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Hitler's Spy Chief

Hitler's Spy Chief

4.0 2
by Richard Bassett

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How Hitler's spy chief sabotaged the German war effort.

Wilhelm Canaris was appointed by Hitler to head the Abwehr (the German secret service) 18 months after the Nazis came to power. But Canaris turned against the Fuhrer and the Nazi regime, believing that Hitler would start a war Germany could not win. In 1938 he was involved in an attempted coup,


How Hitler's spy chief sabotaged the German war effort.

Wilhelm Canaris was appointed by Hitler to head the Abwehr (the German secret service) 18 months after the Nazis came to power. But Canaris turned against the Fuhrer and the Nazi regime, believing that Hitler would start a war Germany could not win. In 1938 he was involved in an attempted coup, undermined by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. In 1940 he sabotaged the German plan to invade England, and fed General Franco vital information that helped him keep Spain out of the war.

For years he played a dangerous double game, desperately trying to keep one step ahead of the Gestapo. The SS chief, Heinrich Himmler, became suspicious of the Abwehr and by 1944, when Abwehr personnel were involved in the attempted assassination of Hitler, he had the evidence to arrest Canaris himself. Canaris was executed a few weeks before the end of the war.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
A brief and readable biography—Literary Review

This book describes, in fascinating detail, the shady and complex workings of the international intelligence world, and the amazing ways in which Canaris tried to subvert Hitler, while apparently serving his loyally.

Fascinating—Michael Burleigh

Publishers Weekly
A WWI hero, Adm. Wilhelm Canaris specialized in intelligence, remained in the tiny, postwar German navy, and became Hitler’s director of military intelligence in 1935. Unlike the typical thuggish Nazi, he was urbane and sophisticated, and former London Times correspondent Bassett presents an intensely researched and admiring biography. Canaris, certain Hitler was leading Germany to disaster, turned against Hitler in 1938, attempting repeatedly to sabotage the fuehrer’s military efforts. During the Munich crisis, Canaris and other plotters promised to overthrow Hitler provided Britain threatened war over Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain’s appeasement wrecked the scheme. In 1940, Canaris’s advice encouraged Franco to deny the Wehrmacht passage through Spain to capture Gibraltar. After France’s defeat, he dampened interest in a cross-channel invasion with exaggerated estimates of British defenses In 1944 an increasingly suspicious Hitler dismissed him. Although not part of the failed July 20, 1944, assassination attempt, Canaris was arrested and later executed.. A likable Nazi official seems a contradiction, but Canaris qualifies, and Bassett delivers a fascinating account of his courageous, frustrated, and ultimately tragic life. (July)
Kirkus Reviews
A London journalist makes a convincing case for the quietly subversive pro-British diplomacy of the head of the Abwehr. Bassett portrays Admiral Wilhelm Canaris as a German gentleman of the old school who grew to admire the might and prowess of the British navy. Although he was an eager Nazi apparatchik at the beginning, he began to realize the horrors of Hitler's regime and distance himself from them. Canaris started his career with the Imperial German Navy, and he cut his teeth during the Anglo-German naval race of World War I. He showed a flair for intelligence work, with impeccable English and Spanish, and developed connections within the anti-communist segment consolidating in Germany after the war. He found himself in goodly stead with the rising National Socialists led by Hitler, who was obsessed with the British secret service. Canaris' old navy colleague and protégé Reinhard Heydrich took over the German Security Service and became a close ally and dangerous rival. Canaris' philosophy in leading the Abwehr seemed to be to "run with the party" while cultivating a degree of "independent thought and action." This ultimately led to his arrest and hanging for treason in April 1945. Bassett carefully considers Canaris' rather uneven record, from his pressure on Hitler to support Franco during the Spanish Civil War, and ability to provide Franco with the key intelligence required to withstand Hitler's wooing of Spain to the Axis side, to his subtle foiling of what he considered repugnant Gestapo activity in Poland and Russia. Bassett's thorough work spotlights this relatively unknown character in the Nazi hierarchy. A welcome addition to the war record and a solid elucidation of the Nazi spy system.

Product Details

Orion Publishing Group, Limited
Publication date:
Cassell Military Paperbacks Series
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.25(w) x 7.75(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Richard Bassett has worked in the City for the last fifteen years advising several of Europe's largest companies. Before then he worked in Central Europe for many years, first as a professional horn player and then as a staff correspondent of the London Times in Vienna, Rome and Warsaw, where his dispatches covered the end of the cold war and gave early warning of the impending disintegration of Yugoslavia. He is married with two children and divides his time between London and other parts of Europe.

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Hitler's Spy Chief 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
In-Quest More than 1 year ago
The book tries to explain a man of mystery. One of the reasons he is a man of mystery is his line of work. Before and during WWII he ran an intelligence agency in Germany. In keeping with his line of work he was mostly a behind the scene mover and shaker of political and military events running up to WWII and during it. As with most high level intelligence men he had a gift for reading people and was usually intelligent enough to outsmart most he went up against. The background of his story, being one of the few who worked personally with Hitler, makes his story interesting enough to write a book about him. However, it is the idea that the author is advancing throughout his book that he was disillusioned with Hitler and the Nazi Party that makes the story all the more historically important. What does a man do who loves his country but hates most of those who are controlling it? What would you do and what did he do?
Guest More than 1 year ago
Abwehr was the German secret service until it was merged into the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the intelligence branch of the SS during World War II. At the center of Abwehr was Wilhelm Canaris, whose career in the military and intelligence spanned both world wars (he rose to the rank of admiral). His story is ably told by Richard Bassett in a concise and informative biography. This is a man whose clandestine life altered the course of World War II. Picked in January 1935 to be chief of Military Intelligence, Canaris (at first attracted to National Socialism) grew to detest Hitler and spent much of his energy undermining the war effort. He hoped somehow to bring about a negotiated end to the war. Roosevelt¿s understandable demand of unconditional surrender ended all chances of negotiations. Bassett is masterful in weighing his judgments of events and refusing to speculate beyond reasonable interpretation of the evidence. He conveys Canaris¿ history in evenhanded terms, admiring his work when warranted and criticizing his character when needed: ¿The temptation to beatify must be resisted . . . he was for far too long a `believer.¿¿ Bassett uses previously unexamined material from British and German archives to construct a fascinating history of this hidden man.