28 November 2018

Blog Review - B2B or Not B2b - Coldspur blog

Guy Maynard Liddell Head of MI5's B Division
Guy Maynard Liddell
Head of MI5's B Division
Another blogger, and intelligence researcher, Tony Percy has recently tackled the issue of MI5's B-Division structure during the 1939-1941 period.

B Division, under Guy M. Liddell, underwent a significant restructuring in mid 1941 and most authors reference the sections of B Division using the post-restructuring nomenclature.

T.A. Robertson's section, for example, is generally referred to as B1A, it's post mid-1941 restructuring title. The problem is that most authors will use that same title for Robertson's section BEFORE mid-1941, when it was actually called B2A.

There is a pre mid-1941 structural nomenclature and a post mid-1941 structural nomenclature, and they two are very different.

Tony Percy has posted a well-written blog about this issue, and readers are encouraged to visit his blog to get a more in-depth look at the issue.

Tony calls into question the organizational chart of Curry and asks some pointed questions about "authorized" or "official" MI5 histories which neglect to assist readers in navigating the shifting tides of B Division's nomenclature.

23 November 2018

National Archives Spy Files

Over the years, I've amassed a fair few National Archive files on some of the WW2 spies. I thought I'd list them here. Just in case anyone is interested in trading hockey cards. For private study or educational/instructional use of course...

Unless otherwise noted, all are KV 2... I'm particularly interested in enhancing my Liddell diaries...

KV 2/24 folder
KV 2/24 folder
11 to 13 - Kieboom et al
14 to 19 - Vera et al
24 to 27 - Jakobs
30 to 33 - Richter
43 to 47 - Dronkers
50 to 52 - Job
60 - Caroli
85 to 88 - Ritter
114 - Fukken
450 to 451 - Owens
1315 to 1316 - Steiner 
1333 - Boeckel
1452 - Kieboom et al
1699 - Kieboom et al
1700 - Kieboom et al
1701 to 1706 - Vera et al
2106 to 2107 - Moerz
2428 - Meems
2736 - Schipper
2844 to 2845 - Starziczny

HO 144/21472 - Kieboom et al
KV 4/187 to 189 - Liddell diaries

19 November 2018

Phyllis Gwendolen Townshend - first wife of Robin William George Stephens

Sometimes, when you hit a brick wall, it's good to back up, and try another route. Given the current brick wall with the unknown death date of Robin William George Stephens, former commandant of Camp 020, I thought I would back up all the way to his first wife. I have tried various side tracks with his second wife, Joan Geraldine Pearson Dowling and gotten nowhere. So this time, I thought I would take it back another step to his first marriage - to Phyllis Gwendolen (née Townsend) Fletcher in 1927. I wanted to see what had become of Phyllis. Did she remarry? Did she have children who might perhaps know something of her marriage to Robin Stephens. I thought this would be a rather simple blog post but I seem to have caught a tiger by the tail.

Before we start, a few caveats are in order. Phyllis's middle name has be spelt many different ways: Gwendolen, Gwendoline, Gwendlyn - I have generally chosen Gwendolen for consistency. The same can be said of her surname - Townsend, Townshend, Townshand or even Townsand. I have generally left those in their original form but tend to gravitate to Towndshend.

A further caveat - much of this is built upon genealogical information dug up on Ancestry, Familysearch, FindMyPast and DeceasedOnline. The source documents are too numerous too list in detail and my folder on this blog looks something like this:

Some of the research files for this blog post
Some of the research files for this blog post
Fun, no? Suffice to say, it's been quite a job gathering all of the threads to this story and weaving them into a coherent whole. I can't say that I haven't made some mistakes and am always open to new information! Having said that... let's begin.

The Origins of Phyllis Gwendolen Townshend
Phyllis Gwendolen Townshend was born on 24 August 1899 to Charles Collingwood Townshend, a Royal Artillery officer, and Hester Amelia Folger. While I haven't been able to track down a location for her birth, she was likely born in India. Her parents had been married in Calcutta and two of Phyllis' older siblings were born in India. In 1905, Phyllis's mother passed way in India and the following year, Charles married Effie Emily Elles/Ellies in Agra, Bengal, India with whom he had at least one more child.

There is some evidence that Charles and his family sailed back to England, arriving at Weymouth on 9 May 1909. At least one of his daughters stayed behind in India however. Muriel Sylvia Collingwood Townshend (born 1893) married Staff Officer William Black Eddowes on 25 December 1911 in Jubblepur, Bengal, India.

From 1913 onwards, Charles and his other family members apparently lived at Brown Hill in Springfield Road, Camberley. The Royal Military College (Sandhurst) is on the edge of Camberley, and it is always possible that Colonel Townshend was involved in the instruction of young cadets. Charles passed away on 3 March 1918 in Camberley and was buried at St. Peter's Churchyard in Frimley on 6 March 1918.

First Marriage of Phyllis - to Roger C. Fletcher
On 14 December 1918, Phyllis Gwendolen Townsend married Roger Cormell Fletcher at the Church of St. Luke's in Kensington, London. The bride was 21 years old and the groom was 24 years old. Roger was a Captain in the Indian Army and resided at 10 Courfield Road (SW). His father was William Fletcher (DSO) a former Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Phyllis resided at 58 Redcliffe Square (SW) and her father was Charles Collingwood Townsend (deceased), formerly a Colonel with the Royal Artillery.

Ashanti Medal with obverse and reverse and Kumassi  clasp (from Wikipedia)
Ashanti Medal with obverse and reverse and Kumassi
clasp (from Wikipedia)
Roger Cormell (sometimes Cormel or Cornell) was born 16 February 1894 in Wellington, Somerset to William Fletcher and Elizabeth Lawson.

William had a Bachelor of Medicine and served with the Royal Army Medical Corps. According to other records, he was awarded a D.S.O. and the Ashanti Medal and Clasp (in 1901 for service with the Ashanti Field Force in Africa).

Roger and his younger brother and mother were listed on the 1901 English Census as living in Forest Hill, Lewisham.

On 14 January 1914, Roger received a commission into the Indian Army as a Second Lieutenant. According to the London Gazette, he was a gentleman cadet from the Royal Military College. On the 11 October 1914, he was listed as a Second Lieutenant of the 23rd Sikh Pioneers. On 13 April 1916, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant with the 23rd Sikh Pioneers, later ante-dated to 1 September 1915. In 1918 he was promoted to Captain and that same year, he returned to London to marry Phyllis.

Less than a year after their marriage, Phyllis gave birth to a son, Ian Gordon Peter Kinselah Fletcher. The birth was registered in the last quarter of 1919 in Wokingham, west of London, near Reading. We then lose track of Phyllis and her family for almost a decade.

By 1927, Roger was still a Captain with the 1st Battalion of the 3rd Sikh Pioneers but the marital situation of the couple had changed and ended in divorce.

Second Marriage of Phyllis - to Robin W.G. Stephens
On 21 May 1927, Phyllis married Robin William George Stephens in Rawal Pindi, Bengal, India.

Yonder Lye house in Dunsfold, Surrey (from Google Streetview)
Yonder Lye house in Dunsfold, Surrey
(from Google Streetview)
By 1931, however, the couple had returned to England. In his army service records, Robin stated that he was "retired" in 1931.

A year later, on 14 July 1932, Captain Robin W.G. Stephens, lately of 31 De Vere Gardens, Kensington, filed for bankruptcy. The bankruptcy order seems to have gone through and was discharged on 16 June 1933. That same year, Phyllis and Robin had moved out of London and were living at Yonder Lye (now a Grade II listed building) in Dunsfold, Surrey, southwest of England. Their surnames were given as "Townshend-Stephens".

Robin appears to have bumped through a series of odd jobs and endeavours. He was admitted to Lincoln's Inn in November 1933 (topic of a a future blog post), co-authored several legal books and, eventually, in 1935, joined the British Red Cross for service in Abyssinia/Ethiopia during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War (another future blog post). By October 1936, he was back home, recovering from his injuries at the Royal Masonic Hospital in Ravenscourt Park, London.

On 23 October 1936, Robin filed a divorce petition in which he stated that Phyllis committed adultery from 23 December 1935 to 25 May 1936 (presumably while Robin was in Ethiopia). On 22 January 1937 the divorce file notes that "Respondent [Phyllis] filed answer and affidavit verifying, and Petition for Alimony". The next, and final, entry is dated 5 October 1937 and simply states "Petitioner [Robin] filed Reply". There is nothing further on the divorce petition and one wonders if the divorce actually went through. Perhaps Robin and Phyllis were never actually divorced?

The 1939 National Registration & Beyond
ARP - Women's Voluntary Services badge  (from Royal Voluntary Service website)
ARP - Women's Voluntary Services badge
(from Royal Voluntary Service website)
By September 1939 when the National Registration was taken, Phyllis was living at 9 Cleveland Road in Uxbridge. Evidently, her relationship with Cathcart Jones did not amount to anything permanent. Her name was given as Phyllis G. Townshend-Stephens (although the single surname Stephens was later penciled in). Her martial status was "married" (not divorced) and she listed her occupation as "Army Officer's wife". [Robin, on the other hand was living at 64 Ebury Place in Westminster and gave his marital status as single (not divorced).] All of the entries following Phyllis's are "officially closed". The facing page of the National Register is cut-off but has W.V.S. Late (?) District Officer next to her name, suggesting that she was a member of the Women's Voluntary Service. According to the National Identity Card system, Phyllis's registration number would have been BVBR 64/5 (the fifth person in Household #64 in District BVBR).
On the following page of the Uxbridge (BVBR) registration data, most of the entries are "offiically closed" but there is one entry that is of interest: a Barbara E.T. Fletcher, born 13 September 1921, single and an Army Officer's daughter, living at 9 Cleveland Gardens, the same address as Phyllis. Her registration number was BVBR 64/6, so the same household as Phyllis.

In 1945, when the electoral register was taken, Phyllis was living at 62 Prince's Square in Paddington. Three Fletcher's were living in the same building: Ian Gordon Peter Kinsellah [sic] Fletcher, Barbara E.T. Fletcher and Antonia Fletcher. By 1946, the group had moved to 64 Southwood Lane in Highgate and was still living there in 1948. By 1952, Ian, Barbara and Phyllis had moved to a rowhouse (4a Queen's Avenue) in Muswell Hill Ward in the north of London (now part of Haringey).  They continued to live there through to 1965. In 1965, Phyllis simply gave her name as Phyllis G. Stephens having dropped the Townshend-Stephens.

Laying Phyllis and the Fletcher's to Rest
As for the nature of the relationships between Phyllis and the three Fletcher's, that is another matter. At first, I had thought that Barbara was Ian's wife but... as I uncovered more information, I don't believe that's the case. I think it's safe to say that Ian is Phyllis's son, which leaves us with Antonia and Barbara.  Given that both women were on the Electoral Register in 1945, they were both likely born sometime before 1924 (the voting age was 21 years until 1969). They therefore can't be children of Ian (born 1919). So what was their relationship?

Trent Park Cemetery, Islington, London (from wikipedia)
Trent Park Cemetery, Islington, London
(from wikipedia)
A bit of digging has revealed a burial registration for Barbara Effie Townshend Fletcher. She passed away on 24 April 1989, a resident of Fern Bank, Finchley Way and was buried on 28 August 1989 in Trent Park, Islington (grave/vault 1350 CA). Barbara was 67 years old which gives a rough birth date of 1922. The death registration index states that she was born 13 September 1921.

Phyllis's mother died in 1905, when Phyllis was six years old. Her father, Charles Collingwood Townsend remarried in 1906, to one Effie Emily Ellies. Could Barbara Effie Townshend Fletcher be another child of Phyllis and Roger? Carrying the name of Phyllis' step-mother? It is a distinct possibility. The fact that Barbara was buried under her presumed maiden name, Fletcher, would suggest that she never married and likely never had any offspring.

Barbara was not, however, the first person from the Fletcher/Townsend clan to be buried at Trent Park. On 6 January 1969, one Phyllis Gwendoline Fletcher (age 68) was buried at Trent Park in Islington, London. Her abode had been Hornsey Central Hospital in Crouch End, North London and she passed away in the last quarter of 1968 in Haringey. The age is about right (born around 1900). One could wonder if this is our Phyllis but this seems to be confirmed by another internment in the same grave plot: Ian Gordon Peter Kinselah Fletcher, born 28 September 1919, died in the last quarter of 1983 and buried 18 September 1985 (almost two years later). He had been living at 14 South Grove House in Camden. The age and rather unique name are in line with what we know about Phyllis' son (birth registered in the last quarter of 1919). Ian is buried in grave/vault 451 CD.

The fact that Ian was buried with his mother would seem to suggest that he too never married, or at the very least, that he was not buried with his wife, if he had one. I haven't been able to dig up much about Ian, except one obscure reference. According to a British Gliding Association technical news sheet (8/9/10/76) from 1976, one I.G.P.K. Fletcher of 34 Warner Road, London was an Ordinary Inspector (#202) of the British Gliding Association. Not much to go on.

Lt. Col. Roger Cormell Fletcher
Companion of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire
Companion of the Most Eminent
Order of the Indian Empire
As for Roger Cormell Fletcher, Phyllis' first husband, he continued to advance through the ranks after their presumed divorce in the mid 1920s. In 1931, Captain R.C. Fletcher submitted a report, as Assistant Commandant of the Burma Military Police, on an expedition to Burma. A year later, on 14 January 1932, he was promoted to the rank of Major.

His father, William Fletcher, passed away in Edinburgh in 1933. Two years later, Roger married Joyce Irvine Gower Crawford in Kensington, London. We then lose track of Roger for a few years but he must have returned to India and continued his military career and been promoted.

In early January 1938, Lt. Col. Roger Cormell Fletcher, Indian Army, Commandant of the 3rd Burma Rifles was appointed to be a Companion of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire.

There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that on 3 March 1941 Roger commanded the 1st Bahawalpur Infantry as it sailed for Malaya. By 1944, however, poor health had gotten the better of Roger and he retired from the Indian Army on 11 September 1944. He must have recovered for in 1946, he and his second wife sailed from Liverpool to Bombay. It is unclear whether they remained in India for several years or traveled back and forth to England, but on 17 March 1954, Roger's wife, Joyce passed away in Glendon Kotagiri Nilgaris (southern India). Roger returned to England in 1958. He stated that he was a permanent resident of India and that his future residence was to be Scotland. Roger passed away in Scotland (Kelso) in 1968.

I had initially picked up this tiger's tail/tale with a view to figuring out what had become of Robin Stephens' first wife, Phyllis Gwendolen (née Townsend) Fletcher. I thought that there might be descendants who might have some snippets of information about Robin Stephens, but now I'm not so sure. We are left with many unanswered questions:
  • Did and Phyllis and Roger have more than one child?
  • Who was Antonia Fletcher? What happened to her?
  • Who was Barbara Effie Townsend Fletcher?
  • Did Ian, Barbara or Antonia ever get married and have children?
  • Why did Phyllis carry the Townsend-Stephens name for so long after her split with Robin?
  • Did Robin and Phyllis not finalize their divorce?
  • Why was Phyllis buried as a Fletcher? Had Robin passed away and she was then free to take her previous surname?

Historic England - entry on Yonder Lye in Dunsfold
Deceased Online
Ancestry genealogical website
FamilySearch genealogical website
Scotland's People genealogical website
FindMyPast genealogical website
Find-a-Grave website
British Gliding Association newsletter
Burma report by Captain Roger Cormell Fletcher
Blog on Roger Cormell Fletcher's mission to Malaya
Central Provinces District report - mentions Roger Cormell Fletcher

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 (Cover Name Dr. Rantzau) - Nikolaus Ritter (1972)

Cover -

The Book
Deckname Dr. Rantzau - Die Aufzeichnungen des Nikolaus Ritter, Offizier under Canaris im Geheimen Nachrichtendiesnt. [Cover 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: