Historian names wartime British spy who fooled Nazi sympathizers
October 24, 2014 1 Comment
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A British counterintelligence agent, who managed to neutralize an extensive wartime network of Nazi sympathizers in the United Kingdom by pretending to represent the German government, has been named. Regular intelNews readers might remember our post about a wartime agent identified only as “Jack King” in files released by the British National Archives in February. “Jack King” was the operational codename given to the agent by his handlers in the British Security Service, commonly known as MI5, which is tasked with counterintelligence duties. Senior officials at the agency described “King” as “a genius” at luring Nazi sympathizers in the UK. The files show that “King’s” work helped MI5 identify hundreds of residents in Britain —most of them British citizens— as committed Nazis who were prepared to pass national secrets to Berlin. “King” reportedly utilized his pro-German contacts in the southeast of England and was able to infiltrate pro-Nazi circles operating in and around London. He did so by posing as an agent of the Gestapo, Nazi Germany’s secret police. He quickly gained the trust of some of the most fervent pro-German activists operating in the British Isles. These included Edgar Whitehead, Hilda Leech, and Marita Perigoe, a Swedish resident of the UK who was so fervently pro-Nazi that she once dismissed Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists as “insufficiently extreme”. When the “Jack King” files were declassified, some intelligence historians suggested that the operational codename referred to John Bingham, a legendary MI5 office and fluent German speaker who is said to have inspired John le Carré’s fictional character George Smiley. But Cambridge University historian Christopher Andrew, who in 2009 authored In Defense of the Realm, an officially-commissioned history of MI5, has revealed the name of “Jack King” as Eric Roberts. Professor Andrew told The Daily Telegraph newspaper that Roberts was an unassuming suburban bank clerk who lived in a small market town called Epsom in Surrey. Roberts was born in nearby Sussex, in southeastern England, in 1907, married at a young age and had three children —two sons and a daughter. His MI5 files document that, by the time World War II started, he was “thoroughly familiar” with networks of Nazi sympathizers in the south of England, though just how he had managed to do that remains a mystery. Roberts eventually attracted the attention of Maxwell Knight, a legendary MI5 spymaster who headed the organization’s Section B5(b), tasked with infiltrating subversive political groups in Britain. Knight, who is said to have partly inspired the character known as “M.” in Ian Fleming’s James Bond series, contacted Roberts’ superiors at the bank where he worked, asking to borrow him for “a special task of national importance”. But the baffled bank officials wrote back saying they had “not been able to perceive” Roberts’ special qualifications that rendered him so indispensable to national security. Roberts’ MI5 files also note that, although he was a fluent speaker of Spanish, his German-language skills were only “slight”. Remarkably, however, he managed to convince countless committed Nazi sympathizers in the British Isles that he was a representative of the German government.