The Double Cross System

IMG Over the years I have been an avid reader of "spy books". Le Carre has always been one of my favorite authors, and I recently enjoyed reading John Banville's book The Untouchable. The Double Cross System, by J. C. Masterman, is an account of an operation running double agents during WW 2.  It is an historical account and avoids sensationalism. Nevertheless we do get some insight into the personalities of the agents and the workings of the agencies which controlled them. Masterman always sees the agents as part of a larger picture. On the one hand the questions which the Germans asked the agents gave the British controllers insight into the enemy's mindset. On the other hand, the British were able to feed information to the Germans which reinforced the value and trust of the agents. That the Germans trusted the reports of the agents was demonstrated by troop deployments on D-Day and the under ranging of the V1 and V2 rocket attacks on London in the later stages of the war.

The book was originally published in 1972 outside Britain. The Foilo Society edition was published in 2007 and my copy is the 2010 fourth printing. It is bound in three-quarter buckram with a paper front board. The book is illustrated with photographs, drawings, and other items from archives and museums.

The Author

Sir John Cecil Masterman was an accomplished academic and sometime crime novelist when he was recruited into MI 5  at the outbreak of WW 2.  After the war he resumed his academic career, and eventually became the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University.


Masterman paints a picture where his double agents are part of a broader plan to learn more about the enemy and then deceive  him. Although there is no substitute for reading the book  there is a wikipedia summary here

The Agents

A couple of the more colourful agents are ZIGZAG and GARBO

Both ZIGZAG and GARBO got awarded Iron Crosses by Germany for their "help" during the war. GARBO also got an MBE.



A fascinating book. When it was published in 1972  an important strand in the story, the  role played by the breaking of the German cipher codes, had not yet been released from secrecy. It would have been interesting to have that information incorporated. Nevertheless, if you are interested in espionage, counter espionage, or WW2 military history this book is well worth a read.


Next Post

Almost certainly Jorrocks Jaunts and Jollities, which is a "back to the '40s (and '50s)"  trip. The post may go some way into clearing up a little mystery mentioned in Folio 60.



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