Man with ﬁve faces
MIHIR BOSE’S beautifully written book, Silver: The Spy Who Fooled the Nazis, (Fonthill, £25) tells the story of Hindu who lived in the North-West frontier province of British India and was the only quintuple spy of the Second World War. He spied for the Germans, Italians, Japanese, Russians and the British, though his true loyalties lay with his native India.
Talwar travelled to Kabul in February 1941, escorting Subhas Chandra Bose (no relation to the author), a prominent figure of the Indian independence movement, who went to the Afghan capital to seek help from the Axis powers to free India from the British. Before Bose returned to India, he nominated Talwar as his agent to the Italians. Talwar was then recruited by the Germans who were well-established in Kabul; but as Hitler invaded Russia in June 1941, Talwar contacted the Russians in Kabul, giving them information about the German invasion. Subsequently, the Russians told the British about Talwar and he was recruited to be handled by Peter Fleming, brother of Ian, author of the James Bond books; it was Fleming who gave Talwar the code name “Silver”, after a Mr Silver, an official at the political intelligence wing of the India Office in London. The Germans, not suspecting that Talwar was deceiving them, provided him with a transmitter to send them messages but, with Fleming’s help, Silver broad-cast false military information straight to the headquarters of German intelligence in Berlin. The British regarded Silver as one of their best spies and rewarded him handsomely. He eventually died in India in 1983.
There is also an interesting Jewish angle to this story and it is to do with the deep divisions among the German military intelligence agents in Kabul regarding the Jews. The main Nazi agent there was Kurt Brinckmann, a Nazi party member and an antisemite. He considered himself to be a top agent because his cover as a dentist meant he looked after the teeth of the Afghan Prime Minister, who had bad teeth and saw him every other day.
However, among other Germans in Kabul was one Major Schenk, an instructor at the Kabul Military Academy and much liked by the Afghans. Brinckmann despised Schenk because he was “half Jew” and Brinckmann’s racial views caused tensions in the small Kabul German intelligence com-munity, which Silver took advantage of to fool the Germans by manoeuvring between the divided camps. Silver is a fascinating page-turner of a tale which will be of much interest to readers who, like me, love true spy stories.