Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Agent Zigzag

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Agent Zigzag

A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal

by Ben Macintyre

Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2007, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2008, 384 pages

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  • After the war, Chapman dumped his various girlfriends and went back to pre-war lover Betty Farmer, who he last saw as he hurriedly extricated himself from dinner with her in order to escape the Jersey police in 1938. Their daughter, Suzanne, was born in 1954, and the Chapmans set up a health farm at Shenley Lodge in Hertfordshire (south of England), which was apparently a popular meeting place for movie stars and the Freemasons. Later, it was the settings for A Clockwork Orange (the house where Alex is caught by the police).

  • Chapman became friendly with many celebrities including Noel Coward, Marlene Dietrich and Terence Young, who directed the first two James Bond films. After the war Chapman also remained friends with his German handler, Von Gröning, who by then had fallen on hard times. Chapman died in 1997 at the age of 83, having published a couple of volumes of memoirs which are considered unreliable. His widow, Betty, is still alive.

  • The 1966 movie Triple Cross, staring Christopher Plummer and directed by Terence Young, is loosely based on Chapman's life. Apparently, he was disappointed by it.

  • Eddie's first mission was to blow up a de Havilland Mosquito factory. The de Havilland Mosquito - or Anophles de havillandus, as military wags liked to call it (anophles being one of the genus of the mosquito family) had proved a lethal nuisance to the Nazis ever since it went into production in 1940. Indeed, its effect on the German High Command was positively malarial. Designed and built at the de Havilland Aircraft Company factory outside London, it was a revolutionary military aircraft. Constructed almost entirely of wood, with a two-man crew and no defensive guns, the little plane could carry four thousand pounds of bombs to Berlin. With two Rolls-Royce Merlin engines and a top speed of four hundred miles per hour, it could usually outrun enemy fighters.

    The Mosquito nicknamed "the Wooden Wonder," could be assembled, cheaply by cabinetmakers and carpenters. It could be used for low-level daylight raids, photo-reconnaissance, night fighting, U-boat killing, mine-laying, and transport, but its main task was target bombing - and being so light and accurate, it could destroy a single building with minimal harm to civilians. Two notable missions completed by the Mosquito were the attacks on the Shell-building in Copenhagen, the Gestapo's headquarters in Denmark; and the Amiens jail, where 100 French Resistance fighters were about to be executed - 150 Resistance members escaped to fight another day.

    Reichsmarschall Hermann Goring was not amused; apparently he was heard to say, "I turn green and yellow with envy. The British, who can afford aluminum better than we can, knock together a beautiful wooden aircraft that every piano factory over there is building, and they give it a speed that they have now increased yet again. What do you make of that? There is nothing that the British do not have. They have the geniuses and we have the nincompoops. After the war is over I'm going to buy a British radio set - then at least I'll own something that has always worked."

Interesting Links
Chapman's obituary from the Daily Telegraph
A British police photo of Chapman in 1942.
Another photo of him taken in 1967.

This article was originally published in October 2007, and has been updated for the August 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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