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Eddie Chapman: Two bit criminal redeems himself a million times over

More proof that spy stories are the most interesting stories

Edward Arnold Chapman was one of the most successful British double agents in World War II. His British Secret Service handlers codenamed him ZigZag in acknowledgement of his rather erratic personal history. The Nazi’s called him Fritz, and later the more enduring Fritzchen.

Chapman was born on 16 November 1914.He grew up in a family that provided little guidance and he and his siblings all had reputations for disobedience. Despite being bright, he regularly played truant from school to go to the cinema and hang around the beach.

Chapman was arrested for theft and was in a prison on the Channel Islands, which are in the English Channel and invaded by the Germans as the war started. He was still in prison when the Channel Islands were invaded by the GermansWhile incarcerated he met Anthony Faramus. Following a letter in German which they concocted to get off the Island, they were transferred to Fort de Romainville in Paris. There, Chapman confirmed his willingness to act as a German spy. Under the direction of Captain Stephan von Gröning, head of the Abwehr in Nantes, he was trained in explosives, radio communications, parachute jumping and other subjects in France at La Bretonnière-la-Claye, Saint-Julien-des-Landes, near Nantes, and dispatched to Britain to commit acts of sabotage.

On 16 December 1942, Chapman was flown to Britain in a Focke-Wulf bomber, converted for parachuting, from Le Bourget airfield. He was equipped with wireless, pistol, cyanide capsule and £1,000 and, amongst other things, was given the task of sabotaging the de Havilland aircraft factory at Hatfield. After an uncomfortable flight, during which he suffered a nosebleed due to a poorly tightened oxygen mask, Chapman became stuck in the hatch as he tried to leave the aircraft. Finally detaching himself, he landed some distance from the target location of Mundford, Norfolk, near the village of Littleport, Cambridgeshire.

The British secret services had been aware of Chapman’s existence for some time, via Ultra (decrypted German messages), and would know his date of departure. Section B1A, the MI5-backed department which had the task of capturing enemy agents and turning them into double agents, had discussed the best method of capturing Chapman without revealing Ultra. In the end, Operation Nightcap was envisioned. Rather than conduct a full-scale manhunt, planes from RAF Fighter Command would trail Chapman’s aircraft to identify his landing site (from one of three possible options). Local police would then be alerted, with instructions to conduct a search under the guise of looking for a deserter.Chapman surrendered immediately to the local police and offered his services to MI5. He was interrogated at Latchmere House in southwest London, better known as Camp 020. MI5 decided to use him as a double agent against the Germans and assigned Ronnie Reed as his case officer. (Reed had been invited to join MI5 in 1940 and remained until his retirement in 1976.)

Faked sabotage of de Havilland factory

During the night of 29–30 January 1943, Chapman with MI5 officers faked a sabotage attack on his target, the de Havilland aircraft factory in Hatfield, where the Mosquito was being manufactured. German reconnaissance aircraft photographed the site, and the faked damage convinced Chapman’s German controllers that the attack had been successful.

Following the de Havilland subterfuge, B1A began preparations for Chapman’s return to his German handlers. Radio messages were sent to the Abwehr requesting extraction by boat or submarine, and Chapman was set to work learning a cover story ready for the inevitable interrogations. However, the response from the Abwehr was lukewarm. They refused to send a U-Boat and told Chapman to return via Lisbon, Portugal. This was not a simple method, as he had no valid reason to travel to the neutral port. Reed, and other members of B1A, believed this demonstrated the Germans’ reluctance to pay Chapman the £15,000 he had been promised. In the meantime Chapman was subjected to fake interrogation at Camp 020, to make sure his story held up. Reed told him to stick as close to the truth as possible, to help make the lies more realistic, and he was coached in speaking slowly to cover any hesitations. Stephens was impressed with how well Chapman responded to questioning.

Portugal and Operation Damp Squib

Unlike the Germans, MI5 was eager for Chapman to return, in the hope that, as a trusted asset, he could pick up significant information about the enemy. He was given the task of memorising a list of questions to which the Allies wanted answers. The list was carefully constructed so that, should Chapman be broken, its content would not show German intelligence the gaps in Allied knowledge.

To get Chapman to Lisbon, it was decided he would join the crew of a merchant ship, and jump ship when it docked in Portugal. A fake identity, Hugh Anson, was constructed and the relevant paperwork obtained before Chapman joined the crew of The City of Lancaster, sailing out of Liverpool. On making contact with Germans at their Lisbon embassy, he suggested an attempt at blowing up the ship with a bomb disguised as a lump of coal to be placed in the coal bunker. This was in response to a request from Britain’s anti-sabotage section that he obtain examples of German explosive devices. He was given two bombs, which, however, he handed to the ship’s captain. The Germans did not notice the ship was not damaged on the voyage home,[7]but to avoid the Germans’ doubting Chapman’s commitment, the British staged a conspicuous investigation of the ship when it returned to Britain, ensuring gossip would make its way back to the Germans.

Chapman was sent to occupied Norway to teach at a German spy school in Oslo. After a debriefing by von Gröning, Chapman was awarded the Iron Cross for his work in apparently damaging the de Havilland works and the City of Lancaster, making him the first Englishman to receive such an award since the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71. However, Nicholas Booth suggests that as the Iron Cross was only ever given to military personnel, Chapman’s “Iron Cross” may instead have been a War Merit Cross 2nd Class, or Kriegsverdienstkreuz. Chapman was inducted into the German Army as an oberleutnant or first lieutenant. Chapman was also rewarded with 110,000 Reichsmarks and his own yacht. An MI5 officer wrote in an assessment “the Germans came to love Chapman … but although he went cynically through all the forms, he did not reciprocate. Chapman loved himself, loved adventure, and loved his country, probably in that order”. While in Oslo he also secretly photographed the German agents who stayed at his safe house.

Return to London

After Operation Overlord he was sent back to Britain to report on the accuracy of the V-1 weapon and the Hedgehog antisubmarine weapon. He parachuted into Cambridgeshire on 29 June 1944 and went to London. Here he consistently reported to the Germans that the bombs were hitting their central London target, when in fact they were undershooting. Perhaps as a result of this disinformation, the Germans never corrected their aim, with the end result that most bombs landed in the south London suburbs or the Kent countryside, doing far less damage than they otherwise might have done. During this period he was also involved in doping of dogs in greyhound racing and was associating with criminal elements in the London’s West End night clubs. He was also indiscreet about the sources of his income and so MI5, being unable to control him, dismissed him on 2 November 1944. Chapman was given a £6,000 payment from MI5 and was allowed to keep £1,000 of the money the Germans had given him. He was granted a pardon for his pre-war activities and was reported by MI5 to have been living “in fashionable places in London always in the company of beautiful women of apparent culture”.

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