The Cambridge Spy Ring, the early days

well_chuffed, Going Postal

This is an attempt to describe how some of those who spied for Russia during WW2 were recruited and by whom. It seems a large number of them were prepared to betray their country for ideological reasons , is there any reason to suppose that the same is not true now except there is no Soviet Union but there is its replacement , the European Union. The other thing that strikes me is how many of the recruiters seemed to know each other and had worked together at some point. I blame it on the Germans because so much of it seemed to originate from the KPD , Communist Party of Germany.

The story of the Burgess-Maclean flight to Moscow is well known as is the later unmasking and flight of Kim Philby , their early days are much less well known , nor is the damage they did to our country.

Usually excused because of their anti-fascist stance , my contention is that they hated their own country and preferred the system in another. Until 1939 the UK was guilty of appeasing Germany , from 1939 to 1941 the Soviet Union was in cahoots with our enemy and only after Operation Barbarossa was the Soviet Union on the same side as us. In fact , any intelligence we shared with the Russians between 1939 and 1941 , was often handed over to the Germans with whom we were at war. Up until the time he was attacked by the Nazis , Stalin viewed us with our Empire as his main adversary with the Germans running in second place.

One of the problems with following the careers of these traitors is that many of the people involved have written their memoirs and there are so many conflicting stories. Expecting someone like Philby to tell the truth is a rather forlorn exercise , deception was their lives for many many years and they still had much to cover up. Finding out when and why they started betraying their country is not easy.

Let’s have a look at the Cambridge Six , often called Five but there are at least Six.

The first recruit seems to have been Philby. He had been in Vienna in 1933 where he met and married Litzi Friedmann who was an Austrian Communist. With things turning a bit nasty in Austria at the time , they moved to London in 1934 where the legendary Arnold Deutsch was trawling for people to spy for the Russians. Arnold was the cousin of millionaire Oscar Deutsch (of ODEON cinemas fame). One of the more sensible theories about Philby’s recruitment was that his wife was the one behind it and was the one who recommended him to Arnold. Philby’s father was an orientalist and had converted to Islam , enough to send anyone off the rails maybe.

Guy Burgess was also recruited by Arnold Deutsch on the recommendation of Philby. Burgess’s flamboyant lifestyle must have been a risk but he was recruited anyway , seemingly on the grounds that he knew who all the others were.

Donald Maclean was eventually recruited by Arnold Deutsch’s replacement . Theodor Maly , on Philby’s recommendation. Maclean had joined the Communist Party at University and was not one to hide his views. As the saying goes , he liked to put it about a bit and the undoubted sexual freedom of the left wing women would not have discouraged him. One of his early liaisons was with Kitty Harris. She was his handler at the time (stop sniggering at the back) and was quite possibly the wife of Earl Browder who later became the leader of the Communist Party of the USA. Maclean married in 1939 when supposedly his philandering stopped.

Anthony Blunt claimed that Burgess converted him to the Communist cause and recruited him as a Soviet spy. He was a lecturer at Cambridge by them whereas the others were still students. Blunt had visited the Soviet Union in 1933 so presumably was not averse to their system. It has been suggested that Blunt remained at Cambridge to be a kind of talent spotter. He certainly played a part , along with Burgess , in recruiting John Cairncross , Leo Long and the American Michael Straight.

John Cairncross was recruited by Blunt and Philby , possibly around 1937 when he joined the Communist Party. Cairncross reputedly did not like either of them , perhaps more disinformation as he claimed not to have known that any others were involved in the so called Cambridge Spy ring. He ended up working at Bletchley Park was was sending raw Ultra messages to Moscow from 1941 to 1944. This at a time when it was the most secret secret in the land ! He then worked at MI6 for Kim Philby and again claimed he had no idea Philby was also a spy. Not a man to be trusted to tell the truth.

Leo Long has been accused of being the sixth member of the Cambridge Spy Ring. In 1964 Blunt claimed he recruited Long while he was a tutor at Cambridge. There seems to be no reason to doubt this though Blunt and the truth were not always good companions.

What did these traitors get up to once they had left Uni.

Philby went to Vienna to help refugees from Nazi Germany via a communist front organisation. He was also acting as a courier for the communists between Vienna and Prague. In 1934 he married Litzi Friedmann (born Alice Kohlmann) and pretty soon returned to the UK along with his bride who now had a British passport. He was then recruited to work for the Soviets , he took a coarsen Russian and worked as a journalist. Then he went to Spain and covered the Spanish Civil War for the Times. At this point he started sending reports to both British and Russian Intelligence. Eventually , after the war started , he was offered a job in the War Office.

Burgess wanted to stay at Cambridge as a tutor but was pushed out and went to work for the BBC as an assistant producer. After a short period full-time at MI6 he moved to the Foreign Office in 1944.

Maclean was encouraged by the Russians to go into the Civil Service , he sat the exams in 1935 when he passed with honours and went to work for the Foreign Office. After working at the Embassy in Paris , he returned to London and continued working at the Foreign Office , all the time passing secrets to the Russians.

Blunt was a tutor at Cambridge until 1939 when he joined the Army Intelligence Corps. In 1940 he switched to work for MI5 all the while passing secrets , including Ultra , to the Russians.

Cairncross came first in the Civil Service exams and went to work in the Cabinet Office for Lord Hankey followed by a move to the Foreign Office. He then moved to Bletchley Park and between 1942-1943 passed Ultra messages to the Russians. In 1944 he moved to MI6.

Leo Long worked for MI14 , the section gathering intelligence on Germany from 1940 to 1945.

It seems all these people managed to get jobs where they could do some really useful spying for the Russians , all long before we were allied with them. In 1939 and 1940 their handlers were recalled to Moscow , this was down to a defector called Krivitsky who could inform on them and also the plot to kill Trotsky which was taking more and more resources. These spies were then faced with intelligence the wanted to give to Russia but no way to get it there. Some were reduced to hunting round Europe and even the USA trying to find a reliable Russian they could pass it to. They were not doing this as a bit fo fun on the side , they were deadly serious.

We should remember that from 1939 to 1941 the Germans and Russians were Allies , even if it was a marriage of convenience , the Russians were passing most of what they could get from us to the Germans with who we were at war. Many of the communists of the time were horrified by the Pact and found it hard to support Russia in any way. Not our intrepid Cambridge spies though. They kept the faith safe in the conviction that Stalin must know what he is doing. Burgess had a serious row with fellow traveller Goronwy Ress over this and when the did not agree to disagree even proposed bumping him off.

Even if you were convinced that communism was the way forward , would you seriously betray your own country by helping its enemy. It seems to me that their major inspiration was not so much love of communism but hatred of the UK and the way it was in those days. All the people who have made excuses for these traitors and downplayed their deeds are very much mistaken.

Next time , more on the less well known Oxford Ring including , allegedly , Arnold Toynbee , grandfather of Polly of Tuscan villa fame. See , she’s just upholding the family name really.

© well_chuffed 2018

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