George Blake

George Blake

George Blake was born in Rotterdam to a Dutch mother and an Egyptian father in 1922. During the Second World War he became a courier for the Dutch resistance during the Nazi occupation.

Blake escaped from Holland in 1942 and on arriving in England joined the Royal Navy as an ordinary officer and eventually became an officer. Blake spoke several languages and during the war was involved in intelligence work. This included escorting agents into enemy-occupied Holland.

After the war Blake was recruited into MI6 and sent to Hamburg to build up an intelligence network in the Soviet zone in Germany.

Blake was then sent to Korea. During the Korean War Blake became highly critical of the decision by the United States Air Force to bombing unprotected villages. On 24th June 1950, Blake was captured by the North Koreans while at the British Legation. He later claimed that while he was a prisoner he read the work of Karl Marx and was converted to communism.

Released in 1953 Blake returned to Britain as a hero. He was appointed the deputy to Tom Gimson of Y section. This involved processing the recordings of telephone intercepts of Russian diplomats and Red Army officers in Europe. In 1955 he was moved to Berlin where his task was to recruit Soviet officers as double agents. While in this post he gave the Soviets details of the 400 MI6 agents working in Germany.

In 1959 Blake returned to London where he worked for DP4. This unit was involved in recruiting British businessmen travelling to the Soviet Union and Russian diplomats stationed in Britain.

In 1959 Michael Goleniewski, a Polish intelligence officer, told the CIA that Soviet agents were operating in Britain. This information was passed on to MI5 and eventually this led to the arrests of Blake, Gordon Lonsdale, Harry Houghton, Peter Kroger and Helen Kroger.

At his trial Blake was accused of supplying information to the KGB that led to the arrests of 42 MI6 agents working in communist countries. Dick White later claimed that Blake did even more harm as a double-agent than Kim Philby.

Blake was convicted of spying in 1961 he was sentenced to 42 years, the longest prison sentence ever imposed by a British court.

On 22nd October, 1966, Blake escaped from Wormwood Scrubs Prison by climbing over the wall using a rope thrown from outside. He went to the Soviet Union and was employed by the Institute for World, Economic and International Affairs.

Primary Sources

(1) George Blake, interviewed by PBS (2002)

I come from rather an international, or in other words, a cosmopolitan background. My father was a Spanish Jew who came from the Middle East or the Near East. He fought in the British Army during the First World War and was very seriously wounded.

He received high decorations, the Military Cross and the French. Immediately after the war he was in Holland, where he met my mother. Now my mother came from a Dutch middle-class, Protestant background.

My father had a business in Holland which wasn't very successful, and he died in 1934, when I was twelve, from the results of his wounds during the war, and I got a Dutch Protestant upbringing. Dutch is my native tongue. After the death of my father, my mother was left in rather strange circumstances.

My father had a sister in Cairo, who was a wife of a very rich banker. They said they would take me and look after my education, give me a good education, and that would relieve my mother as I also had two sisters.

At the age of thirteen I went to Cairo, and lived with my uncle and aunt, in a very large house, and there I met my two cousins, who were ten years older than I was. Both of them had very decided left wing views; they didn't want to succeed their father in a banking business.

Especially the younger of my two cousins who had a great influence on me. He was, by that time, a Communist and he talked a lot with me. Of course his views had a great influence on me, but I resisted them, because I was a very religious boy.

It was my intention to become a minister in the Dutch Reform Church, but later on, in life, things changed. Many of his views acted as a time bomb, and the results under the affect of events shaped my further views.

(2) Tom Bower, The Perfect English Spy (1995)

At the end of the third day, Shergold was fretting. There were few questions remaining. 'After another half hour,' Shergold would later say, 'Blake might have been free.' But the pressure of eight years' deceit was weakening his resistance. White had correctly guessed that Blake, an emotional rather than a professional traitor, would not realise that SIS was powerless without a confession.

Shergold's question, just before the session concluded, bore a hint of desperation: 'We know that you were working for the Soviets, but we understand why. While you were their prisoner in Korea, you were tortured and made to confess that you were a British intelligence officer. From then on you were blackmailed and had no choice but to collaborate with them.' Blake was indignant. 'No, nobody tortured me! No, nobody blackmailed me!' he spluttered, losing his self-control. 'I approached the Soviets and offered my services to them of my own accord.' He wanted everyone to know, he recalls, 'that I acted out of conviction, out of a belief in communism, and not under duress or for financial gain.'

Unrestrained, Blake launched into an uninterrupted monologue confessing his treachery. 'They listened to me in amazed silence,' recalled Blake. At one stage, the traitor stopped. 'Am I boring you?'

(3) Chapman Pincher, Their Trade is Treachery (1981)

Much of the effort made by Macmillan and his government to blanket the horrific details of Blake's treachery was to conceal from the British public the inefficiency which had allowed such a spy to operate for so long inside the Secret Service. The main objective, however, was to conceal the facts from the US Congress, after the Fuchs and Maclean cases had already done so much damage to the reputation of Britain as a safe ally with whom to share secrets.

(4) George Blake, interviewed by Clem Cecil of The Times (14th May 2003)

One of the main things which to me was a disappointment was that I believed that a new man was born here (Russia), the Soviet man who was different from other people, who had been fashioned and formed by the communist system, by communist education, who was different, a higher form of humanity. I realised very quickly that this was not so. They were just ordinary people like everyone else and that the same human passions, and greed and ambitions, which governed the lives of most people also governed their lives.

The communist ideal is too high to achieve, just as the Christian ideal is too high for people to achieve, and there can only be nominal adherents to it in the end.

I am optimistic, that in time, and it may take thousands of years, that humanity will come to the viewpoint that it would be better to live in a communist society where people really were equal.