161114 History Talk 14th Nov 2016: The Man Who Was

Date: Monday 14th November 2016 10:30

Location: Salón de Actos, Espai la Senieta, Moraira (next to the large free car park)

Subject: The Man Who Was

Lecturer: Brian Nicholls

This is a story of covert activity in WW2, the full details of which did not become known until well after WW2. It is of a plot that was hatched and executed by an eccentric team of Intelligence personnel deep underground in an old wine cellar in the Admiralty building in Whitehall London. One member of the group was Lieutenant Commander Ian Fleming who was to become very well known as the author of the James Bond series of stories.
In late September 1942 An R.A.F. Catalina seaplane crashed into the sea off Cadiz killing all 10 people aboard. Among these was a Royal Navy courier carrying letters to the Governor of Gibraltar informing him to expect a visit from General Dwight Eisenhower immediately before the planned invasion of North Africa and confirming that ‘the target date for the invasion had now been set for 4th November’.
Fortunately for the Allies, Spain, which was ruled by General Francisco Franco’s Fascist regime, had tried to keep neutral in the conflict, and the Spanish Navy in particular was largely pro-British. In the event, protocol prevailed and 24 hours later the courier’s body, with the documents still in his pocket, was handed over to the local British Consul by the Spanish Admiral in command at Cadiz. Forensic examination proved that the letters had not been tampered with and so the secret of ‘Operation Torch’ was safe.
Six months later on the 30th April 1943, another body was discovered by a sardine fisherman off the village of Punta Umbria nr Huelva. It was of a second courier, Major William Martin of the Royal Marines. The south west corner of Spain, fronting the Atlantic Ocean, and near to the Straits of Gibraltar was a hotbed of clandestine espionage activity involving Spanish, German, British and even Russian agents who, quite often, were not what they seemed to be.
It was not unusual for war debris from conflict far out in the Atlantic to wash ashore but because Major Williams had an attaché case attached to his wrist the find was of considerable significance. The body was turned over to the Spanish authorities. Word quickly got back to British Intelligence and a flurry of diplomatic activity ensued to try, as on the previous occasion, to recover both body and documents.
This time however, the procedure was very much more complicated and the details of what actually transpired involved a Welsh mining village, Scotland, Bletchley Park, London, several locations in Spain, and finally, the Reichstag in Wartime Berlin.

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