Renato Levi: The Real Life James Bond of WWII

Meet a real James Bond from the WWII-era but instead of Agent 007’s famous line “I’m Bond. James Bond…”, this double agent introduces himself as “I’m Levi. Renato Levi”.

Levi Who?

Renato Levi was of Jewish descent and was a known Italian playboy. But beyond his happy-go-lucky facade was a double agent working for the British Intelligence. And if you have not heard about him, then, blame MI5.

Though it has been decades since WWII ended, the identity of Renato Levi was kept secret by British Intelligence chiefs and it wasn’t until recently that his story was made known. Former former Tory MP, Rupert Allason, dug deep into the life of this playboy-slash-agent and was able to piece together a very amazing story of spying career that is, arguably, unlike any other.

The Spy

Renato was an Italian Jew who was born on 1902 in Genoa. But though he was born in Italy, he had a British passport and was educated in Switzerland. Furthermore, his family had a boat-building enterprise in Bombay, India. Because of his varied background, Renato Levi could speak four various languages fluently — German, French, Italian and English.

It was during the outbreak of the Second World War, in 1939, when the Abwher, the intelligence arm of Nazi Germany, approached Renato Levi and offered him a job as a spy. Without the Germans’ knowledge, Levi reported their offer to the British and the latter wasted no time planning about Levi being a double agent — he would work for the Germans but feed them false information and gather intelligence from them.

So, in a span of four years he did just that.

Two Sides of the Playboy

The Italian Jew spy let the Germans thought that he was working for them all the while giving them false intelligence reports concocted by his superiors in the MI5. Then, he would gather whatever data he could from the Germans and give them to the British.

Because of the cunning deception of Renato Levi, the British forces commanded by General Bernard Montgomery were able to achieve their enormous victory against the German Nazis during the battle at El Alamein way back in 1942.

The information fed by Renato Levi were also vital in the success of the invasion of North Africa. Additionally, his work deterred the crack Panzer divisions from doing their counter-attacks after the Normandy Landings which could have drove the Allied troops back to the seas.

To the Germans, he was their spy codenamed ROBERTO. To the British Intelligence, Renato Levi was Cheese.

A Natural Liar

It was in June of 1940 when Renato Levi approached British Itelligence officers telling them that the Abwehr was sending him to Egypt for a mission. He paid British Secret Service contacts in Belgrade and Istanbul and told them about his assignment. He was imprisoned in Turkey for a short time due to charges on counterfeit currency. It was the British who extricated him from his imprisonment so that he could proceed to Cairo. There, they were planning a daredevil plan for Renato Levi — they wanted to use the Italian-Jewish playboy to feed the Germans lies.

To make their deception believable, the higher-ups of the British Intelligence created a wholly fictional network of spies. The most famous part of this plot of theirs was hiring actor  Clifton James as he greatly resembled General Montgomery. James was, then, sent to Gibraltar and Algiers where he posed as the British general to fool the Germans into thinking that the Allied troops landing in Southern France was unavoidable.

This stratagem was immortalized in the British 1958 movie I was Monty’s Double.

According to Evan Simpson, the MI5 handler of Renato Levi with whom he became good friends with, Levi was a natural liar, someone who had the power to invent spur-of-the-moment stories which were very believable. This ability had let him out in several tight fixes he was in during the time he spent as a double agent. Aside from his love of women, Simpson said, Renato Levi also had a knack for adventure.

The aspects he loved about his job was the opportunities to travel and the handling of great sums of money, something he wouldn’t have been able to do when not spying.

After WWII ended, Renato Levi went home to his wife and son and lived a quiet life until his death in 1954.

Get to know the whole of his story, his exploits that led to a string of successes for the Allied troops through this report from Mirror

Former Tory MP and spy hunter Rupert Allason also wrote a book [under the pen name Nigel West] about this double agent whom the Germans regarded as their Master Spy in the Middle East entitled Double Cross in Cairo.


Heziel Pitogo

Heziel Pitogo is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE