Fringe Box



Book Review: Double Cross -The True Story of D-Day Spies by Ben McIntyre

Published on: 24 Sep, 2012
Updated on: 29 Sep, 2012

By Phil Costen

Ben Mcintyre introduces us to a group of eccentric fantasists involved in double and, possibly, triple-cross deceptions to convince, or reinforce, the Nazi high command view that the allies were intending to launch their D-Day attack on Europe through Calais and Norway and definitely, definitely not Normandy.

I bought the book on the strength of having seen Ben Macintyre’s amusing presentation at this year’s Hay-on-Wye book festival.

What comes across to me most in the tale is that the entire cast of characters, whether it be the bisexual Peruvian playgirl, the Polish fighter pilot, the former Spanish chicken farmer with a vivid imagination, the Serbian with a penchant for a menage a trois, the Frenchwoman embittered by the belief that the British secret service has assassinated her dog, and their British or German intelligence handlers, are all very English in their eccentricity.

And in the shadowy background within British Intelligence are Russian spies, such as Antony Blunt, art historian and linguist, all sending verbatim reports of all the spy network’s activities to Moscow.  Were the Germans able to penetrate the Russian intelligence system and find these reports then the entire Normandy landings would be compromised.  The saving grace was that the Kremlin believed all this vital and sensitive information from agent ‘Tony’ and his Comrades was too-good-to-be-true as it all corresponded, and so totally discredited it.

Its all very much schoolboy games controlled by Scrabble and cricket loving intelligence officers with overly exercised imaginations and the sense of the comical.  Following Churchill’s maxim of ‘surrounding the truth with a veil of lies’ they created a network of virtual spies to support the main five double agents-Juan Pugolo Garcia, Llily Sergeyev, Disko Popov, Roman Czernawski and Elvira de la Fuente Chaudoir  All their efforts were validated by ‘Ultra’ at Bletchley Park through the numerous decyphered glowing reports on how valuable their information is to the Germans.

With their make-believe spy networks, including an army of anti-Semite fascists being formed in the valleys of Wales, in the lead up to D-Day and beyond what they helped to create, along with artists and rubber suppliers, was a large virtual army on the opposite side of the Channel to Calais ready to launch the main attack on Europe, commanded by the larger-than-life General Patton.  For many of his Allied colleagues they would probably have preferred it if he had stayed in his fantasy world in Kent.

What came across so vividly is that you couldn’t make some of it up.  For instance, ‘uber’ pigeon fancier Flight Lieutenant Walker, whose plan was to make the enemy believe that their Nazi pigeons had been infiltrated with fifth-column British birds, with the intended result that, not being able to know which ones to trust to fly in the right direction, they would destroy them all.

Or that most of the German spies dropped into Britain couldn’t speak English.

Post war of course, the view was that as far as external facing intelligence was concerned, the Germans were not very good at it and the professionals involved spent more time in political intrigue and fraud that fighting the enemy. Interestingly many of the people involved with Hitler’s attempted assassination were from German intelligence.

Of course the risk in the entire plot in Ben’s book is that you base everything on an agent who has already turned once.  What guarantee is there that they won’t turn again?  Especially the women who believes that you have assassinated her dog?

For me it’s another opportunity to follow the links.  To read more about Bletchley Park and the code breakers who broke the codes so early on.  And to find out why all the Cambridge spies such as ‘Tony’ were accepted for so long, just because they were in the ‘right club’?

Double Cross -The True Story of D-Day Spies by Ben McIntyre, Bloomsbury Publishing, ISBN: 9781408819906is is available at Waterstones and other book shops

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