Magazine article History Today

British Intelligence and the Nazi Recruit: Stephen Tyas Uncovers a Skeleton in the Closeted World of Espionage

Magazine article History Today

British Intelligence and the Nazi Recruit: Stephen Tyas Uncovers a Skeleton in the Closeted World of Espionage

Article excerpt

IN THE UNITED STATES IN 1998, President Bill Clinton signed the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act, and as a result several million pages of Second World War intelligence material began to be declassified. A team of US historians and intelligence officials began the job of sorting the material to be placed in the public domain. Six years later the completion of the task reveals a great deal of information on the recruitment and use of Nazi war criminals by Allied intelligence agencies.

Some of the recently declassified US material came originally from British intelligence sources. One interesting case in particular relates to the British recruitment of SS-Major Horst Kopkow. Two declassified MI5 files on Kopkow released to the National Archives at Kew in May are in response to the US declassification two years earlier.

A former senior Gestapo officer based in German national security police headquarters, Kopkow was the department chief initially responsible for counter-sabotage and counterespionage against Allied intelligence agencies, especially, but not exclusively, Communist Soviet intelligence operations in Germany. In May 1942, his responsibilities were extended by order of SS General Reinhard Heydrich, head of the entire Gestapo apparatus and head of the German administration for Bohemia and Moravia based in Prague. Kopkow was named the central figure for the fight against Soviet parachute agents being dropped into Czechoslovakia and Poland. Just two weeks later Heydrich was assassinated and died at the hands of Czech patriots trained in Britain and parachuted into Czechoslovakia by the RAF, Within the next two weeks Kopkow's responsibilities were extended to include action against all parachute agents dropped into German-occupied Europe whether from the East or the West.

This set the scene for the later execution of several hundred captured Allied agents parachuted (or shipped) into Western Europe by SOE and MI6; and several hundred more Soviet parachute agents. The man responsible for these deaths was SS-Major Horst Kopkow, known in German terms as a 'desk murderer': he did not pull the trigger but certainly was involved with the orders for execution.

One of many ruses the Gestapo used to great effect in France and Holland was the radio playback game. SOE agents needed to pass information back to London and this was invariably carried out by coded radio transmissions. The Germans employed direction-finding methods to track down the radio operators. Should the operators he found when transmitting it was easy enough to seize their cypher codes or obtain them by interrogation. Despite efforts by individual captured agents to withhold additional safety codes, the Gestapo began playing back radio transmissions to London with false information. They were especially successful in the radio game from Holland (Operation North Pole) but less so from France. The major success with radio games as far as the Gestapo was concerned is that messages for help and assistance to other Allied agents led London to provide an address for another agent who was immediately arrested by the Gestapo, and one address led to another. SS-Major Kopkow was informed and consulted over every capture.

Similar radio playback games were carried out against agents from Moscow, many of whom were captured in Germany itself: Kopkow admitted to his British captors that by the end of the war he had over a hundred playback games with Moscow. …

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