Eric Roberts was a double agent during World War Two. He worked undercover in the UK to intercept secrets destined for the Nazi regime.
In the run-up to World War Two, there was a growing underground Nazi sympathiser rhetoric in the UK. MI5 believed the threats included Siemens, as well as the British Union of Fascists (Source). The nation’s security services were closely monitoring these groups.
The mounting pressure of imminent war and the perceived threat that these fascist and communist groups necessitated further action. MI5 decided to infiltrate and subvert these groups’ tactics to gain a competitive edge and protect national security. As a result, MI5 chose Eric Roberts to spearhead this operation.
Once an unassuming office clerk, famous agent Maxwell Knight brought into MI5 in the 1920s (Source). Whilst his clerical career was unremarkable to that point, he quickly became an integral part of the war effort. Until the outbreak of the war, Roberts continued his day job at the bank whilst undertaking espionage for MI5 secretly (Source).
His projects with MI5 centred on gathering information on communist and fascist groups, which could cause a threat to Britain.
At the start of the war, MI5 decided that they needed Roberts’ skills full-time. They requested that his employer, Westminster Bank, release him on the grounds of integral government work. Roberts was so unassuming, in fact, that his bank job boss wrote to MI5 when they found out that MI5 scouted him for national security work (Source):
“What we would like to know here is what are the particular and especial qualifications of Mr Roberts – which we have not been able to perceive – for some particular work of national military importance?”
Eric Roberts: Double Agent
Eric Roberts, under the pseudonym ‘Jack King,’ infiltrated the Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo) in the UK. He acted as a Gestapo agent and offered Nazi sympathisers in the UK to transport information back to Berlin. MI5 issued him with forged identification papers and a flat in Edgware Road, which had was bugged with hidden recording devices.
Eric Roberts, or Jack King as he was known, met with other Gestapo agents, Nazi sympathisers, and fascist group members to discuss what they believed would further the Nazi cause. He was so successful that sympathisers would actively come to his office to discuss how they could help him in his duties (Source). However, Roberts sent these documents back to MI5 for analysis.
Eric Roberts was incredibly successful in his role; historians estimate that he identified 500 Nazi sympathisers in the UK during the war, many of whom were members of the Gestapo. He is also thought to have raised the alarm on one of the members of the Cambridge Spy Ring, Anthony Blunt, which MI5 later corroborated (Source).
Following the war, Roberts continued to work in Intelligence and transferred to MI6 in Vienna. However, Eric Roberts’ relationship with the services quickly deteriorated.
In 1956, Eric Roberts moved to Canada and took early retirement due to his mounting stress in the Office (Source). He became anxious and suspicious of his colleagues. The nature of the espionage relied on mutual trust between Roberts and MI5, but Eric believed MI5 and MI6 did not trust him.
Eric died in 1972, whilst still being unknown to the public. MI5 declassified documents in 2014, revealing ‘Jack King’ to be Eric Roberts.
Historians believe Roberts’ work to be pivotal to the British War Effort and dismantling the Nazi fifth column in the UK (Source). Despite his work not being publicly commended during his lifetime, Eric Roberts’ legacy remains as a spy genius who undertook dangerous and demanding work to assist the Allies.