The Dutch Resistance and the OSS

PAN Resistance members escorting German POWs during Market-Garden.

On 10 May 1940, the German 10th Army, spearheaded by airborne troops, invaded the Netherlands. The rest of the Wehrmacht force committed to “the overrunning of the West executed the Manstein Plan through Belgium and the Ardennes Forest. On 14 May 1940, the Dutch commander ordered a cease-fire. Three days later, the entire Netherlands was occupied by Nazi Germany.

The Netherlands royal family, led by Queen Wilhelmina, along with some 4,600 Dutch officers, sailors, soldiers, and policemen, staged a Dutch Dunkirk, assisted by remnants of the country’s Navy and the entire merchant marine. This evacuation to Britain of the royal family and a cadre of the Dutch Government was critical in establishing a government-in-exile and the initial intelligence networks in Holland. Additionally, the emigration to Britain of Netherlands military people and civilians from all over the Continent and from overseas Dutch possessions helped form the core of a reconstituted Dutch Royal Army, Navy, and Air Force.

Stirrings of Resistance

The initial years of the German occupation of Holland were characterized by the removal of Dutch Jews from their homeland and harsh economic and political measures. The Nazis set up a puppet government at The Hague headed by Dr. Seyss-Inquart and established a Dutch National Socialist Party. Some Dutch citizens eagerly joined the new party and took positions in the government. Others, however, joined with the purpose of pretending to collaborate while remaining loyal to the government-in-exile. Their positions enabled them to keep an eye on Dutch collaborators and to influence policy-making and implementation. The Leegsma family provided a good example of this tactic. Agardus Leegsma, his brother, and their father joined the Nazi-organized Dutch National Police. The father had been a professional soldier in the Guards Regiment of the Royal Dutch Army during the interwar years. The family assisted various Resistance organizations during the Nazi occupation. During the liberation of the Netherlands, Agardus Leegsma and his brother joined different Allied units, serving as guides and combatants.

As the harshness of the occupation grew, so did Dutch unrest and resentment toward the Germans. Individual Dutchmen took it upon themselves to strike back. With no central command, these brave individuals began recruiting relatives, friends, and neighbors into the first Resistance organizations. The dangers were exceptionally high: captured members of the Resistance were usually shot or sent to concentration camps. The primary anti-Nazi activity came initially from the Social Democrats and Catholic youth leagues. The Dutch Communists began actively resisting after the Germans invaded the USSR.

Members of the Dutch royal armed forces who had not escaped to Britain and had successfully evaded German capture secretly banded together and began collecting information. Under the leadership of Dr. Johan Stijkel, a Rotterdam lawyer, Maj. Gen. H. D. S. Husselman and Col. J. P. Bolton organized a Resistance group of young Dutch citizens. With the help of radio expert Cornelius Drupsteen, they established a wireless link with the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) and began passing information to the Allies.

Resistance operations consisted primarily of organizational and networking functions, as well as gathering intelligence on the occupation forces. Probably the most heroic and dangerous aspect of resistance was the hiding and sheltering of Netherlands Jews and young draft-age Dutch men and women by other Dutch, collectively known as onkerduikers (“underdivers”). The best-known story is that of Anne Frank.

Individual Dutch were horrified and appalled at the spectacle of their neighbors and friends being rounded up and taken away to an unknown fate. Most Dutch Jews who escaped capture were smuggled out of Holland to Britain via Belgium through France and then to Spain, or from Belgium to France, and then to Switzerland. Smuggling people out via the Dutch coast was extremely dangerous, as the Germans increasingly fortified the coast in anticipation of an Allied invasion. Some young Dutch men and women as well as Dutch Jews hid throughout the war, participating in underground activities. The underground networks established in this manner were later instrumental in hiding and exfiltrating Allied airmen shot down over Holland.

MI-9 and the Evaders

The British Military Intelligence Section 9 (MI-9) was set up to exploit available European Resistance networks and assist Allied airmen shot down over Europe in returning to Britain. MI-9, also known as IS-9, infiltrated agents, usually by parachute, into occupied Europe. These agents would link up with a Resistance cell and organize escape-and-evasion efforts in a particular area, usually after being notified by the Resistance of the presence of downed airmen. The agents brought money, maps, and false papers to assist these airmen. The usual route was either south to Switzerland or to southern France and then to Spain and Portugal.

One such MI-9 agent was Dick Kragt, who parachuted into Holland in 1943. He lost his equipment, including his radio, but continued on, armed only with a Colt.45. He managed to link up with a Dutch Jew named Joop Piller, living in the town of Emst, and they built a network designed to hide, protect, and eventually smuggle downed airmen out of Holland.

Initial Operations

By operating covertly and passively, members of the Resistance were able to function without attracting undue attention. This allowed them to organize their cells, gauge the German counterintelligence threat, and establish information networks. The telephone was their primary means of communication, and they always used nicknames. In face-to-face meetings, masks were often worn to ensure security.

The Dutch Resistance command and control hierarchy was decentralized and compartmented. Additionally, the creation of small groups by individual Dutchmen with no outside links was widespread. Some of these groups’ activities will never be known because many of their members were captured and executed by the Germans. Initially, they used leaflets and underground newspapers as means to enlist new members and raise money.

The Underground Press

Underground newspapers were helpful, especially in areas where the telephone lines were monitored and use of radio transmitters was too dangerous because of German direction-finding operations. These newspapers helped counterbalance Nazi propaganda and the German-controlled media. Almost as soon as the occupation began, anti-Nazi leaflets began to circulate. Period photographs show such anti-Nazi newspapers as DeUnion being openly distributed on city streets despite the obvious danger. By 1943, underground newspapers had attained a collective circulation of nearly 500,000. Although some were amateurish, they were effective. One such paper–a translation and transcription of daily BBC broadcasts–was produced by the Leegsma brothers working at The Hague.

Another newspaper was also a two-man effort. Working out of a hotel room in Grave, Gerald Peijnenburg and a Dutch Jew in hiding wrote and copied Young Netherlands. Peijnenburg handled the distribution, and most of his copies were passed from person to person, providing some degree of security.

Slow Growth

The Resistance developed slowly for several reasons. Because of the Netherlands’ geographic proximity and cultural ties to Germany, many Dutch were sympathetic to the ideas of German nationalism, and a significant portion of the population joined the Dutch Nazi Party and even the Wehrmacht. There were also Dutch civilians who informed on their neighbors.

The swift German victory, combined with Queen Wilhelmina’s seeming abandonment of the Dutch population, disillusioned and embittered much of Holland. Many who collaborated really believed that the Germans represented the future and felt that Nazi success was inevitable. For these citizens, occupation was something merely to be accepted. Ruthless German countermeasures toward any anti-Nazi activity further discouraged active resistance. As the occupation grew more repressive, a backlash against the Germans grew, fanned by the government-in-exile.

The government-in-exile made its presence known through the judicious use of BBC broadcasts, listened to covertly by the Dutch population. Queen Wilhelmina became a symbol of hope to occupied Holland, and Crown Prince Bernhard took an active role in Allied planning for military operations in the Netherlands.

Geography also slowed the growth of the Resistance. The lack of mountainous and forested terrain prevented the establishment of hiding areas for large groups of maquis. Moreover, the flat terrain, interdicted by many bodies of water, large and small, confined movement to the established railroads, road networks, and bridges. These were easily controlled by the Germans, who established checkpoints to curtail freedom of movement. Gasoline was scarce, and many Dutch used bicycles for transportation, sometimes riding on the rims because of a shortage of rubber for tires. On the other hand, the Germans were plagued by the Resistance’s incessant sabotage of telephone lines and by damage to the railroads.

Major Resistance Organizations

By the middle of 1944, there were four major Resistance organizations in Holland. They did not coordinate their activities unless help from one group to another was absolutely necessary; for the most part they did not answer to a central headquarters. They conducted their operations as they saw fit, and members of the groups often did not know which organization they were part of. Many did not learn the identity of their particular group until after the war.

“Central Government Organizations For Help To People In Hiding” (LO) was the most important such group. Its primary goal was the protection and exfiltration of onkerduikers. Another activity centered around the coupons used by the Germans and the Dutch Nazi government to ration food and keep tabs on the population. The LO made counterfeit coupons; it also obtained authentic coupons from loyal Netherlands citizens in the employ of the Dutch Nazis. Other groups conducted raids and robberies to steal authentic coupons from government agencies. And some Dutch civilians gave up their own coupons to the LO.

Besides keeping an eye on Dutch collaborators, local LO groups engaged in whatever resistance they could without endangering themselves. Occasionally, the Leegsma family in The Hague was able to use its position in the police force to tip off the LO before the impending arrest of an onkerduiker would occur. The family also was able to funnel genuine food coupons to the LO.

While the LO maintained a low profile, the “Central Government Fighting Group” (KP) carried out sabotage operations at the local level. Its estimated strength was 550 members nationally, but this figure is probably low. Without central direction, the KP attacked targets of opportunity in and around the hometowns. It tended mostly to target railroad tracks, telegraph and telephone lines, German supply points, and motor pools, but it occasionally assassinated individual German soldiers and Dutch collaborators. Such activities were dangerous. The Germans would crack down on the local population in the locale where a killing had occurred; sometimes they carried out a tit-for-tat retribution. The Germans would also step up their counterintelligence efforts in the area in an attempt to eradicate any underground cells.

A third organization, the “Council of Resistance” (RVV), engaged in both communications sabotage and protection of onkerduikers. Allied planners regarded this group as “sound from the security point of view.” With several thousand members, the RVV was in radio contact with the Bureau Inlichtingen (BI), the government-in-exile’s intelligence service, and demanded arms and ammunition.

Another organization, the “Order of Service” (OD), focused on preparing for the return of a Dutch Government following Holland’s liberation. The OD was made up primarily of former Dutch officers and government officials who found themselves supplanted by the Nazis and by Dutch collaborators. Its main missions were to collect intelligence and develop “plans for the maintenance of administrative services and civil order on the liberation of Holland.” Although the OD was thought to have been penetrated, Allied intelligence estimated that most OD cells were still loyal and could be depended on to provide assistance during the liberation of Holland.

A subgroup, the “Dutch Secret Service” (GDN), functioned as an intelligence agency for the OD. There were also some 20 other intelligence entities in wartime Holland. Most Resistance groups conducted some level of intelligence operations, even if it was only counterintelligence for security purposes. When organized at the national level, the groups were divided into regional geographic areas of administration.

At the national level, the National Steunfonds (NSV) was an umbrella financial organization which received money from the government-in-exile and conducted covert fundraising to finance KP and LO operations. There was some overlap in responsibilities among members of the local and regional groups. For example, in the Nijmegen district, the LO commander was also the chief of staff of the district OD.

Almost every town of any size had one or more of these groups. It was also possible for one person to belong to more than one such organization. In some groups, members simply were referred to by nicknames, and their true identities remain unknown. Many of the groups were named after their leader.

The Eindhoven and Nijmegen Undergrounds

Some organizations, established locally by individual Dutchmen, operated with no formal, structured links to any other groups. In Eindhoven, a group known as the “Partisan Action Nederlands” (PAN) functioned along the lines of the KP but did not consider itself part of that organization.

PAN was founded by Hoynck van Papendrecnt. He studied engineering at the Technical University in Delft until April 1943, when the Germans closed the Dutch universities and began forcibly relocating Dutch students to Germany as a manpower and professional talent pool. Van Papendrecht went into hiding and eventually moved to Eindhoven, where he established the PAN. By June 1944, the PAN had reached its full strength of 80 to 100 young men and women. The PAN had several small cells operating in the small towns around Eindhoven. These included the Group Sander, named after its leader, which worked as a KP and LO subgroup.

Margarethe Kelder and her sister were members of the Group Sander. They smuggled downed Allied airmen and Dutch onkerduikers to a crossing site on the Belgium border, coordinating their activities with a Belgian Resistance group. The female members of the PAN were primarily couriers, but they were also valued intelligence collectors. In early September 1944, Kelder and another female Resistance member were asked to go into the woods near Eindhoven to confirm the presence of a German antiaircraft battery. On the pretext of gathering mushrooms, they conducted their reconnaissance and, when confronted by German guards near the battery, were able to convince them of their innocence.

Another PAN group in a town north of Eindhoven conducted sabotage operations. It put salt in gas and oil tanks of German vehicles and blew up railroad tracks, using smuggled explosives provided by mining engineers.

After D-Day, many in the Dutch underground grew impatient and wanted to conduct more aggressive operations against the Germans. The PAN did so by launching raids against, among other targets, the 20- to 30-man German garrison at the Eindhoven airport on 5 September 1944. It also began conducting a form of psychological warfare; PAN members would approach German soldiers they knew and try to persuade them of the hopelessness of Germany’s situation and to surrender. Some PAN members were reported by German soldiers and arrested. The punishment for belonging to a Resistance organization was summary execution.

In June 1944, the PAN set up its headquarters in a house in Eindhoven. Van Papendrecht had little contact with the other groups in the Eindhoven area, including the RVV, which numbered only three of four members, but he was aware of their existence. The PAN leader did conduct some joint activities with other groups when he felt the operational need for outside assistance. One of his outside contacts was the KP leader in Rotterdam, Jan van Bijnen, whose nom deguerre was “Frank.” “Frank” was Van Pupendrecht’s periodic source of weapons and explosives, couriered by such women as Margerethe Kelder and her sister.

To the east of Eindhoven, in the small town of Helmond, a KP Resistance group was led by Johan Raaymaerkers, a former Dutch artillery captain who was a technical engineer and owned his own factory. Hans Bertels, a member of the group, began distributing an underground newspaper in 1941 in the Helmond area. Bertels’s contact was a man named Knaapen, who provided him with the newspapers and occasional operations orders.

South of Eindhoven, in the town of Roermond, a small LO group consisting of only 15 members had its headquarters in a vault in the local cemetery. Anya van Lyssens, later awarded the Military Order of William for her actions in the Resistance, was a member. The group had a radio, with which it maintained contact with a Belgian Resistance group, and smuggled downed Allied airmen over the border. By September 1944, it was credited with saving the lives of 29 airmen.

The Resistance groups in the Eindhoven area had a total of several hundred members. The local GDN was led by Arie Tromp, a director for the Phillips electrical firm office in Eindhoven. His nom de guerre was “Harry.” By placing their headquarters in the Eindhoven Museum, GDN members were able to come and go without arousing German suspicions. The GDN began receiving taskings and orders from the BI following its establishment in November 1942. Tromp and his agents used the underground electrical cables in the Phillips factory, which also had telephone lines, as their primary means of communication.

There were several underground groups in the Nijmegen area. In the city itself, some Resistance activities apparently were centered around Saint Canisius College. Jules Jansen was an engineering professor at the college and one of the leaders of the local KP. He set up a laboratory in his house for manufacturing explosives and an indoor firing range in his basement to teach KP members the basics of markmanship.

OSS Involvement

The Resistance organizations were part of the largely unknown story of the strategic OSS mission into occupied Holland. This story essentially began in May 1944, when Lt. Jan Laverge constituted the one-man Netherlands Section of Special Intelligence (SI) of the OSS in London. The American-born son of Dutch émigrés, he had been personally recruited for the job by Col. William Donovan. As planning progressed for the invasion of Europe, Lt. Col. De Vries, the chief of SI, asked Laverge to develop a plan for using an OSS team to assist in the liberation of the Netherlands. On 25 May 1944, Laverge submitted his preliminary plan, which called for two officers and three enlisted men with associated vehicles and communications equipment.

Following the Allied invasion of occupied France, Laverge looked forward to having a chance to operate an OSS mission in Holland similar to the OSS mission, codenamed Sussex, which had operated in France. In July 1944, the Netherlands Section came under the control of SI’s Continental Division. De Vries ordered resubmission of plans for the liberation of occupied countries, and Laverge reviewed the initial work. The OSS team designated for Holland would come under the control of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) military mission to the Netherlands. The OSS team grew to six officers and eight to 10 enlisted men.

Later that month, Laverge consulted with the BI and used its contributions for the final plan, submitted on 5 August 1944. Both the BI and the OSS approved the mission, which was given the codename Melanie. The Minister of War in the Dutch exile government also approved the mission, which was to gather intelligence and focus on “transmitting information obtained from the Dutch service’s intelligence nets, trying to recruit agents, and extending Dutch nets into Germany.’

After Lt. Laverge got the green light for the mission, he began recruiting soldiers for the team, choosing men he had worked with before in England. He also began building up his team to ensure maximum self-sufficiency. In addition to his radio operators and two Dutch BI analysts, he recruited an American Army mechanic, a radio repairman, and a Dutch-American major with no previous intelligence experience. The presence of a Major on the team would provide Laverge with enough rank to obtain resources.

Melanie Moves Ahead

As operations on the Continent speeded up, so did Laverge’s preparations. The target date for the start of the mission kept getting moved forward, and Laverge began to worry that he would not have enough time to prepare properly. The decision was finally made to deploy an advance team of two Dutch and two American officers not later than 7 September 1944, with the remainder of the team to follow as quickly as possible.

When the advance team arrived in Normandy, it reported to the SHAEF G2 Forward. On 9 September 1944, Lt. Laverge met with a Major Krick of the SHAEF G2. Krick apparently offered little or no guidance to Laverge as to Melanie’s intended intelligence-gathering priorities and requirements. According to Laverge’s report to his OSS superior, Krick only made suggestions, which Laverge developed into the following requirements:

German unit composition and positions behind the Siegfried Line.

Location of enemy headquarters of any kind and names of Germans located there.

Locations of the planning and archival sections of German industrial interests.

Information on “controlling personalities” at all levels of the Reich.

Locations of command, control, and communications nodes.

The OSS team was attached and ordered to report to Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery’s 21st Army Group. In early September, Laverge moved his team to the Palace Hotel in Brussels, in preparation for deployment into Holland. He also reported in at Montgomery’s headquarters.

Operation Market-Garden

In early September 1944, Montgomery, seeking to maintain the momentum of the Allied breakout from Normandy, conceived an operation to outflank the German “West Wall” defensive line. Encouraged by Ultra SIGINT intercepts which portrayed a disintegrating German Army, Montgomery persuaded Supreme Allied Commander General Eisenhower that his bold plan of forcing a narrow corridor through Holland and establishing a bridgehead across the Rhine River into northern Germany’s Ruhr Valley industrial complex held the promise of bringing about a German collapse by the end of 1944.

Montgomery’s Operation Market-Garden had two parts. He proposed dropping the First Allied Airborne Army to seize seven canal and river bridges in Holland as well as the bridge across the lower Rhine at the Dutch town of Arnhem–the “Market” portion of Montgomery’s operation. Simultaneously, the British XXX Armored Corps would rapidly advance 60 miles along a narrow road corridor crossing the captured bridges to link up with the airborne forces in Arnhem–the “Garden” portion. The operation began on 17 September.

The Melanie mission, with no prior coordination with the British XXX Armored Corps, deployed into Holland over the Albert Canal and reached Eindhoven on 21 September 1944. The team established its base of operations in a house at No. 2 Vestdijk Street.

The Dutch telephone network was a vital communications link between Melanie and the Resistance cells scattered throughout the country. Using a TR-4 wireless telegraph radio set, the team’s radio operators established contact with the OSS SI section in Paris. In addition to the TR-4, the team used a TR-1 for local communications with the Dutch Resistance groups in the Market-Garden area of operations.

Even though the team was attached to the 21st Army Group, it apparently did not provide intelligence to Montgomery’s G2. Instead, its reporting channel was directly to Paris and the OSS Continental Division of SI. The exclusion of the 21st Army Group G2 from the intelligence reporting chain probably stemmed from the sensitive, compartmented nature of all OSS missions. The team had no contact with the 101st Airborne Division, whose Market-Garden objective was the seizure of Eindhoven and vital bridges nearby. The only American paratrooper the OSS team saw was a lone GI who wandered past the house one day and asked for a cigarette.

Laverge quickly made contact with Arie Tromp, the chief of the Eindhoven Resistance. With Tromp’s assistance, Laverge recruited four Dutch civilians to work as interpreters and telephone operators. A Resistance member named A. Jongbloed was employed as the mission’s intelligence and liaison officer with Dutch civilian authorities in Eindhoven. The OSS team used the Dutch telephone system to make contact with various Resistance groups throughout Holland. This reporting network began yielding excellent information almost immediately.

The team’s first message to SI in Paris, on 21 September 1944, reported that it had begun recruiting possible agents for work behind the German lines. As the Market-Garden battle raged up and down the corridor along “Hell’s Highway,” the OSS team continued its intelligence-gathering mission. On 22 September 1944, the team reported the location of the Gestapo headquarters in Kleve, Germany, a border town just east of Nijmegen, and the location of the telephone exchange there. This information was passed via the telephone network by Resistance members. A report dated 24 September 1944 from a “reliable source” stated that, as of 22 September, all “troops [are] leaving Rotterdam, except demolition squads.” The team also reported on other concentrations of enemy troops and artillery.

In addition to the Melanie operation, which was to provide strategic intelligence on the situation throughout Holland, OSS/SOE Jedburgh teams deployed with each Allied airborne division during Market-Garden. The Jedburgh teams worked closely with their respective division commanders and staff. These teams performed civil affairs and unconventional warfare missions in much the same manner as latter-day special forces units do, but they were primarily concerned with obtaining tactical intelligence provided by Resistance members.

During Market-Garden, intelligence supplied by the various Resistance networks, because of its non-compartmented nature, was passed through the Jedburgh teams to the various tactical commanders. The commanders received intelligence on the composition and disposition of German forces, as well as information on terrain and the conditions of the bridges. Once the paratroopers were on the ground, this information flow continued. Some of the Resistance cells were aware to some extent of Market-Garden before its implementation, but the decentralized nature of the underground network guaranteed that not everyone would know the time and place of the attack. As Allied parachutes began blossoming, those previously unaware of the operation reacted by mobilizing their cells and recovering arms caches.

Some Resistance members carried out independent actions during the operation. Others actively sought out airborne soldiers and attached themselves to any unit that would take them. In cases where their loyalties were suspect, Resistance members were vetted by the Jedburgh teams. Once this was done, they were farmed out to different units as the need arose.

Jedburgh Team Claude, attached to the British 1st Airborne Division, was too small to conduct effective operations. One four-man team per brigade would have been enough, but not one team for the entire division. The splitting of this team had disastrous consequences, placing the entire responsibility for the vetting and administration of the available Resistance on the junior member of Team Claude, Lt. Knottenbelt.

The British plan for using the Resistance fell apart after Col. Barlow, the officer in charge of civil affairs and of working with the Resistance in the Arnhem area, was killed. Dutch naval commander Wolters was attached to the British division, but his stated mission was focused on Dutch civil affairs after the liberation of Arnhem. His unplanned, ad hoc actions during the fighting demonstrated his considerable abilities; if his responsibilities had been broadened before D-Day, he could have been even more effective.

The communications failures suffered by Market forces, especially the lst Airborne Division, are legendary. Team Claude’s loss of communications occurred because the team carried only one radio for the operation, which was lost during the initial drop on D-Day. Team Edward’s inability to communicate with Team Claude and the physical isolation of the two teams prevented a clear assessment of the situation at Arnhem.

Intelligence Failure

Market-Garden ranks among the most serious intelligence failures of the war. Critiques of the operation have focused on the overly optimistic interpretations of SIGINT as well as on the failure of planners to credit airborne reconnaissance indications of recent German armored reinforcements in the Arnhem area.

Similarly, the operational planners, in their haste to meet Montgomery’s deadlines, paid too little attention to route, terrain, and weather assessments. These assessments, moreover, suffered from insufficient basic intelligence information. Selections of drop zones, especially at Arnhem, were ill-considered, and estimates of the road system’s ability to support the armored column were critically flawed, although this latter shortcoming was as much a planning failure as it was an intelligence failure.

The Dutch Resistance was not alerted to the Arnhem drop because British intelligence believed the Germans had penetrated their Dutch networks. If the British had heeded word from their agents in Arnhem, they would have been alerted to the presence of two enemy panzer divisions.

Carrying On

After Market-Garden, the Melanie mission continued to collect military, economic, and industrial intelligence. A detailed report dated 14 December 1944 provided the specifications on a Mauser small-arms factory in the town of Oberndorf, Germany. The team also provided reports regarding German atrocities committed against Allied prisoners and Netherlands civilians.

The unleashing of German secret weapons such as jet aircraft and the V-2 rocket made information about these weapons critical. Melanie responded by providing information on the location of V-2 launching sites, with detailed sketches. Information on industrial infrastructure was also provided. A report dated 3 March 1945 stated that V-2 parts were being manufactured in the Croecke textile factory in Hohenlimburg, Germany.

In late December, coinciding with the German attack through the Ardennes, Melanie developed intelligence indicating a secondary, supplementary German attack across the Maas River. Maj. Van der Gracht reported to his superior, Philip Horton, that in the period of a few days more than 30 German commandos wearing British uniforms had been captured in Eindhoven, some only a few blocks from the team’s quarters. Van der Gracht also reported, however, that Eindhoven had received numerous V-2 attacks “with some accuracy.” The threat became so ominous that Van der Gracht made plans for the destruction of those files which could not be evacuated.

On 8 February 1945, Melanie reported that Field Marshal Goering had established his headquarters in a train with three coaches at the Niederaula train station and that he had been there for several months. Dutch intelligence agents were routinely able to report the locations of German regimental and higher headquarters along with descriptions of vehicle and uniform markings. Reports on German units were usually able to identify the name of the commander and sometimes what decorations he wore. This type of information came from underground sources living in the occupied towns and villages.

SI also tasked Melanie to conduct and submit battle damage assessment reports on the results of Allied bombing raids in the Netherlands. Again, such reports could only be obtained through eyewitness accounts provided by Dutch Resistance members and Melanie agents.

A 24 December 1944 memorandum from Lt. Laverge states that the team had recruited nine Dutch citizens–five observers and four wireless telegraph operators–and was training them in Eindhoven to penetrate German lines and collect information. Armed with only their wits and the TR-1 radio, these Netherlanders tried, with varying degrees of success, to accomplish their assigned missions. From September 1944 until May 1945, several secondary missions were conducted, each including at least one agent. These missions involved contacting various Resistance groups and establishing radio contact between the groups and Melanie for intelligence-gathering purposes. Some of the agents did not survive.

Operations in occupied Holland were extremely difficult and dangerous for Melanie’s Dutch agents. After an OSS bureaucrat had recommended shutting down the operation because of a perceived lack of results, Laverge responded angrily: “Frankly, if you knew about conditions in Holland like we do here, you don’t see how the hell those people [Dutch agents] can accomplish what we are asking.” The lack of archival reports on the success or failure of these missions makes it impossible to evaluate them authoritatively.

Melanie continued in Eindhoven for the duration of the war. Besides obtaining intelligence on the strategic and tactical military situation, the team provided economic, political, and social intelligence on large and small urban areas and on rural communities. Melanie also put together a database on Dutch collaborators.

From 25 to 31 March 1945, the Melanie mission sent 251 reports, messages, and maps/sketches to the OSS/ETO SI section. From September 1944 to April 1945, Melanie sent approximately 3,200 courier reports and 750 cable messages to the OSS SI section in Paris. According to an afteraction report written by the SHAEF G-2 in 1945 evaluating Dutch intelligence production and reporting, the Melanie mission “supplied more reports for SHAEF’s Daily Digest than any other OSS mission from September 1944 to May 1945.

Undeserved Obscurity

Despite its achievements, Melanie has hardly been mentioned in most OSS histories. The only sources on Melanie are surviving participants and the declassified OSS records at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland. These records include daily situation reports, financial accounting records, operational reports, and debriefs of Dutch agents sent behind the lines. There are important gaps in the records; some documents have been pulled from the files and reclassified.

But the SHAEF G2, at least, gave some credit where it was justly due, when he reported that Melanie provided the most accurate and complete intelligence picture for its assigned area of any intelligence operation during the war As he indicated, Melanie’s efforts and the cooperation and sacrifices of its Dutch Resistance agents contributed substantially to Allied intelligence operations in Holland at a crucial stage.

A Bridge Too Far

Operation Market-Garden turned into a military disaster. Although the American airborne divisions eventually achieved their objectives–the 82nd Airborne parachuted into Grave and Groesbeek and controlled the strategic river crossings, while the 101st Airborne seized the bridges at Eindhoven and Veghel–the Germans managed to demolish one of the bridges. In addition, the British 1st Airborne Division, reinforced by a Polish airborne unit, was dropped too far from its target, the Arnhem bridge.

More fundamentally, German strength in Arnhem was substantially greater than anticipated in the intelligence estimates. Lightly armed Allied paratroopers found themselves up against two SS panzer divisions that had recently been refitting in the area. The British/Polish force, suffering from the loss in the airdrop of critical vehicles, artillery, and communications, failed to seize the Arnhem bridge despite a heroic fight.

The situation in Arnhem grew increasingly perilous. The British armored column which was to break through to relieve the airborne forces fell behind schedule as the tanks crawled along the narrow, congested roadway. The operation ended less than 10 days later, with the British and Polish airborne troops surrounded in Arnhem and the armored column stalled 10 miles away.

The British were able to pull back some of their forces, but not before the Germans killed or captured more than 7,000 paratroopers; the two American airborne divisions fighting along the corridor lost more than 3,500. With the debacle in Arnhem, hopes of an early end to the war quickly faded. In the words of the British airborne Commander General Boy Browning, Market-Garden was “a bridge too far.”


Security Service (SD)

Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), which included the Gestapo and Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the intelligence agency of the SS. German military intelligence gathering suffered from inter-service rivalries and internal politics. The Abwehr disliked the SD, considering them bullyboys in uniform and non-professional, while the SD considered the Abwehr as old fashioned and out of touch with reality and modern warfare intelligence gathering techniques.

A second foreign intelligence and espionage service existed independently from the German military or OKW, the Security Service (SD). Originally introduced into operation as a security organ of the National Social German Workers Party, it ascended to perform a dominant and overbearing role as an intelligence department of the Third Reich. Structurally, the SD existed as a subsidiary division of Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler’s powerful RSHA and emerged in greater importance under management and ceaseless applications to expand jurisdictions of Reinhard Heydrich. Unlike the Abwehr, the SD was not exclusively limited to military intelligence, focusing their attentions on diverse political and ideological functions in Germany and the occupied territories. SD Section VI was constituted as the Nazi Party’s official foreign intelligence capability entirely independent of the Abwehr. It was the obligation within the RSHA framework to compile identities and background information on anti- Nazis to be summarily arrested and executed after occupation by the Wehrmacht. Individuals could be identified through the simplistic methods of analyzing media and newspapers or through pro-Nazi informants.

By March 1939 Heydrich had constructed a powerful and feared domestic spy service. He pulled minimal punches in capriciously resorting to blackmail and extortion to influence decisions by other Reich administrations. In 1935 Himmler first engaged the SD VI to assemble an international faculty to challenge the Abwehr. The premeditated objective was political intelligence, but as the war continued and the SS grew in prominence and standing, the SD acquired both economic and military intelligence functions. By the beginnings of European conflict in September 1939 the agency coordinated espionage systems in multiple international territories including South America, North Africa, Spain and Portugal. General Walter Schellenberg, who had attracted admirers due to a perceived expertise in counterintelligence operations, was recruited by Reinhard Heydrich and instated as VI commandant. He developed his profile sufficiently to become personal confidant to Reichsführer SS Himmler and deputy director of the Main Reich Security Office (RSHA). Schellenberg was immersed in many elaborate and notable German intelligence operations; for instance, he personally commanded the Venlo Incident on the ground.

Colonel Walter Schellenberg

One of Schellenberg’s wartime obligations was the masterminding of an occupation strategy for German police and administrative officials after the productive execution of Operation “Sea Lion,” the planned invasion of Britain. As instructed, Schellenberg accumulated the Sonderfahndungsliste GB, or special list. This directory of British citizens was a guidebook of individuals considered generally ideologically unsound or classified as security concerns who would be incarcerated and executed after the invasion. The SS traditionally concentrated its attention on eliminating any opposition, existing or imagined, to the Third Reich. This function permeated and endured as a consideration within its entire intelligence structure, and Schellenberg ensured that the SD infiltrated other agencies wherever possible. In the late 1930s the Third Reich secret intelligence services were not legally authorized to undertake operations against Wehrmacht or other intelligence agencies. Regardless of that fact, Heydrich persevered in investigating and collecting surveillance evidence on the German officer core for detecting suspicious activity or simply to gather bargainable information on senior personnel.

In September 1939, within a brief matter of weeks of the hostilities commencing, the SD was reconfigured and combined with other state policing authorities inside the RSHA. This centralization of state security departments under the SS and Himmler’s personal dominion blurred the boundaries dividing the Nazi Party and the central government. This powerful agency officially comprised the SD, Kriminalpolizei, or Kripo (Criminal Police), and Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo). Local independent state police forces disappeared as separate institutions and were relocated under the RSHA’s auspices. Himmler and the RSHA connived to mandate that all Fatherland intelligence and police departments were jurisdictionally qualified for combating the national socialist enemies. Reinhard Heydrich later became Himmler’s most powerful subordinate; with a standing admission to the Führer, he assumed presiding control over the new security service landscape. Institutional rivalries inside the German intelligence community dated back to 1934 when Heydrich and SD officials pronounced personally to Himmler their inventory of complaints and obstructive examples concerning Admiral Patzig. The Abwehr chief was accused of deliberately encumbering communication between military intelligence and SS security departments. In April 1934, Hermann Göring was forced to relinquish control of police as provincial police forces were classified as subject to centralization.

Many senior Abwehr commanders consequently recognized the SD irrefutably as a potential adversary detrimental to Germany’s long-term interests. Colonel Piekenbrock and the future Supreme Command chief, Wilhelm Keitel, developed a distaste for the SD and perceived imminent friction and dissonance that threatened their own departments. In 1934, in conditions of ascendant internal Nazi Party opposition Hitler ordered a liquidation of prominent sections of the Sturmabteilung (SA) branch. Minimal moderation was displayed for former comrades as the SS commenced the “night of the long knives” massacres. This campaign of detentions and assassinations appalled many in traditional inner recesses of Germany’s intelligence community, a definite contrast to Abwehr officers’ reputation of pragmatic diplomacy and subverting agendas. Army and Abwehr officials eliminated in the purges included the former Abwehr chief Bredow, shot and killed at his home. Doubts about SS and negative institutional distrust fermented in the aftermath of the `”night of the long knives.” Regular battles with Abwehr commanders and Canaris between 1937 and 1944 had critically incapacitated relations.

Heydrich and Canaris, taken at Horcher’s restaurant on 17 January 1935. Horcher’s was a favorite of bigwigs such as Hermann Goering, who even had them cater affairs at his Carinhall estate. Heydrich had met Canaris in July 1923 whilst stationed together on the Cruiser “Berlin,” and Canaris mentored him (both Heydrich and Canaris’ wife Erika played the violin) until Heydrich eventually became a party favorite.

An attempt at triggering greater collaboration, the “Ten Commandments” agreement in March 1942, confirmed by the Abwehr and SS commanders, briefly soothed mounting tensions. The Ten Commandments defined foreign espionage as the Abwehr’s jurisdiction, a provisional and impermanent reprieve preventing Nazi elements from muscling overtly into military intelligence territory. SD Department VI of the RSHA could be classified somewhat reservedly as a marginal foreign service division before 1942. By spring 1940 Himmler had adamantly conveyed orders that the fascist revolution demanded a foreign intelligence service attached to the Nazi Party while a framework existed the department was merely beginning to recruit highly skilled and appropriate personnel for overseas intelligence work. Schellenberg ensured that the SD oriented recruitment policies to select officers with experience of residing or working abroad, increasing population numbers from diverse national backgrounds and reprioritizing the selection of agents possessing multilingual skills. Other factors determined a progressive influence over international matters. The character of RSHA changed after the assassination of Heydrich, the irreversible accumulation of the security and police departments intensified and heightening national socialist paranoia reached a peak. Kaltenbrunner later succeeded Reinhard Heydrich as the security services chief. The von Stauffenberg plot and other conspiracies convinced senior SS officials of the essential necessity to unmask concealed enemies from inside.

The Abwehr

Reinhard Gehlen (front row centre) and Wehrmacht Counter-Intelligence staff.

Despite constraints and restrictive limitations on military redevelopment the German military was rescued from its dissolution and reactivated in 1921. Surveillance of radical political associations and subversive movements was the central obligation delegated to postwar intelligence officers in the volatile Weimar landscape. The trade unionists and communists formed the prominent assemblies singled out for attentive monitoring, as did premature incarnations of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). The Nazi Party, of course, later instituted its own independent intelligence service in 1931, known as Sicherheitsdienst (SD), translating to Security Service. The designation of military intelligence transformed many times after World War I. After demobilization of the German army the Intelligence Office became the Intelligence Group, attached to the Foreign Armies Branch of General Staff. National security requirements endowed on the reconfigured and adjusted intelligence departments were minimally altered and between 1918 and 1925 only perfunctory and domestic activities were permitted. The Intelligence Group experienced a designation realignment once more in 1921, and was then referred to as Abwehr [Defense] Group of T3. At a later juncture clandestine services would become a divergent branch of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces (OKW).

A foremost development in modernizing the German intelligence apparatus into mechanisms tailored for optimizing warfare was the appointment to Abwehr chief on June 2, 1932, of Captain Conrad Patzig, who previously had directed the naval section. In April 1928 the Abwehr Group of T3 and the German navy’s traditional espionage unit were amalgamated, and by October 1930 all the remaining quasi- independent service command intelligence agencies and connected departments were subordinate to the authority of a powerful defense ministry. By Conrad Patzig’s tenure the three military branches-navy, army and air force-while prohibited from engaging in intelligence gathering installed qualified liaison officers for distributing intelligence requirements to Abwehr counterparts. Generally, they maintained a second capability specializing in intelligence for analyzing and reportage of field information. Patzig’s selection was in multiple contexts a radical transfer and generally not anticipated by the establishment of military or other intelligence agencies as they then existed. Patzig was the first naval officer to command military intelligence, discontinuing the intelligence community traditions that demanded Wehrmacht chiefs, and his tenure was embroiled in criticism and perfidious internal fissures. The chiefs of staff and Field Marshal von Blomberg, recently elevated to minister of war, provoked a challenging environment that irreparably hampered covert infiltrations and asset construction. Blomberg was aligned with the Fatherland’s ideologically inclined Nazi Party factions, his proclivities sympathetic towards the party’s in- house intelligence branches. In the Conrad Patzig era, Eastern Europe, Russia and Poland were identified as initial primary targets for counterespionage activity. The German rearmament phase was still embryonic, both Wehrmacht and Kriegsmarine merely beginning to resemble the military capabilities of other world powers. By 1934, the necessary funding had not materialized for intelligence services.

The Abwehr diligently conducted their surveillance operations across the Eastern European area as authorized, turning informants in Poland and Russia, but the scope and penetration achieved primarily basic results. Opportunities to engage in traditional espionage actions were exceptions and this generation of officers failed in obtaining substantive battlefield experience. The SS and Foreign Office technically comprised foreign intelligence briefs, but analysis reveals minimal development had occurred. Certain opportunities to uncover strategic information on nations or regions of interest were presented by cooperation and joint ventures with other foreign intelligence departments. An approach of pursuing relations with affiliated foreign agencies expanded the scope of domestic secret service operations. In Eastern Europe contracts for information exchanging and relationships of convenience were informally invested with intelligence agencies. Lithuanian state security, for example, dis- closed information on the Soviet Union. The final 1930s period transpired to be the watershed moments for German intelligence, as a sophisticated evolution was mandated beyond the simplistic operations of 1934; decisive tactical and strategic intelligence on Czechoslovakia and Poland was now petitioned by the Wehrmacht from 1937 to 1939. In 1938, the Ministry of War, belatedly following another jurisdiction review process, was abolished, undoubtedly enriching the Abwehr’s position. This latest reconstruction of internal institutions proved regrettable for Field Marshall von Blomberg who was unceremoniously removed at the instigation of Heinrich Himmler and his deputy, Reinhard Heydrich. The Abwehr now reported directly to the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces.

Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service, from 1935 to 1944.

Admiral Wilhelm Canaris was appointed Abwehr chief, Germany’s supreme spymaster, on January 1, 1934. Similar to his predecessor and the confirmed vexation of many observers he was both resolutely not the preferred selection for nomination and a senior naval commander. On the surface an introverted and intellectual character, Canaris was approaching retirement age by the time of this promotion, his career background history reflecting a distinguished service inside the navy and accomplishments as a military officer. Admiral Canaris’s selection was unexpected because, despite his sustained years of commissioned naval and Abwehr service, he was not registered as a Nazi Party member and generally not construed as a party loyalist. Judging by SS and SD intelligence officers, Admiral Canaris’s composed and intelligent approach was a conspicuous contrast to the otherwise violent techniques practiced in his industry. His reputation during the oncoming years developed into that of an individual inextricably associated with the shadowy cloak- and-dagger world of espionage. It was under the stewardship of Canaris that German military intelligence developed its specialty of instigating networks of agents and informants physically on the ground and magnified in scale and proficiency to its greatest extent.

In British intelligence circles Canaris was perceived as an individual who understood Hitler’s self-declared historic mission with some skepticism, not that he relented in endorsing the reformation of Germany into a powerful European nation or the rearmament policies. In Canaris, similar to other military officers, nationalism formed inevitably as a byproduct of long- term service and, with the German World War I veterans, he bemoaned the decimation of the German navy and military following Versailles. Rearmament programs implemented within the Nazi regime appealed more to the spy chief than principles of national socialism or fascism. Between 1935 and 1937 Canaris bolstered the Abwehr’s interior framework considerably; from an organization of 150 personnel the agency had developed to nearly a thousand in less than three years. The old guard persisted in traditional aristocratic officers, individuals who had encountered their first military existence in the kaiser’s Imperial service. A modern generation from middle and professional social classes had voluntarily enlisted in the secret services after the war from academic, science, intelligentsia and civil service backgrounds. Within the intelligence community the officers advancing in promotion rapidly in Abwehr and SD or Gestapo commonly held discernible backgrounds in the Nazi Party.

The Abwehr, however, persuaded military chiefs on the undoubted productivity in guaranteeing retention of a degree of independence and routinely recruited from outside the party ranks, enlisting both non-Nazi Party members and operatives disinterested in Nazism. Consistently diversifying its assortment of domestic personnel, the section chiefs decided to fine- tune agents with specialist skills, language, culture and technical backgrounds. Admiral Canaris and his department heads preferred intelligence and highly skilled operatives with ideological predispositions taking a backseat. New personnel were posted either at headquarters in Berlin or transferred to substations in German regional districts classified under the insider terminology as Abwehrstellen (Ast) divisions. While nominally independent ideology and party affiliation inevitably forcibly interfered in the streamlining recruitment processes, the SD’s winning an inter- nal battle was mandated an influence on selection. Recruiting an intelligence reserve was rendered obstructive because each individual candidate had to be rigorously screened by the Gestapo, and department commanders wanted to avoid being criticized for employing disruptive elements. Canaris’s organization by 1943 was 30,000 strong, of whom 8,000 were officers, and its expenditure budget for that year amounted to 31,000,000 Reichsmarks.

Colonel (later Major General) Hans Piekenbrock, head of the Abwehr’s Abt. I, the section involved in espionage.

Generalmajor Erwin von Lahousen was head of Abt. II, the Abwehr section that organised sabotage and subversion. In 1940 the Germans decided to send agents and saboteurs to infiltrate Britain from Norway and Northern France. This plan was given the codename Operation Lobster (in German: Unternehmen Hummer) and was directed by von Lahousen. He was also a member of the German Resistance and a key player in attempts to assassinate Adolf Hitler on March 13, 1943 and July 20, 1944.

Colonel (later Major General) Fritz Eccard von Bentivegni, head of Abwehr section Abt. III, security and counterespionage.

Canaris simultaneously established the networks of Ast units and substation officials. His inner council of section chiefs (Sections I, III and III) were extremely dependable and primarily hand- picked. For the first three years of World War II Canaris ensured that Piekenbrock, Lahousen and von Bentivegni, the senior section chiefs, maneuvered independently, the bureaucratic arguments isolated if feasible from the command staff. Preparations for military engagement finally instituted a department format that endured from 1938 until the culminating twelve months of World War II. The umbrella canopy of the organization was combined from three distinct central departments: Section I-Espionage; Section II-Sabotage; and Section III-Counterespionage. Section I controlled substations, with command staff managing field operative networks engaging in espionage and counterespionage targeting foreign nations. Colonel Piekenbrock was appointed the chief of Section I and retained this official posting until his unfortunate transfer to the Eastern Front in 1943 and subsequent Soviet imprisonment. Abwehr I, the largest division section, consisted of nine subordinate groups: Army East; Army West; Army Technical; Marine; Air Force; Technical/Air Force; Economic; Communications and Secret.

Section II and Section III overlapped jurisdictions, with engagements in multifarious actions of sabotage and counter sabotage specialties. Missions of Sections II and III units were deliberately shrouded in ambiguous mystery. Another division attached to Section III occupied a commission for surveil- lance of domestic industry in commercial and munitions factories. Other departments included the Naval Intercept Service (a former OKW organ), a structure transferred to the Abwehr in the late 1930s. Naval Intercept retained its function in signals communication. The Foreign section was an auxiliary administrative department operating as a liaison and dissemination station with the OKW and Foreign Ministry. Commanded by Vice- Admiral Buerkner, this department was traditionally external to spying operations. Abwehr headquarters delegated local functions expansively to field offices. As the Nazi empire expanded and encompassed new geographical territorial acquisitions an Abwehr substation was rapidly set up. The standing objectives seldom experienced any modification: providing the latest information to the Wehrmacht. In Germany and occupied countries the field branch substations were referred to as Abwehrstellen (Ast) and Nebenstellen (Nests) branches; in neutral countries the Abwehr officially designated substations Kriegsorganisation (KO). Under security procedures the KO substations acted in concealment as undercover attachments of the diplomatic missions, and the field stations reproduced the functions of the headquarters divisions in recruiting, training and dispatching espionage agents and informants. While in theory separation of geographical substations com- posed practical intellect the espionage business necessitated a significant amount of overlap, either resolved in combined missions or jurisdictional wrangling.

The Abwehr during wartime operations achieved notable results and developed a reputation for ruthless efficiency. Nazi agents uncovered a majority of The Netherlands underground resistance movement and for a time con- trolled its actions. The Blitzkrieg attacks in Poland and Czechoslovakia were effective because Abwehr operators had assiduously procured the allegiances of collaborating security personnel. National border defenses and security contingency plans were comprehended long before engagements had commenced by Wehrmacht commanders General Franz Halder and General Walther von Brauchitsch. Canaris’s central policy upon taking command was dedicated to expanding the number of confirmed operatives abroad for the calculated purposes of delivering information on America and the Western Atlantic military. Commercial and industrial information, technical data and personnel records were delineated as fundamental intelligence requirements by General Lahousen, the commander of Abwehr II.

Concerning the United States, prior to the late 1930s period and the emergent European warfare the Führer’s Germany had demonstrated minimal interest and failed to devote significant attention or realistic planning to the possibility of military conflict in the American theater. In March 1938 the Kriegsorganisation were assessed as insufficiently financed and fragmented, senior Nazi officials either discounting or overlooking the possibilities for deep penetration by clandestine networks in United States or Britain. Interestingly, a Nazi espionage network was in existence inside the United States dating from 1935 and Nazi Party manifestations originated in United States territory in 1933 with the assumption of power. But primitive and markedly limited covert operations appeared copiously deficient in specialist or military personnel and of course financial investment. German expatriates living in America, either as naturalized citizens or extraterritorial guests, formed the listening stations of Nazi intelligence services. Before the Wehrmacht forces summarily occupied Poland in September 1939, and before Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States represented a frontier where most Abwehr commanders had repeatedly confirmed an exigent policy in treading circumspectly. At that time positive diplomatic relationships with North and South American nations were interpreted as being fundamental to conserve. The Foreign Office generally objected to exploiting embassies and legations as convenient cover and inevitable disruptions to their fusion of international ties.


The new British battleship HMS Prince of Wales in Singapore Harbour, 4th December 1941. She had arrived with HMS Repulse, together forming ‘Force Z’ – designed to deter Japanese aggression.

Hong Kong Island was ceded to Britain in 1840 after the Opium War and twenty years later the Convention of Peking added the Kowloon Peninsula and Stonecutter’s Island. Stonecutter’s Island was less than a mile off the west coast of Kowloon and approximately three miles due north of Victoria, the capital of Hong Kong, one of the small, seemingly unimportant dependencies around the Island.

Like countless other captains in the Royal Navy, Captain Leach sailed many times through the passage between Stonecutter’s Island and Hong Kong, which encompassed approximately 32 square miles. Since there was a small Royal Navy facility on Stonecutter’s, he may have visited the island. In 1935 Stonecutter’s became extraordinarily important because that year the British created a top-secret wireless station on the island which could intercept a huge volume of Japanese naval signals. These included signals between Commander-in-Chief of Japan’s Combined Fleet Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto and the Combined Fleet, as well as a wide variety of other naval signals from ships or shore installations. This intelligence gathering was carried out by an organisation called the Far East Combined Bureau (FECB), a joint command of the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force. Their headquarters was in Hong Kong where they continued to operate until 1939 when it was deemed too vulnerable to a Japanese attack. Over the summer and autumn of 1939 it relocated to Singapore except for the staff manning the intercept station at Stonecutter’s Island who remained there until just before the Japanese captured the island on 11 December 1941. Almost two years earlier the FECB had established another powerful intercept station in Singapore.

Prior to 1991 references to the FECB in the Second World War histories were few and far between; Churchill’s six-volume history of the conflict contains not a single reference. The Japanese Thrust by Lionel Wigmore makes only three minor references in footnotes, which quote Compton Mackenzie’s Eastern Epic ‘General Percival … was depending for his judgment about Japanese intentions and Japanese fighting efficiency on the Far East Combined Bureau …’ In 1979, the official British intelligence historian F.H. Hinsley wrote British Intelligence in the Second World War, which contains an oblique reference to FECB stating that as of September 1939, ‘It remained possible … to keep track of [IJN’s] main naval movements.’ This footnote must be read in light of his disclaimer in the Preface where he states, ‘… there are unavoidable omissions. The most important of these is that we have not attempted to cover the war in the Far East.’

The 1995 The Oxford Companion to World War II devoted two paragraphs to the Far East Combined Bureau written by the general editor, I.C.B. Dear, a former officer in the Royal Marines. Dear writes, ‘The FECB’s records were probably destroyed and opinions vary as to how much the Bureau contributed to breaking the Japanese Navy’s JN-25 cipher …’ One can only assume that if the records of this intelligence bureau had not been located by 1995, then they will never be discovered. Dear would have been aware of a controversial book first published in1991 entitled Betrayal at Pearl Harbor – How Churchill Lured Roosevelt into World War II. The co-authors James Rusbridger and Eric Nave assert that Churchill knew that a Japanese task force was headed for Pearl Harbor and that he failed to warn Roosevelt. Rusbridger and Nave claim that on 25 November 1941 the FECB intercepted a signal from Admiral Yamamoto, Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet, to Admiral Naguma, Commander-in-Chief of the First Carrier Strike Force, which read, ‘the Task Force will move out of Hitokappu Wan [Tankan Bay] on the morning of 26 November and advance to the standing-by position on the afternoon of 4 December and speedily complete refuelling.’ In the Preface written by Rusbridger he asserts that by 26 November Commander Malcolm Burnett RN ‘had personally advised Churchill in London that the only logical target for the impending attack was Pearl Harbor.’

The co-authors were a curious pair. Rusbridger had written two earlier books both of which were controversial, The Intelligence Game and Who Sank Surcouf? Eric Nave had distinguished service in the Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy. In 1988 Nave, who was 90 at the time, was living in Melbourne when he received a telephone call from Rusbridger who told Nave that he had come across his name in the unpublished diary of one Howard Baker who had been in Java before the war; the diary had ‘an intriguing reference to an Australian naval officer called Commander Nave, who had broken the Japanese naval codes before the war.’ Rusbridger flew out to Australia and spent days recording interviews with Nave. It is highly unlikely that Nave was much involved in either the research or writing of Betrayal at Pearl Harbor, which was extensive, and the publisher’s editor had to turn ‘a long technical manuscript into final concise print’.

Besides claiming that Churchill knew in advance from the aforesaid FECB intercept of 25 November 1941, and from later intercepts, that a giant Japanese strike force of aircraft carriers was at sea headed for Pearl Harbor, the book also claims that following the Japanese surrender Churchill sent secret instructions to FECB headquarters in Ceylon to destroy all of its archives. On both claims their book is a failure. The first depends on the alleged FECB intercepts and the uncorroborated statements of Commander Malcolm Burnett, OBE, RN to an historian named Dr Andrew Gordon. Burnett died on 17 July 1984 three years before Rusbridger decided to write his book and it seems unlikely that either co-author interviewed Dr Gordon, who is never quoted. There is a brief reference to Commander Burnett’s widow that requires comment. Rusbridger asserts in the Preface that after the first edition to their book was published, certain memories were awakened, including that of Commander Burnett’s widow, Mary. It is claimed that in December 1991 she appeared on American television and confirmed what her late husband had told Dr Gordon. Neither the television station nor the television programme is identified. Rusbridger makes no claim that he interviewed Mary Burnett and every statement that Rusbridger has attributed to Commander Burnett is unverifiable.

The claim that Churchill instructed FECB to destroy its archives after Japan’s surrender is even more untenable. The co-authors cite as their source Lieutenant Commander W.W. Mortimer, RNR (Ret.). Mortimer is never quoted directly and what he actually said to the co-authors will never be known. One of the co-authors (probably Rusbridger) added this aside, ‘Whether Churchill had the authority to do this seems doubtful …’ Churchill did not have the authority since he was no longer prime minister at the time of Japan’s surrender and it is regrettable that Rusbridger chose to make these claims against Churchill the main focus of his book.

Correlli Barnett’s book Engage the Enemy More Closely: the Royal Navy in the Second World War contains some scathing criticism of Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty and as Prime Minister but no mention of Churchill knowing about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Barnett describes Britain’s woeful lack of intelligence about Japanese operational plans for war against Britain and the US throughout 1941 as follows:

The British in particular, last in line to receive gleanings from ‘Magic’ and then by no means all of them, could only guess, grope and argue about Japanese intentions and plans – the Joint Intelligence Committee, the Foreign Office and Sir Robert Craigie, the ambassador in Tokyo, the Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister themselves.

In stark contrast Rusbridger and Nave claim the Far East Combined Bureau was able to intercept and read virtually every important signal of the Imperial Japanese Navy at least until 4 December 1941. Without giving precise dates they describe FECB’s achievements in the first years of its operations as follows:

FECB read all the Japanese messages with ease and had prior knowledge of every operation they planned. The first advice usually came after a War Cabinet meeting in Tokyo and would be sent in the Commander-in-Chief’s code. A typical message would read, ‘Instructions have been issued for the capture of Canton. This will be known as Operation Y. Further details will be given by Chief of Naval Staff.’ This immediately helped FECB identify the much longer messages that would shortly be intercepted in the Blue Book code. These would give precise details of the number of transports, escorting warships, the Army units involved, landing place, route to be taken, and so forth. Not a single message escaped the listening post in Hong Kong. The powerful intercept station at Stonecutter’s sucked up everything transmitted from Japan and by any ship at sea.

On 1 June 1939 the Japanese Navy introduced a new code system; however, FECB and GCCS (Government Code & Cipher School), which by the autumn of 1939 had moved to its wartime home at Bletchley Park some 50 miles northwest of London, soon broke this new code. According to Rusbridger and Nave:

So by the end of 1939, GCCS and FECB could read JN-25, used between navy headquarters in Tokyo and all their ships and shore stations; the naval attaché traffic, which was still using the Red Machine; the Commander-in-Chief’s code; and several other low-grade codes, such as the Appointments Code, which contained little of importance.

With respect to the critical period just before Pearl Harbor and the simultaneous Japanese attacks on Northern Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong, Rusbridger and Nave write:

The exact total of messages sent by Yamamoto between 20 November and 7 December to his Task Force at Tankan Bay, and later while at sea en route to Pearl Harbor is not known, because all Japanese naval records were destroyed before the end of the war. But at least twenty such messages were intercepted and exist today in the National Archives, Washington D.C. thus proving beyond any doubt that radio silence with the Task Force was broken after it had assembled and sailed … The American intercepts all bear postwar decryption dates … but Nave is adamant that every message intercepted by the Americans would also have been intercepted by the British, and because JN-25 had been broken by him since the autumn of 1939, all these intercepted messages would have been read without difficulty or delay by FECB and GCCS.

They identify two Japanese signals of the highest importance allegedly intercepted and read by FECB on 20 November and on 25 November.

One of the first, decoded by FECB on 20 November, was from Yamamoto in Tokyo, using his combined Fleet C in C call sign, KE RO 88, to his Task Force waiting at Tankan Bay. Here for the first time in print is the signal that effectively set in motion the war in the Pacific: ‘This dispatch is top secret. To be decoded only by an officer. This order effective as of the date within the text to follow: At 0000 (midnight) on 21 November, repeat 21 November, carry out second phase for opening hostilities.’

The prefixes at the start of this message, which was known to FECB because they could read JN-25, showed that it was addressed to the Second Fleet (YA KI 4), the Third Fleet (E MU 6), the Fourth Fleet (O RE 1), the Combined Fleet (RI TA 3) and the Eleventh Air Fleet (SU YO 4), indicating that a large group of warships, including carriers, had assembled somewhere as part of the first phase of opening hostilities, and that the second phase was about to begin.

Regarding the signal of 25 November, previously quoted, Rusbridger and Nave write:

On 25 November FECB decrypted Yamamoto’s next set of instructions to his waiting Task Force in JN-25: ‘The Task Force will move out of Hitokappu Wan [Tankan Bay] on the morning of 26 November and advance to the standing-by position on the afternoon of 4 December and speedily complete refuelling.

While Rusbridger and Nave give FECB full credit for intercepting and reading both of the aforesaid signals, the source notes reveal that they had relied on quite a different source – the National Archives in Washington DC. Moreover, the National Archives records reveal that the 20 November intercept was not decrypted until 26 November 1945. The source of the 25 November intercept was also the National Archives, but it was not an intercept at all, but instead a document recovered from the wreck of the Japanese cruiser Nachi that was sunk in Manila Bay in November 1944. These inconsistencies alone cast doubt on their claims that Churchill had been forewarned by FECB of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Rusbridger’s book is replete with numerous source notes. It also contains in the Appendices verbatim copies of documents, some of which are marked ‘top secret’. Nevertheless, the sources that he has cited and the verbatim documents that he has reproduced fail to include any original sources relating to Far East Combined Bureau except for a very few retired officers concerning events that had taken place more than 40 years earlier. Rusbridger obviously considered his co-author, Eric Nave, his most important individual source.

Eric Nave joined the Australian Navy in 1917 at the age of eighteen. Two years later he was eligible to sit for his examination for promotion to sub lieutenant and chose to study Japanese for his required foreign language. The GCCS (British Government Code & Cipher School) became aware of his fluency in Japanese and his promise at code and cipher breaking. In mid 1927 at its request Nave was loaned to the Royal Navy to work for this code-breaking school and by the end of 1930 he was its most experienced Japanese code breaker and was invited to transfer from the RAN to the Royal Navy. The London Gazette on the front page of its issue for 2 December1930 announced that by special order of King George V, Nave had been transferred from the RAN to the Royal Navy effective 27 November 1930. In 1937 the Government Code & Cipher School sent Nave to Hong Kong to continue his work at Far East Combined Bureau. He arrived there in the autumn of 1937 only a few months after Japan had started its offensives against China’s coastal cities.

Nave soon became a key figure at the interception station on Stonecutter’s Island and at the headquarters of FECB in the naval dockyards on Hong Kong Island. Because the Japanese naval Code (JN-25) was periodically altered, GCCS and FECB coordinated their best efforts to break the altered code. In the autumn of 1939 Commander Malcolm Burnett RN flew out from London ‘to FECB to give Nave the reconstructed dictionary and current keys’165 to the reconstructed JN-25 codebook.

Since Hong Kong was much more vulnerable to a Japanese attack than Singapore, the headquarters of FECB was relocated to Singapore in August 1939 but the Stonecutter’s Island facility continued to intercept Japanese naval signals.

It was not until 2006 that a retired officer in the Royal Australian Navy, Ian Pfennigwerth, wrote Nave’s biography. A Man of Intelligence: The Life of Captain Eric Nave, Australian Codebreaker Extraordinary was first published in Australia in 2006. Pfennigwerth served in the Royal Australian Navy for 35 years, the last ten of which were spent primarily in the intelligence sphere; he served as Director of Naval Intelligence for three years. His book on Nave was clearly motivated by a desire to set the record straight and to celebrate ‘the magnificent work done by this Australian’. Pfennigwerth writes convincingly about Nave’s brilliance both in his ability to break Japanese Naval codes and in his translating ability. He is also convincing about the success of the intercept station on Stonecutter’s Island from October 1937 until February 1940 when Nave served with the FECB.

In a 1989 BBC interview Nave spoke of the signals intelligence that originated from Stonecutter’s Island.

The reception there in China, and particularly from Hong Kong, Stonecutter’s, was excellent. We could read Tokyo [Radio] twenty-four hours a day; and the possibility of missing an important dispatch, I think, just didn’t exist. Atmospherics, of course, was one thing; but we generally could overcome that. We could get static very bad at times. It was difficult, yes; but for the most part we were not in a position where you could miss a certain period during the day, or a whole message at any time. You had confidence that you could read all the traffic.

In February 1940 Nave was sent to Australia on sick leave suffering from a rare illness called Tropical Sprue. At that time the cause was unknown and there was no satisfactory treatment; however, living outside the tropics clearly improved a patient’s chances of recovery. Eric and his wife Helena embarked at Singapore on a Dutch ship for the voyage to Australia in February 1940. The significance of that date is that it represented the end of his work with Far East Combined Bureau, but Rusbridger’s and Nave’s book suggests that Nave was privy to the work of FECB in the months and weeks leading up to the Japanese attacks on 7 December. In fact Nave was over four thousand miles from Singapore for at least twenty months before the start of the Pacific war. It is unlikely that Nave had any first-hand knowledge of the FECB’s code-breaking operations at any time after February 1940.

In Australia Nave was able to render invaluable service to the newly created Special Intelligence Bureau, which he commanded before Pearl Harbor; yet Pfennigwerth found no involvement by Nave or Special Intelligence Bureau in any intercepts that would show that the IJN had a powerful strike force of aircraft carriers headed toward Pearl Harbor.

It can be confidently stated that Eric Nave and the Special Intelligence Bureau had nothing at all to do with the alleged intelligence ‘failures’ that might have given warning of Japanese intentions to attack Pearl Harbor.

Pfennigwerth has made a point of informing his readers that Betrayal at Pearl Harbor has been severely criticised. He quotes one critic as follows:

The noted writer on cryptanalysis, and the author of The Codebreakers – David Kahn – made the following reference to Betrayal at Pearl Harbor in an October 1991 article defending the work of the codebreakers in the lead-up to the Japanese attack: ‘Aside from the fact that Churchill wanted the United States to fight Germany not Japan, the claim [that Churchill concealed foreknowledge of the attack from Roosevelt] is not only not substantiated by any documents (it is based chiefly on hypothesis and ‘must have beens’) but it is vitiated by technical errors … it is improbable that the British … would have limited exchanging code group recoveries with the Americans, when they would have benefited as much if not more than the Americans from learning as much as they could about the Japanese.’

Pfennigwerth then commented:

These are, in my view, perfectly fair criticisms of the book but as the reader will now realise, the hypotheses and ‘must have beens’ were not the work of Eric Nave. Its publication damaged his reputation and portrayed him as something of a crank … It would have been better had his name been left off the title page …



As for Rusbridger, his journalistic sensation making with Betrayal at Pearl Harbor brought him more notoriety than fame, and precious little fortune. He died by his own hand on 16 February 1994 in allegedly bizarre circumstances, apparently unable to meet the demands of his creditors.

Rusbridger was a charlatan, but he succeeded in beguiling a number of prominent people in Britain, America and Australia. One respected British historian, John Costello, even worked for a time as an adviser to Rusbridger and Nave. In his source notes to Days of Infamy Costello wrote, ‘When the original British publisher bowed out after the government issued a ‘D’ notice to prevent Nave from publishing his memoir, the author of this book ceased to have any responsibility for either the manuscript or the conclusions of the work that finally appeared in 1990 [sic] under the title Betrayal at Pearl Harbor.’ Another of Costello’s source notes refutes one of Rusbridger’s more scurrilous claims. ‘Mortimer’s 1982 letter to the author does not state that Churchill (who was no longer prime minister when the war ended) had personally ordered the destruction [of the FECB records] as Rusbridger and Nave claimed in Betrayal at Pearl Harbor.’

Ian Pfenningwerth and John Costello are among few serious scholars who have written extensively about the Far East Combined Bureau FECB. Neither, however, has examined the question of whether this arcane signals intelligence organisation could have detected the presence of the 22nd Air Flotilla on airfields around Saigon prior to 8 December. It is rather astounding that neither author seemed to comprehend the enormous threat this flotilla posed to Prince of Wales and Repulse.

By sending HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse to the Far East Churchill had hoped to deter Japan from any new aggression that would lead to a war with Britain and America. While deterrence failed, the presence at Singapore of these two capital ships did cause Admiral Yamamoto to reinforce the 22nd Air Flotilla with 27 additional torpedo bombers. This has been well documented by historians Martin Middlebrook and Patrick Mahoney:

The third step taken by the Japanese to protect the invasion convoys from Prince of Wales and Repulse was to reinforce the air units assigned to the area. Since there was no separate Japanese Air Force, an earlier plan had called for army planes to cover the landings. Yet the Japanese Navy had no confidence in the army to provide the necessary scale of air cover, and Admiral Yamamoto Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese Navy had ordered the 22nd Koku Sentai – the 22nd Air Flotilla – to move from its airfields in Formosa to Indo-China. Rear Admiral Sadaichi Matsunaga, the 22nd Flotilla’s commander, had moved his headquarters to Saigon and his aircraft had followed … But, when the arrival of the two large British ships at Singapore became known, Admiral Yamamoto decided to strengthen this force by taking part of the Kanoya Air Corps away from the 21st Air Flotilla in Formosa. In this way, twenty-seven Mitsubishi Navy Type 1 G4MIS flew into Saigon just in time for the new war.

The original date that the 22nd Air Flotilla – which consisted of almost 70 long-range bombers capable of carrying either bombs or torpedoes – arrived at airfields in southern French Indo-China cannot be pinpointed; however, it is believed to have been in late October. The reinforcements from Formosa arrived on 5 December.

Admiral Yamamoto’s October order redeploying the 22nd Air Flotilla from Formosa to southern French Indo-China might well have been intercepted and read by FECB. What is virtually certain is that Admiral Phillips, Captain Leach and Captain Tennant never received any intelligence reports about the 22nd Air Flotilla, much less the reinforcements from the 21st Air Flotilla.

Leach clearly did not underestimate the threat that Japanese aircraft posed to his ship as well as to HMS Repulse. On the evening of 6 December he had spoken to his son, Henry, about the enormity of the odds they were up against. It can be assumed that he had discussed these concerns at length with his good friend, Bill Tennant, the Repulse’s captain. Of the three senior officers in Prince of Wales and Repulse, Admiral Phillips was the most dismissive of Japanese airpower. He would not, however, have ignored any intelligence from FECB that the 22nd Air Flotilla had been redeployed and reinforced, and there would be records of his requesting information about the number of aircraft, their type, range and armament. He would not have gotten such precise information from FECB and in that climactic first week in December signals intelligence was no substitute for human intelligence out of French Indo-China.

One individual could have revealed much about the composition of the 22nd Air Flotilla to the British. He was Vice Admiral Jean Decoux, the 57-year-old Governor General of French Indo-China. It is all too easy for historians to dismiss Decoux as just another Vichy collaborator who was little more than a lackey of the Japanese. While he never declared himself for the ‘Free French Movement’ of the enigmatic Charles De Gaulle, Decoux was a substantial historical figure who had the courage to follow his convictions.

After July 1941, his position was unenviable. The Japanese Army had already occupied part of northern Indo-China and the Japanese Navy had established a forward naval base at Cam Rahn Bay. There were strong units of the Japanese Army and the Japanese Army Air Force in the south around Saigon and Japanese warships controlled the seas around the colony that stretched from the Chinese border in the north to the Thai border in the south.

Decoux could expect no reinforcements from Admiral Darlan as the latter’s heavy ships at Toulon were short of fuel, but even if he had possessed an adequate supply of fuel, it would have availed him nothing because the Royal Navy controlled both ends of the Mediterranean. Admiral Darlan, therefore, could not send any warships to the Far East without the consent of the British. It was not only the overwhelming Japanese military presence that concerned Decoux. The Japanese using intimidation and coercion were systematically stripping his colony of its mineral resources and its rice crop, which at the time was the third largest in the world.

Notwithstanding the Japanese presence, Decoux controlled all French military forces in Indo-China and governed the native populations that consisted of the French protectorates of Cambodia, Laos, Annam, Tongkin and the colony of Cochin-China. His army numbered 80,000–100,000, but most of them were ill-equipped native recruits; however, Decoux did have hardened troops of the French Foreign Legion under his command. His tiny air force had at least one squadron of Morane-Saulnier M.S. 406 fighter aircraft, and on 8 June 1940 one of these aircraft in the hands of a superb pilot shot down three Messerschmitt Bf 109s in fifteen seconds. The French Navy in Indo-China included the light cruiser Lamotte-Picquet armed with eight 6.1-inch guns in four turrets and two sloops, Admiral Charner and Dumont D’Urville, each armed with three 5.5-inch guns in three turrets. These sloops had been designed for tropical service with special arrangement for circulation of cool air.

Decoux’s guiding principle was to use his military forces to assert French sovereignty over the entire colony; however, he knew that at any time the Japanese could arrest him and demand the surrender of his forces. In the event that his forces refused to surrender, he felt certain they would be annihilated. Why the Japanese did not disarm the French forces in Indo-China early on remains a mystery. It is conceivable that Japan thought Vichy France would eventually declare war on Britain and that Decoux’ forces could be used to garrison Indo-China, thereby releasing Japanese troops for operations elsewhere.

Decoux insisted that the Japanese comply with their treaty obligations to compensate the French for everything that was exported to Japan including the vital rice crop. He resolved to defend the borders of French Indo-China from any aggression by Thailand, which later would become Japan’s ally by declaring war on Britain and the US. At the same time Decoux wanted to safeguard some 40,000 Europeans, most of whom were French, and to protect the inhabitants of Indo-China from starvation. In mid September 1940, three months after France’s surrender, Thailand demanded that France cede certain border territories together with some islands in the Mekong River. Decoux rejected this demand and took the drastic step of calling up French males throughout the colony between the ages of 40 and 50.

In January 1941 after Thai troops had crossed the border, Admiral Decoux ordered his naval units to sea. His small squadron led by the cruiser Lamotte-Picquet engaged and defeated most of the Thai fleet sinking or disabling two coast defence ships armed with four 8-inch guns. A few months later the Japanese intervened. Under the guise of mediation, Japan forced the French to cede all of the disputed territory to Thailand. These events did not go unnoticed by the American Secretary of State, Cordell Hull. On 6 April he told the British ambassador Lord Halifax that the government of Thailand had colluded with the Japanese to secure Tokyo’s aid in their war with the Vichy French.

Notwithstanding this three-month war, Thailand ceased to pose any real threat to French Indo-China. The Empire of Japan was a different matter. Admiral Decoux and his superiors in Vichy well understood their grim choices: an undeclared war with Japan resulting in an overwhelming military defeat, abject surrender without resistance or an accommodation with Japan that would preserve the semblance of French rule.

On 19 July the axe fell. The Japanese envoy in Vichy delivered his government’s ultimatum that Japan demanded the right to occupy all of French Indo-China with the provisos that France would retain sovereignty and that Admiral Decoux would continue to be Governor-General and the Commander-in-Chief of all French military forces. The Vichy government quickly acceded and within ten days the Japanese occupied southern French Indo-China including Saigon and its airfields, which placed Japanese aircraft within range of Singapore for the first time. From then until the outbreak of the war in the Pacific, Admiral Decoux and his staff had front row seats to the stage on which the Japanese were marshalling their military might for the most egregious act of aggression in their entire history.

In contrast, the British military in Singapore had little knowledge of what was happening in French Indo-China other than official announcements from Vichy and Tokyo. Their two most important channels of intelligence were the Free French organisation in Singapore and a secret channel with Admiral Decoux. The Free French organisation was headed by Monsieur Baron who was more successful at public relations than he was at acquiring military intelligence. The channel to Decoux seems to have been the brainchild of Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton, Commander-in-Chief China, the highest ranking Royal Navy officer in the Far East. Although Decoux was well known to a number of Royal Navy officers with whom he had worked prior to the fall of France, it is unclear whether he and Admiral Layton ever met. Early in 1941, with permission of the Admiralty, Layton opened secret negotiation with Decoux. The story that was leaked to the press was that the Commander-in-Chief China offered economic aid to the French Governor-General in exchange for a pledge not to interfere with British shipping in the coastal waters of French Indo-China. The possibility that Decoux, who had only a handful of warships, might order them to interfere with British shipping seems preposterous. The possibility that Layton was trying to improve relations with Decoux in order to open a possible channel of military intelligence seems much more plausible.

By the autumn of 1941 Decoux’s situation was becoming critical. The Japanese continued to demand the colony’s mineral resources and most of its rice crop. For compensation the Japanese sometimes paid the French in a currency printed by the Japanese exclusively for use in French Indo-China. Since the currency had little real value, inflation threatened to destroy the economy, and with the forced export of rice, starvation loomed.

While Decoux like many other officers in the French Navy deeply resented the attack ordered by Churchill on French ships at Mers-el-Kébir where 1,000 French sailors perished on 3 July 1940, it seems doubtful that he was either pro-German or pro-Japanese. What has been largely overlooked is that in early 1941 Decoux and Admiral Layton commenced secret negotiations. The American war correspondent, Cecil Brown, had exceptionally good sources in Singapore and was keenly interested in what was happening in French Indo-China. His diary for 7 October 1941 reads in part:

My contact with the Free French finally bore fruit today. Dr. May and M. Baron, head of the Free French movement here, gave me a good story. They showed me secret documents they’d just gotten hold of revealing the extent of Vichy’s collaboration with the Japanese … At the moment the Japanese are exerting all kinds of pressure on Vichy to surrender additional oil storage facilities and to permit Japanese control of the entire postal system, telegraph and communication … the ‘honor’ with which the Japanese carry on their business dealings is shown in their treatment of the French in Indo-china. I saw a document showing that under two treaties the entire coal production of Indo-China was reserved for Japan as well as the entire output of iron, tin, manganese, chromium and antimony … Under the treaty, payment by Japan was to be made in gold dollars or in goods. After the agreement was made the Japanese informed the Vichy authorities in Indo-China that their gold was frozen and that they would pay with goods and raw materials … On September 18th, Decoux was asked by a reporter of Tokyo Nichi-Nichi if he was satisfied with the Franco-Japanese agreement. ‘Until now,’ Decoux said, ‘Indo-China has completely fulfilled all that was asked of her. She has sent everything that Japan has requested and that we promised to send, but the Japanese have not sent us the goods that they promised. We have difficulties getting things we need from the Japanese, and we reserve our opinion on answering that question until the promised goods arrives [sic].’

Seven weeks later Brown was able to get a story from Duff Cooper, Churchill’s representative in Singapore, that the latter should never have revealed. Brown’s diary for Friday 28 November reads:

Duff Cooper is still working on his report on the Far East. He was astonished to find that Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton was carrying on diplomatic relations with Indo-China. The story I get is this: Some time ago Layton telegraphed the Admiralty that he didn’t want to dissipate his forces and the French in Indo-China had some naval units which could cause some trouble and interfere with shipping. He therefore asked if he could negotiate with Indo-China. He was told to go ahead. As a result he negotiated with Admiral Decoux, the Governor-General in Indo-China, an accord that if the French didn’t interfere with shipping on the China coast or infringe on British naval rights then certain raw materials, but not war materials, would be sent to Indo-China.

How much raw materials reached Indo-China is unclear. The real import of what Cooper revealed to Brown is that Admiral Decoux had a secret means of communicating with Admiral Layton.

The 22nd Air Flotilla and part of the 21st Air Flotilla with almost 100 naval aircraft capable of carrying either bombs or torpedoes were clearly prepared for action on 8 December. Their presence on airfields around Saigon would not have escaped the attention of the French. The deployment of an entire flotilla could not have been accomplished without some cooperation from Decoux’s senior air force staff officers. While Decoux’s air force was not large, nevertheless his aircraft would have made routine flights over the three airfields around Saigon and his pilots would have reported to him on the numbers and the types of aircraft they had seen from the air. It is highly probable that the Saigon police learned in late October that the commander of the 22nd Air Flotilla, Rear Admiral Matsunaga, had established his headquarters in Saigon. Admiral Decoux, whose headquarters were also in Saigon, could make reasonably accurate estimates of the Japanese naval air presence. Even if he had not had a naval background, Decoux very likely would have understood the threat that the 22nd Air Flotilla posed to Prince of Wales and Repulse in the event they were to venture into the Gulf of Siam.

Why did Decoux withhold this vital information from Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton? This is indeed a troubling question. In the recent past Decoux had been involved with the Royal Navy and he had reason to loathe the Japanese. In September 1940 the Japanese Army had overrun a French Fort in Northern Indo-China and massacred the garrison; 800 French soldiers had perished. This happened despite the fact that a few days previously French officials had signed a treaty giving Japan the right to use certain airfields and port facilities in northern Indo-China.

Decoux might well have been tempted to tell Layton what he knew about the 22nd Air Flotilla; however, he did not. His primary loyalties lay with ‘La Belle France’ and the French Navy. He knew that if the Japanese learned that he had given Admiral Layton this vital information, they might have summarily executed him. The Japanese would have dismantled the entire French colonial administration and interned all French military forces including the hapless Governor-General. This would have ended French sovereignty in Indo-China, perhaps forever. It, however, seems probable that Decoux informed Admiral Darlan of the massive build-up of Japanese naval aircraft.

The British had obtained some French naval codes in early July 1940. On 1 July 1940 Admiral Darlan had ordered all French ships to return immediately to French ports. The French submarine Narval commanded by Capitaine de Corvette Drogou received the order in the Mediterranean and broadcast a reply that became symbolic of Free French resistance everywhere. ‘Trahison sur toute la ligne, je rallie un port anglais.’ (‘Betrayal all along the line, I am making for an English port.’) A few days later Narval arrived at Grand Harbour, Malta. Capitaine Drogou promptly turned over the French naval codes to officers of the Royal Navy.

There is no historical evidence that FECB intercepted or read any signal from Decoux’s headquarters in Saigon to Darlan’s headquarters in France; however, that possibility cannot be entirely excluded in view of the probable destruction of all the FECB records for 1941. The monitoring stations on Stonecutter’s Island and at the Singapore Naval Base certainly had the capacity to intercept a French naval signal coming from Saigon; however, it is probable that these two stations were too busy intercepting Japanese naval signals to bother with any French ones. Furthermore, although the British had acquired the French naval codes used by the submarine Narval in early July 1940, Admiral Darlan may have changed all his codes long before the 22nd Air Flotilla’s appearance in southern French Indo-China.

The failure of British intelligence in the Far East is not easily explained. The biggest problem for historians is the lack of official records. British historians almost unanimously agree that the official records of the Far East Combined Bureau were probably destroyed after the Japanese surrender.

The private records of Admiral Jean Decoux and his official records as Governor-General were probably destroyed months prior to the Japanese surrender. Field Marshal Count Hisaichi Terauchi, who commanded all Japanese southern armies, had established headquarters in Saigon early in 1945. By then French Indo-China was his strongest bastion in south-east Asia. His army was still formidable and he had a secure land line of communication with China where Japan maintained armies totalling a million men.

Terauchi was determined to fight to the death against any American invasion that seemed likely to be launched from the Philippines, which General MacArthur’s forces had largely liberated by the end of February. Terauchi was concerned about what Admiral Decoux would do in that event. In November 1942 Vichy French forces in French North Africa had initially resisted US and British landings, but by 1945 the Vichy government no longer existed. Although Decoux’s native troops seem to have been largely demobilised, he still commanded up to 10,000 French soldiers and an unknown number of French Foreign Legion troops.

On 9 March 1945, Terauchi demanded that Decoux place his forces under Japanese command. When Decoux refused, he was arrested and the French garrisons were surrounded ‘and in the fighting that followed about 1,700 French troops were killed or simply massacred.’ Before he received this ultimatum Admiral Decoux had probably already ordered the destruction of all sensitive records.

If the precise causes of these intelligence failures remain unknown, their consequences are apparent. Admiral Phillips, Captain Leach and Captain Tennant would have been able to devise a far better battle plan had they had accurate information about the 22nd Air Flotilla. War would come to Singapore all too soon. The individual who would have the forthcoming responsibility for the deployment of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse was Admiral Sir Tom Phillips. The Admiral did not know half of what he would be up against.


The major USAAF effort to supply the Resistance movements and secret armies in Europe began in the summer of 1943 under the codename ‘Carpetbagger’, which someone had lifted from the annals of the American Civil War. At first the Americans had been as unprepared for Resistance support as the British had been in 1940. OSS was introduced to supplement SOE operations and by 1942 was functioning very effectively under the dynamic leadership of Colonel (later General) William ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan. In September 1942 the joint Anglo-American SOE-SO was formed and the Americans began participating in the planning of operations in many northwest European countries.

Eventually, OSS consisted of five major categories: Secret Intelligence (SI), responsible for intelligence gathering; Secret Operations (SO), the parachuting of agents into occupied countries; Morale Operations (MO), which involved propaganda broadcasts to the enemy to undermine his morale; and ‘X–2’, the counter-intelligence service. A Research and Analysis (R and A) Branch provided analysis of bomb damage and its repercussions on the German economy.

Unlike SOE, which came under the aegis of the British Government, authority for the Carpetbagger Project came from the American Joint Chiefs of Staff. It was they who directed that OSS would be the US Agency charged with sabotage and with the ‘Organization and Conduct of Guerilla Warfare’. In a cable dated 26 August 1943, from the Commanding General ETOUSA (European Theater of Operations USA), to the War Department, these directives were approved and three days later in a letter to Donovan the OSS was directed to work out with G–2 and G–3, ETOUSA, ‘the composition of Staffs for Army and Army group HO and to proceed with the organization and training of Jedburgh teams for the purpose of coordinating activities behind the enemy lines.’

Hundreds of Jedburgh teams were to be dropped into France just prior to and after the Allied invasion of Normandy. These teams consisted of three members, usually English, French and American. Most Jedburgh teams were dropped into areas well in advance of the allied invasion forces in order to provide a general staff for the local Resistance wherever they landed. They also organized sabotage and the disruption of enemy supplies and harried the retreat of enemy troops. Jedburgh teams usually remained in the field until overrun by the advancing Allied forces.

At first, Carpetbagger operations would be mounted from the English Midlands. Later in the war, missions were extended to include Scandinavia when a team headed by Bernt Balchen, the famous arctic explorer, mounted operations from Leuchars in Scotland. First, the ‘Sonnie’ project, as it was called, was so successful that ultimately, 3,016 passengers were evacuated, including 965 American internees. In July 1944 Carpetbagger crews were involved in the ‘Ball Project’ (so named because of the removal of the ball turret from the B–24), and carried out supply drops to the Norwegian underground.

Initially, personnel for the Carpetbagger unit were drawn from the 4th and 22nd Squadrons of the 479th Anti-Submarine Group, which had been disbanded in August 1943. They were selected because of their experience in long navigational patrols at night. For almost three months, operating from an aerodrome at Dunkeswell, Devon, these two squadrons, flying Consolidated B–24D Liberator aircraft, had carried out anti-submarine sweeps over the Bay of Biscay, flying lone patrols of between ten and twelve hours’ duration, looking for German U-boats. Their record was a good one. On one occasion they had taken on formations of twelve Ju–88s and had won through. They had even been fired upon by anti-aircraft batteries along the Spanish coast.

In October 1943 Anti-Submarine Command was disbanded and the task of keeping the Atlantic sealanes free of U-boats passed exclusively to the US Navy and RAF Coastal Command. On 26 October the ground section of the 22nd Anti-Submarine Squadron left Dunkeswell by motor convoy for Alconbury. They overnighted at Yettingdon and arrived at Station 102 the next morning. Meanwhile, the air echelon had flown north from Devon but bad weather prevented them from landing at the Huntingdonshire base. They were forced to land at other airfields over a wide area and many were fogged in for a week. Ground crews in the 4th Anti-Submarine Squadron had better luck, leaving Dunkeswell on 1 November by train and road. At Alconbury the 4th and 22nd joined the men and machines of the 482nd (Pathfinder) Group.

At first the ex-anti-submarine group crews did not know what their new role would be, although the later change in squadron designation from ‘anti-submarine’ to ‘bombardment’ made them draw the wrong conclusions. Existing squadrons in the 482nd were carrying out pathfinder missions but the two new squadrons took on a curious demeanour when their B–24D Liberators were painted black. It was an appropriate choice of colour because the new commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Clifford J. Heflin, was still in the dark.

Not until 24 October 1943 did Heflin learn what the new duties of his former 22nd Anti-submarine Squadron and of the 4th would be. On this date Heflin, his deputy, Major Robert W. Fish and Lieutenants Robert D. Sullivan and Akers, were summoned to attend a meeting at Bovingdon. They were met by Colonel Williamson, A–3 of VIII Bomber Command, Group Captain (later Air Vice-Marshal) E.H. ‘Mouse’ Fielden from RAF Tempsford, Colonel Oliver of 8th Air Force and Colonel Joseph F. Haskell and Major Brooks of OSS, London. While the Americans were new to the sabotage game, Fielden and the RAF Special Duty squadrons in complete contrast, were old hands. Fielden was a former Captain of the King’s Flight and had taken command of No. 138 Squadron in August 1941. RAF clandestine air operations on behalf of SOE had begun in August 1940 and by mid-1941 was operating with a handful of Lysander single-engined army co-operation aircraft and Whitley bombers. The Lysanders and later Hudsons, were used in the dangerous task of flying out SOE agents who had finished their spell of duty in France, or who were on the run from the Gestapo. Escaping RAF airmen were also plucked to safety on occasions. Altogether, the Lysanders delivered 304 agents to France and exfiltrated 410 to Britain for the loss of thirteen aircraft and six pilots.

War-weary Whitley and Wellington bombers and later Halifax, Stirling and Hudson aircraft, were used for long-range parachute operations. By February 1942 138 Squadron had been joined in special duty operations by No. 161 Squadron and both squadrons began operations from Tempsford in the spring of 1942. Their hard-won experience and techniques were made available to the USAAF.

Williamson explained that the former anti-submarine squadrons had been assigned duties as ‘Sabotage’ squadrons. Amazed at this development, Heflin and his junior officers listened attentively as they were briefed in turn by the OSS officers and the British Group Captain about their involvement in a new operation with the cover name ‘Carpetbagger Project’. For the most part, Heflin’s squadrons would come under Special Operations. OSS would direct operations and arrange details of reception grounds (working in close co-operation with SOE who would specify the contents of the containers and packages to be delivered).

SO-SOE anticipated that the strength of Resistance groups on D–Day would be about 160,000. The continual problem that this posed to the Allied high command was their leadership, communications and supplies. The Resistance forces had to be organized into well-disciplined units, controlled by an effective system of communications and be capable of carrying out military operations such as attacks on enemy installations, disruption of enemy road and rail systems and hindering the deployment of enemy troop and tank movements.

In France this aim was a commander’s nightmare. The Free French operated under a command network of no fewer than a dozen délégués militaires régionaux (DMRs) who were able to request arms drops, via radio contact with SOE, from the Allied air forces. The Resistance movements were also divided between the Front National and the Communist-directed Franc-tireurs et Partisans (FTP).

The situation was made even more intriguing by political infighting between the Allies. In London General Charles de Gaulle claimed to represent France and therefore argued that all operations in his country should come under his direction. Initially, the British and American governments opposed this on political grounds. They also mistrusted the apparent lack of security, justifiably on occasions, at Free French Headquarters. All this led SOE to establish an ‘independent French’ (or ‘F’) section headed by Colonel Maurice Buckmaster (which by June 1944 was operating 50 réseaux in France). Understandably, de Gaulle was unhappy about this arrangement, which persisted until 1944 when in preparation for D-Day, he formed the FFI (Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur).

It was proposed that the SO (Special Operations) Branch of the OSS undertake the delivery of supplies to Resistance groups in a plan coordinated with the SOE. Heflin’s crews would air drop the Jedburgh teams, supplies and small arms, light automatic weapons, munitions, explosives, demolition and incendiary equipment. Generally speaking, pinpoints suitable for dropping a certain number of containers or packages would be proposed by SO. It was envisaged that no more than three squadrons of aircraft would be needed to supply the Resistance groups in occupied Europe.

At first approval was given only for supplying Resistance groups on a limited scale, for previous British experience had shown that considerable time would be needed to train crews for this type of operation. Lieutenant Wilmer L. Stapel, pilot of one of the original twelve B–24Ds commanded by Colonel Heflin that arrived at Dunkeswell in early August 1943, recalls:

After numerous briefings and stern warnings about ever discussing our clandestine operation, with a constant threat of court martial, if we ever disclosed anything at any time, one more prerequisite remained to be done before our crews would be turned loose over the continent of Europe. Each pilot, navigator and bombardier had to fly two combat missions each, with a combat ready crew. Since the USAAF had none, we were sent to the RAF squadrons at Tempsford to fly with their crews.

As has already been mentioned, both Nos. 138 and 161 Squadrons were stationed at the airfield, located just to the north of Sandy in Bedfordshire. To maintain security, Tempsford was known simply as ‘Gibraltar Farm’ to civilians and servicemen alike. Seemingly, its only link with civilization was with the main London to Edinburgh railway which runs parallel to the base and which is bounded on the west side by the Great North Road. The Special Duty squadrons at Tempsford had amassed a wealth of experience on varied cloak-and-dagger missions to the Low Countries and France and as far afield as Austria, Norway, Poland and Czechoslovakia. The assassination of SS–Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia, was carried out on 27 May 1942 by Czech agents who had taken off from Tempsford. Heydrich was mortally wounded and died on 4 June 1942.

MI6 and SOE agents departing from and arriving at Tempsford were held at staging areas at Tempsford and Hasells Halls, and at Farm Hall, an unimposing mansion on West Street in Godmanchester. In 1942-3 Farm Hall (Special Training School No. 61) was used by six members of the Gunnerside team, whose mission was to destroy the German heavy water plant at Vermork in Norway, near the region of Telemark close to the electricity-generating area and nitrate plant at Rjukan. It was known that German scientists were working towards developing an atomic bomb and it was crucial therefore towards developing an atomic bomb and it was crucial therefore to deprive them of heavy water, which was needed to slow down the process of atomic fission. Thirty-four commandos of the First Airborne Division had taken off from Scotland on 19 November 1942 in two gliders to sabotage the plant but the attempt had ended in disaster when one of the towing aircraft crashed into a mountainside in Norway and both gliders crashed. All the surviving commandos were captured and shot.

For three months the Gunnerside team trained at Farm Hall, practising the demolition of simulated heavy water concentration cells. One member of the team, Knut Haukelid, described the Hall thus:

It was a station for people who were going to Europe on secret errands and who had to wait for planes. The place was very closely guarded. A number of servicewomen kept the house in order, cooked the meals and gave the boys some social life … But if we asked the FANYs [First Air Nursing Yeomanry] about our comrades who had gone out before us, they became dumb and knew nothing.

According to Arnold Kramish in his book The Griffin:

Farm Hall was not just a staging area for agents going out; it was an interrogation centre for agents and their captives coming in. Every room in the house, and some of the garden trees, was wired with microphones and there was a listening post in an isolated room.

In the early 1990s, floorboards were removed and revealed underfloor bugging devices in ‘finely crafted containers, like pencil boxes, with wires in them … Loyalties were automatically questioned, and the wiring gave information sometimes not elicited through interrogation’. Kramish states that the bugging devices had been put there on the orders of Lieutenant Commander Eric Welsh, a Royal Navy intelligence officer in SOE. Professor R.V. Jones, in his book Most Secret War, says that he asked for microphones to be placed there in 1945 before the arrival of ten German nuclear physicists.

On 16 February 1943 the Gunner side team, led by Lieutenant Joachim Rönneberg, took off from Tempsford and parachuted into Norway where they rendezvoused with four men of the Rype (Grouse) advance scouting party which had been dropped on 18 October 1942 to reconnoitre the area. The sabotage team made its way to Rjukan and during the night of 27/28 February blew up the heavy water concentration cells without any casualties. In the event, the Germans were able to repair the damage and make the plant operational again but production of heavy water was denied them for a critical few months and a stock of about 350 kilograms of heavy water was lost.

Tempsford, therefore, provided an ideal training school for the eager young American aircrews. The Special Duty Squadrons’ ability to exfiltrate secret agents and escaping aircrews from Occupied Europe did not go unnoticed either. During 1943 no fewer than 157 pick-up operations,† of which 111 were successful, were attempted by Lysander pilots of 161 Squadron. During operations from Tempsford and the forward base at Tangmere 138 Squadron made over 2,500 sorties and dropped almost 1,000 agents in occupied Europe for the loss of seventy aircraft.


Jedburgh teams suit up in England prior to boarding a ‘Carpetbagger’ B-24.

The crew of the 406th Bomb Squadron standing in front of the Liberator B-24 “Brer Rabbit” which dropped the “VIS” Team during the night from 1st to 2 June 1944.

Standing up (left to right): Clinton Rabbit (Pilot) – Ernest Asbury (Co-pilot) – Floyd Olson (Navigator) – Donald Leinhauser (Bomber) – Art Bogusz (Mechanic)

In crouching position (left to right): Nick Rasnak (Dispatcher) – Steve Sianis (Radio) – Mike Tauger (Tail gunner)

The first Americans to arrive at the Tempsford ‘academy’ were Robert W. Fish (now Lieutenant-Colonel), Robert D. Sullivan (now Captain) and the Group Intelligence Officer and one crew, captained by Lieutenant-Colonel Robert L. Boone of the 406th Squadron. Altogether, the party of American officers spent two months at the top secret Bedfordshire airfield. The American officers and crews found the training routine very demanding and completely different to anything they had been used to. In order that accurate drops could be made, pilots would have to get down to within 400–600 ft off the ground and reduce their flying speed to 130 mph or less. The low speed reduced the chances of damage to parachutes, as the shock is much less at the slower speed. The pilots, navigators and bombardiers each made two operational flights with RAF crews in the Halifax. The first flight involving an American trainee was made on 3/4 November but it ended disastrously when the 138 Squadron Halifax in which Captain James E. Estes was flying struck high ground in fog at Marcoles-les-Eaux. Only the tail gunner survived the crash. By 7 November, numerous training flights had been made and only the lack of suitably modified Liberators was preventing American crews from flying their own missions.

Converting to nocturnal special duty specification from daylight long-range bomber configuration was enough to tax even the most hardened of ground crew personnel. Ball turrets had to be removed and replaced with cargo hatches, nicknamed ‘Joe Holes’, through which the secret agents or ‘Joes’ dropped. A static line was installed for them and to facilitate bale outs, the hole had a metal shroud inside the opening. If the Liberator did not have a ball turret, a hole was made there. Plywood was used to cover the floors and blackout curtains graced the waist windows and navigator’s compartment, while blister side windows had to be installed to give the pilots greater visibility. Later models had their nose turrets removed. A ‘greenhouse’ was fashioned instead to allow the bombardier a good view of the drop zone and to enable him to carry out pilotage for the navigator. Suppressors or flame dampers were fitted to the engine exhausts to stifle the tell-tale blue exhaust flames. Machine-guns located on both sides of the waist were removed, leaving only the top and rear turrets for protection. In flight the entire aircraft would be blacked out except for a small light in the navigator’s compartment.

Oxygen equipment would not be needed at the low levels flown and was removed. A variety of special navigational equipment and radar aids had to be installed. The air crews learned that during the non-moon period, flights at night would be made with the use of Rebecca and an absolute radio altimeter. By means of all this equipment, the percentage of accuracy on a drop could be even greater than with ordinary visual pilotage.

Rebecca was a British radar directional, air to ground device which was originally fitted to aircraft in the RAF Special Duties squadrons. It was used to record impulses or ‘blips’ on a grid and directed the navigator to the ground operator. By varying the intensity or frequency of the blip, the ground operator (whose set was known as Eureka O) could transmit a signal letter to the aircraft. These signals could be activated from up to seventy miles away to enable the aircraft crew to pin-point its drop zone. Eureka sets, which weighed up to 100 lb, were parachuted in to Resistance groups. However, many Joes and Resistance radio-operators, not wishing to lug the set, which was heavy, or run the risk of being caught with it in their possession, refused to use it.

While training flights continued Sullivan made a study of Intelligence techniques and Fish surveyed the entire operational procedure. On 9 November King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Tempsford. Six American crews were among those who were introduced to the royal party and the following day Major Joyce, the 8th Air Force Security Officer, and Captain Stearns of the OSS arrived to obtain information and to assess progress made thus far. On 11 November Lieutenant Cross, a bombardier, failed to return when the Halifax in which he was flying was lost on a sortie to France.

These early training flights in which the Americans flew with their brother officers and men of the RAF squadrons were proving quite an education, in more than one sense of the word, as Wilmer Stapel recalls:

My first introduction flight was with a Flight Sergeant and his crew on the night of 15 November in a Halifax bomber. I rode the co-pilot position. The mission consisted of cargo and ‘Joes’ that we were to drop somewhere east of Paris. The weather was not favourable and although we reached the drop area, we were unable to complete the drop. On our way homeward we arrived at an area where we were in and out of cloud. Before the navigator could pinpoint our position, the enemy did.

We were showered with a barrage of flak before the pilot could take evasive action. No. 3 engine was hit and put out of commission. The cockpit lights were put out by the intense firing from the ground and several anti-aircraft shells burst on my side of the plane directly behind my seat. Fragments of shrapnel scattered throughout the cockpit, striking the pilot, flight engineer and radio operator.

The pilot skilfully manoeuvred the aircraft out of ack-ack range and an assessment was made of the damage and injured. While the pilot and other crew members were given first aid treatment for their wounds (none were real serious), I was asked to fly the aircraft: my one and only experience in flying a Halifax. The pilot returned to the cockpit and managed to fly the plane back to Tempsford without further incident. During all of the action I had remained unscathed. Only after landing and at the crew debriefing was it noted that some of the shrapnel had torn a couple of holes in the back of my flight jacket.

I went to bed and tried to sleep. The RAF sergeant’s crew were sent on recuperation leave while the aircraft went to the hangar to have the battle damage repaired. The sergeant and his crew were lost on the very next mission after returning from leave.

On 22 November Heflin and Fish attended a meeting in London, where it was decided to use the air echelon of the 22nd Anti-submarine Squadron and the ground echelon of the 4th Anti-submarine Squadron to form two new squadrons, the 36th and 406th Bomb Squadrons, commanded by Fish and Heflin respectively. The two men learned that as of 11 November the two squadrons had been assigned to the First Bomb Division (equipped with B–17s!) although their activation would not officially be published until 4 December. Though the Liberators were still not ready for night operations it was decided that for the next operational moon period (December), the squadrons would again operate from Tempsford but would use their own aircraft.

Six new crews were brought in from the States. One of them was led by the pilot, Lieutenant William G. McKee. Charles D. Fairbanks, the crew’s original ball turret gunner, recalls:

Our crew of ten were put on two B–17s (five on each) and flown by Ferry Command to England via Bangor and Newfoundland at night. I crawled up in a cargo hold in the forward bomb bay and tried to sleep. Even in our sheepskin coats it was cold. We were also on oxygen. When it got daylight I discovered that the cargo rack I was sleeping in was retained by one bomb shackle. One little malfunction and I could have been dropped into the north Atlantic!

We arrived at Nutts Corner in Northern Ireland. It was difficult to find because the runway had been painted to blend in with the countryside. In Belfast we boarded a steamer and sailed to Liverpool. We were fed and driven in trucks to the Combat Crew Replacement Centre at Stone after dark. None of us were familiar with the blackout and we had to hold hands to make sure we found our way from the barracks to the mess hall. Next morning we could not find the mess hall because we did not know where we had been the night before!

We were processed and several days later we were taken to Alconbury where we and five other crews were assigned to the 36th and 406th Squadrons. Our ten-man crew was trimmed down to four officers and four enlisted men. Two of them, Pasvantis and Dickenson, were sent to other outfits. I was the ball gunner but since the Carpetbaggers had no ball turret, they moved me back to the tail. Later we learned that Dickenson had been killed. He had been standing in the bomb bay with his arm wrapped around a bomb when the bombs were salvoed. He went out the bomb bay doors without a parachute.

At Alconbury we were assigned ‘C’ for Charlie, a B–24D Liberator painted dull matt black. The ‘C’ and the serial number were about the only markings on it. There were no large emblems on the wings. Later, about halfway through our tour we were given B–24Js with the nose and ball turrets out. They were painted a real glossy black. It was said that when the searchlights hit them at night the people on the ground could not see them as well as the matt black.

McKee’s crew went through indoctrination procedures at Harrington and prepared for their training flights from Tempsford. Wilmer Stapel, meanwhile, flew his second mission from the Bedfordshire airfield on the night of 10 December:

The aircraft was very sluggish and slow on take-off. We barely got airborne before the end of the runway. The climb-out was just as bad and at about 1,000 ft the RAF pilot decided to abort the flight and return for a landing. He ordered us all into our crash positions. I found out that mine was directly behind the cockpit bulkhead.

I couldn’t see what was going on but from the sound of the engines winding up, it sounded as if he had temporarily lost control of the aircraft. We began a tight spiral and proceeded down. The next thing we heard was the thumping of this heavy aircraft as it bounced on the ground. We bumped a couple of times and then the aircraft stopped. The crew immediately disembarked and I followed them. We were on the airfield but off the runway. End of mission!

On 14 December Lieutenant-Colonel Heflin relinquished command of the 406th to Captain Robert Boone and was assigned to the parent 482nd Group as Air Executive – Special Project. Major Fish became Operations Officer and command of the 36th Squadron passed to Captain Rodman St. Clair, who since 5 December had been in charge of the latest group of American trainees seconded to Tempsford. There, training missions had continued with the odd hiccup. On 17 December Lieutenant Glenn C. Nesbitt and his crew had to bale out of their Liberator in bad weather over England after a mission with the RAF over France. The bad weather grew worse and three days later the American crews returned to Alconbury without completing any further missions.

The 36th and 406th Squadrons spent their first Christmas at Alconbury playing host to a group of English children, giving them candy and gum rations that the officers and enlisted men had contributed to for several weeks. For children living under wartime austerity conditions for four years, the Yuletide festivities were a time of great excitement. For the men it was a welcome break from the perils and stress of Carpetbagger flying. It was amazing to see hard-bitten crew-chiefs handling the little children, catering for their every whim. One of the First Sergeants was even seen riding a little blond boy around on the handlebars of his GI bicycle. When the icecreams were served, many of the little ones were very excited as only some of the older ones had ever seen ice-cream before.

Two days later the festive spirit had truly disappeared with the sobering reality of the first loss of a complete crew. The Liberator, flown by Captain Robert L. Williams, Operations Officer of the 36th Squadron, ran into very bad weather during a cross-country navigational training flight and crashed into the side of a hill on the south coast with the loss of all eight crew.

Wilmer Stapel, meanwhile, was anxiously anticipating his second mandatory mission with the RAF after the original one had been aborted on the night of 10 December:

After two harrowing experiences with my RAF cohorts and another mission to go before my crew was declared combat ready, I strongly suggested to Colonel Heflin that I preferred to do the piloting myself. If I was destined to ‘buy the farm’ I’d prefer that it be at my hands if I had to go. Colonel Heflin said he would use my crew and I could be the co-pilot on the next mission. This is how it happened that Colonel Heflin, with my crew, flew the first combat mission on the night of 4 January 1944. The flight was into France and was successful. The total flight time was seven hours and no enemy was engaged.

Despite the veil of secrecy surrounding the new unit there was still little to be secretive about at Alconbury, since few men knew very many details about the Carpetbagger Project. The newspapers gave hints, if one knew which articles to read, and could read between the lines. The Daily Express of Saturday, 15 January 1944, carried an inconspicuous item datelined Geneva. Under the headline, ‘Patriots Wreck Railways’, it was reported:

French patriots last night attacked the German-held Annecy railway depot and blew up several locomotives. At Romilly, in Savoy, patriots stopped a train, forced the passengers to alight, then sent the train rushing uncontrolled along the line until it overturned.

In Belgium, patriots complying with directions given to them by the Allied Command, carried out forty-two acts of sabotage in one week on the railway tracks in the province of Hainault. They stopped trains and started them without drivers, placed bombs on the tracks, unbolted rails, destroyed signal boxes and put pumping stations out of action.

The following day, the Sunday Graphic, in a brief item, referred cryptically to ‘“Secret Airmen” whose work is a close secret and will make amazing reading after the war’.

The Germans already knew of course. Don Fairbanks recalls:

One night we really got a shock. We would listen to music coming from Germany. One night ‘Lord Haw Haw’ welcomed us to Europe. He named our squadron CO and read out our squadron numbers and said the Luftwaffe was waiting for us to come over to the mainland. We were green troops and this really got to us. We were really concerned about our safety and security on the base and all those things you think of when you’re a nineteen-year-old.

At Alconbury the flight line was becoming overcrowded with Carpetbagger aircraft trying to operate alongside the Pathfinder aircraft of the 482nd and vice versa. Fresh moves and promotions were put into effect in late January and early February 1944 which were designed to increase operational efficiency. A new base at Harrington, just west of Kettering and only 35 miles from the packing and storage depot at Holme in Huntingdonshire, was under consideration. Until it was ready for occupation it was decided to transfer several of the Carpetbagger aircraft eastwards to RAF Watton in Norfolk, where the 328th Service Group would provide an administrative headquarters.

On 7 February movement of some of the Liberators and their crews to Watton began. The Norfolk base was thought to be, in some ways, an ideal location for a month’s winter sojourn until Harrington was ready for American occupancy. The 3rd SAD (Strategic Air Depot) was already based at Watton and its role of Liberator repair and modification would greatly assist the Carpetbagger outfit. The 406th Bomb Squadron began the movement while seven crews and six Liberators were left behind to continue operations with the 36th Squadron. Skeleton ground sections and some combat crew also remained behind at Alconbury. In the midst of all this operational upheaval, on 10 February, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Alconbury. During their tour of the base they took time to inspect one of the Pathfinder aircraft and also Captain Wagstad’s crew standing beside their black-painted B–24. Sadly, Wagsted and his crew would die one month later on 3 March, when their B–24, together with another in the 36th Bomb Squadron, was lost on a Carpetbagger sortie.

By 17 February the move to Watton was complete. However, the Norfolk base was not matching up to early expectations. Watton had been constructed before the war as a permanent RAF base with purpose-built hangars, mess halls and barracks. However, no room could be found for the Carpetbagger contingent so they had to put up with life on the mud-flats on which tented accommodation had been erected.

Out of nowhere, clothes racks, shelves and packing box entrances sprang into existence. Each tent had a supply of firewood (scrounged from the local area) to last a long, cold winter. Don Fairbanks recalls:

Each tent was set up for six men. In my tent there were four men from one crew and two of us from our crew. We walked into the tent after one mission and there were six guys in it we had never seen before. We went to the First Sergeant and told him our belongings had gone. We were told that a crew had been shot down and our stuff had gone into storage with their stuff. He said we could draw our stuff from supply and go back and explain to the guys in the tent but we weren’t to upset them. It turned out that these guys in our tent were all cooks and bakers and this was why the First Sergeant didn’t want us to upset them! They were worth more to us as friends then enemies! Two did leave and we got to know the rest very well. After this we all ate like kings living off steaks and real eggs instead of powdered.

During the time the squadrons spent there, a few air raid alerts sounded. It was during one of these that in one of the Ordnance Sections, the order went out to sleep with helmets on! All in all, the men made the best of it in the short stay in the Watton mud-flats. The hiking to the main road with boots and hiding them in the bushes, putting on another pair carried along. The most difficult part of it all was finding the right bush in the dark, with a belly full of beer.

The big problem at Watton was that only grass runways with pierced steel planking (PSP) were available. These proved totally unsuitable, as Don Fairbanks recalls:

We could not operate loaded B–24s so we TDY’ed back to Alconbury for our missions during the full moon, then back to Watton. At Alconbury the four EM from our crew bunked in an abandoned mess hall. It was better than the tents at Watton. Prior to our arrival one crew had made up their bunks, went on a mission and had got shot down. Another crew was brought in to replace them. They made up their bunks, went out that night and also got shot down. We came in with two other crews and on hearing the story nobody would sleep in those four ‘unlucky’ beds. People slept on the floor first.

Although the Project was now scattered hither and thither, on paper at least, the Carpetbaggers existed as a functional unit. On 27 February the group was officially relieved of its assignment to the 482nd and the 1st Bomb Division. Headquarters, 328th Service Group, was designated as the acting Group HQ following a message signed by General James E. Doolittle. Higher headquarters passed to VIII Air Force Composite Command, based at Cheddington.


Throughout 1969 and 1970, Nixon and Kissinger focused the CIA on the secret expansion of the war in Southeast Asia. They ordered the agency to make $725,000 in political payoffs to President Thieu of South Vietnam, manipulate the media in Saigon, fix an election in Thailand, and step up covert commando raids in North Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

In a bleak dispatch on the eve of a world tour that took Nixon across Southeast Asia, Helms told the president about the CIA’s long war in Laos. The agency “maintained a covert irregular force of a total of 39,000 men which has borne a major share of the active fighting” against the communists, he reminded Nixon. They were the CIA’s Hmong fighters, led since 1960 by General Vang Pao. “These irregular forces are tired from eight years of constant warfare, and Vang Pao…has been forced to use 13-and 14-year-old children to replace his casualties…. The limits have largely been reached on what this agency can do in a paramilitary sense to stop the North Vietnamese advance.” Nixon responded by ordering Helms to create a new Thai paramilitary battalion in Laos to shore up the Hmong. Kissinger asked where it would be best to bomb Laos with B-52s.

While their clandestine war in Southeast Asia intensified, Nixon and Kissinger made plans for a secret rapprochement with Chairman Mao Tse-tung. To clear the way to China, they strangled the agency’s operations against the communist regime.

Over the past decade, in the name of combating Chinese communism, the CIA had spent tens of millions of dollars parachuting tons of weapons to hundreds of Tibetan guerrillas who fought for their spiritual leader, His Holiness Tenzen Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama. When Allen Dulles and Desmond FitzGerald briefed Eisenhower on the operation in February 1960, “the President wondered whether the net result of these operations would not be more brutal repressive reprisals by the Chinese Communists.”

Ike approved the program nonetheless. The agency set up a training camp for the Tibetan fighters in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. It had paid an annual subsidy of some $180,000 directly to the Dalai Lama, and it created Tibet Houses in New York and Geneva to serve as his unofficial embassies. The goal was to keep the dream of a free Tibet alive while harassing the Red Army in western China. The results to date had been dozens of dead resistance fighters, and one bloodstained satchel of invaluable Chinese military documents seized in a firefight.

In August 1969, the agency requested $2.5 million more to support Tibet’s insurgents in the coming year, calling the 1,800-man paramilitary group “a force which could be employed in strength in the event of hostilities” against China. “Does this have any direct benefit to us?” Kissinger asked. He answered his own question. Though the CIA’s subsidy to the Dalai Lama continued, the Tibetan resistance was abandoned.

Kissinger then scuttled the remains of the CIA’s twenty-year mission to conduct clandestine operations against China.

The commando raids of the Korean War had dwindled down to desultory radio broadcasts from Taipei and Seoul, leaflets dropped on the mainland, fake news planted in Hong Kong and Tokyo, and what the agency described as “activities worldwide to denigrate and obstruct the People’s Republic of China.” The CIA kept working with Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in his doomed effort to free Taiwan, unaware that Nixon and Kissinger had plans to sit down with Chairman Mao and Prime Minister Chou En-lai in Beijing.

When Kissinger finally sat down with Chou, the prime minister asked about the latest Free Taiwan campaign: “The CIA had no hand in it?”

Kissinger assured Chou that “he vastly overestimates the competence of the CIA.”

“They have become the topic of discussion throughout the world,” Chou said. “Whenever something happens in the world they are always thought of.”

“That is true,” Kissinger replied, “and it flatters them, but they don’t deserve it.”

Chou was fascinated to learn that Kissinger personally approved the CIA’s covert operations. He voiced his suspicions that the agency was still subverting the People’s Republic.

Kissinger replied that most CIA officers “write long, incomprehensible reports and don’t make revolution.”

“You use the word revolution,” Chou said. “We say subversion.”

“Or subversion,” Kissinger conceded. “I understand. We are conscious of what is at stake in our relationship, and we will not let one organization carry out petty operations that could hinder this course.”

That was the end of that. The CIA was out of business in China for years to come.