Cold War Spymaster: The Legacy of Guy Liddell, Deputy Director of MI5

Cold War Spymaster: The Legacy of Guy Liddell, Deputy Director of MI5

by Nigel West


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Guy Liddell was the Director of MI5’s counter-espionage B Division throughout the Second World War, during which he wrote a confidential personal diary. Within its pages details of virtually every important event that had any intelligence significance during the conflict were recorded.

Those recently declassified diaries, which were edited by Nigel West, have been followed by a postwar series which cover the period from the German surrender until Liddell’s sudden resignation in May 1953. These eight years of the early Cold War contain many disturbing secrets, such as the cache of incriminating Nazi documents which was supposed to be destroyed by the SS. When these were recovered intact the British government went to considerable lengths to keep their contents from being disclosed, for they provided proof of the Duke of Windsor’s contact, through a Portuguese intermediary, with the enemy during the crucial period in 1940 when the ex-king declared himself ready to fly back from the Bahamas and be restored to the throne. One of Liddell’s first tasks, at the request of Buckingham Palace, was to retrieve and suppress the damaging material.

Liddell’s diaries were never intended for publication and are therefore filled with indiscretions that shed new light on MI5 investigations that he supervised after his promotion to Deputy Director-General.

Many in Whitehall anticipated that Liddell would become Director-General but, as these pages reveal, he had employed Anthony Blunt as his trusted personal assistant, had found it hard to accept the evidence of Kim Philby’s treachery, and had maintained an unwise friendship with Guy Burgess. Nevertheless, despite Liddell’s manifest failings, and his reluctance to believe in the disloyalty of men he regarded as friends, he was probably the single most influential British intelligence officer of his era.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781526736222
Publisher: Pen and Sword
Publication date: 09/19/2018
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

NIGEL WEST is an intelligence expert and critically-acclaimed author. Such is his depth of knowledge in these fields that The Sunday Times noted that, 'His information is often so precise that many people believe he is the unofficial historian of the secret services. His books are peppered with deliberate clues to potential front-page stories.’ In 1989 Nigel was voted 'The Experts' Expert' by The Observer.

Read an Excerpt


The Duke of Windsor

On 24 August 1945 Guy Liddell described an encounter with the King's private secretary, Sir Alan Lascelles, who had expressed anxiety about a cache of microfilmed secret documents from the Reich Foreign Ministry which had been recovered on 14 May from Muhlhausen in Thuringia where they had been buried by Karl von Loesch, one of Hitler's interpreters.

Loesch had disclosed the existence of the material to a British officer, Colonel Robert C. Thomson, who, with his American colleague Gardner C. Carpenter, was also a member of the Combined Intelligence Objectives Sub-Committee (CIOS). The organization's purpose was to find the scientists and technicians who had worked on the Reich's advanced industrial projects and recover their equipment. Although the Foreign Ministry's archive was slightly out of CIOS's ambit, it would turn out to be of immense political value.

Before the war Thomson had been a Foreign Office interpreter, qualified in French, German, Spanish, Russian and Polish, and had travelled the world as a King's Messenger, one of the elite couriers employed to carry sensitive documents to and from diplomatic missions overseas. Thomson's role in Germany was to trace and recover the Reich's technical treasures before they fell into Soviet hands, which had brought him to the Schönberg estate in Thuringia where, under von Loesch's direction, he had visited a property occupied by the US 5th Armored Division, to find a pine forest and dig up a metal canister containing microfilms of the records of former German and Japanese embassies and consulates at Tsingtao, Chefoo, Hankow, Yokohama, Vienna, Berlin and Hamburg, and the Manchurian legation to Rome and, more significantly, microfilm copies of Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop's secretariat covering the period March 1938 to June 1943. The find, amounting to 9,725 pages, was of enormous political and historical importance because the microfilm included the only documentary evidence of the secret supplementary protocol to the 1939 Nazi–Soviet Pact made between Molotov and Ribbentrop. For years the Soviets had denied the existence of any such pact, but Loesch's treasure trove included two treaties that defined Soviet and German 'spheres of interest in Eastern Europe'. The first agreement, signed on 23 August 1939 as a secret protocol, or annex, to a non-aggression pact signed the same day, assigned Latvia and Estonia to the Soviets and Lithuania to the Germans. A second protocol, signed on 28 September 1939, transferred Lithuania to the Soviet sphere.

As von Loesch, formerly a racing driver, explained to Thomson, his mother had been English and he had been born in London in 1880. He held the SS rank of Untersturmführer, and had been questioned by the Gestapo following the 20 July 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler. He had fallen under suspicion because of his links to the plotters, but he had survived interrogation at Hagenberg Castle, near Linz.

While most of the records of the Foreign Ministry, the Auswärtiges Amt, amounting to 400 tons, had been stored in a pair of castles, at Degenershausen and Meisdorf in the Harz mountains, inside the designated Soviet zone, the top-secret archive had been entrusted to von Loesch who had been ordered to supervise its destruction. Instead, Loesch had handed Thomson a letter addressed to Duncan Sandys, Winston Churchill's son-in-law who was then Minister of Works, explaining that he had been up at Oxford with him. Soon afterwards he was interviewed by Bill Cavendish-Bentinck, then Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC). Evidently, during this encounter von Loesch had expressed his desire to travel to London, and Cavendish-Bentinck discussed this with Liddell, who noted on 30 May 1945:

Bill Cavendish-Bentinck rang me up about the case of Carl von Loesch who was formerly attaché to Ribbentrop's dienststelle in this country. He has come into possession of the secret archives of the German Foreign Office. They had been photographed and at the last moment it was decided to burn them. Von Loesch managed to bury them and the SD who were doing the job merely burned the empty boxes thinking they were burning the archives. The films are now in this country and von Loesch's presence is required to elucidate them. He is by birth a British subject. I explained to Cavendish-Bentinck that if we once got him here we might not be able to get him out again and he might be an embarrassment. He is going to find out whether by virtue of his service in the German Army von Loesch loses his British nationality, or whether he would be liable to prosecution as a renegade. In actual fact, we should not proceed against a character of this kind but his presence here might cause difficulties.

On 1 June 1945 Cavendish-Bentinck wrote a memorandum for the Foreign Office regarding von Loesch's wish to come to England:

We have decided not to bring over to this country Karl von Loesch who provided us with these microfilms. If he was landed in this country he could remain here and could apply for a writ of habeas corpus. On the ground that he is a natural born British subject. We could counter this by warning him that in this case he is a traitor and that a noose will be placed round his neck, but it would be inconvenient and might give rise to publicity. He will be further questioned in Germany.

Soon after the meeting with Cavendish-Bentinck, von Loesch was allowed to move from the Russian zone into the American zone, and was granted the privileges of possessing a car, a motorcycle and a motorized bicycle, and sufficient fuel to run them. At a time of severe restrictions and petrol rationing, these were unusual concessions made to an SS officer, and would be the source of considerable friction between the military component of the British documents team led by Thomson, which consisted of five officers and eleven other ranks, and the group of seven civilians headed by Carpenter. The principal cause of the tension was a volume of 450 pages which, having been taken by the US Counter-Intelligence Corps (CIC) to Marberg Castle, would be referred to privately as 'the Windsor file', one section of the Ribbentrop most-secret records which were excluded from the copying process underway at Marburg so both Allies could share the windfall.

Frustrated by Thomson's obfuscation, the Americans arrested Loesch on 17 August, on the authority of a new directive about the treatment of Nazis issued the previous month, and placed him in solitary confinement. When interrogated by the head of the CIC in Marburg, Loesch admitted having been a Nazi since joining the Party in 1933, and it was concluded that Thomson had given him access to US Army gasoline and had advised him not to mention his SS status. Outraged, Carpenter commented to General Eisenhower's senior political adviser Robert Murphy that 'I cannot but believe that with respect to von Loesch he is acting on instructions from above.'

Thomson arranged for part of Loesch's cache to be flown to the Secret Intelligence Service's (SIS) technical branch at Whaddon Hall, in Buckinghamshire, where a copy was made of all the microfilms. Crucially, they were found to contain both correspondence and records of conversations between Hitler or Ribbentrop and leading foreign statesmen, and some of the content would have explosive implications, especially for the British monarchy. Having been declared authentic on 31 May by the Foreign Office's historical adviser, Ernest Llewellyn Woodward, the British government sought to prevent copies reaching the French or the Soviets who, under the terms of the four powers occupation, were entitled to see all captured documents. On 23 May Cavendish-Bentinck advised that 'we should hold hard as regards informing the French and Soviet Government of the discovery', adding that 'the Soviet Government have never informed us of any discovery that they have ever made and I do not see why we need show such zeal in informing them'.

Finally, under some pressure, the Foreign Office reluctantly agreed that the von Loesch material should be given to the US State Department, but insisted that it should not be shown to the US military government in Germany. Murphy then protested to his British counterpart, Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick, which led the British ambassador in Washington, Lord Halifax, to lobby Edward Stettinius when they met in San Francisco on 31 May at the inauguration of the United Nations. Stettinius acquiesced, and the embassy in London was instructed the very next day to drop Murphy's complaint. Murphy himself would not become aware that he had been outmanoeuvred for another ten days, when he was informed during a visit to London.

Although the Soviets would always deny the existence of the secret protocols, there was corroboration found in the handwritten notes of Dr Paul Otto Schmidt, Hitler's senior interpreter. Whereas Schmidt's papers were limited to his original draft notes or memoranda on discussions with foreign statesmen, the value of von Loesch's version is that they were the final, retyped papers seen by Hitler. However, when the less sensitive Schmidt documents were scheduled to be sent to London, Murphy, convinced that there was evidence of 'conspiracy and a gross negligence or both' intervened to block the transfer, and on 22 June Cavendish-Bentinck minuted:

When I was at SHAEF last week Mr Murphy again complained to me with some vehemence that copies of the Top Secret German documents found by Colonel Thomson were being withheld from him. I suspect that Mr Murphy thought that I was responsible for this ... Mr Murphy was not satisfied and maintained that he was entitled to a copy of these and any other German documents found in Germany which he might desire. My impression of Mr Murphy, to whom I took rather a dislike, was that he could not find this grievance he would look for another.

Just when the British felt that the Windsor file had been suppressed, General Eisenhower stepped in unexpectedly, and in September demanded that 'the original documents dealing with relations between Great Britain and Germany between June and December 1940' should be sent to SHAEF. An order signed by General Edward C. Betts secured the file, but when Thomson attempted to obtain its return he learned that he had been pre-empted by the Foreign Office which had recovered it from John Winant, the ambassador in London. Indeed, the Foreign Office had extracted an undertaking from the new Secretary of State, James Byrnes, that the Windsor file would not be mentioned at the Nuremburg trials, and the British embassy was told by Dean Acheson in October 1945:

The British Government is assured, however, that the Department of State will take all possible precautions to prevent any publicity with respect to the documents in its possession relative to the Duke of Windsor without prior consultation with the British Government.

Meanwhile, as the American occupation authorities demanded access to the von Loesch collection, Guy Liddell was consulted by Buckingham Palace:

I saw Tommy Lascelles at the Travellers Club last night. He asked me to go back with him after dinner and take a look at certain papers on which he wanted advice. These papers were in fact German Foreign Office telegrams which had been found at Marburg. Presumably they were microfilms which Karl von Loesch had taken out of their boxes and buried in the ground. The order was finally given to have them destroyed but in fact the SD unwittingly had destroyed only the boxes. The telegrams in question were dated about June–July 1940 and sent by Eberhard von Stohrer and Oswald von Hoyningen-Huene, the German ambassadors in Madrid and Lisbon respectively, to Ribbentrop. There were also some from Ribbentrop to the ambassadors and one either to or from Otto Abetz. The fact that Abetz had something to do with the scheme subsequently revealed in the telegrams might suggest that Charles Bedaux was behind the whole thing. The telegrams showed that the Germans had made a very determined effort to lure the Duke of Windsor back into Spain from Portugal and to prevent him from taking up the post that had been offered to him in the Bahamas. The Germans never appeared in the picture but through the Spanish Foreign Minister and the Spanish Minister of the Interior they sent agents to the Duke who was staying in Lisbon as the guest of Esperito Santo Silva, the head of the bank of that name which of course is known to us as an agency for the transmission of funds to German agents. Various statements are attributed to the Duke by these agents which are not of a very savoury kind. Although it seems doubtful that the Duke was scheming for his own restoration it is fairly clear that he expressed the view, which I understand he has expressed elsewhere, that the whole war was a mistake and that if he had been King it would never have happened. He clearly rather felt himself in the role of mediator, if his country had finally collapsed, but he did not think the moment opportune for any sort of intervention. He seemed to believe that he understood the German people far better than anyone else. The Germans went to very great lengths to persuade him not to embark for the Bahamas and Walter Schellenberg, who was in Lisbon at the time, was reporting to the ambassador and organising acts of intimidation such as the sending of anonymous letters with bouquets of flowers to the Duchess warning her that the offer of the appointment in the Bahamas was merely a plot by the British to do away with him.

The Duchess's maid was allowed to go to Paris to collect things from the Duke's flat and the Germans intended to get the Spaniards to delay her return for as long as they could. Meanwhile Walter Monckton was sent out to persuade him to leave at the earliest moment, a matter in which he was ultimately successful. Before the Duke left he fixed up, according to the telegrams, some kind of code with Espirito Santo Silva in order that he might fly back to Portugal from Florida if his intervention was required. It was further stated that about 15 August a telegram had been received from the Bahamas by Espirito Santo asking whether the moment had arrived. My advice to Tommy was to check up as far as possible the telegrams, some of which would be verifiable from records; this would enable him to get some sort of appreciation of the reliability of the reports which were ultimately reaching the Germans. I warned him that in our experience agents in Spain and Portugal had throughout the war shown a strong tendency to report to their masters precisely what they thought their masters would like to hear. Apart from this, the information in the telegrams had probably been subjected to translation into two or three different languages where there was generally a fairly wide scope for error. On our side we could, if he liked, interrogate Walter Schellenberg who was under our control at Camp 020 on the part that he had played in Lisbon. This might of course lead to him pouring out the whole and the information would become available to the interrogator. I explained that the interrogators had to deal with highly confidential matters and that we could I thought ensure absolute discretion. He agreed that this should be done. The other enquiry that we could make would be to take a look at any telegrams sent to the Banco Espirito Santo around 15 August 1940 since in the light of our personal knowledge we might find the code telegram referred to. I explained that we had been interested in this bank for other reasons and that there might be a record in our files. I gather that Censorship obtained during the early days of the war a telegram from Madame Bedaux to the Duchess in the Bahamas which seemed to be of a singularly compromising nature. There were a lot of blanks in this telegram but the sense of it seemed to be that the question of either the Duke's mediation or of his restoration was discussed at some previous date and Madame Bedaux was anxious to know whether he was now prepared to say yes or no.

I gather that the Duke is coming here on a short visit to his mother in the near future and that he will ultimately settle at Cap d'Antibes, although various jobs for him have been under consideration, such as the Governorship of Madras and ambassador in Washington etc for all of which he would seem to be singularly unsuited. Ernest Bevin is au fait with all the information given above and is endeavouring to recover the copies and films of the telegrams in question since, if by any chance they leaked to the American press, a very serious situation would be created.

Thus, according to Lascelles, the concern was not so much the nature of the Duke's indiscreet remarks about the wisdom of war with Germany, but the detail of what, if anything, was stated in a coded telegram on or about 15 August 1940, a date known as 'Black Thursday' because, at the height of the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe had planned 'Eagle Day', when German bombers had concentrated their raids on airfields in a strategy intended to eliminate the RAF's ability to defend British airspace. First the radar stations at Rye, Dover and Foreness were put out of action, and then the attack, with fighters and bombers operating from bases in France and Norway, hit the RAF airfields at Manston and Marlesham Heath. The German tactic had been to draw the air defences to the south, and then strike at airfields in Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire.


Excerpted from "Cold War Spymaster"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Nigel West.
Excerpted by permission of Pen and Sword Books Ltd.
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Table of Contents

Author's Note,
Abbreviations and Glossary,
Dramatis Personae,
Chronology of Events,
I The Duke of Windsor,
III Klaus Fuchs,
IV Konstantin Volkov,
VII Exposure,
Appendix I: Walter Krivitsky on Soviet Spies in the Foreign Office,
Appendix II: The Prime Minister's Brief, 1978,
Source Notes,

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