Countering Domestic Spies and Saboteurs in WWII

 

The Duke of Windsor was rumored to have been a Nazi collaborator, supposedly on their list to take Great Britain’s throne when the Nazis conquered Britain. He was not alone.

Hitler’s Secret Army: A Hidden History of Spies, Saboteurs, and Traitors in World War II, by Tim Tate reveals pro-Nazi collaboration was widespread in Britain before and during World War II. The rot of fascism pervaded England’s best and beautiful.

The existence of a British Fifth Column has long been held wartime scaremongering. Tate reexamined the issue using Home Office and Treasury Solicitor files declassified between 2000 and 2017. These records expose a widespread network of espionage, sabotage, and subversion conducted by British subjects during World War II.

As Tate explains, it was even legal in the war’s opening months. Espionage laws were repealed after World War I. Britain then had no laws against sedition, and treason only applied to British subjects. This lack was one reason pro-Nazi foreign nationals were interned. Germans with British citizenship through marriage or nationalization escaped this net, however.

Some Nazi sympathizers belonged to the highest levels of British society, including peers of the realm. At least one was a Member of Parliament. His guilt was so certain he was interned at the pleasure of His Majesty’s Government through much of the war – while retaining his seat in Parliament and collecting his salary. Senior admirals and generals were involved, even planning a coup to replace the government when the Nazis landed. Anti-Semitism and fascist sympathy was rife among the upper classes.

Others were in the working class, naturalized and British-born. Some worked for pay, but most for ideological reasons, a belief in fascism’s socialism.

Tate shows how MI5 – Britain’s domestic counterintelligence agency – handled the issue. They took down the networks that sprang up, whether patrician or plebeian. They noticed a disturbing difference in punishments meted out. The best and beautiful escaped consequences, while those in the middle and lower classes were frequently sentenced to death.

This disparity so disturbed MI5 agents’ sense of justice they stopped bringing cases to court. Instead, they created a false-front operation, where they tricked traitors into delivering their intelligence to MI5 agents pretending to be Nazi spymasters. Eventually, they ran almost all would-be domestic spies, short-circuiting spying.

Hitler’s Secret Army is a fascinating look at a forgotten and obscure part of World War II. It is a history worth reading.

Hitler’s Secret Army: A Hidden History of Spies, Saboteurs, and Traitors in World War II, by Tim Tate, Pegasus Books, 2019, 474 pages, $29.95 (hardcover)

Looking for a good read? Here is a recommendation. I have an unusual approach to reviewing books. I review books I feel merit a review. Each review is an opportunity to recommend a book. If I do not think a book is worth reading, I find another book to review. You do not have to agree with everything every author has written (I do not), but the fiction I review is entertaining (and often thought-provoking) and the non-fiction contain ideas worth reading.

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  1. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    This sounds excellent. Among the many things of which I’m ignorant, history looms large. It simply hasn’t interested me. But I think I’m going to read this one, because it sounds like a fascinating account. Thanks!

    • #1
  2. Sisyphus (Rolling Stone) Inactive
    Sisyphus (Rolling Stone)
    @Sisyphus

    I love the idea of running false operations to circumvent enemy access to the real operations. I wonder what the Germans made of it at the time.

    • #2
  3. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Sisyphus (Rolling Stone) (View Comment):

    I love the idea of running false operations to circumvent enemy access to the real operations. I wonder what the Germans made of it at the time.

    I think since it worked they never suspected. The idea behind the false operation was to lure those who would betray secrets to join a phony spy network. Normally the end game is to roll up all those who betray the country for prosecution, but in this case the object was to keep from prosecuting anyone while protecting the country.

    I’ll bet most of the would-be spies and saboteurs never knew they were being played, and possibly even wondered how they escaped detection when Germany fell. 

    • #3
  4. OccupantCDN Coolidge
    OccupantCDN
    @OccupantCDN

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    This sounds excellent. Among the many things of which I’m ignorant, history looms large. It simply hasn’t interested me. But I think I’m going to read this one, because it sounds like a fascinating account. Thanks!

    There is a pretty good spy novel set in this period “The Unlikely Spy” by Daniel Silva.

    • #4
  5. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    This sounds excellent. Among the many things of which I’m ignorant, history looms large. It simply hasn’t interested me. But I think I’m going to read this one, because it sounds like a fascinating account. Thanks!

    There is a pretty good spy novel set in this period “The Unlikely Spy” by Daniel Silva.

    Thanks. I’ve read several (most? all?) of his Gabriel Allon novels, but nothing else by him.

    • #5
  6. OccupantCDN Coolidge
    OccupantCDN
    @OccupantCDN

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    This sounds excellent. Among the many things of which I’m ignorant, history looms large. It simply hasn’t interested me. But I think I’m going to read this one, because it sounds like a fascinating account. Thanks!

    There is a pretty good spy novel set in this period “The Unlikely Spy” by Daniel Silva.

    Thanks. I’ve read several (most? all?) of his Gabriel Allon novels, but nothing else by him.

    Yes, I’ve often wondered why these books havent been made into summer thrillers…

    • #6
  7. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    This topic interests me. I just now ordered a used copy. Thanks.

    • #7
  8. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Or there were these guys (starting about 1:45):

    • #8
  9. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    It sounds excellent, Seawriter. I’ll have to pick it up. Sounds like my kind of book.

    Sisyphus (Rolling Stone) (View Comment):

    I love the idea of running false operations to circumvent enemy access to the real operations. I wonder what the Germans made of it at the time.

    Then read Ben Macintyre’s trilogy of World War II espionage:

    • Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal
    • Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory
    • Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies

    I don’t believe Macintyre touched on what Tate is covering here. In Macintyre’s books, you’ll meet a such a collection of characters that if they were in a novel you wrote, your editor would scrawl “what are you drinking?” on the last page.

     

     

    • #9
  10. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Percival (View Comment):

    It sounds excellent, Seawriter. I’ll have to pick it up. Sounds like my kind of book.

    Sisyphus (Rolling Stone) (View Comment):

    I love the idea of running false operations to circumvent enemy access to the real operations. I wonder what the Germans made of it at the time.

    Then read Ben Macintyre’s trilogy of World War II espionage:

    • Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal
    • Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory
    • Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies

    I don’t believe Macintyre touched on what Tate is covering here. In Macintyre’s books, you’ll meet a such a collection of characters that if they were in a novel you wrote, your editor would scrawl “what are you drinking?” on the last page.

     

     

    I’ve read (listened to) the first of those, but didn’t know there were more.

    • #10
  11. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    It sounds excellent, Seawriter. I’ll have to pick it up. Sounds like my kind of book.

    Sisyphus (Rolling Stone) (View Comment):

    I love the idea of running false operations to circumvent enemy access to the real operations. I wonder what the Germans made of it at the time.

    Then read Ben Macintyre’s trilogy of World War II espionage:

    • Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal
    • Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory
    • Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies

    I don’t believe Macintyre touched on what Tate is covering here. In Macintyre’s books, you’ll meet a such a collection of characters that if they were in a novel you wrote, your editor would scrawl “what are you drinking?” on the last page.

     

     

    I’ve read (listened to) the first of those, but didn’t know there were more.

    Operation Mincemeat covers the event that was covered in a 1953 book by Ewan Montagu entitled The Man Who Never Was. That book was required to avoid any discussion of Ultra radio transmission decrypts. There were still countries using systems based on Enigma, which Ultra had broken, and not all of them were particularly friendly. The Allies just didn’t hope the Germans had fallen for the deception, they knew they had based on troops being moved to cover the non-existent invasions of Sardinia and Greece.

    • #11
  12. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    One wonders if MI5 was so absorbed with this issue that they overlooked the serious problem of Russian spies in their midst, homegrown and products of elite Cambridge. After all, Britain was fighting Hitler, not Stalin. Yet.

    • #12
  13. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude
    @GrannyDude

    I just read Promise Me You’ll Shoot Yourself, about the suicide epidemic that accompanied the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. 

    My interest in the period (more or less lifelong) has lately focused on the question/uncomprehending wail: “What were they thinking?” I’d love to know what the British “fellow travelers” thought they were signing up for? And whether, after the war, they repented?

    • #13
  14. WI Con Member
    WI Con
    @WICon

    I was surprised by the level of disloyalty from the British Upper classes and how they appeared to be willing accomplices when Nazi Germany was expected to take over.

    We’d do well to look at our ‘upper crust’ and their fawning relationship with the Chinese and their willingness to bring down the authoritarian hammer on their fellow citizens as witnessed during the Corona virus outbreak and before by gutting US industry and manufacturing.

    These people are perfectly willing to sell us out. 

    • #14
  15. OccupantCDN Coolidge
    OccupantCDN
    @OccupantCDN

    GrannyDude (View Comment):

    I just read Promise Me You’ll Shoot Yourself, about the suicide epidemic that accompanied the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945.

    My interest in the period (more or less lifelong) has lately focused on the question/uncomprehending wail: “What were they thinking?” I’d love to know what the British “fellow travelers” thought they were signing up for? And whether, after the war, they repented?

    I think there was quite a fascination with fascism in the upper crust of British society before the war. The Mitford Sisters where quite famous Nazi sympathizers – in that 2 of them married Nazis. I think one tried to be an unofficial back channel source between Churchill and Hitler. But was promptly thrown in prison when she returned to Britain. (I believe she left Britain once she was released in the mid 1950s – never to return, and died in Paris). There was also the British Union of Fascists, which had the unfortunate acronym of BUF. (I very much doubt the membership was) that got a few members elected to parliament in the 1920s.

    In this kind of social stew, really makes Churchill all that much more remarkable.

    • #15
  16. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):

    GrannyDude (View Comment):

    I just read Promise Me You’ll Shoot Yourself, about the suicide epidemic that accompanied the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945.

    My interest in the period (more or less lifelong) has lately focused on the question/uncomprehending wail: “What were they thinking?” I’d love to know what the British “fellow travelers” thought they were signing up for? And whether, after the war, they repented?

    I think there was quite a fascination with fascism in the upper crust of British society before the war. The Mitford Sisters where quite famous Nazi sympathizers – in that 2 of them married Nazis. I think one tried to be an unofficial back channel source between Churchill and Hitler. But was promptly thrown in prison when she returned to Britain. (I believe she left Britain once she was released in the mid 1950s – never to return, and died in Paris). There was also the British Union of Fascists, which had the unfortunate acronym of BUF. (I very much doubt the membership was) that got a few members elected to parliament in the 1920s.

    In this kind of social stew, really makes Churchill all that much more remarkable.

    Worth noting that at least one, and maybe more, of the outstanding “Foyle’s War” mystery series–discussed here a couple of times–deals with the topic of Nazi sympathizers/collaborators. Unfortunately, antisemitism was also present among the upper crust Brits of the day.

    • #16
  17. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):

    GrannyDude (View Comment):

    I just read Promise Me You’ll Shoot Yourself, about the suicide epidemic that accompanied the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945.

    My interest in the period (more or less lifelong) has lately focused on the question/uncomprehending wail: “What were they thinking?” I’d love to know what the British “fellow travelers” thought they were signing up for? And whether, after the war, they repented?

    I think there was quite a fascination with fascism in the upper crust of British society before the war. The Mitford Sisters where quite famous Nazi sympathizers – in that 2 of them married Nazis. I think one tried to be an unofficial back channel source between Churchill and Hitler. But was promptly thrown in prison when she returned to Britain. (I believe she left Britain once she was released in the mid 1950s – never to return, and died in Paris). There was also the British Union of Fascists, which had the unfortunate acronym of BUF. (I very much doubt the membership was) that got a few members elected to parliament in the 1920s.

    In this kind of social stew, really makes Churchill all that much more remarkable.

    I went to Wikipedia to look them up, because I knew one of them was a Commie, but I couldn’t remember if it was Jessica or Pamela. (It was Jessica.) Who should I run into but the very same Ben Macintyre, who is quoted in the article describing the ladies as “”Diana the Fascist, Jessica the Communist, Unity the Hitler-lover; Nancy the Novelist; Deborah the Duchess and Pamela the unobtrusive poultry connoisseur.”

    I swear I don’t work for this guy. I just like his books.

    • #17
  18. OccupantCDN Coolidge
    OccupantCDN
    @OccupantCDN

    Percival (View Comment):

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):

    GrannyDude (View Comment):

    I just read Promise Me You’ll Shoot Yourself, about the suicide epidemic that accompanied the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945.

    My interest in the period (more or less lifelong) has lately focused on the question/uncomprehending wail: “What were they thinking?” I’d love to know what the British “fellow travelers” thought they were signing up for? And whether, after the war, they repented?

    I think there was quite a fascination with fascism in the upper crust of British society before the war. The Mitford Sisters where quite famous Nazi sympathizers – in that 2 of them married Nazis. I think one tried to be an unofficial back channel source between Churchill and Hitler. But was promptly thrown in prison when she returned to Britain. (I believe she left Britain once she was released in the mid 1950s – never to return, and died in Paris). There was also the British Union of Fascists, which had the unfortunate acronym of BUF. (I very much doubt the membership was) that got a few members elected to parliament in the 1920s.

    In this kind of social stew, really makes Churchill all that much more remarkable.

    I went to Wikipedia to look them up, because I knew one of them was a Commie, but I couldn’t remember if it was Jessica or Pamela. (It was Jessica.) Who should I run into but the very same Ben Macintyre, who is quoted in the article describing the ladies as “”Diana the Fascist, Jessica the Communist, Unity the Hitler-lover; Nancy the Novelist; Deborah the Duchess and Pamela the unobtrusive poultry connoisseur.”

    I swear I don’t work for this guy. I just like his books.

    Yes, I had to look them up as well, as I didnt remember their names – only the broad strokes of their story. Its funny, but the Unobtrusive poultry connoisseur, was a serial killing cannibal.

    • #18
  19. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    WI Con (View Comment):

    I was surprised by the level of disloyalty from the British Upper classes and how they appeared to be willing accomplices when Nazi Germany was expected to take over.

    We’d do well to look at our ‘upper crust’ and their fawning relationship with the Chinese and their willingness to bring down the authoritarian hammer on their fellow citizens as witnessed during the Corona virus outbreak and before by gutting US industry and manufacturing.

    These people are perfectly willing to sell us out.

    Wi,

    Interesting thought. The modern disloyals have a much more effective cover story. They will say they were only following a course of globalist multi-culturalism. They will assert that these ideas would bring the greatest peace and prosperity. They will cast the defense of national interests as short-sighted and racist.

    Sound familiar.

    Someone might accuse you of being just a stupid policeman.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #19
  20. Sisyphus (Rolling Stone) Inactive
    Sisyphus (Rolling Stone)
    @Sisyphus

    Percival (View Comment):
    In Macintyre’s books, you’ll meet a such a collection of characters that if they were in a novel you wrote, your editor would scrawl “what are you drinking?” on the last page.

    My editors never get that far.

    • #20
  21. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    They will say they were only following a course of globalist multi-culturalism.

    The Nazis and their sympathizers said something like that, too, at least under some circumstances. 

    • #21
  22. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude
    @GrannyDude

    As with any discussion of the rise of Hitler and the perceptions of his followers, I find it is necessary to constantly tamp down my own knowledge of what was to come. I know about Auschwitz. They didn’t.

    What they did know was the world they were immersed in, one in which Science was supplanting religion as the source not just of information but of Truth itself—everybody, very much including Communists and Nazis, not to mention Progressives, talked a lot about science. The one-two of Darwin and Mendel offered the heady possibility of breeding (or, in the end, murdering) pain and unhappiness out of human life, not just in Germany but everywhere clever people gathered. Science justifies itself by promising an alleviation of human suffering (or an expansion of human happiness—related but distinct concept!). When we presently condemn Margaret Sanger for her enthusiasm for eugenics via birth control (she wasn’t a fan of abortion), it’s worth recalling that the suffering she was encountering in the slums was real. That the condition of the poor would, eventually, be improved by the rising tide that lifts all boats would have been neither self-evident nor even particularly comforting. “In a mere seventy years, obesity will overtake starvation as a health problem!” would’ve seemed irrelevant to someone presented with a skinny, rickety, youngest-of-eight in 1907.

    And yet, there were people, including Germans, who could and did clearly see the moral hazard of eugenic hubris, and who were capable of holding onto the principle “every human being is a child of God” despite immersion in the prevailing zeitgeist.

    In a way, it might be more encouraging if no one “got it.” If there were no Germans who resisted Hitler, no White Rose group of teenagers not only able to see through the lies but willing to die for the truth, this would relieve present-day Germans of their sense of responsibility. Universal acquiescence in sin renders comfortingly moot the question “what would I have done, were I in their situation?” 

    The existence of the Mitfords, and the Union of the British Fascists, imposes the same responsibility on Brits: what would I have done remains a real question if there were some in Britain who chose something other than “fight them on the beaches” patriotic pluck. 

     

     

     

     

    • #22
  23. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    GrannyDude (View Comment):
    The existence of the Mitfords, and the Union of the British Fascists, imposes the same responsibility on Brits: what would I have done remains a real question if there were some in Britain who chose something other than “fight them on the beaches” patriotic pluck. 

    There was an article on the subject of acquiescence to fascism in Harper’s magazine in the August 1941 issue, “Who Goes Nazi?” It was written four months before the US entered World War II. It is worth a read.

    • #23
  24. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    GrannyDude (View Comment):
    The existence of the Mitfords, and the Union of the British Fascists, imposes the same responsibility on Brits: what would I have done remains a real question if there were some in Britain who chose something other than “fight them on the beaches” patriotic pluck.

    There was an article on the subject of acquiescence to fascism in Harper’s magazine in the August 1941 issue, “Who Goes Nazi?” It was written four months before the US entered World War II. It is worth a read.

    Significantly, she didn’t include “people who make up lists of other people” in her list of other people.

    • #24
  25. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    GrannyDude (View Comment):
    The existence of the Mitfords, and the Union of the British Fascists, imposes the same responsibility on Brits: what would I have done remains a real question if there were some in Britain who chose something other than “fight them on the beaches” patriotic pluck.

    There was an article on the subject of acquiescence to fascism in Harper’s magazine in the August 1941 issue, “Who Goes Nazi?” It was written four months before the US entered World War II. It is worth a read.

    Yes, it was worth reading. Too bad she couldn’t have partnered with somebody to get a grant to study a large enough population to put these observations to the test.

    • #25
  26. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    They will say they were only following a course of globalist multi-culturalism.

    The Nazis and their sympathizers said something like that, too, at least under some circumstances.

    Now that I’m at my keyboard I should explain. I’m thinking of two recent books I’ve read or listened to. 

    One is Holger Eckhertz’s D-Day Through German Eyes. Apparently the Nazis had some success in convincing their own soldiers and people in France that they were all in it together, preparing to defend Europe from enemies outside. That’s not complete globalism, of course, or even abstract multi-culturism, but it’s a step beyond one’s own nation. When the invasion started, it turned out that plenty of the Nazi’s French allies weren’t so sold on this idea after all, and were willing to stab the Nazis in the back.

    The other is Timothy Snyder’s 2015 book, Black Earth. There are some serious problems with his analysis and conclusions, but the book is also full of good data and insight. Snyder points out that Hitler was no German nationalist. He was a racist and viewed his “kampf” in racial terms. To do that he had to go beyond nationalism and eliminate nation-states. He in some cases made use of nation-states, but his extermination program was not nearly as successful in those places as in places where he obliterated them. 

    • #26
  27. ToryWarWriter Thatcher
    ToryWarWriter
    @ToryWarWriter

    I wrote my own article on Doublecross back in the day for World at War Magazine.

    • #27
  28. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    Snyder points out that Hitler was no German nationalist. He was a racist and viewed his “kampf” in racial terms.

    Ret,

    Really good point. As Hitler sees the end he actually starts denouncing the German people for ‘their failure’. He really was an insane racist monster. The Nazis modeled themselves after communist tactics, strategy, and propaganda. The pact between Hitler & Stalin was not an accident. They saw themselves as united against the Democracies. They saw themselves as two different styles of socialist dictatorships.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #28
  29. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude
    @GrannyDude

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    GrannyDude (View Comment):
    The existence of the Mitfords, and the Union of the British Fascists, imposes the same responsibility on Brits: what would I have done remains a real question if there were some in Britain who chose something other than “fight them on the beaches” patriotic pluck.

    There was an article on the subject of acquiescence to fascism in Harper’s magazine in the August 1941 issue, “Who Goes Nazi?” It was written four months before the US entered World War II. It is worth a read.

    That is interesting. Did you try to locate yourself and your friends in it? (I did).

    • #29
  30. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    GrannyDude (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    GrannyDude (View Comment):
    The existence of the Mitfords, and the Union of the British Fascists, imposes the same responsibility on Brits: what would I have done remains a real question if there were some in Britain who chose something other than “fight them on the beaches” patriotic pluck.

    There was an article on the subject of acquiescence to fascism in Harper’s magazine in the August 1941 issue, “Who Goes Nazi?” It was written four months before the US entered World War II. It is worth a read.

    That is interesting. Did you try to locate yourself and your friends in it? (I did).

    I tried, but I kind of fell between the cracks.

    • #30