SOE: The Rules of the Game

UNSPECIFIED – circa 1944: Headquarters of french Gestapo ensured complete arrest of the group;;1er rang – 1st row : Fritz Bittner (1), Karl Doring (2), Sattler (3), Boemelburg (4), Hans Kieffer (5), Reiser (6), Fritz Mohr (7), Arthur Katzemich (8);;2e rang – 2nd row : Roeding (1), Hans Hoppen (2), Joachim Kleist (3), Hans Damelo (4), Adolf Tippner (5), Hans Hofmann (7), Grenzmeier (9), Richard Becke (11), Hans Knittel (12), Herbert Richter (13), Paul Thummel (14), Vogt (15), Willy Muller (16), Georg Froitzheim (17);;3e rang – 3rd row : Willi Netzer (1), Richard Baldeweg (2), Joseph Daumelang (3), Willi Meissner (4), Ludolf Kroenke (5), Karl Braun (6), Hans Oppelt (7), Konrad Metscher (8), Richard Hamann (9), Heinrich Einfeld 10), Alfred Saalberg (11), Grunewald (15);;4e rang – 4th row : Lackert (1), Noehring (3), Richard Schroeter (4), Otto Schwab (5) (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)

Karl Bömelburg

During the early morning hours, Déricourt walked across the frozen open fields towards the little spur line that runs out of Orléans to Poitiers. He caught one of the early morning milk trains that rolled slowly into Gare d’Orsay around mid-morning. His first priority was to get warm and get some sleep. He turned up at JuJu’s flat near the Place des Ternes, knocked but got no reply. His old flame, Julienne Aisner, had become quite serious about the young lawyer Charles Besnard. Besnard’s own flat was not far, in the Avenue Malakoff, but Déricourt decided not to disturb them. He took the Metro to the Gare de l’Est and bought a ticket for Reims.

Sometime that afternoon he arrived at the little village of Coulognes-en-Tardenois. He waited in the small bar until his mother returned home from work before knocking on the door. He slept most of the day and woke about ten that night to talk. His mother knew from experience not to believe much of what her son told her; his father said nothing to him at all. Sitting by the fire in the large armchair, the even larger frame of Alfred Déricourt seemed to his son to expand with every breath. Henri, on departing, left his mother a large wad of notes from the cash the SOE had given him.

By midday on the following day he was outside Juju’s flat again in the Place des Ternes. When she opened the door she had to catch her breath. After another of his characteristic disappearances there he was, as large as life. She would never get used to his unpredictability. He explained crudely that he was working for the British, which of course she didn’t believe, and that he was going down to Marseilles to collect his wife and bring her up to Paris. Could she find them somewhere to stay? JuJu said she’d try. He then left her some of his SOE cash and took the train to Marseilles.

Rémy Clément had been stood down from Air France when that company was forced to cancel its few remaining routes. He got employment in the office of the La Bourne company in Marseilles and was sitting at his desk, his mind a long way from his work, when the phone rang. It was Jeannot. She was nearly incoherent with joy, but the gist of her message was that Rémy should come round to her flat on his way home that evening. She said nothing else, but Rémy was in no doubt, Henri was back. Déricourt opened the door and ushered Rémy into the small room at 50 Rue Curiol. There was much embracing and nods and winks as Déricourt began to reveal his purpose. He wanted Rémy to come up to Paris with him, to help in a secret operation for the British. Secret agents were flown in and out of France late at night and they needed someone to organize the flights, discover the right fields, lay out flight paths – gradually Déricourt went into the whole operation for the SOE in great detail. Rémy was extremely tempted but at the same time very wary. Déricourt was such an outrageous adventurer.

I had a good job, but it had no future. I felt up against a wall and with the occupation I felt trapped. He was offering me something I was craving for. To be involved with flying again.

Against this Rémy had to weigh up two things. He didn’t like the idea of having anything to do with secret agents, and he was terrified of being caught by the Germans. He asked for some time to think it over. Déricourt explained that he and Jeannot were taking the first train in the morning. He would have to know Rémy’s answer before they left.

At five-thirty the next morning Clément slowly climbed the steep hill of Boulevard d’Athenes to the Gare St Charles. At the station he told Déricourt he would come but needed some time. He was not restrained by doubt but by bureaucracy. In a few weeks he would be due his holiday pay and didn’t want to forfeit the cash. In three weeks he and his wife should be in Paris. His only condition was that he would never be expected to have anything to do with agents. Déricourt didn’t have much choice; he agreed. Sometime during the journey to Paris, Déricourt decided to dispose of the bogus identity papers SOE had given him. He was too well known, he could never pass himself off as ‘Maurice Fabre’, so he sensibly remained Henri Déricourt.

In Paris he and Jeannot stayed the first few nights with JuJu, sleeping on the bare boards. His wife knew all about Henri’s relationship with the other woman, but seemed to cope with the temporary discomfort with no complaints. However, it was clear the arrangement could not last.

Sometime within the first three days, Déricourt contacted Sturmbannfuhrer Karl Boemelburg. He was collected somewhere in the Bois de Boulogne by a black Citroën and driven around the maze of small roads that weave through the Bois. Naturally, there is no transcript of the conversation that took place, but it has come down through ‘Gestapo folklore’ (absurd but true) that Déricourt managed to convince Boemelburg of his strong political feelings. The conversation went on the following lines.

Déricourt described, in minute detail, the process by which he’d been transported out of France via the Pat Line, to Gibraltar. This satisfied Boemelburg that the black-marketeer probably had been in touch with ‘British intelligence’. Then Déricourt embarked on a vivid description of a Britain on the verge of mass revolt, where the government was riddled with Socialists and Communists, and where the ordinary Briton felt no sympathy for Churchill’s warlike policies. Because of his own special qualifications, Déricourt had been recruited to organize the transport of secret agents in and out of France. However, sickened by the sight of rampant Bolshevism, he had determined to offer his services to the only people who knew who the real enemy was and how to fight it – the Nazis.

Whether or not Boemelburg believed Déricourt doesn’t come down with the rest of the story. The old Nazi was a highly suspicious man and would have required a great deal more than mere tokens of political empathy to convince him. One thing that would have impressed him, indeed always did impress him, was Déricourt’s remarkable calm and self-assurance. There was something about his quiet, careful speech that radiated confidence, and it was Boemelburg’s confidence he wanted. They arranged to meet again before the end of the day. At that second meeting Déricourt emerged with a valuable envelope in his coat pocket. Henri’s and Jeannot’s accommodation problems had been solved.

On their third day in Paris, Jeannot and Henri packed up their belongings and strolled down the Rue du Fauborg St Honoré, to the Hotel Bristol, where he presented the man on the desk with Boemelburg’s letter of authorization. The Hotel Bristol was a German-controlled hotel. It was not occupied by Germans but by their guests, civilians mostly; Vichy officials, bankers and industrialists. It was a discreet and convenient meeting-place where private enterprise could meet and be entertained by the Nazi authorities. It was almost the most expensive and certainly the most exclusive hotel in Paris. Highly polished marble floors reflected jet-black jack-boots and the glittering lights of the crystal chandeliers. For Jeannot it was an experience she never forgot. Having lived in Marseilles and away from the more obvious manifestations of the occupation, the sight of so many German uniforms absolutely terrified her. She couldn’t bear to eat in the restaurant because the sight of so much black and grey made her uncontrollably nervous. She had no idea of the significance of the place and knew nothing of her husband’s arrangements with the Germans. All she knew was that she didn’t like it. Henri, on the other hand, revelled in it.

Of course, living at the Bristol was an extraordinary risk to take, if only because he might have been seen by a future contact from PROSPER’s network. There was a convenient back door to the hotel which opened onto a small lane that led to the Rue de Penthièvre. Henri and Jeannot would slip out to eat at a small black-market rendezvous they called La Conte where they met up with JuJu and others. JuJu hadn’t told Besnard about Henri for fear the respectable lawyer might disapprove of the black-marketeering pilot. He would certainly have disapproved of her having anything to do with the Resistance. Déricourt convinced JuJu that his work in Paris was serious and that he needed someone else to work with him, to be his courier. She was at first incredulous, but was eventually intrigued by the prospect and agreed to help. JuJu never found out where Henri and Jeannot were staying – nor, of course, about his contacts with Boemelburg.

The arrangement at the Bristol couldn’t last. Three weeks later, JuJu mentioned to Déricourt that his black-market contact Bladier had a flat for sale in the 16th Arrondissement, not far from the Avenue Foch. The simple two-room apartment on the third floor of 58 Rue Pergolese suited them perfectly, but there was a great deal of work to be done before it would be habitable. Meanwhile Henri and Jeannot moved into a room at a hotel in the Avenue Colonel Moll until the accommodation in the Rue Pergolese was ready. Déricourt was absolutely tickled at the prospect of owning an apartment in that area. There was a small black-market restaurant 100 metres from his door and less than ten minutes away, around the corner, was Boemelburg’s headquarters at 82–84 Avenue Foch.

Towards the end of February, Rémy Clément and his wife arrived and settled into a wonderful artist’s studio flat in Montmartre, with a view of Sacre Coeur from the window. Déricourt’s little group was now gathered. It was codenamed FARRIER. They were contacted by some PROSPER people; Andrée Borrel, who would share courier duties with JuJu, and Jack Agazarian, who would provide radio communications with London. Déricourt and Clément created a simple telephone bell code. Two rings: meet me at La Conte; three rings: meet at Chez Tutulle; one ring and then two: news from abroad, and so on. Almost immediately Rémy was despatched down to the Vienne to make a survey of possible fields to use as landing strips. But before these arrangements had been made, Déricourt had already entered into his understanding with the SD. There were a great many lives at stake already, and the game hadn’t even started.

During the last week of February he was contacted by Lise de Baissac, who wanted help to get some people back to London. One of these was her brother Claude, the organizer of another extensive network that stretched along the Atlantic coast, called SCIENTIST. The SCIENTIST and PROSPER networks were linked both geographically and strategically, Lise de Baissac being the conduit through which most information flowed between Claude de Baissac in Bordeaux and Francis Suttill in Paris. These two great men had a great deal in common, but the most critical element they shared, along with innumerable other networks in France, was their reliance on the SOE’s Air Movements Officer, Déricourt.

Déricourt’s first operation, which they called TRAINER, was planned for the next full moon in mid-March. It would be a double Lysander; two aircraft landing, one after the other. The Lysander could carry three adults in the rear cockpit – or, at a pinch, two adults and two children. It was a single-crew operation, no navigator or gunner. With his maps spread out across his lap, the pilot would fly out to the given co-ordinates and then, by the light of the moon, be guided by the rivers or railways to the field where the reception committee was waiting.

On 17 March, four men bought tickets for Poitiers at the Gare d’Orsay and, having made visual contact with Déricourt, boarded the train and sat themselves at intervals along its length. At Poitiers they all went separate ways, having arranged to rendezvous after curfew at a spot on the outskirts of the town, where Déricourt waited with half a dozen bicycles. They pedalled in single file, Déricourt – with the only lamp – in the lead. He was taking them to a field SOE had given him in London. Already tried and tested, it had been coded B/19.

Throughout France over eighty such fields had been identified as being suitable for clandestine use. Those used for MI6 operations were classified RED and carefully segregated from SOE fields, which were classified BLUE. Officially pilots were not supposed to know either the identity of the people they carried or the service for which they were working, but by noting whether he was flying out to R/12 or B/31 a pilot could deduce whether it was an MI6 operation or one for SOE. When the coded references were translated into soil and trees, one begins to appreciate the extraordinary courage of the men who brought aircraft down into the French countryside in the dead of night.

Déricourt left his passengers in a small gully shrouded by trees at the top end of the field and ran off to lay out the flare path. It was vital that the pilot had a clear approach to the field, so that he knew he could descend comfortably without fear of clipping the top of a tree or electricity cables. The precise direction of the strip depended on the direction of the wind, which was faintly from the northeast that night. A hard frost had created a firm crust on the soil – in theory, it should go well. The entire field had to be at least half a kilometre long, within which the flare path, some 150 metres long and 50 metres wide, was marked out with torches in the shape of an inverted L. The top end of the inverted L gave the pilot the width of his strip; two, sometimes three lights set into the wind gave him the length.

Back in the gully, sweating and breathing great plumes of steam, Déricourt rejoined his passengers. With an hour or so before the aircraft would be due, they took out some coffee and bread and tried to keep warm. Amongst the four passengers were three important SOE officers. The SCIENTIST organizer Claude de Baissac had been in France since June 1942, and was returning to London for a rest and re-briefing. With him was France Anthelme, the organizer of the parallel but much smaller circuit to Suttill’s, called BRICKLAYER. Come D-Day, BRICKLAYER would be responsible for creating secret supply lines of food and finance for the invading army. He too was closely associated with Suttill. With him was a wireless operator, not identified. The fourth, Raymond Flower, was the organizer of the MONKEYPUZZLE circuit, based around Tours. He had been in France since June the year before, but his little group had never got off the ground and he was returning to London, although he didn’t know it at that stage, to take up a liaison post.

Soon after midnight, the sound of the Bristol Mercury engine could be heard drifting in and out of the wind. Déricourt told them to stay hidden until his signal and then made a dash to the torches, turning each one on and then standing at the command point with his own torch in hand. As he made visual contact he would flash in Morse the identification letter ‘D’. The Lysander would respond with the same letter. Flying Officer ‘Bunny’ Rymills banked his aircraft and descended to about 300 feet, flying over the row of lights, re-orientated, and made another approach. Then, coming down quite low, he made another pass, getting the feel of the wind. His final approach was perfect and he put the aircraft down at 12.30 a.m.

Déricourt flashed the signal to the men in the trees, who scrambled up the slope and across to the Lysander. Out of the rear cockpit, where a gunner used to be positioned, three men gingerly made their way down the ladder. He picked out three of his four passengers to go on the first aircraft and ordered the newcomers to help them on board with their luggage. Seven minutes later, Rymills pulled the throttle back, released the brakes and let the plane roll down the bumpy strip until she gained enough velocity to be lifted, almost vertically, into the air. Meanwhile Déricourt and the three newcomers plus Anthelme walked back to the gully to wait. Normally on a ‘double’, the second aircraft was just a couple of minutes away. On that occasion he was nearly half an hour behind his leader. As the new arrivals waited, the rush of adrenalin had begun to dilute and the first anxieties about being dropped into enemy-occupied territory were diminishing. Déricourt always kept a flask of cognac to loosen up the tenseness.

At about ten to one, the sound of Vaughan-Fowler’s Lysander drifted slowly into earshot, and Déricourt clapped Anthelme on the back, as if to say, you aren’t going to be left behind after all. Vaughan-Fowler’s pick-up didn’t run quite as smoothly as that of Rymills. The ground was particularly bumpy, which shook the Lysander badly and caused the engine to ignite. He taxied to a halt with flames licking the engine cowling. Déricourt climbed up the wing struts until his face was virtually inside the cockpit, where there followed a brief conversation, conducted at the top of their lungs. Out of the rear cockpit clambered Madame Agazarian, the radio operator’s wife. Once she was down, Déricourt leapt up the ladder, grabbed a spare Mae West (an inflatable life-preserver) and stuffed it into the engine exhaust, which had the effect of suffocating the flames. Meanwhile Anthelme, terrified that the whole aircraft would blow up, stood motionless at the foot of the ladder. Déricourt made a swift jerk with his thumb and Anthelme scrambled on board. A signal to Vaughan-Fowler and the engine was throttled up. He was off the ground by 1 a.m.

Back in the gully with his torches, Déricourt began to sort out the new arrivals. The first few hours that incoming agents spent in France were often the most gruelling. Having flown through a freezing black night into a foreign field, they needed that first contact with a friend in hostile territory. They were also hungry for news, for an assessment of their situation, any trivial little thing that they might need to know which London had neglected to pass on. Déricourt abandoned his usual mute efficiency and chatted to the agents, apparently just to put them at their ease. But in the cold light of the morning after, many of these agents reflected on Déricourt’s inquisitiveness. He made it his business to learn as much as he possibly could about everyone who passed through his hands. He had a prodigious memory and soon built up a mental record of who worked with whom. Apart from Madame Agazarian, who had come to work beside her husband, there was John Goldsmith, who had had a brief and unprofitable career with CARTE in the south but was now working with the Paris-based networks; Henri Lejeune, who was with the Gaullist section (RF) but who seemed to have links with F Section networks; and Roland Dowlen, a radio operator for a small network in Paris, separate from but in communication with PROSPER, called CHESTNUT. Hardly key figures at the centre of the northern networks, yet all with one single common factor; all had links with PROSPER. This in itself was of no great significance, but it did impress upon Déricourt that apart from a common link, there may also be a common purpose. At that stage he knew very little about PROSPER’s stategic significance, but he did know that it could not be long before he met the man at the centre of the great network.

The party pedalled in single file down the pitch-black lanes towards Poitiers. Their security procedures had been well rehearsed in London. Each had his own cover story, false identity papers, the return stubs of pre-purchased train tickets and so on. At Poitiers they separated, filling in the hours until dawn, when they converged on the railway station. On the platform, where they waited for the train for Paris, they mingled inconspicuously with the early morning crowds, avoiding the impulse to glance at each other. Though their paths would doubtless cross again, for the moment they were on their own.

Déricourt had to remain to deal with the bicycles and took a later train that got him into Paris after lunch. From his point of view, Operation TRAINER had been a success.b He found the agents were on the whole fairly at ease with him. His professionalism seemed to create a sense of confidence and in that mood many of them were very talkative. In fact the whole operation had been quite exhilarating. It seemed as though the business might have its moments. Back at the ‘Coll Moll’, the hotel in Avenue Colonel Moll, Déricourt collapsed on his bed and slept through until the following morning.

Within days of the March operation, there was another meeting with Boemelburg – a kind of re-appraisal, with a view to formalizing the situation. At that meeting Déricourt provided Boemelburg with a detailed description of everyone who had travelled in on the Lysanders. Boemelburg asked him if he knew anything about PROSPER, to which Déricourt replied that he had heard it had something to do with the invasion.

The relationship that developed between these two men was one of the great partnerships of the secret war. From the beginning it had all the hallmarks of something that would endure, and it was significant not for what it involved but for what it did not involve. It was the experience of most senior officers at the Avenue Foch, and Boemelburg especially, that coercion was not an enduring basis for any intelligence contract. It built up resentment and threatened the security of everyone involved. Coercion was fine for the short term when immediate results were the essence of the contract, but it did not hold any promise for the future. Money had traditionally been essential to these arrangements and it was well known that the SD had almost unlimited resources. But here, too, Boemelburg was remarkably circumspect. He did not trust anyone whose motives were purely profit. Like Dansey in London, he knew not only the value of money but also its worth. If every man had his price, then it was extremely unwise to base an understanding on the vagaries of the free market. On the other hand, the SD were also extraordinarily correct and they would have been equally suspicious of anyone who would not accept any money at all. SD archives reveal that, unlike most of their informers, Déricourt did not receive a regular salary, though of course he did accept the odd bit of largesse that came his way. (There is a massive archive of signed receipts which the SD extracted from all their informers, which now rests in the vaults of the French DST in Rue Saussier. It is guarded as though it were a national secret – which it probably is.)

Déricourt was officially identified as BOE/48 – Boemelburg’s 48th agent. Soon after that meeting, Boemelburg introduced the name GILBERT (synonymous with BOE/48) to a few of his colleagues at Avenue Foch, most notably to his immediate subordinate, Josef Kieffer. Boemelburg had already placed GILBERT within the larger context of the expanding phenomenon known as PROSPER. Déricourt’s confirmation of PROSPER’s strategic position guaranteed the relationship would proceed from first stages. But here lay a fundamental flaw in the way the Germans operated their double agents. The man who made the initial contact always became the controller – it was a matter of some personal pride. But it was also a critical error, for the controller then lacked the objectivity to run his agent wisely and his judgement was often biased when analysing the intelligence he received. In Britain, it had long been appreciated that ‘doubles’ were a volatile species and were passed on by those who had made the first contact to professional controllers who were more dispassionate. In Déricourt’s case there was the prospect, for Boemelburg, of information that would be immediately verifiable. So upon that basis their mutual trust grew.

What, then, was Déricourt’s role? Why was he there and what was he doing? German and French archives confirm that he entered into an arrangement with the Sicherheitsdienst in February 1943. Before examining motives, it is worth making one small point here about the issue of money. British authorities have always claimed that Déricourt did what he did for financial reward. He was paid by SOE to organize Lysander operations and was paid again by the Germans for delivering intelligence on those operations. Of course he was a ‘Déricourist’, as his friend Clément once described him, but if he went into the arrangement with the SD just for money, then he didn’t do particularly well by it. Taken over the course of his entire mission, the money Déricourt earned from the SD didn’t amount to much more than any typical black-marketeer earned during the course of the war. In fact, it was a matter of some resentment with Déricourt that he didn’t do a good deal better.

Whatever Déricourt’s private motives may have been, his approach to the SD was, in fact, carried out on instructions from Claude Dansey. Karl Boemelburg was the highest-ranking SD officer in France. (Above him was the SS officer Standartenfuhrer Dr Helmut Knochen, who reported directly to Himmler.) Boemelburg reported directly to the head of counter-espionage and counter-sabotage at the RSHA in Berlin, Horst Kopkow. Boemelburg was the most important counter-espionage officer in France. If it were possible to win the hearts and minds of the SD in Paris, then it would be a tremendous advantage to Dansey’s own intelligence operations. If Déricourt could get an insight into the SD’s operations, it would be a coup comparable to deciphering their ENIGMA codes.

But how would Déricourt get any information out of Boemelburg? Surely the SD weren’t going to sit down with Déricourt and discuss their operations. Of course not. The basis for Déricourt’s operation rested upon the old maxim that questions are far more revealing than answers. Dansey’s real objective was to discover what Boemelburg wanted to know. It was a classic double-agent operation. First a British agent approaches the Germans and offers to pass them information about British operations, and then gives them material that could be quickly verified and evaluated. Once that had occurred, their expectations would begin to rise. ‘If he can deliver information about X, perhaps he may know something about Y.’ As their confidence grows, coupled with their appetite for information, their questions become more expansive, more greedy – more direct: ‘Have you heard anything about a wireless operator who was travelling down to the Jura?’ ‘Do you know anything about a group up near Compiègne?’ ‘Can you find out something about a certain doctor in Toulouse?’ ‘Do you know of any contacts of the Abbé in Tulle?’

Like the French, the Germans never imagined SOE and MI6 to be two separate organizations. They were simply seen as different departments of something called ‘British Intelligence’. Boemelburg’s pre-eminence in the SD’s counter-espionage operations meant that his enquiries covered a wide range of networks, some of them Dansey’s. Déricourt would make a careful note of all Boemelburg’s questions and send it to one of Dansey’s contacts. In London, a patient process of listing, collating and cross-referencing those questions would gradually reveal what the enemy already knew, what he needed to know, what were his preoccupations and, most importantly, what were his priorities.

A steady stream of this material would enable London to create an extremely clear picture of the SD’s operations in France. Of course there was a price for this information. Just as with ULTRA, Dansey’s freedom to act on this intelligence was restricted by the risk that such action might compromise its source. For example, an enquiry about a group near Rennes would reveal that an operation was being conducted against the SOE’s PARSON reseaux. Whether Dansey alerted SOE to that fact depended upon the result of his weighing up the value of saving PARSON against the risk of compromising his source. For if Boemelburg decided to arrest PARSON and found they were no longer there, he would naturally conclude there had been a leak and eventually Déricourt would no longer be trusted. The same calculation would also have to be made if the intelligence concerned one of Dansey’s own groups. Intelligence about the enemy’s counter-espionage operations always presents the dilemma of how to use it. Do you take evasive action – or somehow exploit the situation? There was of course another price to pay for this operation: Déricourt’s answers. The more Boemelburg’s expectations rose, the more answers BOE/48 would have to deliver. Some of these answers could be deceptions, others would have to be verifiable.

How did Déricourt communicate with Dansey? There were at least two routes. The first was through a particular bank teller at a branch of the Credit Lyonnaise in the Rue Caumartin. He was a ‘mail drop’ left over from the Z Organization. The second was through PAUL, the barman at the Bar Lorraine in the Place des Ternes, who came on the scene in 1942.

But was it really possible that a senior British intelligence officer would feel it was worthwhile jeopardizing the lives of other British officers for the sake of an intelligence advantage? Harry Sporborg, the deputy head of SOE, was in no doubt: ‘Make no mistake about it, MI6 would never have hesitated to use us or our agencies to advance their schemes, even if that meant the sacrifice of some of our people.’ It was common practice in war for a commander to sacrifice some of his men to gain some strategic advantage. At Dunkirk the British Army took over 68,000 casualties in rearguard actions while nearly 340,000 men made it safely off the beaches. However, Dansey’s game actually threatened an entire operation. Would that have been worth the sacrifice?

Trying to make sense of a personality as complex as Dansey’s is all the more difficult because he entrusted so little to paper. At the beginning of 1943 it probably made sense to his vindictive way of thinking that it was worth giving a little SOE information away in return for some insight into the SD’s operations in France. The problem was, and Dansey must have been aware of it, how to restrict that information when Déricourt was operating on his own over 150 miles from London. There is good evidence from the German side that for some time the information Déricourt gave away was pretty insubstantial and that it was the promise of what he might give that made him so attractive. It is the modus operandi of all double agents to provide thin material to begin with, coupled with an undertaking to deliver the earth tomorrow.

But that was the problem with this operation. It was Boemelburg who was asking the questions and it would be he who effectively set the stakes. On the other hand, Dansey had no qualms about exploiting an organization he absolutely despised. If Déricourt was going to be any good to Dansey, then he needed to win Boemelburg’s absolute confidence. That would be bought with first-rate, verifiable information – and the only information Déricourt had that was worth anything was what he knew about SOE operations.

As far as MI6 were concerned, this particular operation was one of Dansey’s private enterprises, probably known to no more than two of his most trusted associates. But despite his obsession with secrecy, a thin trickle of information about his activities would occasionally leak out and inevitably appal the new breed of young intellectuals that hovered about the dingy corridors at Broadway. One of those wartime recruits from the academic world, Hugh Trevor Roper, now Lord Dacre, described Claude Dansey as ‘an utter shit; corrupt, incompetent, but with a certain low cunning’. Malcolm Muggeridge, equally damning of him, added, however: ‘He was the only true professional in MI6. The others at the top were all second-rate minds.’

Unfortunately for SOE, they had few friends at court. Most MI6 officers still considered them a bunch of undisciplined amateurs who were more a danger to themselves than to the enemy. Added to which, everyone was terrified of Dansey and would never have dared blowing one of his operations. Now that the fuse was lit, they would just have to wait and see.

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