Douglas Springhall

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Soviet intelligence agents and suspected agents

Douglas Springhall (KV 2/1594-1596)

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Springhall was a founder member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and held various administrative positions in the party, culminating in a National Organiser role from 1940. He cultivated a contact at the Air Ministry, Olive Sheehan, who was one of a small ring of Communist supporters in the Ministry and provided Springhall with, among other things, classified information about the anti-radar device WINDOW. Their arrangement was uncovered when Sheehan's flatmate overheard a conversation about classified information, and Springhall was arrested and convicted after an in camera trial in 1943 on a charge of passing classified information to the Russians.

The trial was held in camera because of the still secret nature of WINDOW, so although the case is well known, this is the first time contemporary transcripts and details of the trial have been released.

After Springhall's trial, it also emerged that he had obtained classified information from a Communist SOE officer, Captain Desmond Uren, who was court martialled and, like Springhall, sentenced to seven years' imprisonment. Springhall emigrated to Russia after his release, and died in Moscow in 1953.

KV 2/1594 (1917-1931) shows how Springhall acted as a distribution agent for seditious material in the armed forces during and after the First World War (for which he was eventually discharged from the Navy in 1920). As a result of this activity he was kept under surveillance and his correspondence was closely watched. The product of that surveillance is on file (intercepted letters, a report of a meeting of ex-Service Communists addressed by Springhall at the Minerva Café, High Holborn in June 1928, examples of his journalism and so on), as is a photograph of Springhall submitted with his passport papers (he eventually travelled to Russia before his passport was issued). There is more similar material in KV 2/1595 (1931-1935).

KV 2/1596 (1936-1943) includes similar material, but also a copy of Springhall's speaking notes for addressing meetings, obtained by the Metropolitan Police, a copy of his pamphlet Fair Play for Service Men and their Families, and other material leading to Springhall's arrest and trial for dissemination of seditious material in the armed forces. The file includes reports on the development and uncovering of the plot, and Security Service observations on the case from 1943, along with police statements and reports about visits made to Springhall while he was in Brixton prison.

Perhaps the most interesting item on the file is the assessment made by the Security Service of the impact that Springhall's arrest and trial had on the rest of the Communist Party hierarchy.