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MI5 files made public today reveal the remarkable role of the Double Cross spy system in Hitler's defeat. Around 120 spies sent to Britain were captured and then 'turned' to become double agents working for the Allies.

Double Cross meant, according to one spymaster, that MI5 'ran the German espionage system in this country' during the war.

Here Mattew Hickley unveils tales of the brave and the bizarre from the files.


Nathalie Sergueiew :

It was the time when the Allies were preparing for the greatest seabourne invasion in history. On its success depended the liberation of Europe from the Nazis.

Then, weeks before D-Day, the titanic operation was put in potentially mortal danger by the fate of a spy's dog. Frisson was the beloved pet of double agent Nathalie Sergueiew, codename Treasure. According to MI5's Double Cross files, Treasure was highly-strung and troublesome. She was also invaluable in feeding false information to her German 'masters' which helped the invasion of Normandy succeed.

Yet, less than a month before the landings, Treasure threatened to 'blow' the delicate deception surrounding the location of the landings. Her motive was revenge for the death of Frisson, which she blamed on the British for failing to smuggle him to London from Gibraltar.

Her fit of temper could have undermined the entire invasion by leading the German High Command to move its feared Panzer tank regiments from Calais to Normandy, ready to beat the Allies back into the sea.

A French woman of Russian extraction, Treasure was recruited after the fall of France by German intelligence - the Abwehr - through a journalist friend. She was trained in espionage and sent to Britain via neutral Spain. But once in Madrid she went straight to the British Consulate and offered to work for the Allies. Unfortunately when she was taken to London, Frisson was left behind in Gibraltar.

In Britain she became a cornerstone of Double Cross, using written codes to send false intelligence back to Germany. She later travelled to Lisbon in Portugal to collect a radio transmitter from her spymaster Emile Kliemann. Treasure played a major part in Operation Fortitude - the scheme that convinced the Nazis that the invasion would be near Calais. It was to be the Double Cross system's finest hour. But in London all was not well.

Treasure's boyfriend in Gibraltar had reneged on a promise to help smuggle Frisson to Britain. Her MI5 handler Mary Sherer warned in a December 1943 memo : 'She is very upset about the absence of her dog, and has seriously threatened that if the dog does not arrive soon she will not any more. I am afraid her American boyfriend has let her down and has no intention of smuggling the dog over here. I am wondering whether we could get the Navy to help.'

With six months to go to D-day, MI5 learned that during a trip to Gibraltar Treasure had told boyfriend Kenneth Larson that she was working for MI5 - posing a huge risk to her cover and the whole deception.

'She said she had been very stupid, but she had fallen in love with Larson and he with her, and for some reason of her own, she had told him to see if he trusted her,' Sherer noted. Alarmed as it was, MI5 had little choice but to proceed with its plans. Then disaster. Treasure learned that Frisson had died in Gibraltar.

On May 17, 1944, less than a month before the invasion, she told MI5 she intended to blow the operation by sending messages to her German handlers omitting the codewords which told the Nazis her transmissions were genuine. Sherer reported : 'She confessed that her motive was revenge for the death of her dog for which she considered we were responsible.'

Although she changed her mind, MI5, unsurprisingly, no longer trusted her. By then, however, the Germans had been fooled over the Normandy landings. MI5 and Treasure were to part on bitter terms. She returned to liberated France where she threatened to publish her memoirs and denounced her former employers as 'gangsters'.

An exasperated Colonel TA Robertson noted in her file : 'I don't honestly think there is anything we can do with this wretched woman. She will always be a source of trouble to us, no matter what restrictions we impose on her - short of life imprisonment.'


Edward Chapman :

Of all the Double Cross agents, Edward Chapman was the most flamboyant and daring. Before the war, Chapman - codename Zig-Zag - was a deserter, fraudster, burglar, safe-cracker and sexual blackmailer. But the world of espionage was to make him a secret hero.

In 1940 he was in a Jersey jail when the Nazis arrived. He offered his services to the Abwehr which quickly spotted his talents - particularly his handsome looks and suave manner. He trained as a saboteur and spy, and was popular with Nazi officers who toasted him with champagne when he left in December 1942 to be parachuted into East Anglia.

But Chapman hated Germany, was desperate for adventure, and for once was ready to be honest. He gave himself up immediately and was rushed to London and the Double Cross HQ, which was run by the intelligence services' Twenty Committee - so called because the Roman numerals for 20, XX, form a double cross.

MI5 chiefs could not help but admire him. Camp 020's commandant wrote : 'Of fear he knows nothing. Adventure to Chapman is the breath of life. Given adventure he has the courage to achieve the unbelievable.' Chapman's mission was to sabotage the Mosquito bomber factory in Hatfield, Hertfordshire. MI5 went into overdrive, and staged an extraordinary mock explosion at the De Havilland plant.

His German spymasters were delighted. Back in occupied Europe he was greeted as a hero. The Abwehr gave him 110,000 marks, his own yacht and granted him freedom of Oslo. He was put to work training spies in Norway but, after D-day, he was parachuted into Britain again.

Zig-zag was once more hailed as a hero - this time by MI5 - and handed over masses of intelligence on Nazi agents in Britain. His spying career ended when he admitted telling a girlfriend in Norway about being a double agent. Although he trusted her, MI5 could not risk sending him back buy did pay him handsomely and quashed his criminal convictions. By 1945, the files reveal MI5 watching to see whether Zig-zag would return to his criminal past. Chapman became a health spa manager in Hertfordshire.

Harold Cole :

Harold Cole was a double agent who turned bad - at a huge human cost. A petty crook before the war, he escaped capture at Dunkirk and went to work for MI6 in France. But his 'excessive craving for women' led him to embezzle MI6 funds.

Caught by the Gestapo in 1942, he was 'turned' betraying at least 50 Resistance heroes most of whom were shot, including his own mistress. Cole was exposed in 1944 when seen at the Gestapo's Paris HQ in German uniform. But he later managed to convince the advancing U.S. army he was on their side and he was made a field intelligence officer, allowing him to build up a fortune in cash, cars, wine and weapons.

On the run after the war, Cole met his end in 1946 when he died in a gunfight with police at a Paris nightclub.

Arthur Owens :

Welsh engineer Arthur Owens - known as Snow - was the first Double Cross spy, helping MI5 to crack Germany's Enigma military codes. One of his Berlin-ordered missions was to oversee arms shipments to Welsh nationalists for an uprising to coincide with a Nazi invasion.

Snow, who was recruited by the Nazis before the war, was arrested here in 1939. He agreed to work as a double agent, and contacted his German handlers from jail. His false intelligence reports, encoded in France using Enigma and radioed to Berlin, were vital to the Bletchley Park codebreakers. Snow also helped capture numerous Nazi spies, including all those dropped by parachute or boat in England in 1940.

Mattew Hickley / The Daily Mail (UK) : 5th July 2001.

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