Ian Fleming: Operation Ruthless

Ian Fleming’s frequent contact with the variety of spies and agents who passed through Room 39 stimulated his imagination to propose a variety of ideas to the Director of Naval Intelligence, Rear Admiral John Godfrey.

However, he was to see some real action when flown to Paris in June 1940 as France collapsed. He remained there for a fortnight, directing the intelligence operations around him. With Paris falling to the Germans, Fleming collected the secret service funds, which were hidden at the Paris office of Rolls Royce and effected his escape to Bordeaux.

There at the British Consulate he set about the task of burning all the documents before heading to Madrid via Portugal. Since the Straights of Gibraltar were of vital strategic importance for access to the Mediterranean, it was considered vital for the allies to prevent Spain from joining the war and aiding Hitler.

Fleming returned to London as the Blitz and the Battle of Britain were beginning. Luftwaffe bombers were targeting London and the skies buzzed with RAF Hurricanes and Spitfires attempting to hold off the Germans’ onslaught. Meanwhile, with the formation of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), Naval Intelligence no longer looked after sabotage and dirty tricks on the European mainland.

One major concern to Naval Intelligence was the threat to British shipping from Germany’s U-Boat fleet, but in order to know the movement of U-Boats, cryptologists needed to crack the code used by the German Enigma code machines. Fleming came up with the answer in a memo to Godfrey:

1. Obtain from the Air Ministry an air-worthy German bomber.

2. Pick a tough crew of five, including a pilot, W/T operator and word-perfect German speaker. Dress them in German Air Force uniform, add blood and bandages to suit.

3. Crash plane in the Channel after making SOS to rescue service in P/L.

4. Once aboard rescue boat, shoot German crew, dump overboard, bring rescue boat back to English port.

Although Operation Ruthless got the go ahead and was ready to roll, it was cancelled due to a lack of suitable German marine traffic. Fleming had initially wanted to go on the operation himself; naturally Godfrey vetoed this idea, as Fleming was far too valuable to fall into enemy hands.

Operation Ruthless did demonstrate what an imagination Fleming possessed, which would later be so essential in the creation of James Bond.


For more comprehensive information on the life of Ian Fleming see Andrew Lycett’s excellent biography, available at Amazon.co.uk/Amazon.com.

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