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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 Espionage laws were repealed after World War I. Britain then had no laws against sedition, and treason only applied to British subjects.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.Published in