I couldn’t resist reading more about the D-Day spies after having read Operation Garbo and Ben Mackintyre seemed a good place to start; I always find his books readable and this one was no different.
I read it on the train on the way to college and found myself slightly resenting my colleague when he wanted to talk on the way home and I couldn’t read a bit more of my book without appearing really rude!
The most powerful statement in this book is somewhere near the beginning when it states that by 1943 Tar Robertson, Head of the Double Cross section of MI5 knew – not just thought or guessed but knew – that every spy the Abwehr thought they had in Britain was actually working for him. Think about that for a moment. I find it utterly astonishing, especially considering the Russian spies who were undetected in the higher echelons on the Secret Services!
As well as including Juan Pujol Garcia – Agent Garbo – this book tells the stories of Dusko Popov, a Serbian playboy, Roman Czerniawski, a passionately patriotic Pole, Lily Sergeyev, a bored French woman, Elvira de la Fuente Chaudoir, a Peruvian playgirl and Johnny Jebsen, an anti-Nazi German Abwehr officer.
The individual stories have a slightly incredible feel to them, almost a feeling of “this has to be true because you just couldn’t make it up” and yet together this group of remarkable people helped to save the lives of many of the soldiers who were part of the D-Day landings. Their misdirections kept units of the German Army tied up away from Normandy.
The stories that stand out for me are those of Lily Sergeyev and Johnny Jebsen.
Sergeyev’s because I feel she wasn’t treated particularly well. It is remarked upon throughout the book that double agents are a tricky bunch of people to deal with. You have to keep them happy/occupied/interested in what they are doing to make sure they don’t become triple agents. It doesn’t seem beyond the capability of the secret services to have turned a blind eye to Sergeyev bringing her dog into the UK. Especially when it seems to have been the only thing she really cared for. MI5 were lucky that Sergeyev cared more about the work she was doing than in engaging in payback. They were fortunate that Lily was content to know she could screw things up if she wanted to.
Jebsen’s is a more difficult story. He was a close friend of Dusko Popov and each tacitly admitted to the other they were spies without spelling it out. Jebsen was seen as a risk by the Double Cross team, in part because he was a Abwehr officer and in part because of his lifestyle. He knew he was at risk of being abducted by the Gestapo, because of some financial mis-doings, and of being whisked back to Germany from Lisbon. Unfortunately, he trusted his boss in Lisbon and didn’t have time to alert the British and escape. The Double Cross team knew Jebsen’s health wasn’t good and expected him to break easily under torture. This happened close to D-Day and everyone in the Double Cross team was concerned that Operation Fortitude would be blown out of the water. As well as anxiously trying to find out what had happened to Jebsen they were searching the transcripts from Bletchley to find out if their misinformation was still being believed. Against all the odds Jebsen held out and reports came in, after the war, that he was sent to Mauthausen and then Sachsenhausen. He disappeared from there and Ian Wilson, his MI5 handler, spent until his death in 1978 trying to find out what happened to him. A remarkable man.
This is another great and readable book about spying in WWII from Ben Mackintyre. I would definitely recommend it if you want to know more about Operation Fortitude and the people who created it.