Moscow, Soviet Union · October 19, 1941

On this date in 1941, the day the official “state of siege” was declared in the Soviet capi­tal of Mos­cow, Red Army forces from the Soviet Far East and Sibe­ria began arriving on the Rus­sian Front. Soviet dicta­tor Joseph Stalin was con­vinced that evac­u­ating most of his troops from the Soviet-Japa­nese bor­der repre­sented little risk owing to infor­ma­tion from a Tokyo-based spy, Richard Sorge. The Russian-born Sorge, whose cover was that of a Nazi reporter for the Ger­man news­paper Frank­furter Allge­meine among others, was the Soviet infor­mant who had cor­rectly pre­dicted the date of Ger­many’s inva­sion of the Soviet Union four months earlier (Opera­tion Barba­rossa) and the Japa­nese attack on Pearl Harbor. (Stalin stub­bornly refused to believe reports from Sorge and other sources fore­telling the approx­i­mate date of Adolf Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union, pos­sibly because he be­lieved them to be a ploy to dis­rupt the Ger­man-Soviet non-ag­gres­sion pact of August 1939, the Mo­lo­tov-Rib­ben­trop Pact.) Code-named “Ram­say,” Sorge (1895–1944) was one of the best Soviet intel­li­gence offi­cers of World War II, and he con­tinued to feed Mos­cow in­for­ma­tion from his base in Tokyo until arrested by the Japa­nese secret police (Kem­peitai, equi­va­lent to the Ger­man Gestapo) on Octo­ber 18, 1941. Until his con­fes­sion under torture, Sorge was assumed by the Japa­nese to be a Ger­man spy. (The Soviets did not of­fi­cially acknow­ledge Sorge was on their pay­roll until 1964.) Sorge was hanged on Novem­ber 7, 1944, in Su­ga­mo Prison outside Tokyo. Sorge’s semi­nal role in the Battle of Moscow (Octo­ber 2, 1941 to Janu­ary 7, 1942) and per­haps in the Battle of Stalin­grad (Septem­ber 1942 to Febru­ary 1943), during which the Ger­mans suffered stra­tegic defeats on their east­ern front, is today memo­ri­alized in a road­side monu­ment between Mos­cow’s Shere­met­yevo Inter­na­tional Air­port and the Kre­mlin, as well as in the east­ern Ger­man city of Dres­den, where the Com­mu­nist govern­ment of the former Ger­man Demo­cra­tic Repub­lic estab­lished a memo­rial gar­den in the Alt­stadt (Old City) in 1970. After the war Su­ga­mo Pri­son was the exe­cu­tion site of seven Japa­nese war crimi­nals sen­tenced to death by the Inter­na­tional Mili­tary Tri­bu­nal for the Far East, among them Gen. Hideki Tōjō, Japan’s prime minister during most of World War II (1941–1944).

Robert Whymant’s book Stalin’s Spy: Richard Sorge and the Tokyo Espionage Ring is among a num­ber of books recounting the lives and espio­nage con­ducted by World War II spies. Great Britain had a stable of spies working for the Special Opera­tions Execu­tive (SOE), many in occupied France assisting the French Resis­tance. A fine British author, Ben Mac­intrye, has written a small book­shelf on spies and double agents. Among the books I’ve read of his are best-selling spy thriller Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espio­nage, Love, and Betrayal about Eddie Chap­man, a British petty crimi­nal, jail bird, woman­izer, traitor, and MI5 double agent all rolled up in one; Operation Mince­meat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory, the suc­cess­ful decep­tion that con­vinced the Nazis into thinking that Allied forces were planning to attack south­ern Europe by way of Greece or Sar­di­nia instead of Sicily (Oper­a­tion Husky), as the Nazis had assumed; and finally Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies, which describes Britain’s achieve­ment in turning Ger­man spies into double agents and tricking the Nazis into believing that the D-Day landings would come in Calais, France, rather than in Nor­mandy. Any or all of them will keep you enthralled into the wee morning hours as they did me.—Norm Haskett

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Spymaster Richard Sorge: Soviet Eyes and Ears in Prewar Japan

Richard Sorge, 1940Sorge memorial plaque outside Moscow

Left: Family photograph of Richard Sorge from 1940. Sorge was born in 1895 near Baku, Azer­ba­ijan (then part of Russia), to a Ger­man mining engi­neer and a Russian mother. Back in Berlin where he grew up, Sorge served in the Ger­man army during World War I (he was severely wounded), earned a PhD in poli­tical science, and joined the Ger­man Com­mu­nist Party in 1919. His poli­tical views led him to leave Ger­many for the Soviet Union, where he became a junior agent for the Comin­tern, an inter­na­tional com­munist organi­za­tion, in Moscow. In 1929 Sorge was recruited by the head of Soviet mili­tary intel­li­gence and worked for that depart­ment for the rest of his life. In May 1933 the depart­ment asked Sorge to orga­nize a spy net­work in Japan, the same year Sorge “joined” the Nazi Party.

Right: A memorial plaque between Moscow and Sheremet­yevo Inter­na­tional Air­port reminds passers­by of Sorge’s contri­bu­tions as a Soviet intel­li­gence opera­tive in Japan and China (Shang­hai), where he col­lected infor­ma­tion about Japa­nese and Ger­man plans in the lead-up to World War II. Many streets in Russia are named after Sorge. Ian Fleming (British spy and James Bond author) called Sorge “the man whom I regard as the most formid­able spy in his­tory.” Tom Clancy, Amer­i­can author of numerous spy novels, called Sorge “the best spy of all time.”

Sorge memorial, Dresden, GermanySorge bust, Dresden, Germany

Above: In 1970 the Communist government of East Germany accorded the half-German, half-Russian anti-fascist hero with an impres­sive memo­rial gar­den in Dresden. First in the list of attri­bu­tions under Sorge’s name (right photo) is the word “Kommunist.” Neither the memorial garden nor the adjacent street named after him exists any longer.

Battle of Moscow, October 1941 to January 1942, Germany’s First Defeat