Das Englandspiel ("The England Game"), also called Unternehmen Nordpol (Operation North Pole), was an enormous counter intelligence operation launched by the German intelligence agency, the Abwehr, during World War II. German forces captured Allied resistance agents operating in the Netherlands and used the agents' codes to fool the Allies into continuing to provide the agents with information and supplies. About 50 Allied agents were identified, captured, and executed.
The British Special Operations Executive (SOE) was sending Dutch intelligence agents into the occupied Netherlands during the war. The operatives were usually flown out at night and either dropped by parachute from converted Handley Page Halifax bombers or landed in deserted fields by Westland Lysander STOL aircraft, which could also pick-up agents at the same time for flying back to Britain. SOE air operations were based at RAF Tempsford. As early as 1942, the operation in Holland was penetrated by the German counter-espionage under Major Hermann Giskes of the Abwehr and continued under German control.
Apprehended radio operators continued broadcasting encrypted messages, but without the required security checks, which should have alerted the SOE that they had been compromised. Further, SOE's head of codes Leo Marks claims to have quickly realised that, unlike all other coded messages, the Dutch messages contained no errors which made them indecipherable. He reasoned that this was because they were not coded in the field, but by German cryptographers. In the documentary Churchill's Secret Army he recounts how a wireless operator ended a telegraphic radio communication with "HH", which stood for Heil Hitler and was the usual closing for German communications. The other party instantly replied "HH" which indicated it was a German who was used to doing it automatically and not a British agent who would have been confused by the two letters. Finally, he sent them a deliberate indecipherable message of his own, which was replied to. He reasoned that no ordinary agent could have reconstructed his message. He reported these findings to his superior who told him to not discuss the matter with anybody else and no action was taken.
It was reported that agents who were supposed to return from the Netherlands had met with various calamities and so could not return. Further, in 1943, two Dutch agents did manage to escape from captivity, but their claims on returning to Britain were dismissed (and they were arrested for suspected counter-espionage) due to a fake message sent by Giskes that two German agents were being sent to the UK from the Netherlands.
The operation was not completely shut down until Giskes himself sent a cynical clear text message to the SOE on 1 April 1944 complaining about the lack of recent business given that he had been servicing them for so long. Giskes' message also "promised a warm welcome to any further agents SOE wished to insert into the Netherlands".
By November 1942 it was clear to the signals section that agents were in German hands. The fact that neither the Dutch section, overseeing "operations" in the Netherlands, nor other services were notified is probably motivated by inter-departmental rivalry. between the SOE and the rival Secret Intelligence Service ("C") from which SOE had been created. Any failure would weaken political positions.
It has also been argued that SOE had set up the operation for the single purpose of leading the Germans into believing that an invasion would take place in the Netherlands (rather than Normandy). Similar allegations have been made about the fate of Francis Suttill and the SOE "Prosper" network in France. However, the decision to land at Normandy had not been made until late into the Englandspiel saga.
Certainly Marks states in his book that he was ordered to deliberately withhold important cryptographic information from people investigating the Dutch operation at the time.
During the Englandspiel the following people (amongst others) were dropped in the Netherlands:
- 28 August 1940: Lodo van Hamel, sent to Oegstgeest in Zuid-Holland.
- 5 July 1941: Aart Alblas, dropped near Nieuweschans in Groningen, arrested 16 July 1942.
- 6 November 1941: Huub Lauwers and Thijs Taconis, dropped near Ommen in Overijssel. Lauwers was arrested on 6 March 1942, Taconis on 9 March 1942.
- 9 December 1941: Wim van der Reijden, sent to Scheveningen, arrested on 13 February 1942.
- 23 February 1942: Evert Radema and E.W. de Jonge, sent to Katwijk aan Zee, Radema was arrested on 29 May 1942, De Jonge on 22 May 1942.
- 28 February 1942: Gerrit Dessing, dropped near Ermelo in Gelderland, returned via Brussels to England on 2 September 1943.
- 27 March 1942: Nol Baatsen, dropped near Kallenkote, east of Steenwijk in Overijssel and immediately arrested
- 29 March 1942: Jan Molenaar and Leo Andringa, dropped near Holten in Overijssel; Molenaar was injured and committed suicide (by pill), Andringa was arrested on 28 April 1942.
- 29 March 1942: Gosse Ras and Han Jordaan, dropped near Holten in Overijssel, Ras was arrested on 1 May 1942, Jordaan two days later.
- 5 April 1942: Henk Sebes and Barend Kloos, dropped near Harskamp, Ede in Gelderland, Sebes was arrested on 8 May 1942, Kloos on 29 April 1942.
- 18 April 1942: Jan de Haas (as a replacement for Molenaar), brought to Castricum, arrested on 28 April 1942.
- 29 May 1942: Herman Parleviet and Toon van Steen, dropped near Kallenkote, east of Steenwijk in Overijssel and arrested immediately.
- 22 June 1942: Jan van Rietschoten and Jo Buizer, dropped near Holten in Overijssel and arrested immediately.
- 26 June 1942: George Jambroes and Jozef Bukkens, dropped near Kallenkote, east of Steenwijk in Overijssel and arrested immediately.
- 23 July 1942: Gerard Jan van Hemert, dropped near Holten in Overijssel and arrested immediately.
- 24 September 1942: Karel Beukema toe Water and Cees Fortuyn Droogleever, dropped near Balloo in Drenthe and arrested immediately.
- 24 September 1942: Mooy and Jongelie, dropped and immediately arrested.
- 1 October 1942: Aart van Giessen, dropped and immediately arrested.
- 21 October 1942: Meindert Koolstra, dropped near Ermelo in Gelderland and arrested immediately.
- 23 October 1942: Jan Hofstede and Christiaan Pouwels, dropped near Holten in Overijssel and immediately arrested.
- 28 November 1942: de Kruijff and Charle Ruseler, dropped and immediately arrested.
- 29 November 1942: John Ubbink and Herman Overes, dropped and immediately arrested.
- 13 February 1943: Trix Terwindt, dropped and immediately arrested.
- 16 February 1943: Van de Nor, Kees Hulsteijn and Braggaar, dropped and immediately arrested.
- 18 February 1943: Gerrit van Os and Jan Kist, dropped near Voorthuizen in Gelderland and immediately arrested.
- 18 February 1943: Wim van der Wilden and his cousin Piet van der Wilden, dropped and immediately arrested.
- 9 February 1943: Pieter Dourlein, dropped near Ermelo in Gelderland and immediately arrested.
- 21 April 1943: Klaas Wegner, Freek Rouwers and Ivo Uytvanck, dropped and immediately arrested.
- 21 May 1943: Oscar de Brey, Anton Mink and Laurens Punt, dropped and immediately arrested.
- 7 October 1944: Harmen Koopmans and G. Ensink, dropped at Dokkum and immediately arrested. Koopmans killed at De Woeste Hoeve near Apeldoorn.
After the war, reproaches were made to the SOE for serious flaws in the preparation of the missions, and for ignoring warnings that agents had been caught, notably the absence of security checks, which were deliberate errors introduced into messages by the sending agent, the scheme for which was known only to the agent and the SOE. The security checks were supposed to indicate that the sender was the legitimate agent, and the absence of the checks should have told SOE that the agents had been captured and were reporting under duress. This was a serious violation of the SOE's own transmission protocol.
In popular culture
- Englandspiel is the subject of the "Dead on Arrival" episode of the Secret War documentary series, and of the "Confusion Was Their Business" episode of the Secrets of WWII documentary series, which both aired on the Military Channel in the United States.
- The Secret War - Englandspiel, broadcast on Yesterday, 21 June 2011.
- "Secrets of World War II: Confusion Was Their Business (TV episode 1998)". IMDb. 2011. Retrieved 2 December 2011.
- van der Mandele, Hugh (2012). The Dutch Affair Revisited or the Destructive Power of Organizational Warfare, Intelligence and National Security. doi:10.1080/02684527.2012.735077.
- Secret War at the Internet Movie Database
- Secrets of WWII at the Internet Movie Database
- Foot, M. R. D. (ed.). Holland at War Against Hitler.
- Has a detailed commentary by several people including Marks.
- Ganier-Raymond, Philippe (1968). The Tangled Web [Le Réseau Éntranglé]. Warner Paperback. ISBN 0-446-65934-7. (translated by Arthur Barker)
- The betrayal of the SOE Dutch network, told from the Dutch and German points of view.
- Giskes, H.J. (1953). London Calling North Pole.
- Written by the German spy chief who ran the operation.
- Marks, Leo (1998). Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's Story 1941-1945. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-684-86780-X.
- Book by SOE code master.