Reilly: Ace of Spies

Title:                  Reilly: Ace of Spies

Author:                 Robin Bruce Lockhart

Lockhart, Robin Bruce (1967, 1984). Reilly: Ace of Spies. New York: Penguin Books

LCCN:    67111083

DA574.R4 L6



  • Published as Ace of Spies [London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1967; LCCN: 67111083]

Date Updated:  October 11, 2016

This is really the best book on Sidney Reilly. The author, Lockhart who claims to have met the great English spy as a child. His father, Bruce Lockhart, was intimately involved in some of the major missions carried out by Reilly. This is a good book for those wanting factual information on Reilly and the author has restricted himself to telling only anecdotes which can be backed up by facts. Nevertheless, some of Reilly’s greatest missions are skipped over because they could not be confirmed (such as his work behind German lines in WWI). This is a pity as his “greatest mission” – as claimed by the book – is his failed mission to overthrow the Bolshelviks in 1918. Still, one can’t quibble. It’s a pity that a new version has not been released, one written post-Soviet Union and where the GPU and KGB files were available. There the mystery surrounding Reilly’s death may have been cleared up. This book remains a very good one which certainly wets the appetite to read more about Reilly.

Reilly was born in 1874. By his own popularly accepted account, he was the son of an Irish merchant sea captain and a Russian mother. By another account, he was the product of a liaison between his Catholic mother and a Jewish physician.

The story he gave about himself suggested that he was educated in St. Petersburg, and then worked as an agent for a French shipping company in Port Arthur, in the Russian Far East. In 1904, he returned to St. Petersburg and took a job with a company of naval contractors, and helped in negotiations to repatriate Russian prisoners captured by the Japanese in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905).

Before WWI broke out, Reilly was already well known in Russia as a leading businessman, fluent in Russian, English, and German. In 1909, he was selected to head a club of airplane enthusiasts in Russia. In 1914, he continued his commercial work for a period, placing orders in Japan and in the United States for equipment for Russia. With the Russian revolution of 1917, Reilly was stranded without employment. He offered his services to the British, and over the next two years, penetrated into Germany and smuggled out information to the British. That is his version.

Robin Bruce Lockhart, the son of Bruce Lockhart who worked in British Intelligence during and after WWI, later tried to establish the real story behind the Reilly legend.

The account developed by Robin Lockhart in Reilly: Ace of Spies, showed Reilly (until then going by the name Georgi Rosenblum, adopting the surname of his natural father) as a British agent as early as 1899. Lockhart claimed Rosenblum built a reputation as a businessman under the name of Sidney Reilly in the period 1899-1914 as part of his cover.

Reilly’s own narrative and that of his wife focused on his efforts in the period 1918-1925 to develop resistance to the communist regime in Russia. Reilly worked with British funds for a period, trying to organize anticommunist groups in Russia. He was betrayed several times, the last when he smuggled himself into Russia from Finland to meet with members of a resistance group in 1925. It turned out that the resistance group, The Trust, was a false front established by the Soviet secret police, the Cheka, for the purpose of rounding up dissidents. Reilly was imprisoned (or possibly killed on the night of his entry into Russia) and never heard from again, although rumors that he was alive persisted for years.

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

The caveats that are inserted by the author make it clear this book must be read with circumspection. He warns that he had to contend with the Official Secrets Act and that records of the SIS were few and not easily acquired; he also makes no apologies for a “certain lack of completeness in this biography.” This biography of the British agent Sidney Reilly adds very little to what was already known and does not help to prove or disprove the many speculations in what has been said about him and about his disappearance. It is a popular account that lacks documentary support and seems to have been pieced together from available fragments of fact and pieces of speculation. Lockhart handles the Soviet Trust operation only adequately; as for his contention that Reilly was involved in the famous Zinoviev Letter, what evidence he had for this he allowed had come partly from the Soviet Union and was purportedly confessed by Reilly to the Soviets. The son of Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, the famous contemporary of Reilly who also worked in Russia, this author might have been better advised to be cautious in some of his judgments, considering what hard evidence he possessed or was willing to identify. Readers will be surprised that he included stories about Reilly that can only be described as tall. Even combined with Pepita Reilly’s Britain’s Master Spy[2], this book leaves many questions about Reilly unanswered.

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[3]

An attempt by the son of the British diplomat Bruce Lockhart to write a biography of the elusive “master spy,” Sidney Reilly. Reilly was involved in the so-called Lockhart Plot to assassinate Lenin at the time of the Allied intervention in Russia in the fall of 1918 . A popular, undocumented journalistic account which must be used with caution since in his zeal to prove Reilly was “the greatest spy that ever lived,” the author, in spite of his training in British naval intelligence, fails to distinguish between the historical and the apocryphal. In a preface he writes, “I make no apologies for a certain lack of completeness in this biography. . . I have had to contend with the Official Secrets Act. The records of our Secret Intelligence Service are few and not easily prised open.” Should be read in conjunction with Sidney Reilly’s The Adventures of Sidney Reilly, Britain’s Master Spy.[4]

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, p. 297

[2] Reilly, Pepita Bobadilla (1932). Adventures of Sidney, Reilly, Britain’s Master Spy. New York: Harper & Brothers

[3] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p.

[4] Reilly, Sidney George (1932, 2014). Adventures of A British Master Spy: The Memoirs of Sidney Reilly. London: Biteback Publishing


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3 Responses to Reilly: Ace of Spies

  1. Pingback: The Secrets of Espionage | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  2. Pingback: Britain’s Master Spy | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  3. Pingback: Espionage and Counterespionage, Chapter 14 | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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