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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Secret Asian Man

There's a classic rock and roll song from 1966 called "Secret Agent Man" by Johnny Rivers.... a nice song, but many a person has listened to the songs without knowing the title, wondering if Rivers is really singing the words 'secret Asian man'.

You can click on YouTube HERE and listen for yourself.

Well, in that light, meet Richard Sorge, a German journalist who was a long-time spy for Russia while working in Japan during WWII—a real secret Asian agent, man. That's him in the image above.

A German going against two "friendly" Axis countries (Germany & Japan) for Russian with whom he had no affiliation?

I found out about Sorge while perusing my son's book on World War II, and noticed a U.S.S. R. (what everyone incorrectly calls Russia—including myself in the paragraphs above—but is really the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, a bastion of Communism for nearly a century until very recently) stamp (I collected stamps) featuring him.

Let's find about a bit more about him.

Sorge was born in Baku, Russia, on October 4, 1895, he was the youngest of nine children and the son of a German mining engineer. In 1898 the Sorge family moved back to Germany.

When World War I started (the war to end all wars it was naively called), Sorge joined the German Army and won the Iron Cross medal for his gallantry in action.

In 1916 Sorge had both legs broken by shrapnel, and while convalescing in the hospital, he started up a relationship with a nurse - yet it was her Marxist father who influenced him more.

Unable to continue in the war, he studied at Berlin University, but was more interested in learning more about the "organized revolutionary movement."

When the war ended in 1919, Sorge did some more studying at the University of Kiel in Germany and joined the newly formed German Communist Party (KPD), eventually getting work as a journalist, moving to the USSR in April of 1925 to work for the Comintern Intelligence Division.

This Comintern Intelligence believed one must fight "by all available means, including armed force, for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie and for the creation of an international Soviet republic as a transition stage to the complete abolition of the State."

Organized by leading members of the Soviet Union's leading communists, he must have been trusted, and was used by the Soviets to travels as a journalist to multiple European countries to assess the possibility of communist uprisings taking place - even visiting England in 1929. Communism, while often currently a dirty word nowadays, was considered by many countries as something worthwhile.

Pure communism, as an ideal - but never fulfilled in practice - is intriguing, what with everyone supposedly equal... but that is something never achievable by today's humankind. Some are always more equal than others.

A Soviet stamp honoring Richard Sorge. It was part of the 'antifascist' collection: "Heroes of the Soviet Union". One could have purchased it in 1965 for 4 kopecks - which was around US $0.01. On a positive note, it meant that it was widely available for any good comrade to purchase and use.
By November 1929, Sorge was back in Germany and told he had to join the Nazi Party, which was anything but a party, and told NOT to associate with left-wing activists... such as his communist buddies.

Well, Nazi Party member or not, Sorge was still a German spying on behalf of Mother Russia, and began to work for the newspaper, Getreide Zeitung, eventually moving to China where he met Max Klausen, another spy.

Max Klausen (or John Candy - joking)
Obviously the China of 1929 was nothing like the China of today - as it had only only just gone over to Communism in 1921 - and seeing non-Chinese there didn't have the alarm bells it would have had in later years. Besides... these guys wanted to be there as comrades in arms.

Sorge became an expert in Chinese agriculture (I assume that means rice) (and other stuff) and this afforded him to be able to do lots of traveling around China, with no questions asked, and could then also chat with the Chinese Communist Party members.
Agnes Smedley
Sorge also met another journalist there - Agnes Smedley - of the Frankfurter Zeitang - who introduced him to Ozaki Hotsumi (surname first) who worked for Japan's Asahi Shimbun (Asahi newspaper).

Ozaki Hotsumi
See - there is a Japanese link!

Ozaki agreed to join Sorge's spy network.

While in China, he married Yekaterina Maximova (Katya). In January 1932, Sorge reported on fighting between Chinese and Japanese troops in the streets of Shanghai. In December he was recalled to Moscow with his bride, where he wrote a book about Chinese agriculture

By May of 1933, the USSR wanted Sorge to create a spy network in Japan. To do this, he needed to be sent to Japan by German newspapers, and was able to get a few jobs that way, including the Nazi journal Geopolitik, but was mainly with the agricultural newspaper Deutsche Getreide-Zeitung

I love it. He's being paid by the Nazi's to spy for another country who are paying him.

It was at this time, that the USSR military intelligence gave him the code name Ramsay.

Arriving in Japan in September 1933, just as he had in England, he was told by his spymaster bosses to not talk to the Underground Japanese Communist Party or to contact the Soviet Embassy in Tokyo - he is supposed to be a German journalist, after all.

The Sorge spynetwork included:
  • Max Klausen;
  • Ozaki Hotsumi (I'll look at him in a later blog);
  • Branko Vukelic, journalist for Vu, a French magazine;
  • Miyagi Yotoku (surname first), journalist for the Japan Advertiser, an English-language newspaper;
Branko Vukelic
Vukelic and Miyagi were already Comintern members.

Miyagi, born in Okinawa in 1903, lived in California since 1919, married a Japanese girl in 1927 and lived in Los Angeles until 1932. In 1931, he joined the CPUSA (American Communist Party), and in 1932 he was recruited by Comintern to go to Japan for them on a mission - fully expecting to return home to the U.S. and his wife soon.

As German citizen living in Japan, Sorge could spend time at the German Embassy in Tokyo, and befriended some knowledgeable people, including included Eugen Ott and the German Ambassador Herbert von Dirksen, which allowed him to learn about Germany's plans against mother Russia.

Others in Sorge's network befriended politicians such as Japan prime minister Konoye Fumimaro (surname first), which gave them lots of juicy data on Japan's foreign policy.

What did Sorge's spies do?

They provided information to Josef Stalin, premier of the Soviet state on:
  • advance warning about the Anti-Comintern Pact (1936);
  • the German-Japanese Pact (1940);
  • Japan's Attack on Pearl Harbor (1941);
  • strategies for Japan for the Battle of Leningrad
And then there was Operation Barbarossa.

Operation Barbarossa was the 1941 German invasion of the USSR. Sorge's spy ring learned that Germany would attack Russia. The Battle of Leningrad was part of Operation Barbarossa.

But, even though Stalin didn't think any of that likely, the intelligence community of the USSR did, but was also worried about what Japan might do.

Sorge and the spies informed the Soviet Union, that Japan would not attack them until:
  1. Moscow was captured;
  2. The Kwantung Army (part of Japan's Army) was three times the size of Soviet Far Eastern forces;
  3. A civil war had started in Siberia.
By August of 1941, Sorge told Stalin and the boys that Japan wasn't going to attack the USSR and instead only had eyes for Asia, which enabled the Soviets to not have to split up its forces during the Battle of Moscow - and Germany suffered its first tactical loss of the war.

It is considered the turning point of World War II.

But, like all good things, they must end. Japanese intelligence soon began to think there was a spy network in their midst.

In September of 1941, the Tokubetsu Koto Keisatsu (Japanese Special Higher Police) arrested one of Miyagi’s associates, who gave up Miyagi as his spy boss.

Miyagi Yotoku
This lead to Sorge and Ozaki being followed, with Ozaki arrested on October 14, 1941, and Sorge and Clausen on October 19.

After three years in prison, Japan offered Sorge to the USSR for some Japanese prisoners - but they refused, and he was hung on November 7, 1944.

As well, conspirator Ozaki Hotsumi was also hanged on November 7, 1944. He was the only Japanese person to be hanged for treason via the Peace Preservation Law by the Imperial Japanese government during World War II.

By the way... if you think being a spy is not without stress, consider that Sorge died at the age of 49 - younger than me... he looks like hell in his pictures, and I'm pretty sure that while no longer pretty, I don't look like an old spy. 

And now you and I know more about the world than we did five minutes ago. Though admittedly it did take me a couple of hours to research and write this.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph 

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