Named by MI5 for comic strip characters, two Nazi spies working for Britain proved that espionage is serious business
Late in the evening of April 6, 1941, a twin-engine seaplane took off from the city of Stavanger on Norway’s southwest coast. On board were two Norwegian-born German secret agents, John Moe and Tor Glad. A little over three hours later, the plane touched down off the northeastern tip of Scotland. The breeze was strong and the sea rough, so the spies had difficulty climbing from the seaplane into the rubber boat below. It took the pair three hours to paddle to shore, their boat weighed down by their gear: two bicycles, two suitcases, and a wireless set. Dressed in a navy blue ski suit and rubber boots, each man carried a revolver, as well as a stash of British pounds and American dollars.
The two Nazi agents reached the shore at Crovie Bay a little after 4 a.m. and lay on the beach for a few minutes, recovering from their exertions. The German intelligence service had instructed them to cut the rubber boat into small pieces and throw them into the sea, then bury the wireless set until they were sure they had escaped detection. The pair ignored both directives. Instead, wheeling their bicycles across the sand, they headed toward a whitewashed cottage they could just make out in the gray dawn.
The cottage belonged to Francis Reid, an elderly fisherman already up and about. He opened the door and listened as Moe explained that he and his companion had just come from Norway in a German seaplane. The Norwegian pointed toward the beach and told Reid where he could find their boat and wireless set. Then Moe asked directions to the nearest police station, to which Reid replied, “Gardenstown,” and pointed north. Moe thanked the fisherman, handed him a £1 note for his trouble, and set off with Glad on the road to Gardenstown.
As soon as they were out of sight Reid took the shortcut along the beach to the police station and informed the constable of his strange visitors. The constable phoned his superior, Superintendent John Mowatt, and minutes later Moe and Glad were apprehended as they leisurely cycled into Gardenstown.
“Who are you?” Mowatt demanded to know.
“John Moe,” replied the shorter of the two Norwegians, adding: “Are you the police?”
Mowatt confirmed that he was, and Moe replied:
“Ah, just the gentlemen we are looking for.”
This unlikely exchange marked the start of yet another gambit in the deadly game of cat and mouse the German and British military intelligence services, the Abwehr and MI5, had engaged in from the outset of the war. Though the Abwehr’s headquarters were in Berlin, the spy agency concentrated on British (and later American) intelligence from its Hamburg branch. It was here that the Abwehr recruited its agents. These were often non-Germans or, as a British report later put it, “Germans who are held to their work by blackmail or perhaps because they have a trace of Jewish blood or some stain in their escutcheon.”
During the invasion of the Low Countries in May and June 1940, these agents performed some good work for their German masters, finding it easy to spy among a succession of defeated and demoralized enemies. Britain presented a far more difficult challenge to the Abwehr than Holland, Belgium, or France because spies would have to arrive there by parachute or boat in remote areas where inhabitants would be wary of any strange face.
And, indeed, Britain’s MI5 proved adept not only at catching German spies, but at turning them to work against their employer. In one of the intelligence coups of the war, the spy agency astonishingly controlled all Nazi agents in Britain—some 120 men and women— and turned nearly 30 into double agents for the British (see “The Art of the Double Cross,” May 2009). Now Moe and Glad—later dubbed Mutt and Jeff by their British handlers—were offering a variation on that theme by offering themselves directly to the British as counterspies. Over the next three years they would play a small but important role in Operation Fortitude, the two-pronged plan to mislead the Nazis about where the Allies would launch their invasion of Europe; Fortitude South involved deceiving the Germans into believing the Allied forces would land in Calais in France, while Fortitude North—which swept Moe and Glad into its ambit—was designed to fool Germany into thinking Norway was the target.
Moe and Glad were quickly hustled from the remote Scottish coastal village to MI5’s interrogation center, Camp 020, on the edge of London. There they were interrogated by Major Robert Stephens, nicknamed “Tin Eye” because of the monocle he wore over his right eye. He began with Moe, explaining to him his position under the Treachery Act and “that he might improve it by co-operation with the British authorities.” Moe smiled and replied that it was with precisely that intention he had come to the country. He proceeded to tell Stephens about himself: his birth in London in 1919 to a Norwegian father and English mother, his family’s move to Oslo, the separation of his parents when he was 15, and his subsequent apprenticeship in his father’s hairdressing salon. He was still there when the Germans invaded Norway in April 1940, and it was two months later that he met Tor Glad in an Oslo restaurant.
The two hit it off, their contrasting personalities complementing one another. Moe, three years younger than Glad, was the tougher and smarter of the two, though his vanity—perhaps inherited from his opera-singer mother—made him susceptible to flattery. Of average height, Moe had a stocky build and finely etched face, a combination women found irresistible. Glad was a fraction taller and slimmer than Moe, with a tendency to be talkative.
In July 1940 Glad helped his new friend obtain a position in the German postal censorship office in Oslo. Moe later told his British interrogators that his purpose in working for the Germans was simple: he wished to “obtain information which would be of benefit to Norway and her allies.” Indeed, by the end of 1940 Moe was fired from his post by the Germans for (or so he told the British) passing on a censorship blacklist to a friend of his father’s, who in turn smuggled it to the Norwegian government exiled in London.
Moe returned to work in his father’s salon, where in December 1940 he received a visit from Glad, who told him he was now training to be a German agent. It was great fun, he said. He had already learned how to fire a gun and was being taught Morse code. The pay was good too, 500 krone a month, and Glad hoped to soon be on his way to Britain. Of course, he quickly added, the moment he arrived he would offer to work as a double agent for the British. Moe said it sounded like a great adventure and asked Glad for an introduction to the Abwehr. Acceptance as a trainee agent quickly followed—no doubt in large part because Moe could speak English with barely a trace of an accent—and throughout early 1941 he and Glad were drilled in wireless transmission and bomb preparation.
In late March they traveled from Oslo to the coastal town of Stavanger and checked into the Victoria Hotel, where a Dr. Muller was waiting for them. During the days that followed, Muller, always standing before a detailed map of Britain, briefed the Norwegians on their mission. As Moe later told his British interrogators, their “chief task was to commit acts of sabotage in food dumps, and transmit by wireless any information they could pick up regarding troop movements, the effect of air raids on civilian morale, and even weather reports.”
When Major Stephens had finished interviewing the two Norwegians he compiled a report for his superiors in which he referred to the pair by their MI5 code names: Mutt and Jeff. Named after the characters in the American comic strip of the same name, Moe was Mutt and Glad was Jeff, though neither bore much resemblance to their fictitious namesakes.
In his report Stephens wrote that a “favourable impression has been formed of Mutt. He is fairly intelligent, frank and open….There is little or nothing in Mutt’s story to show that he had any German connections or sympathies prior to his application for a job in the German censorship department.” Stephens concluded that “taking the case as a whole I think Mutt’s reliability must be accepted.”
The same could not be said of Glad, Stephens reported. There was a wayward side to Glad that troubled Stephens. Unable to hold down a job or maintain a relationship for any length of time, Glad had admitted he had voluntarily started working for the Germans in the spring of 1940, and that “he was neutral in his attitude towards the Anglo-German conflict.”
Calling Glad an “undesirable character,” Stephens concluded that “the general impression formed is that this man had done more work for the Germans than he has admitted.” He went on to express concern that Glad’s real mission could be “one of penetration with Mutt as the unwitting cover.” In other words, he thought it possible Tor Glad was a genuine German agent who had duped John Moe into believing they were going to work as double agents. Nonetheless MI5 decided that “the risk in employing [Glad] is no more than is normally contingent to double-cross work.”
The pair was installed in a suburban house in north London, unaware that their telephone was tapped and the house observed. On April 29, 1941, they made contact with the Germans via wireless, relaying the cover story MI5 had provided: On landing in Scotland, they told their German handlers, they had made their way south to Edinburgh, intent on reaching Manchester, where Moe’s grandfather lived. But on the train to Manchester, a ticket inspector had found something amiss with their identity cards. Arrest and interrogation followed, but they managed to persuade the British that they were Norwegian patriots who had sailed to Britain to join the Allied cause.
MI5 was skeptical that the Abwehr would respond to this initial transmission, but when they did—and with evident enthusiasm—the intelligence agency set about incorporating Mutt and Jeff into the double-cross system.
Their first task, codenamed Operation Pyramid, entailed Moe and Glad being sent to work at the Examination Authorities in Aberdeen in northern Scotland. Here they questioned Norwegian refugees arriving by boat, then distorted the information in wireless messages to the Germans to make them believe a highly-organized escape network was operating in Norway. The pair told the Abwehr that the network’s code symbol was a small red triangle, and that any Norwegian whose identity papers bore this symbol was a member of the organization. It was all fictitious, but later reports indicated that the Abwehr expended much time trying to smash the escape network.
Around the same time, the two spies contributed to one of the most important deceptions of the war: leading Nazi Germany to believe that the Allies were planning to invade Norway. This early groundwork contributed to the success of the D-Day landings nearly three years later, though in the meantime it was up to MI5 to maintain the Germans’ trust in Glad and Moe.
Some of Stephens’s misgivings about Glad were soon realized, however: the spy revealed himself to be indiscreet, undisciplined, and fond of a drink, which led—as an MI5 report described—to his “behaving very stupidly” one night in an Aberdeen pub. The report didn’t say what he did exactly, but it confirmed MI5’s fears that Glad was a liability. Still unsure of where his allegiance lay, MI5 decided to take no further risks and had Glad interned in a camp on the Isle of Man, off the coast of Wales. Moe then radioed the Germans that his colleague had enlisted in the Norwegian army and been posted to Iceland, where British armed forces were in the process of handing over control of the country to the American military.
With Glad safely out of the way, MI5 raised Moe’s weekly salary from 12 shillings to £7, and wrote in a report that the time had come to “go all out to push over a deception.” Although British military intelligence operatives trusted Moe, they still weren’t certain they had fooled the Germans into believing the two Norwegians had successfully deployed as secret agents on British soil. The Abwehr, in fact, had recently broken off communication with Moe, raising concerns the Germans suspected the truth. Now MI5 would test the bounds of German credulity.
Guy Fawkes was the Catholic terrorist caught as he attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament on November 5, 1605, an event commemorated annually thereafter with bonfires throughout Britain. It was also the name assigned by MI5 to an operation carried out on November 9, 1941, to persuade the Germans that Mutt and Jeff were hard at work on their behalf. On that night a member of the British intelligence services, a sergeant now known only by his surname Cole, broke into a Ministry of Food flour warehouse in Wealdstone, north London, and planted two incendiary bombs. Accompanying Cole on his sabotage mission was the borough’s police commander, who was overseeing the operation, and though he and the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police knew all about the ruse, they were obliged— as part of the deception plan to establish Moe as a saboteur—to call in the Criminal Investigation Department to investigate the case.
The investigators’ discovery that the type of explosives used in the sabotage was the same as that used by the British military intelligence services caused a few awkward questions, but MI5 refused to cooperate with the Criminal Investigation Department— which was unaware of the ruse—in its investigation and the matter was eventually dropped.
When Moe relayed to the Abwehr details of “his” act of sabotage—later confirmed in a small report in a London newspaper—the Germans reestablished contact and congratulated him on his audacity.
Encouraged, the British decided to cement the Germans’ faith in the pair by drawing out the deception. At their direction, Moe notified the Germans in January 1942 that because he had an English mother, he was being drafted into the British Army. In April that year he sent a message saying he had finished his training and was being posted to Scotland with the intelligence corps; he would only be able to transmit messages during his infrequent periods of leave to London, where his wireless was hidden in his lodgings.
Meanwhile, a British intelligence agent posing as Glad (who was still interned on the Isle of Man) radioed the Germans that he had returned from Iceland and was now stationed on the east coast of England. In October 1942, the same agent—still pretending to be Glad—reported to the Abwehr that he had burned down a military storehouse in the area (although no such incident occurred).
In January 1943, Moe reestablished regular contact with the Germans after several months of sporadic communication and asked for a second wireless transmitter to be dropped, as it was impractical for he and Glad to continue sharing just one. On the night of February 19, 1943, two German aircraft came in low over the same northeastern tip of Scotland where the two spies had landed nearly two years earlier, and dropped a small container. Inside was a new wireless transmitter and code book, two lengths of fuses for sabotage, and £200 in cash.
As Moe and the MI5 operatives congratulated one another on what they’d codenamed Operation Porridge, the German planes continued north to the town of Fraserburgh, where they carried out a hit-and-run raid on the sleeping residents. An 11-year-old boy named Laurence Kerr was killed and several others wounded in an attack that served no purpose other than to conceal the aircraft’s real mission. In the subsequent report on Operation Porridge, the MI5 wrote how the drop had been arranged with the cooperation of the chief constable of the local police force who “did not seem to resent the bombing and appeared to be quite happy about the whole thing.”
Eager to discover as much as they could about German sabotage techniques and material, MI5 planned their next ruse, code-named Operation Bunbury after a mischievous character in Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest. They ordered Moe to notify the Abwehr that he intended to sabotage an electricity generating station in Bury St. Edmunds, a market town on the east coast of England. The Norwegian asked the Germans to drop explosives for use in the attack; after the material had arrived by parachute it was studied by the counter-sabotage section of MI5, who emphasized the importance of such opportunities in a subsequent report: “Mutt and Jeff ’s information about equipment has been of constant value to this section…[and] a significant amount of the information we have circulated to various parts of the world…. The identification of equipment used by the German Secret Service can also be of value to SOE [Special Operations Executive] in determining which of their undertakings are compromised.”
MI5 then made arrangements with the Central Electricity Board for an explosive device to be planted on the pedestal bearing the generator, which caused what MI5 described as a “small and unimportant” explosion.
The Germans were triumphant when they learned of the “attack” on the installation. An extravagant communiqué on their trans-ocean radio circuit on August 23, 1943, described how a major electricity station had been destroyed: “over 150 workmen were killed and more than double that number wounded. Sabotage caused the explosion.” Another intercepted report from German intelligence included the detail that Dr. Muller, the two spies’ original contact in Norway, had been “boasting to other members of the Abwehr about their sabotage exploits.”
The final deception perpetrated on behalf of Mutt and Jeff unfolded in January 1944 and, in keeping with the whimsically-named previous operations, was called Operation Oatmeal. Another supply drop had been arranged with the Germans in the northeast of Scotland, this time with the Royal Air Force on standby to capture the German plane for examination. A succession of stormy nights grounded the Luftwaffe, and after several aborted drops the Germans cancelled the resupply. The British sensed that the Abwehr—for so long “easily satisfied and it appears easily duped,” as MI5 wrote in its review of the Mutt and Jeff case—was finally losing interest in the pair. But then, so was MI5. The war in Europe was moving toward its climax and Operation Fortitude North had succeeded, with 150,000 German troops remaining stationed in Norway to guard against an Allied attack. (Operation Fortitude South was even more successful: seven Nazi divisions were deployed to defend the Calais region of France.)
To his relief, John Moe was now free to join the Norwegian army and help in the liberation of his country. He received no medals in recognition of his work for the British, though he was given £50 from MI5 as a gift, money he used to buy his fiancée an engagement ring.
For Moe’s accomplice, Tor Glad, there was no such fond farewell. He remained interned on the Isle of Man until the end of the war on suspicion of being a German agent, a suspicion that was never proved. In May 1945 he was returned to Norway and immediately arrested by Norwegian authorities for collaboration. He was eventually released without charge in October 1947, a free but broken man. Moe always believed in his friend’s loyalty, and shortly after Glad’s liberation he wrote to MI5 asking if they might make a financial contribution to Glad’s rehabilitation. The letter received no reply.
Glad faded into obscurity, but Moe was successful in his postwar life, becoming a manager for the Scandinavian airline SAS and a father of three children. In 1994 at age 75, he was interviewed for the CBS program “D-Day: The Invasion of Normandy.” Discussing his role in Operation Fortitude, Moe said that for years he had warned the Germans that the Allies would first invade Norway, and that without the deception “the landing in Normandy couldn’t have been carried through.” His somewhat extravagant claim ended with a gentle reproof to the British for failing to honor him for his wartime work: “Now if I had been knighted for my services,” he said lightly, “I would have been wearing a tuxedo when you came for the interview. But they don’t give honors to spies.”
Originally published in the April 2011 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.