British Spymaster Tar Robertson and Double Cross were Instrumental in Winning D-Day
By Samuel Marquis
In Spies of the Midnight Sun: A True Story of WWII Heroes, Book 3 of his WWII Series, Historical Fiction Author Samuel Marquis brings to life legendary British MI5 Spymaster Tar Robertson and the Double Cross Spy System, which played a pivotal role in the Allied deception at Normandy on D-Day and other operations in Hitler’s Festung Europa.
It has become an annual ritual for Americans and British to celebrate the hoodwinking of Hitler and the triumph of democracy over tyranny represented by D-Day. We all know how important it was, the tremendous stakes involved, and the glamorous Allied players in the daring assault upon Hitler’s Festung Europa recreated in countless books and movies. We all know that June 6-9, 1944, comprised the most epic battle of WWII. The only problem is it’s not true. The D-Day deception operation and subsequent acquisition of the beaches of Normandy was, in the words of Ben Macintyre in his book Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies, “an undisputed, unalloyed, world-changing triumph”—but it was not the greatest battle of WWII. That distinction belongs to Stalingrad or Kursk. But the bloodbath of the Eastern Front—with war crimes committed by Hitler’s Germans and Stalin’s Russians in equal measure—doesn’t resonate with the historical poignancy of D-Day. And D-Day is still the greatest amphibious operation in the history of warfare.
With that in mind, the key to the success of that longest day was the Double Cross Spy System and Operation Fortitude, the latter of which was designed to persuade the Germans that the invasion of France would not take place in Normandy but in Pas de Calais. The Double Cross Spy System, or XX System, was a counterespionage and deception operation of the British Security Service, a civilian organization usually referred to by its cover title MI5. The system is described in detail in Books 1 and 3 of my World War Two Series, my countdown-to-D-Day thriller Bodyguard of Deception and the newly released Spies of the Midnight Sun: A True Story of WWII Heroes that takes place mostly in Occupied Norway. Under Double Cross, German agents in Britain – real and false – were captured, turned themselves in or simply announced themselves, and were then used by the British to broadcast mainly disinformation to their Nazi controllers. The deception operations were overseen by the Twenty Committee under the leadership of Thomas Argyll “Tar” Robertson and John Cecil Masterman; the name of the committee comes from the number 20 in Roman numerals: “XX” (i.e. a double cross).
Tar Robertson was the brains behind Double Cross. He wore a Glengarry cap and McKenzie tartan trews of the Seaforth Highlanders, and was universally well-liked by those who knew and worked with him. He played a pivotal role not only in the main Normandy deception, Operation Fortitude, but in Operation Mincemeat, a deception intended to cover the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily by fooling the Germans into thinking that an invasion of Greece was imminent. His deft handling of a widely disparate collection of Double Cross agents—among them socialites, sex-addicts, criminals, and drunks—brought several spectacular military advantages to the Allied cause between 1942 and 1945.
Robertson—working with his multifaceted team of double agents and his MI5 colleague Masterman, the somewhat priggish, cricket-obsessed Oxford don— was the driving force in the various Double Cross deception operations that played an important role in the ultimate Allied victory (though not as much as the Big Red Army pounding away along the Eastern Front, remember). The most important by far was Operation Fortitude, which had the overall effect of immobilizing the Wehrmacht tank reserves and limiting the effectiveness of German counter attacks all along the Normandy coastline.
While the incessant rivalries among and within the Wehrmacht, Abwehr, SS, the Führer’s headquarters, and the various other bureaucracies clogging German decision-making played a huge role in the German failure and Allied triumph, the Fortitude deception drove the Reich to an even higher state of confusion at a critical time—with disastrous results for a vacillating Hitler and Nazi Germany. And it was all brought about by a thirty-one-year-old Scotsman named Thomas Argyll Robertson, who early on in the war decided to enlist captured Nazi operatives as double agents rather than hanging them from the gallows.
It was a brilliant and uplifting idea for a country under siege in the air by Nazi Germany during the Battle for Britain, and there is no doubt that Robertson was the right man for the job. By all accounts, he was affable, determined, discreet, and doggedly loyal—but he could also be ruthless in his handling of those who threatened Double Cross. With a fondness and appreciation for a good practical joke, he also liked to pick the names of his turned double agents and tended to give them colorful monikers that he and his staff would not fail to remember. Two of his favorite and most successful doubles were the convicted safecracker Eddie Chapman (code-named Agent Zigzag by Robertson because of his unpredictability) and the Yugoslavian playboy Dusko Popov (code-named Tricycle Robertson because he enjoyed ménage à trois sex).
Tar Robertson was widely recognized by many of his contemporaries as one of MI5’s greatest assets, but is little known today. So, this June 6—during the 74rd anniversary of D-Day—is a good time to pay homage to a legendary British spymaster who helped the Allies win the war. He was truly a great one—and he had a sense of humor to boot.
Get Spies of the Midnight Sun: A True Story of WWII Heroes at Amazon.com by clicking HERE.
The ninth great-grandson of legendary privateer Captain William Kidd, Samuel Marquis is the bestselling, award-winning author of a World War Two Series, the Nick Lassiter-Skyler International Espionage Series, and historical pirate fiction. His novels have been #1 Denver Post bestsellers, received multiple national book awards (Foreword Reviews Book of the Year, American Book Fest Best Book, USA Best Book, Beverly Hills, Next Generation Indie, Colorado Book Awards), and garnered glowing reviews from #1 bestseller James Patterson, Kirkus, and Foreword Reviews (5 Stars). Book reviewers have compared Marquis’s WWII thrillers Bodyguard of Deception and Altar of Resistance to the epic historical novels of Tom Clancy, John le Carré, Ken Follett, Herman Wouk, Daniel Silva, and Alan Furst. Mr. Marquis’s newest historical novel, Spies of the Midnight Sun, is the true story of legendary British safecracker and spy Eddie Chapman, the British Double Cross Spy System, and courageous Norwegian female Resistance operatives Dagmar Lahlum and Annemarie Breien. His website is samuelmarquisbooks.com and for publicity inquiries, please contact JKSCommunications at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Check out this guest post by author Samuel Marquis, as featured on the Lit World Interviews blog.