It\'s wonderful to have time now to read new Osprey books (full-time publishers characteristically spend much more time and energy on books that are on the way than on books that have arrived!) and I\'m really enjoying Deceiving Hitler, published in September. I remember the thrill of reading The Double Cross System in the War of 1939-45 when it was published in the \'70s by Yale University Press and wishing the University Press I then worked for had got in first. I didn\'t immediately appreciate that the author, J C Masterman\'s University Press of choice would naturally have been Oxford rather than Cambridge, and that he had gone to the USA and Yale because the British Government and security services were firmly opposing the book\'s publication in the UK! Some years later I got just a taste of the fun we might have had, when Heinemann Australia published Peter Wright\'s Spycatcher: The candid autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer, a rather less distinguished and much racier account of post-war counter-espionage operations.I remember a couple of Group Board meetings where the progress of the Australian project was the main agenda item (much more interesting than the massive debts racked up by Heinemann Educational in Nigeria, which were generally the most time-consuming topic).This was another book that was emphatically not to the British Government\'s liking and it could only be published in Australia after two years of futile legal wrangling to try and prevent it. There was a nice frisson when the Group MD voiced his suspicion that “our fax traffic was being read” (well, we were no longer using telex...), glancing significantly up at a dud lightbulb in the musty chandelier that hung over the Mayfair boardroom table. Meanwhile, down under, the Australian MD, Sandy Grant, a robust Republican, was having the time of his life!

Masterman was a key architect of the greatest counter-espionage and deception campaign of all time in his role as Chairman of the Twenty (XX) Committee. This ultra-secret element of MI5 had three main objectives, which it consistently achieved from 1940 through to 1945:

1)     to keep our agents sufficiently well fed with accurate information so as not to lose the confidence of the enemy,

2)     to control as many of the enemy\'s agents in this country as we can in order to make them feel that the ground is covered and,

3)     by careful study of the questionnaires, to mislead the enemy on a big scale at the appropriate moment.

This was possible for two reasons. Ultra (the codename for intelligence derived from the decryption of Axis codes) enabled the Allies to read all the enemy\'s communications, and MI5 had uncovered and taken control of all the spy rings known to be active in Britain.These were used with great ingenuity to feed their controllers a continuous stream of information and disinformation to mislead the German command about Allied plans and operations, and about the effectiveness or otherwise of their own.Alongside the donnish Masterman, a fine cricketer, Terry Crowdy parades and tells the stories of wonderful characters like Colonel Robin “Tin Eye” Stephens, monocled ace-interrogator and turner of agents, Guy Liddell, one of the “grey men” with a “deceptively ruminative manner” that did not deceive the infamous Kim Philby, and the double agents themselves.These, codenamed, included Tate, Mutt & Jeff, Tricycle (real name Dusko Popov), Artist, Freak (Count Nicholas Ruda, who distinguished himself by getting infested with lice in a Madrid brothel, doubtless in the line of duty), Zigzag (“safe breaker, womaniser, adventurer”, really looking the part!), Treasure (Lily Sergueiev, whose close attachment to her dog jeopardised D-Day) and the great Garbo.I could vaguely remember some of them from Masterman\'s book and other reading, but Terry Crowdy adds a load of human and narrative detail to their stories, and the amazing saga of the Double Cross operation.There are also some wonderful sub-plots involving the use of decoys and camouflage, creating whole squadrons of plywood aircraft and inflatable tanks, or simulated bombing damage, and deceptions like Mincemeat and Copperhead, replayed in two great old movies, “The man who never was” and “I was Monty\'s Double”

Meanwhile, across the channel, the SOE were taking the secret war into occupied Europe. Heroes like Roger Landes knew their average life expectancy was three months as they parachuted in.Complementing Deceiving Hitler, and an excellent companion to his Warrior 117 French Resistance Fighter: France\'s Secret Army Terry\'s latest Osprey Series title is published this month: Warrior 133 SOE Agent: Churchill\'s Secret Warriors. I\'m looking forward to it!