Failed Nazi spy mission in UK ‘was sabotaged by German dissidents’

Abwehr clerks in 1939By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
A new book authored by a German historian argues that a botched Nazi spy mission in World War II-era Britain was deliberately sabotaged by anti-Nazi intelligence officials within the ranks of the Third Reich. In 1940, Adolf Hitler was actively laying the groundwork for Operation SEA LION, Nazi Germany’s plan to invade the United Kingdom. In preparation for the invasion, the German leadership authorized the Hamburg bureau of the Abwehr, Nazi Germany’s military intelligence agency, to send into Britain a group of Nazi spies tasked with helping pave the way for the invasion. In September of 1940, a dozen Nazi intelligence operatives entered Britain during nighttime infiltration missions, some by parachute, and some by small inflatable boats. They had ostensibly been selected for the mission based on their ability to assimilate into British society. But Operation LENA, as the Abwehr codenamed the project, ended in abject failure. The near-comical behavior of the Nazi spies led to all of them getting arrested by British authorities within weeks. Some were detained after locals reported that they spoke English with heavy foreign accents. Nearly all of them lacked basic understanding of even the simplest British customs: indicatively, two of the spies were arrested in Scotland when they were found cycling on the wrong side of the road. Others were caught carrying German sausages and other continental consumer items among their personal belongings. The mainstream historical explanation of Operation LENA’s utter failure coincides with a British wartime report, which attributes it on the Nazi spies’ “own stupidity”. But a new book published this summer by German historian Monika Siedentopf, argues that LENA had been compromised from the very beginning by anti-Nazi officials inside Germany’s military intelligence community. The book, published in German by DTV Premium, is titled Unternehmen Seelöwe: Widerstand im deutschen Geheimdienst —in English, Operation Sea Lion: Resistance Inside German Intelligence. It is based on Siedentopf’s six-year study of material in the German National Archives, as well as in the personal wartime archives of senior German intelligence officers. She argues that Operation LENA stands out in its amateurism compared to other wartime infiltration operations by Germany’s Abwehr. And she concludes that LENA’s failure was not due to operational incompetence, but rather resulted from deliberate sabotage by a group of anti-Nazi intelligence officers. These were led by Herbert Wichmann, a leading conservative critic of Adolf Hitler, who was described by British intelligence as “a good German and a bad Nazi”. Siedentopf points out that Wichmann had close links with Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, Director of the Abwehr, who was executed by the Nazis in 1945 for conspiring to assassinate Hitler. According to Siedentopf, Wichmann, who led the Abwehr’s Hamburg bureau, was completely opposed to Hitler’s plan to invade Britain, believing it would end in failure and would internationalize the war, turning it into a global conflict, which Wichmann and his fellow dissenters wished to avoid at all costs. He therefore deliberately staffed Operation LENA with untrained and incompetent operatives from Denmark, Belgium and Holland, who were selected based primarily on their national socialist fervor, rather than their operational abilities.

5 Responses to Failed Nazi spy mission in UK ‘was sabotaged by German dissidents’

  1. Gregg Weber says:

    It’s one thing to send innocent country loving people to their deaths, but quite another if the decision was “based primarily on their national socislism fervor”.
    Was it just Sea Lion was bad or was it more anti-Nazi or more anti-Hitler? I would suspect the latter rather than anti-Sea Lion.

  2. AlbertE. says:

    The Pastorius operation [spies sent to the U.S] also consisted of men poorly trained and equipped for the job. I guess during wartime you have to go with what you got, whether the material meets muster or not.

  3. intelNews says:

    AlbertE. makes a good point. IntelNews has written before on a couple of aspects concerning Operation PASTORIUS, here. [JF]

  4. Gregg Weber says:

    Wasn’t this nearer the start of the war? Years before the Volksstrum in 1945.

  5. Gregg Weber says:

    Opps! I didn’t see the notify for follow-up comments before I posted.

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