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Fritz Kolbe file photo [32449]

Fritz Kolbe

Given NameFritz
Born25 Sep 1900
Died16 Feb 1971


ww2dbaseAllen Dulles called Fritz Kolbe an "Intelligence officer's dream" a fitting description of a man who held Nazis in contempt and refused to join their party but was granted access to secret German documents and shared them freely with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), an intelligence service of the United States during the war. Born in 1900, Kolbe served briefly as a soldier before Germany was defeated in World War I. Unlike Adolf Hitler and other angry veterans who vowed to avenge that loss, Kolbe regarded the conflict as a tragic waste of life, and opposed those who would lead Germans down that bloody path again. He went to work at the Foreign Office in Berlin, Germany several years before Hitler took power and remained entrenched there afterwards because the Nazis needed experienced civil servants like Kolbe who were not party members to help run the agencies that grew rapidly as German borders expanded.

ww2dbaseIn late 1941, Kolbe began reviewing sensitive diplomatic and military cables for Karl Ritter who served as liaison between the Foreign Office and the military. "From the first day I found myself in touch with Nazi secrets," Kolbe said, "I knew I would have to find a way, somehow, to get them out." He used various methods to gather intelligence that he would later deliver to Dulles, including copying reports by hand after hours, moving them to be photographed before returning them, and stashing away carbon copies of typed documents. In 1943, a friend of his at the Foreign Office helped Kolbe enter Switzerland as a courier with a briefcase bulging with secret documents which he initially offered to the British. Morbid fears about trafficking with supposedly disaffected Germans - memories of the Venlo incident - caused MI6 to rebuff him. He turned instead to Allen Dulles, OSS chief in Bern, and gave him the first of several instalments of pilfered documents. Dulles welcomed his German visitor with open arms and gave him the source codename of "George Wood".

ww2dbaseWith help from like-minded accomplices in Berlin, Kolbe passed more than 1,600 secret German communiqués to the OSS including the locations of V-1 and V-2 plants and about details of genocide in Hungary, as well as mounds of Japanese material. In one documents was a despatch from the German ambassador to the Vatican suggesting that the Pope might approach the Western Allies to drop demands for unconditional surrender, and reach an accord with Germany to contain Soviet Communism. Naturally, no such deal was forthcoming. Another useful document was a report on losses sustained by the Luftwaffe during a bombing raid on London, England, United Kingdom.

ww2dbaseIn January 1944, Franklin Roosevelt informed Winston Churchill about an OSS report stating that the German intelligence agency Abwehr had obtained classified details of diplomatic communications between Great Britain and Turkey. This information had come from Allen Dulles in Switzerland, supplied by Kolbe. An investigation eventually discovered that Elyesa Bazna (codename Cicero), valet to the British Ambassador to Turkey, Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen, had been photographing his employer's letters and selling these to the German Embassy. This serious breach of security earned the ambassador a "severe" formal reprimand, but he was allowed to keep his post; although he would, conveniently, retire on a full pension soon after the war's end.

ww2dbaseThe British, and especially Sir Claude Dansey, the assistant chief of MI6, continued to believe that Kolbe was a double-agent, although in reality he was just a drab little civil servant who attracted little notice from his employers, but was motivated to defy and betray them by a profound sense of decency. For months, the American leadership in Washington too remained skeptical about Dulles information from Kolbe. The OSS lawyer, however, remained convinced of the authenticity of Kolbe's pilfered documents and continued to insist that the German people were ripe to rise up and overthrow Hitler. In this he was perhaps over optimistic, having a somewhat shaky grasp of military affairs.

ww2dbaseIn 1949, Kolbe tried to settle in the United States, but could not find suitable work. In 1951, he unsuccessfully applied to return to work for the German Foreign Office. Kolbe finally found a living as a representative of an American power-saw manufacturer. After the war, Kolbe was a despised and much hated figure in Germany, where he was widely viewed as a traitor. Kolbe died in Bern, Switzerland in February 1971 from gallbladder cancer. He is buried at the Luisenkirchhof III cemetery in Berlin.

Neil Kagan & Stephen Hyslop: World War II - The Spies and Secret Missions That Won the War (National Geographic, 2017)
Max Hastings: The Secret War (William Collins, 2015)
Wikipedia – Fritz Kolbe

Last Major Revision: Apr 2023

Fritz Kolbe Timeline

25 Sep 1900 Fritz Kolbe was born in Berlin, Germany.
19 Aug 1943 Fritz Kolbe traveled to Bern, Switzerland with a diplomatic bag; he had intended to pass on German secrets to the Western Allies while in Switzerland.
16 Feb 1971 Fritz Kolbe passed away in Bern, Switzerland from gallbladder cancer.

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