Agent Zigzag: Eddie Chapman the double agent

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Agent Zigzag: Eddie Chapman the double agent

Discover the incredible story of Eddie Chapman, also know as Agent Zigzag, the former criminal turned double agent.

Eddie Chapman was born on November 16, 1914, in County Durham. Growing up Chapman was frequently in trouble and was known to play truant from school to visit the cinema. When Chapman turned 17, he joined the Second Battalion of the Coldstream Guards, where his duties included guarding the Tower of London. For a time Chapman did enjoy this line of work but soon became bored, after nine months in the army he ran away with a girl he'd met in Soho. After two months he was arrested and sentenced to 84 days in a military prison. After this his was dishonorably discharged.

From here on, Chapman returned to Soho and worked odd jobs in bars and as a film extra but his income was not covering his extravagant lifestyle and he soon turned to a life of crime. Starting with fraud and petty theft he soon earned a two month sentence in Wormwood Scrubs for forging a cheque. After his release he joined a London gang known as the 'Jelly Gang' who were well-known for using the explosive substance 'gelignite' to gain entry to the safes, Chapmen would then get to work as a safecracker. After some time, he was caught for his actions in the gang but fled to Jersey in the Channel Islands.

While living in Jersey he unsuccessfully tried to continue with his criminal lifestyle but was arrested while dining with his lover and future fiancée Betty Farmer at the Hotel de la Plage. He even tried to escape capture by diving through the dining room window (which was closed at the time).

Chapmen was imprisoned in Jersey prison and sentenced to serve two years there. On 30 June 1940 the Nazi's invaded Jersey, they soon took over the prison where Chapman was incarcerated. Chapman concocted a plan to get released from the prison by crafting a letter in German offering help with the war effort, from this letter Chapman was moved to Fort de Romainville in Paris. In Paris he confirmed his willingness to act as a German spy. He was then sent to Captain Stephan von Gröning, who trained him in explosives, radio communications, parachute jumping and other subjects.

On 16 December 1942, Chapman was flown to Britain in a Focke-Wulf bomber converted for parachuting, he was equipped with wireless, pistol, cyanide capsule and £1,000 and, amongst other things, was given the task of sabotaging the de Havilland aircraft factory at Hatfield. Chapman became stuck in the hatch as he tried to leave the aircraft. Finally detaching himself, he landed some distance from the target location of Mundford, Norfolk, near the village of Littleport, Cambridgeshire.

The British secret service were aware of Chapman's existence and through Operation Ultra knew when he would be departing from France and his target area. Section B1A, the MI5-backed department with the task of capturing enemy agents and turning them into double agents, had discussed the best method of capturing Chapman without revealing Ultra. In the end, Operation Nightcap was envisioned: Rather than conduct a full-scale manhunt, planes from RAF Fighter Command would trail Chapman's aircraft to identify his landing site (from one of three possible options). Local police would then be alerted, with instructions to conduct a search under the guise of looking for a deserter.

But before Chapman could be captured via Operation Nightcap he turned himself into local police and offered his services to MI5. He was transferred to Latchmere House in London (also known as Camp 020) for interrogation. Here the MI5 decided to use him as a double agent against the Germans and assigned Ronnie Reed as his case officer.

During the night of 29–30 January 1943, Chapman with MI5 officers faked a sabotage attack on his target, the de Havilland aircraft factory in Hatfield, where the Mosquito was being manufactured. A German reconnaissance aircraft photographed the site, and the faked damage convinced Chapman's German controllers that the attack had been successful. To reinforce this story, MI5 also wrote and had published a story in the British newspaper the Daily Express.

After the de Havilland sabotage event, The British began preparations for Chapman's return to his German handlers. Radio messages were sent to the Abwehr requesting extraction by boat or submarine, and Chapman was set to work learning a cover story ready for the inevitable interrogations. However, the response from the Abwehr was lukewarm. They refused to send a U-boat and told Chapman to return via Lisbon, Portugal. This was not a simple method, as he had no valid reason to travel to the neutral port. Reed believed this demonstrated the Germans' reluctance to pay Chapman the £15,000 he had been promised.

In the meantime, Chapman was subjected to fake interrogation at Camp 020, to make sure his story held up. Reed told him to stick as close to the truth as possible, to help make the lies more realistic, and he was coached in speaking slowly to cover any hesitations. Stephens was impressed with how well Chapman responded to questioning.

MI5 was eager for Chapman to return to his handlers in Germany so that he could obtain vital information for the enemy. He was given a list of questions that the allies needed information for, they were carefully constructed so that if Chapman's guise were to be broken then it would not show German intelligence the gaps in the allies knowledge.

Chapman boarded a merchant ship called The City Of Lancaster under the fake identity of Hugo Anson and arrived in Portugal. Upon arriving in Lisbon, Chapman contacted the German's at their embassy and suggested an attempt at blowing up the ship he had travelled over in by disguising a bomb as a lump of coal. This was a request from British intelligence to obtain an example of a German bomb. He was given two bombs which he promptly handed over to the ship's captain. The German's did not notice that the ship was unharmed during it's voyage, and to ensure that no suspicions were to arise about Chapman's true intentions the British staged an investigation when it returned to Britain, ensuring gossip would make its way back to the Germans.

Chapman was sent to occupied Norway to teach at a German spy school in Oslo. After debriefing with his German handler von Gröning he was awarded an Iron Cross, though this has been contested as the Iron Cross was only ever given to military personnel. It is suggested that he was awarded a War Merit Cross 2nd Class, also known as Kriegsverdienstkreuz instead. Chapman was also rewarded with 110,000 Reichsmark and his own yacht.

After Operation Overlord he was sent back to Britain to report on the accuracy of the V-1 weapon and the Hedgehog antisubmarine weapon. He parachuted into Cambridgeshire on 29 June 1944, and went to London. Here he consistently reported to the Germans that the bombs were hitting their central London target, when in fact they were undershooting. Perhaps as a result of this disinformation, the Germans never corrected their aim, with the end result that most bombs landed in the south London suburbs or the Kent countryside, doing far less damage than they otherwise might have done.

You might have throught that after his courageous work as a double agent that Chapman would be on the straight and narrow, however while working for British intelligence in London he was involved in doping of dogs in greyhound racing and was associating with criminals in West End nightclubs. This and the fact Chapman had become very indiscreet of where his source of income was coming from was enough for MI5 to dismiss him.

Chapman was given a £6,000 payment from MI5 and was allowed to keep £1,000 of the money the Germans had given him. He was granted a pardon for his pre-war activities and was reported by MI5 to have been living "in fashionable places in London always in the company of beautiful women of apparent culture".

Chapman continued to be involved in criminal activities including smuggling gold across the Mediterranean in 1950. More than once he had a character reference from former intelligence officers who confirmed his great contribution to the war effort. Chapman had his wartime memoirs serialised in France to earn money, but he was charged under the Official Secrets Act and fined £50.

Chapman remained friends with Baron Stephan von Gröning, his Abwehr handler (wartime alias Doctor Graumann), who had fallen on hard times. Von Gröning later attended the wedding of Chapman's daughter. Eddie Chapman died of heart failure on 11 December 1997. He was survived by his wife Betty, and a daughter.

1 comment

  • Caspar

    There was a film made of this called Triple Cross with Christopher Plummer as Chaomam and Yul Brynner as his handler.

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