Sunday, July 1, 2012

Double Cross -- The D-Day Spies

Macintyre's Latest Spy thriller
US edition to be released 7/31/12

Ben Macintyre has a written his third outstanding account of World War II espionage with Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies (http:/ 2012.  Macintyre's Operation Mincemeat  (http:/ concerns the planting of a dead British naval officer on the coast of Spain to deceive the Germans about allied intentions prior to the invasion of Sicily in 1943.  His Agent Zig Zag (http:/ the fascinating tale of Eddie Chapman -- a safecracker who was a triple agent and became the only Englishman to win an Iron Cross in World War II.

Double Cross is the most substantive work of the three due to the colossal strategic importance of its subject matter -- the Normandy landings (see earlier post, D-day + 68, 6/6/12).  The book is full of revelations about the secret history of World War II.

The Abwehr, German intelligence, dispatched numerous agents to Great Britain during the course of the war.  Not one or several but rather ALL were rounded up by British intelligence and caught and, in most cases, turned to work for the allies.  The British quickly realized that, whenever possible, it would be much better to have these agents feeding disinformation back to their German bosses rather than just have them rotting in prison or worse.  They would carefully control their reports and include elements of trivial truth, "chickenfeeed" to maintain their agents' plausibility.

Juan Pujol (Agent Garbo)
A variety of eccentric characters ended up working as double agents and included a Yugoslavian playboy (Popov), a Czech patriot (Czerniawski), a Spanish chicken farmer (Pujol) and a Frenchwoman of Russian background who loved dogs (Sergeyev) among others.  Some were motivated by money and others by ideology; all seemed to relish the excitement of doing something of great interest and intensity during the war.

Macintyre quotes the great Chinese war strategist Sun Tzu, "The enemy must not know where I intend to give battle.  For if he does know where I intend to give battle he must prepare in a great many places.  And when he prepares in a great many places, those I have to fight in any one place will be few.  And when he prepares everywhere he will be weak everywhere."  This was the essence of the Allied intelligence strategy in the war.  Their goal was to mislead, misdirect and confuse the enemy whenever possible.

Rubber tanks of FUSAG
The Germans were deceived into believing that the principal allied landings would occur at the Pas de Calais and not Normandy.  The Pas de Calais represented the shortest and most direct route from England to France across the Channel.  A massive effort was made to get inside the head of Hitler and the German high command prior to D-day and convince him of them about the Pas de Calais.  General George Patton was put in command of an imaginary army -- First United States Army Group (FUSAG) -- which had inflatable rubber tanks (see above) and wooden planes that could be spotted from the air.  In operation Fortitude, a steady diet of misinformation about phony troop concentrations in Scotland and Southeast England was spoonfed to the Germans via their doubled agents in the lead up to D-Day.

The extent to which this disinformation campaign succeeded is truly remarkable.  Even after the June 6, 1944 and the greatest amphibious invasion in all history, Hitler continued to believe that Normandy was just a feint and that the main landings would still come at the Pas de Calais.  Panzer divisions that could have been diverted to counterattack the allies precarious beachheads were held in place.  On July 29, 1944, The Fuhrer even awarded Pujol (agent Garbo) an iron cross for "your extraordinary merits".

The allies attached such importance to the operation Fortitude deception that Eisenhower and the Allied high command were actually willing to release an accurate account of the direction and intent of the Normandy landings to the Double Cross agents three and 1/2 hours prior to the actual invasion.  They did so in order to preserve the credibility of these agents after D-Day, sure in the knowledge that this would be insufficient time for the Germans to take any significant countermeasures.  The message was sent out at 3:00am to Germans based in Madrid prior to the landings timed to start at 6:30am.  "The only response was a crackle of static...The radio operator had either left his post, or fallen asleep."  There was no response until 8:00a when the message was finally picked up and acknowledged.  "The Germans had been caught napping."
Johnny Jebsen
The greatest hero of Double Cross is actually a German playboy by the name of Johnny Jebsen.   He was a sybaritic anglophile German businessman who had visited Britain as a teenager and knew P.G. Wodehouse.  He was a close personal friend of the double agent Popov (Code name Tricycle) who joined the Abwehr hoping to spend an easier wartime than in the Wehrmacht.  Jebsen learned of his friend's betrayal of the German's and knew that all German agents were.  He kept mum.  Just prior to D-day he was kidnapped by the Abwehr from his base in neutral Lisbon and brought back to Berlin.  The Abwehr suspected embezzlement as well as potential collaboration with the allies.  British intelligence was in consternation that operation Fortitude would be compromised at the most critical time.  He was interrogated and tortured by the Gestapo but, astonishingly, he did not talk.  Jebsen mysteriously disappeared after the war and was likely killed by the nazis.

Hitler led a depraved immoral regime that approached their strategic challenges with supreme arrogance.  They made tremendous technological achievement in fields such as rocketry, jet engines and snorkel submarines yet they were hopelessly naive and idiotic in their intelligence services which compromised their efforts throughout the war. The Axis never realized, for example, that their radio traffic was being constantly eavesdropped upon during the war (see earlier post, Bletchley Park and the Judgement of History, 4/22/12).  Many Germans who really loved their country (like Jebsen) realized that their country was being run by gangsters and were quite willing to betray the nazis at the first opportunity.

When Jebsen met with an MI-6 counterpart in Lisbon in the closing days of the war he told the following joke that was making the rounds among his  German peers: "'During an air raid Hitler, Goering, Goebbels and Himmler took refuge in the same air raid shelter. The shelter received a direct hit.  Who was saved?  Germany.'"

While superior allied intelligence did not win the war, the efforts of the Double Crossers, the code-breakers of Bletchley Park and others in the intelligence community did shorten the conflict and saved countless lives in the process.

Ultimately, the greatest advantage the Western Allies had over the Axis in World War II was not technological, economic or industrial;  it was the moral distinction between the combatants that gave the allies their greatest edge and, in fact, helped create all other advantages that they enjoyed.

Commander Kelly says, "If you like a good spy story, you'll love Ben Macintyre's Double Cross."

You can now purchase Commander Kelly's first book, America Invades or on

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Visited the Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. in 2014, and there are many excellent texts sold there and items on display which point to all the items in this post. This looks to be good information.