Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, Nazi Germany's Chief of Military Intelligence, must rank as the most enigmatic member of the German 'Resistance' against Hitler. That he was implicated in it, at least from 1938 onwards, is beyond doubt. He was an invaluable source of information to the conspirators whose work culminated in the July 20th, 1944, plot which so nearly resulted in Hitler's death. He strove to cover their tracks, and his own, and when arrested defended himself in masterly style against the accusations of the Gestapo. He was a cultured and civilised man, who instinctively recoiled from Nazi barbarities. He was also a patriot and, as Heinz Hohne believes, 'a champion of German claims to international dominance'.

Yet, as this admirably researched book makes clear, he led a strange double existence, intriguing against the Nazi leadership but remaining a supporter of authoritarianism, organising military intelligence brilliantly and scoring some remarkable successes against Nazi Germany's enemies, a shadowy figure compared with Stauffenberg and the other men of action. At the end, the Nazis split up and destroyed his successful intelligence network and organisation, flung him into gaol and murdered him at Flossenburg concentration camp only in the last days of the war. The special merit of Hohne's biography lies in its new, detailed information about the circumstances surrounding the conspiracy, and about Canaris himself, a born plotter and undoubtedly a 'good German'.

Terence Prittie


Secker and Warburg, London, 1980; 703pp.

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