Book Review of Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre
Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal, Ben Macintyre (Harmony Books, 2007, 364 pp.).
Eddie Chapman was dishonorably discharged from the British Army at age 18 in 1932 for going AWOL with a girl he picked up in the Soho section of London. Returning to this shady entertainment district, he led a flashy night life supported by income from petty crime, including the position of chief safecracker for a gang of thieves. Scotland Yard caught up with him in 1939, putting him in prison on the Channel Isle of Jersey.
He was still an inmate when the Germans occupied the Isle in 1940. Feigning anger at England for treating him badly, Eddie offered to work for the German secret service. The Germans trained him as a saboteur and parachuted him into Britain to blow up an airplane factory. Upon landing safely back home, Eddie turned himself in to the British authorities, for whom he became a double agent. An explosion was faked at the factory to make the Germans think he had accomplished his mission.
Eddie was sent back into Germany, where he became the only British citizen to be awarded the Iron Cross. The Germans then trained him further in Norway and sent him back to Britain to help target V-1 rockets more accurately. Eddie thereupon redirected the missiles further away from London, thereby saving many British lives, and performed additional deceptions in the service of the Allied cause.
Along this precarious path of daring and duplicity, there were many improbable twists, close calls, and moral complexities. A charming, handsome, hard-drinking, adventure-seeking rogue who would save your life one day and pick your pocket the next, Eddie managed to have a girl in every port: one had his baby, the second went to jail for him, and the third became his wife. He formed a friendship of mutual respect for his German handler, whom he invited to attend his daughter’s post-war wedding.
After the war, the British Secret Intelligence Service cleared Eddie’s record of the earlier crimes that would have given him more jail time, then unceremoniously discharged him from the Service. He returned to a sporty life, fixing dog races and engaging in other dubious endeavors, always keeping a step or two ahead of the law.
Eddie Chapman’s story, a small part of the much larger espionage facet of World War II, has been brilliantly and entertainingly written by Ben Macintyre in Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal (Harmony Books, 2007, 364 pp.).
“Book Notes” by Walter Ford Carter, son of Captain Elmer Norval Carter (29th Division, KIA 6/17/44), and author of No Greater Sacrifice, No Greater Love: A Son’s Journey to Normandy.