Campaign Series East Front III | Rado's Radio Shack

From the Director:

Perhaps members of the German “Resistenz,”  Arvid Harnack, Harro Schulze-Boysen, Kuckhoff, or others did not approach the level of “changing the course of history.” But taken together, the actions of “Der Deutsche Widerstand” against the Nazis, are impressive.

Background of Arvid Harnack

Arvid Harnack was born into a distinguished family of scholars in 1901. His father was Otto Harnack, a professor at Darmstadt. Arvid’s uncle, Adolf von Harnack, was one of Germany’s leading liberal theologians, and his cousin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, followed their religious footsteps.

Harnack had the means to go abroad in the late 1920s, and study at the University of Wisconsin, where he met and married an American, Mildred Fish. There, he studied economics. He later obtained his Doctor’s degree at Giessen.

Central economic planning was Harnack’s main interest. He thought this was the best way to protect society against hardships and disruptions, such as the Great Depression, or hyperinflation during the Weimar Republic. These views caused him to be sympathetic to Communism, but he never joined the German Communist Party. (KPD)

In 1935, Arvid passed rigorous professional examinations, which qualified him for a position at the Ministry of Economics, in Berlin. Here, he had access to extensive economic intelligence.

Arvid Harnack

Arvid Harnack

Harro Schulze-Boysen

Schulze-Boysen was born in Kiel, in 1909 as the son of decorated naval officer, Erich Edgar Schulze.The family was steeped in Prussian aristocracy, and Harro was Admiral von Tirpitz’s grand nephew.

As an extrovert, Schulze-Boysen was very socially conscious. Although he studied political science at the University of Berlin, he was not particularly ideological, and was more altruistic, humanistic, and conciliatory.

In fact, he once mediated a potential riot at the university. In 1931 a confrontation between Nazi and Communist students occurred. Someone removed swastika ribbons from a student memorial. Both sides screamed insults, and the Rector was helpless to calm the situation. Harro intervened, and with good-natured words and gestures, strode back and forth between the parties, defusing the quarrel.

Although Schulze-Boysen did not finish his degree, he was very intelligent, and interested in writing. In 1932, at age twenty-four, Harro joined the magazine staff of “Gegner.” (Opponent) The magazine corresponded to a movement which, like Harro himself, was marked by youthful exuberance and haphazard leftist politics. There, he wrote an editorial, which was actually an anti-ideology, rebuking rash doctrinaire movements surrounding him. It was an anathema to the strict, intolerant KPD.

Excerpts from his editorial: “The battle cry arises from all sides. To add a new one would be absurd. Thousands of people speak a thousand languages, screaming their “isms” in each other’s faces, and are willing to go to the barricades for their opposition movements. . . But we believe that nobody holds the single key. Arrogance leads us nowhere, it runs contrary to real life. . .The only thing that is sacred to us is life,  the only thing that appears to be of value to us is movement.”

 Ultimately, Schulze-Boysen joined the Luftwaffe. He had enrolled in a flight academy, and sought a pilot job. Although forbidden to have an air force under the Versailles treaty, the Nazis were quietly assembling an Air Ministry under Hermann Goring. With his father’s connections, Harro joined the Luftwaffe, and became a Lieutenant. Later he was reassigned to intelligence.

Harro Schulze-Boysen

Harro Schulze-Boysen

Berlin Social Circles

The social circles of Harnack and Schulze-Boysen appreciated the arts, theatre, and sharing philosophical ideas. They each hosted gatherings, ranging from spirited singing and dancing at the Schulze-Boysens’ to the cerebral tea parties at the Harnacks’. It was the best way to find out what was going on. Public discussions were out of the question, so if people came across juicy news, gossip, or speculation, they shared it in private. They developed large social networks as a result.

Adam and Greta Kuckhoff were part of the Harnack circle. After fighting in WWI, Adam was full of theatrical energy, and wrote a play, Der Deutsche von Bayencourt. He also was involved with Eugen die Derichs, a prominent publisher, invited him to edit his political and cultural monthly, Die Tat. And, Greta blended easily into Berlin’s ranks of blond, neatly dressed Aryan housewives.

The Harnacks were introduced to the Schulze-Boysens through Greta Kuckhoff in the late 1930s.

But, not all of the Kuckhoff’s friends were aristocrats. The Siegs, for example, were blue-collar types, even though John and his Polish wife, Sophie were surprisingly conversant in literature and music. John worked for the Reichsbahn, the German state railways.

Schulze-Boysen spent much of the late 1930s expanding his circle of contacts. These included artists, students, KPD militants, and dissident officials working inside the Nazi ministries. Their beliefs were diverse, and when brought together, sparks could fly. Walter Husemann introduced Wilhelm Guddorf, a KPD official to the group. He saw that Walter Kuechenmeister, the companion of Harro’s friend Dr. Elfriede Paul, was also invited. Guddorf was appalled, protesting that Kuechenmeister was expelled from the KPD for stealing party funds.

Nazi Resistance

After Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, German society changed dramatically. A new decree suspended all guarantees of civil liberties, placing restrictions on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press, and rights of assembly and association.

Anyone that violated this decree could face arrest, and possible imprisonment, at the least. Opposition rallies and newspapers were banned, and politicians faced arrest, beatings, or death if they dared to appear in public. The SA and SS committed violence against political opponents, Jews, and KPD.

All means of communications, newspaper and radio came under close government scrutiny. Even printing materials, like typewriters, or paper were restricted.

As a result, Arvid Harnack and Harro Schulze-Boysen decided to “resist.” They wanted to counter immoral actions by the Nazis. They sought ways to communicate information to outsiders as a way to possibly bring about change, even the downfall of the Nazis. Others in their circle wrote anti-Nazi flyers, and hid them inside boxes of powdered detergent.

Embassy Contacts

In late 1937, the US State Department appointed Donald Heath as first secretary in Berlin. He became a close friend of Arvid and Mildred Harnack, who conveyed economic intelligence. The US did not have the OSS yet, and their intelligence capability was weak. However, Heath was also assigned an intelligence role as monetary attaché, reporting directly to US Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau.

Harnack systematically acquired a reliable overview of Germany’s economic capacity, production, and reserves. He also evaluated the German foreign trade situation, at any given time.

In the summer of 1939, Arvid and Mildred Harnack traveled to Washington DC, on official assignment to guarantee international copper and aluminum supplies to Germany.  But, the Harnacks also hoped to recruit American support for their cause. Harnack wrote a secret memorandum to the State Department, offering assistance against the Nazis. But, US officials rejected this offer.

Harnack also had Soviet Embassy contacts in Berlin. Sergei Bessonov, a leading economist, became his acquaintance in 1932, and ultimately invited them to the Soviet Union for a three-week study tour.

However, Stalin’s purges decimated the GRU, NKVD, and diplomatic corps as well, including embassy staff in Berlin. Boris Gordon, one of Arvid Harnack’s first acquaintances, was summoned back to Moscow in 1937, and executed. Sergei Bessonov was recalled to Moscow, and arrested the same year.

Bessonov withstood months of interrogation, and finally succumbed to torture, including sleep deprivation. The diplomat “confessed” to being an emissary for Trotsky, and was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. He was shot on September 8, 1941.


The Harnack and Schulze-Boysen “networks” were much less formal than the Rote Kapelle operations in  Belgium, France, and Switzerland. The structure was neither formalized nor hierarchical. The members lacked intelligence discipline, and attempted to engage in political activism, such as clandestine publishing. This is risky activity for intelligence agents. With this in mind, the table below shows the key players in the network.

Germany Espionage Groups

Germany Espionage Groups

Aleksandr Korotkov

In mid 1940, the  Soviet Union realized how badly Stalin purges hurt its intelligence services. It tried to rebuild the GRU, NKVD efforts in Germany. In September, a surprise visitor called on Arvid Harnack, speaking in fluent German. He brought greetings from an old friend at the Soviet embassy, which immediately aroused Harnack’s suspicion. The visitor turned out to be Aleksandr Korotkov, a NKVD officer, alias “Alexander Erdberg.”

Harnack’s first intelligence contact was recalled to Moscow and executed. He was replaced by an agent who died on the operating table, and the next agent was appointed through nepotism, and was incompetent. The thirty-one year old Korotkov seemed more dynamic, and effective. He asked Harnack to reestablish intelligence links with the Soviets.

Harnack was reluctant, but finally agreed. Over the following nine months, Harnack provided Korotkov with extensive, detailed information, which Korotkov relayed to Moscow from the Berlin Embassy. Harnack was given the code name: “Korsikanets.”

The first message sent to Moscow included information from an unnamed Wehrmacht staff officer OKW.  The information conveyed was:

Germany would go to war against the Soviet Union the following year. A preliminary step for the military action against the USSR will be the occupation of Romania, which is currently under preparation and will take place over the next few months.

 When Stalin received this information, he called in his intelligence chief (and Korotkov’s boss), Lavrenty Beria, and asked him his opinion. Beria told Stalin what he wanted to hear: “I will drag this Korsikanets (Harnack) to Moscow and jail him for disinformation.”

Korotkov and Harnack had to regroup. Harnack met with Schulze-Boysen and others to assemble more information. Korotkov was summoned back to Moscow.  Despite Stalin’s reaction to the initial report, Moscow was hungry for more. In December 1940, the Soviet deputy director of foreign intelligence, Pavel Sudoplatov, drew up a ten-point list of requests of Harnack.

Harnack brought Schulze-Boysen into the operation, code name “Starshina,” and also Kuckhoff as a sort of deputy, under alias “Starik.”

Aleksandr Korotkov

Aleksandr Korotkov

Predictions for Operation Barbarossa

Starting in January 1941, Harnack furnished Korotkov detailed updates of German plans for Operation Barbarossa. Some of the key messages were as follows:

The Luftwaffe was ordered to start large-scale photographic reconnaissance flights over the Soviet border. The German high command had ordered the Military-Economic Department of the statistics administration to prepare a map of Soviet industrial flights.

However, Stalin refused to believe an invasion was imminent. He filtered every bit of information through his flawed prism, despite concrete evidence that invasion plans were under way. But, German reconnaissance flights, predicted by Harro in October 1940, produced a massive collection of aerial photographs of Soviet military targets. Soviet intelligence informed Stalin of fifteen German violations of Soviet airspace.

Other evidence of an impending attack came from economic data. Harnack furnished this through his own work at the Economic Ministry:

In addition to the occupation forces there was only one active division in Belgium, thus confirming the postponement of military action against the British Isles. Preparation for an attack against the USSR has become obvious. This is evident from the disposition of German forces concentrated along the Soviet border. The rail line from Lvov to Odessa is of special interest because it has European-gauge tracks.

 Schulze-Boysen provided information about German plans being almost complete. Korotkov informed Moscow that:

German air strikes would start with economic and military targets. Four rail lines and junctions will be paralyzed in the first wave of attack.

Initial objectives of the attack will be industrial targets, especially in the Donetsk basin, and engine works, ball-bearing factories, and aircraft factories in Moscow.

There were already German troop concentrations on the Romanian side of the Soviet border.

A message sent mid April:

The general staff is continuing its preparations against the USSR with its previous intensity, as can be seen in its detailed designation of bombing targets.

 One problem arose when Korotkov found that Schulze-Boysen had contacts with German communists within his social circles. After Korotkov informed Moscow, they advised that Harnack and Schulze-Boysen should break off all involvement with Communist Party affairs, as well as any kind of political activity. This is consistent with disciplined intelligence agent practice.

Schulze-Boysen’s May 9 report was even more ominous:

It is necessary to warn Moscow seriously of all the information pointing to the fact that the question of an attack on the Soviet Union is decided, the jump-off is planned for the near future, and with it the Germans hope to resolve the question “fascism or socialism.” Naturally, they are preparing the maximum possible forces and resources.

 And, on 11 May, another report:

The First Air Fleet will be the main component for operations against the USSR. It is still a paper organization except for units of night fighters, anti-aircraft artillery, and the training of components specializing in “hedge hopping.” Its status on paper does not mean, however, that it is not ready to move, since according to the plan everything is on hand—the organization is prepared, aircraft can be moved in the shortest possible time. Up to now, the headquarters for the First Air Fleet was Berlin but it has been moved to the Königsberg area. Its exact location, however, has been carefully concealed.

 At this point, Korotkov anticipated that he would have to leave Berlin soon and would not be in direct contact with the network. He provided a radio transmitter to Greta Kuckhoff, and they assigned Hans Coppi to become the radio operator, for direct transmissions to Moscow. The radio transmissions were never successful, however as the group did not have an experienced radio technician.  

 Stalin arrived at his office on 17 June to unwelcome news. Vsevolod Merkulov, the head of NKVD, , presented Stalin with a stunningly detailed report:

All of the military measures in preparation of the armed attack against the USSR are completely finalized. The attack can be counted on to begin at any time. … The primary targets of the German Air Force are: the electrical power station SWIR 3, Moscow Enterprises, various airplane parts manufacturing facilities (for electrical equipment, ball bearings, and aircraft bodies) as well as KFZ repair workshops. Hungary will take an active part on the German side in the military operations. German planes, mainly combat aircraft, can already be found on Hungarian airfields.

Clearly, the Harnack and Schulze-Boysen networks had furnished some excellent intelligence to the Soviets. But, once the invasion began, and Korotkov returned to Moscow, the information flow dried up, at least for a while.

Sukolov Contact

By late summer 1941, the Soviets ordered their Brussels operation to help them reestablish radio contact with their prime sources in Berlin. The Director in Moscow sent a radio message to Brussels, ordering Kent to go to Berlin and find out what the problem was. But their message, although encoded, contained compromising information:

“Go to Berlin to Adam Kuckhoff or his wife in Wilhelmstrasse 18,* tel. 83 62 61, second stairway to the left, upper story and explain that you were sent by a friend of Arvid’s and Harro’s, that Arvid knew as Alexander Erdberg… Suggest to Kuckhoff that he arrange a meeting with Arvid and Harro.”

 Leopold Trepper was incredulous at this security breech.  “It’s not possible. They have gone crazy!” he exclaimed. Catastrophe was not certain, but Trepper suspected it. The German Abwehr’s III F group had already begun intercepting, and recording messages from Trepper’s Brussels outpost two months earlier, and was hard at work deciphering the code.

It took Kent (Sukolov) two months get to Berlin. He arrived on 29 October 1941, and contacted other Soviet agents there. Then he called Schulze-Boysen at the home number sent by Moscow. Libertas answered, and agreed to meet him in a subway station.

She explained the problem with the broken radio, and arranged a follow-up meeting with her husband. The couple brought Kent back to their apartment for a four-hour meeting. Schulze-Boysen offered his visitor a long menu of military intelligence, which Kent carefully recorded in his notebook.

Kent returned to Brussels and prepared a series of transmissions to Moscow with Harro’s information. Over the month of November Brussels transmitted the following information:

Location of Hitler’s headquarters in East Prussia, known as the Wolfsschanze.

Information on Germany’s chemical warfare preparations.

Germans plans to move on the Caucasus.

Data on German aircraft production and losses sustained in combat.

 Kent was also in touch with Kurt Schumacher, and arranged with them for the transmission of reports by post to Brussels. This link enabled Sukolov to receive reports from the German groups and to relay them by wireless to Moscow.

Demise of “Der Deutsche Widerstand”

Although Schulze-Boysen handed the Soviets a treasure trove of valuable intelligence, this had unintended consequences. When Kent returned to Brussels, he gave the information to Mikhail Makarov (“Alamo”) and Anton Danilov (“Desmet”) to transmit. The began sending messages to Moscow in marathon sessions, breaking every possible security precaution by staying on the air for long sessions every night, for seven days straight.

This offered the Sonderkommandos an easy means of homing in on the signal. They tracked the transmissions, and carefully recorded the coded content. They also arrested Makarov, Danilov, Sofie Posnanska, and Rita Arnould.

Trepper and Robinson were left without radio contact in France. The Brussels network was broken up. Victor Sukolov and Isidore Springer fled to France. But, Rita Arnould talked, giving away names and critical information about their communications system.

Each piece of intelligence that Abwehr found yielded a harvest of arrests. The Germans spent months assembling the data, and trying different approaches to break the Soviet code. Eventually, by mid summer 1942, they met with success.

Working their way through stacks of intercepted messages, the Sicherheitsdienst or SD had now taken over the investigation. And, they found a transmission from Moscow, providing the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of Adam Kuckhoff and Harro and Libertas Schulze-Boysen.

On 31 August 1942, the Gestapo made its first move, arresting Harro Schulze-Boysen in his office. No one in his family was notified. Other arrests followed swiftly. On 7 September, the Gestapo  tracked the Harnacks down at the seaside, where they were on a holiday with history professor Egmont Zechlin and his wife.

On 9 September, Gestapo agents arrived at a Berlin station in time to locate Libertas Schulze-Boysen on a westbound train, and escort her off. Over the fall of 1942, German authorities detained over 120 people in connection with the case.

In December 1942, a trial began for thirteen major Rote Kapelle defendants, among them the Schulze-Boysen, the Harnacks, and the Schumachers. Other defendants included journalist John Graudenz, radio operator Hans Coppi, and Erika von Brockdorff. All were convicted. Most were sentenced to death, but Mildred Harnack and Erika von Brockdorff were given long prison sentences.

On the evening of 21 December 1942, the condemned prisoners, including Harro and Arvid were conveyed to Plötzensee, and allowed to write their farewell letters. Arvid recited the story of the Nativity according to Luke, then sang his favorite hymn, “I Pray to the Power of Love.”  And then, they were executed by hanging.


“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.

“The Red Orchestra”, Anne Nelson

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.