Sunday, July 14, 2013

The resistance leader ‘King Kong’ and operation Market Garden

In September 1944 the Western Allies launched a major operation called ‘Market Garden’. The goal of this operation was to use paratroopers to seize a series of bridges in Holland which would then be used by ground forces to sidestep the German defenses, cross the border and advance in the industrial Ruhr area, thus crippling the German war machine.

This audacious plan was promoted by General Montgomery who was thought to be extremely careful and risk averse in his operations. Montgomery thought that the great losses suffered by the Germans in the Normandy campaign and the liberation of France had greatly weakened their military power and risky operations were justified to end the war sooner.
General Eisenhower approved this plan and roughly 35.000 airborne troops took part in the battle. The original plan called for the paratroopers to secure bridges over the Meuse, Waal, and Rhine rivers so that the ground troops could advance and cross them without a fight.

By relying on speed and surprise the airborne troops were expected to overwhelm the weak German forces and be quickly relieved by the ground troops. The airborne troops were certainly not supposed to fight for long periods of time. They also lacked anti tank equipment so they were particularly weak against armored units.
Operation ‘Market Garden’ started out well for the Allied troops but the bridge at Arnhem could not be taken and once the Germans moved armored units, that were stationed close by, the paratroopers there were surrounded and destroyed.

Overall the Allied paratroopers suffered heavy losses in their operations. Their bravery however was recognized by friend and foe and thus the battle of Arnhem has been immortalized in numerous books and movies.
The sad failure of this operation is intertwined with the strange story of the Dutch resistance leader ‘King Kong’.

Christiaan Lindemans was a Dutch citizen born in 1912 in Rotterdam.  Prior to WWII he worked at his father’s garage as an auto mechanic. Due to his impressive physique he had the nickname ‘King Kong’.
In 1940 the garage was destroyed during the bombing of Rotterdam so Lindemans found a new job as a lorry driver on the Lille-Paris route, carrying fuel for the German AF. In Lille he lived with his girlfriend and had two children with her.

In 1941 it seems that through her he met with members of the Resistance movement and became involved in their struggle.
In 1942-43 he worked for several groups and built up a reputation as a fearless Resistance leader. The German authorities learned to fear him, not only due to his size and physical strength but also because he was quick to draw his gun and shoot at them.

However Lindemans had his weak spot. He was an inveterate womanizer and he had many girlfriends who often got him into trouble.
In late 1943 he learned that his girlfriend had been arrested by the Germans and at the same time his brother who was a member of the resistance in Rotterdam was also picked up by the police.

The loss of his loved ones drove ‘King Kong’ to the edge and he finally decided to contact the German military intelligence service Abwehr in order to bargain with them.
In Holland the Abwehr officer in charge of counterintelligence activities was Hermann Giskes. His memoir London calling North Pole’ (which I have reviewed here) has a lot of information on his talks with Lindemans.

Initially the Germans were fearful that Lindemans would try to set up a trap:
From page 166: ‘He calls himself Christiaan Lindemans and says he is a Dutch civil servant with a house in Rotterdam….The man is either a quite genuine mine of information or else the most dangerous character we have encountered so far………’’What does the man look like?’’ I asked. "He is a giant of a fellow, who gives an impression varying between extreme brutality and harmless simplicity. Nelis declares that he is one of the most active and sinister figures in the Underground movement in the West, who has a record of bloody affrays with German police and who shoots on the slightest provocation. His cover-name in Underground circles is King Kong.

When Lindemans met Giskes and his officers he explained his motives:
From page 167: ‘May I ask you to explain what brings you here?" I started the conversation. "I have heard it said that you have contacts with the Allied Secret Services, and I shall be grateful if you will tell me in brief terms who you are, what you want from us, and what you have to offer.’’ CC replied in fluent German. "If I am not mistaken," he began, "I am speaking to the head of the German counter-espionage. I wish to address my proposal to him alone, as I do not expect to get satisfaction from anyone else. My personal particulars as given yesterday to Herr Walter (Wurr) are genuine. I am Christiaan Lindemans of Rotterdam, and I have worked for the English Secret Service since the spring of 1940. For the last six months I have brought in my youngest brother to assist in getting English airmen out of the country. He has been discovered, arrested by the SIPO, and is now under sentence of death pronounced by a German military court. I feel myself responsible for my brother’s fate, since it was I who introduced him to this work. If you can arrange to have my brother freed, i am ready to hand over the whole of my knowledge of the Allied Secret Services.

From page 168: ‘For the past five years I have been impelled by single thought—to do my utmost for the Allied Secret Service, without thought of thanks or reward. I have been met with ingratitude, mistrust and betrayal. If you only knew how many weaklings, place-seekers and collaborators, who have used their connections with the Germans simply to enrich themselves, are now starting to come over to us because they believe that the defeat of Germany is imminent. If you knew this you would understand me better and would realize why I have come to you. The men through whom we carried the Resistance during the first years of the Occupation have nearly all gone—dead, arrested or just disappeared. Of the remainder, there are only a few whom i can trust. Leave them in peace! I will guarantee that in due course you will learn a great deal about the plans of the Underground and of London. Hand me over my brother and then make use of me as seems best to you. King Kong, as they call me, is friend or foe.
So Christiaan Lindemans became a German spy and compromised the Resistance groups that he knew of. However the most interesting part of his betrayal concerns his knowledge of operation ‘Market Garden’.

The plot thickens
Was Lindemans able to warn the Germans about ‘Market Garden’? Let’s have a look at the available information.

According to the official history ‘British Intelligence in the Second World War: Volume 4’:
At the beginning of September Giskes instructed King Kong to stay behind in Belgium and try to penetrate the British Intelligence Service. King Kong quickly obtained an introduction through the Armee Blanche to a unit in Antwerp working for IS 9. Probably about 12 September he was dispatched on a mission to pass through the lines to Eindhoven and inform chiefs of the Resistance there that they were to stay quiet. Such Allied pilots as they had in their care were not to move as the Allied armies would liberate the territory shortly.’

While crossing the lines Lindemans was arrested by a German patrol and taken to a prison. There he revealed to his captors that he worked for the Abwehr and was sent to the Abwehr unit in Driebergen, where the commander of that unit, Major Kiesewetter interrogated him. Afterwards he was taken to Eindhoven and stayed there until it was liberated by the Allies.
According to ‘British intelligence’ vol4 Kiesewetter’s testimony on this matter is not available as he was never interrogated. However Giskes and his subordinate Huntemann were interrogated at Camp 020 at the end of the war.

These two confirmed the story of Lindemans arrest and interrogation by Kiesewetter but their information was second hand. Was ‘Market Garden’ compromised by ‘King Kong’?
The relevant information seems to be contradictory in some parts. Giskes told the British that on September 15 ‘King Kong’ spoke of an Allied attack towards Eindhoven with paratroopers taking part.

On the other hand Huntemann said that on 16 September he learned from Kiesewetter that an Allied airborne operation was expected in the Munster-Dülmen area of Westphalia and Arnhem had not been mentioned but in 1945 he had heard from Giskes that Lindemans had indeed identified Arnhem in his report.
However Giskes says the following about King Kong and operation ‘Market Garden’ in his memoir:

From page 189 – ‘On August 25th King Kong brought in a report which purported to emanate the head of the Armee Blanche. The report indicated that the main thrust of the Allies was directed at the Dinant area, with the intention of advancing via Namur in the direction of Eindhoven so as to seize the river crossings at Nijmegen and Arnhem. The subsequent attack would follow from a bridgehead thrown across the Rhine and Waal, down the Ijssel and towards the German North Sea coast. On that day we were able to pass this message over the radio-link which had been re-established with No. III headquarters West, which had now moved back to the Luxembourg area. An attempt at confirmation of the report was unsuccessful, but the actual development of the Allied attack during the next three weeks established the correctness of the information.’
Note that August 25≠September 15. Perhaps this is a mistake in the book. Or perhaps not…

In page 199 the story changes again and Giskes says that Lindemans did not mention Arnhem in his interrogation of 15th September but he did reveal that powerful American and British airborne units would take part in the upcoming battle. According to Giskes this information coupled with other sources of intelligence (Giskes mentions the Luftwaffe radio intelligence service and RAF recon planes flying over Nijmegen and Arnhem) were enough to give the German command a hint of what was coming.
In addition there is the testimony of another Abwehr officer who worked for Giskes, named Richard Christmann. In 1946 he was interrogated by the French and said that he was the one that took Lindemans to Driebergen. According to him Lindemans reported that major parachute landings were planned on the line Eindhoven-Amsterdam-Zuider Zee on September 18. This information was immediately transmitted to Army HQ.

The same person was interrogated again by the Americans and this time stated that Lindemans had warned them of aerial landings in Nijmegen, Eindhoven and Arnhem with follow up operations in Amersfoort, Ostrand and Zuider Zee.
So as we can see each person gives a different account…

The end of King Kong
After Eindhoven was liberated Lindemans continued to work for the Allies as a liaison with the Dutch forces of the interior and regularly visited Prince Bernhard’s headquarters. 

In October 1944 his luck run out as another German agent who knew of his betrayal decided to offer this information to the Allies. King Kong was arrested on October 28 and taken to camp 020 for interrogation.
The interrogations were inconclusive with a British report stating: ‘Although the man has broken in the sense that he has admitted to working for the Germans denouncing patriots and passing military information, it has not been found possible to maintain the pressure on him owing to the fits  from which he suffers. The result has been that camp 020 has been unable to report what information regarding Allied plans and military dispositions King Kong has passed to the enemy.

In December Lindemans was handed over to the Dutch authorities but he committed suicide in 1946 before going to trial.
The mystery continues

It seems that in Holland several books have been published about ‘King Kong’ and his role in the failure of ‘Market Garden’. Unfortunately I don’t know if any of these books adds new information on this WWII mystery.
One of them however was written by the high ranking Dutch intelligence official Oreste Pinto, who claimed that Lindemans was the one who betrayed operation ‘Market Garden’.

Lindemans/King Kong definitely gave the Germans some kind of information on the Allied plans but so far it seems that no one knows exactly what he told the Germans. This is another WWII mystery with no clear answers.
Sources: ‘British Intelligence in the Second World War: Volume 4’, appendix 14, ‘London calling North Pole’, Wikipedia, ‘The Battle for Western Europe, Fall 1944: An Operational Assessment’

Acknowledgement: I have to thank Ralph Erskine for sharing the information in ‘British intelligence in the Second World War, vol4’.

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