Friday, September 09, 2005


by Sidney Allinson.

Famed novelist Hemingway yearned to get into World War Two,
and with his "Crook Factory" he managed to succeed.

Soldier, war-correspondent, bull-fighter, big-game-hunter and dedicated womanizer – famous novelist Ernest Hemingway managed to live out many macho fantasies in real life. Less well-known is his brief career as an amateur spy-catcher and submarine chaser in World War Two.
In the summer of 1942, America's best-selling and most celebrated author was frustrated. Pacing the grounds of his Cuban villa, 'Finca Vigia,' he often drank wildly as he chafed at his inability to secure an acceptable assignment covering action in a combat area. It did not help matters that his wife, Martha Gellhorn, was already a successful war-correspondent in Europe. While trying repeatedly to land a reporting contract overseas, Hemingway decided there could be plenty for him to do locally to combat American enemies on land and sea.
He began to organize his own private counter-spy ring in Cuba, intending to assassinate Nazi agents there and take the even more aggressive role of U-boat hunter. Ignoring proper US counter-intelligence channels -- then controlled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation -- "Papa" Hemingway used some high-level connections to quickly launch his private war. He approached the American Embassy in Havana, asking for discreet support and funding. As qualifications, Hemingway claimed he had organized a fifth column resistance network in Madrid during the Spanish Civil War.
In August, 1942, Hemingway was given backing by US Ambassador Spruille Braden, an admirer of his books. Braden publicly criticized the fascist sympathies among some Cuban nationals, being such an unusually out-spoken diplomat he was known as "Cowboy." On his own initiative, he began to advance government funds to Hemingway to finance personnel, weapons, and equipment for covert operations.
Delighted, the burly, bearded novelist jumped into the spy business, and code-named his operation, the "Crook Factory." He quickly hired a diverse crew of 26 unlikely recruits – smugglers, fishermen, gamblers, prostitutes, priests, playboys, and sundry drinking buddies – and put them to work as counter-espionage agents to scour the island for German spies.
At the time, though Cuba was nominally an ally of America, the island nation was still curiously lenient towards Axis citizens resident there. Tempted by the close proximity to US oil shipping ports, numerous agents of German intelligence services operated in Cuba, using forged Spanish passports. Wartime Havana was a strident tropical city of cha-cha music and laughter, yet with widespread grinding poverty for most amid incredible wealth of a pampered few at the top, all brutally controlled by dictator General Fulgencio Batista.
Hordes of US citizens visited Havana to sample the flesh-pots that catered to every vice – cheap drugs and booze, no-limit gambling dens run by the Mafia, and thousands of pathetic five-dollar streetwalkers available everywhere. More elegant tourists jammed luxury nightclubs like the lush 'Tropicana', where 50 scantily-clad chorines danced to erotic rumbas. This was the rowdy hunting-ground for Papa's Crook Factory operatives; often directed by Hemingway from atop a stool in his favorite Floradita Bar, on Calle Obisco near Morro Castle.
Information about the would-be Nazi-hunters quickly reached FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in Washington. Angrily, he ordered that his 16 special agents in Cuba keep an eye on "these dangerous amateurs." He wrote an irate memo to Raymond G. Leddy, Special Agent In Charge in Havana, instructing him to thoroughly investigate and, if possible, discredit the bon vivant novelist, "whose sobriety is certainly questionable." Hemingway had earlier incurred Hoover's accusations of being a Communist because of his support of leftist causes in Spain, about which he wrote in his best-selling novel, For Whom The Bell Tolls.
The SAC sent regular reports to his fuming boss, and in April, 1943, stated that Hemingway was "receiving in excess of $1,000 monthly paid direct from the embassy here." Hardly lavish financing, and Hemingway had to add a good deal extra to the secret fund from his own pocket. Under-financed or not, his agents claimed to have tracked down and silenced a half-dozen clandestine radios being operated by Nazi sympathizers on the island. That was allegedly done by simply passing the word that anyone signaling to U-boats would have his throat slit.
Even a proverbial "beautiful Russian spy" fell into their net. Consuelo Radom was a Russo-Mexican call-girl who pandered exclusively to Allied naval officers. She was suspected of passing pillow-talk tidbits about convoys to agents of the German Naval Intelligence Service. Within days, Consuelo was so effectively silenced by Crook Factory threats she fled Cuba in fear of her life.
These and other melodramatic events were reported weekly by Hemingway to the US Embassy, which passed them along to G2 Intelligence in Washington. Though they likely included some exaggerations, there must have been enough useful wheat among the chaff to be taken seriously, as G2 over-ruled Hoover's attempts to have the Crook Factory shut down.
The infuriated FBI Director retaliated by instructing Leddy: "Any information you may have relating to the unreliability of Ernest Hemingway as an informant may be discreetly brought to the attention of Ambassador Braden." But Hoover's man in Havana could only reply on October 8, 1942, that "Hemingway has received authorization to patrol certain areas where submarine activity has been reported." It allowed Hemingway to convert his own 40-foot sport-fishing boat, El Pilar to a well-armed "Q-ship" – a disguised submarine decoy.
The Caribbean Sea was then swarming with German U-boats preying on Allied shipping carrying oil and supplies across the Atlantic to Britain. For a time, these undersea wolf-packs roamed virtually unchecked, lurking in the Gulf of Mexico to destroy their prey of unarmed merchant ships. Waiting until fuel-laden tankers were silhouetted against brightly lit cities along the American coast, U-boats could launch torpedoes at point-blank range. Some nights, as many as four tankers were hit just a few miles offshore, so common that crowds of beer-drinking spectators gathered along Florida beaches every evening. The tragic scene of doomed blazing ships so moved Hemingway that he used it later in his novel, Islands In The Stream.
A skilled deep-sea fisherman, Hemingway's plan was to cruise along routes where U-boats had the habit of surfacing alongside small vessels to pirate fresh food and water. He relished the idea of luring such an attack then suddenly machine-gunning the unprepared Nazi sailors on deck and sinking the submarine with explosives. He sold the idea to Ambassador Braden to authorize having Pilar secretly armed at the US Navy Base at Guantanamo. The tiny vessel took on a powerful radio, a brace of machine guns, automatic rifles, and grenades, plus a US Marine volunteer from the embassy guard section.
Each time it went to sea, it was shadowed by a boatload of binocular-wielding G-men who then told Mr. Hoover the purported anti-submarine patrols looked more like leisurely marlin-fishing trips. Hence, skepticism ran high when Hemingway proudly claimed to have interrupted a U-Boat that surfaced close to a Spanish liner on December 9, 1942. FBI agents checked out the claim so thoroughly, they interviewed 100 passengers and crew when the ship docked in Miami. Their findings were that Hemingway's claim was mainly false, and Hoover triumphantly presented this news to the embassy in Cuba.
The ambassador was so embarrassed, he abruptly cut off government funding from Hemingway's counter-espionage activities. However, Braden later officially stated, "So worthwhile was Ernest's information on the location of German subs that I have strongly recommended him for a decoration." Despite that, Hemingway never received any public recognition for his Cuban efforts, though later he was awarded a Bronze Star for bravery while a war correspondent in France.
Hemingway carried on financing his anti-submarine patrols himself for another four months, until mid-August, 1943, when he had to quit. The next year, he was heartened by an offer from Collier's Magazine to report on the coming Allied liberation of Nazi-occupied Europe. Papa took Pilar out for a final marlin-fishing cruise, perhaps already mulling over the story line of his future Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Old Man And The Sea. Grandly, he closed Finca Vigia, found homes for his 18 cats, and threw a huge three-day drinking party to say farewell to his Crook Factory comrades. Then, in May, 1944, Ernest Hemingway sailed away from Havana, eager to join a larger war.

BOOK REVIEW - "Soldier Boys."

Soldier Boys, by G. F. McCauley, General Store Publishing, 317 pages, $22.95

This well-researched novel is set in the Second World War, about a group of young men from Northern Ontario who volunteer for military service overseas with the Algonquin Regiment. The six friends call themselves “the Little League of Nations” because of their various national origins -- Ireland, Lebanon, Italy, Russia, a Cree Indian, and a French-Canadian. Author McCauley says he based much of this story on the wartime letters of an uncle who joined up as a youngster. He explains, “Like most of the men who made it home, my uncle never spoke about his war experience, but the letters he wrote to his family and the newspaper clippings the family collected were enough to get me going on the primary and secondary source material.”
McCauley handles language well, as befits an ex-Member of Parliament as he is, and tells the story from the viewpoint of the diary of Barney Berman, a Jewish youngster. He voices a running commentary of the training in Canada, long months of waiting in England, sexual encounters, savage battles in Northwest Europe, and brutal ill-treatment in a German prisoner-of-war camp His accounts of army life and combat are for the most part accurate, save a few minor technical errors. The author also has done his homework in gathering contemporary details about life in 1944, often alluding to everyday objects, sports, and entertainers of the era. The author takes the reader into the spirit of the era, and the story rattles along well, though it is a bit disconcerting when the 1944 character interjects information about a movie that was actually produced 20-odd years later. All in all, Soldier Boys can be read at two levels – as a fictional novel and a factual summary of experiences of Canadian soldiers 50 years ago.

-- Sidney Allinson.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Courageous Military Women


Reviews by Sidney Allinson

Recently, it was announced that US Army Private Jessica Lynch is to be paid a million dollars for a book about her seven days as a prisoner-of-war in Iraq. Her story contrasts with three recent books about many Canadian, American, and British women who faced warfare with scant praise or financial reward for it.
Less well known than Pvt. Lynch, and by no means as handsomely paid, is US Army Major Rhonda Cornum, who was briefly a POW in Iraq 12 years ago. Soon afterwards, she wrote She Went To War, [Ballantine Books, New York, 203 pages, photographs, $22.95.] When first published in 1992, it was declared one of the most notable books of the year by The New York Times, and is now re-published because of current events in the Middle East.
"As told to Peter Copeland," it is a ghost-written account which reflects a gallant soldier, physician, and pilot, who just happens to be a woman. As well as being a military officer, she is also a wife, and had to leave her husband and child when assigned to duty in the Persian Gulf in 1990. She refreshes our memory of that first go-around with Saddam Hussein after his army invaded Kuwait. Her compassion for ordinary Muslim people is clear, as is her unabashed patriotism and personal belief in the justice of America's cause at the time. She is a strong proponent of women in the military, and makes a sturdy case for increasing the proportionate number of female soldiers even more.
Cornum was a 34-year-old flight surgeon on a mission to rescue a downed pilot when anti-aircraft fire crashed her helicopter onto the Iraq desert. Five of her fellow soldiers were killed and Cornum suffered two broken arms and a gunshot wound. In severe pain, she was taken prisoner, one of the two American servicewomen who became POWs in Operation Desert Storm. Her courage during the next week earned her the Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart medals. After being roughly dragged from the wreckage without regard for her injuries, she was hustled away by her captors for interrogation.
She had heard how some Iraqi soldiers had sexually abused women in Kuwait, but other than having her wedding ring stolen, at first there was not as much violence as she expected. However while she was being transported in the back of a truck, a guard tried to rape her. She recalls being more incredulous than anything else at the time, aware of her own bloody and mud-caked appearance. Fortunately, she managed to keep her would-be molester at bay by struggling and screaming loudly throughout the entire 30-minute drive.
Cornum describes what she stoically went through while a POW for the next six days, constantly uncertain if she was going to live or die. Some captors treated her with kindness, while others made her watch the torture of male American prisoners. When hostilities soon ended, she was returned to the States and repeatedly honoured by lavish ceremonials, like Pvt. Lynch. Without intending to denigrate either individual personally, their elevation to media celebrity status for one-week experiences does seem a little overblown, considering that many thousands of Allied men and women endured up to six years captivity in pre-CNN wars without any public acclaim afterwards.
Among the very bravest of them are described in The Women Who Lived For Danger, by Marcus Binney [Coronet Books, London, 380 pages, photos, index, bibliography, $16.99.] During World War II, thirty-seven female secret agents of Britain's Special Operations Executive infiltrated German-occupied France to work as couriers, radio operators, or saboteurs. Thirteen were captured and tortured to death or executed in concentration camps. Binney ably combines fresh details from newly released official files in the Public Records Office with personal interviews with a few elderly survivors to write the story of eight of these outstandingly gallant women.

He does an excellent job of describing their lives, characters, and achievements, though the tragic fate of some makes grim reading. They all volunteered for highly dangerous clandestine warfare, despite knowing the one-in-four odds of being arrested, brutally ill-treated, and murdered. Their personnel files described them variously as being "talkative," or "clumsy," while others were assessed as "determined," or "a crack shot." In the end, though, every one of them proved to be courageous almost beyond belief.

Mostly aged in their twenties, SOE "girls" (as they were called) were given arduous training in physical fitness, weapons, and radio codes before being sent into action. Photographs show they were not only youthful, most were attractive as well –- too conspicuous-looking you'd think for a secret agent. Yet later in the field, they sometimes turned their feminine charms to advantage, while gathering information or talking their way out of awkward questioning.

Each agent had complete fluency in the French language, but came from a variety of backgrounds and nationalities. They included Noor Inayat Khan, the strikingly pretty daughter of a Sufi mystic, who worked as a radio operator in Paris until a Frenchwoman betrayed her to the Gestapo, and Peggy Knight, a 23-year-old shorthand typist, who had only a month's SOE training before she parachuted into enemy territory, earning an MBE and Croix de Guerre for leading Resistance raids.

Three women agents received the highest possible award for gallantry, the George Cross – Odette Sansom, Violette Bushell Szabo, and Noor Inayat Khan, the last two posthumously. Another brave beauty, Christine Granville, received the George Medal for her outstanding services and survived the war, only to be murdered by an unrequited lover years later. Virginia Hall, an intrepid one-legged American who served three years undercover, was the first woman to receive the Distinguished Service Cross.

Further chapters detail the adventures of other exceptional heroines, each one of whom had true-life espionage adventures far beyond any fictional James Bond movie. Binney’s book is one of the best accounts yet of female operatives in SOE, and is a moving testament to their courage. It includes a useful glossary for readers not familiar with World War Two terminology.

Gentler experiences are described in Brass Buttons and Silver Horseshoes: Stories From Canada’s British War Brides, by Linda Granfield, [McClelland & Stewart, 140 pages, photographs, $22.95.] The title refers to brass buttons on soldiers' uniforms and the silver paper horseshoes traditionally given to brides for good luck. After World War Two, 48,000 British "war brides" and 22,000 children immigrated to Canada to join their ex-military husbands. This collection of interviews recounts the typical experiences of 40 of them, told in their own words. Linda Granfield, who was an immigrant herself (from Boston, Mass.) shows warm understanding while eliciting these highly personal stories of young women who journeyed so far to settle in an unknown land.Averagely aged in the early 20's, most had never traveled away from home before, and only the vaguest idea of living conditions here, yet all seem to have adapted to enormous changes with cheerful courage. Their stories are a mixture of funny, romantic, and sad experiences, but all have something in common. They tell of falling in love with dashing young Canadian servicemen in whirlwind wartime love affairs, headlong weddings catered despite scarce food rationing, and being fearfully separated from new husbands suddenly sent off into combat.
At war's end, the Canadian government efficiently organized the women's transportation by ship across the Atlantic, many bringing young children. Once in Canada, their husbands seen in civilian clothes for the first time seemed to be almost strangers, and not all the reunions were successful. But for the most part, war brides settled into their new homes and made enduring marriages that lasted happily ever after. As well, the women themselves have stayed in touch through all the years since, and in 2000 they placed a memorial plaque to commemorate their arrival in Halifax 60 years before.
Interspersed among the personal memories are 1940's magazine advertisements, recruiting posters, ships' menus, and snapshot photos. They add graphic understanding of contemporary clothing, living conditions, and atmosphere at the time. By compiling this account, Linda Granfield provides a valuable record of the little-known contribution made by British war brides to building our post-war Canadian society.

Book Review

Book Review
Title: "Kruger's Gold
Author: Sidney Allinson
Publisher and Distributor: Xlibris
Pages: 298 Price:  $18.69 / 28.79 ISBN: 0-7388-6586-9
Reader: Bob Spear
Rating: Four Hearts

Kruger's Gold is an excellent historical military novel about the Anglo-Boer War in South Africa in 1902. An up from the ranks Canadian Lieutenant, Harry Lanyard, leads a patrol of colonial personnel for the British Army on a mission to find millions in gold left behind by ex-Transvaal President, Paul Kruger, during his forced exile from Africa. Harry must fight Boer guerillas, dissention in his own ranks, a Boer spy, a Russian spy, and the love of his life. The book is based on superb research of many real-life events.

It's not often we see anything on the Boer war, so this is an excellent and welcome addition to the genre. The author is a fine writer (Boulter Award winner) and military historian. He has six books under his belt and it shows. He uses excellent characterization and dialogue. His settings come to life, and he uses good plot twists. We top rated this book Four Hearts.

For a free sample chapter, see: