The death of a dog almost scuppered the D-Day landings

The story of the death of a dog that almost scuppered the D-Day landings
The story of the death of a dog that almost scuppered the D-Day landings
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Ben Macintyre, the Times journalist, tells the story of the death of a dog which almost scuppered the famous D-Day landings in World War II which turned the tide of the war in favour of the Allies.

A Russia, Lily Sergeyev, trained by the Germans became a double agent working for the British. She had a beloved pet dog at the time called Babs. She insisted that Babs came with her when she decided to work for the British but they refused. They agreed that Babs could eventually follow her to Britain from Gibraltar where she resided at the time.

And over the forthcoming months Lily Sergeyev transmitted false information to the Germans, deceiving them into believing that the D-Day landings would take place around Calais when in fact all the plans were that they would take place in Normandy. It was crucial that the Germans were deceived in order to ensure that Normandy was lightly defended.

And so, Lily Sergeyev assisted in the British war effort. Her handler was Mary Sherer, a highly intelligent and dedicated British spy. A war hero but an unknown one. It’s amazing how many wonderful people fought in the war, risking their lives but who remain entirely anonymous and unknown to the world except for a few of their colleagues who have now passed. Fortunately in 2020 the M15 website recognised her contribution in her ‘inspirational’ role in 1944.

It transpired that the British authorities told Lily Sergeyev that Babs had been killed. As she was very bonded to her dog she was desperately upset and thought that the British had killed her dog to relieve themselves of a ‘nuisance’.

As a result, she threatened vengeance by disclosing to the Germans that she was working for the British. She could do this in a subtle way by inserting an extra ‘–’ to her messages. This would have been a “control signal” taught to her by the Germans when she needed to transmit that information to them i.e. that she had been forced to say things which were not true.

Mary Sherer learned of this but she had to decide whether to allow Lily Sergeyev to continue to send the messages to give the impression that everything was as normal or to stop doing so in order to prevent Sergeyev from inserting this extra dash, which may have already occurred but which in fact hadn’t.

And so that was a very difficult decision by Mary Sherer but she made the right call in allowing Sergeyev to continue because it appeared that Sergeyev had decided against scuppering the D-Day landings by disclosing that her information was false.

It must’ve been a very critical moment in the history of this great event which helped to win World War II. And it all turned on the death of a beloved dog called Babs. There’s a picture of Babs in The Times today. It seems that she was a wirehaired terrier, a small dog. Probably a rescue dog.

We don’t know how she died and it would be nice to know. Ben Macintyre says that “References to the dog have been weeded from the declassified Treasure files”. The word “Treasure” refers to Lily Sergeyev’s codename.

So, it might be true that the British authorities killed Sergeyev’s beloved dog. A grave misjudgement as it happens. But they got away with it by the skin of their teeth.

RELATED: VE Day celebrations – let’s remember the 400,000 pets killed on outbreak of World War II

After the war Sherer opened a bookshop near the Spanish Steps in Rome with her partner Phyllis McKenzie. Sergeyev married an American GI and moved to Michigan in the US where she lived in a ‘house full of dogs’.


In the UK, we celebrate the anniversary of D-Day every year. Millions are expected to watch the King lead the commemorations for the 80th anniversary of D-Day on this Thursday, to focus on the men who took the beaches. Behind those men were many women playing key roles and two of them are mentioned in The Sunday Times of June 2, 2024.

Their names are Patricia Owtran and Christian Lamb. The former’s role was to detect radio messages between German ships in the channel and pass information back to codebreakers at Bletchley Park and other facilities while the latter’s role during the pre-D-Day landings was to prepare maps to inform the Allied troops more precisely as to what they would expect to see as they approached the beaches. They could then locate their positions more accurately from prominent markers such as cathedrals, chateaux and churches et cetera.

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