Hitler's Spy Chief

Hitler's Spy Chief by Richard Bassett

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Authors: Richard Bassett
broken and that they had long ago been effectively penetrated by British and French intelligence.
    Nevertheless, all these activities were gingered up with the advent of National-Socialism. This was the second major event, or wheel, which began to turn for Canaris. As was well-known even at the time, Hitler was obsessed with what he considered to be the key to Britain’s power, its secret service. His admiration for Britain and its world empire knew few bounds, and if his favourite film was Bengal Lancer , he may well have been familiar with the exploits of clubland heroes as chronicled by Buchan and others in the inter-war period. He certainly admired Kipling, though it seems unlikely that he had ever read that textbook of essential reading for all British agents, Kim .
    But the mystique of a great power sustained by an all-seeing intelligence service appealed to Hitler and indeed many of his cronies. As Walter Schellenberg, SD officer and the man who would later arrest Canaris,wrote admiringly: ‘If we really want to understand the structural essence of British Intelligence we must liberate ourselves from conventional ideas.’ (Gestapo Handbook to Britain , 1940) German ideas of strict organisation and detail were not always appropriate for a successful spy service. The new bosses of Germany wanted someone who was not conventional to run their service. Someone, moreover, who knew, if only indirecdy, a litde about the ways British intelligence worked. At the same time, they needed someone who was well connected with the influential interface between the military industrial complex, high finance and politics.
    Here the wheel was turning in Canaris’ favour, for through his contacts with Juan March he had become known to Zaharoff and Hitler’s first paymaster, Baron Thyssen, both of them part of the forces which would ‘save’ Europe from the Bolsheviks. Given the now urgent desire to step up German rearmament, this world was also keen to deal with someone they knew and could trust. Not for nothing would Zaharoff, in 1934, bracket Canaris and Thyssen together as the only people his old friend George Mandel, Clemenceau’s former head of cabinet, could work with in Germany.
    In addition to these developments, a fourth, though perhaps in light of later events rather unexpected, wheel also seemed to be turning in Canaris’ direction. This took the form of his former naval colleague, Heydrich, now head of the influential domestic security organisation the SD (Sicherheitsdienst) , which reported to the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler.
    Through relentiess card-indexing, extortion and blackmail, Heydrich had built a feared and powerful domestic spy service with access to all aspects of civilian life. He also admired the British secret service, even signing himself in the style of the SIS chief as ‘C’ though the compliment of imitation may not have been appreciated in the corridors of Broadway Buildings. Heydrich wanted a service that would embrace every aspect of German life in a way he imagined the British security service, throughthe English class system, dominated England. Inevitably, as he ceaselessly worked to expand the jurisdiction of the SD, he began to tread on Patzig’s toes. Already, in April 1934, Goering had been forced to relinquish control of the police to the SD. One by one the provincial police forces became subject to central control. The Reichswehr minister General von Blomberg, described by Patzig as a ‘rubber lion’, failed to register any meaningful protest as the SD more and more encroached on Abwehr territory.
    Patzig, later commander of the famous pocket battleship Graf Spee (and to be a great hit at the Coronation Regatta off the Isle of Wight a few years later), was a clear-thinking figure. He quickly saw that Heydrich and the SD would be the defining threat in the long term to Germany, and in the short term to the Abwehr. This perception was

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