- William Stephenson
Infobox Military Person
name=Sir William Samuel Stephenson
born= birth date|1897|1|23
died= death date and age|1989|1|31|1897|1|23
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Canadian Expeditionary Force Royal Flying Corps
No. 73 Squadron RAF
World War I
Order of Canada
Distinguished Service Cross
Military Cross Presidential Medal for Merit
laterwork= Industrialist, scientist, inventor, businessman, spymaster
Sir William Samuel Stephenson, CC, MC, DFC, (
January 23, 1897– January 31, 1989) was a Canadian soldier, airman, businessperson, inventor, spymaster, and the senior representative of British intelligence for the entire western hemisphere during World War II. Stephenson is best-known by his wartime intelligence codename of Intrepid. Some consider him to be one of the real-life inspirations for James Bond.
"James Bond is a highly romanticized version of a true spy. The real thing is...William Stephenson." --
Ian Fleming, " The Times", October 21, 1962.
Stephenson was born on
January 11, 1896in the Point Douglas area of Winnipeg, Manitoba(Other sources say January 23, 1897). He left school at a young age. In 1916 he volunteered for the 101st Battalion (Winnipeg Light Infantry), CEF. He earned a field promotion to Sergeant and a medal for battling in the trenches before he turned 21. While recovering from being gassed in 1916, Stephenson learned to fly and then transferred to the British Royal Flying Corpson August 16, 1917. Posted to 73 Squadron on February 9, 1918, Stephenson flew the British Sopwith Camelfighter biplane and scored twelve victories, among them was Lothar von Richthofen, the younger brother of the famous Red Baron, before he was shot down and captured by the Germans on July 28, 1918.1
By the end of
World War Ihe had achieved the rank of Captain and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Military Cross. His medal citations perhaps foreshadow his later achievements, and read:
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When flying low and observing an open staff car on a road, he attacked it with such success that later it was seen lying in the ditch upside down. During the same flight he caused a stampede amongst some enemy transport horses on a road. Previous to this he had destroyed a hostile scout and a two-seater plane. His work has been of the highest order, and he has shown the greatest courage and energy in engaging every kind of target.
Military Crosscitation, Supplement to the London Gazette, June 27 1919.
This officer has shown conspicuous gallantry and skill in attacking enemy troops and transports from low altitudes, causing heavy casualties. His reports, also, have contained valuable and precise information. He has further proved himself a keen antagonist in the air, having, during recent operations, accounted for six enemy aeroplanes.
- Distinguished Flying Cross citation, Supplement to the London Gazette,
September 21 1928.
Between the Wars
After the war Stephenson returned to Winnipeg and with a friend Wilf Russell he started a hardware business, one largely inspired by a can opener Stephenson had taken from his POW camp. The business was unsuccessful and he left Canada for
England. Stephenson became a wealthy industrialist with business contacts in many countries. In 1924 he married American tobacco heiress, Mary French Simmons, of Springfield, Tennessee.
As early as April 1936, Stephenson was voluntarily providing confidential information to the British, passing on detailed information to British opposition MP
Winston Churchillabout how Adolf Hitler's Nazi government was building up its armed forces and hiding military expenditures of eight hundred million pounds sterling. This was a clear violation of the terms of the Treaty of Versaillesand showed the growing Nazi threat to European and international security; Churchill used Stephenson's information in Parliament to warn against the appeasementpolices of the government of Neville Chamberlain.
World War II
World War IIbegan (and over the objections of Sir Stewart Menzies, wartime head of British intelligence) now-Prime Minister Winston Churchillsent Stephenson to the United Stateson June 21 1940to covertly establish and run the British Security Coordination(BSC) in New York City, over a year prior to the U.S. entering the war.
The BSC office, headquartered in room 3603 in
Rockefeller Center, became an umbrella organizationthat by the end of the war represented the British intelligence agencies MI5, MI6 (SIS or Secret Intelligence Service), SOE ( Special Operations Executive) and PWE ( Political Warfare Executive) throughout North America, South America and the Caribbean.
Stephenson's initial directives for BSC were 1) to investigate enemy activities, 2) institute security measures against the threat of sabotage to British property, and 3) organize American public opinion in favour of aid to Britain. Later this was expanded to included "the assurance of American participation in secret activities throughout the world in the closest possible collaboration with the British."
Stephenson's official title was British Passport Control Officer. His unofficial mission was to create a secret British intelligence network throughout the western hemisphere, and to operate covertly and very broadly on behalf of the British government and the
Alliesin aid of winning the war. He also became Churchill's personal representative to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Stephenson was soon a very close advisor to FDR, and suggested to Roosevelt that he put Stephenson's good friend William J. 'Wild Bill' Donovan in charge of all U.S. intelligence services. Donovan founded the U.S. wartime
Office of Strategic Services(OSS) which eventually became the Central Intelligence Agency(CIA).
In his role as the senior representative of British intelligence in the western hemisphere, Stephenson was one of the few people in the hemisphere authorized to view raw
Ultratranscripts from the British Bletchley Parkcodebreaking of German Enigma ciphers. He was trusted by Churchill to decide what Ultra information to pass along to various branches of the U.S. and Canadian governments.
Under Stephenson, the BSC directly influenced U.S. media (including the writing of American newspaper columnists
Walter Winchelland Drew Pearson) and other media in the hemisphere towards pro-British and anti-Axis viewpoints. Once the U.S. had entered the war, BSC then went on to train U.S. propagandists from the United States Office of War Informationin Canada from 1941-1944. BSC covert intelligence and propaganda efforts directly affected wartime developments in Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Mexico, the Central American countries, Bermuda, Cuba, and Puerto Rico.
Stephenson worked for no salary. He hired hundreds of people, mostly Canadian women, to staff his organization and paid for much of the expense out of his own pocket. Among his employees were secretive communications genius Benjamin deForest (Pat) Bayly and future advertising wizard
David Ogilvy. At the height of the war Bayly, a University of Torontoprofessor from Moose Jaw, created the Rockex, the fast secure communications system eventually relied on by all the Allies.
Not least in Stephenson's accomplishments and contributions to the war effort was the setting up by BSC of
Camp Xin Whitby, Ontario, the first training school for clandestine wartime operations in Canada, and in North America. Around 2,000 British, Canadian and American covert operators were trained here from 1941 through 1945, including students from the ISO, OSS, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, United States Navyand U.S. Military Intelligence services, and the United States Office of War Information, among them five future directors of what would eventually become the American Central Intelligence Agency.
Graduates of Camp X operated in Europe in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and the Balkans as well as in Africa, Australia, India, and the Pacific. They included
Ian Fleming(though there is evidence to support otherwise), later the author of the popular James Bondbooks. It has been said Goldfinger's fictional raid on Fort Knoxwas inspired by a Stephenson plan (never carried out) to steal $2,883,000,000 in Vichy French gold reserves from the French Caribbean colony of Martinique.
BSC purchased a ten-kilowatt transmitter from
Philadelphiaradio station WCAU and installed the transmitter at Camp X. By mid-1944, Hydra (the name by which the Camp X transmitter was known) was transmitting 30,000 and receiving 9,000 message groups daily, much of the secret Allied intelligence traffic across the Atlantic.
Recognition and honours
Sir William Stephenson died in Paget,
Bermudaat the age of 92. While there has since been at times some dispute over the exact nature and extent of his wartime efforts, there is no doubt his contributions were many, and extraordinary.
For his wartime work, Stephenson was knighted by the British in the 1945 New Year's Honours List. In recommending Stephenson for knighthood, Winston Churchill wrote, "This one is dear to my heart." In 1946 he received the
Presidential Medal for Merit, the highest civilian award in the United States at the time. He was the first non-U.S. citizen to receive the medal. General William J. 'Wild Bill' Donovan presented the award. The citation paid tribute to Stephenson's "valuable assistance to America in the fields of intelligence and special operations".
"The Quiet Canadian" was formally recognized by his home and native land late in his life; William Stephenson was made a Companion of the
Order of Canadaon December 17, 1997and invested in the Order on February 5, 1980.
May 2, 2000CIA Executive Director David W. Carey, representing Director of Central Intelligence George Tenetand Deputy Director of Central Intelligence John A. Gordon, accepted a bronze maquette (replica) statuette of Sir William Stephenson, which was given to the CIA by the Intrepid Society of Winnipeg, Manitoba. In his remarks, Carey said:
Sir William Stephenson played a key role in the creation of the CIA. He realized early on that America needed a strong intelligence organization and lobbied contacts close to President Roosevelt to appoint a U.S. "coordinator" to oversee FBI and military intelligence. He urged that the job be given to William J. 'Wild Bill' Donovan, who had recently toured British defenses and gained the confidence of Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Although Roosevelt didn't establish exactly what Sir William had in mind, the organization created represented a revolutionary step in the history of American intelligence. Donovan's Office of Strategic Services was the first 'central' U.S. intelligence service. OSS worked closely with and learned from Sir William and other Canadian and British officials during the war. A little later, these OSS officers formed the core of the CIA. Intrepid may not have technically been the father of CIA, but he's certainly in our lineage someplace.
In the town of Whitby, Ontario, there is a street named after him, which connects to streets with names such as Intrepid and Overlord. In the city of Oshawa, Ontario, Branch #637 of the Royal Canadian Legion was named in honour of Sir William Stephenson.
As befits a true man of mystery, some of Stephenson's published biographical information has been challenged. In 1976, British-born Canadian author William Stevenson (no relation) published a biography of Stephenson, titled "A Man Called Intrepid," and some statements in the book have been called into question.
(1) In "Counterfeit Spies,"
Rupert Allasonreports that no record exists of Stephenson ever receiving the Croix de guerreavec Palmes and the Légion d'honneurawards.
(2) Stevenson describes a dinner held at Lord Beaverbrook's house in May or June 1940 which Stephenson purportedly attended. One of Churchill's private secretaries,
Jock Colville, casts doubt on Stevenson's account, pointing out that the invitation Churchill reportedly sent Stephenson was clearly an invention. The highly punctilious Churchill would never have called Beaverbrook "the beaver", and for obvious reasons would never have signed himself "W.C." Furthermore, Stevenson reports that Lord Trenchard chatted with Stephenson about his own fighter aircraft. However, in 1940 Trenchard was over 65 years old and retired from the military. In author William Stevenson's papers at the University of Regina, there is one reference to the Beaverbrook dinner, noting that in later years Stephenson had cabled the author that he did not recall the exact date of the gathering. There is no mention of Stephenson receiving an invitation from Churchill. In his foreword to Richard Dunlop's "Donovan", Stephenson writes that he received a telephone invitation to the dinner.
(3) In his 1981 book "The Churchillians,"
Jock Colvilletook issue with Stevenson's description of Stephenson's relationship with Churchill during the war. He pointed out that Stephenson was not Churchill's personal liaison with Roosevelt, that in fact (as is well known) the two leaders corresponded directly. Indeed, Colville contends that he never heard Churchill speak of Stephenson at all (which may say as much about Churchill's relationship with Colville as it does about his relationship with the spy Stephenson). Based on this and other questions, Colville expresed the hope that Stevenson's book would not be "used for the purpose of historical reference." Meanwhile, numerous other references to a Stephenson-Churchill connection can be found, for example, in "Maclean’s" magazine December 17, 1952 and "The Times" October 21, 1962. The relationship is also referenced in Hyde’s biography of Stephenson, "The Quiet Canadian" (1962). In addition, British/Soviet double agent Kim Philby, in his book "My Silent War," refers to Stephenson as a friend of Churchill's. Stephenson’s personal secretary and personal cipher clerks mention Stephenson-Churchill communications in the book "The True Intrepid" and in the documentary film "Secret Secretaries". In CIA historian Thomas Troy's book "Wild Bill and Intrepid", there is a chapter on the relationship. Controversial historian David Irving, in "Churchill’s War", reveals evidence of a secret communications link between Roosevelt and Churchill that was run by the FBI but controlled through Stephenson’s office. There are references to this link in "The True Intrepid".
In 1983 a Canadian company, Nova Games Ltd. published an arcade game, called "Intrepid", about a spy infiltrating the KGB,7 ostensibly named after Stephenson's code name.
* "The Churchillians", by
Jock Colville, 1980, ISBN 0-297-77909-5
* "The True Intrepid: Sir William Stephenson and the Unknown Agents", by Bill Macdonald, with a foreword by Thomas F. Troy, 2002, ISBN 1-55192-418-8
* "Inside Camp X", by Lynn Philip Hodgson, with a foreword by Andy Durovecz, 2003, ISBN 0-9687062-0-7
* "Counterfeit spies: genuine or bogus?", by
Rupert Allason, 1998, ISBN 0-7515-2670-3
* "The Quiet Canadian", by
H. Montgomery Hyde, 1962, ISBN 0-09-468780-3
* "Camp X", by
Eric Walters, 2003, ISBN 0-14-131326-5
* "A Man Called Intrepid", by William Stevenson, 2000, ISBN 158574154X
* "Intrepid's Last Case", by William Stevenson and Richard Rohmer, 2002, ISBN 1585745219 (an account of the
* "Room 3603", by
H. Montgomery Hyde, with a foreword by Ian Fleming, 1962, ISBN 1-58574-318-6
* [http://www.theaerodrome.com/aces/canada/stephenson2.php] "The Aerodrome" website, which details Stephenson's WWI flying service
* [http://www.winstonchurchill.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=751] Article "This One is Dear to My Heart," by Ron Cynewulf Robbins, "Finest Hour" Issue #67, Second Quarter 1990, published by The Churchill Centre
* [http://www.camp-x.com] The Camp X Students Resource website (a teaching tool)
* [http://www.campxhistoricalsociety.ca/index1.htm] Website of Camp X Historical Society
* [http://www.trueintrepid.com/] Website devoted to information about William Stephenson
* [http://rclbr637.com/] Website of The Royal Canadian Legion's Sir William Stephenson Branch (#637)
* [http://www.arcade-history.com/index.php?page=detail&id=1193] "arcade-history" web site, summarizing the video game "Intrepid"
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