The agents, trained in Britain to carry out sabotage, were parachuted straight into the arms of the waiting enemy, which had penetrated the entire SOE network in Holland. Almost all were subsequently executed in concentration camps.
The agents were ensnared by the German operation codenamed Englandspiel (the English Game), which was regarded as one of the Third Reich's greatest counter-intelligence triumphs. It was also the greatest disaster suffered by SOE, which was created by Churchill in 1940 to wage war by sabotage.
The operation, which lasted from 1942 to 1944, involved the use of captured Dutch SOE radio operators and German operators using SOE codes to lure agents to their doom. It also resulted in the shooting down of several RAF aircraft during agent-dropping missions and the loss of vast quantities of weapons destined for the Dutch Resistance.
The official line on Englandspiel has remained unchanged for 60 years: that it was a first-class blunder resulting from the failure of British intelligence to heed warnings that the SOE network had been fatally compromised.
But previously secret files released recently at the National Archives suggest a chilling alternative: that SOE, the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), or both, knew what was going on but were prepared to send men and women to their deaths in the interests of a bigger game.
The files suggest that the British were engaged in a complicated "double double agent" sting, in which they used their knowledge of the agents' capture to feed false information to the enemy and gain an insight into his thinking through analysis of false intelligence sent back to Britain.
Gravity's Rainbow, pp. 96-97:
It is she who, at some indefinite future moment, must push the Witch into the Oven intended for Gottfried. So the Captain must allow for the real chance she's a British spy, or member of the Dutch underground. Despite all German efforts, intelligence inputs still flow from Holland back to RAF Bomber Command in a steady torrent, telling of deploymenhts, supply routes, of which dark-green crumble of trees may hide an A4 emplacement--data changing hour-to-hour, so mobile are the rockets and their support equipment.