Hitler's Man in Havana: Heinz Luning and Nazi Espionage in Latin America

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When Heinz Lüning posed as a Jewish refugee to spy for Hitler's Abwehr espionage agency, he thought he had discovered the perfect solution to his most pressing problem: how to avoid being drafted into Hitler's army. Lüning was unsympathetic to Fascist ideology, but the Nazis' tight control over exit visas gave him no chance to escape Germany. He could enter Hitler's army either as a soldier... or a spy. In 1941, he entered the Abwehr academy for spy training and was given the code name "Lumann." Soon after, Lüning began the service in Cuba that led to his ultimate fate of being the only German spy executed in Latin America during World War II. Lüning was not the only spy operating in Cuba at the time. Various Allied spies labored in Havana; the FBI controlled eighteen Special Intelligence Service operatives, and the British counterintelligence section subchief Graham Greene supervised Secret Intelligence Service agents; and Ernest Hemingway's private agents supplied inflated and inaccurate information about submarines and spies to the U.S. ambassador, Spruille Braden. Lüning stumbled into this milieu of heightened suspicion and intrigue. Poorly trained and awkward at his work, he gathered little information worth reporting, was unable to build a working radio and improperly mixed the formulas for his secret inks. Lüning eventually was discovered by British postal censors and unwittingly provided the inspiration for Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana. In chronicling Lüning's unlikely trajectory from a troubled life in Germany to a Caribbean firing squad, Thomas D. Schoonover makes brilliant use of untapped documentary sources to reveal the workings of the famed Abwehr and the technical and social aspects of Lüning's spycraft. Using archival sources from three continents, Schoonover offers a narrative rich in atmospheric details to reveal the political upheavals of the time, not only tracking Lüning's activities but also explaining the broader trends in the region and in local counterespionage. Schoonover argues that ambitious Cuban and U.S. officials turned Lüning's capture into a grand victory. For at least five months after Lüning's arrest, U.S. and Cuban leaders — J. Edgar Hoover, Fulgencio Batista, Nelson Rockefeller, General Manuel Benítez, Ambassador Spruille Braden, and others — treated Lüning as a dangerous, key figure for a Nazi espionage network in the Gulf-Caribbean. They reworked his image from low-level bumbler to master spy, using his capture for their own political gain. In the sixty years since Lüning's execution, very little has been written about Nazi espionage in Latin America, partly due to the reticence of the U.S. government. Revealing these new historical sources for the first time, Schoonover tells a gripping story of Lüning's life and capture, suggesting that Lüning was everyone's man in Havana but his own.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"All of these stories are interesting, and the book will likely inform, and perhaps amuse, students of espionage and covert activities, Latin American history, and World War II." —NYMAS" —

"Using extensive archival and other sources from Germany, Great Britain, Cuba, and the United States, Schoonover provides a meticulously documents account." —Central European History" —

"Schoonover provides a meticulously documented account of the blundering and failed activity of the German Abwehr (intelligence) agent, Heinz Lüning, in Havana.... The author has reconstructed much of Lüning's life that appears on the surface as comic and humorous — until it found a tragic and brutal end." —Central European History" —

"Thomas Schoonover's intriguing story of Heinz Lüning, a largely inconsequential figure of limited abilities in Nazi espionage, is based solidly on recently declassified Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) files, as well as the records from archives in Germany, Great Britain, and the United States." — Global War Studies" —

"Schoonover weaves a fascinating tale of intrigue that opens windows for the reader with regard to key aspects of the intelligence communities in Cuba, Europe, and the United States." — H-Net Reviews" —

Publishers Weekly

Schoonover, professor emeritus of history at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, charts the brief career of the "minor and ineffective" Nazi spy Heinz Lüning, whose arrest and subsequent execution were "hyped and distorted" by Cuban, American and British officials as a major coup for the Allies. Sent to Cuba to collect information concerning Allied naval maneuvers and commerce in the Caribbean, Lüning was a drinker and a womanizer with "a brief training period, narrow and personal interests, modest intelligence, and no desire to serve Germany." The story of how this hapless, largely incompetent man found his way to the Americas and, eventually, the international limelight is at once strange, humorous and pathetic, if drily rendered. The final chapter, in which Schoonover makes a case for Lüning as the model for the character James Wormold in Graham Greene's 1958 novel, Our Man in Havana, is somewhat disconnected from the preceding sections, though it's a provocative if unusual conclusion to what is otherwise a straightforward work of military history. 32 photos. (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813125015
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 9/28/2008
  • Series: None Ser.
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas D. Schoonover is professor emeritus of history at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He is the author of eight books, including Uncle Sam's War of 1898 and the Origins of Globalization, The Banana Men, and Germany in Central America.

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Table of Contents

Foreword   Louis A. Perez Jr.     ix
Preface     xv
Acronyms/Glossary     xxiii
Introduction: Pushed to the Edge of Defeat in 1942     3
A Troubled Life     11
The World He Scarcely Knew     25
Back to School! Trained as a Nazi Spy     53
Tested in Action     63
Failure and Fatality     93
Their Man in Havana     123
Graham Greene's Man in Havana     141
Conclusion: A Story More Familiar Than Expected     155
Notes     159
Bibliography     187
Index     209
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