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.

hippo-ranch
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.

Major_Frederick_Russell_Burnham
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.

posteruk
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.

Young-Duquesne
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.

tumblr_nhknj4ZvcD1rrmirso1_1280
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.
Advertisements

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.

Manwhoneverwas

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.