Books: The spy who went after the gold

Donald Cameron Watt reads a shameful story of behind-the-lines warfare; OP JB: The Last Great Secret of the Second World War by Christopher Creighton, Simon & Schuster, pounds 14.99

Donald Cameron Watt
Friday 30 August 1996 23:02

Christopher Creighton, whose real name, the book-jacket informs us, is John Christopher Ainsworth Davis, has written a thumping yarn. His model is less Ian Fleming's James Bond than the late Alastair Maclean.

Mr Creighton claims from adolescence to have been befriended by Von Ribbentrop, Lord Mountbatten (a college friend of his father), Major Desmond Morton, Churchill's friend and head of the Industrial Intelligence Centre, and by Churchill himself, when he and his mother rented a cottage on the Chartwell estate.

Morton recruited our hero, age 16, via Dartmouth into his ultra-secret "M-section", in March 1940. He was sent almost immediately to destroy a German submarine base in Ireland where he killed four men, three with his bare hands. In 1942, posing as a disaffected ex-Mosleyite pilot officer he betrayed the disastrous Dieppe operation to the Germans to establish his bona fides with them. Back in Britain, he was used by Morton to persuade Hitler that the Allied invasion of Europe would focus on the Pas de Calais rather than Normandy. Morton betrayed his identity as a British agent to the SS so that under torture he would confirm the story, which he thought to be true. Rescued by his colleagues in the M-section, he returned to Britain, where he fell in love.

His inamorata was dropped into the Austrian Tyrol by SOE where Austrian resistance members gave her the name of the Swiss bank where Nazi war loot had been deposited. She was caught by the SS, tortured and executed. Hearing this, our hero tried to shoot Morton. Thereafter, Ian Fleming recruited him to the mission which is the main theme of the book: the recovery of the cash, gold, jewellery and works of art that the Nazis had stashed outside Germany. The mission involved him re-establishing contact with Ribbentrop, entering Germany via Switzerland, meeting both Ribbentrop and Martin Bormann, and for a hefty bribe, agreeing to arrange their escape from Germany.

Eisenhower became aware of these plans and attached his own agent, a gung-hofemale officer, whose ability to play the Soviet Commissar enabled the British to bluff their way past various Soviet forces they encountered. A double for Bormann was discovered in Canada and taken on the mission, to be sacrificed so that his body would be taken for Bormann's. Ribbentrop pulled out of the adventure, Bormann was rescued and taken to Britain where he later died.

A rattling good yarn? Certainly. Believable? Hardly. The author has done his best to match his story with what has been published, but not enough. The recent row over the Anglo-Swiss negotiations on German funds in Swiss banks, provoked by American declassification, came too late for him. He is unaware too of the remarkable detective work by the American writer, Lynn H Nicholas, on the fate of the Nazi war loot.

It is also a shameful story. Churchill who for four years had forbidden any contact with Germans, including the anti-Hitler conspirators, is shown dealing with Ribbentrop and Bormann for the recovery of the German gold. Stalin, who blew his top on discovering Allen Dulles' attempt to negotiate the surrender of the German forces in Italy, was betrayed. Successive British governments cheated Hitler's Jewish victims of the wealth and property he had robbed from them. Britain rescued and hid a man condemned to death at Nuremberg. The Canadians were deliberately led into their massacre at Dieppe.

And one last touch - our hero claims to have blown up the Dutch submarine which had observed the Japanese fleet en route for Pearl Harbour and signalled a warning, so that Roosevelt's abandonment of the American Pacific fleet to destruction should never become known. Mr Ainsworth Jones has chosen to blacken the honour both of Churchill and of this country, and to sow renewed bitterness against us with the victims of the Holocaust, with Canada, with Ireland, with the Netherlands and with the United States. This, even in fiction, is not so much unbelievable as unforgiveable.

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