17 January 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review Score
4 out of 5 - readable and fairly comprehensive

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