22 January 2020

Book Review - Operation Fortitude - Joshua Levine (2011)

Cover - Operation Fortitude: the Story of the Spy Operation that Saved D-Day (Joshua Levine)
Cover - Operation Fortitude: the Story
of the Spy Operation that Saved D-Day
(Joshua Levine)
The Book
Operation Fortitude: The Story of the Spy Operation that Saved D-Day. Joshua Levine. Lyons Press. 2011.


In the lead-up to the D-Day landings in Normany, the Allies operated a number of plans designed to mislead the Germans as to the actual landing zone. The overall plan codenamed Operation Bodyguard had several sub-plans, one of which was Operation Fortitude (North and South). This plan was to convince the Germans that the Allies were planning landings in Norway and Pas de Calais. The Allies used a number of ploys, including their network of double agents, to pull the wool over the eyes of the Germans.

While the title might lead one to believe that the author will focus on the 1944 plan for Operation Fortitude, Levine helpfully begins much earlier, in 1940. In preparation for Operation Sealion, the Germans sent a number of poorly equipped agents to England with a view to sending back weather reports and other helpful information. The vast majority of these hapless agents were snapped up by the British and several were turned into double agents. Levine gives a very thorough and accurate history of these agents and how they played their own role in Operation Fortitude... convincing the Germans that they had active and useful spies in England.

I found this book to be eminently readable and very well researched. It provides a very accurate and comprehensive portrayal of the double cross system and was a pleasure to read.

Review Score
4.5 out of 5 - well researched and well written

17 January 2020

Book Review - Agent TATE: The Wartime Story of Harry Williamson - Tommy Jonason & Simon Olsson (2012)

Cover - Agent TATE: The Wartime Story of Harry Williamson
Cover - Agent TATE: The Wartime
Story of Harry Williamson
The Book
Agent TATE: The Wartime Story of Harry Williamson. Tommy Jonason and Simon Olsson. Amberley Publishing. 2012.

The story of double agent TATE (LEONHARDT to the Germans) is one of the classic tales of the British double cross system from the Second World War. One can read key snippets of his story in many books and journals:
  • How the ardent Nazi Wulf Schmidt parachuted into England in mid-September, hot on the heels of friend, and fellow spy, Gosta Caroli.
  • How Schmidt was quickly snatched up by the authorities after washing his swollen twisted ankle in the village fountain. 
  • How Schmidt proved stalwart in the face of MI5's top interrogator but eventually crumbled when he learned that Caroli had already spilled the beans.
  • How Schmidt would go on to become one of Britain's most prized double agents... and simultaneously, one of the German Abwehr's most prized agents (even to being awarded the Iron Cross).
The story is a fascinating one and two Swedish authors, Tommy Jonason and Simon Olsson brought all of the pieces together into a cohesive whole, published in 2012 by Amberley Press. One note: TATE's birth name was Wulf Schmidt and his assumed name in Britain was Harry Williamson. I shall refer to him as Schmidt as that is more common in espionage literature.

Jonason and Olsson's book is very readable and draws heavily from the declassified MI5 files at the National Archives. The authors provide a helpful context to the Operation LENA spies who were dispatched to England in the fall of 1940, all in preparation for Operation SEALION - the invasion of England.

The details of Schmidt's training by the German Abwehr is a familiar tale - poorly trained, poorly organized, poorly equipped and yet... despite the many disadvantages, the Germans seemingly bought the idea that Schmidt eluded capture and would manage to send signals undetected until shortly before the end of the war.

While the authors touch on Schmidt's request for more funds in early 1941, they don't spend a lot of time in examining the connection with Karel Richter, a suspected courier of funds and equipment to Schmidt. Specifically, the authors don't spend time delving into the story that Richter eventually admitted to his British interrogators -- that he had been sent to check up on Schmidt as the German handlers suspected he had been turned. Given the intimate connection between Richter and Schmidt in that regard, a bit more of emphasis on Richter would seem to have been warranted.

On another note, the section on Josef Jakobs has several minor errors which make the reader wonder if others are present elsewhere in the volume.

The authors do consider the question as to whether the Germans knew that Schmidt had been turned or not. The evidence is quite contradictory but the authors do a fair job of covering the different aspects.

Review Score
4 out of 5 - readable and fairly comprehensive

13 January 2020

Britain's Plans to Revamp the Treason Act

The Spy in the Tower (2019)
(available via Amazon)
Fellow author Tony Percy sent me a link a few weeks ago which piqued my interest. According to the latest Queen's Speech, given by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the UK is looking at updating the antiquated Treason Act (1351).

The UK recognizes that the Treason Act (and the Official Secrets Act (1911)) are rather antiquated and do not cover modern actions of individuals operating for hostile powers (e.g. cyber attacks). Despite several legal acts that cover terrorism and border security... there is still a recognized gap in prosecuting individuals who act with the intent to harm Britain. This is news indeed!

As I read the newspaper articles touching on the subject, I heard definite echos from the past - from 1940 in particular when Britain recognized that the Treason Act and Official Secrets Act did not cover the actions of operatives operating for hostile powers (e.g. spies for Germany). Britain's response at that time was to craft the Treachery Bill which passed into law in late May 1940 and was known as the Treachery Act. It was created in haste and was a rather draconian piece of legislation that had a rather broad net: anyone who did anything with "intent" to harm Britain and/or support Britain's enemies.

I've written about the Treachery Act and its implementation during the Second World War on this blog and in my book - The Spy in the Tower. As such, it was interesting to read a few snippets of what might be included in the proposed Espionage Bill...
A paper drawn up by the Policy Exchange think-tank last year suggested defining treason as “aiding a hostile state of organisation” with a new act of parliament.

The report set out a series of actions that could be deemed treason, including helping prepare or commit an attack on the UK, aiding the military or intelligence operations of a state or organisation intending to attack the UK or “prejudicing the security and defence of the UK”. (The Independent)
It is interesting to see the word "intending" as that was a key word in the Treachery Act as well - a word that casts a very wide net. Even in May 1940, several MPs noted that it was notoriously difficult to determine "intent" with any certainty. I will be following this story with keen interest to see what sort of language is eventually used.

Those interested in Britain's use of the Treachery Act (1940) can take a look at The Spy in the Tower. I also did a series of blogs a few years ago, but the book contains a more thorough look at the topic:
2014 07 14 - Josef Jakobs: A Victim of the Treachery Act, 1940 - Part 1
2014 07 18 - Josef Jakobs: A Victim of the Treachery Act, 1940 - Part 2
2014 07 23 - Josef Jakobs: A Victim of the Treachery Act, 1940 - Part 3
2014 08 06 - Josef Jakobs: A Victim of the Treachery Act, 1940 - Part 4

BBC - 2018 07 25 - Does the Treason Act need updating?
The Independent - 2019 05 20 - UK Treason Laws will be updated
Daily Mail - 2019 12 19 - UK Treason Laws to be updated

07 January 2020

Promoting The Spy in the Tower on TalkRadioEurope

TalkRadioEurope logo (from their website)
TalkRadioEurope logo (from their website)
The History Press kindly set up an interview for me with the crew at TalkRadioEurope - Spain's only English speaking talk radio network.

Fellow author David Tremain has done several excellent interviews with them, so I'm really looking forward to it!

For those interested... the interview is tomorrow, Wednesday January 8.

You can Listen Live using this link. The time of the interview is at:
10:30 am Central European Standard Time
9:30 am Greenwich Mean Time
4:30 am Eastern Standard Time
1:30 am Pacific Standard Time

Which means that I will need to roust myself out of bed at 1 am and hope that I can generate some coherent thoughts... I am most definitely NOT a night owl!

I believe the radio interview will be available after the fact, and when I have the link, I will add it to the bottom of this blog post.

20 December 2019

A Window into the Minds of Abwehr Officers - Die Nachhut

Over the course of the last year, I've written a few blog posts in which an Abwehr officer named Walter Schulze-Bernett played a role.
From June 1940 to June 1941, Schulze-Bernett was head of Gruppe I, Ast Netherlands in The Hague, a key period when Germany was throwing spies at the UK in preparation for Operation Sealion. Whilst researching the blog on Harm Knol Bruins, I came across an article written by Schulze-Bernett on the Venlo Incident entitled: Der Grenzzwischenfall bei Venlo/Holland (The Border Incident near Venlo/Holland).

The article is reproduced on a site devoted to George Elser, a German worker who organized the the Bürgerbräukeller assassination attempt on Hitler on 8 November 1939 in Munich. The author of the site, Peter Koblank, also has a sub-page devoted to the Venlo Incident, on which is the link for Schulze-Bernett's article.

The most intriguing thing about Schulze-Bernett's article is its provenance. According to Koblank, the article was published in a magazine called "Die Nachhut" [The Rearguard].
Quelle: Walter Schulze-Bernett, Der Grenzzwischenfall bei Venlo/Holland, in: Die Nachhut, Nr. 23/24 vom 15.5.1973, München 1973; Schreibfehler, auch bei Personen- und Ortsnamen, wurden originalgetreu übernommen sowie einige [Kommentare] eingefügt. [Spelling mistakes, also with personal and place names, were copied true to original as well as some [comments] inserted.]
Die Nachhut - cover
image is of the 3 Wise Monkeys
(hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil)
(from Google Books)
Die Nachhut
I did bit of research.... and Die Nachhut was a publication of AGEA (Arbeitsgemeinschaft ehemaliger Abwehrangehöriger - essentially "Working Group of former Members of the Abwehr").

From 1967 to 1975, the group published 32 editions of Die Nachhut in pamphlet form. Articles came from various former members of the Abwehr scattered in cities throughout Europe. Contributions included reviews of intelligence books, articles as well as tables including death dates for former members of the Abwehr.

The periodical sounds quite fascinating and initially I thought that it was only available in libraries/archives in Germany but the AG der GedenkstättenBibliotheken (AGGB-Katalog) notes that The Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust & Genocide in London has a complete set!

It would be intriguing to examine the 32 editions and see if any of the key Abwehr personnel from Ast I in Hamburg had offered contributions. At the very least, Die Nachhut might list the death dates for some of these individuals.

I'll be taking a blog posting hiatus over the holidays - back with a post on 8 January 2020...

Mythos Elser site - devoted to Georg Elser
Wikipedia - AGEA
AGGB Katalog site - lists libraries/archives holding Die Nachhut

16 December 2019

Article Review - Dramatising intelligence history on the BBC: the Camp 020 affair - Christopher J. Murphy (2019)

The Article
Dramatising intelligence history on the BBC: the
Camp 020 affair. Christopher J. Murphy. Intelligence and National Security, Volume 34,  Issue 5, p. 688-702, 2019.

Intelligence & National Security
(cover from Taylor & Francis online)
A few months ago, I received a complimentary copy of this article from the author. He had earlier requested a copy of the Camp 020 Spy! television episode (1980) of which I happened to have a digital copy, and which I shared with him. It was nice to see the final product and I found the article enlightening.

The Camp 020 Spy! episode is quite notorious as it depicts, in docu-drama fashion, the re-enactment of a British intelligence officer (Stephens) hitting a German spy (TATE). Given that Stephens had professed physical violence to be taboo, the airing of the episode generated a firestorm of criticism from former Camp 020 staff. A number of individuals wrote to the BBC expressing their strenuous objection to the episode stating that Stephens had never hit a prisoner. They admitted that a visiting officer from the London Cage, Colonel A.P. Scotland, had hit TATE but that Stephens had thereafter banned the officer from Camp 020.

This much of the story is quite well known, as the letter from a group of these staff was published in Radio Times. What Murphy presents us with, however, is a glimpse into much more in-depth correspondence between Camp 020 staff and various officials at the BBC, Radio Times and the BBC Complaints Commission, none of which were ever published in a public format.

Murphy does a great job of introducing us to the back-and-forth exchange between the irate letter writers who demanded a retraction and the intractable BBC officials who repeatedly insisted that the episode was accurate and based on "exhaustive research". In the end however, the BBC would not reveal their secret sources, simply saying that the episode was based on information from TATE as well as other spies and Dr. Harold Dearden (Camp 020 physician). In an internal memo, one BBC official did admit that the episode was an amalgamation of several different accounts, and was not based solely on TATE's experience.

In fact, TATE had seen the episode and written to his former double-agent handler, Major T.A. Robertson who said:
"After the appearance of the film [TATE] rang me up in a frenzy and declared that it was the most despicable piece of nonsense he had ever seen, and said over and over that he had received fair treatment from all at 020 and that he had never once had a finger laid on him by anyone, and the part which shows him beaten up by Stephens was disgraceful." (F.G. Beith (Camp 020 veteran) to Ian Trethowan (Director General of the BBC), 6 August 1981, Written Archives Centre (WAC), R78/1233/1)
Lt. Col. Robin William George Stephens
Lt. Col. Robin William George Stephens
Murphy notes that the other spies apparently consulted for the episode may have included Chapman (ZIGZAG), Moe (MUTT) and Glad (JEFF), none of whom would appear to be good candidates for "abused prisoner" at Camp 020. At least, there is no information within the public domain that supports the contention that they were abused at the hands of Stephens or any other Camp 020 officer.

The problem that Murphy wanted to examine was the question: Did the film have that great an impact on the viewing audience? He notes that in the 1970s there was quite a bit in the news about the abuse of prisoners in Northern Ireland and argues that the depiction of wartime violence in the Camp 020 episode would have been accepted by the viewing public as the truth.

Even the BBC believed the idea that the British intelligence system used abusive interrogation measures during the war:
"In one of his letters to Beith (Camp 020 veteran) in which he defended the approach to interrogation depicted on screen, Trethowan (BBC) argued that ‘Systems of this kind are perfectly justifiable in peacetime police work; who could doubt that in the midst of the Second World War they were essential?' " (Murphy quoting Trethowan to Beith, 19 June 1980, WAC, R78/1233/1)
Ultimately, the possibility of other prisoners enduring physical abuse at the hands of Camp 020 officers cannot be ruled out, but Murpy argues that there is little material to support such claims.

Murphy concludes his article by noting that "while the efforts of the veterans to correct the impression given by the programme certainly deserve to be remembered, its depiction of a physical assault on a prisoner by the Commandant should now, perhaps, be forgotten".

This article was very informative and cast an illuminating light on the behind-the-scenes correspondence around the Camp 020 Spy! episode. I was quite intrigued to see how stubbornly the BBC officials clung to their claim that the story had been "exhaustively researched" and yet how flimsy their evidence seems to have been. Or perhaps, there is more to the story that has yet to reach the pubic domain...

I had hoped that Murphy might have been able to track down Stephens' death date and final resting place he makes no mention of it. One can presume, however, given the correspondence, and that Stephens was not quoted/consulted/interviewed,  that he was no longer alive at the time, which gives us an upper range for his passing.

Review Score
5 out of 5 - excellent piece that adds to our understanding of Camp 020.

13 December 2019

The Spy in the Tower - Another Review

The Spy in the Tower (cover)
Had another author leave a review of The Spy in the Tower on Amazon.com...
(4 out of 5 stars)
Dr. Jakobs has written a very important contribution to an under- and mis-represented aspect of espionage history - the treatment of Hitler's 'Lena' spies. These were agents sent by the Abwehr, in the winter of 1940-1941, to prepare the ground for the planned invasion. Jakobs's account is especially poignant because her grandfather was one of those executed. She complements her very thorough inspection of the archives, therefore, with a very moving story of Joseph Jakobs's prosecution and execution, which now seem highly controversial under a stricter examination of the quickly-enacted Treachery Act. 'The Spy in the Tower' may be a little too narrowly focused for the general reader, but it is a compelling tale, nonetheless. (Tony Percy on Amazon.com)
I appreciate any and all reviews!!