Top Secret Tales of World War IIby William B. Breuer
Critical Acclaim for TOP SECRET TALES of World War II
"A book for rainy days and long solitary nights by the fire. If there were a genre for cozy nonfiction, this would be the template."–Publishers Weekly
"Perfect for the curious and adventure readers and those who love exotic tales and especially history buffs who will be surprised at what they didn’t… See more details below
Critical Acclaim for TOP SECRET TALES of World War II
"A book for rainy days and long solitary nights by the fire. If there were a genre for cozy nonfiction, this would be the template."–Publishers Weekly
"Perfect for the curious and adventure readers and those who love exotic tales and especially history buffs who will be surprised at what they didn’t know. Recommended for nearly everyone."–Kirkus Reviews
This war was fought by soldiers out of uniform. Stealth and ingenuity were their weapons. Victory was their only code of conduct.
In Top Secret Tales of World War II, noted military historian William Breuer documents espionage–in all its forms–as it evolved in the hands of both Allied and Axis agents of intelligence and counterintelligence. Here you’ll find riveting tales of patriotism and treachery, subversion and sabotage, kidnappings and assassinations, and bribes and blackmailing–with frequently startling revelations about the secret wars behind both the battlefields and the headlines.
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Read an Excerpt
Sinister Plots in the "New Germany"
A clear blue sky hovered over Berlin on the afternoon of June 29, 1934, when the chief of the German General Staff, General Ludwig Beck, was escorted into the cavernous office of Adolf Hitler, a World War I corporal. Hitler had seized absolute control of the government after being appointed chancellor seventeen months earlier by aging, senile President Paul von Hindenburg.
The fifty-four-year-old Beck was highly regarded at home and abroad as the most efficient and humane German soldier of his generation. He had sought the appointment because of mounting evidence that the new German leader was planning on rearming the nation of eighty million persons to launch a war of conquest. In measured terms, Beck told Hitler that he did not intend to build an army to conquer other countries; his purpose was to create an efficient army to defend Germany.
Hitler, noted for a quick temper, replied testily: "General Beck, it is impossible to build up an army and give it a sense of worth if the object of its existence is not the preparation for battle. Armies for the preparation of peace do not exist; they exist for triumphant execution in war."
Before he departed, Beck told Hitler that another war would become a multifront conflict that Germany could not survive.
Only minutes after returning to the imposing building on the Bendlerstrasse that housed the headquarters of the General Staff, Beck received a telephone call from Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, a cagey and highlyproductive spy in World War I whom Hitler had appointed chief of the Abwehr, the German secret service, six months earlier, on Canaris's forty-seventh birthday.
A slight, prematurely white-haired man who spoke with a lisp, Canaris was well educated and could speak the languages of Germany's potential enemiesEngland, France, and the Soviet Union. He, too, feared Hitler was embarking on a war path that would eventually destroy Germany as a nation.
Speaking in guarded tones, Canaris told Beck that the dictator was preparing to launch a purge to wipe out all sources of opposition to his Nazi regime. Among the officers on the hit list were General Kurt von Schleicher. Hitler's predecessor as chancellor, and Schleicher's close friend and assistant General Kurt von Bredow, who had once held a high post in the Abwehr.
Canaris told Beck that Hitler was convinced that Schleicher was conspiring with the French ambassador to get rid of the Nazi regime by restoring the Hohenzollerns, descendants of the traditional royal family, to the throne of Germany. Beck knew that Hitler's suspicions were well founded, and he sent a trusted aide to warn Schleicher of the danger. Schleicher, however, seemed unconcerned.
At high noon on June 30, less than twenty-four hours after Beck had clashed with Hitler, five men in civilian clothes barged into General Schleicher's villa. They went to the study, where Schleicher was working on some papers, pulled out pistols, and shot the former chancellor. Frau von Schleicher, who had been in another room, rushed to the study. She, too, was shot and killed.
Two hours later, General von Bredow was at the Hotel Adlon in Berlin drinking tea with a French diplomat when a messenger from General Ludwig Beck brought him an envelope with a short note telling him that Schleicher had been murdered. Bredow's face flushed in anger. Turning to the Frenchman, he said with a snarl, "I wonder why the pigs haven't killed me yet!"
Bredow told his companion that Schleicher was the only man who could have saved Germany. "He was my leader. Now there is nothing for me," he declared.
Bredow took a taxi to his home, and just past five o'clock that afternoon, he answered a ring at his front door. Two men whipped out pistols and riddled the general with bullets, killing him almost instantly.
Adolf Hitler had launched one of the bloodiest purges that European history had ever known. He realized that war was the last thing most of his generals wanted, and he was convinced that they were conspiring to restore the Hohenzollerns.
Hitler had set into motion a series of sinister plots to not only eradicate suspected foes bodily, but also to besmirch their honor. That approach began promptly when the war minister, General Werner von Blomberg, ordered that Schleicher and Bredow were to be regarded as traitors and that no general or admiral was to attend their funerals.
Despite the risk to their careersor even to their livesGeneral Ludwig Beck and Admiral Wilhelm Canaris ignored the strict order and dressed in full uniform, and carrying Schleicher's medals on silk cushions, they walked behind the cortege to the cemetery. At the gates they were halted by a group of black-uniformed Schutzstaffel (SS), an elite corps that served as Hitler's bodyguard and was fanatically loyal to him.
On August 2, 1934, a month after Schleicher and Bredow were branded as traitors and buried, the long-senile, eighty-seven-year-old President Paul Ludwig von Hindenburg died at his estate in East Prussia. Earlier, Hitler had obtained a political testament from the Old Warrior that named Hitler to succeed him as president.
Now Hitler moved swiftly. He had no interest in merely being president of a great nation. Only minutes after Hindenburg died, Hitler proclaimed himself führer (supreme leader) and launched a strategy to induce his admirals and generals to swear allegiance to him.
No doubt acting on the führer's orders, War Minister von Blomberg directed all of Germany's generalssome three hundred of themto assemble at three o'clock that same afternoon at the foot of the Siegessäule, the towering Column of Victory in Berlin. Unknown to the high brass, Hitler was preparing to inflict a coup d'état that would give him total control of Germany and the armed forces.
The generals had been told that they were to participate in ceremonies to honor the dead President Hindenburg. Cannons were fired. A band played mournful tunes. There were two minutes of silence. Then General von Blomberg stepped forward to take the Fahneneidthe blood oath of the Teutonic knights. The army commander, General Werner von Fritsch, and General Ludwig Beck followed. Each held the flag of Germany in one hand and the Bible in the other while reciting:
I swear by God this holy oath, that I will render to Adolf Hitler, Führer of the German nation and people, supreme commander of the armed forces, unconditional obedience, and I am ready as a brave soldier to risk my life at any time for this oath.
All over Germany at the same time the rank and file of the armed forces recited the same blood oath.
Walking with General Fritsch back to his headquarters, Beck stopped suddenly and said solemnly: "This is a fateful hour. [The oath] means physical and moral suicide."
Further along the way, Beck halted again. Both generals realized that they had been tricked into taking an oath, not to Germany or the constitution, but to Adolf Hitler.
"He took us unawares," Beck said mournfully. "I did not realize that we were swearing a completely new form of oath."
Führer Hitler in the months ahead continued to rearm Germany. But to carry out his plans for widespread conquest, he would have to rid himself of all those on the General Staff who might oppose him and replace them with those who would do his every bidding without argument or hesitation. Strangely, perhaps, one of the first targets was Werner von Blomberg, the war minister, who had been the first general to be elevated to field marshal by the führer.
Blomberg was known in the officer corps as the Rubber Lionone willing to bend whichever way the führer desired. In December 1937 Blomberg, fifty-nine years old and a widower, asked Hitler's permission to marry a twenty-six-year-old typist. The führer gave his blessing and was a witness at the wedding ceremony.
Blomberg and his new young wife departed for a honeymoon on the romantic Isle of Capri.
A longtime crony of Hitler, General Hermann Goering, immediately began to hatch a scheme to oust the war minister. Known behind his back as Fat Hermann, Goering deeply coveted Blomberg's job.
Goering turned over the exacting task of discrediting Blomberg to an expert in the field, tall, hawk-nosed Reinhard Heydrich, the young chief of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the security branch of the SS. Brilliant and with the instincts of a barracuda, the highly ambitious Heydrich and his underlings began poking into Blomberg's private life and found that he was quite fond of women. That was no crime in the Third Reich, but it could be a valuable blackmail weapon at some future date. Blomberg, Heydrich's agents discovered, occasionally donned civilian clothes and spent evenings in some of Berlin's more exotic nightspots.
At the same time, SD men began sifting through old reports of the Kriminalpolizei (Civil Police) and hit the jackpot. Blomberg's beautiful new wife, Erna Gruhn, had had convictions for prostitution. Her mother was also well known to Berlin police as the proprietress of a "massage parlor" that was patronized by well-heeled men, presumably in urgent need of rubdowns.
Goering was ecstatic. He rushed to see the führer and showed him the police docket. Hitler professed to be deeply distressed and immediately ordered the war minister to return to Berlin from his honeymoon.
Blomberg was promptly sacked and went into exile with his wife. He ignored suggestions from German generals he had known for many years to take a Luger and blow his brains out.
Now Hitler pondered the question about who would succeed Blomberg as head of Germany's rapidly expanding military organization. The führer was leaning toward appointing General Werner von Fritsch, whom Hindenburg had appointed commander of the army in May 1935. Aghast that he himself had not been chosen, Goering set about to "dig up dirt" on General von Fritsch.
Again Reinhard Heydrich's sleuths scanned old police vice files and came up with the name of a German officer who had been blackmailed by an ex-convict and male prostitute named Otto Schmidt. No doubt frightened to be grilled by agents of a high government official, Schmidt, known as Bavarian Joe, admitted he had committed a homosexual act with a man he identified as General von Fritsch at the Wannsee railroad station.
Hoping to gain more "proof" that Fritsch was a practicing homosexual, Heydrich's agents fanned out through Germany to interview officers in Fritsch's command. None would claim any knowledge of their boss's alleged homosexuality.
Despite a total lack of confirmation of the charges, trial papers were drawn up against Fritsch.
Learning of the trumped-up charges, Fritsch was apoplectic, and he demanded an immediate interview with the führer. Unknown to the general, Hermann Goering had arranged for Bavarian Joe to be present.
In the library of the Reichskanzlei (Chancellery), Bavarian Joe repeated his story in front of a frowning Hitler. Schmidt had been well coached. The notorious ex-convict claimed that an "elderly gentleman" wearing a monocle, a short coat with a fur collar, and carrying a silver-headed cane entered the railroad station. In the lavatory, Bavarian Joe picked up the military officer and went with him to a nearby dark lane, he claimed.
Fritsch protested that he had not been in the Wannsee railroad station for many years and that he had never owned a silver-headed cane. A soft-spoken man innocent of political throat-cutting, Fritsch played right into Goering's hands by not reacting violently to Bavarian Joe's story, the only "evidence" against him. Consequently, Hitler immediately sacked the high-ranking general.
When it was later discovered that Bavarian Joe's true client had been an obscure cavalry officer with a similar last name, Achim von Frisch, the führer refused to restore the disgraced general to his former rank.
Meanwhile, Hitler vastly reorganized the armed forces to make certain that when he was ready to go to war, the General Staff would have to comply to orders without argument. The führer created the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), the supreme command of the armed forces. All unit staffs would be subordinate to the OKW. Hitler took the title of supreme commander. His two top aides were both führertreutotally loyal to him. They were General Wilhelm Keitel, who would be Hitler's chief of staff, and General Alfred Jodl, who was designated to be Hitler's chief of operations.
On February 4, 1938, Radio Berlin, which, like every institution in Germany, was controlled by the führer, broadcast a long statement from the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht. Field Marshal von Blomberg and General von Fritsch had retired for "health reasons," it was stated. Then the names of thirty-five other illustrious generals, who may not have been considered führertreu by Hitler or Hermann Goering, were read by the announcer. They, too, had gone into early retirement because of "health reasons."
Word of the "failing-health epidemic" that had riddled the ranks of Germany's generals was flashed throughout the world by the news wire services. In the capitals of Europe it was clear: through a series of crafty schemes and ruthless maneuvers, the Führer had gained total control of eighty million people and the now powerful army, navy, and Luftwaffe.
on a Japanese Spymaster
Lieutenant Commander Ellis M. Zacharias, who was assigned to the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) in Washington, D.C., had become convinced that Imperial Navy Captain Tamon Yamaguchi was the Japanese espionage leader in the United States. Yamaguchi, the Japanese military attache, was suave and charismatic. He spoke English fluently and seemed to enjoy the social life in Washington.
Because of his suspicions, Zacharias made it a point to have personal contact with Yamaguchi as often as possible. On one of these occasions, in January 1936, Zacharias and his wife were guests at a gala party given by Yamaguchi in the Chinese Room of the ornate Mayflower Hotel.
Sipping casually on a cocktail, the forty-four-year-old Zacharias, one of the few Jewish Naval Academy graduates of his generation, noticed that two German military attaches, Vice Admiral Robert Witthoft-Emden and Lieutenant General Friedrich von Boetticher, had become quite friendly with Yamaguchi. This development surprised the ONI sleuth. Previously, the relationship between the two Nazis and Yamaguchi had been quite frigid, reflecting the views of their respective governments.
When the party was drawing to a close, Zacharias told his wife that the couple must remain as long as possible to see what would happen between the two Germans and the Japanese host. In social events given by Yamaguchi in the past, the two Germans had always departed after only a few minutes. Now the Nazis had stayed for nearly three hours. Zacharias felt that the party was held to provide an opportunity for the two Germans and Yamaguchi to discuss some important matters without attracting undue attention.
Across the spacious room, now thinning of guests, General Boetticher and Admiral Witthoft-Emden were still clinging to Yamaguchi. The Germans cast periodic glances toward Zacharias. Plainly, they were irritated that he had not left the party.
Nodding toward the two Germans and the Japanese, Zacharias told his wife, "Something's afoot!"
The situation evolved into a cat-and-mouse game. Who would outwait whom?
Finally, after the waiters had cleared all the dishes, Zacharias and his wife hurried to Yamaguchi's side to make certain that he, the two Nazis, and the Zachariases all left at the same time, thereby depriving the Germans of a chance to conclude their business with their host.
Early the next morning, Zacharias discussed with his boss, Captain William D. Puleston, the puzzling German-Japanese lovefest at the Mayflower. Because the principal mission of military attachés at embassies is to be espionage agents, the ONI officers agreed that the German and Japanese intelligence agencies were now working in close alliance.
Although the two ONI sleuths had no way of knowing the precise developments, their educated hunch was accurate. German Colonel Walter Nicolai, who had been in charge of Kaiser Wilhelm's far-flung intelligence apparatus in the Great War, had held secret meetings with his Japanese counterparts in Tokyo only two weeks earlier. Nicolai had suggested that the two nations pool their espionage resources.
Nicolai stressed that only Caucasians could be effective spies in the United States because Oriental agents could be more easily detected. The Japanese bought the proposal. They would spy for the Germans in the Pacific regions, where Caucasian agents would be conspicuous. In turn, the Germans would pass along intelligence gleaned from the United States and the Panama Canal Zone.
Adolf Hitler was enthusiastic over the arrangement, and he appointed Eugen Ott to be ambassador to Japan and to coordinate the two nations' intelligence exchanges.
Now, within forty-eight hours of the Mayflower Hotel party, the ONI began a surveillance of the Alban Towers, an imposing apartment building at the intersection of Wisconsin and Massachusetts Avenues in Washington. In a high-level suite, Captain Yamaguchi maintained his living quarters. Captain Zacharias believed that the suite also served as a command post for Japanese espionage activities in the United States.
On the first night of the surveillance, ONI technicians, huddled in an enclosed truck parked near the Alban Towers and using electronic devices, picked up mysterious noises somewhere in the building. Zacharias concluded that these sounds were being generated by a machine that encoded messages to be sent to Tokyo by sacrosanct diplomatic courier pouch or by radio transmittal.
Consequently, an elaborate scheme was hatched to gain what intelligence agencies call a "surreptitious entry" to Yamaguchi's suite, inspect the encoding machine, and "requisition" any codes or other materials customarily used in espionage work.
A major concern was that Yamaguchi might be home and catch the ONI "cat burglars" in the act, thereby igniting a major hullabaloo between the governments of Japan and the United States. Zacharias came up with the perfect answer: he and Mrs. Zacharias would invite their good friend Yamaguchi to have dinner at their home in suburban Washington on the night scheduled for the caper.
When Yamaguchi, smiling and courteous as always, arrived at the Zacharias residence, the ONI officer excused himself, went into another room, and telephoned his headquarters. He recited one code word that meant the Japanese had arrived and the "burglars" could go to work.
Meanwhile, earlier in the evening, Navy Lieutenant Jack S. Holtwick, a cryptanalyst (one who breaks codes), and a Navy radio expert named McGregor donned civilian electricians' outfits. Then they drove to the Alban Towers in a van with the name of a phony firm painted in large letters on the side. Explaining to the doorman that they had been called by a tenant, the two men took an elevator to Yamaguchi's floor, tiptoed down the corridor to his suite, and listened for any sound that might indicate there were armed guards inside.
Working swiftly and with ears tuned to any noise that might mean the approach of someone, the two intruders used a special instrument to open the door without leaving a telltale mark. They conducted a thorough search, being careful not to betray their presence by moving objects. No electronic encoding device was found.
After pocketing numerous documents from Yamaguchi's desk (hopefully he would believe he had only misplaced them), the "electricians" took the elevator to the lobby, walked past the bored doorman, and drove off in their van,
The source of the ominous clicking noises in the building continued to mystify Zacharias. He thought it was possible that some unidentified American had leased another suite in the building for Yamaguchi to use as his communications center to keep in clandestine contact with intelligence sources in Tokyo.
ONI continued its surveillance of the Alban Towers, and it became clear that Yamaguchi's suite was now the command post for the combined Japanese-German espionage alliance in the United States. Several months later, on November 25, 1936, the cozy relationship between Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany and Emperor Hirohito's Japanese Empire became publicly known. In an elaborate ceremony in Berlin, Japanese and German diplomats signed what was called the Anti-Comintern Pact, binding both nations to counter what was described as subversive activity all over the world,
Two years later, Tamon Yamaguchi was called back to Tokyo, promoted to rear admiral, and assigned to the Navy Ministry as a principal aide to Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, chief of the combined Imperial Fleet. In that capacity Yamaguchi played a key role in developing a top-secret project: a sneak attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
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