September 10, 1776 One Life to Lose

The young Patriot, untrained and unskilled in the ways of deception, placed his trust where it did not belong.

From the earliest days of the American Revolution, the Hale brothers of Coventry Connecticut, fought for the Patriot side. Five of them helped to fight the battles at Lexington and Concord. The youngest and most famous brother was home in New London at the time, finishing the terms of his teaching contract.

Nathan Hale’s unit would participate in the siege of Boston, Hale himself joining George Washington’s army in the spring of 1776, as the army moved to Long Island to block the British move on the strategically important port city of New York.

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General Howe appeared at Staten Island on June 29 with a fleet of 45 ships. By the end of the week, he’d assembled an overwhelming fleet of 130.

There was an attempt at peaceful negotiation on July 13, when General Howe sent a letter to General Washington under flag of truce. The letter was addressed “George Washington, Esq.”, intentionally omitting Washington’s rank of General. Washington declined to receive the letter, saying that there was no one there by that address. Howe tried the letter again on the 16th, this time addressing it to “George Washington, Esq., etc., etc.”. Again, Howe’s letter was refused.

The next day, General Howe sent Captain Nisbet Balfour in person, to ask if Washington would meet with Howe’s adjutant, Colonel James Patterson. A meeting was scheduled for the 20th.

Patterson told Washington that General Howe had come with powers to grant pardons. Washington refused, saying “Those who have committed no fault want no pardon”.

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Patriot forces were comprehensively defeated at the Battle of Brooklyn, fought on August 27, 1776. With the Royal Navy in command on the water, Howe’s army dug in for a siege, confident that his adversary was trapped and waiting to be destroyed at his convenience.

On the night of August 29-30, Washington withdrew his army to the ferry landing and across the East River, to Manhattan.

With horse’s hooves and wagon wheels muffled and oarlocks stuffed with rags, the Patriot army withdrew as a rearguard tended fires, convincing the redcoats in their trenches that the Americans were still in camp.

The surprise was complete for the British side, on waking for the morning of the 30th. The Patriot army, had vanished.

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Retreat from long island, August 29-30, 1776

The Battle of Long Island would almost certainly have ended in disaster for the cause of Liberty, but for that silent evacuation over the night of August 29-30.

Following evacuation, the Patriot army found itself isolated on Manhattan island, virtually surrounded. Only the thoroughly disagreeable current conditions of the Throg’s Neck-Hell’s Gate segment of the East River, prevented Admiral Sir Richard Howe (William’s brother), from enveloping Washington’s position, altogether.

Expecting a British assault in September, General Washington was desperate for information on the movements of his adversary.  Washington asked for volunteers for a dangerous mission, to go behind enemy lines, as a spy.  One volunteer stepped up, on September 10. His name was Nathan Hale.

Hale set out the same day, disguised as a Dutch schoolmaster. He was successful for about a week but appears to have been something less than “street smart”. The young Patriot, untrained and unskilled in the ways of deception, placed his trust where it did not belong.

Nathan Hale

Major Robert Rogers was an old British hand, a leader of Rangers during the earlier French and Indian War. Rogers must have suspected that this Connecticut schoolteacher was more than he pretended to be, and intimated that he himself, was a spy in the Patriot cause.

Hale took Rogers into his confidence, believing the two to be playing for the same side. Barkhamsted Connecticut shopkeeper Consider Tiffany, a British loyalist and himself a sergeant of the French and Indian War, recorded what happened next, in his journal: “The time being come, Captain Hale repaired to the place agreed on, where he met his pretended friend” (Rogers), “with three or four men of the same stamp, and after being refreshed, began [a]…conversation. But in the height of their conversation, a company of soldiers surrounded the house, and by orders from the commander, seized Captain Hale in an instant. But denying his name, and the business he came upon, he was ordered to New York. But before he was carried far, several persons knew him and called him by name; upon this he was hanged as a spy, some say, without being brought before a court martial.”

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Hercules Mulligan

The Irish tailor Hercules Mulligan had far greater success reporting on British goings-on, and twice saved General Washington himself, from capture.   This Patriot who converted Alexander Hamilton from Tory to Patriot.  The secret member of the Sons of Liberty who, for seven years worked behind enemy lines.  Yet today, we barely remember the man’s name.. Hercules Mulligan earned the right to be remembered, as a hero of American history.  His will be a story for another day.

Nathan Hale, the schoolteacher-turned-spy who placed his trust where it didn’t belong,  was brought to the gallows on September 22, 1776, and hanged. He was 21. CIA.gov describes him as “The first American executed for spying for his country”.

Nathan_Hale_Statue_-_Flickr_-_The_Central_Intelligence_Agency_(1)There was no official record taken of Nathan Hale’s last words, yet we know from eyewitness statement, that the man died with the same clear-eyed personal courage, with which he had lived.

British Captain John Montresor was present at the hanging, and spoke with American Captain William Hull the following day, under flag of truce.  He gave the following account:

“‘On the morning of his execution, my station was near the fatal spot, and I requested the Provost Marshal to permit the prisoner to sit in my marquee, while he was making the necessary preparations. Captain Hale entered: he was calm, and bore himself with gentle dignity, in the consciousness of rectitude and high intentions. He asked for writing materials, which I furnished him: he wrote two letters, one to his mother and one to a brother officer.’ He was shortly after summoned to the gallows. But a few persons were around him, yet his characteristic dying words were remembered. He said, ‘I only regret, that I have but one life to lose for my country‘.

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July 30, 1916 Black Tom

The explosion at Black Tom was the most spectacular, but by no means the only such attack. The archives at cia.gov reports that “[B]etween 1915 and spring 1917, 43 American factories suffered explosions or fires of mysterious origin, in addition to the bombs set on some four dozen ships carrying war supplies to the Allies”.

In the early months of World War I, Britain’s Royal Navy largely swept the seas of the Kaiser’s surface ships and blockaded ports in Germany. The United States was neutral at the time, and more than a hundred German ships sought refuge in American harbors.

The blockade made it impossible for the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary to import war materiel from overseas, while Great Britain, France, and Russia continued to buy products from US farms and factories. American businessmen were happy to sell to any foreign customer who had the cash, but for all intents and purposes, such trade was limited to the allies.

British-blockadeTo the Central Powers, such trade had the sole purpose of killing their boys on the battlefields of Europe.

The first and most overt reaction from the Kaiser came in the form of unrestrained submarine warfare, when even vessels flying the flags of neutral countries were attacked. Less apparent at the time, was the covert campaign of sabotage carried out by German agents on US soil.

“Black Tom” was originally an island in New York Harbor, next to Liberty Island. So called after a former resident, by WWI, landfill had expanded the island to become part of Jersey City. The area contained a mile-long pier with warehouses and rail lines operated by the Lehigh Valley Railroad, and served as a major hub in the trade of war materiel to the allies.

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Black Tom Island, 1880

On July 30, 1916, the Black Tom terminal had over two million pounds of small arms and artillery ammunition in freight cars, and one hundred thousand pounds of TNT on a nearby Barge.

Guards discovered a series of small fires around 2:00am. Some tried to put them out while others fled, fearing an explosion. The first and loudest blast took place at 2:08am, a detonation so massive as to be estimated at 5.5 on the Richter scale. People were awakened from Maryland to Connecticut in what many thought was an earthquake. The Brooklyn Bridge shook and the walls of Jersey City’s municipal building were cracked as shrapnel flew through the air. Windows broke as far as 25 miles away, while fragments embedded themselves in the clock tower at the Jersey Journal building in Journal Square, over a mile away. The clock stopped at 2:12 am.

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Firefighters were unable to fight the fires until the bullets and shrapnel stopped flying. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Stained Glass windows were shattered at St. Patrick’s Church, and Ellis Island was evacuated to Manhattan. Damage to the skirt and torch carried by the Statue of Liberty alone, came to over $2¼ million in 2017 dollars. To this day, the ladder to “Lady Liberty’s” torch, remains off limits to visitors.

The enormous vaulted ceiling of Ellis Island’s main hall, collapsed.  According to one Park officer, damage to the Ellis Island complex came to $500,000 “half the one million dollars it cost the government to build the facility.”

Wrecked_warehouses_and_scattered_debris_after_the_Black_Tom_Explosion,_1916Known fatalities in the explosion included a Jersey City police officer, a Lehigh Valley Railroad Chief of Police, a ten week old infant, and the barge captain.

The explosion at Black Tom was the most spectacular, but by no means the only such attack. The archives at cia.gov reports that “[B]etween 1915 and spring 1917, 43 American factories suffered explosions or fires of mysterious origin, in addition to the bombs set on some four dozen ships carrying war supplies to the Allies”.

Responsibility for the Black Tom explosion was never proven, conclusively. Early suspicions centered on accidental causes. Legal wranglings would climb the judicial ladder all the way to the United States Supreme Court, and continue well into the second World War. Anna Rushnak, an elderly Czechoslovak immigrant who ran a four-bits-a-night boarding house in Bayonne was thrown from her bed by the explosion, to find then-23-year-old Michael Kristoff sitting on the edge of his bed, mumbling “What I do? What I do?”

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Lehigh Valley Railroad pier, after the explosion

Kristoff, a Slovakian subject of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, (Germany’s principle ally in WW1), was arrested by Bayonne Police and interrogated, and judged to be “insane but harmless.”

In 1922, the Lehigh Valley Railroad was buried in lawsuits, and looking to fix blame on a German act of sabotage. Kristoff came into the judicial spotlight once again, and located in an Albany jail where he was serving time for theft. Kristoff admitted working for the Germans “for a few weeks” back in 1916, but was released before the claim could be investigated. Kristoff was finally traced to a pauper’s grave in 1928 and there ends his story, yet that ‘insane but harmless’ label may be open to question. Papers carried on the body exhumed from that potter’s field were indeed those of Michael Kristoff, but the dental records didn’t match.

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“German Master Spy Franz Von Rintelen and his “pencil bomb” were responsible for acts of sabotage in the United States during World War I”. H/T Smithsonian

Meanwhile, suspicion fell on the German-born naturalized citizen Kurt Jahnke who ran sabotage operations for the German Admiralty out of bases in San Francisco and Mexico City, and his assistant, Imperial German Navy Lieutenant Lothar Witzke. Witzke was arrested on February 1, 1918 in Nogales, Arizona and convicted by court martial. He was sentenced to death, though the war was over before sentence could be carried out. President Wilson later commuted the sentence, to life.

By 1923, most countries were releasing POWs from the “Great War”, including spies. A report from Leavenworth prison shows Witzke heroically risking his life, entering a boiler room after an explosion and probably averting disaster. It may be on that basis that he was finally released. Lieutenant Lothar Witzke was pardoned by President Calvin Coolidge on November 22, 1923, and deported to Berlin, where a grateful nation awarded him the Iron Cross, 1st and 2nd Class.

The U.S.–German Peace Treaty of 1921 established the German-American Mixed Claims Commission, which declared in 1939 that Imperial Germany had, in fact been responsible and awarded a judgement of $50 million.  The Nazi government refused to pay and the matter was finally settled in 1953, with a judgement of $95 million (including interest) against the Federal Republic of Germany. The final payment was made in 1979.

The Black Tom explosion and related acts of pro-German espionage resulted in the Federal Espionage Act signed into law in June 1917, creating, among its other provisions, a “Bureau of Investigation” under the United States Department of Justice.  Now, nothing remains of the Black Tom terminal or the largest foreign terrorist attack on American soil until 9/11, save for a plaque, as seen in the photograph below.  That, and the FBI.

Feature image, top of page: Shrapnel damage can be seen in this image of the Statue of Liberty
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View of the Statue of Liberty from the site of the Black Tom explosion
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June 29, 1944 Chameleon

A liar, a chameleon, a man of 1,000 aliases, Fritz Duquesne once feigned paralysis for seven months in prison, just so he could fool his jailers long enough to escape.  Frederick Burnham, a real-life Indiana Jones and the inspiration for the Boy Scouts of America, described Duquesne as “the last man I should choose to meet in a dark room for a finish fight armed only with knives.“

As the 19th century gave way to the 20th, massive immigration into the United States put increasing strain on the nation’s food supply.  The meat shortage became particularly acute, to the point where policy makers considered importing exotic species of animals, to augment the nation’s food supply.

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Hippo Ranching, in America

In 1910, the United States Congress defeated by one vote, a measure to introduce African hippopotami into the American food supply.  Supporters of the measure envisioned great herds of free-range hippos, filling swamps, rivers and bayous from the Atchafalaya basin to the Okefenokee Swamp, to the Florida Everglades.

As the “American Hippo” bill wended its way through Congress, the measure picked up steam with the enthusiastic support of two mortal enemies who’d spent years in the African bush, trying to kill each other.

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Frederick Russell Burnham

Major Frederick Russell Burnham was a freelance scout and American adventurer. The “King of Scouts’, Burnham was a “man totally without fear,” a real-life Indiana Jones and the inspiration for the Boy Scouts of America.  This is the guy who should have been in the Dos Equis beer commercials.  One contemporary described the man as the “most complete human being who ever lived“.

Burnham’s fellow hippo salesman and would-be murderer was Frederick “Fritz” Joubert Duquesne.  A Boer of French Huguenot ancestry, Duquesne was a smooth talking guerrilla fighter, an adrenaline junkie and self-styled “Black Panther”, who once described himself as every bit the wild African animal, as any creature of the veld.  A liar, a chameleon, a man of 1,000 aliases, Duquesne once feigned paralysis for seven months in prison, just so he could fool his jailers long enough to escape.  Burnham himself described him as “the last man I should choose to meet in a dark room for a finish fight armed only with knives.“

During the second Anglo-Boer war of 1899 – 1902,  several large shipments of gold totaling  1.5 million pounds were removed from the central bank in Pretoria, and sent to the Netherlands for the use of exiled president Paul Kruger and other Boer exiles fleeing the Transvaal.

4822438Fritz Duquesne  was in charge of moving one of those shipments across the bushveld of Portuguese East Africa, when some kind of argument broke out.  When it was over, only two wounded Boers were left alive, along with Duquesne himself and a few tottys (native porters).  Duquesne ordered the tottys to hide the gold, burn the wagons and kill the survivors.  He then rode off on an ox, having given the rest to the porters.

Duquesne was captured and escaped several times during this period, before infiltrating the British army as an officer, in 1901.  It was in this capacity that he found his parents’ farm in Nylstroom, destroyed under Marshall Horatio Kitchener’s ‘scorched earth’ policy. His sister had been raped and killed, he learned, and his mother was dying in a British concentration camp. Historian Art Ronnie remarked that, “the fate of his country and of his family would breed in him an all-consuming hatred of England.”  Biographer Clement Wood echoed the sentiment, calling Duquesne: “a walking living breathing searing killing destroying torch of hate.”

Duquesne was found out during a plot to assassinate Kitchener, narrowly avoiding execution by swimming away from the “impossible, hopeless, and impregnable prison” of Bermuda.  A week later, the Black Panther was stowed away on a boat to Baltimore.

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British recruiting poster of WW1, featuring Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener

During this period, Duquesne became involved with the Hippo program, becoming safari guide and personal shooting instructor to President Theodore Roosevelt, himself.

Naturalized an American citizen in 1913, Duquesne became a German spy the following year, as war broke out in Europe.  “Captain Frederick Fredericks”, was sent to Brazil under the guise of “doing scientific research on rubber plants,”  but the real-life German agent for Naval Intelligence’ real job was to disrupt the shipping, of countries at war with Germany.   That twenty-two British merchant ships randomly exploded during this period, is no coincidence.

British MI5 discovered the German agent, using the aliases George Fordam and Piet Niacud (‘Duquesne’, pronounced backward). ‘Niacud” disappeared once again, placing an article in an Argentine newspaper reporting his own murder at the hands of Amazon natives.

The “Man with 1,000 aliases” picture (l) as himself ( during 2nd Boer War, ca 1901), in German uniform sometime around 1914-’16, and (r), as Australian “Captain Claude Stoughton”, from a WW1 war bond drive.

Reappearing once more in New York and using the aliases George Fordam and Frederick Fredericks, Duquesne filed insurance claims for the loss of “films” and “mineral samples” lost in the vessels which he himself sank, off the coast of Brazil. The insurance companies were reluctant to pay and launched their own investigations, while “Fredericks” disappeared once again, re-emerging as the Russian Duke ‘Boris Zakrevsky’ and joining Lord Kitchener on HMS Hampshire in Scotland.

HMS Hampshire sank on June 5, 1916 with heavy loss of life, including that of Kitchener himself. History records the Devonshire-class armored cruiser as having struck a mine.  Some believe the spy had succeeded after all those years, calling in the submarine strike and sinking the Hampshire, killing the Field Marshall before rowing away in a life boat. There were only twelve survivors.

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Fritz Duquesne, in younger days

A former-day Forrest Gump with a knack for always being in all the right places, Fritz emerged in 1916 as “Captain Claude Stoughton” of the Western Australian Light Horse regiment, a man who claimed to have been “bayoneted three times, gassed four times, and stuck once with a hook”. As Captain Stoughton, Duquesne would regale New York audiences with hair-raising tales of his war exploits, promoting the sale of Liberty Bonds and making patriotic speeches on behalf of the Red Cross and other organizations.

The insurance fraud caught up with him November 1917, when letters in his possession implicated him in the earlier sabotage, in Brazil. American authorities agreed to extradite Duquesne to Great Britain for “murder on the high seas, arson, faking Admiralty documents and conspiring against the Crown.”

Keeping this guy in prison, though, was like nailing an eel to a jello tree. This was when he faked his paralysis, enduring the needle pokes and prods of skeptical doctors until even they became convinced of his infirmity.

As the Nazi party came to power in the early 1930s, this “Destroying Torch of Hate” for all things British, once again took up the German cause.

Six months before the United States entered World War 2, a large pro-Nazi spy ring was discovered, operating in America. Thirty-three German agents were placed in key jobs around the United States, one opening a restaurant, another working at an airline and others working as delivery men and messengers. The FBI struck on June 29, 1941, arresting all thirty three spies on charges of espionage.  At the center of it all, was none other than Frederick “Fritz” J. Duquesne.

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Duquesne Spy Ring

To this day, the Duquesne Spy Ring remains the largest espionage case in United States history, which ended in convictions. Six days after the Imperial Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, three women and thirty men were convicted of sending secret information on U.S. weapons and shipping movements, to Nazi Germany. Less than a month later, the group was sentenced to a combined total of over 300 years in prison.

Duquesne himself was sentenced to 18 years.  This time, he didn’t get out. The “Man who killed Kitchener” was released fourteen years later, due to failing physical and mental health. Fritz Duquesne died on May 24, 1956, at the City Hospital on Welfare Island. His last known speech took place two years earlier, at the Adventurers’ Club of New York. The title of the lecture, was “My Life – in and out of Prison”.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

April 30, 1943 Operation Mincemeat

On April 30, 1943, Lieutenant Norman Jewell, commanding the submarine HMS Seraph (P219), read the 39th Psalm over the man who never was.  With briefcase containing “secret” documents padlocked to his wrist, the homeless man who in death would help defeat Nazi Germany, was gently pushed into the Atlantic, off the Spanish coast.

The idea was a head fake.  Disinformation intended to make the Nazi government believe that their adversaries intended to invade Sardinia and Greece in 1943, rather than the real targets of North Africa and Sicily.  British Military Intelligence called it “Operation Mincemeat”.

The London coroner obtained the body of 34-year-old Glyndwr Michael, on condition that his real identity never be revealed. The Welshman had died of rat poison, though it’s uncertain whether the death was accidental or suicide. This particular poison came in paste form, and was spread on bread crusts to attract rats.  The homeless man may have died, merely because he was hungry.

Naval identity cardBe that as it may, this cause of death is difficult to detect,  The condition of the corpse was close to that of someone who had died at sea, of hypothermia and drowning. The dead man’s parents were both deceased, there were no known relatives and the man died friendless. So it was that Glyndwr Michael became the “Man who Never Was”.

The next step was to create a “past” for the dead man. Michael became “(Acting) Major William “Bill” Martin, Royal Marines”, born 1907, in Cardiff, Wales, assigned to Headquarters, Combined Operations. As a Royal Marine, “Martin” could wear battle dress rather than a naval uniform. This was important, because Naval uniforms at the time were tailor-made by Gieves & Hawkes of Saville Row. Authorities could hardly ask Gieves’ tailors to measure a corpse, without raising eyebrows.

The rank of acting major made the fictional William Martin senior enough to be entrusted with sensitive documents, but not so prominent that anyone would expect to know him. The name “Martin” was chosen because there were several Martins of about that rank, already serving in the Royal Marines.

PamA “fiancée” was furnished for Major Martin, in the form of  MI5 clerk “Pam”. “Major Martin” carried her snapshot, along with two love letters, and a jeweler’s bill for a diamond engagement ring.

In keeping with his rank, Martin was given some good quality underwear, to increase his authenticity. Extremely difficult to obtain due to rationing, the underwear was purloined from the Master of the New College Oxford, who’d been run over and killed by a truck.

Made to look like the victim of a plane crash, the plan was to drop the body at sea, at a place where the tide would bring it ashore and into German Hands.

On April 30, 1943, Lieutenant Norman Jewell, commanding the submarine HMS Seraph (P219), read the 39th Psalm over the man who never was.  With briefcase containing “secret” documents padlocked to his wrist, the homeless man who in death would help defeat Nazi Germany, was gently pushed into the Atlantic, off the Spanish coast.

HMS Seraph

The hoax worked out, nicely. A Spanish fisherman recovered the body and a Nazi agent intercepted the papers, as intended. Mussolini insisted correctly that the allied attack would come through Sicily, but Hitler wasn’t buying it. He had swallowed the Mincemeat scam whole, insisting that the Sicilian attack was nothing but a diversion from the real objective.

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When the Allies invaded Sicily on the 9th of July, the Germans were so convinced it was a feint that forces were kept out of action for a full two full weeks. After that, it was far too late to effect the outcome.

The non-existent Major William Martin was buried with full military honors in the Huelva cemetery of Nuestra Señora. The headstone reads:
“William Martin, born 29 March 1907, died 24 April 1943, beloved son of John Glyndwyr Martin and the late Antonia Martin of Cardiff, Wales, Dulce et Decorum est pro Patria Mori, R.I.P.”  “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”

In 1998, the British Government revealed Martin’s true identity, and “Glyndwr Michael; Served as Major William Martin, RM”, was added to the gravestone.

There is a war memorial in the small South Wales town of Aberbargoed, in memory of Glyndwr Michael. A plaque is inscribed with the Welsh phrase “Y Dyn Na Fu Erioed”. It means “The Man Who Never Was”.

Man who Never Was

November 19, 1904 Another Man’s Shoes

We rarely hear about the work of the spy or the saboteur in times of war. They are the Heroes who work behind enemy lines, with little to protect them but their own guts and cleverness.

We rarely hear about the work of the spy or the saboteur in times of war. They are the Heroes who work behind enemy lines, with little to protect them but their own guts and cleverness. Their work is performed out of sight, yet there have been times when the lives of millions hung in the balance, and they never even knew it.

One such was Iacob Somme, a Norwegian who was caught, tortured and executed by the Gestapo, for his role in sabotaging the Nazi heavy water plant in Telemark, in 1943. We can only imagine a world in which Nazi Germany was the first to build a nuclear bomb.  We might thank this man that that world remains entirely imaginary.

Sven SommeAnother such man was his brother Sven, born this day, November 19, 1904.

Like his brother Iacob, Sven Somme joined the Norwegian Resistance to fight the Nazis who had occupied his country since 1940. He photographed strategic German military bases using a covert camera, sending tiny maps, photographs and intelligence reports to the Allies hidden under the stamps on letters.

In 1944, Somme was caught taking pictures of a German U-boat base on the island of Otteroy. Guards saw the sun glint off the camera’s lens, and they came running. Sven tried hiding the tiny camera under a rock, but the Germans quickly found it and he was put in cuffs.

That night, Somme managed to slip his handcuffs and creep past his sleeping guard. What followed was a two months-long race between life and death.

Sven Somme, treeThe Norwegian had barely an hour’s head start, and the Nazis couldn’t let this guy get away. He knew too much. Somme was pursued through streams and ravines as he worked his way into the mountains.

He wore a pair of beat up dress shoes and certainly would have succumbed to frostbite in the mountains, had he not been taken in for a time by a friendly family. He couldn’t stay for long, but this family’s 19-year-old son Andre gave him the pair of mountain boots that saved his life.

Somme would wade through icy streams to avoid leaving tracks in the snow, or leap from one tree to another, a technique he had learned as a kid. He trekked 200 miles through the mountains in this manner, dodging bears and wolves, all the while being pursued by 900 German soldiers and a pack of bloodhounds.

news-graphics-2007-_655294aSomme finally made it to neutral Sweden, where he was taken to England. There he met the exiled King of Norway, and the woman who would one day become his wife and mother of his three daughters, an English woman named Primrose.

Sven Somme passed away in 1961 after a fight with cancer.  Primrose died not long after. It was only in going through her things after she passed, that the three girls discovered their father’s history. The photographs, the letters, even an arrest warrant written out in German and Norwegian.

Somme had written a memoir about his escape, calling it “Another Man’s Shoes”. In 2004, his daughters used the book to retrace their father’s epic flight across the mountains. They even met the family who had sheltered him and, to their amazement, they still had his old shoes. The book is still in print as far as I know.  It has a forward by his daughter Ellie, describing their emotional meeting with the family who had sheltered her father.

It must be one hell of a story.