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Classical Spies

American Archaeologists with the OSS in World War II Greece

Susan Heuck Allen

Publication Year: 2011

“Classical Spies will be a lasting contribution to the discipline and will stimulate further research. Susan Heuck Allen presents to a wide readership a topic of interest that is important and has been neglected.” —William M. Calder III, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Classical Spies is the first insiders’ account of the operations of the American intelligence service in World War II Greece. Initiated by archaeologists in Greece and the eastern Mediterranean, the network drew on scholars’ personal contacts and knowledge of languages and terrain. While modern readers might think Indiana Jones is just a fantasy character, Classical Spies discloses events where even Indy would feel at home: burying Athenian dig records in an Egyptian tomb, activating prep-school connections to establish spies code-named Vulture and Chickadee, and organizing parachute drops. Susan Heuck Allen reveals remarkable details about a remarkable group of individuals. Often mistaken for mild-mannered professors and scholars, such archaeologists as University of Pennsylvania’s Rodney Young, Cincinnati’s Jack Caskey and Carl Blegen, Yale’s Jerry Sperling and Dorothy Cox, and Bryn Mawr’s Virginia Grace proved their mettle as effective spies in an intriguing game of cat and mouse with their Nazi counterparts. Relying on interviews with individuals sharing their stories for the first time, previously unpublished secret documents, private diaries and letters, and personal photographs, Classical Spies offers an exciting and personal perspective on the history of World War II.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication Page

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pp. iii-v

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pp. vii-viii

I drew my inspiration for this project from the lives of my professor John Langdon Caskey and my friend Clio Adossides Sperling. I acknowledge with pleasure the generous support of a senior research fellowship from the National Endowment of the Humanities in 2006, a Seeger Fellowship at Princeton University’s Program in Hellenic Studies in 2007, and an Andrew Mellon Fellowship at the...


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xiii

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pp. 1-7

it was ouzo hour. Archaeologists gathered for the nightly ritual as the sun set across Vourkari Bay on the island of Kea. From the dig house veranda, you could see past Cape Sounion and the Aegean all the way to the Peloponnese with each rocky spine deepening to violet across the blood orange sky. The evening was deceptively casual, the society highly strati‹ed, a lieutenant parrying and flirting with younger diggers while others silently...

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1. “On the Rim of a Volcano”

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pp. 8-30

October 28, 1940, dawned clear and bright over Mt. Hymettus. Nine men gathered on the summit, though it was a military zone and Greece’s fascist dictator, General Ioannis Metaxas, had just declared war. Rodney Young dwarfed the others. Once the Cary Grantish darling of New York debutante balls, Young had spent the last eight summers excavating in and around Athens with this band of men. He stood...

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2. Leaving the Ivory Tower

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pp. 31-50

Young was the first American who volunteered to fight alongside the Greeks against Mussolini. However, the xenophobic Greek government refused to accept foreigners in the army and turned him down. Instead of sulking or remaining inactive, Young considered relief work. American School archaeologists had engaged in it since the nineteenth century, including men he knew, like Carl Blegen and Bert Hill.

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3. Flight

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pp. 51-67

For a fortnight, Elli and Clio Adossides persevered. Elli drove the wounded men to the Koritsa hospital and checked on Young. Occasionally, she continued to Florina, where she placed some on night trains for Salonika. There was no heat in the cars, but men with gangrened or frozen feet and legs felt less pain without it. Sometimes Clio went down to the dressing stations to receive the wounded men. Otherwise...

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4. From Relief to Intelligence: Forging a “Grecian Formula”

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pp. 68-83

After almost a month at sea, Young arrived in New York in early September and presented himself for registration, but the draft board examined and rejected him as 4F because of his wound. So he indexed Agora finds with Frantz in Princeton and devoured the New York Times for news of Greece, but the bleak reports made him “want to play the ostrich and not think about it at all.” The British blockade...

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5. Recruiting the Four Captains

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pp. 84-101

By the end of may 1942, Rodney Young had submitted a list of names to Amoss of people who had lived in the Eastern Mediterranean and knew its languages. Because the job required loyalty and a delicate balance of teamwork and self-reliance, he chose archaeologists he knew well, Americans whose linguistic abilities, ingenuity, integrity, and personalities fit the needs of the Greek Desk. His once and future...

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6. “Playing Ball” and Striking Out with the British

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pp. 102-116

By January 1943, the playing field had changed.More than two years had passed since the world focused on Greece’s heroic stand against the Axis. Before El Alamein, Donovan had seemed willing to grant anything and everything Amoss wanted, but after the invasion of North Africa, America’s priorities lay elsewhere. Churchill and Roosevelt met at Casablanca and decided to intensify Allied operations in the Mediterranean.

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7. “Preparing the Underground Railroad”

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pp. 117-138

Rodney Young finally reached Cairo after a two-and-a-half-month voyage. He had left Washington with high expectations and promises of support, but it was May 19, 1943, over a year and a half after Pearl Harbor.¹ Rommel’s Afrika Corps had surrendered in Tunis, and Cairo was celebrating the victory of Operation Torch and the capture of 240,000 Axis soldiers. Roosevelt and Eisenhower...

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8. “Entering the Danger Zone”: The “Samos Show”

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pp. 139-162

In early September 1943, the Aegean remained quiet.¹ While Young scrambled to prepare missions and waited for Dow to arrive, Sperling went so deep undercover that he “almost vanished,” and Caskey expanded his empire along the Turkish coast. The Emniyet had granted Caskey secret harbors further north, from Chandarli (“Boston”) to Aivalik (“Portland”). Further north, “New Orleans”...

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9. “Oriental Endurance” and the “Somber World of Snafu”

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pp. 163-179

On Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1943, Caskey and Young abandoned Izmir and headed south for a t

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10. Operation Honeymoon

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pp. 180-191

In early April 1944, Young felt that the archaeologists were “gradually being overcome by a sort of creeping paralysis.”No one felt he had any authority. In Cairo, Young was coping with the aftermath of the mutiny and the Greek political crisis. To discover the true intent of EAM/ELAS, SI would partner with the Labor Desk. Together they would send the Pericles mission. It would be the first to enjoy...

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11. The Birds Began to Sing

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pp. 192-212

After a year in Cairo, Young was sick to death of politicking. He remained deskbound, his elbows sticking to the table, his flock flown to Greece, his office flooded with their cabled chatter. Thrush continued to be most prolific, then Gander, but Dodo (Despot mission to Athens), Grackle (Settler to Athens), Loon (Oracle to Amphissa), Seagull (Crayon to the Cyclades), Pheasant (Phalanx to Salonika),...

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12. Liberation and the “Dance of the Seven Veils”

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pp. 213-237

As young prepared to leave Cairo, the Red Army’s advance catalyzed events in Greece.Word that Soviet troops had trapped the German Black Sea fleet, captured the Ploesti oil fields, and secured the surrender of Rumania alarmed the Germans. They convinced Hitler to approve a secret withdrawal from Greece before they, too, were trapped. Liberation had begun. The Evros guerrillas declared August 29 their D-Day:...

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13. Things Fall Apart

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pp. 238-261

On December 3, 1944, the winter sun rose over a ravaged Athens. Avenues empty of cars brimmed with impoverished citizens peddling American cigarettes, pushing overburdened carts, or just standing around. The once jubilant residents who had celebrated the end of the Nazi occupation wondered if life would ever be normal. As winter approached and conditions deteriorated, elation gave way to fear of...

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14. “Playing a Dangerous Game”

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pp. 262-270

While the world focused on the cease-fire on the western front, Rodney Young fought for his life in Greece. On May 5, 1945, the vessel carrying him to Syra to relieve the UNRRA’s Cyclades regional director capsized and most passengers were lost at sea, including a member of the Swedish Red Cross. After five hours in the water Young was saved, but the article recording it barely made the New York Times.

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pp. 271-289

During World War II, occupied Greece fell under the umbrella of the Middle East theater of operations, which the British controlled. Thus, Britain’s imperialist vision dominated activities in this sphere, and American foreign policy deferred to Britain’s. However, during the postliberation period, the American foreign policy makers slowly shed the shackles that bound them to England. They were able...


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pp. 291-321


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pp. 323-396


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pp. 397-411


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pp. 413-430

E-ISBN-13: 9780472027668
E-ISBN-10: 0472027662
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472117697
Print-ISBN-10: 0472117696

Page Count: 440
Illustrations: 24 photos, 2 maps
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Secret service -- Greece.
  • Archaeologists -- Greece -- History -- 20th century.
  • Archaeologists -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • United States. Office of Strategic Services.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Secret service -- United States.
  • Espionage -- Greece -- History -- 20th century.
  • Spies -- Greece -- History -- 20th century.
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