Leslie Howard's death mistery: the man in the photo



Ronald Howard, actor and Leslie Howard's son, wrote in 1981 a book about his father's life and death, In Search of My Father. There he publishes a photograph of daddy dining in Hotel Aviz with Alfred Chenalls and a man he declares to be Calouste Gulbenkian. But, after a book I wrote, I came to conclude that he couldn't be the oil mogul. Howard’ case still remains a mystery after IBIS aircraft KLM/BOAC was in 1st June 1943 sunk by a German Junkers flotilla in Biscay Bay, despite a gentleman’s agreement between the Allies and the Axis in order to spare the Lisbon air line from any attack by the Luftwaffe.
Who is the man having dinner with the famous actor, days before his tragic fate?

Tom Burns and the Duke of Windsor's case



Jimmy Burns wrote the biography of his father, Tom Burns, press attaché to the British Embassy in Madrid under the orders of Sir Samuel Hoare [in his biography, Ambassador with a Special Mission, Hoare however makes no mention to Burns]. The book recall two episodes occurred in Portugal during that period, the case of the Duke of Windsor travel to Lisbon and Leslie Howard’s tragic flight from Portugal back home.
Windsor’s case is the story of a German plot to «kidnap» him, or at least to convince former Edward VIII to move from Ricardo Espírito Santos's villa in Cascais to the North of Portugal and from there to Castelo Rodrigo, where a joint German-Spanish operation would later transfer him to Berlin. In the capital of the Reich the former King could proclaim his return to the British Throne, from which he had abdicate in order to keep his marriage with Ms. Salis Simpson, an American divorcee that had conquered his heart.
Burns recalls how, acting with the agreement of the Foreign Office, the Windsor’s were entertained in Madrid and at the same time discreetly monitored for their contacts with Franco’s entourage, not knowing that the Germans were acting behind the scenes in order to keep them in Spain.
Later, after the Royal Couple moved to Lisbon, after 2nd July 1940, Burns traveled to Lisbon by train, where his second Marcus Cheke was working in the British Embassy, with close ties to David Eccles. He met the Duke but, despite the fact he mentioned his staying in this country in a letter he wrote to Ann Bowes-Lyon, little is known about the nature of his mission. Neither in his memoirs can be found any hint about what Burns is really up to in Lisbon.
Remarking that this rendezvous anticipated Walter Turner Monckton, former lawyer of the Duke, journey to Lisbon where he manage to convince HRH to accept the nomination as Governor of Bahamas – in a first move Churchill admitted to make him face martial court for leaving France without permission – the author of Papa Spy speculates: «another possibility is that Burns had taken the initiative to seek out the Duke, as part of a covert diplomatic operation which was stamped with Churchill’s personal authority».
An ambiguous case continues without any sound reply: why was Tom Burns doing in Lisbon and why he met the Duke in the Casino Estoril? Another topic gets no answer: one of the key contacts Walter Schellenberg [Section VI of Reich Sicherheit Amt] used in Lisbon – where he came in order to coordinate “Operation Willi”, the German «kidnap» plan, was in the Portuguese secret police [PVDE] «a double agent working for the British». Jimmy does not reveal the name. As we pointed in one article published about this case, untrusting Agostinho Lourenço [PVDE chief], Schellenberg had made arrangements with José Catela [secretary-general of the police] that he quotes ironically as «C» in his messages to Berlin. Is Catela the German V-Mann and a British double agent?

Gulbenkian at Hotel Aviz

Today it is a awful tower, the Commercial Center Imaviz. But it was in one of the most sophisticated hotels in Lisbon, the Aviz Hotel, in the Avenue Fontes Pereira de Melo (telephone 48101). In 1941/42 an Armenian,  Calouste Gulbenkian, with Iranian diplomatic passport nº 712, inhabited there, where Azeredo Perdigão, a reputed comercial Lawyer in Lisbon would make him to create the generous Gulbenkian Foundation. Installed in a “suite”, his entourage was Miss Isabelle Theis, secretary (passport nº 20328), Helène Wilhelm, maid, of French nationality, Eugène Bruneau, “valete” and nurse, of French nationality (passport nº 763), José Martinez, "courier" and interpreter, of Spanish nationality (passport nº 1411) and Mehmed Saradjoglu, driver of Turkish nationality (passaport nº 709/105). His wife stayed in Hotel Palácio in Estoril.
Known, as the Palácio, for the refusal to accept Axis connected guests, the Hotel was the stage for many stories concerning the secret war in this country.

Richard Sonnenfeldt dies


Richard Sonnenfeldt, chief of the interpretation section of the US counsel at the International Military Tribunal, Nuremberg, 1945-46, was born on July 23, 1923. He died on October 9, 2009, aged 86.
Quoting the Times of London obituary:
«As with much at the tribunal, his appointment at such a young age was the result of chance rather than of planning. A German Jew who had fled to America, he was stationed in July 1945 in Austria as a private in a US armoured unit when the passing General "Wild Bill" Donovan, head of the Office of Strategic Services (the CIA's predecessor), asked for an interpreter. Impressed by Sonnenfeldt's American accent, which was free of the guttural inflections that made other German native speakers hard to understand, Donovan whisked him off to the OSS office in Paris. There he began to translate captured documents and interview witnesses for the forthcoming war crimes trials. The venue and list of defendants was decided the next month, and Sonnenfeldt moved to Nuremberg. There he became interpreter initially for John Amen, the principal American interrogator, who had made his name prosecuting New York gangsters. Sonnenfeldt, accordingly, was to spend hundreds of hours in the company of Joachim von Ribbentrop, Rudolf Hess, Albert Speer and other leading Nazis, such as Hans Frank, the governor of occupied Poland, and Ernst Kaltenbrunner, head of Germany's security apparatus».
A very interesting interview with him can be seen here.

Polish Secret Services in Portugal


Jan Stanislaw Ciechanowski wrote about Polish intelligence activity in the Iberian Peninsula. An important study, with extensive details and acurate information leading to the conclusion that «Lisbon became one of the foremost centres of Polish Intelligence, at least until the Allied landings in Normandy», being «the most important contribution made by the Polish secret services in the Iberian Peninsula the mission carried out by Lt-Col. Jan Kowalewski», case he also studied in full.
The text os these studies are published in the first volume of the Report of the Anglo-Polish Historical Committee [volume 1, Valentine Mitchell, London, 2005, pp. 261 ff.].
Some pages before Gill Bennett makes a minor mention to «the few Poles to whom rerence has been found»: Eugenia Miladoska [«who appeared to have an intimate connection with both Polish and Czech Intelligence in Lisbon], Waclaw Sledziewski and Zygmunt Cedro [representative of the Polish Naval Intelligence in Lisbon] and Sylvia Wallace née Wokolowska [to be a member of the staff of the British POC in Lisbon in charge of Polish intelligence].

Nigel West & Bond

One book more from "Nigel West" will be released soon: Historical Dictionary of Ian Fleming's James Bond. "Nigel West" is the pen name for Rupert William Simon Allason, a former Conservative Party politician, remembered by not voting the Maastricht Treaty. A prolific writer, his bibliography on intelligence is massive. But academics take some distance towards his line of research.
Bond is yet a goldmine. After John Pearson (1966 and 2007), Donald McCormick (1993), Andrew Lycett (1995) biographies, Amis (1965), Benson (1988), Pfeifer & Worral (2003) and Chancellor (2005), not to quote many others studies on Fleming, let’s wait for this new one. Commander Fleming started his carreer as a writer after his work in the NID, the Naval Intelligence Department of the British Navy. He visited Portugal during WW2 and inspired in a night at the Casino of Estoril for his first novel, Casino Royale. Last year I published a book about Bond/Fleming psychological connections, the author being as neurotic as the creature he gave the codename 007.

Christopher Andrew's book and the story of a dog


Professor Christopher Andrew, from Cambridge, wrote the official history of MI5, The Defence of the Realm. The part of the book dedicated to WW2 is comparatively small. One looks for events in which MI5 was involved and finds no trace of them. Some occurred involving Portuguese, arrested in Camp 020 as spies.
I read parts of the book, just published, basically what is written about a case I studied with detail, Nathalie Sergueiew's mission for the XX Committee, for which she worked as a double agent, codenamed Treasure. Please allow me to remember my biography of this extraordinary woman.
With due respect, what could be said about her is simplified in the short version given by Professor Andrew. But what surprises me is the outline of Treasure’s personality as «a temperamental woman» someone that almost blew up D’days operation because of a dog! Saying so, Professor Andrew reproduces what has been disseminated through the National Archives site and after Kenneth Benton, PCO and MI6 man in Madrid, wrote it in a short story of his life after his memoirs of his encounter with a young lady aplying for a visa to the UK: that she confessed to her British controller, Mary Sherer, that, irritated because the dog Bab’s was not given back up to her by the British, as promised, she threat to betray them in benefit of the German Abwehr, that candidly took her as one of the best assets in UK.
This version of the facts cannot be accepted without scrutiny. The problem of Sergueiew is very complex. First, she is a white Russian anti-communist, and British alliance with Stalin’s is not easy accepted in the circles where she came from. Second, it is possible to find if not a clear sympathy for the German nazism, at least for German values, in the first book she wrote in 1933, despite the fact she had been arrested by the Gestapo while in Berlin. Extreme conservative were the kind of newspapers she read and the organizations she had been in contact with, during her youth. But more important are two facts that are not mentioned in that regrettable dog’s story simplified version: her sister was found dead in very strange conditions an there are documents that show that Treasure was blaming the British Secret Service for that, claiming that she was the target; and there were deep connections between Stalin’s/Hitler operation against the White Russian ROV’s in Paris, and the kidnap of general Miller – his uncle! – and the German controller that was assigned to her, major Emil Kliemann, from Luft Eins. So, there is much more to justify her desire to cut with the British than that naïve dog's story! So allow me to ask: if she wasn't a woman, would that «temperamental» version be given as an explanation for the facts?
A final remark: Babs, a Fox-Terrier, was not kept in Lisbon, as it is written about one of the photographs published in Professor Andrew’s book, but in Gibraltar in November 1943. Nathalie flew to Lisbon in January 1944 only, some months afterwards, already without any dog at all. If truth must be said about the woman, the same to Babs!

MI for Military Intelligence


Many recognize MI5 and MI6, some MI9. All these are services of Military Intelligence [disregard the picture...]. Here they are, organised, as they were during WW2:


MI 1 Administration.
MI 2 Information on Middle and Far East, Scandinavia, USA, USSR, Central and South America. MI 3 Information on Europe and the Baltic Provinces (plus USSR, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia after Summer 1941).
MI 4 Geographical section - maps (transferred to Military Operations in April 1940).
MI 5 Liaison with Security Service. Some Portuguese Axis controlled spies where caught in the UK by MI 5.
MI 6 Liaison with SIS. Section V of MI 6 had an office in Lisbon during WW2.
MI 7 Press and propaganda (transferred to Ministry of Information in May 1940).
MI 8 Signals interception and communications security.
MI 9 Escaped British PoW debriefing, escape and evasion (plus enemy PoW interrogation until December 1941). There was a station of MI 9 in Lisbon during WW2.
MI 10 Technical Intelligence world-wide.
MI 11 Military Security.
MI 12 Liaison with censorship organisations in Ministry of Information, military censorship.
MI 13 Not Used.
MI 14 Germany and German-occupied territories (aerial photography until Spring 1943).
MI 15 Aerial photography (in Spring 1943 aerial photography moved to the Air Ministry and MI 15 became air defence intelligence).
MI 16 Scientific Intelligence (formed 1945).
MI 17 Secretariat for Director of Military Intelligence (from April 1943).
MI 18 Not Used.
MI 19 Enemy PoW interrogation (formed from MI9 in December 1941).
MI (JIS) Axis planning staff.
MI L (R) Russian Liaison.
MI L Attachés.

SOE Portugal, conference in Warsawa



SOE activity in Portugal is usually out of official accounts, because it was a failure. For many SOE failure in Portugal is usually described as a result of local police infiltration. That is part of the truth. The real cause must be searched also on the ambiguous nature of the double game played by John Beevor, establishing its networks here with the left-wingers that were opponents to Salazar’s regime but not preventing from close contacts with the Legião Portuguesa, a armed militia, organized by the extreme right to fight communism. Internal disputes between Legião and PVDE, the State Police, the amateurish nature of Beevor’s work, and conflict with the Foreign Office mentality created the explosive mixture. The British were saved by Salazar from the scandal of being traitor’s vis-à-vis our oldest diplomatic Alliance, the Portuguese involved suffered deportation to Tarrafal, a concentration camp and prison in Cape Vert. A gloomy story, and «a case study».


These are the conclusions of a lecture I gave at Warsawa yesterday in an international conference organised by the Office fo War Veternas and Victims of Oppression entitled On the Secret Front: the Intelligence during the World War II

Here we are!


This blog is dedicated to the secret war in Portugal during WW2. It covers Axis and Allies networks working on intelligence, counter-intelligence, propaganda and subversion. The author is working on the topic for several years, and has some books published.