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In 1943, the Allies had a solid espionage and sabotage network of about 1500 men in the German-occupied Netherlands. But the reality was quite different. For around two years, all clandestine radios had been managed by German operators and the agents and explosives parachuted to help the resistance movement had been systematically intercepted.
Hermann Joseph Giskes, a major of the Abwehr (the German military intelligence service), was sent to The Hague in autumn of 1941 as commander of German counterintelligence in the Netherlands. At the end of November of the same year, a German spy infiltrating the Dutch resistance movement reported that two British agents were organising a new espionage network in The Hague. This was confirmed in January 1942 by the interception of the transmissions of a new clandestine radio station. On 6th March, the British operator H. M. G. Lauwers was captured together with all his men. Lauwers at first refused to broadcast on behalf of the major, but after a few days, he resumed his transmissions with London after Hermann Giskes had promised him that he would avoid the death penalty.
So began Operation Nordpol.
On 27th March 1942, the Germans intercepted four large boxes parachuted into the Netherlands and a British agent. After a silence lasting several weeks, which Major Giskes interpreted as a bad sign, the German counter-intelligence services were exceptionally lucky. By pure chance, all the ways London used to manage the Anglo-Dutch Secret Service fell into their hands. London had instructed the group in The Hague – which now was under Nazi control – to contact the newly parachuted agents. In other words, it had revealed to the enemy the location of the new infiltrators on the ground.
Thanks to newly seized transmitters, Major Giskes had now three active radio links with London through which he ‘directed’ the sabotage actions in the Netherlands. In the following months, other agents were arrested, and Operation Nordpol came to have fourteen radio links to London managed by German operators.
With the help of Dutch newspapers, the German counter-intelligence team boasted of sabotage actions by the Hague group to disguise their complete absence. Because of the ‘great successes’, London decided to send more agents, including radio operators, who were promptly arrested and replaced.
But Major Giskes feared that the information the enemy could obtain from the neutral countries would not confirm the reports he had sent, which described lively sabotage activity. Hermann, therefore, decided to carry out fake attacks on the railways and organised the explosion of a barge full of wrecked aeroplane parts in the middle of the Meuse in Rotterdam in broad daylight to gain more resonance and witnesses.
On 31st August 1943, two of the more than sixty imprisoned agents managed to escape and vanish. During the first ten days of December, the messages from London became monotonous: the two agents had managed to reach England and alert the Secret Service. In March 1944, Major Giskes proposed to Berlin to end the hoax with a final message:
Messrs, Blunt, Bingham and Successors, Ltd. London. In the last time you are trying to make business in the Netherlands without our assistance. We think this rather unfair in view of our long and successful co-operation as your sole agents. But never mind, when you come to pay a visit to the Continent you may be assured that you will be received with the same care and result as all those you sent before. So long!
It was 1st April 1944 when the message was delivered. “This date seemed particularly appropriate to me”: Major Hermann Joseph Giskes.