The forgotten world of female espionage

When the Germans occupied northern Italy in the autumn of 1943, they were pleased with the way that young Italian women, pedalling on bicycles around the country lanes in white socks and pigtails, smiled at them. The soldiers offered to help with their loaded baskets and gave them lifts in lorries. It took some months before they discovered that these smiling girls, known as staffette, were working as couriers, spies and carriers of weapons for the Resistance, then busy forming in the foothills of the Alps. When they realised their mistake, their reaction was often brutal. If caught, the women knew they would fare no better than the men. Prison

Lambs to the slaughter: the fiasco of the Dieppe Raid, August 1942

In carefree days which now seem so distant we used occasionally to take the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry. Docking after a long lunch, I would try to imagine the port during the infamous Dieppe Raid of August 1942. It is so clearly a natural defensive position that I could never work out how they expected to take it or, more importantly, why. This book sets out to answer both questions and, thanks to the release of previously classified wartime files, largely succeeds. It also throws new light on Ian Fleming, who was there. Dieppe in those days was intensively fortified by the Germans, flanked by heavy guns on the cliffs. Just about

Behind the veil of secrecy: GCHQ emerges from the shadows

Is it ever possible to truly see inside the heart of another? To divine hidden intentions and the darkest of thoughts? For a long time — before we all became sourly aware of our own computers spying on us like HAL 9000, and flashing ads for haemorrhoid ointments — this godlike omniscience was ascribed to the secret listeners at GCHQ. Above all other intelligence agencies it held a special place in the imaginations of urban paranoiacs. The organisation itself nurtured this sinister reputation by its insistence upon remaining deep in the shadows, even as its siblings MI5 and MI6 boldly came out. Not all that many years ago, simply publishing