The Great Game

Title:                     The Great Game

Author:                 Leopold Trepper

Trepper, Leopold (1977). The Great Game: Memoirs of the Spy Hitler Couldn’t Silence. New York: McGraw-Hill

LCCN:    76007537

D810.S8 T65713


Date Updated:  November 15, 2016

Leopold Trepper was the Soviet GRU Officer who ran the Red Orchestra in WWII. His book, The Great Game, is his memoirs. As I have often warned, a memoirist never loses an argument in his memoirs.

Trepper gives a poignant portrayal of the incredible bravery of the people who conspired against Hitler during the 1930s and 40s. Trepper was a Polish Jew who emigrated to Israel during the 1920s only to be expelled by David Ben Gurion for organizing unions that included Arabs as well as Jews. He later became a Soviet citizen. He and his cohorts operated not only under the noses of the Nazis but as well under constant threat of Stalin, who was busy purging the Red Army, even as the Nazi Germany was arming itself. Stalin sent spies to spy on his spies, thus endangering the Red Orchestra’s delicate operations.

The Swiss Red Orchestra, headed by a man named Alexander Rado, the rezident director of the Soviet network there, was particularly effective. Codenamed Dora (an obvious anagram of his name), Rado reported back to Moscow “Center” from his location in Geneva with information he picked up from his network. One of his sources was a German resident in Switzerland, Rudolf Rössler. Rössler’s code name was “Lucy.”

Rado’s sources were all compartmentalized, so that even he did not know exactly who “Lucy” really was, or where Lucy got his information. The British fed a supply of Ultra information through contacts in Switzerland to Lucy, and Lucy provided them to Rado. Rado in turn sent the material in to the Center. At first, the Center doubted the reliability of the information, but as more and more proved to be good data about the German plans, the Center tried to find out exactly who Lucy and Lucy’s sources were. They never did.

Another source was a Brit living in Switzerland, Alexander Allan Foote. Foote was a double agent, working for both the British and the Russians. Foote was known by his code name, “Jim.” Early publications about the Lucy ring, Rado, and Foote depicted Foote as a British communist who simply helped the Soviet Union by spying in Switzerland and France during the war. Later evidence has suggested that Foote had been planted by the British all along and that his real loyalty lay with Britain. In any case, he became a separate route for information from Ultra to Rado to Moscow Center.

Both Lucy (Rössler) and Jim (Foote) provided information to Rado, letting Rado believe it came directly from sources in Germany. In a sort of private code, Rado called information about the German army, the Wehrmacht, “Werther.” Information about the Luftwaffe, he called “Olga.” And information about the foreign office, the Augswärtiges Amt, he called “Anna.” The initials made it easy for him to remember this system. Later, as the Germans began to discover that the Swiss Red Orchestra was relaying information from “Werther.” They assumed that was a code name for a particularly highly placed traitor in Berlin. But “Werther” was just a name for Wehrmacht information though Ultra from Bletchley Park.

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

Trepper was the “Grand Chef,” the head of the Soviet military intelligence network in Western Europe that the Germans called the Red Orchestra. This autobiography of a Communist and a member of Soviet intelligence is devoted mainly to his work with the network, his capture by the Germans, the period under their control, and finally his imprisonment for ten years by the Soviets and efforts to win his freedom. It was written after Trepper was allowed to go to Copenhagen and after total solitude for three years as a “free prisoner” in Poland. He stated it was his intent to tell the truth about his fifty years as a militant. From what we learned from studies such as CIA’s The Rote Kapelle[2], it would seem Trepper’s account is a case of partial or selective presentation of the extent of the ROTE KAPELLE and of his role while in the hands of the Germans. As one review put it, his narrative verges on apologia when he defends himself against charges of collaborating with the Germans after his capture. More research into this phase seems in order, though we may never learn the full truth at the Soviet end. We know the ROTE KAPELLE had connections in Eastern Europe, Britain, Scandinavia, and elsewhere about which Trepper is silent; according to the CIA study, Trepper from 1940 to 1942 commanded seven networks, each active in its own field and subordinated to its chief. Trepper himself speaks of the RED ORCHESTRA as only one of the Soviet networks but omits Britain and the United States as countries where such networks were located. With this in mind, we note with interest his chapters on the major intelligence coups of his networks and on the errors of Moscow’s center, which “bears the major responsibility for the liquidation” of the Berlin, Belgian, and French groups. There are cameo, first-hand portraits of the important figures in Soviet military intelligence Richard Sorge and General Berzin (although Trepper does not get the story right of Bruce Lockhart’s relationship to the right Berzin in the plot against the Bolsheviks). There are some, albeit too few, important facts divulged about how intelligence dealing with the planned 1941 German attack was received by Soviet military intelligence chiefs and Stalin. Examples of intelligence trade-craft, from cover to interrogation techniques, are naturally to be found. Finally, this is a revealing story of one man’s militancy and disillusionment and of a regime’s exploitation of its agents and the strange rewards it gave them for dangerous work, particularly as a way of hiding headquarters’ errors. Drew Middleton in the New York Times thought this one of the masterpieces of factual espionage writing of World War II.

This is a review by the Defense Intelligence School.[3]

The author was founder and leader of the “Red Orchestra,” one of the most successful underground Soviet intelligence networks of the Second World War. Trepper served as an illegal Resident in Belgium and France for the GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate—Soviet military intelligence). Following the liberation of Paris, Trepper returned to Moscow (January 1945) only to be incarcerated in Lubyanka Prison for over nine years (released May 1954). (see. Höhne. Codeword: Direktor[4].

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[5]

Trepper, a dedicated militant Communist, established the Red Orchestra espionage network in 1938, in Brussels, under the aegis of Soviet military intelligence. Some network operational details are provided. Trepper emphasizes, however, the role he played in out-maneuvering the efforts of the special German counter-intelligence team created to hunt down the network members, to play back captured Red Orchestra radios to the Center in Moscow. The political aim of this “Great Game,” directed from Berlin, was to create conditions for a separate German-Soviet peace arrangement. An important memoir.

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 452-453

[2] Central Intelligence Agency (1979, 1986). The Rote Kapelle: The CIA’s History of Soviet Intelligence And Espionage Networks In Western Europe 1936-1945. Frederick, MD: University Publications of America

[3] Defense Intelligence School (1981). Bibliography of Intelligence Literature: A Critical And Annotated Bibliography of Open-Source Literature (7th ed, rev.). Washington, DC: Defense Intelligence School, p. 62

[4] Höhne, Heinz (1971). Codeword: Direktor: The Story of the Red Orchestra. New York: Coward, McCann, and Geoghegan

[5] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., pp. 170-171



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7 Responses to The Great Game

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