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4.0 out of 5 stars Double agents for Fortitude: For want of a nail and more secrets have been revealed, 22 Jan. 2013
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This review is from: Double Cross: The True Story of The D-Day Spies (Paperback)
After his successful publications and TV programmes on the greatest con-man Eddie Chapman, and the lead up to the invasion of Sicily Operation Mincemeat: The True Spy Story That Changed the Course of World War II, it is inevitable that Ben Macintyre's interest in the shadowy world of Second World War spooks would eventually lead to the biggest deception plan, "Operation Fortitude" as part of the Allies' overall cross-Channel invasion plan Overlord of N.E. Europe in June 1944.

For years the XX Committee, chaired since 1941 by John Masterman, an Oxford don and cricket fan, was set up to capture and turn German spies as double agents to fight the Nazis. Double Cross is a jigsaw study of the pen-pictures of around six double agents: four men and two women: Dusan Popov, a Serb industrialist , alias "Tricycle" called for his passion for three in the bed sex; his friend "Johnny" Jebsen, or "Artist", a Danish born German, heir to a shipping line, who had been recruited into the German Abwehr by Col Oster, a family friend and deputy to Admiral Canaris, learnt of the German "rocket gun"(the V1) at Peenemünde through pillow talk in 1943 from a glamorous baroness; Captain Roman Czerniawski, a Polish fighter pilot, "Brutus" who had set up Interallié, the most important spy network in occupied France, until it was infiltrated and broken at the end of 1941; Juan Pujol Garcia "Garbo", an eccentric Spaniard with a poultry diploma who disliked chickens; Lily Sergeyev, "Treasure", a White Russian in France, devoted to her terrier-poodle cross "Babs"; and Elvira de Fuente Chaudoir, the bisexual daughter of a Peruvian diplomat, alias "Bronx", concocted after a strong rum based cocktail. They all worked in counter-espionage for MI5, under Guy Liddell's B section, often moving against their overseas colleagues in MI6, unaware that they were being betrayed from within by the Soviet agent "Tony", Anthony Blunt.

Odder, it is likely that Stalin read more secret British documents than Churchill, though little of relevance seems to have been noted because no Soviet believed the British were so stupid to hire so-many Communists in senior intelligence positions (besides Blunt, there was Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, and John Cairncross), unless they too were double-agents all in league to deceive Mother Russia. Stranger still, it is likely that up to "Operation Barbarossa", the invasion of the USSR in June 1941, some of secret files on turned agents had been passed on to Berlin. It was fortunate for Britain, that German intelligence was always split between more distinct rival Nazi Party-State bodies through the Party led SS-SD, together with the Gestapo, and the more anti-Nazi Abwehr. Interestingly, the author shows that far from Berlin, in Paris, Madrid, and Lisbon, lived many idle Abwehr operators and handlers of the same six who happily feathered their wartime and post-war nests with scandalously rich lifestyles, and hoped to keep their superiors in the dark from their personal indiscretions for as long as possible.

From all the conflicting evidence collected from these wild characters, Macintyre's account grips readers with incredible mission impossible tales which almost failed and might have made counter-histories and historical fiction virtual fact. The success-failure was as close as the old proverb "for want of a nail a shoe was lost"; it showed how small insignificant actions can trigger off larger unexpected consequences.

How could the presence of an actor such as Miles Mander in Billy Wilder's Five Graves to Cairo Five Graves to Cairo (1943) ( 5 Graves to Cairo )bring a double to make a swift tour of the Mediterranean (but not experience the same adventures in Casablanca as Lt James of the Pay Corps did in I was Monty's Double I Was Monty's Double [DVD]) and convince the Germans that the prospective invasion would commence much later; why might the death of the dog "Babs" cause the angered "Treasure" to almost reveal to her German handlers that she was being compromised; how could members of the Abwehr allow their trusted informer "Artist", who had just been decorated with the Nazi War Merit Cross (KVK), be kidnapped, taken to Berlin and savagely interrogated for weeks by the Gestapo except to save themselves and the famous plot against the Führer in July 1944, so requiring the vital link from "Tricycle" to be shut down; and why was it essential for "Garbo" to tip off the enemy about the time of the landings on the eve, only for the German wireless operator to be found asleep during the call, and to have only woken up and reported for duty five hours later when the invasion had already started (the author jokingly rewrites the incident that the Germans or one German had been caught napping!). This last act of treachery - earning "Garbo" an Iron Cross, was enough to give faith back about the details and the reasons why the phantom forces of the British Fourth Army heading for Norway, and the First US Army Group (FUSAG) for the Pas de Calais seemed so slow in arriving in June 1944. Indeed, the change in the weather for ten days, and the US break through at St Lô appeared a plausible reason for FM Jodl in 1946 why the original plans may have been changed and why he still thought the Normandy landings were really a sideshow rather than the real full monty. It was after seven weeks before four Divisions were finally released southwards from the 15th German Army to halt the Allies march. "Garbo", "Brutus", and all the rest had thus succeeded in making the deception of Fortitude a reality, though some on the ground thought it was a close run thing.

In the intervening weeks "Brutus" had time to build up the phantom army by suggesting that the Germans be lured into launching an attack on FUSAG GHQ, at Wentworth, and killing Gen Eisenhower - an idea killed off as unnecessary. Such a scheme was hardly original, already circulated in a book by Graham Greene for two years, but still of great interest much later by Jack Higgins when the victim to be kidnapped by a commando unit was none other than Churchill The Eagle Has Landed.

The greatest sea invasion in 400 years had worked after years of preparation with a lot of luck, some help from unexpected enemies: from German and the Japanese, as well as the willingness of certain adventurers happy to spend their war carrying out what others deemed impossible. As in all stories there were victims: "Artist" in particular disappearing without trace, and a real traitor, who may have died knowing something about "Johnny"s fatal exit for being too informed, influential and dangerous for Russia in a divided post-war Europe.

"Bomber" Harris believed that only by flattening Germany would she surrender. At the time when Germany was being pounded certain plotters were becoming more active. Among the Abwehr Artist reported that a joke was doing the rounds: "During an air raid Hitler, Goering, Goebbels and Himmler took refuge in the same air raid shelter. The shelter received a direct hit. Who was saved? Germany." If such "defeatist" talk was actually being muttered in certain quarters it signified that the War for them was already lost for Nazi Germany. These "patriots" believed that as long as they could obtain a separate peace in the West and bring Britain and US over against the "Bolsheviks" German could still live on. "Artist" was doing well as a spy by reporting the state of feelings; but nothing would really change in Britain among the decision-makers if around the operators moved cunning Soviet informers like Philby or Blunt. As the Soviets never trusted the wicked capitalist West, it was essential for their moles to keep Britain on their side Germany was defeated for their own sakes otherwise any change in policy and the idea behind "for want of a nail" would quickly turn against them.

Parts of Ben Macintyre's amazing, most enjoyable volume Double Cross seems more out of the realms of Ian Fleming, and James Bond - something which Popov claimed too in his own autobiography. It could help re-write the history of the Second World War. To succeed spies must be born actors and capable to lie, and if only half of what Popov maintains is true of his life: of punch ups with Nazis, naked girls in his hotel bedrooms, and staking of thousands on the turn of a card, a time when life was lived to the full for the day as one's tomorrow might never dawn, then the dashing figure of Bond was a pretty realistic person. The work of the six, including the two women, sounds very credible because Bletchley Park repeatedly showed they were always producing small dividends in the larger picture both at home and abroad. With this book another piece of the secret jigsaw has finally come out of the darkness and of the fog of war.
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