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Fleming helped cover up secret that stayed buried for 70 years

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#1 quantumofsolace


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Posted 25 May 2013 - 06:09 PM

dailymail 25 may 2013

Identity of double agent killed by MI6 in WWII revealed: How Ian Fleming helped cover up secret that stayed buried for 70 years

  • Naval officer Captain Pierre Lablache-Combier was a spy for M16 in Spain
  • Frenchman, 44, divulged British secrets to Nazi-backed Vichy government
  • M16 plotted to smuggle the traitor out of Spain to Gibraltar
  • Lablache-Combier died en route after being hit with the butt of a revolver
  • Family told he died at sea and wife received a widow's pension
  • Officer's identity revealed for first time in declassified Foreign Office files

Foreign Office files kept secret for more than 70 years have revealed details of how MI6 kidnapped and killed a French double agent during World War Two - and ordered the creator of James Bond to help them cover it up.

In July 1941 British Intelligence learned that 'deeply trusted' Captain Pierre Lablache-Combier - a Royal Navy commander recruited by M16 and posted to Spain - had divulged secrets to the Nazi-backed French Vichy government.

James Bond writer Ian Fleming - then a Naval Intelligence officer - issued an official report stating the officer was 'missing believed drowned'. In fact, the 'complete double-crosser' was killed as Secret Service operatives scrambled to smuggle him out of Spain.

The truth about what happened to the spy, who is still listed on the French wartime roll of honour, has finally come to light in previously classified Foreign and Commonwealth Office files released this week.

'Pierre disappeared during the war, but we never knew under what circumstances,' Edouard Benois, Lablache-Combier’s son-in-law, told the Times.

The First World War veteran came to Britain after the fall of France and joined the Navy, where he was earmarked for secret service.

He was deployed to Spain by MI6, which was unaware the 44-year-old - who worked under the cover name Paul Lewis Claire - remained loyal to the Vichy Government.

The files reveal that, in July 1941, British Intelligence learned the French officer was planning to flee to his home country, having contacted the naval attaché at the Vichy Embassy in Madrid and 'divulged many secrets of British secret service activities in Spain and elsewhere'.

An alarmed Sir Samuel Hoare, then Britain's Ambassador to Spain, swiftly dispatched a 'Most Secret' telegram to the Secretary of State for War, Anthony Eden to warn him of the 'serious situation'.

He wrote: “I am accordingly faced with the dilemma: 1. Capturing or killing him [or] 2. Letting him get to France with information that will destroy our present intelligence organisation in Spain and do even greater harm elsewhere... this will be the last chance of dealing with him.'

The head of MI6 instructed that the traitor be brought to Gibraltar, and the Frenchman was subsequently lured to the British Embassy as 'Action Gibraltar' got underway.

Lablache-Combier was knocked out and sedated with morphine before being bundled into a diplomatic car by a team of secret service operatives and driven away under cover of darkness.

All went smoothly until the spy regained consciousness and began shouting for help from the back seat of the car, and a struggle is believed to have ensued as the kidnappers tried to avoid attracting attention.

At some point the spy was hit on the head with a revolver and killed. His body was taken on to Gibraltar and 'quietly disposed of' - most likely buried at sea.

An authorised history of MI6 refers to the doomed spy by his cover name and includes a coded telegram sent by the secret service reporting his death.

It said: 'Consignment arrived completely destroyed owing to over attention in transit... salvage being quietly disposed of tonight... damage regretted but I submit it is for the best.'

So began the cover-up, with Ian Fleming informing the Red Cross that naval officer had been aboard the SS Empire Hurst when it was sunk by the Luftwaffe off Gibraltar in August 1941.

But Lablache-Combier's relatives demanded to know what had happened to him, and the Vichy Government complained to Spanish authorities. An article correctly reporting that a French naval officer had been abducted by the British was published by Nazi media - and promptly dismissed by the British press as a 'flight of fancy from the Nazi propaganda department.

Despite his treachery, the spy's widow was paid a war pension to ensure the secret remained buried.

'It is true that my mother-in-law received a pension from the British Navy until her death, but she never knew exactly why,' Mr Benois said.

Lablache-Combier’s widow died in 1968 and his daughter died last December, both unaware of his true fate.

Correspondence between Hoare and Eden contained within the formerly secret files reveal the ambassador - who slammed 'clumsy, dangerous and irresponsible Secret Service methods -  was enraged by the incident.

Eden's reply outlined his 'deep regret' that Hoare had had to deal with the situation, adding of Lablache-Combier: 'His goose is cooked'.