Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2015

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

History

First Advisor

Dr. Thomas Zeiler

Second Advisor

Dr. Fred Anderson

Third Advisor

Dr. Tom Metcalf

Abstract

World War II featured monumental battles, such as the Normandy invasions, the Battle of the Bulge, Stalingrad, Iwo Jima, El Alamein, and Kursk. While historical scholarship of the World War II generally focuses on the war’s grand military engagements, it is imperative to note that Allied and Axis intelligence units battled for supremacy in a war of deception. The Double Cross system employed by the British military intelligence division (MI-5) was, virtually from the war’s onset, successful in overwhelming its German opponent, the Abwehr by turning its agents into supportive double agents. Traditional historiography follows the classic spy narrative and credits the success of MI-5 to its daring agents, brilliant creators, or stalwart handlers who used wit and guile to deceive their German adversary. In this thesis I will argue that the success of the Double Cross system should be attributed to more than solely the actions of the Double Cross team. Though the operatives played an invaluable role, the existence of an overriding, well-structured system determined their success. By examining the uniqueness of the Double Cross system, this thesis will seek to illustrate that the victorious outcome of the British in the intelligence war was due to their tireless effort to perfect a system of counterespionage. In addition to the prewar foundations of British espionage, I will examine their success in terms of its comparative ideological advantage over their German adversaries. This thesis evaluates the glamourizing myth of individual performance that plagues all of today’s World War II scholarship and rejects its premises in favor of a modified approach that holds the systemic advantage of the Double Cross system as being of equal importance as the achievements of its personnel. By examining the system not only will the myth of individual supremacy be overturned, but also the system’s lasting legacies can be evaluated. The importance of the Double Cross system lies with the success MI-5 had during World War Two and its use as the blueprint for intelligence services moving forward after 1945.

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