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In my youth, long before there was cable TV (lordy, how did we survive!) we used to watch lots of old movies. While the prime time movies were 'current' and color, the afternoon or late night movies were often black and white. And a lot of them were war movies. Sink the Bismark, Run Silent, Run Deep, The Man Who Never Was, and countless others. You have to remember that this was just 20 years after the war ended, so the stories were not that ancient.
In the mid-70s, the Allies began to declassify many of their intelligence files, so we learned of the Ultra Machine and this altered the history that Hollywood had told us in those movies. In some way, they robbed the stories of their heroism - it wasn't just guts and smarts and heroics that let the Allies defeat the Nazis, we were reading the Axis secret messages all along. Sinking the Bismark was a great naval success but the British navy knew where to find it. It wasn’t just cunning.
Still, there are stories of guts and smarts and heroes within the intelligence systems, and stories of great risk and danger. I've always been attracted to these stories as they tell an important story of the world into which I was born. I see them as the story hidden beneath history and if you don't know them you can't really understand your own history.
Ben MacIntyre has written a number of books that illuminate the history of WWII, and thus the world we live in. Operation Mincemeat is the tale of the intelligence plot to mislead the Nazis concerning the Allied invasion of Sicily (that's the story filmed as The Man Who Never Was) and Agent ZigZag provides the story of Eddie Chapman, a pre-war criminal who offered himself to the Nazis as a spy and then, after being trained and dropped in England, promptly became a double-agent for MI5.
MacIntyre's new book, Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spy returns to these double-agents who worked against the Nazis. They're a wild and varied bunch - drinkers and gamblers and 'people of loose morals' – both men and women. They were inventive and audacious, as were their handlers in the Twenty Committee, the secret outfit that managed the double agents - which appealed to their sense of gamesmanship and even playfulness: twenty, in Roman numerals - XX - double cross. Some of the agents stayed in England and fed the Nazis 'chickenfeed' - rumors, gossip, bits of news and just enough real info to make it all seem probable. Some traveled to and from the continent, putting themselves in far greater danger. Most survived the war. Some didn't. While the Double Cross program was at first set up to mislead and befuddle the Germans, soon those in charge began to see how it could be used to help keep the Nazis bottled up in other areas of the continent and away from the landing beaches of D.Day.
It is a fascinating history, populated by characters both stock and unique. There's the 3-bit vaudevillian actor who was a dead ringer for Montgomery. There's the Spanish man who appeared to be a boring translator for the BBC but whose fictional spy network was believed without question by the Abwer: 27 fictitious agents each feeding the Germans deceptions (this agent, code-named Garbo, was the role model for Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana). There was the bisexual Peruvian party girl. There was the Yugoslavian, codenamed Tricycle, who created his own fictional spy network and who bravely flew in an out of Lisbon and met with Nazi spies countless time and answered their interrogations without them ever doubting his work. There was the high-ranking Brit who ran the Committee and who had already published a string of whodunnits. There are names woven into the history that you know – besides Greene, there was a guy named Fleming. Then there are a couple of members of the Cambridge spy ring, Blunt and Philby. And it helped, too, that the Nazis were fielding a gullible group of spies and handlers, as well as some intelligence officers who very well may’ve been working against the Nazis – not spies themselves, more like saboteurs. It is a fascinating history.
Throughout MacIntyre's absorbing story there are the odd bits that add amusement to the tense tale: the feared pigeon gap, the embezzling Nazi spy handlers, the bed-hopping of those involved, the offense taken by some of the stiff-lipped Brits, the ingenuity of those playing the spy game and the sly word play they employed, and on and on. As they say - if it was fiction you'd think it was too outrageous to believe. But it is all true. And that makes it the best kind of thriller and intrigue to read. --JB
In his celebrated bestsellers Agent Zigzag and Operation Mincemeat, Ben Macintyre told the dazzling true stories of a remarkable WWII double agent and of how the Allies employed a corpse to fool the Nazis and assure a decisive victory. In Double Cross, Macintyre returns with the untold story of the grand final deception of the war and of the extraordinary spies who achieved it.
On June 6, 1944, 150,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy and suffered an astonishingly low rate of casualties. D-Day was a stunning military accomplishment, but it was also a masterpiece of trickery. Operation Fortitude, which protected and enabled the invasion, and the Double Cross system, which specialized in turning German spies into double agents, deceived the Nazis into believing that the Allies would attack at Calais and Norway rather than Normandy. It was the most sophisticated and successful deception operation ever carried out, ensuring that Hitler kept an entire army awaiting a fake invasion, saving thousands of lives, and securing an Allied victory at the most critical juncture in the war.
The story of D-Day has been told from the point of view of the soldiers who fought in it, the tacticians who planned it, and the generals who led it. But this epic event in world history has never before been told from the perspectives of the key individuals in the Double Cross System. These include its director (a brilliant, urbane intelligence officer), a colorful assortment of MI5 handlers (as well as their counterparts in Nazi intelligence), and the five spies who formed Double Cross’s nucleus: a dashing Serbian playboy, a Polish fighter-pilot, a bisexual Peruvian party girl, a deeply eccentric Spaniard with a diploma in chicken farming and a volatile Frenchwoman, whose obsessive love for her pet dog very nearly wrecked the entire plan. The D-Day spies were, without question, one of the oddest military units ever assembled, and their success depended on the delicate, dubious relationship between spy and spymaster, both German and British. Their enterprise was saved from catastrophe by a shadowy sixth spy whose heroic sacrifice is revealed here for the first time.
With the same depth of research, eye for the absurd and masterful storytelling that have made Ben Macintyre an international bestseller, Double Cross is a captivating narrative of the spies who wove a web so intricate it ensnared Hitler’s army and carried thousands of D-Day troops across the Channel in safety.
About the Author
Ben Macintyre is a writer-at-large for The Times of London and the bestselling author of Operation Mincemeat, Agent Zigzag, The Napoleon of Crime, and Forgotten Fatherland, among other books.
Praise for Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies…
“Gripping stories from the perspective of a remarkable ragtag group of spies who tricked the Nazis in an astounding D-Day deception. Puts other spy tales to shame.” – People
“It should be said loud and clear that Macintyre is a supremely gifted storyteller. He spins quite a yarn. His books are absurdly entertaining. I would kill for his keen wit. He takes us into a world of bounders, spivs, roués, and men (and women) on the make….Double Cross is a blast.” – Boston Globe
“Forget fiction when you are buying beach reading this summer. Ben Macintyre’s factual account is more gripping than what you will find anywhere else. It is a story unsurpassed in the long history of intelligence.” – Washington Times
“Macintyre at once exalts and subverts the myths of spycraft, and has a keen eye for absurdity” – New Yorker
“[A] complex, absorbing final installment in his trilogy about World War II espionage….Macintyre is a master storyteller. Employing a wry wit and a keen eye for detail, he delivers an ultimately winning tale fraught with European intrigue and subtle wartime heroics.” – San Francisco Chronicle
“Superb….the story comes alive again in all its stupendous, unimaginable duplicity.…intensely readable” – Washington Post
“A wonderfully entertaining story of deception and trickery that is told with verve and wit….Macintyre’s early books about espionage in World War II have been bestsellers, and this will be no exception.” – Christian Science Monitor
“Macintyre revels in the surreal aspects of his story, writing with a breezy, almost tongue-in-cheek style. But the author is also adept at communicating the seriousness and the stakes of the underlying game….Nail-biting and chuckle-inducing reading.” – Columbus Dispatch
“Another captivating, improbably fresh story of World War II….Double Cross is ennobling, invigorating and, above all, entertaining. Macintyre's research is impressive, as is his ability to shape disparate facts into a breathless page-turner….Throw in nail-biting suspense and the occasional decadent Nazi (fickle mistress optional) and, with Macintyre in charge, you're virtually guaranteed a history book that reads like a spy novel.” – Richmond Times-Dispatch
“It is the riveting tales of these agents on which Ben Macintyre focuses, to full advantage, in Double Cross….Macintyre makes good use of the material. He knows how to let the high drama unfold on its own.” – Wall Street Journal
“London Times writer Macintyre (Agent Zigzag, Operation Mincemeat) concludes his WWII espionage trilogy with the tantalizing tale of an oddball, ‘Dirty Dozen’-like group of double agents who fool the Nazis into believing the Allied D-Day attack would come at Calais, not Normandy.” – New York Post, Required reading
“A tale of smarts, personal courage and — even knowing what happened on June 6, 1944 — suspense. Where would we be if these troubled, eccentric and hang-it-all characters hadn't known how to lie, and lie well?” – Seattle Times
“As in his earlier best-sellers about WWII-era spycraft, Agent Zigzag and Operation Mincemeat, Macintyre writes with novelistic flair.” – Entertainment Weekly
“The story of D-Day – when 150,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy – as it’s never been told before….this amazing story shows how double agents and spies tricked the German army and saved thousands of Allied lives.”
– New York Post
“Only with author Ben Macintyre’s scintillating account has this complex human drama, with all its tortuous twists and turns, finally received the cinematic treatment it deserves….This is edge-of-the seat stuff.” – WWII Magazine
“Macintyre does a fine job depicting this extraordinary cast and exposing the ambiguous world of espionage....compelling.” – MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History
“With the same skill and suspense he displayed in Operation Mincemeat and Agent Zigzag….Macintyre effortlessly weaves the agents’ deliciously eccentric personalities with larger wartime events to shape a tale that reads like a top-notch spy thriller.” – Publishers Weekly (starred)
“Macintyre has written a tense, exciting real-life spy story that illuminates a largely obscure aspect of WWII.” – Booklist
“With his latest book, Double Cross, Ben Macintyre tells the astonishing true story of a bizarre group of misfit spies who played a critical role in the success of D-Day. The stories in this book, many of which have never before been told, are nothing short of incredible. Skillfully woven together, they form one of the most gripping narratives I have ever read.” – Candice Millard, author of The River of Doubt and Destiny of the Republic
“Ben Macintyre and I work in the same period, and I should be reading him because he is such a scrupulous and insightful writer – a master historian. But, with Double Cross and his other excellent works, I always wind up reading him for pleasure. Double Cross may be his best yet, falling somewhere between top-class entertainment and pure addiction.” – Alan Furst, author of A Mission to Paris
"Ben Macintyre’s spellbinding account features an improbable cast of characters who pulled off a counter-intelligence feat that was breathtaking in its audacity. Their deceptions within deceptions—known as the Double Cross—were critical to the success of the D-Day invasion, and continued to mislead the Germans long after Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy. A truly bravura performance, as is Macintyre’s fast-paced tale." -- Andrew Nagorski, author of Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power
"How on earth, in 1944, did we dupe Berlin that we would attack the coast of France in completely the wrong place? It was a deception that saved tens of thousands of Allied lives. In Double Cross, Ben Macintyre ingeniously explains exactly how it was done." – Frederick Forsyth
"Never before revealed facts about the workings of the Intelligence Service in the build up to D-Day in the Second World War. Ben Macintyre's remarkable book is a gripping revelation." – Jack Higgins
“[Macintyre] has excelled himself with a cast of extraordinary characters and in his storytelling abilities....Double Cross is an utterly gripping story.” – Antony Beevor, The Telegraph
“Enthralling....Macintyre is a master at leading the reader down some very tortuous paths while ensuring they never lose their bearings. He’s terrific, too, at animating his characters with the most succinct of touches....gripping.” -- London Evening Standard