Codename Rygor: The Spy Behind the Allied Victory in North Africa

Codename Rygor: The Spy Behind the Allied Victory in North Africa  Book Cover

Codename Rygor: The Spy Behind the Allied Victory in North Africa

Mieczyslaw Zygfryd Slowikowski


2010
ISBN 190644708X
London: Dialogue


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Mieczyslaw Zygfryd Slowikowski is a member of staff at the Polish General Consulate in Kiev, Soviet Republic of Ukraine. His mission is to gather intelligence on southern Russia for the Second Bureau of the Polish General Staff. It is September 1939 and Nazi Germany has attacked Poland. Germany and the Soviet Union have signed a non-agression pact. They agree not to attack each other. What though are the Soviet leader Stalin's intentions towards Poland? 

The staff of the Polish Consulate in Kiev are under intense surveillance from the NKVD (Soviet Secret Police). Slowikowski leaves Kiev by train on 16 September and heads towards the Polish border. He has gone to collect his son from Rowno, Poland. He notices signs of a Soviet military mobilisation from the many trains packed with Soviet troops heading towards the Polish border. On 17 September Soviet tanks cross the Polish border and a fourth partition of Poland has begun. 

Slowikowski on his return journey to Kiev is arrested by the NKVD and accused of being a spy. He is released, rearrested and finally released again on 2 October. The Soviet government orders the Polish consulate in Kiev to close and the staff to leave for the Polish Embassy in Moscow. Slowikowski is allowed to leave Moscow and makes his way to Paris via Finland, Sweden, Norway, Britain, Netherlands and Belgium.

Major General Mieczyslaw Zygfryd Slowikowski
  • Born 1896
  • Polish Army Officer
  • Intelligence Agent - Codename: RYGOR
  • Ran intelligence networks in occupied France and later in French North Africa
  • Provided vast bulk of intelligence for Operation Torch - 1942 Allied invasion of North Africa
  • After WW2 he lived in London
  • Died aged 93 in London in 1989

Evacuation from France

In France a Polish-government-in-exile was being formed under General Sikorski, who became Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. Slowikowski was initially assigned to an infantry division but in February 1940 was reassigned to serve in Intelligence. Germany attacked France in May 1940 and on 1 June Slowikowski was informed that he was being evacuated to the south of France. France surrended to Germany three weeks later. Polish forces now looked to continue the fight by evacuating to Great Britain. 

Slowikowski's request to the Polish Consul in Toulouse that he remain in France to aid the evacuation of Polish forces to Great Britain was approved. The goal was to help troops get to Portugal. This meant them either leaving France legally with an exit visa to Spain or crossing the Pyrenees into Spain as human contraband. Exit visas were obtained from the French Prefecture and bribes were used to obtain foreign destination visas from foreign consulates. Evacuees left in batches of ten and once in Spain reported to the Polish Embassy in Spain. By mid-September 1940 evacuation became more difficult:

...the Prefectures stopped issuing exit visas and the Spanish authorities, in turn, practically closed the border...[For those smuggled into Spain] gradually individuals, then whole groups, were arrested by the Spanish Police and sent to the concentration camp of Miranda de Ebro. (p. 18)

Between June 1940 and May 1941 Slowikowski and his Polish officer colleagues managed to evacuate to Great Britain almost 3,000 men.

Agency Africa

On 1 May 1941 Slowikowski received orders from London informing him that he had been appointed Chief of Intelligence of Agency Africa and that he should proceed there immediately in order to set up an intelligence network. The area of operations would cover from Dakar on the west coast of North Africa to Tripolitania on the Mediterranean Sea.

I knew that a new chapter of my life was about to begin. They had handed me an enormous task - total responsibility for building up a network from scratch, in a vast territory, completely on my own. (p. 44)

Slowikowski gave himself the codename RYGOR (the Polish word for rigour). Contact with London would be maintained via a clandestine radio intelligence network in Vichy France which had the codename WICHER. The radio network was headed by Lieutenant-Colonel Gwido Langer. Part of WICHER was transferred to Algiers in the autumn of 1940 under the command of Major Maximilian Ciezki (codename MACIEJ). Until such time as Agency Africa had its own radio station contact with WICHER would be carried out by MACIEJ sending ciphered messages, provided by RYGOR, to WICHER for onward radio transmission to London.

RYGOR immediately began recruiting Intelligence Officers to work for Agency Africa.

  • Lieutenant Henryk Lubienski - Codename BANULS.  Cover story wanted to write a book about French North Africa.
  • Lieutenant Jekiel (Polisn Navy) - Codename DOKTOR. Keen to work in Casablanca and bring his agent Dr Marion Gallois (codename GYNAECOLOGIST) with him and open a doctor's surgery as cover.
  • Lieutenant Stanislas Rombejko - Codename MUSTAFA. RYGOR knew him from USSR where he had been employed in the Polish Moscow Embassy as an Intelligence Technician. Married to a French woman, a Bretan countess, whose relations stayed in Algiers.

RYGOR and BANULS departed France for Algiers on the passenger ship Ville d'Oran on 19 July 1941 and arrived on 21 July. The Polish government had two consuls in French North Africa in Algiers and Casablanca and was also represented in Algiers by Count Emeryk Hutten-Czapski. RYGOR did not report to the consulate in Algiers as his presence in North Africa needed to remain unknown.

In Algiers the Free French movement was officially persecuted as it was in Metropolitan France. 

French attitudes towards the Allies varied.Those towards the British were decidely hostile, a feeling reinforced by the actions of the Royal Navy at Dakar and Mers-el-Kebir and by the recent campaign in Syria. (p. 60)

In the recruitment of agents it would be emphasised to them that they would be working for France against Nazi Germany. Ideally the agents would be ideologically motivated. 

RYGOR decided that his best cover would be if he owned a business. There was a large Polish community in Algiers of whom their Chairman was Lucian Godziszewski. BANULS visited Godziszewski and discovered that he was interested in setting up a business that would be the first factory in French North Africa to manufacture oatmeal but he needed capital to do so. BANULS introduced RYGOR to Godziszewski as a diplomatic friend from Switzerland who had some capital and was interested in a business venture. RYGOR and Godziszewski came to an agreement that RYGOR would participate in the business venture and provide 150,000 French francs as capital. 

For a small sum, I had acquired the status of an industrialist, in the highest stratum of society, and a perfect cover for working with the Allies. (p. 79)

RYGOR gave two of his intelligence agents their instructions. BANULS was to go to Oran in Algiers, make contact with those willing to work with the Agency and to give them assignments relating to the military and navy. Lieutenant George Gordon (codename RENE), engaged in evacuation work in Algiers, was recruited and asked to reconnoitre and pinpoint all the military garrisons in Algeria.

In September 1941, General Weygand, the Governor General of Algeria, returned from Vichy France bringing food restrictions:

French North Africa was forced to export large quantities of fruit and vegetables to France, which everyone knew was for the benefit of the Germans...The atomsphere was becoming very unpleasant. Pro-German propaganda and the rapidly expanding activities of the pro-Nazi Vichy organisation, the Legion, was increasing...listening to the BBC was forbidden and carried severe penalties... (p. 86)

Arrests

In mid November RYGOR became concerned about a lack of contact from DOKTOR. BANULS tried to reach him by phone but on ringing his hotel he spoke to someone imitating DOKTOR's voice inviting him to call there. It was an obvious trap. DOKTOR had been arrested.

RYGOR was also arrested a few days later on 26 November and taken to the Office of Public Security in Algiers. There he was surprised to meet DOKTOR who told him that all the Inspectors were anti-German and their chief, Commissaire Andre Achiary, was the person who RYGOR had been given a password for when he was in Marseilles, France. RYGOR asked to meet with Achiary and told him the password and that he was the head of Allied Intelligence in French North Africa. Achiary was able to release RYGOR but he doubted whether he would be able to keep DOKTOR in Algiers.

November 1941 was a bad month for Polish intelligence. The Germans had dismantled a Polish intelligence network in Paris, DOKTOR had been arrested and RENE was now known to the Police and would have to leave Africa immediately.

Agency Africa was always under threat as in Algiers alone the following organisations opposed them:

  • Gestapo (German Secret State Police)
  • German Armistice Commission
  • Vichy's special counter-intelligence Commissioner Begue and his men
  • The local Surete
  • The Legion (pro-Nazi Vichy organisation)
  • SOL - Special Service of the Legion known as the French SS
  • Other collaborators, Axis agents and informers

America Enters the War

On 7 December 1941 Japan attacked the USA at Pearl Harbour and America entered the war against the Axis powers. Agency Africa established contact with the American consulate in Algiers and an arrangement was made for the Americans to receive intelligence documents from RYGOR so that they could be added to the American diplomatic bag delivered every week to the British consulate in Tangiers.

[RYGOR] was busy preparing our first intelligence pouch to be sent through the Americans, which would be impressively heavy...included data on deployment of French forces, ... German exploitation of North Africa, and important role played by French merchant navy in supplying German military machine...This was our first opportunity to get rid of all the material that had accumulated since the beginning of our work. (pp. 121-122)

The Americans were impressed with the amount of material and RYGOR was pleased that his work was greatly simplified now that a regular method of getting intelligence documents to London had been established.

More Arrests

RYGOR became worried that reports were not being received from the Tunis outpost. What could be wrong? On 1 February 1942 RYGOR's suspicions were confirmed when he received news that their outpost commander and two other agents in their Tunis network had been arrested. BANULS later that day reported to RYGOR that he had heard a rumour that two men had questioned a porter at the hotel he was staying at and that they were looking for a man fitting his description. RYGOR immediately ordered that BANULS should leave his hotel. RYGOR saw Commissaire Andre Achiary that evening and he was warned that two inspectors had orders to arrest BANULS at the hotel. The Tunsian inspectors hunted for BANULS for a few days before giving up and returning to Tunis.

Increasing Workload

The Agency Africa network had grown considerably:

I already had about a hundred principal agents, who in turn had their collaborators, who had their collaborators and so on almost ad infinitum, constituting a vast and complex human pyramid. (p. 182)

RYGOR found himself overloaded with work. The expansion of the Agency Africa network, the increase in the scope of the tasks required and the increased flow of reports from the network's agents meant that RYGOR was toiling from early morning until late in the evening. 

The post boxes supplied a daily average of a hundred reports all edited in French by our outpost commanders or their agents. All this information passed through my hands. It was my duty to read them all carefully and assess their importance. All the urgent ones requiring immediate radio transmission to London were translated into Polish, coded and prepared for MACIEJ. Generally this was information concerning the movement of enemy aircraft or ships... (p. 146)

In addition to his intelligence work RYGOR would maintain his cover by working each day from 3pm to 6pm in the Chairman's office of the oatmeal business he had helped establish.

War Situation

On 15 June 1941 RYGOR had a meeting in the Amercian Consulate with American President Roosevelt's special envoy Colonel Solberg. The Colonel explained that he had been gathering information from America's allies in London and wanted to hear RYGOR's assessment of the war situation. RYGOR suggested that the Allies should emulate Hitler and attack their weakest opponents first:

  1. Occupy North Africa
  2. Attack Italy and occupy Sicily
  3. Invade and free the Balkans
  4. Liberate Poland
  5. Attack Germany

RYGOR gave the opinion that the bulk of the French Army was anti-German but not pro-British. He thought that an invasion of French North Africa should be launched under the American flag as then French forces would put up only a symbolic military resistance.

Operation Torch

On 8 November 1942 an Allied fleet of several hundred ships approached the coast of North Africa. At dawn, the invasion of French North Africa by the Allies began. Landings were made on the coast between Morocco and the Tunisian border. Operation Torch took the Axis powers by surprise and was a great success. The Germans in reaction to Operation Torch landed troops in Tunisia and occupied Vichy France on 11 November 1942.

For RYGOR it was now possible to go into the streets of Algiers without fear. He reflected on Agency Africa's situation:

It had made a substantial contribution to this first Allied victory by supplying their high command with all the necessary Intelligence. I had advised Colonel Solberg correctly that North Africa could be occupied within twenty-four hours and that French resistance would only be symbolic. What else was there to do here? (p. 273)

RYGOR received instructions from London that he should assemble all his intelligence officers in Algiers and await orders. 

Report to London

In mid-December 1942 RYGOR was ordered to come to London and present the work of Agency Africa. He left Africa on the 23 December on board the SS Arundel Castle, a passenger ship adapted as a troop carrier. Arrival in Greenock, Scotland was on the 31 December and after traveling by train he arrived at London Euston railway station on 2 January 1943.

RYGOR met with Polish intelligence officials of the Second Bureau. The Direcor of Intelligence, codename JANIO, thanked him for the splendid work he had done and told him that British Intelligence wished to speak with him. RYGOR met with Commander Dunderdale of British Intelligence who told him that he was brought to London at the insistence of General Menzies, head of the British Secret Service, who wanted his views on the internal situation in French North Africa. Commander Dunderdale told RYGOR that:

"I'm sorry that you are not British - for what you have done for Britain, you wouldn't have to work again for the rest of your life!" I left in a daze. The contrast between the importance attached to our work by the British and the sheer indifference shown by our [Polish] General staff was staggering. (p. 295)

RYGOR had the dawning realisation that he and Africa Agency had been working for the British rather then the Poles. In a further meeting with JANIO, Polish Director of Intelligence, he was told that:

"The Polish General Staff are not interested in the work of Agency Africa. It neither occupies itself with operational matters nor has it been advised on them by the Anglo-American Joint Chiefs of Staff. Furthermore it hasn't asked about them." (p. 296)

In February 1944, in London, RYGOR was honoured by the British with the OBE (Order of the British Empire).

Mieczyslaw Zygfryd Slowikowski (RYGOR) died in London in 1989 aged 93.