A Man Called Intrepid

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 19)

William Stevenson’s A Man Called Intrepid: The Secret War is the third book to appear in the last two years which deals with the subject of Anglo-American espionage activities during World War II. First, Frederick Winterbotham revealed in The Ulta Secret how the British intelligence service broke the German code. Subsequently, Anthony Cave Brown, in Bodyguard of Lies, told the story of how the Allies deceived the Germans and used complex intelligence tactics to launch the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944.

In A Man Called Intrepid, Stevenson, a Canadian journalist, provides an exciting account of the career of Sir William S. Stephenson, the Canadian industrialist and scientist, who, at the direction of Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill and with the cooperation of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, established the nerve center of worldwide British intelligence operations in New York City in June, 1940. It was at this time that Churchill assigned Stephenson the code name “Intrepid.” During the war, the author himself was involved in a special intelligence arrangement which brought him into contact with Stephenson. (Despite the similarity of their names, they are not related.) They became close friends, and some years after the war, Sir William provided his wartime colleague with his papers, which largely form the basis for A Man Called Intrepid.

In the foreword to the book, Sir William sets forth what he considers to be the reasons why his espionage activities and those of his many operatives should at last be revealed. First, he cites the need to pay tribute to those gallant men and women who risked and often gave their lives while carrying out covert operations on behalf of the Western Allies. Second, Sir William feels that such a book can dispel many of the myths and inaccurate accounts about key events in World War II and thus provide the basis for a reinterpretation of that conflict. Finally, he hopes that the story of his wartime activities may demonstrate the need which the democracies have for strong intelligence agencies. Although he regards intelligence gathering as an essential secret weapon for which safeguards against its abuse must be devised, he does not consider its existence as being incompatible with the principles of democracy.

The book, in its overall scope, reflects Sir William’s stated reasons for its publication. The author discusses Stephenson’s career as a fighter pilot in World War I and his role after the war as a member of the circle of scientists and former officers that Churchill put together to keep a watch on German weapon research. Stephenson’s fears about Germany’s threat to the peace were more than confirmed with Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. Thereafter, as the author relates, Sir William went on to establish what amounted to a private intelligence service which fused with official British government espionage activities once World War II began. In addition to recounting Sir William’s exploits during World War II, Stevenson focuses on many clandestine operations of other secret agents and officials who were part of Intrepid’s organization. One such official was William Donovan, head of the famed American “Fighting 69th” Regiment in World War I and a longtime friend of Stephenson. Under his direction and training, Donovan set up what came to be known in 1942 as the United States Office of Strategic Services (OSS). The author’s depiction throughout the book of the exploits of Intrepid and his associates is designed, in keeping with Sir William’s comments in the foreword, to explain certain heretofore misunderstood events in the war and to point up the need for the democracies to maintain strong, vigilant intelligence operations.

Stevenson devotes considerable space in his book to Intrepid’s role in setting up British intelligence operations in the United States during 1940. With the consent and cooperation of President Roosevelt, Intrepid chose New York City, specifically Rockefeller Center, as the headquarters of what came to be known as British Security Coordination (BSC). New York was selected because it was the commercial and communications center of the free world and because of its location outside the war zone. There, intelligence experts could work on specific problems in relative calm and dispatch their findings to London by code machines perfected by Intrepid’s own team of inventors. Intrepid’s mission was basically threefold. First and foremost, he was to serve as the intelligence intermediary in the collaboration between Churchill and Roosevelt. Prior to the entry of the United States into the war, Stephenson, as Churchill’s personal envoy to the...

(The entire section is 1930 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 19)

America. CXXXIV, May 29, 1976, p. 482.

Book World. March 14, 1976, p. 9.

Contemporary Review. CCXXVIII, April, 1976, p. 223.

National Review. XXVIII, September 3, 1976, p. 964.

Spectator. CCXXXVI, April 10, 1976, p. 20.

Times Literary Supplement. May 28, 1976, p. 643

Wall Street Journal. CLXXXVII, May 6, 1976, p. 16.