One of my favorite introductions to a novel.

From The Red Orchestra: The Soviet Spy Network Inside Nazi Europe by V.E. Tarrant

First, this is a story of a loosely connected group of Soviet spy apparats (networks) which operated in Nazi Germany, Nazi-occupied France, Belgium & Holland, & neutral Switzerland during the Second World War & which were collectively known as Die Rote Kapelle – The Red Orchestra.

The Red Orchestra was not only one of the strangest spy apparats in the history of espionage, it was also one of the most effective, playing a vital part in the eventual destruction of the vile scourge of Nazism. Its agents & informers included Russians, Polish Jews, Frenchmen, Belgians, Dutchmen, Hungarians, Swiss, Germans, & Englishmen. Although the Red Orchestra was a GRU (Glavno Razvedyvatelno Upravlenie, or Soviet Military Intelligence) apparat, its members included people from diverse political persuasions, ranging from committed Communists to right-wing conservatives, & from many different social classes, from aristocrats right across the spectrum to the proletariat. They included amongst their ranks professional GRU agents, businessmen, publishers, ordinary soldiers, a fortune teller & a group of high-ranking, strategically placed German officers who provided the Red agents with the day-to-day decisions & planning made by Hitler & the German High command relating to the course of the war on the Russian Front. This diverse collection of men & women, who in normal circumstances would have had very little in common, were united by a single common denominator – a hatred for Nazis.

The German counter-intelligence agencies became aware of the existence of the Red Orchestra shortly after Hitler launched his invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, & thus began a hunt for the Red agents by the Abwehr (Military Intelligence) & the Gestapo (Secret State Police) which lasted for over two years. During this time, by dint of slow, painstaking detective work, lucky breaks, the application of ‘intensified interrogation’ (the euphemism for torture) & betrayal, the German sleuths slowly prised open the Red Orchestra. But by the time the investigation had been brought to a successful conclusion the German forces on the Eastern Front had been defeated, thanks in the main to the information sent to Moscow by the Red Orchestra.

1. Strange Bleeps In The Ether

At 3:15 in the morning of Sunday, June 22nd, 1941 a gigantic radical lightening flash, followed a split second later by a deep thunderous roar, rippled along the German-Russian frontier as thousands of heavy-calibre guns simultaneously belched forth fire & steel. This massive bombardment heralded an onslaught by more than three million German troops, who poured over the Bug & Niemen rivers to invade the Soviet Union. Four days later, at 3:58AM on Thursday, June 26th, while Hitler’s panzers were smashing through the forward Russian defenses, a German long-range radio monitoring station sited at Kranz on the Baltic coast of East Prussia intercepted a Morse code message being tapped out on the key of a clandestine short-wave radio transmitter. The operator who intercepted this message had tuned in to the frequency employed by partisans of the Norwegian Resistance, who made nightly contact with London, usually relaying a short message consisting of no more than ten to a dozen cipher groups. But the call-sign the operator intercepted on the morning of June 26th was entirely different from those used by the Norwegians: ‘KLK from PTX… KLK from PTX… KLK from PTX. 2606.03.3032 wds. No. 14 qbv.’ This strange call-sign was followed by a message composed of thirty-two five-figure cipher groups, ending with the Morse signature ‘AR 503.85. KLK from PTX.’

During the course of the next four nights the Kranz station intercepted further messages from the PTX pianist (as an enemy radio operator was termed in German counter-espionage parlance), & when the nature of these messages was reported to Lieutenant-Colonel Hans Kopp, commanding officer of the Funkabwehr (Signals Security), whose headquarters was situated on the Matthaikirchplatz in central Berlin, he ordered the radio monitoring stations in Germany & Nazi-occupied Europe to pay special attention to the PTX transmissions: “Essential discover PTX schedule. Night frequency 10,363 kilocycles. Day frequency unknown. Priority 1a’.

As the PTX transmitter had burst into life only a few days after the invasion of the Soviet Union, Kipp was apprehensive that the recipient of the PTX messages might well be housed in Moscow & that the enciphered messages were the result of information gleaned by a Soviet spy ring at work somewhere in the Reich or the occupied territories. During the course of the next two months the monitoring stations intercepted some 250 messages taped out on the key of the PTX transmitter, but attempts to discover the location of the clandestine set by taking cross-bearings on the source of the signals produced inconclusive results: all that the radio experts could suggest was that PTX was operating from somewhere in an area covering southern Holland, Belgium, & north-eastern France. As it was essential to locate the city or town in which the pianist was holed up before a hunt by German counter-espionage agents could be mounted, such an imprecise report was as good as useless: they may as well have suggested the North Pole!

In the meantime, however, a far more disturbing report landed on Kopp’s desk. Early in July the monitoring stations at kranz & Breslau, while searching the air waves for further PTX transmissions, intercepted messages from a second transmitter which was employing the same five-figure cipher as the PTX pianist. In addition, it was noted that the schedules & frequencies employed by this second pianist were closely related to the modus operandi of PTX, which strongly suggested that the two pianists belonged to the same espionage apparat. Moreover, attempts by the monitoring stations to pin-point the location of this second transmitter by cross-bearings had produced far more positive & alarming results: it was housed somewhere within a radius of less than five miles from the Funkabwehr headquarters in the very heart of Hitler’s capital! To make matters worse, the Funkabwehr codes & cipher evaluation analysts had come to the conclusion that the cipher employed by both pianists was of Russian origin, which presented Kopp with the unpalatable certainty that a Soviet spy ring was at work in Germany.

Kopp reacted to this discovery as though he had received a violent electric shock, for on the eve of invasion of Russia the counter-espionage agencies in the Reich has assured Hitler that Germany had been swept clean of Communists & Soviet underground agents. Indeed, the campaign to smash the German Communist Party – in its day, the most powerful in Europe – along with the Communist espionage & informer organizations of the Comintern (Communist International) had commenced immediately after the Nazis sized power in January 1933. During the next eight years thousands of German Communists vanished behind the barbed wire of the concentration camps, while the Gestapo (Secret State Police), SD (SS Security Service) & Abwehr (Military Intelligence) methodically tracked down & liquidated the Comintern underground of saboteurs, informers & agents operating in the Nazi state.

This violent campaign to rid Germany of ‘reds’ had obviously not been thorough enough, as evidenced by the sudden appearance of the Berlin pianist. Goaded into action, Kopp dispatched three radio monitoring squads on to the streets of Berlin at the beginning of September to hunt down the enemy pianist, who had already relayed over 500 messages through the ether to Moscow. Theoretically, the location of a transmitter was a relatively easy matter. Three monitoring squads, each equipped with a direction-finder set (a receiver with a rotatable loop aerial) posted themselves at three different positions some miles from each other & each took a bearing on the clandestine transmitter when the pianist began tapping out his messages. The bearings were obtained by slowly turning the loop aerials until they reached a position where the enemy transmitter’s signal sounded loudest in the direction-finder receivers. The resulting data were then reported back to the squads’ commander, who drew the three reported lines of bearing across a street map commencing from the known positions of the three squads. The point at which the three lines intersected would then reveal the position of the transmitter on the street plan. That was the theory, but in practice the process of detection proved to be far more difficult.

When Kopp’s monitoring squads began their hunt, disguised in post office mechanics’ uniforms & employing post office maintenance vans & canvas street shelters to hide their bulky direction-finder sets, they found their task beset with problems. Unlike the PTX pianist who transmitted practically every night, the Berlin pianist functioned capriciously, alternating bouts of feverish activity with spells of silence which sometimes lasted for days at a time. To compound this difficulty the monitoring squads also had to cope with the pianist’s campaign of subterfuge. To throw the hounds off the scent he constantly changed his call-sign & transmitted on a variety of wavelengths. For example, on one particular night he put out his call-sign on 43 meters, received his acknowledgement from Moscow on 39 meters & then switched to 49 meters to transmit his message. He also introduced an additional stratagem by putting out a fresh call-sign when he switched from 43 to 49 meters, to give the impression that another transmitter had joined in.

To complicate matters still further, it soon became apparent from the bearings taken by three squads that the pianist was transmitting from three different places. Nevertheless, by October 21st, 1941 the detection squads had managed to narrow down the search to three approximate locations, each being less than two miles from Funkabwehr headquarters: one was near the Bayrische Platz to the south-west of Funkabwehr HQ, the second was to the eastward near the Moritzplatz & the third was due north in the area of Invalidenpark.

By this stage Kopp was confident that a few more days of short-range direction finding would pin-point the actual tenement blocks used by the pianist, & a raid launched when he was actually tapping out his messages would bag the elusive quarry. During the night of October 22nd the three squads searched the air waves in vain for the tap of the pianist’s key. Frustratingly, it seemed, the pianist had lapsed into one of his periodic bouts of silence. Night after night the three squads continued to search the air waves without success until, more than a week later, it dawned on Kopp that the pianist, by some ocular means, had discovered or been warned that the hounds were closing in for the kill.

Left with no alternative, Kopp withdrew his monitors & ordered the long-range stations to pay special attention to the Berlin area so that the Funkabwehr would be alerted should the wary pianist being transmitting again – if he ever did. In the meantime, Kopp had to admit defeat: the trail had gone cold.

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Vera Mae, Vera Mae. Vera Mae said: The Red Orchestra: […]

  2. This was fascinating! Also, I want to read a novel with the fortune teller as the main character ;).

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