The True Story of the D-Day Spies
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Review by Dennis Showalter
In war, truth can be stranger than fiction—and the two can defy separation. Nowhere is this truer than in the story of Double Cross. Its central figures seem to have been drawn from the pages of pulp thrillers. A bisexual Peruvian, a Spaniard with a diploma in chicken farming, a Frenchwoman fixated on her pet dog, a Serbian playboy—and these were some of the everyday types. Their very code names evoke Ian Fleming: “Treasure,” “Garbo,” “Tricycle.”
They and their colleagues were part of a British intelligence plan to mislead the Germans as to where and when the major Allied invasion of Europe, D-Day, would take place. Its matrix was the “Double Cross System.” Initiated shortly after the outbreak of war, its original purpose was to turn captured German spies into double agents—not particularly difficult when the likely alternative was a firing squad. Initially these double agents were used to deceive the Germans into believing their espionage network in Britain was large and effective. As D-Day planning developed, Double-Cross agents were recruited as part of a far riskier operation: what Winston Churchill called “a bodyguard of lies” to shield the truth and confound the enemy.
Macintyre is a British journalist and historian who specializes in spies and counter-spies. This is up to his usual high standard. Well researched and well written, it is a page-turner that eschews whitewash.
His protagonists are not the secret agents of heroic fiction. There is, indeed, scarcely a hero in the lot. More of them drifted into espionage than committed themselves to it from principle. Most of them seem to have enjoyed the game much for its own sake. In Macintyre’s words, they were “…variously, courageous, treacherous, greedy, capricious, and inspired.” One was a triple, possibly a quadruple agent. Another suffered torture, imprisonment, and death. But together they assembled and vended a spider-web of little lies adding up to a big lie that contributed vitally to saving thousands of Allied lives on D-Day, and to the success of the invasion itself.
The operation’s challenge lay less in directly misleading the Germans regarding the landing site than in confirming a preexisting belief that the invasion would take place in the Pas de Calais. That meant providing bits and pieces of accurate information on such details as unit insignia and vehicle markings, which diverted German attention from the massive buildup in southwest England in favor of focusing on the area just opposite to the Pas de Calais. It was a game of smoke and mirrors, of wheels within wheels, of arabesques and handoffs, with suspicion of one agent’s information diverted by other reports casting doubt on the suspicions. It was a game, moreover, played against a German intelligence system that was anything but the inept organization so often derided in Allied accounts. The Abwehr’s professionals were skilful and suspicious. It took courage and insouciance to test them. It took skill and luck to best them. Double Cross possessed all four.
Hardcover Book : 416 pages
Publisher: Crown Publishers Inc./Random House ( July 31, 2012 )
Item #: 13-599131
Product Dimensions: 6.25 x 9.25 inches
Product Weight: 26.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
A very thorough book with much info. It is very well written and full of great charaters. It is my first book by Ben MacIntyre. He is a very good writer. This book shows he has put much research into the subject. Anyone interested in History and the plans for D-Day would surely enjoy this one.
Reviewer: Mary B
This is the third book that I have read by Ben McIntyre, and I can only say that his quality of research and writing are excellent. He and Richard Evans are two current British historians whose books I would purchase sight unseen.
If you've read Anthony Cave Brown's Bodyguard of Lies you already know the story of the Twenty Committee and its use of German double agents and impersonators to fool the German intelligence agencies into believing that they had a large and active espionage presence in the British Isles during WWII. This book pursues the personal stories of the most important agents and does so in compelling fashion. This book is worth reading just for the story of Johann Jebsen, a dilletante playboy who may have been one of the bravest men ever to face the horrors of Gestapo torture.
I simply can't rate a book higher than this one.