Prior to World War II, Eddie Chapman was a criminal known to be part of a gang that stole vaults, according to the MI5 website. This life of crime made it possible for him to enjoy the greatest luxuries, being that he lived with great stars of cinema and music.
However, the good life came to an end in February 1939, when the Brit was arrested on the island of Jersey. He had just robbed a nightclub and was on the run, so he was sentenced to two years in prison. However, as he tried to escape in September of that year, the authorities later added another year to his sentence.
The criminal was released in October 1941, when the Channel Islands had already been invaded by the Germans. By this time, the war was already close to its peak, as the United States would enter the conflict in the coming months.
In the midst of chaos, Chapman wanted to find a way to return to Britain. For this reason, he offered services as a spy to the Germans. Accepted, he soon joined the German secret service, the Abwehr.
Due to his involvement in the crime, Eddie knew many people who could be recruited as new agents. In addition, his years of handling explosives were useful for his role, as the Germans wanted him to attack the De Havilland aircraft factory in Hertfordshire, where the famous De Havilland DH 98 ‘Mosquito’ was developed.
But that did not mean that he would not need training to perform such an action. In fact, the now spy had to spend a year in France undergoing intensive training.
Thus, on December 16, 1942, Chapman was directed to a camp in Cambridgeshire. But contrary to what the Germans imagined, the man ended up surrendering to the police, after all, he was on British soil, and that was all that mattered.
However, what neither he – let alone the Germans imagined – is that the British had deciphered the Nazis’ secret codes and, therefore, already knew all their steps. Through tactics, they waited for Eddie to arrive.
Chapman was taken to a secret detention center for MI5, the British security service, located in London. There, he was interrogated about everything he did and witnessed during his time in France and offered to work for the British against the Germans.
Despite his crime-ridden history, Eddie was accepted by Lieutenant Colonel Robin Stephens. That was how he became known as Agent ZIGZAG, one of the main double agents who served in the United Kingdom during World War II.
Chapman made contact with enemies via radio. He said he was about to attack the De Havilland factory. However, it was all a plan by the spy and British officers to deceive the Nazis.
During the early hours of January 29, 1943, the British installed a camouflage system that would give German reconnaissance planes the impression that a bomb had been dropped against the factory.
Paper mache and wood were used to give the impression that the transformers had been damaged, as well as painted tarpaulins and iron sheets, were placed in the buildings to simulate melted material. Debris was also scattered around the plant.
To finalize the plan, MI5 caused the Daily Express to spread the false story among the population, reporting “an explosion in a factory outside London”. Thus, it was much easier to convince enemies. And it really worked.
But, even after the false sabotage, the agent continued to pretend to be on the German side, and, ironically, in March 1943, he was honored with the Iron Cross, Germany’s highest honor due to his great work for Abwehr.
When Eddie Chapman returned to Britain in June 1944, he published three books about his exploits. The first one ‘The Eddie Chapman Story’ was released in 1953. The second one, ‘Free Agent: The Further Adventures of Eddie Chapman’ was published two years later, and in 1966, the last one came ‘The Real Eddie Chapman Story’.
- Agent Zigzag: The True Wartime Story of Eddie Chapman: Lover, Traitor, Hero, Spy (reissued) (English Edition), de Ben Macintyre
- Ma fantastique histoire (French) , de Eddie Chapman
- El agente Zigzag: La verdadera historia de Eddie Chapman (Spanish)
- Spies of the Midnight Sun: A True Story of WWII Heroes (English), de Samuel Marquis