Archive for the ‘WWII’ Category

High profile people make the most interesting spies. Their fame and subsequent connections allow them access to places everyday schmoes can only dream of (like a certain Miss Baker  during WWII). It makes me wonder though about Princess Stephanie Julianne Richter zu Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfürst (1891 – 1972), a high-society, Austrian of Jewish descent married into German royalty and a spy for Hitler: does this odd relationship say more about a famed wild child-celebutant or a keen self-preservationist?

Stephanie was born in Vienna, Austria, and raised in the lap of luxury. Her training as a ballet dancer, charm and good looks helped insert the young Miss into the highest social circles. It also helped Stephanie get into a good number of fixes over the years as well.

At the tender age 22, Stephanie found herself knocked-up with the illegitimate love child of an Archduke/Prince. The family’s money and connections manage to cover up her indiscretion through a hasty marriage to German Prince Friedrich Franz von Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfürst.

The child was born and raised with Hohenlohe name. Stephanie herself took to royalty like a Cinderella and a glass slipper. Despite her divorce in 1920, Stephanie continued on with her “Princess” shenanigans all throughout Europe and was involved with anyone from a British newspaper tycoon to a Nazi diplomat. It was during this time that Stephanie began her association with one Adolf Hitler, who intimated her with the moniker “My Dear Princess”. She held close relationships with the Nazi elite and managed to secure yet another title, one of “Honorary Aryan“, a pretty important title if you had but a drop of Jewish blood in you during those times.

During the 1930s, Stephanie took up residence in London and circulated through London society. The assumption during this time was that she was spying for Hitler and using her charms for propaganda and the Nazi cause. Not a hard sell as the London elite of the age had plenty of Nazi sympathizers among their ranks. Passing correspondence and arranging meetings between noted Britons and high-ranking Nazis, Stephanie even arranged the infamous meeting between the abdicated King Edward VIII, now Duke of Windsor, and his American wife, Wallis Simpson, with The Fuhrer in 1937. The British government kept a close eye on her though, noting her influence with Hitler and how he actively sought her advice.

With Germany effectively being broke during this time, one wonders how the Princess managed to support herself. Well, she did so by becoming the paid mistress of a British Lord. The relationship eventually fizzled and Stephanie went as far as to sue the Lord in court (she lost) demanding continued payment as was promised to her for life. Considering the payments were regarded as a “retainer”, one doesn’t have to go far to guess what kind of services were rendered.

An affair with Hitler’s top-aid, Fritz Weidemann, saw Stephanie through the rest of the 1930s. When Fritz was name consul-General to the United States and assigned to the San Francisco post, she followed. She traveled back and forth between the US and England but settled in the US after the official outbreak of war. Her spidey-senses a tingling, she became fearful the Brits might arrest her as a spy. However, the US, despite not taking part in the global festivities, kept a close eye on the minx. FDR famously wrote that the activities of one Princess Stephanie made her “worse than 10,000 men”.

Stephanie’s relationship with Fritz ended and after her visas ran-out in 1941, she was detained by US immigration. However, yet another affair, with the head INS no less, prolonged her stay in the country, and even saw her put up in a hotel in DC for a spell.

But as we all know too well, all good things must come to an end. In 1941, the FBI arrested Stephanie. She was placed in a detainment camp in Texas until her parole in 1945. But she made good use of her time there, she helped the OSS develop a psychological profile of Herr Hitler and was influential in a 1943 report “Analysis of the Personality of Adolf Hitler“.

After the war, Stephanie resumed her affairs in post-war Germany, targeting men who were best able to support her lifestyle. She lived to the ripe-old age of 81 and died in Geneva, Switzerland. A good long life, longer and better than most who lived during those times.

A very good book about this dame and her exploits was crafted by Martha Schad and is definitely worth a read.

You have to admit, WWII for all its awfulness, was a great time for women in the spy trade. We’ve seen operatives, cryptographers, and inventors, and now, we have another to add to the list: human smugglers. Considering the heated American debate on illegal immigration in America, Ruth Klieger Aliav (19??-1979) is a worthy dame to examine.

Ruth was either born in 1914 or 1907 and she was either born in Romania proper or in what is now the Ukraine (a matter of semantics, I know, but people do go to war over this stuff). Ruth’s autobiography and documentation seem to be at odds concerning the official accounts of her life.

Now Ruth not only sported a big-bad-brain, but also a talent for linguistics. Upon graduation of the University of Vienna, she had her law degree and was fluent in 9 languages.

In 1935, our gal emigrated to Israel fulfilling a life-long dream. She married and settled down on a kibbutz and had a child. However, neither the marriage or the life seem to have satisfied Ruth, and after the death of her child from meningitis, she moved to Tel-Aviv where she was recruited into the Mossad.

In 1939, Ruth was sent into Romania and with her style, wits and connections, she not only helped smuggle out Jews but also to import arms and coordinate resistance activities.

In 1942, saw Ruth landing in Egypt where she was taking Jews overland into Palestine. During her stop-over, she discovered a corp of Egyptian Officers sympathetic to the Nazis. Ruth called in French Freedom forces, helped land Anwar el Sadat in jail, and continued on her merry way.

At the end of the war, Ruth was sent back into France in time for liberation, and during this period, she helped minister Jewish displaced persons and refugees. In 1945, she was bestowed the rank of honorary colonel in the US Army by none other than Eisenhower himself. She also managed to convince an American officer in charge of displaced Jews to “lend” her a boat to take Jewish orphans to Palestine. However, when the ship arrived in Haifa, it also contained 2600 older, displaced persons as well.

So here’s where Ruth’s activities become messy. During the entire war, there was a covert-operation sponsored by Mossad called Aliya Bet. Aliya Bet was the coordinated effort of Jews to illegally populate Palestine in direct violation of British Mandate.

Now, depending on how and where you come down on this subject, this leads to very different views of Ruth and her activities. One, is that Ruth is a sort of Harriet Tubman in leading Jews to freedom during a decidedly horrific time in history. The other view is that the Aliya Bet’s intentions was to usurp the Palestinians with a Jewish population long before the war occurred, hence, the war and its atrocities further served to achieve that goal. Now considering there are over 3 million Palestinians today, living refugee camps for the last 60 years with no state and no citizenship and their food, water,  electricity and general living conditions controlled by the Jewish state, you could also see where some people would see Ruth in terms of what we Americans would call Coyote, and illegal trafficker of immigrants.

Unfortunately, this is also where America begins a long, sad, and strained relationship with the Middle East. While the British were none too pleased at Ruth’s activities, the publicity could not allow them to deny the entry of the refugees in Haifa. However, Eisenhower, or at least those on his staff, had become convinced of the necessity of Aliya Bet and wanted more ships with more refugees to be allowed into Palestine. Eisenhower eventually shot down this plan because of the pressure exerted by the British in this matter.

Following the war, Ruth became a fundraiser for Mossad in both South and North America. She also continued her work with immigrants entering Israel, but, after 10 frustrating years of ill-treatment simply due to being a woman, Ruth went on to work with the Israeli shipping company ZIM.

Ruth’s work in public relations with ZIM brought her into contact with Hollywood luminaries, painters, and even Helen Keller when they toured Israel. During these years, Ruth also changed her last name to add “Aliav”, a variation on Aliya Bet, to her official passport. She wrote her memoirs shortly before her death and it sold over 2 million copies.

Ruth passed on in 1979. She is buried in Israel.

Marina Lee

Posted: September 1, 2010 in Abwehr, Blame a Dame, Britain, Espionage, MI5, Undercover, WWII

There’s all sort of animal, vegetable and mineral that fall under the umbrella of “Nazi”. I’ve seen Nazi clowns, Nazi dogs, Soup Nazis, and Nazi film-makers; but I’m going to be honest here, the very idea of a Nazi ballerina comes pretty close to taking the proverbial cake.

The broo-ha-ha erupted this past week upon the declassification of WWII documents from British security services and then vomited all over the Web about this Tiny Dancer being responsible for the British defeat in Norway in 1940.

HOWEVER, let’s ask the obvious question here: Fact or Fiction? Base or Baseless? Less Filling or Tastes Great?

Is the story being spread around the globe about Marina Lee the real deal or this just another episode of our favorite show Blame-A-Dame?

Here’s what we know: Lee was born in Russia during the revolution, her parents were killed by the Bolsheviks, she was a trained dancer, she fled to Norway where she married and taught at a dance school. It’s easy to see why she is targeted in this scenario. She spoke 5 languages, she was decidedly beautiful, being a dancer provided her with excellent cover, and also, back in the day a dancer was more akin to being a “loose woman” so it afforded a determined spy a little more access to those in vulnerable positions.

But none if this is what anyone would call proof. The conjecture that is being bandied about is that Lee bamboozled strategic plans by the Brits out of a General Auchenlik and then slipped them to a German agent. Presto-change-o the Brits lose Norway to the Nazis.

But here’s the rub: this is neither proven nor dis-proven, hence the term conjecture, and in the weighing of evidence, the accusation does not hold. The BBC report on this story bears the headline: Blond Nazi ballerina ’caused war set back’ which let’s admit, is spicy stuff, but the first line of the article goes on to read that: secret government paper suggestThis is a far cry from stating “that beyond a shadow of a doubt this dame ratted us out.”

Google “Nazi Ballerina” and you’ll come up with hundreds of articles, most of them supporting the “validity” of the tale. This little gem by journalist Guy Walters points out the obvious “junkiness” of the evidence. Thank.You.Guy! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I have no problem calling a spade a spade but let’s make sure we’re first actually dealing with shovels and not wheelbarrows.

Is it worth examining why these tales of female agents capture the imagination so forcefully? On one hand, the conditioned response harkens back to traditional stereotypes would have you believe that women are soft and fragile, noble and righteous. While other stereotypes play off the seemingly innate fear men have over beautiful broads thus the gorgeous Spy Dame is the epitome of all that is dark and dangerous about the mysterious female form. In the end, we deal with the same gender issues that have plagued society for years and they all seem to center around women either being the Madonna or the prostitute.

We saw this nastiness arise earlier this summer in a subject I am loathe to mention: Anna Chapman, alleged agent in the Russian Spy Ring that was busted in the US earlier this summer. While everyone talks about the “flame-haired“, “femme fatale“, “great-in-bedness” of Chapman, does anyone stop to consider the story? Taken into consideration, she really comes off as a spoiled diplomat-brat-mail-order-bride who minored in real estate and majored in partying. During the set-up for her take-down, she was handed, by undercover Feds, a passport to deliver and Chapman called her daddy to ask what she should do (daddy’s response was to turn the passport in to the police). Hardly the acts of a trained Spy Dame! Seriously, Virginia Hall is rolling over in her grave.

But the point is this: all of that detail is lost in the flame-haired-femme-fatale-great-in-bedness of the story…well, that and the pictures of her in a tiara

So let’s get back to Blond Nazi Ballerina at hand…Marina Lee: Spy Dame or Dame Blamed?

muriel_byck_00_photo_tnSOE agent,  Muriel Byck (1981-1944), reminds us that while war may be a messy business, it is quite literally, also a dirty and germy business as well.

Muriel was born to French Jews in London although she was primarily raised on the continent, first Germany, then later, France. Muriel appears to have bounced back and forth between England and France for college and university, but eventually settled in England  in the mid-1930’s.

Byck took on a number of different jobs, none too remarkable. She worked in a theater, then as a Red Cross volunteer, and later a secretary. The secretarial work seemed to lead into war-related work as she also became an Air Raid Precautions warden.

Muriel then transitioned into the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and was promoted to an officer position. Naturally, Muriel spoke excellent French so it wasn’t too far a jump for her to eventually be recruited for the Special Operations Executive.

After training and three abortive attempts to jump into France, Muriel (Codename: Violette) arrived April 9, 1944. She performed duties as a wireless operator and trained local talent for the task.

Needless to say, the usually activities of evading German detection by moving around from time to time while working one’s tail off to aid the war effort takes its toll on anyone. However, a little over a month in country and Muriel began exhibiting signs of serious illness. She collapsed in the field and a doctor working for the Resistance diagnosed her with meningitis, a serious disease that affects the brain and spinal cord.

muriel_byck_01_photo_tnThe problem here, is that the Germans kept sharp tabs on hospital patients, so just traipsing in the door was out of the question and sneakier means became necessary. Muriel was admitted as the niece of her uncle (read: supervisor), both of whom were evacuees from Paris. Muriel was finally admitted to a hospital but it was too late. Not six weeks after landing in France,  Muriel Byck, aged 25,  died in the arms of her supervisor.

The local population of Romarantin, France, where Byck was laid to rest,  heralded her passing as a heroine of the Resistance and commemorated the anniversary of her death  until she was moved to the Pornic War Cemetery, the burial grounds for many British servicemen who died during the war.

miss_moneypenny_by_lois_maxwellIf you are not up on your James Bond trivia, Miss Moneypenney was Bond’s “Girl Friday”. She’s been missing from the Blond Bond films as of late, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed hoping for her reappearance. During her long career in Bond films, Moneypenney has been played several actresses such as: Lois Maxwell, Caroline Bliss, Samantha Bond, Barbara Bouchet, and Pamela Salem.

Jane Moneypenney served as the assistant to the veritable “M”, and although the flirtation between the two did not exist in any of Ian Fleming’s books, Moneypenney is known to filmgoers for her verbal sparring/flirting with rascal known as 007. And while there’s a certain endearing comic relief to the character, she certainly is not as interesting as the dames who inspired her.

As with all things Ian Fleming, Monneypenney actually has a basis in real life. In this case, it appears that Moneypenney is speculated to have been based on either a single person or is a conglomeration of the many women in Fleming’s life. So let’s run down the suspects:

Kathleen Pettigrew: the formidable (read: terrifying) assistant to MI6 director, Stewart Menzies, during and after WWII, who can best be described as a “…grey-haired lady with the square jaw of the battleship type”.

Vera Atkins, (one of our favorite SOE dames) who was technically an assistant to Colonel Maurice Buckmaster (one the reported inspirations for “M”, Bond’s boss), but Atkins was a damn important figure in her own right.

Another possible candidate is Margaret Priestley who administered the 30 Commando Assault Unit during WWII (think Navy Seals with some serious Intel collection training). She actually shied away form any public connection to Ian Fleming and the Bond character of Moneypenney.

Other likely candidates are either Jean Frampton, the dear lady who typed Ian Fleming’s manuscripts and whom  apparently never met the man (although their letters to each other recently fetched a pretty penny at auction), and finally, Joan Bright Astley whom Fleming dated during WWII. Astley was the dame who organized the Special Information Center for Winston Churchill during the war and was also renowned for her “social skills” with high ranking officers.

So who is the real Miss Moneypenney? Your guess is as good as mine, but honestly, the moon-eyed secretary doesn’t strike any resemblance to the hard-core dames of the British Intel community, and given the sappy love-struck secretary of the Bond films, if I was one of the reported ladies of inspiration for the character, I’d distance myself far from her.

noor_ancestor1Noor Inayat Khan (1914-1944), another SOE dame, is remembered for being the first female radio operator sent into occupied France during WWII,  unfortunately, she is also, incorrectly, remembered for being a princess.

Noor has an interesting family lineage in that her father, Hazrat Khan, was descended from a defunct Muslim royal line and was also the founder of the Sufi Order International. In case you were wondering, Sufism is a practice of Islamic Mysticism. Not to be outdone, Noor’s mother, Ora Noor, was an American from new Mexico and sister to Pierre Bernard, an early American yogi instructor/scholar and all-around shady character.

Noor was better traveled than most adults by a young age. She was born in Russia and spent her early years in England before the family finally settled in France.

Noor’s father passed away when Noor was just 13. As the eldest she assumed many familial responsibilities. Noor did however find it in her to study psychology at the Sorbonne and become an accomplished musician. Noor had a career in writing poetry and children’s books and contributed her talents to French radio. All of this was brought short when the family fled France for England before the outbreak of WWII.

Despite her Sufi upbringing, which emphasizes no small amount pacifism, Noor was determined lend her efforts to defeating Nazi Germany. She joined the Women’s Auxilliary Air Force in 1940 where she learned to become a wireless operator. After a year of mind-numbing work, Noor requested a transfer to the SOE where she joined the now infamous F-Section. It was here in the SOE that Noor adopted the name Nora Baker.

Noor had a mixed track record with the group. Her superiors found her inconsistent and unsuitable for service, but her much needed fluency in French and her skills in wireless operations made it necessary to send her into France.

noor-khan-waaf-uniformNoor, codename “Madeleine”, was dropped into France in June 1943. She made her way to Paris and went to work. Within a very short period of time, nearly all the wireless operators in the area were captured. Despite being offered passage back to England, Noor refused to leave her post and continued transmitting while ping-ponging about the area to avoid capture. Dispatches from other officers comment on her critical and “excellent work”.

By October 1943, the gig was up. Noor was either betrayed by a suspected double agent within SOE’s Paris ranks or this same person’s sister who had lost the affections of a boyfriend to Noor and retaliated by ratting Noor out to the Nazi SS. Noor was arrested and put up one hell of a fight. Her captors were so disarmed by the former artist’s volatile reaction, that they  labeled her an “extremely dangerous prisoner”.

Noor returned the favor by escaping. Twice. Never once giving up any of her intelligence. Unfortunately, the Gestapo found copies of Noor’s coded messages, and while the codes were unbroken, they continued transmitting to the SOE posing as Noor. Unfortunately, the SOE did not follow up on the inconsistencies in these false messages. The SOE sent in additional agents, all whom were captured.

After a final escape attempt in November 1943, and after refusing to sign a paper agreeing  no further escape attempts (I know, laughable, did the Gestapo really think she would ever sign such a thing?), Noor was sent to Germany as a “Nacht und Nebel” prisoner. This meant solitary confinement. All matters pertaining to Noor were kept tightly under wraps. Noor was kept in shackles and chains 24 hours a day. A prison director testified after the war that the woman the SOE found so unsuitable maintained a policy of complete noncooperation.

Commemration plaque at Dachau.

Commemoration plaque at Dachau.

In September 1944, Noor and three other female operatives were moved to the Dachau Concentration Camp. On September 13, 1944, Noor and the three women were executed with a single shot to the head. Another prisoner who witnessed the event claimed Noor was savagely beaten by prison guards prior to execution and that her final word was “Liberté”.

A plaque at the Dachau camp commemorates the execution.

Damn.

The numerous honors and awards bestowed posthumously to Noor include: the Croix de Guerre, the MBE, and the George Cross.

Events in Noor’s life were borrowed, like many other female agents, for the fictional character of Charlotte Gray. Also, numerous books and articles have been published about Noor…all referring to her as the “Princess Spy”.

As if this dame needed a lame and irrelevant title such as “Princess” to make her life more amazing.

gercarreMathilde “The Cat” Carre (1910-1970) was a French double agent during WWII. Carre makes for an interesting study in that her treason is based on nothing more than self-preservation and possibly the desire for a long hot bath.

Carre was born in France, educated at the Sorbonne, became a school teacher, married, and moved to Algeria. Pretty uneventful stuff. War soon broke out and Carre’s husband was killed during the campaign of Italy.

Carre returned to France as a nurse just in time for it to fall to the Germans, took up with a Polish military officer, and joined the Franco-Polish resistance movement of the Interallie. Carre proved very useful in being able to determine and size and location of Luftwaffe and SS Panzer divisions in the region. Some say it was Carre’s green eyes and shapely gams that got her intel from German officers in her area.

Carre was taken prisoner by the Germans during a catastrophic decision to recruit a female into the Interallie who turned out to be a double-agent for the Abwehr. Carre herself was turned into a double-agent and released back into the field.

Carre, still believed to be a trusted member of the Interallie, was summoned to London with a cohort. The Abwehr believed they were about to get their chance to infiltrate the infamous British SOE, but Carre was instead arrested and imprisoned during the duration of the war where she served her time as an informant against other detainees.

After the war, Carre was sent back to France to face trial. She was initially sentenced to death but eventually had her sentence commuted to 20 years. She was released in 1954, penned a book, “I Was Called the Cat”, in efforts to explain her side of the story, and passed away 1970.

During her trial, the prosecution read from Carre’s diary: “What I wanted most was a good meal, a man, and, once more, Mozart’s Requiem.” Interesting. We view treason through the lens of money, ideology, compromise, and ego, but this hints at something more. Fatigue.

Certainly, Carre was compromised into turning double agent, but that implies something that is still against her will and I think Carre’s will was long gone. With her husband dead and her country devastated, Carre strikes me as someone so demoralized that she became bent on doing whatever she perceived it took to just get the war over with and she had given up caring which side won.

Too bad really. Carre was called “The Cat” because of her elegant manueverings and stealth like ways of gathering intel. Perhaps a more concerted effort at sublimating that demoralization might have resulted in an entry celebrating this dame’s accomplishments instead of writing about a lady who gave up, gave in, and turned coat.

velvaleedickinsonVelvalee Dickinson (1893-1980) sounds like a name more befitting a Wisconsin cheese heiress than a WWII spy, but a spy she was and her undercover monicker of “The Doll Woman” is highly appropriate for this broad’s shenanigans.

Velvalee was born in Sacremento, California and educated at Stanford University. In the mid 1920’s, Velvalee went to work at a brokerage company in San Francisco where she met future husband, Lee. Velvalee became involved in social work which brought her into close contact with the Japanese community there. She became a member of the Japanese-American Society (fees paid by a Japanese Attache, thank you), well-entrenched with visiting members of the Japanese military and government, and hosted numerous soirees in her home for said same folks.

The Dickinsons moved to New York City in 1937 where Velvalee opened a doll shop specializing in rare and antique dolls. It was here, well under radar, that Velvalee conducted her treasonous activities.

dickinson_store1Velvalee used her doll shop as a front to send secret communiques, more specifically, steganographic messages, around the globe reporting on military activities and position. And example of an actual message: “Doll in a hula skirt is in the hospital and doctors are working around the clock”, which translated to “Light cruiser USS Honolulu is badly damaged and in Seattle undergoing around the clock repairs.”

The language of dolls apparently served up a myriad of ways certain activities could be discussed in front a casual observer without drawing too much attention. However, this was WWII. The government had a cadre of cryptanalysts on payroll examining the mail of everyday citizens and this is what led to Velvalee’s discovery.

The dame was busted by a piece of returned mail.

velvaleedickinsonfeb221942letterYup, she sent one her “letters” to Buenos Aires, but the intended recipient had moved on and the letter was returned to the US where it was intercepted by wartime censors. Thinking the correspondence was a little fishy, the censors passed it along to the FBI where it ended up in the capable hands of our favorite cryptanalyst, Elizebeth Friedman, and the rest is history.

The subsequent investigation uncovered all sorts of correspondence that had been bouncing around the country under a variety of different names in dozens of cities, but all traced their way back to Velvalee. The FBI uncovered her connections to the Japanese government in San Francisco and New York, about $25 thousand in payments made to Velvalee, and then they really went to town.

Velvaless was indicted in 1944 under a number of various charges and like the stand-up gal she was, she promptly blamed it all on her late husband who has passed away in 1942. However, medical records proved her husband’s lacked the mental faculties at the time in question due to a prolonged illness, and then the gig was up.

Maintaining her innocence until the end, Velvalee was sentenced to a ridiculously short amount of time in federal prison and was released in 1951, disappears from radar in 1954, and all we’re left with in the end is her date of death in 1980.

320px-elizebeth-friedman1Elizebeth Friedman (1892-1980), in three words: What A Broad.

Elizebeth was one-half of the Dynamic Duo of Friedman and Freidman. Although married to the reknowned cryptographer William F. Friedman, Elizebeth was quite the crypto-dame in her own right and is often to referred to as the America’s first female cryptanalyst.

Let me first say that I could spend this entire entry musing about the type of love letters the Friedmans sent to each other (D197%6 B9G#!& = Dearest Billy), but it’s time to get to work:

Elizebeth was born the youngest of nine children in a Quaker family. She graduated college with a degree in English Literature although she dabbled in quite a varied amount of other subjects. She was fluent in German, Latin and Greek.

After graduating college and trying to find herself via the public education system, Elizebeth was to drawn to a job at the Newberry Library in Chicago presumably for its Shakespeare collection of which Elizebeth was quite the aficionado.

However, a brilliant secretary performing the initial interview for the job, directed Elizebeth instead toward George Fabyan. Fabyan is credited with having the first private think tank dedicated to cryptology in the nation. He immediately hired Elizebeth to work at his facility Riverbank, in Geneva, Illinois, where Elizebeth worked on a project attempting to prove Sir Francis Bacon as the true author of “Shakespearean” work. The belief was that Bacon enciphered the work and by decoding the works, one could discover the Bacon’s identity.

Interesting sure, but hardly the good stuff. It was during Elizebeth’s five years at Riverbank that she met and eventually married her husband, William, a fellow and brilliant cryptographer. However, the outbreak of WWI and the creation of MI-8, the US Army’s Cipher Bureau, inspired the Friedmans to jump ship and head to Washington. DC proved to suit Elizebeth well.  She worked for US Naval intelligence which led to a stint at the Treasury Department and it was there that Elizebeth really began to shine.

Remember that the 1920’s were the time of Prohibition. Elizebeth put her smarts to the task of deciphering communiques, via both written and radio-communicated messages, between smuggling rings. During her tenure our gal-pal was responsible for solving over 12,000 messages. All done by training a cadre of cryptanalysts and by staying abreast of improved deciphering techniques and the subsequent hardware that was being developed which kept her one step ahead of the game.

But her career wasn’t all busting rum-runners and smugglers. Among her many exploits, Elizebeth created a security system for the International Monetary Fund, was responsible for breaking the code on notorious American spy Velvalee Dickinson (more on that dame later), and broke Chinese codes for the Canadian government despite the fact she didn’t even know the language. That’s one hell of a career right there.

But not the end of Elizebeth’s story. After retiring from government work, Elizebeth and William returned to their work on Shakespeare eventually publishing the definitive book arguing against the idea of Sir Francis Bacon being the real author of the works.

William passed on in 1969 and Elizebeth set to work compiling their career worth of papers into a stunning collection of cryptographical works. She passed along herself in 1980 in New Jersey.

A not-great film with some spectacular casting, 2001’s “Charlotte Gray” tells a story of a Scot SOE dame played by Cate Blanchett who joins the infamous unit after her pilot boyfriend is shot down over France.

When we first meet Charlotte, she is a returning from her native Scotland to London where she is employed. WWII has already begun and Charlotte has a rather terse conversation with a gentleman on the train regarding her opinions on the subject. He notices she is reading a book in French and hands her his card.

Charlotte is later reintroduced to the gentleman at a party where it is explained to her that said gent would like to recruit her for the SOE. Charlotte begins mulling it over when she then meets Peter, the man with whom she immediately becomes smitten.

Peter goes off to war and is later reported to have been shot down somewhere over France. This incident serves as the impetus for Charlotte to finally join the SOE. We get to witness her physical training, weapons training, radio instruction and briefings. At some point, Charlotte is deemed suitable to go operational and we get to witness what Vera Atkin’s job was largely about, and then Charlotte parachutes into France.

From there, we meet to the French Resistance leader, a local boy who doesn’t particularly like Charlotte and further complicates matters by taking in two small Jewish boys after their parents were shipped off to the concentration camps.

Charlotte gets to play nursemaid to the children by day while she helps disrupt train lines by night. She meets with handlers and tries her best to remain under the radar of local informers. All the while she is desperately trying to find out information about her boyfriend Peter.

The best scene of the film occurs when Charlotte first arrives in town and attempts to make contact with a fellow SOE agent. The woman is distraught, informs Charlotte she has been identified as an agent, and what follows is a terrifically tense few moments of police inspection while the stricken agent is led away. Charlotte later learns the agent was executed.

It’s a sloppy narrative with a lot of loose ends and one of the most anti-climactic endings of all times. But the movie was shot in a French country town where real SOE agents operated and as a period piece, you get a good sense of what these ladies were up against.

Not the best representation of a spy-dame on film, and waste of talent on the behalf of an amazing cast, but for a period piece, “Charlotte Gray” is worth checking out.