D-Day did not by any means mark the end of the war, and SIS could not rest on such intelligence laurels as it had earned by the invasion’s success. Although victory over Germany was increasingly regarded as inevitable, sustained stiff enemy resistance on the Eastern and Western Fronts left the Allied forces (including SIS) with much yet to do. But the process by which legitimate governments would be re-established in formerly occupied countries, and anticipations about the political balance of postwar Europe, began to preoccupy planners in the East and the West. SIS had a part to play in these developments, and especially so with the growing appreciation of the Soviet Union’s intentions to drop even the pretence of Allied co-operation and pursue self-interested (and understandable) ambitions to ensure its security by dominating Eastern and Central Europe.
Belgium and the Netherlands
In the run-up to D-Day, Service Clarence had continued to supply excellent intelligence for SIS, such as a map of the Pas de Calais defences; details of German defence installations at Belgian ports; the numbers of troops and trains passing through Belgium to France and the Netherlands; information on German air force activity across a range of airfields in the region; and news about the gradual arrival in Belgium of the SS Adolf Hitler Division. The network also provided notes from Germany on the jet engine of the Messerschmitt Me-262 fighter and continued to procure information on V-weapons.1 In mid-May 1944, Frederick Jempson, head of the Belgian Section in Broadway, reported that Service Clarence had suggested reorganising their communications in anticipation of the expected invasion. In order to speed up the flow of intelligence they proposed dividing the network into nine sections, each with a wireless or Ascension operator. The sole Ascension operator currently in Belgium, code-named ‘Player’, had been in the field since early 1943, but had fallen ill and been ordered to take ‘a complete rest for 3 months’. Another operator, whom he had trained, had been arrested in March 1944. While London was keen to help, skilled operators could not be conjured out of thin air. Commander Cohen approved a scheme whereby a wireless and two Ascension operators, ‘specially chosen and . . . amongst the best Agents now available’, would be sent out ‘during the next moon period if possible’. Codes and sets for three locally recruited ‘professional radio operators’ would also be dropped, and ‘other wireless operators will follow’. The first three agents, all ‘Ascension-trained’, parachuted in on 4 July, but it took a further month before another six operators (three Ascension and three wireless) were dropped in on 4 and 5 August. One of these agents was specifically instructed to concentrate on ‘German rail transport arrangements’. Reflecting the careful security which now applied to the infiltration of agents, and to prevent the agents from carrying any compromising material with them, such as a British box of matches or bar of chocolate, a note on the file recorded that they were searched twice, by Jempson in London and ‘before leaving aerodrome by the Escorting Officer’.
A sketch map of German defences at the Pas de Calais made by a Service Clarence agent in November 1943.
Brussels was liberated on 3 September 1944, and soon afterwards the SIS unit attached to 21st Army Group headquarters reached the city. On 18 October London told the head of the unit that to meet the army’s needs he should speed up the delivery of information, concentrating on ‘operational intelligence, not only from opposite his front, but from well on the flanks’. Before continuing its advance into the Netherlands, officers were hived off to form the nucleus of an SIS station, initially to liaise with the Belgian Sûreté, which was also in the process of re-establishing itself in Brussels. Accompanied by the Sûreté chief, Fernand Lepage, Jempson himself landed at Arromanches in Normandy on 11 September and arrived in Brussels two days later, basing himself at the Hôtel Métropole. Here his priorities were V-2 weapons (reports were still coming in of V-2 tests at Venlo in eastern Holland) and the penetration of Germany. On 15 September Jempson reported that he was sending a Service Clarence man into the Reich to prepare a reception committee for six agents to be dropped in by parachute during the next moon.
By 1944 SIS’s Dutch Section, P.8, was running five networks in the Netherlands reporting through some thirty wireless sets, and they were part of a standing committee with their Dutch opposite numbers BI (the Bureau Inlichtingen), SOE and its Dutch equivalent BBO (Bureau Bijzondere Opdrachten). Paralleling this London organisation was the NBS, the Nederlandsche Binnenlandse Strijkrachten (Dutch Forces of the Interior), which was created to co-ordinate Dutch resistance. In September it set up a headquarters in Brussels, including SIS and SOE representatives. After the first Allied troops crossed the Dutch frontier on 11 September, it was widely assumed that the Netherlands would soon be liberated, and resistance groups stepped up their activities. A national railway strike was called to assist the Allied advance. But the costly failure of the ambitious operation to seize a bridgehead over the Rhine at Arnhem was followed by a period of military stalemate which lasted through the winter. Behind the enemy lines, German security units, reinforced by withdrawals from France and Belgium, punished the Dutch for their premature action. Food supplies collapsed and the civilian population suffered appalling privations, with an estimated fifteen thousand people dying of hunger. While SIS wireless links carried news of the suffering to the outside world, money and letters of authorisation from the Dutch government to spend large sums on relief measures were dropped in with Dutch and SIS agents.
Meanwhile No. 2 Intelligence Unit, which had moved to Eindhoven, continued to supply tactical military information and serve as the link for the transmission of intelligence from both London and agents across enemy lines. In early 1945 some thirteen SIS wireless sets were reporting from German-occupied territory. But, based now in the Netherlands itself, the SIS team were also able to exploit an unexpectedly rewarding new source by tapping into a Dutch electricity company’s private telephone network which had lines connecting company offices and the private homes of employees across the country. Using one of these private telephones in Allied-occupied territory, communication was established with points in the enemy-occupied zone, from which agents were able to provide a mass of tactical information with such speed that in a number of instances air strikes could be called up against the particular target reported. But casualties were especially heavy during the final campaign for the Netherlands. Of eighty-nine agents sent out from England, or infiltrated through enemy lines, thirty-nine were arrested and twenty-eight were shot or died in German captivity.
The Germans’ counter-attack in the Ardennes, the Battle of the Bulge (their last major offensive of the war), launched on 16 December 1944, shook easy assumptions that the war was effectively over. For a moment it seemed as if the new Brussels station would have to be put on a renewed war footing. London instructed it to alert existing Belgian networks ‘with a view to creating strong stay-behind organisations’. Within hours Brussels had replied: ‘agents in situ, crystals issued and all sets working to Section VIII, who are requested to begin listening forthwith. Further teams being sent to Liège area.’ But the German offensive quickly ran out of steam and the stay-behind teams were not required. Marking the improved situation, at the start of February 1945 London cancelled the wireless plans and operator codes of no fewer than fourteen Belgian networks. Apart from attempts to penetrate Germany, the Brussels station thereafter turned to the demobilisation of wartime agents, liaison with the Sûreté and the question of an SIS peacetime set-up in the country.
When the Berlin station closed at the outbreak of the war, its residual functions had been transferred to London. Contact was lost with most of its agents, though a few of the better ones were reactivated after the war. A few German agents were already being run from London or from third countries and continued to be run, but with increased difficulty, during the war. By the spring of 1943 operations against Germany carried out from the United Kingdom had become the responsibility of the P.6 Section, acting partly as a station-in-waiting in London. This was led by Major Reginald Simon Gallienne, a Channel Islander who had studied French and German at Oxford and had then taught in Breslau (Wrocław), Germany, in the late 1930s and had joined SIS from the Intelligence Corps in July 1942 on appointment as P.6. Assisting him in the section were an old Germany hand and interwar veteran of the Service, and another officer, who had been born and educated in Hamburg, had worked as a chartered accountant and merchant banker specialising in Germany, and had joined SIS in late 1942.
During the autumn of 1944 the Service began to lay the basis for a reconstituted German section. In November the old Berlin station symbol, ‘12000’, was revived for the officer who had been P.6 since late June 1944. While he stayed in London, Lieutenant Colonel G. M. ‘Paul’ Paulson, with the ‘German’ designation ‘12600’, was posted from the SIS station in Paris to command No. 2 Intelligence Unit and make active preparations for penetrating Germany. P.6 officers looked for potential agents among German prisoners-of-war in the United Kingdom, targeting Communists, Social Democrats and others with less obvious reasons for opposing Nazism. But it was slow work and the returns were meagre, as a report in November 1944 made clear. Only four teams had been despatched. ‘Ewen’, a member of the Sudeten Social Democratic Party, had been ‘launched to Sudetenland from Adriatic’ in May 1944: ‘Nothing heard since’. ‘Chip’ and ‘Rance’, a Briton and a German ex-prisoner: ‘Operation launched 10/11 April 44. Contact made with W/T op. but nothing heard since mid-September 44.’ ‘Chip’ was the thirty-five-year-old Philip Frank Chamier, whose father was British and mother German. Having been brought up in Germany, he spoke the language like a native. The Service employed him in 1938-9, when he made several trips to Germany, photographing airfields and gathering ‘useful’ military information. After working as an interrogator of German prisoners-of-war in Egypt, in February 1942 he offered ‘to go to Germany’ for SIS, as he wanted ‘to do something worthwhile before war is over’. ‘I am all for his going,’ minuted one officer at Broadway; ‘mustn’t let slip a chance of getting a man into Germany if he has any potentialities, and can be trusted.’ But it was over two years before Chamier and his German-born radio operator, Friedrich Reschke, were dropped into the Reich. Postwar interrogation of German security officials revealed that shortly after they landed Reschke had betrayed Chamier, who was ‘very brutally treated’ by the Gestapo in a vain effort to get him to work for them as a double agent. There was no certainty about his ultimate fate, though one report asserted that, held in a Berlin prison, he had been killed during an Allied air raid in 1945.2
The third team comprised ‘Hamish’ and ‘Geoffrey’, two Germans: ‘Operation launched from Adriatic 5/6 Sept. 44, but dropped in wrong area and agents were captured by Yugoslav partisans. We await their release. ’ The fourth team (two Germans again), were also dropped in the wrong place, and dramatically so, ‘in Slovakia instead of near Vienna’. One had been picked up by Slovak partisans; of the other there was ‘no news’. Even had the agents survived to report back to London, it is not clear that they could have produced much useful intelligence, beyond humdrum ‘de visu’ (observation) reports of such things as enemy troop movements, the kind of thing which (as demonstrated by Service Clarence in Belgium) only really became useful if supplied in large quantities from a multiplicity of sources. On the other hand, had the Germans been able to dig in and hold their western defence lines, and if the Reich had taken longer to collapse than it actually did, then even low-level tactical information would have been of value to the advancing Allied forces.
In mid-December 1944 a well-placed and experienced German intelligence officer from the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA: state security organisation) contacted the newly reopened British embassy in Paris and explained that he had been sent by his superior on a special mission to make contact with the British government, mentioning Churchill and Lord (formerly Sir Robert) Vansittart in particular. When asked to explain, he outlined a vague plan for the many Germans who were against Hitler and the continuance of the war to co-operate with the British in avoiding the destruction of Germany and the dismantling of its industrial base by the Russians, Americans and French. This, he added, could lead only to Germany’s absorption into the Russian sphere of influence, which would surely be unacceptable to the British. He claimed that, although he did not represent an organised resistance movement, his immediate superior had a very wide range of longstanding contacts in the Wehrmacht, heavy industry and the professions. During an initial debriefing, he produced some useful tactical intelligence about German military dispositions and immediate plans, including sabotage in the Dutch-German border region. He identified some German agents in the Netherlands and France; explained that the Germans had had advance knowledge of the Arnhem landings from captured Dutch agents; fingered a Dutch traitor in Queen Wilhelmina’s staff; mentioned a number of operations for infiltrating agents to Ireland by sea; and described plans for a resistance movement within Germany. His mission was believed in Broadway to be ‘apparently part of German plans to disrupt Allied relationships’.
The Foreign Office and Anthony Eden (the Foreign Secretary) shared this view and SIS was authorised to debrief him further only on the understanding that the Soviet and United States governments were informed of his arrival, and it was emphasised to them that no attention was being paid to any political suggestions he might make. Frank Foley then questioned him (now given the code-name ‘Dictionary’) in Paris and concluded that he was ‘a character of the highest importance and that provided he is interrogated fully at an early date, his evidence will prove invaluable as it will add enormously to our knowledge of the inner political, military and SD [Sicherheitsdienst] circles in Germany’. On Foley’s recommendation Dictionary was brought to the United Kingdom for further interrogation, and over the next six months became SIS’s most productive human source of the war on German counter-intelligence matters, producing a mass of detailed organisational and historical information (for example, about Venlo), as well as details of personalities, ranging from leading political figures to individual intelligence officers, much of which could naturally be cross-checked by reference to signals intelligence material.
Over the turn of the year 1944-5 Paulson’s unit continued to work steadily on penetrating Germany. Arrangements were made with the help of CSDIC – the Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre – to process prisoners-of-war captured by 21st Army Group in Belgium and identify potential recruits for reinfiltration. Lists of possible contacts in twenty-three German cities and towns were prepared. In London, Kenneth Cohen drew up a detailed standard format for monthly progress reports on the number of missions despatched by the unit and their success or failure, the number of recruitments made and reports sent, and so on. A great deal of attention was paid to such operational details as transport, false documentation, civilian clothes and comforts (among other things, P.6 was asked for ‘3 jars of operational rum and 6 small flasks’). A few more agents were parachuted into Germany with wireless sets in late 1944 and early 1945, but produced little or no intelligence, though after the end of hostilities some of the survivors were retasked as agents in Germany. SOE was simultaneously trying to mount similar drops for a deception operation, ‘Periwig’, designed to persuade the Germans that there was an active domestic resistance movement supported by the British. This caused something of a clash of priorities between the two agencies, which SIS won, and various restrictions were put on the SOE effort. But there was also co-operation. SIS allowed two of its agents recruited in North Africa, one French and one Alsatian, to be used for an SOE plan (Operation ‘Longshanks’) aimed at persuading the Germans that Field Marshal von Rundstedt was plotting to overthrow Hitler and was in secret communication with the Allies.
One of the earliest P.6 agents parachuted into Germany was an anti-Nazi Yugoslav who had been recruited by SIS in Uruguay, where he was working in the construction industry. He was brought to the United Kingdom in 1944, trained for undercover work and provided with a false identity as ‘Josef Bauer’, a ‘cement worker’ employed in Germany by the Berlin firm of Siemens-Bauunion. On the night of 2/3 October 1944 he and ‘Brian’, his German-Jewish radio operator, were dropped into south-east Germany, near Heilbronn, from where they had to make their way to Magdeburg, east of Berlin, where Bauer was to be based. His objectives were to report on ‘military and air identifications’, ‘production figures of industrial concerns’, ‘air-raid damage’, ‘morale of the population’ and ‘tendency of the Nazi movement to go underground’. By 11 October the two men had reached Berlin and made contact with an agent of the SIS Stockholm station who smuggled out a secret-writing letter from the agent asking for additional German identity documents and describing Berlin as ‘unbeschreiblich kaput’ (indescribably finished). But he was arrested by the Gestapo on 28 October, having been denounced by an informer, and Brian was shot the following day at his lodgings. Postwar interrogation of one of the German security officials involved revealed that Bauer had ‘taken two poison pills’ which failed to work and under questioning had revealed his radio operator’s location. There is no conclusive proof of his ultimate fate, though another postwar report presumed that he had subsequently been executed. In late 1944 Broadway estimated the average life of an agent in Germany at three weeks.
As 21st Army Group moved into Germany, No. 2 Intelligence Unit continued to mount short-range operations ahead of its advance. In February, for example, Operation ‘Fugitive’ was designed to assist ‘in the mounting of a feint attack across the [River] Roer’, near the Dutch- German frontier just north of Maastricht. Two Dutch agents were put across the enemy lines to spread false information among local villagers about Allied troop concentrations. This they did, and also returned with information about German troop dispositions. The army subsequently expressed themselves as ‘highly satisfied with the result’. Paulson noted, however, that, while ‘our fundamental job is to help the Army in any way we can’, ‘this sort of operation does NOT really come into our brief ’. SIS was also asked to consider what could be done in the Kiel and Schleswig-Holstein region in view of the possibility that the Army Group might have to fight its way into Denmark. Although an officer with Danish experience was sent out, in April 1945 Kenneth Cohen in London reflected the SIS view that ‘generally speaking we had hoped to be released from such operations and from short-term infiltrations which from recent experience are quickly overrun and have little opportunity in the present disorganised state of German formations of providing military intelligence of value’. He was ‘most anxious’ that Paulson’s unit and P.6 ‘should now begin to concentrate on longer term schemes’.
Reviewing the work of No. 2 Intelligence Unit three weeks before the German capitulation Paulson confirmed that he had discontinued most ‘short-term tactical missions’ and now considered that for the immediate future SIS’s role in Germany was ‘to prepare the ground for future clandestine work by investigating the possibilities of placing long-term agents behind our own lines and in “British” [meaning British-occupied] Germany generally’. He would continue ‘the investigation of likely recruits and the search for personal and other documents for which we have already been asked by H.O.’, and also ‘prepare lists of, and if possible with great care to make contacts with, individuals who may be of use in the future’. Meanwhile plans were made for the post-hostilities SIS organisation in Germany. The headquarters unit was to be called the War Office Liaison Group, with an establishment of thirty, under 12000, and Paulson (‘12600’) as second-in-command. Headed by Gallienne, No. 2 Intelligence Unit would continue to serve as the link between SIS and the local army headquarters, but it was to be renamed No. 5 CCU (Civil Control Unit).
Although Finland was allied to Germany from the summer of 1941 until late 1944, during this period some of Harry Carr’s old contacts in the Finnish intelligence community kept in touch with him while his station was in exile in Stockholm, as did various Finnish agents reporting on both Finnish and German matters, including Axis shipping movements. Towards the end of 1943 Colonel Reino Hallamaa (head of Finnish signals intelligence) met Carr and told him of plans to evacuate key members of his staff and all his records from Helsinki to Sweden to prevent them falling into the hands of the Soviets should Finland be forced out of the war. Hallamaa proposed that SIS should take over the lot and move them to the United Kingdom, where they could continue to work on the Soviet target. Before returning to Helsinki he gave Carr a German Enigma machine for secret communication with him in Finland (presumably in blissful ignorance of Bletchley Park’s successes in breaking Enigma cyphers). Carr immediately raised the proposal with London, where it was considered by Menzies himself, who turned it down flat, on the grounds that he did not want a group of Finns (at this time officially enemy nationals) working on cryptographic matters in the United Kingdom. Under the code-name ‘Stella Polaris’, Hallamaa proceeded with the evacuation to Sweden all the same, and offered his records to the French, who gratefully accepted them. Biffy Dunderdale, in turn, learned of this from his French contacts and was able to arrange for SIS to get copies of the material. Thus the Service in the end obtained the material without having to make any embarrassing commitments. After the end of the war, the Swedes found Hallamaa (who had remained in Sweden) a bit of a hot potato, and, at the request of the French, Carr helped to have him smuggled out through Denmark and Germany to France where he went to ground under an assumed name.
Thanks from General Eisenhower to Menzies for the
Bletchley Park intelligence which saved ‘thousands of
British and American lives’.
On 12 September 1944, in Moscow, Finland signed an armistice with the Allies, following which, as a defeated enemy, it came under the oversight of an Allied Control Commission, led by Colonel General Andrei Zhdanov, the senior Soviet political officer on the Leningrad Front. This was the first of a series of similar postwar Allied military administrations in defeated enemy countries, within which (or alongside which) SIS would seek to operate. In Finland (as elsewhere) the leading position of the Soviets presented particular challenges for the Service, especially since the Foreign Office line at this stage was to avoid making any trouble with the Soviets, who were still, in name at least, allies. Top-secret Foreign Office instructions to the British members of the commission underlined this point. British officers were to establish ‘frank and friendly relations’ with their Soviet colleagues and refrain from contacts with Finns which were ‘likely to give offence to the Soviet authorities’, but they were also to note that while ‘our ultimate policy is to ensure a Free and independent Finland . . . it must always be remembered that Finland is a conquered country and will have to work her passage home’.3 The Helsinki station’s exile ended in March 1945 when Rex Bosley was posted to reopen it, operating initially under the control of Harry Carr in Stockholm. Bosley was a gifted intelligence officer (nicknamed ‘the Ferret’), whom Carr had recruited in Helsinki just before the war and who had been a most effective assistant thereafter. After Carr had been called home in May 1945, following a long postwar leave becoming Controller Northern Area with responsibility for all of Scandinavia in September, Bosley took full charge of the Helsinki station, based initially in the office of the British Political Representative, but in 1947 as Assistant Information Officer in the legation.
Relations with the Soviets affected the management of a liaison contact run by Carr’s Helsinki station-in-exile. This was ‘43931’, the former Estonian Director of Military Intelligence, Colonel Richard Maasing, a fierce anti-Communist who had been helped by the Germans to escape from Estonia in 1940, had done some work for the Abwehr and had then come to Sweden, where he offered his services, reporting on German military matters, both to SIS and to the Japanese military attaché in Stockholm, General Makoto Onodera. Maasing was regarded as a valuable contact, though after the German defeat at Stalingrad in early 1943 he began mainly to produce reports (which he supplied not only to the British and Japanese, but to the Swedes as well) on the Red Army as it swept westwards. An old intelligence hand, he had consistently refused to reveal his sub-sources to SIS. In 1942 he fiercely resisted a demand from London that he ‘come clean in the whole matter of his organisation’. Observing that obtaining information on German intentions was ‘most difficult, dangerous and thankless work’, he claimed that he and his men were working for a cause and would continue to do so whether SIS needed the results or not. In late 1944 Onodera’s cables to Tokyo (which Bletchley Park were reading) showed that Maasing was more forthcoming about his sources to Onodera than to SIS, prompting renewed concerns about his reliability. Besides, the Foreign Office had banned direct work against the Soviets, and as their importance to the Allied cause grew, London became increasingly nervous about the risk of them finding out that SIS was associating with such an anti-Soviet character. Head Office therefore instructed that Maasing be given an ultimatum to reveal his sub-sources or the relationship be terminated. He again refused and was paid off. Carr later discovered that one of the officers in Head Office who had strongly advocated the ultimatum was Kim Philby, who would presumably have passed on to his Soviet masters whatever Maasing revealed about his sources (whom Carr believed included Communist Party members still in the Soviet Union).
In the later stages of the war the various SIS groups in Sweden handled an increasing amount of counter-espionage work. Peter Falk, the Section V representative posted to Stockholm in April 1943, had quickly established liaison with Norwegian and Polish opposite numbers, as well as the Swedish security police. He also took over from the SOE station two agents with access to the German legation. One of these was a German woman refugee who worked for the German legation’s Press Section. Although her access to material of real intelligence interest was limited, her presence within the legation enabled her to report on German personalities and their coming and going, thus providing valuable background and targeting information. She received daily news briefings from Berlin and visited Germany and Finland for Falk. She was never paid, but was given British nationality in 1945 and resettled in the United Kingdom. In April 1944 another specialist Section V officer was posted to Stockholm to concentrate on liaison work with the Danes. Towards the very end of the war, counter-espionage work began to loom larger, as SIS sought to encourage the Scandinavian countries, when hostilities ceased, to round up those of their nationals who had worked as agents for the Germans, or were pro-Nazi. The information which emerged from the Krämer case added to Falk’s knowledge of suspects in Sweden and set the basis for increased counter-espionage exchanges with the Swedes, who became more inclined to co-operate as the Allied victory became more certain.4
The Bari station
In August 1944 Cuthbert Bowlby, who had been designated H/Med since October 1943, began to consider long-term strategy in the Mediterranean theatre and press London for guidance about this. Reflecting the changed focus of military operations, he proposed concentrating the regional SIS effort in Italy and Istanbul, and running down the Middle East headquarters in Cairo. Arguing that Austria should be the main base for SIS activities throughout south-east Europe after the war, he raised the possibility of working into the Soviet sphere from there, as well as from Italy and Bulgaria. Although he stressed that such operations would not be ‘palatable’ to the Soviets, he thought that they ‘could be undertaken without their knowledge, provided that it is skilfully and methodically thought out’. London considered such planning to be premature. Although he had raised the matter generally with Bowlby the previous September, Menzies now preferred ‘to await the experience which we may gain from our first contacts with the 95-landers [Soviets] in our joint missions in the 91-land [Balkan] countries’. Reflecting the unusual consequences of fighting a war alongside a past and potentially future enemy, Marshall-Cornwall realistically thought it unlikely that ‘any of our present personnel’ in the Mediterranean could be used in renewed operations against the Soviet Union. But, as he observed to John Bruce Lockhart (who had also raised the matter of forward planning), SIS needed to ‘draw a clear distinction between post-armistice plans and peace plans’. For the moment all that Bruce Lockhart (and Bowlby) need consider was the former. Planning for the longer term was not their business, but would be conducted in London.
Bruce Lockhart’s No. 1 Intelligence Unit was one of the SIS successes of the war. From later 1943, following the Italian capitulation, it had a sub-section liaising with the Italian Military Intelligence service, SIM, which had particularly good right-wing and Italian army sources. Another sub-section, which was kept completely separate, developed contacts among Italian opposition groups, including the Communists. Bruce Lockhart brought over from North Africa a leading party activist – with the appropriate cover-name ‘Rosso’ – to ‘establish the Communist Party in Southern Italy’, gave him wireless sets and got him to organise his comrades in the north ‘to transmit military intelligence to us’. Bruce Lockhart, moreover, personally fetched Rosso’s wife and child ‘from a hovel in Tunis’ and brought them to Italy, for which, he recalled some years later, ‘I suffered an orgy of osculation not only by the wife but by [Rosso] – a very unpleasant memory.’ The networks in northern Italy, which proved to be an extremely fruitful source of valuable information, were run by Brian Ashford-Russell, an ex-Commando who had been badly wounded and taken prisoner in North Africa. Having lost the use of his left hand, and being left-handed, he had managed to get himself repatriated under the Geneva Convention as unfit for further military service. He made a tremendous success of his task. Reporting on him in mid-1944, Bowlby described his performance as ‘astounding’. ‘As far as I can remember,’ he wrote to Menzies, ‘during my 6 years in your organisation, nothing very much has ever been produced from Italy, which makes the results achieved all the more meritorious. Somehow he has made Italians enthusiastic about this kind of work which is no mean achievement.’ Bruce Lockhart reported in August that he ran his section ‘like clockwork’, was ‘very loyal’, and ‘once given instructions, no matter how much he disagrees with them, he carries the instructions out to the letter’. Here Bruce Lockhart dryly added that he had ‘found this a somewhat rarer virtue in [SIS] than in the Army’. Ashford-Russell, however, was not perfect. Bowlby described him as ‘a man of extreme (there is no other word) personal ambition which prompts him to aspire to quicker promotion than is the normal practice in this organisation’. But he was also ‘extremely able’. Bowlby and Bruce Lockhart, therefore, had ‘ignored the former, except to tell 32300 [Ashford-Russell] not to be a B.F. [bloody fool], and concentrate on the latter, our main objective being to obtain information which might assist in defeating the Axis’. In this, he concluded, ‘our efforts have been fully rewarded’. Menzies shared Bowlby’s concern about Ashford-Russell’s personal ambitions. ‘Past experience’, he wrote, had demonstrated that ‘conceit’ was ‘a dangerous trait for those engaged in our particular trade’ and (perhaps with Venlo in mind) he could ‘call to mind several disasters from this characteristic, which generally means that the individual despises his opponents, with dire consequences’.
But London continued to worry about ‘liaison’ with ‘Communists, Socialists and Patriots’. Bruce Lockhart explained that the reason why SIS had to ‘remain on friendly terms’ with the Communists in the liberated area was ‘partly in order to obtain recruits’, but ‘far more to obtain access to their organisations North of the [enemy] line’, adding that it was ‘fair to say that 80% of the information coming from North Italy is obtained from Communist, Socialist and Patriotic organisations’ and it was ‘doubtful whether without their help we could even have got our network started’. Lest the station should be suspected of having gone off the rails politically, in July 1944 he reassured Bowlby he was satisfied that ‘in our relations with the Communists and Socialists’, SIS had not ‘gone beyond what was strictly necessary for obtaining military information’.
Ashford-Russell ran most of these networks, and through him SIS provided the Italian Communists with communications equipment and codes for them to report back on enemy order-of-battle information, but the Service also routinely monitored all Communist signals traffic. By this means, and through a British officer openly based in the Party headquarters in Naples (though not formally acknowledged as being SIS), the Service gathered much political intelligence as well. Shortly before the fall of Rome in June 1944 Palmiro Togliatti, General Secretary of the Communist Committee for Liberated Italy and future leader of the post-war Italian Communist Party, arrived from Moscow. Although he ejected the SIS representative, he promised that Communists would continue to supply information, but from now on this was limited to military matters. In the spring of 1945, when it was clear that the Germans were beaten, and much of northern Italy was in Communist hands, Togliatti terminated the wartime marriage of convenience with SIS. While the volume of intelligence from Communists fell off in early 1945, other left-wing groups continued to supply a considerable quantity of information through Ashford-Russell’s head agent in Milan, who was a political activist. From May to September 1944, in a series of reports marked by this agent’s ‘wide experience . . . of men and their problems’, he covered the partisan organisation and operations, the dispositions and morale of the Germans, Italian Fascist forces, propaganda, politics, economics, the Church and the press. In October, having briefly come out to Rome for consultations, he and a colleague were infiltrated back behind enemy lines in the unhappily named operation ‘Wop/Risky’ (a title both offensively inappropriate and insecure, since the point of a code-name is ideally to bear no relation whatsoever to the operation in question). They were flown from Bari to Lyons in France, and proceeded to Chamonix where they climbed to 12,000 feet and on foot crossed a corner of Switzerland into Italy. Since it was ‘undoubtedly the hardest’ mountain crossing, the Germans did not ‘consider it worth watching’. This agent continued to report for the first four months of 1945, until the end of the war in Italy.
Another of Ashford-Russell’s agents (not, in this case, a Communist), ‘Dragonfly’, had been recruited in South America and operated in Rome for four months during early 1944. He ‘used to lunch regularly’ with Herbert Kappler, the SS chief in the city, ‘and report back to us on the meetings’. He sent large numbers of messages by wireless, and, despite being warned of the dangers of enemy direction finding, refused to cut down the volume of signals, arguing that ‘risks had sometimes to be taken and he would not abandon his post at this critical moment (shortly before the fall of Rome)’. In the end he was caught red-handed (though ‘while the door was being forced open he had time to burn all his papers’), and was shot at Dachau several months later.
Reflecting afterwards on the success of his Bari operations into northern Italy, Bruce Lockhart recalled that by the end of the war they had had ‘about 30 or 40 wireless sets coming up daily giving German order of battle and troop movements’. This had made them ‘somewhat swollen headed’ and ‘we thought we knew all the answers’, but ‘we didn’t realise how easy it was being made for us’, as army headquarters could audit SIS product against very good prisoner-of-war interrogation intelligence, ‘first-rate aerial photography and first-rate Sigint’. This ‘admirable collateral’ meant that ‘as soon as an agent or group started to send something unlikely or improbable all lights flashed at G.H.Q. and straight away the information was shown up as being phoney’.
Bruce Lockhart’s other section was headed by Major James Millar, who was posted to Bari in January 1944. Millar, a Scot educated at St John’s College, Cambridge, had joined the Service in March 1939 and had served briefly in Berlin and Zagreb, before being posted to Bari to work on Yugoslavia and Central Europe. This included ‘Germany south of River Main, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Austria’, though the penetration of Germany was carefully described only as ‘an ultimate objective’. Within six months, Bowlby, by now himself installed at Naples, reported that Millar (along with Ashford-Russell) had ‘produced excellent results’ and ‘merited several bouquets from our local customers’. Yugoslavia was another of those places where SIS had to work with Communists. The domestic resistance movement was dominated by two mutually opposed groups: the Partisans, led by Josep Broz, ‘Tito’, the prewar leader of the Yugoslav Communist Party; and the virulently anti-Communist Četniks, under the royalist General Draža Mihailović. Although at the start the two groups had to some extent co-operated, and Mihailović had been backed by the Allies, signals intelligence and reports from SOE missions in Yugoslavia gradually revealed that the Četniks were increasingly collaborating with Axis forces against the shared Communist foe. Churchill became convinced that the leftist Partisans were much more likely to draw German troops away from the west and in February 1944, therefore, the government resolved to withdraw backing for Mihailović and support only Tito.5
In SIS, which seriously began to target Yugoslavia only after the Italian surrender, differences remained about whom to support among the resistance. For some, old anti-Bolshevik habits died hard. In April 1944, following a visit to Bari, Bowlby worried that Millar and his staff were ‘far too Tito-conscious’. He complained that ‘pictures of Tito cover the walls’ of Millar’s office and he asked London to send out large photographs of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, ‘to be hung in some prominent place’ in the office. This, he felt, ‘should have the desired effect of intimating to 35,600 [Millar] that there are limits to local partisanship’. Bruce Lockhart appreciated Bowlby’s point about Tito, whom he considered was certainly a ‘tool of the Russians’. He argued, nevertheless, that Millar was right ‘in putting all his money on Tito’ as this was ‘undoubtedly his best chance of obtaining good military information’. So it was, and most of the intelligence which SIS acquired about Yugoslavia came from overt SIS and SOE liaison with the Partisans. As Bruce Lockhart noted in May 1945, although it was ‘not an SIS problem in the precise sense of the word’, the Yugoslav intelligence which Millar produced was nevertheless ‘consistently on a very high level’ and ‘at one period YM [the army] and YA [the air force] were almost entirely dependent on the intelligence produced by 35600 [Millar] for their planning’.
Worries about left-wing politics affected individual SIS officers as well, including one of the men in Millar’s section, Kenneth Syers, who had been recruited into the Service in late 1942. Educated at King’s College, Cambridge, he had been a journalist before the war, then a British Council lecturer in Yugoslavia from 1939 to 1941, and spoke fluent Serbo-Croat. In August 1943 he was dropped into Yugoslavia as an officer-agent, was brought out in November 1943 and served in Bari before spending another spell in Yugoslavia from May to September 1944, after which he was posted home to Section I (Foreign Office liaison) in Head Office. He had first come to the notice of David Footman (head of Section I) in the latter part of 1943 ‘when he sent us a series of reports on the political aspects of the Partisan movement’, the quality of which was, in Footman’s experience of political reporting, ‘quite unique’. ‘They were endorsed by [Fitzroy] Maclean,’ the British representative with Tito, and made ‘a considerable impression on the Foreign Office including the strong pro-Mihailovist element then there’. His reports, in both quantity and quality, had been ‘of greater value than perhaps those of any other officer in our Mediterranean station’. But, on his posting to London, Syers’s political opinions came under close scrutiny. While Footman admitted that they were ‘undoubtedly Left’, he was prepared to believe Syers ‘when he says he is not a member of the Communist Party’ and the very fact that he had had ‘trouble with the Partisan authorities seems to show that this is correct’.
Valentine Vivian was not happy about Syers, who was, he said, among a number of SIS officers who were ‘so far Left as to be scarcely distinguishable from Communists’. Although, having looked at Syers’s file, he found no evidence to support his contention, in November 1944 he nevertheless asked Roger Hollis of MI5 to look into Syers’s background. Towards the end of the year, Syers announced his intention to marry an SIS secretary, who had worked most recently at Bari. When Rex Howard checked up on her, he discovered that she was a niece by marriage of Maxim Litvinov, the prewar Soviet Foreign Minister, a fact which, curiously, did not appear on her file. Vivian then raised the matter with Kim Philby, who also wrote to Hollis. Hollis replied in January 1945 that MI5 had no record of her and ‘nothing of great relevance’ on Syers. Two months later, however, Hollis reported that they had evidence that connected Syers to ‘a certain Communist in the Army Education Corps named Hobsbawm, who was before the war an undergraduate at Cambridge’ (and who subsequently became a very distinguished historian). When Vivian passed Hollis’s letter on to Philby, saying ‘I don’t much like the look of this,’ Philby rallied to Syers’s defence, though in terms which seem remarkable, given the benefit of hindsight and his own role as a Soviet agent in SIS:
Syers seems to be remarkably unfortunate in his choice of friends! I have had several conversations with him recently and he has consistently reiterated his intention of taking up journalism at the earliest possible opportunity. It would seem, therefore, his connections with Communists are less sinister than might be supposed, since it is hardly conceivable that the C.P.G.B. [Communist Party of Great Britain], or any Soviet organisation, would dream of letting him leave S.I.S. once he had got his foot well inside it. Moreover, he makes little attempt to conceal his interest in Marxism and Marxists - an attitude which is hardly consistent with sinister designs.
In July Philby still professed that he was at a loss to know what to advise about Syers and suggested pressing Hollis for more information. This time Hollis was more forthright, noting further contacts between Syers and Eric Hobsbawm and at least one other ‘leading Party member’. He advised that Syers and other similar left-leaning officers in SIS should be allowed to ‘return to journalism or whatever work they wish to follow as soon as this can be done’. So it was to be. Syers, the suspected Communist sympathiser, left to work for the Liberal-leaning News Chronicle, while Philby, the unsuspected Soviet spy, stayed on.
Dealing with the Soviets and penetrating the Balkans
SIS’s relations with the Soviet Union during the Second World War were extremely problematic. The USSR and its global ambitions, having been a major target for SIS since the revolutionary years, remained so for the period from the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939 until Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. But, all of a sudden, the USSR became an ally, and a British mission was sent to Moscow to underpin good inter-Allied relations, facilitate support for the Soviet war effort and, it was hoped, encourage the exchange of (among other things) information which might be of mutual benefit. Right at the start, too, it was also seen as an intelligence opportunity. In July 1941 Admiral Godfrey, the Director of Naval Intelligence, wrote to Menzies about the possibility of embedding intelligence officers in Moscow who could work on acquiring information about the Soviet navy. It was, he declared, a ‘golden opportunity to obtain that intelligence regarding the U.S.S.R. which we have lacked for so long’. But there were worries in Broadway that any such operation ‘would only result in compromise’. Menzies argued that ‘the Anglo-Russian alliance against Germany’ had ‘not altered my policy of endeavouring to obtain U.S.S.R. Armed Force information’, but Godfrey would appreciate ‘that I have to tread very warily as regards any further steps I may take’. The British ambassador and mission in Moscow, he continued, were ‘most anxious that nothing should be done which may in any way impede their efforts towards a successful collaboration with the U.S.S.R. authorities, the result of which may have much influence in winning the war’. Despite the somewhat elliptical language (and demonstrating that Menzies was clearly alive to the political ramifications of the proposal), this was a definite SIS refusal to meet a direct request from a customer department.
Intelligence, however, was central to the new Anglo-Soviet relationship. Having rallied to the Soviet side in the summer of 1941, there was actually very little practical assistance that London could offer, and when an Allied supply mission, including United States representatives, arrived in Moscow in the autumn it became abundantly obvious that the bulk of any available war supplies would come from the USA. In the meantime, as Bradley F. Smith has observed, ‘out of a combination of necessity and desperation’, the British Military Mission in Moscow under General Noel Mason-Macfarlane ‘always came back to intelligence exchange as the best available method of aiding the Russians and demonstrating Britain’s military prowess and importance’.6 But the best British intelligence was based on Ultra material, and there was never any suggestion that the USSR could be let into the secret in the way the USA had been earlier in the year. Menzies was instructed to ‘work out a scheme’ for transmitting ‘highly secret information’ to Macfarlane, who, in turn, was told ‘to pass on nothing to the Russians likely to compromise our sources of information’. Apart from the marking ‘from most reliable sources’, Ultra material, which was transmitted to Moscow over a dedicated, secure SIS wireless link, was paraphrased and massaged to obscure its origin. When Churchill pressed Menzies in July 1941 to send Ultra-based material to Moscow, Menzies observed that the immediacy of the information (which was of course one of its greatest strengths) could jeopardise the source if it were sent without some delay. ‘It would be impossible’, he wrote, ‘for any agent to have secured such information’ and transmitted it so quickly. He therefore arranged for the gist to be buried among other War Office material, and the Soviets to be tipped off that SIS had a ‘well-placed source in Berlin’.7
Even so, Menzies worried about the security of Ultra and the volume of material being provided. In September 1941, on a copy of an Air Intelligence signal to Moscow containing from ‘most reliable sources’ (evidently German air force Enigma decrypts) information about Luftwaffe dispositions on the Eastern Front, he minuted: ‘I am very concerned about these comm[unication]s & I think [we] sh[oul]d refuse to let this type of info[rmatio]n go forward.’ Intelligence security did not just apply to the Soviets. In August 1941 London sent Macfarlane a complaint from the Turks that their military attaché in Moscow ‘was getting very little information from our M.A.’. Since it was ‘very important to maintain good relations with the Turks’, London requested that Macfarlane pass on ‘what information you feel possible’. Menzies thought that this might be ‘dangerous’ and asked Commander Denniston at Bletchley Park about Turkish cypher security. Denniston reported that 90 per cent of the Turks’ diplomatic signals and ‘all’ military attaché messages between Moscow and Ankara were ‘practically fully legible . . . Hence it may be assumed that any information passed to the Turkish Ambassador or M.A. may be read by the enemy.’
In September 1941 SOE signed an agreement with the Soviet intelligence agency, the NKVD, to co-operate in subversive activities in all countries outside their respective spheres of influence. An SOE mission was established in Moscow under Colonel George Hill, an old Russian hand and longstanding anti-Bolshevik who had worked for SIS during the post-revolutionary period and rejoined the Service in Section D at the start of the war, subsequently transferring into SOE. In the face of the German push towards Moscow during the winter of 1941, all foreign missions were evacuated to Kuibyshev, a provincial city on the River Volga. Here Hill cheered up his colleagues by inventing ingenious vodka cocktails.8 While the NKVD were aware of Hill’s role, there was also an unavowed SIS representative in the party who began to develop contacts in the parallel Polish and Czechoslovak military missions for intelligence. The most productive of these was Colonel Leon Bortnowski, code-named ‘Perch’, who was the Polish intelligence service representative in the USSR from August 1941 until September 1942. Although Bortnowski was avowed to the NKVD he offered to pass on information to SIS from his own Polish network and released Polish prisoners-of-war. A shopping list was prepared in London, with the Air Section asking for information about Russian aircraft production and the transfer east of aircraft factories. The Naval Section wanted Bortnowski to ask the Russians ‘what warships, especially battleships, aircraft carriers and cruisers are building in Japan’ and if the Germans had ‘any gas, other than those known in last war’; the Economic Section were primarily interested in oil production and the ‘condition of the railway system’; and the Political Section requested information about morale, ‘with special reference to whether there is any serious or organised opposition to the Soviet regime’. Bortnowski was able to supply some economic material, but there were complaints at Broadway about its quantity and that he was unable to respond to supplementary enquiries. For one officer this merely illustrated ‘how unsatisfactory’ it was ‘to rely on Foreign representatives to get us our information’, as the source was both ‘in a delicate position’ and ‘not under our control’. ‘We, as an organisation,’ he continued, ‘should and must rely primarily on our own intelligence collecting weapons rather than those of our Allies, friends or neutrals.’
In December 1941, however, Bortnowski did supply what were described as ‘authentic Russian documents’, Soviet General Staff intelligence reports concerning Turkey, Afghanistan and India, which showed that the USSR was ‘very well informed about British activities in India and elsewhere’, and for which London sent a special message of thanks.9 In May 1942 the possibility was raised of using Polish agents to ‘find out something’ about the ‘policy and present activities’ of the Comintern. David Footman in Broadway appreciated that ‘our representative has, of course, to watch his own step very carefully in Soviet Russia, but the Poles might not have the same diffidence about making these enquiries’. Valentine Vivian saw merit in the proposal. ‘We should, I think, be wrong’, he wrote, ‘not to keep abreast of Comintern (a) Policy & (b) activities. The directives we have seen to the C.P.G.B., and the tactics now being employed, show that Communism may at the end or towards the end of the war be a force to reckon with.’ But, he added, ‘policy with regard to anything Russian’ is ‘delicate’. Frederick Winterbotham, now in the counter-espionage Section V, thought the whole proposal was ‘very undesirable’. ‘Our man in Kuibishev’ might pick up ‘scraps’, he argued, but this ‘would in no way compensate for the risk of the Soviet authorities discovering, or suspecting, what he was up to’. Faced with this opposition, Vivian dropped the notion.
In December 1942 it was proposed to send an avowed SIS officer to the Soviet Union to act as Hill’s assistant and work on the ‘exchange of information’ with the Soviets, though Broadway recognised that this would be a ‘difficult task’. All the Allies found the Soviets hard to deal with in this respect. Colonel Stanisław Gano, the Polish intelligence chief, said that while he had ‘supplied the Russians with a fair amount’, he had ‘received nothing in return except questionnaires of a very childish nature’, and Hatton-Hall, head of the Army Section at Broadway, regretfully observed that it was ‘hopeless to expect the Russians to reciprocate. We must be prepared to get nothing back.’ Lieutenant Cecil Barclay, a twenty-eight-year-old sailor who had been hired by SIS in 1938 to assist in Section X (the telephone-tapping department), and had subsequently stayed on at Head Office, was posted to Moscow in June 1943. Over the next two years he acted as the conduit for signals intelligence material, and, as had been expected, most of the traffic was one-way. In November 1944, however, he was given some captured German code-books, of which one (‘Schlüsselanleitung zum Rufzeichenschlüssel’ – ‘key instruction to call-sign key’) provoked great excitement at Bletchley Park. It would, declared the Director, Commander Edward Travis (Denniston’s successor), ‘mean that one of the biggest difficulties of the moment will be solved. In other words, Barclay has got a catch.’
On 13 October 1943, Vivian told Peter Loxley that ‘about six months ago’ he had obtained Menzies’s approval to establish a small unit (Section IX) to concentrate on the ‘illegal’ or underground aspects of the Communist movement in foreign countries, and to handle cases of Communist or Soviet penetration and espionage. An MI5 officer, J. C. Curry, had been seconded to the section and SIS now wanted to adopt ‘a cautious, forward policy’ of tackling this target, including the exchange of information with allies. Recognising ‘the extreme delicacy of the matter’, Vivian assured Loxley that ‘few have been made aware of the nature’ of this work. Sir Orme Sargent (Deputy Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office) was immediately enthusiastic: ‘I quite agree to the proposal . . . in fact, I am surprised that this branch of our intelligence services should have been allowed to fall into desuetude.’ Sargent was keen to know how far Communist organisations operating in the Balkans had taken root among the population, ‘and how far they are being supported by Moscow’. Loxley therefore quickly told Vivian that the Foreign Office had no objection to SIS developing Section IX’s work, ‘provided that discretion is observed, and provided that you do not do anything in the U.S.S.R. itself (despite Soviet espionage in this country)’.10
As Soviet forces moved towards Berlin in April 1945, Barclay suggested that the ‘time had come’ to start on counter-espionage within Germany, and asked Broadway if there were ‘any special addresses in Berlin which interest you and what do you want from them’? He could also pass to the Soviets lists of names of the more important German intelligence officers ‘suspected of remaining in Berlin’, or (and here he reflected prevailing concerns that the Nazis would seek to preserve some clandestine organisation after their defeat) staying ‘elsewhere in east to work underground’. London replied with a list of eighteen intelligence service addresses in the Berlin area, along with nineteen ‘Mil. Amt’ names, including that of the organisation’s head, Walter Schellenberg. (The Militärisches Amt had been created in June 1944 when Himmler’s SD had swallowed up the Army Intelligence Abwehr.) There were also nine officers’ names specifically from Amt VI (the overseas branch of the SD), including ‘Obersturmbannführer Eichmann’. While London had ‘no definite evidence of a stay-behind network being set up in territory occupied by the Russians’, they added seven names of officers ‘known to have been employed in intelligence work against Russia’. Barclay’s raising of the issue and Broadway’s ready supply of names and addresses were a product of that brief period at the end of the war when it was believed that Anglo-Soviet intelligence co-operation (such as it was) would continue, if only in the pursuit of Nazism.
That this might not be the case should already have been apparent from experience in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, where the insertion of SIS teams following the liberation of countries by Soviet forces proved to be extremely problematic. As early as the spring of 1944 Harold Gibson had secured Menzies’s cautious approval to take soundings in Turkey, ‘with a view to obtaining our representation in all Russian occupied Balkan territories’. Gibson then prepared a paper for Likhterov, the Soviet military attaché, suggesting that SIS could ‘offer certain facilities and contacts’ in areas occupied or likely to be occupied by the Soviets, which could be ‘exploited to mutual advantage’. Although Likhterov had been encouraging (if non-committal), in August London directed that liaison with the Soviets would be handled by Barclay in Moscow. In the meantime Gibson continued planning for SIS representation in Romania and Bulgaria. On 23 August the twenty-two-year-old King Michael of Romania, who had seized power from Marshal Ion Antonescu, surrendered to the Soviets and the following day declared war on Germany, thus committing his army against the Axis forces still in the country. The following day Gibson sent the first of several increasingly pressing requests to London for permission to proceed to Romania. ‘In my opinion,’ he wrote, ‘it is important to stake our claim quickly and no time should be lost in moving forward as soon as possible.’ From Naples, Cuthbert Bowlby urged that a party be sent at once. On 27 August Gibson asserted that the Soviets were ‘badly in need’ of operational intelligence from Romania, which his contacts could help supply. This ‘should surely help justify’ his presence or that of another SIS officer. But London was discouraging. The following day Menzies signalled that the Foreign Office had promised not to despatch personnel into the zone of Soviet military operations without Moscow’s explicit agreement and Gibson was instructed to stay put. There was better news about Bulgaria, which announced its withdrawal from the war on 26 August 1944. Two days later Menzies announced that the Foreign Office had lifted its objection to the despatch of an SIS party and instructed Gibson to make preparations, but not to take action just yet.
In London, meanwhile, the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, approved a proposal that SIS should be allowed to operate in all liberated territories, but with ‘one stipulation’, that ‘no party should be sent into Roumania in advance of the official mission’ in order ‘to avoid possible complications with the Russians’.11 Gibson continued to lament the ‘loss of a great opportunity’, especially since the Americans in the shape of OSS were planning to send in a party. He was further exercised by the hold-up in permission to enter Bulgaria. ‘Regarded from this end,’ he signalled in September, ‘the delay in moving S.I.S. parties into the Balkans has been catastrophic,’ and the Service had ‘lost a unique opportunity of getting there first . . . and being on the spot to pick up and direct important contacts’. SIS had instead ‘been forestalled by our go-ahead American colleagues who could act unrestrictedly and were not afraid to do so. Result is they have strong and energetic teams in Bulgaria and Roumania already functioning to good purpose.’ Menzies would not budge about Romania, though he was prepared to let Gibson go to Bulgaria. In the case of the former, while he appreciated Gibson’s ‘disappointment’, the Foreign Office line was clear, and he ‘must abide by the higher policy laid down’. As to the latter, the wisdom of London’s caution was soon demonstrated. In mid-September Gibson and a small SIS staff moved to Sofia by road from Istanbul. But on 25 September they (and the OSS mission in Bulgaria) were peremptorily expelled by the Soviet authorities.
Echoing Gibson’s feelings, Cuthbert Bowlby wrote a ‘slightly despondent’ letter to Menzies regretting the British failure to exploit the situation in Bulgaria and Romania. SIS, he said, had ‘naturally come in for a good deal of criticism’, which he had staved off by citing the Foreign Office ban. Nevertheless, surprise had been expressed that a secret organisation such as SIS should be prevented from operating anywhere it wished at any time regardless of official restrictions: ‘What, they say, is the use of being a secret organisation if you are tied by the same rules which govern open activities?’ Here Bowlby was voicing a common attitude about SIS (and similar agencies), but one which dangerously confused operational matters with policy considerations. With the former, secret operations might well not be bound ‘by the same rules’ which governed ‘open activities’. But the latter was entirely different. Menzies, who claimed to Bowlby that he was ‘just as disappointed’ by the turn of events, carefully observed: ‘You must realise . . . that at no time, and especially not in war time, can our functions be carried out with a total disregard of Government policy.’ In this particular case, moreover, there could have been ‘very little prospect of any penetration’ remaining unknown to the Soviets. The Foreign Office feared that the entry of intelligence personnel into an area which could properly be described as within ‘the zone of military operations of our allies’ might have been resented ‘as bitterly as we should resent the unannounced arrival of 95-land [Russian] personnel in, let us say, 13-land [Belgium]’. In the event, moreover, the Foreign Office’s apprehensions had been justified by events, and the suggestion that the Soviets had welcomed the Americans and were surprised by the British failure to appear on the scene was ‘now shown to be wholly at variance’ with the official view taken in Moscow.
SIS in both Spain and Portugal played a central role in the hugely effective double-agent operations which played such a major part in the successful deception of the enemy, over for example the Torch landings in North Africa in November 1942, the invasion of Sicily in July 1943 and Operation Overlord in June 1944. While the running of double agents was in practice a joint SIS-MI5 responsibility (through the XX Committee), MI5 took primary charge of those operating in the United Kingdom, and SIS of those in foreign countries. During 1944, for example, some 113 double agents were operating under Section V’s control. One of the most successful of all wartime double agents, the Spaniard Juan Pujol, code-named ‘Garbo’, was first handled by an SIS Section V officer, Ralph Jarvis, in Portugal after a tip-off from an American diplomat. Pujol had been taken on to spy in Britain by the Germans in Madrid, but he had only got as far as Lisbon, from where he supplied a series of fictitious reports, which he told Jarvis he collated from British guidebooks, maps and newspapers. SIS brought Pujol to England in April 1942, following which he was run by MI5, and became the Germans’ apparently most successful agent, with a network of twenty-seven sub-agents across the country. Up to March 1943, when he acquired a wireless, all his reports were conveyed by secret writing in letters notionally carried by an airline employee working on the London-Lisbon run, but actually organised entirely by SIS, as was the transmission of his German case-officer’s replies.12
A particularly good example of a double-cross operation run almost entirely by SIS was that of agent ‘Ecclesiastic’, a glamorous twenty-two-year-old Central European woman living in Lisbon. Having worked for a while for the Polish intelligence service targeting Italian diplomats, by June 1944 (when she was taken on by SIS) she was the mistress of an Abwehr officer, Franz Koschnik. Perhaps reflecting the stage of the war, along with a ‘certain amount of patriotism’ and ‘financial reasons’, among the motives ascribed to her by the Lisbon station was: ‘wants to keep her head above water by working for allies’. Having concluded that there were ‘obvious possibilities in this lady’, SIS intended at first simply to achieve ‘penetration of Abwehr’, but within a week the possibility was raised of her passing ‘foodstuff’ – deception information – to the Germans, since another double agent, ‘Artist’, had reported that Koschnik was ‘short of material’. Koschnik, for his part, wanted Ecclesiastic to cultivate British and Dutch aircrew flying between Portugal and Britain to obtain reports about the damage caused by V-1 flying bombs.
In August SIS arranged for her to get a secretarial job at an office staffed by British RAF personnel (in civilian clothes) which had been set up to provide technical assistance to the Portuguese government under the Azores Agreement of October 1943. Although there were in fact no ‘technical air secrets’ in the office, it was assumed that the Germans could ‘easily be led to believe that such material’ was to be found there. One of Ecclesiastic’s case-officers was the flirtatious ‘Klop’ Ustinov (father of the actor Peter Ustinov), an MI5 man posted to SIS’s Section V in Lisbon. His speculative eye for a pretty woman and keen appreciation of female charm is evident in the report of his first meeting with her. He dryly observed that while Ecclesiastic considered the cultivation of her lover as ‘part of her official duties’, these duties were ‘not too onerous’. Koschnik, he deduced, was ‘very fond of the girl, and it needs a woman much less womanly than Ecclesiastic to resent such homage to both her physical charm and no doubt also to her mental quality’. Ecclesiastic, he added, was ‘very intelligent indeed’ and she clearly enjoyed ‘the game of mobilizing her ample female resources against normal male instincts’. This, he asserted, explained why her ‘appreciation of the rôle we are assigning to her is at present more romantic than practical and why her cohabitation with Koschnick [sic] has – from our point of view – not yielded greater results so far. I made it clear to her that to live with the Abwehr is not quite helpful enough and that more concrete results must be achieved before her activities for us can be termed a success.’13
Although Ustinov had initially concluded that Ecclesiastic would serve better as a ‘transmitting’ than a ‘receiving station’, she in fact proved to be a real success in both directions right through to the end of the war. Up to the early spring of 1945 (when Koschnik’s appetite for information fell off markedly), Ecclesiastic provided him with a stream of material prepared by Flight Lieutenant Charles Cholmondeley of MI5, including details about a new aeroplane and other developments (some on crumpled-up pieces of paper apparently fished from waste-paper baskets); convincingly scribbled notes of overheard phone conversations; and letters containing aero-technical gossip (on authentic Air Ministry notepaper) to Air Commodore Fullard (head of the RAF mission), one of which Koschnik had Ecclesiastic herself photograph before she returned it to the office. 14 Perhaps for insurance, to show Ecclesiastic that he had evidence which could be used against her, he himself photographed her doing this, giving her a copy. She, however, passed it on to SIS and this rare image of a spy at work survives in the archives. In January 1945 a letter to Fullard from the genuine Air Commodore J. M. ‘Jack’ Easton at the Air Ministry was planted as part of the Ministry of Home Security’s ‘V.2 deception plan’. In it Easton complained (among other things) about far-fetched enemy claims of damage to central London. ‘The best of the bunch is the total destruction of Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square which the enemy propaganda put out some time ago. I can assure you’, he wrote, ‘that the Cafe Royal is still in business, and I will treat you to lunch there when you are next home.’ But even deception had its limits, as the covering note to SIS in Lisbon made clear: ‘Easton would like to add that the invitation to lunch does not repeat not hold good and is merely inserted to add verisimilitude to the letter.’
From September 1944 to the end of February 1945 Ustinov met Ecclesiastic twenty-six times, passing her ‘foodstuff’ and receiving a steady supply of information about Koschnik and his Abwehr colleagues. At the beginning of December, Lisbon reported that she was ‘now very valuable from the penetration point of view’. London agreed ‘heartily’ and raised the possibility of Ecclesiastic targeting another Abwehr officer, Rudolf Baumann, whom they suspected might be organising German sabotage activities in France. She rose to the challenge. On 9 January 1945 Ustinov reported that she was ‘continuing to work on him . . . in the direction of softening his belief in victory’, but ‘even two prolonged kissing bouts at his flat, one of which lasted 35 minutes, have not had the desired effect’. Although Baumann does not seem to have succumbed to Ecclesiastic’s charms, Koschnik remained infatuated. By mid-April, with Germany on the verge of final defeat, while he had lost all interest in Ecclesiastic’s ‘foodstuff’, ‘his interest in source as a woman remains as great as ever’. As Fullard’s office was closing down at the end of April, Ecclesiastic’s position was about to alter. But the Lisbon station congratulated themselves on a successful operation. ‘A year’s activity’, they reported, had ‘passed without major upheavals and setbacks. Source, not unlike the nymph Arethusa, emerges clear and unpolluted (from the intelligence point of view) for new tasks in other spheres.’ The first of these, they thought, might be to ‘follow and report on the twilight of the TLW [Technische/ Luftwaffe] god in Lisbon’.15