Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The Traitors Part 2

Harold Cole
 Jacques Desoubrie
 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 France. 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.

In early 1940 he deserted with the non-commissioned officers mess money and later surfaced in Lille 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 Vichy controlled coastline area, evaders and agents were taken out to a waiting mother ship in small skiffs,

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 Brittany. The line’s fate was virtually sealed when it was infiltrated in the Paris 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 Toulouse completed the destruction.

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 Paris. 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.

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 Brussels and Paris, but Desoubrie was never suspected. Afterwards he passed on information to the Gestapo he had amassed about the Brandy Escape Line and that collapsed. With the danger of assassination looming, Desoubrie slipped into hiding before resurfacing under the alias Pierre Boulain. Again he worked his way into a recovered Comete line which had no personnel left free who recognised him. More damage was done, but this time he was discovered as a result of  information passed on by a helper who had just been arrested. The similarities with Dezitter are obvious and it is clear that whilst operating separately they were linked together.

As liberation of France approached Desoubrie fled to Germany and was arrested there by the Allies. He was tried and finally executed in December 1949.

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 Paris on 18 January 1944 and another serious collapse in Comete. But he was not out of the same mould as the other featured traitors. Grapin was a Comete operative, a true French resistant involved in various duties including the organisation and running of a network of safe houses. In July 1943 he had taken the place in the Line of the arrested Robert Ayle, but he was pulled in for questioning and during interrogation had pressure and threats applied regarding his pregnant wife. Grapin had previously admitted to a priest involved with Comete that he would not be able to keep silent if arrested again.

He began to work under the direct supervision of France's second chief of the Sicherheitsdienst (Intelligence Agency of the SS) and supply a daily report around names, addresses, times and schedules. Jacques Désoubrie who was operating in the area and the Gestapo of Rue des Saussaies remained ignorant of this and continued with their own investigations. Interdepartmental politics may have taken over, but the Germans bided their time and in the usual way amassed information before moving in to make the arrests.

As the Allies approached Paris, Grapin cast off his shackles and took part in the liberation. He was then arrested and put on trial after the war. A number of the main Comete operators who had survived imprisonment and the concentration camps (under sentence of death) spoke up for him. He received six years imprisonment and upon release vanished to South America.

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 South America a heavy conscience about the many French men and women he helped send to the camps. For some they paid the ultimate price.  

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



  1. Four different traitors documented here.Some motivated by money, political reasons and some forced to spill all from the threat of harm to their families.The latter reason is the easiest to understand and possibly forgive. Grapin was such a person. Even some of the people from the escapeline he betrayed had spoken up for him which speaks volumes. He did escape to South Africa we are told, unlike the other three who met sticky ends either by firing squad or blown away in a pub room like 'The Jackal' in the film/book. Divine justice ? It is difficult to forgive the three as there is 'the smell of bood still;all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.'Well researched and written, Keith,here's to those who made it home.

  2. Wow, how interesting. So, once a thief always a thief? It seems so incomprehensible when there was so much more going on in the world that these people still only think about themselves. What a dilemma poor Grapin was put in, how on earth did people cope in such times?

  3. Thank you so much. I had seen Shot From The Sky and often wondered what happen to Captain Jack. Jacques Desoubrie got what he deserved when you think about those poor airmen that had to endure Buchenwald.

  4. Thanks for your comments Susan. Desoubrie also created havoc amongst the helpers on the Escape Lines and was singularly responsible for the arrest, torture, deportation and execution of numerous patriots. The ability to disappear and then resurface after a while under another alias allowed him to repeatedly infiltrate the lines. His operations under the umbrella of political ideals cut no ice with me as he still enjoyed the money and high life. I agree he got what he deserved.

    1. Hello Keith, Any Chance you know the name of Desoubrie's Father? "He was the Illegitimate son of a Doctor" ?? Got any idea how I can find out???

    2. This is one detail I haven't followed up, but I know a man who might have. Will let you know.

    3. Thanks Keith, Any chance he also knows if this statement is correct??? "Florentine Giralt, become "Mrs. Winter" or "Jacqueline" Auderghem moved with his son Serge. Their home at 16 Forest Street in Ixelles (Elsene in Bosstraat) is rented on behalf of Vania Gristchenko and paid by the Fat 362 . " It is google translated in French. Is it correct this is Flora Dings? De Zitters Mistress? Is it correct 16 Rue Forestiere was owned by her??? Is there any information in detail about this and the house and its ownership during the War????
      Thanks ... Alan

    4. Alan - This is deeper than my research. I'd had enough of De Zitter! Just looking through the response re Desoubrie. If you can send me your e-mail address I'll fire off what I have. (I control postings so will maintain your privacy). Some of the information is in French, but I guess given the level of your research you will be OK with that.

    5. Alan - your mailing address is being rejected 'recipient cannot be reached.' Are you sure there are 3 dots in it?

  5. Cole was a spiv and and traitor, but who knows with what he may have been threatened before he coughed on his friends and associates. My Uncle Bruce Dowding had voted to kill him. That he escaped led to my Uncle and many other's death.
    Peter Dowding Perth Western Australia

  6. Mon grand-père qui était dans le réseau Vérité Française a été dénoncé par jacques desoubrie en 1941

  7. Meredith A. Schimmelman6 February 2016 at 23:28

    My father was shot down over France on May 11, 1944. He was one of three survivors out of a crew of 10. He parachuted from his B-24 liberator and was captured by the French resistance. They kept him hidden on the third floor of an apartment for almost three. He an another airman were walking the streets of Paris when they were abducted by the German gestapo. He was betrayed by who was thought to be a agent for the French resistance, but was really a duel agent for the gestapo. Years later we were told that it was Jacques Desoubrie. My father, First Lt. Lee G. Johnson was in solitary confinement for 4 months in Frenese Prison in Paris and later transferred to Stalag Luft 1, Barth, Germany until the liberation, May, 1945. He lived to be a successful businessman and married to my mother for over 67 years before passing on July 8, 2010 at the age of 91. He only talked about his experiences when asked.

    1. Thanks for your comments Meredith. So many of the airmen said little or nothing about their experiences. My own father opened up on rare occasions, and it was only 3 months before he died that I was able to learn a little more. Desoubrie was a nightmare for the Resistance and escape lines. My father did not encounter him, but was warned about Prosper de Zitter during his evasion. I often think about how their experiences shaped the post war lives of the servicemen, particularly when I am researching, the airmen, POWs, escapers and evaders. Your father clearly went on to live a good life and make something of himself and family. There is so much that the generations today can learn from these amazing people.

  8. Meredith,
    Here is an extract from the evasion report of E&E 1122 2/Lt Everett Childs in which your father is mentioned.

    " On 23 May Hill, Bond, and Childs were taken by train to Bordeaux and on to Paris, stopping at Tours, apparently, en route. They seemed to come into the Gare d'Orleans and were taken by car to Fresnes where the three were put in or cell in the W building.
    They saw some airmen brought in uniform, one man wounded, presumably from a plane crash about 10 miles S of Paris.

    After being searched in the central office Childs was put in cell 414 on the fifth floors with Lee G. Johnson (FTR 44-05-11 Johnson, Lee G. 2/Lt KLB), a Nav from Libs, and Jimmie Laing (F/Plt - # 44-05-08 ca).
    About 27-28 May one of the guards struck Lee Johnson when he was shouting for men from New Hampshire.
    The guard pulled a gun when Lee Johnson looked as if he were going to return equal measure.

    In cell 415 was an American Sgt (_?_) shot down the previous Aug, possibly from New Jersey, who in July had already been at Fresnes 100 days and had never been questioned.
    He had been captured with a British captain (_?_) who had 2,000,000 francs and was going to Switzerland. With him was a Thunderbolt Pilot from New York whose plane had been set on fire by FW's. The interpreter (_?_) for the doctor was blond haired, about 30, buck teeth in upper mouth, one gold tooth or one missing, about 5'7", 180 lbs, had lived in Los Angeles. "

    Michael Moores LeBlanc