The Black Baroness

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Stevie P
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The Black Baroness

Post by Stevie P » Thu 14 Aug, 2008 17:21:01

Faked Passports was a continuation of Gregory Sallust’s adventures in Germany and during the Russio-Finish war.
It was the first time that DW had ever published consecutively two books about the same character and having seen the folly of becoming associated with only one hero – as had Sapper with Bulldog Drummond and Leslie Charteris with The Saint – he was in somewhat of a quandary about the theme for his next book, tempting as it was to continue with Gregory, owing to the great popularity he had achieved
In consequence he decided to let his readers choose, and inserted a note at the end of Faked Passports asking them to tell him whether they would prefer him to continue Gregory’s adventures or give them either a story of strange happenings in the West Indies during the war or an historical romance. Several hundred replies came in, of which an overwhelming majority was in favour of ‘more Gregory’. So, soon afterwards, he sat down to write ‘The Black Baroness’.

Towards the end of October 1940, the book was published.
It told of Gregory’s adventures during the invasion of Norway, Holland, Belgium and France. DW thought it was the best story he had written about him up to that point.
In spite of the blitz it sold well.


It was March 19th 1940 when Gregory Sallust and Erika von Epp arrived on a tramp steamer into the Oslo Fjord. It was six days since the Russio Finish war had ended and five days since they had escaped across the ice in the Gulf of Finland.
Kuporovitch their friend and ally who had helped them in their escape was also on the boat. He was in his early 50’s, had blue eyes and grey hair.

A few pages into the book DW (Gregory Sallust) expresses his concern at the current governments acceptance of dangerous bodies like The British Union, The Nordic League and The Peace Pledge People who are still allowed complete liberty to publish as much subversive literature as they liked and to advise cowards how to evade military service on the plea that they were conscientious objectors.
“One had only to glance at the small news items in the National press to see how a weak-kneed government was being intimidated by a handful of irresponsible M.P’s into permitting Hitler’s Fifth Column* in England absolute freedom to contaminate thousands of misguided idealists and so immensely weaken Britain’s war effort.
GS would have liked to have been given Gestapo powers in the Home Office for half a day. He would have signed the death warrant of every spy caught red-handed since the beginning of the war, had them shot in the court-yard and published the photographs of their bodies to intimidate the others. He would then have made both the Fascist and Communist Parties illegal, locked the Home secretary up in one of his own asylums, retired every permanent Civil Servant over the age of fifty and departed with reasonable confidence that the younger men who remained would have got their bearings in a week and settled down to the job of making Britain safe from her internal enemiesâ€￾.

* The Fifth column is a group of secret sympathizers or supporters of an enemy that engage in espionage or sabotage within defence lines or national borders.)

And the story hasn’t even started at this point…………………………..
The Fifth Column is very prominent throughout this story even to the point where German girls are being sent to countries at war with Germany i.e. Norway to “befriendâ€￾ important government ministers & diplomats into betraying their own countries. (Referred to by DW as Hitler’s secret weapons - Chapters 1 & 2)

Gregory and Erika attend a party in Oslo and GS overhears a conversation between Major Quisling and a Nazi Captain that there was a plan to abduct the Norwegian monarch, King Haakon.
(This is where the fiction mixes with the fact. Quisling was a major player in the Norwegian government albeit as a Nazi puppet. There was actually a plan by the Nazi’s to try and kill the King.)

Gregory manages to get a message to the King to flee from the Germans as they want to abduct and kill him. The King manages to escape and Gregory follows the Kings tracks through northern Norway dressed as a German officer.
On his travels he meets up with a Fifth column Norwegian professor assisting the Germans to find the King.
As Gregory is about to leave him he deliberately breaks open a cyanide tablet and slips some of the deadly liquid into the traitors pipe stem.
“No human court was needed to convict the professor; a higher court had decreed that when he betrayed his King it should be before a witness who was also prepared to act as judge and executioner. Gregory’s act was carried out with cold deliberation and when he rejoined the others he only felt a mild gratification that the traitor was now most unlikely to live to enjoy the rewards of his treachery.â€￾

A fascinating encounter on a mountain ledge and a battle with an eagle is the major theme in chapter 10.

The storyline switches from Norway to Holland and into Belgium

In chapter 14 GS breaks into the Rotterdam hotel room of The Black Baroness with the intention to (as Sir Pellinore puts it), ‘seek out and destroy the enemy’.
Unfortunately another of Gregory’s enemies (Grauber) happens to be in the same hotel. The plot is foiled but GS escapes after being jailed by the Dutch police.

GS is trudging through a muddy road near Brussels ; he observes; shattered tanks, guns and Bren-gun carriers lay wrecked or overturned on the road and in the fields. They had lost all their martial glory and looked now rather pathetic; as though they were just old toys that some gargantuan child had thrown down and kicked about in a fit of temper.
Here and there sprawled khaki or field-grey figures; some twisted or lacking in limbs, others lying quite peacefully as though they had taken the afternoon off to sleep in the fields under the warm rays of the May sunshine

When King Leopold of Belgium finally cracked and decided to surrender to the German forces the allied forces find themselves in desperate measures and become pushed back onto the beaches at Dunkirk.
GS and Kuporovitch are able to observe the sickening position they have been left in but they also acknowledge the unadulterated bravery of the RAF pilots that try to keep the German attackers at bay whilst the flotilla of boats that have crossed the channel attempt to get the troops back to England.

Gregory decides he still has a job to do - eliminate The Black Baroness. This means getting back to Paris, which he does by ‘borrowing’ a discarded British tank. So that the Germans don’t attack the tank he chalks the letters ‘NACH PARIS. HEIL HITLER’ on the side to let them know that it is a captured tank driven by a German.


Page 21 - (Gregory and Erika) ….two born pagans, who openly boasted that they had always taken with greedy hands all the joys that the gods had given them.
DW seems very sympathetic towards Paganism. It is frequently mentioned.

Page 29 - She (Paula von Steinmetz – Erika’s friend and also one of Hitler’s secret weapons) was a strong, highly-sexed young woman who would thoroughly enjoy occasional rows with her lovers and derive a tremendous kick from a mild beating-up
in which she was finally possessed forcibly, so that her sobs of anger gave way almost imperceptibly to gasps of passionate emotion.
DW seems very sympathetic towards this activity as well!!!!

Page 39 - The first mention of The Black Baroness or the ‘La Baronne noire’ as she is known in French is on page 39 where she is referred to as one of the Germans key agents. She has a dead white face with jet-black eyes and hair.
(At a cocktail party DW met a peer’s wife, later known to him as Vicki.
DW was informed by a friend that MI5 believed her to be a spy.
Vicki had a close friend who was also believed to have been another Nazi agent, a little black haired Baroness.
DW and his colleagues nicknamed her The Black Baroness.)

Page 46 - GS was used to reading the news which lies behind the headlines (in the newspaper). This story was all ‘my eye and Betty Martin’……

Page 92 - GS manages to see the first Parachute troops being dropped by the German air force into Norway.
(DW was very keen on this novel idea of warfare but he suggests that the British forces at the time were not so pro-active.)

Page 114 - DW introduces more info on his religious beliefs.
(GS) had a firm belief in the hereafter, he had never paid much tribute to any deities other than the old pagan gods who made life for a full-blooded man very well worth living; and he saw no reason why now, in his extremity, he should cringe before a more modern deity whose devotees denied the flesh and followed a way of gloom.
He had often said in a half-joking way that if ever he were brought before the Judgement seat he would proclaim aloud that the Judge, having given him his body, his instincts and his opportunities, could bring no charge against him for having put them to good purpose; that if the Judge were not prepared to acknowledge the truth of that he would have no more to say, since one might just as well be ruled by Hitler, and that in that case he would set his wits to work to escape at the earliest possible opportunity from the heavenly concentration camp.

Page 156 - “Two days ago a German was caught with a camera in a forbidden area on the South Coast. The magistrate fined him twenty shillings and let him go. Is Sir John Anderson (the Magistrate) a traitor or a lunatic; or is it just that nobody has yet told him that for eight months Britain has been at war with the most formidable, unscrupulous and merciless horde of fanatic-ridden brutes that have ever blackened the pages of history?â€￾

Page 165 - Sir Pellinore gives GS an envelope with a cheque in it for £10,000.
Sir Pellinore maintains that he deserves it as he has killed more Germans so far in this war than the entire Brigade of Guards, and I’ll bet that their keep will cost the nation more than 10,000 Jimmy – o’-goblins*.
*Jimmy O'Goblins is an old-fashioned British slang term meaning 'pounds' as a unit of currency, especially the gold sovereign when these were current.

Page 194 - (Grauber) ‘piped up in his effeminate falsetto’…… I may be wrong but I don’t recall DW mentioning that Grauber has an effeminate falsetto voice in previous books.
In fact the term is reminiscent of The Eunoch of Stamboul

Page 220 - ‘This’ thought Gregory, as he stumbled on, ‘is total war – Hitlers war. DW uses the term ‘Total War’ for the paper he brings out a year later in December 1941. It is a condensed version of one of DW’s War Papers submitted to the Joint Planning Staff.

Page 258 - Erika’s eye’s are a deep sapphire.

Page 347 - Chapter 24 is called ‘Death in the Sunshine’. This title was used for the 1958 omnibus containing 'The Fabulous Valley', 'The Secret War' and 'The Eunuch Of Stamboul'.
The Black Baroness is a good read as are the previous two war novels but because of the subject matter being covered at this point in the war you get a more intense feel of what life must have been like in occupied territory.

"It was June 14th 1940 and just 67 days since Hitler had swooped by night on unsuspecting Norway…..King Haakon and Queen Wilhelmina had been driven from their thrones. Leopold of Belgium was now branded forever as a traitor. A million soldiers and civilians had died and another million lay wounded in the hospitals. Ten million people had been rendered homeless and another twenty million had fallen under the brutal domination of the Nazi’s. Paris had fallen and the enemy were in possession of the channel ports, which brought their bombers within 25 miles of England. It had been one long nightmare tale of incompetent leadership, disaster, treachery and defeat"

The reality really bites .

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Post by parabellum » Mon 1 Sep, 2008 17:48:48

Dear Steve,

Sorry I’m late in writing this. Thanks for the excellent review. It is one of my favourite DW’s and I think a better novel and perhaps more believable than Faked Passports. I certainly think it is amongst the best Gregory Sallust novels. Can I add some comments?

The sneaky Fuhrer undermining counties with a bevy of beauties reminds me of those 1960s American “true warâ€￾ pulp mags with lurid artwork and titles such as (and here’s a one which might fit The Black Baroness) â€￾How Hitler’s Harpy Harem Hooked Holland!â€￾

It does seem very risqué for the Forties. The relationship between Kuporovitch and Paula borders on sado-masochism. And Paula is definitely in the modern terms treated as a “sex object.â€￾ Am I right in thinking this and similar situations in other DW books led to DW being strongly criticised by feminist readers particularly during the 1970s?

DW is very outspoken on Britain’s politicians and how Britain was unprepared for war. He has von Ziegler criticising the British troops as “no motor-cyclist scouts, no armoured cars, no tanks, no flame-throwers, no anti-aircraft guns, not a tommy-gun between them and no aerial protectionâ€￾ No punches pulled there.

I have a soft spot for the dashing von Ziegler. After all he is the German Gregory Sallust. And a perfect gent. He swapped hospital beds to allow Gussie and Sallust to recuperate together. And he tipped Sallust off that a Nazi armoured column was approaching.

The Baroness is described as having a young-old face. Strange description reminiscent of Rex van Rynn who has an ugly-attractive face

As for Herr Grauber. Normally he always turns up like a bad penny when Hitler decides to invade anywhere but he wasn’t in Norway. Why? However, when he does corner Sallust in Rotterdam we learn something new about him. Not only did the Grauber climb over the tortured, broken bodies of his victims to reach the Nazi hierarchy. No! Grauber….. well… ugh….he had zits! Obviously this is due to his homosexual tendencies. I recommend cold baths and plenty of fresh air.

You know what I’m like for pistols (see previous posts.) Both Erika and the Baroness have small automatics.

I had no idea that DW based the Baroness on an actual person and that person may have been a Nazi agent. Very interesting. Any further information?

Big information dump! Not unusual for DW and I believe not popular with many Library members. I don’t particularly mind as it often stimulates me to read more history. For example The Eunuch of Stamboul, The Golden Spaniard and the Roger Brook series. Did a critic once say DW would be a better writer when his books stopped reading like travel brochures?

All in all the Baroness is a great read and some of DW’s best writing. He always seems to be on top form when describing situations such as the terror of air attack, stressful journeys and the chaos of Dunkirk.

What’s next? I suppose it’s off to Nazi occupied Paris with faked passports visa’d for Vichy France and the start of the French resistance?

Best wishes all.

Stevie P
Posts: 194
Joined: Wed 14 Sep, 2005 08:31:56
Location: Rugby

Post by Stevie P » Wed 3 Sep, 2008 17:50:54

Hi parabellum,

Thanks for the quality response.

Another pulp title might be, 'Nefarious Nazi Nymphets Nab Norwegian News, Nobbling Noblemen'.

Unfortunately I have no other info regarding The genuine Black Baroness. I located these details in DW's Drink and Ink, but thats all i could find.
On the subject of Drink and Ink, I also found the info relating to your reference - "DW would be a better writer when his books stopped reading like travel brochures"

This referred to the book, The Fabulous Valley. See link attached - viewtopic.php?p=493#493

Regarding the next book. I'm afraid Paris will have to wait for a little while as the next book in DW's sequence is 'Strange Conflict'.
Another top quality work.

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Joined: Sun 16 Sep, 2007 16:22:24
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Post by parabellum » Sat 16 May, 2009 19:58:01

Hello everybody. I hope all are well.

Just a follow up to the identity of The Black Baroness. I am currently reading “The Crown and the Swastikaâ€￾ by Peter Allen published by Robert Hale in 1983.

The book deals with the events following the abdication of the Duke of Windsor (Edward VIII) and his strong links Nazi Germany

Peter Allen states that the French premier Paul Reynaud had a mistress – the Countess Helene de Portes. The Countess was an advocate of peace with Germany so that Hitler had free hand to deal with Soviet Russia. She seemingly had a great influence on Reynaud.

Allen goes on to say the Countess “met an untimely endâ€￾ being “killed in a mysterious car crash.â€￾ The exact fate of the Black Baroness.

And, of course, in DWs novel, Sir Pellinore when asked about the Black Baroness informs Sallust that her real name is La Baronne de Porte.

Best regards

Steve Whatley
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Joined: Sat 19 Aug, 2006 13:43:36

Post by Steve Whatley » Thu 21 May, 2009 14:35:10

It's many years since I read The Black Baroness, but I find this fascinating. Whilst I've always enjoyed Wheatley's blend of fact and fiction, I've never been entirely sure where fact has ended and fiction begun. With DW's 'inside knowledge' of wartime affairs, the boundaries are likely to be somewhat blurred. This sort of revelation lends credibility to the stories for me, never forgetting of course that Gregory Sallust is a fictional character.

I wonder whether here there are the makings of a short talk which you could present at the next Convention? If there's not enough mileage in The Black Baroness alone, could the topic be expanded to include other titles in the series?

I'm tempted now to re-read TBB, but as I would want to read it in the full context of the war (not that I ever retain more than about 1% of the facts in the average DW book), I would want to read the whole wartime Sallust series in sequence.

It's just struck me how strange it is that after DW put in so much research before writing his books (though no doubt in the case of those set during WWII the 'research' comprised mainly his official work), there is so much scope for researching the books after reading them. Again, I suppose it's because we don't know where the fact ends and the fiction begins....

More power to your investigative reading!
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Garry Holmes
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Post by Garry Holmes » Tue 16 Aug, 2011 23:31:28

Just finished reading this for the first time. What a book! :smt026
After the rather dull FAKED PASSPORTS this book really grabbed hold of me and commanded me to finish it. This is how you write thrillers; so many escapes and captures that you almost feel as exhausted as poor Gregory must be by the end of the book. The information dump seemed much more smoothly done here, although at times the characters seem as though they've been on some public speaking course. The book's outspoken quality surprised me in wartime tome. He really let rip re: the shortcomings of certain politicians. Clever twist at the end of the book, although I wasn't totally convinced. Overall this is a terrific thriller.

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