Thursday, November 7, 2019

Helen Fry's "The Walls Have Ears"

Helen Fry is the author of The London Cage and over twenty books focusing on intelligence and POWs in World War II. She consulted on the docudrama Spying on Hitler’s Army and appeared in BBC’s Home Front Heroes.

Fry applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, The Walls Have Ears: The Greatest Intelligence Operation of World War II, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Walls Have Ears lands at the very heart of the book’s narrative and a good example of the book’s content. This page begins the extraordinary saga of the German generals and their life in captivity in a stately house, Trent Park at Cockfosters on the outskirts of London. Page 99 narrates the arrival of the first German generals, Generals Cruwell and von Thoma, after capture in North Africa in May and November 1942. They were swiftly followed by 12 other senior commanders and generals after the surrender in North Africa in May 1943. At Trent Park they were treated according to their status as ‘military gentlemen’, but little did they realise that nothing in their surroundings was as it seemed. They were actually being held at the behest of British and American intelligence. Deep in the walls, hidden in plant pots and the billiards table were embedded microphones. The devices were wired back to a special listening room in the basement, known as the ‘M Room’, where teams of secret listeners were working in 12 hour shifts.

This was all part of an already elaborate and carefully orchestrated bugging operation of German prisoners that had begun in the Tower of London in September 1939. The prisoners were often given a ‘phoney’ interrogation, and believed the British were unbelievably stupid and incompetent. When they returned to their cellmate, they boasted about what they had not told the interrogating officer – all within earshot of the hidden microphones. The operation grew so rapidly that it moved to Trent Park at the end of 1939, and within 2 years had extra sites at Latimer House and Wilton Park, both outside London in Buckinghamshire. The clever deception, headed by MI6 spymaster Thomas Joseph Kendrick, became a massive intelligence-gathering factory that provided vital information for every campaign of the war. The volume of intelligence is staggering: from intelligence ahead of the Battle of Britain in 1940 and new enemy technology to night fighter strategy, new aircraft and fighting capability, U-boat operations and construction, detailed information on coastal defences ahead of D-Day, as well as the mass atrocities and concentration camps.

It was from the German Generals, tasked with keeping the Third Reich’s most closely guarded secrets, that the biggest intelligence coup came. They inadvertently gave away the existence and location of Hitler’s deadly V-weapons (V-1 and V-2) at Peenemünde on the Baltic coast. It led directly to the bombing of Peenemünde in August 1943 in Operation Crossbow on the orders of Prime Minister Winston Churchill. But British and American intelligence knew that to get this intelligence from them, the Generals had to be totally off guard if they were to speak freely within range of the microphones. What emerged is a seemingly outrageous scenario where they were wined and dined, looked after by a fake aristocrat ‘Lord Aberfeldy’, taken on trips to the posh restaurant of Simpsons in the Strand and given copious supplies of gin at the Ritz. It worked and they were were totally hood-winked. The frivolity and outlandish treatment of the Generals had one aim – to win the intelligence war. It is now recognised that this clandestine unit of spies shortened the war alongside Bletchley Park, and without it, the outcome of the war and restoration of democracy in Europe would have been very different.
Visit Helen Fry's website.

The Page 99 Test: The London Cage.

--Marshal Zeringue