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from Special Counter Intelligence in WW2 Europe by Keith Ellison

Chapter 4 - London, Algiers and Italy
SI(b) Units, X-2 and SCIZ

 

 

 

Chapter 4

London, Algiers and Italy: SI(b) Units and X-2

 

 

X-2 was created in March 1943 as a CI division within OSS/SI, becoming a full Branch in July. But by March 1943, an OSS SI/CI delegation had already been installed with Section V at Glenalmond outside London, and was being indoctrinated into the mysteries of counter espionage and the secrets of ULTRA. This delegation consisted of Lt Col McDonough, Maj Dana P Durand, Mr Norman Pearson and their leader, James R Murphy.

A locally recruited Betty Lussier was a swift addition to the group. Lussier was an American pilot ferrying repaired and replacement aircraft to Air Force units in England, and later worked in 69 SCIU in Southern France. She was recruited by James Murphy in England “for secretarial work” on 3 May 1943, though it seems she had other ideas. In St Albans

Lussier made her position clear to the other trainees:

Immediately and emphatically I informed these strangers that I did not type, I did not make tea, and the only pencils I sharpened were my own. ‘I am here, like you are, to learn the spy-catching business and then to get to the continent where the war is.’"[1]

On 27 May Miss Gwendolyn de Havilland was recruited in England, and on 7 June four US secretaries selected in Washington arrived in London. By the end of 1943 the London office staff reached 27 – 5 male civilians, 7 army officers, 1 Navy officer, 11 female civilians and 3 enlisted WACs.[2] From then until June 1944 X-2 was learning the CE trade, mostly alongside Section V of MI6 in London, but slowly, also, in North Africa and Italy, where X-2 personnel were able to gain some valuable practical experience.

 

X-2 London Desks and Codenames

The X-2 preparations for future operations took two specific forms: creating the regional desk plan of a working headquarters to serve field stations scattered throughout the world, with the exception of the Far East and the United Kingdom; and developing the SCI (Special Counter-Intelligence) Unit under London as a field station for use in the event of future military operations on the Continent of Europe. [3]

The USA was known as ‘48-land’ to the British MI6 and became “DH-land” in the corresponding X-2 communication system. Great Britain (less Eire) was known as BB to correspond with the British numerical symbol ‘22-land’. Germany was “12-land” or “AB-land”.[*] As a general rule the chief of station was allotted the number 001, after which there was no attempt to maintain seniority in the numbering. Where there were three starting letters for a designation, this referred first to a country (eg France = BG) followed by another letter for a possession, eg BGB = French Indo-China. Only the symbol ‘JJ’ differed, standing for Miscellaneous and General. JJ-001 was assigned to the Chief of X-2 Branch, James R Murphy.

The X-2 London desk system was copied from their British counterparts to ensure simplification of liaison and cooperation between the organizations. According to the “Preamble 1 Jan 1944 to Early X-2 History”, at this time in 1943 the British geographical divisions were as follows:

Va = Far East including India and Afghanistan [this differs from Tim Milne’s recollection that Va referred to the Americas, but another source claims they were both correct – see Chapter One]; with no Far East desk assigned in X-2 London, V48/a was the London X-2 Branch Executive Officer.

Vb = France (excluding Corsica), Monaco, Andorra, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg, Scandinavia and the Baltic States, Iceland, and Greenland;

Vd = Iberian peninsula, Spanish Morocco, Tangier and the Balearic and Atlantic Islands (the section also included Transatlantic smuggling and activity by enemy agents against neutral shipping);

Ve = the Balkans (excluding Yugoslavia and Albania), Russia, Hungary, Near and Middle Eastern countries, including Persia, Libya, Egypt, Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, Abyssinia, Eritrea, Italian Somaliland, Djibuta and British Somaliland;

Vf = Greater Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia;

Vt = Continent of Africa (excluding those areas already assigned), Italy, Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily, Yugoslavia and Albania.

X-2 designations were similar, eg Vf equivalent was V48/f.[4]

When the first X-2 contingent arrived in London in March 1943, regions were divided more simply - Mid East (Lt Col McDonough), Europe (Major Dana P Durand) and Western Mediterranean (Norman Pearson, referred to in correspondence as BB-119), with James Murphy as overall head of X-2 in London. When Blum transferred to CE Division in May, he replaced Durand, who took over Scandinavia and Italy. Durand was then assigned on the liaison mission to 5th Army, to observe and learn from the operational methods of the British and French in North Africa and Italy. As other X-2 staff members were recruited to the London office they took on the desk designations.

Codenames were also issued to X-2 personnel. In late March 1943, SAINT became the codename for the OSS CE organisation in London and Washington, as well as to James Murphy personally. Other codenames included CARDINAL (Lt Col John McDonough); QUAKER (Maj Durand); PURITAN (Norman Pearson); AGNOSTIC (Robert Blum); PRIEST (Mr Hubert Will, Assistant to Chief X-2 Branch in the London office from October 1943); and Lt James Angleton was ARTIFICE.[5]

       The first officers and enlisted men recruited for the X-2/SCI units did not arrive in London until December 1943. A memo from Robert Blum of X-2 London mentioned Captain Oakes, Lt Brown [sic - Lt William Bittner Browne] and Lt Weismiller plus six enlisted men.[6]

The personnel of MI6(V) and X-2 were moved from their location at Glenalmond to their new quarters at 14 Ryder Street in London on 18 July 1943. The accommodation proved too cramped from the outset, so Robert Blum made arrangements with the American Red Cross, who occupied the adjacent building, to rent the third (US fourth) floor. It was sealed off from the rest of the building and a passageway was cut through from 14 Ryder St. The new X-2 offices were ready for occupation on 15 January 1944.[7]

Sicily and Italy

MI5 was meanwhile persisting in its efforts to be included in the counter-intelligence efforts of the Allied Military forces, despite the initial refusal by AFHQ and SIS (see Chapter Three). In summer 1943 three MI5 officers were posted to the staff of AFHQ, and several more were posted during the year to COSSAC to bring some expertise to the security functions within the Intelligence staffs preparing for the invasion of Europe.

Field security was expanded by AFHQ in Algiers for the invasion of Sicily and southern Italy, which began on 10 July with Operation HUSKY. Each division and all higher HQs were allotted their own Field Security Sections (security personnel from the British Army’s Intelligence Corps). 15th Army Group was further supplied with mobile wireless detection units (known as D/Fing Units) and with an SI(b) Unit “responsible for co-ordinating the recruitment and employment of informers and counter-intelligence agents”.[8] The term SI(b) was used in the North African and Mediterranean areas until the term “SCI” became the official designation for both British and US field CE units in February 1944. Within AFHQ’s G-2, the CI(iv) section under Major Mair was responsible for liaison with SI(b). Double agents in North Africa were controlled by SI(b) in conjunction with the French and A Force. As at February 1944 there were no double agents being exploited in Italy. [9]

From November 1942 onwards much of the German-occupied territory liberated by the Allies fell in the first instance to the Americans. Information from captured Abwehr and SD officers and agents, and the opportunity to ‘turn’ suitable agents against the Germans, were immediately available to us. The process was greatly helped by the establishment of British and American military SCI units, staffed by officers trained in Section V and attached to Army Group headquarters or sometimes a lower formation. The SCI units were equipped with rapid and secure wireless and cipher communications with Section V, and in effect were Section V (or X-2) outstations in the battle areas. X-2 officers could be attached to Section V’s SCI units and vice versa”. [10]

Neither MI6 nor OSS was able to provide intelligence from Sicily prior to the invasion. Once the Allies were securely landed, MI6 set up a forward unit in Sicily which later moved to Bari.[†] It was located there by October 1943, working with SIM, and had five agents and W/T operators working behind the lines by the end of 1943. MI6 Algiers moved to Naples at the beginning of 1944, and was joined by the Bari unit. It was able to obtain useful intelligence from Rome prior to its capture and much more military intelligence thereafter.[11]

The first X-2 station in the Italian zone was in Sicily. X-2’s Capt Holcomb USMCR, accompanied by Professor Angelo Lanza,[12] was dispatched by Donovan, the head of OSS, to Palermo in August 1943 as a field represen­tative reporting directly to X-2/Algiers (the War Diary of X-2 Branch, OSS London described Holcomb as having been in charge of the X-2 Algiers station in 1943 before being chosen to head the X-2/SCI teams and recalled to London. Another memo dated 10 August 1944 referred to Holcomb as “Chief, X-2, North Africa”). [13] According to the War Report of the OSS, his activities were hampered by inexperience and by the hostility of the SI/Italy (OSS) staff, which took “strenuous exception to X-2 criticism of the close rela­tions built up by SI during and after the Sicilian campaign with such native groups as the renegade Mafia”.

In North Africa and Sicily, the part played by X-2 was “relatively negligible”. Except for one X-2 observer (Major Dana Durand), who had been sent into Italy with a British SI(b) unit, X-2 had no experience on which to base a mobile unit's operations.[14] To gain such experience, Major Durand had been assigned in late 1943 as liaison to G-2 of 5th Army, attached to № 2 SI(b) unit commanded by Capt Malcolm Smith, at the request of Major General Donovan.[15]

Max Corvo, the local Head of OSS/SI, differed in his memoirs from the official account of the period, claiming that the presence of an X-2 Field Team in Palermo initially faced stiff opposition from the CIC, which claimed sole jurisdiction in the field of Counter-Espionage. A working relationship was developed thanks to the close cooperation between SI and CIC, and – again according to Corvo - SI was instrumental in X-2 getting permission to deploy representatives to 7th Army jurisdiction.[16]

From mid-1943 the OSS was keen to form its own military CE field unit, similar to the SI(b) Units run by the British. OSS was not, however happy with the British designation (possibly because it had a Branch called SI already existing), so after some discussion in London it was decided that all such Allied units would be designated as “Special Counter-intelligence Units” (SCIUs or SCI Units).

Jointly with the British, X-2 had access to special secret sources of counter-espionage information which the British were unwilling to make available to Army Staffs but were prepared to turn over to trained Section V or X-2 personnel attached to these staffs for proper interpretation and action” [ie SI(b) and later SCI Units]. “At the same time the presence of these units enabled the special services to have personnel in first hand position to send back the large volume of counter-intelligence information which was expected would be uncovered as the armies advanced. The British had employed these units successfully in North Africa and were planning to use them in Italy. Therefore, it was decided that as a natural fulfillment of the role of X-2 in the European Theater of operations some method should be found whereby X-2 counter-espionage experience and training could be made available to American forces in this theater.”[17]

In a memo from JR Murphy to Major General Donovan dated 20 Nov 1944, Murphy discussed the achievements of X-2 up to 1 Nov 1944. He stated that SCIUs were established in Algiers with army personnel to take to the field with various American and Allied army groups when they began operations.[18] This ties in with the assertion by MI6 officer George Kennedy Young that in 1943 British military CI officers with practical experience against the Italians in North Africa were brought in to operate the new MI6 units destined for Italy. This also links to an agreement reached in July 1943 in London:

“The active phase of preparation for X-2 SCI units began in July 1943… conferences held between Major-General Donovan and Lieutenant-Colonel Cowgill, chief of the M.I.6, Section V, resulted in the decision that trained army officers [author’s emphasis] should be requisitioned as soon as possible for the coming French operation. It was proposed to have these men trained by the London office before going into the field.” [19]

While this agreement referred to the proposed X-2/SCI units destined for France, it seems to also have reflected the experience of MI6(V) in North Africa and the new British units being created for operations in the Mediterranean Theatre.

When James Murphy returned from a five-month visit to Washington in mid-October 1943, a meeting was arranged which was attended by Lieutenant-Colonel Cowgill of MI6(V); Colonel Conrad, EO G-5 ETOUSA; Lieutenant-Colonel Calvert and Major Mayberry, both of CI staff, ETOUSA; and Mr Robert Blum of OSS. At this meeting Mr Blum presented the X-2 project for the creation of American SCI Units to join the existing British units in the field, and secured approval of the plan in principle. It was emphasized that the units would be ‘attached’ and not assigned to G-2, and also that their function would be an advisory one, to avoid duplication with the function of CIC. [20] This turned out to be more difficult in practice, as experiences in Italy demonstrated (see below).

A plan was submitted 10 Nov 43 to the Commanding General, ETOUSA, for the attachment of the units to armies and army groups under the operational control of the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2. The plan was approved on 6 Dec 1943, and the problem of recruiting qualified personnel was then addressed. By the end of 1943, a nucleus had been found, and first steps were being taken to prepare for actual military operations, but X-2 was continuously stretched to meet personnel commitments throughout 1944. [21]

In a memo dated 21 January 1945, Mr Robert Blum of X-2 London explained:

“It would be important to emphasize that it was during this period of the winter 1943, 1944 that X-2 gained a position of nominal equality in the eyes of Allied high command and was represented at COSSAC, (later SHAEF) meetings on an equal footing with M.I.6 Section 5. We were thereafter looked upon as the official American counter-espionage agency in this theater. This position could obviously not have been achieved without the resources and backing of M.I.6. From that time on M.I.6 Section 5 and OSS, X-2 were regarded as the joint Allied counter-espionage Headquarters.”[22]

 

Training CE officers in London

CE schooling of the more formal kind supplemented the apprentice training being given to X-2/SCI trainees in London. From the earliest days, English and French officers from London headquarters or from the field shared their experiences with X-2 personnel in frequent formal training talks. The subjects of these talks covered descriptions of enemy organizations and their inter-relationships, the study of CE files of invasion areas, and classes in codes and communications procedures, while some illustrated “the interrogation methods of the Germans (by men who had been interrogated by them) and of the English (by men who had conducted the interrogations of enemy agents).”

Establishments such as central registries, interrogation centers, and training schools were open to X-2 officers for observation visits. Trainees, both officers and enlisted men, also worked with desk personnel in the preparation of SHAEF cards, target lists, and the preparation of primers for the various geographical regions to be occupied. Another principal element in the X-2/London training was the schooling that grew out of the day-to-day association with colleagues in the British and other CE services.[23]

Additionally, once MI5 had agreed a separate Memorandum of Understanding with X-2 in early 1944, apprentice training was given to some X-2 members in the double-agent section of MI5 – B1(a). “These officers were assigned desks in the offices of that section and had free access to the files of double-agent cases, to the traffic of current ones, and to the officers who had directed or were directing such cases.” The trainees met both double agents and controlled enemy agents, helped to gather the "chicken feed" which was to be transmitted to the Germans, and learned the relationship between B1(a) and the other intelligence organizations which shared the exploitation of double-agent networks. Mr Norman Pearson, the senior X-2 man from the original group of trainees, was situated next to “TAR” Robertson, head of B1(a), and was made party to all conversations and conferences on problems arising in connection with management of current British cases. [24]

 

Supplying Intelligence to the SCI Units

In preparation for the invasion of Europe, the X-2/MI6(V) intelligence sections were concerned with the gathering of basic counterespionage information from the registries of the British and other Allies; and the preparation of Special Counter-intelligence teams for work with invading armies, with a London CI War Room to support their operations.

London had an accurate collection of data on enemy agents and their organizational relationships, and also their channels of communication. The Allies could “list and map enemy offices and operational stations, communications chains and training schools”, as well as “pinpoint the location of individuals and of related groups of the German satellite undercover agencies”. The sources of all this information included “Allied CE stations in neutral countries, the surveillance of known enemy chains, the operations of double agents and controlled enemy agents, the interrogation of defected or captured enemy agents, censorship sources and various other means” – which also included ULTRA intelligence.

To provide information to SCI teams in the field, a card system was created based upon those used by the registries of MI5 and MI6. File cards were prepared by MI6(V) and X-2, edited in a standard style, on which were summarized in a complete but compact form all information available from all sources on a single enemy or suspect personality. Cross references to organization and personal relationships were contained in the data given or were specially noted.

“A maximum use of symbols and abbreviations made it possible to pack the cards with information, so that reference to related cards could provide the basis for a quick but fairly thorough interrogation. Additions were to be made to these cards as new information came in; when need arose, amended new cards were to be printed and distributed. The cards were produced in several colors: data on persons connected or believed to be connected with the Abwehr or the Sicherheitsdienst (the main target of Allied CE agencies) were printed in pink cards; those on political quislings and collaborationists, on buff; those on friendly persons, on white.”

A set of the pink cards was issued to the Evaluation and Dissemination Section (EDS) at SHAEF, which printed and distributed them to the CI staffs under SHAEF command. The SCI teams carried this information to the field with them for exploitation by the Allied CI staffs at Army Groups and Armies. More importantly for up-to-date information, the British SCI Units were able to get ISOS through their own communications system. The X-2/SCIUs had to communicate through their British colleagues or else use the Special Liaison Units (SLUs) usually co-located with Army and Army Group HQs which passed military ULTRA information to the staffs.

Before the invasion [of Italy] we were receiving, and continued to receive till after Christmas 1943, the SD traffic from Rome to Berlin almost complete….It also gave us valuable information on the chief SD personalities in Italy, and the names of three stay-behind agents for southern Italy, one of whom was later arrested (…Baron Manfredi)[‡] ... The SD traffic continued till the end of the year, when owing to a cryptographic change it ceased to be readable. During this period it revealed the existence of an elaborate network of stay-behind agents in Rome.” [25]

“The Abwehr traffic lasted much longer than the SD. It gave us a certain amount of information before the invasion, and it volume gradually increased throughout Autumn and Winter 1943 and Spring of the following year, reaching a climax in Summer 1944 when we were receiving an almost continuous stream of up to date information on Abwehr activities. This volume gradually diminished in the Autumn but continued sporadically till the end of the year when a cryptographic change took place… From then onwards no Italian traffic of any importance was read, and we had to rely on other and less satisfactory sources for our information on the GIS.” [26]

Bletchley was, however, able to recover traffic from and to mobile GIS units, which provided some useful coverage (see below).

 

Developments in Italy

An untitled document dated 31 July 1943 recorded that MI6 was responsible for supplying all officers for SI(b) Units, with mobilization in North Africa being the responsibility of G-2, AFHQ. The likely requirements in SI(b) Units for Italy could not be accurately assessed, but it was proposed that:

№ 1 SI(b) unit – Type A, attached to AFHQ, and would probably move from North Africa with that HQ, in which case MI6 officers would then be needed for Casablanca, Oran, Algiers and possibly Tunis (suggesting the MI6 officers currently covering those areas would be part of the unit).

№ 2 SI(b) unit - Type B, attached 15AG, likely to move and remain with 15AG.

№ 3 SI(b) unit – Type A, then being formed for attachment to V & X Corps and on its order of battle. The unit would be controlled by AFHQ and would probably be used to reinforce № 1 or № 2 units as considered necessary by G-2, AFHQ. [27]

The final deployment of three SI(b)/SCI Units in Italy, however, consisted of two Type B and one Type A. Type B units had a personnel of four men, two officers and two enlisted men, while Type A units had four officers and six enlisted men.[§] Eventually they were all converted to Type A, with one unit in support of each Army and the third (senior) unit responsible for the technical coordination of SCI activities in Italy.

An SIS officer from Section V reported that Special Intelligence (b) work in Italy was still poorly organized with inefficient records and inadequate interrogation facilities. These deficiencies had been remedied by the spring of 1944 when three SCIUs were available and close collaboration had been established with the Italian Military Intelligence Service (SIM). This collaboration played a large part in enabling the Allies to contain a sustained German espionage and sabotage effort during the rest of the war in Italy”. [28]

 

Deployment of SI(b) Units to Sicily and Italy

           Orders for the deployment of № 2 SI(b) Unit to Sicily were issued on 6 June 1943 by HQ 141 Force:

1. № 2 SI(b) Unit is designed to carry out special security duties in HUSKY under the direction of this Headquarters.

“2. It comprises officers supplied by MI6, who have a good knowledge of the organisation, personalities, and methods of the German and Italian Intelligence Services, and who have received special training in Counter-espionage work.

“3. The purpose of this unit may be summarised as follows:

(a) To carry out certain special counter-espionage tasks in HORRIFIED, such as the examination of documents and personnel at an Abwehr Headquarters.

(b) To organise counter-espionage agents and informers in HORRIFIED.

(c) To act as a channel and editor of certain security intelligence received from MOST SECRET sources.

(d) To carry out certain special measures in respect of captured enemy agents.

(e) To work in co-operation with I(b) staffs and FS Sections, to exchange security intelligence with them, and to advise them on the more specialist aspect of counter-espionage and counter-sabotage work.

“4. It is desired to allot one officer of this unit to work with Twelfth Army in the initial phase.

“5. Will you please make arrangements for his transportation to HORRIFIED, where he should arrive close behind the forward troops. It is emphasised that the value of his work will largely be dependent on his early arrival in the theatre of operations. It appears likely that FUSTIAN[**] will prove most fruitful ground for his activities, and the arrangements made for him should permit of his entry to this place immediately on its capture.

“6. Will you please ensure that the assistance of FSP, and if necessary of others, is made available to this officer, when required, for dealing with special tasks....

...

“8. If he is required to embark in the Middle East, it is requested that a motor cycle should be supplied for him in that theatre. If he is to embark in Tunisia, he can bring his own motor cycle.”[29]

Similar orders allocated Captain M Smith and Captain A Jones of № 2 SI(b) Unit to 12th Army, and Major Bruce-Lockhart to HQ II Corps for the landings. The orders also recorded that “Major Bruce-Lockhart [who] has had considerable experience in this type of work and whom we are fortunate to secure from Middle East where he was in charge of such activities.” (As Bruce-Lockhart is not mentioned again, it is possible he did not actually participate in the landings.) Captain Malcolm H Smith was described as “born in Malicions, spent much of his life in HORRIFIED, and is acquainted thoroughly with persons and tongues.”[30]

Another HQ Force 141 memo gives further details on the unit, which consisted of three officers – Smith, Jones and a Capt J Cooper, “reinforced by certain additional personnel trained in counter-espionage, and these will assist in its tasks.” Smith was to locate his HQ at Palermo, assisted by Captain Fairweather, three CI agents (del Curto, Lucien Sauvage, and Armand Davet) and a codist. Jones was to be based at Catania, assisted by four CI agents (Henri Prevost[††], Jacques Gardy, Pierre Marmier and Rene Bartoli). Cooper was to set up in Syracuse and act as a link between SI(b) and GSI(b) of HQ Force 141, collating and distributing information throughout the SI(b) organisation. Special W/T communications were to be set up between Cooper and Smith, and they were to be assisted by NCOs from 16 FSS, which was attached to HQ Force 141.[31]

Capt Malcolm Smith (codename TRUSTY in signal traffic) was the British officer in charge of the “forward” SI(b) Unit, which was the first to operate in Sicily. At that time it was designated № 2 SI(b) Unit, this designation being changed later to № 3 SCIU, attached to 15AG. In a Memo dated 4 October 1945, he set out some of the problems which had faced the units in Sicily and Italy:

Firstly, not enough time was available to collect and form SI(b) personnel properly prior to the invasion of Sicily. He would have recommended that the personnel attend a short course in London, followed by the unit working with the General Staff, Intelligence/Security - GSI(b) - of the invasion force in Algiers for at least two months, to collate all information, with time enough available to compare this with the latest PoW interrogation reports, and perhaps even to dispatch penetration agents ahead of the invasion.

SI(b) pers...






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