Undercover Tales of World War IIby William B. Breuer
Critical acclaim for William B. Breuer "A first-class historian." The Wall Street Journal Vendetta! "A wealth of insights."Los Angeles Times Book Review Unexplained Mysteries of World War II "Anyone interested in twists of fate should find this book fascinating." Library Journal Feuding Allies "A valuable
Critical acclaim for William B. Breuer "A first-class historian." The Wall Street Journal Vendetta! "A wealth of insights."Los Angeles Times Book Review Unexplained Mysteries of World War II "Anyone interested in twists of fate should find this book fascinating." Library Journal Feuding Allies "A valuable resource . highly recommended."Booklist
* A bloc of hard-core American Nazis carries out elaborate plans to sabotage war efforts and keep the United States neutral.
* A wily Japanese "tailor" single-handedly steals the secrets to the United States Gray Code.
* A French boy and his "blind" music teacher penetrate, in broad daylight, the German forbidden zone at Port-en-Bessein.
Just beneath the surface of the legendary events of World War II lurks a vast, shadowy, high-stakes realm of espionage and intelligence, where the most successful operations are the ones we've never heard about . until now. With his trademark blend of dynamic storytelling and meticulous detail, William Breuer reveals seventy clandestine operations that affected the course of the war. Vivid and fast-paced, this far-reaching treasury of vanishing spies, mysterious kidnappings, and bizarre subplots is a unique and riveting addition to the World War II literature.
- Turner Publishing Company
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- First Edition
- Sales rank:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.14(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.54(d)
Read an Excerpt
Undercover Tales of World War II
William B. Breuer
Note: The Pictures/ and or Figures mentioned in this sample chapter do not appear in the Web version
Part One: A Gathering Tempest
Black-Bag Jobs and Madam X
As far as the outside world was concerned, the United States and Japan appeared to be on the friendliest of terms in the early 1930s. The two nations exchanged cultural missions, and a team of baseball all-stars from the United States, headed by the legendary Babe Ruth, each year played a series of exhibition games in Japan to packed stadiums. Behind the scenes, however, an ongoing undeclared war of wits between competing naval intelligence code-breakers was raging relentlessly.
In February 1933 a Japanese tailor, smiling and bowing graciously, called at the U. S. consulate at Kobe and explained that as a gesture of friendship between the two nations, he would be most happy to provide handmade suits at a quite low cost to those assigned to the diplomatic staff. After displaying cloth samples, the tailor took orders from several of the Americans, who knew a great value when they saw one.
In the weeks ahead, the pleasant, convivial tailor was a frequent visitor to the consulate, taking orders for suits and even doing odd jobs for the staff. He gained the Americans' total trust and no longer had to show his special pass to the guard at the front door. He even had free run of an office that contained a safe, which, he learned by judicious inquiry, held a secret U. S. code. Actually, the "tailor" belonged to the kempeitai, Japan's secret police force. Cagey but cautious, he bribed a junior member of the consulate staff to "borrow" the key to the safe, after which the spy had a wax imprint made. From this imprint a key was fashioned.
On a Saturday night in late April 1933, when the "tailor" knew that the consul and a few of his staffers would be at a local geisha house, a squad of kempeitai men, thoroughly briefed in advance and provided with a detailed drawing of the consulate floor plan, pulled a "black-bag job," as a surreptitious entry is called in the espionage business. With ease, they pried open the office door, used the spy's key to open the safe, and removed a book containing the U. S. State Department's Gray Code.
Like a well-oiled machine, the burglars rapidly photographed each page, then replaced the book in the safe, being exceptionally careful to put it precisely where it had been lying. Then the intruders sneaked out of the building. The venture had been conducted so skillfully that the Americans would not learn for several years that their Gray Code had been pilfered by the Japanese.
The ease and simplicity with which the U. S. consulate had been pene-trated energized the kempeitai into organizing an entire division of safecrack-ers, photographers, and technicians to cooperate with Japanese naval intelli-gence in conducting black-bag jobs against other American diplomatic facilities and also other foreign consulates. These burglaries were painstakingly planned. While one squad was breaking into a consulate, some five or six other men would remain outside to create a noisy diversion should danger approach, thereby giving the burglars inside time to escape.
Soon, Tokyo intelligence was reading the British Foreign Office's messages being radioed in secret code not long after they had been sent from Lon-don. This situation, of which the British were unaware, resulted from a visit by a black-bag squad to His Majesty's consulate in Osaka.
Then the customarily meticulous Japanese break-in artists bungled. After burglarizing the office of the U. S. naval attaché in Tokyo, the intruders left behind telltale clues that disclosed the nocturnal visit. The Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington rightfully concluded that the navy's current secret code had been compromised by the Japanese.
Consequently, security at U. S. consulates in Japan was tightened, locks on safes were changed and upgraded, a system of visitors' passes was vastly improved, and a far more sophisticated and intricate code was adopted. To confuse Japanese wireless eavesdroppers, the U. S. Navy continued to send occasional messages in the purloined code, information that was totally irrelevant or, in some instances, nonsensical. These wireless machinations presumably would send Japanese agents scurrying endlessly into dead end alleys in search of additional intelligence.
At the same time, because American operatives had not pulled any black-bag jobs, the Japanese never suspected that the U. S. Office of Naval Intelli-gence (ONI) cryptanalysts had broken the Imperial Navy's Blue Code and were reading top-secret communications. It had taken Agnes Meyer Driscoll, a crypt-analyst in the Code and Signal Section of the ONI in Washington, three years of mind-boggling effort, beginning in 1930, to crack the incredibly complex Blue Code.
In the U. S. Navy, Driscoll was without peer as a cryptanalyst, and she was held in the highest esteem by her uniformed colleagues at OP-20-G, the des-ignation of their section of the ONI. Known affectionately as Madam X, she was highly sensitive to being the only woman in the otherwise all-male world of American code breakers. Because of that situation, she kept to herself as much as possible, and no one in her section was ever invited to socialize with her and her lawyer husband.
When Madam X had first been assigned the task of breaking the Blue Code, she was confronted by the seemingly impossible job of working out the meanings of a code made up of some eighty-five thousand basic groups. At the time, an interoffice feud was raging, and her boss, the director of naval com-munications, refused to ask the ONI for a black-bag job at a Japanese embassy to help her solve the intricate Blue Code.
Madam X was undaunted to know that she would have to solve the bewil-dering riddle by cryptanalysis alone. However, she received some assistance from the regular shipment of bags brought by courier from New York City. These bags were crammed with scraps of paper, many of which contained Blue Code jottings, that ONI undercover agents had obtained by rifling through the trash bin behind the Japanese consulate in New York.
American leaders would continue to read secret Blue Code radio traffic until November 1938, when the Japanese began using a new code. The change apparently had been made after an investigation of "leaks" by Japanese security officers indicated that the eight-year-old Blue Code had been compromised.
Hitler's Crony a U. S. Secret Agent
SOON AFTER the onetime Austrian house painter Adolf Hitler seized power in Germany in early 1933, he appointed a longtime crony, Ernst Franz Hanfstaengl, to the prestigious and influential post of foreign press secretary for the National Socialist German Workers' Party, which came to be known as the Nazis. The hulking, six-foot, four-inch Hanfstaengl was called "Putzi," meaning Little Fellow.
A jovial individual, the Falstaffian Putzi was highly regarded by Hitler, who enjoyed having him around. That affection was not shared by other Nazi big shots, such as Hermann Goering, Rudolf Hess, and Heinrich Himmler, who thought of Putzi as an obnoxious loudmouth. His standing in the Nazi hierar-chy (except with Hitler) plunged even deeper when, at a crowded reception attended by Berlin's elite, he thundered that Josef Paul Goebbels, the propa-ganda minister, was a Schweinehund (dirty dog).
Hanfstaengl, who had a German father and an American mother, had lived in Germany during his youth. He went to the United States after World War I to enroll at Harvard, earning a degree in business administration. Soon after he returned to Germany in 1923, Putzi became enamored of the fast-rising, articulate politician named Adolf Hitler, who had changed his name from Schicklgruber, his unmarried mother's cognomen. Hitler was mak-ing firebrand speeches in Munich beer halls and trying to entice listeners to join his tiny Nazi Party.
Hanfstaengl eagerly linked up with Hitler, did his bidding, and remained loyal, even after the charismatic Nazi leader was arrested on November 8, 1923, for trying to take over the Bavarian government in Munich. Hitler and his assis-tant Rudolf Hess were tried in court, found guilty, and imprisoned for three years. When his idol was freed, the faithful Putzi was there to greet him.
Years later, in early 1937, Putzi became the target of unknown parties (no doubt those near Hitler) in a weird scenario apparently intended to get rid of the nuisance with the big mouth. He was handed sealed orders, reputedly signed by Hitler, and told that the führer wanted him to open the envelope only after Putzi was aloft in an airplane that was waiting for him at a Berlin airport.
It spoke eloquently of Putzi's deep devotion to the führer that, without question, he boarded the airplane. Nor apparently did he think it strange that the aircraft's windows had been blacked out.
Soon after the plane was in the sky, Putzi read the orders. They stated that he was to parachute into Spain, where a bloody civil war was raging. Then he was to report back to Hitler on the performance of the Condor Legion, the five thousand German "volunteers" the führer had sent to help Generalissimo Fran-cisco Franco's Nationalists fight the Communist insurgents being backed by the Soviet Union.
Because the windows had been blacked out, Putzi could not tell that the airplane was flying in circles above Germany to simulate a flight over the towering Pyrenees along the Spanish-French border. Periodically, the pilot landed to refuel.
Gradually, Putzi concluded that he had been set up, that influential ene-mies in Berlin had orchestrated an intricate scheme to "eliminate" him, which may very well have been the case. So at one refueling stop, he bolted from the plane and made a dash for a railroad station a short distance away. No doubt he was astonished to find that he was still in Germany, not in France or Spain. He went on the run, not halting until he had made his way to England. Putzi's defection soon became known to the Abwehr (secret service), and a few weeks after he reached England, General Hermann Goering, chief of the Luftwaffe and number two man on the Nazi totem pole, sent him a letter. "We only wanted to give you an opportunity of thinking over some rather overaudacious utterances you [had] made," the rotund Goering stated. He assured the presumed defector that there were no hard feelings against him in Berlin, and that he had Goering's word of honor that he would be safe in the Third Reich.
Putzi had no intention of accepting Goering's word of honor and appar-ently decided to cast his lot in an undercover role with the Anglo-Americans. A few weeks later, he arrived in the United States escorted by secret agents, and was held incognito at Bush Hill, an estate in the Virginia countryside not far from Washington, where he lived quite comfortably.
After Adolf Hitler declared war on the United States three days after the Japanese launched a sneak attack against Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, Hanfstaengl became deeply involved in an ongoing secret mission for his host country. Propaganda and psychological warfare specialists in Washing-ton regularly called at Bush Hill to consult with the German on how their schemes against Hitler and the Third Reich might be improved or altered.
Putzi had become such an important cog in this propaganda campaign against his homeland that he was even taken to the White House and intro-duced to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Thus he became one of the few indi-viduals who was an acquaintance of the leaders of both Germany and the United States.
Putzi remained a "guest" of the U. S. government throughout the global war. His intelligence, his keen knowledge of the thinking processes of the Nazi hierarchy, and his media background enabled him to give sage advice on how best to utilize propaganda against his old pal Adolf Hitler.
"Me No Here, No Movies!"
ONE DAY IN THE FALL OF 1934, while the U. S. battleship Pennsylvania was rest-ing in a Southern California port, Lieutenant Commander Joseph J. Rochefort, assistant operations officer and chief of intelligence, called in Lieutenant Edwin T. Layton, who was in charge of the main gun turret.
"Ed, there's a navy doctor over at Long Beach who works with an ONI undercover squad," Rochefort said. "They're keeping track of what's going on in the Japanese community here. He just reported that the Japanese naval tanker that arrived today has some special film that they plan to show to a local Japanese association tomorrow night. We suspect the film is subversive." A tall, lean man whose gentle manner and soft-spoken words belied a fierce competitiveness, the intelligence officer told Layton, "I'd like to have you help the undercover boys in this matter."
Sponsoring the film-showing would be a group calling itself the Japanese Citizens Patriotic Society. It had rented an auditorium in Long Beach from the Shell Oil Company, which, no doubt, was unaware of the propaganda nature of the film. Layton, in mulling over his task, realized that as a Caucasian he might be denied entry to the session.
On the night of the event, Lieutenant Layton put on coveralls bearing a phony commercial firm's name and posed as a fire insurance inspector. In one hand, he carried a fire extinguisher. As the naval officer had anticipated, he was denied entry at the front door. Playing his role to the hilt, Layton loudly declared that he was there to protect the property of Shell Oil, and he whipped out his false credentials to prove his affiliation. His job was to make certain there would be no smoking in the auditorium while the film was being shown, he declared.
Soon the local chairman of the Japanese Citizens Patriotic Society appeared, and while pretending not to speak a word of Japanese (he was fluent in the language), Layton flashed his fake papers and demanded that he be allowed to enter.
"Get out!" the chairman shouted.
"Me no here, no movies!" Layton exclaimed.
It was time for the film showing to begin, and some three hundred per-sons gathered in the auditorium were growing restless. With a scowl, the chair-man waved Layton into the auditorium.
Layton moved about, telling people officiously to extinguish the cigarettes they were smoking. Between admonitions, he glanced at the movie being shown. The gist of the story line was that the Japanese emperor system had been made in heaven, and the U. S. democracy was decadent and designed to permit a few well-heeled men to keep citizens in poverty.
Clearly, the film's producers had hoped to stir Japanese patriotism. One part showed Japanese troops, after capturing an enemy position during the war against Russia in the early 1900s, atop a wall, waving a Japanese flag vigorously and shouting "Banzai!"
A cartoon part of the film depicted John Pierpont Morgan, one of the wealthiest men in U. S. history, pushing a wheelbarrow overflowing with thousand-dollar bills over the prostrate bodies of poor people. While Ed Layton had been circulating through the crowd, his fire extin-guisher rested in a corner. An inquisitive sailor from the Japanese tanker decided to examine the strange-looking apparatus and turned it upside down, receiving a faceful of foam. More foam spilled out onto the floor.
After the showing was completed, Layton, a good "company man" for Shell Oil, cleaned up the mess. When he had finished, the Japanese Citizens Patriotic Society chairman, perhaps embarrassed by the situation, handed Lay-ton a five-dollar bill for his clean-up job.
A native of Nauvoo, Illinois, and a Naval Academy graduate, Layton had done such an outstanding job in his first undercover assignment that he was soon given another secret mission. Commander Rochefort told the thirty-year-old Layton that there was a Japanese spy operating in the Dutch Harbor region of the Aleutians, a chain of volcanic islands that extends more than nine hun-dred miles westward from the tip of the Alaskan Peninsula. Admiral Joseph M. Reeves, commander of the Pacific Fleet, wanted the spy "eliminated" so he could not observe and report on Reeves's ships, which would soon arrive for a fleet problem, Rochefort explained.
A U. S. naval base was located in the bay at Dutch Harbor (population, 47), which received its name from a story that a Dutch ship had been the first to enter the bay sometime in the early 1700s.
Two weeks later, Layton, wearing civilian clothes, debarked from the navy tanker Brazos, which had arrived in advance of the fleet, and sneaked ashore at Dutch Harbor. There the lieutenant contacted the postmaster in the civilian community Illilliuk, presented his credentials, and described his mission. The postmaster, who also was a federal judge, replied that there was only one Japa-nese, a Mr. Shimizu, in the region.
Layton soon turned up evidence that Shimizu and his Alaskan girlfriend, a prostitute, were engaged in espionage. However, convicting the pair could be a long, drawn-out procedure. So, working with the federal judge, Layton man-aged to have Shimizu and his girlfriend put in the tiny, dingy local jail, at least until the Pacific Fleet exercises in the Aleutians had been completed. The charge: illegally selling bootleg whiskey to Ed Layton.
The cost of "eliminating" the two Japanese spies had been meager: two dollars for the purchase of bad booze from Shimizu, and two dollars paid to an American sailor at the base for compromising the whore in the bootleg sale. Layton's superiors praised him for his resourcefulness and a job well done. He would learn later, however, that not everyone in the Pacific Fleet was happy with him. During shore leave, a large number of sailors visited Illilliuk, and they became hostile after learning there was only one prostitute in town- and she was behind bars.
Two sailors, neither of whom was feeling any pain, hurried to the jail-house and loudly demanded to go her bail for the relatively minor offense of selling a bottle of illegal booze. The plea fell on deaf ears.
Hitler's "Mystery Spy" in London
ON FEBRUARY 11, 1936, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, chief of the Abwehr, requested an immediate conference with Adolf Hitler, who held the title of president of Germany but in actuality had been an iron-fisted dictator since seizing power three years earlier. There was urgency in Canaris's tone, so the führer met with his espionage ace at 8: 00 P. M. at the Reichskanzlei (Chan-cellery) in Berlin.
Canaris, a diminutive, nervous man with a slight lisp, had been one of Kaiser Wilhelm's most successful spies in World War I. Now he had agents planted in most governments around the world. Reaching into his briefcase, Canaris pulled out a document marked top secret in French, and said that one of his most capable operatives had just succeeded in "procuring" it from a high government official in Paris.
It was a stunning instrument- a transcript of a secret conference between high-level French and Soviet diplomats in which the two nations agreed to join with Czechoslovakia for an armed invasion of Germany to short-circuit Hitler's reported plans to grab territory in Europe.
Admiral Canaris had barely departed from his office when Hitler ordered General Werner von Blomberg, commander in chief of the Wehrmacht (armed forces), to report immediately and issued orders for him to prepare Operation Schulung (exercise) for execution at the earliest possible date. Schulung had been drawn up by a staff of handpicked army officers. It called for German forces to march into and occupy the Rhineland, an area cov-ering French, Belgian, and German soil that had been demilitarized and declared neutral by agreement of seven European powers back in 1925.
To keep the true purpose of the Rhineland plan covered even from high-ranking German officers, it was said to be merely a training exercise (as its code name implied) to give the planning staffs something to do. That was the word that had been spread by General von Blomberg even to his closest confidants. On February 27 Blomberg called on Hitler and told him that preliminary preparations had been completed. The führer set X-Tag (X-Day) for March 7, only nine days away.
Back at his headquarters the next day, Blomberg called in General Lud-wig Beck, chief of the General Staff, and General Werner von Fritsch, com-mander in chief of the Heer (army). Blomberg dropped a blockbuster on the two officers: Schulung was not just a plan for a field exercise, as they had been led to believe, but rather Hitler had ordered the army to be ready to march in six days.
It was, Blomberg told his senior commanders, to be a "surprise move," and he said he expected it to be a "peaceful operation." Beck and Fritsch were shocked. Fritsch pointed out that the only force he had for such an adventurous action was thirty-five thousand men, and that only a single division could be mustered for combat. Beck reinforced Fritsch's qualms by arguing that the French could rapidly bring up twenty superbly equipped and keenly trained divisions to hurl at Fritsch's little force. "The French will make mincemeat of us," Beck emphasized.
Meanwhile, alarming signals were being sent back to Germany from Admiral Canaris's Abwehr agents whom he had planted in the Rhineland for just such an operation as Hitler was now going to launch. Headquarters for the espionage penetration of the Rhineland was in Münster, a major German city east of the Rhine River. The Abwehr there operated under the cover of a phony civilian commercial company.
Spies reported to Münster that the French were manning fortifications all along the German border, with troops being brought there from throughout France. In a major intelligence coup, Canaris was able to show Hitler a precise copy of the actual order the French had drawn up to rapidly mobilize thirteen divisions in an emergency.
The Forschungsant, the Luftwaffe's electronic monitoring branch that had earlier cracked the French diplomatic code, was steadily intercepting messages of deep concern that André François-Poncet, the French ambassador to Germany, was sending to Paris from Berlin. He warned that Hitler was going to occupy the Rhineland, so Hitler's hope for secrecy would be lost.
At the same time, German military attachés in London were sending Berlin gloomy assessments of the mood of the British government. One of the attachés stated that "a good friend of mine in the [British] War Office" had told him that England would plunge into the conflict alongside France if Hitler had the temerity to try to take over the Rhineland by force.
Now, at the grim conference among the three senior German commanders in Berlin, General von Blomberg, fully aware of the flood of intelligence reports declaring that France and Britain would fight, confided to Fritsch and Beck a countermeasure to be activated in case Schulung ran into heavy armed resistance from the French army: beat a hasty retreat back over the Rhine bridges.
Blomberg knew that Beck and Fritsch were demoralized, that they were convinced Schulung would trigger a disaster, perhaps result in Germany again being fully occupied by France and England, as it had been after the 1914- 1918 war, to prevent future military adventures. At the insistence of Fritsch and Beck, Blomberg took them to see the führer and articulate their serious forebodings. As was his pattern when dealing with reluctant generals, Hitler responded in a bitter tone. "I have absolutely reliable information that the French and British will not move a single soldier!" he snapped. "You will see that!" Beck and Fritsch, both of whom loathed the führer, had no choice. Under a thick coat of secrecy, elements of three battalions moved to jump-off points near the Rhine bridges under the cover of night. Only this weak spearhead would cross initially to cut losses in case the French struck.
Why had Adolf Hitler been so unyieldingly adamant in opposing the professional advice of his top military leaders and brushing off the stream of intelligence flowing from Abwehr agents in Paris and the Rhineland, intelli-gence that asserted the French and British would march side by side? The führer's firm stance had been taken because unbeknownst to his military chieftains or the Abwehr, he had an exceptional contact in England, his own personal "mystery spy."
This extraordinary agent was obtaining unimpeachable intelligence from the highest source- King Edward VIII, the former prince of Wales, who had acceded to the throne in early 1936 on the death of George V, his father. This intelligence contradicted the other reports that were pouring into Berlin. Hitler's mystery spy was fifty-five-year-old Leopold Gustav Alexander von Hoesch, the German ambassador to the Court of St. James, who had close ties with the royal family. Queen Mary even referred to the suave, impeccably garbed career diplomat as "my favorite foreigner."
Before being crowned king, the prince of Wales and Hoesch had become fast friends and were frequent partners in golf and tennis. The prince addressed the German as "Leo" and the ambassador called the Briton "David." When the prince became deeply involved in a torrid romance with Wallis Warfield Simpson, an American divorcée, he was hammered by his family and by top government officials. In this personal crisis, the prince sought out his older German friend, "Leo," for advice and consolation. "Leo is the best friend I have," the emotionally racked prince told a confidant.
Meanwhile, there had been much grumbling among top bureaucrats in the Foreign Ministry in Berlin. They objected to the ambassador's cozying up to the heir to the throne of the British Empire. He was not being sufficiently "Nazi." There was talk of replacing Hoesch by those in the Ministry not privy to the fact that the ambassador was, in essence, Hitler's personal spy in England. On the morning after the death of George V, Ambassador von Hoesch had sent a long message to Foreign Minister Baron von Neurath in Berlin. King Edward VIII resembled his father in some respects but differed greatly from him in others, Hoesch stated. "While the late king was certainly critical of Germany, King Edward feels warm sympathy for Germany," he added. "I have become convinced during frequent, often lengthy, talks with him that these sympathies are deep-rooted."
Hoesch concluded his message: "At any rate, we should be able to rely upon having on the British throne a ruler who is not lacking in understanding for Germany."
Now, as Hitler was preparing to occupy the Rhineland, an Abwehr mole in the French military high command in Paris informed Berlin that General Maurice Gamelin, commander in chief of the army, had informed government civilian leaders that he would be unable to send his divisions to oppose any Rhineland takeover by the Germans unless the British were marching at their side. That left the crucial question of war or peace in Europe up to King Edward VIII. Consequently, Ambassador von Hoesch assured Berlin (presumably after a conversation with the new monarch) that the British would not join with the French to fight against Germany over the Rhineland. That was the green light for Operation Schulung to be launched.
At noon on March 7, Adolf Hitler was standing at the podium in the Reichstag (home of the rubber-stamp Parliament) before a wildly cheering audi-ence. "Men of the Reichstag!" the führer roared, "in this historic hour, when, in the Reich's western provinces, German troops are, at this very moment, marching into their future peacetime garrisons . . . "
Thunderous cheers drowned out his subsequent words. It was news to the Reichstag that German soldiers were moving into the Rhineland. Members of the audience sprang to their feet, yelling and crying, their hands upraised in Nazi salutes.
Adolf Hitler, a consummate stage performer, played his role to the hilt. His head lowered, as if in all humbleness, he waited for silence. It would not arrive until fifteen minutes later.
By the time the führer concluded his oration, a token force of three bat-talions, ready to pull back at any sign of armed opposition, had crossed over the Rhine bridges and was deep into the Rhineland. As Ambassador von Hoesch had informed Hitler, neither the French nor the British lifted a finger to halt the operation.
Winteruebung (Schulung now called by its operational code name) had been a rousing success- thanks in a large part to the mystery spy. Winteruebung had been a staggering victory for Adolf Hitler. In the Vater-land (Fatherland) it fortified his popularity and his power, elevating him to heights that no German ruler of the past- even the legendary Frederick II, called stupor mundi (the amazement of the world) in the twelfth century- had attained.
Of equal significance, the führer had seized an ascendancy over his gen-erals, who had been jelly-kneed at a moment of crisis when he had held firm- thanks to his personal mystery spy, Ambassador von Hoesch. It impressed on German generals, rightly or wrongly, that his judgment in foreign policy and even in military affairs was superior to theirs.
Finally, and most important of all, the Rhineland venture emboldened Hitler to set his sights on other territories bordering the Third Reich.
Stealing a Supersecret Bombsight
HOLDING A WALKING-CANE UMBRELLA in one hand and a briefcase in the other, Dr. Hans Rankin strolled down the gangplank of the German ocean liner Bremen at Pier 86 in New York. A stout, blond man of average height, he was the managing director of an export-import firm in Hamburg, and he had come to the United States on a business trip. It was the overcast morning of October 17, 1937.
On the dock, the customs inspector gave Rankin's suitcases the normal cursory scrutiny, but he was intrigued by the German's walking-cane umbrella. "How does it work?" the official asked curiously. The amiable Rankin gave a brief demonstration.
"A pretty slick trick for a spy!" the inspector quipped. Rankin joined the man in laughter over the joke.
Only the German passenger knew it was no joke. He was indeed a spy. The name Dr. Hans Rankin and his role at the Hamburg import-export firm were a "cover." Actually, he was a major in the Abwehr, Germany's secret service, and his real name was Nicholaus Ritter. He had been sent to the United States to steal one of that nation's most closely guarded secrets, the highly accurate Norden bombsight for military aircraft. It had become common knowledge in global aviation circles that such a sophisticated device had been developed separately by three U. S. scientists, Carl T. Norden and Elmer Sperry in associ-ation with Theodore H. Barth.
Major Ritter's espionage mission to the United States had its origin back in 1926, when Germany, in violation of the Versailles Treaty ending what came to be known as World War I, began to clandestinely create an illegal Schwarz Luftwaffe (black air force). Progress was handicapped because modern aviation designs were sorely lacking. German industry, severely limited by Versailles, could not provide the sophisticated technology.
So "scouts" were sent abroad to purchase whatever aviation items were available on the open market. However, in the United States, such things as air-craft designs, automatic bombsights, and retractable landing gear were classi-fied as U. S. military secrets and not available at any price.
Undaunted, leaders of the Black Luftwaffe decided that what they could not buy, they would steal. Efforts to pilfer needed new aircraft developments intensified after Adolf Hitler publicly denounced the disarmament clauses of the Versailles Treaty on March 16, 1935, and promptly established high commands of the Heer (army), Kriegsmarine (navy), and Luftwaffe. Then the führer, as he called himself, openly began to build the Wehrmacht (armed forces).
Two years later, Major Nicholaus Ritter was sent on his crucial espionage mission to the United States to steal the design for the Norden bombsight. Until being recruited by the Abwehr in Hamburg early in 1937, Ritter had no experience in clandestine operations. But he did have two highly important qualifications for his task: he had spent ten years in the United States as a textile manufacturer, and he spoke American English fluently and without a trace of an accent.
Ritter's textile firm in the United States had collapsed (as had countless other companies during the Great Depression) in December 1936. Broke and desperate, he had been approached by General Friedrich von Boetticher, the German military attaché in Washington, who suggested that Ritter return to his homeland and join Adolf Hitler's rapidly expanding army. So the bankrupt businessman sailed to Germany, received a major's commission, and was assigned to the Abwehr in Hamburg as chief of Ast X, the air intelligence section. Soon after Ritter reported for duty at Ast X, high officials in Berlin began bombarding him with demands that the Norden bombsight designs be pilfered and brought back for incorporation into existing Luftwaffe planes by German scientists. Because of the heavy pressure, Ritter decided to assign himself to the seemingly impossible task.
Now, after clearing customs in New York, Ritter lugged his suitcase and a briefcase to the Taft Hotel, north of Times Square, and checked in. He stashed his walking-cane umbrella in the closet. Only Ritter and a few Abwehr men in Hamburg knew that the umbrella had a hollow center for carrying secret messages.
Two days after his arrival, Ritter took a yellow cab to a drab apartment at 245 Monitor Street in the borough of Brooklyn. He alighted from the taxi, glanced around to see if he were being followed, then walked to the door and rang the bell. A heavyset, middle-aged man in a soiled blue shirt and with sev-eral days' stubble on his chin responded. "Herr Soehn?" Ritter inquired.
"Ja, I am Soehn," the man replied cautiously in a German accent.
"Well, I'm pleased to meet you, Pops. I bring greetings from Roland." "Pops" was Ast X's code name for its agent Heinrich Soehn, and "Roland" was the prearranged cover name for his Treff (secret rendezvous). Soehn was a bumbling, low-level operative, so Ritter was not interested in him. What the major wanted to know was whether Soehn could arrange a meeting for him with "Paul." "Of course," Pops replied. When Ritter returned in forty-eight hours as planned, Soehn introduced him to blond, thirty-five-year-old Hermann W. Lang, whose code name was Paul. Lang had come to the United States in 1927 but had not yet been natu-ralized. He worked at the Norden factory (at 80 Lafayette Street in Manhattan) that produced the secret bombsight for the U. S. Army Air Corps. He had been leading the comfortable life of a middle-class citizen with his wife and young daughter in a New York suburb.
Seated in Soehn's living room, Major Ritter casually sized up Lang and found him to be quiet and reserved: a man who, through hard work and intel-ligence, had been promoted to inspector at the Norden plant.
Lang explained to the Abwehr officer that while the United States had been good to him, he wanted the "New Germany" under Adolf Hitler to have the bombsight, too. "I can never forget the Fatherland," he declared emotion-ally. He stressed time and again that he had no interest in money for his espi-onage activities.
Ritter was deeply impressed by Lang's patriotism. "Herr Lang, you are a fine German," the Abwehr officer exclaimed. "On behalf of Adolf Hitler, I congratulate you and I thank you. Now, how many blueprints of the Norden bomb-sight can you get me?"
Perhaps Ritter would not have been so impressed with Lang's "patriotism" had he known that a few months later, Lang would deposit five thousand dollars into his New York bank account- courtesy of the treasury of the Third Reich. Lang proved to be a slick espionage agent. He had no trouble removing top secret blueprints of the Norden bombsight from files at the plant and then sneaking them out under his clothing. His wife was kept uninformed about his double life. When the couple retired for the night, Lang waited until she was asleep, then slipped downstairs and traced the blueprints on the kitchen table. After gaining a few hours' sleep, he went to work and put the blueprints back into their files. When his tracing task was completed a week later, Lang held another treff with Major Ritter and handed him all the blueprint copies of portions of the bombsight. Ritter was exhilarated and arranged to get the tracings to an Abwehr courier whose cover was as an attendant on the Bremen, which sailed for Hamburg the next day.
For two more weeks, Lang copied every blueprint he could get his hands on- which was nearly all of them. On the eve of Ritter's departure for home, Lang, Heinrich Soehn, and Ritter met for a farewell drink, which included toasts to Adolf Hitler. Then Lang handed over the remainder of the blueprint tracings.
In Berlin, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the cagey chief of the Abwehr whose espionage career preceded World War I, was astounded by the top secret plans Major Ritter had managed to acquire. A scientist told Canaris: "This is what we have been looking for. . . . This will revolutionize our whole bombing strategy!"
A few weeks after Major Ritter returned to Germany, the Abwehr invited "Paul" (Hermann Lang) to Berlin- all expenses paid- to thank him personally for his enormous contribution to the führer. Lang spent a mind-spinning week being feted by high-ranking Nazi officials and having a private audience with General Hermann Goering, chief of the Luftwaffe.
Conspicuous by his absence from the Lang activities was Major Ritter, who had engineered the espionage coup at the risk of a prison term in the United States. Much later, Ritter learned that a conniving officer in Admiral Canaris's headquarters in Berlin had schemed to receive full credit for stealing the Norden bombsight.
Espionage Target: The Panama Canal
SNOW HAD COVERED Manhattan with a blanket of crisp white on the night of December 12, 1937, when Wilhelm Böning, a machinist and father of four chil-dren, spoke the praises of Adolf Hitler and the "New Germany" at a meeting of the German-American Bund in the Grand Central Palace in the Yorkville section of the borough. A burly, loud-voiced man, Böning was leader of the fifteen hun-dred men of the Ordnung Dienst, the U. S. version of Hitler's Nazi storm troopers.
After the meeting, the rough-hewn Böning and ten of his men gathered in a corner tavern to hoist a few beers and to boast of their escapades while fighting with the Kaiser's army in what was then known as the Great War. All were clad in grayish-blue tunics with black cuffs and neckbands, black forage caps with silver braid, and black trousers and boots.
Listening to the tales was John Baptiste Unkel, an officer of the Bund branch in New Rochelle, a New York City suburb. Born in Linz on the Rhine River, Unkel was fifty-one years of age. Perhaps he felt out of tune with his beer-guzzling comrades because he had come to the United States at an early age, enlisted in the U. S. Army, and was stationed in the Panama Canal Zone. Resenting military discipline, Unkel deserted in 1914, was caught, and served eighteen months in prison. Despite his criminal record, he reenlisted in the U. S. Army in 1917 and spent two years during the Great War at Fort Slocum, New York.
Not to be outdone by Wilhelm Böning and his pals, Unkel began brag-ging about his own military experiences. He related how he had helped to build fortifications in the Panama Canal Zone, and said that he had a complete set of the plans at his home.
Böning's ears perked up. Here was a chance to strike a mighty blow for the fatherland: the Panama Canal, he knew, was one of the United States' most crucial- and vulnerable- overseas outposts.
This artificial waterway, built by the United States and completed in 1914, cuts across the Isthmus of Panama in Central America for fifty-one miles, linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The canal shortened a ship's voyage between New York City and San Francisco to fewer than fifty-two hundred miles. Previously, a ship making this trip had to sail around the tip of South America, a distance of thirteen thousand miles.
Panama and its canal were especially vital to the U. S. armed forces. In the event of war in the East or the West, warships and troop transports could move to the Atlantic or the Pacific, whichever region was being threatened, in far less time than had earlier been the case.
Early in the morning after the beer-drinking session in Yorkville, a pre-dominantly German-American neighborhood, Wilhelm Böning rushed to see Fritz Ewald Rossberg, who was reputed to be the assistant Gestapo chief in New York City, at the Franz Siegel Tavern. Böning was bursting with excitement about the Panama Canal plans.
Then Rossberg became enthusiastic. "Arrange to get those plans," he ordered. "We must have them!"
Böning caught up with John Unkel at the headquarters of the German-American Bund, at 178 East 85th Street. "Those plans you spoke about the other night, they are of great value," the storm trooper chief declared. "You must produce them."
Unkel balked. Was Böning an undercover agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)? Was he hoping to make a financial killing by selling the canal fortifications plans to some foreign power other than Germany? It was known that Panama was thick with spies for the Soviet Union, Japan, Italy, and other nations.
Unkel insisted that he would not turn over the plans unless he knew spe-cifically with whom he was dealing. So Böning looked up the reputed Gestapo leader, Rossberg, and told him of Unkel's obstinance. Rossberg exploded: "We must get them- by force if necessary!"
Böning then told Unkel that he would put him in touch with the man who wanted the plans. A few nights later, at a Bund meeting in New Rochelle, a mystery man- he gave a phony name- approached Unkel and asked: "Are you a loyal German?"
Unkel was on guard and told the stranger he was a U. S. citizen. The man kept asking if Unkel was a loyal German, and finally he demanded that the Panama Canal fortifications plans be turned over to him. Suddenly the stranger's tone turned menacing, even threatening. Where in the hell were the plans? Unkel said he didn't have them.
Whoever the mystery man was, he promptly went to Böning and told him Unkel refused to turn over the documents. Böning then contacted Rossberg: "Unkel's a lying son of a bitch!" the reputed Gestapo leader barked. "If we can't get them any other way, we'll break into his house and get them. If Unkel tries to stop us, kill him!"
A few days later, the FBI, perhaps acting on a tip from a mole planted in the German-American Bund in New York, picked up Wilhelm Böning and John Unkel for questioning. Severely shaken, both men told all they knew about reputed Gestapo leader Fritz Rossberg's efforts to secure the Panama Canal fortifications plans that Unkel once had claimed he possessed. Now Unkel denied that he had ever had such documents, although he admitted that Rossberg had tried to get them from him. Böning vehemently denied that he had been involved in Rossberg's plot to break into Unkel's house and steal the Panama Canal materials.
On the morning of March 29, 1938, the FBI took Rossberg into custody and confronted him with Unkel's and Böning's statements implicating him in spying. "They're liars!" Rossberg snapped angrily. Questioned for many hours, Rossberg repeated time and again that he was but a simple working man, that he knew nothing about Gestapo or Abwehr operations in the United States. With no firm evidence on which to charge or hold Rossberg, the FBI gave him a strict warning not to leave New York City and released him for the time being.
Early the next morning, the FBI received a tip that Rossberg had fled the country on the North German Lloyd Line's St. Louis, which had just sailed for Germany. Agents rushed to Pier 86 and demanded that the steamship line office radio the St. Louis to ask if Rossberg was aboard. The inquiry was dispatched, but no reply was received. It was clear to the FBI men: the Gestapo agent had abandoned his young wife and child to fend for themselves to protect his own skin by fleeing to Germany.
For ten days, the U. S. Department of Justice angrily protested the failure of the North German Lloyd Line to reply. Then came a cable from the firm's home office in Bremen. It stated that one Fritz Rossberg, a German national, had been discovered as a stowaway aboard the St. Louis when the ship was more than halfway to Europe. He had paid a half fare, the cable concluded, so was permitted to disembark at Bremerhaven, just like any other passenger.
Had Rossberg actually carried with him to Germany the secret plans of the Panama Canal fortifications, having obtained them from Unkel by threats, coercion, or a heavy cash payment? Had Unkel truly had these documents in his possession? The FBI would never know for certain.
A month after he had fled, however, the FBI intercepted a letter that Ross-berg had written to a friend, Ernst Ramm, who lived in Manhattan. Rossberg gloated, "I received a hero's welcome in Berlin [presumably from the Ges-tapo]." He added that he was "extremely proud" of what he had achieved for Nazi Germany in the United States. The letter closed with: "Heil Hitler!"
Meanwhile, two thousand miles south of New York City, a network of German spies also was trying vigorously to steal Panama Canal secrets. This high-priority mission of the Abwehr was code-named Project 14, and its goal was how best to cripple the vital lifeline in the event of war with the United States. Earlier in 1939, the Abwehr in Berlin had been ordered to develop a topographical and technical report on the canal, the ships moving through it, and its defenses, along with conducting ongoing surveillance of U. S. military personnel and military installations there.
Making certain that the all-inclusive espionage order was carried out, the Abwehr dispatched Wolfgang Blaum, an experienced and imaginative operative, to orchestrate Project 14. He would work under Karl Lindberg, who had been in Panama since 1935 and using his job as manager of the Hamburg-American Steamship Line as cover. Recruiting agents from the German colony in the canal region, Blaum soon had a network of informants planted at each key location.
Most of the espionage ring's members were working men in modest but important jobs- mechanics, machinists, stevedores, a locksmith, and a crane operator. All were longtime residents of Panama, highly regarded by their superiors, respected in their workplaces. They knew their way in the maze of the Canal Zone, and, because of their jobs, had free access to even off-limits installations that bored soldiers in a somnolent U. S. Army were supposed to be guarding. One of Blaum's most productive and innovative agents was Ernst Kuhrig, who had been in Panama off and on since 1931. As a typewriter repairman, he strolled in and out of Fort Randolph, the main U. S. military post in the Canal Zone, without identifying himself. The sentries merely waved him on in without challenge, although a guard once joked, "How do we know you ain't an enemy spy?" Both men chuckled.
On one occasion, Kuhrig took with him to Fort Randolph two professional German spies, Hans Schackow, whose cover was a job at the Hapag-Lloyd Steamship Company in the Panamanian town of Balboa, and nineteen-year-old, attractive Ingeborg Waltraut Gutmann, the secretary of the German consul at Colón. Reaching the gate, Kuhrig told the sentry that he was taking his friends to lunch at the restaurant in the post exchange.
As he had been instructed, the guard asked, "Ya got any cameras on ya?" "What on earth would I be doing with a camera?" Kuhrig replied pleasantly.
The German spies were waved on past.
Instead of going to the post exchange, Kuhrig and his companions strolled casually about the facility like sightseeing tourists. Periodically they would stop to photograph gun installations and other defensive positions with the Leica that had been hidden in Kuhrig's trademark typewriter repair kit.
A steady stream of intelligence about the supposedly closely guarded canal was collected from his undercover agents by the network chief, Wolfgang Blaum, who used the communications facilities at the German legation in Panama to transmit his reports to the Abwehr in Berlin.
If war were to erupt between Nazi Germany and the United States, Adolf Hitler and his Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (high command) would have available at their fingertips an amazing array of photographs and reports on gun batteries, dams, locks, military installations, and power stations, along with detailed maps of Uncle Sam's Achilles heel of his already weak defenses.
The Gestapo Comes to New York
SLICK-HAIRED, DARK-EYED, lean Karl Friedrich Herrmann, who had bounced around as a waiter in ten places in Germany during the previous four years, was summoned to Hamburg and was awed to find himself in the presence of Herr Schleckenbag, the Geheime Staatzpolizei (Gestapo) chief in that city. For three years Herrmann had proven himself to be a Nazi zealot, ruthless and dedicated. It was early 1938.
For nearly two hours, Schleckenbag grilled Herrmann, probing for a chink in his Nazi armor. He found none. Then he announced that Herrmann was being sent to the United States as Gestapo chief in New York City. A few weeks later, Herrmann arrived in the United States and easily melded into the American scene. He obtained "cover" jobs as a waiter, first at Longchamps Restaurant in Manhattan and then at the Brooklyn Club in the borough of Brooklyn.
At that time, the United States was a spy's paradise. Foreign agents roamed the country at will. No single federal agency was charged with counter subversive responsibility, and the United States was the only major nation in the world that had no secret service to ferret out the intentions of hostile powers.
Soon after the Gestapo chief settled down in New York, a courier posing as a steward on the German luxury liner Europa brought him his first major secret mission. His bosses in Germany had gotten it into their heads that a highly dangerous, anti-Nazi counterespionage ring was spying on German spies in the United States and seeking to disrupt their activities. Herrmann was told by Hamburg that the masterminds behind the anti-Nazi network were two prominent
New York women, Mrs. Thomas Manville and Antonie "Astra" Strassmann, who had been born in Germany and lived there for many years.
Herrmann plunged into his investigative work, and within two weeks, he notified Hamburg that he had uncovered four other members of the anti-Nazi ring. All were German citizens: a man named Hassfurter, another named Aich-ner, a Fräulein Drachau, and a Fräulein Fichtner. Herrmann's report stated that they had been engaged in clandestine meetings with Mrs. Manville at Cherbourg, Southhampton, and other ports of call of German ocean liners in recent times.
Mrs. Manville was reputed to be the brains of the anti-Nazi network. An extremely wealthy woman, she lived in a spacious suite in the stylish Savoy-Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. She was known as the mother of Tommy Manville, a big-spending playboy who gained wide notoriety for his zany escapades and his twelve marriages, give or take a couple.
She traveled extensively, liked to take German ships, made friends easily, and on completion of a cruise, she gave gifts to those who had been especially nice to her- chefs, stewards, hairdressers, and waiters. Gracious almost to a fault, she invariably invited these passing acquaintances to visit her at the Savoy-Plaza whenever their ship docked in New York City.
Invariably, the ship employees usually accepted the offer, and Mrs. Manville entertained them royally. Word of this stream of German visitors traipsing in and out of the Savoy-Plaza suite had reached the ears of Karl Herrmann. Obviously, with her money, she had to be the brains and ringleader of the conspiracy, Herrmann concluded. For what other reason would she be entertaining and lavishing gifts on Germans of modest stations whom she barely knew? No doubt she was concealing secret messages in the gifts for delivery to some sinis-ter plotter in Germany, he surmised.
The matriarch's coconspirator, the Gestapo in Hamburg believed, was Astra Strassmann, a close friend of Mrs. Manville's. She had been forced to flee Germany after Adolf Hitler had seized power because she was said to have had a trace of Jewish blood in her family tree. Vengeance against the Nazis was Strassmann's sinister motive, the Gestapo had become convinced. Astra was a world-renowned figure. She had been a stage and radio star in Germany, became interested in flying, and in May 1932 she piloted the giant airplane Dorner DO-X from the United States to Berlin, with refueling halts at Newfoundland and the Azores. The German Herrenvolk (people) showered adulation on the beautiful aviatrix.
After the Hitler regime took over about a year later, her physician father and her mother, both Christians, were expelled from their clubs and profes-sional associations because of their alleged Jewish blood. So Astra moved to the United States, bringing along her principal assets- brains, beauty, charm, and wit, which launched her into a highly successful career buying and selling patents worldwide.
Astra became even more suspect in the eyes of the Gestapo when it was learned that she consorted with many influential Washington figures, including leaders in the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, members of Congress, and high-ranking military officers.
Then, suddenly, the Gestapo investigation of the anti-Nazi counterespionage ring in the United States collapsed like a house of cards in a tornado. There had never been such a network. Even the buffoon Karl Herrmann finally realized that the kindly, frail, elderly (charitably, in her late seventies) Mrs. Manville could hardly be a sinister cloak-and-dagger mastermind bent on destroying Adolf Hitler and his regime. Neither could thirty-six-year-old Astra Strassmann, who spent so much of her time globe-hopping on her thriving patent business that she could not have had time to hatch devious and com-plicated plots. Her numerous contacts with Washington bigwigs had all been social in nature. Of the four German "accomplices" uncovered by the bumbling Herr-mann, Aichner was a minor official in a tour agency, Hassfurter was a steward on the Europa, Drachau was a maid, and Fichtner was a stewardess on that same ship. Their only involvement with Mrs. Manville was serving her on her travels and visiting the kindly lady at the Savoy-Plaza. Comic opera figures as they were during their early years, the Gestapo agents who infiltrated into the United States in the months ahead would be cagier, bolder, and far more dangerous. 7
Practicing "Nazi Psychology" in the United States
WALTER BECK had long been widely known in Germany as a prominent psy-chologist at a major university. But in early 1938, he said he had grown disil-lusioned with the Nazi regime. So he fled to the United States, arriving there in April. It was not unusual for German intellectuals and scientists to follow that course: the noted physicist Albert Einstein also had left his homeland after Adolf Hitler had seized power.
Professor Beck was received with open arms by the U. S. academic com-munity, and he accepted a teaching position at a prestigious university in the East. Articulate, friendly, and witty, Beck quickly made friends on campus. No doubt his reception would have been much cooler had it been known that Beck was actually a spy for the Third Reich and was using his professional status as a cover for his secret mission. He had been sent by the Psychological Branch of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht to collect information on which to base a composite portrait of the potentially militarily powerful nation.
Beck's clandestine assignment called for him to obtain detailed demo-graphic data of the exactitude of the U. S. Census Bureau's inquiries, material on all strata of ethnic communities and their relations to one another, and intimate knowledge about the people's ideas, desires, ambitions, hopes, preferences, prejudices, frustrations, morale, and aptitudes.
This wealth of information on the people of the United States would be turned over to Propaganda Minister Josef Paul Goebbels. Since joining Hitler in 1933, Goebbels had gained total control over the German press, radio, and cultural life, as well as being the official designated to create and disseminate propaganda in foreign countries.
Professor Beck soon made arrangements with the administration at the U. S. university to take time off- at full pay- to visit all parts of the sprawling nation, presumably to collect data for the sociology class he taught. His true purpose, however, was to estimate what sort of soldiers young Americans would make if the traditionally peaceful and isolationist country were to go to war.
Astute as he was, Beck had trouble forming any conclusions. All the youths with whom he talked had different opinions on war and peace. Then one day, he viewed his first college football game, and grasped the elusive focus he had sought. When he compiled his voluminous report for the Nazi propa-ganda ministry, he represented all U. S. youths as football players.
Beck emphasized in the report that most Americans had a highly devel-oped team spirit, that they were aggressive competitors in contests, had tenac-ity, and, above all, brought a scientific approach to everything they did- from football to war.
Unlike Adolf Hitler, who had long held Americans with scorn as weak-lings whose sons and fathers would make poor soldiers, Beck was convinced that the spirit of the Old West frontier days was still very much alive among the people of the United States. And he cautioned against the tendency in high German circles- meaning Hitler- to regard all Americans as materialistic and decadent.
Beck concluded his study with the urgent recommendation that Germany refrain from provoking the United States into a war, not only because of its vast industrial potential, but also because of superior social factors that would come to the fore in any armed conflict.
Only two weeks before Hitler's powerful military juggernaut invaded neighboring Poland on September 1, 1939, and plunged Europe into World War II, Professor Beck returned to Germany. In the years ahead, he no doubt took great satisfaction in following Josef Goebbels's propaganda aimed at the United States, a campaign designed largely on the psychologist's undercover mission.
A Gentleman Farmer Flies to London
A BLACK-BODIED JUNKERS civilian airliner from Berlin glided to a landing at Croyden Airport outside London. Among the passengers debarking was Edwald von Kleist-Schmenzin, a wealthy German gentleman farmer. When he strolled into the terminal, he was approached by three men in civilian clothes who identified themselves as agents of MI-6, Britain's secret service responsible for offensive intelligence. It was mid-August 1938.
It had already been arranged for Kleist-Schmenzin to pass through customs and security controls without the customary inspections, because he was on a secret mission for the Schwarze Kapelle (Black Orchestra), a small, tightly knit group of prominent German military officers, government officials, and civic leaders whose goal was the "elimination" of Adolf Hitler and his regime. Leaders of the Schwarze Kapelle were General Ludwig Beck, who, as chief of the General Staff, had directed the army's enormous expansion since 1935, and Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Abwehr, the secret service agency that had thousands of agents around the world.
Beck, a man of high moral courage and principle, resigned from his post and went into retirement in early August 1938, after Adolf Hitler refused to give assurances that he did not plan to ignite a war in Europe. Living quietly near Hanover, Beck began recruiting distinguished Germans to his anti-Hitler conspiracy. All were convinced that the führer was embarking on a campaign of conquest that would take Germany down the road to destruction.
Eventually the conspirators would develop an elaborate scheme to gain their goals. At the proper time they planned to have Hitler kidnapped, but not kill him and thereby convert him into a martyr. Rather, the führer would be put on public trial for "crimes against the German people." Then a yet unspec-ified illustrious civilian, respected by most of the Herrenvolk and foreign leaders, would be appointed to organize a new, democratic government.
The plot also called for the arrest of several of Hitler's top officials, includ-ing newly promoted Field Marshal Hermann Goering, Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler, and thirty-five-year-old Obergruppenführer (General) Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the intelligence branch of the Schutzstaffel (SS), Hitler's elite, black-uniformed private army. These Nazi big-wigs would be imprisoned in a castle in Bavaria, in mountainous southern Germany, and later be tried in open court.
Each tiny detail of the Schwarze Kapelle's scheme to rid Germany of the Nazi regime had been painstakingly crafted with military precision- except for one unknown component. Would Great Britain use strong words or oppose with her armed forces Adolf Hitler's plan to invade and seize Czechoslovakia? British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, who had been trying to appease the führer for the past year, would have to be told by an informative anti-Hitler source inside Germany that if Britain took a strong hand, a bloody war in Europe might be prevented. In that case, the Schwarze Kapelle could move aggressively to get rid of Hitler and other top Nazis.
At General Beck's requ est, Edwald von Kleist-Schmenzin had agreed to carry the crucial message to London. It could be a perilous task. In the Third Reich, informers were everywhere, and Kleist-Schmenzin might well be arrested by the Gestapo and executed as a traitor. There also was the distinct possibility that the British, through careless talk or deliberate betrayal by Nazi moles planted in the British government, might tip off Berlin about the Schwarze Kapelle plot.
Before leaving for London, Kleist-Schmenzin had been told by Beck: "If you can bring me positive proof that the British will make war if [Hitler] invades Czechoslovakia, I will put an end to the [Nazi] regime!" What would Beck regard as positive proof? "An open pledge to assist Czechoslovakia in the event of war," the general replied.
After his arrival at Croyden Airport in London, Kleist-Schmenzin was shielded from the public, the media, and any Nazi spies by the three MI-6 men. They bundled him into a limousine and escorted him to the plush Hyde Park Hotel, where he used a rear entrance. In his suite, the German held a private conversation with Lord Lloyd of Dolobran, who had high-level connections in the British military and government.
"Everything is decided [for the Czechoslovakian invasion], Lord Lloyd," Kleist said. "The mobilization plans are complete, zero day is fixed, the army group commanders have their orders. All will run according to plan at the end of September, and no one can stop it unless Britain speaks out in an open warning to Herr Hitler."
Then Kleist-Schmenzin spoke for nearly two hours on events transpiring in Germany behind the scenes, including the details of the Schwarze Kapelle plot against the führer. If Great Britain, along with France, were to take "a firm and positive stand" against Hitler, "there is a good hope that the [German] commanding generals would arrest him if he persisted in his [plan] and thus put an end to the Nazi regime."
Lord Lloyd listened intently and also without interruption to the briefing and was highly impressed by Kleist-Schmenzin's sincerity and intelligence. On the following morning, Kleist-Schmenzin met with Robert Vansittart, an adviser on foreign affairs to the British government, and repeated what he had told Lloyd. Vansittart, however, was not favorably impressed. It seemed to him that the Schwarze Kapelle was as much interested in striking a deal about Germany's future frontiers after Hitler had been eliminated as it was in getting rid of the führer and establishing a democratic government.
A day later, Kleist-Schmenzin called on Winston Churchill, the first lord of the Admiralty, at his country estate outside London. Once more the German presented a briefing, while Churchill puffed on a long cigar and remained silent. When Kleist-Schmenzin started to leave, the British leader allegedly remarked, "You can have everything [from our government], but first bring us Herr Hitler's head!"
Churchill's terse comment reflected the divergent views of the British leaders and the Schwarze Kapelle. The German conspirators wanted a firm public pledge that the British would support the anti-Hitler conspiracy and oppose German aggression against Czechoslovakia. For their part, British leaders had no intention of taking a firm stand against Hitler's plan of conquest until the führer had been eliminated by the conspirators.
A dejected Kleist-Schmenzin sneaked back into Germany and went to see Admiral Canaris at Abwehr headquarters in Berlin. "I have found nobody in London who wishes to wage a preventative war," Kleist-Schmenzin said. "I have gained the impression that they wish to avoid war at almost any cost." Kleist-Schmenzin's diagnosis of the British mood proved to be precisely on target. While Hitler continued preparations to invade nearly defenseless Czechoslovakia, appeasement, not firmness, was the order of the day in Lon-don. Britain's sixty-nine-year-old prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, was determined not to provoke the führer by strong words of protest or the threat of military action.
Instead, on September 13, Chamberlain sent an urgent message to Adolf Hitler:
In view of the increasingly critical situation, I propose to come over at once to see you with a view to try to find a peaceful solution. I propose to come by air and am ready to start tomorrow.
The führer was astounded and delighted that the head of the British Empire was going to come groveling to him. "Ich bin vom Himmel gefallen!" (Good heavens!), he exclaimed.
Hat in hand, Chamberlain met with Hitler at Munich, and on Septem-ber 30 the two leaders signed a document that stated the "desire of our two peo-ples never to go to war with one another again." In return for what the naive Chamberlain called "peace in our time," Czechoslovakia had been sold out to the führer, who swore he had no farther "territorial claims" in Europe. Edwald von Kleist-Schmenzin's hazardous secret mission to London had been in vain. Appeasement of Hitler by the British made it impossible for the Schwarze Kapelle to act. How could the conspirators kidnap and try the führer for "crimes against the German people" when he had just scored a stunning and completely bloodless victory and was being hailed in the Third Reich as one of the greatest figures in German history?
An "Unsportsmanlike" Murder Scheme NEW YEAR'S DAY 1939 brought with it a world fearful of an outbreak of another bloody war in Europe. The preparations for a conflict were visible in England, France, Belgium, Italy, and, most significantly, in Germany. No state secrets in history were as badly kept as Hitler's that last year of peace.
Major Francis Foley had been MI-6's agent in Berlin since 1920. Working in the British Consulate under the cover of His Britannic Majesty's Passport Control officer, Foley had been reporting regularly on the secrets of the strange set of men and weird events that had dominated Germany since Hitler had gained total control in early 1933. Now Foley was sending a stream of reports telling of preparations within the Third Reich for war.
In London, Alexander Cadogan, an Etonian who was the undersecretary of the Foreign Office, warned British leaders, "Hitler's mental condition, his insensate rage against Great Britain, and his megalomania, are entirely consistent with the execution of a desperate coup against the Western powers." Translation: Expect the führer to launch a war in Europe despite his public pledge that he sought peace.
These were desperate times for Great Britain. It was militarily weak, while Germany's armed forces were growing more powerful every day. Desperation calls for desperate actions. So when Major General Frank Noel Mason-MacFarlane, the military attaché at the British embassy in Berlin, proposed a scheme to murder Hitler, the London leaders debated the idea. Mason-MacFarlane, who had a distinguished record in World War I and who was the son of an army colonel, suggested that the führer could be felled by a bullet from a high-powered rifle equipped with a telescopic sight from an apartment overlooking the Reichskanzlei in Berlin. The assassin would lay in wait, and when Hitler appeared on a front balcony, either to greet crowds or for a breath of fresh air, he would be shot. It was not clear how the marksman was to escape from the highly congested area.
Hitler's death at this time would lead to the overthrow of the Nazi regime and save millions of lives in the war the führer was preparing to launch, Mason-MacFarlane declared.
On the basis that murdering Hitler was "unsportsmanlike," the British government vetoed the plot. There "is an antipathy on principle against murder in democratic states," British leaders declared.
With Great Britain facing extinction a year later, the British government, under a new leader, Winston Churchill, would largely drop its concern about scruples.
Note: Endnotes do not appear in the Web version of the sample chapter.
Meet the Author
WILLIAM B. BREUER is the critically acclaimed author of twenty-six military history books, including Feuding Allies; Vendetta!: Castro and the Kennedy Brothers; Unexplained Mysteries of World War II; and Shadow Warriors: The Covert War in Korea. Ten of his books have been main selections of the Military Book Club, including The Great Raid on Cabanatuan and MacArthur's Undercover War.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >
well written and very interesting true stories of World War II. It is especially appealing being written in the collection of short and very short story format