|Born||1 May 1908|
|Died||15 Jun 1952|
|Country||Poland, United Kingdom|
Contributor: John Radzilowski
ww2dbaseChristine Granville, born Krystyna Skarbek, was among the most glamorous and successful of the female agents employed by Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE). A brief, rumored relationship with author Ian Fleming shortly after the war has led to speculation that she provided the inspiration for some of the early "Bond Girls."
ww2dbaseKrystyna Skarbek was the daughter of Jerzy Skarbek, a Polish nobleman, and Stefania Goldfeder, whose secularized Jewish family were among Poland's wealthiest bankers. Krystyna's parents lived the high life in Jazz Age Warsaw and their daughter had the best of everything. Like most aristocratic Polish women, she grew up with not only deportment, French, and piano lessons, but learning to ride horses and ski as well. Encouraged by an indulgent father, Skarbek became something of a tomboy, albeit a rather glamorous one. At the age of nineteen she took runner up in a national beauty contest. Her greatest passion, however, seemed to risk-taking, including dangerous ski trails and fast cars. When the Depression hit, however, her playboy father had largely exhausted his wife's fortune and Skarbek was forced to take a job as a secretary in an auto dealership. Shortly thereafter she met, married, and soon divorced a wealthy, older businessman. The divorce settlement gave her an income steady enough to enjoy life on her own terms. In 1938, she married Jerzy Gizycki. Significantly older than Skarbek, Gizycki had been a lifelong adventurer and traveler, working as a cowboy, gold prospector, explorer, and even as a Hollywood extra. Shortly thereafter Gizycki was tapped to be Polish consul to Kenya and East Africa and the couple moved to Nairobi.
ww2dbaseWhen the war broke out, Skarbek and her husband went to London, where she volunteered to help British secret services and proposed a fantastical scheme of traveling to still-neutral Hungary and then skiing over the Carpathian Mountains to Poland to bring out information and Polish volunteers to fight in the West. For reasons that remain unclear, perhaps relating to her husband's pre-war connections to British intelligence, the scheme was approved and by December she was in Budapest. There she met Andrzej Kowerski, one-legged, dashing, and decorated Polish tank officer, who was already operating an escape route for Polish soldiers. At the time, although increasingly tied to Germany, Hungary's traditional friendship with Poland caused Hungarian officials to turn a blind eye to such activities. Skarbek began working with Kowerski and the two became lovers.
ww2dbaseIn February 1940, she made the first of a number of trips over the Tatra Mountains on skis during one of the worst winters on record, carrying documents for the Polish resistance and returning with information on German activities. On her final trip out of Poland, she carried microfilmed documents detailing German preparations to invade the Soviet Union. While in Warsaw, Skarbek also made contact with a resistance groups known as the Musketeers. This independent group operated outside the control of Polish underground authorities who had their own intelligence cells. Although the Musketeers would provide the Allies with some valuable intelligence, their leaders also maintained contacts with Abwehr (German military intelligence) and Polish secret services came to suspect that the group had been infiltrated. By early 1941 Hungary came increasingly under German control and the Nazis clamped down on escape routes across the Carpathians. As German agents closed in, Skarbek and Kowerski were ordered to leave for Belgrade. To help their escape, they were given British passports and new names. Skarbek now became "Christine Granville" a name that she adopted and maintained for the rest of her life.
ww2dbaseGranville found herself in Egypt but was unable to continue working as an intelligence agent for many months due to Polish suspicions she was a double agent. Her contacts with the Musketeers having compromised her ability to work with the Poles, she would henceforth work exclusively with the British.
ww2dbaseBecause she spoke fluent French in 1944 she parachuted into southern France to join SOE operations in support of French resistance forces. German troops along the French-Italian border were often second- or third-line forces and a number of garrisons consisted of Poles or Russians conscripted from labor camps or supposed "volksdeutsch" in western Poland. As Allied forces pushed into France the reliability of these forces came into ever greater question. In August, she made contact with a group of such troops manning a border post at Col-de-Larche and convinced them to desert to the French partisans. The unit's German officers found themselves nearly devoid of soldiers and on August 13 agreed to surrender.
ww2dbaseThat same day, Granville learned the SOE's regional commander (and her sometime lover), Lieutenant Colonel Francis Cammaerts and two associates had been arrested by the Gestapo and sentenced to death as spies. Granville travelled to Gestapo headquarters and Digne and confronted Alsatian-born Gestapo man Albert Schenck. Pretending to be Cammaerts' wife and the niece of British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, Granville convinced Schenck and a fellow Gestapo man from Belgium that Allied forces were approaching and soon the region would be liberated. In the event, French and Belgian-born collaborators would be subject to mob justice as had already happened elsewhere in parts of liberated France. Along with a purse of gold coins and the promise of safe conduct if they surrendered to Allied authorities, the two increasingly frightened Gestapo men released their valuable prisoners and even helped drive them out of town in a Gestapo vehicle.
ww2dbaseFor her exploits, Granville would be awarded the George Medal and was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. France would award her with the Croix de Guerre. When the war ended, however, Granville was unable to return to Poland. The love of risk and danger that fueled her exploits during the war had little place in the post-war world and British authorities found exiled Poles like Granville a bother. Although granted British citizenship, Granville drifted between jobs and relationships, including working aboard a cruise ship. While working at sea, she struck up a relationship with a handsome but troubled steward, Dennis Muldowney. After a short while she quit her job and broke off her relationship with the increasingly obsessive Muldowney. On June 15, 1952, he confronted Granville at her rented London apartment and after a brief exchange of words fatally stabbed her. Granville was 44.
Clare Mulley, The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville (New York: St. Martin's, 2012).
Madeline Masson, Christine: Churchill's Favorite Agent and SOE Spy (London: Virago, 2005).
"Polish spy Krystyna Skarbek remembered," May 10, 2013, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-22482926
Last Major Revision: Mar 2017
Christine Granville Timeline
|1 May 1908||Krystyna Skarbek was born in Warsaw, Warsaw Governorate, Russia.|
|15 Jun 1952||Christine Granville was killed by Dennis Muldowney in London, England, United Kingdom.|
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Winston Churchill, 1935