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HERITAGE - 40: WISE AFTER THE EVENT - Exposing The Real 'Third Man', Kim Philby & 'The Cambridge Circus' Spy Ring

Updated on June 29, 2017

The Cambridge Five'

The 'Cambridge Five': Arnold Deutsch the NKVD recruiter in 1930s Cambridge, Kim Philby, Donald MacLean, Guy burgess and Anthony Blunt
The 'Cambridge Five': Arnold Deutsch the NKVD recruiter in 1930s Cambridge, Kim Philby, Donald MacLean, Guy burgess and Anthony Blunt | Source

Alarm Bells

'Third Man' Philby and the 'Cambridge Circus' and the rogues' gallery of the 'Cambridge Five' (Arnold Deutsch, Kim Philby, Donald MacLean, Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt), dedicated to bringing down the Establishment that nurtured them.

Alarm bells began to ring on 7th June, 1951 when a pair of British diplomats absconded from their security-sensitive posts at the Washington embassy.

The nature of their disappearance suggested the possibility of either of them - or both - being undercover Soviet agents. Donald MacLean, 38, was First Secretary in Washington before promotion to head of the American Department at the Foreign Office. Guy Burgess, a little older at 40 had been Second Secretary in Washington. They left London suddenly in mid-May.

Police across Europe were asked to keep an eye out for them in Britain, West Germany and Austria particularly. Inquiries were made in Finland and other countries that bordered on the Soviet bloc. An area scrutinised especially was the territory adjoining British and Soviet zones in south-eastern Austria.

A Foreign Office spokesman could not comment when questioned by the Press about whether the pair might have fled to Moscow. He would only say they had been suspended on their unscheduled disappearance, and that Burgess had suffered from a [mental] breakdown the year before.

The American press were not so reticent about a Soviet link. The JOURNAL-AMERICAN declared that the diplomats' disappearance was sure to cause a sensation about Communist sympathies within their own government. US Secretary of State Dean Acheson announced that it would be "quite a serious matter" if Burgess and MacLean were proved to be Soviet sympathisers. On the 8th it was reported that Burgess and MacLean were "on a long Mediterranean holiday", as indicated in a telegram (sent to the Foreign Office?)

Trying Times

Philby's crowded press conference at his mother's Kensington flat - note BBC man Alan Whicker, seated right
Philby's crowded press conference at his mother's Kensington flat - note BBC man Alan Whicker, seated right | Source
Harold MacMillan, Foreign Secretary at the time he exonerated Kim Philby in 1954, was rocked again as Prime Minister in 1963 by the Profumo Affair which involved a Soviet agent and his Defence Secretary as well as call-girl Christine Keeler
Harold MacMillan, Foreign Secretary at the time he exonerated Kim Philby in 1954, was rocked again as Prime Minister in 1963 by the Profumo Affair which involved a Soviet agent and his Defence Secretary as well as call-girl Christine Keeler | Source
Philby, Burgess and MacLean DVD - follow the whole sordid story from its roots at Cambridge... See below
Philby, Burgess and MacLean DVD - follow the whole sordid story from its roots at Cambridge... See below | Source

A Crowded Press Conference...

March 21st, 1954: Suspicions were directed toward Harold 'Kim' Philby, that he tipped off Burgess and MacLean almost three years earlier, warning them that they were bout to be arrested on espionage charges. Philby, formerly First Secretary at the British Embassy in Washington D.C., was a friend of the pair. He had been recalled to London for interrogation by M.I.6.

Three weeks later, on 14th April in Canberra, Soviet diplomat Vladimir Petrov asked for asylum and unmasked a Soviet spy ring in Australia. Within a fortnight, after debriefing by by Australian state security officers Petrov offered a solution to the mystery of the whereabouts of Burgess and McLean, suggesting may have gone to Moscow. This confirmed suspicions held by the Press. The Foreign Office were either not asked for their view or declined to offer one. On 1st July Petrov went a step further, to tell an espionage commission that (in his view) TASS* were all Soviet Agents.

On 23rd July in East Berlin East German Radio broadcast a message by the missing West Berlin security head Otto John. In a further development to East-West defections, a missing British subject, atomic scientist Bruno Pontecorvo revealed that he would henceforth be employed in the USSR. A week later however, Pontecorvo announced that he would not be engaged on further nuclear projects. The uncalled-for denial raised suspicions to the contrary.

The real bombshell exploded later in the year. On 18th September, after four years of silence on the matter, the Foreign Office admitted that Guy Burgess and Donald MacLean were believed to have been long-serving Soviet agents. MacLean, by then 42, had been under investigation. The disclosure confirmed the suspicions that Burgess and MacLean knew they were under observation and informed Moscow of their position. It was Moscow that arranged their escape. The Foreign Office made its statement after the publication of a newspaper article by Petrov. It would not comment on his claim that the missing diplomats had been recruited for intellignce work whilst they were undergraduates in the 1930s at Cambridge prior to WWII.

According to the Foreign Office MacLean had been under 'active' investigation. Burgess had been withdrawn from Washington D.C., his unsuitability for ongoing foreign service under review. Burgess and MacLean were believed to have left the UK by ferry from Southampton to St. Malo in Brittany.

On 11th November a Labour Party Member of Parliament (MP) withdrew allegations that a former senior diplomat was involved in the disappearance of colleagues Burgess and MacLean. In a Commons speech former Colonel Marcus Lipton MP accused 'Kim' Philby - until recently First Secretary at the British Embassy in Washinton D.C. of "dubious third man activities".

Philby had challenged the MP immediately on hearing of the accusation, to repeat the statement outside the Palace of Westminster (Parliament). He did admit to an 'imprudent relationship' with Burgess, since they were at Cambridge together, over which he was asked to resign his Washington post. He added further that he had met MacLean in the 1930s, but that he was only aware of him as "a shadow in his memory".

Burgess had shared accommodation with him - Philby - before his recall to London in 1951, Philby acknowledged,

"I more or less sponsored him in that rather hectic society".

At a crowded press conference held in his mother's Kensington flat (apartment), Philby announced to the Press,

"I have never been a Communist, although I knew people. who were... at Cambridge, and for a year afterwards. The last time I spoke to a [known] Communist was in 1934".

On withdrawing his statement Mr Lipton told the Commons that, after Philby's statement and a speech by the Foreign Secretary, Harold MacMillan, he was justified in thinking his allegations were uncalled for. Philby later told the Press that,

"I think Colonel Lipton has done the right thing. So far as I am concerned the incident is now closed".

[On the 13th December ex-West Berlin security head Otto John fled back to the West].

Not long before Philby vanished from Beirut he had been confronted in London by former diplomatic service colleague, Nicolas Elliott,.newly recruited to M.I.6. During the course of conversation with Elliott, Philby realised that he stood to be arrested of he remained in the West (Beirut at the time was a crossroads between the 'Free' World and the Communist community in the same way as Lisbon had been during WWII).

*TASS was the Russian News Agency, regarded as the Kremlin's mouthpiece


Nicholas Elliott, former colleague, threatened to expose Philby

Nicholas Elliott has been recruited into MI6 and now cornered Philby, threatening to bring him to justice for espionage.
Nicholas Elliott has been recruited into MI6 and now cornered Philby, threatening to bring him to justice for espionage. | Source

Compromise, intrigue, espionage, treason. Follow the whole sordid business from their Cambridge days, recruitment to Communism in the 1930s and a shift of allegiances. War involvement at the BBC brought Philby and Burgess back together again, and then in the 1950s with the Cold War at its height tensions heightened and suspicions grew that something was not right... Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Starring Anthony Bate, Michael Culver and Derek Jacobi (remember "I Claudius" and "Cadfael"?)

'Supermac'

Harold MacMillan at the hustings, affectionately dubbed 'Supermac' by the British Press. He was popular, one of the Left's favourite Tories
Harold MacMillan at the hustings, affectionately dubbed 'Supermac' by the British Press. He was popular, one of the Left's favourite Tories | Source

3rd March, 1963: during Harold MacMillan's premiership

'Kim' Philby the erstwhile diplomat accused by MP Marcus Lipman eight and a half years earlier of being 'the Third Man' in the Burgess and MacLean spy scandal contacted his second wife Eleanor. The cable came five weeks after his disappearance from Beirut, where he had worked as a foreign correspondent. Mrs Philby had waited in vain for her husband at a diplomatic dinner party the night he vanished, and remained confused. The cable told her only that he was well but gave no indication as to his whereabouts at the time.

Although former Foreign Secretary Harold MacMillan - by now the Prime Minster dubbed 'Supermac' - had cleared Philby of any involvement with Burgess and MacLean in 1954, it became increasingly obvious that he had defected to the Soviet Union, and was doubtlessly the 'Third Man' as Lipton surmised. This was confirmed four months later in the year when the government acknowledged in a Commons Statement that Philby was after all 'The Third Man'. It was he who tipped off MacLean through Burgess that he was being shadowed by security officers.

[On 15th July nuclear physicist Giuseppe Martelli was acquitted on charges of spying for the USSR].

Philby was granted Soviet citizenship on 29th July that year. MacMillan was no doubt left red-faced in the thick of a new current scandal around wild parties at Clivedon House near Newbury (Berkshire) that involved John Profumo the Secretary of State for War. His downfall lay in a fling with call-girl Christine Keeler, and a Soviet diplomat thought to have been a KGB agent was closely associated.

Harold 'Kim' Philby was a cool one. He had many convinced of his innocence after the 1955 denial of his involvement with the Communist movement.
Harold 'Kim' Philby was a cool one. He had many convinced of his innocence after the 1955 denial of his involvement with the Communist movement. | Source
Guy Burgess, close associate of 'Kim' Philby, a 'loose cannon' due to his sexual leanings - until the 1960s homosexuality was an offence which - if convicted - carried imprisonment. His leaning as a diplomat was likely to leave him open to blackmail
Guy Burgess, close associate of 'Kim' Philby, a 'loose cannon' due to his sexual leanings - until the 1960s homosexuality was an offence which - if convicted - carried imprisonment. His leaning as a diplomat was likely to leave him open to blackmail | Source
Donald MacLean, photographed here in Moscow, was closely linked to Guy Burgess
Donald MacLean, photographed here in Moscow, was closely linked to Guy Burgess | Source
Anthony Blunt was let off the hook after confessing in 1964, although he stood trial in 1979 on charges of espionage
Anthony Blunt was let off the hook after confessing in 1964, although he stood trial in 1979 on charges of espionage | Source

On 1st September, 1963

Guy Burgess, Stalin's 'favourite Englishman', was reported as having died in Moscow several days earlier, his passing largely unmarked by the Press in the West.

[On April 22nd, 1964 British businessman Greville Wynne, accused in Moscow of espionage, was freed in a 'swap' arrangement. He was exchanged at a Berlin border checkpoint for Gordon Lonsdale, the KGB spymaster arrested in 1961 for his pivotal role in the Portland spy ring. Mr Wynne stood trial seventeen months earlier with Colonel Oleg Penkovsky, who was found guilty of treason and later shot for passing secrets to the West].

On the 10th August, 1965 the Queen - no doubt on advice from the Foreign Secretary - cancelled Philby's OBE (Order of the British Empire) that had been earlier awarded in recognition of his diplomatic service in Washington D.C.

Philby gave his first interview on 14th November, 1967 to Western news journalists since arriving in Moscow twelve years earlier. A month later, on the 18th December he was hailed a hero of the USSR and decorated accordingly.

He died quietly in Moscow in 1988 aged 76. He had been baptised Harold Adrian Russell Philby (HARP) in Ambala, India in 1912.(The 'Kim' appellation came probably through his Indian birth linked to author Rudyard Kipling's fictional character).

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Guy Burgess, born Francis de Moncy Burgess at Devonport, Devon in 1910. He was recruited as a Soviet agent at Cambridge, England. He worked 1936-39 at the BBC, wrote propaganda 1939-41 and again at the BBC whilst employed by M.I.5. He joined the Foreign Office in 1945.

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Donald MacLean (Donald Duart) was born 1913 in London, studying at Cambridge with Anthony Blunt (see below), Guy Burgess and 'Kim' Philby. He also died in Moscow, a 'respected citizen', in 1983.

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Anthony Blunt, born Frederick Blunt in Bournemouh (then in Hampshire). latterly an art historian and Soviet spy from his days at Cambridge University. A convert to Communism, he became a 'talent spotter' for Burgess, supplying him with names of likely recruits to the Soviet cause. Whilst serving with British Intelligence during WWII he passed on information to the Soviets and helped in the defection of Burgess and MacLean in 1951.

In 1964, after 'Kim' Philby's defection Blunt confessed in return for immunity and continued as Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures until 1972. his full involvement in espionage did not become apparent until 1979 when he came to trial at the Old Bailey (Central Criminal Court, London EC4). The knighthood, awarded in 1956 was nullified.

Kim Philby's grave in Moscow. Police were called on to keep order at his funeral when the cemetary was over-run by well-wishers. Before he died, however, he had become disillusioned by Communism
Kim Philby's grave in Moscow. Police were called on to keep order at his funeral when the cemetary was over-run by well-wishers. Before he died, however, he had become disillusioned by Communism | Source

Josef Stalin saw in Guy Burgess his idea of the upper class Englishman who answered the call of Communism. Burgess, like Blunt, had a predilection for other men. He was the ideal target for the likes of Arnold Deutsch who recruited him to the Communist cause, and in turn recruited others of a like-minded persuasion. He would abscond in 1951 with friend Donald MacLean indirectly to Moscow, aided by Blunt and die relatively unremarked in exile.

How do you view the activities of Spies in the Cold War?

Do you think they were an inevitable result of political hostilities between East and West?

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Last, but by no means least: the spymaster Arnold Deutsch

Arnold Deutsch, born 1903 within the Austrian Empire...

Was a cousin of Oscar Deutsch, the millionaire owner of the Odeon Cinema chain in the United Kingdom. Although keeping up the appearance of a pious Jew he used this to hide his role as Communist agent and recruiter. Aged 24 he received a PhD with distinction in chemistry at the University of Vienna. Soon after leaving university he married an Austrian woman, Josefine. They were recruited together by Comintern (the Communist International) working for its international liaison wing, OMS. He was arrested in 1933 by Nazi authorities in Germany, freed from custody with help from Willi Lehmann, the highly placed Soviet agent within the Gestapo (Geheime Staats Polizei or secret police) hierarchy.

Deutsch travelled to Britain under his real name to ensure his university credentials were valid. On arriving in England Deutsch studied psychology at graduate level at the University of London. This was his cover for espionage work for the NKVD (Soviet secret service, predecessor of the KGB). He noted that the high number of Communist converts and perpetual turnover due to matriculation and graduation provided a useful recruitment platform, Capable, idealistic students were selected, who publicly denied Communist links could penetrate British military intelligence and government circles. Students' earlier communist sympathies would be dismissed as 'youthful errors'. The strategy saw many well-placed operatives, the 'Cambridge Five' most notable amongst them.

When Litzi Friedmann and 'Kim' Philby returned from marrying in Vienna to London in 1934 Deutsch recruited them in Regent's Park on 1st July, 1934. He then recruited Donald MacLean and Guy Burgess in the same year using the cover name 'Otto'.

In September, 1937 during Stalin's purge trials Deutsch was recalled to Moscow at great risk as an NKVD agent of being exposed in Western Europe. This was due to the defections of highly placed Soviet agents, and he could have been jeopardised through his knowledge of their operations. In Moscow Deutsch was de-briefed, avoiding arrest and execution. as an expert in forgery and handwriting techniques he was put to work in Moscow, not permitted to travel beyond Soviet territory until the early 1940s.

His fate has been variously described as either being captured and shot by the Nazis on parachuting into Austria, or having drowned when his ship was torpedoed by a U-Boat on the way to New York to recruit further agents.

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    • alancaster149 profile image
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      Alan R Lancaster 7 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      It was raised in a programme on the Yesterday channel about 60s 'spooks' during the Cold War. They did manage to 'insert an agent' (feline) complete with microphone implant, and extracted it after the event without ill effects.

      Given you some ideas has it, Nell? Take a look at the page on Sempill, about one of our great and good - one of Winston's mates - who sold secrets to the Japanese to maintain his lavish lifestyle.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 7 months ago from England

      Hiya alan, lol! electronic kitty? really! How funny! always good to see you too.

    • alancaster149 profile image
      Author

      Alan R Lancaster 7 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      'Ello, 'ello, 'ello Nello. Fancy seeing you here! ('D'you come here often?)

      I've discovered a liking for spy yarns again, like 'Ipcress', 'Funeral In Berlin' (both Michael Caine as Harry Palmer) and'The Spy Who Came In From The Cold' with Richard Burton. There's another of the Harry Palmer trio with Karl Malden in the 'Billion Dollar Brain' (early computer software theft in the Cold War).

      The FBI tried a variation of the 'hidden camera' stunt with a cat fitted with a microphone to spy on the Russian Embassy (ambassador was fond of moggies had his own cats). Trouble was 'Electronic Kitty' was run over in the street on its way to the Embassy.

      I see you're still about twenty pages ahead of me. Must catch up when I'm not writing books. TTFN.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 7 months ago from England

      Ooh! Spies! lol! I do remember when going through my history books and stuff about all this. but its all very confusing. I do remember a funny story quite recently though about those russians and stones with camera's in! I know we got a roasting for it, LOL! really interesting stuff alan, and good to hear from you!

    • alancaster149 profile image
      Author

      Alan R Lancaster 7 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Wondered when you'd get here, Lawrence.

      Apparently Elliott 'roasted' Philby at a meeting in Beirut in the 60s when Philby wrote as a foreign correspondent. Philby was told point blank by his former colleague that he would be pulled in for questioning. That's when he decided on the 'leap'.

      Difference between the 'Cambridge Circus' and Sempill was that the former were idealists who couldn't see through Stalin's 'front'. Sempill's lifestyle was being funded by the Japanese, who used the technology he supplied them with to attack our allies. None of them did it for free, although - bottom line - Philby & Co were disillusioned with Communism through life in the USSR. Blunt thought he'd bought his freedom and the 'chop' came for him in the late 1970s. My wife worked at the 'Old Bailey' (Central Criminal Court) at the time when he went up before 'the beak' (high court judge).

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 7 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Alan

      Fascinating article about probably the four most infamous spies of all time.

      John lecarre has a fascinating chapter about Nicholas Elliott and his meeting with Philby in his new book that tells it from his viewpoint.

      What was interesting was Elliott said they spent so much time trying to get Soviet agents to defect, they kind of didn't get too 'stressed' when one went the other way! (Lecarre points out that Elliott's recollection is all total fantasy, but how he chose to remember his friend Philby)

      Great stuff

      Lawrence