Is there anything more exciting than a spy story? Spoiler: Nope. And when it’s a real story, it’s ten times as exciting. Today’s world is filled with all kinds of advanced technology used for spy warfare, but the men and women who worked to thwart the enemies during World War II didn’t have such luxuries. They had to do their jobs and survive using their wits, rudimentary equipment, and not a little sheer luck. Their stories of daring feats are some of the most exciting tales ever told.
Here are nine such true stories about the brave souls who put country first and risked everything to bring about the end of World War II. Some of their adventures could be straight out of John le Carré novels, and other seem like the plot of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, and the exciting fact is that they’re all true!
Did you know that M from the James Bond stories is based on an actual person? That's right! Ian Fleming named him M for Maxwell Knight, the great MI5 spymaster who is possibly the most successful spy of all time. By all accounts, Knight, a three-time divorcee and jazz fan who owed a zoo of exotic animals, did not come across as spy material. But he was a fearless spy with grand ideas, and his work helped revolutionize MI5, including introducing female agents into the field. And Agent M reveals the names of several men and women recruited by Knight for the first time anywhere!
And this is the thrilling true tale of Pope Pius XII, often labeled "Hitler's Pope" because of the Vatican's refusal to address the Nazi atrocities, who was actually working as a spymaster against Hitler during World War II. Using his position of power, Pope Pius XII presented a friendly face to Hitler, while covertly recording calls and using church charity funds to work against him.
The one key ingredient that countries needed during World War II for an atomic bomb to work was uranium ore. It was only found in one place in the whole world: the Katanga province of the Belgian Congo at the Shinkolobwe Mine. Both the United States and Germany were trying to get their hands on the goods. This is the story of the unsung heroes who worked to keep the deadly substance out of Hitler's hands, helping the allies win the war.
This is the fascinating story of William Stephenson, a Canadian-born MI6 officer, and his campaign to get the United States to join World War II. Stephenson set up an office in New York City, and with the help of several Canadian employees, he bombarded the country with anti-Nazi propaganda that also cheered President Roosevelt, hoping to force public opinion to swing in favor of joining the war. This guy was like Facebook before Facebook existed!
This is the true tale of a secret team of religious activists who were recruited to the Office of Strategic Services. Working under "Wild" Bill Donovan, these missionaries, priests, and rabbis carried out covert operations, bombings, and assassinations that helped clear the way for the Allied victory. It's a fascinating story of faith and country that has never been told before.
by Sam Kean
And this is a story fit to be Steven Soderbergh's next caper! Kean recounts the brave men and women who joined the Alsos Mission, and worked to trip the Nazis up at every turn. They spied, lied, committed acts of sabotage, and even assassinated members of Nazi Germany's Uranium Club, all in the name of freedom. And for the first time, their largely-unknown contributions are told here in one place.
Lisbon had a pivotal role in the history of World War II, though not a gun was fired there. The only European city in which both the Allies and the Axis power operated openly, it was temporary home to much of Europe's exiled royalty, over one million refugees seeking passage to the U.S., and a host of spies, secret police, captains of industry, bankers, prominent Jews, writers and artists, escaped POWs, and black marketeers. An operations officer writing in 1944 described the daily scene at Lisbon's airport as being like the movie “Casablanca,” times twenty.
In this riveting narrative, renowned historian Neill Lochery draws on his relationships with high-level Portuguese contacts, access to records recently uncovered from Portuguese secret police and banking archives, and other unpublished documents to offer a revelatory portrait of the War's back stage. And he tells the story of how Portugal, a relatively poor European country trying frantically to remain neutral amidst extraordinary pressures, survived the war not only physically intact but significantly wealthier. The country's emergence as a prosperous European Union nation would be financed in part, it turns out, by a cache of Nazi gold.
Last, but not least, the bonkers true story of a criminal who ended up being one of the most successful double agents of World War II! British citizen Eddie Chapman was a cad, a womanizer, and a petty criminal. When he was arrested by the Nazis, he agreed to spy for them in return for his freedom. He then went to the British MI6 and told them his story, and agreed to spy for them while still pretending to work for the Nazis. The plans he was able to pull off are almost too ridiculous to be true, but he did it! Macintyre researched declassified files about Chapman’s exploits to write this wild tale.
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