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Merlin Theodore Minshall (21 December 1906 – 3 September 1987) is often claimed to have been one of the inspirations behind James Bond, the fictional spy created by Ian Fleming. Minshall worked for Fleming during the Second World War, as a member of the Royal Navy's Naval Intelligence Division.
"His mother was a spy in World War I. Ian Fleming was his boss throughout the Second World War. Unwittingly sucked into the world of Nazi espionage during an innocent sailing trip, he was seduced by a lovely but lethal German agent and met Field Marshal Göring face to face. He was the first man to cross the Sahara on a motorcycle and while travelling through the Congo, he accidentally discovered a secret German army. But Romania set the scene for the height of espionage activity - when he single handedly pirated a ship from under Nazi eyes and blew up a vital link in German tanker communications. The man is Merlin Minshall and this is his unique story."
The book was translated in Dutch by Iet Grader and is renamed 'De Avonturier' Published in 1976.
Son of Colonel Thomas Herbert Minshall, DSO (1873-1872), a well known consultant electrical engineer and newspaper proprietor and Theodora Wigham-Richardson (1871-1932). He was educated at Charterhouse and Oxford University. Upon graduation Minshall trained as an architect at London University, before embarking on his boat Sperweer (now on display in the Netherlands in the indoormuseum of the Zuiderzee Museum in Enkhuizen) with his first wife, Elizabeth, on his quest to be the first Englishman to sail across Europe to the Black Sea. Elizabeth and Minshall separated during this trip and were later divorced.
The subsequent encounter with the beautiful German agent came while sailing down the River Danube. She hitched a lift on his yacht - but it was no coincidence. The first encounter came to a sudden end, when the beautiful Fraulein Lisa Kaltenbrunner vanished from the SPERWEER , taking with her hidden inside her luggage case Minshall's navigation charts and maps of the Danube. These were secretly given by her to the Abwehr German Intelligence service. She had been sent to discover whether he was charting the river and investigating oil storage depots for British intelligence. Having seduced him, she attempted to poison him, but Minshall survived, and the knowledge he had gained did indeed prove useful to the British during the war. Reading from Merlin's account, however, it is only CERTAIN he was knocked unconscious when he boarded the boat, by somebody hiding behind him. It seems plausible that the deadly poison was given to the agent by the Abwehr or local GESTAPO officers operating in the area, who had encountered Minshall previously. It is not a historical certainty that the deadly poison was given by the woman to Minshall, and it is not impossible she was also under duress from the GESTAPO Officer at the time, for becoming "too friendly" with Minshall. It is a known statement in Minshall's own words, that both he and the female agent had flirted by the river together, and this easily could have been observed by German agents nearby. The fate of Frauline Lisa Kaltenbrunner, the female Abwehr agent remains officially unknown, and she is believed to have been killed during the fighting in the war.
Minshall was also well known as an amateur racing driver, who specialized in the kind of road races that are generally illegal today. A two time competitor in the Monte Carlo rally, his greatest triumph came in 1937, when he was presented with a trophy by Benito Mussolini for winning the 1937 Italian Foreign Challenge Trophy - a three-day, 4,000 mile road race between Rome and Sicily. It involved over 400 cars, and led to the death of four drivers. He also was the first man to drive an air cooled vehicle north to south across the Sahara desert.
At the outbreak of World War 2, he was recalled to duty as part of the RNVR where he had a varied career. Initially he was a watchkeeper in the Admiralty operations room in London. In early 1940 he was a major participant in the failed scheme to block the Danube in Rumania in order to disrupt German oil imports, working under diplomatic cover as British Vice Consul in Bucharest. Later in 1940, leading a joint NID/SOE team, Minshall ran Operation Shamrock, where a commandeered fishing smack was used as an observation platform for monitoring German U-boat traffic in the Gironde estuary. Minshall received a "Mentioned in Despatches" for his part in this operation.
Subsequently he ran a section at HMS Flowerdown, using direction finding and transmitter analysis ("Z machines") to identify the positions of individual ships. As such, during May 1941 he played a part in the hunt for the Bismarck. Posted to Fiji, he managed to get his posting changed to New Zealand, where he worked on various intelligence projects, including establishing an Z machine intercept station at Rapuara near Blenheim. Recalled to the UK,he was landed in occupied Yugoslavia as officer in charge of the Allied Naval Mission to Tito in Yugoslavia.
Minshall was married four times, the first to Elizabeth Dorothy Magdalene Loveday, whom he divorced in 1935. His second wife was Isolde Llewellyn, his third Janine Paulette Sergent of Lyons and fourth Christina Majorie Zambra, great niece of the Scottish artist Harrington Mann, with whom he had four sons Peter , Matthew, Luke and Timothy.
- Minshall, Merlin, Guilt Edged, Bachman & Turner, 1975. ISBN 978-0-85974-032-6
- Minshall, Merlin, De Avonturier translation in Dutch of Guilt Edged by Iet Grader Hollandia BV 1976 ISBN 90-6045-950-4
- M. R. D. Foot & Brooks Richards, Secret Flotillas: Clandestine Sea Operations to Brittany 1940-1944, Routledge, 2004. ISBN 978-0-7146-5316-7
- Google books of Secret Flotillas
- Times Obituary
- CBC Interview with Merlin Minshall
- Merlin's association with Singer cars in motorsport
- WRNZNS history