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W Somerset Maugham

Born: 31 October 1910

Died: 20 March 1990

Intelligence involvement: Worked for MI5 during World War Two.

Culture involvement: N/A

Bio:  Nathaniel Mayer Victor Rothschild was born into the illustrious and notorious Rothschild family in London.  He was educated at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge.  There he joined the secret society the Cambridge Apostles and became friends with Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt and Guy Burgess, three men who would become part of the Cambridge Five Soviet spy ring.

In 1937 he inherited a seat in the House of Lords as the 3rd Baron Rothschild, and despite being a trained biologist he was recruited by MI5 for the duration of the second World War.  His work for them included explosives experimentation, bomb disposal, disinformation and agent running and at one point he became quite good friends with Eddie Chapman a.k.a. Agent Zigzag.

After the war he worked for Cambridge University, Royal Dutch Shell and the Central Policy Review Staff, as well as acting as an advisor to several Prime Ministers.  After the unmasking of Blunt in secret in 1964 and again in public by Margaret Thatcher in 1979, Rothschild was questioned by Special Branch because of his friendship with the outed double agent.  Rothschild has repeatedly been accused of being the fifth man in the Cambridge spy ring though to date there is no solid evidence confirming the answer to this question either way.


As part of his work for MI5, Rothschild was sent to the US to investigate several Nazi spies.  The men had been landed off the eastern coast of the US in two batches, one in New York state and one in Florida.  They had enough money and equipment for an estimated two years of sabotage operations designed to terrify the American public and cripple the US war machine.

The operation, codenamed Pastorius, was a miserable failure.  All the men were rounded up within weeks of their arrival and most were sentenced to death.  Rothschild was sent over the pond to find out about the mission, its objectives, the equipment the men were carrying and their backgrounds, who they were.  He wrote an extensive report for MI5 on his findings when he returned to the UK, which you can download here (PDF, 21.5MB).