The 46th and 72nd Reconnaissance Squadrons’ operations in the Arctic: 1946

The winters at Ladd Field were always severe, and sometimes exceptionally so. Every month of the year except July could bring freezing temperatures, but in winter they could descend to -50°C. The winter of 1946 was particularly bad and played havoc with the maintenance of aircraft and ground equipment.

As early as 1935, Gen `Billy’ Mitchell had spoken out about the significance of Alaska. “I believe that in the future, whoever holds Alaska will hold the world”, said the great pioneer of United States air power. “I think it is the most important strategic place in the world.”

That much became obvious during the Second World War, when the Japanese considered the feasibility of attacking North America from bases in the Aleutian Islands and Alaska. In June 1942 they occupied Kiska and Attu. Their ambitions were ended at the Battle of Attu a year later, one of the war’s bloodiest episodes, after which the Japanese army left the Aleutians. Nor was the area’s strategic value lost on the US, which saw the island `bridge’ as providing bases for long-range bombers to strike at Japan and its empire in Asia.

Since its birth as a nation, the US had been untouchable. It had been involved in large-scale conflict in Europe and Asia, but was so far removed from them geographically that it suffered no attacks against itself or its citizens at home. But with the development of longer-range bombers, the US mainland was no longer invulnerable from direct strikes. The new enemy, the Soviet Union, was but the proverbial stone’s throw away across the Arctic Circle. Not only Alaska but the whole Arctic region acquired much strategic significance to both the US and Canada, and their increasingly hostile erstwhile Soviet ally.

When in August 1947 four Tupolev Tu-4 bombers flew at a parade at Tushino airfield in Moscow, further shockwaves rippled through the US military. The Tu-4, quite capable of reaching the US from bases in the Soviet Arctic, was of course a reverse-engineered copy of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. Feelings of insecurity in North America were exacerbated during August 1949 when the Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb.

There was a need to perform reconnaissance flights over Alaska, and the Army Air Force’s 46th Reconnaissance Squadron was the first US military unit to take on the task. It did so as part of a joint force effort named Project `Nanook’, itself an element of the secret Project 5, codenamed Operation `Floodlight’.

Based at Ladd Field in central Alaska and under the command of Maj Maynard T. White, the 46th RS was tasked with a range of missions. The primary one was to assess the threat posed by Soviet activities in the Arctic. In addition it was earmarked to survey and map the Arctic regions, in particular the US and Canadian Alaskan territories, using aerial photography; develop accurate means of polar navigation and, having accomplished this, train bomber crews in those systems; and conduct Arctic weather studies.

The squadron was equipped with the Boeing F-13A, a photoreconnaissance variant of the B-29. Carrying three cameras in a trimetrogon arrangement (one downward-facing camera and two oblique), the aircraft were specially modified for their Arctic role, which was classified top-secret.

The men of the 46th were true pioneers. Up to this time, no-one had flown regularly over the polar regions. The problems of polar navigation were considerable and what theories there were had gone largely untried.

On arrival at Ladd Field, the aircrews began by flying familiarisation trips. The first operational sortie over the polar cap took place on 2 August 1946, testing the theory of grid navigation over an unknown area. It encountered no significant problems. Over time the grid method was practised and proven such that polar flights became routine.

Now the 46th RS began to address the other aspects of its purpose, one of which was to search for new landmasses. The reason was twofold: to ascertain whether they were being used by the Soviets, and if they could be employed by the US or Canadian militaries. Reconnaissance activities in the Arctic were initially a bone of contention between the US and Canadian governments, the latter being incensed by the apparent ignorance of its rights over its sovereign territory. In October 1946, under Project `Polaris’, six Canadian officers were attached to the 46th RS to become involved in planning and flying missions. The objective of `Polaris’ was to develop an air lane between Alaska and Iceland.

The image interpreters of the 46th RS photo section noted what they believed to be a previously undiscovered landmass on 14 August 1946 and identified it as `Target X’. This was subsequently proven to be an ice island, but still classified top-secret in recognition of its potential as a base for military or scientific purposes. It was renamed T-1, two other floating islands in the vicinity being dubbed T-2 and T-3.

T-3 was later occupied by an expedition led by Lt Col Joseph Fletcher, who wrote in the April 1953 issue of National Geographic: “The radar observer had not found new land as he first believed, but he had provided a key, which was to unlock one of the Far North’s old mysteries and give his country a valuable base, closer to the North Pole than men had ever lived in comfort and safety.”

As if to underline the strategic importance of the work of Project `Nanook’, the squadron received a visit on 15 October from Maj Gen Curtis E. LeMay. At that time he was deputy chief of air staff for research and development at the Pentagon.

The 46th RS made history the next day when an F-13A completed a mission over the geographic North Pole. This was unique for a number of reasons. It was the first extended long-range flight of this nature, the first time an aircrew had known the precise moment they were over the pole, and the first such sortie to have taken place during the Arctic night. Departing from Ladd Field at 08.10hrs Alaska time, the initial flyover took place at 18.40. The F-13A landed back at Ladd Field at 04.55 on 17 October. In addition to the flight crew the aircraft carried scientists and observers, notably Dr Paul A. Siple, a renowned polar explorer who had spent most of his working life in the Antarctic and Arctic. Each aircrew member went on to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

It was inevitable that flying in such an inhospitable region would involve some accidents. Temperatures could sometimes drop as low as -50°C. The winter of 1946-47 was one of the coldest recorded, but for the 46th RS it was business as usual. Two missions were scheduled on 11 December, when the temperature was -48°C. F-13A 45-21853 took off at 15.50hrs to undertake a classified Arctic mission. Straight afterwards it crashed into a wooded area. Fortunately for the crew the cold was so intense that the spilled fuel did not ignite at once. All on board managed to escape from the wreck without serious injury. By the following morning the F-13A was burning out of control.

The accident report recorded: “The aircraft weighed 135,000lb on take-off and SOP [standard operating procedures] were used. Immediately after becoming airborne power was lost on engines #1 and #3. Losing airspeed the aircraft mushed into the ground. No fatalities. It was determined that the extreme cold brought about a decrease in the volatility of the fuel, which in turn, caused a loss of power”. The crash of 45-21853 was the first of four the 46th RS was to suffer.

Changes occurred during 1947. The establishment of the US Air Force on 18 September was soon followed on 13 October by the redesignation of the 46th RS as the 72nd Reconnaissance Squadron. All aircraft and personnel were transferred to the new unit and, for the moment, activities continued just as before.

As new F-13As arrived at Ladd, so their reconnaissance suites were upgraded. In addition to the trimetrogon arrangement the aircraft could carry K-17B, K-20, K-22 and K-18 cameras in a variety of vertical and oblique configurations using different focal lengths.

Prior to the change of squadron `numberplate’ the unit had acquired two additional top-secret taskings. Project 20 consisted of twice monthly reconnaissance missions from Point Barrow to the tip of the Aleutian chain by way of the Bering Strait. These were primarily for electronic intelligence (ELINT) and surveillance purposes, but photography was to be undertaken if deemed necessary. Project 23 required two aircraft for each sortie, which covered the north and south coasts of Siberia adjacent to Alaska. One aircraft would fly over the coastline at very high altitude, the other following a parallel course lower down. Both would take photographs with their K-20 and K-17 cameras. Aircraft specially configured to undertake ELINT duties were called `ferrets’.

Superfortress 45-21812 was converted in May 1947 for a very special mission. All its gun turrets were removed and extra fuel tanks installed in the bomb bay. Provision was made in the fuselage for six `Raven’ stations, this the name given to electronic countermeasures (ECM) officers. The countermeasures suite comprised of AN/APR-4, AN/ APR-5, AN/ARR-5 and AN/ARR-7 systems, in addition to AN/APA-17 250-1,000MHz broadband direction-finding radars, and AN/APA-11 signal analysers. Once exhaustive tests had been carried out the aircraft took off from Wright Field, Ohio, for Ladd Field, arriving there on 17 May. The pilot was Capt Landon P. Tanner.

Lt Joe Wack was one of the `Ravens’ on the aircraft, which the crew named The Sitting Duck. In an interview with Dr Alfred Price for his book The History of Electronic Warfare, Wack recalled a briefing they received from Maj Guiton, the project officer: “He told us there was growing concern over what the Soviets were doing, and the Army Air Forces needed to know what they were using in the way of electronic systems in case these might later have to be countered. Our mission would be to fly long-range ferret missions off the north of Siberia to gather information on Soviet radars operating in that area. I don’t recall what radars he expected us to find, I expect he didn’t know. The secrecy of the project was impressed on all of us.”

Flights involving intelligence gathering by flying along the borders of an opposing nation and collecting data by electronic or photographic means were part of the Peacetime Airborne Reconnaissance Program(PARPRO). It was not the intention to violate the territorial integrity of the `enemy’ by overflying its territory.

The Sitting Duck flew its first operational sortie on 11 June 1947. Nothing of interest was found. It undertook eight such missions along the coasts of Siberia before returning to Andrews AFB, Maryland on 25 August. They had achieved a measure of success, having discovered the positions of Soviet radars in the area and the extent of their coverage. Importantly they also found where there was no radar cover along the Siberian coastline. After a few days at Andrews, The Sitting Duck was sent to Europe to fly ELINT missions in Germany along the Berlin corridors, going back to the US in September 1947. Sadly Capt Tanner was killed in the UK on 3 November 1948 when the RB-29 he was flying, 44-61999 Over Exposed, crashed at Higher Shelf Stones in the Peak District.

The ELINT `ferret’ mission that The Sitting Duck had inaugurated passed to the 72nd RS at Ladd Field. Its ELINT F-13As carried two `Ravens’ in the rear pressure cabin. They had all guns removed and fuel tanks in the bomb bay. Principal areas of interest were the Chukotskiy Peninsula across the Bering Strait from Alaska, the Kola Peninsula on the Barents Sea and the Kamchatka Peninsula.

The Soviet Union claimed sovereignty over the sea and the air above it for 12 miles off its coastline. Although the US recognised only a three-mile limit, its aircraft were instructed to respect the 12 miles. On 23 December 1947, a 72nd RS F-13A flew a Project 23 reconnaissance mission around the Chukotskiy Peninsula, during which it is quite feasible that the aircraft did in fact fly very close to the Soviet mainland in its search for intelligence. Despite officially reiterating the importance of adhering to the 12-mile limit, it is very likely that aircraft often went much nearer, particularly if they had picked up any suspicious electronic emissions which the crew felt should be more closely investigated. Some pilots said they were approached by Soviet fighters, but these claims have never been officially verified.

Following the 23 December flight, a note was delivered to the US State Department by the Soviet ambassador claiming that the aircraft had strayed to within two miles of the coast. The diplomatic row that followed prompted the USAF to instruct its pilots to rigidly observe the 12-mile boundary. This was increased to 40 miles in May 1948 following a particularly belligerent statement from Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov saying that the Soviet Union would retaliate if any aircraft violated its airspace.

There is circumstantial evidence that the 46th/72nd RS undertook some overflights from as early as the latter part of 1947. One crew that returned from a mission over Siberia claimed to have inadvertently overflown a Soviet airfield. They were surrounded by aircraft but no one took a shot at them. Then they noticed that several of those aircraft appeared identical to theirs, but carried red stars on the tail. They had stumbled upon a Tu-4 bomber base. The F-13A’s `star and bar’ markings apparently went unnoticed and they managed to make a dignified retreat.

The advent of the Tu-4 galvanised the USAF into further action in the north. The need for more intelligence was acute. PARPRO flights by both photo-reconnaissance aircraft and ELINT platforms increased, and risks were undoubtedly taken in gathering the information necessary to counter any Soviet bomber assault. At the same time, USAF Strategic Air Command bombers would need to navigate the polar route if they were to attack the Soviet Union. The training of SAC pilots in polar navigation techniques intensified, being undertaken by the 72nd RS at Ladd Field, whose F-13As were redesignated as RB-29s during 1948.

The sense of urgency encouraged greater technological development to provide the reconnaissance units with better cameras and countermeasures. One of the 72nd’s RB-29s, 45-21871, was fitted with a large oblique-shooting 100in-focal length camera capable of taking 9 x 14in photos up to 10 miles into Soviet territory. Even from outside the 12-mile limit the USAF had the capability to accurately photograph Soviet military installations.

In his book The Secret Explorers about the history of the 46th/72nd RS, Fred Wack, who flew missions in ‘871, recalled: “The aircraft were stripped down in order to reach a higher altitude. To reach a longer range and fly in from Fairbanks [Ladd Field] over to the island of Novaya Zemlya, you’re talking about 5,000-mile missions, 24 to 30 hours’ flying time, and to fly in over areas like [the] Kamchatka Peninsula and the coastal areas and the northern Siberia areas in order to avoid possible interceptions by hostile aircraft, we wanted to get up to 35,000[ft]. They were building airfields in the northern areas of Russia, and along the coastal areas. They were building submarine bases and airfields that we suspected were for offensive purposes”. The 100in oblique camera proved such a success that the USAF declared a requirement for five further examples in February 1948.

The 72nd RS continued to operate over the Arctic until June 1949, when it moved to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. During its time in the Arctic, the unit had chalked up an impressive list of achievements. It perfected the grid system of polar navigation, blazing a trail across the polar regions that commercial airlines were later to follow. It discovered three magnetic north poles where previously it was thought there was only one. It accumulated information about the polar weather, providing a valuable resource to military and commercial interests alike. It devised and operated training programmes that greatly enhanced the knowledge of USAF aircrews destined to follow in its footsteps. Perhaps most importantly of all, it had – with courage and determination against significant odds – succeeded in providing the intelligence necessary to develop strategies to counter the threat of invasion by a hostile neighbour.

The Wings of the Abwehr: The Dawn of Secret Missions

Theodor Rowehl

The secret activities of the talented organizer of secret missions Theodor Rowehl left a significant mark on the history of the Luftwaffe, German military intelligence and the Third Reich. However, before going into Rowehl’s career, a brief overview of the recovery of German military intelligence after defeat in the First World War is necessary.

Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, all German intelligence services were dissolved, apart from the internal security service. However, the militaristic aspirations of the German armed forces survived even after the shame of defeat in the war. Moreover, many ex-officers of the Imperial Army, who remained in the service of the Weimar Republic, were convinced that Germany was surrounded by enemies. All these circumstances made sure that German intelligence agents would not be unemployed for long.

In 1921, the German government formed a body within the Ministry of Defence, which was entrusted with the functions of collecting open military information abroad and military counterintelligence in the Reichswehr. It was given a vague name – ‘Department of Foreign Information and Defence’ (Mat Auslandnachrichten und Abwehr). This intelligence service, which soon became known simply as the Abwehr, was headed by Major Gempp. In the first years of its existence, it was exclusively concerned with counterintelligence. In its small organization there were only two groups – ‘Ost’ and ‘West’. For direct work in the regions, Abwehr ‘points’ (Abwehrstellen) were created in each military district.

However, gradually the ‘collection of open information’ abroad became a fully-fledged active intelligence service with all the usual clandestine attributes. In the central office of the Abwehr the relevant departments were formed. A branch office was established in Königsberg and satellite offices in Marienburg, Allenstein and Gumbinnen. The task of the latter was to organize intelligence operations against Poland and the Soviet Union.

During the 1920s and 1930s, the organizational structure of the Abwehr was constantly changing and improving. In 1938 it was reorganized into the Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence of the High Command of the Wehrmacht. Its chiefs also changed. In 1928 Major Gempp was replaced by Oberst Schwantess who as early as 1 June 1929 handed the business to Oberst Ferdinand von Bredow. After that only naval officers were at the head of Abwehr: Conrad Patzig (from 6 June 1932), then Wilhelm Canaris.

Finally, by the autumn of 1939 the structure of Abwehr was formed which with minor changes remained until its dissolution in the autumn of 1944. The headquarters was located in Berlin, at No. 74 on the Tirpitz Embankment, next to the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW – Armed Forces High Command) complex on the Bendlerstrasse. The internal layout of the central office of Abwehr was well suited for such an organization. It was a maze of chaotically interconnected rooms and halls, winding corridors, and stairs that went up and down. It was difficult even for the permanent staff to navigate. First-time visitors could get lost. Therefore, the headquarters of the Abwehr was nicknamed the ‘Fox’s Earth’.

The Abwehr was divided into three departments (Abteilung). The First Department (Abwehr-I – Abt.I) was engaged in the collection and evaluation of intelligence information. Its main customer and consumer was the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW – Armed Forces High Command). Therefore, the information collected was of a purely military nature. On 31 December 1936, the Abwehr and the Nazi Party’s security service, the Sicherheitsdienst (SD – Secret Security Service) signed a treaty ‘on the division of spheres of influence’, which some employees called ‘the Ten commandments’. As a result of the agreement the SD engaged exclusively in political intelligence work. But in practice, there were no clear ‘limits of responsibility’. The Abwehr and the SD often invaded each other’s sphere of interest, leading to constant conflict and rivalry.

Abwehr-I consisted of five sections: IX Fremde Heer (Foreign Army), IM Fremde Marine (Foreign Navy), IL Fremde Luft (Foreign Aircraft), IBI Fremde Wirtschaft (Foreign industry) and IILB Technik-Luft (Aircraft intelligence). Each of them was engaged in the collection of intelligence in their field. In addition, Abwehr-I had five subgroups, divided on a geographical basis. The largest subgroup ‘Hamburg’ (Mat Hamburg) was responsible for the gathering of military intelligence in Great Britain. The suborganizations and subgroups were further divided into sections.

Hans Piekenbrock

In 1936, the 43-year-old Major Hans Piekenbrock, who had begun working in military intelligence in 1921 was appointed head of Abwehr-I. Thanks to his abilities, he became the second most influential figure in the Abwehr after Canaris. Piekenbrock performed delicate missions for the Nazi leadership and for Hitler personally. He travelled all over Europe, and visited the Middle East and the Soviet Union. At the same time, he always remained ‘in the shadows’ and skilfully covered his tracks.

The Second Department (Abwehr-II – Abt.II), was established on the personal initiative of Canaris in the mid-1930s. Its task was to organize subversive activities and sabotage in enemy territory. It consisted of five sub-departments divided into fifteen independent sections. On 10 November 1938 the 41-year-old Major Erwin von Lahousen-Vivremont, a career officer of the old Austrian military intelligence who began his service during the First World War, became chief of Abwehr-II.

Abwehr-II had three major centres for the training of saboteurs and agents at its disposal. One was in Tegele, near Berlin, the second in Kwinzsee, near Brandenburg, and the third in Himsee. All of these centres were carefully camouflaged and hidden from prying eyes. Training was conducted in conditions as close to actual combat as possible. On the exercise field in Kwinzsee there were bridges of various designs, sections of railway tracks and other objects for the practice of sabotage techniques.

The Third Department (Abwehr-III – Abt.III) was engaged in counterintelligence. On 1 March 1939, it was headed by 42-year-old Major Franz-Eccard von Bentivegni, a career artilleryman who had served in the Abwehr since 1936. The main functions of the Department were to prevent the penetration of foreign agents in Wehrmacht, protection of state secrets, protection of documents of special importance and people who had access to them. Abwehr-III had a branch structure, including ten sub-departments. Each of them consisted of a set of subgroups and sections in its areas of work. It also had a special unit – the ‘security service’, which monitored the employees of the Abwehr themselves.

There is no official data on the number of personnel in the central office of Abwehr. At the end of the war, almost all documents of German military intelligence, which existed only as single copies, were destroyed. From the remaining fragmentary data it is known that, in March 1943 there were 140 employees in the three main headquarters departments (in Abwehr-1 sixty-three, in Abwehr-II thirty-four and in Abwehr-III forty-three). For operational work in each military district, army group, and naval base Abwehrstellen (‘points’) were created, of which there were only thirty-three. During the war, ‘points’ were also created in the occupied territories. Their strength varied widely, for example, at the Abwehr point in the French port of Cherbourg there were only three staff members but in the Paris point there were 382. Most of the ‘points’ had approximately 150 staff.

According to Canaris’ instructions, each Abwehr ‘point’ in an army group or field army was required to have an intelligence network of at least twenty-five agents. Some of them were intended for operations in the combat zone (at a distance of 30km from the front line), while the rest were to be thrown into the deep rear of the enemy.

What role did Theodor Rowehl play in all this? He was born on 9 February 1894 in the town of Barschlute, located on the left bank of the River Weser (near Bremen). On 28 July 1914 Austria-Hungary began military operations against Serbia. This served as a trigger for the start of a terrible bloodbath, which then went down in history as the Great War (the First World War). On 1 August, Germany declared war first on Russia and then on 3 August on France. The next day Britain declared war on Germany as a result of the violation of the neutrality of Belgium.

For millions of young Germans, this meant a radical change in their lives. On 28 August the 20-year-old Rowehl was drafted into the Kaiser’s High Seas Fleet and sent for training as an officer. After initial training, he served until March 1915 on the battleship Westfalen and then on the old battleship Kaiser Karl der Grosse, a floating barracks and training ship in Wilhelmshaven. At the beginning of 1916 Rowehl was transferred to naval aviation and in March sent to I.Seeflieger Abteilung (1st Marine Aviation Division), base at Norderney at the western end of the island of the same name in the East Frisian Islands. On 10 June 1916 he received the rank of Lieutenant and on 21 October qualified as an observer.

In the same month Rowehl was transferred to Torpedo Staffel III, then based in Flensburg. Later he was transferred again to the Torpedo Staffel I and by 4 September 1917 had arrived with his unit at the naval air base at Zeebrugge in Belgium.

At 13.10 on 9 September 1917 three torpedo bombers, serial numbers ‘T995’, ‘T1211’ and ‘T1213’, took off. The crew of the last aircraft consisted of pilot Lieutenant Hubrich and observer Lieutenant Rowehl. Accompanied by three Hansa-Brandenburg S. 1 fighters, they went to search for British ships in the North Sea. About 14.50 the German pilots found six fishing vessels, which were accompanied by a destroyer, heading for the mouth of the Thames. The torpedo bombers attacked the last ship in the line, the 440 BRT Storm of Guernsey. One of the torpedoes missed, but the other two hit the target: one in the area of the boiler room, and the second in the aft hold. As a result, the ship sank immediately, and all the planes, despite the fire from the destroyer, suffered no damage and safely returned to base.

On 17 September, T-Staffel I moved to the Baltic and on the 24th arrived at the port of Vindau (now Ventspils in Latvia). It was to take part in Operation ‘Albion’, the beginning of which was scheduled for 29 September. The aim of the Germans was the capture of the islands of the Moonsund archipelago and the destruction of the Russian fleet in the Gulf of Riga, creating the conditions for a subsequent breakthrough into the Gulf of Finland and on to Petrograd (St. Petersburg).

Vice Admiral Erich Schmidt’s fleet included ten battleships, one battlecruiser, eight light cruisers, forty-seven destroyers, eleven torpedo boats, six submarines and ninety minesweepers. The landing force consisted of 24,600 men, 40 guns, 85 mortars and 225 machine guns. Air support was provided by nine airships and ninety-four aircraft. The Russian fleet opposing them consisted of two old battleships Slava and Grazdanin, three cruisers, thirty-six destroyers and torpedo boat, three gunboats, five minesweepers and three submarines. The garrison of the Moonsund Islands consisted of about 12,000 men, 64 field guns and 118 machine guns. The passages through the Straits were defended by minefields and sixteen shore batteries – a total of fifty-four guns ranging in calibre from 75mm to 305mm.

On 29 September, after the suppression of the shore batteries, the German fleet landed troops in the Bay of Tagalaht on Ösel (now Saaremaa, Estonia), the largest island of the Moonsund archipelago. On the same day German ships entered the Gulf of Riga. The Russians did not take any measures to strengthen the defence of the islands, and some admirals fled at the beginning of the German operation. The defence was actually led by the Bolshevik organizations in the Baltic fleet, elected by the Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Committee.

On 3 October, German troops occupied Ösel, the island of Moon (now Muhu, Estonia) two days later and the next day the island of Dago (now Hiiumaa, Estonia). During the fierce fighting, the Russians sank ten German destroyers and six minesweepers, and damaged three battleships, thirteen destroyers and torpedo boats. The German command refused to break into the Gulf of Finland and on 7 October withdrew its ships from the Gulf of Riga. The Russian Navy had lost the battleship Slava and one destroyer, and the battleship Grazdanin, one cruiser, three destroyers and two gunboats had been damaged. After the end of Operation ‘Albion’, T-Staffel I stayed in Libau for a month. It then set off back to Flanders and arrived at its former base in Zeebrugge on 12 November.

At 10.50 on 27 November 1917 Lieutenant Rowehl with his friend Lieutenant Hubrich as pilot took to the air in Brandenburg C W. Nr. 1015 on a routine training flight. But twenty minutes after take-off the plane suddenly crashed. Hubrich was not hurt, but Rowehl was seriously injured and was sent to hospital. According to the official report, Hubrich was responsible for the crash, having ‘dangerously piloted the plane and performed a prohibited manoeuvre’.

After his recovery, Lieutenant Rowehl returned to T-Staffel I. Then he commanded Seeflugstation Flandern III (3rd Naval Air Station Flanders) for some time, and then on August 16, 1918 he was appointed instructor at the aviation school for observers, located in the city of Putzig, on the shore of Danzig Bay.

The Great War ended with the defeat of Germany and its allies – Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey. On the night of 4 October 1918, the German government announced its readiness to sign the surrender. Then a revolution broke out in the country exhausted by war, which began on 3 November with the rebellion of the sailors of the Kaiser’s fleet in Kiel. The incompetent Wilhelm II fled to Holland, a fierce struggle for power began. Lieutenant Rowehl officially retired from military service on 31 December 1918.

What he did during the following years is unknown. But by the 1930s, Theodor Rowehl was already a Flugkäpitan in the Hansa-Luftbild airline. This was an innovator in new methods of aerial photography, as well as in the commercial use of photogrammetry. Its predecessor – Aero Lloyd Luftbild GmbH – was founded in 1923 as a branch of the transport airline ‘Deutsche Aero Lloyd’. Then it merged with the transport airline ‘Junkers Luftverkehr AG’, resulting in the formation of the airline Deutsche Lufthansa. After that, Aero Lloyd Luftbild GmbH was renamed Hansa-Luftbild. Its director was Wilhelm Gessner, who held the post until his death in 1945.

After learning that Poland was building new defences on the border with Germany, Rowehl carried out several flights over the border area. It is not known exactly who ordered him to perform this task. In the 1920s, large German business concerns, such as Siemens, created their own intelligence services. Industrialist and ‘newspaper king’ Alfred Hugenberg funded ‘Germans for overseas service’, and a few steel enterprises – organization ‘Nunzia’. All of them were mainly engaged in industrial espionage abroad, but had secret connections with the Abwehr. It is possible to assume that Hansa-Luftbild was somehow connected with ‘Nunzia’.

Photos of Polish fortifications taken by Rowehl ‘miraculously’ reached the head of Abwehr Oberst von Bredow. He appreciated the possibilities of aerial photography, realizing that it was the most advanced method of technical intelligence. Von Bredow hired Rowehl to work in his organization.

Officially, Rowehl remained a pilot with Hansa-Luftbild, but he actually worked for German military intelligence. The Abwehr financed the continuation of reconnaissance flights over Polish territory. Rowehl was provided with a Ju W34be/b3e aircraft, number D-1119, which was specially equipped for high-altitude flights and fitted with a British Bristol Jupiter VII engine. In this plane, on 26 May 1929 the test pilot Wilhelm Neuenhofen (later famous for the first flight of the prototype Ju 87V1 on 17 September 1935) rose to a height of 12,739m (41,795ft), setting a world altitude record. It was officially registered by the International Aviation Federation. Now this record-breaking plane was to be used for secret missions.

Soon Rowehl was joined by several other pilots from Hansa-Luftbild. A suspiciously sharp increase in the number of incidents, when usually efficient German pilots ‘got lost’ and ‘accidentally’ found themselves in Polish airspace, caused Polish counterintelligence to suspect that these ‘civilian’ aircraft were actually engaged in espionage. But they had no proof.

After the coming to power of the Nazis, who dreamed of revenge for the defeat in the Great War of 1914–18, the work of German intelligence was given fresh impetus. Already by the end of 1933, Theodor Rowehl had officially returned to military service and been appointed head of the photographic department of the headquarters of Luftkries VI (6th Air District). His office was in Kiel. The ostensibly ‘civil’ airline Hansa-Luftbild began to expand its areas of operation. Reconnaissance aircraft in civilian livery began flying over Czechoslovakia, France and Belgium. In 1934, Rowehl carried out several flights over the Soviet Union, photographing the naval bases at Kronstadt, Leningrad, Pskov and Minsk. This information allowed the Germans to obtain accurate information about the composition of the Russian fleet in the Baltic and the implementation of the programme of construction of new ships and submarines.

In the autumn of 1934 there was a clash between the head of the Reichswehr General Werner von Blomberg and the chief of the Abwehr Konrad Patzig. Blomberg learned about the secret air reconnaissance missions and accused Patzig of ‘provoking war’ and threatening the Führer’s ‘peaceful intentions’. Patzig was on bad terms with the Nazis’ secret police (Geheime Staatpolizei – Gestapo), and it seems that the Gestapo provided information to Blomberg about the ‘provocative’ work of the Abwehr. Patzig was fired, and on 2 January 1935 Wilhelm Canaris was made the chief of the Abwehr.

Canaris was very much interested in the continuation of the secret missions, and he decided to enlist the support of the Reich Minister of Aviation Hermann Göring. The chief of the Abwehr showed the narcissistic and vain companion of Hitler the results of Hansa-Luftbild’s flights (photos of fortifications in France, Poland and Russia). Göring liked this opportunity to become a provider of strategic intelligence to the Führer. On 1 March 1935 Germany announced the creation of the air force – the Luftwaffe. On the same day Theodor Rowehl was enrolled in it at the rank of Hauptmann. Göring personally instructed him to create the first squadron for secret missions – Fliegerstaffel z.b.V. It was formed at the Staaken airfield near Berlin. The squadron was composed of five planes with crews from Deutsche Lufthansa. The deputy commander of the squadron was an experienced navigator, Siegfried Knemeyer, whom Rowehl had personally appointed. Fliegerstaffel z.b.V. received its orders from the 5th Department of the Luftwaffe General Staff and Abwehr-I. Photos taken during missions were first studied by representatives of military intelligence, then they were sent to Luftwaffe Intelligence HQ in Zossen.

Secret missions were carried out under the cover of Deutsche Lufthansa. Disguised as airliners, Fliegerstaffel z.b.V planes ‘accidentally’ strayed from their routes and performed their secret missions. In 1936–7 the squadron was given three passenger He 111s. They were the prototype He 111V2 W. Nr. 715 ‘D-ALIX’ ‘Rostock’, He 111V4 W. Nr. 1968 ‘D-AHAO’ ‘Dresden’ and He 111C-03 W. Nr. 1830 ‘D-AXAV’ ‘Köln’. They wore Deutsche Lufthansa livery and carried concealed cameras on board. In 1937 the Abwehr carried out such a secret mission over Great Britain. For most of this time there was only one serious incident that could have lead to the disclosure of the programme. He 111V2 W. Nr. 715 ‘D-ALIX’ crashed in Soviet territory during a flight to the Caucasus. The Russians studied the wreckage and guessed the true purpose of the aircraft, but did not protest too much.

During the Sudetenland crisis, information obtained during secret missions was employed by the Germans for the first time. There were 3.3 million ethnic Germans in the Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia who complained of harassment and discrimination by the Czech government. In February 1938, the Führer delivered a speech in the Reichstag, during which he called upon the world ‘to pay attention to the terrible living conditions of our German brothers in Czechoslovakia’. Fooled by the German Chancellor, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French President Edward Daladier made concessions. They naively hoped that the Czech territories would ‘pacify’ Germany and help to avoid a new war in Europe. A meeting of Hitler, Mussolini, Daladier and Chamberlain in Munich on 29 September reached an agreement on the dismemberment of the territory of Czechoslovakia. On the night of 30 September, the British and French actually forced the Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš to accept a German ultimatum.

The next day, the text of the Munich agreement was signed. Between 1 and 10 October 1938 the Sudetenland was transferred to Germany. The Wehrmacht already had a plan to invade Czechoslovakia. At the disposal of the German staff were detailed maps of the Czech border fortifications, airfields, bridges and armaments factories.

The leadership of the Luftwaffe and Abwehr praised the activities of Rowehl. In November 1938 he was promoted to Oberstleutnant. In January 1939, the Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe (Commander-in-Chief Luftwaffe) formed Aufklaerergruppe Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe (Aufkl.Gr.Ob.d.L.), which was informally known as ‘Group Rowehl’. It was based at Werder airport near Potsdam.

Initially the group consisted of two squadrons, equipped with He 111s, Do 17s and Bf 110s. Among them were seven machines specially built for the Rowehl Group. Four Do 17Rs (R-l – R-4) were upgraded versions of the Do 17M, and three Do 17S (SYS 3) were upgraded versions of the Do 17Z, all equipped with DB 601 engines. During 1939 Aufkl.Gr.Ob.d.L. tested prototypes of various aircraft, which were supposed to be used for aerial reconnaissance. Among them were several Do 215s and one Do 217A-0.

In August 1939 at Oranienburg airport the Versuchsstelle fur Hohenfluge (VfH – Experimental Station for High-Altitude Flights) was formed, which was also subordinated to Oberstleutnant Rowehl. Personnel were recruited from the Hansa-Luftbild state airline. This company became part of the Luftwaffe, but at the same time formally remained a civil enterprise.

The VfH was composed of three staffel. Only the 1st was directly engaged in research into high-altitude flights and aerial reconnaissance. The 2nd carried out comprehensive tests on foreign aircraft, while the 3rd was responsible for secret flights to insert agents, singly or in groups, into other countries.

The First Secret Missions over Great Britain

In the mid-1930s, the German high command was dominated by the view that the main threat to the formation and expansion of the ‘Thousand-Year Reich’ was France. Furthermore, Hitler considered Britain a potential ally. However, the ubiquitous Abwehr stretched its secret tentacles in the direction of England. In 1936, the National Security Division of Military Intelligence (MI5) had exposed and arrested the Abwehr-I agent Lieutenant Gortz. He was sentenced to four years in prison. After that, the Führer ordered a halt to all espionage activity in England. But then he relented and in early 1937 this work was resumed. By September 1939, Abwehr-I had 253 agents in British territory.

But the possibilities of intelligence were limited, and for a long time Hitler refused to authorize reconnaissance flights over the UK. But both the Luftwaffe and Abwehr made illegal attempts to act in this area. He 111s of Fliegerstaffel z.b.V., under the guise of civilian Lufthansa airliners, photographed ports on the south and east coast of England, the London docks and other military facilities.

Of particular interest to the Germans was the British work on radio direction-finding, which later became known as radar. In Germany, very little was known about this project. The Abwehr received important information from an agent in England, who reported the construction of facilities along the entire south and east coast (from the Isle of Wight to the Orkneys), which the agent himself called ‘UKV-radio stations’. The same source said that similar stations were already operating in Suffolk, Essex and Kent, which could easily be identified by the characteristic steel or wooden towers with antennas. This was information of exceptional importance. The Germans knew that the British had been building radar stations since 1938.

Radar reconnaissance was entrusted to the Rowehl Group. Between May and August 1939, it made a series of secret flights across the North Sea to the east coast of England. As well as a few He 111s, the passenger airship LZ-130 Graf Zeppelin II was used, ostensibly undertaking ‘test flights’.

It was the world’s largest rigid airship, which made its first flight on 14 September 1938. It had a length of 245m and a volume of 199,981m3. The airship was driven by four Mercedes-Benz diesel engines with a capacity of 1200l/s. On board the Graf Zeppelin II were experienced observers, including Siegfried Knemeyer of Aufkl.Gr.Ob.d.L. The purpose of these missions was to determine the strength of the electromagnetic field created by the British radio direction-finders, and their location. But the tools used were extremely primitive. One of these ‘special means’ was the ‘tourist wagon’ – a small gondola that could accommodate one person. When the airship was hiding in the clouds or flying over them, the gondola was lowered on a cable down to be able to observe. The length of the cable reached 800m, but when released to its maximum length. The gondola carried away far to the side. A telephone wire was attached to the cable, through which the observer maintained constant communication with the crew of the airship.

During these reconnaissance flights, the LZ-130 managed to intercept and record many different radio signals, which, the Germans assumed, were emitted by the latest English radio direction-finders. Photographs were taken of all radio towers of unknown purpose. All the data was immediately sent to Generalmajor Wolfgang Martini, chief of Luftwaffe communications service. He forwarded them to his specialists who were engaged in work in the field of radar.

After processing and analysing all the recorded signals and photographs, the Germans concluded that British research in this area was lagging far behind the Germans. But in reality, this hasty conclusion was a mistake. The British from the very beginning were aware of the purpose of the airship’s ‘test flights’. They deceived the Germans, using old models of their radio direction-finder to track the Zeppelin.

In August 1939, international tensions in Europe increased rapidly. Anglo-Franco-Soviet negotiations on a military convention, held that summer in Moscow, did not yield results. In mid-August, the British press was already reporting that a new war would begin before the end of the summer. On 23 August it became known that the Soviet Union had signed a treaty of friendship and non-aggression with Germany. ‘The ten-year term of the Treaty, established by article VI, indicates that both parties are striving to consolidate peaceful relations between the countries for a long period of time,’ stated the Russian newspaper Pravda, the main organ of the Communist Party.

The conclusion of the Treaty between the USSR and Germany is an obvious fact of international importance, because the Treaty is an instrument of peace. It will not only strengthen good relations between the USSR and Germany, but will also serve to consolidate peace. Friendship of the peoples of the USSR and Germany, driven to a standstill by the enemies of Germany and the USSR will enter an era of prosperity.

Soviet propaganda claimed that the signing of the treaty (the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) would prevent war. The German press also rejoiced. Hitler said that in the great war of 1914–18, Russia and Germany had fought and become ‘victims’. ‘There will be no repetition of this,’ the Führer asserted.

But for Western Europe, this news was a real diplomatic bombshell. It was clear to everyone that the treaty opened the way to Poland for the Third Reich. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain immediately informed Adolf Hitler that the United Kingdom would not hesitate to fulfil its obligations under the mutual assistance agreement with Poland.

In this situation, OKW asked Luftwaffe to begin reconnaissance flights over British territory, as well as to conduct a ‘preliminary exploration’ of the main base of the British fleet at Scapa Flow. For such missions the long-range four-engined Fw 200 aircraft was best suited. At the end of August 1939 Deutsche Lufthansa transferred three such aircraft to the VfH: Fw 200V10 W. Nr.0001 ‘D-ASHH’, Fw 200V2 W. Nr.2484 ‘D-AETA’ and Fw 200A-03 W. Nr.2895 ‘D-AMHC’. First, the aircraft arrived at the Luftwaffe Rechlin flight test centre, which was 44km south-west of Neubrandenburg. There they were re-equipped with two Reihebild Rb50/30 cameras. Later, the aircraft were additionally fitted with defensive armament consisting of five machine guns.

On 29 August, the aircraft from the Rowehl group conducted aerial photography of objectives in southern England. At 13.41 local time a spy plane was noticed at high altitude above the town of Yate, 12km northeast of Bristol. Then he passed over Cardiff, then over the town of Barry, located 11km south-west of it, then turned to the south-east and, passing over Portland, disappeared over the English Channel.

But events evolved rapidly. On the morning of 1 September, Nazi Germany attacked Poland and the activities of the Abwehr, Rowehl and the Luftwaffe began a new phase …

New Equipment for Secret Missions

On 5 September 1939, a plane from the 1st Staffel Aufkl.Gr.Ob.d.L. flew over the British naval base at Scapa Flow. Then, on 21 and 22 September, scouts from the same group appeared over Northern France, conducting aerial photography of the airfields at Ruvre and Frescati, located near the city of Metz, and at Thionville. At the same time, Rowehl’s pilots began high-altitude flights over Belgium and the Netherlands, despite the fact that these countries had declared their neutrality. As a result, by the end of September, Luftwaffe command had complete information about the defensive precautions of these countries, including the location of air defence forces and military airfields.

Once war had been declared, the number of objectives for aerial photography grew rapidly. Soon the Luftwaffe recognized the urgent need to increase the Rowehl Group. On 24 September 1939 3.(F)/Aufkl. Gr.Ob.d.L was formed from 8.(F)/LG2 at the Jüterbog-Damm airfield (62km south-east of Berlin) and on 24 October 4.(F)/Aufkl.Gr.Ob.d.L was formed from 2(F)./Aufkl.Gr.121 at the Prenzlau airfield (44km south-west of Neubrandenburg) from the cr.

From autumn 1939, the Rowehl Group operated from three airfields. 2nd Staffel under Oberleutnant Karl-Edmund Gartenfeld remained in Oranienburg, which became the main base of the group. 1st and 3rd Staffel made reconnaissance flights over France from Fritzlar airfield, l25km south-west of Kassel. Flights over British territory were carried out from Ever airfield.

Aufkl.Gr.Ob.d.L. was an elite aviation unit that carried out secret strategic missions. Therefore, it received new aircraft as a priority. In November the 3./Aufkl.Gr. Ob.d.L. received two prototypes of the recently appeared Junkers Ju 88 – V13 W. Nr. 880005 ‘GU+AH’ and V14 W. Nr. 880006 ‘D+APSF’ with the Jumo engines. Rowehl pilots had to conduct operational flights to test their suitability as scouts. After installing two RB 50/30 vertical cameras, which allowed photography from heights up to 8,500m (28,000ft), and two RB 20/30 inclined cameras, which took photos from heights below 2,000m (6,500ft), they were given the designation Ju 88A-1/E. Later, the Rowehl group received three more used Ju 88s: V23 WNr.880023 ‘NK+AO’, V24 W. Nr. 880024 ‘D-ASGQ’ (‘NK+AP’) and V28 W. Nr. 880028 ‘GB+ND’. Initially, they kept the factory designations, then in the process of operations the aircraft received the codes Aufkl. Gr.Ob.d.L. (‘T5’) on the fuselage.

In early 1940, the 1st and 3rd Staffels of Aufkl.Gr.Ob.d.L. were equipped with Do 215B aircraft. This was a modification of the Do 17Z bomber, originally intended for export to Sweden, Hungary, Yugoslavia and even the Soviet Union. The new aircraft was almost identical to its predecessor. The new designation was invented specifically for export aircraft. One of the serial Do 17Z-0, which had a civil code ‘D-AIIB’, was renamed the Do 215V1 and was used for demonstration and advertising flights. Afterwards the aircraft was fitted with DB601A engines with a capacity of 1075 l/s. In this version, thirteen Do 215s were built for sale to Sweden, but in early 1940 the contract was terminated. All the machines were urgently altered to long-range scouts. In January–February, they came in a group to Rowehl. In March 1940, Dornier produced a modification of the Do 215B-4, specially designed for long-range intelligence-gathering and by May 1940 there were already twenty-four aircraft of this type in Aufkl.Gr.Ob.d.L.

Do 215s were equipped with three cameras: one was intended to shoot individual images, and the other two, mounted on the sides of the fuselage, for panoramic views. The viewing angles of the lenses of the last two cameras were set at 30° or 60°, depending on what had to be increased – the accuracy of photography (using overlapping frames) or its area.

At the beginning of 1940, Aufkl.Gr.Ob.d.L received two exotic four-engined aircraft, the Blohm und Voss BV 142. They were built at the aircraft factory in Hamburg on the basis of the large Ha 139 seaplane. The alteration was very simple – instead of floats a conventional wheeled undercarriage was fitted and the regular engines were replaced with more powerful BMW 132Hs. The first prototype – Ha-142Vl ‘D-AHFB’ – took to the skies in October 1938. Soon three more aircraft were put into operation. Initially, these machines were intended for postal flights over the North Atlantic. After the rejection of the designation ‘Ha’ all ‘Hamburgs’ were renamed BV 142s.

The war changed the use of these aircraft, like many others. Prototypes V3 and V4 were converted into transports and soon used in the Norwegian campaign to ferry troops. Prototypes V1 and V2 became long-range reconnaissance aircraft. They received a fully-glazed nose and a defensive armament of five 7.92mm MG 15 machine guns. After that, both machines were transferred to 2.(F)/Aufkl.Gr.Ob.d.L., where they performed reconnaissance flights over England. Sometimes BV 142s were used for the delivery of agents.

BV 142s V2 ‘T 5+B’ and V1 ‘T5+CB’ were used by the Rowehl Group during that year. These aircraft had a long range, but had significant drawbacks. Their maximum speed was only 375km/h. There was no communication between the front and separate rear fuselage, therefore the tail gunner was completely isolated from the rest of the crew. In addition, their use was badly affected by the lack of spare parts. In 1941 all four of the BV 142s were decommissioned.

Group Rowehl played a major role in the preparations for the Nazi invasion of Denmark and Norway. This operation was codenamed Weserübung (‘Weser Exercise’). When, in early 1940, Hitler decided to seize Norway, it suddenly became clear that OKW did not have up-to-date intelligence information that was necessary for the planning of the invasion. The time for planning the operation was extremely limited, so it was necessary to act quickly and decisively.

Oberstleutnant Theodor Rowehl was ordered to immediately conduct aerial photography of the entire southern coast of Norway from Oslo to Bergen, as well as Trondheim fjord and the port of Narvik in the north of the country. Of particular interest were the coastal fortifications and batteries in the Bay of Bohus and the airfields around Oslo. To fly the long distances involved Aufkl.Gr.Ob.d.L got a new Fw 200C-1, ‘BS+AH’. The pilot was Cornelius Noell, one of the best Luftwaffe reconnaissance pilots, and his navigator was Siegfried Knemeyer.

Cornelius Noell

It was decided to start the mission from the airfield at Königsberg in East Prussia. This was done because in the case of a take-off from Northern Germany, the ‘illegal’ scout risked being spotted by British warships patrolling the North Sea. After leaving Königsberg, the Condor flew the first part of its route over the neutral waters of the Baltic, gradually gaining altitude. To shorten their journey, Noel and Knemeyer flew over neutral Sweden. Civilian Fw 200s from Deutsche Lufthansa frequently flew over Sweden (route Berlin–Malmö–Stockholm–Oslo–Copenhagen–Berlin), therefore, the Condor’s appearance caused no alarm.

In addition to ‘BS+AH’, other Aufkl.Gr.Ob.d.L aircraft, including the BV 142s, carried out reconnaissance missions over Oslo, Kristiansand, Stavanger, Bergen and Trondheim. As a result, by mid-March 1940, OKW had detailed aerial photographs of all strategically important areas of Norway. Rowehl Group had once again proved its importance. On 9 April 1940 Weserübung began.

For the Freedom of Northern Ireland!

The influence of aviation on intelligence activities was not limited to photographing the territory of other states. The use of aircraft greatly simplified the problem of delivery of agents and saboteurs. It was a real revolution in the work of the secret services! Previously agents were able to enter the territory of other countries only by land or by sea. To carry out this mission, it was necessary to cross the border or the front line unnoticed, then make a long and risky journey through a hostile country. Communication with agents operating in another state was also difficult, not to mention how to get them out. With the advent of aircraft with long range and large capacity, this problem was solved. Now agents could be secretly delivered to any reachable point, either dropping by parachute or being landed directly on the ground. Subsequently the plane could deliver equipment and money to them, and bring them back after the mission. In the Third Reich, the organizer of this activity was Theodor Rowehl and his subordinate units.

Back in the late 1930s, Abwehr had established preliminary contacts with the Ireland Republican Army (IRA), an illegal nationalist organization fighting for the annexation of Northern Ireland to the Irish Free State and complete independence from the UK. These took place in Maidstone Prison where a few leaders of the IRA were serving their sentences alongside the German Lieutenant Gortz, who had been sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for espionage.

In February 1939, the Abwehr-I agent Oskar Pfaus met with the ‘Army Executive Board’ of the IRA. With his help, in the autumn, after the outbreak of war, radio communication was established between German intelligence and the IRA. In February 1940, the submarine U-37 (Korvettenkapitän Werner Hartmann) delivered a German agent, Ernst Weber-Drohl, to Donegal Bay on the west coast of Ireland to assess the possibilities of cooperation with the IRA. But during the landing, he dropped his radio into the water and was unable to communicate with his superiors. By April, Weber-Drohl had been arrested by MI5 and quickly agreed to work for the British, becoming a double agent.

British counterintelligence acted very energetically and effectively. By the beginning of 1940, almost all Abwehr agents in the UK, who were controlled by Hauptmann Herbert Wichmann, were working for the British. Thirty-nine spies were arrested and turned. One of the most valuable agents – the Welshman Alfred Owens, who had the Abwehr code name ‘Johnny – had actually been working for MI5 since the late 1930s. The British gave him the code name ‘Snow’ and, using his radio transmitter, supplied the Germans with misinformation.

In order to land their agents as close as possible to their destination, Abwehr-I used the aircraft of the 2nd Staffel of Aufkl.Gr.Ob.d.L. Its commander was Oberleutnant Karl-Edmund Gartenfeld, who was considered an expert in these delicate matters. He was born on 27 July 1899 in Aachen and began his military career during the Great War. After flight training, he, like Rowehl, served in naval aviation. After the surrender of Germany, he was demobilized and subsequently worked for Deutsche Lufthansa. In 1936, Karl-Edmund Gartenfeld joined the Luftwaffe and was assigned to Fliegerstaffel z.b.V., and then in 1939 was appointed commander of the newly-formed 2.(F)/Aufkl.Gr.Ob.d.L.

Secret missions to drop agents into enemy or neutral countries required flying in unfavourable conditions, i.e. at night and with heavy cloud cover. He 111, BV 142 and Fw 200 aircraft were commonly used for these missions. The skill of the pilots and navigators of the Gartenfeld squadron allowed airdrops of agents within no more than 8km of the target area. But on some occasions they made significant navigational errors.

On the night of 6 May 1940 Oberleutnant Gartenfeld was assigned to deliver the next Abwehr agent to Ireland, in the Dublin area. The agent was again Lieutenant Gortz, who had served his sentence in an English prison, returned to Germany and ‘again took up his old ways’. Now he was to create an illegal organization for sabotage and sabotage in Ireland, controlled by Abwehr and independent from the unreliable IRA. The Germans didn’t trust the rebels very much because they had a lot of internal conflicts.

The German navigator made a mistake, and the plane crossed the east coast of Ireland about 80km north of Dublin. Gartenfeld mistook the lights of the port of Dundalk to his left for the lights of the Irish capital and he continued his flight into the depths of ‘neutral Ireland’. As a result, when Gortz parachuted to the ground, in the morning he realized with horror that he was in Armagh in Northern Ireland, that is, on British soil. With great difficulty, the agent was able to get to Dublin, where he met with the chief of staff of IRA Stephen Hayes. But his mission in Ireland ended in failure. Having taken all the money Gortz had with him, the IRA actually gave him up to the authorities. In November 1940, the agent was arrested and imprisoned, where he was to be repatriated to Germany. A few months later, fearing that the Irish authorities wanted to hand him over to the British, Gortz committed suicide.

In early 1940, Abwehr-II, in charge of the organization of subversion and sabotage, created the first special unit for sabotage and reconnaissance operations behind enemy lines. In order to maintain secrecy, it received the name Lehr und Bau Bataillon z.b.V. 800 (800th Special Purpose Training and Construction Battalion) and was based in the city of Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland). The battalion’s airborne training was held at the airfield in Oranienburg, where 2.(F)/Ob.d.L. under Karl-Edmund Gartenfeld was based. Its personnel initially acted as instructors and later delivered their former cadets to their destinations.

On 28 May 1940 everything seemed normal. A group of Abwehr agents had gone up in a single-engined Junkers W.34, piloted by Gartenfeld himself, for practice parachute jumps. Everything was going fine until it was the turn of Leutnant Loebner. Due to the excitement he pulled the ripcord prematurely, and his parachute caught on the tail of the aircraft. This was a critical situation. Gartenfeld could not land on the runway with Loebner caught on the tail, so he decided to set the plane down in water. He so carefully planted his Ju W.34 on the surface of the Teltow canal, passing through the southern part of Berlin that Loebner escaped with only a slight concussion. For his actions, on 25 July Oberleutnant Karl-Edmund Gartenfeld was awarded the Rettungsmedallie (Lifesaving Medal).

The Abwehr continued it attempts to play the ‘Irish card’. If nothing else, Ireland seemed to the Germans a convenient ‘back door’ for dropping off their agents into the UK. In early May, German intelligence organized a visit from the neutral United States to Germany of two famous Irish dissidents – the former chief of staff of the IRA Sean Russell and Frank Ryan. The Germans hoped that these two could make the IRA play a more active role in sabotage and subversion in Britain. The operation to deliver them to Ireland was codenamed ‘Taube’ (‘Dove’). In early August, Russell and Ryan boarded the submarine U-65 (Korvettenkapitän Hans-Geritt von Stockhausen), which was to land them on their home coast. However, the operation failed before it began. During the voyage Russell suddenly died of a perforated gastric ulcer, and the submarine returned when it was only half-way to Ireland. In June an aircraft of 2.(F)/Ob.d.L. delivered a new agent, Wilhelm Preetz, to Ireland, but he was soon arrested.

The intelligence services of the Third Reich sometimes formulated quite adventurous plans involving Ireland. One such example was Operation ‘Kathleen’. The Germans knew that the Irish government was afraid that Britain might invade their territory to seize it and use the most important ports and airfields for their own purposes. Therefore, the idea arose to offer the Irish ‘help’ to protect themselves from possible aggression by ‘the peaceful’ landing of German troops in Ireland. It was planned that German ships with soldiers on board would leave the French Atlantic ports and then come to Ireland from the west disguised as ships under the Irish flags coming from the United States. In Oranienburg the 1st Special Unit SS was formed for this mission, whose members, in order to disguise its true purpose, were allegedly preparing for a raid on the Suez Canal.

The plan for Operation ‘Kathleen’ was presented to Reich Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop, who transmitted a proposal to the Irish Prime Minister, Eamonn De Valera. The government of Ireland initially expressed interest in the ‘noble care’ of the Germans, but after a long discussion on 17 December 1940 gave a negative answer. The reason for the refusal lay in the fact that, no less than the British themselves, the Irish government was afraid of strengthening the radical IRA!

After a successful campaign in Western Europe in May–June 1940 and the surrender of France, Hitler hoped that England would make a peace offer itself. He tried to make it clear that he was ready to negotiate and even compromise. But Prime Minister Winston Churchill was not going to stop the war and make peace with the Nazis. In response to Churchill’s ‘stubbornness’, on 16 July the ‘offended’ Führer signed Operational Directive No. 16, which stated the need to prepare a landing operation for the occupation of England. At the same time, the deadline for its start was set for mid-September.’

OKW had developed a plan for this operation under the code name ‘Seelowe’ (‘Sealion’). Twenty-five Wehrmacht divisions were to cross the English Channel, land between Dover and Portsmouth and then move on to attack London. But German strategists were faced with a shortage of tactical intelligence about the forces and means at the disposal of the British. Therefore, the Abwehr was given the task to fill this deficit. This could only be done by sending a large number of new agents to England. Operation ‘Lena’, as the training and insertion of these agents was code-named, received the highest priority. In practice, this meant that preparation of agents was carried out hurriedly at the most basic level. Many of them, recruited from countries occupied by the Third Reich, spoke little English. But the Abwehr did not attach much importance to this, because they believed that the ‘lifetime’ of such agents before the invasion would be short.

These experts were right, but they had no idea quite how short their agents’ ‘lifetimes’ would actually be. Failures plagued Operation ‘Lena’ from the very beginning. On 3 September, several agents were dropped by parachute from a 2./Aufkl.Gr.Ob.d.L. aircraft, and almost simultaneously another group of four Dutch agents landed on the Kent coast from a fishing boat. Less than 36 hours after disembarkation, they were all arrested by the British. In December, three of the Dutchmen who refused to cooperate with MI5 were executed as saboteurs.

Late in the evening of 5 September another He 111 from Gartenfeld’s staffel took off from the airfield at Chartres in France. On board was agent No. 3719 – Gösta Caroli – who had a Swedish passport, a British identity card and a German radio set. He landed by parachute west of Northampton. Three days later Caroli was arrested and agreed to work for the British. He received the MI5 alias ‘Summer’ and until the end of the year regularly passed ‘information’ to the Abwehr, which he received from the British, but Caroli tried to escape from the safe house where MI5 kept him, but was caught and remained in prison until the end of the war.

On the night of 19 September, agent No. 3725 – Wulf Schmidt – parachuted from an He 111 piloted by Hauptmann Gartenfeld. He landed near the village of Willingham, 13km north-west of Cambridge. He was arrested within the first day, and he also quickly agreed to cooperate with the British. Schmidt received the alias ‘Tate’. Thanks to the ‘help’ of MI5 he was considered by the Abwehr to be one of their most valuable agents in the UK! ‘Tate’s’ merits were appreciated by both sides: the Germans awarded him the Iron Cross, and the British gave him British citizenship after the war!

At the end of September, Abwehr began to employ other Luftwaffe units for the delivery of agents. On the night of 30 September, an He 115 seaplane from Ku.Fl.Gr.906 took off from Sula in Norway. It brought three agents to the coast of Northern Scotland, two men and one woman. In a rubber dinghy they reached the shore near the town of Banff. The landing went unnoticed, but despite this, the whole group was soon caught. This happened because the woman – Vera de Witte – was actually already a double agent working for MI5. Two other agents – Theodor Druge and the Swiss Werner Waelti – were executed in 1941 after refusing to cooperate with British Intelligence. On 25 October, another group of three Abwehr agents were landed on the coast of the Moray Firth, near the city of Nairn, again from an He 115. It included the German Otto Joost and two Norwegians – Gunnar Edvardssen and Legwald Lund. Their mission was also ‘impossible’.

The stories of Abwehr agents who were delivered to the UK by sea and air differed only in dates and minor details. According to British sources, all of them were identified and arrested. Some spies were sentenced to death, others to prison, but most were employed as double agents. However, there is evidence that several agents had managed to evade the watchful eye of MI5.

So, at the end of October near the town of Amersham (20km north-west of London), the Dutch agent Jan Willen ter Baak was dropped from a 2.(F)/Ob.d.L. aircraft. His parachute was found in a deserted area by the British on 3 November, but they couldn’t find the agent. Baak regularly made radio contact with the Abwehr-I sub-group ‘Hamburg’, in charge of intelligence in England. On 1 April 1941 the agent was found in one of the bomb shelters in Cambridge with a bullet in the head. According to the official version, he committed suicide. But now we can say that it was not so. The Dutchman was a double agent, but he did not work for MI5, but for Soviet intelligence. Probably one of the parties just punished Jan Willen ter Baak for the betrayal. Whether he was killed by Russians or Germans is still unknown!

On the night of 15 November another Do 217 from the Rowehl Group was over the south of England. On board, in addition to the crew – Oberleutnant Siegfried Knemeyer and Leutnant Rhunke – were two Abwehr agents and Hauptmann Gartenfeld. He had to control the delivery. Nothing is known about the tasks of the agents, but two circumstances pointed to their particular importance. First, the plane had an ‘extra’ passenger – the commander of 2.(F)/Aufkl.Gr.Ob.d.L., which was very unusual. Second, the night chosen for the drop was the night when the Luftwaffe bombers made the infamous massive raid on Coventry, and the British air defences couldn’t track a single plane. Knemeyer later recalled: ‘Everything over southern England was illuminated by searchlights looking for our bombers. Near Bristol we encountered heavy anti-aircraft fire and for a long time were in searchlights.’ However, the Do 217 avoided being hit and delivered the first agent – a Norwegian – to Birmingham. The second – a student from South Africa – was dropped in the Dartmoor area. To date, there is no evidence that the British were able to detect them.

Operation ‘Seelowe’, scheduled for mid-September, never began. On 13 September, Hitler, taking into account the results of the air campaign against England conducted by the Luftwaffe, ordered it to be postponed until the end of the month. Then, in October, it became clear that Göring would not be able to fulfil his boast to destroy the RAF and ensure Luftwaffe’s complete air supremacy over the English Channel and southern England. The date of the beginning of the operation was postponed several times until on 9 January 1941 Hitler finally gave the order to cancel all preparations.

From mid-October, the preparations for ‘Seelowe’ was in fact only a screen and a cover for another military operation long conceived by Hitler. This was the plan ‘Fritz’, which soon received a new name – Operation ‘Barbarossa’. Under this name it went down in history. It was a plan for an attack on Russia …

Gradually, the Abwehr curtailed its operation for the large-scale delivery of agents to the UK. This was facilitated not only by the success of MI5, but, by the end of 1940, by increased RAF night fighter activity. Flights at low and medium altitudes over the English Channel and the North Sea had become extremely risky. As a result, in the first half of 1941 only two agents were dropped by parachute in England, Josef Jakobs on 31 January and Karl Richard Richter on 14 May. They were arrested, refused to cooperate with MI5 and were executed the same year.

In fact, for the special staffel of the Luftwaffe the operations to deliver agents to Ireland and England were really just exercises. The Germans did not know that the war would last for many years, and that they would have to deliver thousands of agents behind enemy lines!

The Abwehr and the RSHA against the NKVD, NKGB and ‘SMERSH’

‘SMERSH’ and counterintelligence personnel. Two of which are practicing choke holds.

The Russians, who had been waging total war since November 1941, immediately reacted to the increased activities of the Abwehr and the RSHA against the USSR. But this response was only to increase the number of agencies combatting German spies and saboteurs. On 14 April 1943, in addition to NKVD – the main Soviet security service – the People’s Commissariat of State Security (NKGB) was formed. The responsibilities of the new department included: intelligence against other countries, the fight against enemy intelligence, and the protection of the Communist authorities. Commissioner of State Security 1st Rank Vsevolod Merkulov was appointed its chief. He was a former officer of the Russian Imperial Army, who after the revolution joined the Bolsheviks. Merkulov worked for many years in the Soviet secret police and was a close associate of Lavrenti Beria – People’s Commissar (Minister) of Internal Affairs and Stalin’s chief executioner between 1938 and 1953.

However, Soviet paranoia did not end there. Stalin, who was terrified of German spies and doubted the quality of the work of his security services, continued to produce new, but equally ineffective, agencies. On 19 April 1943 the secret decree of the Soviet government on ‘The Basis of the Management of Special Departments of the NKVD’ established another special body of the Main Directorate of Counterintelligence to deal with agents and spies, ‘SMERSH’ (from smert schpionam – ‘death to spies’) of the people’s Commissariat of Defence of the USSR. Its chief was Commissioner of State Security 2nd Rank Viktor Abakumov. He began his career as a packer and worked for a long time in the Soviet trade system. However, soon his life changed dramatically and from knocking nails into wooden boxes, he moved on to knocking confessions out of all sorts of ‘spies’ and ‘traitors’. Joining the Communist Party, in 1932 Abakumov joined the OGPU (Main Political Administration) from where he went to work in the NKVD. But at first, his career in the secret police had gone badly. In 1934, Abakumov was discovered to have used the secret apartments of the NKVD to meet with his numerous mistresses. After that Abakumov was ‘exiled’ to work in the Main Directorate of Concentration Camps (GULAG). During the Great Terror of 1937–8 many vacancies were formed in the central office of the NKVD (most of Stalin’s executioners, responsible for the repression of millions of Soviet citizens, were also accused of treason and executed), after which Viktor Abakumov’s carreer abruptly took an upturn. The new chief of the NKVD, Lavrenti Beria, found in him a faithful companion and colleague. Beria also successfully combined the sadistic work of Stalin’s chief executioner with debauchery, using his post to flirt with numerous mistresses, preferring underage girls.

All these agencies (the NKVD, NKGB and SMERSH) did not have clearly defined areas of responsibility and, like the Abwehr and the RSHA, actively competed with each other. A consequence of strengthening the security services was even greater surveillance over the population. The Russian ‘leader’ Stalin, like all dictators, was very afraid of his own people, but he was also afraid of his own executioners. Therefore, he fully encouraged rivalry and enmity between them, thus ensuring his dominance and awareness of the tricks of the main executioners.

The Soviet security services sought to detain German agents ‘in hot pursuit’, that is, on the first day after landing. Every day of freedom increased chances of the saboteurs vanishing among the population, moving around the huge country. Rapid captures could be achieved only with the help of a properly-developed system of monitoring the terrain and airspace, and the rapid transmission of information. If the delivery of the next group remained unnoticed and its members could not be caught in the days that followed, some of the agents would manage to escape.

Next, we will give the most interesting examples of delivery of spies into the Soviet rear in 1943. Of course, the authors have information only about the German agents who were caught.

In January, in the Saratov region a group of soldiers who had undergone special training at the Breitenfurt intelligence school was neutralized. The members of the group, disguised as Soviet air force personnel, were to conduct reconnaissance of the aviation industry and energy facilities. Two radio sets, small arms, grenades, several sets of false documents and a large amount of money were captured with them. In the same region three months later, another specialized sabotage group was detained. Its participants had graduated from the Warsaw intelligence school and were assigned to collect information about the movement of military equipment by rail, paying special attention to the products of the Saratov aviation plant (where Yak-1 fighters were produced) and sabotage. From these two cases, the Russian security services concluded that German intelligence was showing great interest in aviation plant No. 292 in Saratov.

On 8 January a group of six Abwehr agents were delivered to the town of Novouzensk, 90km north-east of the Pallasovka railway station. They had a mission to monitor rail movements and to carry out sabotage. The next day one of the agents gave himself up to the local authorities and told them about his ‘colleagues’. The local istrebitelnij battalion conducted a mass round-up, during which all agents were arrested. Weapons, equipment and radio sets were seized.

It should also be noted that the German saboteurs had the indirect assistance of local thugs. In the midst of decisive battles on the Eastern Front, the social and criminal situation in the Volga region was difficult. The main focus of crime was the Stalingrad region. The ruined city and its environs were infested with criminals of all kinds, who armed themselves with weapons scavenged from the battlefields. In the first half of 1943 alone, in the Stalingrad region 18 gangs with a total of 916 members were eliminated, and more than 2,000 bandits and deserters were arrested, who had been responsible for terrorist acts, attacks on NKVD workers, soldiers and commanders of NKVD troops, and the looting of collective farms and state enterprises.

Another unexpected destabilizing factor was the German soldiers and their voluntary helpers (Ost Hilfswillige) trapped far behind Soviet lines without any help from the Abwehr or the SD. Although most of the soldiers of the German Sixth Army surrendered during the first days of February, some of them continued to hide out in Stalingrad and its suburbs in the following months. Despite regular raids, many of them managed to ‘live’ in the city for a long time, helped by the impassable rubble, piles of ruins and many surviving dugouts and shelters. In July 1943, six months after the surrender of Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus, a major operation carried out by the NKVD in the Stalingrad region resulted in the capture of a large number of German soldiers and officers and the usual criminals, from whom were confiscated almost 500 rifles, 25 machine guns, 14 assault rifles, 9 anti-tank guns and many other weapons. Some Wehrmacht soldiers and especially the Russian volunteers managed to avoid captivity by hiding in neighbouring regions. For example, in July, NKVD officers by chance arrested I.F. Shapkin, who previously served in the Wehrmacht (Sixth Army). He had lived for four months pretending to be deaf and dumb in the village of Ivanovka in the Saratov region.

In a letter of 17 June 1943 the Stalingrad regional office of the Communist Party announced to all the party organizations of the region that ‘the Enemy intensified its delivering to the Stalingrad region of parachutists, intelligence officers, radio operators, saboteurs and other agents for intelligence and subversive activities in our rear.’ In September, in the Ilovaysky district of the Stalingrad region, members of an enemy intelligence group voluntarily surrendered to the local authorities. The former saboteurs announced that another group that had been delivered together with them through the front line into the Balandinskaya district of the Saratov region also wanted to surrender.

Groups of agents were also delivered to neighbouring regions. The delivery of agents of different profiles to the neighbouring regions was actively carried out. In June, the istrebitelnij battalion of the Krasnoyarsk district in the Astrakhan region arrested five German agents who had been assigned to conduct reconnaissance of the movement of military units and equipment. During the arrest they seized machine guns, a radio set, maps and a large sum of Soviet money. In the same month in the Astrakhan region a group of five agents voluntarily handed over their weapons and reported another six-strong group near Lake Baskunchak. In October, in the vicinity of Astrakhan an intelligence group of five people was delivered, headed by a German military intelligence officer. They were to contact the bandits operating in the area. In addition, they were to collect intelligence on the deployment and movement of military units.

In June two agents landed near Penza oblast. In the morning, the drop of saboteurs from the plane was noticed by local residents and reported to the NKVD. Istrebitelnij battalions and militia officers were sent to the landing site. That morning a man in the uniform of a major of State Security entered the Kameshkirskijj District Office of the NKVD. He introduced himself to the duty officer as an employee of the ‘Regional Department’ and demanded a horse to search for parachutists. The attendant knew that the search was indeed underway. The arrival of such a senior figure of the ‘Regional Office’ in this backwater seemed suspicious to him. Came on foot all the way from Penza?! And only here, apparently tired after many kilometres of hiking, decided to continue the journey on horseback? This conversation also seemed suspicious to the duty officer. So he asked the major to wait, and then ran to fetch the militia.

In this episode, the police officer was taking a risk. If the stranger was indeed a major in State Security, it could have dangerous consequences. In the Soviet Union, ordinary citizens and rank-and-file militiamen were terrified of security personnel. The German intelligence services exploited this, putting agents in the frightening form of NKVD officers. On his arrest this ‘major’ was indignant and threatened trouble, but then admitted that he was a spy. On the third day after the delivery of the saboteurs, the local istrebitelnij battalion arrested a second agent, dressed in the uniform of a captain in the Red Army. As usual in such cases, the agent had a radio set with him, a large amount of Soviet money and false documents in the name of Rupasov.

Late on the night of 7 September, the VNOS post in the village of Bolschaya Dmitrovka in the Shiroko-Kurmyshsky district reported to the divisional area air defence headquarters in Saratov that a suspicious aircraft had been spotted. The headquarters of the istrebitelnij battalions immediately sent all his troops to search for the possible landing sites of parachutists in a 100km radius of the specified locality. Many hours of searching through forests and meadows soon yielded results, and several German agents were arrested. They were former soldiers of the Red Army, recruited after being captured. All of them were dressed in the uniform of Soviet pilots. When they were searched, several radio sets, large amounts of genuine money, and a wide range of fake stamps, seals, fake party and military documents, orders, medals and weapons were found.

Under interrogation, the spies confessed that they were to sabotage aircraft at airfields, and to identify the locations of reserve aviation regiments around Balanda, Rtischevo and Atkarsk. As it turned out, from March to September 1943 they had been trained at German intelligence schools near Warsaw and Königsberg. On 3 September they were taken to Zaporozhye, where on 7 September, the group took off in an He-111 in the direction of Saratov and at 23.00 were dropped near the village of Dmitrovka. According to the testimony of the agents, it was found that the same aircraft delivered two more agents near the village of Krasny Yar in the Stalingrad region, who were arrested on 9 September by the NKVD.

In November the Saratov NKVD district office received a report from the village of Talovsky in the Novouzenskiy district that a German agent had turned himself in at the collective farm office, saying that five other spies had been dropped from a plane in the area. Immediately the alarm was raised with the istrebitelnij battalion, which began to search the area, with the result that on the same day two German saboteurs were detained in the village of Kurilovka, and cargo parachutes were found in the fields. The next day two parachutists were arrested to the north-east of the town of Novouzensk, and another in the village of Novo-Repinskoy.

In the central regions of the Soviet Union, the struggle between Stalin’s security services and German spies was also in full swing. For example, on 14 May a German agent was arrested in the city of Yaroslavl. A former commander of a platoon in the Red Army, he had graduated from the Warsaw intelligence school. After his arrest he worked under the control of counterintelligence and regularly reported to the Germans about his alleged ‘work’. The next day another graduate of the Warsaw school was arrested in the neighbouring town of Rybinsk, and also worked for the NKVD. In October, in the Poshekhonsky district of Yaroslavl oblast two German agents, Kuthysov and Nikitin, were dropped, who were soon detained by the NKGB.

On 13 July, the German spy Alexander Kryzhanovsky was arrested in the Bogorodsky district, located south-west of Gorky. He was a typical double agent. Back in 1941, he was recruited by the Germans and sent to the city of Krasnodar (Kuban), where he surrendered to the NKVD. Russian counterintelligence turned Kryzhanovsky and sent him on a mission back to the Germans. But there he modestly kept silent about his ‘failure’, and reported on his mission. Throughout 1942, the agent remained in the German rear, then enrolled in the Warsaw intelligence school and graduated with honours. On 12 July Kryzhanovsky, with false documents in the name of Tkachenko, was delivered from Smolensk to the Gorky region. But the region at that time was not a ‘safe haven’. The Luftwaffe’s massive air attacks on Gorky had just ended, and the activities of the security services and istrebitelnij battalions had been greatly intensified. Kryzhanovsky was quickly caught shortly after landing, then convicted and shot.

On the night of 24/25 August 1943, a group of six agents was delivered to the area of Sergach, a large railway junction located 125km south-east of Gorky. One of them broke his leg during the landing. Four, S.M. Chechetkin, I.I. Anichin, V.T. Popov and B.M. Papushenko, surrendered to the NKVD. The fifth, by the name of Zabolotny, did not want to surrender to the authorities and managed to escape.

This delivery is interesting because after landing the members of the group were to split up and go to different regions of the huge country, which explains why they were landed near a major railway junction. The agents revealed that the group had several tasks. Yershov, Anichin and Zabolotny had to go to the Urals, and then to settle in the city of Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg), to collect information about the local tank factories and other industries evacuated there from Moscow and Leningrad in 1941. The mission also included gathering information on the mood of the local population, the location of airfields and transport operations. Chechetkin and Popov were to go to Sarapul (a city in Udmurtia on the banks of the Kama river) to collect intelligence about local factories. Papushenko alone had to go to Gorky, where he had to collect information about tank production at the GAZ automobile plant and the Krasnoye Sormovo shipyard (which also produced T-34 tanks). The agent was instructed to find out whether specialists from England and the United States were working at these factories.

Another group of three agents was arrested in the Semenovsky district of the Gorky region on the night of 9/10 October. The two agents had a mission to settle in Gorky and collect information about the military factories, transportation by rail between Moscow and Gorky and fortifications in the region. The third agent was to go to Kirov and ‘work’ there.

Similarly, there was a ‘career’ resident of the Crimean city of Yevpatoria 21-year-old Vladimir Sidorenko. At the very beginning of the war, on 3 July 1941, he was captured and then sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany. After about a year, in May 1942 he expressed a desire to serve the Germans and agreed to become a spy. After that Sidorenko was sent to Berlin, then to the Warsaw and Königsberg intelligence schools of the Abwehr, where he was extensively trained as a ‘scout-radio operator for industrial facilities’. October 1st 1943 was the turning-point for Sidorenko. Being a particularly capable agent, he received a whole range of responsible missions from his ‘handlers’. He had to collect information about what enterprises were in the Gorky region, paying special attention to aviation plant No. 21 (which produced LaGG-3 and La-5 fighters). He was also instructed to find out the extent of the damage caused to the Gorky plant by the Luftwaffe air raids, whether there was enough electric power for the population and the state of its morale. Other than that, the lone agent had a mission to find out whether there was an agreement for American aircraft to be manufactured in the Soviet Union.

To fulfil this complex mission, the agent was provided with a radio set, false documents and 45,000 roubles (equivalent to thirty-seven times the monthly salary of a professor or fifty times that of a worker in an armaments factory). On the night of 19/20 October Sidorenko was flown from Pleskau (Pskov) to the Gorokhovetsky district of the Ivanovo region. After landing, the agent hitchhiked to Gorky and found accommodation. But he didn’t manage to begin his mission because on 6 November he was arrested.

In this case, the reason for the failure was neither the unreliability of the agent (he was not going to give himself up to the NKVD), nor a bad cover story, nor that someone noticed the flight of a German aircraft. All this was carried out in perfect secrecy. The reason for Sidorenko’s capture turned out to be Soviet spies embedded in the Abwehr itself! They had passed on full information about the agent and his intended missions. Unlike most of his colleagues recruited by the Germans, Sidorenko lived up to the expectations of his ‘masters’. He refused to cooperate with Soviet intelligence. Soon the agent was transported to Moscow, where he was executed.

In the Northern Wastes

He 115C-1 ‘8L+IH’ from Ku.Fl.Gr.906. On 8 October 1942 it participated in the evacuation of Estonian saboteurs from Russian territory.

On 5 November 1942, two long-range Pe-3 fighters from the 2nd Squadron of the 95th Special Naval Aviation Group took off from the temporary airfield near the village of Pona to escort a Soviet convoy going to Arkhangelsk from Belushya Bay. Leading was Lieutenant A. Ustimenko and his wingman was Senior Sergeant W. Gorbuntsov. An hour and a half later the Pe-3s of Lieutenants Constantine Usenko and Sergei Nogtikov took off to relieve them, but one of Nogtikov’s engines failed and Usenko continued alone. His rendezvous with the first took place in the designated area, near the convoy, which was on its way to the entrance of the White Sea. Ustimenko and Gorbuntsov handed over to him and turned to the south-west. When Lieutenant Usenko completed the mission and landed back at base, it turned out that they never came back…

Forty-seven years later, in 1989, searchers have found in the tundra, in shallow swamp, the remains of a twin-engined aircraft. On closer inspection it turned out that this was one of the aircraft that disappeared in November 1942, the Pe-3 No. 40415 of Lieutenant Ustimenko. In the cockpit were the remains of three crew members. The most amazing thing was that both sides of the aircraft were riddled with cannon and machine-gun fire. Many of the holes of large diameter, not less than 30mm. It remains unknown what kind of plane it was that so effectively shot down a heavy Pe-3 fighter so far from the front.

Later, in the remote tundra to the east of Arkhangelsk another place was discovered, which amazed the searchers. Near Lake Okulov there was a large sandy area with a runway formed of densely-laid metal sheets on it. It was a secret German airfield deep behind Soviet lines! On the edge of the airfield were rotting wooden buildings, in which items of Luftwaffe equipment and radio spares were found. Then barrels of aviation fuel with German labels were found nearby.

But this was not the only one. Secret airfields were also found near the village of Megra on the White Sea coast, 76km north-east of the town of Upper Zolotitsa, near the village of Pogorelets (on the shore of Mezen Bay) and in the Leshukonsky district on the Mezen river, 250km east of Arkhangelsk.

This proved that during the war a network of secret Luftwaffe airfields was established in the deserted northern regions of the Soviet Union. It is clear that they were not intended specifically to intercept Soviet aircraft, which did not pose any threat to the Germans. Probably the twin-engined fighters just came across some secret mission by chance.

Secret German air bases existed not only in the far north, but also in the Vologda region. This area was also sparsely populated, being made up dense forests combined with impassable swamps and wastelands. Therefore, it was not difficult to hide an airfield there. All of them were established for the purposes of sabotage. Through the Vologda and Arkhangelsk regions passed the most important railways, which were delivering Lend-Lease supplies to the central regions of the USSR from the ports of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk, coal from the Vorkuta basin and the like. Therefore, in the second half of 1942 the Abwehr and RSHA began the large-scale deployment of sabotage groups in these areas.

In June 1942, in the deserted region of Vologda and Cherepovets groups of agents between four and twelve men strong were landed by Ju 52s. Among them were saboteurs from the ‘Brandenburg’ Regiment. They were deployed there to attack the railways. The Cherepovets-Vologda divisional air defence posts recorded thirty-eight flights of unidentified aircraft at night in that month alone. They were mostly planes carrying agents and saboteurs.

On the night of 28/29 August, two groups of saboteurs were landed near the railway lines to Murmansk. The tracks were simultaneously blown up in two places. In early September, the Luftwaffe delivered a sabotage group to an area 80km north-west of Syktyvkar, to blow up the railway bridge over the Vychegda river, which was the only link between Vorkuta and the central regions of the country. Initially the mission was successful, the saboteurs managing to kill the bridge guards without losses on their side. But they did not have time to blow up the bridge. Some prisoners from the nearby GULAG camp were working nearby. It would seem that the saboteurs had a wonderful opportunity to replenish their ranks with the released prisoners. However, something happened that the German agents did not expect. The exhausted ‘enemies of the Soviet people’, despite their resentment of the regime, not only did not help the saboteurs, but, on the contrary, attacked them and killed them with picks and crowbars!

From 24 August to 29 September 1942, Ju 88 bombers from KG 30 ‘Adler’ carried out six massive raids on the city of Arkhangelsk. As a result, businesses and residential areas were severely damaged, and port facilities were almost destroyed. This made it difficult to unload ships with American and British military equipment and to send it onwards. To finally knock out this Lend-Lease route, the Germans decided to deliver a sabotage group of thirteen Estonians serving in the Finnish army to the Arkhangelsk–Vologda railway.

The air drop was carried out on 1 September near Konosha station. The landing was successful, and all the saboteurs quickly disappeared into the woods. After that, for two months the Estonians, divided into small groups, blew up the railway tracks. Trains with American and British tanks, fuel, rations and other goods were regularly derailed. In parallel, the Estonians were destroying communications lines. After each mission, they always managed to escape. The saboteurs regularly transmitted radio reports of their successful missions.

Soon the Soviets concentrated army units stationed in the Arkhangelsk and Vologda regions in the Konosha area. Together with istrebitelnij battalions they combed the tundra, but to no avail. The only success by the NKVD was the interception of radio traffic between the saboteurs and their HQ. Radio direction-finding showed that the transmissions were from remote swampy areas. Russian intelligence was able to decipher some of the messages. From them it became known that the Germans had decided to evacuate the group. To do this, the Estonians were instructed to arrive at Lake Lacha, located 80km north-west of Konosha. The Russians accordingly set up several ambushes on the shores of this large lake.

The early autumn morning of 22 October at first did not promise anything interesting. Over the water was foggy, frozen soldiers of the NKVD and cadets from a military school nervously examined the beautiful surroundings, thinking about how to warm up. Suddenly the silence was broken by the faint roar of engines. Everyone grabbed for binoculars and weapons.

After a while, a seaplane appeared from the north-west, on which German crosses were clearly visible. It landed on the water and stopped near the shore. It was He 115C-1 ‘8L+IH’ of 1./Ku.Fl.Gr.906, flown by Karl Helf. This aircraft had already performed several missions for the delivery and evacuation of agents from Russian territory. After a while, the elusive Estonians appeared from the undergrowth along the bank. The inexperienced cadets were positioned in ambush here, and seeing the plane and the saboteurs moving towards it, the young men opened indiscriminate fire with rifles and machine guns. But the shooting was inaccurate. Five saboteurs were able to jump into the plane, while the rest again disappeared into the dense thickets on the shore.

Helf, seriously wounded in the course of the attack, was still able to start the engines. The He 115 went to take off and, despite the intense machine-gun fire from the shore, rose into the air. But it turned out that the oil tank of the left engine was punctured. Flying about 30km, the plane made an emergency landing on Lake Jung. After that, four Estonians and an aircraft mechanic disappeared into the woods. But they did not get far, and soon the group was surrounded by NKVD troops. The German airman did not want to surrender to the Russians and shot himself, but the Estonians preferred to raise their hands. Soon a few more saboteurs were caught heading west towards the front line. But some Estonians still managed to escape into the deep woods and evade their pursuers.

‘Opera House’: The Death of Heydrich and The Demotion of Rowehl

By the 1930s, Theodor Rowehl was a Flugkäpitan in the Hansa-Luftbild airline. This was an innovator in new methods of aerial photography, as well as in the commercial use of photogrammetry. Its predecessor – Aero Lloyd Luftbild GmbH – was founded in 1923 as a branch of the transport airline ‘Deutsche Aero Lloyd’. Then it merged with the transport airline ‘Junkers Luftverkehr AG’, resulting in the formation of the airline Deutsche Lufthansa. After that, Aero Lloyd Luftbild GmbH was renamed Hansa-Luftbild. Its director was Wilhelm Gessner, who held the post until his death in 1945.

After learning that Poland was building new defences on the border with Germany, Rowehl carried out several flights over the border area. It is not known exactly who ordered him to perform this task. In the 1920s, large German business concerns, such as Siemens, created their own intelligence services. Industrialist and ‘newspaper king’ Alfred Hugenberg funded ‘Germans for overseas service’, and a few steel enterprises – organization ‘Nunzia’. All of them were mainly engaged in industrial espionage abroad, but had secret connections with the Abwehr. It is possible to assume that Hansa-Luftbild was somehow connected with ‘Nunzia’.

Photos of Polish fortifications taken by Rowehl ‘miraculously’ reached the head of Abwehr Oberst von Bredow. He appreciated the possibilities of aerial photography, realizing that it was the most advanced method of technical intelligence. Von Bredow hired Rowehl to work in his organization.

Officially, Rowehl remained a pilot with Hansa-Luftbild, but he actually worked for German military intelligence. The Abwehr financed the continuation of reconnaissance flights over Polish territory. Rowehl was provided with a Ju W34be/b3e aircraft, number D-1119, which was specially equipped for high-altitude flights and fitted with a British Bristol Jupiter VII engine. In this plane, on 26 May 1929 the test pilot Wilhelm Neuenhofen (later famous for the first flight of the prototype Ju 87V1 on 17 September 1935) rose to a height of 12,739m (41,795ft), setting a world altitude record. It was officially registered by the International Aviation Federation. Now this record-breaking plane was to be used for secret missions.

Soon Rowehl was joined by several other pilots from Hansa-Luftbild. A suspiciously sharp increase in the number of incidents, when usually efficient German pilots ‘got lost’ and ‘accidentally’ found themselves in Polish airspace, caused Polish counterintelligence to suspect that these ‘civilian’ aircraft were actually engaged in espionage. But they had no proof.

After the coming to power of the Nazis, who dreamed of revenge for the defeat in the Great War of 1914–18, the work of German intelligence was given fresh impetus. Already by the end of 1933, Theodor Rowehl had officially returned to military service and been appointed head of the photographic department of the headquarters of Luftkries VI (6th Air District). His office was in Kiel. The ostensibly ‘civil’ airline Hansa-Luftbild began to expand its areas of operation. Reconnaissance aircraft in civilian livery began flying over Czechoslovakia, France and Belgium. In 1934, Rowehl carried out several flights over the Soviet Union, photographing the naval bases at Kronstadt, Leningrad, Pskov and Minsk. This information allowed the Germans to obtain accurate information about the composition of the Russian fleet in the Baltic and the implementation of the programme of construction of new ships and submarines.

In the autumn of 1934 there was a clash between the head of the Reichswehr General Werner von Blomberg and the chief of the Abwehr Konrad Patzig. Blomberg learned about the secret air reconnaissance missions and accused Patzig of ‘provoking war’ and threatening the Führer’s ‘peaceful intentions’. Patzig was on bad terms with the Nazis’ secret police (Geheime Staatpolizei – Gestapo), and it seems that the Gestapo provided information to Blomberg about the ‘provocative’ work of the Abwehr. Patzig was fired, and on 2 January 1935 Wilhelm Canaris was made the chief of the Abwehr.

Canaris was very much interested in the continuation of the secret missions, and he decided to enlist the support of the Reich Minister of Aviation Hermann Göring. The chief of the Abwehr showed the narcissistic and vain companion of Hitler the results of Hansa-Luftbild’s flights (photos of fortifications in France, Poland and Russia). Göring liked this opportunity to become a provider of strategic intelligence to the Führer. On 1 March 1935 Germany announced the creation of the air force – the Luftwaffe. On the same day Theodor Rowehl was enrolled in it at the rank of Hauptmann. Göring personally instructed him to create the first squadron for secret missions – Fliegerstaffel z.b.V. It was formed at the Staaken airfield near Berlin. The squadron was composed of five planes with crews from Deutsche Lufthansa. The deputy commander of the squadron was an experienced navigator, Siegfried Knemeyer, whom Rowehl had personally appointed. Fliegerstaffel z.b.V. received its orders from the 5th Department of the Luftwaffe General Staff and Abwehr-I. Photos taken during missions were first studied by representatives of military intelligence, then they were sent to Luftwaffe Intelligence HQ in Zossen.

Secret missions were carried out under the cover of Deutsche Lufthansa. Disguised as airliners, Fliegerstaffel z.b.V planes ‘accidentally’ strayed from their routes and performed their secret missions. In 1936–7 the squadron was given three passenger He 111s. They were the prototype He 111V2 W. Nr. 715 ‘D-ALIX’ ‘Rostock’, He 111V4 W. Nr. 1968 ‘D-AHAO’ ‘Dresden’ and He 111C-03 W. Nr. 1830 ‘D-AXAV’ ‘Köln’. They wore Deutsche Lufthansa livery and carried concealed cameras on board. In 1937 the Abwehr carried out such a secret mission over Great Britain. For most of this time there was only one serious incident that could have lead to the disclosure of the programme. He 111V2 W. Nr. 715 ‘D-ALIX’ crashed in Soviet territory during a flight to the Caucasus. The Russians studied the wreckage and guessed the true purpose of the aircraft, but did not protest too much.

During the Sudetenland crisis, information obtained during secret missions was employed by the Germans for the first time. There were 3.3 million ethnic Germans in the Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia who complained of harassment and discrimination by the Czech government. In February 1938, the Führer delivered a speech in the Reichstag, during which he called upon the world ‘to pay attention to the terrible living conditions of our German brothers in Czechoslovakia’. Fooled by the German Chancellor, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French President Edward Daladier made concessions. They naively hoped that the Czech territories would ‘pacify’ Germany and help to avoid a new war in Europe. A meeting of Hitler, Mussolini, Daladier and Chamberlain in Munich on 29 September reached an agreement on the dismemberment of the territory of Czechoslovakia. On the night of 30 September, the British and French actually forced the Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš to accept a German ultimatum.

The next day, the text of the Munich agreement was signed. Between 1 and 10 October 1938 the Sudetenland was transferred to Germany. The Wehrmacht already had a plan to invade Czechoslovakia. At the disposal of the German staff were detailed maps of the Czech border fortifications, airfields, bridges and armaments factories.

The leadership of the Luftwaffe and Abwehr praised the activities of Rowehl. In November 1938 he was promoted to Oberstleutnant. In January 1939, the Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe (Commander-in-Chief Luftwaffe) formed Aufklaerergruppe Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe (Aufkl.Gr.Ob.d.L.), which was informally known as ‘Group Rowehl’. It was based at Werder airport near Potsdam.

Initially the group consisted of two squadrons, equipped with He 111s, Do 17s and Bf 110s. Among them were seven machines specially built for the Rowehl Group. Four Do 17Rs (R-l – R-4) were upgraded versions of the Do 17M, and three Do 17S (SYS 3) were upgraded versions of the Do 17Z, all equipped with DB 601 engines. During 1939 Aufkl.Gr.Ob.d.L. tested prototypes of various aircraft, which were supposed to be used for aerial reconnaissance. Among them were several Do 215s and one Do 217A-0.

In August 1939 at Oranienburg airport the Versuchsstelle fur Hohenfluge (VfH – Experimental Station for High-Altitude Flights) was formed, which was also subordinated to Oberstleutnant Rowehl. Personnel were recruited from the Hansa-Luftbild state airline. This company became part of the Luftwaffe, but at the same time formally remained a civil enterprise.

The VfH was composed of three staffel. Only the 1st was directly engaged in research into high-altitude flights and aerial reconnaissance. The 2nd carried out comprehensive tests on foreign aircraft, while the 3rd was responsible for secret flights to insert agents, singly or in groups, into other countries.

Throughout 1942, the Aufkl.Gr.Ob.d.L. successfully carried out the missions assigned to it. Its aircraft were engaged in strategic air reconnaissance for the army, the Luftwaffe and the Abwehr simultaneously. In parallel, Group Rowehl was engaged in missions for the delivery into enemy territory of agents and their resupply. But, despite these successes, by the end of 1942 dark clouds began to gather over Oberstleutnant Rowehl and his unit.

The reasons for this were rooted in the long-standing rivalry between the Abwehr and the SD, which gradually developed into open confrontation. Since his rise to power in 1933, Hitler had plans to create a single secret service, which would be completely devoted to him and to the ideas of National Socialism, as well as entirely controlled by the Nazis. The Abwehr did not meet these requirements. First, it was a structure of the Reichswehr, and therefore many senior officers did not hide their contempt for the Nazis, believing them to be upstarts, who happened to be ‘on top’ accidentally. For this reasons the Führer, leaving the Abwehr to the military, began to create his own intelligence services. On 26 April 1933, the secret state police, the Gestapo, was formed (from 1936 to 1945 it was headed by Heinrich Müller). In March 1934, the SD was formed and the 32-year-old Reinhard Heydrich was appointed to head it. On 27 September 1939, the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RHSA – General Directorate of State Security) was formed, which became one of the twelve main SS departments subordinated to Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler. The head of the RSHA was the infamous Heydrich. It consisted of six departments, including the 4th office, the Gestapo, and the 6th office, the SD foreign intelligence service, which from 22 June 1941 was headed by Walter Schellenberg.

From the very beginning, relations between Heydrich and Canaris were hostile, stemming from the very nature of their services. The above-mentioned ‘Ten Commandments’ – the agreement on the division of spheres of influence between the Abwehr and the SD – only temporarily gave their rivalry a civilized look. Outwardly the SS-Gruppenführer and the Admiral maintained the best relations. They were neighbours – they lived on the same street, and their country villas were also close. With their wives, they regularly attended each other’s parties. But Heydrich never gave up thinking about how to deal with Canaris and the Abwehr, and subjugating them to the SD. To do this, it was necessary to undermine their credibility in the eyes of Hitler, by sowing doubts about the reliability of the information produced by the Abwehr and the political loyalty of Canaris and his employees.

Heydrich’s first opportunity to do this came in early 1940. On the morning of 10 January a Bf 108 aircraft took off from Loddenheide airfield near Münster. On board were the pilot Major Honmans (commander of Loddenheide airfield), and his passenger Major Helmuth Reinberger – communications officer of Luftflotte 2. The plane was heading to Cologne, but in the fog Honmans got lost and made an emergency landing in Belgium, near the city of Mechelen-aan-de-Maas, located 2km from the German border. This would seem to be a minor incident, but in Reinberger’s briefcase were top secret documents – plans for a surprise attack on Belgium and Holland. The major managed to burn some of them, but among the surviving fragments of three documents were the instructions for Luftflotte 2 with details of the location of Belgian troops in Antwerp and Liège. The Belgians reported the contents of the captured documents to the British, French and Dutch general staffs. When this became known to Hitler, he was furious. Suspecting that the incident was deliberate treason, he demanded a thorough investigation. It was a great chance for Heydrich, because the Abwehr was responsible for ensuring the protection of state secrets, documents of special importance and persons who had access to them. As a result, Canaris had to go to a lot of effort to convince the Führer that this was simply negligence on the part of two Luftwaffe officers.

It should be noted that such suspicions were not groundless. In the autumn of 1939 the SD was already assembling a case against the Abwehr. The actions of Dr Josef Müller, a former lawyer from Munich, aroused considerable suspicion in the SD. In October 1939 he arrived at the Vatican, to meet Pope Pius XII, with a letter of recommendation from Cardinal Michael Faulhaber of Munich. Müller was a friend of Oberst Hans Oster, a senior Abwehr officer, and enjoyed the full confidence of Canaris. While in the Vatican, he made contact with the British ambassador to the Papacy, and through him with British Intelligence. Müller’s first task was to explore the possibility of peace with the United Kingdom. All the information on the activities of Canaris’s messenger collected by SD was combined in a dossier called ‘Black Chapel’. But Heydrich did not have enough evidence to openly move against the chief of the Abwehr.

In early April 1940, the same Oster, known for his active participation in the anti-Nazi opposition, told his friend Major Gijsbertus Jacob Sas, assistant military attaché at the Dutch embassy of the Netherlands in Berlin, secret information of great importance. It was about the completion of preparations for Operation ‘Weserubung’ – the invasion of Denmark and Norway. He passed this information on to a Norwegian diplomat, who for some reason did not give it to his government. A month later, via the Vatican, the Belgians were given information about the imminent attack on Belgium and Holland. After that, the Dutch mobilized their army, and the British Expeditionary Force and French units moved to the border with Belgium. Again, Heydrich’s agents learned of these leaks of critical strategic information. On the evening of 9 May, the SD listening service recorded a telephone conversation between Major Sas and The Hague, during which he said: ‘the Surgeon decided to do the operation in the morning, at four o’clock’. But the Dutch command, apparently, did not believe this warning right away. That night, SD agents intercepted another call, this time from The Hague to Berlin. Confirming the transmitted information, Major Sas said that it came from an absolutely reliable source.

After the beginning of the invasion of Belgium and Holland, the Gestapo chief Müller and the head of foreign intelligence Schellenberg were called into the office of the head of the RSHA. Heydrich told them:

The Führer and the Reichsführer-SS have commissioned me to investigate one of the most egregious cases of betrayal in German history. Some time ago, two radio messages were intercepted by the Belgian envoy to the Vatican to his government; they contained the exact date of our attack in the West. This happened thirty-six hours before the Führer officially announced it. The Führer is shocked. He demands, regardless of means, that the traitor be found.

Heydrich wanted a thorough investigation under the auspices of the SD, but still had to observe the ‘Ten Commandments’, so the investigation was carried out by military counterintelligence – Abwehr-III. As a result, Canaris, who knew perfectly well how the information was leaking, was able to hide the traces that led to his office, but only with great difficulty. So Heydrich had to bide his time and continue to painstakingly assemble his dossier on Abwehr.

Soon, Heydrich had another chance to destroy the Abwehr. On the night of 27/28 February 1942 a group of British commandoes attacked the German radar station at Cape Antifer, near Le Havre, which was equipped with the latest FuG5 ‘Würzburg’ radar. The station staff, led by Hauptmann Ferdinand Alexander von Preussen, were driven off. The commandos removed the most important parts and photographed the rest, and then returned safely to England. As Heydrich wanted, the subsequent investigation revealed serious flaws in the concealment and protection of important sites, the responsibility for which lay with Abwehr-III. In addition, the Abwehr was blamed for not providing any warning of the impending raid. Hitler was furious. He demanded that Canaris provide a full report on intelligence activities against the British, as well as information on how far they had advanced in the creation and use of radar. As already described above, almost all Abwehr agents delivered to England soon fell into the hands of MI5 and became double agents. Therefore, there was practically nothing to boast about, and what information was available was extremely unreliable. As a result, the Admiral ignored the Führer’s order, trying to distract him with evasive arguments. Walter Schellenberg wrote in his memoirs: ‘This behaviour finally split him from Hitler, and from that moment the fate of Canaris was decided.’ Hitler sanctioned Heydrich to launch a concentrated offensive against the Abwehr, something he had long dreamed of. The SD zealously took up the case, and everything pointed to the fact that Canaris’ career would end in 1942.

But fate gave the Admiral a respite of one and a half years. Early in the morning of 27 May 1942, the head of the RSHA and Deputy Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia Obergruppenführer SS Heydrich drove as usual from his country house to his office in the old Royal Castle in the centre of Prague. At the entrance to the Czech capital two men in overalls jumped out in front of his Mercedes convertible. These were Josef Gabčik and Jan Kubiš, trained in England and then parachuted into the Czech Republic. One of them fired at Heydrich and his driver, the other threw a bomb under the car. Heydrich managed to fire at one of the attackers, but was seriously wounded by the fragments of the bomb. Despite urgent surgery and the efforts of doctors, he died in a Prague hospital on 4 June. One can only wonder if the attempt on Heydrich was somehow inspired by the cunning Canaris, constantly feeling his breath on the back of his neck.

‘Heydrich’s case’ was continued by his successor as chief of RSHA Obergruppenführer Ernst Kaltenbrunner. By the end of 1942, all employees of Abwehr and all those who were associated with it were in the SD’s sights. All these events could not pass Oberstleutnant Rowehl by. For twelve years, beginning in 1930, his own activities, and then the activities of his squadron and group, were closely associated with the Abwehr. Rowehl personally reported to Canaris on the results of reconnaissance flights and the delivery of agents. As the authority of military intelligence and its chief fell sharply in the eyes of Hitler, so too did that of Rowehl. He had many envious enemies in the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM – State Air Ministry), who said that in wartime there was no need for an elite long-range intelligence aviation group, and its missions could be performed by conventional reconnaissance units. In the current situation, Canaris was no longer able to protect the Rowehl group.

In the end, on 27 January 1943 Aufkl.Gr.Ob.d.L. was officially dissolved. Its former 1st, 2nd and 3rd Staffelen became part of the newly-formed Aufkl.Gr.100. It had no ‘special’ status and operated on a par with the rest of the Luftwaffe long-range reconnaissance groups (Aufkl. Gruppen). One of the best pilots of the Rowehl group, Major Siegfried Knemeyer, was appointed commander of the combat training reconnaissance group under the commander-in-chief Luftwaffe (Aufkl.Lehr.Gr.Ob.d.L.). He continued to fly all new aircraft, testing their suitability as scouts. On 29 August 1943 Knemeyer was awarded the Knight’s Cross. Then he held the post of Head of Department in the technical management of the RLM. As an authoritative expert, Knemeyer influenced the development of various aircraft, including the He 177, Me-262, and Ar 234.

American Civil War Spying I

Seated: R. William Moore and Allan Pinkerton. Standing: George H. Bangs, John C. Babcock, and Augustus K. Littlefield

The problem with journalists ‘spying’ on armies continued in the American Civil War (1860–65). Up to 150 war correspondents followed the Union Army, along with photographers and artists, serving the big Northern dailies. War was being reported faster than at any time in history and in much more detail. Troop movements, plans and orders of battle were served up to a news-hungry public back home. They also became one of the Confederate Army’s main sources of information. The Washington and Baltimore newspapers were arriving on the desk of Confederate President Jefferson Davis within 24 hours of being printed, while those of New York and Philadelphia arrived a day later.

Attempts were made to limit the damage, with sometimes farcical results. On 2 August 1861, General McClellan made Washington correspondents agree not to report sensitive information without the permission of the commanding general. Two months later, Secretary of War Simon Cameron happily gave the New York Tribune a complete order of battle run-down of the Union forces in Missouri and Kentucky. In 1862 an attempt by the War Department to introduce telegraph censorship met with hostility and the Lincoln administration was accused of using security as an excuse to stifle public debate on the running of the war.

The problem appears to have become less acute after it was required for journalists to submit their reports to provost marshals before filing them. General William T. Sherman, a man with little time for reporters, went a step further and insisted that correspondents were ‘acceptable’ to him before they were allowed to work at the front. By 1864, the press co-operated better and Sherman’s famous ‘march to the sea’ was done without being reported. The problem seems to have been very much one-sided. While Union commanders were frustrated by the presence of journalists at the front, the Confederates excluded them from the frontline altogether. The need for strict censorship appears to have been better understood by those few Southern newspapers continuing to run during the war.

One of the most colourful secret service figures in the American Civil War was Allan Pinkerton (1819–94), the Scottish-born founder of the detective agency bearing his name. Famous for railroad protection and running down such notorious desperados as the James Gang, the Wild Bunch and Butch Cassidy, the company logo was an all-seeing eye with the motto ‘we never sleep’ – hence the expression ‘private eye’.

In January 1861, Samuel Felton, president of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad, hired the Pinkerton agency to protect his company from sabotage by secessionist sympathizers in the Baltimore area. Pinkerton agreed the contract and took six of his operatives to infiltrate the secessionists. Alongside Pinkerton was detective Timothy Webster, an English-born New York City policeman and without doubt the agency’s top undercover man. Webster passed himself off as sympathetic to the South and enrolled in a rebel cavalry troop formed to resist ‘Yankee aggression’. Another agent, Harry Davies, was already familiar with many of the leading secessionists, having previously lived in the South. It was Davies who first discovered a plot to assassinate President-elect Abraham Lincoln (1809–85).

The sixteenth president of the Union, Lincoln had been elected on 6 November 1860. Although billed as ‘Honest Abe’, many saw his winning the presidency as akin to the coming of the Antichrist. In Baltimore an excitable Italian barber at Barnum’s Hotel named Cypriano Fernandina formed a conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln. The Italian’s motives are unclear, except to say that many of his best customers were secessionists. According to Davies, Fernandina had called a secret ballot from which eight assassins had been chosen. Before his March inauguration, the Republican president-elect had to travel to Washington by train, working to a publicized timetable. When he stopped at Baltimore, a fracas would break out to divert police attention away from Lincoln and the assassins would strike. Learning of this plot Pinkerton went straight to Philadelphia to consult with Felton.

Meanwhile, Lincoln had left his home in Springfield, Illinois, on 11 February. He arrived at Philadelphia on 21 February and was introduced to Pinkerton, who outlined the plot. It took some effort to convince Lincoln that someone was willing to assassinate him, but eventually he came round to the idea and agreed that Pinkerton should make arrangements for his safe transport to Washington. Deviating from the schedule, Lincoln left a dinner in Harrisburg early and boarded a special train provided by Felton. To prevent secessionist spies transmitting details of his unscheduled departure, Pinkerton had the telegraph lines cut. At Philadelphia, Lincoln joined the night train to Washington. Along the route between Philadelphia and Washington, Pinkerton and Felton placed reliable men posing as members of a work gang whitewashing railroad bridges apparently in an attempt to make them fireproof. These men were given lanterns in order to signal that the train had safe passage through their sector.

Throughout the journey, Lincoln posed as an invalid travelling with his sister, a role played by Kate Warne. A Pinkerton agent since 1856, Warne is celebrated as America’s first female private detective. Pinkerton claimed Warne approached him wanting to be a detective, but others think Warne was looking for a job as a secretary. Although there were no vacancies, Pinkerton employed her anyway because he took a shine to her. She then became Pinkerton’s mistress and would pose as his wife on certain missions.

The president-elect made it to Washington unharmed and when the plotters realized they had missed their chance, they melted away. Many believed the whole Baltimore conspiracy was a stunt engineered by Pinkerton himself. Pinkerton was a good businessman. If he was paid to uncover conspiracies, then conspiracies he found. If the conspiracies were magnified to ensure the customer felt that he or she was getting value for money, well … business is business, as they say.

After the first shots of the war were fired, Pinkerton again offered Lincoln his services. The detective was invited to Washington and asked for his advice in dealing with Southern sympathizers, but was not given the contract he was seeking. Instead Pinkerton was asked to form a secret service for the army of General McClellan who commanded the Military Department of the Ohio. Setting up shop in Cincinnati and using the alias of E. J. Allen, Pinkerton launched his agents into the Confederacy on McClellan’s behalf.

Posing as a Georgia gentleman, Webster was the first agent to move south, heading in the direction of Memphis. Even Pinkerton got in on the act and crossed the Ohio. He had a lucky escape when a German barber from Chicago recognized him, but did not denounce him. Another of Pinkerton’s Englishmen, Pryce Lewis, set off in June 1861, travelling through the Confederacy as a neutral tourist. Near Charleston he was stopped and interrogated by a Colonel Patton. Grandfather to General George S. Patton, the Confederate colonel was so sure of Lewis’ credentials that he took him on a tour of the fortifications he commanded.

On 22 July 1861 McClellan was given command of the Army of the Potomac and charged with protecting Washington. He immediately invited Pinkerton to follow with his secret service. The most pressing need at that time was for a counter-espionage service, as both Baltimore and Washington were alive with rebel spies and supporters. While Pinkerton dispatched Webster and the agent Carrie Lawton to Baltimore to infiltrate rebel cells, he concentrated on snaring the top rebel spy in Washington. This agent was supposed by many, including Assistant Secretary of War Thomas Scott, to be the politically well-connected socialite widow Rose O’Neal Greenhow (1817–64).

Greenhow had been recruited as a spy at the beginning of the war by West Point graduate Thomas Jordan, a US officer who joined Confederate General Beauregard’s staff. Before leaving Washington, Jordan provided Greenhow with a simple cipher and instructions to contact him using his alias – Thomas J. Rayford. In July 1861 she scored a significant coup when she sent a copy of Union General McDowell’s orders for the Army of the Potomac, which was to advance into Virginia. Forewarned, General Beauregard caused the Union army an embarrassing defeat at Bull Run on 21 July.

Pinkerton put Greenhow and her contacts under close surveillance. By all accounts Greenhow unsuccessfully tried to pull strings with government friends to have Pinkerton called off. Then, one rainy August evening, Pinkerton and three agents, including Pryce Lewis, tailed an officer to Greenhow’s home. When an upstairs light came on, Pinkerton had his men form a human pyramid with himself at the apex. Glimpsing into the room, Pinkerton saw the young officer handing Greenhow a map and heard him give instructions on how to read it. Then the two went into a back room, where Greenhow no doubt favoured the traitor with a reward. An hour later, the officer departed Greenhow’s home with a kiss. Pinkerton had the officer arrested and, when confronted with the evidence, he later committed suicide in his cell. Meanwhile an embarrassing list of prominent figures were seen coming and going from the Greenhow home, including former president James Buchanan.

Having heard enough, Scott ordered Greenhow’s arrest. On the day of the arrest, Greenhow was found in her parlour reading a book. While Pryce Lewis stood guard over her, Pinkerton searched the house and recovered an amazing hoard of classified Union documents including plans of Washington’s defences and fortifications. Prize among them was Greenhow’s diary, which detailed the full extent of the Confederate spy ring. In terms of counter-espionage, the find was priceless. It gave the names of Greenhow’s contacts, her informants and means of delivering messages to the Confederacy – numerous arrests followed. At one point in the search, Greenhow pulled a pistol on Lewis, but failed to cock it properly. Otherwise the only real trouble came from her eight-year-old daughter, who hid up a tree outside the property and called down a warning to anyone she recognized approaching the house: ‘Mother has been arrested!’

With Greenhow in custody the problem arose of what to do with her? She was too well connected and too much a celebrity to send to the gallows, but the number of prominent soldiers, politicians, bankers and so on involved with this conspiracy made her presence acutely embarrassing for President Lincoln. This problem was exacerbated when Greenhow continued sending messages to Richmond from jail, including an unflattering account of how Pinkerton had arrested her. In the end, after a trial, Greenhow was sent to Richmond where she continued her celebrity lifestyle. She was later sent on a mission to London, where she had an audience with Queen Victoria and to Paris where she was received at the court of Napoleon III. After writing her memoirs she returned to the Confederacy in 1864 on the blockade-runner Condor. Chased by a Union gunboat, Condor ran aground and Greenhow drowned.

While Pinkerton had been busy with Greenhow, Timothy Webster had been making a name for himself among Confederates and their Maryland acolytes. Working so far undercover, Webster was actually arrested by a Federal detective who believed he was a Confederate spy. Webster could not hope for better credentials to maintain his cover. While under arrest, he met with Pinkerton who arranged for him to ‘escape’ while being transferred to Fort McHenry for internment. Hand-picked guards even fired shots after the escaping Webster, all to give the agent more credibility. Arriving at a safe house in Baltimore, Webster had become a hero of the cause. Even when a man denounced him after seeing Webster with Pinkerton, the Union agent simply punched the man in the jaw and called him a damned liar.

From Baltimore to Richmond, it seemed Webster had the run of the Confederacy. His intelligence reports from behind enemy lines were exhaustive and accurate. Set up in a top Richmond hotel, Webster was so believable that the Confederate Secretary of War entrusted his personal letters to him for delivery to Baltimore. This of course allowed Pinkerton to read the letters, which lead to a number of high-profile arrests.

In support of Webster, other Pinkerton agents were sent south, including John Scobell, a former Mississippi slave recruited to the agency in the autumn of 1861. Scobell performed a variety of roles, sometimes posing as a cook or labourer, other times acting as a servant to Webster or Carrie Lawton. Another of his means of gaining intelligence was through his membership of the Legal League. This was a secret African-American organization in the South, the members of which often helped Scobell by providing couriers to carry his information across Union lines.

However, as the war entered its second year and McClellan was planning another offensive, Webster began to suffer from illnesses brought about by his constant exposure to the elements. After feeling the effects of rheumatism while accompanying Carrie Lawton on a mission to Richmond, Webster fell seriously ill and stopped reporting. Desperate for news on the eve of the new offensive, Pinkerton made the cardinal error for spymasters. He became impatient.

When Pinkerton asked Pryce Lewis to replace Webster, the Englishman baulked at the idea and refused the assignment. Then, when Pinkerton convinced him otherwise, he told Lewis that another agent, John Scully would be joining him. Their cover would be as smugglers carrying a letter to Webster from Baltimore. It was an ill-conceived plan.

On the afternoon of 27 February 1862, the two Union spies were at Webster’s sick bed when the Confederate detective Captain Sam McCubbin entered the room only to check on Webster’s progress. The feeling of relief was only temporary, for McCubbin was followed by the son of a former senator, whom Lewis and Scully had guarded after Pinkerton had ordered their family arrested. Before they had a chance to escape, Lewis and Scully were seized and taken before General Winder, head of Confederate secret police, who suspected they were both spies.