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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 April 2004, 12:51 GMT 13:51 UK
Profile: WWII spy Michel Hollard
Spitfire
RAF pilots destroyed the V-1 launch sites thanks to Mr Hollard
The story of wartime French spy Michel Hollard has passed into obscurity in recent years, but his exploits once earned him the title of "the man who saved London".

Born into a middle-class French Protestant family in 1898, he fought for his country in World War I at the tender age of 17.

When the Nazis swept across mainland Europe, Mr Hollard, by now a wealthy businessman, set up his own spy network in 1941, independently of the Allies and other Resistance circles in France.

The Agir network - named after the French word meaning "to act" - consisted of amateurs in strategic locations across France, especially railway workers.

But it was Mr Hollard himself who arguably changed the course of World War II in 1943, when he uncovered preparations to build more than 100 V-1 rocket launchers in northern France, all aimed at London.

If British warplanes had not been able to find and destroy the launch pads, up to 300 flying bombs a day would have rained down on London and southern England.

But the onslaught was largely averted thanks to rough sketches obtained by Mr Hollard from an agent he had recruited. The agent had copied plans which he had found in the coat pocket of a German engineer, while the man was in the lavatory.

Decorated

Mr Hollard smuggled the sketches to the British embassy in Berne in one of 49 return trips across the border that he made in three years, passing on details of Nazi activities to the MI6 intelligence service.

He was caught by the Gestapo in February 1944, tortured and deported to a German concentration camp.

However, the RAF bombed the ship on which he was being transported and he managed to escape aboard a vessel which had gone to pick up survivors.

In the late 1940s, he was given the rank of colonel and awarded both the French Legion d'Honneur and Britain's Distinguished Service Order (DSO) medal.

He died in 1993 at the age of 95, but his reluctance to boast about his achievements and his freelance status outside the main Resistance networks meant that his work had been largely forgotten.

Now, however, a modern-day Anglo-French venture has fittingly revived the memory of a man whom many historians describe as one of the great figures of recent French history.




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