Obituary: Eddie Chapman

Edward Chapman, wartime double agent and adventurer: born Sunderland 16 November 1914; married (one daughter); died St Albans, Hertfordshire 11 December 1997.

Eddie Chapman was a safebreaker and crook, a highly successful double agent and the only Englishman to be awarded the Iron Cross. The false information he sent back to Germany about the effects of the V1 and V2 rockets probably saved the lives of a great many Londoners.

Born in the North-East during the First World War, Chapman was well versed in the harshness of life. As a youth he joined the Coldstream Guards, but spent considerable periods in the "glasshouse" (the army term for gaol) before being thrown out of the Army. He turned to smash-and-grab before progressing to safebreaking, specialising in gelignite.

In 1939 he was arrested for safebreaking in Glasgow, and while awaiting trial, escaped to Jersey, where he was immediately imprisoned. He was about to be returned to Scotland when the Germans invaded the Channel Islands.

Sensing a way out of his predicament, Chapman offered to carry out sabotage for the Germans on the UK mainland. He was extremely well trained by them, given the code-name Fritz, and in 1942 dropped by parachute near Littleport in Cambridgeshire. Equipped with wireless, pistol, the obligatory cyanide capsule and pounds 1,000, he was detailed to blow up the De Havilland aircraft factory at Hatfield where the new Mosquito fighter-bomber was being made.

On landing he reported to the local Littleport police station where he had difficulty in convincing the policemen on duty that not only was he an escaped prisoner turned German spy, but that he wanted to pass on secrets to MI5. But MI5 already had information from Bletchley Park on his activities and realised how valuable he was. They allowed him to radio his German controller and agreed that he should appear to carry out his mission. To obtain the necessary explosive material he returned to an old haunt, a quarry in Kent, to steal gelignite.

With his new British code-name Zig-Zag and the aid of Jasper Maskelyne, a stage illusionist and expert in deception and camouflage, he raided the factory. He created an enormous explosion which blew off part of the roof. They then smashed holes in all the windows, covered the rest of the roof in camouflage netting and threw debris around. German aerial reconnaissance recorded a successful operation and from that moment Fritz's signals about troop movements and other information were accepted by the Germans.

Soon afterwards he was ordered back to Germany. MI5 found a British ship bound for Lisbon. En route it was attacked by the Luftwaffe. When they arrived in Lisbon Chapman reported to the local Nazi representative, who gave him two pieces of "coal" which he was instructed to put aboard the ship before he finally left. This was in fact explosive material designed to detonate when put into the furnace. Not easily deceived, Chapman handed the "coal" to the captain. On his return to Germany he received a hero's welcome.

He then seemed to disappear in Europe and was later located by MI5 in Norway, where he was blowing his pay and talking with a very bad German accent. Shortly after D-Day, with the tide turning against them, the Germans planned to launch extensive raids on London with the V1 and V2. Chapman was briefed and told to report back on the effects of the rockets. Before departing he was awarded the Iron Cross. There is little doubt that, in his own inimitable way, Chapman had created a considerable bond with the Germans he worked with, which he recalls in The Eddie Chapman Story published after the war.

Dropped again in Cambridge, he reported to the nearest police station, where they again didn't believe a word of his story, until he insisted that they telephone Littleport, where the same desk sergeant who he had spoken to two years earlier remembered him. He was debriefed by MI5 and set up in a flat in Kensington. He reported back to Germany, giving grossly inflated figures about deaths from the V1 and V2 rockets and wherever possible redirecting them to sparsely populated areas. However, the double life and the large amount of money the Germans had paid him led Chapman back to his old cronies in the West End and nights at Smokey Joe's and the Shim Sham Club. He was indiscreet about the sources of his income and MI5, unable to control him, never used him again.

When the war ended Chapman, now a little short of money, had his wartime memoirs serialised in France. He was charged under the Official Secrets Act and fined pounds 50. A few years later, when they were due to be published in the News of the World the whole issue was pulped. But Chapman was not easily put off a mission, and managed to get his book, The Eddie Chapman Story, published in 1953, while the film Triple Cross, which opened in 1967, was loosely based on his own life. He continued his adventurous life, getting involved in smuggling in North Africa - and having to be smuggled out of Tangiers himself - and working in the colonies. In the Eighties he ran a health farm in Hertfordshire.

Perhaps the greatest accolade for this extraordinary, complex and genial man who made an art-form of deception came from Baron Stefan von Grunen, the German Chapman had reported to while an agent. Although he had been deceived throughout the war, von Grunen attended the wedding of Eddie Chapman's daughter.

- Max Arthur

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
Life and Style
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice