Fifth Columnists, Useful Idiots, Traitors and Spies
There was much concern not just from an external invasion, but also the activities of some people in Britain and their lack of wholehearted commitment to the fight ahead. Traitors and German agents were seen everywhere and the paranoia rose to a height after the Norwegian campaign and the activities of the quislings. The Tory arch-appeaser, Sir Samuel Hoare known as “Slippery Sam” was a case in point. He was loathed by Churchill, who on coming to power ordered his expulsion from Downing Street circles. “Tell that man if his room is not cleared by two o’ clock I will make him Minister for Iceland.”
There was a more obvious candidate for suspicion, close surveillance and incarceration, Sir Oswald Mosley, 6th Baronet of Ancoats. Former Labout MP and Leader of the British Union of Fascists (BUF), Mosley had become more brazen with his attacks of the Government throughout the so-called Phoney War, although this period was anything but phoney for members of Bomber Command and the Royal Navy. His Britain First rally at the Earls Court Exhibition Hall on 16 July 1939 was the biggest indoor political rally in British history.
Unbeknown to Mosley the BUF and been comprehensively infiltrated by MI5 and while his ongoing agitation was tolerated, when the Battle of France commenced in May 1940, Mosley was interned on 24th May 1940 under the Emergency Powers Act, 18B. Mosley’s internment was very cosy compared to other internees. He lived in a house in the grounds of Holloway Prison with his wife, where his son Max was born in 1940.
The level of tolerance shown by the authorities to potentially dangerous and toxic individuals and organisations seems not unlike the authority’s tolerance of our current, far more dangerous fifth column. The then Home Secretary Sir John Anderson displayed remarkable forbearance and even though the Nazi/Soviet Pact had carved up Poland between the two countries, the British Communist Party was allowed to freely operate. The War Secretary Anthony Eden became exasperated with Anderson and many of his critics felt that the Home Secretary was failing to grasp the realities of War.
However, a plot uncovered in London revealed a number of establishment figures, a global network and a plan that could have brought down the President of the United States. At its heart were three figures, Anna Wolkoff, a White Russian who wanted to see the Third Reich triumphant in heading a united Europe. Captain Maule “Jock” Ramsey, a Conservative MP, war veteran and rabid anti-Semite and Tyler Kent, a US Foreign Service clerk with a penchant for the high-life. This gang of three formed part of the Right Club, a network that was virulently anti-Semitic and wanted to overthrow the British War effort. Another key player was Joseph P Kennedy US Ambassador to London, who held a long hatred of Britain and her Empire and made no secret of his admiration of Hitler.
Once again MI5 had infiltrated the Right Club and was astonished at just how widespread the network of Nazi sympathisers was and how it riddled British society like cancer. MI5 infiltrated a number of women into the Right Club who posed as extreme right-wing acolytes and they became trusted within the organisation. What caused the authorities to act was Tyler Kent’s passing of sensitive documents to the Soviets and then onto the Nazis. While Kent had diplomatic immunity, on 20th May Special Branch arrested Wolkoff in the Russian Tea Rooms in Kensington. Kent’s flat was searched and a veritable treasure trove of treachery found. Ramsey was also arrested that day and interned while Kent was deported and prosecuted in America.
Finally Anderson acted and had Mosley and large number of the BUF arrested along with most of the 73,533 Germans and Austrians who were over sixteen and resident in the UK. Those not interned in camps on the Isle of Man had restrictions placed on their movement and they were not allowed radios, bicycles or maps. Refugees from Nazi Germany had no restrictions placed on them, and many went on to serve in the Special Forces or as specialist radio operators in Bomber Command. They flew as an eighth crew member on 101 Squadron Lancasters and attempted to spoof the German night fighters, by giving false vectors over frequency agile radio sets.
King Edward VIII and Britain’s Narrow Escape
Mainstream British newspapers such as the Daily Mail regularly heaped praise on the Third Reich and published membership forms for Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists so that their readers might have the opportunity to join. And while the majority of the British people were wise enough to have no truck with fascism and the Nazis, there were elements of the British Establishment who thought that Hitler should be either appeased or embraced. Indeed, appeasement was the policy of the British government, firstly under Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and then his successor Neville Chamberlain, well-meaning politicians both who simply couldn’t accept that anyone could be as evil and devious as Hitler. Former Prime Minister David Lloyd George visited Hitler in 1936 and was full of praise, considering him the “George Washington of Germany”. Newspaper barons Lord Northcliffe and Lord Rothermere, who were to be instrumental in hushing up King Edward’s affair with Wallis Simpson, were lavishly entertained by Hitler and subsequently praised him in their newspapers.
Following his abdication as King Edward VIII the Duke of Windsor and Mrs Simpson settled in France until war broke out and they were brought back to Britain by Mountbatten on board HMS Kelly. The German Ambassador to the Hague clamed in February 1940 that the Duke had leaked plans for the defence of Belgium, a claim that the Duke denied. When the Germans invaded northern France the Duke and Duchess headed south, first to Spain, then to Lisbon where they lived in the home of Ricardo de Espírito Santo, a Portuguese banker with both British and German contacts. The kindest thing I can think to say about the Duke of Windsor is that he had a poor sense of moral judgement.
The German Abwehr concocted a plan codenamed Operation Willi to lure the Duke back to Spain where he could be abducted and taken to Germany as a “Leader of Britain in Waiting.” Lord Caldecote wrote a warning to Churchill: “(the Duke) is well-known to be pro-Nazi and he may become a centre of intrigue. Churchill threatened the Duke with a court-martial if he did not return to British soil. In July 1940, Edward was appointed Governor of the Bahamas. The Duke and Duchess left Lisbon on 1 August aboard the American Export Lines steamship Excalibur, which was specially diverted from its usual direct course to New York City so that they could be dropped off at Bermuda on the 9th. They left Bermuda for Nassau on the Canadian steamship Lady Somers on 15 August, arriving two days later.
The Duke did not enjoy being governor and referred to the islands as “a third-class British colony”. The British Foreign Office objected when the Duke and Duchess planned to cruise aboard a yacht belonging to a Swedish magnate, Axel Wenner-Gren, whom British and American intelligence believed to be a close friend of Luftwaffe commander Hermann Göring. The Duke remained in the Bahamas for the rest of the war where he could do as little damage as possible. Sensible British patriots may have breathed a sigh of relief.
The Germans had already set up spy networks in Britain prior to the outbreak of war and some of our friends over in the Republic of Ireland were only too keen to support any treachery against the hated Brits. But these networks had been comprehensively infiltrated by MI5, much in the same way as the Right Club. Once the war had started, the German Intelligence or Abwher needed to get agents into Britain, to reinforce and check the viability of the existing networks. What is amazing is that such a bunch of hopelessly prepared and inept agents were used for what was codenamed Operation Lena.
They arrived by parachute and by dingy from U-boats, each man carrying a suitcase containing a radio transmitter, maps, a handgun and invisible ink. Their mission was to pave the way for the invasion. They seemed hopelessly prepared for their assignments and some even lacked a basic grasp of English or British customs. One hapless individual was arrested when he walked into a pub and tried to order a pint of cider at 10:00, seemingly unaware of licencing regulations. Another pair were stopped while cycling through Scotland on the wrong side of the road and once the police discovered German sausages and Nivea hand cream in their luggage, their cover was blown.
Twelve Operation Lena spies were landed in September 1940 and most were captured within forty-eight hours. Some were shot by firing squad in the Tower of London and the rest were turned to provide a stream of false information for the rest of the war. Some were allowed to operate, but heavily monitored to reveal other spies and Nazi sympathisers. A theory proposed by Monika Siedentopf a German author, argues that the botched spying mission was not the result of German incompetence, but a deliberate act of sabotage by a cadre of intelligence officials opposed to Hitler’s plans. This seems rather fanciful given that the Abwher was only too happy to infiltrate and turn SOE networks, particularly in the Netherlands. Hardly the actions of an organisation that wanted Germany to lose the war. It all rather smacks of the Germans trying to re-write history and cover up the German peoples’ monstrous blindness to the depravity of their government. And Germany never cornered the market in espionage ineptitude, as the hapless agents of MI6 proved in Germany prior to the outbreak of war.
© Blown Periphery 2018