Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Dienstelle Klatt – A case of Soviet deception

In their war against the Soviet Union the Germans were in need of reliable information on Soviet military capabilities and decisions. However before 1941 they were unable to organize an espionage network because the Soviet borders were hermetically sealed and the authorities kept a close eye on everyone.

After the objectives of the 1941 invasion were not realized the German intelligence agencies were ordered to work harder in order to recruit high level spies inside the SU. It was at this time that a great opportunity appeared.
A Viennese citizen named Richard Kauder (alias ‘Klatt’) who was half Jewish had agreed to spy for the Germans in order to protect himself and his family from persecution. Through his friend Joseph Schultz he met White Russian émigré General Anton Turkul who claimed that he could activate a network of spies inside the SU. This idea was presented to the head of the Vienna Abwehr station Count Marogna-Redwitz and he found it very interesting.

Kauder and his associates were allowed to organize a network and they were provided with funds and the necessary radio equipment. Their base was a villa in Sofia, Bulgaria and the group was called Dienstelle Klatt.

Their main radio agents were ‘MAX’ and ‘MORITZ’. Radio messages from various parts of the SU constantly came in and the majority concerned movements of troops. Some however had information from important meetings in Moscow that pointed to a high level spy. These reports were valued by the Luftwaffe and by the Foreign Armies East department.
General Gehlen mentions the ‘MAX’ spy in his memoirs ‘The Service: The Memoirs of General Reinhard Gehlen’, p72

From one of the Abwehr's offices controlling agents in Moscow, I had received the following signal a few days earlier: An agent states: on 4 November Stalin presided over Council of War in Moscow, attended by twelve marshals and generals. Following basic principles were laid down at this council:
a) operations are to be executed cautiously to avoid heavy casualties;

b) loss of ground is unimportant;
c) it is vital to salvage industrial and public-utility installations in good time by evacuation, which explains orders issued for dispersal of refineries and machine-tool factories from Grozny and Makhachkala to New Baku, Orsk and Tashkent;

d) rely only on oneself, don't count on getting aid from allies;
e) take sharp measures to prevent desertion, either by better propaganda and rations or by firing-squads and tougher GPU supervision and;

f) all the planned attack-operations are to be executed before 15 November if possible, insofar as weather permits. These are primarily from Grozny towards Mozdok; at Nizhni-Mamon and Verkhni-Mamon in the Don basin; and at Voronezh, at Rzhev south of Lake Ilmen and at Leningrad. The necessary troops are to be brought out of reserve and up to the front line.
David Kahn in ‘Hitler’s spies’ pages 314-6 also has some of the ‘MAX’ messages:

On 4 June 1942, for example, MAX reported:
On 2 June one rifle division, one artillery regiment, one medium tank regiment coming out of Astrakhan arrived in Tikhoretsk, supposedly going towards Rostov. On 3 June one transport of 200 heavy and medium tanks arrived in Krasnodar out of Stalingrad, intended for the Taman peninsula.


But none came close to the speed and the precision of MAX'S astonishing message of 4 November 1942:
On 4 November war council in Moscow presided over by Stalin. Present 12 marshals and generals. In this war council the following principles were set down: a) Careful advance in all operations, to avoid heavy losses. b) Losses of ground are unimportant.... f) Carrying out all planned offensive takings, if possible, before 15 November, insofar as the weather situation permits. Mainly: from Grozny [out of the Caucasus] ; in the Don area at Voronezh; at Rzhev; south of Lake Ilmen and Leningrad. The troops for the front will be taken out of the reserves....

The message on the war council on November 4 was particularly important to the Germans because it allowed them to prepare for the major Soviet attack against Army Group Centre.

Was the ’MAX’ network providing the Germans with high value intelligence or was something wrong?
The Klatt agency was not trusted by everyone in the German intelligence community. The head of Abwehr in Sofia was colonel Otto Wagner (alias ‘Delius’). He was certain that Klatt was a liar and was making up his information. In order to uncover him he tried to find out how the reports from the SU were sent to him and got the answer that the traffic was intercepted by the Bulgarian police on his behalf. When he contacted his friends in the police they told him that they had never heard of this. When he confronted Kauder a second time he was told that radio operators intercepted the traffic from fishing boats in the Bosporus and sent the transcripts to him. These bizarre statements did not satisfy Wagner but his superiors thought highly of the information flowing from Kauder and he was instructed not to interfere with him.

At the end of the war Kauder and his close associates Anton Turkul and Ira Longin were arrested by the Americans and interrogated at Camp King, a Luftwaffe interrogation centre that was now used against its former masters.

It did not take long for the Allied interrogators to get to the truth. Kauder did not have agents inside the SU, instead he relied on his friend Joseph Schultz for information. At the end of the war Schultz revealed to him that he had always been a Soviet agent and thus the entire operation was a deception. Kauder suspected as much but for his own preservation did not inform the Germans. According to him as long as the Abwehr was satisfied he was happy. It also seems that his associates were working for the SU either directly or passively.

Value of the ‘MAX’ network

As we’ve seen there can be no doubt that the Dienstelle Klatt did not have real spies inside the SU but was given reports prepared by the Soviet intelligence agencies. Obviously these reports would mix truths with lies in order to influence the decisions of the German leadership.

The question is how important was this traffic to the Germans and how much did it influence their strategic decisions? Walter Schellenberg, head of SD foreign intelligence, said in one of his postwar interrogations about Kauder: ’His reports on Russian Army matters were good and were classed as important to the Wehrmacht (Heereswichtig), and the General Staff ‘Fremde Heere Ost’ thought highly of him. On air matters they were weak, and on political questions sometimes good and sometimes bad.
By looking at the Gehlen memoir the part about FHO seems to be true. If the Germans valued this traffic does this mean that the information on troop movements was correct? Without having access to the actual reports we have to resort to secondary sources.

In this case we are lucky since another agency was also interested on the reliability of the ‘MAX’ network. According to the official history ‘British Intelligence in the Second World War: Volume 4, Security and Counter-Intelligence’ in the winter of 1941-42 decrypts of Abwehr messages (the Brits called the hand ciphers ISOS) passing from Sofia to Vienna revealed reports from two networks. One called ‘MAX’ dealt with the Eastern front and the other called ‘MORITZ’ had information from the Middle East. In the period December ’41- March ’42 some 300 ‘MAX’ and 40 ‘MORITZ’ reports were intercepted.
The Brits assessed the reports and found them to be ‘up to date’ and ‘well arranged’. The first hypothesis was that this information was collected from high level spies inside the SU but considering the unlikelihood of a large spy ring operating inside the SU for so long it was suspected that this was a double cross. 

There was a detailed study of the reports by MI 14 in 1943 which concluded that they were truly valuable in anticipating Soviet moves and that there was practically nothing to support the theory of deliberate deception! Since this was judged to be a serious threat to the security of an Allied country the Soviets were officially informed in October 1943. However there was no reaction from the Soviets and the messages continued to flow until February 1945.

The Brits undertook another study of the messages in 1943, this time with help from MI 5. Their focus was on the ‘MORITZ’ messages since they dealt with operations and dispositions of British military forces in the Middle East and Mediterranean. The verdict was that they were generally inaccurate, for example out of 49 reports in June-July ’43 only 5 were rated as valuable. 

Still we know from the MI 14 evaluation that the messages dealing with the fighting in the East were valuable. If the ‘MAX’ messages were meant to deceive the Germans why did they contain good intelligence?

Operation Uranus and agent ‘MAX’

Perhaps the Soviet goal was to ensure that the reliable intelligence would convince the Germans that the spy network was real and thus get them to lower their guard. Then the Soviets could be reasonably certain that they could introduce disinformation without it being detected.

In fact we know that in 1942 and 1944 they were able to deceive the Germans (or help the Germans deceive themselves) regarding major operations.
The ‘MAX’ report giving details of the Moscow war council on November 4 1942 is mentioned by Gehlen as an example of valuable intelligence. This report says that the following major operations were scheduled for the first half of November ’42:

1). Attack from Grozny to Mozdok.
2). Effort to recapture Voronezh

3). Attack south of Voronezh (Nizhni-Mamon and Verkhni-Mamon)
4). Attack on the Rzhev salient

5). Leningrad operation
These operations made military sense and did not catch the Germans by surprise. Gehlen expected the main Soviet operation of the winter to be directed against Army Group Centre at Rzhev. The Soviets were constantly attacking this area because its proximity to Moscow made them uneasy. However the report says nothing about Stalingrad.

Can we conclude from this that the Germans were tricked into focusing all their attention at Rzhev and forgetting about Stalingrad? The report certainly reinforced Gehlen’s initial assessment but that doesn’t mean that the Foreign Armies East department was not aware of the vulnerability of their forces in Stalingrad. In August ’42 they had already written about the possibility of enemy operations in the South, either to relieve Stalingrad or to capture Rostov and thus cut off the German forces in the Caucasus.
What tipped the scales was Gehlen’s belief that the Soviets would be able to mount only one major operation and thus their forces in the area of Army Group South would be unable to mount 'far-reaching operations'.

The second case where ‘MAX’ influenced German strategic assessments was in 1944. The Germans knew that major Soviet operations were planned for the summer season and they expected that the main attack would come either in the South towards the Balkans or in the Kovel area against Army Group North Ukraine. A report from ‘MAX’ in April 1944 stated that in a conference at Red Army headquarters attended by Stalin and the top generals the plan for the summer offensive was decided. There were two competing plans
1). An attack against the Baltic states and Army Group North Ukraine with the objective of Brest Litovsk.

2). An attack by the Soviet First, Second and Third Ukrainian fronts towards the Balkans.
In the end the second plan was approved.

This report obviously influenced General Gehlen’s assessment of June 1944 which concluded that the main effort of the Soviet army was expected to come between Kovel and the Carpathian mountains. Gehlen called this the ‘Balkan solution’.
In reality the Soviets launched several major offensives all along the front but their largest operation was directed against Army Group Center.

Did the Soviet deception plan backfire?

If the report from ‘MAX’ in November ’42 drew German attention away from Stalingrad it also alerted them to the major attack on Rhzev. That operation resulted in very heavy Soviet losses, so did the double cross serve its purpose or did it lead to unintended consequences?
According to Soviet historiography the Mars operations was merely a diversion, meant to draw German forces away Army Group South. However Eastern front historian David Glantz says about the Mars operation in ‘Zhukov's Greatest Defeat’, p317: ‘Within the galaxy of operations that the Stavka launched in late 1942, those few who have mentioned it have dismissed Operation Mars as a skillful diversionary operation. The official line, as argued by Zhukov and most lower level Soviet commanders, is that Operation Mars was launched in late November or early December to prevent German reserves in the center from reinforcing German forces in the southern Soviet Union. Therefore, they argue, Operation Mars contributed to Soviet success in the Stalingrad victory and, thus, was justified. These arguments are at best disingenuous and at worst blatant lies. In terms of its timing, scale, scope, expectations, and consequences, the Stavka intended Operation Mars to be as significant, if not more so, than Operation Uranus.

The goal of operations Mars and Jupiter (cancelled after the failure of Mars) was the destruction of the entire Army Group Centre! Such an operation could not be a diversion, so I think Glantz is close to the truth when he sarcastically says ‘Given these facts, in the unlikely event Zhukov was correct and Mars was really a diversion, there has never been one so ambitious, so large, so clumsily executed, or so costly.
If the ‘MAX’ report played a role in the Soviet defeat then how can this be explained, considering that the report was prepared by Soviet intelligence? The report was sent on 4 November and the Mars operation began on 25 November ’42, so it gave the Germans roughly 20 days to prepare. On the other hand can we be sure that this report played a major role? It has already been shown that the Germans expected the major Soviet operation of the winter period to be against Army Group Centre and the area that appeared to be the best target was Rhzev. So ‘MAX’ did not tell the Germans something that they did not already believe to be true. Perhaps the people who prepared the report thought that by ‘exposing’ an operation that was already expected by the enemy they would not compromise security but only prove the reliability of their ‘spy’.

Another explanation is that the Soviet intelligence agencies did not have the means to check the German response to their messages so they included too much real information in their reports. A successful disinformation operation depends on the ability to check if the intelligence is accepted by the enemy as reliable or if it is rejected as false. For that reason spies are needed inside the enemy’s intelligence and military centers. Did the Soviets have such a capability in WWII?
At the start of the war they had an extensive espionage ring in Western Europe. Their Berlin networks had spies in the Luftwaffe intelligence staff and the Economics Ministry. However these groups sent their reports through the Soviet embassies and when these closed down they had to use radio which quickly alerted the Germans and led to arrests.

In 1941 one of the radio centers was raided in Brussels and many arrests followed. In summer ‘42 the Berlin networks were dismantled and by the end of the year the leaders of the Rote Kapelle were apprehended and used in radio games. There was also another spy group called the Rote Drei that operated in Switzerland and they were not caught but we do not know if their information was really valuable.
At the same time the Soviets were not very successful in other fields of intelligence like photo reconnaissance and signals intelligence. According to the Germans Soviet recon planes usually flew close to the front and thus did not keep the rear areas under observation. Regarding sigint, so far there is no indication that Soviet codebreakers could solve high level German crypto systems (like the Enigma machine).

We know that Soviet intelligence was not perfect because throughout the war their estimates of German strength and losses were wildly inaccurate.

A dissenting view
Another explanation for the drawbacks of the ‘MAX’ deception is given in the book ‘The Crown Jewels: The British Secrets at the Heart of the KGB Archives’. According to chapter 8 ‘The Klatt affair’ at the end of the war the NKVD conducted a lengthy investigation of the Klatt bureau, utilizing the interrogations of hundreds of captured Abwehr officers. The report titled ‘Memorandum on the KLATT-MAX case’ was submitted to Stalin in July 1947 and concluded that only ‘an insignificant amount of MAX’s information was authentic’ and ‘only 8 per cent of the material was genuine’.

There were inquiries on Kauder’s main informants, especially a supposed member of the Soviet embassy in Sofia and communications personnel attached to Soviet front line headquarters. These investigations failed to identify those individuals. In the end the NKVD concluded that the information of the Klatt network came from Russian émigrés, newspaper reports, German intelligence files, some diplomatic sources and outright fabrications.
If this version of events is correct then it would mean that the Klatt bureau was not completely under the control of the Soviets.

In the end it could be the case that despite its value as a conduit of disinformation the ‘MAX’ network also harmed the Soviet war effort. It is up to researchers to untangle this web!
Sources: ‘Hitler's Spies: German Military Intelligence In World War II’, Intelligence and National Security article: ‘Memories of Oberursel. Questions, Questions, Questions’, Journal of Contemporary History article: ‘Foreign Armies East and German Military Intelligence in Russia 1941-45’ ‘British Intelligence in the Second World War: Volume 4, Security and Counter-Intelligence’, ‘The Service: The Memoirs of General Reinhard Gehlen’, ‘Hitler's Last Chief of Foreign Intelligence: Allied interrogations of Walter Schellenberg’, ‘Spy Wars: Moles, Mysteries, and Deadly Games’, ‘Walter Schellenberg: The Memoirs of Hitler's Spymaster’, ‘Zhukov's Greatest Defeat: The Red Army's Epic Disaster in Operation Mars, 1942’, SVR website: ‘Operation Monastery’, UK National archives Dienstelle Klatt page, ‘Foreign intelligence literary scene’ article: The legend of Agent Max’, ‘The Crown Jewels: The British Secrets at the Heart of the KGB Archives’


  1. Thanks. An interesting article.

  2. Surely the fact that the soviets investigated it and reported to Soso after the war shows a degree of discomfort - no ??

    Or is that just higher degree misinformation to fool the likes of me 60 years on!

    1. It could be that the people investigating were not told all the details of the operation, which were probably known only by a handful of people at the top of Soviet intelligence. However there can be no doubt that the Klatt bureau was not under the complete control of the Soviets.