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My Adventures as a Spy
By Robert Baden-Powell
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
My Adventures as a Spy
It has been difficult to write in peace-time on the delicate subject of spies and spying, but now that the war is in progress and the methods of those much abused gentry have been disclosed, there is no harm in going more fully into the question, and to relate some of my own personal experiences.
Spies are like ghosts—people seem to have had a general feeling that there might be such things, but they did not at the same time believe in them—because they never saw them, and seldom met anyone who had had firsthand experience of them. But as regards the spies, I can speak with personal knowledge in saying that they do exist, and in very large numbers, not only in England, but in every part of Europe.
As in the case of ghosts, any phenomenon which people don't understand, from a sudden crash on a quiet day to a midnight creak of a cupboard, has an affect of alarm upon nervous minds. So also a spy is spoken of with undue alarm and abhorrence, because he is somewhat of a bogey.
As a first step it is well to disabuse one's mind of the idea that every spy is necessarily the base and despicable fellow he is generally held to be. He is often both clever and brave.
The term "spy" is used rather indiscriminately, and has by use come to be a term of contempt. As a misapplication of the term "spy" the case of Major André always seems to me to have been rather a hard one. He was a Swiss by birth, and during the American War of Independence in 1780 joined the British Army in Canada, where he ultimately became A.D.C. to General Sir H. Clinton.
The American commander of a fort near West Point, on the Hudson River, had hinted that he wanted to surrender, and Sir H. Clinton sent André to treat with him. In order to get through the American lines André dressed himself in plain clothes and took the name of John Anderson. He was unfortunately caught by the Americans and tried by court martial and hanged as a spy.
As he was not trying to get information, it seems scarcely right to call him a spy. Many people took this view at the time, and George III gave his mother a pension, as well as a title to his brother, and his body was ultimately dug up and re-interred in Westminster Abbey.CHAPTER 2
The Different Degrees of Spies
Let us for the moment change the term "spy" to "investigator" or "military agent." For war purposes these agents may be divided into:
1. Strategical and diplomatic agents, who study the political and military conditions in peace time of all other countries which might eventually be in opposition to their own in war. These also create political disaffection and organise outbreaks, such, for instance, as spreading sedition amongst Egyptians, or in India amongst the inhabitants, or in South Africa amongst the Boer population, to bring about an outbreak, if possible, in order to create confusion and draw off troops in time of war.
2. Tactical, military, or naval agents, who look into minor details of armament and terrain in peace time. These also make tactical preparations on the spot, such as material for extra bridges, gun emplacements, interruption of communications, etc.
3. Field spies. Those who act as scouts in disguise to reconnoitre positions and to report moves of the enemy in the field of war. Amongst these are residential spies and officer agents.
All these duties are again subdivided among agents of every grade, from ambassadors and their attachés downwards. Naval and military officers are sent to carry out special investigations by all countries, and paid detectives are stationed in likely centres to gather information.
There are also traitor spies. For these I allow I have not a good word. They are men who sell their countries' secrets for money. Fortunately we are not much troubled with them in England; but we have had a notorious example in South Africa.CHAPTER 3
The war treason—that is, preliminary political and strategical investigation—of the Germans in the present campaign has not been such a success as might have been expected from a scheme so wonderfully organised as it has been. With the vast sums spent upon it, the German General Staff might reasonably have obtained men in a higher position in life who could have gauged the political atmosphere better than was done by their agents immediately before the present crisis.
Their plans for starting strikes at a critical time met with no response whatever. They had great ideas of stirring up strife and discontent among the Mahommedan populations both in Egypt and in India, but they calculated without knowing enough of the Eastern races or their feelings towards Great Britain and Germany—more especially Germany.
They looked upon the Irish question as being a certainty for civil war in Britain, and one which would necessitate the employment of a large proportion of our expeditionary force within our own islands.
They never foresaw that the Boer and Briton would be working amicably in South Africa; they had supposed that the army of occupation there could never be removed, and did not foresee that South Africa would be sending a contingent against their South African colonies while the regulars came to strengthen our army at home.
They imagined the Overseas Dominions were too weak in men and ships and training to be of any use; and they never foresaw that the manhood of Great Britain would come forward in vast numbers to take up arms for which their national character has to a large extent given them the necessary qualifications. All this might have been discovered it the Germans had employed men of a higher education and social position.CHAPTER 4
In addition to finding out military details about a country, such as its preparedness in men, supplies, efficiency, and so on, these agents have to study the tactical features of hills and plains, roads and railways, rivers and woods, and even the probable battlefields and their artillery positions, and so on.
The Germans in the present war have been using the huge guns whose shells, owing to their black, smoky explosions, have been nicknamed "Black Marias" or "Jack Johnsons." These guns require strong concrete foundations for them to stand upon before they can be fired. But the Germans foresaw this long before the war, and laid their plans accordingly.
They examined all the country over which they were likely to fight, both in Belgium and in France, and wherever they saw good positions for guns they built foundations and emplacements for them. This was done in the time of peace, and therefore had to be done secretly. In order to divert suspicion, a German would buy or rent a farm on which it was desired to build an emplacement. Then he would put down foundations for a new barn or farm building, or—if near a town—for a factory, and when these were complete, he would erect some lightly constructed building upon it.
There was nothing to attract attention or suspicion about this, and numbers of these emplacements are said to have been made before war began. When war broke out and the troops arrived on the ground, the buildings were hastily pulled down and there were the emplacements all ready for the guns.
Some years ago a report came to the War Office that a foreign Power was making gun emplacements in a position which had not before been suspected of being of military value, and they were evidently going to use it for strategical purposes.
I was sent to see whether the report was true. Of course, it would not do to go as an officer— suspicions would be aroused, one would be allowed to see nothing, and would probably be arrested as a spy. I therefore went to stay with a friendly farmer in the neighbourhood, and went out shooting every day among the partridges and snipe which abounded there. The first thing I did was to look at the country generally, and try to think which points would be most valuable as positions for artillery.
Then I went to look for partridges (and other things!) on the hills which I had noticed, and I very soon found what I wanted.
Officers were there, taking angles and measurements, accompanied by workmen, who were driving pegs into the ground and marking off lines with tapes between them.
As I passed with my gun in my hand, bag on shoulder, and dog at heel, they paid no attention to me, and from the neighbouring hills I was able to watch their proceedings.
When they went away to their meals or returned to their quarters, I went shooting over the ground they had left, and if I did not get a big bag of game, at any rate I made a good collection of drawings and measurements of the plans of the forts and emplacements which they had traced out on the ground.
So that within a few days of their starting to make them we had the plans of them all in our possession. Although they afterwards planted trees all over the sites to conceal the forts within them, and put up buildings in other places to hide them, we knew perfectly well where the emplacements were and what were their shapes and sizes.
This planting of trees to hide such defence works occasionally has the other effect, and shows one where they are. This was notably the case at Tsingtau, captured by the Japanese and British forces from the Germans. As there were not any natural woods there, I had little difficulty in finding where the forts were by reason of the plantations of recent growth in the neighbourhood of the place.CHAPTER 5
These men take up their quarters more or less permanently in the country of their operations. A few are men in high places in the social or commercial world, and are generally nouveaux riches, anxious for decorations and rewards. But most of the residential spies are of a more insignificant class, and in regular pay for their work.
Their duty is to act as agents to receive and distribute instructions secretly to other itinerant spies, and to return their reports to headquarters. For this reason they are nicknamed in the German Intelligence Bureau "post-boxes." They also themselves pick up what information they can from all available sources and transmit it home.
One, Steinbauer, has for some years past been one of the principal "postboxes" in England. He was attached to the Kaiser's staff during his last visit to this country, when he came as the guest of the King to the opening of Queen Victoria's memorial.
A case of espionage which was tried in London revealed his methods, one of his agents being arrested after having been watched for three years.
Karl Ernst's trial confirmed the discoveries and showed up the doings of men spies like Schroeder, Gressa, Klare, and others.
Also the case of Dr. Karl Graves may be still in the memory of many. This German was arrested in Scotland for spying, and was condemned to eighteen months' imprisonment, and was shortly afterwards released without any reason being officially assigned. He has since written a full account of what he did, and it is of interest to note how his correspondence passed to and from the intelligence headquarters in Germany in envelopes embellished with the name of Messrs. Burroughs and Wellcome, the famous chemists. He posed as a doctor, and sent his letters through an innkeeper at Brussels or a modiste in Paris, while letters to him came through an obscure tobacconist's shop in London.
One of these letters miscarried through having the wrong initial to his name. It was returned by the Post Office to Burroughs and Wellcome, who on opening it found inside a German letter, enclosing bank-notes in return for services rendered. This raised suspicion against him. He was watched, and finally arrested.
He states that a feeling that he was being followed dawned upon him one day, when he noticed in his lodgings that the clothes which he had folded on a chair had been since refolded in a slightly different way while he was out. With some suspicion, he asked his landlady whether anyone had entered his room, and she, in evident confusion, denied that any stranger could have been there. Then he suggested that his tailor might have called, and she agreed that it was so. But when an hour or two later he interviewed his tailor, he, on his part, said he had not been near the place. Graves consequently deduced that he was being followed.
The knowledge that you are being watched, and you don't know by whom, gives, I can assure you, a very jumpy feeling—especially when you know you are guilty.
I can speak feelingly from more than one experience of it, since I have myself been employed on this form of scouting in peace time.CHAPTER 6
It is generally difficult to find ordinary spies who are also sufficiently imbued with technical knowledge to be of use in gaining naval or military details. Consequently officers are often employed to obtain such information in peace time as well as in the theatre of action in war.
But with them, and especially with those of Germany, it is not easy to find men who are sufficiently good actors, or who can disguise their appearance so well as to evade suspicion. Very many of these have visited our shores during the past few years, but they have generally been noticed, watched, and followed, and from the line taken by them in their reconnaissance it has been easy to deduce the kind of operations contemplated in their plans.
I remember the case of a party of these motoring through Kent nominally looking at old Roman ruins. When they asked a landowner for the exact position of some of these he regretted he had not a map handy on which he could point out their position. One of the "antiquarians" at once produced a large scale map; but it was not an English map: it had, for instance, details on it regarding water supply tanks which, though they existed, were not shown on any of our ordnance maps!
In addition to the various branches of spying which I have mentioned, the Germans have also practised commercial espionage on systematic lines.CHAPTER 7
Young Germans have been often known to serve in British business houses without salary in order to "learn the language"; they took care to learn a good deal more than the language, and picked up many other things about trade methods and secrets which were promptly utilised in their own country. The importance of commercial spying is that commercial war is all the time at the bottom of Germany's preparations for military war.
Carl Lody, a German ex-officer, was recently tried in London by court-martial and shot for "war treason"—that is, for sending information regarding our Navy to Germany during hostilities. ("War treason" is secret work outside the zone of war operations. When carried on within the zone of operations it is called spying or "espionage.") Carl Lody's moves were watched and his correspondence opened by the counter-spy police in London, and thus all his investigations and information were known to the War Office long before he was arrested.
The enormous sums paid by Germany for many years past have brought about a sort of international spy exchange, generally formed of American-Germans, with their headquarters in Belgium and good prices were given for information acquired by them. For instance, if the plans of a new fort, or the dimensions of a new ship, or the power of a new gun were needed, one merely had to apply and state a price to this bureau to receive fairly good information on the subject before much time had elapsed.
At the same time, by pretending to be an American, one was able to get a good deal of minor and useful information without the expenditure of a cent.CHAPTER 8
Germany's Invasion Plans
On getting into touch with these gentry, I was informed of one of the intended plans by which the Germans proposed to invade our country, and incidentally it throws some light on their present methods of dealing with the inhabitants as apart from the actual tactical movements of the troops.
The German idea then—some six years ago— was that they could, by means of mines and submarines, at any time block the traffic in the British Channel in the space of a few hours, thus holding our home fleets in their stations at Spit-head and Portland.
With the Straits or Dover so blocked, they could then rush a fleet of transports across the North Sea from Germany, to the East Coast of England, either East Anglia or, as in this plan, in Yorkshire. They had in Germany nine embarking stations, with piers and platforms, all ready made, and steel lighters for disembarkation purposes or for actual traversing of the ocean in case of fine weather.
They had taken the average of the weather for years past, and had come to the conclusion that July 13th is, on an average, the finest day in the year; but their attempt would be timed, if possible, to fall on a Bank Holiday when communications were temporarily disorganised. Therefore the nearest Bank Holiday to July 13th would probably be that at the beginning of August; it was a coincidence that the present war broke out on that day.
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