The Case of Richard Sorge

Title:                  The Case of Richard Sorge

Author:                 F. W Deakin

Deakin, F. W. (1966) and G. R. Storry. The Case of Richard Sorge. New York, Harper & Row

LCCN:    65020426

UB271.R92 S565 1966a


Date Updated:  September 27, 2016

Richard Sorge was a spy, a Russian spy, and an extraordinarily successful one. Two quotes illustrate this. The first is by Larry Collins: “Richard Sorge’s brilliant espionage work saved Stalin and the Soviet Union from defeat in the fall of 1941, probably prevented a Nazi victory in World War Two and thereby assured the dimensions of the world we live in today.”

The second quote is from Frederick Forsyth: “The spies in history who can say from their graves, ‘The information I supplied to my masters, for better or worse, altered the history of our planet’, can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Richard Sorge was in that group.”

Masquerading as a Nazi journalist, Richard Sorge worked undetected as head of a Red Army spy ring until he was arrested and executed in Japan during WWII. Such an astonishing story as Sorge’s is bound to attract attention, but not only was this the first book to offer an authoritative account, it has, in many ways, not least in the quality of its writing, never been superseded. The authors rejected legend and found facts that were even stranger. They provide an account as reliable as it is enthralling of possibly the most successful spy who ever operated; a man who for eight years transmitted from Japan a continuous stream of the most valuable information, often derived from the highest quarters, culminating in precise advance information of Hitler’s invasion of Russia, of Japan’s decision not to attack Russia in 1941, and of the near certainty of war against America that October or November instead.

Jointly written books sometimes jar, but not this one. The authors had complementary skills, F. W. Deakin being an authority on twentieth-century European history and G. R. Storry no less of an authority on twentieth-century Japan. Together they do justice to “the man whom I regard as the most formidable spy in history.” (Ian Fleming).

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

According to DIS’s Bibliography (see below), Allen Dulles thought this the most authoritative book on one of the greatest spy rings in modern history. He had every reason to speak so highly of it. It is by and large an accurate account that makes use of oral histories and other important pieces of information known at the time. Deakin researched the German end of the story and compiled his and Storry’s Japanese segments. Storry, the Japanese expert, worked on Japanese material and did the Japanese interviews. This effective partnership tackled Japanese material (including the judicial proceedings) and unpublished German reports and interviewed for three years.

The authors acknowledge that not all questions on the case are answered. They do not give a satisfactory reason for the German failure to properly vet Sorge, an old communist, and they do not expose the identities of Soviet agents and informers in China; nor do they discuss the relative effectiveness of Sorge’s nets compared to others in Japan (a question that only the Soviets could answer), Sorge’s personal reaction to the Nazi-Soviet Pact, or exactly how Sorge got his job as a journalist. However students of Soviet intelligence will find in this a rare published account of the General Lyushkov defection of 1938. As good a feel as the authors have for intelligence operations, they either were not sufficiently knowledgeable or did not wish to spend time making any comments or observations on the many professional and technical flaws in the Sorge organization. Rereading this excellent account, one is still struck by the fact that despite its many faults in methods of operation, Sorge’s net was so successful. Schellenberg’s The Labyrinth[2] must be consulted for his version of the case. The authors discuss Schellenberg’s claims that Sorge was connected with German intelligence, which explained his position as a journalist and the extent of his security check by the Germans. They conclude that they cannot prove or disprove Schellenberg’ s version.

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

The story of a leading Soviet agent in China and Japan prior to and during early WWII, written by two distinguished Oxford scholars. According to Allen Dulles, “the most authoritative book on one of the greatest spy rings in modern history.”

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[4]

Operating as a Nazi journalist, and so completely trusted by the German embassy staff in Tokyo that he edited the embassy newsletter, Sorge for years headed a Red Army espionage network in the Far East. Sorge was credited with providing Moscow with the first information that Japan would attack to the south instead of toward Russia. Deakin, a historian, and Storry, an authority on Japan, searched new German and Japanese sources for material for this interpretation of the Sorge story. Excellent bibliography on the many writings about this espionage agent.

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 155-156

[2] Schellenberg, Walter (1956, 2000). The Labyrinth: Memoirs of Walter Schellenberg, Hitler’s Chief of Counterintelligence. Boulder, CO: Da Capo Press

[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. 19

[4] 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. 152


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3 Responses to The Case of Richard Sorge

  1. Pingback: The Rings of Destiny | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  2. Pingback: The Art of Spying (Seth) | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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

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