Dealing With The Devil

Title:                      Dealing With The Devil

Author:                 Dónal O’Sullivan

O’Sullivan, Donal (2010). Dealing With The Devil: Anglo-Soviet Intelligence Cooperation in The Second World War. New York: Peter Lang

LCCN:    2009018149

D810.S7 O745 2010


Date Posted:      February 23, 2016

Reviewed by Hayden Peake.[1]

More than 500 books have been published about the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) since the end of WWII. Very few have mentioned the joint Anglo-Soviet operations that sent NKVD agents behind German lines. Nigel West gives a brief account in Secret War but does not indicate the magnitude of the relationship, since few documents had been released before the book’s publication.[2] Using British and Russian documents released in 2008, Dónal O’Sullivan, an assistant professor at California State University, Northridge, has remedied that situation.

By the time Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, many of the NKVD and GRU networks operating in the West had been rounded up by the Germans. Others had been annihilated during the Soviet purges. Stalin wanted to reestablish contact with those agents remaining in Europe and set up viable new sources, but early in the war he didn’t have the capability to dispatch agents. Professor O’Sullivan explains how an arrangement was reached with the SOE for Soviet agents to be dropped into German-occupied territories. He also alludes to the less productive efforts at cooperation between the NKVD and the OSS.

After providing considerable background on the NKVD and SOE negotiations and planning, O’Sullivan describes selected operations and the agents that participated. More than two dozen agents were involved; all were communists and all were either from the areas into which they would be inserted or had worked there before. Some acted alone, others in teams; each team had a codename. Examples include the first Soviet agent, a woman, designated PICKAXE 1. She was landed by boat in—France-the French resistance was not informed —and linked up with colleagues in Paris, where she worked until arrested. She and other members of the network were executed. A Dutch father-and-son team was recruited and dropped into Holland. Neither was well qualified; they had just wanted to go home, and the Soviets needed agents. Both were caught. The father, Willy Kruyt, was one of the few agents to survive the war.

The most complicated agent arrangement involved Bhagat Ram, an Indian communist recruited by the NKVD and then declared to the SOE—the only known example of this arrangement—with a warning that he had very likely worked for German intelligence. Peter Fleming—Ian Fleming’s older brother—called him SILVER and ran him against the Germans in India. Ram’s fate remains unknown.

In the end, the Soviets gained little from cooperation with Britain. Chronic mutual distrust hampered all operations. And to make matters worse, the Germans caught most of the agents. In several cases, the agents were turned against their masters as part of what the Germans called a Funkspiel, or radio game.

Dealing With the Devil fills a historical gap in the intelligence history of WWII. Overall, the book is well documented, though O’Sullivan’s judgment that the Red Orchestra was a German myth is debatable.

Running agents behind enemy lines in several countries at the same time and from a distance is a difficult job, as this book makes crystal clear.

[1] Hayden Peake is a frequent reviewer of books on intelligence and this review appeared in The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies (19, 1, Winter/Spring, 2013, pp. 113-114). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Di recto rate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence. These and many other reviews and articles may be found on line at

[2] See for example, Nigel West (1992). Secret War: The Story of SOE, Britain’s Wartime Sabotage Organisation. London : Hodder & Stoughton, pp. 71-72; and Holt, Thaddeus (2004). The Deceivers: Allied Military Deception in the Second World War. New York: Scribner, pp. 309-310.

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