|Paris - André Zucca|
Harold Cole was 33 when he enlisted in the British Army at the outbreak of war. He joined a Royal Engineering Unit in the British Expeditionary Force and was soon in
. A petty criminal and fraudster, he may have joined up to keep on the move from the Police, but Cole managed to mask his past by lying about a military and French Foreign Legion background and quickly attained the rank of Sergeant. France
In early 1940 he deserted with the non-commissioned officers mess money and later surfaced in
as ‘Paul Cole.’ Working his way into the ‘Pat O’ Leary Escape Line’ which was operational at that time from Northern France to the Marseille area, Cole worked as a courier, helping soldiers and airmen to travel down the line. In the Lille controlled coastline area, evaders and agents were taken out to a waiting mother ship in small skiffs, Vichy
But his work had another side to it which came to a head on 2 November 1941 in an apartment belonging to one of the Escape Line’s key players. Pat O’Leary (real Belgian name Albert-Marie Edmond Guérisse), SOE’s Bruce Dowding and other operatives confronted Cole about the stealing of their line’s funds. He managed to escape from the apartment, journeying north before being arrested by the Gestapo. At this point Cole began working for the Germans and systematically betrayed the Pat O’ Leary Line in
Northern France. Many of its main organisers, couriers, and safe-house keepers were arrested, others fled to the south; some managed to escape over the Pyrenees and on to . London
The line was decimated, but it did recover and continued to run until early 1943 with new land routes over the Pyrenees, fresh sea locations and safe houses in Northern France and
. The line’s fate was virtually sealed when it was infiltrated in the Brittany region by another Gestapo agent, Roger le Neveu (‘Roger le Legionaire’) who also knew Cole. This time the effect proved to be terminal as most of the line’s senior organisers were arrested, including Pat O’Leary, and large numbers of his operatives. Further arrests in Northern France, Marseille and Paris completed the destruction. Toulouse
It is difficult to put a number on how many members of the escape lines and French Resistance Cole betrayed; at least 150 is a conservative estimate with a third of them being executed by the Gestapo. Cole was later described by Reginald Spooner the Deputy Commander of Scotland Yard at the time as ‘the worst traitor of the war.’
By May 1945 Cole was wanted by both French and British governments, and MI9 were also in pursuit. He was captured in Bad Saulgau
Germany in June 1945 and imprisoned at the SHAEF prison in . Incredibly he managed to escape again on 18 November 1945. A large manhunt began and on 8 January 1946 after receiving a tip off, French police went to the Rue de Grenelle bar in Paris where Cole had been hiding on the fourth floor. He opened fire on them and was shot dead. Pat O’Leary who had survived the concentration camps identified the body. Paris
Jacques Desoubrie, the illegitimate son of a Belgian doctor joined the Gestapo in 1941 aged twenty. He was a drifter with no real family roots as his mother had abandoned him at a young age. This short and stocky man of neat appearance, light brown hair and piercing grey eyes became a dedicated supporter of the Nazis. He infiltrated resistance groups resulting in massive arrests and moved on to the Comete Escape Line posing as Jean Masson. Like Prosper Dezitter (who he knew), Desoubrie was a good English speaker and plausible. He wormed his way into the line and in June 1943 most of Comete’s Paris organisation were arrested, He was directly responsible for the capture of Frederic de Jong (father of Comete founder Andrée de Jong) and key operator Robert Ayle as they got off the train in Paris with six evaders.
The organisation had received information about a traitor working in one of the escape lines operating between
As liberation of
It is easy to see through Dezitter, Desoubrie and Cole; uncomplicated cold characters with only Desoubrie operating for political reasons. Cole and DeZitter had one motivation – money and all the pleasures that it brought. As the Germans controlled the currency, generous payments presented no problem. All three had that believability which allowed them to create havoc; actors and liars with good memories who could always think on their feet.
Maurice Grapin (alias Henri Crampon) gave information to the enemy that led to the mass arrests in
He began to work under the direct supervision of
As the Allies approached
Grapin was a patriot who leaked information to the enemy as a result of intense pressure, yet he still received the support of key members of Comete after the war despite what some of them had indirectly suffered as a result of his actions. He may have been fortunate to survive or not receive a longer term of imprisonment, but Grapin will have carried with him to
The traitors were only one part of the scaffolding of this ‘war within a war’ which was built on deception, with everyone striving to play a part. Evaders with false identity papers and borrowed clothing so they could masquerade as someone else, guides pretending not to know their charges and travelling apart, escape line and safe house operators ‘who had seen no one and knew nothing’, Gestapo and Abwehr agents hiding behind ‘normality’, Germans posing as Allied flyers and finally the traitors spinning their web of lies and deceit before the frightening truth was revealed.
Grateful thanks to Philippe Connart for information on Maurice Grapin
© Keith Morley