The Kent-Wolkoff Affair
by Bryan Clough
Many words have been written over the years about Tyler Kent but most previous writers have accepted the offical line that he was an important German spy.
This was predicated on the claim that Anna Wolkoff, his partner-in-crime, had a means of communication with Germany.
Indeed, it has been generally accepted that Kent used Wolkoff as his conduit to the Italian Embassy in London, an assumption based on the fact that Kent and Wolkoff had once dined with the Duke del Monte, the Assistant Military Attaché at the Embassy.
NOW, following the release of MI5 files into the National Archives, it has finally become possible to reconstruct The Full Story.
But the task was not straightforward because most documents have been 'weeded'. This includes the destruction of many documents and the blanking out of words, sentences or whole sections in others.
However, by comparing official records in different locations and with other contemporary material, missing gaps can often be filled in.
One example that is only peripheral to The Kent-Wolkoff Affair illustrates how it was possible to 'unmask' Klop Ustinov, the father of the late Peter Ustinov, to reveal some of his activities as a British Secret Agent. [Click here]
Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists, who was interned with his wife, the former Diana Mitford, and over 1,000 of his supporters;
Kurt Jahnke the legendary German spy and saboteur;
Marquess of Tavistock later the 12th Duke of Bedford, a fervent Pacifist;
James McGuirk Hughes, a Government agent with many aliases, including P G Taylor;
Major-General J F C Fuller a leading Mosleyite known as 'Boney';
Sir Vernon Kell, Head of MI5;
Sir Stewart Menzies, Head of MI6;
Captain Guy M Liddell, MI5's Head of Counter-Espionage;
Admiral Nicholas Wolkoff, a former Russian diplomat who had been reduced to running The Russian Tea Rooms, in London's South Kensington;
Admiral Sir Reginald Hall, a former Director of Naval Intelligence who was a defence witness at Anna Wolkoff's trial;
W E D Allen ('Bill') and his brothers Sam and Geoffrey, wealthy businessmen;
Ferdy Mayne, an MI5 agent who later became a famous actor;
6th Earl of Cottenham, a famous racing driver known as Mark Pepys, and latterly an MI5 officer with Right Wing views;
Louis-Ferdinand Céline, the notorious French author;
Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister whose Appeasement Policies failed;
Frank Foley, an MI6 Officer credited with saving several thousand Jews;
Lord Ronald Graham, the second son of the Duke of Montrose and a fervent member of Captain Ramsay's Right Club. He introduced James McGuirk Hughes to Anna Wolkoff.
Hélène Louise de Munck, Maxwell Knight's undercover agent known as M/1;
Marjorie Mackie née Amor, Maxwell Knight's principal undercover agent on The Right Club case, known as M/Y;
Friederich Gaertner née Stottinger. Known to her friends as 'Friedl', she was code named M/G when she worked as an undercover agent for Maxwell Knight before becoming the Double Agent known as GELATINE;
Lionel John Hirst, a veteran of the British Fascisti - Britain's first Fascist Party - who became the MI5 undercover agent known as Special Source.
Tyler Kent (1911-1988) a code and cipher clerk at the American Embassy in London; and
Anna Wolkoff (1902-1973) a Russian-born dressmaker and artist
Were arrested on 20 May 1940 during the early months of World War II.
After secret trials at the Old Bailey, they were sentenced to 7 and 10 years' penal servitude - ludicrously light sentences at a time when even would-be spies were being executed for Treason.
Kent's arrest followed a search of his London flat where hundreds of Embassy documents were discovered. These included telegrams exchanged between President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill via the American Embassy in London.
Their exchanges were politically explosive at the time because Roosevelt was coming to the end of his second term as President and, until 10 May 1940, Churchill had only been the First Lord of the Admiralty. He became Prime Minister ten days prior to the arrests. Did the two leaders have something to hide?
Joseph P. Kennedy the patriarch of the famous clan was the American Ambassador in London and he paved the way for the search of Kent's flat and his subsequent arrest, by waiving Kent's diplomatic immunity.
Shortly after his arrest, Kent gave a statement to Maxwell Knight (1900-1968) of MI5 in which he admitted having shown his collection of Embassy documents to Anna Wolkoff and also to Captain Archibald Ramsay (1894-1955) the Conservative MP for Peebles.
Ramsay, who was arrested on 23 May 1940 and interned without trial until September 1944, was the founder of the Right Club a secret anti-Jewish, anti-war organisation of which Kent and Wolkoff were members. On launching the Right Club in June 1939, Ramsay had declared that 'Hitler is a splendid fellow with whom we should be proud to be friends'.
Among the 250 other members listed in the Membership Book of the Right Club were one Prince, two Princesses, one Duke, one Marquess, two Earls, five other Lords, two Professors, two Reverend Gentlemen, six Doctors, twelve MPs, nineteen retired Officers and sundry others with 'Sir', 'Lady' or 'Hon' prefixing their names.
William Joyce (1906-1946), one of Britain's leading Fascists, applied for membership of the Right Club on 1 July 1939 but the following month he left for Germany, after having been tipped off that he had been listed for internment under new Defence Regulations. He then became notorious as Lord Haw-Haw, the leading broadcaster of Nazi propaganda.
After the war, Joyce was tried and found guilty of High Treason, even though he was American by birth and had acquired German nationality before America entered the war. Controversially, he was sent to the scaffold; the last man executed for the offence.
Maxwell Knight had joined MI5 in 1931 and his mission was to place penetrative agents ('moles') in political organisations. By the time of the arrests, Knight had four agents 'maintaining contact' with Anna Wolkoff and he had several others on the periphery.
After the war, Maxwell Knight also ventured into broadcasting and became a minor celebrity as a naturalist with both television and radio appearances. He is still remembered as 'Uncle Max', a children's favourite. He also wrote several books on naturalism.
Previous attempts to get at the facts behind the The Kent-Wolkoff Affair have been thwarted by official cover-ups and even the incarceration of two inquisitive Canadian journalists.
Following the release of MI5 files into the National Archives, personal interviews with friends of Knight and Joyce and a critical examination of different strands of information available within the public domain including rare archive material, it is now possible to piece together a giant jigsaw which after 60 years finally reveals The Full Story of Tyler Kent and Anna Wolkoff.
The research also firmly disposes of the long-standing myth that MI5 is merely an intelligence-gathering agency that never takes executive action and never acts outside the law.
Following the opening of more files, it is now possible to correct various errors in the book. Please see: Corrections