Recently I published a post about some early events in WWII that could have prevented the entire conflict. You can find them on my post titled “A World War II Lesson, and Hitler’s Rise to Power Applied to Modern American Politics.” This article is all about the number of moles in his high command and how another opportunity was lost to stop the crazy man.
The situation concerns Switzerland. The Constitution governing Switzerland dictates absolute impartiality in any War around the world that is not taking place inside the Swiss border. In other words, if they haven’t been invaded, they aren’t fighting.
Because of this, and borders with Germany, France, and Italy the tiny nation quickly became a hot bed of spies starting in the late 1930s. This is the story of some of those spies.
The two German spy agencies, The Abwehr, and the Sicherheitsdienst had more spies inside the Swiss border than any other nation state. The entire German activity there was aimed at figuring out the plans of other nations, should Germany continue to re-arm.
There was another, not as well-known reason (at the time). The leadership of both these German agencies assumed, correctly, that any internal German opposition to Hitler would have activity in Switzerland. Perhaps being there would help that activity become known, and be prevented.
Around the same time the Soviet intelligence groups began activities there as well. They wanted to gain intel on German activities and capabilities. By the mid-1930s Germany was re-arming as quickly as they could. One of these Russian spies was Alexander Radolfi who was posing as a Hungarian geographer. Rado (as his friends called him) had a primary source early in his time in Switzerland starting in 1937 named Otto Punter. Otto had a network of Germans who did not like the Nazi regime and wanted to prevent them from staying in power. Otto, by profession, was a former Swiss journalist.
Right around that same point in time Alexander A. “Jim” Foote was recruited, and sent, to be a Soviet spy in Switzerland and was tasked to learn as much as possible about Germany and Hitler’s plans. When he arrived, he was to wait outside a post office in the Rue du Mont-Blanc in Geneva on October the 10th, 1938. If he were at the correct place at the correct time a woman, his contact, would approach him, which she did. His contact was the very attractive Ursula Schultz. She was a German Jew who had been running a spy network since 1936. She had been radioing information to Moscow at two week intervals her entire time running that spy ring. When she did so, the Soviet’s would radio back orders.
At that meeting outside the post office, Sonia gave Foote a large amount of cash (2,000 Swiss francs), and relayed some orders that he was to travel to Munich in Southern Germany and search for useful information then return to Geneva in 3 months-time.
He did as he was ordered, and when he returned he had a load of useful intelligence. He had discovered that when Adolf Hitler, the birthplace of the Nazi party, he would often dine at a very popular restaurant called Osteria Bavaria. Foote had this idea, he wanted to plant a bomb and blow the German leader to bits.
Sonia was shocked, and decided the plan would not succeed and cause issues. Hitler always traveled with a large number of bodyguards, and she assumed that anyone attempting to carry out the plan would be discovered and that Hitler would be alerted to people working to undermine him. Sonia sent him back to Munich, and promised to send more cash.
In August of 1939 Sonia ordered him to come back to Switzerland. Rumors were running wild that Germany was preparing for an active War.
Other spy activities continued in Switzerland. Two middle aged men in civilian clothes got off a train in Lucerne Switzerland, and they immediately went to the home of Rudolf Roessler. These visitors were German Generals who, with eight other high ranking officers in the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (high command) in Berlin. These men were operating together and engaging in a conspiracy to prevent Hitler from executing plans to conquer Europe.
Roessler was in interesting individual. He had fought in World War I, but now hated violence. One thing he did have were friends who were Generals. Roessler had made the decision to do all he could to awaken Herrnvolk (German people) about the dangers of the Nazis. Roessler took a job as a reporter and wrote articles about the dangers of the Nazi’s which made him a man who was marked for potential death. He was writing these articles expressing the concerns he and his ten friends (the Generals) all held.
Roessler didn’t seem to mind that he was now an enemy of the State, even though he knew it was one of the most dangerous government organizations ever. In the summer of 1934, eighteen months after Hitler had become Chancellor of Germany and began the crackdown on his enemies. It was a dangerous time for Roesller, so he and his wife fled to Switzerland.
Two of Roessler’s friends, the visiting Generals got to the point. They wanted Roessler to know that War was going to break out in a matter of weeks. The Generals urged their friend to spread word as much as they can of the dangers associated with the Nazis and to attempt to keep their power base from expanding.
The Generals explained that the ten conspirators would get all of Hitler’s strategies in advance. These men were among those that did the planning for the German high command. One General told Roessler that the Berlin moles would send him top secret information and he could give it away, sell it, whatever he chose, so long as it was used to slow Hitler down.
Roessler could not decide which Government should get the intelligence information. He argued with himself and eventually settled on Switzerland. The Swiss found a pathway to get the information to the British.
May of 1940 there was a large amount of intelligence about Hitler launching a massive invasion of France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Every warning he sent was ignored.
The Nazi’s rolled through these regions and appeared to be ready to invade Britain. At this point, Moscow ordered Foote to become a radio operator for their man Rado, the chief Soviet Spymaster in Switzerland.
Foote installed new radios for the job, but was also now able to send information to London. Foote didn’t like Communism and was, at this point, a double agent. He apparently wanted to be on the winning side, whichever side that was.
Just before Christmas 1940 Roessler received a complete copy of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler’s planning invasion of the Soviet Union. This attack was set to kick off in the spring of 1941.
Rado learned that Swiss intel was about to arrest him. He left the country with his family in tow, he wasn’t going to spend the rest of his life in jail, or more likely in front of a firing squad.
Suddenly, Jim Foote, the double agent, as a result of this, was being overwhelmed with intelligence from Berlin and the Soviet espionage networks in Switzerland.
Moscow didn’t fully trust him; especially given the voluminous information he was sending. The leadership in the Soviet Union demanded to know his sources, which he refused to reveal.
When he wouldn’t reveal where he got the large pile of data, his transmissions were ignored. Even his invasion warning was written off as garbage.
Once the invasion took place, exactly as described, he had instant credibility. If only they had listened sooner.
Roessler continued to supply intel that permitted Stalin to stay one step ahead of the Germans. Now, if only his superiors would have listened sooner.
This is the challenge with the intelligence organizations. Which information is good and which is junk? If they had realized how solid his intel was earlier, how many lives could have been saved?
Now, you may think these things never happen in the modern world with all of the information we have at our fingertips. But, look at all the warning signs for 9/11/2001. Had we connected those dots and believed the right sources we might have prevented that attack, and how many lives could have been saved?
As a P.S. to this post. I was researching this time in history for an idea I had for an Historic Thriller novel. If you are a history buff, like fiction novels, and want to know more about the WWII actions in the Pacific theatre, you may enjoy my book China Bones. It can be found on Amazon (click on the words China Bones).