It is frustrating to think that I could go to my grave with a number of riddles still unanswered. Is there life on Mars? What happened to Lord Lucan? Why was a book published in 2005 stating that my father, Leonard Ingrams, had assassinated Heinrich Himmler at the end of the war on the order of Winston Churchill?
I mention this one having only recently been interviewed about it by the BBC’s Dan Snow. He seemed to be as baffled as I was by the story.
The book, Himmler’s Secret War, was written by one Martin Allen and published by Robson Books. To the casual browser it would have looked like a bona fide war history complete with photographs, footnotes and bibliography.
Allen’s thesis was that in the final stages of the war Himmler, via his intermediaries, had been trying to negotiate a peace deal with Churchill, who was so concerned to keep the secret from our American allies that he ordered the elimination of Himmler. My father was therefore chosen to bump off the SS leader and a number of letters in the National Archive at Kew – “hitherto unseen”, according to the book – were quoted to support the story.
It was left to a Daily Telegraph reporter, Ben Fenton, to query Allen’s improbable tale. He went to Kew, looked at the “hitherto unseen” letters and quickly formed the view that they were not very good forgeries. When he published his findings, Fenton received support from a German historian, Prof Ernst Haiger, who had identified similarly forged papers quoted in a previous book by Allen, The Hitler-Hess Deception.
To my astonishment, my father was also featured in this book, described as the brilliant mastermind of a plot to convince Hitler of the existence of an influential peace party in Britain who would make a treaty with him, if given the chance.
Churchill was once again the primary target, Allen even suggesting that he had been prepared to “do away with” the Duke of Windsor just as he had – probably – killed the Polish war leader General Sikorski whose plane, he wrote, had been shot down over Gibraltar (in fact, a Court of Inquiry found it crash-landed in the sea when the controls jammed.)
Understandably, there was widespread concern among historians, in particular at the way in which the National Archive had been corrupted. But although the police investigated, no charges were brought, leaving the “fake history” to fester in countless libraries.
The Himmler story was always easy to disprove as it was generally accepted that the SS leader had bitten a cyanide capsule while in the custody of British troops, and his suicide is well documented by eye-witnesses. Besides which, my father was never involved in the kind of operations normally entrusted to the Special Operations Executive (SOE). A merchant banker who spoke fluent German with a wide experience of Germany pre-war, he had been drafted into the Ministry of Economic Warfare with special responsibility for the “Black Propaganda” operation run by his friend Sefton Delmer, foreign correspondent of the Daily Express and also a fluent German speaker, who knew Hitler and many of the Nazi leaders personally.
The most significant of Delmer’s operations was the creation of a network of phoney German radio stations apparently broadcasting illegally inside Germany. Their bulletins involved genuine news items, supplied by my father’s ministry, interspersed with false stories and rumours (often scandalous) calculated to undermine the morale of troops and civilians.
Surprisingly, in view of the fact that my father, a parson’s son, was vehemently anti-Catholic, Delmer’s schedules also included a bona fide Catholic station run by an Austrian priest, Fr Andreas, who broadcast regularly three times a day from December 1942 until Hitler’s death.
There was no attempt to insert rumour and scandal into these Catholic broadcasts, which consisted of short homilies by the priest castigating the Nazis for their brutal paganism and urging faithful Catholics to oppose the regime (Catholics were among the leaders of the failed bomb plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944.)
Delmer, however, could not resist spreading Catholic rumours in his secular broadcasts. There were regular suggestions that in view of the worsening situation in Italy, Pope Pius XII might have to flee to the safety of South America. Another typical Delmer rumour proposed that Ribbentrop had instructed Cardinal Innitzer of Vienna to ask the Pope to canonise Hitler’s mother.
Richard Ingrams is a former editor of Private Eye and the Oldie