World War II
Spies and Secret Agents
Spies and secret agents played an important role in World War II. Each country had their own spy organizations that tried to get secret information about their enemies such as troop movements, supplies, bunker locations, and new weapons.
Why were spies important?
Information on where the enemy planned to attack or a new weapon they had invented could help determine the outcome of a battle. If a spy could get a hold of this secret information, it could save thousands of lives.
Who would become a spy?
Spies were generally people who already had access to secret documents and information. An enemy agent would approach them and try to get them to betray their country.
The baseball, pipe, and brush all have secret compartments.
They would hide things like secret messages or radio components.
Inside the button was a secret compass.
Photo by Ducksters
Why would someone become a spy?
Each spy probably had their own reasons for becoming a spy. Some did it for money. Others did it because they didn't agree with what their country was doing or because they secretly were loyal to another country.
The Double Cross
During World War II, the British developed the Double Cross System. They would find German spies and then turn them into double agents. They were very good at this, turning more than 40 German spies into double agents. They could then use these spies to find out information about the Germans as well as to provide the Germans with false information.
Did they have cool gadgets?
Yes, they did have some cool gadgets that helped them with their jobs. Many of these gadgets were used to hide secret messages including hollowed out corks, fake fence spikes, and plaster logs to hide messages. Some spies had bicycle battery chargers they would use to power their radio sets. Other gadgets included bombs hidden in rats, messages in micro-dots, gun silencers, and shoes that left barefoot-looking footprints.
Were women spies too?
Yes, there were many women spies on both sides of the war. There were several British and French women spies who parachuted into France in order to help prepare the French Resistance for the Allied attack on D-day.
Each country had their own spy agencies. Here are some of the major agencies during the war:
- Abwehr - Germany - The Abwehr was the German intelligence agency. It was successful in infiltrating the Dutch Underground during the war. However, much of its information was ignored by the higher ups in the Nazi party making the agency largely ineffective.
- MI5 and MI6 - Britain - MI5 and MI6 were the British intelligence agencies. One of their biggest successes was the Double Cross program which turned German spies into double agents. They also placed many spies into France in order to frustrate the Germans and prepare for the Normandy Invasion on D-Day.
- OSS - United States - The OSS (Office of Strategic Services) was the U.S. intelligence agency during World War II. The OSS recruited and trained a number of Austrians and Germans to become spies during the war including the spy Fritz Kolbe who provided details of the German defense prior to D-Day and information on the German rocket programs.
- Many of the members of the German Abwehr were anti-Nazi and even participated in attempts at assassinating Hitler.
- Ian Fleming, who wrote the original James Bond novels, worked for British naval intelligence during the war.
- The Nazi Party had its own intelligence agency called the RSHA. The RSHA were constantly fighting with the Abwehr.
- Spies were usually referred to by special code names. Two famous Norwegian spies, John Moe and Tor Glad, were called "Mutt and Jeff" by their British handlers.
Take a ten question quiz about this page.
Learn More about World War II:
History >> World War 2 for Kids