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Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies

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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.

399 pages, Paperback

First published March 27, 2012

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About the author

Ben Macintyre

29 books2,721 followers
Ben Macintyre is a writer-at-large for The Times (U.K.) and the bestselling author of The Spy and the Traitor, A Spy Among Friends, Double Cross, Operation Mincemeat, Agent Zigzag, and Rogue Heroes, among other books. Macintyre has also written and presented BBC documentaries of his work.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,076 reviews
Profile Image for Hannah.
794 reviews
October 9, 2012
The least entertaining and successful of Macintyre's WWII spy books IMO, probably because the cast of characters was too numerous and nothing interesting really happened until the final 100 pages.

Nonetheless, fans of non-fiction espionage should find some wheat amongst the chaff in this revelation of the part spies and deception played in the successful allied invasion of Normandy (otherwise known as D-Day).

Macintyre knows his material, and gives the reader a full complement of material available on the spies, their handlers, the tactics and the run up and completion of the operation. How Hitler and Co. were fooled and re-directed in where the allied troops would launch their invasion is almost too unbelievable for words. If it were a book of fiction, you'd shake your head in sheer disbelief at the credulity of the bad guys to fall for such a plot. But this is not fiction, and the broad axe tactics employed by allied counter-intelligence and a motley crew of spies no doubt saved thousand of lives on D-Day.

Profile Image for Ruth.
591 reviews59 followers
September 13, 2012
This is an astonishingly good, absolutely riveting account of a disparate group of individuals whose exploits during WW2 went largely unsung. It was provided to me by netgalley and is well written with humor, empathy and clarity. It brings in accounts of other operations and the bigger picture to provide context, but never moves away from the double agents themselves.

I honestly had no idea that such an infuriating, temperamental, intelligent and diverse a group of people played such an important role in the success of the D Day landings, or in assisting the work of the codebreakers at Bletchley Park. They all did the work for a variety of reasons from greed to boredom to fierce hatred of the Nazis, but there is no doubting the courage of any of them, nor the complete ignorance in the Nazis in trusting in them so blindly.

I found the comparisons between the German and British intelligent organizations fascinating. After all, the individuals running them and operating in them were essentially equally capable, equally intelligent and equally well-resourced. So why did the British succeed where the Nazis didn't, and not only succeed, but succeed with such panache?

This was a wonderful read. I loved reading some of the bonkers messages the agents sent to their German case officers, and hearing about their various exploits.

I particularly enjoyed the epilogue, which beautifully and concisely described what happened to the double agents, their case officers (from both sides) and associates after the war, but ends exactly where it should, paying tribute to the agent who was possibly most flawed, most dodgy, least brave, and yet, most courageous when faced with Nazi torture. He ultimately gave his life to save thousands of allied soldiers landing in Normandy.

Just read it. 5 stars.
Profile Image for happy.
302 reviews91 followers
October 24, 2017
With this narrative Mr. Macintyre once again proves he is a master of telling the stories of British Intelligence. This book is more than the story of Operation Fortitude, the Allies attempt to convince the Germans that the invasion of France was going to be somewhere other than Normandy. The author tells the story of how British Intelligence - MI 6 completely penetrated the German spy network in Great Britain and used that control to tell the Germans exactly what the Allies wanted them to hear and to a great extent what the Germans themselves wanted to believe. According to the author, every agent Germany attempted to insert into Great Britain was captured. Most were imprisoned, a few executed and some became double agents

The author does a good job of describing the covert intel war on the Iberian Peninsula. It seems it became the central theater in the war between MI 6 and German Intelligence - the Abwehr. Especially in the early war, most of the German controllers were based in either Spain or Portugal. In telling the story of the Abwehr’s attempts to get agents into Britain, Mr. Macintyre does an excellent job to discussing the weaknesses and frankly the gullibility in the German agents controlling their British Spy ring.

He looks at how both sides recruited agents, controlled them, their methods of communications and how the British used the time delay for getting information from Britain to Spain to their advantage. Sometimes this was done in letting agents give the Germans actual operational details, but timed in such a way that they would arrive too late to be of any use.

When he starts telling of the story of Operation Fortitude, he looks at just how the information the agents were giving the Germans reinforced their preconceived notions of when and where they invasions would take place – the area around the Pal de Calais in northern France and closest part of France to Britain. He also tells of how they inflated the Allied Order of Battle to such an extent that even after the troops landed on D-Day the Germans believed that there was still enough strength in Britain to conduct another landing.

In addition to the double agents, the author does look at some of the other methods the Allies used to reinforce what they where sending their German controllers. This includes the famous rubber vehicles and planes, false radio traffic, using General Patton as a decoy etc.

The author also looks at the American attempts to get into the intel game how it almost cost MI 6 one of their better agents. It seems that in the attempt to be good partners, MI 6 let the FBI/OSS run one the agents who had moved to the US. The attempt failed because Herbert Hoover, the head of the FBI, did not believe in or trust double agents and wouldn’t allow the agent to be given anything at all believable or of any use to the Germans. After about six months the agent reverted to British control and according to the author left a bad taste all around and a rather large hotel bill for the Americans to pay.

Finally, in telling the stories of the agents he really does look at their motivations. The men and women's reasons ran the gamut - from patriotism, one was a Polish Fighter pilot who despised the Germans, to greed, a couple of them were looking for someone to bankroll their lifestyles, to boredom with life and the thought that spying would be “exciting”. The author includes an epilogue that tells what happened to the main characters after the war that I found extremely interesting.

I found this a very informational and gripping read. It is definitely a 4+ star read. I rounded down for GR.
Profile Image for Joan.
1,959 reviews
January 1, 2014
This book was absolutely hilarious. It is proof of the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction. I don't think any fiction authors could invent the wacky people in this book because they wouldn't have been believed.I quote a few sentences from the book to prove my point (p.5-6):

"For the D-Day spies were, without question, one of the oddest military units ever assembled. They included a bisexual Peruvian playgirl, a tiny Polish fighter pilot, a mercurial Frenchwoman a Serbian seducer, and a deeply eccentric Spaniard with a diploma in chicken farming....the Double Cross spies were, variously, courageous, treacherous, capricious, greedy and inspired....One was so obsessed with her pet dog that she came close to derailing the entire invasion. All were, to some extent fantasists, for that is the very essence of espionage. Two were of dubious moral character.One was a triple, and possibly a quadruple, agent."

The author is quite aware of how funny his material can be in places but in typical British understated style, simply presents the information knowing that readers would find this funnier for it not being labeled as such. However, before anyone gets the idea that the writer is simply having a great time with this material, the last few pages are a tribute to one spy in particular who likely died in a concentration camp although no one really knows his fate. He also makes it clear throughout the book how essential this effort was. The misinformation fed to the Germans meant that they refused to move additional troops to Normandy when D-Day happened. This kept the casualties much lower than they would have otherwise and possibly kept the end of the war from being a few years later. In many ways, James Bond would have been unable to keep up with these people, at least intellectually. Physically, of course, 007 would have outstripped them easily. These people were warriors with words, not your typical warriors. Many of the actual warriors survived the war thanks to the outrageous lies these people fed their German handlers. However, the success of the entire unit belonged to the supervisors of these people. They had to baby, cajole, humor, lie, carouse, and threaten these people, never being completely sure that a few of them weren't actually working for the other side and deceiving the Brits.

The author notes that this story wouldn't have been able to be written at all if the British secret services hadn't fairly recently decided to open up the files for this time period. The spies themselves pretty much expected that their stories would never be known.

To sum up, this book is serious history written with a keen eye for the absurd. Highly recommended. I plan on rereading it again some day when my to read pile isn't so ridiculous.
Profile Image for Jill Mackin.
339 reviews151 followers
July 29, 2018
A great story about the misinformation fed to German intelligence by a group of spies and double agents working for MI5 during WW2 culminating in a successful D-Day landing at Normandy.
Profile Image for Carly.
456 reviews185 followers
November 14, 2016
This book. Is. Amazing.

Do you know how many uncaptured German spies were operating in Britain during WWII?
That's right.

Every single German spy was either captured or became part of MI5's XX System, aka "Double-Cross." And each one of them was... a character. As McIntyre puts it:
"They included a bisexual Peruvian playgirl, a tiny Polish fighter pilot, a mercurial Frenchwoman a Serbian seducer, and a deeply eccentric Spaniard with a diploma in chicken farming. Together, under Robertson's guidance, they delivered all of the little lies that together made up the big lie.
The Double Cross spies were, variously, courageous, treacherous, capricious, greedy, and inspired. They were not obvious heroes, and their organization was betrayed from within by a Soviet spy. One was so obsessed with her pet dog that she came close to derailing the entire invasion. All were, to some extent, fantasists, for that is the very essence of espionage. Two were of dubious moral character.One was a triple, and possibly a quadruple, agent."

The story of the Double Cross spies reads like a British farce, up to and including the fact that all of the spies were given punny names. One of the handlers thought of the entire war in times of cricket. One agent, codenamed Garbo, created an entirely imaginary network of sub-spies that comprised 27 hallucinated agents. Another nearly drove MI5 to send a warship to bring her dog over and avoid the sacrosanct quarantine laws. Yet another began his career in Portugal, making up fake reports for the Germans about Liverpudlians hanging out in wine bars and naval exercises in what turned out to be landlocked lakes. No matter how easily the British managed to defeat the Germans in the spying game, the Soviets' Cambridge Five had just as successfully infiltrated them. Yet the Cambridge Five were, if anything, too successful: knowing from their spies about Double Cross, the Soviets were convinced their own agents had also been doubled. Oh, the perils of paranoia.

Double Cross is occasionally poignant-- it is, after all, about WWII-- and often incredible, but above all, it is hands-down funny. My favourite quote:
One evening, in his safe house in Hinxton, near Cambridge, Caroli crept up behind his minder while he was playing solitaire and tried to throttle him with a piece of rope. When this failed, he apologized, tied the man to a chair, and ran off with a can of sardines, a pineapple, and a large canvas shoe. He then stole a motorcycle and motored, very slowly, toward the coast with the canoe balanced on his head. He intended to paddle to Holland. A roadman reported to police that a man with a canoe had fallen off his motorcycle on Pamisford road, and he had helped the man throw the canoe over a hedge.'

If you're looking for a crazy fun nonfiction book to read, then Double Cross is it.
Profile Image for Paul.
2,113 reviews
January 21, 2015
D Day. The beginning of the end of the Second World War. But for this massive operation to succeed the Allies had to do every trick in the book to convince the Nazis that the invasion was going to take place in a different location.

So was conceived Operation Fortitude, an audacious plan of lies, deception and misinformation to persuade the military that the invasion was going to take place in Norway and Calais. This team of double agents, Bronx, Brutus, Treasure, Tricycle and Garbo fed back to their German masters this picture of troop movements and build of arms and materiel. Even though there were some doubters in the German echelons, this story dreamt up by a team in London was swallowed hook line and sinker.

But it so nearly wasn't. Macintyre brings alive the tension as the web of deceit was spun, from the near misses as agents were arrested, to the appalling handling of agent Treasure, over petty amounts of money. He describes their character, flaws and ultimately courage of the job that they performed. Macintyre must have sifted through hundreds of secret documents to shine a light on these people, and their handlers, who probably saved thousands of lives on both sides as the allies got a foothold in France.

As will all of his history books he reveals the lives of those who lived in the shadows and smoke of the espionage game, people who most would have never heard of, and the key roles they played in changing European and World history. Well written as usual, there are points where it reads like a spy thriller, even though it was really life.
Profile Image for A.L. Sowards.
Author 16 books1,034 followers
April 24, 2018
I’m so glad I listened to this audiobook. I’ve had several of Mr. Macintyre’s books on my to-read list for a while, and this one didn’t disappoint! I’ve read multiple books on British WWII intelligence and D-day deception schemes (my first novel was about D-day deceptions schemes, so I did a fair amount of research), but I still learned something new. This book will now be my go-to recommendation for readers wanting a nonfiction account of D-day spies. Great bit of history told with skilled writing. My favorite kind of narrative history.
Profile Image for Siv30.
2,305 reviews121 followers
June 11, 2017
אחד מהספרים השנונים, החדים והמרתקים שיצא לי לקרוא על מלחמת העולם השניה. מקלדתו של הסופר, בן מקנטייר, שופעת תיאורים לפעמים מבריקים, שגורמים לקורא להתמוגג, עד כדי כך שרכשתי לי עותק מכל הספרים שכתב.

הספר הזה עוסק במבצע עוז רוח, ההטעיה שקדמה למבצע אוברלורד, או הפלישה לנורמנדי של בנות הברית. הפלישה תוכננה למאי 1944. והיא נדיחתה בחודש, והיה חשש מבוסס שהיא תסתיים בכישלון שילווה במרחץ דמים. בכדי לשכנע את היטלר שלא להזיז את הדביזיה ה 15 מקאלה, היה צורך לשכנע את הפיקוד הגרמני שהפלישה כשתתבצע, תהיה מקאלה ולא נורמנדי.

לצורך כך, גייסו ב MI5 חבורת מרגלים כפולים הזויים לחלוטין שרכשו את ליבם של הגרמנים ותרמו למאמץ המלחמתי. גלריית הדמויות נעה בין נער שעשועים סרבי שהקדיש את עיתותיו לנשים ובזבוזים שרדפו את סוכנות הביון הבריטית עוד זמן רב לאחר תום המלחמה, פטריוט לאומן פולני שהפך למרגל כפול, משולש ומרובע, נערת שעשועים מהמרת משועממת, מגדל תרנגולות ספרדי ורוסיה צרפתייה שאיימה על כל מערך הבגידה הכפול בשל כלבה שנדרס (או לא - לא ברור מה קרה איתו). ועם כל אלה ניצחנו את המלחמה.

הספר מלווה באבחנות פסיכולוגיות וביצועיות משעשעות על הגרמנים, על האנגלים ועל הסוכנים עצמם. על תחילת דרכו של הסוכן פויול אותו לא רצו להעסיק בתחילה לא הבריטים ולא הגרמנים נכתב:

"...אבל מפעיליו הגרמנים לא זו בלבד שלא עמדו על שגיאותיו אלא אף העתירו שבחים על הסוכן אראבל, בייחוד כשטען שהצליח לגייס שני שני סוכני משנה בבריטניה, שכמובן לא היו ולא נבראו. תשעה חודשים תמימים ישב פויול בליסבון ועשה מה שעשו מרגלים מאז ומעולם כשנתקעו בלי מידע אמתי: הוא המציא את מה שחשב שמפעיליו רוצים ..."

סוכן הסוכן פויול יהיה אבן היסוד וראש החץ עליה תושתת ההטעיה, אף על פי שאף אחת מסוכניות הריגול לא רצתה בו. אפשר לאמר שבזכותו ההטעיה עבדה.

הספר מלווה באנקדוטות קורעות מצחוק על רעיונות נוספים שהיו לסוכנות הביון הבריטית. אחד מהם המשעשע ומבחינה זו בלבד המוצלח הוא זה שעסק ביונים:

"לאט לאט, בזמן שגדלה והלכה להקת הסוכנים הכפולים שהתקבצו בנפנוף כנפיים בלול של MI5, החל טאר רוברטסון לצייר לו בדמיונו דרכים חדשות להילחם בריגול הגרמני ולהשתמש במרגלי האויב לטובת בעלות הברית. מחשבותיו נסבו יותר ויותר על יונים.

אם נאמר על הסגן ווקר שהיה "חובב יונים" לא יהיה בכך כדי להביע את עומק תשוקתו. הוא אהב יונים. הוא חי למען יונים. דוחותיו הארוכים היו שירי אהבה הומיים.

אחרי מלחמת העולם הראשונה זנחה בריטניה את שירות היונים למטרות צבאיות. אבל עוד לפני מלחמת העולם השנייה הבין ווקר שבריטניה מפגרת אחרי גרמניה במירוץ היונים, שכן הציפורים האלה עודן דרך חשובה להעביר מידע מעבר לקווי האויב - מהירה, אמינה וכמעט חסינה מפני יירוט בידי האויב.

ווקר היה משוכנע שיוני דואר נאציות זורמות עתה בהמוניהן לתוך בריטניה, מוצנחות ממטוסים, מועברות בסירות מנוע מהירות ובצוללות, ומספקות למרגלים בבריטניה דרך דרך סמויה ואמינה להעביר מידע לאירופה הכבושה. הוא לא היה היחיד שהיה נגוע בפרנויה הזאת.

הראיות לפעילותן של יוני אויב התרבו: ציפור מותשת נחתה באיי סילי שליד חופי קו רנוול ונשאה הודעת מודיעין בצרפתית, ושתי יונים גרמניות שהועפו אל מעבר לתעלה בגלל מזג מזג אוויר גרוע ונשאו הודעות אימון שגרתיות. "שתיהן עכשיו שבויות מלחמה והן עובדות קשה בטיפוח יונים אנגליות",‎ דיווח ווקר.

הספר מתאר בכשרון יוצא דופן את הקשיים שעימם נתקלו מפעילים של הסוכנים ההזויים, את החרדות והפחדים, את ההצלחות והכשלונות, את הלבטים העמוקים בכל פעולה והוא מלווה במראי מקום המצביעה על מסמכולוגיה ענפה אותה קרא מקנטייר.

אהבתי את ההומור השחור והאירוניה בכתיבה ואם לקח לי יותר מיום לסיים אותו, זה הודות לעובדה שלא רציתי שיגמר. אנחה.
Profile Image for Nigeyb.
1,200 reviews259 followers
February 22, 2019
I am a big fan of the mighty Ben Macintyre, so it was only a matter of time before I'd read Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies.

In Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies, Macintyre relates the untold story of the extraordinary band of agents and double agents who convinced the Nazis that the 150,000 Allied troops who landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day were just one part of a larger invasion plan with others to follow at Calais and Norway. This belief convinced the Nazi hierarchy to hold troops back which is now recognised as being decisive in allowing the Allies to create a bridgehead into Normandy.

These agents included 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 nearly wrecked the entire plan.

Needless to say it is up to the high standards that we Ben Macintyre fans have come to expect. Once again, truth is stranger than fiction. It's a compelling read and another remarkable slice of previously untold WW2 history.


Profile Image for Melanie Fraser.
Author 38 books27 followers
September 10, 2017
The elaborate plans of the British with the help of their double agents from several countries made possible the D Day landings in Normandy in World War II, duped the Germans into sending their main armies to other venues and thus the Allies won the war.

Ben Macintyre writes this historical series of events with humour and drama for Double Cross was a magnificent and ingeniously stage managed inspiration by Tar Robertson and others in MI5 and M16 that could so easily have gone horribly wrong. That none for the many double agents and others who knew about the deception betrayed them to the Germans was remarkable.

This story tells of the fake armies amassed at fake destinations. An actor posed as Montgomery to fool the enemy into thinking he was on his way to North Africa. Double agent pigeons (with messages soldered to their legs) among them, the RAF homing pigeon, Gustav, whose message reported enemy aircraft traffic whereabouts on his return to Portsmouth. There is much to discover in this extraordinary book. If it were fiction one would assume it was too far-fetched but it is all true. Highly recommended and entertaining reading.
Profile Image for K.J. Charles.
Author 57 books7,873 followers
October 17, 2017
I am apparently on a WW2 spy kick. Another fascinating story of unlikely heroism dragged out of the depths of some very dodgy people, as a set of playboys and playgirls, weirdos, cheats and chicken farmers become double agents in the teeth of Nazi Germany, culminating in the grand Operation Bodyguard that allowed Overlord, the D-Day landings, to succeed.

Possibly "ordinary people stepping up to the plate in the teeth of fascism" is why I'm reading all these, in fact. A great story anyway, and one that deserves telling, in part because of how much of the war apparently was made up of shattering incompetence and pointless interdepartmental bickering.
Profile Image for Ian M. Pyatt.
364 reviews
May 14, 2021
Yet another well researched and written book. I did not realize this was the last in a trilogy (Agent Zig Zag & Operation Mincemeat being the other two), which would explain that there were many familiar names of high-ranking officials from both sides of the conflict being mentioned throughout all three books.

I am amazed at the levels of deception detailed in the book by the Brits and how they recruited people to become double agents, and am sure the same thing was happening with the Germans and their recruiting of double agents as well.

I wonder if Hitler was so full of himself, and perhaps his top aides, that they could not and did not think the D-Day invasion took place when/where it did? Or, in the end, was the deception that good. I'd have liked to been a "fly on the wall" in his bunker in Bertchtesgaden when the trickery was known.

It would be interesting to know, how both sides, kept track of the spies & related true and/or false statements throughout this time, perhaps they had to use flow-charts to keep track of everything to ensure there were no leaks of any kind to keep their spy network safe and secure.

As I have mentioned before, in other reviews by this author and other war-related books, my father was in the Canadian military and we were posted to Germany from 1973-77. We had two trips to B'gaten and stayed in a hotel that Hitler used during the war; and my Grade 10 school field trip was through the battlefields of France and one site we saw was the beaches, which we walked along as a tour guide told us where the soldiers came to land and where the German gunners were waiting for them.

Highly recommend for those who like the spy book genre and those who like war-related books.
Profile Image for J.C..
978 reviews14 followers
February 3, 2015
I ran out of gas around page 65. I don't know why I keep picking up spy non fiction books when I know that there is nothing exciting about the life of a real spy. Only James Bond, that Bourne guy and Sterling Archer have exciting lives in espionage and they are fictitious characters; and that Bourne guy wasn't even a spy technically, he was just a crazy assassin who lost his marbles.
Profile Image for Jill Meyer.
1,167 reviews105 followers
April 26, 2020
Before you begin reading this book, take a look at the map at the very front. It's a map of northern France and southern England. Notice how close the cities of Dover and Calais are; the sea distance is about 21 miles. Meanwhile, continue west to the widest gap between France and England which is about 100 miles. That's the distance between Portsmouth, England and the five Normandy beaches. Those 100 miles were crossed by the American, British, and Canadian forces on June 6, 1944 - D-Day. Why the Allied forces chose to set the invasion on this particular plot of land in France, reachable after an all-night trip from England, is the topic of many other books about WW2. This book, "Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies" by Ben MacIntyre, is the story of how British intelligence worked to make the Germans think the imminent invasion would occur at Calais, rather than Normandy.

By 1942 the smart money in Germany was on an invasion on the European continent in France or Scandinavia by Allied forces. It was thought to be both inevitable and somewhat imminent. The time factor was based on many things, including build-up of invasion forces, the war effort in other European theater sites, and, of course, the geography of France. Just looking at a map shows the shortest distance was from Dover in Kent to Calais - as I wrote before, about 21 miles. Hitler and the German High Command were expecting the invasion in that area, and had mined the beaches and inner area in preparation for repelling an invasion. There were many troops stationed in the area, too. But, the Germans also mined and prepared the Normandy beaches with the same mines and hill top fortifications, though not as many as in Calais and they also had fewer troops stationed in Normandy.

British intelligence - MI5 (national) and MI6 (international) were cooperating in controlling German spies inside the UK. The "idea" of spies - both homegrown and dropped in - was much worse than the truth of the matter. Britain actually had captured and either turned or executed all the spies who had been dropped in by air or had landed by sea. These German "spies" tended to be a dismal lot of dullards who ineptly gave themselves away by various means to the Brits who would literally stumble upon them. But a few of the spies could be used to broadcast back to Germany what their British controls ordered them to say.

Another group of spies were individuals - in this case, French, Polish, Spanish, and Peruvian(!) - who had come to British embassies in Lisbon and Madrid and offered their services to the Allied war effort. Their reasons ranged from mercenary (nearly everyone's) to patriotic (the Polish man who had set up a spy network in France that had been broken up by the Germans before he volunteered to help the Brits). Most were double crossing the Germans who also handled them. With this patched together network, based in London, Madrid, and Lisbon, British intelligence was able to hone the message their new agents were sending back to Germany. Honing the message to throw the Germans off the true site of the inevitable invasion, from Normandy to Calais and to the timing of the invasion. Using fake letters, some "real" but not important bits of intel, and even the "sighting" of British General Montgomery in Gibraltar, by using an actor to play Montgomery. If "Monty" was in Gibraltar in late May, then how could he possibly be working on the upcoming invasion?

Ben MacIntyre - who also wrote an excellent book a couple of years ago called "Operation Mincemeat" about the attempt to throw German intelligence off the prospective Allied invasion of Sicily - returns here with a sometimes humorous, but always serous, story of the spies, the spy masters, the actors, the military staffs, who together pulled off the successful trick of getting the Germans to consider the Pas de Calais as the ONLY invasion area, even after the main invasion had begun on June 6th! Still expecting the invasion to take place to the east, many German troops were kept back from that area, joining too late their fellow soldiers repelling the Allied forces at Normandy to the west. MacIntyre's book on D-Day and the spies and agents who kept the secret and helped focus German intelligence on other places and other times, is filled with characters usually found only in fiction. I suppose it takes a certain individual with the flair and guts to pull of a double crossing spying job, and the five or so foreign spies who were on Sir John Masterman's "Double Cross" system payroll were an intriguing lot. This book is a must-read for the WW2 buff. (By the way, his writing on pigeons - both German and Allied - being used in spying, is a hoot.)
Profile Image for Susan.
2,601 reviews599 followers
April 13, 2012
Anyone who has read anything by Ben Macintyre before will know that they are in for a treat. He is a wonderful storyteller and, in this book, he is on territory he seems to understand brilliantly and relish. The Allied military planners were working on the the great assault on Nazi Occupied Europe - the D-Day invasion would decide the outcome of the war. In order to convince the Germans that the invasion was coming where it was not actually coming, and not coming in the place where it was actually coming, a huge amount of effort was expended. There were dummy planes, tanks and even dummy armies in place to fool the Germans. There were even pigeons masquerading as German carrier pigeons (lots more on pigeons in the book - they play a larger part than you might imagine!). There were impersonators to convince the Germans that military leaders were elsewhere. Counterfeit generals led non-existent armies. Radio operators created a barrage of fake signals. Finally, there were spies. The Allies had a harder task than it appears in hindsight, knowing that it succeeded, as the targer range for a cross-Channel invasion was small. There were only a handful of suitable spots for a massed landing and it was important that the entire might of the German forces were not waiting when the Allies landed.

Tar Robertson created a bodyguard of liars - the "Double Cross System" coordinated by the Twenty (XX) Committee. They specialised in turning German spies into double agents. Every single German agent in Britain was under his control, enabling huge and co-ordinated lies to be told. The task of Operation Fortitude was to bottle up German troops in the Pas de Calais and keep them there - this ability depended on Robertson's spies. These included a bisexual Peruvian playgirl, a tiny Polish fighter pilot, a mercurial Frenchwoman who adored her dog, a Serbian seducer and an eccentric Spaniard with marital problems. These spies never met, but together they created false trails, gave false information and often created totally false networks of sub-spies, including a group of entirely fictional Welsh fascists - all of which the Germans swallowed completely. In some cases, very extensive lies were not even noticed by the Germans, whereas the Allies had much confidential information (courtesy of Bletchly Park) even before the Germans themselves were aware of it. It is astounding to realise the control the Allies had over information sent to the Germans and the inventive ways to which this was put to use.

This then is a great book of subterfuge, downright lies, great ingenuity and often, great courage, for no reward other than a belief in freedom. Many of these individuals had families threatened by the Germans, at least one person connected to the group was arrested, and there was always the risk of being discovered which would undoubtedly led to many more deaths of Allied troops when D-Day arrived. Nobody could tell this story as Ben Macintyre does, with dry humour, great understatement and a great deal of respect for his subjects.
Profile Image for John Frazier.
Author 11 books6 followers
September 5, 2013
I doubt I'll live long enough to fully appreciate the innumerable stories that continue to publish almost 70 years after the end of World War II, and this is just one more example of what makes most of them so engaging, so captivating, so essential. You don't get labeled as a "World War" without involving a good portion of the globe and, although it involves perhaps the most chronicled event of the war in D-Day and the Normandy Invasion, "Double Cross" is the riveting story of a handful of behind-the-lines soldiers who never engaged in traditional combat but who had as much influence, if not more, over the outcome as any pilot, sailor or soldier.

"The True Story of the D-Day Spies" is about five men and women who for reasons as varied as their backgrounds ultimately pledge their allegiance to the Allied cause and MI-5 and MI-6, two branches of Britain's more covert operations subsequently made (more) famous by the likes of Ian Fleming and 007, James Bond himself. While few were rewarded with any monies nearly commensurate with their responsibilities and risks, none of them did what they did for fame, which is the last thing any double agent wants or needs. Were it not for public information acts that made public their involvement years after the fact, author Ben Macintyre would've had to file this one under "fiction," in which case much of this would simply not be believed.

Playboys, loyalists and people whose lives had otherwise been irreversibly impacted by the spreading German occupancy eventually found themselves as members of a team whose primary responsibility was to lead the Nazi leadership into thinking that the D-Day assault would take place in any number of places other than Normandy, whose proximity to Britain's coastline made it an obvious choice. Among the misdirected targets were the Mediterranean, Norway and the northern coast of France.

While Macintyre adroitly focuses on the day-today machinations of this band of seeming misfits, what makes them even more fascinating is the personal life each leads in secret. A couple are bon vivants who seem tailor-made for lives of espionage; another is a middle-age woman whose attachment to her dog threatens to unravel her cover and story at virtually every turn. These, as we learn, are exactly the kind of people whom the rest of us least suspect of gleaning and transmitting secrets that could impact and affect the course of wars. All seem at one point capable of turning from a double spy to a triple spy (or even a quadruple spy), yet ultimately each makes the decisions and takes the actions required to mislead the Germans on June 6, 1944, and none should be viewed as anything less than heroic, their contributions impossible to overestimate.

Their work didn't end then. That their duplicity was required and, in fact, extended well beyond that date is testament to just how effective they were.

Well-researched and well-written, "Double Cross" moves along at a very brisk pace and, in the end, is well worth your time.
Profile Image for Julie.
1,092 reviews
October 4, 2021
My second book by Ben Macintyre, and almost as good as the first (A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal). Macintyre depicts the Double Cross spies as unconventional heroes, sometimes selfish and petulant, sometimes spying out of greed and managing to infuriate their British handlers - but he emphasizes that they were still heroes who helped to changed the course of the war and who definitely saved many, many Allied lives on D-Day and in its aftermath. Although it was occasionally difficult to keep up with who was a double-, triple-, quadruple-, or even quintuple-agent (!), this book was well-researched and well-written, benefiting from Macintyre's incredible breadth of knowledge of the espionage trade and this era in particular. For those who have read the Philby book, it is amusing to see Philby commenting now and then on the machinations of the D-Day spies from his somewhat distant position as the head of the MI6 counterintelligence Iberian desk; his fellow Cambridge spy Anthony Blunt also puts in an appearance. The presence of both indicates how limited and circumscribed the world of intelligence and espionage really was in the WWII and Cold War eras. Filled with lots of colorful, unique characters and fascinating anecdotes, this book is highly recommended for history buffs.
Profile Image for Eric.
329 reviews13 followers
October 23, 2020
This was an excellent book, if you like true spy stories. Ben Macintyre does as good of a job getting into the thinking of a spy as the best fictional spy writers, but in this case, he's doing it with the real double (and sometimes triple or more) spies of WWII that fooled Hitler & the German High Command into thinking that the D-Day invasion at Normandy was just a diversion, hence they didn't send enough reinforcements there in time to stop it...until it was too late. The author works off of declassified records, as well as interviews, with the actual participants of this widely diverse & eccentric, often incredibly brave crew from the point of initial recruitment, through what they did afterwards with the rest of their lives. At least those who could be traced. I'm looking forward to reading some more of his work.
Profile Image for Laura Noggle.
670 reviews383 followers
October 19, 2020
What a cast of characters! Excellent writing by Macintyre, but not as quite as good as *A Spy Among Friends* or *The Spy and the Traitor* — perhaps a bit too spread out in scope.

“For the D-Day spies were, without question, one of the oddest military units ever assembled. They included a bisexual Peruvian playgirl, a tiny Polish fighter pilot, a mercurial Frenchwoman, a Serbian seducer, and a deeply eccentric Spaniard with a diploma in chicken farming.”

“In war, no variable is more important, and less easy to control, than the element of surprise.”

Looking forward to more Macintyre!
Profile Image for Geza Tatrallyay.
Author 17 books283 followers
November 21, 2018
An excellent, gripping tale of the efforts in MI5 to turn and use 5 spies as double agents, who end up playing a key role in deceiving the Germans about the time and place of the D-Day attack. It really brings home what a slim margin the Allied victory in WW II hung on, and the key roles that a handful of unsung individuals played in making it happen. Well worth a read.
Profile Image for Joanne.
553 reviews54 followers
February 12, 2022
Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies 4 stars

An in-depth look at the British Spy Network(MI5/ MI6) and the wacky group of double agents they employed to insure that D-Day would be successful. This quote gives you an idea, why I used "wacky"

"For the D-Day spies were, without question, one of the oddest military units ever assembled. They included a bisexual Peruvian playgirl, a tiny Polish fighter pilot, a mercurial Frenchwoman, a Serbian seducer, and a deeply eccentric Spaniard with a diploma in chicken farming...

These "characters" are full of antics and humor, but upon reflection the reader understands how they put their lives and the lives of their families in the dangerous path of Germanys SS.

Posing as German spies they were handsomely paid by the Nazis, while working for the Allies. The money supplied by the Germans (about 4.3 million pounds in todays currency) supported the German mission, while also covering the costs for Allies.

A hidden story that only came to light in the 20th century, well worth your time if history is your genre.
Profile Image for Amiad.
389 reviews8 followers
January 13, 2022
סיפורם של המרגלים של גרמניה בבריטניה במלחמת העולם השניה שהיו סוכנים כפולים. הם הזינו את גרמניה במידע מוטעה שהוביל בין השאר להצלחת הנחיתה בנורמנדי. הספר מתרכז בחמישה מהם ובמיוחד בדושאן פופוב, נער שעשועים סרבי שהגרמנים החשיבו כמרגל הטוב ביותר שלהם.

ספר עיון שנקרא בנשימה עצורה כספר מתח ומלא הומור. הוא מציג מציאות שיותר מטורפת מספרות בדיונית.
Profile Image for David Billow.
120 reviews8 followers
February 13, 2023
The presentation is somewhat chaotic here with a large cast of characters, but I did enjoy the bios of the double agents and their German controllers. Other flaws: Macintrye force fed the narrative of each agent's contribution/importance to D-Day; lost steam in the latter 3rd.
Profile Image for Tal.
101 reviews48 followers
March 21, 2017

פעם, כשהייתי צעיר, הייתי צופה בסדרה בריטית על מרגלים בMI5. מתברר שיש לה לא מעט שמות: ספוקס(spooks), MI-5, המרגלים וכנראה שעוד כמה. בשבילי זה הדבר הכי איכותי שידעתי באותו זמן. אחר כך, עם בואם של סרטי הג'יימס בונד וג'ייסון בורן זה גם הפך להיות הדבר הכי אמין בעניין הריגול. כמובן, עדיין בגדר תוכנית טלוויזיה.
המליצו לי על הספר, "אתה תודה לי אחר כך." אמרו. ובכן, אני מודה(בעניין ה.

אני יכול להגיד שלא ציפיתי שבספר על MI-5 האמיתי יהיה סיפור כה מוזר, חשוד במופרך ושקשה לי לתאר אותו בלי להשתמש במילה "גרוטסקי" ואני מצטט(בערך) מהספר, "סיפור כה מוזר שאפילו פלמינג לא היה יכול לכתוב כמוהו".(אם אני מתבלבל בציטוט, תודיעו לי :) ) ובכל זאת, כה אמין. זה ייזקף לזכותו של מקנטייר, שמעביר בצורה כל כך טובה את הרגשות של הדמויות האמיתיות.

הספר מספר את סיפורם של ועדת ה-20 או בסימונה היותר נודע "XX". באנגלית קראו ליחידה, Double Cross, משחק מילים שנון(בכל זאת בריטים) על כך ששם היחידה מורכב משני Crosses ומתעסק בסוכנים כפולים(בעצם, בגידה כפולה, כפי שכבר העלתם על הדעת). הספר מתחיל ומתאר את ראשיתו של אגף ה-B1A בMI-5 וממשיך ��ל מבצע אוברלורד(הלוא הוא הפלישה לנורמדי) ומתרכז סביב מבצע עוז רוח, מבצע ההטעייה לאוברלורד.

מה שציפיתי לו, נוסח ספוקס, התפוגג במהרה ואחריו הותיר תמונה של יונים מרגלות, סוכנים גרמנים שנבראו ולא היו, טנקים מגומי, קצינים שהיו בשתי מקומות שונים באותו זמן וחבורה של אנשים משונים אבל בעיקר אמיצים שתיעתעו באויב הנאצי. זה נראה שבזמן מלחמה, כל רעיון שונה, מוזר וגרוטסקי היה רעיון מתקבל על הדעת ולפעמים, הוא גם היה רעיון גאוני.שבמלחמת מוחות צריך לגייס חשיבה לא-שגרתית בשביל להשיג את היד העליונה והספר באמת מראה שחשיבה מחוץ לקופסה מצילה חיים. למרות שחלק לא קטן מהקרדיט מגיע לגרמנים עצמם(האסוסיאציה הזכירה לי את המודיעין לפני מלחמת יום כיפור. למרות שאז המודיעין היה נכון ממה שהבנתי ולא הטעיה כמו שקרה פה) , קשה להאמין שאוברלורד היה יוצא לפועל בלי מערך הבגידה הכפולה.

אסכם בזה שלרוב אני לא קורא עיון, פעם מאוד אהבתי אבל כיום אין לי חשק בכלל(לצערי ישנם ספרים ממש מעניינים בספרייה הביתית שאין לי חשק לקרוא). לכן, כשאני אומר שספר עיון גרם לי להיות במתח רב למרות שדי ברור שהטובים ניצחו. גרם לי להתחבר ולהתרגש עם הדמויות האנושיות והאמינות שמקנטייר יורד לתוך נפשם בצורה כה... מצוינת. גרם לי לרחם על הגרמנים ולכסוס אצבעות כשכמעט הכל נכשל(צ'רציל במיטתו לאשתו לפני הפלישה: "את מבינה שכשתעוררי מחר בבוקר יכול להיות שיטבחו בעשרים אלף חיילים?"). ספר כשסיימתי אותו כמעט צרחתי בקול: "המציאות עולה על כל דמיון". אז כשאני אומר את זה, תדעו שאני מתכוון לזה.

הספר מומלץ בחום ואני מודה לכל מי שהכריח אותי לקרוא אותו. כמו תמיד, אם טעיתי בעברית או במשהו, מוזמנים לתקן :)

Profile Image for Emily.
687 reviews618 followers
January 1, 2021
A few months ago, I decided to accept my pandemic attention span as it is, and not feel guilty about what I choose to read--embarking on a schedule of, mostly, rereading. Double Cross was a new book but it's by a familiar author on a familiar theme so it worked out anyway.

In 1943, MI6 realized that all German spies in Britain were either captured or under their control. Using an extremely motley and unlikely group of double agents, who couldn't be contradicted by any remaining real spies, they set about relaying a false plan for D-Day that led the Germans to hold military units down in northern France even as the invading force got a foothold to the south. One thing I thought was particularly interesting about this book (having visited Bletchley Park a few years ago) was that the Enigma decrypts didn't just expose German plans to the Allies--they also allowed them to know for sure that their double agents still had credibility with their German spymasters and hence escalate the plan as D-Day approached. Probably the biggest downside of this book was the relative lack of information about the five spies profiled here compared to some of Macintyre's other subjects. There are a lot of people in this book and they aren't as vivid.

A stray thought inspired by this read: part of the enduring fascination of the World War II period (aside from the obvious: the existentially important battle between good and evil) was the state of communications of the period. Their communications technologies extended the possibility of long-range communications but without much confidence or detail. For example, one amusing episode in this book is when the Allied tricksters send a double for General Montgomery to Gibraltar so he will be spotted in a misleading place by Nazi spies. That wouldn't have been worth it before the two world wars, because intel about the general's presence might not have made it to decision-makers in time. It wouldn't be worth it today because there would be too many data points about the real general's location, and the general probably doesn't need to be so near the action anyway. The communications of the time led to increased skulduggery and cleverness, which still makes for good reading today.
Profile Image for Bettie.
9,988 reviews15 followers
October 6, 2018

Book of The Week

blurbs - A team of agents (codenames Bronx, Brutus, Treasure, Tricycle and Garbo) is recruited to work as part of the 'Double Cross System' run by the secret Twenty Committee.

D-Day, 6 June 1944, the turning point of the Second World War, was a victory of arms. But it was also a triumph for a different kind of operation: one of deceit, aimed at convincing the Nazis that Calais and Norway, not Normandy, were the targets of the 150,000-strong invasion force. The deception involved every branch of Allied wartime intelligence - the Bletchley Park code-breakers, MI5, MI6, SOE, Scientific Intelligence, the FBI and the French Resistance. But at its heart was the 'Double Cross System', a team of double agents controlled by the secret Twenty Committee, so named because twenty in Roman numerals forms a double cross.

The key D-Day spies were just five in number, and one of the oddest military units ever assembled: a bisexual Peruvian playgirl, a tiny Polish fighter pilot, a Serbian seducer, a wildly imaginative Spaniard with a diploma in chicken farming, and a hysterical Frenchwoman whose obsessive love for her pet dog very nearly wrecked the entire deception. Their enterprise was saved from catastrophe by a shadowy sixth spy whose heroic sacrifice is here revealed for the first time. Under the direction of an eccentric but brilliant intelligence officer in tartan trousers, working from a smoky lair in St James's, these spies would weave a web of deception so intricate that it ensnared Hitler's army and helped to carry thousands of troops across the Channel in safety.

These double agents were, variously, brave, treacherous, fickle, greedy and inspired. They were not conventional warriors, but their masterpiece of deceit saved countless lives. Their codenames were Bronx, Brutus, Treasure, Tricycle and Garbo. This is their story.

3* - A Foreign Field (2001)
2* - Agent Zigzag (2007)
CR - Double Cross (2012)
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Fran Hutton.
83 reviews10 followers
April 2, 2013
I have always loved real life survival stories, especially when dealing with WWII. This is a story about the Double Cross spies, upon whom the survival of many in WWII was depended. Their misinformation was known to have made it way to top Nazi eyes and ears, and the resulting sucess of the Normandy Invasion is evidence that the ruses employed was successful.

I read this book just after reading "In the Garden of Beasts.", second in my trilogy of WWII stories recently read. In this book, you know the ending is a little better. It focuses on the spies involved in misleading the Germans as to where the D-Day invasion would occur. It worked. How much the double agents information was critical to the success of the operation may never be fully known...such is the nature of espionage...but the evidence shows it worked well, better even than the British had hoped it would, in some cases.

There are 5 spies in particular on which this book focuses: Tricycle, Garbo, Treasure, Brutus, and Bronx. Other such as Artist, Gelatine, Freak, and Giraffe are mentioned as well. I also enjoyed the little side stories of other spy's escapades, such as the wretched actor who made a magnificent double for Monty, the pigeon fanatic's efforts to infest German carrier pigeons with traitor pigeons, and an frustrated but nevertheless blustering Patton marching around touting his command of military units that did not exist. One slip, just one slip, one betrayal, one triple agent, could have blown the whole works, and perhaps cost the lives of tens of thousands more. And it nearly happened when the British spy handlers miscalculated the love of a the spy called Treasure for her little dog, and the bitterness she harbored when they broke their word to her regarding her beloved Frisson.

This book is a story of incredible bravery, astounding excesses, betrayal, psychology, strategy, and a look into the minds of those who masterminded the greatest deception in WWII. I was riveted.
Profile Image for Sunil.
919 reviews116 followers
December 6, 2018
After visiting the International Spy Museum in D.C., I was super interested in learning more about real-life spies, and my friend recommended Ben Macintyre's Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies. Which relates how British double agents ensured the success of D-Day by fooling the Germans into believing that the Normandy invasion would actually be occurring in several other locations.

This. Story. Is. Fucking. Unreal.

Two things become very clear after listening to this book. One, the British were very good at being spies but it is still a miracle that this worked given the various individuals involved. Two, the Germans were so bad at being spies. So bad. So very, very, very bad. My fucking God. At one point this point is proven by the fact that the British come up with a particularly ingenious method of screwing with pigeon spies (excuse me, Pigeon spies) and the Germans just...don't notice because they assume it is literally impossible to do what the British actually did.

Here's another thing. Eventually every single German spy in Britain was a double agent.


The Germans were so bad at being spies they were paying people to lie to them.

Ben Macintyre's greatest strength is his extensive research and sourcing that allows him to find the humanity in all of these people, giving us scenes where someone notices the color of someone's eyes or two spies unintentionally recreate a scene from A Star Is Born. He never loses sight of who these people are, and many of them are colorful, memorable characters like Serbian playboy Dusko Popov (one of the inspirations for James Bond), who is clearly one of the most competent and entertaining spies in the whole operation; Peruvian playgirl Elvira de la Fuente Chaudoir, who sadly does not actually get a lot of screentime but is always a delight because her being a Lesbian so confounded her employers; Spaniard Juan Pujol, who created an entire fake network of spies; and Frenchwoman Lily Sergeyev, whose entire story revolves around the fact that she loves her fucking dog so fucking much that she becomes a huge liability that could have brought the whole operation down. And that's only three of, like..a lot of spies in this book.

Ben Macintyre's greatest weakness is his understandable inability to knead the intricate complexities of this story involving so many different characters who don't even interact most of the time into something resembling a coherent narrative. Life doesn't conform to narrative expectations, of course, so even though I wanted to see way more of Elvira, it's not Macintyre's fault that she was really good at sending letters but that was basically all she did so we just check in with her occasionally. Which is how this book essentially operates. We check in with various spies throughout, sometimes meandering over here to some other subplot, sometimes checking back on this other minor spy (Macintyre does helpfully continue to remind the reader of real names and codenames and sometimes even epithets), sometimes providing a holistic look at the operation and bringing Churchill in. It's a...lot, and he doesn't seem to have a structure on a macro or a micro level to provide a tree to hang all these wonderful anecdotal ornaments on.

The book is slow going at first because it takes quite a while to recruit all these spies, but once the Double-Cross System truly kicks into gear, it is so much fun to watch all these machinations, and Macintyre absolutely delights in how hilariously hoodwinked the German Abwehr was, rarely missing an opportunity to rub their noses in it. John Lee conveys that delight well in his reading, and he's also excellent at reading quoted material in differently accented voices. Plus he can convey the difference between "lesbian" and "Lesbian," which is fantastic. Double Cross is extremely dense, packed with information, and while it can be hard to follow, it's a thorough tribute to the men and women (and pigeons) who put their lives at risk for the sake of this war, a true testament to the power of clever collaborative spycraft.
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