Farley Mowat and the V2

An interesting story on CBC.ca:

How author Farley Mowat smuggled a V2 rocket into Canada

A former Canadian intelligence officer believes author Farley Mowat carried out one of the most brazen acts by Canadian intelligence shortly following the Second World War.

Mowat, whose novels include Owls in the Family and Never Cry Wolf — was an officer with the Canadian military during WWII, then served with military intelligence after the war.

Major Harold Skaarup is a 40-year veteran of the Canadian Forces where he served as an intelligence officer. Since retiring in 2011, he has written numerous books on military history.

Skaarup tells The Current’s Matt Galloway of Mowat’s post-war escapades after being tasked with retrieving items of intelligence value from Europe.

Here is part of their conversation: 

Tell me about Captain Farley Mowat’s work with Canadian intelligence. When the Second World War ended… what was he doing?

He’d been serving with the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment as an infantry officer and was seconded to the Department of the Director of History and Heritage in Ottawa — technically, the intelligence people. He was given a very straightforward task with the war over in Germany: go over and find anything and everything of intelligence value that you think would be useful to the Canadian government and the forces and get it back to us. 

He set out… with a vengeance and he managed to get back seven hundred tons of captured material, tanks, guns, artillery, and most interestingly of all, the V2.

How did Farley Mowat find a V2 rocket?

It’s complicated, but to squeeze it down into bits and pieces — he’d been working with the Dutch resistance; they got word to him that there are a bunch of V2s located in central Germany. 

The British Army — 21st Army group in particular — came out and said no one else is to get these, a specific order. They did not want Canada to have this technology. [The order] hadn’t actually gone to print yet, and Farley’s CO got wind of this and he said, ‘See if you can get us one.’ 

He grabbed a young lieutenant, Mike Donovan, and Lieutenant Jim Hood, and he set out with a plan. They knew that there was a railway siding with about ten of these rockets on it, most of them being pretty shot up, but at least one was intact.

He knew that the British probably wouldn’t let him have it, but he came up with this plan. Mike Donovan, he takes a 30 litre demijohn of Coopers Gin, goes down with the Jeep and he intercepts the British soldiers guarding this trainload. And he manages to get them all singing and drinking, saying, “We know we’re not going to get a rocket from you, but let’s enjoy being comrades together.” 

While he’s doing that, Farley’s lieutenant, Jim Hood, sneaks around in the dark to the tail end of the railway tracks finds an intact V2. They’ve got a tractor trailer with them that was used for towing a submarine. They break the chains and they roll this V2 rocket off the doggone railway siding car onto the trailer and then barrel it on back to Holland.

Sounds like something out of a Steve McQueen film or something. 

Along the way, they’re calling all the guard postings saying, “We’ve got unexploded ordnance, we want to get this to the ocean, get out of the way.” And guards open the gates for them. 

So… now, there’s a problem. It doesn’t take long for the Brits to realize that of all these shot up V2s, the only one that’s intact is suddenly missing. So the hunt is on. 

Farley sees the thing being wheeled into a hangar where he’s based in Holland and he immediately gets down and he orders a bunch of crew to build a wooden conning tower and attach a gigantic propeller to this V2 rocket. And then they begin painting their brains out, slapping blue paint up and down and on the side of this thing there to make it look like a mini submarine.

 And then they drag it out in the woods and hide it while the Brits are looking for it. Eventually… they get it to Montreal and take a Valcartier, where they begin to take the thing apart. 

There’s a bit more at the link. I would be curious to learn the exact provenance of this story – Mowat did have a habit of making things up

Virginia Hall

Earlier this year I read Max Hastings’s Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945 (2004), an account of the war in Europe between Operation Market Garden in the west and the Warsaw Uprising in the east, and V-E Day. An American’s natural inclination is to glorify World War II, given that we forced an unconditional surrender on an enemy that turned out to be monstrously evil, but on the ground it was a sordid mess, and the main thing that I took away from the book is that I’m glad I wasn’t there. Nonetheless, there are plenty of stories of individual heroism to be told about various actors in World War II, including one Virginia Hall, whose new biography A Woman of No Importance was recently reviewed in the Daily Mail:

Miss Hall, was fluent in French, Italian and German when she went to work for the US foreign service before World War II but was invalided out of the service after a hunting accident in Turkey.

Her shotgun slipped from her grasp and as she grabbed it, it fired, blasting away her foot.

By the time she got to a hospital, gangrene had set in. To save her life, the surgeon had to amputate her left leg below the knee.

Always able to see the funny side of things, Miss Hall immediately named her wooden leg Cuthbert.

She was in Paris when war broke out in 1939 and joined the ambulance service.

When the Nazis invaded France in 1940, she fled to London, and with her language skills, was soon recruited by the SOE.

After training in the clandestine arts of killing, communications and security, she went to Vichy France to set up resistance networks under the cover of being a reporter for the New York Post.

After the November, 1942, North Africa invasion, German troops flooded into her area and things became too hot even for her.

She hiked on her artificial leg across the Pyrenees in the dead of winter to Spain.

During the journey she radioed London saying she was okay but Cuthbert was giving her trouble.

Forgetting this was her artificial leg, and knowing her value to the Allied cause, her commanders radioed back: ‘If Cuthbert troublesome eliminate him.’

Although I wonder if her attempt at infecting German officers with venereal disease (from the prostitutes she organized) didn’t violate the Geneva Protocol against biological warfare…

Read the whole thing.

Jeannie Rousseau de Clarens

From the New York Times:

Jeannie de Clarens, an amateur spy who passed a wealth of information to the British about the development of the V-1 and V-2 rockets during World War II and survived stays in three concentration camps for her activities, died on Aug. 23 in Montaigu, southeast of Nantes, France. She was 98.

The death was confirmed by her son, Pascal.

In 1943 Jeannie Rousseau, as she was then known, was an interpreter in Paris for an association of French businessmen, representing their interests and helping them negotiate contracts with the German occupiers. She was young and attractive. She spoke flawless German. She was a favorite with the German officers, who were completely unaware that the woman they knew as Madeleine Chauffour had been reporting to a French intelligence network, the Druids, organized by the Resistance.

Getting wind of a secret weapons project, she made it her mission to be on hand when the topic was discussed by the Germans, coaxing information through charm and guile.

“I teased them, taunted them, looked at them wide-eyed, insisted that they must be mad when they spoke of the astounding new weapon that flew over vast distances, much faster than any airplane,” she told The Washington Post in 1998. “I kept saying, ‘What you are telling me cannot be true!’ I must have said that 100 times.”

One officer, eager to convince her, let her look at drawings of the rockets.

Most of what she heard was incomprehensible. But, blessed with a near-photographic memory, she repeated it in detail to her recruiter, Georges Lamarque, at a safe house on the Left Bank.

In London, intelligence analysts, led by Reginald V. Jones, marveled at the quality of the information they were receiving from Paris, notably a startling document called the Wachtel Report. Delivered in September 1943, it identified the German officer in charge of the rocket program, Col. Max Wachtel; gave precise details about operations at the testing plant in Peenemünde, on the Baltic coast in Pomerania; and showed planned launch locations along the coast from Brittany to the Netherlands.

Relying on this information, the British organized several bombing raids against the plant, which delayed development of the V-2 and spared untold thousands of lives in London.

In “1940-1944: The Secret History of the Atlantic Wall” (2003), the historian Rémy Desquesnes called the Wachtel Report a “masterpiece in the history of intelligence gathering.” When Mr. Jones asked who had sent the report, he was told that the source was known only by the code name Amniarix, and that “she was one of the most remarkable young women of her generation.”

Read the whole thing.

Zimmerman Telegram

Notice of a significant anniversary from the BBC:

Why was the Zimmermann Telegram so important?

By Gordon Corera
Security correspondent

Tuesday marks the 100th anniversary of a remarkable success for British intelligence: but one that involved spying on the United States and then conspiring with its senior officials to manipulate public opinion in America.

On the morning of 17 January 1917, Nigel de Grey walked into his boss’s office in Room 40 of the Admiralty, home of British code-breakers.
It was obvious to Reginald “Blinker” Hall that his subordinate was excited.

“Do you want to bring America into the war?” de Grey asked.

The answer was obvious. Everyone knew that America entering World War One to fight the Germans would help break the stalemate.

“Yes, my boy. Why?” Hall answered.

“I’ve got something here which – well, it’s a rather astonishing message which might do the trick if we could use it,” de Grey said.

The previous day, the German foreign minister, Arthur Zimmermann, had sent a message to the German ambassador to Washington.

The message used a code that had been largely cracked by British code-breakers, the forerunners of those who would later work at Bletchley Park.

Zimmermann had sent instructions to approach the Mexican government with what seems an extraordinary deal: if it was to join any war against America, it would be rewarded with the territories of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

“This may be a very big thing, possibly the biggest thing in the war. For the present, not a soul outside this room is to be told anything at all,” Hall said after reading it.

Part of the problem was how the message had been obtained.

German telegraph cables passing through the English Channel had been cut at the start of the War by a British ship.

So Germany often sent its messages in code via neutral countries.

Germany had convinced President Wilson in the US that keeping channels of communication open would help end the War, and so the US agreed to pass on German diplomatic messages from Berlin to its embassy in Washington.

The message – which would become known as the Zimmermann Telegram – had been handed, in code, to the American Embassy in Berlin at 15:00 on Tuesday 16 January.

The American ambassador had queried the content of such a long message and been reassured it related to peace proposals.

By that evening, it was passing through another European country and then London before being relayed to the State Department in Washington.

From there, it would eventually arrive at the German embassy on 19 January to be decoded and then recoded and sent on via a commercial Western Union telegraphic office to Mexico, arriving the same day.

Thanks to their interception capability process, Britain’s code-breakers were reading the message two days before the intended recipients (although they initially could not read all of it).

A coded message about attacking the US was actually passed along US diplomatic channels.

And Britain was spying on the US and its diplomatic traffic (something it would continue to do for another quarter of a century).

The cable was intelligence gold-dust and could be used to persuade America to join the War.

But how could Britain use it – when to do so would reveal both that they were breaking German codes and that they had obtained the message by spying on the very country it was hoping to become its ally?

Find out at the link.