Richard Sorge has been the most influential agent of the Second World War; after his death he has been nominated Hero of the Soviet Union and was revered by many official hagiographies and by a stamp emission, which is quite unusual for a foreign agent.
Richard Sorge was born in the Caucasus by a Russian mother and a German father who was a petroleum driller and a great nationalist and imperialist. He studied in Berlin and at the outbreak of World War I he volunteered, earning the rank of Officer on the field. Wounded to both legs by a grenade he gets dismissed and, disappointed by the absurd destructions caused by the war, he subscribes to the revolutionary wing of the workers’ movement.
At the end of 1924 he moved to Moscow and started working for the OMS, at the same time acquiring the Soviet citizenship. Between 1927 and 1939 the OMS charged him with a series of secret missions in Germany and, according to what he confirmed, in England and Scandinavia also.
In November 1929 he was recruited by General Berzin of the Fourth Department of espionage of the Red Army and was appointed to lead a network of spies in Shanghai. He was under cover as a German journalist and in this way he could get the collaboration of a young Japanese journalist, Hotsumi Ozaki, who became his best agent. Ozaki was a young idealist Marxist who came from a rich family that entertained important reports in the Japanese government circles.
In 1933 he was recalled to Moscow and was congratulated for his work directly from Berzin. Before being sent to Tokyo, his next and most important destination, Sorge is sent to Germany for a few months to build its official identity as a journalist and a reputation as a respected member of the Nazi party. In this period he reconnected with Captain Scholl, an old friend who introduced him in journalistic and diplomatic circles. Once in Tokyo Captain Scholl will be his military contact at the German embassy military, being a fundamental help in the creation of the spy network in Japan.
The spy network built by Sorge was the one that supplied to Moscow the more valuable information on the policy of the Germans and Japanese. For most of the eight years Sorge spent in Tokyo, the Kremlin regarded Japan as the greatest threat to the Soviet Union. He was so able to cover himself that a japanese reporter described him as a “typical Nazi, arrogant and boastful temper and heavy drinker”. But Sorge was especially a learned man, a really nice gentleman, and was able use all these qualities becoming one of the most prominent in the social life in Tokyo as well as infiltrating the German embassy and seducing the ambassador’s wife.
Sorge was able to predict the Japanese invasion of China in 1937 and the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union. This has been his masterpiece, providing to Moscow the exact date – June 22 – of the beginning of the Barbarossa operation, the largest land military operation of all times. Information came to him from high-ranking representatives: the german ambassador General Ott, his friend Scholl and an officer of the Reich Colonel Von Niedermayer. But information came at the time of higher paranoia of Stalin, when he had been decimating and weakening the best generals of the Red Army, and also in this case he got rid of the news as dubious and dangerous. Not being able to get his hands on Sorge, he shot Berzin, the General Commander of Military Intelligence and head of communications service.
A month after the German armored divisions invaded the Soviet Union.
Sorge couldn’t believe that; after eight years of risk, hard work and sacrifices, Moscow did not believe his information. As always, he didn’t loose his nerves and on July the 2nd 1941 he sent a new message: the japanese army and navy had decided to move their forces in the south-east of Asia in preparation for possible confrontations with the states in that area; this offered the opportunity for Soviet troops to concentrate on the Western Front.
The great talent of the agent “Ramsay” – code name for Richard Sorge – stands not only in his lively and complex system of relations, but in the ability to analyze, elaborate, connect and synthesize the enormous amount of information that he was able to collect.
But fortune turns its back to Sorge. The japanese secret service, after several raids in the japanese Communist Party, ran into a Japanese railroad official: he made the names of various comrades, including Miyagi Yotoku, one of Sorge collaborators. All members of the spy network are immediately arrested. After months of interrogation Sorge yields, asks for pen and paper and writes in German: “I am an international Communist since 1925″.
Sorge and Ozaki were sentenced to death by hanging, while the other group members get life sentence. The sentence was carried out on 7 November 1944, anniversary of the October Revolution.
In the Deakin historian words “he made compost journey to the place of the execution” to die hanged a few minutes after his friend Ozaki.
Richard Sorge now rests in the quiet cemetery of Tama near Tokyo where years later he was accompanied by Hanako-san, the woman with whom he shared the last years of his life.