London Calling North Pole

Title:                  London Calling North Pole

Author:                H. J. Giskes

Giskes, H. J.(1953). London Calling North Pole. London: William Kimber

LCCN:    53026471

D810.S8 G5


Date Updated:  August 13, 2015

Giskes was the German counterintelligence officer who ran the operation. It does not appear that the Germans used this channel to deceive the British on matters other than their supposed SOE agents in the Netherlands.

The decisive moment for Operation North Pole came at 2 p.m. on March 15, 1942. At that moment H. M. G. Lauwers, a Dutch agent of British Intelligence, sat in a German police headquarters near The Hague with his hand on the radio key that was his link with London. The Germans wanted to make the link theirs; Lauwers, recently arrested, had agreed to cooperate. Suspecting that Lauwers might double cross them, the Germans were ready to jam the signal at the first misplaced dot or dash. But Lauwers had no intention of straying from his captors’ text; his British instructions, he says, called for him to garble every 16th letter. By omitting the prearranged errors, he would be informing London that he had been caught.

Lauwers sent, and London replied. German Intelligence had established direct contact with the British Secret Service.

A question remained: Who was fooling whom? Three days later, London ordered that a zone be prepared for an “important drop.” In the early hours of March 28, at an isolated spot near Steenwijk, the Germans signaled in a twin-engine bomber on a triangle of lights. Silhouetted against the moonlight, the bomber swept down to 600 feet, as the Germans wondered if the important drop would turn out to be bombs. An instant later, five “gigantic black shadows” parachuted down—four containers of material, and an agent. The British had seemingly forgotten their own verification checks, and handed over the key to their Dutch communications.

In London Calling North Pole, Lieut. Colonel H. J. Giskes, onetime chief of German military counterespionage in The Netherlands, tells how he masterminded Operation North Pole and supplied the British Secret Service with the kind of secret service it is unaccustomed to getting. For 20 tragic months the deadly hoax continued, as German Intelligence handled the Dutch operations of British Intelligence and received almost 200 drops of men and material. “Tons of the most modern explosives . . thousands of automatic firearms with enormous quantities of ammunition, and mountains of machine pistols and machine guns” were dropped into waiting German hands. Posing as resistance men, German reception committees greeted 54 British agents, pumped them of the secrets they knew, then threw them into jail. The Nazis executed 47, despite Giskes’ promise that their lives would be spared.

To buttress London’s confidence, Giskes produced “results” which the British would learn about from other sources. He planted in the Dutch press articles about spurious exploits, staged a spectacular explosion of a junk-laden barge in the Maas River at Rotterdam, and even returned some downed British flyers through Spain, secretly chaperoned by German agents.

The Bad News. The Secret Service compounded its original error, says Giskes, by making drops “rigidly and without variation for over a year.” There is no telling how long the Secret Service would have kept it up if two agents had not escaped and told London the bad news. After that, London’s messages over the ten lines then leading to Giskes’ office were uniformly dull. Giskes ended the tragic farce with a final message for the section chiefs he had fooled: “We understand that you have been endeavoring for some time to do business in Holland without our assistance. We regret this the more since we have acted for so long as your sole representatives in this country, to our mutual satisfaction . . . Should you be thinking of paying us a visit on the Continent … we shall give your emissaries the same attention as we have hitherto.”

On D-day and after, a successful visit was paid, but the British Secret Service has still never sent Giskes an answer to his last message. When the book appeared in Britain, it raised a small storm and a parliamentary demand for a full investigation. “It is contrary to the public interest.” the government replied, “to publish details of the affairs of secret organizations.”

Other analysts and historians remain skeptical that the hoax actually had any effect. As one historian wrote, “Memoirs of intelligence professionals, and of decisionmakers who relied on them, are often useful, especially if one bears in mind the adage that no memoirist loses an argument in his own memorandum-for-the-record.” (Michael Warner, “Sources and Methods for the Study of Intelligence,” in Loch Johnson, Handbook of Intelligence Studies.[1]

This book has been updated (1990).

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[2]

Giskes’s story of his successful counterespionage operation against SOE and Dutch military intelligence recounts what was probably the most successful German operation of its type in World War II. The German techniques of running a controlled network became models for teaching such CE operations after the war. The success of Giskes and the Abwehr was, as Foot wrote in Resistance[3], partly due to obtuseness in London. The tragic consequences for Dutch resistance and British resistance operations were great. The events had political ramifications after the war due to Dutch anger and suspicions of British motives, which were expressed in the media and Dutch parliament and even affected intelligence liaison relations. In 1953, according to De Silva in Sub Rosa[4], the Dutch expelled the MI6 representative after the British told the visiting Dutch delegation sent to examine the disasters that all Dutch resistance records had been destroyed in a fire. Until the British released information on their successes against German agents in Britain the North Pole operation was the symbol of German superiority in certain techniques. Worthy of note are: Giskes’ indication of the endemic problem of the CI versus the police approach; his single reference to the use of the nets for strategic deception; the failure to “turn” a single set of the Dutch service BI; the denial that the agent King Kong betrayed the Arnhem operation in 1944; the account of CE work and operations elsewhere. Giskes’ s account of the means and imagination employed to win this intelligence victory still stands as the accurate and intriguing account from the German side. Dulles in Great True Spy Stories[5] called it one of the most effective German counterespionage operations of all time because of its complexity, extent, duration, and cleverness in execution. See de Jong’s article in the January 1980 Encounter and his conclusion that no treason or British duplicity caused the disaster.

This is a review by the Defense Intelligence School.[6]

This book relates the remarkable operation known as “North Pole” or the “Englandspiel.” It is the story of the radio deception set up by the Germans in .World War II after their capture of a Dutch officer parachuted into Holland by the British SOE to work with the Resistance. Undetected for nearly two years, the operation netted 54 agents and quantities of British weapons and explosives parachuted to the Dutch during that time. The book also contains material on other operations of the Abwehr’s counterintelligence branch, of which the author was chief in Holland. (For additional reading on “Nordpol”, see Louis De Jong’s “The ‘Great Game’ of Secret Agents” in Encounter, Jan. 1980).

From, submitted on 2015/08/13 at 9:58 am.

Anthony says: You need to read Leo Marks Silk and Cyanide. Internal British politics had a lot to do with the failure, to the extent that the two escaped agents were not initially believed. Giest also claimed to have tried to prevent the execution of the spies.

OK, a review of Between Silk and Cyanide[7] is on the blog site Anthony.

[1] Johnson, Loch K. (2007, 2009). Handbook of Intelligence Studies. New York : Routledge


[3] Foot, M. R. D. (1977). Resistance : European Resistance to Nazism, 1940-1945. New York: McGraw-Hill

[4] De Silva, Peer (1978). Sub Rosa: The CIA And The Uses of Intelligence. New York: Times Books

[5] Dulles, Allen W., ed. (1968). Great True Spy Stories. New York: Harper & Row

[6] Defense Intelligence School (1981). Bibliography of Intelligence Literature: A Critical And Annotated Bibliography of Open-Source Literature (7th ed, rev.). Washington, D.C. : Defense Intelligence School, p. 27

[7] Marks, Leo (1998). Between Silk And Cyanide: A Codemaker’s War, 1941-1945. New York: Free Press


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7 Responses to London Calling North Pole

  1. Pingback: The German Secret Service | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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  3. Anthony says:

    You need to read Leo Marks Silk and Cyanide. Internal British politics had a lot to do with the failure, to the extent that the two escaped agents were not initially believed. Giest also claimed to have tried to prevent the execution of the spies.

  4. Pingback: Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage And Covert Operations | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  5. Pingback: Counterespionage, Chapter 15 | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  6. Pingback: Blackstock Selected Bibliography of Fifty Titles | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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