Edinburgh Waverley, 9PM, Sept. 30 1940. A man lingers in the shadows by a bookstall, a hand in his pocket. He watches the left luggage counter, waiting anxiously. He steps forward and in the same instant is caught in a vice-like grip.
For Werner Walti, the war is over.
The porter who has accosted him propels him into the luggage office, at the same time twisting the arm from the pocket to reveal a Mauser pistol. The man cries out, “I am not German, I am Swiss!”
14 hours previously, a cold and wet Werner Walti appeared out of the morning darkness at the tiny Buckpool Station on Scotland’s Moray coast, clutching a two damp cases. In a foreign accent he enquired where he was (the station signs had been removed), and when the next train to Aberdeen was.
On finding out he had just missed it, he was directed to Buckie Station, a mile up the line, where he could catch the 9:58 to Aberdeen. He was told to take the bus, but tried to buy his 2d fair with a 10/- note and the clippie could not give him change. At 07:45 he presents himself at Buckie station and purchases a ticket via Aberdeen to Edinburgh. With 2 hours to wait, he occupies himself staring at the timetables in minute detail. “Have you lost a train sir?” enquires the porter. Flustered, he shows his ticket and leaves.
At that same time, a few miles to the west in Port Gordon, PC Robert Grieve – irked at being awakened from his bed so early in the morning – is on the telephone to his superior at Buckie to break the news: He has two German spies in his custody!
The suspicions of John Donald, stationmaster at Port Gordon, were aroused when two bedraggled foreigners arrived at his station first thing that morning and asked where they were. Checking a map, they bought 2 tickets to Forres. John Donald noticed the wad of notes they paid from. John Donald’s suspicious were further aroused as they were very wet below the knees, their clothes stained white with salt. Alarm bells really rang for John Donald when one of the pair pulled a large sausage from his pocket and began cutting and eating slices from it with a knife.
John Donald sent for PC Grieve who promptly arrived to inspect papers. The couple, a man and a woman, presented refugee identity cards. But Grieve was not satisfied; why were the cards not stamped? Why were they completed in European style handwriting with the 7s crossed through? Inspector Simpson is sent for from Buckie and arrives to search the suspects. He noted the identity cards were numbered consecutively. He noted the 19 rounds of pistol ammunition; £327 in bank notes; a list of RAF bases; a torch marked “Made in Bohemia”; and a German sausage.
Forcing open the couple’s suitcase, Simpson finds a loaded Mauser pistol, a morse radio set and encoding wheels. Francois de Deeker and Vera Erikson – as their papers identify them – are placed under arrest, and the Inspector phones his superiors, who phone their superiors. Far off in Edinburgh, Peter Perfect’s telephone soon rang. It was Banffshire Constabulary and after a brief conversation he jumped into his car and set off at once for Buckie, a 5.5 hour drive away. Peter Perfect was not just a great name, he was MI5’s top man in Scotland.
A few hours later, Peter Perfect is on the road and Werner Walti, newly arrived in Aberdeen, boards the Edinburgh train. Back in Banffshire, coastguards on the beach between Port Gordon and Buckie are hauling ashore a rubber raft, near where the Gollachy Burn enters Spey Bay.
Peter Perfect arrives in Buckie to be presented with the raft, and with Vera Erikson now claiming to be Vera de Cottain Chalbur, that her companion is a German agent that she is to guide to London, and that if Perfect will only phone Captain King in London, he will vouch for her.
Vera also reveals that there’s another spy on the loose in northern Scotland! A search of the shore turns up his foreign-made rubber boots. A full-blown spy hunt swings in to operation. It’s not long before staff at Buckpool and Buckie station are telling of their curious passenger
“Which way did he go?” To Aberdeen. The phone wires buzz once more and soon the Police in that city question the station staff there. Yes, a man answering that description got off the late-running 1004 from Buckie and yes, he joined the lunchtime express to Edinburgh. He doesn’t know it yet, but the noose is silently tightening around Werner Walti’s neck. But for now he is free, and on arriving at Waverley he leaves his suitcase at left luggage and heads off into the city. 40 minutes later, the telephone rings at Police HQ in Edinburgh.
It is now 10 past 5 in the evening, and Detective Superintendent William Merrilees, head of CID, is furious that he is only just finding out now that he has a spy on the loose in his city. Every spare man is at once sent out to make enquiries, Merrilees himself heads to Waverley station.
Merrilees is a policeman with a fearsome reputation. A former shipyard worker, “Wee Willie” is comically short, missing the fingers on his left hand and is completely fearless. A one-time prize boxer, with a “fist like a stone mallet”, he strikes first and asks questions later. He is patient in a stakeout and a master of disguise, having honed his skills in the city’s vice squad tackling “shebeening”, street prostitution, flashers and high class brothels. He also waged an uncompromising, self-declared one-man “war on homosexuality” in the city.
At Waverley, the police quickly track down Walti’s suitcase, it is damn, and has traces of sand and salt on it. A board attendant is found who had carried it there for a passenger – a porter’s job – in the hope of a tip, and describes the owner as matching the man at Buckie. Merrilees wastes no more time and forces the case open to reveal a wireless transmitter. That is all the evidence he needs, and he fills the station with plainclothes officers, pairing them up with WVS women so that they look less conspicuous.
He himself finds a suitably short railway porter – Thomas Ferguson – and borrows his uniform. He and the board attendant – Thomas Cameron, aged 17 -take up position near the left luggage counter and wait. And wait. And wait, for three long hours.
A few minutes before 9PM, a hesitant Werner Walti starts down Waverley Steps towards the station. He has wandered the cold, damp city for hours, blending in with the crowds. He has looked in the windows of numerous restaurants, and although he is hungry he feels too sick to eat.
In the station, Walti lingers near the left luggage office for a few minutes. Is that porter looking at him? He spots the board attendant who had helped him earlier that day and – piqued with a temporary confidence – he strides up to the desk to reclaim his suitcase.
As he does so, it is no porter who accosts him, it is “Wee Willie” Merilees, who is quickly joined by fellow detectives of the Edinburgh Police: Detective Lieutenant Cormack, Detective Inspector Sutherland and Detective Sergeant Swan. Thinking they have disarmed their suspect, they turn their attention to his possessions, held in a small briefcase; Walti has other ideas and pulls a concealed knife on his captors, but he is quickly disarmed by Constable McCowan and Reservist Fair. With the suspect now properly restrained, they turn back to his briefcase and possessions. Every item is more incriminating than the rest. There is more pistol ammunition; £190 in Bank if England Notes; a British ID card; a forged Swiss passport with no immigration stamps.
There is a compass; various pills; 11 maps of Scotland and England, marking “Flugplatz” (airfields) and overprinted with Luftwaffe target grids. There are code books and there is a sheaf of graph paper marked the property of the Commanding Officer of the Luftwaffe in Norway!
Walti and his “My First German Spy Kit” are bundled into the nearest vehicle – an Ambulance – and taken to Police Headquarters. Before it had ever got going, Operation Brummer 1 Nord has been nipped in the bud by the Railwaymen of Banffshire and the Scottish Polis.
So who were these 3 damp, unhappy individuals who appeared to have washed up on the north coast of Scotland without a clue and without a hope? And how did they come to be there? Winding the clock back 24hrs and crossing the North Sea to Stavanger in occupied Norway, 3 individuals, Robert Petter (AKA Werner Walti), Karl Drücke (AKA Francois de Deeker) and Vera Schalburg (AKA Vera Ericson) climb the ladder from a small boat into a Luftwaffe He 115 seaplane
Things were already not going well. The weather has put them a few days behind schedule and all are sore; last night the car they were in crashed and their companion and leader – Abwehr agent Capt. Hans Dierks lies dead on a Norwegian mortuary slab as a result. A few hours later and a few hundred miles across the North Sea, they clamber into their inflatable boat on the dark, choppy waters of Spey Bay. 3 bicycles follow from the plane and – threatening to swap the dinghy – are promptly tossed overboard, as the seaplane takes off for Norway
They are dropped near the coast, but with only folding paddles and working against the wind and currents it takes them four hours to get near enough to the shore to wade onto the beach, wet and bedraggled and with no bicycles and no clue where they are. Shivering on the beach, they share a quick snack of apples and some German sausage and decide to split up on foot and find railway stations. Walti heads east for Buckpool; de Deeker and Ericson head west for Port Gordon.
Less than 24 hours later, all three find themselves reunited in unfortunate circumstances at Edinburgh Police HQ, about to head south under armed guard to face Lt. Col. W. Edward Hinchley-Cooke, the German-educated top interrogator of the British Secret Service.
In London, shortly thereafter, the printing presses of the “Daily Herald” will clatter into action and print a front-page story that will ultimately seal the fate of two of the three agents. They are the only paper to print it, and they never should have.
Under interrogation, de Deeker (Drücke) gives up little. It’s not that he is a master at resisting Hinchley-Cooke’s inquisition, it’s just that he has very little to tell. Walti is similarly uncooperative, but eventually gives a statement in German to confirm how he arrived.
One interesting fact that Hinchley-Cooke extracts from Walti is the codeword he was to give his handler in London – “I am coming from Glasgow”. Walti can have no idea that his handler was SNOW, a chain-smoking Welsh Nationalist and a British double agent.
Vera Erikson, aka de Cottain Chalbur, aka Schalburg on the other hand is talking for her life. The Captain King that she asked Peter Perfect to contact is none other than Max Knight, head of MI5’s counter-subversion division. Max Knight is none other than they legendary “M”. Before the war, Vera – a Russian exile – had worked in a Mayfair hairdressers and had been on the payroll of “M”, passing on low-grade society gossip picked up during her work. She is of little real intelligence value, but is desperate to save her neck and agrees to cooperate.
A secret memo soon seals the fate of Walti. As the press has already blown his existence, and as he is uncooperative and possibly suicidal, it is decided to make an example of him and hand him over to Capt. Hancock-Nunn, for prosecution under the Treachery Act, 1940.
de Deeker is even less helpful than Walti and is given the same fate. Both are sent to the ominous sounding Camp 020 to await trial. They say little at Bow Street Magistrate’s Court when they are charged; without legal representation and understanding little of what was happening. In June 1941, both are tried by jury infront of Justice Cyril Asquith. Both enter a plea of not guilty. The trial is paused for a day as both Asquith and the Solicitor General are unhappy that neither man have legal representation, and agree they should have it.
The court agrees to pay for barristers for each man out of the reams of notes confiscated off of them by the Scottish police – currently sitting amongst the exhibits in that very court room. Walti will be represented by J. C. Whitebrook. An attempt at a fair trial is made – but neither defendant helps themselves and both repeatedly contradict and perjure themselves, perhaps due to their lack of comprehension of the language and what is actually happening. On June 16th 1941, both are found guilty. Appeals fail. A simple note inserted in Walti’s file records his fate. de Deeker suffers the same. The hangman is Albert Pierrepoint, who will hang 15 German spies during the war and post-war, Lord Haw-Haw and 226 Nazi war-criminals
Vera Schalburg saves herself by talking freely and readily agrees to be “turned”, thus becomes a double-agent. She is sent into internment on the Isle of Man to spy on her fellow captives. Here she will contract pneumonia, from which she will die after the war in Hamburg aged 31.
In 1942, the Edinburgh Evening News is given permission to print 3 simple paragraphs referring to the fate of Werner Walti. His file in the National Archive records that repeated requests by the paper to run the full story are turned down by MI5, well into the 1950s.
The Operation Brummer missions were an unmitigated, amateurish failure. As is Operation Lena – the overarching German mission to insert agents into Britain. Operation Sealion, the invasion for which they are meant to gather intelligence, will never take place.
Abwehr’s bumbling spying attempts against Britain were a complete disaster. Every single agent they sent was captured and either executed or turned under the Double-Cross System, which did untold, irreparable damage to the Nazi war effort.
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I find it odd that the Germans who were so formidable in other aspects of warfare were so inept when it came to spying. Their codes for example, were incredibly hard to crack and we know they had decent maps of the UK. All this makes me think that a) the Germans must have had some much better spies possibly members of the Anglo-German Fellowship etc and b) British agents must have been involved in similarly botched operations in German territory… and that we probably don’t hear about either.