Spartacus Blog

The Strange Case of William Wiseman

Monday, 21st October 2013

John Simkin

On the outbreak of the Second World War, a former senior figure in MI6, Sir William Wiseman approached Lord Lothian (British ambassador in the United States) and Lord Halifax (British foreign secretary), and promised that for £100,000 he could set up "the best possible intelligence service in the United States" for the British. Lothian and Halifax, both strong members of the pro-appeasement group, now approached Stewart Menzies, the head of MI6, with the offer. Menzies told a Foreign Office meeting that Wiseman was regarded with considerable suspicion by the US Embassy in London and that "both his predecessors (Mansfield Cumming and Hugh Sinclair) had very strong views about Sir William Wiseman and had recommended that he should on no account be employed by His Majesty's Government."

Wiseman now returned to the United States where he was a partner in the Wall Street banking firm Kuhn, Loeb & Company. However, he was back in London on 6th June, 1940, where he had lunch with Lord Halifax, who was still foreign secretary despite the fact that Winston Churchill had replaced Neville Chamberlain as prime minister. According to Jim Wilson, the author of Nazi Princess: Hitler, Lord Rothermere and Princess Stephanie Von Hohenlohe (2011): "Halifax briefed Wiseman to assist Lothian and help him to find some way to starting peace negotiations that would be effective. Before the outbreak of war a substantial number of the British Establishment (prime movers in political, aristocratic and financial circles) many egged on by the princess' activities, were totally opposed to the coming conflict. When, despite their efforts, war broke out, these people continued to believe that it should be resolved as quickly as possible through a negotiated peace." Interestingly, Joseph Goebbels was that month recording in his diary that Adolf Hitler had told him that he had been approached by the British about peace negotiations. Hitler had told them he was willing to negotiate but only with Lord Halifax.

Scott Newton, the author of Profits of Peace: The Political Economy of Anglo-German Appeasement (1997) has argued that Wiseman represented a group that included Lord Halifax, Lord Rothermere, Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster, Ronald Nall-Cain, 2nd Baron Brocket, Charles Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 7th Marquess of Londonderry, Walter Montagu Douglas Scott, 8th Duke of Buccleuch, Charles McLaren, 3rd Baron Aberconway and Henry Betterton, 1st Baron Rushcliffe. "All its members shared a profound fear that the domestic and international order which had sustained liberal-imperialist Britain was about to be irrevocably changed... With some justification it was believed that total war meant the socialization of Britain and a ruinous conflict in the heart of Europe from which only the Soviet Union could benefit."

Research by German historian, Martha Schad, confirms that in 1940, Sir William Wiseman was working on behalf of a group headed by Lord Halifax: "Sir William Wiseman was known to be the mouthpiece of a political group in Britain headed by Lord Halifax. These individuals were pinning their hopes on being able to bring about a lasting peace between Great Britain and the German Reich." The FBI became aware of Wiseman when he began meeting the Nazi spy, Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe and Fritz Wiedemann, the German Counsul-General in San Francisco.

On 27th November 1940, Princess Stephanie, Wiedemann and Wiseman had a meeting in suite 1024-1026 of the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco. The meeting was bugged by the FBI. It was recorded on tape and transcribed as an 111-page document. On 13th January 1941 J. Edgar Hoover sent President Franklin D. Roosevelt received a 30-page summary of the meeting. He claimed the object of this encounter was to work out a plan for persuading Adolf Hitler to make a separate peace with Britain. "The Princess stated that she had not seen Hitler since January 1939. Wiseman then suggested that Hitler might think she was going to Germany on behalf of the British. In reply to this remark, the Princess stated she would have to take that chance but that Hitler was genuinely fond of her and that he would look forward to her coming, and she thought Hitler would listen to her." The FBI leaked the contents of these undercover meetings to British intelligence. As a result, Wiseman was warned not to have any more contacts with Princess Stephanie and Wiedemann.

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The Strange Case of William Wiseman (21st October 2013)

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