he pursued a similar path.

The timing of the request from MI5 in late February 1953 for a watch to be kept on Honigmann’s possible entry to the UK is exquisite. Georg and Litzi had just been released from prison in a Stalin-directed purge of Jews and agents who might have come under ‘bourgeois’ influence abroad. When MI5 learned about this from the press, they might have imagined that the couple would seek to flee back to the UK. (The fact that the DDR would have denied them that capability would have eluded the Security Service.) If they did so, any number of awkward secrets might be revealed. The file suggests that Honigmann’s papers would have entitled him to return: he had declared a possible intention in 1946 when he submitted his application. Yet KV 6/114 (ser 84a.) of February 19 clearly states that Honigmann would not be allowed to return: “Please inform P.C.O. [Passport Control Officer: alias for MI6 representative] Germany/Austria that the above should not be granted a visa to enter the United Kingdom without reference to this office”. On the other hand, Ruck’s message to the Immigration Officer requests information to be telephoned to MI5 ‘on arrival or departure’, as if the objective of prohibition were unenforceable.

It is not clear whether Litzi’s passport was still valid in 1953. It will be recalled that she had gained a renewal in the summer of 1946, and her status as a British subject would not have been annulled simply because of her divorce from Kim. (KV 6/113 – Item ‘J’ – does refer to an August 1947 rumour that she might be planning a return visit to the UK.) At this stage, however, the Home Office would not have maintained a file on Litzi. They were not aware of her relationship with Georg when the latter departed in May 1946. MI5 was surely issuing the same edicts for Litzi, however, but they would have been stored in the ‘Philby’ file. Perhaps the redacted segments in HO 382/255 introduce Litzi to the Home Office’s consideration of the equation.

A few weeks later, Stalin was dead, which gave enormous breathing-space, and eventual rehabilitation, to the Honigmanns. So had the danger quickly passed? Apparently not, because of the continued moratorium on the files. MI5 was presumably still concerned about a re-appearance of the pair. But who might have been damaged by any revelations? It cannot be the Honigmanns and any offspring they had. Recall that the wording in the response to the FOI runs as follows: “We shall continue to protect such information for the personal security of the individuals involved and the national security of the United Kingdom.” MI5’s sensitivities cannot extend to concerns about two probable KGB agents, both of whom died decades ago, even if one of them might have kept an expired British passport  . . .

I suspect that it is more likely that the security of certain British subjects was under consideration, and the obvious candidates were the offspring of the Kim/Aileen marriage, and their successors. It is undeniable that the first three children were born out of wedlock, and Aileen was pregnant with their fourth when the wedding ceremony took place in September 1946. If Litzi had confided to Georg that a divorce from Kim had not actually taken place (as Cave-Brown and Easton claimed), that would have made Kim a bigamist, and cast a shadow over his innocent descendants. Moreover, it would have caused a real black eye for MI6, who presumably had no evidence of the divorce proceedings, found the sequence of events as implausible as I have, and wanted to shut the whole matter up – until 2060, by which time anyone would presumably have lost interest. Are there any other theories out there?


Honigmann remains a mystery. Why was the KGB so interested in him? He was neither an influential propagandist, nor did he have the opportunity to gain access to secret material. He openly displayed his pro-communist leanings in his associations with the Kulturbund, and he was presumably approved to take on the role of Litzi’s lover and confidant. Maybe it was because of his essential blandness that he fell beneath the radar screen, and was chosen to keep an eye on Litzi. Yet his absence in East Berlin in the summer of 1946, while Litzi remained in Britain, inviolate and relaxed, must constitute one of the oddest aspects of the Philby affair. In the hope that it might reveal a lot more, I ordered Barbara Honigmann’s memoir of her father, titled simply Georg. It arrived towards the end of the month, and I have now read it. It is beautifully written, exploiting both MI5 and STASI files, as well as what Georg communicated to his daughter both orally and in writing. It does indeed contain some fascinating insights, and it will cause some dramatic changes to be made to my conclusions above – unless, of course, Georg was not telling the truth . . .  I shall report fully in a couple of months’ time.

‘Georg’, by Barbara Honigmann

(Latest Commonplace entries can be seen here.)

1 Comment

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

Mini-Bulletin: a new Web Hoster

Visitors to coldspur will have read that I recently experienced some problems with the availability and reliability of the coldspur site. My web hoster was evidently not comfortable with the management of sites maintained by WordPress software, and declared it was getting out of that particular business. I have thus spent several hours over the past two weeks investigating alternatives, and then migrating the whole site to another hoster. This operation has not been without some frustrating experiences, but I believe that it has now successfully completed. This is the first update to be posted via the new outfit. The switch should be completely transparent, but I would appreciate any feedback from visitors who notice any differences, such as in speed of page-loading, or presentation of material. Thank you!

Leave a Comment

Filed under Technology, Uncategorized

Summer 2023 Round-Up

J. L. Austin



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


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 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 ( 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. 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 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, 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) ( , 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 ). 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 ), 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, in my comprehensive coverage in Misdefending the Realm (2017), and in my elegiac contribution in Isaiah in Love (see, 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 , 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


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 )

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. 


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 ( 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.


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.)


Filed under Espionage/Intelligence, General History, Literature/Academia, Management/Leadership, Personal, Philosophy, Politics, Technology

The Folly of Solomon

Flora Solomon



Flora Solomon’s Life

The Mysterious Stevenson

Aileen Philby’s Admissions

At Lord Rothschild’s (1)

At Lord Rothschild’s (2)

Arthur Martin’s Report

The Aftermath

Anatoly Golitsyn

The Rimington Investigation

Analysis of the Rimington Report




In the old days, before I immersed myself in mid-twentieth century European history, I was wont to confuse pairs of semi-famous figures from the period. Nancy Astor and Nancy Cunard: both Americans who became European socialites. Ernst Toller and Stefan Zweig: Jewish authors, writing in German, who both committed suicide in the Americas. Ignace Reiss and Ignaty Reif: both Soviet illegals in the 1930s – did Stalin have them both killed? Simone Weil and Simone Veil: both French intellectuals of uncertain influence. Hans-Peter Smolka and Engelbert Broda: both Communist spies, but who did what? And Moura Budberg and Flora Solomon: both Jewish grandes dames from Russia, but which was the mistress of Alexander Kerensky, and which that of H. G. Wells? And were they both spies?

I believe I have straightened matters out now, and this month’s bulletin is about the highly controversial Flora Solomon. She reputedly plays a significant role in the Philby saga because she revealed to Victor Rothschild in 1962 that she had known that Philby was a Communist agent since he had approached her to join him in ‘working for peace’. According to some accounts, that disclosure apparently helped MI5 seal the deal against the traitor. Indeed, that tireless investigator into Philby’s naughty deeds, Ben Macintyre, characterized Solomon as his ‘hero’ in a typically error-strewn piece in the Guardian of April 4, 2014. (see  One might almost forgive the overwrought cliché ‘changed the course of British history’, but the byline ‘Flora Solomon provided MI5 with the evidence they needed to arrest Wilby’ is simply comical.  ‘Wilby’ was not arrested, but fled from Beirut in 1963 after giving a half-baked ‘confession’ to Nicholas Elliott. And, in any case, why did Solomon maintain her silence for so long? She would have been much more of a ‘hero’ if she had gone to the authorities with her knowledge in 1951, when Burgess and Maclean absconded.

This story is, however, much more complex, imbued with the prevarications and dissimulations of Solomon herself, as well as a hefty dose of self-deception and obtuseness on the part of MI5 officers. The sources are primarily the three files on Solomon held at the National Archives (KV 2/4633, 4634 & 4635, not released until October 2022). These files have been quite heavily redacted – a rather surprising phenomenon, given the subject, and the passage of time. My analysis below will offer a reason why.

The archival material is complemented by various memoirs and biographies, of which the main volumes are Solomon’s own contribution From Baku to Baker Street (1984), Peter Wright’s Spycatcher (1987), Nicholas Elliott’s Never Judge A Man By His Umbrella (1991), Tom Bower’s The Perfect English Spy (1992), Genrikh Borovik’s The Philby Files (1994), Phillip Knightley’s The Master Spy (1998), Stella Rimington’s Open Secret (2001), and Ben Macintyre’s A Spy Among Friends (2014). (In A Spy Among Friends, Macintyre includes as an Afterword a text given to him by John le Carré, which the latter published in a slightly expanded version in The Pigeon Tunnel (2016). It is essentially a record of what Nicholas Elliott told the author about Philby and other personalities in MI6.) I mention also the disclosures from Soviet archives revealed in The Crown Jewels, by Nigel West and Oleg Tsarev (1999), while Christopher Andrew’s Defend the Realm (2009) provides some vital insights.

Flora Solomon’s Life

Born Flora Benenson in Pinsk (now in Belarus) in 1895, the subject of this profile moved with her parents to Britain in 1914, leaving the family’s considerable wealth, in oil and gold, behind. Her father’s face had been disfigured by a jealous mistress, and they sought medical help abroad. After a circuitous route via Stockholm and Hamburg, they landed in Newcastle. In 1917, Flora was introduced to Colonel Harold Solomon, and married him the following year. The couple then spent several years in Palestine, where Solomon was an aide to the British High Commissioner, Herbert Samuel. In 1921, Flora returned to the United Kingdom to give birth to a son, Peter Benenson (who founded Amnesty). In 1923, Harold was paralyzed in a hunting accident, and the couple returned to London, effectively leading separate lives thereafter. In 1927, Flora met the former Russian leader Alexander Kerensky in New York, and began an affair with him, which continued when Kerensky established himself in Paris.  Her husband died in 1930. Flora was active in Zionist causes, but ideological splits between her and Kerensky, specially concerning Kerensky’s disgust for Stalin, caused them to break up. In the 1930s, after meeting Simon Marks at a dinner, Flora had become a vigorous defender of workers’ rights at Marks and Spencer, and served as the only woman in the company’s executive ranks. She remained an energetic Zionist all her life, and died in 1984.

‘From Baku to Baker Street’

Flora Solomon’s memoir, From Baku to Baker Street, written with the help of Barnet Litvinoff, a Zionist historian of some repute, appeared that same year. (Litvinoff had an interesting history. He was born in London of Russian immigrant parents in 1918, was in the Army for six years, seeing action at Dunkirk, and was captured during Rommel’s advance in the Western desert, surviving three years as a prisoner-of-war in Italy and Germany.) I here focus on the various statements Flora made about her relationship with Kim Philby, and on Communism in general, as they represent useful signposts to the archives that were released many years after her death.

Her first exposure to Kim was in 1921, when she met St John Philby and ‘his attractive wife Dora’ in Jerusalem, the elder Philby working at that time for Samuel. She recalled the ‘stammering young son’, who would have been aged about nine at the time. (She later recalled that he was eleven.) Flora’s application of chronology is rather wayward, but, from the surrounding narrative, it would seem that she met Philby again at some time between Oswald Mosley’s rally at Olympia in June 1934 and the promulgation of the Nuremberg Laws of September 1935. Flora’s ‘muddle-headed’ friend Dulcie Sassoon invited her to her house in the country, and Philby was also present. He did not recall the previous encounter, but ‘he introduced me to his Jewish wife, the Viennese Litzi Friedmann, and I gave them my address (I was living in Addison Road). Gradually a friendship developed.’

Flora went on to write:

            It caused me no disquiet when my housekeeper, Bella Meyer, a refugee from the Continent, informed me that she had known Litzi’s family in Vienna, and that Kim’s wife had been a Communist. Only years later, after Kim’s defection to Russia, did I learn with everyone else that he had a cover job with a pro-Nazi organization, the Anglo-German Fellowship. The Kim Philby I got to now was not a talkative man; he had a gentle charm, never drinking to excess at my house, and mingled easily with my friends.

Among such friends were noted left-wingers like John Strachey and Stafford Cripps, and ‘a liberal sprinkling of my Zionist contacts.’ It is perhaps puzzling how Philby managed to keep his new affiliation secret in such adversarial company (he joined the Fellowship in January 1936).

And Philby did not succumb to Flora’s Zionist propaganda:

            He evinced not the slightest interest in the Palestine conflict. Neither did Guy Burgess, who occasionally arrived with Kim. My recollection of the latter is borne out by what others have written of him: he was a grubby, uncouth specimen but a fascinating conversationalist.

One reflects on how Flora might have recalled this friendship after the disappearance of Burgess and Maclean in 1951.

The next encounter is marked as occurring just before Philby left for Spain in 1937. This must be his second visit, after he had been commissioned by the Times to work as an accredited journalist, sometime in June (he left on June 10). Flora describes it as follows:

            Kim Philby came to see me before leaving for Spain in 1937. I attached no significance to the news that he was to report the war from the Franco side. I remember the day well. I think he wanted to tell me more. ‘I’m doing important work for peace’, he said. ‘You should be doing it too, Flora.’

Her response was distinctly incurious:

            ‘I have my own cause,’ I observed. ‘Who’s going to help the persecuted Jews, if not their own people?’

There is no suggestion that she did not understand clearly what ‘working for peace’ meant, and she was not at all surprised that Philby, married to a committed Communist, would be engaging in subterfuge by reporting the war from the Franco side.

Sometime after this (according to Flora’s account), she introduced Kim to a woman called Aileen Furse, who was the cousin of a colleague of Flora’s at Marks and Spencer, Neil Furse, and whom Flora had hired as an assistant. Maddeningly, no date is given, but the suggestion is that it must likewise have occurred after Philby’s spell as a freelance journalist in Spain (he returned on May 24, 1937), and before his posting as an official Times correspondent. Yet Flora’s timetable does not make sense, since she describes it as follows:

            Aileen Furse soon established herself as one of my principal assistants, all of whom dropped in at my home for the occasional drink. She was there one day when Kim Philby arrived, now separated but not divorced from his Litzi. Kim plonked himself in an easy chair and began talking about Spain. He found an avid listener in Aileen, and the two left together. The next I knew they were sharing a flat.

This account is markedly at variance with descriptions she later gave her MI5 interrogators (in one of which Kim met Aileen the day war broke out, in another the encounter occurred after Dunkirk): it is difficult to imagine how Flora could have misattributed it so badly.

Yet she compounds her problem by next placing Kim and Aileen at her house ‘just before Munich’, i.e. in about August 1938, when another momentous exchange took place:

            As they left a party in my home – this must have been some time in 1938, just before Munich – Kim took me to one side, looking morose. ‘I want to tell you’, he said, ‘I’m in great danger’. It dawned on me then that he was still associated with the Communist Party, the cause that he had espoused at Cambridge. The statement was extraordinary, perhaps, but the intimation of his affiliation provoked no suspicion. What was dangerous in Britain about being a Communist? In some circles of the intelligentsia it was the done thing.

If part of this story is true (i.e. that Philby did confide to Flora his imminent danger at that time, but not when accompanied by Aileen), it would point to a hitherto unreported return to the United Kingdom by Philby during his second stint in Spain. From all the accounts I have read, Philby did not return to British soil until August 1939.

So was Flora Solomon making this up completely? I think it unlikely. What I believe is far more probable is that she received a message about Philby’s danger, either from Litzi or from Guy Burgess, but felt that she should pretend that she was not on such familiar terms with either. She showed a good amount of disingenuousness, however, in her comments. What had Cambridge University to do with the case? She knew that Philby remained a committed Communist because of the ‘working for peace’ slogan. And she grossly misrepresented the danger that Kim must have sensed. It was not the British authorities by whom he felt threatened: it was Stalin and the NKVD. 1938 was at the height of the purges. In 1937, Brian Goold-Verschoyle, a courier in Spain, had been abducted to Moscow for defying orders, and was probably shot soon after. Philby had just failed in the operation to assassinate Franco. In July, Alexander Orlov, Philby’s handler in Spa, had defected. Philby’s past mentor, Theodore Maly, had been recalled to Moscow, and shot as a foreign spy in September. Ozolin-Haskin, who ran Philby from Paris, was later shot.

Philby probably did not learn all these facts at the time, but the menace was clear. So why did he contact Solomon? It must have either been because of an emotional connection (some suspected that they had an affair, but Solomon denied it) or because he believed that she was influential enough that she might be able to help him by putting in a good word. Yet I do not believe that anyone has picked up the chronological impossibility of his issuing a cry for help in person.

The next major event that Solomon records is the marriage between Aileen and Kim, and her account is predictably strewn with errors:

            Litzi Friedman, partner in Philby’s first uneasy exercise in matrimony, had lived the war out in London with another man. In 1945 he took a post in East Berlin and before joining him there she and Kim were divorced. So it was at last possible to do the right thing by Aileen. Would I, asked Kim, be a witness?

She covers the Burgess and Maclean abscondment, the suspicions over Philby, and the death of Aileen in puzzling circumstances after she had been abandoned by Kim, before moving to ‘one of the more distasteful episodes of her life’, namely her revelations over Kim to Lord Rothschild. Solomon had become disgusted with the anti-Zionist tones of Philby’s articles as an Observer correspondent, and when she encountered Rothschild at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot in 1962, her frustration erupted:

            In my exasperation with the Philby articles I suddenly exclaimed to Victor, ‘How is it the Observer uses a man like Kim? Don’t they know he’s a Communist? You must do something!’ Victor appeared startled, replying: ‘I will think about it’.

Now, an observant reader of this anecdote might surmise that, for a person in Rothschild’s shoes, learning that Philby was a Communist would have been as shocking as hearing that the Pope was Catholic. After all, a careful study of his file in 1951 (see ) would have indicated with little doubt that Philby had been a Communist of long standing. Why would the hearsay testimony of a perhaps bitter woman change the equation in any way, since Philby could simply continue to deny everything?

Nevertheless, Rothschild did follow up, and a confidential meeting was arranged at Rothschild’s flat in London ‘with a security official’ [Arthur Martin, unidentified]. According to Solomon, she disclosed several items: Philby’s invitation to work for peace; the belief that he expressed after the fall of France that the Fascists could be beaten only with Russia’s help (hardly a heretical opinion for the time); his intimation of being in great danger; and a voluntary statement from her that she believed that Philby’s close friend Tomás Harris was probably involved in the same game.

            Apparently this was enough to complete Philby’s dossier. The rest we know: Philby disappeared from the scene, turned up in Moscow, received citizenship, wrote a book, and entered the chronicles of treachery as the ‘Third Man’.

What Solomon does not mention is that Harris was killed in a suspicious motor accident in Mallorca in January 1964, and that she might therefore have contributed to his demise.

A notable oversight in Solomon’s story is that she writes nothing about Frank Birch and the enigmatic interview he had with Philby for a position at GCHQ early in September 1939, in an episode where the record of the first encounter between Kim and Aileen clearly contradicts her published story. This was a narrative that emerged from her interviews in 1962, and from inquiries that followed them, and she obviously felt uncomfortable about it, maybe believing that the disclosures would remain buried and secret in the MI5 archives. What she does reveal, on the other hand, is that Eric Strauss, the psychiatrist who was ‘her dearest friend’ – and who plays an important role in this saga as it develops – was in fact a homosexual, intelligence that contradicts the assumptions made by MI5 officers that he was her lover. She also informs her readers that her son Peter (who took the name Benenson at the request of Flora’s father) worked on ULTRA decrypts at Bletchley Park.

In many ways, therefore, Solomon’s memoir is a mendacious account. It reflects the internal struggle that some Communist sympathizers or activists (such as Klaus Fuchs) experienced after they had spent some years in Britain – that there was something decent about life there that deflated all the egalitarian but cruel dogma that emanated from Communist ideology, and it was thus incumbent upon them to play down their previous political beliefs. Flora Solomon’s sympathies gradually changed, and she came to feel disgust for Kim Philby’s betrayal of values that she had come to treasure. Yet her lies and contradictions bespeak a more furtive occupation. Perhaps in an attempt to blur it, she wrote, at the end of her memoir, in cadences that were almost Orwellian or, since she was a Russian émigreé, that could perhaps be more aptly described as Berlinesque:

            Finally, I feel I must voice my gratitude to the country of my adoption. The British, it is frequently said, are an intolerant race, yet I have seen enough of this country and its people to know that being a foreigner is no obstacle to fulfilment here. My Russian accent has never proved a disadvantage. The British must surely rank as the most exasperating, illogical, hypocritical of peoples. But they have a generosity of mind, too, and a humility, and a capacity for endurance which is necessary for true greatness.

The Mysterious Stevenson

Like many things, the Solomon archives can be divided into three parts. There is the physical division into three separate files. And there is a logical compartmentalization, consisting first of the early, mostly desultory combination of postings concerning Flora’s background, and insubstantial events like her reporting a possible German spy; second, the intense interview in 1962 with Rothschild and Martin, recorded surreptitiously, and its after-effects; and third, the later re-inspection of the files in 1971 by Stella Rimington, then a trainee officer, who would become the first woman director-general of MI5.

Among the routine and unexciting entries in the first file (KV2 /4633) lie two extraordinary memoranda, the first dated December 28, 1953, and the second (concealed in the Minute Sheet that introduces the file) three days later. The first item (serial 21A), heavily redacted, has been written by G. R. Mitchell, the head of D Division, and I feel it is so important that I reproduce most of it here:

            On 16 and 21 December Xxxxxx Xxxxxx [assumed two words] visited this office to discuss the case of Aileen PHILBY with D.1 and me. He also rang up on 18 December. No very coherent thread was discernible in the story which Xxxxxx told us on these three occasions. The gist of a confused narrative was as follows: –

            [about eight lines redacted]

Xxxxxx Xxxxxx had a good deal to say about Flora SOLOMON, the subject of PF.604,692. Flora Solomon is, he said, an arrogant and domineering Jewess and the sort of woman who can exert a strong influence not only over Aileen PHILBY but also over “latent homosexuals like Kim PHILBY” (STEVENSON’s words). (I asked Xxxxxx what the Expression “latent homosexual” might mean, but received no intelligible reply.) Flora Solomon was many years ago the mistress of “KORONSKY”. We asked Xxxxxx who was KORONSKY; did he mean Alexander KERENSKY? Xxxxxxx, who did not seem to have heard of KERENSKY, did not know. Later, during the 1930s, Flora SOLOMON became Kim PHILBY’s mistress. It was she who introduced PHILBY to his present wife. Aileen was at that time living with Frank BIRCH, formerly a senior official in G.C.H.Q., and now, as I understand, both an actor and a don at Trinity Hall. According to Aileen, before the war Flora sent Kim on a mission to Spain to contact a communist who was in trouble with the Falangists. The date of this trip was unknown to Xxxxxx. Aileen had told Xxxxxx long ago that Flora was a communist. After Kim’s resignation xxxx xxx [from SIS?] in 1951, Aileen asked Flora whether she could find employment for Kim in Marks and Spencers, in which firm Flora holds an important post as Welfare Officer. Flora would not do so.

Xxxxxx Xxxxxx xxxxxx Aileen to be still much under the influence of Flora SOLOMON. The latter is at present believed xxxxxxxxxxxx to be the mistress of Dr. Eric STRAUSS, described by STEVENSON as one of the leading London psychiatrists.

[two lines redacted]

Xxxxxx Xxxxxx xxxxxx that STRAUSS knows a great deal more about the security and espionage suspicions connected with PHILBY, BURGESS and MACLEAN than he has any right to. For example, he recently mentioned xxxxxxxxxxxxx that he knew that there was a damning incident in Kim’s past relating to Turkey. Xxxxxx Xxxxxx assumes that STRAUSS gets his information on these matters from Flora SOLOMON, who in turn gets it from Aileen.

            One evening during the week ended 12 December 1953 Aileen was on the brink of committing suicide.

Aileen later poured out confidences relating to espionage on the part of Kim, etc., to attempted murder by Kim, to suicide and other colourful stuff. One possible reason xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx for these crises on Aileen’s part was a recent remark made to her by Kim. “I suppose I shall be universally blamed as the sort of chap who could desert five children”. She interpreted thus as an indication of an intention on Kim’s part to flee the country.

What should be made of this astonishing testimony? Who is the witness? What can we conclude from the evidence? It is clear that he knows Aileen and Kim well. (He refers to ‘Kim’ in his account, and Aileen told him some time before about Solomon’s Communism.) He seems less well-acquainted with Flora Solomon, but is obviously on close terms with Eric Strauss, who has confided to him a number of ‘secrets’ about Philby with which he is familiar himself, but which, in his judgment, Strauss should never have been told. Strauss appears to have concealed the source of his intelligence from the witness, since the latter assumes, based on the intimate relationship between Strauss and Solomon, and Solomon’s close friendship with Aileen, that Solomon was the messenger of the information. To have gained access to Mitchell, the witness must be someone with authority, probably within MI6, if he was aware of the ‘damning incident in Kim’s past relating to Turkey’ (which must surely be the Volkov affair). It is unlikely that he learned about it from Kim himself if he represented the events in those terms. Moreover, he presents the information in a way that suggests that the facts were obvious to both MI6 and MI5, but were dangerous if delivered to public outsiders. Mitchell is not surprised to receive an approach from the gentleman, even though he expresses surprise at the lack of coherence in his story. Yet the precision of the supposed statements made by Aileen would cast doubt on the fact that they had been passed through an intermediary.

‘The Enemy Within’

I believe the informant was probably the author Graham Greene. He had been Philby’s deputy in Section V, he had a close friendship with Kim, and he was fascinated both by Philby’s ambition and by his duplicity. Moreover, Greene was a patient of Eric Strauss. In Graham Greene: The Enemy Within, Michael Shelden writes:

            The only time that Greene’s behaviour ‘really frightened’ Jocelyn [Rickards] was the day he announced his desire to receive shock treatments from his psychiatrist, Eric Strauss. She could not understand why he would want such drastic therapy.

For most of the 1950s (adds Shelden), Greene was one of Dr. Strauss’s regular patients. Strauss was ‘a prominent psychiatrist at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital and the coauthor of a textbook called Sexual Disorders in the Male’. Moreover, he was a model for a character in Greene’s The Potting Shed – Dr. Kreuzer – who tries to help James Callifer come to terms with his dark memories of childhood.

Greene had resigned from MI6 before the Volkov affair, but may have kept in touch with ex-colleagues, or might even have been confided in by Philby himself. Shelden offers a more complicated explanation for Greene’s resignation than that conventionally given when Philby took over Section IX – that he was shocked at Philby’s naked ambition – writing:

            Keeping him at a distance made sense, especially when he began to talk about taking over the new anti-Communist section in the service. Philby’s Communist wife, his determined opposition to Otto John and other conspirators, and his desire to keep anyone else from getting the anti-Communist post – it was all much too suspicious for comfort. And if Philby did prove to be a Soviet mole, it would not be wise to become established in SIS as his protégé, the man he had handpicked to take his old job. The best thing was to keep quiet and get out quickly, far in advance of any promotion for Philby. Greene’s later objection to his friend’s office politics was correct, but it was only half the story.

I suspect that Greene was highly torn over what he had discovered. It would be unusual for an MI6 officer to share confidences with his MI5 counterparts, but his dismay at Philby’s obvious treachery might have been coloured by the mindless defence of his friend conducted by the ‘robber barons’ now in charge at MI6. The impression he gives is that, since he and MI5 know about Philby’s transgressions, he is not betraying his friend through these disclosures. In that mood, therefore, he decided that he should alert Mitchell and his colleagues to the fact that Philby’s secret is known outside the circle of intelligence, while at the same diverting responsibility to a woman whom he represented as something of a she-devil.

But what about ‘Stevenson’? This seems to be a clumsy attempt to conceal the identity of the informant, made, perhaps, in the belief that no one would be able to work out from the alias given from such a name. I swiftly discarded the intelligence officer Bill Stevenson (who wrote the biography of BSC chief William Stephenson) on the grounds of age. But I did notice that Greene’s mother was the cousin of Robert Louis Stevenson, and it might have seemed a cute way of veiling Greene’s identity by granting him this cryptonym – perhaps suggested by Greene himself. Whether Greene would have been ignorant of the existence of Alexander Kerensky is a little problematic, but not enough to collapse the whole theory. The last comment I would make is that Greene appears more sympathetic to Kim, despite the ‘damning’ evidence, than he does to Aileen. Instead of criticizing Kim for his treachery, Aileen for her loose lips (although, unknown to him, delivered in supposed confidence to her psychiatrist), or Strauss for his passing on of gossip, Greene turns his bile primarily on the hapless and non-participating Solomon. Overall, that will come as no surprise to those who have read Greene’s Introduction to My Silent War: Greene may have disparaged Aileen’s apparent betrayal of her husband more than he disapproved of Philby’s treachery towards his country, but he resented Solomon’s presumed gossipiness even more.

Aileen Philby’s Admissions

Follow-up to Stevenson’s contribution appeared to be swift, although the spin and emphasis are slightly different. The second remarkable entry in the Solomon files is a memorandum by Evelyn McBarnet (D1A in MI5), dated December 31, 1953, drawing attention to Flora by virtue of an extraordinary note concerning Aileen Philby. It runs:

            It has recently been reported that Mrs. Aileen PHILBY, who has known her for many years, has alleged that Mrs. SOLOMON was a Communist and that she had been concerned in sending H.A.R. PHILBY on a mission to Spain to contact a Communist there.

Note that McBarnet’s memorandum does not refer to the Stevenson insights, nor does it mention Turkey. The use of the passive voice is itself revealing, but provokes many questions and reflections. To whom did Aileen offer this report, and how did it reach the ears of MI5? Why was Mrs. Philby apparently so keen to cast aspersions on both her husband and Mrs. Solomon? This was a time when Philby was in the wilderness, searching for employment, but he was also spending much time away from Aileen, since he had a mistress in London. Without a doubt, however, it shows that Aileen knew much more about Kim’s activities than had previously been credited by MI5, and that she was expressing some sort of grudge against him. But it also places Solomon in a much more dominant and authoritative role, as if she had been responsible for leading Philby astray.

McBarnet’s recommendation is not to follow-up with Aileen, however (which would only publicize the fact of their confidential source), but to apply for letter and telephone checks on Flora Solomon, a move that might appear somewhat unproductive, given that the events had occurred over twenty-five years beforehand. The checks take place for several weeks, until McBarnet concludes on February 9, 1954 that there is no evidence that Solomon is a Soviet spy, or even a Communist, and recommends that the checks be discontinued. In this letter, however, she does record: “Dr. Eric STRAUSS has appeared in the telephone check and it is fairly obvious that he is an intimate and long established friend. They are very discrete about their relationship.”

What clues are there that might point to the source of this extraordinary intelligence? Ben Macintyre offers a typically unverifiable claim, writing (p 179): ‘He [Philby] told friends that Aileen had denounced him to the Foreign Office, and this had prevented him from getting a decent job. He even claimed she had tried to kill him.” No source is provided for this insight, but he was obviously given ‘insider’ information, since he also writes that ‘MI5’s telephone intercepts would eventually fill thirty-three volumes’. Macintyre does, however, cite Nicholas’s Elliott’s memoir, Never Judge a Man By His Umbrella, asserting that Elliott ‘tried to shore her up with financial and moral support’. This is a slight distortion of what Elliott wrote (p 186): “Aileen herself became so hard pressed for cash that she took a job as a cook in London to people living in Eaton Square, where she was close enough to our house in Wilton Street to spend her off duty hours with us.”

‘Never Judge a Man by His Umbrella’

Yet it would be highly unlikely that Elliott, Philby’s closest friend in MI6, would have passed on such confidential information to his adversaries in MI5. (If Philby truly had told friends that Aileen had shopped him, he must have been confident of his colleagues’ support.) The truth is rather more shocking. Macintyre refers to an astonishing passage in Christopher Andrew’s history of MI5, correctly categorizing the behaviour behind it as ‘secret and unethical’, since it was in fact Aileen’s psychiatrist who was passing on information to MI5.

Andrew’s text is shabby and hypocritical. Describing surveillance carried out on Philby at the time (p 433), he writes: “The checks did, however, also reveal much about Philby’s sometimes squalid private life which has escaped the attention of his biographers.” (Since Andrew’s sources are unidentified ‘Security Service Archives’, to which no one else has had access, his pronouncements are especially sophistical.) Andrew continues, without expressing any judgment on the legality of the operation:

            Philby’s most abominable behaviour was towards his mentally fragile second wife, Aileen, by whom he had five children. Aileen’s psychiatrist told the Service that among her problems was her belief in her husband’s guilt – which was at least partly responsible for Philby’s attempts to ‘smash Aileen up’: ‘He is convinced that she possesses important security information about her husband and her own Communist past  . . . In [Aileen’s]opinion and that of her psychiatrist, Philby had by a kind of mental cruelty to her “done his best to make her commit suicide”.’

It amazes me that MI5 allowed Andrew access to such incriminating material, which shows the Security Service in very poor light. (This is another example of the reprehensible practice whereby an authorized historian is allowed to make categorical assertions that are unverifiable.) But it is also noteworthy, in two dimensions, that this lead was not followed up. First, it shows that MI5 in 1954 was quite unimpressed with any insight that would confirm Philby’s activities on behalf of the Communists in Spain. (Recall that the dossier which MI5 compiled on him in 1951 confirmed that he was the agent in Spain identified by Krivitsky.) The service was overall probably complaisant with MI6’s story that he was an ex-communist who had switched his allegiance. Second, no one appears to have picked up the fact of MI5’s unethical behaviour, or tried to identify the person to whom Aileen Philby had confided her thoughts and fears. Whom would she have chosen as a psychiatrist? It seems obvious to me that her sponsor, Flora Solomon, whom she admired handsomely, might have introduced her to her good friend Eric Strauss. And indeed, if Strauss was providing MI5 with confidential information derived directly from Aileen, that fact would explain many of the mysteries of the Solomon saga.

Obituary of Eric Strauss (British Medical Journal)

What is extraordinary – almost outrageous – is the suggestion that Strauss had an agreement with MI6 as well. Nicholas Elliott told John le Carré that ‘the office shrink’ (suggesting an in-house resident role rather than an external source) rang Elliott up. Strauss had been treating Aileen (thus confirming my assertion above) and he said to Elliott: “She’s released me from my Hippocratic Oath. I’ve got to talk to you.” No date is given for this episode, but if accurate, it would indicate that, contrary to other reports, Elliott had been convinced of Philby’s guilt some time before, since he even claims that he himself passed on the hint from Solomon to MI5. He also told le Carré that he had ‘always had the feeling that Philby himself would like to get the whole thing off his chest and settle down  . . .’. (That ‘always’ is absurdly exaggerated.) I pick up and analyze this highly contentious testimony later in this piece, but his comments would seem to be more a retrospective recrafting of what he believed at that time because of his embarrassment at being hoodwinked so badly by his close friend.

An explanation would be that, after the exchanges with Stevenson, MI5 made a return call on Strauss, and gathered further information. There is no suggestion that Strauss had learned of the secrets from Solomon: the implication is that Aileen had told them to Strauss herself. And Strauss (perhaps being softly blackmailed because of his homosexuality?) continued to keep MI5 informed of what Aileen was telling him. Yet the overriding conclusion is that MI5 was not interested in following up any possible confirmation of damaging suspicions about Philby. The Security Service presumably accepted them all as true, but either considered it pointless pursuing them in the face of MI6 obstinacy, or deemed that they were irrelevant in the backdrop of Philby’s freshly understood role. The aspect of Volkov’s betrayal in 1945, however, should have represented intelligence of a vastly different calibre from that of the pre-war activity in Spain.

The last enigma is Andrew’s reference to Aileen’s ‘Communist past’. How could Aileen not know about its security implications, if she really had been a communist, whether party-member or merely sympathizer? Was Philby implying that his wife knew damaging facts that had not been known by MI6? Borovik offers a tantalizing passage from a report that Philby wrote for his Moscow masters in 1943, in which he describes the relationship between Aileen and Frank Birch:

            They met regularly. When the war began, ‘Birch’ was appointed head of the Naval Section in Bletchley (GC&CS) and she went there with him infrequently, that is, on agent assignments. Her role in these instances was as a cover (that is, when they were together, it looked completely normal and did not arouse suspicion). I never succeeded in finding out why ‘Birch’ was interested in things of this nature, since his work was entirely different (he was involved with cryptography, and not the affairs of others). I also did not question her about this activity for understandable reasons: because I completely respect the secrecy of ‘Birch’s’ work and because I want her to respect the secrecy of my work. In any case she has not met ‘Birch’ since the autumn of 1940.

While Philby underplays the level of intimacy between Aileen and Frank, he hints at much darker goings-on. Was Birch a secret communist, too? What were these ‘agent assignments’, and what was Birch up to that required cover and secrecy? Again, one cannot trust completely what Philby writes, but it is difficult to see why he would provide gratuitous disinformation on such matters.

Finally, it must be remembered that this archive is the Solomon file, not the Philby file, and fresh initiatives concerning Philby may have been recorded elsewhere. Yet Philby thereafter carried on, with fits and starts for a number of years, and was even exonerated by Foreign Secretary Harold MacMillan in 1955. It seems that McBarnet ignored the more damaging evidence against the traitor, namely the dispatching of Volkov to his death, and fruitlessly turned her attention to looking into Solomon’s maybe murky past. And she was supported by her bosses.

At Lord Rothschild’s (1)

The rest of the 1950s decade saw Philby partially re-established. I shall not re-tell the events in detail: Ben Macintyre’s A Spy Among Friends gives a lively (and, so far as I can see, mostly accurate) account of the period, although his explanation of sources is very skimpy. Thus readers can remind themselves of the Petrov defection, the refutation of Milmo claimed by MI6, the revelations in the American media, the Lipton challenge in the House of Commons, the Macmillan exoneration, Philby’s spectacular ‘Third Man’ denials, the re-recruitment of Philby by MI6 under journalistic cover, and consequent dispatch to Beirut, the controversial death of Aileen in 1957, and the fresh revelations by the defector Golitsyn. All was prelude to the less than impressive episode involving Flora Solomon and Lord Rothschild in Israel.

The disclosures of 1962 appear in four separate items in KV 2/4633 & /4634: i) Victor Rothschild’s description of what Solomon told him, dated July 5; ii) the transcript of Solomon’s meeting with Rothschild on July 19 (a microphone had been installed at his flat in London); iii) the transcript of a further meeting with Solomon, when Rothschild and Arthur Martin were in attendance, on July 28; and iv) Martin’s summarization of the meeting, signed off on August 8.

I had noted earlier the absurdity of Rothschild’s being spurred into action by the revelation that Philby had been a Communist (as Solomon claimed in her memoir).The reality is that Rothschild handed to Roger Hollis, MI5’s Director-General, at a meeting of the Joint Intelligence Committee, a note prepared by MI5 that focused on Solomon, citing the evidence that we know came from ‘Stevenson’ (whose identity has been redacted). It echoes the belief that Solomon had been Philby’s mistress at one time, and stresses the claim made by Stevenson that Solomon was responsible for introducing Kim to Aileen, and that she exerted a strong influence over both Aileen and Kim. Almost as an aside, it declares that Solomon ‘has now told Victor Rothschild that she knew that Philby was working for the Russians at the time of the Spanish Civil War’. (It seems that the recent revelation by Solomon to Rothschild has been relegated to a minor role.)

Martin Furnival Jones, head of D Division, supplies a note that explains that Rothschild had added that ‘Mrs Solomons [sic] said that PHILBY had tried to recruit her to report on the White Russian community in the U.K.’, and that she believed that Philby was currently writing ‘violently anti-Israel articles’ on Russian instructions.

Signs of Solomon’s dissimulation in her memoir are already clear. She wanted there to minimize the degree of her collaboration with Philby, declaring only the ‘communist’ aspect, while the story about the ‘White Russian community’ is obviously fabricated. In The Crown Jewels (pp 314-315), West and Tsarev cite reports from Philby to his controllers that indicate that Solomon gave Philby privileged information based on her acquaintance with one of Beaverbrook’s chief advisers, a man called Rootes. While passing on such information does not really constitute high espionage, it was clearly inappropriate behaviour by Solomon, knowing, as she did, Philby’s true loyalties.

Phillip Knightley is one who has pointed out (in The Master Spy, 1988, page 213) the ambivalence of Solomon’s actions. He declares that, although Philby wrote favourably about Nasser, in his articles he showed no bias against Israel, and the Observer would not have tolerated any such unbalanced commentary from a reporter. (No one at MI5 appears to have followed up by investigating Philby’s published contributions.) Thus Solomon’s sudden accusation to Rothschild that Philby was a Communist sounded artificial and sophistical. Provocatively, when Knightley asked Philby in Moscow what he thought about his betrayal by Solomon, Philby wanted to talk more about Rothschild. Knightley does not express this idea, but could Rothschild have been the agent who leaked her testimony to the KGB somehow? Later in life, Rothschild was desperate to have Margaret Thatcher affirm that he had never been a spy – something the Iron Lady sagely said she could not do. (For further analysis of Rothschild’s dubious role as an ‘agent of influence’, see Misdefending the Realm, Chapter 6.)

In any event, on July 9 Arthur Martin discussed the coming briefing with Peter Wright, who miked up the flat. Martin then applied for telephone and letter checks on Solomon. The meeting with Rothschild duly took place, with Rothschild’s objectives being to soften her up, and prepare her for a more rigorous interrogation, to be carried out by a ‘decent man’. Yet Rothschild was blunt: he told her that he believed that she had been Philby’s mistress, something she vehemently denied. Rothschild ‘confirmed that Kim had been infatuated’ (it is not clear how he knew this), and Solomon did not disagree. They moved on. Solomon said she was prepared to talk: she had nothing to hide, although she admitted that she might well be asked why she hadn’t come forth much earlier. She did not, however, want Philby to know that she had talked: she thought that he relied on her completely, from when she last saw him at about the time of the Burgess/Maclean events. (Neither Rothschild nor Solomon could recall the exact year when Burgess and Maclean had absconded!)

Solomon rambled somewhat after this, but did reveal that Philby and Burgess were close friends, since Burgess had moved into the flat she owned after she had offered it to Philby. Rothschild disingenuously remarked that he had not known that Philby and Burgess knew each other so well. After a puzzling exchange about Burgess’s political views, Solomon switched the subject to say that she wanted to find out what had happened to Litzi before the coming interrogation. Rather than pick up this thread, Rothschild clumsily moved on to Aileen, and asked how Kim had met her. “Through me”, Solomon replied, at which point Rothschild declared that he had been told that Aileen committed suicide. Solomon said that Aileen had absolutely nothing to do with Philby’s activities for the Soviets, and remained in ignorance of them.

And here is where the chronology starts to crumble. Solomon claimed that Kim and Aileen had met at her house before the war, since Kim ‘had been interested in Jewish democrats and was always around’. But she interrupted her own story to ask Rothschild if he remembered Aileen: he did so vaguely, having encountered her at Bentinck Street, and added the provocative comment that Aileen had been ‘in love with’ Mrs. Solomon, something that Flora did not deny. They next return to the love affair between Aileen and Kim, and Solomon said that it had all happened in 1940. She regretted not warning Kim about Aileen’s neurotic temperament (she had an addiction to self-harm), and Rothschild suggested that he had married her to gain a front of some respectability as cover for his subversion.

The discussion shifts to Burgess’s disappearance. Solomon said that Neil Furse (Aileen’s cousin) had suspected that Philby was involved. Astonishingly, Rothschild (without being prompted) responds that Furse had been to the War Office to make that claim, something Solomon could not remember, although she stated that she had denied to Furse that a Philby connection existed. Yet she affirms that she had known that Philby was not just a Communist, but a Soviet agent, ‘from the beginning’. She again says that she did not believe that Aileen knew anything about Kim’s activities. Rothschild then declares that he ‘thought he remembered that Mrs. S. had told him that Aileen had been to some psychologist’ (a strange way of describing what must have been a recent declaration), but her response was inaudible.

Flora does not challenge Rothschild’s claim that Aileen had committed suicide, merely saying that Aileen was ‘mad’. It appears here that Aileen’s ‘psychologist’ (i.e. Eric Strauss) had kept Solomon informed, and had recommended that Aileen stay in her flat. Rothschild then brings up the name of Tommy Harris, and Solomon indicates that he and Philby were very close. Unfortunately, the next part of the conversation was largely inaudible, but they probably discussed Anthony Blunt: Solomon was prepared to incriminate only Philby and Harris. Enigmatically, Solomon admits that she as told by an unidentified man that Harris was guilty, and Rothschild appears to understand about whom she is talking. Matters petered out after this, the exchange concluding with Solomon’s desire to have the serious interrogation with Rothschild’s man, so that she could get everything out of her system.

This was a strange interview, with many leads not followed up, and Rothschild making many interjections, some irrelevant, some inappropriate, some revealing. A few disclosures are important: both Solomon and Rothschild accept the fact that Aileen committed suicide; Rothschild volunteers information about Neil Furse’s approach to the War Office; Rothschild pretends he did not know about the Burgess-Philby friendship; Rothschild is familiar with the role of Eric Strauss; Rothschild cannot contradict Solomon’s assertion about Aileen’s ignorance of her husband’s guilt because it would reveal the illegal exploitation of Strauss; Solomon struggles to tell a consistent story. Yet, if the interview had the objective of making Flora Solomon feel comfortable about a more serious examination, it was successful.

At Lord Rothschild’s (2)

The second interview took place on August 1, conducted by Arthur Martin, with Rothschild present for most of the time. It lasted for over four hours, and the transcript runs to seventy-six typed pages (available at KV 2/4634). As I have noted before, Martin was not a skilled interrogator – poorly prepared, impatient and prone to interrupt, and easily distracted. Here I try to assemble some raw conclusions, focusing on inconsistencies with other accounts, and items that I believe may have been overlooked.

The major impression I had is how vague and incoherent Solomon was, in contrast to the crisp way that she recalled dates twenty years later in her memoir. She claims that the years 1937 until 1939, when war broke out, were ‘muddled’: “So here it is, I met Kim Philby, I couldn’t tell you when, but I mean in the course of those years.” She then localized the encounter to 1936 or 1937, thus contradicting what she would later write in her memoir. She then refers to Kim’s marriage to Litzy as his second marriage, to be corrected by Martin. And when she realizes that she is contradicting herself, while describing her introduction to Litzi, she has to emend her statement to state that she must have met Kim before 1936, as her assessment of the couple took place before the Spanish Civil War. She claimed that Kim disappeared from the scene when the Civil War started, and she was shocked to learn that he was attached to the Nationalist side. She then relates the story of the son of a nephew of a friend of hers who was captured by Franco, and that Philby helped secure his release, which made her conclude that he wasn’t really a Franco supporter. Thus, when Philby returned to London in 1937, she gained an impression of where his true loyalties lay.

At a later stage (when the Civil War was over), Solomon claimed that Philby became very attached to her, but that they never had an affair. (I point out that Philby did not return from Spain until July 1939, and by early October he had left with the British Expeditionary Force to France.) He invited her out to dinner, saying he was in a terrible state, and then confided to her:

            Don’t you see that I am 100% on the Soviet side, and that I am helping them, that I am carrying a terrifically important and difficult assignment, and I am in danger, and I am terrifically tense?

Martin has the sense to probe on the chronology, asking if Philby went back to Spain after the confession (which would place it in a period of a few weeks in May 1937). Solomon is confused: all she can add is that ‘it was well before the war’, contradicting her earlier statement. She then suggests that it was ‘in the Munich year’ (which she and Martin work out was 1938), and that Kim had made his statement to her after Munich. It was then that he tried to enlist her help (at the restaurant), whereupon she declined, while expressing admiration for what Philby was doing. (This again contradicts what she later wrote in her memoir.) Shortly after that she received a strange telegrammed request from Paris which she attributed to Philby’s devices. He confirmed that the telegram was connected with their conversation over lunch [n.b. not ‘dinner’!]. Martin at least has the inspiration to ask how long after the dinner the telegram event occurred, but he does not pursue Solomon’s evasive reply.

(Incidentally, Peter Wright, who set up the miking of the interview, makes a hash of the event in Spycatcher. He has Solomon becoming agitated at the prospect of giving public evidence, expostulating over what happened to Tomás Harris since she spoke to Rothschild. Wright notes that Harris ‘had recently died in a mysterious car accident in Spain’. But Harris did not have his fatal accident until 1964.)

Alexander Kerensky

Quite a lengthy discussion of her lover, Kerensky, follows, something not really germane to the inquiry, except for the fact that Philby and Kerensky, not surprisingly, disliked each other. She does disclose that she disagreed with Kerensky, who, from London and Paris, was still hopeful of installing a liberal regime in Russia – and that may have been the cause of the reference to the ‘White Russian community in the U.K.’, which Rothschild noted. But that topic never comes up in the transcript. (As an aside, in a recent book review in the Spectator, Nigel Jones wrote that Kerensky ‘was a well-meaning drama queen who made the double mistake of continuing a hopeless war with a mutinous army and not shooting Lenin when the Bolshevik leader returned with the seductive slogan: “Peace, Land and Bread”’.)

Flora then returned to Philby’s ‘danger’, which she could not explain, adding that, at that point, she realized that the relationship between him and Litzi was a ‘completely business relationship’. Suddenly, she shifts to 1939, and asks Martin for confirmation that Philby went to France. She then says: “And the next I remember, Kim being one of the first people who came back after Dunkirk. And he came and stayed at my house, that I remember.” Only then does she describe the fall-out that occurred because of the Nazi-Soviet pact, when Kim ‘began to see me not as a friend any more’. Nevertheless, she places her introduction of Kim to Aileen in this period (summer 1940), stating that Neil Furse had convinced her to hire Aileen ‘at the time of the phoney war’ (i.e. after September 1939). Kim and Aileen fell in love: Flora warned Kim about Aileen’s neuroticism; she also told him that he had to get a divorce from Litzi, at which Kim said he couldn’t divorce Litzi because of her refugee status.

What is absurd about this farrago is the total amnesia over the events of September 3, 1939, when Aileen met Kim at a lunch arranged by Flora, attended by not only Eric Strauss, but also Frank Birch, after which Birch interviewed Philby for a job at GCHQ.

Flora, undaunted, then switches the subject to Litzi, indicating that she was on much closer terms with her than intimated elsewhere: “Well, Litzi knew that I knew the history, but it was never discussed between us, everything was assumed  . . .” When Martin presses her, she admits that Litzi knew that Kim had confided in her, and Litzi spoke to her as if she were in the picture completely. Furthermore, Litzi and Kim were totally committed professionally (not that that should have come as a surprise to Martin and Rothschild). Flora then trips up when returning to the cohabitation of Kim and Aileen: ‘they met in ’39, no when was Dunkirk ’40, ’40 and they lived together, and they had a home’. Only now does she introduce Frank Birch, and her claim that ‘it was through Frank Birch that Kim came into your work’, and blusters about her failure to inform Birch of Philby’s politics. Yet the moment passes without inquisition: Martin asks no questions about the timing, or to what position Birch facilitated Philby’s recruitment, merely observing that he thought it was Burgess who brought Kim in, without indicating whether it was the SOE or the MI6 appointment.

Thereafter Solomon rambles somewhat, hinting at her involvement with some SOE work at Baker Street. She then describes the time that Philby and Burgess shared her flat , thus indicating a more intimate friendship than had presumably been understood by her interrogator, that she assumed that they were working together, and how she threw Burgess out because of his drunkenness and his remarks about Jews. She then spends a lot of time talking about Aileen’s self-destructive disease and declares that ‘she eventually committed suicide’ (something she learned from Neil Furse, she later explained). She saw a lot of Philby during the war, but thought he did not trust her any more. At one stage, Flora asked him whether Aileen knew everything about him, and Philby replied, resentful that she had asked the question, that Aileen knew nothing.

When the Burgess/Maclean story broke, she saw Philby once, and he just looked at Flora ‘pathetically’. It was at this point that Neil Furse told her that he was going to inform somebody of the close relationship between Philby and Burgess, and asked Flora whether she would do the same. She declined, but believed that Neil went ahead. She next spends a lot of time justifying her silence and describing how the intervening eleven years have changed her perspective, and why Kim’s anti-Zionist articles provoked her so much. If she had been approached in 1951, she claimed, she would have spoken up – but not off her own bat.

Next she turns to Philby’s friends. She thought that Guy Burgess knew that Kim had confided in her. Martin then asked for more specifics on how Philby had invited her to join the cause: she replied that she had cut him off before he could even explain what activities she might have assisted with. She believed he was still committed to working for the Soviets, since, if he had changed his views, she thought he would have told her. So, when she asked him again: ‘Does Aileen know?’, instead of replying ‘there’s nothing to know’, he merely repeated his denial.

Tomas Harris

Lastly, she incriminates Tomás Harris, whom she instinctively thought was tied up in Philby’s work, because of their intimacy. Flora could not identify anyone higher up with whom Philby could have communicated, but believed that Harris was some kind of intermediary. She would not mention any names beyond Burgess and Harris: Martin brings up the name of Michael Stewart, and she murmurs recognition. He introduces Anthony Blunt, and she immediately confesses that she knew him very well, while denying that he could have been involved. Martin sensibly asks why not, since the friendship between Blunt and Philby was similar to that of Harris and Philby. She waffles. They return to Litzi, and Flora has a hard time explaining why she saw so much of her when she was so unsympathetic to her character and role. Towards the end of the war, Litzi apparently came to Flora to ask whether she could help in some way.

Martin picks up her confusion, observing:

            Please, if you’re right in saying that they were partners, they were professional partners, then it seems to me more likely that Litzi could be the means of contact with the Russian Intelligence Service rather than Kim, I means she had her communist doctrine, she was an open Communist, there was never any doubt about that, and of course she was going backwards and forwards to Paris.

Flora has to acknowledge the possibility, but the conversation meekly drifts to Kim’s feeble reasoning for not divorcing Litzi. Flora thought it ‘absurd’. Martin asks her about Edith Suschitzky: she says the name rings a bell, but she doesn’t know her. The conversation meanders again, retreading the ground about the telegram from Paris. Because of Kerensky’s futile hopes, she never believed that the Soviets would be seriously interested in her as an informant. She returns to Philby’s role in Spain, and her belated recognition that operating under cover was one of the pre-requisites of being an effective spy. Martin expresses total confusion about Philby’s joining the Anglo-German Friendship, stating that it happened in 1937-1938, ‘when he came back from Spain’. (Philby joined in January 1936.)

The quality of the exchange further deteriorates. They discuss Goronwy Rees, whom Flora knew vaguely. Martin points out that they have never discussed Donald Maclean: Flora says she never met him, and then turns the tables by interrogating Martin about the relationship between Burgess and Maclean. They wind up by observing how splendidly Philby had recovered from all the accusations about him. And then Martin asks a provocative question about Turkey, and whether Flora had heard anything in connection with Istanbul. Flora assumes that Martin is asking about Philby’s posting to Turkey, while Martin is presumably fishing about the Volkov incident. They come to a conclusion with a rather bizarre offer by Flora to determine what happened to Litzi, and a commitment by Martin to discover what it was that Neil Furse reported.

Arthur Martin’s Report

Martin’s report is dated August 8. It comes across as a competent executive summary, pressing all the right buttons, except for the fact that it glosses over all the inconsistencies and anomalies in Flora Solomon’s testimony. Any serious intelligence officer who had done his or her homework thoroughly, and studied the transcript in detail, would have raised a number of red flags. Martin introduces his subject by writing, rather equivocally:

            Mrs. SOLOMON is an intelligent, flamboyant woman, quite capable I would judge of lying convincingly. Although I believe that she may have withheld some information from me, I do not think she lied.

Why Martin believed himself to be an exception to the deceptions that Flora was perceived to be capable of was not explained.

The compilation is lazy. Martin writes that Flora first met Philby as an adult when he returned from Vienna with Lizy [sic] – her on-the-fly correction. He describes Kim’s intervention in the release of an International Brigadier from Franco’s prison, Philby already in Spain accredited to Franco’s side: there is no comment on the claim made by Stevenson that Solomon had arranged Philby’s mission to Spain [“According to Aileen, before the war Flora sent Kim on a mission to Spain to contact a communist who was in trouble with the Falangists.”- above]. Philby’s return from Spain, where he had the fateful meal with Flora, is given as ‘probably 1938’. The Kerensky business is covered reliably, and Martin describes Solomon’s disillusionment on the announcement of the Nazi/Soviet Pact, at which point their sympathies diverged.

This is followed by the appalling laxity in not checking the timing of the first Aileen-Kim meeting: “In 1940 Kim met Aileen FURSE at her house.” Solomon warned Kim about Aileen’s neuroticism: Martin then jumps to ‘perhaps 1943’, when Flora asked Kim whether Aileen knew of his activities, and Kim assured her that she did not, Flora concluding from this statement that Kim was still heavily committed to working for the Russians. The reason that I judge these observations with such disdain is the evidence provided by the important memorandum that I cited in an earlier post ( ), where the September 3, 1939 lunch attended by Philby, Strauss, Solomon, Birch and Aileen is described – see Figure below.

Extract from Solomon File (KV 2/4634: Serial 91B)

It is clear that this Note has been copied from the Philby file to the Solomon file on March 27, 1963, i.e. after Elliott has visited Philby in Beirut, and Philby has debunked to Moscow. Yet the memorandum must have been created much earlier. Since it describes activities of Aileen (‘she was introduced’, ‘she was with’), it must have been created in response to evidence provided by Aileen herself – or possibly by her psychiatrist, Eric Strauss, although it is unlikely that she would have confided such facts from several years ago to Strauss. But Aileen died in 1957, followed by Strauss in 1961. The incontrovertible conclusion is that Aileen was feeding MI5 information in the years between 1951 and 1957, and that this intelligence was stored in the shared ‘PHILBY’ file. (Note that the serial number of the entry in the PHILBY file, PF 604,584, is the very high number of 767a, indicating the bulkiness of the file.) Surely Martin must have had access to this file, and what he discovered would have immediately indicated that Flora’s evidence was a pack of lies: why did he not exploit it? Is it conceivable that its existence was concealed from Martin by his superior officers? (The paragraph I cite below concerning Aileen suggests that Martin knew more than he indicated, but that she was instructed to conceal the information.)

We have other indications that Aileen was passing on her suspicions about her husband to the authorities. I had earlier indicated how Aileen was unwittingly channeling her concerns and problems through her psychiatrist to the Security Service, but this excerpt represents stronger evidence that she was speaking to MI5 directly. The inscrutable and irresponsible Christopher Andrew, again relying on identified Security Service files, wrote:

            There is other evidence [what?] that Aileen had finally realized her husband’s treachery and this had become a potential threat to him. One of her friends [who?] later claimed that she heard her blurt out one evening to Kim, ‘I know you’re the Third Man!’ That realization, combined with Kim’s mental cruelty, accelerated her decline into alcoholism and despair.

We know, from Rothschild’s testimony, that Aileen’s cousin Neil had contacted the War Office. It would not be surprising if Neil advised Aileen to make a similar direct approach to MI5. The very brief paragraph in Martin’s report includes the following provocative sentence: “Although I probed, she made no reference to statements about Kim which Aileen is known to have made xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx [redacted].”

Andrew also commented on Aileen’s death:

            After her death, her psychiatrist said ‘that he had suspected that Aileen might have been murdered’ by Philby. That is highly unlikely – not least because by then Philby had moved to Beirut to work as a journalist.

Of course, Philby was not considered as the agent of death himself, but he might have requested the services of the KGB to perform the dirty work for him.

After confronting the stupidity or disingenuousness of MI5 over the Martin report, I found it hard to take seriously the remainder of what the hapless officer wrote. He skims over Litzi and Aileen, then mentions Burgess and his approach to her to help a colleague get a job with Gestetner. He records her suspicions about Tomás Harris, and her vagueness about when she first met him. He makes a brief reference to Frank Birch, stating that he was Aileen’s lover before Kim appeared, and reproduces without comment or challenge that Birch had been responsible for getting Philby his job in British Intelligence, without identifying the date or the position. He describes how Solomon declined to join Neil Furse in informing the authorities of the close friendship of Burgess and Philby. He closes by echoing the main reason Solomon gave for wanting to unmask Philby  – his role as a Soviet propagandist against Israel.

It is difficult to see the point of this mess. As a deposition to intensify the fact of Philby’s guilt it is so unworldly and full of holes that a coach-and-horses could have been drawn through it. If MI5 (and MI6) intended to use its findings as a way of convincing Philby that they had proof of his espionage, he would have laughed in their faces. When he was under attack in November 1955 as being he ‘Third Man’, Philby rejected the accusation by declaring that the idea of a ‘Third Man’ was completely hypothetical. He could then have pointed out that, since he was in Washington at the time, it would have been impossible for him to engineer the escape. Similarly, if confronted with the ‘fact’ that he had tried to recruit Solomon at an unknown date in 1938, he could have pointed out that he was in Spain at the time, identified the other untruths in her story, and dismissed the allegations as the ravings of a deranged woman.

The Aftermath

What happened thereafter is all very tame. The telephone and mail checks were quickly cancelled, as they revealed nothing – as had the checks imposed on her back in 1953, when Stevenson made his verbal assault on her. On October 17, 1962, Martin wrote a summary of the Flora Solomon case for his boss, noting that ‘We are busy preparing a re-assessment of the PEACH case which I will let you have as soon as it is ready.’ This summary is bland in the extreme, reproducing Stevenson’s accusations as the main plank in the argument, while also listing what Flora told Lord Rothschild. How this paper could have contributed to a ‘re-assessment of PEACH’, given what information MI5 already held on Philby, is hard to imagine. Peter Wright wrote that ‘McBarnet drew up a voluminous brief in preparation for the confrontation’: it is not clear whether Elliott was given this to read before he set out, at short notice, in Martin’s stead, to challenge Philby. A copy of the brief presumably lies in the Philby file.

The archive is silent for a few months, until an awkward memorandum appears, dated February 26, 1963, written by Evelyn McBarnet. She is asking for the telephone check on Flora to be renewed, since ‘Mrs. SOLOMON is known to have been a contact of H.A.R. PHILBY, and we are anxious to know her reactions to the news of his disappearance.’ Elliott had arrived in Beirut on January 10, 1963, and had met Philby two days later. Philby had temporized and given a partial confession. On January 23 he absconded.

The unmasking of Philby was probably enabled primarily by the defection of Anatoli Golitysn in December 1961. (In Agent Sniper, Tim Tate writes, using CIA archives, about defector Michał Goleniewski’s claims concerning Philby. After Philby’s escape Goleniewski wrote that he had, over a period of two years, provided hints to MI6 about him, but had been rebuffed because of supposed flaws in his intelligence.) In the spring of 1962, Golitsyn visited London and pointed to the Cambridge ‘Ring of Five’. Christopher Andrew, in an Endnote, remarks:

            Golitsyn did indeed possess intelligence, whose importance he exaggerated, about the Cambridge ‘Ring of Five’; though Philby did not realize it, he did not have information which clearly identified Philby as a member of it.

Yet it would not have taken much imagination on the part of the occasionally sluggish officers in MI5 to conclude, given the dossier they had on Philby, that, if such a pentad existed, Philby was by far the most obvious candidate for one of the remaining three. (Nigel West writes that Philby’s identity as STANLEY in the VENONA transcripts was not discovered until after he had defected.) Suggesting that, on the contrary, MI5 became distracted by alarms from the Soviet defector, Andrew supplies in his text the following insight (again exploiting one of those unidentified Security Service archives):

                        The defection of a KGB major, Anatoli Golitsyn, to the CIA in December 1961, both provided significant new intelligence on the Five and sent the Service investigation as a whole seriously off course [i.e. on mole-hunting within MI5]

Furthermore, he quotes a memorandum sent by Furnival Jones to the Home Secretary in 1966 that expressed concern that the network of five had expanded beyond that number, and thus infiltrated the Service.

Yet Andrew then appears to go off the rails, ascribing the Solomon revelations as the ‘breakthrough’ in the ‘prolonged and generally dispiriting Security Service investigation of the Philby case’. Echoing Solomon’s story that Philby had tried to recruit her before the war, Andrew bizarrely uses as his source Kenneth Rose’s 2003 biography Elusive Rothschild (ignoring, or being ignorant of, Solomon’s 1984 memoir: his Index contains no entry for her) instead of exploiting any part of the Solomon archive. (Perhaps his minders decided that it would be best if such files were concealed from him.) Andrew then offers the dramatic conclusion:

            Armed with Solomon’s information, Philby’s friend and former SIS colleague Nicholas Elliott flew out from London at the beginning of 1963 to confront him in Beirut, where he was working as a journalist.

While grossly exaggerating the quality of the Solomon testimony, Andrew finesses the whole episode where Elliott (who had been Philby’s stoutest defender) was chosen as a late replacement for Martin. The hypothesis that Dick White, now head of MI6, engineered Philby’s escape through the offices of Anthony Blunt is perhaps better left until another day, but it is useful to record here White’s account of the proceedings. White was firmly convinced of Philby’s guilt, and he was persuaded even more so by Golitsyn’s evidence. He appeared not to consider the Solomon revelations as a breakthrough, and instead created an imaginary KGB informant to help convince Nicholas Elliott that Philby had been, and still was, a Soviet agent. White’s agreed strategy with Prime Minster MacMillan was to offer Philby immunity in exchange for a ‘full’ confession, but he surely must have known that that could have been a hollow, one-sided affair, and, after all, what would have happened to Philby after the deal was done?

‘The Pigeon Tunnel’

Elliott’s role in the adventure is uncertain: the reading public relies solely on him for the record of what he and Philby discussed in Beirut, and his claims could be utterly false. In the conclusion presented by le Carré in his version of the Elliott interviews, words that do not appear in Macintyre’s Afterword, appear the following sentences:

            Whether by then he [Elliott] was under orders to give Philby the space to obtain a confession, we’ll probably never know for sure. Whether he was or not, he fooled me, just as he was fooling himself.

The problem is that Elliott never offers a convincing explanation of why he was suddenly convinced of Philby’s guilt, and he is deceptive over the circumstances, and his description is impossibly incongruous. In 1962, he had been head of station in Beirut, and told le Carré that he received a cable from Dick White saying ‘they had the proof’, that White wanted him to go and confront him, and that Elliott then ‘flew to Beirut’, without any questioning of the evidence, or request for a personal briefing for what would have been a very delicate operation. (From where did he fly, might one ask? Yet le Carré did not challenge him). Macintyre then reports that Elliott, having been offered a promotion in October 1962, with responsibility for Africa, had returned to London from Beirut, and was at that stage told the news by White in person – a far likelier scenario.

Lastly, Elliott gives a very idiosyncratic and provocative account of his dealings with Strauss. He told le Carré:

            So I went and saw him and he told me Philby was homosexual. Never mind all his philandering, never mind that Aileen, whom I knew pretty well, said Philby liked his sex and was pretty good at it. He was homosexual, all part of a syndrome, and the psychiatrist, on no evidence he knew of, was also convinced he was bad. Working for the Russians. Or something. He couldn’t be precise but he was sure of it. He advised me to look for a mother figure. Somewhere there’ll be a mother figure, he said. It was this woman Solomon. [Flora Solomon who introduced Philby to Aileen in 1939.] Jewish woman. She was working in Marks and Spencer’s, a buyer or something. She was angry with Philby over the Jewish thing. Philby had been working for Colonel Teague, who was Head of Station in Jerusalem, and Teague was anti-Jewish, and she was angry. So she told us some things about him. Five (MI5) were in charge by then, and I passed it all on to Five – get the mother figure, Solomon. Wouldn’t listen of course, they’re too bureaucratic.’

I find most of this preposterous. One would expect a sexologist (and a homosexual at that) to know the difference between a homosexual and a bisexual – if, indeed, Philby could be placed in that latter category. (The evidence is flimsy, and Philby was a dedicated chaser of women.) Kim already had a quite capable and loved ‘mother figure’ – his own mother. Why Strauss would assert to him that Philby was ‘working for the Russians’, on no evidence, yet be sure of the fact, is inexplicable unless Aileen had discovered the truth, yet Elliott does not explicitly attribute that insight to Aileen. There is no evidence that Solomon went to MI6 (Rothschild was an ex-MI5 man, of course), and the notion that MI5 ignored Elliott’s hints is belied by what can be viewed in Solomon’s file. Moreover, Elliott never mentions the Arthur Martin business. Another unaccomplished dissembler, whose evidence should never be trusted.

To complete the coverage, I record that some further fascinating items from the 1960s can be seen in the Solomon archive – including the transcription of interviews between Martin, Peter Wright and Anthony Blunt dated February 5 and February 19, 1965. A long note from Wright, dated December 5, 1966, records another attempt to interview Solomon, who declared that she ‘did not like Arthur Martin and was fed up with Victor Rothschild’. She appeared to be concerned about her safety, perturbed about the incompletely explained death of Tomás Harris. She complained about Moura Budberg, who had in her cups one evening confessed that she had worked both for the Foreign Office and the Russians. Peter Wright’s account of these episodes runs as follows:

            The most important help Victor gave me was persuading Flora Solomon to meet MI5 again. I knew from her session with Arthur that she knew far more than she was saying. She had obviously been in the thick of things in the mid-1930s, part inspiration, part fellow accomplice, and part courier for the fledgling Ring of Five along with her friends Litzi Philby and Edith Tudor Hart. After her meeting with Arthur she refused to meet MI5 again. She had a typically Russian paranoia about conspiracy and treachery. She was convinced we would double-cross her, and put her in prison. Or that she would be assassinated by the Russians, as she believed had happened to Tomas Harris.

When he did, despite her protestations, gain his interview, Wright’s introduction of new names to her (Dennis Proctor and Alister Watson) shed some further revelations, but this topic should likewise be left for another day. Instead, I move on to the third of the physical files, concerning Peter Wright and Golitsyn, and the investigation by Stella Rimington.

Anatoly Golitsyn

Anatoli Golitsyn

In November 1969 Peter Wright had a further interview with Anatoly Golitsyn, codenamed KAGO. By this time, Golitsyn’s reputation had been tarnished: his initial claims about penetration agents had been correct, but vague, and he was by now promoting conspiracy theories about deeper infiltration of Britain’s intelligence services. Arthur Martin was one who had become enthused about what Golitsyn said. In Defend the Realm, Christopher Andrew offered an equivocal summarization of Martin:

            Martin was a skilful and persistent counter-espionage investigator [shome mishtake, shurely?] who was awarded the CBE in 1963, but he lacked the capacity for balanced judgment and a grasp of the broader context. Director B, John Marriott, had written of him in 1955: ‘In spite of his undeniable critical and analytical gifts and powers of lucid expression on paper, I must confess that I am not convinced that he is not a rather small minded man, and I doubt he will much increase in stature as he grows older.

(Just the man for a gong, obviously.) Golitsyn’s knowledge ranged over a wide field, but lacked depth, according to Andrew, and, like most defectors, he was trying to justify his dinner-plate by keeping the pot boiling.

What Golitsyn wanted to know (wrote Wright) was how Philby had been tipped off in 1962, and Wright told him that MI5 and MI6 between them had noticed that Yuri Modin, Philby’s controller, had visited the Middle East in September 1962. Wright added that ‘we know from Mrs. Philby [i.e. the former Eleanor Brewer] that some time shortly after this PHILBY became very upset and began drinking heavily’. It was only at this stage that Golitsyn was told about the Flora Solomon episodes. Wright told Golitsyn that ‘it was her evidence together with KAGO’s that had clinched the case.’

Golitsyn then asked whether MI5 was sure that Flora was not under Russian control, casting doubt on her assertion that she had not agreed to work for Philby. At this juncture, matters became even murkier, since Wright, in an aside comment, wrote:

            I did not tell KAGO, but one has to take into account the letter that BLUNT told us about which was amongst BURGESS’ books after Burgess went, which was a letter from PHILBY to BURGESS telling him that if ever he was in dire trouble he could take this letter to Flora SOLOMON who would help him. BLUNT claimed he destroyed this letter.

Wight appeared to accept this story, but it smells very phoney. Burgess and Solomon knew each other well. Why would he need a letter from Philby? Why would Burgess have to go to Solomon if he were in dire straits, and how would she help him in ways that his regular contact could not? Why would Philby entrust such a sensitive message to paper rather than simply telling Burgess? What other information did the letter contain? It sounds to me as if Blunt were trying to shift some blame somehow, or maybe appear to be fulfilling part of his agreement to give a full description of the extended Ring.

Wright questioned Golitsyn: why would the Russians want to shop Philby – that is, presumably, by using Solomon to betray him at this stage? Golitsyn’s subsequent logic is tortuous.

            KAGO said that in his view the K.G.B. would have assessed that he [Golitsyn] had sufficient information to give us to enable us to prove the PHILBY case. If PHILBY knew, as undoubtedly he did, other important agents in the United Kingdom the K.G.B. would be anxious to withdraw PHILBY as soon as possible. KAGO asked was it possible that the K.G.B. had tried to persuade PHILBY to go to Russia and PHILBY had refused to go. PHILBY might well have argued with the K.G.B. that the evidence that KAGO had was not strong enough to be a real danger to him. The K.G.B. would not have believed this but would have been unable to have made PHILBY defect without further pressure. KAGO said was it possible that Flora SOLOMON had been briefed to pass on the story she did in order to ensure that we had the evidence to prove the PHILBY case.

For someone who apparently did not know of Flora Solomon’s existence until a few minutes beforehand, this could be viewed as a bold leap in the dark by Golitsyn. And the assessment seems to reflect an ignorance about how both MI5 and the KGB worked. The KGB was apparently under the impression that Philby would name names under torture – the method they would use. Yet Philby had survived severe interrogation already simply by denying everything. And the KGB did not rely on patient argument to achieve their results. If they considered Philby’s continued presence a real danger, they would either have ordered him to abscond, or simply disposed of him, just like Tomás Harris or any of the other victims they selected. And why would the KGB trust Solomon to tell the right story? She might herself give away far more than they planned, or, if MI5 were shrewd, the Security Service would pick up incongruities in her story. The idea that the confused and unreliable testimony of Solomon would somehow seal the deal strikes me as ludicrous.

All this heady theorizing was too much for Wright to process, and he let Golitsyn’s words pass without comment. Golitsyn had the last word in the memorandum:

            KAGO went on to say that the implication of this theory was that the K.G.B. had sufficient penetration that they could control our action over PHILBY so that we would not recall him and arrest him but probably do what we in fact did do.

And what was it that they did? And did Golitsyn know what that was? The implication by Wright is that MI5/MI6 never had the objective of bringing Philby back to the UK, but perhaps planned instead to warn him and let him escape. Golitsyn implied that this strategy was masterminded by the Kremlin, as opposed to what Wright insinuates, that it was one devised by White, constituting the most advantageous escape-route, politically, for the intelligence services. Vairy interesting!

At this point, I venture to quote what Stella Rimington wrote about counter-espionage work, and Peter Wright’s suitability for the task (p 117 of Open Secret):

            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.

The Rimington Investigation

‘Open Secret’

Stella Rimington (who was Director-General of MI5 between 1992 and 1996) never actually mentions Solomon’s name in her autobiography, Open Secret. That reticence appears unnecessarily coy, given the frankness with which she describes several of her exploits with the Security Service. She joined in 1969, and in 1973 was promoted to an officer, which meant that she ‘was allowed out to do interviews on my own’. She added:

             . . . one of those interviewed at that period was a rather grand old lady, who had been the Head of Personnel in a large company, but was then retired. She had been a friend of the Philby family and had known since the beginning the important fact, which Philby had successfully disguised, that he had been a communist since the early 1930s.

Rimington goes on to explain that her superior officers believed that Solomon knew a lot more than she had admitted to Peter Wright, and Rimington was deputed to visit Solomon to try to determine whether she could reveal to them how Philby had been recruited. But Solomon was unresponsive, and ‘had Rimington on toast’, since the MI5 officer could offer no inducement to make her talk.

This anecdote shows that even the most outspoken of MI5 officers is prey to deception or distorted (or selective) memory. It was of course Arthur Martin not Peter Wright who carried out the interrogation. Moreover, Rimington, as a trainee, had been deputed in 1971 to write up a full analysis of the Solomon case. Her report, dated November 4, covers twenty-one pages. Why Rimington did not use any of the evidence she gathered in this exercise to challenge Solomon in 1974 is not clear.

The report contains much re-hashed material, as well as some useful new insights – and several redacted passages. Capturing the highlights does not lend itself to the creation of a fluent narrative, so I shall instead bulletinize the most illuminating observations:

  1. Her citing of the 1953 evidence (the ‘Stevenson’ material) is redacted to conceal the source.
  2. She explains that Solomon, when she approached Rothschild in July 1962, volunteered the information that she had known at the time of the Spanish Civil War that Philby was working for the Russians and had tried to recruit her – i.e. not the bland claim that Philby was simply a Communist.
  3. She claims that Solomon, in August 1962, when denying that she had ever been involved in espionage, refused to answer questions about anyone other than Philby. That was not true (e.g. Harris, Burgess).
  4. She notes that MI5’s file on Kerensky for 1933-1940 was destroyed.
  5. She echoes Solomon’s claim that she first met the adult Philby in either 1935 or 1936 without referring to the conflicting accounts that Solomon gave.
  6. She adds the intelligence gained from Solomon’s sister, Marie [Manya] Harari, that Philby swept Solomon off her feet after 1934, when her affair with Kerensky was fading. She writes: “According to Mrs. HARARI, Flora SOLOMON has an area of her mind of a vast and limitless stupidity which makes her liable to be used by dangerous people.”
  7. It appears that the Stevenson source had been reacted in the files, even for Rimington, since she expresses ignorance of the 1953 source who claimed that Solomon had become Philby’s mistress, and that ‘Aileen PHILBY had told his wife long ago that Flora SOLOMON was a Communist’. [This latter clause – appearing to introduce gratuitously the wife of ‘Stevenson’ – does not appear in the Solomon files.]
  8. She echoes the claim that Philby ‘as a journalist went backwards and forwards between Spain and England’. [I still await verification of such movements.] She repeats what Solomon said: that on one of these return visits, she asked Philby to intervene in the case of a relation of a friend of hers who had been imprisoned by Franco.
  9. In commenting on the period when Philby began to see a lot more of Solomon, she makes the illogical and incorrect statement that ‘She dates this as 1937 but it is more likely to have been 1938 as PHILBY was in England only between April and May 1937’. Philby was in Spain throughout 1938.
  10. She echoes Solomon’s claim that ‘after his assignment to Spain was over (she thought this was in 1938, after Munich) he rang her up in a state of great agitation’. [This was the assignation when Philby spoke of the danger he was in and tried to invoke Solomon’s support.] Philby did not return from Spain until July 1939.
  11. She relates the account that, in a conversation with her sister in 1966, Solomon said that she first suspected Philby when he received a medal from Franco. Rimington dates that event as happening in 1940: a hand-written correction indicates it was probably 1938.
  12. She notes that MI5 held no contemporary information on Solomon between 1937 and 1939, nor any comments from third parties that were relevant to that period.
  13. She confirms Solomon’s work with SOE during the war.
  14. She echoes Solomon’s claim that Philby visited her in her flat when he returned after Dunkirk. He brought friends to her flat, and Solomon described them as ‘vetting’ opportunities, designed to test their suitability for recruitment for intelligence purposes’. Rimington does not comment on the startling idea that Solomon was senior and experienced enough to execute such a role, especially if such candidates were being considered for British intelligence.
  15. She relates the appearance of Tomás Harris, whom Solomon believed was involved with Philby’s work for the Russians. She records that, in an interview in 1966, Solomon learned that Harris had been a courier and contact man for Philby in Spain. Anthony Blunt was a ‘great friend’.
  16. She is confused about the first meeting between Aileen and Kim. She records how Solomon had been responsible for introducing them, but does not date it, finessing the issue by hinting that they met only after Dunkirk, and soon started living together.
  17. She introduces the fact that Aileen had been living with Frank Birch before she met Kim, and that Philby went into intelligence work because of Birch’s assistance. Rimington appears to have ignored the documentation of the September 3 luncheon.
  18. She notes that, whereas Solomon claimed that she did not know Edith Tudor-Hart, in February 1971 Edith was able to identify a photograph of her. [Incidentally, Arthur Martin introduced her as ‘Edith Suschitzky’ in his first questioning of Solomon.]
  19. Only now does Rimington recognize the September 3, 1939 lunch, listing the attendees. She fails to address the conflicts. In a redacted comment on Eric Strauss, she notes that there was a report that he might have been a Communist as an undergraduate at Oxford. His sister was an open member of the CPGB.
  20. She records the episode of the letter that Blunt found in Burgess’s papers, where Blunt professed not to be able to remember the woman’s name. When prompted, Blunt claimed that he did not know Solomon well. Rimington fails to point out that that assertion contradicted how Solomon had described her relationship with Blunt.
  21. She describes Dudley Danby (private secretary to Lord Lloyd), who was surprised to see Philby at a Solomon party attended almost exclusively by Zionists.
  22. Item 29 is redacted completely, as are Items 31 and 32.
  23. Rimington volunteers the information that, in 1953, Aileen had been promised that Kim would be offered a job at Marks and Spencer, but after Flora Solomon was consulted, the offer was withdrawn.
  24. She echoes the Stevenson report claiming that Solomon was the mistress of Strauss: Stevenson’s identity is redacted.
  25. She provides the information that Yuri Modin travelled from USSR to Iraq in June 1962 and departed from Beirut to Vienna in August 1962. Rimington makes the rather lazy comment that ‘this visit of Modin’s to the Middle East was made at about the time when Flora Solomon first told her story to Lord Rothschild’, but it is clear that Modin’s tour could not have been prompted by the Solomon approach in Israel.
  26. Items 43 through 46 are redacted.
  27.  Rimington introduces Phoebe Pool to the equation. Blunt reported in 1968 that Pool had told Willie Townsend not to go to Flora’s flat. (Pool, an acolyte of Blunt’s, would later commit suicide.)
  28. Rimington says that Solomon volunteered in 1967 that she thought that Danby had been a close friend of Philby’s in Beirut in 1962, and in 1969 she told Rothschild that she thought Danby was spying on behalf of Russia.
  29. She reproduces the discussion between Wright and Golitsyn without comment.
  30. She summarizes what is known about Solomon’s character (which is not flattering), but interprets it to suggest that her story is essentially true. She accepts Solomon’s story of helping Philby even though Flora had become disillusioned with the Soviet Union after 1939.
  31. She accepts the story that Golitsyn was the prime source of intelligence on Philby’s espionage, and that Philby was unwilling to leave when the Russians pressured him to do so. She swallows Golitsyn’s argument that Solomon’s evidence clinched the case against Philby. Yet she wonders why Solomon waited so long to denounce Philby.
  32. She accepts that the anti-Zionist reports submitted by Philby may have prompted her action, but does not consider why she did not approach the authorities in London, instead of waiting to go to Israel.
  33. She considers it very plausible that the Soviets would have chosen her as an agent for their purposes, but clumsily adds ‘it is not necessary to suppose that if what she did was convenient to the Russians she knew about it’. It is difficult to work out what Rimington means by this.
  34. She does at last draw out the conflict in Solomon’s and Blunt’s conflicting views of their friendship, and rightly questions the likelihood of Philby’s leaving such an incriminating message with Blunt. Her assessment here of Blunt’s possible motives is shrewd, but she does not regard the episode as sufficient reason to doubt Solomon’s story.
  35. She sums up by stating that Solomon’s story is ‘just about satisfactory, as ‘there is not a shred of evidence to disprove it’, a rather ingenuous conclusion.
  36. On the other hand, she points to all the ‘fishy’ aspects of her story that could point to illegal activities. On that basis, however, she sensibly opines that the Russians would have brought her to MI5’s attention in 1962.
  37. She believes that Solomon knows far more than she has told MI5 so far, but believes it will be difficult to extract anything else from her now.

Stella Rimington was identified as K3/8. As an addendum, it is worth recording that another trainee (presumably), B. Palliser, was designated K3/6, and in July 1971 undertook a detailed inspection of Philby’s articles in the Observer. He established that Philby’s name was appended to only four articles on the Middle East between October 1, 1961, and July 8, 1962, and they could hardly have been construed as being anti-Zionist. He adds a perceptive comment:

            The statement of Flora SOLOMON which I quoted at 134a, that she said that PHILBY was ‘now writing violently anti-Israel articles and she believed that he was doing this on Russian instructions’ is taken from57a in Volume 1. 57a is a note by D [Furnival Jones] of 5th July, 1962, recording the handing over to the D.G. [Hollis] by C [White] of a note about a report made to Rothschild by Flora. The quoted statement appears, therefore, to be probably fourth-hand, from Flora to Lord ROTHSCHILD to C to the D.G. to D, and might have become slightly changed in its passage from one to the other.

Analysis of the Rimington Report

Dame Stella Rimington

What was the purpose of Stella Rimington’s project – ‘Summary and Assessment of the Case of Flora Solomon’? Was it merely a training exercise, or did it constitute a serious re-appraisal of the evidence? I believe the former. It does not appear to have been sent to anyone higher than P.F. Stewart (K 3/0), who sends it on, with complimentary words, to someone identified as ‘K/Advisor’. Moreover, a typed comment at the head of the report runs: “This file summary does not necessarily include all significant information and should not be used as a substitute for study of the whole file if a comprehensive picture is required”. This suggests to me that Rimington was not given carte blanche to inspect the relevant records (i.e. surrounding files concerning Philby et al.), and probably was not allowed to inspect even the complete set of Solomon files themselves.

This is in fact evident from her selections and comments, where she shows a mixture of astonishing ignorance (e.g. concerning the inclusion of ‘Stevenson’, or the redacted passage that surely identifies him) to her total lack of appreciation of the role that Eric Strauss played in the affair. As I have shown, Christopher Andrew was shown this absolutely vital evidence, but it no doubt came from the Philby files, where information on Aileen’s and Kim’s activities were stored. On the other hand, Rimington occasionally introduces new material (e.g. the puzzling reference to the unidentified Stevenson’s wife). Since she does not include copies of the material that she had inspected, it is difficult to tell what selection she was guided to, or whether certain information was even redacted so that junior personnel – not to be trusted with such confidential information – were automatically protected from viewing such sensitive material. After all, Rimington was a trainee. If she failed the test, and had to return to the wide world, what might the exposure be?

Thus no one could be expected to offer a serious re-appraisal of the Solomon material without inspecting much more. And the dilettante aspect of the project is reinforced by the very casual way that the anomalies on Solomon’s testimony are treated. Rimington is very indulgent with the woman, as if she guessed that a report with that slant was what was expected of her. Thus she skates over the conflicts over the first meeting of the adult Philby, the dating of Aileen’s and Kim’s first encounter, the precise facts about Kim’s invitation to Flora at the lunch (or dinner), the period when Kim and Flora saw much more of each other, the depth of friendship between Blunt and Solomon, the implications of Birch’s interview, the incongruities of Modin’s and Solomon’s travel in the summer of 1962, the precise reasons why Solomon decided to speak up, etc. etc. She seems far too trusting of the capability of Solomon’s intervention to be the clinching argument in proving Philby’s guilt.

Thus it is difficult to conclude that anybody in MI5 was serious in wanting a proper re-evaluation of the case. For example, a full analysis of the Strauss disclosures would have been an essential component of such a study – but MI5 must have been mortally embarrassed that they had conducted such an exercise. And they failed to follow up in so many areas. Why was Frank Birch not interviewed before he died in 1956? He probably was, as he was investigated as a possible member of the extended Cambridge Group, but no record appears to have survived. In a 1998 essay, Christopher Andrew included him in a list of those who had been falsely accused of being Soviet spies, a rollcall that contained Peierls, Rothschild and Mann, but Andrew did not explain on what grounds he was able to absolve them all so confidently.

Did Birch in fact facilitate the entry of Flora Solomon’s son, Peter Benenson, into Bletchley Park? Why were Philby’s movements between Spain and England during the period 1937-1939 not investigated, to see whether his presence in London tallied with Solomon’s account? Why was ‘Stevenson’ not followed up, to determine what he had learned about Aileen, and how, and to verify the claim he made that Flora had somehow sent Philby on his mission to Spain? Why was Neil Furse’s approach to the War Office (acknowledged by Rothschild) not followed up and examined? Above all, the absence of any analysis of the complex relationships between Aileen, Kim, Strauss, Solomon, ‘Stevenson’ [Greene] and Birch is very telling. It all points to an acceptance that there were too many skeletons in the closet, and that they should not be disturbed.

In summary, the Rimington Report is an historical curiosity, released probably because of its author’s later prominence. While giving an opportunity for Rimington to show her analytical potential, it is an exercise in futility. It sheds no real fresh light on the Solomon case, merely confirming that MI5 wasted an enormous amount of time on counter-espionage charades. (I have searched for an email address for Dame Stella, in the hope of asking her what she recalled about the project, but in vain. Can anyone out there help?)


As with many of these cases, the fog has thickened fast. I offer my interpretation of the events.

  • Solomon was a gossipy, attention-seeking, mendacious busybody. She was probably of no great danger to anyone but was well capable of causing trouble.
  • Solomon was probably regarded by the KGB as an ‘agent of influence’ – someone who could help the Communist cause without being infiltrated into any sensitive position.
  • If Solomon initiated the contact with Rothschild, she must have felt immune herself, and was thus probably not severely guilty.
  • It is very unlikely that the KGB would have invoked Solomon in a project to encourage Philby to escape, for strategic, logistic and chronological reasons. It was out of character, and very risky: they had conventional means of disposing of irritants.
  • Solomon’s approach was tardy and half-hearted, its motivation suspect. She could have acted in London if she had been serious. The approach to Rothschild seems very casual.
  • If MI5 took her testimony seriously, they should have applied far more rigour to their analysis. The fact that they were so indulgent with Solomon’s lies and inconsistencies suggests that they did not regard it as a clincher.
  • MI5 had enough evidence in their Philby dossier to confirm Philby’s guilt without any wild and belated claims from a rather unbalanced woman (as her sister described her).
  • MI5’s intelligence on Philby had been sharpened by the information that Strauss gave them from his client consultations – a highly embarrassing project that MI5 failed to cover up.
  • Golitsyn’s initial claims about the Cambridge Five (before he went off the rails) are far more likely to have been the trigger for confronting Philby.
  • White was even more convinced of Philby’s guilt by Golitsyn’s testimony, but instead of using Solomon’s evidence invented a KGB source to convince Elliott.
  • Nicholas Elliott was a proven liar, and any contributions he made to the story should be severely distrusted.
  • The comments of Wright would tend to reinforce the theory that White viewed Philby’s escape as the least embarrassing endgame.
  • White’s professed strategy was, however, feeble: giving Philby immunity in exchange for a ‘full’ confession. How would they know? (There is an exact analogy with the Blunt case.) What would happen to Philby afterwards?
  • The shocking revelations made by Christopher Andrew about the information unethically passed on to MI5 by its informer, Eric Strauss, constitute a convincing reason why the files had to be so heavily redacted, both internally, and before release to the National Archives.

Lastly, consider the following outline for a screenplay: 

It is 1953. A notable homosexual psychiatrist, who had been a member of the Communist Party at Oxford, has been persuaded by MI5 to divulge confidential information that his clients have told him. One of his private clients is a famous writer who used to work for Kim Philby. Another is Philby’s common-law wife, Aileen Furse, distraught over her husband’s mistreatment of her, and suspecting that he is the infamous ‘Third Man’ who in 1951 alerted Burgess and Maclean about the net closing in. Kim Philby’s closest friend in MI6, Nicholas Elliott later claimed that Strauss, with Aileen’s permission, had at this time revealed her suspicions about Philby to him. An intimate friend of the psychiatrist is a Russian Jew, Flora Solomon, who was a Communist herself, and is suspected by some in MI5 of being a Soviet spy. Philby was at one time emotionally attached to her, but she later claimed that they never had an affair. In turn, Aileen, a psychotic woman given to self-harm, had been infatuated with Ms. Solomon, who gave her a job after Aileen’s cousin, Neil Furse, who worked with Solomon, had recommended her to Flora. In September 1939, Solomon had also been responsible for bringing Philby and Aileen together, prompting Aileen to leave her current lover, Frank Birch, and live with Philby, who was in fact still married to his wife, Litzi, a Soviet agent. That same month, at Solomon’s instigation, Birch, who had taken up an important post at Bletchley Park when war broke out, interviewed Philby for a job in Intelligence, although Solomon never told Birch about Philby’s true allegiances. Solomon may also have used Birch to gain a position at Bletchley Park for her son. Now, in 1953, the famous writer, shocked at the discovery that the psychiatrist knows far more about Philby’s shady activities than he should, approaches MI5 to warn them of the leaks about his treachery. Unaware that Aileen shares his psychiatrist with him, the writer accuses Mrs. Solomon of exerting an evil influence on Philby, leading him astray, and passing on confidential information told her by Aileen. Aileen and her cousin Neil decide to approach the authorities directly about Philby’s close friendship with Guy Burgess, a supposedly vital clue that should help confirm Philby’s guilt.

Such a project would surely have been rejected as too far-fetched, but, if put in the hands of Alan Bennett or Tom Stoppard (or even Charlotte Philby) it would have made A Spy Among Friends look like Noddy Has An Adventure.

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


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

Kim Philby’s German Moonshine

Philby & ‘Spycatcher’

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

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

  • What was Philby up to in Europe in 1945?

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

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




Memoirs and Biographies

A Small Town in Germany



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

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

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

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

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

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

My Silent War (Kim Philby, 1968)

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

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

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

He went on to describe his sorties:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allied Control Commission: Berlin, May 1945

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet West continues the myth. Thus:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Dorril wrote:

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

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

Stephan Bandera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cambridge Comintern (Robert Cecil, 1984)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Philby Files (Genrikh Borovik  – 1994)

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

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

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

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

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

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

Memoirs and Biographies

Seale and McConville, Knightley & Macintyre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Malcolm Muggeridge

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

The Climate of Treason (Andrew Boyle, 1979)

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

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

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

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

            “Why not?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now Cave Brown returns to Muggeridge and Paris.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anthony & Tim Milne

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Strange Intelligence’

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

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

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

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

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

A Small Town in Germany

British Intelligence Stations in North-Rhine Westphalia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

(Recent Commonplace entries are available here.)


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