With the exception of Wayne Hennessey, pretty much everybody knows the general narrative of World War II from a combination of school history classes and films. The Nazi Party, led by Adolf Hitler, gradually took control of Germany, annexing Austria and Czechoslovakia before turning their attentions to Poland. This was where the United Kingdom and France drew the line, but they were swiftly overcome by Blitzkrieg, fleeing the European mainland at Dunkirk.
The British then clung on in conflicts such as the Battle of Britain and the Desert Campaign as Hitler turned his attention towards Russia, whilst the Japanese declared war on America with their attack on Pearl Harbour.
From there, the tide began to turn for the Allied forces. In the Pacific, an island-by-island campaign gradually subdued the Japanese, culminating in the dropping of atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. In Europe, the Russians pushed back towards Germany from Stalingrad before troops landed in Normandy to create a second European front, eventually resulting in Hitler’s suicide and the horrifying discovery of the Holocaust that his instruments of terror had engineered.
There are hundreds if not thousands of smaller stories that contribute to that brief summary, many of which have never been told on the big screen and exist only in books, diaries and archives, now that the vast majority of the generation that fought in and lived through the conflict are no longer with us.
Here are twelve that are deserving of more widespread knowledge here in the UK and beyond.
12. The Double Cross System
Espionage was a huge part of World War II, though given its nature many of the specifics were kept classified for decades following the conflict or taken to the grave by the individuals involved. Ian Fleming’s experiences with the wartime Naval Intelligence Division inspired his creation of James Bond, but even the most outlandish 007 plots were nothing compared to some of the schemes devised by the Security Service (MI5), Special Intelligence Service (MI6) and various other organisations.
Perhaps Britain’s most successful wartime espionage accomplishment was the cracking of German Enigma codes, but the ‘Double Cross’ system that was employed to great effect throughout the war is highly downplayed. Hundreds of real and fictional agents were utilised to spread disinformation, such as misreporting high volumes of V1 rockets falling in the north of London so that their aim would be adjusted (to hit unsettled areas south of the city instead) and the build-up of a fictional army group in the southeast of the country to lend credence to the belief that a Patton-led invasion of France would come through Calais instead of Normandy.
Notable agents included Garbo (Juan Pujol Garcia), who built up a network of 27 fictional agents funded and believed by the Germans, and Zigzag (Eddie Chapman), who was highly trusted by the enemy during spells in Portugal and Norway. Both have been the subjects of books by renowned historian Ben Macintyre and the lives of both would certainly make for fascinating cinema.