Kirkus Reviews QR Code
HITLER'S SPY CHIEF by Richard Bassett


The Wilhelm Canaris Betrayal: The Most Dangerous Intelligence Man in the World

by Richard Bassett

Pub Date: July 15th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-60598-370-7
Publisher: Pegasus

A London journalist makes a convincing case for the quietly subversive pro-British diplomacy of the head of the Abwehr.

Bassett portrays Admiral Wilhelm Canaris as a German gentleman of the old school who grew to admire the might and prowess of the British navy. Although he was an eager Nazi apparatchik at the beginning, he began to realize the horrors of Hitler’s regime and distance himself from them. Canaris started his career with the Imperial German Navy, and he cut his teeth during the Anglo-German naval race of World War I. He showed a flair for intelligence work, with impeccable English and Spanish, and developed connections within the anti-communist segment consolidating in Germany after the war. He found himself in goodly stead with the rising National Socialists led by Hitler, who was obsessed with the British secret service. Canaris’ old navy colleague and protégé Reinhard Heydrich took over the German Security Service and became a close ally and dangerous rival. Canaris’ philosophy in leading the Abwehr seemed to be to “run with the party” while cultivating a degree of “independent thought and action.” This ultimately led to his arrest and hanging for treason in April 1945. Bassett carefully considers Canaris’ rather uneven record, from his pressure on Hitler to support Franco during the Spanish Civil War, and ability to provide Franco with the key intelligence required to withstand Hitler’s wooing of Spain to the Axis side, to his subtle foiling of what he considered repugnant Gestapo activity in Poland and Russia. Bassett’s thorough work spotlights this relatively unknown character in the Nazi hierarchy.

A welcome addition to the war record and a solid elucidation of the Nazi spy system.