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World War II
A Narrative History

"The Kondor Mission"
Anthony Cave Brown
Bodyguard of Lies, Vol. 1 (1975)

Eppler and Monkaster
The Kondor mission was headed by John Eppler, a twenty-eight-year-old Abwehr agent born of German parents at Alexandria [Egypt], a young man who had made the Haj and was therefore a Muslim .... Eppler had grown up as a rich Cairene, while keeping his allegiances to Germany. He was recruited into the Abwehr just before the outbreak of the Second World War by a Vietnamese prostitute in Beirut, the famous Su Yan; and having served at the Tirpitzufer on a number of schemes to raise a Jihad -- a Holy War -- against the British in Arabia, he was selected for the Kondor mission when Rommel asked for a team of dependable German agents with knowledge of Cairo to go to the Egyptian capital to spy.
Eppler arrived at Tripoli in April 1942 on the first stage of his journey to Cairo, bringing with him two American Hallicrafter transceivers and 50,000 in British five- and one-pound notes. He also had a copy of Rebecca, for the Kondor mission's cipher was based on the Daphne du Maurier novel .... Eppler would base his cipher on the prearranged use of certain pages of the novel on certain days ....
The second member of the mission was Peter Monkaster, a tall, slim, blond German oil mechanic who had spent much of his life in East Africa. The two men left for Cairo on May 11, 1942, from the Oasis of Gialo, traveling by captured British vehicles across the naked desert .... The vehicles and men were disguised as a British reconnaissance unit, in case they were spotted by a British patrol or aircraft; and about three weeks after leaving Gialo ... the Kondor mission was in British territory .... Eppler and Monkaster changed into civilian clothes and entered Assyut, a town 300 miles south of Cairo that was only lightly guarded by the British and Egyptian authorities. Although they were stopped, both could speak English -- Eppler as an Egyptian and Monkaster as an American. After examining their papers, which showed Eppler to be an Anglo-Egyptian merchant and Monkaster an American oil-rig mechanic, a British patrol allowed them to proceed to the railway station. They caught the evening train to Cairo ....
Once in Cairo, Eppler and Monkaster settled into a small pension in Garden City, a suburb, and Eppler immediately began to seek friends he could trust. Among those he found was Hekmeth Fahmy, one of Egypt's leading ... belly dancers. Fahmy, who was violently anti-British and an Arab nationalist, lived on a houseboat on the Nile at Zamalek ....
Mlle Fahmy soon revealed that she was a spy working against the British for the Muslim Brotherhood and the Free Officers' Movement of the Egyptian Army, and that her main source of information was a "Major Smith" of British GHQ in Cairo -- her lover. In turn, Eppler told her that he was a German agent working for Rommel. At this revelation, Mlle Fahmy arranged to let him see the contents of Major Smith's briefcase while she and Smith were in bed. She also agreed to put Eppler in touch with a friend, General Aziz-el-Masri, a powerful and passionate anglophobe who had been relieved as Chief of Staff of the Egyptian army at British insistence.
Eppler and Monkaster rented another houseboat close to Fahmy's, hid one of the Hallicrafters in a church run by an Austrian priest at Zamalek, installed the second one on the houseboat, and then went to work. Fahmy was as good as her word; when Major Smith visited her ... Eppler and Monkaster read the contents of his briefcase and learned much about British strength, disposition and intentions. Then, using the Rebecca cipher, they reported ... each night around midnight.
Eppler met General Aziz-el-Masri ... and the general, impressed by the mission's credentials, intelligence, money -- and the fact that Eppler and Monkaster worked for Rommel -- listened to their proposals for espionage against the British and their plans to raise a Jihad when Rommel launched his great offensive to take Cairo and Alexandria .... He arranged a meeting between the Kondor mission and Sheikh Hassan-el-Banna, the watchmaker-turned-prophet who had founded the Muslim Brotherhood and was now known as the Supreme Guide. A strange, possessed figure who wore a long red cloak that hid all of his face but his eyes, the sheikh ... established branches of the Brotherhood throughout Egypt to build mosques, give courses in physical training, and to study eschatology, the science of the four last things -- death, judgment, heaven and hell.
By the outbreak of the war the Brotherhood had become an organization of patriots possessed by a fanatical religious ardor who wanted to expel all foreigners -- particularly the British -- and establish a theocratic state .... [T]he Brotherhood had also been infiltrated by the Free Officers' Movement, an anti-British nationalist conspiracy within the Egyptian army headed by two young officers, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar el-Sadat.
....It was now about the middle of June 1942, the 8th Army had retreated into Egypt, and the conspirators prepared for their Jihad ... [B]ut the British security authorities learned that a Jihad was planned, and embarked on a large security operation to prevent it. It was a time of extraordinary tension when suspicions were high everywhere.
Eppler now made a mistake. It was not a very serious one, and but for the tensions of the times it might not have been noticed. Dressed in the uniform of a British captain, he went to the Turf Club for a drink -- and to get the latest gossip. But he had run out of the Egyptian pounds that he had brought with him, and believing that English currency was still the legal tender it had been while he was living in Cairo, he paid for his drink with a British pound note. The bartender accepted the note, for it could be exchanged at the British Paymaster's Office for Egyptian currency. After his drink at the Turf Club, Eppler went on to the bar on the roof of the Metropolitan Hotel, the haunt of newspaper correspondents. There, again, he paid for his drinks with British notes. He also picked up a bar girl, who called herself Yvette .... Then he took her back to his houseboat for the night. In the morning he paid her ... in British five-pound notes, and asked her to come and see him again. She agreed, and then left.
Eppler had made his second mistake; Yvette was an agent of the Jewish Agency, which then worked with MI-6. She reported the encounter to her employer and said she thought Eppler was a German because he spoke "with a Saarland accent." She also thought he was a spy because "he is very nervous and he has too much money." Her employer told her to keep in touch with Eppler, and made arrangements with MI-6 to keep the houseboat under surveillance. An Egyptian dressed as a beggar came to squat in the dust at the end of the towpath, and it was this beggar who noted Fahmy's visits to Eppler's houseboat, as well as the visits of a British army major in uniform to Fahmy's hosueboat.
Two or three days after their first meeting, Yvette called on Eppler again. There was no reply at the saloon door when she knocked. But the door was open and she went in .... Both Eppler and Monkaster were fast asleep in their cabins. Yvette then began to look the boat over, and in a small room she found a desk with a book and some notepaper on it -- no more. But she noticed the book's title -- Rebecca -- and saw that the notepaper was covered with gridded squares and six-letter groups. Yvette knew ... this might be some form of cipher, and ... she let the pages of the book fall open, noted the numbers of the "used" pages, and took down the first of the cipher groups on each line of the notepaper. Then she left -- to be arrested and taken to a police station for questioning; the beggar who had been watching the boat had signaled her departure to some policemen and they, not knowing that she had connections with MI-6, detained her on suspicion.
Meanwhile, two prisoners of [a] raid on [a German] wireless intelligence company had arrived in Cairo .... [I]n their kit was another copy of Rebecca. It immediately raised the suspicions of their interrogators, for what would a German be doing reading such a book in English? .... A careful examination revealed that it had almost certainly been purchased in Portugal; someone had rubbed the penciled price -- 50 escudos -- off the flyleaf. Fairly sure that the book might be the basis of some cipher, MI-6 cabled MI-6 at Lisbon to make inquiries about whether anyone had recently bought two or more copies of Rebecca at any of the bookstalls there. Since there were only a few English-language bookshops in Portugal, it was a relatively easy matter to visit them all. Within the week, the inquiry showed that the wife of the German assistant military attache had bought six copies of the work at a bookshop in Estoril on April 3, 1942.
It was now quite evident that Rebecca was indeed the basis of a cipher, but who was using it? .... [T]he British Paymaster provided another clue. He had become suspicious of the new British pound botes that were turned in to him for exchange. He notified Major A.W. Sansom, the chief of Field Security at Cairo, and it was discovered that the pound note that the "British captain" had used to pay for his drinks at the Turf Club was an extremely clever forgery which was known to be German ....
....[M]ore notes turned up when a Greek provisions merchant on Zamalek Island brought
300 to the Paymaster's Office opposite the Kasr-el-Nil barracks for exchange. The large sum attracted the attention of the teller, and Sansom was informed. He went to see the merchant, who told him that he had sold a quantity of luxury goods to two young men living in Zamalek, and that he had also delivered them to their home -- a houseboat on the Nile. A quick check showed that these notes, too, were forgeries; and now Sansom had little doubt that Eppler and Monkaster were the men he was looking for.
At five o' clock during the afternoon of August 10, Sansom struck. He stationed river boats a discreet distance from the houseboat, set up roadblocks, ringed the area with armed troops, and blocked either end of the towpath. Having given instructions that the suspects were to be captured, and that even if they opened fire they were to be taken alive, he crept up the gangplank with an armed party and smashed in the door of the houseboat. Both suspects were on the boat, but they had a plan for just such an eventuality. As the British party came across the deck, Monkaster dived into the bilges, opened a trapdoor and dumped one Hallicrafter, the copy of Rebecca and all the mission's back traffic into the Nile. He attempted to escape by the same route, but was caught by one of the river boats when he surfaced, hauled aboard and handcuffed.
....On deck, Eppler ... was laid out with a blow from a rifle butt to the kidneys, handcuffed and, together with Monkaster, placed under arrest.
The raiding party searched the boat for the wireless and the cipher. They found nothing. The belly dancer Hekmeth Fahmy was also arrested, her boat was searched, and again nothing was found except some uniforms and clothing belonging to her lover, Major Smith. Eppler, Monkaster and Mlle Fahmy were then taken for questioning to the British Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre at Maadi. The Germans refused to talk, but Fahmy told the British all she knew. She revealed her liaison with Major Smith and the means by which she and Eppler read the contents of his briefcase. She told Sansom where Eppler's Egyptian contacts were to be found, and Sadat and several others ... were arrested immediately, as was the Austrian priest who had hidden the mission's second Hallicrafter behind the altar of his church. Then by a stroke of luck the first Hallicrafter was found. After Monkaster left the door open to the bilges of the houseboat, it had slowly scuttled itself. But the boat was raised, and the Hallicrafter was discovered underneath it in the mud of the Nile. The mechanism was unusable, but it was still set to the frequency for the mission's last transmission ....
However, further clues to the mission's cipher could not be found; its back traffic and the copy of Rebecca had disappeared. The cipher was all-important to the British, for the surprise raid on the houseboat and the determination to capture Eppler and Monkaster alive were designed to achieve a single goal. The British hoped to impersonate the Kondor mission's transmissions and send false and misleading information to Rommel ....
The interrogators now concentrated on Eppler, and when he still refused to discuss the cipher ... the British tried their ace psychological trick in breaking prisoners down. They staged an elaborate mock court-martial. Charges were read out against Eppler; witnesses, including Mlle Fahmy, were called to testify; he was found guilty and the sentence of death was pronounced. As he waited in his cell for the firing squad, he was visited from time to time by his inquisitors. Still he refused to talk.
....Yvette had been in police hands throughout the period of Eppler's and Monkaster's interrogation, but she was finally released when her employer contacted a friend in MI-6. While they were going through the technicalities of her discharge, Yvette mentioned to the MI-6 officer that she had been on Eppler's hosueboat the afternoon she was arrested. Only by chance, the officer asked her whether she had seen a book lying around. In a flash, Yvette realized the importance of the copy of Rebecca that she had discovered on the houseboat, and she revealed that she had noted down the page numbers and some of the leading cipher groups that Eppler and Monkaster had used for their transmissions. While incomplete, her notes enabled British cryptographers to establish the sequence of pages and paragraphs on which the cipher was based. The Rebecca cipher was broken.
The British now had all they needed to impersonate Eppler and Monkaster and resume transmissions .... And this they set out to do .... [T]he Kondor mission's channel of communication remained open -- and Rommel would continue to trust it. It was a mistake that would alter the course of the war in North Africa.
Bodyguard of Lies is available from AMAZON
Capital: Cairo; pop. (1937 est.) 15,904,000. Although Egypt was an independent kingdom under young King Farouk when the European war began in Sept. 1939, she had still not fully emerged from British rule. Under a 1936 treaty, British troops were still garrisoned in Egypt, primarily to protect the Suez Canal, and the Royal Navy operated major bases at Alexandria and Port Said. Egypt ended diplomatic relations with Germany Sept. 3, 1939, and imposed martial law, but did not join England in declaring war on Germany.
War came to Egypt on June 11, 1940, when Italy, a day after declaring war on France and England, crossed into Egypt from Libya, which Italy had taken over in 1939. Egypt still refrained from declaring war, touching off a bitter internal government debate. The move seemed to have pleased the British, who were not anxious to equip the Egyptian Army. They also saw an advantage in having Cairo as an open city where diplomatic and espionage work could go on uninterrupted. German and Italian agents conducted virulent anti-British propaganda campaigns in Egypt but, by buying Egypt's entire 1940 cotton crop, England won a round in the propaganda war.
....When the British decisively defeated the German Afrika Korps at El Alamein in Nov. 1942, the Egyptian government, deciding that for Egypt the war was over, turned its attention to the issues of Arab unity, Zionist claims to Palestine, and the expulsion of British forces in the Middle East. But when the Yalta Conference in Feb. 1945 made declaration of war against the Axis a condition for membership in the United Nations of victors, Egypt belatedly succumbed to reality and on Feb. 24 declared war on Japan and Germany.
World War II: America at War, 1941-1945, Polmar and Allen (1991)