- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Why doesn’t anyone ever tell me these things?
I’d avoided reading Col. Robert S. Allen’s book Lucky Forward, a history of Patton’s Third Army, because it has the reputation of being a gushing bio by a former aide. Allen was assistant G-2 — that is, the no. 2 guy in the intelligence section –for Patton’s Third Army during World War II.
I finally picked up the book yesterday, and in doing some preliminary research, was surprised to learn that a few years ago, Allen, who shot himself in 1981, has been revealed to have worked briefly with the KGB in the 1930s. The KGB code-named him source “Sh/147,” according to Spies: the rise and fall of the KGB in America, a 2009 book by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev, who dug through the KGB’s archives.
This is complex but interesting. In 1931, Allen, then the Washington bureau chief for the Christian Science Monitor, along with Drew Pearson, then of the Baltimore Sun, anonymously wrote a gossipy book titled Washington Merry Go-Round. After being identified and fired from their newspaper jobs, in 1933, Allen and Pearson started a syndicated column of the same name. The same year, the KGB’s New York station reported to Moscow Center that Allen looked to be a good source because he was plugged into the Roosevelt Administration, just then taking office, and put him on a $100-a-month stipend, according to Spies, which Yale University Press published in paperback earlier this year. That wasn’t great pay, but remember that this was during the Depression. “Given the lack of any reference to him after the first two months of 1933, it is likely the relationship did not last more than a few months,” the book says. “There is no indication of whether he or the KGB ended their association.”
Allen, an Army reservist who went on active duty in 1942, also was “one of the few people cleared for the ULTRA secrets” in Europe during World War II, according to the website of the George Patton Museum. Sadly enough, he lost an arm during the war, was briefly taken prisoner, and then when back home was elbowed out of the column by Pearson, who replaced him with Jack Anderson. Lucky Forward, by the way, is as gushy as I expected. Patton can do no wrong, and Allen describes his immediate superior, Col. Oscar Koch, as “the greatest G-2 in the U.S. Army” (46, Manor Books paperback edition). It also is written in a kind of Winchellesque staccato. “There was one force, however, Montgomery could not keep from Falaise. The Air.” (89)) It does have some minor tidbits. But no, it would not make my list of the top 500 books to read about World War II.
If I were the KGB, I would have been mighty tempted during World War II to blackmail Allen into sharing Ultra knowledge. Learning all this also makes me wonder just how Drew Pearson came to be the one who broke the hot news about General Patton slapping two hospitalized soldiers in Sicily in the summer of 1943. That happened before Patton took over the Third Army, but Allen might well have been hearing things.