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Showing posts from October, 2018

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

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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 yea…

The Great Escape (Attempt) of Gösta Caroli

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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'…

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

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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 o…

Robin W.G. Stephens - Some more leads

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I had emailed Christopher Andrew (author of the authorized history of MI5 - Defend the Realm/Defence of the Realm) a few weeks back asking if he had any further information on Robin W.G. Stephens, commandant of MI5's secret interrogation centre, Camp 020. Specifically, I was interested in any information on Stephens' death.

Andrew replied back promptly with the following:
Most sources in National Archives KV seriesSee Defence of RealmSee further sources mentioned in Andrew and Tonia, Interrogation (this is Andrew and Tobia)Note correspondence a few years ago in TLS by Calder Walton Some thoughts on the above:
I haven't actually looked at the original KV folders that were used as the source for the Camp 020 book by Oliver Hoare. Perhaps there is more in there than I had thought?Defence of the Realm - has some tidbits on Stephens, but nothing on his deathAndrew & Tobia - this is a 2014 publication: Interrogation in War and Conflict: A Comparative and Interdisciplinary Anal…

Bella in the Wych Elm Website

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Andrew Sparke, from APS Publishing, has set up a website for all things Bella-related. He admits it's a bit "content light" at the moment, but hopes to have more content as things move along. There seem to be some broken links at the moment, but I imagine they'll get fixed soon.

Of interest are the airing dates for the Yesterday TV series on Nazi Murder Mysteries:


1. Hitler's Niece - 15 November 2018
2. Duke of Windsor - 22 November 2018
3. Serial Killer in Berlin (The S-Bahn Murderer) - 29 November 2018
4. Bella in the Wych Elm - 6 December 2018 (8 pm)
5. Hermann Goering - 13 December 2018
6. Rudolf Hess - 20 December 2018

 I was in London in February 2018 for a spot of filming for the Bella episode. Looking forward to seeing the final production!

Robin W.G. Stephens and the Estrangement wrought by War

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A few years ago, I received an email from a cousin of Robin W.G. Stephens (commandant of Camp 020). Robin had an aunt... and this cousin is the grandson of the aunt. I think.

I had applied for Stephens' army records in 2016 but, without a family connection, I received the sanitized version of his file. With his cousin's signature, however, we were able to get the entire file released. One of the most interesting things was a letter written to the War Office in February 1946 by Robin's father, William Henry Stephens.

I knew that Robin's parents had been caught on the Bailiwick of Jersey when the Germans invaded and had remained there during the German occupation. I also knew that Robin's mother, Julia Elizabeth (Howell) Stephens had passed away on 13 September 1949 in Cheltenham. Robin's father passed away in Cheltenham in 1962 and his will listed his sister as beneficiary. This was perplexing. While Robin's brother had been killed during the First World War…

Gösta Caroli - Double Agent and Fox Farmer

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I recently heard about a book by Leonard Mosley entitled "The Druid". Written in 1981, it tells the tale of Welshman Gwyn Evans who, as an undetected spy of the German Abwehr, apparently betrayed the Dieppe Raid in 1942. In his book, Mosley also claims that double-agent Gösta Caroli was condemned to death and executed.

I know that Caroli's MI5 file says that he was repatriated back to Sweden at the end of the war, but... one always wonders with MI5. I had a vague recollection of reading something about Caroli's death in Sweden in the 1970s... so I did a bit of digging...

I came across a 2009 forum discussion on ScanGen (Genealogy in Scandinavia) which mentioned Gösta Caroli and, after heavy use of Google Translate, along with some reference to the Swedish Ancestry site, I've stitched together the following.

Birth of Gösta Caroli
In the late 1800s, in Sweden, one Claes Alfred Caroli (born 2 May 1862 in Fellinsbro - died 15 June 1933 in Norra Vram) married Anna Ber…