CHAPTER 30 – Why Stalin Did Not Trust Richard Sorge 313
Stalin prepared himself very seriously for war. He showed particular concern for Soviet military intelligence which is known today as the GRU. It is sufficient to read through the list of all the GRU chiefs since the institution was set up prior to 1940 to appreciate Stalin’s touching concern for his valiant intelligence officers:
Aralov — arrested, spent several years under investigation, in which ‘measures of physical coercion’ were used
Stigga — liquidated
Nikonov — liquidated
Berzin — liquidated
Unshlikht — liquidated
Uritsky — liquidated
Yezhov — liquidated
Proskurov — liquidated
It goes without saying that when the military intelligence chiefs were liquidated, their first deputies, their deputies, advisers and directors of their services boards and departments were liquidated as well. And when the heads of departments were liquidated, a shadow invariably fell over the executive officers and agents whom they were directing. The liquidation of the heads of military intelligence, therefore, meant the liquidation of the entire military intelligence.
It is said that this regular blood-letting had disastrous consequences for the intelligence service. This was not the case. Before, during and after World War II, the GRU was, and remains, the most powerful and effective intelligence service in the world. The GRU produces less secret information than its great opponent and competitor, the Ch.K. or KGB (the Soviet secret police), but the quality of its information is considerably higher. The constant purging in no way weakened the power of Soviet military intelligence. On the contrary, as each generation succeeded its predecessor, it became more aggressive. This succession of generations is like the way in which a shark renews its teeth. The new teeth appear in complete rows, forcing out the old ones, while more and more rows of new teeth can already be seen behind them.
The bigger the creature grows, the more teeth it has; the more often they are replaced, the longer and sharper they become. Intelligence officers who were by Soviet standards innocent, frequently, indeed very frequently, perished in the rapid succession of generations. Strangely, however, the Soviet shark never ended up toothless because of it. Hitler exterminated a large number of ardent Nazis who belonged to the SA, one of the great mass Nazi organizations, without weakening his regime in any way. The difference between Hitler and Stalin was that Stalin took his preparations for war very seriously. Stalin arranged nights of the long knives not just against his own communist storm-troopers, but against generals, marshals, designers and intelligence officers.
Stalin believed that it was very important to accept briefcases crammed full of documents from his intelligence service. But he considered it even more important not to accept a briefcase from his intelligence service with a bomb in it. His thinking on this proceeded not only from considerations of his own personal safety, but from considerations of the state as well. The stability of the leadership in critical situations is one of the most vital factors in the preparations which any state makes for war. Nobody ever pushed a bomb under Stalin’s desk at a critical moment, and it was not just chance that this never happened. Through his sustained, single-minded terror against the GRU, Stalin not only obtained secret intelligence of high quality, but also guaranteed the supreme leadership of the country against ‘unexpected events of all kinds’ at times of crisis.
Richard Sorge was a spy from the row of teeth which Stalin, as a precaution, ordered to be pulled out on 29 July 1938. He was stationed in Tokyo, where he worked as a journalist under the alias ‘Ramsay’. Soviet military intelligence was not so stupid as to publish Sorge’s most interesting reports. But even the few which have been published lead us into an impasse: January 1940: I am grateful for your greetings and wishes about my leave. If I go on leave however it will immediately reduce the information. May 1940: It goes without saying that we are postponing the date of our return home because of the present military situation. May we assure you once again that this is not the time to raise this question.
October 1940: May I count on coming home after the end of the war? This is a very odd correspondence. Every intelligence officer knows that he will be allowed to return home after a war. Yet Sorge puts the question again and again, listing the numerous services he has rendered to the Soviet regime. Every transmission in unbroken code from his clandestine radio station put Sorge’s entire espionage organization at risk. Had his radio station—intended for agent-running and top-secret codes — really been created to enable Sorge to ask such questions?
A multitude of books and articles have been written about Sorge in the Soviet Union. Some of them ring with strange praise of him. He was such a great intelligence officer, such a true communist that he even spent his own money, which he had earned in his difficult work as a journalist, on his illegal work. What nonsense! Were the labour-camp prisoners in Kolyma no longer digging up gold? Had the GRU become so impoverished that Sorge had to dip into his own pocket? The weekly magazine Ogonek (No. 17, 1965), published an interesting report that Sorge was holding very important documents, but was unable to send them to the centre, because the centre had not sent a courier. Ogonek did not say why the centre had not sent a courier, adding another puzzling question to the case.
But the explanation was quite simple. While all this was going on, Yan Berzin, the brilliant chief of Soviet military intelligence who had recruited Richard Sorge, was liquidated after suffering appalling torture. Solomon Uritsky, another GRU chief who had personally given Sorge his instructions, was also liquidated. Gorev, the Soviet illegal resident who had fixed Sorge’s passage from Germany, was in jail. (Komsomol’skaya Pravda, 8 October 1964)
Aina Kuusinen, a secret collaborator of Sorge’s who was married to a deputy head of the GRU who was both the President of the Finnish Democratic Republic and future member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU, was also in jail. Ekaterina Maksimova, Sorge’s wife, had been arrested, admitted having links with enemies, and was liquidated. Karl Ramm, the illegal GRU resident in Shanghai and former deputy of Sorge’s, was summoned back to Moscow ‘on leave’ and liquidated. Then Sorge received the order to come back on leave. Soviet sources do not conceal the fact that ‘Sorge refused to travel to the Soviet Union.’ A good deal of material on this subject was published during the Khrushchev era, including the frank admission that ‘Undoubtedly Sorge guessed what was awaiting him in Moscow.’
Not wishing to return to a certain death, Sorge continued to work for the communists, but now no longer in the role of a secret collaborator (seksot for short), but rather as an amateur informer, for his own satisfaction. Sorge had calculated carefully; I shan’t go now, but after the war they will understand that I spoke only the truth. They can pardon, and appreciate. That was why he was paying agents out of his own pocket, and why there were no couriers speeding towards him. The centre did not lose contact with him until the end. It accepted his telegrams, but apparently only to reply ‘Come home, come home, come home.’ To which Ramsay replied ‘Too busy, too busy, too busy . . .’
Stalin, therefore, did not trust Richard Sorge because he was a defector, with at least two capital sentences hanging over his head. One was due to his co-workers, who had denounced him in 1938 and put his name on the ‘general list’. The other was added later for malicious defection. Comrade Sorge himself did not greatly trust Comrade Stalin, which is why he would not go back. How could Comrade Stalin trust someone who did not trust him? Someone has made up the legend that Richard Sorge supposedly submitted highly important information about the German invasion to the GRU, but nobody believed him. Sorge was a very able intelligence officer, but he told Moscow nothing of significance about the German invasion. What is more, he fell victim to disinformation and fed the GRU with false reports.
On 11 April 1941, he telegraphed Moscow that: ‘The representative of the [German] General Staff in Tokyo has stated that war against the Soviet Union will begin immediately after the war in Europe ends.’ Hitler knew that it had already become impossible to conceal his preparations to invade the Soviet Union. He therefore said in secret, in a way that all should hear, ‘Yes, I want to attack Stalin . . . after I have finished the war in the west.’ We already know that exactly one month later, Stalin would do the same thing in his ‘secret’ speech when he said, ‘Yes, I want to attack Hitler … in 1942.’
If Sorge’s telegram of 11 April (and other telegrams like it) were to be believed, there was no need to worry. The war in the west would continue, alternately dying down and flaring up with new force. But when the end of that war came, it would be obvious. It would then be possible to concentrate all the efforts of the German war machine on the east. In other words, said Sorge, Hitler intended to fight on one front only. The GRU did not need Sorge to tell them this. After making a profound study of all the economic, political and military aspects of the situation, the GRU drew two conclusions: firstly, that Germany could not win a war on two fronts; and secondly, that Hitler would not begin a war in the east without first finishing the war in the west.
The first conclusion proved correct. The second did not. Sometimes a war is started without any prospects of winning it. Even before Sorge’s ‘warnings’, Lieutenant-General Filip Ivanovich Golikov, the new head of the GRU, submitted a detailed report to Stalin on 20 March 1941, which concluded that ‘the earliest possible date on which operations against the USSR may begin is the moment following victory over England or after an honourable peace for Germany has been concluded with her’. But Stalin knew this simple truth without Golikov having to tell him. That is why Stalin replied to Churchill’s letter of 25 June 1940 that Hitler might begin a war against the Soviet Union in 1941, on condition that Britain had ceased to resist by that time.
But Hitler, whom Stalin had driven into a strategic impasse with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, suddenly realized that he had nothing to lose and that inevitably Germany had two fronts. He began to fight on two fronts. Neither Stalin nor Golikov expected this. It was a suicidal decision, but Hitler had no choice. Stalin simply could not understand that having found himself in a strategic impasse, Hitler would take such a suicidal step. General Golikov, the head of the GRU, had not contemplated this either. Sorge simply confirmed this view with the false information in his telegrams.
Later, on 15 June, Sorge correctly named the date of the German invasion as 22 June. But which Richard Sorge was to be believed? The one who said that Hitler would not fight on two fronts, or the one who said he would? Sorge’s two reports cancel each other out. That apart, Sorge’s reports were only reports. The GRU, quite rightly, does not believe any reports; what it requires is reports with proof. Sorge was a great intelligence officer, and fully deserved his posthumously-awarded title of Hero of the Soviet Union. Sorge’s greatness, however, was brought to bear not on Germany, but on Japan. S. Uritsky, when still head of the GRU, personally gave Sorge his mission: ‘the point of your work in Tokyo is to deflect the possibility of a war between Japan and the USSR. Your main target is the Germany embassy.’ (Ogonek, 1965, No. 14, p. 23)
The German embassy was only a cover, to be used by Sorge to fulfil his main mission. His brief was not to warn about preparations for German invasion, but to deflect Japanese aggression onto another course. Sorge is widely known to have told Stalin in autumn 1941 that Japan would not come into the war against the Soviet Union. Stalin used this extremely important information to withdraw dozens of Soviet divisions from the Far Eastern frontiers and to throw them into the fighting near Moscow, thereby changing the strategic situation in his favour.
What is less well known is the reason why Stalin believed Sorge on this occasion: he believed him because Sorge gave him proof. Soviet historians prefer to pass over this proof in silence, and that is understandable. If Sorge said that Japan would not move against the Soviet Union, he could only prove it by indicating another enemy, against whom Japan was in fact preparing a surprise attack. As he followed his GRU brief, Sorge did not just forecast events. He directed them on a number of occasions.
In August 1951 the United States Congress was examining the Sorge affair. In the course of the hearings it was proved beyond all shadow of doubt that, through the person of’Ramsay’, its illegal resident in Tokyo, Soviet Military Intelligence did a vast amount to ensure that Japan began an aggressive war in the Pacific, and that this aggression was directed against the United States. (Hearings on American Aspects of the Richard Sorge Spy Case, House of Representatives 82nd Congress, First Session, 19, 22 and 23 August, Washington 1951)
Intelligence is the most thankless work in the world. It is the ones who fail who become famous, the ones who get hanged – like Sorge, for example. Stalin also had military intelligence officers whose achievements were truly outstanding; but, precisely because they were so successful, they remain entirely unknown to us. One Soviet intelligence officer had access to some of Hitler’s real secrets. According to Marshal of the Soviet Union A. A. Gretchko, ‘eleven days after Hitler accepted the final plan for the war against the Soviet Union (18 December 1940), this fact and the basic details of the decision taken by the German High Command became known to our intelligence organs’. (VIZH 1966, No. 6, p. 8)
We shall probably never learn the name of the great intelligence officer who performed this feat. It cannot be excluded that it was the same GRU resident who obtained the plan for Operation Citadel in 1943. But that is only my suggestion. In December 1940, Lieutenant-General F. I. Golikov, the GRU chief, reported to Stalin that he had confirmed reports which indicated that Hitler had decided to fight on two fronts, that is, to attack the Soviet Union without waiting for the war in the west to end.
This highly important document was discussed in Stalin’s presence in early January in a very restricted circle in the Soviet High Command. Stalin did not believe it, saying that any document could be forged. Stalin demanded of Golikov that he organize Soviet military intelligence in such a way that it would know at any moment whether Hitler was really preparing for war or just bluffing. Golikov reported that he had already done this. The GRU was attentively following a whole range of aspects of German military preparations, and from these the GRU would accurately identify the moment when preparations for invasion would begin. Stalin asked Golikov to explain how he could know this. Golikov answered that he could only tell Stalin personally and not anyone else.
Subsequently, Golikov regularly reported to Stalin personally, and each time he told him that the preparations for invasion had not yet begun. At the Politburo meeting held on 21 June 1941, Golikov reported on a massive concentration of German troops on the Soviet border, on enormous reserves of ammunition, on the regrouping of the German Air Force, on German deserters, and about other matters. Golikov knew the numbers of nearly all the German divisions, the names of their commanders, and where they were stationed. He knew many important secrets, including the name of Operation Barbarossa and the time of its inception.
After giving his report, however, Golikov said that preparations for invasion had not yet begun, and without these preparations it was not possible for Germany to begin the war. In the course of the meeting Golikov was asked whether he could guarantee what he was saying. Golikov replied that he would answer for his information with his head, and if he were mistaken, then the Politburo would have the right to do to him what had been done to all his predecessors. Some ten to twelve hours after he had said this, Operation Barbarossa began. What did Stalin do to Golikov? Do not fear, it was nothing bad. On 8 July Stalin entrusted Golikov with a trip to Britain and the United States, and briefed him personally. The visits were a success, and Golikov was then put in command of armies and fronts.
In 1943 Stalin appointed him to the vitally important post of deputy to the People’s Commissar for Defence, that is deputy to Stalin himself, to deal with cadre matters. Stalin allowed only his most trusted men to handle the delicate task of selecting and placing cadres. Beria, for instance, was never allowed to do this. Golikov continued to rise in rank after Stalin died, and eventually became a Marshal of the Soviet Union. It is understandable that he should not say one word in his memoirs about how he covered German preparations for war, how he remained alive, or why he had such swift advancement after Operation Barbarossa.
If one recalls what happened to all his predecessors, to whom nothing resembling a German invasion ever happened, and compares their fate with what happened to Golikov, then one’s bewilderment knows no bounds. The mystery of Golikov had been worrying me personally for a long time when I found the answer I was seeking in the Academy of the GRU. Later, when I was working in the central organization of the GRU, I found confirmation of this answer. Golikov used to report to Stalin that Hitler was not preparing for war against the Soviet Union. It turned out that Golikov was reporting the truth to Stalin, for in reality Hitler was not making such preparations. Golikov knew that Stalin did not trust documents. Golikov did not trust them himself. He therefore looked for some other indicators which would unerringly signal the moment when Hitler began his preparations for war with the Soviet Union.
All the GRU residents in Europe were ordered to infiltrate organizations directly or indirectly connected with sheep farming. Over a period of months, intelligence was gathered and carefully processed on the numbers of sheep in Europe, on the main sheep-breeding centres and slaughterhouses. Golikov was informed twice a day about mutton prices in Europe. In addition Soviet intelligence began to hunt for dirty cloths and oil-stained pieces of paper left behind by soldiers cleaning their weapons. There were many German troops in Europe. The troops were stationed in field conditions. Each soldier cleaned his weapon at least once a day. Cloths and paper which have been used for weapon cleaning are usually either burned or buried, but of course this rule was not always obeyed.
The GRU had ample opportunity to collect an enormous quantity of dirty cloths. Large amounts of these cloths were sent across the frontier, wrapped around various iron implements, so as not to arouse suspicion. Should any complications have arisen, the police would concentrate their attention on the inoffensive iron object, but not on the dirty cloth in which it was wrapped. In addition, considerably larger amounts than usual of kerosene lamps, gas stoves, primus stoves, lamps and lighters were sent across the border by both legal and illegal means. All this was analysed by hundreds of Soviet experts, and the results reported immediately to Golikov. He immediately informed Stalin that Hitler had not yet begun his preparations to invade the Soviet Union, so there was no need to pay heed to every build-up of German troops
or German General Staff documents.
Golikov had good grounds for believing that very serious preparation was required for a war against the Soviet Union. One of the vital things which Germany would need if it were to be ready to fight such a war was sheepskin coats; no less than six million of them. As soon as Hitler decided to attack the Soviet Union, the General Staff would have to order industry to begin producing millions of sheepskin coats. This would be reflected immediately on the European markets. In spite of the war, mutton prices would fall because of the simultaneous slaughter of millions of animals, while sheepskin prices rise sharply. Golikov also calculated that, if the German Army was going to fight in the Soviet Union, it would have to use a new type of lubricating oil for its weaponry.
The German oil usually used on weapons would congeal in the frost, component parts would freeze together and the weapons would not work. Golikov waited for the German Army to change the type of oil it used in weapon-cleaning. Soviet expertise in dirty cloths showed that the German Army was still using its usual oil, and there were no signs of a change over to a new type. Soviet experts also watched motor fuel. In heavy frost the normal German fuel broke down into incombustible partisles. Golikov knew that if Hitler decided to open a second front, he would have to order the mass production of a fuel which would not disintegrate in heavy frost. It was samples of German liquid fuel which Soviet intelligence was sending over the border in lighters and lamps.
The GRU had many other ploys like these which would have served as warning signals. They proved useless for the simple reason that Hitler set Operation Barbarossa in motion without making any preparations at all. Why Hitler acted like this will surely remain a mystery. The German Army was built for war in western Europe, but Hitler did nothing to prepare his army for war in Russia.
Stalin therefore had no reason to punish Golikov, who had done everything humanly possible to discover German preparations for an invasion. He told Stalin that no preparations were taking place, and this was the simple truth. There had only been a great build-up of German troops. Golikov gave instructions that not all German divisions should be targets of attention, but only those which were ready to invade; those divisions, that is, which each had 15,000 sheepskin coats in its storage depots. There were simply no such divisions ready for war throughout the entire Wehrmacht. Golikov could hardly be blamed for not seeing any preparations for invasion when no serious preparations existed.
CHAPTER 31 – How Hitler Frustrated Stalin’s War 325