Rado’s Radio Shack #4: Trepper’s French Group

Campaign Series East Front III | Rado's Radio Shack

From the Director:

After Leopold Trepper escaped from Belgium in summer 1940, he started another network in France.

With help from Leon Grossvogel, another cover company, SIMEX came into existence, along with sub-groups Andre, Harry, Professor, Artzin, Lyons, and Marseilles. This article provides an overview of the new Trepper organization.

Leopold Trepper Background

Trepper was known by several aliases, including “Mikler,” and “Le Grand Chef.” Born into a Jewish merchant family near Zakopane Poland, in 1904, he left school in his teens to work in the mines of Kattowitz. He was a labor activist, and joined the Communist Party, and by the time he was twenty-two, he was jailed for heading a revolt at Dombrova.

After eight months in prison, and unable to find work, Trepper went to Palestine to join the Zionist movement. There, he began an apprenticeship as a spy. In 1928, he went to France and joined the Rabcors, a Communist group providing information to Moscow.

The French Commissaire dismantled the Rabcors in 1932, and Trepper escaped to Moscow. Between 1932 and 1935, he attended the KUMNZ University, (Communist University of the National Minorities of the West) and also joined a closed community of Communist agents-in-waiting. Trepper received intensive instruction in Soviet intelligence.

In 1936, Trepper was technical director of Soviet intelligence in Western Europe, and  returned to Paris, France. His first successful mission, was the discovery of the traitor responsible for the arrest of the “Phantomas.”

In the autumn of 1938, Trepper, alias Adam Mikler went to Brussels with his wife Sarah Orschitzer. He worked with Leon Grossvogel, who he had known in Palestine. They set up the Belgium network and the cover company, “Foreign Excellent Raincoat Company.”

In 1940, Trepper escaped Brussels and set up a new network in France. In early 1941, he sent information about German troop transfers to the Russian border, ostensibly preparing for an invasion. The Abwehr tracked him down, and arrested Trepper on November 24, 1942 from a dentist’s chair.

Trepper managed to escape in 1943, and went underground. After the war, the Soviets imprisoned him in Lubyanka until 1955. He settled in Jerusalem in 1974, and died in 1982.

Leopold Trepper

Leopold Trepper

Formation of Trepper Group in France

When Leopold Trepper fled from Belgium to France in July 1940, he had already accumulated a great deal of experience and contacts in France. Paris was his base from 1936 to 1938.

Trepper renewed his direct contact with Moscow by getting in touch with the Soviet Military Attache in Vichy. The attache supervised his efforts to build an organization, and directed him to pursue military intelligence targets. Trepper’s assistants were Leon Grossvogel and Hillel Katz.

Although he was not the leader of any group, Hillel Katz (alias Andre Dubois, alias Petit Andre) was Trepper’s secretary, and played a leading role. With the help of Grossvogel and Katz, Trepper  developed acquaintances with people favorable to the Soviet Government or sympathetic to the Communist cause, and recruited them as agents.


SIMEX, was a cover business established in Paris through Grossvogel’s efforts. (The name was derived from S for Societe, IM for import, and EX for export.) In the new firm, Trepper appeared as Jean Gilbert. It was Grossvogel’ s task to build a sound and respectable business, while Trepper handled clandestine activities, using the firm for cover. SIMEX eventually spread far afield, and at the time of its 1942 demise, had  representatives in Germany, Scandinavia, and the Balkans.

The SIMEX business had general dealers and contractors handling utilities and operations needed by the German occupation. They dealt extensively with the Todt organization. The firm provided the network direct contact with German industrialists and businessmen, and gained valuable privileges in the course of its business, such as freedom of movement in occupied territory.

Grossvogel ran the business end SIMEX, but he feared that his status as a Jew might cause suspicion with German contacts. He withdrew from the firm and directed his efforts to the clandestine communications of the network. In his place, Alfred Corbin, a Communist sympathizer, took over the directorship.

Before business deals, Corbin asked suitable questions to the German clients. In this way, much intelligence was gathered, while saying very little. Care was taken that negotiations were always conducted with persons in important or responsible positions.

The “Grand Chef” played this role with great skill and delicacy, without anyone suspecting that he was a highly accomplished Soviet intelligence officer. Instructions were always sent out as business communications, or similarly disguised, leaving no evidence of their intelligence nature.

SIMEX representatives sold the idea that “a businessman who wants to be superior, must be informed about everything, and must continually keep abreast,” and “without a sound inquiry, no business transaction can be carried out successfully.” With this tact, they acquired cheap, dependable sources of information in Belgian and French business circles, with excellent camouflage.

Seven Networks

The organization had seven separate groups or networks in France, each active in its own field, and under its own chief. Trepper’ s seven groups were constructed centrally, with parallel but completely independent networks in which only the group leader had direct contacts with the “Grand Chef.” They had regular meetings and a system for the Grand Chef to reach group leaders at predetermined locations. This communication method was not possible in the other direction, however. Stringent measures of security and compartmentation were built into the organization.

The groups were as follows:

(1) “Andre” (Andre Grossvogel): Information concerning economy and industry; the wireless communication of the organization.

(2) “Harry” (Henri Robinson): Information from French military and political circles, from Vichy intelligence (Deuxieme Bureau), from the Central Committee of the illegal Communist Party, and from U.K. and Gaullist circles. (In contact with Trepper only after September 1941.)

(3) “Professor” (Basil Maximovitch): Information from White Russian emigrant circles; special contacts with various sections of the German Wehrmacht.

(4) “Arztin” (Anna Maximovitch): Information from French clerical and royalist circles; special contact with Bishop Chaptal.

(5) “SIMEX” (Alfred Corbin): Information from German administrative departments and firms; financing of the organization.

(6) “Romeo” (Isidor Springer): Leader of the Lyons group; contacts with US and Belgian diplomats.

(7) “Sierra” (Victor Sukolov): Leader of the Marseilles group; information from circles around Darlan and Giraud; contacts with French authorities and administrative departments.

Trepper's French Group Organization

Trepper’s French Group Organization

Wireless Transmission Capability

From the time he escaped from Belgium in summer 1940, through 1941, Trepper used the Belgium radio network, operated by Wenzel for transmission to Moscow. The search for radio operators for French operation was assisted through the military attache in Vichy, who helped Trepper in recruiting. A list of active Communists identified Hersog and Marian Sokol, and they were selected to be trained as W/T operators.

Grossvogel was responsible for establishing a reliable wireless line and supervising the operators. Three W/T sets were made available to the organization, although only one was ever used. One set belonged to Robinson, but was unusable. The other was an American set which was operated by the Sokols. The third was a set was given to the Girauds by the French Communist headquarters, and never used.

By April 1942, the Sokols were transmitting, but were not able to contact Moscow directly, and their messages went to London first, and then relayed to Moscow.

The Sokols were arrested in June 1942, and so Trepper had to transfer this function back to the Jeffremov network in Brussels, operated by Wenzel.

Documentation and Passports

Agents had to move in and out of several European countries, and so obtaining passports was critical to espionage operations. Many networks used forgers, such as Abraham Rajchmannn in the Belgium network.

Trepper used the alias Adam Mikler when he arrived in Belgium. He carried Canadian passport #43761, issued in Ottawa 12 July 1937. Canada is one of the few countries that issues by mail and does not require a personal appearance before an official. The requirement is to visit a travel agency, have a reasonable cover story, lie under oath, and pay a $5 fee.

However, Canadian records tell a different story. According to the immigration authorities, no person by the name of Adam Mikler has ever entered, resided in, or left Canada.

Canadian passport #43761 was issued on 7 July 1939 to one Michael Dzumaga, born in Winnipeg on 2 August 1914. This man fought in the Spanish Civil War as a volunteer in the Mackenzie Papineau Brigade. In 1946, Dzumaga was not in possession of his passport, which he claimed was lost while he was in Spain. 

 It appears that passport #43761 was an authentic Canadian passport, but fraudulently altered by the Soviets, and then used by Trepper. This type of document forging was common within the intelligence services.


Trepper was a very knowledgeable spymaster, and was able to create and operate relatively large networks within hostile countries. His association with the Belgium and French networks required creating cover companies, and setting up communications systems.

The French network had good contacts through SIMEX, and probably provided good information to Moscow. This information was probably about the German troop movements within France, and may not have had much direct application to the German armies on the East Front.


“The Rote Kapelle – The CIA’s History of Soviet Intelligence and Espionage Networks in Western Europe, 1936- 1945”, Paul Kesaris, University Publications of America, Inc.

Campaign Series East Front III | Rado's Radio Shack

Alexander “Sandor” Radó alias DORA

Rado’s Radio Shack is the latest series of articles by David Galster that provides an overview of Soviet run spy networks in Europe during World War 2. The articles provide some interesting historical background information for Campaign Series: East Front III.

Rado’s Radio Shack #3: Trepper-Sukolov Spy Ring

Campaign Series East Front III | Rado's Radio Shack

From the Director:

The Trepper-Sukolov Group operated in Belgium, and this article is an overview of their somewhat complex history.

Belgium Advantages

The Soviets favored Belgium as a spy base because it was close to other countries, and had good commercial cover opportunities. Businessmen could travel freely on the continent, and to the British Isles without attracting attention. The authorities were somewhat indifferent to espionage, as long as it was not against Belgium. For these reasons, the GRU used the country widely in the 1930s as a training ground and base for its agents.

Soviet Spy Network Development

Spy networks had to be created, and the Soviet intelligence approach was for Moscow headquarters to send lists of spy candidates to the diplomatic representative. These contained the persons’ necessary background information. Strict care was observed to reject people who had been outspoken in public as Communist sympathizers. Their suitability and dependability was already established by the Director.

They were mobilized by an induction order designating a time and place for them to appear, along with detailed instructions for recognition signals, methods, and cover. Their intelligence officer contacts received similar orders. This system was practical for filling slots in networks with clocklike precision.

The Belgian networks of the Rote Kapelle were made up of: (1) Agents who had been working for the Comintern for many years, such as: Johannes Wenzel, (2) Soviet officers, such as: Leopold Trepper, and  (3) Agents recruited by Trepper, such as Herman Isbutsky.

The following table shows many that were active in the Trepper-Sukolov Group in the years from 1938 through the end of 1941. Trepper was the leader from December 1938 to July 1940. He fled to France when Germany invaded the Low Countries. His Deputy, Victor Sukolov stayed and rebuilt the network under the German occupation, until he was compromised, and forced to escape in late 1941.

A third network picked up the pieces and operated under Konstantin Jeffremov. It was marginally effective. In Summer 1942, it was detected and its members arrested and imprisoned. An organization table of the Trepper-Sukolov network follows.

Trepper-Sukolov Group Organization

Trepper-Sukolov Group Organization

Cover Companies

The first “cover” company for the network was the The Foreign Excellent Raincoat Company.

Trepper started this cover before the spy operation was launched. He believed that satisfactory spying could only be accomplished with a commercial cover. This could finance the espionage, and help avoid suspicion. Cover firms, or “shadow enterprises” had existed many years before in Europe, and were employed successfully during World War I.

Trepper turned to Leon Grossvogel, a former Comintern agent that had been employed by the Brussels firm, Roi du Caoutchouc, since 1929. In 1935, he managed the foreign subsidiary, the Excellent Raincoat Company. But, he was unpopular with his employers and in 1937, he became the firm’s traveling inspector.

Grossvogel proposed setting up an independent subsidiary company in the same business. His employers agreed and put up half the funds, and held half interest. Grossvogel owned half, and appointed Louis Kapelowitz, Abraham Lerner, Moses Padawer, and Jules Jaspar as Directors. The new company was the  Foreign Excellent Raincoat Company.

Germany seized The Foreign Excellent Raincoat Company when it invaded Belgium in 1940. And, with the departure of Trepper and Grossvogel to France, a new cover company was needed.  In March 1941, Viktor Sukolov set up and registered SIMEXCO in Brussels, with he and Nazarin Druilly as principal stockholders.

This was a “sister” firm to SIMEX, that was set up in France by Grossvogel. SIMEXCO was a genuine business and was granted telephone and telegraph facilities by the German authorities. The business was in general dealings and contracting supporting German occupation.

Sukolov set up a W/T operation, and established good communication with the new Trepper Group in France. Likely, many of Trepper’s intelligence messages to Moscow were sent through this W/T.

Sukolov fled from Brussels in December 1941 to France, and Nazarin Drailly took over the company management. The 1941 SIMEXCO profits were 1090000 Francs. Later, in July 1942, after the spy operation was detected by the German III N Ast, the firm was sold to Louis Thevenet, who was not not involved with espionage.

Important Intelligence Provided

The Belgium operation’s main value was in wireless transmission to Moscow. They could operate transmitters without suspicion more easily than in other countries, like Germany, Switzerland, or France. Couriers could enter and leave Belgium more easily also.

In particular, Sukolov received reports from the German Harnack and Schulze-Boysen groups via courier, and to relayed from Belgium by wireless to Moscow. And, as stated earlier, Sukolov was handling W/T to Moscow for the Trepper Group in France in 1941.

Among the reports produced by the German groups and passed to Moscow by means of Sukolov ‘s transmitter in Brussels were the following: a. Information about the strength of the Luftwaffe at the outbreak of the Russo-German war. b. The monthly production figures of the German aircraft industry for June and July 1941. c. Advance information about the German attack on the Maikop oil fields. d.Figures on the losses of German parachutists in Crete.

The W/T operators were Johann Wenzel, Mikhail Makarov, and Anton Danilov. Wenzel’s W/T was in Brussels, and Makarov’s was in Ostende, but the facility was destroyed by German bombing in May, 1940, and he fled to Brussels and set up his own W/T there. Danilov was an assistant to Makarov.

Through his contacts with Bulgarian diplomatic circles, Trepper was able to tour the war-torn areas of Belgium in mid-May 1940, on the assumption that he was checking the damages to his business resources. He then wrote a lengthy report on his observations and discussions with people enroute, and forwarded it to Moscow.

“Andre” (Grossvogel), provided information concerning economy and industry, and “Romeo” (Isidor Springer) had contacts with US and Belgian diplomats.

As a member of SIMEXCO, Jean Passelecq became an active agent in the Sukolov network, supplying military intelligence to Sukolov himself, Isbutsky, and Drailly.

Sukolov Group after German Invasion of Belgium

Sukolov Group after German Invasion of Belgium

Victor Sukolov, alias “Kent”

Victor Sukolov was born 7 November 1913 in St. Petersburg into a Jewish family, with name Anatoly Markovich Gurevich. He had many aliases, but the main ones were “Kent” and “Sierra.” In his teens, he was a factory worker and Komsomol member. He also had a gift for languages, and wanted to develop this for intelligence work.

Sukolov volunteered for the Spanish Civil War, hoping it would boost his career. He made the rank of Captain, and afterward was extensively trained  in espionage techniques by the GRU in Moscow. He learned about equipment, photography, and chemistry.

In 1938, he was posted to France. He visited Berlin in April 1939 to reactivate the Schulze-Boysen network, and initiate a courier service between Germany and Belgium. In July 1939, Sukolov entered Belgium as Uruguayan student at the University of Brussels. He used the cover name Vincent Sierra.

He delivered money and W/T technical information to Alexander Rado in Geneva in March 1940.  Sukolov worked as Trepper’s assistant in Brussels until Trepper fled to France in July 1940. At that time, Sukolov was placed in charge of the Belgian network. As head of SIMEXCO, he was able to travel freely, and in 1940 and 1941 he made trips to France, Germany, Switzerland, and Czechoslovakia on intelligence missions.

Members of the Belgium network were arrested in December 1941, and Sukolov escaped to France with his mistress Margarete Barcza. In January 1942 Sukolov reactivated a group of Czech agents in Marseilles, with cover of a branch of SIMEX, run by Jules Jaspar and Alfred Corbin.

He was arrested in Marseilles in November 1942. Ultimately, he was taken to Gestapo headquarters in Berlin for intensive interrogation. Agreeing to to cooperate, March 1943 Sukolov’s W/T playback to Moscow began. This continued until May 1945 from various locations.

The French captured him at Bludenz, Austria, 3 May 1945. He was turned over to the Soviet authorities, and ultimately imprisoned at Vorkonta. He was released in 1956, and afterward lived in St. Petersburg. He died in 2009.

Victor Sukolov in old age

Victor Sukolov in old age

Courier Techniques

Couriers were used extensively by the networks. Most couriers were aware of their package contents but some were used as “dummies.” The network chief usually sent couriers to fixed rendezvous points in neighboring countries, to make contact with Moscow couriers.

The courier system was slower than other means of communication, but was more secure for bulky documents, microfilm, or equipment.

Many techniques camouflaged intelligence material appearance for secure delivery. Agents were told to never appear to be handing over anything unusual to the contact. They used everyday objects for concealment, such as fountain pens, cigarettes, pocket or wrist watches, or match boxes. Reports were hidden between newspaper pages, which were pasted together. They could be concealed in shoe soles, or underneath trunk labels.


“The Rote Kapelle – The CIA’s History of Soviet Intelligence and Espionage Networks in Western Europe, 1936-1945”, University Publications of America, Inc

“Anatoly Gurevich”, Wikipedia

Campaign Series East Front III | Rado's Radio Shack

Alexander “Sandor” Radó alias DORA

Rado’s Radio Shack is the latest series of articles by David Galster that provides an overview of Soviet run spy networks in Europe during World War 2. The articles provide some interesting historical background information for Campaign Series: East Front III.

Rado’s Radio Shack #2: Rote Drei

Campaign Series East Front III | Rado's Radio Shack

From the Direktor:

The Switzerland intelligence network, known as the Rote Drei, (Red Three) provided Moscow with much information on the German Army, its plans, and operations. The ringleader, Sandor Rado, coordinated the efforts of three sub-group leaders, codenames Sisi, Pakbo, and Long. In addition, he oversaw at least four radio operators, in various locations in Switzerland.

Sandor Rado Background

Rado was a Hungarian from Ujpest, near Budapest. He was born into a Jewish family in 1899, and after graduating from the gymnasium, was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian Army. He attended officer training school, graduating in 1918, and was afterward assigned to an artillery regiment.

During this time, he also studied law  as a correspondence student at the University of Budapest.

The academic environment, and political mood of the time influenced him to join the Hungarian Communist Party. After the fall of the monarchy, and subsequent Communist takeover in Hungary, he was assiged as a cartographer for a Hungarian Red Army Division.

Eventually Rado became the commissar for the division’s artillery, and was involved in fighting anti-communist insurgents. But, when the Hungarian Communist regime fell in September 1919, Rado fled to Austria.

At the University of Austria, he studied geography and wrote on military topics for the  German-language Magazine Kommunismus, published by Hungarian political refugees. In July 1920, he established Rosta-Wien, an information agency, which he used to spread propaganda broadcasts from the Soviet Union.

Later, Rado moved to Germany, and prepared for the Communist uprising there. But, the badly planned revolution failed, and he went to the Soviet Union in 1924, where he worked for World Economy Institute of the Communist Academy.

In 1926, he returned to Germany, and established the Berlin cartographic agency “Pressgeography”. Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 caused him to flee to Paris. There, he formed an independent anti-Nazi press agency, “Impress.”

With the arrival of Prime Minister Pierre Laval, French policies became more sympathetic to Nazi Germany, and suspicious of Communists and left-wing activists. Rado began planning to move to another country. During this time, the deputy chief of Soviet military intelligence, Artur Artuzov approached him, and recruited Rado as an intelligence agent to spy on Nazi Germany.

Rado first sought residence in Belgium, but having his request denied, he obtained approval on a residence permit in Switzerland. Geneva was his choice because the League of Nations was there, with potential information contacts. In Geneva, Rado set up a cover business, GeoPress Agency, ostensibly to make maps.

Forming the Spy Ring

Starting in 1937, Rado began obtaining contacts and information on the Italian military, and its support of General Franco in the Spanish Civil War. The “Center,” as the GRU HQ was called, was interested in information about Italian troop transfers to Spain.

In La Spezia, Italy, Rado observed three warships loading troops and supplies. He was even able to gain access to board the cruiser, “Giovanni delle Bande Nere.”  He passed this information to his Paris handler, codename “Koyla.”

Later, Koyla authorized Rado to be the group head in Switzerland. A new contact, Otto Puenter was introduced and assigned to Rado to contact other sources. Puenter’s codename was “Pakbo.” Thus began the spy ring, with Rado, codename “Dora” as the leader.

In the years 1938 and 1939, Rado developed the group. He gained two other sub-group leaders,

Rachel Duebendorfer, codename “Sisi,” and Georges Blun, codename “Long.”

Ultimately, the sub-group leaders made contacts with well-connected sources, that provided very valuable information. In the years of 1939 to 1941, there were at least nine sources: Codenames Poisson, Gabel, Louise, Salter, Agnessa, Grau, Taylor, and two others that were not identified.

The subgroup leader Sisi, or Rachel Duebendorfer would later find a source, codename “Lucy,” with contacts in the German High Command. This was a 1943 development. Lucy, identified as Rudolf Roessler, got information from sources, with codenames “Werther,” “Teddy,” “Olga,” and “Anna.”

The identity of these was never confirmed by direct testimony or documentation. However, a CIA study suspects these were: General Hans Oster, Abwehr chief of staff Hans Bernd Gisevius, German politician Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, and General Fritz Boetzel, Intelligence Chief for Army Group Centre. These sources became available to Rote Drei in 1943, useful in the battle of Kursk.

Rachel Duebendorfer, "Sisi"

Rachel Duebendorfer, “Sisi”

The following table describes the basic organization of the Rote Drei regarding sources and sub-group leaders.

Rote Drei Code Names

Rote Drei Organization

Intelligence Gathered 1939-42

Here are some important messages that Rote Drei transmitted to the “Director” in Moscow between 1939 and 1942. They predicted both the invasions of Poland and Russia by the Germans.

In 1939, Gabel provided: “. .  disposition of  Italian army land and air units, Italian military industry and shipbuilding, and arms for Franco.”

In 1939 Poisson sent: “Hitler government was preparing to seize Danzig (Gdansk)”

and 1940: “According to the Japanese attaché, Hitler said that after a quick victory in the West, a German-Italian offensive would begin on Russia.”

In 1941 Geodress sent: “Rommel said: The time of our action against Russia is just around the corner … We do not expect much resistance.”

In 1941 a Swiss Factory Official reported: “On the Soviet-German border there are about 100 infantry divisions, of which one third are motorized. In addition, there are 10 armored divisions In Romania.”

In 1941 Louise learned: “Germany now has 150 divisions in the East.”

In late 1941 Agnessa said: “SS divisions on Eastern Front were almost completely destroyed,  and selection of replacments underway.”

In 1942 Salter said: “Romanian government promised the Germans six more divisions for spring offensive.”

In 1942 Taylor reported: “The numbering of  German units that  were in battles in the East Front southern sector, especially between the Don and the Donets, as well as in the Donbas and the Crimea: Panzer divisions: No. 75 11, 14, 16, 22; etc . . .”

In 1942 Grau said: “From December 7 until early March, there was no sending of Hungarian reinforcements to the Eastern Front. At the beginning of the new year, Hungarian divisions were recalled from Ukraine. In early March, on the right bank of the Dnieper were 5 Hungarian divisions and the 41st Motorized Brigade.”

In 1942 the Uruguayan Ambassador said: “a skirmish (political) between Hitler and Mussolini: the Fuehrer accused the Italians that they were badly helping him in the fight against Russia. He demanded 25 mountain divisions for the Eastern Front and 30 divisions for Greece, Yugoslavia, Holland and Belgium.”

Radio Transmission Network

In 1940, Rado contacted Alexander Foote, an English Soviet agent in Switzerland who had worked for Ursula Kuczynski’s network in 1938. Foote became a radio operator for Rado’s intelligence network, and in March 1941 managed to establish radio communication with Moscow Center from Lausanne. Foote, codename “Jim” became the first radio operator for the Rote Drei.

Later, Rado recruited Edmond Hamel, a radio shop owner in Geneva, as an additional operator, codename “Edward.” Hamel’s wife, Olga also agreed to train as an operator, codename “Maud.” Hamel furnished his own radio equipment.

Margarita Bolly first served as a courier, but she began training on Morse code and by the summer of 1942 was a wireless operator for the group, under codename “Rosa.” She also worked from Geneva, with a radio transmitter set up in a separate apartment, with Rado paying the rent. Ultimately, the group had two transmitters in Geneva, at separate locations, and one in Lausanne.

In March 1940, the “Center” sent a technician, codename “Kent” (Victor Sukolov,) from Brussels to Switzerland for a brief period to help organize radio transmission equipment and procedures. He also provided codebooks for encryption and trained Jim on the procedures.

In addition, Kent gave tips on transmission. They were required to compose radiograms in German, using Morse code. Each operator had a separate callsign. The radio wavelengths, and transmission times were to be varied, as a defense against direction finding.

Typical Radio Message

Here is the plaintext for an early message sent from Rote Drei:

21.2.41. To the Director.

 According to data received from the Swiss intelligence officer, Germany now has 150 divisions in the East, In his opinion, Germany’s attack will begin in late May.



The Red Army had fairly standardized encryption methods, but there were mostly done manually using code tables out of codebooks. The 8th Department of Intelligence Directorate, GRU was responsible for encryption methods.

Soviet agents operating ‘illegally’ (with no diplomatic cover) did not have access to a regular supply of codebooks. A simpler system was to memorize a simple letter to figure conversion table, using a six-letter keyword to encode their messages.

The letters of the keyword were assigned numbers according to their position in the alphabet. The keyword was changed at intervals from Moscow. For example, “Talmud” would become 513462. The unused digits 7, 8, 9, and 0 are used as the tens of the cipher digraphs. Then the alphabet would be A= 1 B=70 C=71 D=2 E=71 and so on.

Keywords sometimes came from literary works, and in one instance the Director ordered Sisi to use

“The Storm Over the House”, Ebers Publishing House, page 471, with additional instructions.

This explanation on the next page is from the book, “Compromise of Soviet codes in WWII.” It shows this procedure in more detail, although it uses the Cyrillic alphabet. The Rote Drei probably used the Latin alphabet, since they were ordered to transmit in German.

Rote Drei was able to get some codebooks, and it may have been that that they also use tables like the one shown below to encode messages. The letters, numerals, and punctuation are in the cells of a 10×10 table. Commonly used words are also placed below letters. The rows and columns are numbered in a random sequence, which changes frequently. A letter is encoded by taking the row number first and then the column number. This is a 2-digit system. The Cyrillic letter T = 38.

Code Table

Coding Instructions


The Rote Drei network was in Switzerland, and had a good size for information gathering. With four radio operators and three transmission sites, they had backups in case one was compromised. This group provided advance warning of the impending German invasion of Russia in 1941, with at least three independent sources providing warnings. So it seems that the Rote Drei provided good intelligence to the Soviet Union in the early years of WWII. Rado received the Order of Lenin in 1943.


“Under the Pseudonym Dora”, Sandor Rado memoirs

“Alexander Rado”, Wikipedia

“Rote Drei Communist Espionage Network”, Arthur Bauer

“Red Orchestra”, Wikipedia

“Compromise of Soviet Codes in WWII”, Christos T.

Campaign Series East Front III | Rado's Radio Shack

Alexander “Sandor” Radó alias DORA

Rado’s Radio Shack is the latest series of articles by David Galster that provides an overview of Soviet run spy networks in Europe during World War 2. The articles provide some interesting historical background information for Campaign Series: East Front III.

Rado’s Radio Shack #1: Rote Kapelle Spy Networks

Campaign Series East Front III | Rado's Radio Shack

From the Director:

This series covers foreign intelligence networks working for the Soviet GRU in the early WWII era.

An overview of these, collectively known as “Rote Kapelle” is provided in this article.

What was the “Rote Kapelle”?

The term “Rote Kapelle” (“Red Orchestra,”) was a codename coined by German security, the Reichssicherheitshauptamt. (RSHA) It designated Soviet espionage networks in Western Europe. The intelligence reports were transmitted largely by radio. The “music” in the air had its “pianists” (radio operators,) field “maestros” like the Grand Chef and Sandor Rado, and its “conductor” in Moscow, the Director. The Director fed information into the GRU, the Main Intelligence Directorate (Russian: Гла́вное разве́дывательное управле́ние or Glavnoye razvedyvatel’noye upravleniye)

The analogy was not new, and was an accepted Abwehr term for secret wireless transmitters. The “Rote” or Red part was a reference to Communists. Originally, the term applied to the operation started by Abwehr’s III F group, also known as Ast 1 Belgien. This was a counterintelligence program that detected activity in Brussels, by the Funkabwehr. (W/T intercept and cryptoanalytic section)

The investigation soon extended into Holland, Germany, France, Switzerland, and Italy. The designation “Rote Kapelle” came to mean the collection of networks in these areas. These networks were not coordinating their efforts to much extent with each other. Their only common guidance was the Director in Moscow.

In July 1942, German investigation of Rote Kapelle was taken over from Ast 1 Belgien by Section IV. A.2. of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD, the security service of the RSHA). After the arrest of two leading Russian agents, Leopold Trepper and Victor Sukolov, a small independent Gestapo unit, “Sonderkommando Rote Kapelle,” was formed. “Sonderkommando” is the term used to designate a German counterespionage group.

Origin and Scope

Several Soviet agents in the networks became active years before World War II. Many survived the Stalin purges, and the difficult period of the non-aggression pact between Germany and the USSR. Rote Kapelle was not a wartime creation, but derived from Soviet prewar networks in Europe. Activities of Rote Kapelle were not limited to the countries mentioned. Several connections were found in England, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, and the United States.

Research Sources

Most of the information was obtained from statements made by captured Soviet intelligence officers who belonged to Rote Kapelle. Some derives from observations made by German security agencies around 1941-1942. The leading Rote Kapelle officers independently gave corroborating testimony that Moscow began setting up networks in Europe as early as 1935 and 1936.

Specially trained and first-rate Red Army intelligence officers were employed. Some enrolled as students in European universities, while others applied for positions as technicians and merchants. Former Comintern agents were also encouraged to participate.

A memoir by Sandor Rado, “Under the Pseudonym Dora” also provides excellent detail.

Soviet Change of Emphasis

Before World War II, Soviet intelligence targeted the United States and Western European countries, particularly England. In the beginning, they focused on establishing agent networks, installing radio and other communication facilities, and training.

Later, specific targets were assigned: aviation development,  heavy weapons, and information on fortification lines. These broad objectives presupposed the existence of a special “apparachik” of trained and qualified intelligence officers, agents, auxiliary workers, and original communication transmission systems.

Early in 1940, the main Rote Kapelle efforts were changed to Germany, despite the non-aggression pact. In the course of the war, it expanded to such a degree, it had become a principal component of Soviet Military intelligence. Its contributions were many, and it was a tremendous undertaking. It is one of the best examples of the intricate working methods of Soviet espionage.

Rote Kapelle OrgChart

Switzerland Operations

Sandor Rado was recruited into Soviet Intelligence, and requested residency in Switzerland. He set up the GeoPress Company, a map making agency, as a cover. Ultimately, he managed three spy sub-groups, Sisi, Pakbo, and Long. This organization was called the “Rote Drei” by the Germans.

The Rote Drei obtained intelligence of German intentions to invade Poland in 1939, and Russia in 1941. The ring operated three radio stations, two in Geneva and one in Lausanne. They had contacts with many sources, ultimately including some within the Wehrmacht high command.

Belgium Networks

Leopold Trepper set up the first network in Belgium along with an associate, Leon Grossvogel. The cover business was the Foreign Excellent Raincoat Company. Victor Sukolov was a GRU officer working with the group.

With the 1940 German invasion of Belgium, Trepper and Grossvogel fled to France and Sukolov took over the network and rebuilt it. This network was  known as the Trepper-Sukolov Group.

In 1942, after some members were arrested, Sukolov fled to France, and for several months, Konstantin Jeffremov ran remnants of the ring until they were compromised.

The Trepper-Sukolov Group had good courier connections with spies in Germany and France, and provided wireless transmissions for these networks. This is because wireless operations were under less scrutiny by Belgium authorities.

France Group

Paris was Leopold Trepper’s base from 1936 to 1938 while he engaged in planning and reorganization missions in France, Belgium, England, and Scandinavia. He moved to Brussels in spring 1939 heading the network there, but fled to France in July 1940 during the German invasion.

After Trepper returned to France, he renewed contact with Moscow via the Soviet Military Attache in Vichy. His assistants were Leon Grossvogel and Hillel Katz, as he knew both previously in Palestine. With their help, Trepper developed acquaintances with persons favorable to the Soviet Government, and recruited them as agents.

A new firm, SIMEX, was established in Paris through Grossvogel’s efforts. (The name was derived from S for Societe, IM for import, and EX for export. ) It was set up with funds salvaged from Belgium by Jules Jaspar, and was heavily subsidized by the Soviet Union.

There were seven sub-groups with agents gathering intelligence:   Andre,  Harry,  Professor,  Arztin   Simex,  Romeo,  and  Sierra. Only the Andre Group had wireless capability.  The Sierra Group was formed after Victor Sukolov fled Belgium in 1842. His alias at that time was Vincent Sierra.

Dutch Group “Hilda”

In late 1938, Johannes Wenzel, W/T operator for Trepper Group in Belgium, visited Daniel Gouwlooze, a leading Dutch Communist. He asked for an assistant, and was sent a young Communist official, Anton Winterink. Wenzel trained Winterink on W/T. In September 1939, Winterink, alias Tino, was assigned as a W/T operatorfor for Jeffremov in Brussels.

Another candidate, Adam Nagel was also trained and qualified in W/T. Nagel, alias Velo, also worked for Jeffremov during most ot 1940. Late in 1940, Winterink was ordered to Amsterdam to form a Dutch group. In Amsterdam, Winterink set up a radio station and began transmitting to Moscow, under the callsign “Hilda.”

They continued to receive orders from Jeffremov. Maurice Peper (alias Wasserman) acted as the courier between Brussels and Amsterdam. Ultimately, the network included Wilhelm Voegeler, a W/T operator, Jakob Hilbolling, a courier and a safehouse keeper, Hendrika Smith, member of the Dutch Communist Party. The Winterink group provided information on German troop movements in Holland, and reports of political and economic interest. They were caught and arrested in fall 1942.


A far-reaching Soviet espionage network in Germany was comprised of groups led by Harro Schulze-Boysen, Arvid Harnack, and Rudolf von Scheliha. The separate groups were linked together, and also had occasional contacts with agents in other countries, particularly in Belgium and in France. Of these, the first two were so closely intermingled, essentially as a single network. The third group, that of von Scheliha, functioned independently.

The first two active agents were Rudolf von Scheliha and his accomplice, Ilse Stoebe. They were both recruited in Warsaw by the journalist Rudolf Herrnstadt, in 1937. The next in succession was Arvid Harnack, recruited in Berlin by Alexander Erdberg of the Soviet Trade Delegation in late 1940.

From early 1940 until August, and again in early 1942 until July, Stoebe made contact with the German career diplomat Rudolf von Scheliha. She received from him information of all kinds, which she passed to an attache in the Soviet Embassy.

Harro Schulze-Boysen was introduced by Harnack to Erdberg and recruited in early 1941. Schulze-Boysen’s activities began in 1936, while employed at the Air Ministry. He obtain secret plans for military operations to be directed against the Republican government in Spain. This was passed to the Russian Embassy in Berlin.

Hans Coppi was recruited by Schulze-Boysen in early 1941 as a wireless operator. Until his arrest, Harnack acted as an intermediary, and enciphered the messages sent to Moscow. The reports were brought to him by Schulze-Boysen, and Harnack passed them on to Hans Coppi for W/T transmission. Information included the details of truck repair works in Finland, reserve strength of the Luftwaffe, and troop movements down the Dnieper.


“The Rote Kapelle – The CIA’s History of Soviet Intelligence and Espionage Networks in Western Europe, 1936- 1945”, University Publications of America, Inc.

Campaign Series East Front III | Rado's Radio ShackAlexander “Sandor” Radó alias DORA

Rado’s Radio Shack is the latest series of articles by David Galster that provides an overview of Soviet run spy networks in Europe during World War 2. The articles provide some interesting historical background information for Campaign Series: East Front III.