09 July 2014

Book Review - Camp 020 by Col Robin Stephens, editted by Oliver Hoare


Camp 020: MI5 and the Nazi Spies (book cover)
Camp 020: MI5 and the Nazi Spies
(book cover)
The Book
Camp 020: MI5 and the Nazi Spies, Lt Col. R.W.G. Stephens, introduced and edited by Oliver Hoare, Public Record Office, 2000.

Review
This book might not be what you would expect, in that it is not a "book" per se. In the 1990s, MI5 declassified a document entitled A Digest of Ham written by Lt. Col. R.W.G. Stephens, the former commandant of Ham (a.k.a. Camp 020). The document forms the core of this book, prefaced by an introduction to World War II espionage and the Double Cross system by Oliver Hoare. While the introduction is quite readable, the document by Stephens is sometimes a challenge, particularly the section on case histories. After a while, all of the case histories begin to sound the same. Part of the challenge is Stephens' unique writing style. Stephens was known as a ferocious, xenophobic interrogator with a flair for the dramatic. His comments about Camp 020 inmates are liberally peppered with exaggerations and prejudices. Stephens wrote the document after World War II and apparently had access to the summary sheets of the inmates, along with his own memory.

Lt Col. Robin W.G. Stephens Commandant of WWII Camp 020
Lt Col. Robin W.G. Stephens
Commandant of WWII Camp 020
One of the case histories that Stephens presented was that of German Spy Josef Jakobs. Even before we get to the section on Jakobs, Stephens mentioned him several time and noted that he was a brave man who told his firing squad to "shoot straight Tommys". In summarizing the case history of Jakobs, Stephens referred to Jakobs as a "doughty opponent" who was "shrewd and courageous". In Stephen's opinion, Jakobs volunteered little useful information and only opened up when it was clear that MI5 already knew certain things about the Abwehr and/or other spies. It is interesting to compare Stephen's assessment of how Jakobs helped MI5 break fellow spy Karel Richter with the actual MI5 case files held at the National Archives. Within those files, Stephens made it clear that without Jakobs it was doubtful if Richter would have been broken. Yet here in the Camp 020 book, Stephens glosses over that contribution of Jakobs.

Summary
Keeping in mind Stephens' predilections for dramatic flair, one does get a slightly different perspective on the case of Josef Jakobs. Stephens, who was disgusted by the craven cowardice of so many of the spies, was impressed with the courage and bravery of Jakobs.

Review Score
3.5 out of 5 - The piece on Jakobs is relatively accurate and makes for an interesting read.

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