Spies, Counterspies, and Deception

The D-Day invasion was literally won before the first paratrooper jumped out of a plane or the first landing craft bumped up against the beach.

The absolute supremacy of intelligence work of the Allies, usually thought of by the Ultra program decrypting German signals, was even more dominant than most people think.

Between 1940-1945, British counter-intelligence, better known to most people as MI-5, ran EVERY single German agent in England as a double agent. ALL OF THEM. This is a stunning achievement to consider in wartime.

This book reads like, well, a spy novel. It seems unbelievable, but is absolutely true. The ability of British MI-5 to control what intelligence the Germans received about the planning and buildup to D-Day no doubt provided a critical margin in the early days of the invasion when the Allied forces were at their most vulnerable.

Moreover, the spies England employed were not what one would see as the cloak and dagger types. A Yugoslav playboy, a French lesbian, a Polish triple agent, a Spanish pathological liar--about the only thing these double agents had in common is they formed the Island of Misfit Spies, all under the brilliant direction of a small team of British officers that were equally as eclectic and totally dedicated to helping the Allies land in France.

History has made the D-Day landings seem an inevitable success, but the view from the Allies was far different in early 1944. Previous Allied landings had been near disasters, as a vigorous German counterattack nearly threw the Allies into the sea at Salerno, and the Allied landing at Anzio had been bottled up on the beach head and remained stranded until a land offensive forced the Germans to withdraw.

The Germans knew the Allies were landing in France, so the inevitable choices became a landing in Normandy or the closer area of the Pas De Calais. The Allies launched a massive campaign to make the Germans think the landing was coming in Calais...and it was wildly successful beyond even the most optimistic hope of the Allied spy masters weaving an elaborate deception involving spies, radio deception, dummy armies, and a host of lies and half-truths.

The story of these spies is fascinating. Each of them had their own motivation and foibles, and many were far from likable. But under the steady hand of MI-5, they kept an entire German Army in the wrong place for over a month, allowing the Allies to buildup their forces and eventually break out of the Normandy beach heads and race across France.

This is an important part of the D-Day story that needs to be told...the Allies totally defeated the Germans in the intelligence war, and it did have a decisive effect at the most crucial moment of the European War. All of these folks are now dead, but it's great that their story is finally being told.