Revealed: How MI5 recruited an astrologer in plot to outwit Hitler
Tuesday 04 March 2008
In November 1942, a neatly typed report was delivered to room 055 of the War Office, the secret address for MI5. The document, A Survey of 1943, revealed one of the most bizarre attempts by Britain to gain an advantage over Nazi Germany: the second-guessing of Adolf Hitler's horoscope.
The opening lines of the report, marked top secret, stated: "Since 1923, Hitler is advised by astrologers. The main object of such advice is to undertake major enterprises for which 'luck' is needed at times, in which one is 'lucky' according to planetary influences. By making exactly the same calculations, the astrologer is naturally in the position to find out what Hitler will be told by his advisers."
The seven-page study suggested when major attacks should be planned or expected by predicting month by month, the likely fortunes of key figures in the Second World War, from Hitler and Herman Goering, the head of the Luftwaffe, to Winston Churchill and King George VI, as well as their most senior generals.
Its author was Louis De Wohl, a minor Hungarian aristocrat born in Berlin who had a liking for cigars and transvestism. His extraordinary role as Britain's self-declared "State Seer", and the panic he caused by coming close to persuading intelligence chiefs to place his work at the heart of Britain's war strategy, is revealed for the first time after his personal MI5 file was released at the National Archives in Kew, west London.
De Wohl, recruited by the Security Service in 1940 and described by his handler as "extraordinarily clever" and a "brilliant propagandist", became feted in the highest echelons of the intelligence community and had his reports submitted to the Directorate of Military Intelligence, the clearing house for clandestine activities.
De Wohl claimed he was badgered by senior officers to read the runes on major events in the conflict, including the likely date for Operation Sealion, the German invasion of Britain, and the outcome of El Alamein, the desert victory by General Bernard Montgomery's Eighth Army that marked the turning-point of British wartime fortunes.
But the documents, which reveal how De Wohl was also used by the Special Operations Executive (SOE), to help in British efforts to entice America into the war by touring the United States providing false horoscopes on Hitler, also show MI5 rapidly moved from being an admirer to dismissing him as a "charlatan".
The Security Service spotted the potential of the 37-year-old émigré while he was casting horoscopes in London at 30 guineas a time (about £800 today) for a circle of individuals of interest to Britain's spooks, including the Romanian ambassador and senior officers in the Free French forces.
Living in a hotel in Maida Vale, north-west London, De Wohl was assessed by his eventual MI5 controller as being of potential use despite leading a "louche" existence with multiple "amatory adventures and habits", a liking for cigars and a history of cross-dressing in Berlin bars and at London dinner parties.
His handler, Major Gilbert Lennox, wrote: "It is often of considerable interest to know who is consulting an astrologer and for what reason, and it is sometimes even more interesting to hear the advice which the stars give.
"He is an extraordinarily clever and astute man and at the moment I am quite sure he is all out to help the British war effort. He is also an exceedingly vain man with the German's love of uniform and rank."
De Wohl enjoyed a rapid ascent to a point of eyebrow-raising influence among senior military planners. They agreed with his assessment that the interest of Hitler and Goering in the occult and astrology could have a potentially vital impact on Britain's fate at a time when it was still fighting Germany alone. Even the Joint Intelligence Committee, the most senior forum for considering secret information in Whitehall, calculated the most likely date for an invasion by Nazi forces in 1940 according to Hitler's star sign, Taurus. De Wohl claimed he provided the data.
In his 1943 report, he wrote: "It is entirely irrelevant whether we ourselves regard astrological advice as valuable and scientific or as useless nonsense. All that matters is that Hitler follows its rules."
The growing influence of De Wohl, who was eventually granted a captain's commission by SOE, then began to cause alarm in MI5. One memo said: "I have never liked Louis De Wohl; he strikes me as a charlatan and an impostor. He at one time exercised influence on highly placed British intelligence officers through his star-gazing profession."
A more dyspeptic MI5 officer said most De Wohl forecasts had been "useless", adding: "The danger is that this sort of pseudo-science is most insidious and unless you have a complete sceptic or a very strong-minded man dealing with it quite the wrong point of view may be indulged in."
The Security Service even ordered De Wohl to be placed under surveillance in 1944, after reports that he was "strutting about" in his uniform and boasting about his secret role.
After VE Day, his backers begrudgingly decided De Wohl had been useful after all. In a memo supporting his request for British citizenship, Major Lennox wrote: "He has certainly done more for the Allied cause than a great many of his foreign brethren."
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