Obituary: Henry Hyde

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Henry Hyde became a leading United States spymaster in the war against Hitler's Germany: fittingly for a Paris-born American, his principal field of activity lay in France.

His parents were wealthy (the money came from the Equitable Life insurance company, which an ancestor had founded), yet also cultivated. They preferred Paris at the tail end of the belle epoque to the America of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. They stayed on through the Great War, early in which he was born. His mother's salon at Versailles had visitors as various as Foch, Ravel and Marie Laurencin.

Hyde got an international education, at the College de Normandie in France, Chillon in Switzerland and Bonn in Germany as well as Charterhouse and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he read History in G.M. Trevelyan's heyday. Then he went to Harvard to read Law, and moved on to practise it in New York.

A fellow lawyer, Alan Dulles - John Foster Dulles's brother - picked him out to join the Office of Strategic Services. This was the American foreign secret service, formed in mid-1942 to cover both espionage and subversion: direct ancestor of today's CIA. OSS posted him, viewing his fluent French and German, to intelligence duties in newly conquered Algiers, where he carved himself out a niche of his own.

He organised a group of spies, codenamed "Penny Farthing", to report on German troop locations and movements in southern France; viewing the eventual landing on the Riviera coast that was to form part of the Allied invasion of western Europe. The group ranged from French aristocrats who had been family friends to railway clerks, local government officials, and an ardent anarchist codenamed "Toto". "Toto" was among several whom the Germans caught; in the end, he was overrun by friendly forces while awaiting execution in Mantluc prison in Lyons, for the Riviera landing succeeded.

Operation "Anvil", as it was at first known, was to have been simultaneous with operation "Neptune", the landing on the west Normandy beaches; but there were not enough landing craft to mount both at once.

"Neptune", the assault phase of "Overlord", went in on 5/6 June 1944; the surviving landing craft then went round to the Mediterranean and mounted "Anvil" - renamed "Dragoon" - for which D-day was 15 August.

"Dragoon" was much less expensive in men than "Neptune" had been; partly because Hitler for once ordered a retreat, partly also because "Penny Farthing" had provided so extraordinarily complete a picture of German dispositions, which the Allies were able to match and counter exactly. As Arthur Funk has explained in his luminous book Hidden Ally (1992), French resistance provided a much larger bonus than the planning staffs had foreseen. "Penny Farthing" contributed a substantial slab of this bonus, rivalling the contribution of Marie-Madeleine Fourcade's huge "Alliance" network which worked to MI6 in London.

Moreoever, as far back as February 1944 it had been a "Penny Farthing" agent who spotted, earlier than anyone else, that the Second SS Panzer Division which had been fighting in Russia had retired to south-west France to refit. As, for the moment, it had no tanks, Bletchley (to the ultra- secret products of which Hyde was not then privy) could not pick it up from its routine tank strength returns. Once it had been located, steps could be taken to delay its move elsewhere. After its tanks arrived, two schoolgirl sisters siphoned off the oil in many tank transporters' axles, replacing it with SOE's abrasive grease, and thus helped cause a vital fortnight's delay in the division's move to Normandy in June 1944.

Hyde was promoted to replace Dulles in Bern as head of OSS's north-west European operations, and did not return to New York until 1947. He then moved to a further career, spanning more than four decades, as an internatonal lawyer. He never forgot his French friends, and remained a pillar of Franco- American friendship.

Henry Hyde, spy and lawyer: born Paris 31 October 1915; twice married (two daughters); died New York 5 April 1997.

Comments