ESPIONAGE

British war hero ‘Jack King’ revealed as bank clerk Eric Arthur Roberts

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 October, 2014, 10:13pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 October, 2014, 4:25am
AP

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Hans Kohout had a plan, according to secret documents released yesterday.

At the height of the second world war, the naturalised British citizen wanted to give the Nazis advance word of a top secret British tactic that could neutralise an enemy's air defences, leaving major cities exposed to devastating air raids.

He found out about it from his work at a plant which was doing defence-related work.

Kohout passed the strategic information to Jack King, who he believed was a Gestapo agent working undercover in Britain. Kohout expected King to give the information to the Nazis, so they could copy the technology and put the weapon to use themselves.

But King was an imposter actually working for British intelligence, not the Gestapo, and Kohout's treasonous plan fizzled, according to the secret intelligence files made public by the National Archives. The information never crossed the English Channel.

Time and time again, the low-key "Jack King" was able to convince British traitors that he was a Gestapo man, collecting potentially lethal information intended for the Nazis.

"It was a brave undertaking, mixing with Fascists, pretending to be someone you weren't, it was dangerous work that could have gone wrong," said Stephen Twigge, a historian with the National Archives, whose documents revealed that King was actually Eric Arthur Roberts, a bank clerk without special training.

Twigge said King's work helped to defuse a potential "fifth column" that might have damaged Britain's war effort. The files suggest the number of Nazi sympathisers willing to take action against British forces was larger than had been thought, he said.

"He was infiltrating a network, putting himself forward as the middle man in German intelligence," Twigge said. "He managed to flush them out and put a brake on their activities."

One of Roberts' handlers, identified only as T.M. Shelford, said many of the Nazi sympathisers in Britain were motivated by a dislike of Jews.

The newly released documents show Roberts had an unspectacular career at Westminster Bank when Security Services asked for him in 1940.

His boss even sounded surprised by the high priority placed on his services: "What are the particular and especial qualifications of Mr. Roberts, which we have not been able to perceive, for some particular work of national importance?" his supervisor wrote.