Soviet master spy is hanged by the Japanese

Soviet master spy is hanged by the Japanese

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On November 7, 1944, Richard Sorge, a half-Russian, half-German Soviet spy, who had used the cover of a German journalist to report on Germany and Japan for the Soviet Union, is hanged by his Japanese captors.

Sorge fought in World War I in the German army, and then earned his doctorate in political science at the University of Hamburg. He joined Germany’s Communist Party in 1919, traveling to the USSR in 1924. His first major assignment for Soviet intelligence was in the late 1920s, when he was sent to China to organize a spy ring. Returning to Germany, he joined the Nazi Party in 1933 to perfect his cover as a loyal German. He proceeded to develop a reputation as a respected journalist working for the Frankfurter Zeitung, finally convincing his editors to send him to Tokyo as a foreign correspondent in the mid-1930s. Once in Japan, Sorge proceeded once again to create a spy ring, which included an adviser to the Japanese cabinet and an American communist, who was also working for Soviet intelligence as Sorge’s interpreter.

Sorge had so successfully ingratiated himself with the German diplomatic community in Japan that he was allowed to work out of the German embassy, giving him access to confidential files. At the same time, he also befriended Japanese government officials, attempting to convince them not to go to war with the Soviet Union.

In May 1941, Sorge reported back to Moscow that Hitler was planning an invasion of the Soviet Union, and that 170 divisions were preparing to invade on June 20, but Stalin ignored the warning. Sorge was also able to report, in August 1941, that Japan had plans to attack targets in the South Pacific, not in the Soviet Union. This enabled Stalin to remove troops from the Manchurian border, freeing them up for when the Germans finally invaded, as there would be no “eastern front.”

But Sorge’s brilliant spy career came to an end on October 18, 1941, when Japanese counterintelligence exposed his operation and he was arrested, along with 34 members of his ring. He was finally hanged in 1944. Twenty years later, he was officially declared a Hero of the Soviet Union.

Forging a Ring

In Tokyo, Sorge built his cover by joining the Nazi Party and using his newspaper reports to establish a reputation as an expert on Japanese matters. An intrepid spy with a keen intellect, good looks, and an almost irresistible charm, he quickly won the confidence of high-ranking diplomats at the German embassy. This included Colonel Eugen Ott, the embassy&rsquos military attaché, who unwittingly became one of Sorge&rsquos most important informants.

Ott valued Sorge&rsquos insight on Japanese matters and made him a trusted advisor. In this role Sorge had access to classified information and even penned the reports Ott sent to the high command in Berlin. His proximity to the attaché also provided him considerable sway with other diplomats at the embassy, a situation that was enhanced further when Ott became ambassador in 1938.

Sorge&rsquos source for information on Japan was Ozaki Hotsumi, a respected correspondent for the Asahi Shimbun and communist sympathizer. Ozaki served for a time as a cabinet consultant to Prime Minister Konoe Fumimaro and kept close contact with members of the premier&rsquos inner circle, giving him access to classified information that he then passed on to Sorge.

Ozaki Hotsumi fed Sorge crucial information on Japanese government plans.

The information Sorge, Ozaki, and others in the spy ring collected was then transmitted to the Kremlin via radio by the German Max Clausen.

For a spy, Sorge lived an extravagant lifestyle. He was a heavy drinker and incurable womanizer who was often seen tearing around Tokyo on his motorcycle, bar-hopping with other journalists, and cavorting with a seemingly endless parade of lovers. Incredibly, though, his antics ostensibly deflected suspicion from his work as a secret agent, enabling him to work unmolested for seven years&mdasheven though he lived just a few streets over from offices of the Tokubetsu Kōtō Keisatsu, a notorious Japanese police force charged with controlling political groups and quelling the spread of dangerous foreign ideologies.

This Spy Warned the Soviets About the Impending Nazi Invasion—and Paid With His Life

It was only on November 6, 1964, that Moscow publicly recognized his contributions, proclaiming Sorge a Hero of the Soviet Union.

The Siberians are coming!” It was a cry that spread terror through the ranks of the German Wehrmacht in the winter of 1941. Since June 22, the Red Army had lost millions of dead, wounded, and captured soldiers while the Wehrmacht had advanced to the very gates of Moscow itself.

Now, however, new armies seemed to be springing out of the Russian soil as if by magic as the Germans prepared their final thrust toward the Soviet capital. The ever-distrustful Joseph Stalin had primarily put his faith in the word of one man, and had ordered division after division of his armies in the Far East to be transported as quickly as possible to the west to blunt the German advance. That man’s name was Richard Sorge.

One of the Great Espionage Masterminds of the 20th Century

The story of Richard Sorge, one of the great espionage masterminds of the Soviet Intelligence Service, began on October 4, 1895, in Adjukent, a small village near Baku in what is now the Republic of Azerbaijan. Sorge was the youngest of nine children in a German-Russian household. His father, Adolf, was a German petroleum engineer who cut an imposing figure with his bearded face and piercing eyes. Mother Nina was a pretty Russian woman from whom Richard inherited his Slavic features of high cheekbones and slightly slanted eyes.

Sorge’s home life in Imperial Russia lasted for seven years until his father’s contract expired. The family then packed up and moved to the Lichterfelde section of Berlin. Coming from an upper-middle-class family, Richard attended a Berlin school at which he learned the basics required of all German boys of social standing. He excelled in many courses, such as history and political science, but tended to disregard any subject that did not interest him.

In 1911, Adolf Sorge died, leaving his family with enough money to continue living quite well. For the next three years, Richard continued his education, growing somewhat bored with his studies. Like many upper-middle-class teens in the early 20th century, he tended to find that many things in life had little or no purpose. All that changed with the assassination of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand on June 28, 1914. Within weeks, the Fatherland was at war.

The enthusiasm with which Europe went to war stirred the patriotic sense of the continent’s youth, and Sorge was no exception. Enlisting in the Kaiser’s army, he was sent to Belgium after a mere six weeks of training. The hell of the trenches soon extinguished the patriotic flame that had brought Sorge from Berlin to the miserable life that was the Western Front. Knee deep in mud and shivering in the cold, damp air of late fall, he began to question the validity of the war.

Wounded Near Ypres in World War I

Sorge also met a different class of people—men he would never have spent time with in Berlin society. Some were Socialists and others were radical leftists. As they talked about their own families and the persecution of the working class, Sorge began a slow transformation that would eventually lead him to his position of master spy for the Soviet Union.

In 1915, Sorge was wounded during the bloody fighting near Ypres in Belgium. He was sent home on convalescent leave but soon volunteered to return to the front. This time he was sent east, to the land of his birth. He arrived in Russia just in time to take part in an offensive that was tearing the heart out of the Russian Army. As the Germans advanced, Sorge saw the complete devastation that had been visited upon both the countryside and the people. Once again, he felt anxiety about the war. Here he was, fighting for his father’s country while destroying his mother’s.

The slaughter on the Eastern Front continued into 1916. Sorge was wounded twice that year, and his second wound sent him to a field hospital in Königsberg. It was there that he finally received his political awakening at the hands of a radical Socialist doctor and his daughter, a nurse. Under their tutelage, he became filled with revolutionary zeal. They persuaded the wounded soldier to pursue his studies, which he could do while on convalescent leave. Eagerly delving into history, economics, and philosophy, he became convinced that the war had no meaning. As the German economy began collapsing around him, he also decided that capitalism was the bane of the people. The loss of two brothers at the front only served to strengthen those convictions.

The Bolshevik Revolution & the German Communist Party

While Sorge was studying at Berlin University, the Bolshevik Revolution toppled the Russian government. The upheaval of society in his native land appealed to his newly found revolutionary spirit and, after being discharged from the army in 1918, he made his way to Kiel with the idea of spreading the Marxist ideology. Joining the Independent Social Democratic Party, he soon became an accomplished agitator as well as an instructor of Marxism.

Sorge became a member of the German Communist Party in 1919, while he was earning a Ph.D. in political science in Hamburg. His journalistic talents, which would provide him with a cover in the future, were honed while he served as an adviser to the Communist Party newspaper in the city. After a job in Aachen as assistant to Communist professor Dr. Karl Gerlach, Sorge decided to spread the revolutionary message by working in the coal mines of the Rhineland. The venture was short lived, however, after authorities discovered the young agitator.

In early 1921, Sorge was a political editorial writer for a communist newspaper in the Ruhr. The Communist Party at that time was under close scrutiny from government officials, and Sorge became an important liaison, carrying messages between Berlin and the party in Frankfurt am Main. Between his comings and goings, he also managed to find time to marry Christiane Gerlach, the former wife of his boss in Aachen.

April 1924 found Sorge assigned as a bodyguard for Soviet delegates who were attending a communist convention in Frankfurt. It was another turning point in his life. The position put him in contact with several prominent Russian communists who were impressed with his zeal for the movement, as well as his obvious intelligence and breeding. In fact, they were so impressed with the 29-year-old that they “suggested” he come to Moscow—a move that neither Sorge nor the German Communist Party dared refuse.

Arriving in the Soviet capital in late 1924, Sorge was charged with setting up an intelligence network. In 1925, he joined the Soviet Communist Party and also became a Soviet citizen, a fact that was never reported to German authorities. He therefore retained his German passport, which would be of great benefit to him in the future.

Immersing Himself in the World of Espionage

Life in Moscow was good for Sorge, but it was bad for his marriage. In addition to helping expand the Comintern Intelligence Division, he had time to write two books and to hone his skills in other languages, particularly English and Russian. On the dark side, his constant drinking and womanizing made life unbearable for Christiane, who finally left him in the fall of 1926. Returning to Germany, she eventually emigrated to the United States.

With Christiane gone, Sorge immersed himself in the world of espionage. It became his passion, but he realized that the one true weapon needed for success in the game was absolute secrecy. By 1929, he felt that he was becoming too conspicuous for his own good. After meeting with his superiors, he was given approval to sever his ties with the Comintern and with any of the communist cells that he knew. Only a few chosen men were privy to the reason for the break.

Sorge’s next step was to join the Secret Department of the Soviet Communist Party Central Executive Committee. His superiors then arranged an introduction to the head of the Fourth Department (Red Army Intelligence), General I.A. Berzin. Seeing Sorge’s potential, Berzin discussed possible assignments with him, and after narrowing his choices, Sorge decided that China would be the ideal spot for him to ply his trade. Berzin heartily agreed.

Throughout the fall and winter of 1929, Sorge prepared for his mission with the utmost concentration. A crucial aspect of the operation was his cover story. Since he was still a citizen of Germany as far as German officials were concerned, he traveled to Berlin and got a job as a writer for the Soziologesche Magazin. His next stop was Marseilles, where he boarded a ship for a trip halfway around the world. The long voyage finally ended when the ship docked in January 1930. Sorge was now in Shanghai, where he would start to organize a spy ring in the city for the Red Army.

Help From the Japanese

One of the first people that Sorge met upon his arrival was a fellow member of the Fourth Department, radio technician Max Clausen. After thoroughly questioning Clausen, the “journalist” from Berlin decided that his radio expertise would serve the operation well. Clausen work for Sorge for most of his career.

For almost two years, Sorge built his intelligence network. He moved easily in the upper social circles of the city, and soon became a favorite at parties and other gatherings. At consulate affairs, he was able to rub shoulders with German advisers to Chiang Kai-shek, gleaning information concerning Chinese military matters.

In the latter part of 1930, Sorge was introduced to a pro-communist Japanese journalist, Hatzumi Ozaki. During his time in China, Sorge had become convinced that Japan held the key to the Asian continent. The amiable Ozaki gave him a chance to more fully understand not only Japanese culture, but also the Japanese psyche. The two men quickly became friends, drinking and womanizing together in some of the best and worst clubs in the city. With his pro-communist leanings, Ozaki was easily recruited and soon became one of the top agents in the Sorge spy network.

The Far East of the early 1930s was a seething cauldron filled with warlords, revolution, corruption, and armed conflict. Through his long conversations with Ozaki, Sorge was able to send Moscow Intelligence analysis reports of matters such as Japanese expansion in the area and policies that directly affected the Soviet Union. Besides teaching Sorge the intricacies of Japanese thought and politics, Ozaki was also able to recruit two other Japanese who would prove vital to Sorge’s intelligence apparatus—Shigeru Mizuno and Teikichi Kawai.

The two Japanese agents kept Sorge informed on Imperial Japanese Army movements on the Asian mainland. Japan’s military activities in Manchuria and Northern China were causing concern in Moscow, and Sorge’s reports kept the Red Army apprised of the constantly changing situation. Ozaki was recalled to Tokyo in January 1932, but Kawai, Mizuno, and other agents in the espionage network kept feeding Sorge a steady stream of information, which he passed on to Moscow.

Playing the Journalist in Berlin

Satisfied that Sorge had been successful in organizing the Shanghai network, Berzin ordered him back to Moscow in December 1932. Sorge had expected an assignment in the Soviet capital, but Berzin told him that he was once again needed abroad. After several meetings with the general and other members of the Fourth Department and the Central Committee, it was decided that Tokyo would be his next duty assignment.

Sorge was to repeat his Shanghai performance by building up an espionage network inside Japan. Japanese nationalism was on the rise, and the Imperial Army and Navy, which had defeated China in 1895 and Russia in 1905, were ever looking to expand the country’s eastern frontier. Japan had already taken a huge slice of Northern China and Manchuria when Sorge received his assignment, and the Red Army was being forced to reinforce what was now a de facto Soviet-Japanese border.

To establish a cover, Sorge once again became a journalist, traveling to Berlin to establish his credentials. He landed a job with the Zeitschrift für Geopolitik (Journal of Geopolitics), published by Kurt Vowinckel, an ardent Nazi, who had read some of Sorge’s articles from his China days. Vowinckel gave Sorge letters of introduction both to the German Embassy and to personnel on the embassy staff in Tokyo.

Sorge also met with Dr. Karl Haushofer, co-founder of the magazine, who was a personal friend of Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess. Haushofer gave Sorge letters of introduction to the German ambassador to Japan—letters that carried some weight because of his relationship in the upper circles of the Nazi Party. To cap off his extraordinary run of luck, Sorge also received a letter of introduction from the editor of the newspaper Täglische Rundschau. As an afterthought, the editor, a Dr. Zeller, also gave him a letter of introduction to Colonel Eugen Ott, a German Army representative in Japan. Zeller asked Ott to “trust Sorge in everything that is, politically, personally and otherwise.” That letter was doubly important because in 1934 Ott became the German military attaché to Japan. As a final masterful gesture, Sorge applied for membership in the Nazi Party, receiving his membership card after he arrived in Japan.

Armed with impeccable recommendations, Sorge traveled to Japan via the United States where, after showing the Japanese ambassador Haushofer’s letter, he received another letter of introduction from the ambassador to the head of the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Information Department. He arrived in Tokyo in September 1933 and immediately started using his stack of introductions to make himself known, both at the German Embassy and at the Japanese Foreign Ministry. His wit and charm soon won him many friends, and invitations to various functions soon followed. Keeping his cover, he also wrote features about Japan for his German newspapers.

Beginning The Mission That Would Last His Career

Sorge was a busy man in 1934, both as a “loyal” German journalist and as a Soviet spy. He rekindled his relationship with Ozaki, recruiting him for his new mission, and Kawai and Mizuno were also brought into the fold. Another recruit was Yotaku Miyagi, an Okinawan who had lived in the United States for several years before being ordered to Japan by the Communist Party.

In his role as a journalist, Sorge accompanied Ott to Manchuria in mid-1934 to visit Japanese forces stationed there. An avid reader, Sorge had been devouring every book about Japan that he could find, especially those in the original Japanese. That, along with his long discussions with Ozaki, made him one of the most knowledgeable members of the German community in Tokyo when it came to understanding their host country.

Returning from Manchuria, Sorge wrote an essay describing his thoughts about the trip and about what he had seen. He gave it to Ott, who forwarded it to the General Staff Economics Department in Berlin. The head of the department, General Georg Thomas, was impressed, and he requested Sorge to help prepare other reports in the future.

By mid-1935, Sorge had been in Japan for almost two years, and he had spent that time setting up a network of agents that had access to many important Japanese military and industrial departments. In May, Moscow ordered him home to report personally on his progress. His route to Moscow first took him to the United States, where he obtained a false passport from a communist agent in New York. Arriving in Moscow under an assumed name, he met General Semion Uritskii, who had succeeded Berzin as head of the Fourth Department.

During the meeting, Uritskii gave Richard Sorge a mission that would consume the rest of his career. Basically, Sorge was to keep Moscow informed about Japan’s political and military intentions regarding the Soviet Union Japan’s intentions concerning the United States, Great Britain, and China developments in the relationship between Germany and Japan and the state of Japan’s heavy industries. Before Sorge left, he requested that the radio wizard Clausen be assigned to Tokyo. Clausen arrived in December, completing Sorge’s inner circle in Japan.

The Espionage Ring’s First Coup

The espionage ring’s first coup came in early 1936, when a group of young Japanese officers attempted a revolt. The rebellion was quickly crushed, and Sorge, using his sources within the government and the military, sent an analysis of the situation which was very well received by the Fourth Department. His report was soon followed by another one that dealt with a possible German-Japanese military alliance. Sorge kept Moscow updated on the talks and was actually involved in some of the discussions, thanks to his good friend Ott. His firsthand account of these discussions gave the Red Army a thorough and accurate picture of what was taking place.

The Sorge network continued to file reports through the first half of 1937. Then, on July 7, an ominous event took place at the Marco Polo Bridge in China. Japanese and Chinese troops had fired at one another during a Japanese training exercise. The so-called “China Incident” soon turned into a full-scale conflict between the two countries, and the entire Sorge network was now involved with gathering information concerning its military and political consequences. Sorge’s analysis of both opponents’ capabilities and intentions became an important component in forming Soviet strategy in the Far East. Conversely, in his role as the loyal German, he was also invited to take part in German Embassy discussions on how to mediate the conflict.

On April 28,1938, Eugen Ott was appointed ambassador to Japan, virtually assuring that Sorge would be privy to the highest diplomatic channels. Another stroke of good fortune occurred that summer when Ozaki was appointed to the Japanese government as a cabinet consultant. Both appointments allowed Sorge to send Moscow a continuous flow of information and observations that would become priceless as the world drifted toward war.

The Imperial Japanese Army struck Soviet forces at Khalkin Gol in Mongolia on May 11, 1939. Sorge immediately sent operatives to various ports and kept the Fourth Department informed on troop strengths and movements. He also sent a message stating that he did not believe Japan’s intentions were to initiate a full-scale war with the Soviet Union. His analysis of Japanese intentions was met with disbelief in the top echelons of the Red Army.

A Soviet counterattack led by General Georgi Zhukov devastated the Japanese forces in August and September. The Japanese agreed to a cease-fire on September 15, and Sorge used the Soviet victory to try to persuade Ott and other embassy officials that the Red Army was sorely underestimated by many countries, including Germany. That opinion was also met with disbelief and disdain.

The defeat at Khalkin Gol and the outbreak of the war in Europe put Japan on a heightened security level. Foreigners, even friendly ones, were now being shadowed by members of the Tokko (the Special High Police Bureau), and Sorge was no exception. The man assigned to trail and investigate the German journalist was 28-year-old Harutsugu Saito.

Problems In the Organization

Saito took his assignment seriously, keeping track of Sorge’s acquaintances, making friends with his housekeeper, and following the German to bars and other hot spots of the Tokyo night scene. Although Sorge was extremely careful when it came to his spy network, the intrepid Japanese policeman began to form a composite of his habits and preferences, noting anything that might be out of character.

Meanwhile, the Sorge organization continued gathering intelligence, keeping Moscow advised on issues such as German-Japanese naval discussions and a Japanese attempt to install a puppet regime in China. His “handlers” were so impressed with the data being sent from Tokyo that they extended Sorge’s tour another year.

In March 1940, Sorge informed the Fourth Department that Germany would launch an attack on Western Europe within weeks. His close ties with Ott and other embassy officials were paying off handsomely. He also received information concerning the Triparite Pact between Germany, Japan, and Italy, which he forwarded to the Fourth Department.

Nineteen forty was a very good year for Sorge, but his organization was beginning to unravel around him. In November 1939, the Tokko arrested Ritsu Ito, one of Ozaki’s assistants. He was held and interrogated for almost a year before being released in a new role as a police informant. There was also a problem with Clausen, the radio operator who played a key role in transmitting Sorge’s messages to Moscow. He was in the process of redefining himself as a “good German.” He had begun to doubt the tenets of communism and was becoming apprehensive about his work as a spy. Clausen also became resentful of the way the arrogant Sorge was treating him—talking to him as a lord to a serf instead of as an equal.

In the spring of 1941, the relationship between the Soviet Union and Germany began to crumble. German-occupied Poland was bursting at the seams with new Wehrmacht divisions, and in April 1941, Adolf Hitler unleashed units stationed in Bulgaria against Greece and Yugoslavia, which were conquered within a month. There was little doubt in Sorge’s mind that the next victim of Nazi aggression would be the Soviet Union.

[text_ad] Ignoring Warnings of a Wehrmacht Attack

Following the successful German invasion of the Balkans, Sorge began sending a stream of messages to Moscow, backing his belief that Hitler would soon attack. His suspicions were confirmed by several sources, including military couriers and the German military attaché in Japan, Colonel Alfred Kretschmer. In May, Sorge had Clausen send a message that detailed when the attack would come and how many enemy divisions would be involved. The message was ignored.

One reason for Moscow’s indifference could have been that, since early 1941, Clausen had been modifying Sorge’s reports. Sometimes he would delete entire passages, and other times he would deliberately make the entire report rather vague. In any event, the warnings went unheeded. On June 22, the Wehrmacht struck.

With Soviet armies reeling back all along the front, Sorge and company kept a watchful eye for any signs of a Japanese attack in Manchuria. Indeed, Japan was mobilizing, but there was a difference of opinion between the government and the military as to where the strike would take place—in the north against the Soviet Union, or in the south against Indochina and the islands of the Pacific.

Sorge’s agents were also divided. Ozaki reported that a southern strike was definite, but that it was still possible for a secondary strike to be carried out against the Soviet Union. Miyagi was also certain that Japan would expand in the south but noted that the Imperial Army was also building up its forces in Manchuria. Then, in late August, Ozaki learned that the army leadership had decided not to fight the Soviets. He went to Manchuria for two weeks in September and came back with confirmation that the army had no plans for a northern attack.

Armed with Ozaki’s information, Sorge ordered Clausen to send several messages to Moscow affirming that the Far East border was in no danger, at least for the remainder of 1941. The information and sources quoted in the messages left little room to doubt the validity of Sorge’s report. Coupled with the fact that Sorge had been right about the June attack, Stalin felt secure enough to delve into his pool of divisions in eastern Siberia. This decision altered the course of the war on the Eastern Front and probably saved the Soviet capital.

Pointing the Finger Directly At Sorge

In mid-October, units of German Panzergruppe 4 clashed with the 32nd Siberian Rifle Division, which had been recently stationed at Vladivostock. By November, Siberian divisions were being encountered all along the front protecting Moscow. It was Sorge’s greatest triumph, but it was also his last.

The Tokko had been relentless in tracking suspected communists since the clash at Khalkin Gol. On September 28, one of Miyagi’s recruits, Tomo Kitabayashi, was arrested. During her interrogation, she admitted that Miyagi had been involved in espionage activities. Miyagi was arrested on October 11. After an unsuccessful suicide attempt, he shocked his interrogators by revealing the work he had done, implicating Ozaki and Sorge in the process. The sheer magnitude of the operation astounded and shocked senior Tokko officials as they read reports of the interrogation.

On October 15, Tokko detectives picked up Ozaki, followed by the October 17 arrest of Mizuno. Both men spoke openly about their actions, confirming Miyagi’s story and pointing the finger directly at Sorge, who was still under the watchful eye of detective Saito. The morning following Mizuno’s arrest, the Tokko swooped down on Clausen’s home, taking him into custody along with a radio set and dispatches that had already been sent to Moscow. Now it was time to net the master.

Saito and two other detectives entered Sorge’s residence and arrested him without incident. At first, the spymaster protested his innocence. He was a close friend of the German ambassador and a well-known member of the Nazi Party. He had friends in high places, both in Japan and in Germany, and was a respected journalist. Sorge kept his denials flowing for six days until he was confronted with the confessions of the others, including Clausen and the recently arrested Kawai. On October 25, Sorge confessed to being a member of the Communist Party, and a spy.

A Later Hero to the Red Army

While the Japanese continued to investigate the scope of the spy ring, Sorge was allowed to work on his memoirs. His ever-present ego shone through as he recounted his various assignments and his thoughts regarding Germany, Japan, and the war. His case was finally tried in 1943, with Ozaki as a codefendant. On September 11, Ozaki was sentenced to death. Sorge received the same sentence on September 29.

Both men appealed their convictions, and both appeals were denied. On November 7, 1944, the two were executed by hanging. Sorge, ever defiant, shouted praise for the Red Army, the International Communist Party, and the Soviet Communist Party as the trapdoor opened and his body fell. It took him 19 minutes to die. Ironically, it was 27 years to the day that the Bolshevists had taken control of Russia.

As for the others, Miyagi and Mizuno died in prison. Kawai survived internment, and Clausen was liberated from prison by the U.S. Army. He was flown from Japan to the Soviet Union and then made his way to East Germany, where he once again became a dedicated communist.

Ironically, although Sorge’s exploits were well known in the West, the Soviets kept a veil of silence surrounding the spymaster until long after Stalin was dead. It was only on November 6, 1964, that Moscow publicly recognized his contributions, proclaiming Sorge a Hero of the Soviet Union.

This article by Pat McTaggart first appeared in the Warfare History Network on June 22, 2015.

Image: Dedication of Richard-Sorge-Straße (Richard Sorge Street), Berlin. 6 November 1969. German Federal Archive/Eva Brueggman.

Richard Sorge: the Soviet Union’s master spy

Interviewed on the Today program on March 7, a former executive of the gigantic Chinese tech firm Huawei admitted: &lsquoIt is the nature of humanity to spy, to conduct espionage.&rsquo A gold-plated incarnation of this impulse is the tall, craggy-faced German journalist who was arrested in his pajamas in his Tokyo house in October 1941. &lsquoI am a Nazi!&rsquo he insisted to the Japanese police, who, before entering his study, had politely removed their shoes. On the sixth day of his interrogation, he finally broke. He raised his vigilant, deep-set blue eyes, which could have charmed the whiskers off Blofeld&rsquos cat, and said: &lsquoI will confess everything.&rsquo

Over the course of 50 interrogation sessions, Richard Sorge removed the scabbard of &lsquoa slightly lazy, high-living reporter&rsquo, which had shielded him for 12 years, and revealed his inner steel: the blade of an unyielding communist and consummate dissembler, the only person in history in the reckoning of Owen Matthews, his latest and most thorough biographer, to have been simultaneously a member of the Nazi party and the Soviet Communist party. &lsquoNo other agent had served Moscow for so well or so long.&rsquo

Sorge had always hid recklessly in plain sight, &lsquoseducing the wife of his most important intelligence source, crashing his motorcycle while carrying a pocketful of compromising documents, drunkenly praising Stalin to a roomful of Nazis&hellip&rsquo A later foreign correspondent, Murray Sayle, viewed him as the &lsquopsychic twin&rsquo of Kim Philby, a textbook example of that rare species Homo undercoverus: &lsquoOstentation is a kind of camouflage.&rsquo

Ignored and ritually humiliated by his Soviet spymasters, in death Sorge became &lsquoa dashing Soviet version of James Bond&rsquo. There are now more than 100 books on him, plus a film and a play. He has also lent his name to a ship, a Moscow street, a monumental bronze wall in Baku where he was born to a German engineer and a Russian mother (the house is now a sanatorium), and to the Sorge Society, which meets annually in Tokyo to pore over the sort of cove he really was. Smothered somewhere beneath all this fluffy mattressing is the elusive pea, as it were, of his true self.

His first wife, one of a legion of women he seduced with one look &mdash &lsquoIt was as if a stroke of lightning ran through me&rsquo &mdash and then abandoned, groused that: &lsquono one, ever, could violate the inner solitude, it was this which gave him his complete independence&rsquo. His closest confidant in the spy rings that he set up in China and Japan was his radio man, Max Clausen, who told the Japanese police: &lsquoIt is very difficult to explain Sorge&rsquos personality&rsquo, since he &lsquohas never shown his true self&rsquo. Clausen tellingly concluded that Sorge was a man who could destroy his best friend for the sake of communism, but &lsquoif he were in a different position he would be a miserably small-minded person&rsquo.

Matthews has few illusions about his subject &mdash &lsquoa bad man who became a great spy&rsquo &mdash or the challenge that he faces in exhuming him. A former foreign correspondent himself, he has a Russian wife whose family home outside Moscow was preserved largely thanks to vital information that Sorge sent back to the Fourth Department (regarding Japan&rsquos preparedness to go to war with Russia). Drawing on the Soviet military intelligence archives in Podolsk, Matthews tells &lsquofor the first time&rsquo the Soviet side of this eye-rubbing story.

The Sorge that painstakingly emerges is a papier-mâché German-Russian doll composed of tiny and frequently self-contradicting fragments. Sorge told his interrogator that if he hadn&rsquot been a spy, &lsquoI should perhaps have been a scholar&rsquo &mdash yet the German press attaché in Tokyo regarded him as the &lsquomost uncultured fellow in the world&rsquo. To many, even to the terrifying Gestapo colonel directed by Reinhard Heydrich to ascertain if Sorge was a Comintern agent, he was impressively charming and plausible, &lsquoaccepted by everyone, everywhere&rsquo to others, &lsquoa real braggart&rsquo of &lsquounassailable conceit&rsquo, a raging narcissist and megalomaniac who waved a samurai sword and raved drunkenly how he was going to slay Hitler and become a god.

Down in the kitchen of life, Sorge had trouble in remembering his many aliases. He was &lsquoAgent Ramsay&rsquo to his querulous bosses in Moscow to his colleagues in Shanghai &mdash where he was sent in 1929 &mdash &lsquoRichard Johnson, an American journalist&rsquo. To the NKVD investigating him, he was &lsquoINSON&rsquo to the Gestapo also investigating him, &lsquoPost&rsquo. To Eugene Ott, Nazi Germany&rsquos ambassador to Japan whose imperious, gray-haired wife Sorge seduced, he was &lsquothe irresistible&rsquo. To his 30 lovers in Japan who succumbed to what one of them called &lsquoRichard Sorge fever&rsquo &mdash a blonde German harpsichordist, who leaped from her embassy bedroom into a flower bed to go on a 90mph motorbike ride with him &mdash he was &lsquoSorgie&rsquo. &lsquoHis story reminds one of a man constantly trying out a series of savage caricatures of himself on the world.&rsquo

The key to Sorge&rsquos success was that he didn&rsquot steal secrets, he traded them. Ambassador Ott appointed him a freelance information officer at the embassy, giving Sorge unrivaled access to Germany&rsquos military secrets, which he then photographed. To Ott in return, he passed on secrets from the spy that Sorge had placed as the most trusted adviser to the Japanese prime minister Prince Konoe, another &lsquohormone tank&rsquo called Hotsumi Ozaki. Sorge sent both invaluable troves back to Moscow, on one occasion concealed in 30 microfilms between the breasts of Max Clausen&rsquos wife.

The key to Sorge&rsquos downfall is that Moscow didn&rsquot believe him, even though his information was accurate. A cocktail of intuition, luck and good judgment saved him from the bloodbath, when he defied the fatal recall of agents in 1937 for &lsquonew assignments&rsquo. Six of his chiefs at the Fourth Department were liquidated between 1937 and 1939, among the 681,699 executed by the NKVD, for &lsquolipochki&rsquo or &lsquolittle fictions&rsquo. The incomprehensible logic of the purge exempted Sorge, but he lived from then on in fear of treachery by association. &lsquoThis source does not enjoy our full trust,&rsquo reads a memorandum from one of his new bosses, who suspected him of being &lsquopenetrated by the enemy&rsquo. Matthews admits to coming out in goose bumps to read the scrawl in red wax pencil with which Stalin himself defaced Sorge&rsquos report of May 20 1941, warning of an imminent German invasion of Russia, and the likelihood that Japan would soon go to war with America. &lsquoSuspicious. To be listed with telegrams intended as provocations.&rsquo Confusing Sorge for two of Sorge&rsquos spies, Stalin dismissed him as &lsquoa shit&rsquo who ran &lsquosmall factories and brothels&rsquo.

Readers who hunger for some humane, informed reaction to the horror unleashed by Stalin, and to an articulation of Sorge&rsquos own disillusion, will wait in vain. His last words before he was hanged in November 1944 were: &lsquoThe Red Army! The International Communist Party! The Soviet Communist Party!&rsquo To the end, he had hoped that Moscow would step in and save him, but the NKVD forgot his existence &mdash listing him as having been shot in 1942 &mdash and in their vicious ingratitude sent his Russian wife Katya into internal exile in Siberia, where she fell ill and died, not even informing her of his arrest. &lsquoI have lost hope that you exist,&rsquo she wrote to him. &lsquoI hug you tightly. Your K.&rsquo A clerk in the decimated Fourth Department inserted her letter into Sorge&rsquos file, never to be sent.

This article was originally published in The Spectator magazine.


The true details about Reilly's origin, identity, and exploits have eluded researchers and intelligence agencies for more than a century. Reilly himself told several versions of his background to confuse and mislead investigators. [18] At different times in his life, he claimed to be the son of an Irish merchant seaman, [19] an Irish clergyman, and an aristocratic landowner connected to the court of Emperor Alexander III of Russia. According to a Soviet secret police dossier compiled in 1925, [20] he was perhaps born Zigmund Markovich Rozenblum on 24 March 1874 in Odessa, [a] [20] a Black Sea port of Emperor Alexander II's Russian Empire. His father Markus was a doctor and shipping agent, according to this dossier, while his mother came from an impoverished noble family. [20] [24]

Other sources claim that Reilly was born Georgy Rosenblum in Odessa on 24 March 1873. [25] In one account, [26] his birth name is given as Salomon Rosenblum in Kherson Gubernia of the Russian Empire, [26] the illegitimate son of Polina (or "Perla") and Dr. Mikhail Abramovich Rosenblum, the cousin of Reilly's father Grigory Rosenblum. [26] There is also speculation that he was the son of a merchant marine captain and Polina.

Yet another source states that he was born Sigmund Georgievich Rosenblum on 24 March 1874, [17] the only son of Pauline and Gregory Rosenblum, [27] a wealthy Polish-Jewish family with an estate at Bielsk in the Grodno Province of Imperial Russia. His father was known locally as George rather than Gregory, hence Sigmund's patronymic Georgievich. [27] The family seems to have been well-connected in Polish nationalist circles through Pauline's intimate friendship with Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the Polish statesman who became Prime Minister of Poland and also Poland's foreign minister in 1919. [27]

According to reports of the tsarist political police the Okhrana, Rosenblum was arrested in 1892 for political activities and for being a courier for a revolutionary group known as the Friends of Enlightenment. He escaped judicial punishment, and he later was friends with Okhrana agents such as Alexander Nikolaev Grammatikov, [29] and these details might indicate that he was a police informant even at this young age. [b] [29]

After Reilly's release, his father told him that his mother was dead and that his biological father was her Jewish doctor Mikhail A. Rosenblum. [18] Distraught by this news, he faked his death in Odessa harbor and stowed away aboard a British ship bound for South America. [30] In Brazil, he adopted the name Pedro and worked odd jobs as a dock worker, a road mender, a plantation laborer, and a cook for a British intelligence expedition in 1895. [30] [18] He allegedly saved both the expedition and the life of Major Charles Fothergill when hostile natives attacked them. [31] Rosenblum seized a British officer's pistol and killed the attackers with expert marksmanship. Fothergill rewarded his bravery with 1,500 pounds sterling, a British passport, and passage to Britain, where Pedro became Sidney Rosenblum. [30]

However, the record of evidence contradicts this tale of Brazil. [32] Evidence indicates that Rosenblum arrived in London from France in December 1895, prompted by his unscrupulous acquisition of a large sum of money and a hasty departure from Saint-Maur-des-Fossés, a residential suburb of Paris. [32] According to this account, Rosenblum and his Polish accomplice Yan Voitek waylaid two Italian anarchists on 25 December 1895 and robbed them of a substantial amount of revolutionary funds. One anarchist's throat was cut the other was named Constant Della Cassa, who died from knife wounds in Fontainebleau Hospital three days later. [32] The French newspaper L'Union Républicaine de Saône-et-Loire reported the incident on 27 December 1895:

A dramatic event occurred on a train between Paris and Fontainebleau. On opening the door of one of the coaches, the railway staff discovered an unfortunate passenger lying unconscious in the middle of a pool of blood. His throat had been cut and his body bore the marks of numerous knife wounds. Terrified at the sight, the station staff hastened to inform the special investigator who started preliminary enquiries and sent the wounded man to the hospital in Fontainebleau. [33]

Police learned that the physical description of one assailant matched Rosenblum's, but he was already en route to Britain. His accomplice Voitek later told British intelligence officers about this incident and other dealings with Rosenblum. [32] Several months prior to this murder, Rosenblum had met Ethel Lilian Boole, a young Englishwoman [28] [34] who was a budding writer and active in Russian émigré circles. The couple developed a rapport and began a sexual liaison, [35] and he told her about his past in Russia. After the affair concluded, they continued to correspond. [34] In 1897, Boole published The Gadfly, a critically acclaimed novel whose central character was allegedly based on Reilly's life as Rosenblum. [36] In the novel, the protagonist is a bastard who feigns his suicide to escape his illegitimate past, and then voyages to South America. He later returns to Europe and becomes involved with Italian anarchists and other revolutionaries. [36]

For decades, certain biographers had dismissed the Reilly-Boole liaison as unsubstantiated. [37] However, evidence was found in 2016 among archived correspondence in the extended Boole-Hinton family confirming that a relationship transpired between Reilly and Boole around 1895 in Florence. [35] There is some question of whether he was truly smitten with Boole and sincerely returned her affections, as he might have been a paid police informant reporting on her activities and those of other radicals. [37]

Reilly continued to go by the name Rosenblum, living at the Albert Mansions, an apartment block in Rosetta Street, Waterloo, London in early 1896. [39] He created the Ozone Preparations Company, which peddled patent medicines, [39] and he became a paid informant for the émigré intelligence network of William Melville, superintendent of Scotland Yard's Special Branch. (Melville later oversaw a special section of the British Secret Service Bureau founded in 1909.) [11] [40]

In 1897, Rosenblum began an affair with Margaret Thomas (née Callaghan), the youthful wife of Reverend Hugh Thomas, shortly before her husband's death. [41] [42] Rosenblum met Rev. Thomas in London through his Ozone Preparations Company [43] because Thomas had a kidney inflammation and was intrigued by the miracle cures peddled by Rosenblum. Rev. Thomas introduced Rosenblum to his wife at his manor house, and they began having an affair. On 4 March 1898, Hugh Thomas altered his will and appointed Margaret as an executrix he was found dead in his room on 12 March 1898, just a week after the new will was made. [44] A mysterious Dr. T. W. Andrew, whose physical description matched that of Rosenblum, appeared to certify Thomas's death as generic influenza and proclaimed that there was no need for an inquest. Records indicate that there was no one by the name of Dr. T. W. Andrew in Great Britain circa 1897. [45] [46]

Margaret Thomas insisted that her husband's body be ready for burial 36 hours after his death. [47] She inherited roughly £800,000. The Metropolitan Police did not investigate Dr. T. W. Andrew, nor did they investigate the nurse whom Margaret had hired, who was previously linked to the arsenic poisoning of a former employer. [47] Four months later, on 22 August 1898, Rosenblum married Margaret Thomas at Holborn Registry Office in London. [27] The two witnesses at the ceremony were Charles Richard Cross, a government official, and Joseph Bell, an Admiralty clerk. Both would eventually marry daughters of Henry Freeman Pannett, an associate of William Melville. The marriage not only brought the wealth which Rosenblum desired but provided a pretext to discard his identity of Sigmund Rosenblum with Melville's assistance, he crafted a new identity: "Sidney George Reilly". This new identity was key to achieving his desire to return to the Russian Empire and voyage to the Far East. [38] Reilly "obtained his new identity and nationality without taking any legal steps to change his name and without making an official application for British citizenship, all of which suggests some type of official intervention." [48] This intervention likely occurred to facilitate his upcoming work in Russia on behalf of British intelligence. [48]

[Sidney Reilly's role] is one of the unsolved riddles about the Russo-Japanese War. [33]

In June 1899, the newly endowed Sidney Reilly and his wife Margaret travelled to Emperor Nicholas II's Russian Empire using Reilly's (forged) British passport—a travel document and a cover identity both purportedly created by William Melville. [50] While in St. Petersburg he was approached by Japanese General Akashi Motojiro (1864–1919) to work for the Japanese Secret Intelligence Services. [51] A keen judge of character, Motojiro believed the most reliable spies were those who were motivated by profit instead of by feelings of sympathy towards Japan and, accordingly, he believed Reilly to be such a person. [51]

As tensions between Russia and Japan were escalating towards war, Motojiro had at his disposal a budget of one million yen provided by the Japanese Ministry of War to obtain information on the movements of Russian troops and naval developments. [51] Motojiro instructed Reilly to offer financial aid to Russian revolutionaries in exchange for information about the Russian Intelligence Services and, more importantly, to determine the strength of the Russian armed forces, particularly in the Far East. [33] [2] Accepting Motojiro's recruitment overtures, Reilly now became simultaneously an agent for both the British War Office and the Japanese Empire. [2] While his wife Margaret remained in St. Petersburg, Reilly allegedly reconnoitred the Caucasus for its oil deposits and compiled a resource prospectus as part of "The Great Game". He reported his findings to the British Government, which paid him for the assignment. [25]

Shortly before the Russo-Japanese War, Reilly appeared in Port Arthur, Manchuria, in the guise of a timber company owner. [52] [17] Here he remained for four years, familiarising himself with political conditions in the Far East and obtaining a degree of personal influence in the ongoing espionage activities in the region. [22] At the time he was still a double agent for the British and the Japanese governments. [18] [52] The Russian-controlled Port Arthur lay under the ever-darkening spectre of a Japanese invasion, and Reilly and his business partner Moisei Akimovich Ginsburg turned the precarious situation to their benefit. By purchasing and reselling enormous amounts of foodstuffs, raw materials, medicine, and coal, they made a small fortune as war profiteers. [53]

Reilly would have an even greater success in January 1904, when he and Chinese engineer acquaintance Ho Liang Shung allegedly stole the Port Arthur harbour defence plans for the Japanese Navy. [51] Guided by these stolen plans, the Japanese Navy navigated by night through the Russian minefield protecting the harbour and launched a surprise attack on Port Arthur on the night of 8–9 February 1904 (Monday 8 February – Tuesday 9 February). However, the stolen plans did not help the Japanese much. Despite ideal conditions for a surprise attack, their combat results were relatively poor. Although more than 31,000 Russians ultimately perished defending Port Arthur, Japanese losses were much higher, and these losses nearly undermined their war effort. [54]

According to writer Winfried Lüdecke, [c] Reilly quickly became an obvious target of suspicion by Russian authorities at Port Arthur. [52] Thereafter, he discovered one of his business subordinates was an agent of Russian counter-espionage and chose to leave the region. [52] Upon departing Port Arthur, Reilly travelled to Imperial Japan in the company of an unidentified woman where he was handsomely paid by the Japanese government for his prior intelligence services. [52] If he made a detour to Japan, presumably to be paid for his espionage, he could not have stayed very long, for by February 1905 he appeared in Paris. [55] By the time he had returned to Europe from the Far East, Reilly "had become a self-confident international adventurer" who was "fluent in several languages" and whose intelligence services were highly desired by various great powers. [17] At the same time, he was described as possessing "a foolhardy adventurous nature" prone to taking unnecessary risks. [19] This latter trait would later result in him being nicknamed "reckless" by other British agents. [6]

D'Arcy affair Edit

During the brief time Reilly spent in Paris he renewed his close acquaintance with William Melville [d] whom Reilly had last seen just prior to his 1899 departure from London. [57] While Reilly had been abroad in the Far East, Melville had resigned in November 1903 as Superintendent of Scotland Yard's Special Branch and had become chief of a new intelligence section in the War Office. [58] Working under commercial cover from an unassuming flat in London, Melville now ran both counter-intelligence and foreign intelligence operations using his foreign contacts which he had accumulated during his years running Special Branch. [58] Reilly's meeting with Melville in Paris is most significant, for within a matter of weeks Melville was to use Reilly's expertise in what would later become known as the D'Arcy Affair. [57]

In 1904 the Board of the Admiralty projected that petroleum would supplant coal as the primary source of fuel for the Royal Navy. As petroleum was not abundant in Britain, it would be necessary to find—and secure—sufficient supplies overseas. During their investigation the British Admiralty learned that an Australian mining engineer William Knox D'Arcy—who founded the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC)—had obtained a valuable concession from Mozaffar al-Din Shah Qajar regarding oil rights in southern Persia. [15] D'Arcy was negotiating a similar concession from the Ottoman Empire for oil rights in Mesopotamia. [57] The Admiralty initiated efforts to entice D'Arcy to sell his newly acquired oil rights to the British Government rather than to the French de Rothschilds. [57] [59]

Reilly, at the British Admiralty's request, located William D'Arcy at Cannes in the south of France and approached him in disguise. [60] Dressed as a Catholic priest, Reilly gate-crashed the private discussions on board the Rothschild yacht on the pretext of collecting donations for a religious charity. [60] He then secretly informed D'Arcy that the British could give him a better financial deal. [15] D'Arcy promptly terminated negotiations with the Rothschilds and returned to London to meet with the British Admiralty. [5] However, biographer Andrew Cook has questioned Reilly's involvement in the D'Arcy Affair since, in February 1904, Reilly might still have been in Port Arthur. Cook speculates that it was Reilly's intelligence chief, William Melville, and a British intelligence officer, Henry Curtis Bennett, who undertook the D'Arcy assignment. [61] Yet another possibility advanced in The Prize by writer Daniel Yergin has the British Admiralty creating a "syndicate of patriots" to keep D'Arcy's concession in British hands, apparently with the full and eager co-operation of D'Arcy himself. [59]

Although the extent of Reilly's involvement in this particular incident is uncertain, it has been verified that he stayed after the incident in the French Riviera on the Côte d'Azur, a location very near the Rothschild yacht. [62] At the conclusion of the D'Arcy Affair, Reilly journeyed to Brussels, and, in January 1905, he returned to St. Petersburg, Russia. [62]

Frankfurt Air Show Edit

In Ace of Spies, biographer Robin Bruce Lockhart recounts Reilly's alleged involvement in obtaining a newly developed German magneto at the first Frankfurt International Air Show ("Internationale Luftschiffahrt-Ausstellung") in 1909. [63] According to Lockhart, on the fifth day of the air show in Frankfurt am Main, a German plane lost control and crashed, killing the pilot. The plane's engine was alleged to have used a new type of magneto that was far ahead of other designs. [63]

Reilly and a British SIS agent posing as one of the exhibition pilots diverted the attention of spectators while they removed the magneto from the wreck and substituted another. [63] The SIS agent quickly made detailed drawings of the German magneto, and when the airplane had been removed to a hangar, the agent and Reilly managed to restore the original magneto. [63] [64] [61] However, later biographers such as Spence and Cook have countered that this incident is unsubstantiated. [64] There is no documentary evidence of any plane crashes occurring during the event. [61]

Stealing weapon plans Edit

In 1909, when the German Kaiser was expanding the war machine of Imperial Germany, British intelligence had scant knowledge regarding the types of weapons being forged inside Germany's war plants. At the behest of British intelligence, Reilly was sent to obtain the plans for the weapons. [65] Reilly arrived in Essen, Germany, disguised as a Baltic shipyard worker by the name of Karl Hahn. Having prepared his cover identity by learning to weld at a Sheffield engineering firm, [66] Reilly obtained a low-level position as a welder at the Krupp Gun Works plant in Essen. Soon he joined the plant fire brigade and persuaded its foreman that a set of plant schematics were needed to indicate the position of fire extinguishers and hydrants. These schematics were soon lodged in the foreman's office for members of the fire brigade to consult, and Reilly set about using them to locate the plans. [65]

In the early morning hours, Reilly picked the lock of the office where the plans were kept and was discovered by the foreman whom he then strangled before completing the theft. From Essen, Reilly took a train to a safe house in Dortmund. Tearing the plans into four pieces, he mailed each separately so that if one were lost, the other three would still reveal the essence of the plans. [65] Biographer Cook questions the veracity of this incident but concedes that German factory records show a Karl Hahn was indeed employed by the Essen plant during this time and that a plant fire brigade existed. [67]

In April 1912, Reilly returned to St. Petersburg where he assumed the role of a wealthy businessman and helped to form the Wings Aviation Club. He resumed his friendship with Alexander Grammatikov who was an Okhrana agent and a fellow member of the club. [29] Writers Richard Deacon and Edward Van Der Rhoer assert that Reilly was an Ochrana double agent at this point. [68] [69] Deacon claims he was tasked with befriending and profiling Sir Basil Zaharoff, the international arms salesman and representative of Vickers-Armstrong Munitions Ltd. [68] Another Reilly biographer, Richard B. Spence, claims that during this assignment Reilly learned "le systeme" from Zaharoff—the strategy of playing all sides against each other to maximise financial profit. [70] However, biographer Andrew Cook asserts there is scant evidence of any relationship between Reilly and Zaharoff. [71]

In earlier biographies by Winfried Lüdecke and Pepita Bobadilla, Reilly is described as living as a spy in Wilhelmine Germany from 1917 to 1918. [52] [22] Drawing upon the latter sources, Richard Deacon likewise asserted that Reilly had operated behind German lines on a number of occasions and once spent weeks inside the German Empire gathering information about the next planned thrust against the Allies. [73] However, most later biographies concur that Reilly's activities in the United States between 1915 and 1918 precluded any such escapades on the European Front. [74] Later biographers believe that Reilly, while lucratively engaged in the munitions business in New York City, was covertly employed in British intelligence in which role he may well have participated in several acts of so-called "German sabotage" deliberately calculated to provoke the United States to enter the war against the Central Powers. [75]

Historian Christopher Andrew notes that "Reilly spent most of the first two and a half years of the war in the United States". [74] Likewise, author Richard B. Spence states that Reilly lived in New York City for at least a year, 1914–15, where he engaged in arranging munitions sales to the Imperial German Army and its enemy the Imperial Russian Army. [76] However, when the United States entered the war in April 1917, Reilly's business became less profitable since his company was now prohibited from selling ammunition to the Germans and, after the Russian revolution occurred in October 1917, the Russians were no longer buying munitions. Faced with unexpected financial hardship, Reilly sought to resume his paid intelligence work for the British government while in New York City. [77]

This is confirmed by papers of Norman Thwaites, MI1(c) Head of Station in New York, [78] which contain evidence that Reilly approached Thwaites seeking espionage-related work in 1917–1918. [79] Formerly a private secretary to newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer and a police reporter for Pulitzer's The New York World, [78] Thwaites was keen on obtaining information concerning radical activities in the United States in particular, any connections between American socialists with Soviet Russia. [78] Consequently, under Thwaites' direction, Reilly presumably worked alongside a dozen other British intelligence operatives attached to the British mission at 44 Whitehall Street in New York City. [79] [78] Although their ostensible mission was to coordinate with the U.S. government in regards to intelligence about the German Empire and Soviet Russia, the British agents also focused upon obtaining trade secrets and other commercial information related to American industrial companies for their British rivals. [78]

Thwaites was sufficiently impressed with Reilly's intelligence work in New York that he wrote a letter of recommendation to Mansfield Cumming, head of MI1(c). It was also Thwaites who recommended that Reilly first visit Toronto to obtain a military commission which is why Reilly enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps Canada. [80] On 19 October 1917, Reilly received a commission as a temporary second lieutenant on probation. [81] After receiving this commission, Reilly voyaged to London in 1918 where Cumming formally swore Lieutenant Reilly into service as a staff Case Officer in His Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), prior to dispatching Reilly on counter-Bolshevik operations in Germany and Russia. [80] According to Reilly's wife Pepita Bobadilla, Reilly was sent to Russia to "counter the work being done there by German agents" who were supporting radical factions and "to discover and report on the general feeling". [9]

Thus Reilly arrived on Russian soil via Murmansk prior to 5 April 1918. [82] Reilly contacted the former Okhrana agent Alexander Grammatikov, who believed the Soviet government "was in the hands of the criminal classes and of lunatics released from the asylums". [29] Grammatikov arranged for Reilly to receive a private interview with either Reilly's longtime friend [83] General Mikhail Bonch-Bruyevich [84] or Vladimir Bonch-Bruyevich, [85] secretary of the Council of People's Commissars. [e] With the clandestine aid of Bonch-Bruyevich, [84] he assumed the role of a Bolshevik sympathizer. [82] Grammatikov further instructed his niece Dagmara Karozus [88] —a dancer in the Moscow Art Theatre—to allow Reilly to use her apartment as a "safe house", and through Vladimir Orlov, a former Okhrana associate turned Cheka official, Reilly obtained travel permits as a Cheka agent. [89] [90]

In 1918, behind-the-scenes helpers such as . Sidney Reilly, the erstwhile Russian double agent who was operating on Britain's behalf, were involved in the formulation and execution of various attempts to snatch both Russia and the [Romanov family] from the Bolsheviks. [4]

The attempt to assassinate Vladimir Lenin and to depose the Bolshevik government is considered by biographers to be Reilly's most daring exploit. [92] [93] The Ambassadors' Plot, later misnamed in the press as the Lockhart-Reilly Plot, [94] [95] has sparked considerable debate over the years: did the Allies launch a clandestine operation to overthrow the Bolsheviks in the later summer of 1918 and, if so, did Felix Dzerzhinsky's Cheka uncover the plot at the eleventh hour or did they know of the conspiracy from the outset? [96] [92] At the time, the dissembling American Consul-General DeWitt Clinton Poole publicly insisted the Cheka orchestrated the conspiracy from beginning to end and that Reilly was a Bolshevik agent provocateur. [f] [97] [12] Later, Robert Bruce Lockhart would state that he was "not to this day sure of the extent of Reilly's responsibility for the disastrous turn of events." [9]

In January 1918, the youthful Lockhart—a mere junior member of the British Foreign office—had been personally handpicked by British Prime Minister David Lloyd George to undertake a sensitive diplomatic mission to Soviet Russia. [98] Lockhart's assigned objectives were: to liaise with the Soviet authorities, to subvert Soviet-German relations, to bolster Soviet resistance to German peace overtures, and to push Soviet authorities into recreating the Eastern Theater. [98] By April, however, Lockhart had hopelessly failed to achieve any of these objectives. He began to agitate in diplomatic cables for an immediate full-scale Allied military intervention in Russia. [98] Concurrently, Lockhart ordered Sidney Reilly to pursue contacts within anti-Bolshevik circles to sow the seeds for an armed uprising in Moscow. [99] [98]

In May 1918, Lockhart, Reilly, and various agents of the Allied Powers repeatedly met with Boris Savinkov, [10] head of the counter-revolutionary Union for the Defence of the Motherland and Freedom (UDMF). [100] Savinkov had been Deputy War Minister in the Provisional Government of Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky, and a key opponent of the Bolsheviks. [101] A former Socialist Revolutionary Party member, Savinkov had formed the UDMF consisting of several thousand Russian fighters, and he was receptive to Allied overtures to depose the Soviet government. [101] Lockhart, Reilly, and others then contacted anti-Bolshevik groups linked to Savinkov and Socialist Revolutionary Party cells affiliated with Savinkov's friend Maximilian Filonenko. Lockhart and Reilly supported these factions with SIS funds. [10] They also liaised with DeWitt Clinton Poole and Fernand Grenard, [75] the Consuls-General of the United States and France respectively. [75] They also coordinated their activities with intelligence operatives affiliated with the French and U.S. consuls in Moscow. [23] [102]

Planning a coup Edit

In June, disillusioned elements of Colonel Eduard Berzin's Latvian Rifle Division (Latdiviziya) began appearing in anti-Bolshevik circles in Petrograd and were eventually directed to a British naval attaché Captain Francis Cromie and his assistant Mr. Constantine, a Turkish merchant who was actually Reilly. [102] In contrast to his previous espionage operations which had been independent of other agents, Reilly worked closely while in Petrograd with Cromie in joint efforts to recruit Berzin's Latvians and to equip anti-Bolshevik armed forces. [103] At the time, Cromie purportedly represented the British Naval Intelligence Division and oversaw its operations in northern Russia. [104] Cromie operated in loose coordination with the ineffectual Commander Ernest Boyce, the MI1(c) station chief in Petrograd. [104]

As Berzin's Latvians were deemed the Praetorian Guard of the Bolsheviks and entrusted with the security of both Lenin and the Kremlin, the Allied plotters believed their participation in the pending coup to be vital. With the aid of the Latvian Rifleman, the Allied agents hoped to "seize both Lenin and Trotsky at a meeting to take place in the first week of September". [9]

Reilly arranged a meeting between Lockhart and the Latvians at the British mission in Moscow. Reilly purportedly expended "over a million rubles" to bribe the Red Army troops guarding the Kremlin. [95] At this stage, Cromie, [104] Boyce, [75] Reilly, [105] Lockhart, and other Allied agents allegedly planned a full-scale coup against the Bolshevik government and drew up a list of Soviet military leaders ready to assume responsibilities on its demise. [106] Their objective was to capture or kill Lenin and Trotsky, to establish a provisional government, and to extinguish Bolshevism. [9] Lenin and Trotsky, they reasoned, "were Bolshevism", and nothing else in their movement had "substance or permanence". [9] Consequently, "if he could get them into [their] hands there would be nothing of consequence left of Sovietism". [9]

As Lockhart's diplomatic status hindered his open engagement in clandestine activities, he chose to supervise such activities from afar and to delegate the actual direction of the coup to Reilly. [107] To facilitate this work, Reilly allegedly obtained a position as a sinecure within the criminal branch of the Petrograd Cheka. [107] It was during this chaotic time of plots and counter-plots that Reilly and Lockhart became further acquainted. [12] Lockhart later posthumously described him as "a man of great energy and personal charm, very attractive to women and very ambitious. I had not a very high opinion of his intelligence. His knowledge covered many subjects, from politics to art, but it was superficial. On the other hand, his courage and indifference to danger were superb." [12] Throughout their backroom intrigues in Moscow, Lockhart never openly questioned Reilly's loyalty to the Allies, although he privately wondered if Reilly had made a secret bargain with Colonel Berzin and his Latvian Riflemen to later seize power for themselves. [12]

In Lockhart's estimation, Reilly was a limitless "man cast in the Napoleonic mold" and, if their counter-revolutionary coup had succeeded, "the prospect of playing a lone hand [using Berzin's Latvian Riflemen] may have inspired him with a Napoleonic design" to become the head of any new government. [12] However, unbeknownst to the Allied conspirators, Berzin was "an honest commander" and "devoted to the Soviet government". [108] Although not a Chekist, he nonetheless informed Dzerzhinsky's Cheka that he had been approached by Reilly and that Allied agents had attempted to recruit him into a possible coup. [108] This information did not surprise Dzerzhinsky as the Cheka had gained access to the British diplomatic codes in May and were closely monitoring the anti-Bolshevik activities. [103] Dzerzhinsky instructed Berzin and other Latvian officers to pretend to be receptive to the Allied plotters and to meticuously report on every detail of their pending operation. [108]

The plot unravels Edit

While Allied agents militated against the Soviet regime in Petrograd and Moscow, persistent rumors swirled of an impending Allied military intervention in Russia which would overthrow the fledgling Soviet government in favor of a new regime willing to rejoin the ongoing war against the Central Powers. [95] On 4 August 1918, an Allied force landed at Arkhangelsk, Russia, beginning a famous military expedition dubbed Operation Archangel. Its professed objective was to prevent the German Empire from obtaining Allied military supplies stored in the region. In retaliation for this incursion, the Bolsheviks raided the British diplomatic mission on 5 August, disrupting a meeting Reilly had arranged between the anti-Bolshevik Latvians, UDMF officials, and Lockhart. [106] Unperturbed by these raids, Reilly conducted meetings on 17 August 1918 between Latvian regimental leaders and liaised with Captain George Alexander Hill, a multilingual British agent operating in Russia on behalf of the Military Intelligence Directorate. [109] [110]

Hill later described Reilly as "a dark, well-groomed, very foreign-looking man" who had "an amazing grasp of the actualities of the situation" and was "a man of action". [8] They agreed the coup would occur in the first week of September during a meeting of the Council of People's Commissars and the Moscow Soviet at the Bolshoi Theatre. [106] On 25 August, yet another meeting of Allied conspirators allegedly occurred at DeWitt C. Poole's American Consulate in Moscow. [95] By this time, the Allied conspirators had organized a broad network of agents and saboteurs throughout Soviet Russia whose overarching ambition was to disrupt the nation's food supplies. Coupled with the planned military uprising in Moscow, they believed a chronic food shortage would trigger popular unrest and further undermine the Soviet authorities. In turn, the Soviets would be overthrown by a new government friendly to the Allied Powers which would renew hostilities against Kaiser Wilhelm II's German Reich. [96] On 28 August, Reilly informed Hill that he was immediately leaving Moscow for Petrograd where he would discuss final details related to the coup with Commander Francis Cromie at the British consulate. [111] That night, Reilly had no difficulty in traveling through picket lines between Moscow and Petrograd due to his identification as a member of the Petrograd Cheka and his possession of Cheka travel permits. [111]

On 30 August, Boris Savinkov and Maximilian Filonenko ordered a military cadet named Leonid Kannegisser—Filonenko's cousin—to shoot and kill Moisei Uritsky, head of the Petrograd Cheka. [112] Uritsky had been the second most powerful man in the city after Grigory Zinoviev, the leader of the Petrograd Soviet, and his murder was seen as a blow to both the Cheka and the entire Bolshevik leadership. [104] After killing Uritsky, a panicked Kannegisser sought refuge either at the English Club [104] or at the British mission where Cromie resided and where Savinkov and Filonenko may have been temporarily in hiding. [113] [114] Regardless of whether he fled to the English Club or to the British consulate, Kannegisser was compelled to leave the premises. After donning a long overcoat, he fled into the city streets where he was apprehended by Red Guards after a violent shootout.

On the same day, Fanya Kaplan—a former anarchist who was now a member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party [115] —shot and wounded Lenin as he departed the Michelson arms factory in Moscow. [115] As Lenin exited the building and before he entered his motor car, Kaplan called out to him. When Lenin turned towards her, she fired three shots with a Browning pistol. [116] One bullet narrowly missed Lenin's heart and penetrated his lung, while the other bullet lodged in his neck near the jugular vein. [112] Due to the severity of these wounds, Lenin was not expected to survive. [112] [104] The attack was widely covered in the Russian press, generating much sympathy for Lenin and boosting his popularity. [117] As a consequence of this assassination attempt, however, the meeting between Lenin and Trotsky—where the bribed soldiery would seize them on behalf of the Allies—was postponed. [9] At this point, Reilly was notified by fellow conspirator Alexander Grammatikov that "the [Socialist Revolutionary Party] fools have struck too early". [86]

Chekist reprisal Edit

Although it is unknown if Kaplan either was part of the Ambassadors' Plot or was even responsible for the assassination attempt on Lenin, [g] the murder of Uritsky and the failed assassination of Lenin were used by Dzerzhinsky's Cheka to implicate any malcontents and foreigners in a grand conspiracy that warranted a full-scale reprisal campaign: the "Red Terror". [119] Thousands of political opponents were seized and "mass executions took place across the city, at Khodynskoe field, Petrovsky Park and the Butyrki prison, all in the north of the city, as well as in the Cheka headquarters at Lubyanka". [119] The extent of the Chekist reprisal likely foiled much of the inchoate plans by Cromie, Boyce, Lockhart, Reilly, Savinkov, Filonenko, and other conspirators. [106] [104]

Using lists supplied by undercover agents, the Cheka proceeded to clear out the "nests of conspirators" in the foreign embassies and, in doing so, they arrested key figures vital to the impending coup. [104] [9] On 31 August 1918, believing Savinkov and Filonenko were hiding in the British consulate, [113] [114] a Cheka detachment raided the British consulate in Petrograd and killed Cromie who put up an armed resistance. [120] [113] [114] Immediately prior to his death, it is possible that Cromie may have been trying to communicate with other conspirators and to give instructions to accelerate their planned coup. [104] Before the Cheka detachment stormed the consulate, Cromie burned key correspondence pertaining to the coup. [104]

According to press reports, he made a valiant last stand on the first floor of the consulate armed only with a revolver. [120] In close quarters combat, he dispatched three Chekist soldiers before he was in turn killed and his corpse mutilated. [120] [113] Eyewitnesses, such as the sister-in-law of Red Cross nurse Mary Britnieva, asserted that Cromie was shot by the Cheka while retreating down the consulate's grand staircase. [121] The Cheka detachment searched the building and, with their rifle butts, repelled the diplomatic staff from getting close to the corpse of Captain Cromie which the Chekist soldiers had looted and trampled. [104] The Cheka detachment then arrested over forty persons who had sought refuge within the British consulate, as well as seized weapon caches and compromising documents which they claimed implicated the consular staff in the forthcoming coup attempt. [120] [23] Cromie's death was publicly "depicted as a measure of self-defence by the Bolshevik agents, who had been forced to return his fire". [23]

Meanwhile, Lockhart was arrested by Dzerzhinsky's Cheka and transported under guard to Lubyanka Prison. [112] During a tense interview with a pistol-wielding Cheka officer, he was asked "Do you know the Kaplan woman?" and "Where is Reilly?" [112] When queried about the coup, Lockhart and other British nationals dismissed the mere idea as nonsense. [10] Afterwards, Lockhart was placed in the same holding cell as Fanya Kaplan whom their watchful Chekist jailers hoped might betray some sign of recognizing Lockhart or other British agents. [122] However, while confined together, Kaplan showed no sign of recognition towards Lockhart or anyone else. [122] When it became clear that Kaplan would not implicate any accomplices, she was executed in the Kremlin's Alexander Garden on 3 September 1918, with a bullet to the back of the head. [116] Her corpse was bundled into a rusted iron barrel and set alight. [116] Lockhart was later released and deported in exchange for Maxim Litvinov, an unofficial Soviet attaché in London who had been arrested by the British government as a form of diplomatic reprisal. [123] In stark contrast to Lockhart's good fortune, "imprisonment, torture to compel confession, [and] death were the swift rewards of many who had been implicated" in the prospective coup against Lenin's government. [9] Yelizaveta Otten, Reilly's chief courier "with whom he was romantically involved," [124] was arrested as well as his other mistress Olga Starzheskaya. [82] After interrogation, Starzheskaya was imprisoned for five years. [82] Yet another courier, Mariya Fride, likewise was arrested at Otten's flat with an intelligence communiqué that she was carrying for Reilly. [125] [126] [106]

Escape from Russia Edit

On 3 September 1918 the Pravda and Izvestiya newspapers sensationalised the aborted coup on their front pages. [95] [23] Outraged headlines denounced the Allied representatives and other foreigners in Moscow as "Anglo-French Bandits". [23] The papers arrogated credit for the coup to Reilly and, when he was identified as a key suspect, a dragnet ensued. [95] Reilly "was hunted through days and nights as he had never been hunted before," [9] and "his photograph with a full description and a reward was placarded" throughout the area. [127] The Cheka raided his assumed refuge, but the elusive Reilly avoided capture and met Captain Hill while in hiding. [127] Hill later wrote that Reilly, despite narrowly escaping his pursuers in both Moscow and Petrograd, "was absolutely cool, calm and collected, not in the least downhearted and only concerned in gathering together the broken threads and starting afresh". [127]

Hill proposed that Reilly escape from Russia via Ukraine to Baku using their network of British agents for safe houses and assistance. [127] However, Reilly instead chose a shorter, more dangerous route north through Petrograd and the Baltic Provinces to Finland to get their reports to London as early as possible. [127] With the Cheka closing in, Reilly, carrying a Baltic German passport supplied by Hill, posed as a legation secretary and departed the region in a railway car reserved for the German Embassy. In Kronstadt, Reilly sailed by ship to Helsinki and reached Stockholm with the aid of local Baltic smugglers. [128] He arrived unscathed in London on 8 November. [128]

While safely in England, Reilly, Lockhart and other agents were tried in absentia before the Supreme Revolutionary Tribunal in a proceeding which opened 25 November 1918. [129] Approximately twenty defendants faced charges in the trial, most of whom had worked for the Americans or the British in Moscow. The case was prosecuted by Nikolai Krylenko, [h] an exponent of the theory that political considerations rather than criminal guilt should decide a case's outcome. [130] [129]

Krylenko's case concluded on 3 December 1918, with two defendants sentenced to be shot and various others sentenced to terms of prison or forced labour for terms up to five years. [129] Thus, the day before Reilly met Sir Mansfield Smith-Cumming ("C") in London for debriefing, the Russian Izvestia newspaper reported that both Reilly and Lockhart had been sentenced to death in absentia by a Revolutionary Tribunal for their roles in the attempted coup of the Bolshevik government. [129] [132] The sentence was to be carried out immediately should either of them be apprehended on Soviet soil. This sentence would later be served on Reilly when he was caught by Dzerzhinsky's OGPU in 1925. [129] [133]

Russian Civil War Edit

Within a week of their return debriefing, the British Secret Intelligence Service and the Foreign Office again sent Reilly and Hill to South Russia under the cover of British trade delegates. Their assignment was to uncover information about the Black Sea coast needed for the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. [135] At that time the region was home to a variety of anti-Bolsheviks. They travelled in the guise of British merchants, with appropriate credentials provided by the Department of Overseas Trade. Over the next six weeks or so Reilly prepared twelve dispatches which reported on various aspects of the situation in South Russia and were delivered personally by Hill to the Foreign Office in London.

Reilly identified four principal factors in the affairs of South Russia at this time: the Volunteer Army the territorial or provincial governments in the Kuban, Don, and Crimea the Petlyura movement in Ukraine and the economic situation. In his opinion, the future course of events in this region would depend not only on the interaction of these factors with each other, but "above all upon Allied attitude towards them". Reilly advocated Allied assistance to organise South Russia into a suitable place d'armes for decisive advance against Petlurism and Bolshevism. In his opinion: "The military Allied assistance required for this would be comparatively small as proved by recent events in Odessa. Landing parties in the ports and detachments assisting Volunteer Army on lines of communication would probably be sufficient." [136]

Reilly's reference to events in Odessa concerned the successful landing there on 18 December 1918 of troops from the French 156th Division commanded by General Borius, who managed to wrest control of the city from the Petlyurists with the assistance of a small contingent of Volunteers. [136]

Urgent as the need for Allied military assistance to the Volunteer Army was in Reilly's estimation, he regarded economic assistance for South Russia as "even more pressing". Manufactured goods were so scarce in this region that he considered any moderate contribution from the Allies would have a most beneficial effect. Otherwise, apart from echoing a certain General Poole's suggestion for a British or Anglo-French Commission to control merchant shipping engaged in trading activities in the Black Sea, Reilly did not offer any solutions to what he called a state of "general economic chaos" in South Russia. Reilly found White officials, who had been given the job of helping the Russian economy get better, "helpless" in coming to terms with "the colossal disaster which has overtaken Russia's finances, . and unable to frame anything, approaching even an outline, of a financial policy". But he supported their request for the Allies to print "500 Million roubles of Nicholas money of all denominations" for the Special Council as a matter of urgency, with the justification that "although one realises the fundamental futility of this remedy, one must agree with them that for the moment this is the only remedy". Lack of funds was one reason offered by Reilly to explain the Whites' blatant inactivity in the propaganda field. They were also said to be lacking paper and printing presses needed for the preparation of propaganda material. Reilly claimed that the Special Council had come to appreciate fully the benefits of propaganda. [136]

Final marriage Edit

While on a visit to postwar Berlin in December 1922, Reilly met a charming young actress named Pepita Bobadilla in the Hotel Adlon. Bobadilla was an attractive blonde who falsely claimed to be from South America. [137] Her real name was Nelly Burton, and she was the widow of Charles Haddon Chambers, [138] a well-known British playwright. For the past several years Bobadilla had gained notoriety both as Chambers' wife and for her stage career as a dancer. [137] On 18 May 1923, after a whirlwind romance, Bobadilla married Reilly at a civil Registry Office on Henrietta Street, in Covent Garden, Central London, with Captain Hill acting as a witness. [139] [9] As Reilly was already married at the time, their union was bigamous. Bobadilla later described Reilly as a sombre individual and found it strange that he never entertained guests at their home. Except for two or three acquaintances, hardly anyone could boast of being his friend. [22] Nevertheless, their marriage was reportedly happy as Bobadilla believed Reilly to be "romantic", "a good companion", "a man of infinite courage", and "the ideal husband". [22] Their union would last merely 30 months before Reilly's disappearance in Russia and his execution by the Soviet OGPU.

Zinoviev scandal Edit

One year later Reilly was involved—possibly alongside Sir Stewart Graham Menzies [140] —in the international scandal known as the Zinoviev Letter. [6] [7] [140] Four days before the British general election on 8 October 1924, a Tory newspaper printed a letter purporting to originate from Grigory Zinoviev, head of the Third Communist International. [6] The letter claimed the planned resumption of diplomatic and trade relations by the Labour party with Soviet Russia would indirectly hasten the overthrow of the British government. [141] Mere hours later the British Foreign Office incorporated this letter in a stiff note of protest to the Soviet government. [6] Soviet Russia and British Communists denounced the letter as a forgery by British intelligence agents, while Conservative politicians and newspapers maintained the document was genuine. [ citation needed ] Recent scholarship argues that the Zinoviev letter was indeed a forgery. [140] [ citation needed ]

Amid the uproar following the printing of the letter and the Foreign Office protest, Ramsay MacDonald's Labour Government lost the general election. [6] According to Samuel T. Williamson, writing in The New York Times in 1926, Reilly may have served as a courier to transport the forged Zinoviev letter into the United Kingdom. [6] [140] Reflecting upon these events, the journalist Winfried Lüdecke [c] posited in 1929 that Reilly's role in "the famous Zinoviev letter assumed a world-wide political importance, for its publication in the British press brought about the fall of the [Ramsay] Macdonald ministry, frustrated the realization of the proposed Anglo-Russian commercial treaty, and, as a final result, led to the signing of the treaties of Locarno, in virtue of which the other states of Europe presented, under the leadership of Britain, a united front against Soviet Russia". [7]

[Mansfield] Cumming's most remarkable, though not his most reliable, agent was Sidney Reilly, the dominating figure in the mythology of modern British espionage. Reilly, it has been claimed, 'wielded more power, authority and influence than any other spy,' was an expert assassin 'by poisoning, stabbing, shooting and throttling,' and possessed eleven passports and a wife to go with each. [17]

Throughout his life, Sidney Reilly maintained a close yet tempestuous relationship with the British intelligence community. In 1896, Reilly was recruited by Superintendent William Melville for the émigré intelligence network of Scotland Yard's Special Branch. Through his close relationship with Melville, Reilly would be employed as a secret agent for the Secret Service Bureau, which the Foreign Office created in October 1909. [11] In 1918, Reilly began to work for MI1(c), an early designation [11] for the British Secret Intelligence Service, under Sir Mansfield Smith-Cumming. Reilly was allegedly trained by the latter organization and sent to Moscow in March 1918 to assassinate Vladimir Ilyich Lenin or attempt to overthrow the Bolsheviks. [10] He had to escape after the Cheka unraveled the so-called Lockhart Plot against the Bolshevik government. Later biographies contain numerous tales about his espionage deeds. It has been claimed that:

  • In the Boer War he masqueraded as a Russian arms merchant to spy on Dutch weapons shipments to the Boers. [142]
  • He obtained intelligence on Russian military defences in Manchuria for the Kempeitai, the Japanese secret police. [17]
  • He procured Persian oil concessions for the British Admiralty in events surrounding the D'Arcy Concession. [5]
  • He infiltrated a Krupp armaments plant in prewar Germany and stole weapon plans for the Entente Powers. [142]
  • He seduced the wife of a Russian minister to glean information about German weapons shipments to Russia. [15]
  • He participated in missions of so-called "German sabotage" designed to draw the United States into World War I. [75]
  • He attempted to overthrow the Russian Bolshevik government and to rescue the imprisoned Romanov family. [4]
  • Prior to his demise, he served as a courier to transport the forged Zinoviev letter into the United Kingdom. [6][140]

British intelligence adhered to its policy of publicly saying nothing about anything. [1] Yet Reilly's espionage successes did garner indirect recognition. After a formal recommendation by Sir Mansfield "C" Smith-Cumming, Reilly, who had received a military commission in 1917, was awarded the Military Cross on 22 January 1919, "for distinguished services rendered in connection with military operations in the field". [143] [144] This vaguely-worded citation misled later biographers such as Richard Deacon to wrongly conclude that Reilly's medal was bestowed for valorous military feats against the Imperial German Army during the Great War of 1914–1918 [73] however most later biographers agree the medal was bestowed due to Reilly's anti-Bolshevik operations in southern Russia.

Reilly's most skeptical biographer, Andrew Cook, asserts that Reilly's SIS-specific career has been greatly embellished as he wasn't accepted as an agent until 15 March 1918. He was then discharged in 1921 because of his tendency to be a rogue operative. Nevertheless, Cook concedes that Reilly previously had been a renowned operative for Scotland Yard's Special Branch and the Secret Service Bureau which were the early forerunners of the British intelligence community. Historian Christopher Andrew, a professor at University of Cambridge with a focus on the history of the intelligence services, described Reilly's secret service career overall as "remarkable, though largely ineffective". [145] [27]

Did a forgotten Japanese journalist turn the tide of World War II?

Most historians agree that World War II’s first real turning point occurred in December 1941 when Red Army troops led by Marshal Georgy Zhukov smashed through the German lines encircling Moscow and shattered the siege of the city.

The epic “Breakout from Moscow,” spearheaded by 18 fresh divisions, 1,700 tanks and 1,500 planes hastily recalled from the Soviet Far East, spurred a chain of events that literally sent Hitler’s forces reeling from the gates of Moscow to the gates of Berlin. Larger Soviet victories at Stalingrad and Kursk, in all likelihood, would not have followed if Moscow had fallen.

“It was the beginning of the end for Germany,” John Pike, an intelligence expert who heads military think tank in Washington, D.C. told Asia Times.

As the world this month celebrates the 70 th anniversary of Japan’s surrender and the end of World War II, it would do well to remember that the crucial intelligence which allowed Zhukov to transfer these desperately needed forces to Moscow came from a now-forgotten Japanese journalist named Hotsumi Ozaki.

Ozaki was a Japanese newspaper correspondent and pivotal member of the legendary Tokyo spy ring headed by Soviet spymaster Richard Sorge.

Sorge’s most famous feat involved giving Stalin advance word of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor — a tip his Kremlin master ignored. But arguably, the most critical information he relayed during the war was confirmation, from reliable sources, that the Japanese Army would not relieve Germany by opening a second front against the USSR. The tip allowed Zhukov to redeploy his battle-hardened men and armor to Moscow. The final confirmation of what Japan would do came from Ozaki.

The greatest spy story of all time

“If there is a single piece of intelligence that changed the course of World War II, it was Sorge’s report to Moscow that the Japanese would not invade Russia,” said Bob Bergin, a former US foreign service officer who writes on the history of World War II intelligence operations. “Sorge’s ring – and Ozaki’s role in it — may be the greatest spy story of all time.”

Ozaki and Sorge were both arrested for espionage and hanged by Japanese authorities. Ozaki, however, has the distinction of being the only Japanese civilian executed for high treason in World War II.

A chubby-cheeked ladies’ man who worked for the Osaka Asahi, Japan’s leading newspaper at the time, Ozaki was an unlikely choice for his telling historical role.

He was born on in Shirakawa, Gifu Prefecture on May Day in 1901. He was descended from an old samurai family. But his father made his living as an almost penniless journalist. His family moved during his youth to the new Japanese colony of Taiwan for economic reasons. It was here that Hotsumi, an irrepressibly impulsive and open-minded man, became acquainted with Chinese culture and the awkwardness of being a member of the island’s ruling class.

“My connection with the controlling and governing classes was revealed to me as a concrete fact of daily life. This experience later aroused in me an extraordinary interest in the problem of national liberation, and it also gave me an insight into the China problem,” Ozaki is quoted as saying in Japan expert Chalmers Johnson’s 1990 biography, “An Instance of Treason: Ozaki Hotsumi and the Sorge Spy Ring.”

Ozaki returned to Japan in 1922 and studied law at elite Tokyo Imperial University. But he soon dropped out, and threw himself into Communist Party activities. His conversion to Marxism and opposition to the Japanese government was shaped in the aftermath of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 when he watched local police and officials incite mob hysteria that led to the slaughter of more than 6,000 Korean residents of Tokyo.

“Violent mobs seized, tortured, and killed Koreans in the frantic belief that they were using the disaster as an opportunity for rebellion,” Johnson wrote. Authorities also used the quake to arrest or kill many Japanese labor leaders.

The young radical followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a journalist. He was hired by the Asahi Shimbun as a reporter in 1926 and was soon writing stories about Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. Asahi posted him to Shanghai in 1928 where he became friendly with leftist American reporter Agnes Smedley. Ozaki also began to secretly assist members of the city’s Chinese Communist Party.

Fateful meeting

It was Smedley who introduced Ozaki to Sorge during one of the latter’s trips to China. “Can you introduce me to a Japanese to help improve my knowledge of Japan’s policy towards China?,” Sorge was quoted as asking Smedley in Robert Whymant’s 1996 book, “Stalin’s Spy.” Smedley introduced Sorge, her then lover, to Ozaki.

The two hit it off. “Ozaki was affable, interesting and ready to help. They recognized each other’s intellectual ability and before long discovered shared interests,” Whymant wrote of the chemistry between the two men.

Ozaki joined the ring and the pair teamed up in Japan after Sorge, who was posing as a pro-Nazi journalist for Russian military intelligence, was posted to Tokyo. Other key members included Yotoku Miyagi, a Okinawan, Branko Vukelic, a Yugoslav, and Max Clausen, a German wireless operator.

“If I reflect deeply, I can say that I was indeed destined to meet Agnes Smedley and Richard Sorge. It was my encounter with these people that finally determined my narrow path from then on,” Ozaki observed after his arrest.

Sorge was a brilliant spy and a man of great courage. But he knew little about Japan. Japanese politics, institutions and culture was a cipher to him. It was Ozaki who schooled him, and it was the chatty Japanese scribe who recruited other anti-militarist Japanese who served as the ring’s human sinews in Japan.

While history rightly credits Sorge with relaying key intelligence to Moscow as the brains and guts of the operation, it’s doubtful if Sorge (who couldn’t speak or read Japanese) could have succeeded without Ozaki’s access to the innermost circles of Japanese government.

A leading China authority, Ozaki had charmed his way to become an adviser and confidant of Japanese Prime Minister Prince Fumimaro Konoe and other top officials. He met regularly with Konoe and his coterie of friends at the prince’s residence in Tokyo. It was here that Ozaki gleaned critical information about Japanese military strategy and policy toward the Asian mainland.

Code-name Otto

Ozaki, code-named “Otto,” and Miyagi, code-name “Joe,” undertook risky missions in Japan, Manchuria and other parts of Asia to report on Japanese troop movements. They also corroborated information Sorge received from German diplomats.

It’s ironic that Ozaki managed to evade Japan’s coldly efficient wartime security apparatus for so long. In a classic case of cultural blindsiding, no one on the Japanese side suspected that someone who had attended an elite Japanese university could be working for Stalin.

Sorge also was a journalist who used his cover as a correspondent for Germany’s Frankfurter Zeitung to win the trust of German diplomats in Japan. Badly wounded in World War I where he won the Iron Cross, Sorge was first swayed to the cause of the Great Proletarian Revolution by a communist-leaning nurse who tended his wounds. An edgy adventurer fond of wine, women and motorcycles, he had a German father. But few knew of a Russian mother who imbued him with other loyalties. Some of Sorge’s biggest intelligence coups were tied to a torrid affair he carried on with the wife of the German ambassador to Japan.

A glorious way to die

Ozaki was a true believer who had chosen his side in the fight against the Axis.

“I would like to go and die splendidly as a communist. I have nothing to regret, and I am fully prepared,” Ozaki remarked to a visitor, shortly before he was executed.

Did he know of Stalin’s crimes or communism’s dark side? It makes no difference. Untold millions were saved because of what he did.

A description of the ruses that the Tokyo espionage ring used to probe the Japanese military’s designs toward the USSR’s eastern flank could fill volumes. The skinny is as follows: Zhukov had annihilated the better part of two Japanese divisions in a short but vicious war with Japan in 1939 at Nomonhan, along the Russian-Mongolia frontier. “It was enough to convince the Japanese that attacking Russia would be a tough nut to crack,” Pike said, stressing that the battle, also known as Khalkhin Gol, was a little-appreciated prelude to Moscow. Sorge, Ozaki and Miyagi also played a critical role at this time by relaying intelligence on Japanese troop movements to Zhukov.

The Japanese continued to mass troops near Russia’s border with Manchuria after their humiliating defeat. Berlin, meanwhile, kept pressing Tokyo to reopen hostilities. Stalin feared Japan would attack as German troops invaded Russia from the West in 1941. Encouraged by early German successes against Russia, Japan appeared to mobilize for a strike.

Sorge, however, had heard in casual conversation from a German naval attache in August 1941 that Japan had ruled out war with the USSR. Antsy about a coming clash with the US, Japanese strategists were waiting until Russia’s collapse became certain. If true, it meant that hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops tied down in the Far East could be sprung. But this sizzling piece of intelligence needed to be verified before it could be radioed to Moscow – and it was Ozaki who did it.

In late August of 1941, Ozaki traveled to Japanese-occupied Manchuria under the cover of attending a conference sponsored by Japan’s South Manchurian Railway company in Dairen. His real purpose was to check the dispositions of Japan’s crack Kwantung Army to ascertain if they were preparing for an invasion of Siberia. He also collected statistics on Japanese army and navy oil stocks for clues on military deployments.

Ozaki soon returned to Tokyo with the final piece in the puzzle. “The danger has passed,” Sorge recalled Ozaki telling him in a diary entry. The Japanese were withdrawing units from Manchuria and were not moving others northward from China. An invasion of Russia’s eastern frontier was clearly not in the offing. All signs were that Japan would strike southward — to the Dutch East Indies and Singapore.

“It was Ozaki who was the real spy in this case,” Bergin told Asia Times. “What Ozaki did and how he did it certainly deserves a great deal of credit, perhaps the biggest part of it. He came to Sorge not as an informant already in place, but as an outsider. It was through his deliberate effort that he worked himself into the upper reaches of the Japanese government and became a confidant of the Japanese PM. This must be what all spies dream of, but almost never achieve. He put himself where the intelligence had to be. Individual acts of spies do make a difference.”

The rest is history. On Dec. 5, 1941, massed formations of Soviet tanks and troops in white winter camouflage (recently disembarked from rail cars that had carried them from Asia) attacked under the cover of a swirling snowstorm. The Germans were taken by surprise and never regained the initiative in the field. Pike notes Zhukov’s reinforcements eventually struck southward and broke the back of the German 6 th Army at Stalingrad.

What if Moscow had fallen? “The western allies were never sure of what the Soviets would do,” noted Pike who has no argument with the view that Ozaki and Sorge changed history. “Given Stalin’s track record, there was the clear and present danger of a separate peace with Germany. The Soviets could have said, ‘we’ve had enough’ and called it a day.” The full weight of the Axis war machine would have fallen on Britain and the US.

Stalin acted on Sorge’s tip because of the accuracy of his earlier intelligence on Japanese troop dispositions at Nomonhan. The master spy also tapped German diplomatic sources in Tokyo to alert Stalin to the impending Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. In this instance, Stalin elected not to warn the US about the attack because if it was true, he preferred the “ABC Powers” (America, Britain and China) to consume themselves in a war with Japan and Germany – to Moscow’s advantage.

The Tokyo spy ring was exposed when Japanese police discovered that Miyagi had joined the Communist Party in the US years earlier.

Miyagi, after his arrest, tried to protect his colleagues by jumping out of a window at police headquarters. Unfortunately, he survived the fall and following interrogation, police were able to capture the ring’s members.

Ozaki and Sorge were brutally tortured and admitted their “crimes.” Both were made to write long confessions, detailing their espionage.

Sorge would have gone to the gallows regardless of what he had written. But in Ozaki’s case, it was possible the court would spare the noose if he recanted the wrongness of his deeds by writing a so-called “tenkosho” or statement of conversion.

Ozaki, however, found it impossible to recant. “It pained Ozaki to beg for his life by disowning the beliefs and principles he had cherished,” Whymant says. The court ultimately ruled that his “anti-state” views were unchanged.

Ozaki and Sorge were hung minutes apart on Nov. 7, 1944, in Tokyo’s Sugamo prison, 10 months before the Japanese surrender. The date coincided with the 27th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. Ozaki was the first to die.

“(Sorge) was led to the trapdoor set in the floor and stood calmly as his hands and legs were bound. He did not know that shortly after 9:30 that morning, Ozaki Hotsumi, his loyal helper, had stood on this same spot, and been hanged until he died at 9:51,” Whymant wrote.

Miyagi and Vukelic died in custody.

Sorge was proclaimed a “Hero of the Soviet Union” after V-J Day and posthumously rewarded with a stone monument in Moscow. There is no monument to Hotsumi Ozaki in Japan today.

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På denne dag i 1944 hænges Richard Sorge, en halv russisk, halvtysk sovjetisk spion, der havde brugt forsiden af ​​en tysk journalist til at rapportere om Tyskland og Japan for Sovjetunionen, af hans japanske fanger.

Sorge kæmpede under den første verdenskrig i den tyske hær og tjente derefter sin doktorgrad i statsvidenskab ved University of Hamburg. Han tiltrådte Tysklands kommunistiske parti i 1919 og rejste til USSR i 1924. Hans første store opgave for sovjetisk efterretning var i slutningen af ​​1920'erne, da han blev sendt til Kina for at organisere en spionring. Da han vendte tilbage til Tyskland, tiltrådte han det nazistiske parti i 1933 for at gøre hans dækning perfekt som en loyal tysker. Han fortsatte med at udvikle et ry som en respekteret journalist, der arbejder for Frankfurter Zeitung, til sidst overbeviste sine redaktører til ham til Tokyo som udenlandsk korrespondent i midten af ​​1930'erne. En gang i Japan fortsatte Sorge endnu en gang med at oprette en spionring, der omfattede en rådgiver for det japanske kabinet og en amerikansk kommunist, der også arbejdede for sovjetisk efterretning som Sorges tolk.

Sorge havde så med succes gledet sig med det tyske diplomatiske samfund i Japan, at han fik lov til at arbejde ud af den tyske ambassade, hvilket gav ham adgang til fortrolige filer. På samme tid blev han også venskab med japanske embedsmænd og forsøgte at overbevise dem om ikke at gå i krig med Sovjetunionen.

I maj 1941 rapporterede Sorge tilbage til Moskva, at Hitler planlægger en invasion af Sovjetunionen, og at 170 divisioner forberedte sig på at invadere den 20. juni, men Stalin ignorerede advarslen. Sorge kunne også i august 1941 rapportere, at Japan havde planer om at angribe mål i det sydlige Stillehav, ikke i Sovjetunionen. Dette gjorde det muligt for Stalin at fjerne tropper fra Manchurian-grænsen og frigøre dem for, når tyskerne endelig invaderede, da der ikke ville være nogen ”østfront.”

Men Sorges strålende spionkarriere sluttede den 18. oktober 1941, da japansk modvidenhed afslørede hans operation, og han blev arresteret sammen med 34 medlemmer af hans ring. Han blev endelig hængt i 1944. Tyve år senere blev han officielt erklæret som en helt fra Sovjetunionen.

Rudolf Abel

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Rudolf Abel, in full Rudolf Ivanovich Abel, original name William August Fisher, (born July 11, 1903, Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, England—died November 15, 1971, Moscow, Russia), Soviet intelligence officer, convicted in the United States in 1957 for conspiring to transmit military secrets to the Soviet Union. He was exchanged in 1962 for the American aviator Francis Gary Powers, who had been imprisoned as a spy in the Soviet Union since 1960.

Genrich Fischer (or Fisher), Abel’s father and a friend of Lenin’s, emigrated to Britain around 1901, where he spent 20 years attempting to organize and indoctrinate his fellow factory workers before returning to Russia. His son, born in England and going to Russia with his father, joined the Soviet intelligence and security agency GPU (the predecessor of the KGB) in 1927 and operated in western European countries and the Soviet Union in the next two decades. In about 1948 he illegally entered the United States and, under the name of Emil R. Goldfus, lived for some time as an artist and photographer in a Brooklyn studio apartment, where he concealed shortwave-radio transmitting and receiving equipment. On June 21, 1957, he was arrested by the FBI, and on October 25, 1957, a federal district court in Brooklyn found him guilty of espionage, relying in part on testimony by Soviet Lieutenant Colonel Reino Hayhanen, who had defected to the West and who stated that he had been Abel’s chief coconspirator in the United States. The court sentenced Abel to 30 years’ imprisonment.

The U.S. government then used Abel to secure the release of Powers, whose Lockheed U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft had been forced down near Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg), in the central Soviet Union, on May 1, 1960. President John F. Kennedy commuted Abel’s sentence, and, on February 10, 1962, in a ceremony on a bridge between West Berlin and East Germany (Potsdam), Abel was exchanged for Powers and Frederic L. Pryor, an American student who had been held without charge in East Germany since August 1961.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Adam Augustyn, Managing Editor, Reference Content.

An Impeccable Spy: Richard Sorge, Stalin’s Master Agent by Owen Matthews review — was he the Soviet James Bond?

At three in the morning of May 14, 1938 the Tokyo correspondent of the German newspaper Frankfurter Zeitung drank a bottle of whisky at the end of an evening of carousing in the fleshpots of Ginza, climbed on to his black Zündapp Flat-twin K500 motorbike, and drove it at high speed into a stone wall.

Lying semi-conscious in a bed in St Luke’s American hospital, his jaw shattered and skull fractured, barely able to speak, the injured man summoned a German friend to his bedside, ordered the doctors to leave the room and whispered: “Empty my pockets.” Then he passed out.