14 November 2018

Expanded British Army Personnel Records from Robin William George Stephens

Robin William George Stephens
Robin William George Stephens
A few months back, I received an expanded version of the British Army personnel record for Robin William George Stephens. A couple of years ago, I was contacted by a cousin of Stephens' and with his assistance was able to apply as a "family member", which meant that more documents were released than to a general member of the public.

One of the most intriguing documents in Stephens' folder was a letter written by his father, William Henry Stephens to The War Office on 25 February 1946. I mentioned the letter in a previous post and in this one, I would like to address some supporting documents that Stephens' father sent to the War Office.

The first document is entitled: Career of Captain R.W.G. Stephens (Indian Army, Retired 1931). The document covers some of the key moments in Robin's career and confirms much of what we already know about his history.

  • Dulwich School; Athlete; Captain of Ist.XV.
Army Service:
  • Woolwich Entrance [likely the Royal Military Academy at Woolich];
  • Quetta [likely the Command and Staff College in Quetta].
  • 2nd Goorkhas. 4 years active service [probably 1919-1923].
  • Mentioned in Despatches. G.S. [General Service] and I.G.S. [India General Service] medals, (latter 6 clasps). G.S.O.3 [General Staff Officer 3rd Grade] (age 19); Adjutant II/I8 R.G.R. [Royal Gurkha Rifles] Staff Captain.
  • Cantonment Magistrate
Political Service:
  • Commandant Muscat State Forces [likely the Muscat Levy Corps - a more detailed blog post coming soon.]
  • Built 80 Mile Road through mountains and desert.
  • Official thanks of the Government of India.
Judicial Service:
  •  J.A.G.'s Department, 5 years. Qualified Judge Advocate (Reward I.I30) Assistant Judge Advocate General, etc. Prosecuted and defended a number of complicated cases. Conducted a considerable number of cases including murder and sedition, both under the English Law and under the Indian Penal Code. No case ever set aside on appeal.
Subsequent Activities:
  • Three books on legal subjects; one on Evidence in collaboration with a jurist. [I have only discovered two of the books.]
    • A Digest of the Law of Evidence in Courts Martial (Under the Army and Air Force Acts), adapted from Sir James Stephen's Digest of the Law of Evidence. by Harry Lushington Stephen and R. Townshend-Stephens - published 1934. N.B. Stephens' first wife's maiden name was Townsend/Townshend and Robin seems to have used a hyphenated name for several years.
    •  A Practical Digest of Military Law by Capt. R. Townshend Stephens - published 1933.
  • Adjutant to British Red Cross Expedition to Ethiopia during Italo-Abyssinian War. [Newspapers from April 1936 carried reports of mustard gas attacks by the Italians and quoted Captain R. Townshend Stephens. Apparently Robin hyphenated his surname with that of his first wife (Phyllis Gwendolen (née Townshend) Fletcher) - a more detailed blog post coming soon.]
  • French, Urdu (Interpreter), Arabic (Omani), Punjabi, Khaskura and Garhwali, etc.
Physical Fitness:
  • Usual activities, including U.S. XV. [unclear what this might be...]
  • Equitation course, polo, etc.
  • Instructor, Army Physical Training.
  • Age in 1946, 46. Height 5-II. 
Later Information:
  • Invalided home from Abyssinia.
  • Masonic Hospital, Ravenscourt.
  • Hospital for Officers, 4 Percival Terrace, Brighton 7. (1937).
As noted above, I'll be writing some expanded blog posts on different aspects of this information.

09 November 2018

Book Review - Deckname Dr. Rantzau (Code Name Dr. Rantzau) - Nikolaus Ritter (1972)

Cover -

The Book
Deckname Dr. Rantzau - Die Aufzeichnungen des Nikolaus Ritter, Offizier under Canaris im Geheimen Nachrichtendiesnt. [Code Name Dr. Rantzau - The Notes of Nikolaus Ritter, Officer under Canaris in the Secret Intelligence Service.] Nikolaus Ritter. Hoffman and Campe. 1972.

I bought this book several years ago but never got around to reading it. Although I did write a post about the book written by Ritter's first wife, Mary Aurora Evans. A few weeks ago, after reading Hitler's Spies & Saboteurs by Wighton and Peis, I got up the energy to plow my way through the German.

Written by German spymaster Major Nikolaus Ritter, the book provides a fascinating glimpse into the German Abwehr, from a German perspective. Some caveats are in order, however. It's pretty clear that Ritter has modified some names and even some events in order to protect the living (e.g. TATE). The book is also based, to a large extent, on his memories and notes taken by his wife (who initially worked as his secretary). It's also clear that Ritter had conversations with Ladislas Farago (author of The Game of the Foxes) and that he also had access to a copy of Masterman's book (The Double-Cross System). The book therefore needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

As a broad overview of the book, Ritter tells the tale of setting up his espionage ring in the United States, and the handing over of technical drawings for the Norden bombsight. He also covers the story of Arthur G. Owens (JOHNNY to the Germans and SNOW to the British), Schmidt and Caroli and touches briefly on the cases of Eriksen, Druekke and Walti. The timelines are a bit off though and can't really be relied on to provide accuracy.

In early 1941, Ritter was reassigned to Africa and a few chapters deal with his attempts to get some agents behind enemy lines in Egypt. He then glosses over the rest of the war before diving into more detail about his incarceration and interrogation at Bad Nenndorf. He does seem to mix up Robin W.G. Stephens and W.E. Hinchley-Cook, blending the two into one person: Steven-Cook.

Regarding his treatment at Bad Nenndorf, Ritter lays his treatment firmly at the feet of Stephens, saying: "Wie der Herr, so's Gescherr". Essentially: "Like master, like servant" or, in this case, "Like commander, like soldier". The misdeeds of the soldier simply mimic the misdeeds of the commander. Ritter draws a stinging comparison between the Nazi Concentration Camps and Bad Nenndorf. The German concentration camp commandants were found guilty of wrong doing because they were held responsible for the actions of their underlings. Interesting to note that Stephens was acquitted of wrong doing even though he was commandant of Bad Nenndorf. He simply denied any knowledge of the wrong doing committed by the warders at Bad Nenndorf.

On the whole, I found this book quite enjoyable. I did get a bit irked after a while with Ritter's careless disregard for the lives of his agents and the dangers into which they were so casually dispatched. His stories tend to focus on the successful agents (e.g. JOHNNY and TATE) whilst ignoring the ones who simply disappeared after being sent to England only to resurface as execution notices in the London newspapers. On p. 63, Ritter says that when he traveled, he never carried anything incriminating, something that his own agents could likely have benefited from as well, rather than being outfitted with obvious disc or grid codes.

Many of the detailed stories told by Ritter mirror the ones presented by Wighton & Peis in Hitler's Spies & Saboteurs, for example, JOHNNY/SNOW and the cafe with the table telephones, the lemon/orange juice confusion in Lisbon and Caroli's dalliance with the Belgian girl. Lending weight to the idea that Ritter was one of the sources consulted by Wighton & Peis.

I found it quite fascinating that when JOHNNY/SNOW and CELERY/BROWN had come to Lisbon in February/March 1941, Ritter says that they offered him £200,000 of gold if he would defect to the British. I don't remember reading anything about that elsewhere, although there are indications that George Sessler, Ritter's assistant, was later offered a significant sum if he would defect.

I did pick up a few other tidbits of information, which are interesting leads:
  • Ritter references a man named Roeder who ran an import/export firm and worked closely with him. Josef Jakobs mentioned a man in Hamburg named Roeder and I'm wondering if they two are identical. Need to do some digging.
  • The story of Walter Simon, an agent sent to England and Ireland is intriguing.
  • Ritter says that forged British identity cards and ration books (modelled on the ones provided by JOHNNY/SNOW) were printed by the Abwehr in Berlin under the watchful eye of a red-haired man code-named Barbarossa. Be interested to know if the Allies ever found this man and questioned him around the poor quality of the forgeries.
  • On p. 240, Ritter quotes Schmidt/TATE when he failed to receive funds from the Germans. Schmidt sent a radio message to the Germans, en clair: "Ich sch... [scheisse] auf den beschissen deutschen Nachrichtendiesnt" - "I shit on the shitty/lousy/crappy German Intelligence Service". I had only ever come across this statement in Ladislas Farago's book, The Game of the Foxes (p. 306). It would appear that the original source is Ritter himself. Interesting to note as well that the quote used by Ritter is different from that used by Farago: "I shit on Germany and its whole fucking secret service".
  • Ritter also mentions Gösta Caroli and how he returned to Sweden after the war. According to Ritter, Caroli was very sick and had totally lost his memory.
Review Score
3.5 out of 5 - I found it a good read, although the book is a bit out of date and necessarily one-sided. It is also primarily based on fallible recollections so can't be used as a source of concrete facts.

05 November 2018

Book Review - Hitler's Spies & Saboteurs - Charles Wighton & Gunter Peis (1958)

Cover - Hitler's Spies and Saboteurs by Charles Wighton and Gunter Peis
Cover - Hitler's Spies and Saboteurs by
Charles Wighton and Gunter Peis
The Book
Hitler's Spies and Saboteurs. Charles Wighton and Gunter Peis. Charter Books. 1958.

I may have read this book years ago but given Bernard O'Connor's reliance on it (see the previous post which reviews O'Connor's book - Operation Lena - Hitler's Plans to Blow up Britain), I thought I would read it again and give a quick review.

This book's primary claim to fame is that it is ostensibly based on the wartime diaries of Erwin von Lahousen, former chief of the German Abwehr's sabotage section (Abteilung II) and Admiral Canaris' right-hand man.

A few caveats are in order. The book was published in 1958, thirteen years before Masterman's account of the British double cross system. The book is therefore quite one-sided and lacks balance. In fact, any wartime espionage book published prior to the declassification of the British Security Service files (starting in 1999/2000) will be hamstrung to a certain extent by the absence of reliable information.

In the Introduction, Wighton and Peis note that:
"In the intervening period [after the Nuremberg war trials] until his death in 1955, Lahousen gradually revealed the full stories behind the entries in his diary to a young, fellow Austrian, Gunter Peis, whom he had first met in Nürnberg.
Lahousen also revealed the names and postwar whereabouts of some of his Abwehr subordinates; as an Abwehr executive he had rarely known more than the broad outlines of the main operations.
He disclosed, too, the names under which some of his former spies, who had carried out espionage and sabotage in Allied countries, were living. And from these Abwehr subordinates and spies, most of whose true identities must still remain secret, the whole story was reconstructed." (Hitler's Spies & Saboteurs, p. 8)
The authors have offered us a fairly important qualification. The book is not based solely, nor even primarily on Lahousen's diaries, it is based on the recollections of former Abwehr officers and agents. That puts a completely different spin on the book. We already know that names will be altered and possibly even the circumstances surrounding the stories. At the very least, the book is based on the fallible memories of individuals fifteen years removed from the events outlined in the book. Individuals who may also have fudged the truth a bit in order to protect reputations or lives.

The book is divided into nine chapters and it is possible to tentatively identify some of the individuals who likely related their stories to Wighton and Peis. This is made somewhat more secure by comparison with Major Nikolaus Ritter's memoir (Deckname Dr. Rantzau) published in 1972. Several of the Wighton and Peis chapters bear a strong resemblance to Ritter's recollections.

Chapter 1 - Spies in America! - This chapter tells the story of a German spy ring in America (1941) and of how the Germans acquired the Norden bombsight from the Americans. The account references a Major Ranken from the Hamburg Abwehr office. We know that this was a code name for Major Nikolaus Ritter, the German spymaster who received the Norden bombsight from his spies in America. Ritter and/or Hermann Lang would seem to be the most likely sources for this particular chapter.

Chapter 2 - The Nazis "Invade" America - This chapter tells the tale of Operation Pastorius (1942), an attempt by the Germans to land eight saboteurs at two locations along the American coast. One of the agents betrayed the operation to the Americans after landing. All eight were prosecuted, found guilty and sentenced to death. The sentences of two of the men, Burger and Dasch (the agent who betrayed the operation) were commuted to imprisonment (life and 30 years). In 1948, Burger and Dasch were deported to Germany where they were viewed as traitors. Given some of the information provided within the chapter, Dasch seems likes the most likely source.

Chapter 3 - Robey Leibbrandt, the Olympic Boxer Spy - This chapter tells the story of Robey Leibbrandt, a South African boxer who became enamoured with Nazism. In 1938, he moved to Germany and was eventually recruited as an Abwehr agent to be sent back to South Africa (1942). After many adventures, he was eventually captured by the South Africans and prosecuted. Found guilty and sentenced to death, Leibbrandt appealed and his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He was released in 1948 when a new government was elected. Wighton and Peis write:
"When in 1953 he wrote to Germany, he said he was happy to know that there were still people in the Fatherland interested in the men who had 'served and remained true to the idea'.
And after the usual German greetings he ended his letter with the words 'Heil Hitler'." (Hitler's Spies & Saboteurs, p. 119-120).
It would seem that Leibbrandt was one of the primary sources for this chapter. Another possible source is Christian Nissen, the skipper of the yacht who delivered Leibbrandt from Europe to Africa.

Chapter 4 - First German Parachutists in England - This chapter relates the very garbled tale of Wulf Schmidt and Gösta Caroli (1940), although Wighton and Peis give the two spies different names. They reference Dr. RANTZAU, the alias of Major Nikolaus Ritter of the Hamburg Abwehr. As with Chapter 1, Ritter is the most likely source for this chapter, particularly as much of the account dealing with the arrival of the two agents in England was related to Ritter in Lisbon by agent JOHNNY (the German code name for Arthur G. Owen, double agent SNOW to the British).

Chapter 5 - "Johnny," the Welsh Master Spy - This chapter tells the tale of Arthur G. Owens and how he became involved with the German Abwehr (1940 and 1941). Again, Nikolaus Ritter is the most likely source for this chapter.

Chapter 6 - Vera, the Beautiful Spy - This chapter tells the story of Vera Eriksen, Karl Drücke and Werner Walti (an alias) and their ill-fated espionage mission to Great Britain (1940). We learn how Vera's lover, Abwehr officer Dierks was killed in a car accident.

The account mentions a "Captain Graaf" from the Hamburg office, the identity of whom is uncertain. It could be Ritter, Wichmann, Praetorius or even Boeckel. Towards the end of the chapter, the authors relate how, whilst held at Bad Nenndorf after the war, the Abwehr officers learned that Vera was living on the Isle of Wight under an assumed name. We know that all four officers (and even Lahousen) passed through Bad Nenndorf.

After the death of Dierks in the fall of 1940, the three spies were sent to Norway for their mission to Great Britain and, from later chapters, it would seem that Wighton and Peis had access to some of the Abwehr officers who served in Norway (see Chapter 8 notes below).

Finally, the authors may have talked to some of the Scottish officials involved in the capture of the three agents: Edinburgh Police Superintendent Merrilees, Port Gordon's Police Constable Grieve and Buckie's Inspector John Simpson. The authors knew the current (1950s) career status and location of Merrilees and Grieve and relate a verbatim account of the capture from Inspector Simpson.

Chapter 7 - They Wanted to Join the British Army - This chapter is a bit of an anomaly as it tells the story of five German agents who were sent to Great Britain (1942) with the cover story that they were defecting German soldiers. They were taken to London where it would appear that they were interrogated at the London Cage under Lt. Col. A.P. Scotland. The account of their incarceration and interrogation sounds more like the London Cage than Camp 020. Four of the agents were sent back to Germany at the end of the war while the other one, a Brazilian-German was sent back to Brazil. The primary source seems to be one of the agents, Hans Braun, who related some of the story "fifteen years later with great glee". Elsewhere, the authors quote Braun as he was sitting in a Hamburg wine house fifteen years later (p. 240). Apparently "even today he sometimes wakes up in a cold sweat after dreaming that he is under interrogation". Other sources might be the Abwehr officers who served in Norway (see notes on Chapter 8 below).

Chapter 8 - The Norwegian "Refugees" - Here we learn about John Moe and Tor Glad (both given different names by the authors), two Norwegians who landed on the coast of Scotland (1941) and their subsequent sabotage exploits. The most likely sources would appear to be some of the Norwegian Abwehr officers: Mueller (took command of the Abwehr post in Oslo at Klingenberg-gate), Anderson and Koblischke. All three are mentioned in some of the earlier chapters.

Chapter 9 - Curtain Falls on the Abwehr - This chapter contains a miscellaneous assortment of espionage tails including that of double agent ZIGZAG (FRITZCHEN to the Germans). Lahousen left the Abwehr in the late summer of 1943 and was eventually made a brigade commander on the Russian Front. Interestingly, the authors note that whilst at Bad Nenndorf:
"Lahousen, too, was beaten and kicked and had some of his teeth knocked out by ruffians, military jailbirds whom the British command saw fit to employ as warders in the camp." (Hitler's Spies & Saboteurs, p. 282-283).
But, the authors also note that the "British secret-service officers in the camp... had no part in the brutality". A few years later, Robin W.G. Stephens, commandant of Bad Nenndorf and former commandant of Camp 020, would be tried by court-martial because of the brutal treatment meted out to prisoners at Bad Nenndorf. He would be acquitted.

This last chapter, has several references to Lahousen's diary but does not provide any supplementary information suggesting that the authors didn't have other sources to provide a juicy narrative.

This is actually an entertaining book but it is out-of-date and wildly inaccurate. Reading it is kind of like looking at the world through a really thick pane of glass which distorts reality. Readers are advised to track down more reliable sources if they are interested in any of the stories.

I noticed that on page 279, the authors drop this little tidbit:
During this period [ZIGZAG/FRITZCHEN'S time] one of the few Germans sent to England, a Captain Huebner, also operated successfully.
I've never heard of a Captain Huebner successfully operating in England and Wighton & Peis provide no further information. It's clear that one can't make much of this information without tracking down some primary sources.

As for the book being based on Lahousen's diaries... that remains a matter for discussion. Readers are advised to consult a recently published book by German author Michael Mueller: Canaris: The Life and Death of Hitler's Spymaster (2017). Mueller's research is based on German sources including, apparently, Lahousen's diaries which are held in the military archives in Freiburg. For that reason alone, Mueller's book is on my "to-read" list.

Review Score
3 out of 5 - Hitler's Spies & Saboteurs is an entertaining "popular" history read, as long as one is not looking for an accurate, up-to-date historical account. It would be better categorized as fictional-history.

02 November 2018

Coldspur Website by Tony Percy

A few weeks back, I landed on the website of Tony Percy. Can't quite recall the internet crumb trail that lead to his door (I think it might have had to do with Bernard O'Connor's book). Either way, Tony's site has proved to be thought-provoking.

Cover of Misdefending the Realm by Antony Percy
Cover of Misdefending the Realm by
Antony Percy
He recently wrote a series of blog posts about the Radio Security Service (RSS) during the Second World War and even touched upon the fate of Engelbertus Fukken (Jan Willem ter Braak). While I don't necessarily support all of Tony's conclusions, I must say that his research is meticulous and his blog posts are thoughtful and thorough. It's definitely worth a look.

Tony recently published a book - Misdefending the Realm: How MI5's Incompetence enable Communist Subversion of Britain's Institutions during the Nazi-Soviet Pact. I think the title says it all and while I haven't yet managed to get a copy onto my desk, it's definitely on my to-read list.

The three Radio Security Service posts are:

31 October 2018

Book Review - Operation LENA and Hitler's Plots to Blow Up Britain - Bernard O'Connor (2017)

Cover - Operation Lena and Hitler's Plots to Blow Up Britain
Cover - Operation Lena and Hitler's
Plots to Blow Up Britain
The Book
Operation Lena and Hitler's Plots to Blow Up Britain. Bernard O'Connor. Amberley Publishing. 2017.

Summary and Review
I bought this book last year with excitement. I knew a bit about some of the sabotage plans concocted by MI5 using their double agents (G.W., MUTT & JEFF, ZIGZAG) and was intrigued to learn more. I am also always interested in anything to do with Operation Lena. I really wanted to like this book, but after I bought it, I flipped through some of the sections pertaining to Josef Jakobs and the other Lena spies and... I put the book down in frustration. Where to begin.

There is no doubt that the author has tried to present a comprehensive overview of a very complicated topic. He admits that providing a detailed account has been a challenge and that this book is "more the work of an archaeologist than a historian". Reading this book did feel a bit like watching someone present every fragment of information that they have dug up during their years of research. Unfortunately, there was very little continuity or context for much of what was presented. I found the narrative exceedingly difficult to follow. On any given page, the author might refer to events in 1938, 1945, 1942 and then 1939. The book could have benefited from some front matter, namely a list of abbreviations and a cast of characters. The index has some holes - for example, there is no mention of Jakobs, Josef.

At the same time, the author has relied on sources that vary wildly in their reliability. While much of the book is sourced from primary records at the National Archives, the author also gives equal weight to some very out-of-date sources, specifically Ladislas Farago's Game of the Foxes (1972) and Charles Wighton & Gunter Peis's Hitler's Spies and Saboteurs (1958). Both books purportedly rely on German documentary sources but this is questionable. Farago's sources, secret Abwehr microfilm, have never been found and cannot be consulted to check their veracity. While Wighton and Peis claimed that their source was the diaries of Abwehr II's former chief, Lahousen, they did not cite any references. In reading their book, one is also struck by the narrative/story style, much of which was unlikely to have come from Lahousen's diaries. More on Wighton and Peis in a later blog post...

The author's reliance upon Wighton & Peis and Farago meant that I had to read the book whilst constantly flipping back to check the endnotes. I kept wondering, was this information based on a primary source or a questionable secondary source? The author also relied on many websites for his material (e.g. information on Dorothy P. O'Grady from h2g2 Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy: Earth Edition). This too is fraught with danger. In my research into Josef Jakobs, I have come across many, many websites, most of which contact inaccurate information.

There is also the glaringly inaccurate account of agents "Hans Schmidt" and "Jorgen Björnsen" supposedly parachuted into England in the summer of 1940... according to Wighton and Peis. The author has treated Wighton and Peis's account as if it were accurate when it is most likely a garbled version of Wulf Schmidt and Gösta Caroli. As mentioned earlier, while an entertaining read, Wighton and Peis are not a source of accurate information.

The book also suffers from numerous small errors:
  • p. 27 - in relation to spies sent to Camp 020 - "enemy agents who refused to collaborate were tried under the Treason Act, found guilty and executed at the Tower of London and later at Pentonville Prison".
    • Inaccurate. Spies were tried under the Treachery Act (1940) and only one was executed at the Tower of London, whilst others were executed at Wandsworth and Pentonville prisons.
  • p. 35 - Neville Chamberlain demanded Kell's resignation and rush through amendments to the "Defence of the Realm Act".
    • Inaccurate. I believe it was Churchill who demanded Kell's resignation. The Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) was from World War I. During World War II, Great Britain had the Defence Regulations and the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act (1939). 
  • p. 63 - "was on 22 October 1940, eight weeks after the start of the war".
    • Inaccurate: I believe the war started in September 1939, not 1940.
  • p. 72 - "Professor Charles Andrew".
    • Inaccurate. Professor Christopher Andrew.
  • p. 109 - Treachery Act passed on 23 March 1940.
    • Inaccurate. Passed on 23 May 1940.
  • p. 112 - Schmidt taken to the London Cage.
    • Inaccurate. Schmidt was taken to Camp 020 where Lt. Col. A.P. Scotland from the London Cage roughed him up.
  • p. 113 - Caroli was awarded Iron Cross and transmitted to end of war, etc.
    • Inaccurate. It was Schmidt who was awarded the Iron Cross as double agent TATE and transmitted to the end of the war.
  • p. 228 - Barton earned a Kriegsverdienstkreuz - which the book translates as War Medal Cross.
    • Inaccurate. It should be War Merit Cross.
I could go on, but I think the point is made. There may also be some problems with the endnote citations. On page 304, the citations for Chapter 16:
30. Farago, op.cit. p.287.
31. Ibid. 28 November 1943
32. Ibid. 14 January 1944
33. Wighton and Peis, op.cit. p.276.
34. Ibid. 21 April 1944
35. Ibid, 26 September 1945.
36. TNA KV 2/1068
37. Ibid. 8 May 1943
38. Ibid. 15 September 1943
Endnotes 31 and 32 would seemingly cite the preceding endnote (30) except  for the fact that the format is different. Endnote 30 cites a book with a page number, whereas 31 and 32 cite a date which would seem to indicate reference to a KV file (see endnotes 36-38). A similar issue arises with endnotes 33-35.

On page 185, the author references Plan Pyramid in relation to MUTT and JEFF. Apparently MI5 were going to try and convince the German Abwehr that an escape organization in Norway was placing red pyramids (triangles) on identity documents. The Germans would theoretically do the same with spies that they tried to slip into the stream of legitimate Norwegian escapees seeking refuge in England. All well and good as the account is referenced in the KV files on MUTT and JEFF. Perplexingly however, the author also references red triangles/pyramids in relation to other, earlier, spies:
  • p. 108 - the four spies who landed in Kent had "identification papers with the triangle on them that SNOW had given the Abwehr, thus proving they were German agents"
  • p. 118 - Eriksen and Druecke were found "carrying forged identity and ration cards with the red pyramid that SNOW had recommended the Abwehr add to their documents"
I have never come across any reference to the above two statements and the author provides no source citation. The only reference to red pyramids that I have come across is in the MUTT & JEFF files. If the information on pages 108 and 118 is accurate, and SNOW/MI5 did initiate a red pyramid scheme earlier, it would be quite a startling revelation and worthy of more than a few lines. Although, in TNA KV 2/12, Kieboom criticized the Abwehr for not providing them with any identity cards which calls into question the above statement from p. 108.

The author references many intriguing stories about sabotage (e.g. p. 138) but it is difficult to assess the accuracy of such accounts given their reliance on secondary sources. For example, he mentions that after the crash of a Mosquito aircraft from RAF Banff, an inspector "working at one of the Mosquito shadow factories had links with the IRA. He was arrested and shot for sabotage". The reference cited is: Andrew Bird, A Separate Little War (Grub Street, 2003, p. 113). Having never come across any reference to this execution by firing squad, I am a bit leery of taking it at face value. Similarly, the author cites an account from Juliet Gardiner's Wartime Britain 1939-1945 which mentions that "in 1942 a Birmingham woman was convicted of sabotaging munitions for aircraft which would have exploded immediately on firing." This may be a reference to a story included in The Prosecutor by Allen Andrews (1968), an account of the life of prosecuting solicitor M.P. Pugh. The woman (and her boyfriend), although charged with tampering with munitions, were ultimately only convicted of stealing a cup and saucer from the canteen at Kynoch. I have not, however, come across any primary sources that confirm the account in The Prosecutor so, while an intriguing story, it must remain on the sidelines.

It would also have been most helpful if primary sources from the National Archives were cited in such a manner that other researchers could review them. Rather than simply citing "TNA KV 2/2822" cite the reference as completely as possible, "TNA KV 2/2822, no. 18a, 18/10/1943, report by Stephens to White". As it is, the author had an intriguing reference to Josef Jakobs in his section on Josef Starzincky [sic] on page 171. The only citation for the entire paragraph is KV 2/546, 27 November 1945 which refers to the case of the crew of the M.V. Josephine. I couldn't find any reference to "Starzincky" [sic] in the National Archives, but after a few wildcard searches, tracked down KV 2/2844 and KV 2/2845, the two files on Josef Starziczny. I will now need to sift through both files searching for the exact source of the Josef Jakobs reference.

Returning to the author's assertion that the book is "more the work of an archaeologist than a historian", it would have perhaps been helpful for the author to create a clearer distinction between information gleaned from primary sources versus that has been passed on from secondary sources. I know from experience how challenging it can be to write a book when one has so much research to incorporate. I would suggest that this book would have been much better had the accounts from secondary sources been relegated to the Notes section. Weaving the two types of sources together leaves the reader wondering what is fact and what is fiction. I also think the author's attempt to arrange the book chronologically is rather like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It might have been better to focus on the major sabotage schemes (e.g. G.W., MUTT & JEFF, ZIGZAG, etc.) without presenting, in excruciating detail, all of the minor schemes.

I think this book could be a valuable addition to the tale of Second World War espionage/sabotage, but it needs some tidying up.

Review Score
2 out of 5 - I did learn some things and found a few intriguing primary source references which I'll be consulting. Unfortunately the author's tendency to give equal weight to primary sources and questionable secondary sources leaves the reader questioning the accuracy of the entire book.

26 October 2018

The Great Escape (Attempt) of Gösta Caroli

Gösta Caroli (from Danish website on Wulf Schmidt)
Gösta Caroli
(from Danish website on Wulf Schmidt)
I am always intrigued to see how MI5 handled the espionage cases, how they decided whom to prosecute and whom to intern for the duration of the war. The story of Gösta Caroli is particularly intriguing because of his great attempt at escape in January 1941.

Caroli landed in England via parachute in September 1940. He was quickly captured and after being promised the life of his friend and co-spy, Wulf Schmidt, agreed to work as a double agent. After some hiccups, and an attempt at suicide, Caroli ended up sequestered in an MI5 safe house, The Old Parsonage, in the village of Hinxton, south of Cambridge. Caroli's psyche, however, did not fare well during his confinement. Even with Schmidt's visit for Christmas 1940, Caroli sank further into moodiness. Finally, on 13 January 1941, he snapped.

There are two rather lengthy accounts of what happened, one from Caroli's guard, Paulton, and one from MI5's Regional Security Liaison Officer in Cambridge, Major Dixon. Caroli's file at the National Archives is very slim, and much has been retained by the Security Service, although it does contain Dixon's account. Paulton's account is included in Guy Liddell's diaries.

Old Parsonage, Hinxton (courtesy of Tony Percy at www.coldspur.com)
Old Parsonage, Hinxton
(courtesy of Tony Percy at www.coldspur.com)
Let's begin with Paulton, one of the intelligence officers assigned to guard Caroli at The Old Parsonage in Hinxton. The other guard, a man named Williams, had apparently left for a few hours, and Caroli seized his opportunity. Paulton later recalled:
On Monday afternoon, 13 January at about 2.30 p.m., I was sitting playing a game of double patience [solitaire] when Caroli suddenly attacked me. He sprang at me from behind and with a piece of rope about 20" long tried to garotte me. I naturally struggled with him, but he is a much heavier and stronger man than I am and I was unsuccessful.

I eventually succeeded in throwing myself sideways and we fell on the floor in front of the fireplace, still struggling. Still holding the rope like a pair of reins he got his knee into the small of my back and told me not to struggle. As I felt exhausted, I lay still for a moment - everything had momentarily blacked out - and as he tied my hands behind my back he said that "he had to do it although he knew it was a hanging job but he could not go on". He expressed regret for his treatment of me and said I would only have to wait until 6 o'clock until someone we were expecting would return.

I told him that I could not lie tied on the floor all that time and asked him to put me on the chesterfield. He agreed and helped me over to it. With two other pieces of rope which he produced from his pockets he then tied my ankles and a longer piece was fastened around my upper arms. I was in an uncomfortable position on the chesterfield and I asked him to put a pillow under my head - this he did.

He then proceeded to empty my pockets. From my right hand trousers pocket he took some small change and my keys, from the left pocket a rosary, a couple of coins, a medal and a small penknife, together with a broken box of matches. He put the small change in his pocket and put the rest of the things on the table which was quite near the chesterfield. From my inside pocket he took a wallet and a black pencil. He glanced through the wallet and thrust it in his pocket, having taken from it his own identity card and seaman's book, as well as my identity card. I told him that it only contained personal things so he took it out again and threw it on the table. He took several things from my side pockets and after glancing at them threw them on the table.

Taking my keys, he asked which was the key of the desk in the study. I told him and he went into that room spending some time there. He apparently opened the safe and finding an envelope in my petty cash book - in the drawer in the safe - with about £5 in notes took them. He also took the two crystals which were kept locked in the safe. He went through the desk but I do not think he took anything. The things taken from the safe I discovered afterwards of course.

He returned through the dining room and the lounge and shutting both doors went out. He was gone some time in the kitchen and then went upstairs. Shortly after he went out the telephone in the study rang - the bell is in the hall - and I called him but he ignored it.

A little later he came down with his suitcase and going back to the study collected all the maps which we had. In the lounge he took another map and my torch. He also came over and tore my wrist watch from my wrist as he could not undo it. In a drawer I think he found a child's compass. He took the case out into the kitchen and collected a number of tins of things (two sardines, one pilchards, one pears and one pineapple). He also collected a piece of cold beef which was in the larder and three boxes of matches. He had previously taken one box of 50 Gold Flake from the lounge which I had given him that morning, and another box of 50 Players from the top of my desk in the study.

He returned in a short time with a couple of dirty handkerchiefs and told me that he would have to gag me. I told him that it was not necessary and that I could hardly swallow and asked him to fetch me a glass of water. He went out and got one and helped me to drink. He then went out shutting the doors. I lay still for some time and later heard him go out to the kitchen. After that all was quiet. I could not be sure that he had gone but I thought I would take a chance so I wriggled off the sofa and stood upright on my feet. I forgot to mention that before he put me on the sofa which stood across the French windows he had closed the shutters. In the half light I could see the electric clock and I think it was ten to three. I spotted my penknife on the table, and after groping behind my back, having first to shift the glass of water, I succeeded in picking it up. As I thought I heard a sound outside I threw myself back on the sofa with the knife, which I had succeeded in opening, still in my hand. As I heard nothing further, I set to work with the knife and after a struggle succeeded in cutting my wrists free. I then cut the rope from my ankles and around my arms.

I listened carefully and then crept into the study and at 3 o'clock dialed Major Dixon at Cambridge and reported the escape. I asked him whether he would advise London or whether I should do it and he asked me to report to H.Q.

I passed the call and waited by the phone. Just as the exchange rang to give me the call, Caroli passed the window outside pushing Williams motor bike, which he had started up, and carrying on his back a canvas canoe. I grabbed the receiver from the instrument and put it down on the desk, while I crouched down. Caroli tried to start up the motorbike with the boat on his back, but he was having some trouble. I read the number of the bike, CXP 654, and jotted it down on a slip of paper on the desk. I also noticed that he was wearing Williams leather coat and that his case was strapped on the back on the bike. He was still having trouble and I was afraid he would come back in the house for something. Meanwhile the phone was ringing silently in front of me. He then proceeded to tie the boat on somehow on the side of the bike and at 3:25 made off slowly down the drive. I waited a moment or so in case he returned and then put a call through to London and reported the escape to Mr. Marriott at 3:30. At 3:35 Major Dixon arrived and we set off in pursuit."
A rather disconcerting experience for the poor Paulton and Williams, the absent guard, likely got an earful when he returned from his unauthorized absence. Did Dixon and Paulton find Caroli? I've read a variety of sources which suggest that Caroli got as far as Ely before being captured. That he ran into a cordon of police in Newmarket and was captured. That he was shot in the legs whilst trying to escape on foot after crashing the motorcycle. It's hard to distinguish fact from fiction. Luckily, Dixon's account, written on 14 January 1941, is preserved in Caroli's file and picks up the tale:
Here is the story of Caroli's attempt to escape, from my point of view.

At approximately 2:30 p.m. on the 13th January, I received a call from Paulton, who told me that he had been assaulted by Caroli and bound hand and foot. He had just that moment succeeded in freeing himself, but in the mean time Caroli had gone. [This timeline differs slightly Paulton's account who said he phoned Dixon at 3:00 p.m.]

I said I would go over at once to Hinxton, my object being to get a few particulars about how Caroli was dressed etc. In the mean time I told him to get through himself to Tar Robertson and tell him what had happened.

My departure from the office was slightly delayed and I only arrived at Hinxton at 3:40 p.m. Paulton was there, and rather shaken by his experience.

Caroli had apparently attacked him from behind, and put a rope round his neck and then tied him hand and foot and put him on the sofa. He had emptied his pockets, closed the shutters, and gone upstairs to collect things; he had then gone out of the house.

1932 Douglas Motorcycle (from Cybermotorcycle website)
1932 Douglas Motorcycle
(from Cybermotorcycle website)
Paulton in the meantime had noticed a knife on the table, which he was able to get to and cut himself free. He had immediately got on the telephone to me, and after having spoken to me he spoke to Robertson, and while he was speaking to Robertson, Caroli went past the window on Williams’ Douglas motor-cycle, with a suitcase on one side of it and a 12 foot canvas canoe tied to the other side.

This shook Paulton slightly as he thought that Caroli had left sometime ago.

On my arrival I got a full description from Paulton of how Caroli was dressed etc., and telephoned this back to my office in Cambridge, so that the Police of Essex and Hertfordshire could be warned to look out for him.

Pampisford Station  (From Disused Stations website)
Pampisford Station
(From Disused Stations website)
We discovered that Caroli had turned South outside the grounds, so Paulton and I got into my car and did the same. At the first cross-roads we met some road men who stated that they had seen a man on a motor-cycle carrying a canoe turn left down the Newmarket Road. We proceeded till we got to Pampisford Station, where we met Mr. F. Brown, a road man of Pampisford, who said that he had seen the man on the motor-cycle with the canoe – in fact he had seen a lot of him, because the man on the motor-cycle had fallen off just by him and he had helped the man to throw the canoe over a hedge. We verified this, Paulton recognizing the canoe as one that had been in the garage at Hinxton.

We then continued straight on to Newmarket, and in the middle of the town we saw the Douglas motor-cycle that we were looking for, being about to be ridden away by a man.
I got out and recognised a Detective Constable of the Newmarket Division of the West Suffolk Constabulary, who stated that a man had just come into the Station and given himself up, and he had come down from the Station to collect the motor-cycle, which the man said he had left in the main street.

We proceeded to the Station and there found Caroli. They had searched him and made a list of the possessions that were found on him. They had not opened his suitcase and I asked them to refrain from doing so.

I signed for his possession, and took them and the suitcase and Caroli back to to Cambridge County Police H.Q. at Castle Hill Cambridge, where he was again searched and locked up.

When I was at Newmarket Police Station I succeeded in getting through to my office in Cambridge and making arrangements for the hunt to be called off. The only people who had been asked to look out for Caroli were the Chief Constables of Essex, Hertfordshire and the Cambridge Borough Police. Fortunately no express message had been sent out.
At Marriott’s suggestion I took Paulton to see Dr. (redacted – possibly Dearden of Latchmere House – given the length of the redaction and MI5s tendency to redact anything to do with the place), who examined him and found him to have marks round neck, wrists and ankles which he said would be consistent with being assaulted and bound.
One has to feel a bit sorry for Caroli - trying to escape on a motorcycle with a suitcase on one side and a canvas canoe on the other side. Not exactly incognito. And from Dixon's account, it's clear that a lot of people took note of the strange sight and were able to guide the pursuers in the right direction. It's also pretty clear that Caroli turned himself in at the Newmarket Police Station. He wasn't shot in the legs, nor was he apprehended by a cordon of police. Liddell notes that Caroli fell off of his motorcycle in Newmarket, likely one of several falls. He must have realized the futility of his escape and decided to give himself up to the police.

Dixon's account is quite helpful as it provides some concrete geographic markers that we can use to trace Caroli's escape route. While some authors have indicated that Caroli was held at The Grange, earlier entries in Liddell's diary clearly indicate he was held at The Old Parsonage. I used a Google Map to add Caroli's escape route (in yellow).

Or, for a static version...
Gösta Caroli's escape route from Hinxton to Newmarket
(from Google My Maps)
At the end of his 13 January diary entry, Liddell noted: "Clearly Caroli can never be allowed to use his wireless transmitter again and he will have to remain under lock and key". Would it just be lock and key though? Or would MI5 decide that Caroli had broken his agreement to cooperate and decide to prosecute him under the Treachery Act?

A few days later, Liddell noted:
We had a long discussion this morning about Caroli's future and that of the other people with whom he has been associated. We have all come to the conclusion that somehow or other Caroli must be eliminated. This is not however an easy matter. In the eyes of the Germans he is known to Mac [Sam McCarthy aka BISCUIT] and he has also been in touch with TATE [Wulf Schmidt]. Through Mac he is known to SNOW. If therefore we report that he has been captured the Germans may think that the whole organisation has been compromised. Various ingenious suggestions have been made. The best I think is that Mac should report that SUMMER [Caroli's double agent code name] is on the run that he has put his wireless into the cloak room at Cambridge, and sent the key to Mac. Later we could say that he has been picked up by the police for failing to register and later still SNOW can put forward another candidate who will use his set.
It was a tricky situation. If MI5 prosecuted Caroli and executed him, word would reach the Germans, and they would naturally suspect the other spies with whom Caroli had had contact. The double-cross house of cards might come tumbling down. The ultimate decision was to detain Caroli for the duration of the war. He was sent back to Sweden after the war.

National Archives - KV 2/60 - Caroli/SUMMER file
National Archives - KV 4/187 - Liddell Diaries

22 October 2018

Upcoming Book - The Beautiful Spy: The Life and Crimes of Vera Eriksen by David Tremain (2019)

The Beautiful Spy: The Life and Crimes of Vera Eriksen by David Tremain (cover from The History Press site)
The Beautiful Spy: The Life and Crimes
of Vera Eriksen by David Tremain
(cover from The History Press site)
Super-excited! A book on Vera Eriksen is coming out February 2019 by a friend of mine, David Tremain. It is also being published by The History Press (publishers of my book on Josef Jakobs).

The blurb notes:
Often described as ‘the most beautiful spy’, Vera Eriksen could almost rival First World War spy Mata Hari and the various ‘Bond girls’ who followed her. Perhaps the archetypal ‘femme fatale’ of the Second World War, her story is less well-known than it should be. Like most spies, nothing about her background is clear-cut, or straightforward. Many of the facts surrounding her life are contradictory; some are speculation, or simply fantasy; the rest have been expunged from her files, and few can be verified absolutely. The reasons why have remained hidden to this day and may never be uncovered. Yet in spite of her alleged involvement in espionage, she was a somewhat tragic figure who was yearning for a lost love. When she set out on her spying mission in September 1940, the love of her life had just been killed. It is a story shrouded in mystery and intrigue, and clouded by the mists of time. Even her fate at the hands of British Intelligence was contentious. We will probably never know who the real Vera was or who she became in later life. It suited her to be enigmatic – and that is the way she will remain.
Vera was one of the spies who landed on the Banffshire coast in late September 1940. She was accompanied by Karl Theodore Druecke and Werner Walti (likely an alias). The three spies were apprehended quickly and send down to Camp 020 for interrogation. While Druecke and Walti were hanged at Wandsworth Prison on 6 August 1941, the fate of Vera remains a mystery. Was she repatriated back to Germany at the end of the war? Did she die there a few years later? Or was she given a new identity and sent off to the Isle of Wight to live her life in obscurity? Can't wait to read this book!

It's going to be released 1 February 2019 in the United Kingdom... which means it might make it across the Atlantic by the summer of 2019.