Die Rote Kapelle

well_chuffed, Going Postal
Counterintelligence Corps 1947 file on Red Orchestra member Maria Terwiel

“Die rote Kapelle” was the name given to an agent transmitter discovered by the Germans in Belgium. They applied the term Kapelle to every case so there was the “Schrammel-Kapelle” , “Zither-Kapelle” , “Blas-Kapelle” an “Ardennen-Kapelle” and eventually the Rote Kapelle where the Rote , or red , referred to Bolshevism since these agents worked for Moscow. It is usually translated as the red orchestra in english but a Kapelle is smaller than that , more like a band , ensemble or group.

Even before the war started , the Russians had set up a network of agents which expanded all over central and western Europe. When the war started , this network was still being built. In Brussels the Russians had created a centre for agents. The head of this spy centre had become a partner in a large Belgian enterprise and could therefore make extensive journeys without attracting attention.

The radio traffic was first intercepted on 26 June 1941 , they did not solve the cryptographic system and it was a long time before the direction finders could fix the location of the station. In November 1941 they found it was in Brussels and on 12 December the location was found enabling counterintelligence to pick it up on 13 December. The early direction finding was a bit hit and miss to say the least and the Radio services of Germany were hard pressed for staff in the early days of the war , if not all the way through it.

The villa where it was located had been rented by the Russian Espionage Service and it was not only the radio location but also a shelter for the members of the agent group and a calling point for agents and informers. At the time of the raid they picked up six people  including two Russian officers and a polish woman who served as cipher clerk. This was merely the crew of the radio station , there were others to hunt down.

They found enciphered telegrams and decide the cipher keys must be in the house but couldn’t locate them. Brussels counterintelligence then refused to cooperate with the Radio Defence people , usual officialdom working , the villa was released after a short time and after six weeks , Radio Defence received the final report.

Looking through the photos of documents , they noticed a scrap of paper with a Caesar Key on it. The book used for this must have been in the house and in French. They interrogated the housekeeper , who knew nothing , but got the names of 8 or 9 books that could contain the key. By now the villa had changed hands and the contents had disappeared so they had to go out and buy these books , and we think our lot are incompetent.

Meanwhile using the partial key , the cryptanalysts worked on breaking the code and found a short sentence with the name Proctor. This name was found in one of the novels they had bought and so they could now get the keys and solve some of the enciphered telegrams. The addresses of a number of agents were disclosed so Radio Defence could penetrate the organisation.

They found a message transmitted in November 1941 containing the intention of the Germans to carry out an attack in the Caucasus in Spring 1942 , this meant very high level contacts. There were also reports on gasoline consumption and stocks of fuel and planes. This meant high level contacts in the Air Ministry or the Air Force.

The principal agent in Brussels was referred to as Kent and as they followed his messages he was on the road a lot through Germany and Czechoslovakia. He got his information from an agent called Coro. The Germans were on the trail.

When the war began the Russian Intelligence Service had not finished building up its foreign organisation. Radio connections from Germany were not functioning , call signs and traffic schedules had not been fixed and so it all got out of sync. A message sent to Brussels contained the names and addresses of 3 Russian agents in Berlin who were to establish radio connections to Moscow. This is against all rules of conspiracy and can only be explained because the situation was dire.

Kent went to Berlin to reestablish the contact of the Coro group with Moscow. This was late October or early November in 1941. The contact was still not adequate so Coro still sent most of his material via Kent. One of the three addresses had changed hands , the second belonged to a first Lieutenant of the Air Force who was opposed to National Socialism. His name was Schulze-Boysen and he was a relative of the Tirpitz family. He had become the head of a resistance group which was trying to overthrow the Nazis. The Gestapo put him under surveillance and found his co-conspirators.

One of these people was head of one of the departments in the Loewe company which just happened to be working on radar. As ever with Nazi Germany , this was shrouded in secrecy to the nth degree. This man sabotaged this research as best he could , not only was any advance was reported to the Russians but the engineer who did it disappeared from the plant to be replaced by one who had to start from scratch again.

Eventually a total of 120 people were involved including some very high officials. The end result was a gigantic trial that ended in the execution of some 60 persons in December 1942. In the meantime Kent had still not been uncovered and continued in Brussels.

The Germans played the Russians from Berlin but probably the Russians played the Germans more as they set up another network.

Those arrested led to more people at the third Berlin address. A second Russian agent station was picked up in Breslau. Among those arrested was Hermann Wenzel who had played a role in burning the Reichstag. He was turned and worked for the Germans until the summer of 1943 when he escaped. He reappeared in Holland and contacted Moscow via the British but was no longer trusted.

In June 1942 another transmitter was picked up in Paris using the same agent key as those from Brussels. A special detachment was sent to Brussels to try and penetrate these networks. Ultimately five stations were taken by surprise and used for deception but there were still two matters to clear up. Who was Kent and what was going on in Paris.

In August 1942 the Germans arrested an agent who had contact with the Dutch and Belgian networks. He let slip that he had once been in Kent’s house which he also pointed out. Kent had lived there but had it away on his toes after the Brussels station had been raided. He had been active as part owner of the Simex Company in Brussels , a commission house that did a lot of business with the German Armed Forces and Organisation Todt. The trail led to a similar business in Paris which the HQ of the French group.

Kent had a Uruguayan passport , this meant they had to liaise with the Vichy French (he was in Marseille) before he could be arrested. The leads led to the French network and even though big contracts were put their way , it was hard to get the leader called “Gilbert”. After arresting some intermediate agents they got the name of Gilbert’s dentist and he was picked up from the dentist’s chair.

There was much more to this case , the French network was heavily connected to the French Communist Party. The Germans found a Latvian General and while working for them thought he was working for the French resistance. The transmitters continued with the Germans operating them so the Russians were not tempted to replace the spy networks.

The Germans running this net also wanted to pose questions about under what conditions the Russians would be prepared to negotiate a peace but there was a a severe case of cold feet. They lived in fear of the Führer ever finding out they would have been talking peace with an enemy.

Next time , a less well known but possibly even more productive “Rote” and that is the “Rote Drei”. In fact , there were so many sources leaking to the Russians it is hard to know how they ever managed to work out what was really going on ; with Stalin’s legendary mistrust of just about everyone , perhaps much was ignored.

As a postscript , “Kent” is not named in this report but he was in fact , Leopold Trepper who had been in Palestine in the 1920s but had been expelled for being a commie. The GRU then set him up in business in Brussels and Paris.

© well_chuffed 2018

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