History Unplugged Podcast
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How Britain Stole Intelligence from Nazi High Command Via Their German Drinking Buddies

February 09, 2023
00:00 52:52
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"How might the British have handled Hitler differently?” remains one of history’s greatest "what ifs."

Many fault the Neville Chamberlain administration of the 1930s with trying to appease the Fuhrer by any means necessary. But they failed, still got a war, and earned a reputation for cowardice. Or as Winston Churchill said to Chamberlain, “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor, and you will have war.” But what if we haven’t given Britain enough credit for trying to stave off the war in ways that weren’t dishonorable?
It turns out they did, and they got very creative. One method involved using a handful of amateur British intelligence agents who wined, dined, and befriended the leading National Socialists between the wars. With support from royalty, aristocracy, politicians, and businessmen, they hoped to use the recently founded Anglo-German Fellowship as a vehicle to civilize and enlighten the Nazis.
At the heart of the story are a pacifist Welsh historian, a World War I flying ace, and a butterfly-collecting businessman, who together offered the British government better intelligence on the horrifying rise of the Nazis than any other agents. They infiltrated the Nazi high command deeper than any other spies, relaying accurate intelligence to both their government and to its anti-appeasing critics. Having established a personal rapport with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, they delivered intelligence to him directly, paving the way for American military support for Great Britain against the Nazi threat.
To tell this story is today’s guest, Charles Spicer, author of “Coffee With Hitler.” His book is based on eight years of research among letters, intelligence reports, and other primary sources, many of which have been lost or overlooked by historians.
While these men didn’t succeed in their goal, they did feed critical intelligence to the British Establishment and gave them a very clear understanding of the threat that Hitler posed. That’s why when war did finally break out, Britain wasn’t caught asleep at the switch. It had spent years arming itself and training for the outbreak of hostilities. More could have been done – and that’s always the case when it comes to total war – but we have these men to credit for trying to avoid and neutralize an enemy that was unavoidable and immovable.

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Meet Your Host
Meet Your Host
Scott Rank is the host of the History Unplugged Podcast and a PhD in history who specialized in the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. Before going down the academic route he worked as a journalist in Istanbul. He has written 12 history books on topics ranging from lost Bronze Age civilizations to the Age of Discovery. Some of his books include The Age of Illumination: Science, Technology, and Reason in the Middle Ages and History’s 9 Most Insane Rulers.. Learn more about him by going to scottrankphd.com.
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