Spy Wars
A History of Covert Operations in World War II
HIST7301 Capstone Seminar

German reprisal against Soviet spies on the eastern front. The placard reads: “They were activists of the
Bolshevik [communist] sabotage and spy organization.”
[Private Collection]

Professor Jeffrey Burds at: j.burds@neu.edu
269 Holmes Hall
Boston, MA 02115
Voice: 617-373-2079
Monday, Wednesday 2:50-4:20
Office Hours: Wednesdays, 11:00-1:15,or by appt.


This undergraduate History seminar is restricted to a maximum of 19 History majors. All students are required to have successful completed both HIST2301 and HIST2302 as a prerequisite to entering this course. This limited course enrolment is designed to enhance the mentoring component in the course, and to facilitate teacher-student interaction throughout the semester.

Covert operations played a central role in the tactics of winners and losers in World War II. Espionage and sabotage operations dominate the narratives of the war on every front in every theater of operations. From code-breaking in Ultra and Magic to counter-intelligence in Operation Double-Cross, from deception at Normandy and Kursk to guerrilla warfare in the enemy's rear areas in Europe, Africa, and Asia, covert operations became a vital part of that war within the war. Drawing from film and fiction, supplemented by a wide variety of published and unpublished primary and secondary readings, we will investigate several case studies of covert operations in World War II. Emphasis is on interdisciplinary projects and presentations conducted on your own or in teams. There are no prerequisites.

Each student will be expected to write and substantially revise at least once a 15-20 page study on a theme to be agreed upon with the instructor, based on 3-5 books of outside materials or their equivalent. I expect all papers to represent your best work: all papers should conform to the History Style Guide, and all written work should be checked closely for spelling and grammatical errors. Sloppy work will receive at least one full grade reduction. This paper will consist either of a survey of historiography on a particular theme, or a research paper on some aspect of espionage in the Second World War, 1935-1948. Themes are open, though all paper topics must be approved by the instructor. A list of sample themes and a bibliography of potential readings is available below.

Final grades will be calculated with attention to the following formula:


• Active and considered class participation is encouraged: 10 percent

• Your presentations should be informative, concise, and to the point: 30 percent

  (Run one class discussion; summarize one optional reading; final paper presentation)

• The average of your best quiz scores: 10 percent

• Your semester paper should be well-written, well-argued, and informative: 40 percent

• The average of your best quiz scores: 10 percent

A Statement on Academic Honesty

All written work in this course must be the student's own original work. Plagiarism--”the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work”--is a serious violation. Please note that the same shortcuts that make plagiarism so easy in our day also facilitate the instructor's verification of each student's work. In this course, all student work is checked closely for plagiarism. Northeastern University relies on Turnitin technology: “Every paper submitted is returned in the form of a customized Originality Report. Results are based on exhaustive searches of billions of pages from both current and archived instances of the internet, millions of student papers previously submitted to Turnitin, and commercial databases of journal articles and periodicals.” The point? If you misuse materials and submit other people's work as your own, you will be caught. Any student caught plagiarizing will automatically FAIL this course, and you will be formally charged for violation of university guidelines on academic honesty.

Northeastern University's Official Policy on Academic Honesty & Integrity

How Turnitin Works


All books are available in low-cost paperback editions at Barnes & Nobles bookstore.

-- Ben Macintyre, Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies (New York: Crown Publishers, 2012).

-- Michael Dobbs, Saboteurs: The Nazi Raid in America (New York: Vintage, 2005).

-- Rita Kramer, Flames in the Field: The Story of Four SOE Agents in Occupied France (New York: Penguin Books, 1995).

-- Callum MacDonald, The Killing of Reinhard Heydrich, the SS Butcher of Prague (Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 1998).

Students are encouraged to order low-cost used versions of these books on line before the semester starts. In addition, students are expected to read and study short handouts to be distributed in class. All handouts and notes for most lectures and/or discussions will be available for review on the course WEB page. The WEB page also includes references and links to relevant materials that may assist students writing papers. Books marked with an asterisk(*) above are also available in on-line full-text versions, with links below. All links are to PDF files in Adobe Acrobat format (these require a free reader, available here).

Week 1

Wednesday, 5 September. Introduction.

DISCUSSION: What is espionage? Intelligence as a force multiplier

Related (not required) Materials

Aleksandr Orlov, Handbook of Intelligence and Guerilla Warfare (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1963).

Week 2           Prelude: The 1930s

Monday, 10 September. On the Eve of War

READ for DISCUSSION: John H. Waller, The Unseen War in Europe: Espionage and Conspiracy in the Second World War (New York: Random House, 1996), 3-59.


Related (not required) Materials
(1) John W. M. Chapman, “A Dance on Eggs: Intelligence and the 'Anti-Comintern',” Journal of Contemporary History, Volume 22, Number 2, Intelligence Services during the Second World War (April, 1987), pp. 333-372.


(2) Geoffrey Roberts, Stalin’s Wars: From World War to Cold War, 1939-1953 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006). 

Wednesday, 12 September. Japanese Intrigues: Prelude to War in the Soviet Middle East

READ for DISCUSSION: READ: Jeffrey Burds, “The Soviet War against ‘Fifth Columnists:’ The Case of Chechnya, 1942-1944,” Journal of Contemporary History, Volume 42, Number 2 (April 2007), excerpts from pp. 267, 273-282.

READ: Hiroaki Kuromiya and Georges Mamoulia , “Anti-Soviet Subversion: The Caucasian-Japanese Nexus, 1929-1945,” Europe-Asia Studies (October 2009).

Related Materials

(1) Carl Boyd, Hitler’s Japanese Confidant: General Oshima Hiroshi and Magic Intelligence, 1941-1945 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1993).

(2) Brock Millman, “Toward War with Russia: British Naval and Air Planning for Conflict in the Near East, 1939–40,” Journal of Contemporary History 29(2) (April 1994): 261–83. [Operation Pike; France 1940]

(3) Talbot Imlay, “Mind the Gap: The Perception and Reality of Communist Sabotage of French War Production during the Phoney War 1939-1940,” Past & Present, No. 189 (Nov., 2005), pp. 179-224.


1-page paper topic proposals due.


Week 3           1939-1941

Monday, 17 September. Chamberlin, Munich, and Stalin’s About-Face; World War II

READ: Stalin’s Espionage Networks on the Eve of World War II

Wednesday, 19 September. Barbarossa & Stalin

READ: L. Dvoinikh and N. Tarkhova, “What Military Intelligence Reported Historians Have a Chance to Analyze: Soviet Intelligence Dispatches on the Eve of War,” in Bruce W. Menning, ed. At the Threshold of War: The Soviet High Command in 1941 in Russian Studies in History: A Journal of Translations Volume 36, Number 3 (Winter 1997-98), pp. 77-93.

Related Materials

(1) David E. Murphy, What Stalin Knew: the Enigma of Barbarossa (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005).

(2) Gabriel Gorodetsky, Grand Delusion: Stalin and the German Invasion of Russia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999).

(3) David Faber, Munich, 1938: Appeasement and World War II (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2009).

Week 4 Intelligence Wars in the Pacific

Monday, 24 September. The U.S. & Pearl Harbor

READ: Peter Kahn, “The Intelligence Failure of Pearl Harbor,” Foreign Affairs Volume 70, Number 5 (Winter, 1991): 138-152.

READ: Ken Kotani, Japanese Intelligence in World War II (Oxford: Osprey, 2009), pp. 55-58, 76-86.

Related Materials

(1) Brian Villa and Timothy Wilford, “Signals intelligence and Pearl Harbor: The state of the question,” Intelligence and National Security, Volume 21, Issue 4 (2006): 520-556.


Wednesday, 26 September. The Battle at Midway


READ: Stephen Budiansky, "Prologue: Midway," in Battle of Wits: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in World War II (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000), pp. 1-24.


READ: Ken Kotani, Japanese Intelligence in World War II (Oxford: Osprey, 2009), pp. 86-90.


Related Materials

(1) John Prados, Combined Fleet Decoded: The Secret History of American Intelligence and the Japanese Navy in World War II (New York: Random House, 1995).

(2) Rear Admiral Edwin T. Layton, U.S.N.R. (Retired), “And I Was There. . .” Pearl Harbor and Midway, Breaking the Secrets (New York: Quill, 1985), selections.


3-page bibliographies due.


Week 5 Reversals

Monday, 1 October. Our Man in Tokyo: Richard Sorge and the Moscow Counter-Offensive

READ: Robert Whymant, Stalin’s Spy: Richard Sorge and the Tokyo Espionage Ring (London: I. B. Tauris, 1996), pp. 220-238.

Related Materials

(1) Alvin D. Coox, “The Lesser of Two Hells: NKVD General K. S. Lyushkov’s Defection to Japan, 1938-1945,” The Journal of Slavic Military Studies Part One Volume 11, Number 3 (1998): 145-186; Part Two Volume 11, Number 4 (1998): 72-110. 


(2) Genrikh Borovik, The Philby Files: The Secret Life of Master Spy Kim Philby (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1994). Part 1 Part 2

Wednesday, 3 October. Operation Daybreak: The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Butcher of Prague

READ: Callum MacDonald, The Killing of Reinhard Heydrich, the SS Butcher of Prague (Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 1998).

Before class, SEE the film: Flame & Citron (Danish with English subtitles, 2008)
[Also available on Netflix streaming]

Related Materials

(1) Frantisek Moravec, Master of Spies: The Memoirs of General Frantisek Moravec (New York: Doubleday, 1975).


(2) Michael Fedornak, PARTIZAN: The Heroic Story of Michael Fedornak, American-Born Rusyn Spy Behind Enemy Lines and the Iron Curtain (Ellsworth, Maine: Downeast Graphics, 1998).


Week 6  The Battle for Britain

Monday, 8 October. Columbus Day. No class.

Wednesday, 10 October. British Deception & ULTRA

READ: Ben Macintyre, Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies, pp. 1-162.

SEE FILM: Eye of the Needle (1981)
Based on a novel by Ken Follett, this is a very effective portrayal of the daunting task of fighting German spies in Great Britain during the war. Operation Fortitude was the massive counter-intelligence operation undertaken by the Allies during World War II. The goal of the operation was to divert German military troops from Normandy, the site of Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of France. If the German OKW (High Command, Oberkommando der Wehrmacht) were convinced that the invasion was to come at Calais, those resources would not be able to reach the battlefield, blocked by the Seine river.

To that end, the Allies created the fictitious First United States Army Group (FUSAG), positioned in southern England, near the Pas de Calais. FUSAG looked like a massive concentration of troops—at least, from an aerial photograph. At ground level, FUSAG could be made for what it really was: a charade. The allies in this way wanted to move the German attention towards the fictitious battleground rather than on their actual military base.

            In the film, German spy Henry Faber discovers the truth of the British-American deception and races to inform Berlin.


An inflatable Sherman tank, part of the strategic deception in Operation Overlord

Related Materials

(1) Ben Macintyre, Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2007).

(2) Monro MacCloskey, Secret Air Missions: Counterinsurgency Operations in Southern Europe (New York: Richard Rosens, 1966).



Monday, 15 October. CICERO

READ: Süleyman Seydi, “The Intelligence War in Turkey during the Second World War: A Nazi Spy on British Premises in Istanbul,” Middle Eastern Studies Volume 40, Number 3 (May 2004): 75-85.

OPTIONAL FILM: Five Fingers: A Man Called Cicero (1952)

Related Materials

(1) Richard Wires, The Cicero Spy Affair: German Access to British Secrets in World War II (New York: Praeger, 1999).

(2) Barry Rubin, Istanbul Intrigues: Espionage, Sabotage and Diplomatic Treachery in the Spy Capital of WWII (New York: Pharos Books, 1991).

(3) David H. Price, Anthropological Intelligence: The Deployment and Neglect of American Anthropology in the Second World War (Duke University Press, 2008).

Wednesday, 17 October. Red Orchestra/Black Orchestra

READ: Robert W. Stephan, Stalin's Secret War: Soviet Counterintelligence Against the Nazis, 1941-1945 (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas, 2003), pp. 87-120, 153-174.

READ: David Kahn, [“MAX: Germany's Greatest Spy in the East,”] Hitler's Spies: German Military Intelligence in World War II (New York; Collier Books, 1978), pp. 312-317, 367-369.

Related Materials

(1) V. E. Tarrant, The Red Orchestra (Wiley, 1996).

(2) Anne Nelson, The Red Orchestra: The Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of Friends Who Resisted Hitler (New York: Random House, 2009).


Week 8           France

Monday, 22 October. The Spy War in Occupied France

READ: Rita Kramer, Flames in the Field: The Story of Four SOE Agents in Occupied France (New York: Penguin Books, 1995). (Luthman)


See Film: Women of the Shadows


Text Box: The standard kit for British Special Operations
Executive Agents.
Related Materials


(1) Simon Kitson, The Hunt for Nazi Spies: Fighting Espionage in Vichy France (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).

(2) Elizabeth P. McIntosh, Sisterhood of Spies: The Women of the OSS (Naval Institute Press, 2009).

Wednesday, 24 October. Eisenhower and the Intelligence War in Europe

READ: Stephen E. Ambrose, “Eisenhower and the Intelligence Community in World War II,” Journal of Contemporary History Volume 16, Number 1 (January 1981): 153-166.

Optional Reading: Helene Deschamps-Adams, “Behind Enemy Lines in France,” in George C. Chalou, ed., The Secrets War: The Office of Strategic Services in World War II (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1992), 140-164.

Related Materials

(1) Russell Miller, Behind the Lines: The Oral History of Special Operations in World War II (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2002).

(2) Ian Valentine, Station 43: Audley End House and SOE’s Polish Section (Phoenix Mill: Sutton Publishing, 2004).

Week 9 America and the Soviet Union

Monday, 29 October. Nazi Sabotage in America

READ: Michael Dobbs, Saboteurs: The Nazi Raid in America (New York: Vintage, 2005).

Related Materials

(1) Ladislas Farago, The Game of the Foxes the Untold Story of German Espionage in the United States and Great Britain During World War II (New York: David McKay, 1971).

(2) William Breuer, Hitler's Undercover War: The Nazi Espionage Invasion of the U.S.A (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989).

(3) Thomas D. Schoonover and Louis A. Perez Jr., Hitler's Man in Havana: Heinz Luning and Nazi Espionage in Latin America (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2008).

(4) Perry Biddiscombe, “The problem with glass houses The Soviet recruitment and deployment of SS men as spies and saboteurs,” Intelligence and National Security (London) Vol. 15, No. 3 (2000): 131-145.

Wednesday, 31 October. No class meeting.


Week 10 Deception Operations

Monday, 5 November. Deception & Overlord

READ: Ben Macintyre, Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies, pp. 163-358.

Optional Film: The Man Who Never Was (1956)
Clifton Webb stars in this fascinating account of a daring intelligence operation designed to mislead the Nazis prior to the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily. In an effort to convince the Germans to redeploy their defenses, Lt. Commander Montagu (Webb) creates a false English officer and fabricates letters that indicate the British intend to land in Greece. Montagu than plants these documents on a dead man and orchestrates the “discovery” of this “officer” on the coast of Spain, Knowing the papers will fall into German hands. What follows is a taut cat-and mouse game as British Intelligence waits for Berlin to respond, then races to stay one step ahead of the Nazi agent dispatched to determine if the dead man is genuine. This true story of ingenious deception is a riveting tale of wartime espionage.

Related Materials

(1)   Ewan Montagu, The Man Who Never Was: World War II’s Boldest Counter-Intelligence Operation (1953).

(2) Colin Beavan, Operation Jedburgh: D-Day and America’s First Shadow War (New York: Penguin, 2007).


Wednesday, 7 November. Covert Operations on the Eastern Front; Shellenberg & Operation Zeppelin

READ: Perry Biddiscombe, Unternehmen Zeppelin: The Deployment of SS Saboteurs and Spies in the Soviet Union, 1942-1945,” Europe-Asia Studies Volume 52, Number 6 (2000): 1115-1142.

Related Materials

(1) Walter Schellenberg, The Labyrinth: Memoirs of Walter Schellenberg, Hitler’s Chief of Counterintelligence (Da Capo Press, 2000).

(2) Franz Kurowski, The Brandenburger Commandos: Germany's Elite Warrior Spies in World War II (Stackpole Books, 2005).


German interrogation of a Soviet partisan, 1943


Week 11

Monday, 12 November. 20 July 1944: The Plot to Kill Hitler

READ: P. R. J. Winter, “British Intelligence and the July Bomb Plot of 1944: A Reappraisal,” War in History Volume 13, Number 4 (2006): 468-494.

SEE FILM: Valkyrie (2008)
A very accurate portrayal of the July 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler and its aftermath.

Related Materials

(1) Mary Ellen Reese, General Reinhard Gehlen (George Mason University Press, 1990).

(2) Stephen Budiansky, Battle of Wits: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in World War II (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000).


Wednesday, 14 November. Covert Operations in the Pacific Theater

READ: James R. Ward, “The Activities of Detachment 101 of the OSS,” in George C. Chalou, ed., The Secrets War: The Office of Strategic Services in World War II  (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1992), 318-327.

Related Materials

(1) Larry Alexander, Shadows in the Jungle: The Alamo Scouts Behind Japanese Lines in World War II (New York: NAL Calibre, 2009).

(2) Roger Hilsman, American Guerrilla: My War behind Japanese Lines (Potomac Books, 2005).

(3) Dan Pinck, Journey to Peking: A Secret Agent in Wartime China (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2003).

Week 12

Monday, 19 November. No class meeting.


Wednesday, 21 November. Thanksgiving recess. No class meeting.


Week 13

Monday, 26 November. FINAL PRESENTATIONS 1

Wednesday, 28 November. FINAL PRESENTATIONS 2

Week 14

Monday, 3 December. FINAL PRESENTATIONS 3

Wednesday, 5 December. FINAL PRESENTATIONS 4

Revised drafts of papers are due on line by noon on Wednesday, 12 December. All course work is due at this time.

There is no final examination in this course.