by Giles Milton
General Eisenhower and the architects of D-Day knew that the Allied landings would only be successful if they had up-to-the-minute information about the German coastal defenses.
They already had French spies working on their behalf—and we’ll get to more of this a little later—but they also needed to smuggle daring agents across to the beaches of Normandy in order to undertake close inspections of the enemy fortifications.
It was not for the faint-hearted. It was highly dangerous, with the certainty of death at the hands of the Gestapo, if captured. So who on earth would volunteer for such work?
Step forward George Lane, whose undercover mission to Nazi-occupied France proved the most extraordinary of them all.
Lane’s addiction to risk had driven him to join the elite British commandos; it had also led him to volunteer for a perilous undercover mission codenamed Operation Tarbrush X. In the second week of May 1944, he was to smuggle himself into Nazi-occupied France using the cover of darkness to paddle ashore in a black rubber dinghy. His task was to investigate a new type of mine that the Germans were believed to be installing on the Normandy beaches.
Lane had the air of a quintessentially British adventurer, but he was actually Hungarian. His real name was Dyuri Lanyi—and he was a member of the elite X-Troop, a British-led commando unit consisting of foreign nationals whose countries had been overrun by the Nazis.
His undercover mission occurred just a few weeks before D-Day. It got off to a flying start. He and his commando comrade, Roy Wooldridge, crossed the English Channel in a motor torpedo boat and then paddled ashore in a the dinghy. The elements were on their side. It was raining hard and spray was being flung across the beach.
Lane soon found one of the new German mines and took a photograph of it. But as he did so, he was spotted by German guards. Seconds later, they began firing wildly into the driving rain.