Sorge, the Spy on a Stamp
Just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in October 1941 the Tokyo Police arrested a correspondent of a German newspaper. He was Dr Richard Sorge a Russian spy and leader of an organised intelligence gathering ring.
When the Russians saw the brutal Japanese conquests of Manchuria at the beginning of the1930s. They thought this was a prelude to further expansion at the expense of Russian Siberia. The German and Japan treaties of 1936 seemed to qualify this belief.
To break into the unyielding mind of the Japanese was yet to be accomplished by diplomats and correspondents. Japan was a police state in the true sense of the word and security as tight as a drum. All foreigners were subjected to continual scrutiny by its fervent authorities and Kempetai the Japanese secret police.
This was not the only problem, deciphering and interpreting Japanese intentions was an unenviable task. It was clear the only was to accomplish this was by actual experience in its society.
According to the Fourth Bureau, Sorge had the correct credentials. He had dependability, charm, intelligence and possessed the essential requirement of luck.
In the melee of the first world war Sorge had decided to become a communist and joined the Comintern and later the Russian Communist Fourth Bureau. By1919 he became a fully fledged spy. His great uncle was a friend of Marx and Engles, has mother was Russian and father a German mining engineer.
Sorge had two contacts in Japan that would prove to be useful.
Hotsumi Ozaki was a journalist for the daily Asahi Shimbun.
Sorge had met him in China in 1933 while reporting in Shanghai and gather military information for the fourth bureau. Ozaki had made connections with the Chinese Communist party and was supplying them with information on Japanese plans. This provided Sorge and Ozaki with a pool of information they could use.
Ozaki was sent to Japan on consignment and Sorge was recalled to Moscow. Eighteen months later Sorge was in Japan and met up with Ozaki. Ozaki had been acclaimed as a specialist on China and invited to become a member of a special club. Members of this club included Prince Konoye the future prime minister of Japan. So successful was Ozaki he became an adviser to the cabinet secretariat, giving him an opportunity to pass information to Sorge.
Pre- war Japan had its close circle of establishment connections usually origination from a school or university. Ozaki fitted in well with this environment and was well liked for his knowledge of world of politics and academia. The Japanese were tight lipped to those outside the circle, but fairly open to those inside. As Sorge’s Trojan horse Ozaki supplied impeccable information during the run up to the eastern war.
On arrival in Japan, Sorge struck up a friendship with a fellow German Eugen Ott, who became an Ambassador. It may be possible that Sorge was a double agent as he did give information to Ott.
In September 1939 when war broke out in Europe Sorge was head of an efficient intelligence group. Information was sent to Siberia from a Portable transmitter and later dispatched to Moscow.
As a friend of Ott he would have breakfast at the German Embassy where he gained vital knowledge on German plans to attack Russia. Ritter von Niedermayer a special envoy told Sorge of the imminent attack and another German officer filled in the blanks. This was Lieutenant Colonel Scholl who had a heart attack whilst drinking. He informed Sorge of the number of German divisions massing on the Russian border. From the facts given he had to find out if the Japanese had plans to support their German allies. Sorge realised a war on two fronts would be disastrous. Ribbentrop had sent telegrams to Ott asking the Japanese to come in as Germans allies and attack Russia. The idea seems the Germans and Japanese were to meet in the Urals.
The Japanese army began to mobilise through the autumn months and the Americans and Britain responded by imposing an oil embargo.
The Japanese high command had a choice of targets and it was now up to Sorge to find out the actual one.
Sorge had two other companions involved, one a Yugoslav Journalist Branko Vukelic and a Japanese painter Yutoku Miyagi both employed by the fourth bureau.
The ring now contained Sorge, Ozaki, Klausen, Miyagi and Vukelic.
Miyagi was an expert radio operator who had his own successful business. Through time he began to lose interest in spying and his wife was unimpressed by communism.
Vukelic was a linguist and photographic technician, he had his own web of conspirators with communistic sympathies.
Ozaki reassured Sorge there would be no attack on Russian soil that year, unless the Russians withdrew from Siberia, or the European front caved in. This information came from a secret meeting of high ranking officers in Tokyo.
When Moscow was threatened in the autumn of 1941, eleven rifle divisions were sent from Siberia on the strength of Sorge’s intelligence. This action may have not only saved Moscow but all of Russia.
As Stalin had the habit of murdering anyone he disliked, including leaders of the fourth bureau, we are not a hundred percent sure if other spy units worked in Japan.
From excellent sources Sorge informed Moscow that Japan intended to attack the Americans late in 1941, and Pearl Harbour was mentioned. This information had to come direct from Japanese Naval sources as Tojo his Government and Army were not consulted on the target. The Russian Embassy in Tokyo had access to information on the impending attack on Hawaii, which surely would have come from the Serge spy ring.
As Japan was a oppressive police state the secret police would on occasions round up communist sympathisers. During one round up they arrested and jailed the mistress of one of the men. She was questioned and quickly revealed her red sympathies, and named her aunt a Mrs Kitabayshi as a communist.
Mrs Kitabayshi had lived in California and had as a lodger Miyagi the painter. Miyagi had used her as a spy since her return to Japan. Under torture Mrs Kitabayshi mentioned the name of Miyagi. He was soon arrested and made an attempt to kill himself by leaping out of the police station window. His strength depleted he did not last long under torture and named the other three. General Ott was flabbergasted with the news of Sorge’s. Convinced of Sorge’s innocence he lost no time telling the authorities. Even the Tokyo press corps sent a letter proclaiming his innocence.
Although Tojo the new Prime Minister allowed Ott to see Serge he could not use the ambassador as a contact with the outside world.
In the circumstances it would have been indiscrete of Ott to make further complaints, as the Pact between Japan and Germany to become allies in a war with America was still in the balance.
The wireless set and messages were found in Klausen’s house.
As there was no room for denial Sorge wrote a long confession on trivial details of his travels, missing out names and his association with the Fourth Bureau.
In the Tokyo district court they were found guilty, Sorge and Ozaki were sentenced to death. The others received long jail sentences where Miyagi and Vukelic died. The only survivor was Klausen who was released by the American army.
The Japanese made a request to exchange Sorge but the Russians were not interested.
Sorge and Ozaki were hanged in Sugamo prison Tokyo on the 27th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.
Sorge was an enormous favourite of the fairer sex, the Tokyo police found at least twenty girls who had affairs with him.
He was very keen on drinking to all hours night after night, yet rose early to do his job without a care.
His greatest feat was to instil mistrust in the Japanese of the German reliability as an ally.
The Russians in the 1964 recognised Sorge, making him a Hero of the Soviet Union and issuing a stamp to commemorate his service to Russia.
From an article by Richard Storry called The Sorge Spy Ring 1968.
And a look into a website or two.