October 13, 2015

1943. The Ruthless German Spies in Russia

Soviet Authorities Warn of Spies at Home
A still from the film The Battle of Russia (1943)
Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

February 20, 1943 (Cablegram to New York - reformatted from telegram style)

The importance of ordinary men and women keeping their mouths shut during wartime is no better demonstrated anywhere in the world than in Russia.

The Red Army's present offensive owes much of its success to the fact that those who knew about the preponderance of troops moving to the Stalingrad, Caucasian, and Southern fronts simply shut up like clams.

It is this policy that has made Russia the greatest military and economic mystery in the world to outsiders. This same policy also makes the Soviet Union the hardest nation in the world for reporters to cover.

It is also this policy which, in large measure, is helping Russia kick the hell out of the Axis.

Even before the war, Russia did very little boasting about its industrial-agricultural economy. And since the war began, things have really closed down.

Now, twenty months after Hitler's attack, the Department of Propaganda and Agitation of the Moscow City and Regional Party Committee issued another warning to the public.

The warning, which was published in a pamphlet called the Agitator's Notebook and distributed to newsstands nationwide, says, "The experience of nineteen months of war proved that fascists tried by all means to infiltrate the Soviet rear. To learn military secrets and collect information, fascist agents and their flunkies do not cease their attempts to organize diversions in the Russian rear. They still attempt by all means to destroy the work of Soviet industry transport, collective and state farms. They are at the same time trying to poison unwary civilians by all sorts of rumors and lies, and trying to spread uncertainty among them and strike panic."

Russia, like the United States government, has not forgotten any of the lessons of the last war. In the past, German spies have arranged such neat little disasters as the Black Tom explosion in the United States. And German spies, who I must admit are pretty good at their job, also had their inning in Russia. In the last war they set up a wide network of espionage through German commercial firms, resulting in such spectacular deeds as destroying two military ports at Arkhangelsk and blowing up what was at the time Russia's biggest warship, Empress Marie, in 1916.

The world's two largest and most powerful nations are Hitler's most potential enemies. It is logical that he would try to gain every scrap of information that could help his Nazi High Command.

He's tried, and is still trying, in both the United States and Russia.

His espionage organization was set up many years ago—although it is definitely under control in both the United States and Russia. Russia has learned through years of fighting that she must still take every precaution against German spies.

Here's why.

This occurred several years ago in the Caucasus—before Hitler attacked Poland, while he was still prating about Nazi Germany's peaceful intentions. Every summer, German "tourists" went deep into the Caucasus. These "alpinists'" intent: conquering Mount Elbrus. It so happened that big new molybdenum deposits were just being uncovered in the nearby Baksan valley. It was natural that "tourists" visited that valley.

Soviet commanders who were chasing Germans out of the Caucasus found the Axis forces well-equipped with maps of areas through which Axis troops moved. And undoubtedly molybdenum deposits were the objective, second only to Baku's oil.

However, this was where German spies were even more ingenious.

A civil militiamen—as Moscow's blue uniformed policemen are called—climbed a Moscow streetcar shortly after Hitler's attack. He jammed himself into the car and offered to pay the woman conductress the twenty kopecks fare. She was surprised and suspicious, and had him arrested at the next stop. It turned out he was a spy who had forgotten that Moscow cops, like most of those the world over, don't pay streetcar fare—they ride for free.

Other spies have been discovered on those dark nights when mysterious planes fly over the countryside. Some of them bear Soviet markings. Not long after, a strange civilian or Red Army soldier or railroad worker or locomotive engineer may turn up in the neighborhood. Usually they carry completely correct credentials.

But Germans have gone even greater lengths attempting to get spies into the Soviet rear. Here's another example of their ingenuity.

Stretcher bearers in the battlefield somewhere in Russia picked up a wounded Red Army soldier with a head injury. The soldier said he lost his unit. When they got to the hospital, they found he was suffering an artificial wound that had been performed by German surgeons.

Another spy arrested several days later parachuted into a forest. He was a slim, young blond soldier who hid out in the woods for several days. Locals in this village later noticed a new "girl" in the district and attempted to start conversation, but the "girl" was arrested when it was noticed that he needed a shave.

But this is tame stuff compared to the lengths Germans have gone to obtain information—particularly on troops holding occupied areas in Russia where Russian lines are stabilized nearby.

It has been confirmed here that Nazi commanders are desperate for knowledge about whether the Soviet reinforcements being brought up will do to his unit what the Red Army did to Paulus. The Germans used local children, usually ages twelve to sixteen, and brought them before their trussed-up parents. They made them watch as their parents were severely beaten. The Germans then promised to stop the beatings if the children agreed to go to the Soviet rear and obtain the desired information. These kids were assured that if the information was not forthcoming, or if they failed to return, their parents would be shot. It is notable that Germans always keep these kinds of promises.

The Moscow Party Committee issued a warning to military security and added, "Every new man who comes to a factory or collective farm should have his past examined and be tested by the results of his labor."

They warned that spies do not always cause sensational explosions or perform large-scale sabotage. A spy may work small things such as burning down grain stores, haystacks, or barns. Perhaps tools will disappear or a tractor will suddenly break down. Watching those small things may expose bigger plots.

Russians are a naturally curious and suspicious people. Besides defeating the Red Army, Hitler's toughest job must be getting behind-the-lines information through his agents on the Eastern Front.

There is admittedly a considerable number of agents trying to get information out of Russia. There is only one other nation believed to be targeted by even more agents—the United States.