Training Secret Agents

In 1941, Britain’s attempt to ward off the German assault had failed.  Resistance fighters were being hunted down.  In the United States, President Roosevelt did not want Britain to stand alone; we were not yet in the fight.  A secret plan unfolded to produce highly trained secret agents.  In the United States, there were no secret agents.  No one had any such background.  It would have to come from the British who needed the Americans to join in the secret war.  We were neutral at the time, so it had to be done in Canada, which was already in the war.

Camp X, Special Training School #103, east of Toronto, Ontario was the first secret agent training school in America.  It came into existence in Fall 1941, bringing the Unites States, Canada, and Great Britain together.


Camp XCredit: Wikimedia

                                         Camp X Monument in Whitby, Ontario - Wikimedia

Training Manual

An army of trained agents was needed, real-life James Bonds, who would cause chaos after their specialized training.  A top secret Training Manual was written by Paul Dehn, who had been a film critic drafted into training agents.  It was an incredible manual, teaching future agents how to attack the opponent’s weakest points, how to hide in plain sight, to attack from the rear, to kill with their bare hands, and carry on clandestine warfare.  It was not until many years later that it was revealed that Kim Philby, the most infamous Soviet spy, was a co-writer of the manual with Paul Dehn.  Philby’s unveiling was a complete revelation to Paul Dehn.  It is highly likely that Kim Philby would have sent this information to the Russians who then learned how Americans trained their spies.  This incident fell through the cracks of history.


Kim PhilbyCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                            Kim Philby, Infamous Soviet Spy - Wikimedia

Historian David O’Keefe traveled to the British National Archives when the manual created for Camp X entitled “The Secret Agent Training Manual” became declassified.  The Machiavellian quality in the writing and the level of detail were extraordinary.  It was the most comprehensive document of its type in existence.  Agents were told to be inconspicuous and average in their habits with regard to women and drink.  They were building the perfect beast.


Camp X PlaqueCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                         Camp X Plaques - Wikimedia

The Office of Strategic Services (OSS)

Camp X in Canada was opened on December 6, 1941, the day before Pearl Harbor thrust the United States into the conflict.  The very best men were recruited for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) which was the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  They sought people who could do any job.  They wanted a Ph.D. who could win a bar fight.  Ian Fleming, who wrote the James Bond series, claimed that he was trained at Camp X.  There is no evidence of that; in fact, 3000 people have claimed that they went to Camp X.

The recruits for Camp X were told that they were going to Spy School.  Their first day was an introduction to explosive and decimation devices.  An impromptu exercise occurred.  Shots were fired over the students’ heads, which shocked them all. They were then asked how many shots were fired.  It was a test of their reaction to surprise.  Americans had never had training like this.

By Spring 1942, Camp X was fully operational.  Trainees were given insight into the realities of secret warfare, and how to perform covert operations behind enemy lines.  They had to match the enemy’s ruthlessness.  Hitler had given an order that all spies would be regarded as terrorists and would be killed on sight.


German U-BoatCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                               German U-Boat - Wikimedia

Hydra - Decoding German U-Boat Messages

Britain was suffering at the hands of Germany who was dominating on land and sea.  U-Boats threatened supplies coming from North and South America.  Camp X was also a top secret Communications place.  Its code name at Camp X was Hydra.  The allies needed to crack the German code in U-Boat messages.  A decoded message had to be acted upon immediately.  Former Agent Winifred Gardner stated that this operation was the most highly classified of all intelligence.  The Americans, Canadians and British all worked together.  The decoding started to pay off.  U-Boats were destroyed.  Germany started to lose its stronghold over Great Britain.

For these agents, the real war was just beginning.  They would go behind enemy lines for the first time.  Hand-to-hand combat training was given by Major William Fairbairn.  His former work in Shanghai had shaped his fighting style.  His colleagues called him rough and ruthless.  “Get your enemy down; it’s easier to kill him then.”  Fairbairn’s training had a major impact on Camp X.

Camp X could train only a limited number of agents.  They needed more.  Seven more training camps were set up in America.  Camp X was the template.  The Camp X Training Manual was the basic model for the OSS.  Maryland had a secret school called Area B.  Colonel Frank Gleason taught there.  He spoke about plastic explosives which he took to China when he was 21 years old.  There was a type of plastic explosive known as Composition C.  In China, Composition C in powder form was known as Aunt Jemima.  Colonel Gleason gave the Asian cook some flour to make rolls.  He said, do not eat it.  The cook ate one and almost died.  They were able to blow up a power plant with Aunt Jemima.  Anything the Japanese could use, they would blow up.

Training Pays Off

In mid-1943, the Allies invaded North Africa and southern Italy.  They needed spies who could hide in plain sight and resistance groups that could help them.  There was a wealth of European immigrants living in America.  They were the perfect cadre to perform as spies.  They knew customs and intricacies that you could not get through training.  So they opened camps overseas.  An OSS Greek agent called Doundalakis was sent to Thessalonica, Greece to gather intelligence.  His ability to blend in was important.  He wore a watch given to him by the Americans.  When the Gestapo noticed the watch, they asked where he had gotten it.  They needed a plausible explanation.  Doundalakis said he bought it from a German who got it from an American soldier.  “Without my training, I would have been caught.  This lie saved me,” he said.


RockexCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                  Rockex Equipment on Display at Bletchley Park - Wikimedia      

Rockex - Cipher Device

Pat Bayly, part of Canadian Intelligence, was responsible for setting up the Hydra Communications Centre at Camp X.  He invented a cipher device known as Rockex, which was used for coding and decoding message.  It was coding which nobody could read.  It proved to be a huge advantage for the Allies.  Paul McCreath came up with an enhanced version.  The encrypted message could not be read.  Two tapes were used.  When the holes in each tape lined up, a third tape revealed the message.  No other device is as sophisticated as the Rockex.  It is the Unsung Hero which paved the way for the invasion of Europe.


D-Day, June 6, 1944Credit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                           D-Day, June 6, 1944 - Wikimedia

D-Day, June 6, 1944

On D-Day, June 6, 1944, the Allies began their assault on the French Coast.  The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was a British sabotage organization during World War II.  The job of the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS), along with the SOE, was to cause as much chaos behind German lines as possible to sidetrack the Germans.

Guy D’Artois was a Frenchman in a leadership position with the OSS who was charged with conducting guerilla warfare behind the lines on D-Day.  He had met a woman in Scotland, Sandra Butts, a fellow agent, whom he wanted to marry.  The authorities knew that the enemy tortured couples in front of each other if they were caught.  They were forced to go on separate missions.  Everything depended on the success of D-Day.  Fortunately, the couple lived through the horrors of war and were married as they had planned.

D’Artois’ sabotage target was to take out the German sentries without alerting the enemy garrison.  The knife was his secret weapon.  He needed to get close enough without the sentry hearing him and attacking from the rear.  He escaped unseen, and the team destroyed the railyard.  His mission was accomplished.

In Spring 1945, Germany surrendered, although the Japanese were still holding out.  On August 6, 1945, the Americans dropped the atomic bomb.  The formal victory over Japan occurred in September 1945.