Historical story

Lethally effective intelligence agents. Four women who left a deep mark on the course of history

They acted for personal gain, for revenge, and sometimes - to support the motherland. They had one thing in common:they were extremely effective. Their charm and cleverness led to the overthrow of governments, freeing prisoners and the seizure of top secret information. Have you heard of all of them?

Krystyna Skarbek - our Polish treasure

Born in 1908, Krystyna Skarbek, still called Churchill's favorite agent, was the first female spy in British intelligence. She belonged to the famous Division of Special Operations, SOE (Special Operations Executive). Members of this unit dealt with the sabotage and leadership of subversive groups scattered throughout Europe. They were distinguished by their method of operation:they were secretly thrown into enemy territory, usually by parachutes or by water.

Krystyna Skarbek (photo:press materials of the Fronda publishing house)

How did a Polish woman who showed her character to the world as a child, found herself in this prestigious group? First of all, she received a thorough education. Among other things, she learned several foreign languages. Thanks to her father, who gave her a rifle, she also learned to shoot in her youth. In addition, she was characterized by phenomenal beauty. In 1930, she even took part in the Miss Polonia competition! All these advantages made her an ideal candidate for a spy ...

Skarbek joined the ranks of the English intelligence service in the fall of 1939, probably thanks to her husband, Jerzy Giżycki. After just a few weeks, her superiors gave her a very high rating. Soon she was entrusted with various tasks. She was also sent to her homeland. During one of such trips, she managed to get the arrestees imprisoned in Radom by the Gestapo . Then she used the disguise of an SS officer and ... innate self-confidence. The information that "our" agent obtained in occupied Poland was of great importance. As Przemysław Sławiński emphasizes in the book "Women of intelligence" they helped, for example, "Churchill in specifying the predicted timing of the German invasion of the USSR."

In 1943, as a result of a reshuffle in British services, Skarbek was incorporated into SOE. She then took a new name and surname - Christine Granville. It was as Christine that she completed her parachute training in London in 1943. When the Warsaw Uprising broke out, she really wanted to go to Poland. It even seemed for a moment that he would actually go there. She was even on the way, but in the end Churchill had a different task for her. A Polish woman - this time under the name of Pauline Armand - was sent to France. On the Seine, Skarbek did things that, in retrospect, seem almost impossible. Once upon a time dragged the whole enemy garrison to the side of the partisans, mainly composed of Volksdeutsche . She called the men through a loudspeaker, and almost all but the German officers were convinced. She also released three allies held by the Gestapo. How? With ... the power of persuasion and fabricated arguments!

Krystyna Skarbek (photo:press materials of the Fronda publishing house)

After the war, the agent could not return to Poland because she was threatened with arrest. Her decorations, £ 100 severance pay and Churchill's good word were left - far too little to live with dignity in exile. A woman who could escape the Germans, cross the river and disappear into the forest now had to do various jobs. She was a saleswoman, telephonist, waitress, but she did not stay long anywhere. Eventually she became a flight attendant on the ship.

A colorful element of her biography is an affair with Ian Fleming that lasts for the next year. Apparently, she was the prototype for the main female character in the novel "Casino Royale". And probably more than once her colorful personality would have made itself known, had it not been for her premature death. It finally reached her from the hand of Dennis Muldowney, who was unhappily in love with her. Or maybe, as fans of conspiracy theories would like, British intelligence killed her? In their opinion, Krystyna simply knew too much and, what was worse, she was eager to talk about it. Considering how professional she was, it's hard to believe.

Violette Szabó - goddess of vengeance

Violette Szabó, born in 1921, belonged to SOE, like Skarbek. Initially, however, she did not receive such a good evaluation as the Polish woman. Although he was thought to have leadership qualities, he had only average intelligence and poor technical skills. Only later it turned out that the young woman had become one of the intelligence's best buyers. It was driven by ... a desire for revenge. It was the only relief for the 23-year-old whose Nazis killed her husband a few months after she became a mother . She then put everything on one card. She left her daughter Tania in the care of a friend, and later her mother, and went to action.

Learn the stories of the amazing women who served in the interview. As no one talks about them Przemysław Słowiński in his latest book "Women of intelligence" (Fronda Publishing House 2018)

Initially, little hopes were placed on it. It was even found that he was more suitable as a liaison officer than a spy. The young woman, however, performed well in each of the tasks assigned to her. She was sent to France where she could use her impeccable knowledge of the Molière language. She has also proved that she never loses her cold blood and can inspire confidence. Self-confident and brave, she also had a good intuition, necessary in war literally in every situation. Where to meet another agent? Where to eat meals and stay overnight so that no one sees through it, and even if - it would be silent as a charm? Every action and every choice required carefulness.

In the end, like Skarbek, Violette also gained Churchill's approval. And there was little benefit to it either. As history shows, the two-time British prime minister unscrupulously sent his pets to their deaths. The short and girly agent was entrusted with another, very dangerous mission on the continent. She was even warned that she might not come back. She was also given a choice - finally had her little daughter waiting for her at home ...

However, Szabó was not only extremely effective, but also stubborn. She chose to continue working for SOE, although she made a will in her haste before leaving. She had really little time, and yet it was necessary to train members of the French resistance against the Allied landing in Normandy.

Violette Szabó (photo:press materials from the publishing house Fronda)

Unfortunately, the rush turned out to be fatal. Admittedly, her intuition told the girl not to get into the car driven by a partisan named "Anastas", but - feeling the pressure of time - she had no choice. The hunch turned out to be correct - the travelers were surprised by an SS platoon. Not seeing a way out, the agent made a dramatic decision to shoot herself. Meanwhile, the man accompanying her ... ran away and hid in the fiancée's house.

Violette didn't stand a chance. She was captured alive. She was faced with terrible torture and finally death in Ravensbrück. She was posthumously awarded the King George's Cross and the Resistance Medal - these decorations were received by little Tania for her brave mother.

Mathilde Carré - espionage kitty

Mathilde Carré, born in 1908, was devastatingly effective. And not only when it comes to obtaining information. She was said to have changed lovers as often as she had spied on.

Little is known about the youth of this remarkable woman. What is certain is that at the age of 23 she married a French army captain, with whom she left for Algeria. Thanks to the notes in her conscientiously kept journal, one can find out that she sincerely hated her new place of residence. However, her feelings changed in 1939 when the war broke out and her husband was assigned to the line service. From that moment on, she could live freely, just as she wanted. Especially after the captain gave his life for France.

Mathilde Carre (photo:press materials of the Fronda publishing house)

The young widow moved to Paris, from where, fleeing the approaching Germans, she ended up in Toulouse. There she met a Pole, Captain Roman Czerniawski, who recruited her to work in the intelligence service. "Kitten" - because that was the pseudonym Mathilde adopted - quickly showed what she can do. In a short time she managed to organize an entire network of agents. It consisted of officers serving in the army of the Vichy government collaborating with Germany. They provided the French resistance with a lot of valuable information.

Carré's streak did not last long, however. In November 1941, together with Czerniawski, she fell into the hands of the Gestapo. Fearing torture, she allowed herself to be recruited. By the way, she ended up in the bed of the interrogating officer, Hugo Bleicher. From then on, she worked for the Germans, giving the members of her network a good start.

Mass arrests began. The superiors of "Kotka", who had no idea about her betrayal, soon began ... to fear for her safety. After all, she was a hero of the Resistance ... so she was transferred to London, where she got a job at the War Office.

Roman Czerniawski, who recruited Mathilde (photo:CAW, public domain)

It was a dream come true for the Nazis. Thanks to Mathilde, they had access to the most secret information. At least until the English began to suspect her. After just a few months, the double agent ended up behind bars, where she spent the next two years.

After the Germans were driven from the Seine, the woman was handed over to the French. There could be only one sentence - a guillotine. However, the execution was not carried out. The French president changed her death penalty into life imprisonment. Ultimately, she spent only a few years in the cell:in 1954, under an amnesty, she was released. The stigma of a traitor followed her for decades. She died at the age of 98.

"Model" is the driving force behind the political scandal

When you look at the photos of young Christine Keeler, it's easy to believe that she could have wrapped any guy around her finger. This girl, born in 1942, was exceptionally slim, and her cheekbones and lips could be envied by many a woman. It was beauty that became her ticket to a better life, as poverty prevented her from getting a thorough education. She became an escort.

Christine Keeler (photo:press materials of the Fronda publishing house)

Soon, such famous personalities as Marlon Brando, Alec Guinness and Harold Philby, an agent of the British intelligence service of the KGB, had a pleasant time. Keeler attended sex parties where there were really famous people. Rumor has it that even Queen Elizabeth's husband, Prince Philip Mountbatten, visited them! In establishing contacts, the young beauty was supported by Stephen Ward - a friend and pimp in one person.

In 1961, Christine's next target became John D. Profumo, a married father of several children and Secretary of State for War in Harold Macmillan's government. Let's add to that - a very conservative government. Profumo had information of value to the KGB, and who could get it more easily than a lover?

Interestingly, the wife of the unfaithful secretary was simply beautiful actress Valerie Hobson. But that didn't stop him from jumping sideways. Meanwhile, Christine was also seeing the ... Soviet spy, the attaché Soviet embassy, ​​Yevgeny Ivanov. When the press discovered these forbidden romances, a scandal broke out. Yes, in the book "Women of Intelligence" describes the situation Przemysław Sławiński:

How journalists put the names of Ward, Keeler, Profumo and Ivanov together remains a sweet secret. In mid-March 1962, the case became so public that the Minister of War was forced to make an official statement in the House of Commons about his relationship with the prostitute (...).

Valerie Hobson (photo:kate gabrielle flickr.com, license CC BY 2.0)

Profumo didn't admit anything, of course, but the truth finally emerged. Keeler and her smart pimp knew too much about the politician's exploits. The so-called "Profumo scandal" led to the discrediting of conservatives and - eventually - the collapse of the government. Prime Minister Macmillan resigned in 1963. Interestingly, the publicity also hurt Christine herself. From then on, it was followed by bad fame. She lost her job quickly and had two sons to support ... She died at the age of 75 of a lung disease.

We can admire the beauty of Keeler to this day. Her photo, for which she posed nude on a copy of a chair designed by Arne Jacobsen, became famous. The session took place in the breakthrough of 1963. Her beauty was also captured on tape - in the music video for the song "Kiss and Tell" by Bryan Ferry.

Women of intelligence. Find out about the fascinating fate of famous female agents in the new book by Przemysław Słowiński: