The Dennis Wheatley 'Museum' - World War II
World War II
No longer a young man, DW was forty-two when he and his family listened to Chamberlain's radio broadcast at 11 a.m. on Sunday 3rd September 1939 in which he declared that the country was again at war.
Being an old soldier, DW had taken precautions. On his return from a holiday in France just over a week before, he had made an air raid shelter at the back of his house.
Long before that, in the early part of the year he had been laying in a large stock of provisions - especially luxury items. This was in no way selfish - he thought it eminently sensible for people to fill their larders with goods before there were shortages, and he advised the readers of his column in the Sunday Graphic to do exactly the same - giving a prize to the person who thought up the best stock of emergency supplies that could be bought for £3.
DW had also been active in other areas. While he had continued writing novels, he also created a topical board game called 'Invasion', and since May, he had been going up and down the country as a volunteer celebrity on one of Sir John Anderson's panels urging the public to volunteer for national service.
When war came though, he had nothing special to do. DW's stepson Bill had already done some work for MI5, and he, his sister Diana and DW's wife Joan all found employment there, but no-one had anything for Dennis. He wrote several letters to the Ministry of Information offering his services as a writer and propagandist, but did not even receive the courtesy of a reply. In the early days of the war he even employed a viennese woman (she was in fact a british double agent, and DW employed her to provide her with cover as a favour to his friends in MI5) to trawl through the german newspapers in the British Museum looking for 'dirt' on the Nazi leaders, and when he offered this material to the Ministry, he still did not receive a reply.
The best suggestion he received was from his old friend Maxwell Knight at MI5, who suggested that he should continue writing to entertain the public while waiting for the special something that would surely turn up.
DW approached the task with his usual vigour. Breaking new ground, he decided to write a novel set in the events of the day about a British secret agent working behind the scenes to bring the war to a speedy end. Working sixteen hour days, DW completed 'The Scarlet Impostor' in seven weeks and it was published on 7th January 1940. It featured his old hero Gregory Sallust, and was an immediate success. It was followed between then and March 1942 by five other novels with contemporary wartime backgrounds, all of which were successful.
Writing books was scant consolation for an old soldier, and DW was desperate to do something truly useful for the war effort.
DW's opportunity came in May 1940. Hitler had launched his blitzkrieg against Holland, Belgium and France, and while it was generally known that the position of the British Expeditionary Force on the Continent was parlous, few had any idea that the mass evacuation from Dunkirk was about to happen, or that the Chiefs of Staff were seriously worried that an invasion of Britain was a real possibility.
In DW's own words:
My wife had, from the outbreak of war, placed her car at the disposal of the War Office and had been acting as a driver for M.I.5. One day towards the end of May she was driving a Captain Hubert Stringer, and he said to her :
"I've been given the job of thinking up ideas for resistance to invasion; but mine is normally police work and, apart from all the routine stuff we already have laid on, I don't seem to be able to think of much we can do."
She replied: "Why don't you ask my husband? His speciality is original ideas, and he would simply jump at the chance of trying to make himself useful."
DW continued :
"Captain Stringer agreed that she should, and that evening I sat down to my first war paper. With furious intensity I worked all through the night. In fourteen hours I had written, re-written, and corrected a paper of nearly 7,000 words. Next day it was typed by my secretary, and the same evening my wife handed it to Captain Stringer."
Captain Stringer was delighted with the results, but was concerned that passing DW's paper up his chain-of-command would take time, and felt that some of DW's ideas ought to be acted on instantly. DW asked if Stringer would mind if he copied the Paper to some of his own contacts in government, and Stringer replied that he would have no objection - in fact quite the contrary.
DW sent copies to three of his contacts - Admiral Sir Edward Evans, Colonel Charles Balfour- Davey, and Sir Louis Greig - one of his friends who had attended The Forbidden Territory's launch party.
The results must have exceeded DW's wildest hopes and expectations. Admiral Evans replied with a cordial letter, but Balfour-Davey went so far as to invite him to make a midnight visit to see him at the War Office. DW could scarcely believe his ears when he was told that his paper would be laid before the V.C.I.G.S. - the Vice-Chief of the Imperial General Staff.
But more was to follow. Sir Louis Greig was to invite him to lunch at the Dorchester, where he met a Mr Renny and an R.A.F. Wing Commander - an officer who in the fullness of time was to become Air Marshal Sir Lawrence Darvall.
Their eyes had been caught by the fact that DW had not come up with fancy ideas to build a Maginot line around London, but with simple and effective solutions, even if - for reasons DW could not know - many could not be implemented. At the end of the lunch DW repeated that he was still effectively unemployed as far as war work was concerned, and asked if there was anything else he could do. Darvall's reply was instant - 'Yes. Show us the other side of the picture. Go straight home. Consider yourself as the Nazi High Command, and produce a plan for the invasion of England.'
Thus were DW's War Papers born.
Between May 1940 and August 1941 DW was to write a total of twenty War Papers, varying between 20 and 300 pages in length.
The Papers were on a variety of subjects (from invasion and resistance to invasion to grand strategy, to maintaining the independence of Turkey, the possible creation of a Jewish army, and the ideal shape of a post-war Europe) and reached a very select audience. As early as July 1940 Darvall told DW that all three Chiefs-of-Staff had read his paper on Invasion, and in mid 1941 DW learned that the King was also on his circulation list; Sir Louis Greig had been equerry to King George VI while he was Duke of York, and knowing that DW was one of the King's favourite authors, had shown him a copy of Resistance to Invasion. The King saw all future papers and once had to send his own copy back for a Directors of Plans meeting as they had insufficient copies to go round.
All this time DW was still a civilian and writing his books - and for a brief period he was also an ARP Warden.
DW's second big opportunity' came in the Autumn of 1941. General Wavell's hugely successful use of deception planning in the Middle East led to his deception planning expert, Lieutenant-Colonel Dudley Clarke being sent back to London to brief the Chiefs of Staff.
The Chiefs of Staff decided to form a new team to study the possibilities of applying organised deception to the European theatre, and Colonel Oliver Stanley was asked to form a team of three as an addition to his own Future Operations Planning Staff (FOPS). It was decided to recruit one person from each service. The War Office nominated Lieutenant-Colonel Fritz Lumby, and the Navy Captain Halloran - but with the proviso that he was too busy on other work to join straightaway. The Air Ministry said they had no-one they could spare, and as DW was now well known to a number of Churchill's basement staff, a number of his contacts suggested him.
The end result was that on 2nd December 1941 DW put in an application for a commission in the RAF Volunteer Reserve. He was given a token interview (seeing the names of his sponsors, the interviewing officer said 'It doesn't seem there's any point in my asking you any questions; you'd better ask me some'), was sent on a two week course where he was pushed in over the heads of 700 other applicants, and on 31st December 1941 he took up his new post.
Given palatial offices overlooking St James's Park, Lumby and DW found they had little to do. On his first day DW was given a pile of minutes of recent meetings of the War Cabinet, the Defence Committee and the Chiefs of Staff to read, and the next day he was introduced to Churchill's chief military assistant, General Ismay.
Despite this promising start, Lumby and DW were underemployed; so secret was their brief that hardly anyone knew they even existed. DW spent some of the time writing a paper on The Basic Principles of Enemy Deception, which - when re-cast by Bevan (see below) - became the department's deception planning bible, and he and Lumby worked on some deception plans to persuade the Germans that the allies were about to invade Norway. Because no-one appreciated that committing real troops to selling a deception could bring huge benefits, getting themselves taken seriously was not easy.
Things changed in June 1942 when Lumby was replaced by Lieutenant-Colonel John ('Johnny') Bevan, who was given the (deliberately) obscure title of London Controlling Officer. Bevan was an Old Etonian with the ear of both Churchill and Alanbrooke. Seeing that things were going nowhere, he got the Chiefs of Staff to issue a directive formally defining their remit, and he moved their offices down from the 3rd floor of the Cabinet Office into the much more confined quarters of the Basement, closer to the 'action'.
In late July, the duo were given their first major assignment. The Chiefs of Staff called for Bevan and told him that the allies were going to mount an expedition against French North Africa in the autumn - and the two-man London Controlling Section was to come up with the deception plans.
Working days and far into the nights, Messrs Bevan and Wheatley devised a plan whereby the destination of the vast armada would be concealed - and by which they would lead the enemy to believe that its true destination was Norway, with a simultaneous action against the Pas de Calais to prevent the Germans from reinforcing their Norwegian positions.
The plan was accepted in principle in early August. As DW put it, 'Johnny Bevan had won his spurs. And he had deserved them.'
Now that they were moving to implementation, the strength of the London Controlling Section had to be increased; first Major Harold Peteval and shortly thereafter Major Ronald Wingate (cousin of Orde Wingate) was recruited; by the end of the war the core of LCS would comprise seven men. False information was conveyed to the enemy in a variety of ways - via double agents, via activities in neutral countries, and by misleading all but the senior-most men in the forces involved as to their final destination so any careless talk would give the wrong impression. It became a hugely complex task, involving changes in apparent destination of the fleet to the Azores, then as it progressed to Malta, to the South of France, to Sicily and Greece.
When the armada finally landed it had not lost a single ship and the value of deception had been proved.
On New Years Eve 1942/3, DW threw a big party in the basement restaurant at Chatsworth Court. Over 100 people turned up including 'Pug' Ismay, Jack Slessor and a dozen other Generals, Admirals and Air Marshals, and they were regaled with some of the goods DW had laid in before the war.
Bevan was away and temporarily Ronald Wingate was in charge. As the party drew to a close at around 3 a.m., Wingate drew DW to one side and gave him another job - Roosevelt and Churchill were going to the Casablanca conference, and DW was to draw up the initial plans to stop anyone suspecting that anything unusual was going on.
Later on, the London Controlling Section were involved in Operation Mincemeat, the plan thought up by Flight Lieutenant Cholmondeley of MI5 and developed by Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu to float a body with false secret papers ashore in Spain to make the Germans believe that the Allies next target was Greece and Sardinia rather than Sicily.
The London Controlling Section's finest hour undoubtedly came with Project Bodyguard - thinking up and implementing the deception plans for the Normandy landings in June 1944. These plans were thought up in November and December 1943, and accepted by the Chiefs of Staff just before Christmas.
The main thrust of the plan - the creation of a dummy army in Kent under General Patton which was supposed to make an assault on the Pas de Calais, with the real attack on the Normandy beaches being sold as the deception dummy - is well known, but its formulation broke down into many sub parts, which the London Controlling Section also had to control. One of these involved 'Monty's double' - the idea of having a fake General Montgomery sighted in Gibraltar while the real one was busy with the final preparations in the U.K. DW was intimately involved in this scheme as a later exhibit in this room shows.
The success of these operations is now a matter of history.
After the landings the centre of the action moved elsewhere, and things at the LCS became quiet, with DW relinquishing his commission on 22nd December 1944.
Bevan put all six of his team up for decorations, and the recommendations were backed by General Pug Ismay. Unfortunately Sir Edward Bridges, the Secretary of the War Cabinet, decided that only two decorations be given out - a CB for Bevan and an OBE for Peteval. DW was however given the US Bronze Star. He later learned that General Ismay had said to Bevan that he "didn't mind who has the OBE, but the Americans have allocated a Bronze Star to LCS, and that must go to Dennis".
The real reward for an intensely patriotic man like DW was however 'a job well done', and he must have been pleased with the official conclusion of the time that during the last two years of the war his small and most secret unit had kept at least 400,000 German troops standing idle in readiness to repel attacks that never happened.
Not, as DW himself assessed it, a bad performance for seven civilians.