This edited article about the V.1 rocket or ‘Doodlebug’ originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 715 published on 27 September 1975.
A single message can earn immortal fame for a spy. His career can sometimes last for years without incident: then, suddenly, comes the “big event” – the one which makes all the lurking, watching and waiting worthwhile.
For Frenchman Michel Hollard the big event came with Hitler’s decision to launch the pilotless V.1 rockets – called “Doodle Bugs” by the people of southern England – against Britain. The British Secret Service knew something about the V.1 rockets. What they wanted to know more precisely was exactly where the rockets would come from. The answer was to be supplied by Michel Hollard.
Hollard was in Rouen in 1943 when he overheard a conversation about some unusual building construction that the Germans were supervising in northern France. Posing as a workers’ welfare officer, he asked some carefully framed questions about the site, and discovered that it was about 20 miles away.
To get on to the site, Hollard decided, he would need to be something more appropriate than a welfare officer. So he cycled to the construction, found a wheelbarrow and, filling it with bricks, he joined in with the workers.
What he saw on the site was a strip of concrete about 50 yards (45 metres) long, pointing northwards towards England.
Hollard didn’t stay to make his presence felt by asking too many questions. He had already made contact with the British Intelligence forces in neutral Switzerland, and now he hurried off to make a clandestine border crossing and report his findings.
Already rumours of a new German secret weapon had filtered through Intelligence sources and the report from Hollard provided the missing link. Germany had a pilotless plane – the V.1 rocket – that, filled with high explosives, could be directed into the heart of London.
Military experts quickly deduced that an embryonic rocket was a comparatively easy thing to render harmless, if only it could be spotted and reached in time. In fact, “Doodle Bugs” were made inoperable in flight in 1944 by Spitfires which simply flipped them over with their wing tips and sent them crashing down into open country.
But before that could be done, it was vital to know the V.1 launching pads in northern France, so that the skyways could be constantly monitored and defensive action could be speedily taken.
Who could find the other launching pads, besides the one 20 miles from Rouen which Hollard had found?
Hollard himself had no doubts about his continuing the operation. He would undertake to locate all the sites and map their positions.
With four accomplices, all riding bicycles and carrying maps, Hollard detected and mapped nearly 100 of the V.1 rocket sites. To add to this tremendous achievement, Hollard obtained from a French building worker, the plans showing constructional details of the sites.
His shoulder bag was bulging with all this information when he set off again on his bicycle for the Swiss frontier. But, as he was crossing the border, Hollard felt a searing pain in his knees as he was thrown to the ground.
The pain was caused by the vice-like jaws of a German patrol dog which had sprung at him. And it was a dog which was trained not to relax its grip until the German soldiers who were its masters arrived on the scene.
Gasping with pain, Hollard managed to pick up a sturdy stick. Working it between the dog’s ferocious jaws, he pushed deep into the windpipe. For a long time nothing happened – then the dog collapsed, and its jaws fell limp.
Hollard dashed for the wire, hearing, as he did so, the click of a rifle being cocked. He looked up, expecting to see the weapon exploding in his direction. Instead he saw a Swiss sentry aiming his rifle at two German soldiers who were coming up behind Hollard. The Germans saw the Swiss, too, and silently turned round and went away.
Once again Hollard made his way to the British Secret Service in Switzerland, where his report had a devastating effect on the later course of the war in Britain. R.A.F. planes struck so hard at the rocket sites that not one of the 50,000 Doodle Bugs that Hitler planned to rain on London in 1943 left their launch pads. The following year only 2,000 got across the South coast.
Even those 2,000 were a grave peril, as anyone who was in Britain in 1944 remembers. Fifty times as many – the least number Britain could have received but for Michel Hollard – would have been utterly devastating.
General Dwight Eisenhower, who led the Allied D-Day assault on Europe, was so impressed with the rockets that he declared: “If the Germans had succeeded in using these new weapons six months earlier than they did, the invasion of Europe would have proved extremely difficult, if not impossible.”
That the Germans failed and southern England was saved was due entirely to Michel Hollard, whose hatred of the Nazis drove him to take a job as a travelling representative in occupied France, so that he could have the freedom to move about on his spying missions and to cross the Swiss border to report his findings.
For Princess Chalow, a Second World War spy on the other side of the world from the European conflict, the single message that brought her fame in the annals of espionage was much more simple than Michel Hollard’s, but for her country of Siam, just as important.
Princess Chalow was in Bangkok, the capital, early in 1942 when she was contacted by Major Surit, of the Siam (or Thailand, as it is now called) War Department. It was only a few weeks after the Japanese had invaded Thailand, and the message that the Major asked the Princess to get through to London was about the invasion.
“Tell them we signed the treaty of friendship with Japan under duress; that we did not do it of our own free will,” the major said.
The Japanese invasion had occurred when Japan, anxious to strike at Malaya and Singapore, demanded from the Thais that their troops should be allowed to cross Thailand.
Since they were incapable of resisting the Japanese, the Thais were obliged to agree. But after the invaders had poured through the country they left four divisions in Thailand – and then ordered the Thais to sign a treaty of friendship with them.
The treaty horrified the Thais but again, since they had no forces to resist, they had to do as they were told. But it was imperative to let the British and Americans know that they were forced to sign – and that therefore British and American forces, and agents, would be made welcome by the Thais whenever the Japanese were looking the other way.
This was the task of Princess Chalow. The daughter of the Prince of Lamp’un, she was known as the Rose of Lamp’un, and she was one of the most beautiful of all the women in Thailand. She spoke English and Japanese – both of which she was to need on her incredible espionage journey to London.
For the first part of the journey – by a military plane to Chiengrai in Western Thailand – she was accompanied by Major Surit. No problems were expected, for the Japanese had not yet occupied that part of the country.
But as the light plane descended over Chiengrai, airport workers were already laying out sheets on the runway to guide incoming Japanese planes. And those planes were flying only minutes, not days as had been thought, behind the Princess’s aircraft.
With every minute counting in the race to beat the enemy, the Princess took an elephant, with two guides, on the next stage of her journey – a six-day trek through the steaming jungle.
By the evening of the sixth day she was only a few miles from the Thai-Burma border when a Japanese patrol suddenly stepped out of the jungle.
With machine-guns poised, the officer-in-charge ordered the Princess to halt.
“Who are you and where are you going?” the officer demanded.
The Princess knew that one false move now would lead to her arrest, torture and execution. Suddenly she was seized with inspiration.
“I am a Siamese Princess,” she replied. “And I am going to visit my cousin, the Sawba of Kentung.”
The Japanese officer thought for a moment and then, mindful of his orders not to upset the local people, he allowed her to proceed.
Sighing inaudibly with relief, the Princess pressed her elephant on at full pace. Soon, she knew, the Japanese patrol would make a routine check on her story and, finding out that it was false, would come after her.
That indeed is what happened. When the Japanese caught up with her the Princess, seated on the lumbering elephant, was halfway across the river that separates Thailand and Burma.
The Japanese patrol raised their rifles. Bullets whistled round Princess Chalow, singing into the water. The elephant sensing danger, swam faster, and gradually the bullets began to fall short. Then the great animal reached the Burmese side of the river and plunged to the safety of the friendly jungle.
The rest of the journey to London was uneventful and there the British learned from the royal spy that they could rely upon Thailand’s support against the Japanese.
Three more times during the war the Princess carried secret messages between Thailand, London and Washington. Each of the three countries decorated her for bravery
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