It was Taconis’s task to recruit a group of intelligence agents and saboteurs in the Netherlands. In his attempts he met the veterinarian and Captain of the Reserve C.F. van den Berg, member of the Ordedienst (O.D.), a resistance group mainly consisting of former officers of the navy and army. This Van den Berg had a connection with George Ridderhof, a man he considered a courageous resistance fighter. Ridderhof however was a V-man (stool pigeon) for the Abwehr. Everything Taconis and Van den Berg did was passed on to Herman Giskes, Chief of Referat III of the Abwehr, who was in charge of counter espionage. In January 1942 Lauwers received a message to the effect that weapons were to be dropped for the resistance group of Taconis. This was strange; the group had hardly been established and did not need weapons and explosives. Yet, the drop went ahead as planned. Lauwers and Taconis discussed it with Van den Berg and so Riddehof got wind of it. He forwarded all of it to Giskes. Ridderhof also indicated that probably more agents and supplies would be dropped and that he could funnel all of it into German hands. Initially, Giskes did not attach much value to Ridderhof’s story. He wrote in the margin of Ridderhof’s report where he stated his findings that he could go to the North Pole with his story, hence the code name Operation Nordpol.
V-man Ridderhof meanwhile made himself trusted more and more by Taconis and Van den Berg, among other things because of the details of espionage he reported that looked very dependable and useful but had all been formulated by Giskes though. He also offered to provide a truck to transport the weapons from the drop zone. The dropping took place on March 2nd. One of the two containers could be salvaged, the other landed in the canal. In the meantime, Oberleutnant Heinrich, chief of the Funkbeobachtung knew the location of the transmitter in The Hague.
On March 6th, 1942, Lauwers was arrested at the address of the Teller family in The Hague who had made their home available to the resistance. Lauwers had three coded messages on him he still had to send. After the war he said about it: "Coding is time consuming and that is why I had taken these three telegrams with me. I had not reckoned on being arrested this way." Giskes wanted to start a Spiel right after the arrest. Giskes’ main objective was to control hostile activities; elimination of the agents came second. As the Netherlands had a civil administration instead of a military, the military intelligence agency in the Netherlands was not allowed to arrest or interrogate civilians. It had to leave that to the Sipo, Department IV headed by Kriminaldirektor and SS-Stumbannführer Joseph Schreieder. This department was involved in fighting internal espionage. Cooperation between these two organizations and persons would progress very well. On March 9th, Taconis and the members of the resistance group he had established in the meantime, were arrested in Arnhem by Leo Poos and Marten Slagter, police officers from The Hague and co-workers of Schreieder.
Warnings by Lauwers
Lauwers was transferred to Abwehr HQ in Scheveningen. Giskes asked him if he would work for the Germans. During his training in Great Britain, Lauwers was told, in case of his arrest he was allowed after a while to work for the enemy, if only he would omit his security check. The agent would stay alive this way and England would be notified he was working for the enemy under duress, giving London the opportunity to start an operation of deception by radio. A few hours after his arrest, Lauwers submitted his code to the Germans. He did so when it became clear that Oberleutnant Heinrich possessed exhaustive knowledge of the Britsh codes that were in use; knowledge he had gained from the earlier arrests of Van der Reyden, Zomer and others. According to his instructions and after Giskes had promised not to take Taconis to a German court to have him executed, Lauwers promised to cooperate. After the war, he gave another reason for his cooperation: "When you have submitted your code and start working for them, you are valuable to them and as long as you are, you have a chance to survive."
On March 12th or 15th, Lauwers transmitted the three messages he had drafted and coded before his arrest, including his security check. On March 19th, 1942, he transmitted his first message under German direction. He omitted his security check. At MI6, which until July 1942 received all messages, this was noticed and passed on to S.O.E. Up to then, Lauwers had transmitted 17 messages in freedom in which the security check had been included correctly each time. The head of the Dutch Section, Blizard, assumed however he had omitted the check because of poor equipment, nervosity, forgetfullness or atmospheric interference; hence the contact was not broken. The announced arrival of an agent was postponed however but the dropping of material would go ahead as planned. Lauwers presumed the Britsh secret service wanted to play a game with the Germans. This did happen sometimes. His assumption was confirmed initially by the postponement of the dropping of the agent and later when it turned out the material that was dropped did not amount to much, as for instance the transmitter was missing.
After the war, many have wondered how it could have been possible the British had paid so little attention to the fact that security checks in Lauwers’ messages and in those of other captured agents were missing. As many of the agents were equiped with low power transmitters, many messages did not arrive in London or were garbled. Certainly in cases where the security check consisted of only one character being sent incorrectly, it was very difficult to check whether it had been included or not. In case the check was missing, an investigation was started in each individual case, hence there were no checks made over a longer period. Moreover, the British went on the assumption the security check as a means of identification was insufficient, the reason why S.O.E. attached little value to it. The security checks in use by S.O.E. were of poor quality because of their simplicity. There were no other ways to check if the operator could still be trusted. The "finger print" (the specific way of using the transmission key) of each individual operator was only being recorded from 1943 onwards. In addition this was difficult to verify. This finger print was often distorted by atmosferic interference, the agents were often highly stressed which also led to aberrations. A skillful operator was able to copy someone else’s finger print. S.O.E. mainly judged the messages on their content and in case of the Englandspiel, that appeared dependable. Because the intelligence services were expanding fast, many agents were sent out into the field without having been trained properly. That also applied to the workers at the receiving station. A certain routine and complacency prevailed in the centers were messages were received and decoded. Often only actual and relevant content would be decoded; groups of characters containing the security check were not decoded at all. The workers thought they were able to recognize the operator by his way of transmitting and the rule that copies being sent to the various sections should contain the remark "checked for identity" was often broken.
The dropping of Abor
In the night of March 27th to 28th, 1942, the agent Nol Baatsen (code name Abor) was dropped near Kallenkote, Overijssel. V-man Ridderhof, who knew the password provided by S.O.E., was waiting for him. Subsequently he was arrested by the collaborating police officers Poos and Slagter. The Germans informed him that his mission had been betrayed by England. Baatsen was so shocked about this he volunteered many details during his interrogation the next day. Lauwers subsequently refused to play the German game any longer because he did want more agents of the secret service falling in German hands because of him. After Giskes had promised him again, these captured agents would not be executed, Lauwers resumed radio contact with Great Britain. He still presumed, the British were playing a game with the Germans and that also made him continue his cooperation. Until mid November, Lauwers transmitted many messages with an obviously fake security check. He could not omit these altogether as the Germans knew about the use of these signs. Lauwers’ check entailed misspelling each 16th character or a multiple – e.g. 32, 48 – in each message. He had told the Germans his check entailed typing step or stip instead of stop.
On March 29th, 1942, agents Leo Andringa, Jan Molenaar (near Ommen) Gozewijn Ras en Han Jordaan (near Rijssen) were dropped. The operator Molenaar lost his life on landing and his transmitter was damaged. All contacts of these agents went by way of Jordaan and the Germans were eavesdropping on this contact from the beginning. Oberleutnant Heinrich of the Funkbeobachtung soon discovered somebody was transmitting from Utrecht.
In April 1942, without Lauwers being notified, the agents Barend Kloos (April 5th), Hendrik Sebes and Johan de Haas (April 9th) were dropped or taken to occupied Holland by boat. Their contact also went via Jordaan. At the end of April, the British ordered Group Taconis to make contact with De Haas at an address in Haarlem. The Germans managed to locate the address. By passing himself off as a member of the resistance, police officer Poos won the trust of the shopkeeper. As a result, the Germans were able to arrest agents De Haas and Andringa on April 28th. After Schreieder had told De Haas he had been betrayed, the latter was so shocked he volunteered much information. He declared for instance that the agents who had been dropped would meet in a bar in Utrecht on May 1st. Andringa went there accompanied by Poos. The building was surrounded in advance by officers of the SD. Agents Ras en Kloos were arrested, Jordaan and Sebes managed to leave the bar in time, as they suspected danger. During the arrest, the Germans found a notebook with a telephone number that proved to belong to the operator. Anton van der Waals, another V-man working for Schreieder, subsequently called Jordaan and indicated he was making contact on behalf of Ras. The agent promised to meet the caller. He had some suspicion but it disappeared because Ton, the bogus parachutist from London, appeared dependable. They agreed to meet once again at the railway station in Rotterdam. Jordaan passed the phone number of Sebes to Van der Waals as he had to be "warned" as well. Afterwards, Jordaan was arrested by officers of the SD. Van der Waals (Bio van der Waals) ordered Sebes, allegedly on behalf of Kloos, to come to Rotterdam. He was arrested there as well on May 9th.
After his arrest and in accordance with instructions, Jordaan submitted his code. He really had little choice. The Germans already knew the system and moreover, he had the poem containing the code in his pocket. But he also omitted his security check. A first message was transmitted by a German operator without Jordan’s check. Jordaan’s warning was not understood as such by S.O.E. On the contrary, he was ordered to instruct an operator in the Netherlands in the use of the security check. It was also pointed out to him, he was not to forget his own check. More or less forced to do so, Jordaan submitted his security check to Giskes.
Lauwers attempted to warn in more than one way than the incorrect application of his security check. He and Jordaan were given the messages they had to transmit beforehand. These had been drafted by Giskes. During transmission, they were watched over by a German operator, hence they could not send something quite different from what the Germans had given them. According to Lauwers, he mentioned the word ‘caught’ in his telegrams, initially in groups of characters such as ‘ght’ and ‘cau’, later in full. In August, he is said to have included the words ‘worked with Jerry’ in his message. Whenever there was a frequency change, the operator notified the recipient using a code of three characters, which Lauwers replaced by ‘ght’. He replaced the notification: "I have no more messages for you, QRU by ‘cau’. Transmitting was done in groups of five characters. Lauwers transmitted the characters ‘caugh t’ a few times, followed by a sign he had made a mistake. He hid the warning ‘worked with Jerry’ in the jumbled characters, meaningless characters at the beginning and the end of each message. Lauwers was not able to transmit the second part of his warning as the Germans suspected he had made alterations to the message he was to transmit on their orders.
In his ‘Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog, deel 9’ (The Kingdom of the Netherlands in World War Two, part 9) historian Loe de Jong mentioned a few reasons why the warnings by Lauwers were not considered as such. The messages were received by young operators. They only wrote down the groups of characters, decoding was done by someone else. The decoders had the coding system, the prevalent code and the security check at their disposal. They decoded the message and checked the text. They probably paid no attention to the jumbled characters and the signs that indicated a change of frequency. The characters ‘ght’ and ‘cau’ were wide apart. It is well possible that the decoders did not see the word ‘caught’ in the characters ‘c a u g h t’. The same applied to ‘worked with Jerry’ which appeared in the jumbled characters and was probably not decoded or understood as such at all. The jumbled characters were not included in the final transcript of the messages either that were passed on to the intelligence sections of the various countries. These messages started with the number of the operator and ended with ‘end’. The decoders probably considered the group of characters a mistake. During transmission a reply was sent: ‘message understood’ but that was standard procedure after a group of characters had been received. Because the group of characters was considered a mistake, it was also possibly crossed out in the message that was passed on to the various sections. After the war, the telegrams were burned by the British so there is no evidence for Lauwers having actually issued warnings. In August 1945, Dobson, the successor of Bingham and Blizard as chief of the S.O.E. Dutch declared telegrams had been received without the security checks.
In October 1942, Lauwers was transferred to the Polizeigefängnis und Untersuchungs Gefängnis (Police and investigation prison) Haaren in Noord-Brabant, thereafter the messages were sent by a German operator.
In May 1942, the Group Taconis/Lauwers had also been ordered to contact agent George Dessing, who had been dropped in February, in a bar in Amsterdam. Escorted by Poos, Andringa went there. He managed to warn Dessing unnoticed, enabling him to get away safety.
On May 22nd, agents Ernst de Jonge and Leen Pot were arrested, Jan Emmer on May 30th. In May, operators Felix Ortt and Evert Radema were arrested by the SD. These agents worked for MI6. They had been dropped in connection with Operation Contact Holland. This entailed secret agents were to be put ashore at night by boat near the Scheveningen Pier; also persons, whose presence in London was desired, were to be picked up using this route. Through the resistance web in the Netherlands, they contacted S.O.E. agents who were controlled by the Germans, hence they could be arrested also. Giskes and Schreieder had too little information on MI6 to convince these agents they had been betrayed, nor did the Germans succeed in setting up a Funkspiel via their radios as MI6 saw through the ruse. This organization did pay sufficient attention to the security checks.