30 MAY 1969, Page 16

Honourable men


The Canaris Conspiracy Roger Manvell and Heinrich Frankel (Heinemann 50s)

I have been told that the high reputation of our security service for keeping aloof from politics rests on the rule that ministers can ask for answers to specific questions on persons about whom they have suspicions or misgiv- ings, but they must not see the whole file. It is difficult, therefore, for a minister (even a Colonel Wigg) to build up dossiers or even to be aware of dossiers on colleagues and rivals. This important safeguard against the abuse of the security service by the politicians should be better known. It offers no protection, however, against the possibility—very remote in present circumstances—that the secret men might con- spire against the politicians. And if ministers were a bloodthirsty, tyrannical, unscrupulous and self-seeking lot, how glad some of us would be to know that a tiny group of officers was planning assassination, kidnapping and other action in defence of our liberties and morals.

This was the situation inside -German mili- tary intelligence for over ten years under Hitler. Admiral Canaris, head of the Abwehr, gave the cover of his Department Z to o few personalities who built up an enormous dos- sier against the personalities of the Nazi regime, plotted a nation-wide takeover, of power, and kept contact with friends abroad. To protect the staff officer Oster and the lawyer Dohnanyi, who were the most forceful conspirators, Canaris even cultivated the com- pany of Gestapo man Heydrich, whom he feared and disliked; and by all manner of devious manoeuvres and use of the army's prestige defeated the Nazi party's attempt to infiltrate and take over his intelligence network. I think it is true to say that the Abwehr was the only organisation not integrated (gleichschaltet) into the Hitler system.

Younger people studying this most readable narrative (the full 'history' is to be found in a

volume which an American professor called Deutsch took ten years to write) may wonder why the distinguished and intelligent circle of generals, civil servants and lawyers never suc- ceeded in convincing Germany's enemies that they meant business. Despite sending valuable intelligence—an act of treason—and making known their carefully worked-out policy for a takeover by the army, they could not com- mand confidence. The unconditional surrender demand of Churchill and Roosevelt is gener- ally blamed for this. More important, I am sure, was the feeling that these were men of the centre and the right, Christians maybe but conservatives for the most part (Oster was a monarchist), and that the allies of the Red army- could not safely and decently consider peace gestures from the wrong wing of politics. Knowing this, the conspirators kept copies of their correspondence and policy papers.- The evidence of their treason was overwhelming.

They have been called inefficient and ineffec- tive. True, they could not bring themselves to support the killing of Hitler until it was too late. True, too, that the collapse of their mili- tary arrangements after the attempt by Stauffen- berg in July 1944 was - discreditable. But, as the authors demonstrate, with much new detail and in a reasonable, convincing tone, the extent and depth of their planning inside a totalitarian state at war was astonishing. The Christian right in Europe is entitled to point with pride to these martyrs, most of whom died horrible deaths, and to ask why the Italians and the Russians can show no comparable achieve- ment. Canaris in 1936-37 was plotting success- fully against Hitler when Stalin was purging not only his army and his political colleagues but also his secret services.

Not surprisingly, the Abwehr was not very good at foreign intelligence, once the war had started. But its performance in the blitz of 1940 against France and the Low Countries was brilliant. As Professor Trevor-Roper has pointed out, the British service later made rings round it; but there is little evidence that Britain was taken very seriously as a potential enemy before 1939. This excellent book is within the grasp of young readers with no wartime back- ground. The source notes are impressive, but they do not say whence comes the story that the air-raid warning was sounded in London at 11 o'clock on the day Britain declared war because the Abwehr had warned us that there would be a heavy raid at that time.