In the course
of WWII all the participants tried to gather secret intelligence using spies.
Spying was a hard business. Recruiting trustworthy individuals, training
them, providing them with false identities, necessary paperwork and foreign
currency was not easy. Inserting them into an enemy country was difficult with
the majority being caught in a relatively short time. Even those that survived
could usually only gather information of limited value.
The Germans built up large spy networks in neutral countries like Spain,
Turkey, Sweden and Switzerland but they did not have similar successes in the
US and the UK.
Prior to WWII they had compromised the USAAF’s most advanced bombsight
but during the war their attempts to insert agents all (?) failed.
Does that mean that the Germans failed to get any useful information from
these countries during the war? Not quite. Although the Germans didn’t have spy
networks in the US and UK they were able to acquire some accurate information
on Allied war production (and possibly other areas).
How could they have done so? Although they didn’t have spy nets that
doesn’t mean that there weren’t other countries that did. Diplomats and
businessmen of neutral countries learned a great deal by talking to Allied
officials and some of this information was leaked or sold to the Germans. At
the same time there was an exchange of information between Germans, Italians,
Japanese and Hungarians.
For example in Sweden Karl-Heinz Kraemer, secretary of the German
legation in Stockholm, was able to gather valuable information on US and UK war
production mainly through his contacts in business and government circles. In
1944 the Allies considered Kraemer to be one of the most dangerous German
agents and they were worried that he might compromise the security of operation
One of Kraemer’s best sources was the Japanese military attaché in
Sweden, general Makoto Onodera. In 1944-45 they regularly met and exchanged
In Europe one of the top officials of the Japanese intelligence service
was the military attaché in Sweden, general Makoto Onodera.
According to US reports (available from the CIA’s FOIA website) Onodera
was born in September 1897 in Iwata, Japan. He came from a prominent family and
pursued a military career. In the period 1912-1920 he studied first at a local
cadet school, then at the central cadet school in Tokyo and finally at the
Military Academy (infantry course). During his time at the academy he learned
In the period 1926-1928 he attended the War College. In the 1930’s he
served in the intelligence department of the Army General Staff and then
lectured at the Army General Staff College. During this time Onodera was
acknowledged as an expert on Soviet affairs.
In order to continue his intelligence activities on the Soviet Union he
was appointed military attaché to Latvia in 1936, where he established close
ties with the military and intelligence authorities of that country and the
other Baltic nations of Estonia and Lithuania. These countries were fearful of
the Soviet Union and they were willing to exchange secret intelligence with
After a brief stint back to the General Staff in Tokyo in 1938 and then
an assignment in the Expeditionary Force in China he was given the important
position of military attaché in the Japanese embassy in Stockholm, Sweden. He
officially occupied this position from February 1941 till the end of the war.
This post used to have limited value in the field of intelligence but
during the war the Soviet occupation of the Baltic countries and the German
occupation of Poland meant that many intelligence officials of these countries
found refuge in neutral Sweden. Both the Baltics and Poland had ties to the
Japanese intelligence service, especially in their anti-Soviet activities. Finding
themselves without a country many of Onodera’s former acquaintances had no
alternative but to make a living by selling secret intelligence.
Japanese cooperation with foreign countries in the interwar period
The Japanese approach to secret intelligence was to cooperate with other
countries by offering mutually beneficial deals.
In the interwar period the Baltic countries had reasons to fear the
Soviet Union and they built up spy networks to monitor that country. However
their efforts were hindered because they had limited resources to invest in
intelligence. The Japanese were able to take advantage of this issue by
providing funds to the Baltic countries that were used for intelligence
purposes. In exchange they got copies of the reports.
The Japanese also had a strong connection with Poland. They cooperated
with that country not only against the Soviet Union but also in the field of
cryptology. In 1923 Captain Kowalewski of the Polish Army was invited to Tokyo
to teach cryptology and the Japanese sent some of their officers to Poland to
train in cryptography and cryptanalysis.
Another country with anti Soviet policy was Finland. In the 1930’s
relations with Finland were strengthened in the intelligence field. The
Japanese were impressed by the performance of the Finnish codebreakers,
especially during the Winter War.
In the period 1939-1940 Japan’s Eastern European allies were occupied by
Nazi Germany (Poland) and the Soviet Union (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania). Some
government officials of these countries fled abroad to neutral states like
Sweden. Meanwhile the Polish intelligence service continued its operations
against Germany and the Soviet Union with support from Britain. Surprisingly the
anti German activities of Polish intelligence did not hinder the exchange of
information between them and the Japanese. On the contrary the Japanese tried
to protect some of the Polish spies by giving them Japanese or Manchurian
From Sweden Onodera relied mainly on his old contacts from the
intelligence services of the Baltic countries, on the Polish intelligence
service, the Finnish intelligence department, his German counterparts and Swedish
diplomatic and military sources.
Let’s have a quick look at each case:
Polish intelligence service
During WWII the Polish IS operated throughout Europe and scored many successes against Germany.
They even had a spy in the German High Command (probably the Oberkommando des Heeres-OKH).
The Japanese supported the Polish IS and in turn benefited from the information
obtained but this definitely strained their relations with the German security services.
In time the Germans uncovered cases of espionage perpetrated by persons
holding Manchukuo passports and they
obviously realized that the Japanese were protecting the Poles. Their protests
led to the Japanese scaling back their activities but the cooperation between
Japan and the Polish IS was continued.
contact with the Polish IS was his
close associate Michal Rybikowski, a former intelligence officer, whose cover
name was ‘Piotr Ivanov’. Onodera protected him from the Germans and the effort
paid off as he received valuable information on the German military, the Soviet
Union and the fighting in the Eastern front.
Was Onodera’s support of Rybikowski completely justified? A US report says
that though him the Poles and the British were able to monitor the Japanese
Considering the close relationship between the Japanese and the Polish IS
it is possible that Rybikowski betrayed only parts of Onodera’s activities to
During the war Onodera received information from the Finnish intelligence
service and especially their codebreaking department. The Finnish codebreakers were able to solve
several important foreign cryptosystems, including Soviet military codes and
the State Departments strip cipher. The Allies learned of this arrangement when
they decoded Japanese messages mentioning the solved codes.
In September 1944 Finland signed an armistice with the Soviet Union. The
intelligence officials anticipated this move and fearing a Soviet take-over of
the country had taken measures to relocate the radio service to Sweden. This
operation was called Stella Polaris. In late September roughly 700 people,
comprising members of the intelligence services and their families were
transported by ship to Sweden. The Finns had come to an agreement with the
Swedish intelligence service that their people would be allowed to stay and in
return the Swedes would get the Finnish crypto archives and their radio
equipment. Onodera did not forget his Finnish friends and he supported them
with all the funds at his disposal (roughly 250.000-300.000 Swedish Kroner).
From the Finns he got the foreign codes that they had solved during the
In Sweden Onodera was able to benefit from the acquaintances he had made
during his tour as military attaché to Latvia in 1936-38.
His most valued associate was colonel Maasing, chief of the intelligence
service of the Estonian General Staff. Maasing directed espionage activities
against the Soviet Union and in 1940, when the country was occupied by Soviet
troops, he fled to Sweden. Up to 1942 he worked for the German intelligence
service but in April of that year he returned to Stockholm to work for Onodera.
Maasing knew many officers in the Swedish armed forces and the national
In Sweden Onodera kept in contact with diplomats and military
officials. According to his
interrogation report most of the time he wasn’t able to get information
directly from the Swedes but had to rely on the connections of his associates Maasing
and Karl-Heinz Kraemer. Maasing knew several important Swedish officials,
especially in the police force from his time as director of Estonian
intelligence. Kraemer on the other hand had contacts with Swedish businessmen.
From the interrogation report it is obvious that some interesting information
was acquired through Swedish officials such as major Petersen of the
Onodera’s relations with his German counterparts were poor, as they did
not share valuable intelligence and in any case he did not consider them to
have an efficient espionage service.
The exception to this rule was Karl-Heinz Kraemer, secretary of the
German legation in Stockholm, whom Onodera considered to be a valuable agent.
In the period 1944-45 Onodera and Kraemer exchanged information.
Onodera exchanged information with the Hungarian military attaché Frigyes
Kobor and his assistants Vagy and Voeczkoendy,
however he did not have a lot of respect for them.
More details on the exchange of information are available from Voeczkoendy’s interrogation report CI-FIR/117 (available from fold3.com)
General Onodera and the market of secret intelligence – A Soviet
Onodera collected information from several sources and then exchanged
some of the material with his various contacts.
According to general Schellenberg of the SD foreign intelligence department in ‘Walter Schellenberg: The Memoirs of
Hitler's Spymaster’, p153-154
The Japanese Ambassador in Stockholm,
Onodera, was one of the key figures of the Japanese Secret Service in Europe.
He received secret information from Vichy, Rome, Belgrade and Berlin for
transmission to Tokyo and also gathered other material himself. Much of this
information—though only what was absolutely reliable—he used for a sort of
barter trade, and he expected the same standard of integrity from those with
whom he did business. If one gave him bad material once only, he would from
then on refuse to engage in any further dealings with that informant. Piotr was
in a sense his chief liaison with the Russians ……………. I found out that Onodera
made the material collected by K—available to both the British and the Soviet
Secret Services. Later I succeeded in insinuating one of my agents into
Onodera's barter trade. He posed as a representative of the Italian Secret Service,
a disguise which he was able to maintain until the end of 1944- It was a really
fascinating game requiring the highest intelligence and skill. The material
which we traded in Stockholm was prepared by me personally, usually late at
night. It was a very careful blend of false, even misleading, material and
valid information, the latter mostly of a less important nature. In this trade
the British showed themselves somewhat slow and clumsy, while the Russians were
extremely quick and active. I must confess that the material they collected and
offered for trade was excellent. That on Great Britain, for instance, showed
that they must have had agents in the highest circles of the government.
Through them we even got material that came directly from the British War
Office. The Russians were already working with the Secret Service of the
Chinese Communists and used the Chinese very skillfully, especially in
diplomatic circles in London.
assistant air attaché in Sweden Friedrich Busch also believed that Onodera was
in contact with the Soviet intelligence service, as can be seen from report
CI-FIR/67 (available from fold3.com)
certainly had ample material to trade with. Their agents in the US and UK had
infiltrated the most secret government departments. Could they be exchanging
material with Onodera? There is no evidence of such an arrangement in Onodera’s
interrogation reports or in the book that his wife wrote postwar.
doesn’t mean that we know the full story. It’s up to historians to find out
Sources: reports titled ‘Onodera, Makoto’ from the
CIA’s FOIA website, CI-FIR reports 67 and 117 (from fold3.com) and the chapter
‘Military attaché Onodera’ from authors Simon
Olsson &Tommy Jonason.
Acknowledgements: I have to thank Simon Olsson &Tommy Jonason for sharing the information on Onodera contained in ‘Karl Heinz Kraemer’.(In manuscript 2014)
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