Courseworks

The British Security Coordination and Canadian Involvement in Clandestine Activities

In times of tribulation people come together to do what they can and what they must to survive. Some people go so far beyond the call of duty and normal responsibilities that everyone who comes after them are forever in debt to their courage and selflessness. “Never has so much been owed by so many, to so few.” Churchill’s famous words still ring true to this very day but people often fail to realize exactly how much people sacrificed and risked for them. Some of the most astounding stories from World War II have not been heard by many simply because of the nature and delicacy of those stories. Intelligence during the second Great War played a very integral part in the allied victory, however, the very nature of the work the intelligence community did ensures that to this day many documents are still highly classified.In the past 30 years many more books have been written, with varied accuracy about Canadian participation in the British Security Coordination, Special Operations Executive and MI9. Through accounts of Canadians behind enemy lines and looking at the importance of William Stephenson and Camp X or STS-103, looking at Canadian involvement in the covert aspects of World War Two will show that they were not only crucial to the cooperation and communication between Allied forces, but also in the resistance in occupied Europe and helping soldiers escape from behind enemy lines.Covert operations was a young business at the beginning of World War Two, but quickly grew up becoming the foundation of most intelligence agencies in the modern age including the Central Intelligence Agency which is a direct descendant of the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.). One of the first such organizations to come into existence with relation to World War 2 was the Special Operations Executive or S.O.E. Created in 1940 from Section D of M.I.6, M.I.(R) of the War Office, and a small section of the Foreign Office, S.O.E had a very specialized objective to fulfill:Its mandate was to encourage resistance in enemy-occupied Europe and Asia by sending agents to help organize and train local volunteers in sabotage, industrial demolition, ambush, disruption of communications and, in a few cases, to engage in the collection of specific intelligence.1S.O.E. would go on to drop agents behind enemy lines virtually all over the world to help recruit and train resistance to, as Churchill stated, “set Europe ablaze”. With the possibility of a ground force being landed in Western Europe to open up a second front growing slimmer into 1940, the British government decided that something had to be done to disrupt German efforts. While virtually expelled from Europe (except Gibraltar) the British took what steps it could, including a blockade of continental Europe, and a limited bombing effort, though at this point bombers were still in short supply. The S.O.E. gave Britain an effective way to help the enemies of Germany behind enemy lines while furthering there own agenda. From its’ rocky beginnings through until 1946 when it was disbanded the S.O.E. in 71 months fielded more than nine thousand agents and operated everywhere from China, Africa, South America, the Middle East, and nineteen European countries.2 It was in this organization that Canadians were primarily used behind enemy lines because of the many nationalities in Canada, especially the French, and Eastern Europeans.One of the many things to come out of the S.O.E. was North America’s British Security Coordination. The B.S.C. was created out of the need for better Anglo-American cooperation, but also for a stronger presence of Allied intelligence agents in North and South America. The British Security Council was responsible for the financial and administrative tasks of many stations throughout Latin America, as well as MI5’s (Britain’s homeland security) domain in North and South America including Newfoundland and Canada, as well as various Caribbean possessions.3 The British Security Coordination was crucial for the presence it had in North and South America, the valuable advice it gave to the burgeoning American intelligence agency the Office of Strategic Services, and for the direct link it gave between the American government and the British government. The B.S.C. and its American interests was run by William Stephenson, or a man better known as Intrepid.William Stephenson, born in Winnipeg in 1896 and adopted by Icelandic immigrants he would become a major mover and shaker during World War Two. Stephenson joined up during World War One and went to fight in France sometime in mid-July and was sent home a week later after being wounded and gassed. While wounded though he took courses in the theory of flight, internal combustion, and communications and navigation and ended up back in the war as a fighter pilot. Stephenson was eventually awarded the Military Cross in April 1918 and the Distinguished Flying Cross in August 1918 for reportedly shooting down eighteen enemy craft and two kite balloons.4 After the war Stephenson went back to Winnipeg where he became an unsuccessful entrepreneur and opened a hardware store but quickly closed it when in 1922 he filed for bankruptcy.Stephenson left rather quickly for England and began a successful career as a businessman and inventor, patenting things like the can opener, and wireless photography. He went on the have several contacts with powerful business men and became one himself, socializing with politicians and famous figures like H.G. Wells. Stephenson was also known to give Churchill, who was not in office at this time, accurate information on German rearmament and even said at one point “We were all friends, you see, Churchill and the rest. We were a group of friends who saw the war coming.”5 Stephenson was sent as Churchill’s personal representative to the United States to help counter German propaganda to stop American aid to the Allies and to ensure closer relations between the F.B.I. and British intelligence. One of Stephenson’s first achievements in America was a meeting that was arranged by Bill Donovan with the Secretary of Navy Frank Knox, the Secretary of War Henry Stimson and the Secretary of State Cordell Hull to discuss the trade of fifty “over-age” destroyers to the British. This was just the first of many direct involvements that Stephenson had concerning American aid and involvement with the British.With Stephenson having made contact with Roosevelt among others in the United States the business of helping construct an American intelligence agency that would operate over-seas and organizing British interests in the Western half of the world began. Stephenson set about hiring Canadians to staff the B.S.C. and work around the clock to decode and send messages crucial to the Allied cause. Stephenson’s influence was so great that not only did he have direct access to the heads of state, but he could virtually ignore Britain’s ambassador to the United States Lord Lothian, just as the British ignored Ambassador Kennedy in London.6 This direct access lead to the British able to have a central agency on neutral soil which was a collusion of four major British intelligence departments based out of New York plus a communications-intelligence web that covered virtually all directions and a secret police force on American soil. These facts alone lent to the urgent need for secrecy as any violation of America’s sovereignty, which the British Security Council surely was, would contribute nicely to the anti-war movement in the United States and help Germany’s war effort. Despite these restrictions many remarkable things were achieved by Stephenson and the many men and women who worked for him. One of the more astounding stories that seems to come more out of a thrilling spy book rather than historical documents was the procurement of Vichy French Naval ciphers kept under lock and guard in the French embassy.Two of Stephenson’s agents known as Cynthia and Bertrand masquerading as romantic lovers bribed a night watch man to let them into the embassy for a circumspect tryst. After gaining his trust by doing this for a few nights they slipped him a sleeping powder in his champagne and brought in a locksmith to figure out the code for the safe in the code room. The next night they again went in and knowing that the security guard was probably quite suspicious about his falling asleep had Cynthia undress for the guard’s expected intrusion. After sufficiently embarrassing the guard and getting his assurance that they would not be bothered anymore, they opened the safe and passed out the naval ciphers to a waiting agent who copied them and brought them back to be replaced in the safe.The Vichy French naval ciphers were successfully stolen by two daring agents and went to great use in Operation Torch and the landing in North Africa.7 Stephenson and his staff of loyal Canadians did much for the war effort far from the front in the United States and all over Latin America. Stephenson ensured a level of cooperation between America and Britain that simply was not possible through normal diplomatic lines and in the eyes of the American public. From secretaries to code analysts the British Security Council organized the war on this side of the Atlantic and gave the Allies a major advantage through their radio operators and covert services.One of the most closely guarded secrets on Canadian soil during World War Two was a secret agent training school strategically placed on the shores of Lake Ontario. Dubbed “Camp X” by those that knew of its existence on this side of the ocean and “STS-103” (Special Training School 103) by the British. Located on the border of Whitby and Oshawa just east of Toronto Camp X was established in 1941 by William Stephenson as a way to train agents for assignments with S.O.E. and MI9 in Axis Europe. Camp X was designed to not only train special agents, but with sophisticated radio equipment link the United States with Canada. Located off of Lake Ontario which was ideal for bouncing radio signals to Europe, South America and of course between B.S.C. headquarters in New York and London, fifty kilometers from the United States across Lake Ontario and only five kilometers from Defense Industries Ltd., which was the largest ammunition manufacturing facility in North America at the time, Camp X was in a perfect position to contribute to the war in several crucial ways.One of the best aspects of Camp X was the very diverse population within its reach. The B.S.C. had within its reach large populations of French Canadians, Yugoslavs, Italians, Hungarians, Romanians, Chinese and Japanese from which to select as potentials for S.O.E. training. For the British is was simply easier to send a few instructors to Canada then to send several hundred potential recruits to Britain just to discover they did not have what it takes to operate behind enemy lines. Camp X was essentially a recruiting and culling school for potential recruits for the S.O.E., training them in aspects of silent killing, revolutionary work, sabotage and recruitment methods for the resistance methods.Camp X did not just train potential recruits for the S.O.E., they also trained other training officers for the United States and their newly formed O.S.S. When the Office of Strategic Service was still known as Coordinator of Intelligence (from July 1941 to June 1942) it was agreed that the C.O.I. should train its Special Operations Officers at Camp X. Many officers that went on the form the bulk of the O.S.S. were trained in the trade by British officers at Camp X. The first unit dispatched from the O.S.S. was a U.S. army major named Carl Eifler who had been trained at Camp X along with his key subordinates. Carl Eifler and his men were sent to India and later given the chance to operate in China proving themselves to be more than capable of handling their assignments.8The agents that were trained in Camp X and dropped behind enemy line were certainly as effective as their American counterparts, if not more so. “It has been the consensus of many historians that the superior efforts of the expert training and support staff of Camp X may have reduced the duration of the war by six months to a year and saved hundreds of thousands of lives.”9 This may seem like a bold statement, but the French Canadians who were dropped into German occupied France were responsible for blowing up bridges and disrupting railway tracks, delaying the Germans by at least three weeks from reaching Normandy after D-day. In the course of roughly a year and three months from January 1942 until March 1943,Camp X had over 273 men and women trained who would go on to work in the S.O.E. both in the field and as training officers, O.S.S. officers and agents, security officers in South America, among various other things.10 It is estimated that another one hundred and fifty agents were trained between March of 1943 and April of 1944. A number of these agents were trained in the use of HAM radios, and were responsible for much of the information gathered for the Allies. Stationed all over South America these men and women were given the task of monitoring radio communications of the enemy which was much heavier than most would think in South America.The other part to Camp X that was crucial to the war effort was the massive radio housed there code named “Hydra”. This radio station was putting through high priority messages straight through to heads of state including Roosevelt and Churchill. The camp also had direct lines to New York, Ottawa and Washington, and their lines had an even higher priority than the Prime Minister’s office.11 Hydra was responsible for the secure communication available between the British and Americans, and was the hub that most major communications between the two Allies went through. Though Camp X was one of dozens of special agent training camps that the British had throughout the world it was undoubtedly the most important for several reasons. The men that Camp X trained were often the most successful behind enemy and there are dozens accounts of these brave people and there stories, it was an invaluable tool in the training of intelligence officers for the American O.S.S., and it was the base for the largest radio installation in North America, and a direct communication link between the British and the Americans.Through the efforts of individuals like William Stephenson and the hundreds of Canadians who voluntarily dropped behind enemy lines in the fight against the Germans, and the men and women that were organized to monitor German radio as well as pass information between the Allies, Canadians played a large role in the covert aspect of World War Two. While many Canadians do not recognize this fact, it is not because they do not want to, it is because they do not know. Many Canadians made the ultimate sacrifice for the good of others, while many more gave their utmost dedication and attention to the war that was raging so far away.The collusion between American and British interests that Stephenson managed so skillfully, despite all the restrictions placed on him helped ensure British survival during the darkest days of the war, and eventual entry into the war by the United States. From Canadian radio operators to Canadians organizing resistance they were involved in all levels of the covert aspect of World War Two.

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