Sunday, April 1, 2012

Kurt Jahnke German saboteur, Soviet spy?

Mr Jahnke was a colorful individual whose adventures certainly rivaled James Bond. He was born in Gnesen  in 1888 and after enlisting in the German navy he worked for the International Customs Service based in Peking. During his time there he made contacts with the Chinese secret service.

In 1909 he immigrated to the United States. There he became a naturalized citizen and actually served in the Marine Corps. He was posted to San Francisco, Pearl Harbor and the Philippines before being discharged for medical reasons.

From San Francisco he operated a shipping and smuggling business. According to Walter Schellenberg (head of the Sicherheitsdienst foreign intelligence department) Jahnke made a lot of money by smuggling back to China the bodies of dead Chinese immigrants. It seems that the Chinese community wanted to bury its dead back in Chinese soil and they were willing to pay big bucks for it.

Jahnke not only made money but he gained the confidence of powerful Chinese families.

Then with the break of WWI he turned into a spy and saboteur for Germany. He managed to sabotage American shipping and may have been involved in the explosion at Black tom island in 1916.

After the war he returned to Germany in 1921 and took part in anti French sabotage activities in the Ruhr. During the 1920’s he was also involved in the secret cooperation between the German and Soviet armies.

He also created an amateur intelligence service called the Jahnke-Büro which became connected with the Nazi statesman Rudolf Hess.

Eventually Jahnke’s backdoor dealings and the Hess affair led to his downfall and he retired to his estate in Pomerania.

During the war however Walter Schellenberg of the SD gave him another chance and used him as an advisor and intelligence source.

In 1945 Jahnke was arrested by the Soviet SMERSH agency. SMERSH meant ‘death to spies’ and in this case they lived up to their name as Jahnke was executed.

Why did I mention in the title that Jahnke could be a Soviet spy? For that we need to take a look at another individual, mr Krivitsky.

Walter Krivitsky (real name Samuel Ginsberg) was head of the Soviet military intelligence agency’s network in Western Europe. He defected in 1937 and managed to get to the USA where he wrote articles in newspapers attacking Stalin. Things did not turn out well for Krivitsky. The General was found dead in a Washington DC hotel on February 10, 1941. The death was deemed a suicide but was that the truth or a coverup?

Krivitsky knew many secrets and he was invited by the British intelligence service to share his information with them.  In 1940 he came to the UK and was questioned about Soviet spy activities.

How is Krivitsky connected to Jahnke? In one of these interrogation reports he mentioned that Jahnke had been a Soviet spy in the 1920’s. This is very interesting information considering Jahnke’s shadowy background.

Here is the relevant part of that report, Krivitsky is referred to as mr ‘Thomas’:

Was Jahnke a Soviet spy in the 1920’s? Perhaps.

Did he continue to work for the SU in the 1930’s and 40’s ? This is an interesting question…

Sources: KV 2/804 ‘Walter J. KRIVITSKY’ , Historical dictionary of German intelligence , Hitler's Last Chief of Foreign Intelligence , Wikipedia.


  1. Richard Spence4/10/12, 11:05 AM

    Yes, it is a very interesting question, and the same one can be asked about Jahnke's relationship with the British. He openly praised the use of "double agents."

    One minor correction: Jahnke did briefly serve in the the US Marine Corps, but never became an American citizen.

    He was arrested by SMERSH in 1945, but his name does not appear on an execution list until 1950. Even then, it is not altogether clear whether the sentence was carried out.

  2. Interesting information Richard. Yes it could be the case that Jahnke was working at the same time for German,British and Soviet intelligence. Very shadowy character!

  3. He definitely was executed by NKVD in 1950 as GRU agent.The fierce rivalry existed between GRU(that time the 4-th Department of Red Army'General Staff) and NKVD. At the time of the GRU's creation, Lenin infuriated the Cheka (predecessor of the NKVD/KGB) by ordering it not to interfere with the GRU's operations.But later,beeing in great power,NKVD executed all leadership of GRU and then,till the death of Stalin pursued all its agents abroad(for example,see Leopold Trepper).

    1. What is the source of the execution information in 1950? Did Jahnke have children? Does anyone have confirmation of Jahnke's claim re sabotage of the USS San Diego in 1918?

  4. Declassified report february 25, 1952 (in german) states p. 11, note 15 - non literal tranlation: Jahncke is supposed to have been once more in Moskau in 1950, good relations to Stalin (?). Besides his connections to Moscow, he is also said to have had ties to British Intelligence.