Victory & Honor picks up the tale of Cletus and his team almost two years after the events of The Honor of Spies, just after the unconditional surrender of Germany. In those two years, the leadership of Argentina has changed hands twice, with President Rawson being deposed by General Ramirez who in turn has been forced to resign by General Farrell. Farrell himself is a puppet propped up by Vice President Colonel Juan Domingo Peron who has also named himself the Minister for Labour. Argentina is one of the Allies, having declared war against Germany a mere six weeks before Germany’s surrender. Colonel Martin has been promoted to Brigadier General, and Cletus is now a Lieutenant Colonel.
Hans-Peter von Wachstein and Karl Boltitz are prisoners of war. They escaped to Brazil and surrendered to the Americans stationed there after the failure of Operation Valkyrie. The fathers of both were active participants in the plot, they were aiding Cletus with information, and Claus von Stauffenberg was a close friend of Peter’s family; all of which would have been grounds for their arrest and execution at the hands of the SS had they not been forewarned by the German Ambassador, a fellow conspirator. Due to the intervention of Graham and Cletus, they are housed separately from the other POWs and continue to help the OSS.
The book starts with Cletus rescuing Peter and Boltitz from the POW camp. For all the times they have risked their lives to share intelligence with him, he decides not to wait for their official procedural release but takes matters into his own hands. Dressed in his Marine Corps uniform and flashing his fake OSS identity card, he bluffs his way into the POW camp and drives away with both under the pretext of Graham wanting to interrogate them. A suspicious Camp Commandant forces him to involve Graham, who has no inkling of Cletus’ plans, in the rescue attempt. Aware of their importance, Graham plays along and allows Cletus to take them to his waiting SAA Constellation.
On the way back to Argentina, Cletus fills them in on the fate of the other Germans in the embassy. Along with the Ambassador, they have been interned in Buenos Aires as political prisoners after Argentina’s declaration of war. He also informs them that they are now official agents of the OSS, since the war is over and there is no need for any subterfuge. Cletus also plans to make Peter a pilot for SAA, given his flying skills. Landing at Buenos Aires, they are met by Dorotea and Alicia, Peter’s wife. The latter has a touching reunion with Peter, who she hasn’t seen since his escape.
All of them return to Cletus’ estancia, where Dulles and Milton Liebermann are waiting with the rest of the team. Dulles has some sobering news for them; in the aftermath of German defeat there is immense pressure from the FBI and the Armed Forces intelligence agencies to shut the OSS down. The official reason cited is overlapping of intelligence resources and waste of funds, but the real reason is they consider the OSS as competition and want to control it for themselves. Dulles warns them that President Truman could shut them down any time, and that they should be prepared for it.
To a man, the team declares they have no intention of turning over their assets to anyone else without Dulles or Graham present, and to fight it out until a clear picture emerges. Their defiance comes from an earlier debacle where Cletus was forced to share intelligence on records of the Operation Phoenix funds being hidden in Buenos Aires. The Naval Intelligence Officer in question, intentionally or otherwise took the records home, allowing the Germans to enter and take pictures of them. They were thus able to move those funds to more secure locations, causing a huge intelligence loss. Dulles knows of this and orders Cletus to use his own judgement in matters from here on.
A few days later, Colonel Peron informs Cletus that President Farrell wants to lease an SAA Constellation. The Argentine Embassy staff in Berlin has been trapped since the declaration of war, and the President wants to bring them back. He tells Peron to arrange for the necessary clearances to fly to Berlin and back and refuses to fly until they have been arranged. This gives him time to inform Peter and Boltitz and have them accompany him, knowing that they want to go back to find out the fate of their fathers. He also tells Martin of Peron’s demand, who agrees that the “rescue mission” is most likely a smokescreen for something else.
The clearances come through, and Cletus, Gonzalo, Enrico, Peter and Boltitz prepare to fly. Just before he leaves, the OSS station chief hands Cletus half a million dollars. Assuming it is the money he is owed for using his own to start the airline and the damage to his villa that got shot up, he leaves it with Dorotea. Cletus’ team is accompanied by some replacement staff as well as supplies for the trapped Argentines. Heading the security for the replacement staff is Rudolfo Nulder, Peron’s Deputy. Enrico informs Cletus that Nulder was dishonourably discharged from the Argentine Army, is as ardent a Nazi sympathizer as Peron, and his presence signals the mission isn’t all above board; information that Cletus gets to play on during the first of his stopovers at a US base in Brazil.
There, alongside his plane, is parked an army transport plane full of Secret Service agents who are en route to Europe as well. Cletus’ OSS credentials get him an audience with the Base Commander, who informs him that the agents have been questioning his people about rumours on escaping Nazis. The Secret Service comes under the Department of Treasury, headed by Henry Morgenthau Jr. who is Jewish and has a personal stake in ensuring all Nazis are persecuted. He is sending the agents to Europe to investigate the rumours of SS run ratlines. Cletus makes Nulder aware of the implications of trying to smuggle Nazis back on board the return flight, a charge he vehemently though with some guilt declines.
The rescue mission reaches Lisbon, from where permission to fly to Berlin has been temporarily cancelled as the Russians are “being difficult”, refusing to acknowledge the other Allies’ right to being in the city until a formal signing ceremony takes place. As they wait for the clearances, Cletus meets Dulles who gives him a picture of the chaos that is post-war Europe. Scores of Nazis are in hiding, waiting for an opportunity to escape to friendly places. The victorious countries, with the exception of Russia, are in a state of destitution. The USSR is using this to its advantage by surreptitiously trying to set up Communists in positions of power in those countries, starting with France. Amid this, the threat of the OSS being disbanded still looms. Dulles however, does have one ray of hope; General Eisenhower is a potential ally, having seen for himself the usefulness of the OSS, and may decide to support them.
The mission receives clearance to fly up to Frankfurt, which is controlled by the Americans. Cletus lets Peter pilot the Constellation for the final leg, giving them an aerial view of the destruction of the German cities and the hordes of German POWs being marched along the autobahn. Upon landing, they are met by a Colonel Mattingly who separates the diplomats and sends them to nearby accommodations under guard. He then introduces himself to Cletus as a former tank battalion commander now seconded to the OSS. He takes them to a castle on the outskirts of the city which has been requisitioned as quarters for American officers, where waiting for them is Reinhard Gehlen.
Gehlen stayed out of the hands of the SS after Claus von Stauffenberg’s failed assassination attempt, largely due to Canaris’ efforts to maintain the illusion that he was nothing more than a low-ranking officer of no importance. Canaris himself, however, wasn’t so lucky. Arrested for plotting against Hitler, he was killed by being hung by a piano wire and slowly strangulated to death. General von Wachstein (Peter’s father) was similarly executed, but there is no news of Vizeadmiral Boltitz, who was in Norway when Operation Valkyrie began and has been missing ever since. All this is related to the team by Gehlen, who are shaken by the news; Peter and Boltitz specially. They pull themselves together to discuss the next steps, during which Gehlen questions Cletus about the money he was to have carried with him.
It turns out the half a million dollars given to him wasn’t reimbursement, but money for Gehlen and the remainder of his people to hide until they could safely make their way to “neutral” Spain or Portugal, and from there board ships using the fake identity papers provided by the Vatican. A chagrined Cletus admits to leaving the money back in Argentina and tells him he can have it here on the next flight in about three weeks, which is acceptable to Gehlen. This will give him time to turn himself in to the Americans officially, and once their extensive interrogation is completed, he will be processed as an ordinary POW, making it easy for him to disappear; all of course, engineered by the OSS.
They then plan how they will be getting into Berlin next day, despite the objections of the Russians. The Americans want this as well, as it will send a message to the Soviets that they do not need their approval to move men and equipment in and out of “their” sectors of the city. After an overland approach by a convoy fails, Cletus’ plane proceeds to the Tempelhof Airport escorted by American P-38s, made necessary by the presence of Russian fighters denying the use of airspace to anyone else, and after landing is immediately placed under guard. The diplomats are escorted to the refurbished hotel where the beleaguered embassy officials are staying, while Cletus and the others follow Mattingly.
Mattingly takes them to a suburb of Berlin untouched by Allied bombs, which has been taken over by the Americans. The house requisitioned by him is Canaris’, and is instantly recognized by Boltitz, who has been there for meetings. The ex-Abwehr officer is even more surprised when he sees Canaris’ trusted aides (who had served with him in WW1 and took care of his house) still there, now working for the Americans. Mattingly’s sergeant, having no idea who they were, hired them after they showed up and offered to work for food. They narrate how after being intensively interrogated following Canaris’ arrest (during which they played dumb and denied knowing anything about the plot), they were drafted into the Volkssturm (the People’s Army) during the Russian assault on the city, and how in the confusion of the attack they were able to desert with two small boys who they were now looking after.
Canaris’ house gets set up as the OSS base in the city over the next few days. As Cletus readies to head back to Argentina, Peter announces he is not going back with him, but instead is headed to Pomerania to find out what happened to his people. The news of the region being controlled by the Russians who are killing any German officers out of hand does nothing to deter him. Boltitz too, relays his plan of heading to Norway both to search for news of his father and to investigate rumours of German submarines having left just before Germany’s surrender with mysterious cargo – everything from German scientists to uranium destined for Japan to Hitler himself.
Cletus arrives in Argentina and flies back on the next flight with Gehlen’s money. When he reaches Berlin, Mattingly has news for him. The OSS could be shut down any day, and charges are being levelled against Cletus for accepting huge amounts of money and hiding Nazis. He knows that the Gehlen operation could be blown by Morgenthau’s investigating Secret Service agents, so he proposes Cletus surrendering himself for inquiry as a distraction. He is to draw out the questioning for as long as he can, giving Dulles time to hide the Gehlen operatives more securely. Cletus agrees, and boards an American warship that will take him to Florida, the mode of transport being deliberately chosen to give them more time. Due to Dulles’ pulling strings, the captain of the warship knows Cletus is OSS and gives him stellar treatment while on board.
On reaching Florida, Cletus is allowed to travel to his grandfather’s place in New Orleans as long he presents himself for questioning whenever ordered to. He arrives to find Dorotea waiting for him, and they both stay there while the investigation proceeds at its pace. About a month after his arrival, the routine is broken; he is summoned by Admiral Sidney Sourer. He boards the Admiral’s plane and they fly to Berlin, where the Potsdam Conference is under way and President Truman is waiting for them. After a full disclosure to the President about the Dulles-Gehlen deal, during which Cletus stresses on the need for a spy ring inside the USSR, Truman declares that he is shutting down the OSS.
He explains further that while the FBI and the other agencies were complaining about the “uselessness” of the OSS, they were quick to lay claim to its assets once he decided to shut it down. This led him to understand that it wasn’t the organization they have a problem with, but with the person running it. He therefore devised a way of ensuring that the OSS survives without coming under the control of any other agency – while publicly declaring the shutting down of the organization, Truman will restart it a few months later under a different name and headed by Admiral Sourer. He wants Cletus to prevent the capture of the Gehlen operatives in that period with little or no help until the new agency is set up.
Cletus signals his readiness to do so, and before he departs for Argentina, he visits the OSS base set up in Canaris’ house. To his surprise and pleasure, both Peter and Boltitz are there, safe and sound after their travel into Soviet occupied territories. He delivers the President’s message to everyone present and gathers up his team to fly back to Buenos Aires.
The time leap between this book and the last allows the authors to drop a lot of side plots that they had created, and probably realised weren’t moving the story forward. There is no mention of the Froggers, nor of the Gehlen operatives in Argentina beyond the reference to one of them killing von Deitzberg. Even Cranz, who up to The Honor of Spies was built up as a major character has no place here. It is left up to the reader to fill in the blanks and assume that he too is one of the prisoners interned by the Argentines after their declaration of war, thereby ending his usefulness. The biggest plotline since the first book itself, the tracking of the Operation Phoenix funds, gets similar treatment; beyond the remark that the Germans were able to successfully move them to a better hiding place, nothing more is said about it.
The story focuses on the survival of the OSS itself. The account is historically accurate, with the animosity of the FBI and the Armed Forces intelligence agencies towards the organization in general and towards Donovan in particular being well documented. The shutting down of the organization while starting a new one under Rear Admiral Sidney Sourer (real name Sidney Souers) is true as well; the OSS was reborn as the Central Intelligence Group that later became the Central Intelligence Agency and Souers was its first Director. All of this is played up with our fictional characters instrumental in shaping and creating history.
The new plotline allows the authors to branch out in a new direction, should they so desire, while touching upon earlier stories when required. It also allows them to take their well-established characters and put them into a new adventure, now that the war is over, and the original mission seems no longer necessary. And as has become the hallmark of the books co-authored by W. E. B. IV, the ending of this book too, serves as a springboard to push the reader into the next one.