Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Richard Sorge: Soldier of the Kaiser, Master Spy of Stalin

Richard Sorge (1892-1944) was a disabled German war veteran, who became a communist and Soviet spy. He was ultimately hanged, but only after organizing the spy ring in Japan that gave Stalin the exact date of Operation Barbarossa and the Japanese plans to attack Pearl Harbor.

Richard Sorge (Left) with a Fellow Soldier, 1915

Sorge was an idealistic student in 1914 when the war broke out. He volunteered for the German Army on 11 August 1914 and was assigned to the Third Guards Field Artillery Regiment. After minimal training, he was rushed into action and sent to the Yser sector in Flanders – a member of the tragic "Student Battalions." He saw his first fighting by November. Soon began his alienation and hatred of war.  During the summer of 1915 he was wounded by Belgian counterbattery fire and was evacuated to Berlin.

After convalescing, he was sent to the Eastern Front, where he was again wounded. After another cycle of hospital care and convalescence, he returned to action near Minsk and was wounded a third time, the most severe episode yet – shrapnel wounds almost costing him a leg. This would result in a fateful  hospital stay near Koningsberg during which he met and had a romance with a nurse whose father was an ardent communist. He eventually left the hospital and the military with an Iron Cross, 2nd Class, a permanent limp, and a totally radicalized political ideology.

He later wrote: "The World War from 1914 to 1918 exercised a profound influence upon my whole life. Had I been swayed by no other considerations, this war alone would have made me a Communist."

Richard Sorge in 1917 had started down the road to becoming Joseph Stalin's greatest spy of the Second World War. A good summary of his subsequent career and his success as the leader of the Tokyo Espionage Ring can be found here:

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