Polish Intelligence Operations in Portugal & Spain
After the outbreak of war on 1st September 1939, Portugal’s neutrality came under pressure by both the Allies and the Reich’s need for Tungsten (wolfram) for their war effort. While the ‘Wolfram Question’ became a diplomatic nightmare and tested Portugal’s neutrality (Leite, 1998) alongside its century’s old alliance with Britain (Wheeler, 1986), it mirrored similar political and economic pressures placed on Sweden during the same period. The outbreak of war also signalled a ramping up of covert operations by the Allies and the Axis in Portugal that made Lisbon and Estoril ‘spy capitals’ of Europe. Britain after Dunkirk did not have the resources to support or protect Portugal and relied on diplomacy for protecting its interests there. The tungsten mines located in the Serra da Estrela were suitably located for export to both the Allies and Axis powers and placed pressure on Portugal to supply each since it was in easy striking distance from Spain.
A friendship and non-aggression treaty in March 1939 between Spain and Portugal ensured the neutrality of Portugal (Halstead, 1980) despite 18,000 volunteers fighting in the Spanish civil war and limited aid given to the nationalists. However, Portugal’s neutrality and security was threatened through the Protocol of Hendaya signed on 23rd October 1940 which allied Spain to Germany and Italy, enabling collaboration by security services, exchange of intelligence and economic servitude to the Axis (Marquina, 1998). Spain’s support for the Axis wavered during the war which essentially lost Spain’s ‘neutrality’ and internal politics prevented either joining the Axis or even consideration of invading Portugal. British intelligence identified Gibraltar as a possible target for a Spanish invasion backed by Germany that was later dismissed (Link: Feluccas) based on intelligence and analysis of Axis troop movements.
In June 1940 the German naval staff showed interest in the occupation of the Azores, Canaries and Cape Verde, placing some of Britain’s assets in the form of shipping routes and a telegraph cable station in the Azores at risk (Atkin, 2021). MI(R) made several attempts to run missions to these locations and were blocked by Britain’s ambassador to Spain as these were too provocative (Atkin, 2021). The threat remained until the end of 1943. The Portuguese authorities remained favourable to Polish interests that enabled the Lisbon legation to be one of the most important intelligence hubs in western Europe (Ciechanowski, 2005a). Station ‘P’ of II Bureau was run by Lt. Col. Stanisław Kara (Professor) under cover as an official of the legation from second half of 1940 and replaced by Maj. Feliks Abiński in January 1944 who had headed Station ‘M’ (Madrid). The station in Portugal (‘P’) importance is derived through hosting several intelligence cells (Ciechanowski, 2005a). Naval cell No. 1 was headed by Lt. Zygmunt Cedro (Henzyg) whose cover was acting as a shipbroker of the ‘Baltic Union Shipbrokers’. Station ‘P’ was also responsible for Spain in Bilbao (Pomar) and Genoa (Pardilla) and a Belgian cell headed by Dumont who was one of the chiefs of the Belgian underground Sûreté de l’État whose intelligence focus was on the German army and its allies (Ciechanowski, 2005a). Lisbon Station ‘P’ also controlled cells Jamart and Pingo in Casablanca. The extent of the operation was quite stunning as Station ‘P’ eventually controlled a further two cells in Lisbon (Nicol and Herculano), Pilao in the Azores, ‘Pola’ on Cape Verde (Ciechanowski, 2005a).
After 1942 Station ‘P’ was providing OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the for-runner of the CIA) with offensive counterintelligence in the Iberian Peninsula as well as cooperating with SIS with dis-information under Action D (Olek).
Despite Madrid being the centre of Nazi intelligence, the degree of cooperation by the Spanish with the Reich made Polish espionage operations difficult. The activities of the Poles and SIS were restricted by the stance of Sir Samuel Hoare, the British Ambassador from 1940 to 1944 whose clashes with intelligence agencies were legendary (Ciechanowski, 2005b). The level of intelligence gathering in Madrid was such that in January 1942, the Spanish Government requested the closure of the Legation and Consulate that was partially rescinded through the intervention of Włodzimierz Ledóchowski through the patronage of the Vatican (Ciechanowski, 2005b).
Economic isolation and a trade blockade by the Allies (Marquina, 1998) kept Spain in check until the war’s end and did leverage some cooperation in safeguarding and release of POWs held in Spain. By May to June 1944 while much had been accomplished, Polish Intelligence became dissatisfied with the operation in Portugal and Spain with the arrest of Maj. Albiński, (Marcel) head of the operations in Portugal at the Spanish border, signalled the closure of Station ‘P’ (Ciechanowski, 2005b). After the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942, both Portugal and Spain made increased overtures to the Allies as a process of reproachment that gathered pace as the defeat of the Reich loomed.
Col. Jan Kowalewski was an outstanding intelligence officer and cryptologist who had also participated in the Third Silesian Uprising in 1921. He had had postings as a military attaché to Moscow and Bucharest prior to the outbreak of war. He was in the guise of a director of Tissa the state-owned enterprise procuring materials for Poland’s armaments industry and linked to II Bureau (Ciechanowski, 2005b). After the fall of France, Kowalewski (Pierre) made his way to Portugal to work with refugees located in Figueira da Foz and then Lisbon. Kowalewski organised his own escape and evasion lines from France and had two W/T sets infiltrated to support operations (TNA/ HS7-183).
In Lisbon, he met Jean (Ioan) Pangal, a former Romanian Envoy and old acquaintance. He tried to persuade Pangal to negotiate with Romania, Hungary, and Italy to join the Allies (Ciechanowski, 2005b). Pangal had the resources and contacts to support aid to the refugees and persuaded Kowalewski to remain in Portugal that had Gen. Władysław Sikorski’s approval. Through diplomatic channels Kowalewski contacted Marshal Antonescu of Romania, Admiral Horthy of Hungary, and an Italian diplomat Dino Grandi (Dubicki and Dubicki, 2019). The extent of his work emerged at the conference held in Casablanca in 1943 where Stalin who was vexed by Kowalewski’s anti-communist stance and known objector to the post war Soviet expansion into central and eastern Europe, declaring Kowalewski persona non-grata. Kowalewski was seeking a post-war anti-communist federation made up of Central European countries to block Soviet expansion that antagonised Churchill too (Dubicki and Dubicki, 2019).
Kowalewski was appointed as chief of the ‘cell’ for communications in Lisbon under the identity of a ‘correspondent’ attached to the Polish Interior Ministry due to the level of German intelligence activities within Portugal (Dubicki and Dubicki, 2019). Continental Action emerged from plans made by Jan Librach and Prof. Stanisław Kot with further recommendations from Kowalewski incorporated into the final plan and to be based in Portugal (Ciechanowski, 2005b; Dubicki and Dubicki, 2019) due to the low penetration by Soviet intelligence. They rented a villa Grinalda in Monte Estoril, just outside Lisbon where the radio communications equipment was set up. Kowalewski and his family lived in a boarding house in the centre of Lisbon and there were another three ‘safe’ houses used to camouflage his activities (Ciechanowski, 2005b).
Kowalewski (Pierre, Piotr and later Nart) linked the work of Continental Action with the Polish Interior Ministry in co-ordination with the British Ministry of Economic Warfare (Ciechanowski, 2005b). II Bureau also had offices attached to the legation. Initially, the focus was on contacting Polish resistance movements in France and intelligence gathering on the political activities of the Axis in Portugal through courting diplomats. SOE had an office in Lisbon run by John G. Beevor between 1941 and 1942 and kept close contacts with Kowalewski who had unearthed the location of a German radio station monitoring allied shipping and relaying co-ordinates to the U-boat fleet in the north Atlantic. The location was between Cascais and Cabo Raso (Ciechanowski, 2005b).
Such was the quality and level of Kowalewski’s work that Brigadier Gubbins and the USA praised his achievements (Dubicki and Dubicki, 2019). In 1942 there was a shift in the intelligence strategy to destabilise the Axis through covert negotiations with diplomats attached to the Hungarian, Romanian and Italian governments under operation Tripod (TRÓJNÓG). Operation TOPAZOWICZE (TOPAZY) was directed at the Hungarians who were more enthusiastic of the three willing to co-operate. The pro-allied Miklós Kállay von Nagy-Kálló became prime minister gave an opportunity for a secret ceasefire convention on 9th September 1943 that indicated Hungarian troops would surrender to Allied, not Soviet troops who would enter the country through the Balkans. The agreement was tactical politics at its worst since the Allies were not able to support the proposed ceasefire. Roosevelt and Churchill opposed the Balkan Front plan that had been ‘floated’ by Kowalewski. Hitler was exasperated when informed and set out a plan for operation MARGARETHE for the occupation of Hungary in March 1944. Nagy-Kálló feared the Soviets, however the Hungarian Army was insufficient in strength due to heavy losses on the Eastern Front to oppose the Reich alone and was forced to secretly negotiate with the Soviets in early 1944 since the Allies were politically and geographically too distance to lend support.
Admiral Horthy was to be tried on 18th March 1944 by the Nazis and the current government dissolved, ending any negotiations with the Allies. The Germans invaded Hungary on 20th March 1944 with Miklós Kállay von Nagy-Kálló fleeing with other members of the Government and inteligencia from the SS by seeking refuge in the Turkish Embassy who were forced to give him up to the Arrow Cross who now ruled Hungary. After his arrest, Miklós Kállay von Nagy-Kálló was taken to Mauthausen and Dachau and released on 4th May 1945 when US soldiers entered the camp. Admiral Horthy after the German intervention, ended up under house arrest in Bavaria until the end of the war and later transferred to Nuremburg to give evidence of the Nazi atrocities at the International Tribunal. He was never indicted over his knowledge of war crimes. Arrow Cross supported by the SS slaughtered between 10-15,000 Jews and other undesirables on the banks of the Danube between November 1944 and January 1945 prior to and during the Soviet siege of the city. Today the site is marked by the memorial “Shoes on the Danube Bank”
The unconditional surrender of Italy in September 1943 certainly simplified negotiations but did not mitigate the severe degree of German action towards the Italian populous or indicate the bloody conflict that would emerge in clearing the Germans out of the country. Contacts within Romania stretched to their leader, Marshal Ion Antonescu who had a predisposition to common interests held by Sikorski and Kowalewski’s highly regarded role in pre-war time in Bucharest had paid off. With an increasing number of defeats suffered by the Reich, Kowalewski’s use of propaganda and his personal contacts with opposition politicians, destabilised the Axis further which included not to participate in crimes against humanity and restrict troop deployment to the Eastern Front (Ciechanowski, 2005b). Kowalewski’s efforts were thwarted in January 1943 when the meeting in Casablanca settled on ‘unconditional surrender’ of the Axis powers. Kowalewski also promoted the idea of opening a second front in the Balkans that would have a domino effect on the Axis powers loyalty to the Reich and at the same time block Sovietisation of eastern and central Europe – one of Kowalewski’s key themes. Stalin was against these negotiations and as a result only approaches to the Italians were permitted to continue with contacts with Hungarian and Romanian emissaries severely reduced. By the summer of 1943, the concessions to Stalin and the Sovietisation of the Balkans began to impede any negotiations underway that was further hampered by King Michael I of Romania considering exile, leaving Marshall Antonescu in a more perilous state that resulted in loss of enthusiasm for Kowalewski’s plans (Dubicki and Dubicki, 2019).
While Romanian diplomats sought to seek an exit from the Axis, they added conditions of a triple occupation by the Allies and the Soviets and thereafter would only capitulate if there was no German occupation. The outcome was for Poles and Romanians acting as emissaries to withdraw from negotiations (Dubicki and Dubicki, 2019). Only with the 1944 Romanian coup d’état on 23rd August which deposed Ion Antonescu and replaced with King Michael I enabled discussions of an armistice and re-alignment of Romanian forces under the Allies that fomented further unravelling of the Axis.
Kowalewski’s operation rankled the British government too. Sir Alexander Cadogan, the Foreign Office’s Permanent Under-secretary of State, requested Ambassador Raczyński to recall Kowalewski based on his ‘alleged’ contacts with Germans in Lisbon on 10th March 1944 where the British political security was at risk. It must be remembered that Lisbon was the spy capital of Europe and Kowalewski operated within its ‘muddy waters’ encouraging dissent within the Axis and promotion of an anti-communist expansion in Europe. It was known Kowalewski had met German representatives on several occasions (Ciechanowski, 2005b) and reported to the Polish authorities as part of his intelligence gathering. It seems in 1945 the British had forgotten Kowalewski had reported to both the Polish Government in Exile and the British that a meeting with Hans Lazar and Capt. Fritz Kramer of the Abwehr had tipped Kowalewski off over Germany’s plan to attack Soviet Russia under Operation BARBAROSSA (Ciechanowski, 2005b). Was the demanded recall to protect Soviet-British relationships or was it an indication that the British Government was tiring of the ‘Polish Question’ and its ‘First Ally’? Certainly, some members of the FO thought otherwise. Frank K. Roberts, a seasoned diplomat, questioned the recall decision of Kowalewski as these meetings had been fruitful in ‘taking the pulse’ of German diplomats at this crucial stage of the war. Kowalewski flew to Britain on 5th April 1944 that broke a vital link to operation TRIPOD. Kowalewski’s career was not over. He had a significant role as Chief of the Polish Special Operations in the preparation of D-Day as a co-ordinator for sabotage and diversionary actions by operation MONICA in France. Link: Monika.
Portugal acted as a conduit for escapers and Jews fleeing Nazi oppression from across Europe and Scandinavia. It is estimated over 100,000 refugees passed through Portugal (Leite,1998) The former Romanian diplomat Jean (Ioan) Pangal, a centrist politician, and a Freemason played a major role in assisting refugees in Portugal to escape to North and South America.
For Poles escaping Vichy France, evacuees were given Polish passports with a visa to some far-flung place to obtain a Portuguese transit visa (Richards, 2013) through Kowalewski’s network. Kowalewski (Pierre) had developed escape lines into both Portugal and Spain from France and managed to infiltrate two W/T sets to support the operations (TNA/ HS7-184). Some escapees obtained French exit visas in Perpignan and thence travel to Lisbon legally. Those who travelled without papers and visas found transiting Spain increasingly difficult since the Polish operation in Spain lacked a positive liaison role with SOE despite good intelligence being gathered (TNA/ HS7-183). (Link: Feluccas & the SOE).
Many illegal Polish refugees escaping from camps in Vichy France were travelling on fake documents and those caught by the Spanish authorities were imprisoned in Miranda de Ebro. Spain refused to return the escapees to the Germans that caused some rift within their relationship. From March 1943, the defeat of the Nazis and the collapse of the Reich became increasingly a more likely scenario, Spain eased conditions on the Poles and started to release prisoners particularly from Miranda de Ebro (Link: Miranda de Ebro)) who made their way mainly to Gibraltar and transported to Britain by sea.
At the height of operations, Station ‘M’ had 67 agents supporting networks of couriers into France (Station F) and Portugal and although the station became subordinated to Station ‘P’, managed to run three cells. Cell no. 2 headed by 2nd Lt. Włodzimierz V. Popławski (Paul) an experienced agent who had been in Spain during the civil war provided good quality intelligence reports, worked on the evacuation of escaped Poles. Cell no. 3 (naval) was headed by Capt. Roman Koperski (Torero) who was caught on 6th January 1942 and imprisoned for spying for Britain against the Spanish and Germans. He was eventually released at the beginning of 1944 having avoided the death penalty (Ciechanowski, 2005a). Cell no. 7 in Barcelona was also involved with assisting escapees and headed by Wanda Halina Morbitzer-Toza (Ewa) until her arrest in 1943. Her work included liaison work for SIS and managed to flee to Portugal before her ‘formal’ arrest (Ciechanowski, 2005a). Cell no. 1 covered activities in Rome and focussed on Axis transport movements.
E/ UP worked closely with II Bureau and VI Bureau who briefed agents on their missions. The escape and evasion lines from France into Spain were also used in reverse to infiltrate agents. Lt. Władysław Galica (Tok, J.M. Roger) used the Lasalle Line (most likely developed by Kowalewski who liaised with Section F of SOE (TNA/ HS7-184) to enter France in January 1944 (TNA/ HS4-273) and was accompanied by L/Cpl. Adam Staffij (Dule, T. Swiecicki). Both were flown to Gibraltar under the guise as 2nd Lt. Joseph Batterdale and 2nd Lt. Augustus Jessop. Galica’s training report from S.T.S No. 24b (Glaschoille, near Inverness, Scotland) on 21st April 1943 indicated good field craft, combat and shooting skills, however W/T training was poor. Rated as an ideal leader, it was recommended he should be assigned to solo work in the field due to personality traits (TNA/ HS4-260). Galica had been trained as a Cichociemni (Badge no. 0158/1500) (Link: Cichociemni) and Adam Staffij (Badge no. 2664) was seconded from the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade (Lorys, 1993).
Both left Gibraltar and travelled to Barcelona via Madrid by car and Tok’s contact, a Spaniard called ‘Sebastiano’ inspected his forged documents and damaged them for some inexplicable reason. After Barcelona, Tok and Dule were taken by car and then left to walk into Ripoll where another guide met them which took fourteen hours and slept in a mountain hut with two more guides. They crossed over the border and walked to Ria-Sirach near Prades in southern France. Crossing the mountains took three days due to the snow cover. Ria-Sirach was the first railway station outside the ‘zone frontière interdit’ and headed to Perpignan to meet an intermediary AYAX (aka Sally V). Taken to a safe house near the citadel, they were moved frequently and spent four days in the city. Dule stayed in Perpignan and Tok travelled to Toulouse and after two days headed for Paris via Limoges where a security cordon checked his papers without incident. After Paris, Tok left for Orleans to complete his mission LABURNUM and was exfiltrated on 3rd March 1944 (TNA/ HS4-273) due to his failure to link up with the French Resistance. The details of the mission are incomplete and is unusual that trained paratroopers were ‘walked’ over the border. The file indicates that in January 1944 there was a backlog of agents to be parachuted into France that in part explains the use of escape and evasion lines as part of CONTINENTAL ACTION. Staffij’s role in France is unknown.
Cross-border traffic of couriers, agents, reports, and cash to support the networks remained throughout the war with vital communication networks between Station ‘P’, ‘M’ and ‘F’ were maintained through the efforts of Capt. Edward Bratowski (Wołowski) and Lt. Col. Kara. Britain’s MI9 had been created after the 23rd December 1939 through a meeting of the heads of MI5, MI6 and Naval Intelligence (Fry, 2021). MI9 became the focal point of escape and evasion activities despite SIS securing their own escape lines and worked independently of MI9 and SOE (Fry, 2021) with little likelihood of straying into Polish operations apart from joint ventures with the feluccas (Link: Feluccas) operating out of Gibraltar.
Kowalewski’s intelligence work alone made a significant contribution to the war effort despite his role being controversial and lacked the credit Continental Action should have achieved. Station ‘P’ had a significant role in both intelligence gathering and managing refugees and escapees to make their way to Britain or to South America. While Station ‘M’ appears to be complex and perhaps chaotic, its role and work in intelligence gathering, cross border traffic and assisting refugees and escapees, should not be underestimated when considering the conditions they operated under.
Atkin, M. (2021) “Pioneers of Irregular Warfare: Secrets of the Military Intelligence Research Department in the Second World War”, Pen & Sword Military, UK
Ciechanowski, J.S (2005a) “Iberian Peninsula”, in Sterling, T; Nałecz, D and Dubicki, T (Eds) “The Report of the Anglo-Polish Historical Committee Vol.1”, Valentine Mitchel, UK, Ch 24.
Ciechanowski, J.S (2005b) “Lt. Col. Jan Kowalewski’s Mission in Portugal”, in Sterling, T; Nałecz, D and Dubicki, T (Eds) “The Report of the Anglo-Polish Historical Committee Vol.1”, Valentine Mitchel, UK, Ch 54.
Dubicki, A. and Dubicki, T. (2019) “Misja ppłk. dypl. Jana Kowalewskiego w Portugalii (1940–1944)”, Acta Universitatis Łodziensis Folia Historica, No.105, pp. 125-142.
Fry, H. (2021) “MI9: A History if the Secret Service for Escape and Evasion in World War Two”, Yale University Press, USA.
Halstead, C.R. (1980) “Peninsular Purpose: Portugal and its 1939 Treaty of Friendship and Non-aggression with Spain”, Il Politico, Vol. XLV, No. 2, pp. 287-311.
Leite, J. C. (1998) “Neutrality by Agreement: Portugal and the British Alliance in World War II”, American University International Law Review, Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 185-199.
Lorys, J.J. (1993) “History of the Polish Parachute Badge: Polish Airborne Forces in World War II”, Sikorski Institute, U.K
Marquina, A. (1998) “The Spanish Neutrality during the Second World War”, American University International Law Review, Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 171-184.
Moynihan, M. et al (ND) “Comet Lines: Freedom Trails of Europe”, Smashing Times, Dublin, Ireland (lead partner); Theater & Reconciliation, Brussels, Belgium; University of Humanities and Economics (AHE), Lodz, Poland; and Iniciativas De Futuro Para Una Europa Social – IFESCOOP, Valencia, Spain.
Richards, B. (2013) “Secret Flotillas: Clandestine Sea Operations in the Western Mediterranean, North Africa & the Adriatic 1940-1944”, 2nd Edn, Pen and Sword Books, UK.
Wheeler, D.L. (1986) “The Price of Neutrality: Portugal, the Wolfram Question and World War II”, Luso-Brazilian Review, Vol. 23, No. 1, pp. 107-127.
Thank You Portugal!
WW2 intelligence co-operation
was portugal really neutral
escape routes through France
Selected Film, Videos and You Tube Films:
The Colditz Story (1955) Directed by Guy Hamilton with John Mills, Eric Portman, Christopher Rhodes, and Lionel Jeffries.
Canał (1957) Directed by Andrzej Wajda with Teresa Iżewska, Tadeusz Janczar, Wieńzcysław Gliński, Tadeusz Gwiazdowski, Stanisław Mikulski, Emil Karewicz, Maciej Maciejewski, and Vladek Sheybal
The One that Got Away (1957) Directed by Roy Ward Baker with Hardy Krüger, Colin Gordon, Michael Goodlife, and Terrance Alexander
The Password Is Courage (1962) Directed by Andrew L. Stone with Dirk Bogarde, Maria Perschy, Alfred Lynch, and Nigel Stock.
The Great Escape (1963) Directed by John Sturges with Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, and Charles Bronson.
The Great Escape II: The untold Story (1988) Directed by Jud Taylor and Paul Wendkos with Christopher Reeve, Judd Hirsch, Tony Denison, and Charles Haid.
Varian’s War: The Forgotten Hero (2001) Directed by Lionel Chetwynd with William Hurt, Howard Ryshpan, Carol Shamy, and Harald Winter.
The Way Back (2010) Directed by Peter Weir with Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Saoirse Ronan, and Colin Farrell. Based on ‘The Long Walk’ by Sławomir Rawicz remains controversial.
Remembrance (2011) Directed by Anna Justice with Alice Dwyer, Mateusz Damiecki, and Dagmar Manzel.
Kurier (2019) (The Resistance Fighter) Directed by Władsław Pasikowski with Philippe Tlokinski, Julie Engelbrecht, and Bradley James.