My Adventures as a Spy by Sir Robert Baden-Powell was published in 1915 during the first years of the Great War. It recounts B-P’s experiences in espionage during his military career and is full of adventure. It is a short book, an exciting story, and one of my personal favorites.
Part One. Introduction—The Different Degrees of Spies—Strategical Agents—Tactical Agents—Residential Spies—Officer Agents—Commercial Spying—Germany’s Invasion Plans—Field Spies—Catching a Spy.
It has been difficult to write in peace-time on the delicate subject of spies and spying, but now that the war is in progress and the methods of those much abused gentry have been disclosed, there is no harm in going more fully into the question, and to relate some of my own personal experiences.
Spies are like ghosts, people seem to have had a general feeling that there might be such things, but they did not at the same time believe in them—because they never saw them, and seldom met anyone who had had first-hand experience of them. But as regards the spies, I can speak with personal knowledge in saying that they do exist, and in very large numbers, not only in England, but in every part of Europe.
As in the case of ghosts, any phenomenon which people don’t understand, from a sudden crash on a quiet day to a midnight creak of a cupboard, has an affect of alarm upon nervous minds. So also a spy is spoken of with undue alarm and abhorrence, because he is somewhat of a bogey.
As a first step it is well to disabuse one’s mind of the idea that every spy is necessarily the base and despicable fellow he is generally held to be. He is often both clever end brave.
The term "spy" is used rather indiscriminately, and has by use come to be a term of contempt. As a misapplication of the term "spy" the case of Major André always seems to me to have been rather a hard one. He was a Swiss by birth, and during the American War of Independence in 1780 joined the British Army in Canada, where he ultimately became A.D.C. to General Sir H. Clinton.
The American commander of a fort near West Point, on the Hudson River, had hinted that he wanted to surrender, and Sir H. Clinton sent André to treat with him. In order to get through the American lines André dressed himself in plain clothes and took the name of John Anderson. He was unfortunately caught by the Americans and tried by court martial and hanged as a spy.
As he was not trying to get information, it seems scarcely right to call him a spy. Many people took this view at the time, and George III. gave his mother a pension, as well as a title to his brother, and his body was ultimately dug up and re-interred in Westminster Abbey.
THE DIFFERENT DEGREES OF SPIES.
Let us for the moment change the term "spy" to "investigator" or "military agent." For war purposes these agents may be divided into:
1. Strategical and diplomatic agents, who study the political and military conditions in peace time of all other countries which might eventually be in opposition to their own in war. These also create political disaffection and organise outbreaks, such, for instance, as spreading sedition amongst Egyptians, or in India amongst the inhabitants, or in South Africa amongst the Boer population, to bring about an outbreak, if possible, in order to create confusion and draw off troops in time of war.
2. Tactical, military, or naval agents, who look into minor details of armament and terrain in peace time. These also make tactical preparations on the spot, such as material for extra bridges, gun emplacements, interruption of communications, etc.
3. Field spies. Those who act as scouts in disguise to reconnoitre positions and to report moves of the enemy in the field of war. Amongst these are residential spies and officer agents.
All these duties are again subdivided among agents of every grade, from ambassadors and their attaches downwards. Naval and military officers are sent to carry out special investigations by all countries, and paid detectives are stationed in likely centres to gather information.
There are also traitor spies. For these I allow I have not a good word. They are men who sell their countries’ secrets for money. Fortunately we are not much troubled with them in England; but we have had a notorious example in South Africa.
The war treason—that is, preliminary political and strategical investigation of the Germans in the present campaign has not been such a success as might have been expected from a scheme so wonderfully organised as it has been. With the vast sums spent upon it, the German General Staff might reasonably have obtained men in a higher position in life who could have gauged the political atmosphere better than was done by their agents immediately before the present crisis.
Their plans for starting strikes at a critical time met with no response whatever. They had great ideas of stirring up strife and discontent among the Mahommedan populations both in Egypt and in India, but they calculated without knowing enough of the Eastern races or their feelings towards Great Britain and Germany—more especially Germany.
They looked upon the Irish question as being a certainty for civil war in Britain, and one which would necessitate the employment of a large proportion of our expeditionary force within our own islands.
They never foresaw that the Boer and Briton would be working amicably in South Africa; they had supposed that the army of occupation there could never be removed, and did not foresee that South Africa would be sending a contingent against their South African colonies while the regulars came to strengthen our army at home.
They imagined the Overseas Dominions were too weak in men and ships and training to be of any use; and they never foresaw that the manhood of Great Britain would come forward in vast numbers to take up arms for which their national character has to a large extent given them the necessary qualifications. All this might have been discovered if the Germans had employed men of a higher education and social position.
In addition to finding out military details about a country, such as its preparedness in men, supplies, efficiency and so on, these agents have to study the tactical features of hills and plains, roads and railways, rivers and woods, and even the probable battlefields and their artillery positions, and so on.
The Germans in the present war have been using the huge guns whose shells, owing to their black, smoky explosions, have been nick-named "Black Marias" or "Jack Johnsons." These guns require strong concrete foundations for them to stand upon before they can be fired. But the Germans foresaw this long before the war, and laid their plans accordingly.
They examined all the country over which they were likely to fight, both in Belgium and in France, and wherever they saw good positions for guns the) built foundations and emplacements for them. This was done in the time of peace, and therefore had to be done secretly. In order to divert suspicion, a German would buy or rent a farm on which it was desired to build an emplacement. Then he would put down foundations for a new barn or farm building, or if near a town- for a factory, and u hen these were complete, he would erect some lightly constructed building upon it.
There was nothing to attract attention or suspicion about this, and numbers of these emplacements are said to have been made before war began. When war broke out and the troops arrived on the ground, the buildings were hastily pulled down and there were the emplacements all ready for the guns.
Some years ago a report came to the War Office that a foreign power was making gun emplacements in a position which had not before been suspected of being of military value, and they were evidently going to use it for strategical purposes.
I was sent to see whether the report was true. Of course, it would not do to go as an officer suspicions would be aroused, one would be allowed to see nothing, and would probably be arrested as a spy. I therefore went to stay with a friendly farmer in the neighbourhood, and went out shooting every day among the partridges and snipe which abounded there. The first thing I did was to look at the country generally, and try to think which points would be most valuable as positions for artillery.
Then I went to look for partridges (and other things!) on the hills which I had noticed, and I very soon found what I wanted.
Officers were there, taking angles and measurements, accompanied by workmen, who were driving pegs into the ground and marking off lines with tapes between them.
As I passed with my gun in my hand, bag on shoulder, and dog at heel, they paid no attention to me, and from the neighbouring hills I was able to watch their proceedings.
When they went away to their meals or returned to their quarters, I went shooting over the ground they had left, and if I did not get a big bag of game, at any rate I made a good collection of drawings and measurements of the plans of the forts and emplacements which they had traced out on the ground.
So that within a few days of their starting to make them we had the plans of them all in our possession. Although they afterwards planted trees all over the sites to conceal the forts within them, and put up buildings in other places to hide them, we knew perfectly well where the emplacements were and what were their shapes and sizes.
This planting of trees to hide such defence works occasionally has the other effect, and shows one where they are. This was notably the case at Tsingtau, captured by the Japanese and British forces from the Germans. As there were not any natural woods there, I had little difficulty in finding where the forts were by reason of the plantations of recent growth in the neighbourhood of the place.
These men take up their quarters more or less permanently in the country of their operations. A few are men in high places in the social or commercial world, and are generally nouveaux riches, anxious for decorations and rewards. But most of the residential spies are of a more insignificant class, and in regular pay for their work.
Their duty is to act as agents to receive and distribute instructions secretly to other itinerant spies, and to return their reports to headquarters. For this reason they are nicknamed in the German Intelligence Bureau "post-boxes." They also themselves pick up what information they can from all available sources and transmit it home.
One, Steinbauer, has for some years past been one of the principal "post-boxes" in England. He was attached to the Kaiser’s staff during his last visit to this country, when he came as the guest of the King to the opening of Queen Victoria’s memorial.
A case of espionage which was tried in London revealed his methods, one of his agents being arrested after having been watched for three years.
Karl Ernst’s trial confirmed the discoveries and showed up the doings of men spies like Schroeder, Gressa, Klare, and others.
Also the case of Dr. Karl Graves may be still in the memory of many. This German was arrested in Scotland for spying, and was condemned to eighteen months’ imprisonment, and was shortly afterwards released without any reason being officially assigned. He has since written a full account of what he did, and it is of interest to note how his correspondence passed to and from the intelligence headquarters in Germany in envelopes embellished with the name of Messrs. Burroughs and Wellcome, the famous chemists. He posed as a doctor, and sent his letters through an innkeeper at Brussels or a modiste in Paris, while letters to him came through an obscure tobacconists shop in London.
One of these letters miscarried through having the wrong initial to his name. It wars returned by the Post Office to Burroughs and Wellcome, who on opening it found inside a German letter, enclosing bank-notes in return for services rendered. This raised suspicion against him. He was watched, and finally arrested.
He states that a feeling that he was being followed dawned upon him one day, when he noticed in his lodgings that the clothes which he had folded on a chair had been since refolded in a slightly different way while he was out. With some suspicion, he asked his landlady whether anyone had entered his room, and she, in evident confusion, denied that any stranger could have been there. Then he suggested that his tailor might have called, and she agreed that it was so. But when’ an hour or two later be interviewed his tailor, he, on his part, said he had not been near the place. Graves consequently deduced that he was being followed.
The knowledge that you are being watched, and you don’t know by whom, gives, I can assure you, a very jumpy feeling especially when you know you are guilty.
I can speak feelingly from more than one experience of it, since I have myself been employed on this form of scouting in peace time.
It is generally difficult to find ordinary spies who are also sufficiently imbued with technical knowledge to be of use in gaining naval or military details. Consequently officers are often employed to obtain such in formation in peace time as well as in theatre of action in war.
But with them, and especially with those of Germany, it is not easy to find men who are sufficiently good actors, or who can disguise their appearance so well as to evade suspicion. Very many of these have visited our shores during the past few years, but they have generally been noticed, watched, and followed, and from the line taken by them in their reconnaissance it has been easy to deduce the kind of operations contemplated in their plans.
I remember the case of a party of these motoring through Kent nominally looking at old Roman ruins. When they asked a landowner for the exact position of some of these he regretted he had not a map handy on which he could point out their position. One of the "antiquarians" at once produced a large scale map; but it was not an English map: it had, for instance, details on it regarding water supply tanks which, though they existed, were not shown on any of our ordnance maps!
In addition to the various branches of spying which I have mentioned, the Germans have also practiced commercial espionage on systematic lines.
Young Germans have been often known to serve in British business houses without salary in order to "learn the language"; they took care to learn a good deal more than the language, and picked up many other things about trade methods and secrets which were promptly utilised in their own country. The importance of commercial spying is that commercial war is all the time at the bottom of Germany’s preparations for military war.
Carl Lody, a German ex-officer, was recently tried in London by court-martial and shot for "war treason"—that is, for sending information regarding our Navy to Germany during hostilities. ("War treason" is secret work outside the zone of war operations. When carried on within the zone of operations it is called spying or `’ espionage.") Carl Lody’s moves were watched and his correspondence opened by the counter-spy police in London, and thus all his investigations and information were known to the War Office long before he was arrested.
The enormous sums paid by Germany for many years past have brought about a sort of international spy exchange, generally formed of American-Germans, with their headquarters in Belgium and good prices were given for information acquired by them. For instance, if the plans of a new fort, or the dimensions of a new ship, or the power of a new gun were needed, one merely had to apply and state a price to this bureau to receive fairly good information on the subject before much time had elapsed.
At the same time, by pretending to be an American, one was able to get a good deal of minor and useful information without the expenditure of a cent.
GERMANY’S INVASION PLANS.
On getting into touch with these gentry, I was informed of one of the intended plans by which the Germans proposed to invade our country, and incidentally it throws some light on their present methods of dealing with the inhabitants as apart from the actual tactical movements of the troops.
The German idea then—some six years ago—was that they could, by means of mines and submarines, at any time block the traffic in the British Channel in the space of a few hours, thus holding our home fleets in their stations at Spithead and Portland.
With the Straits of Dover so blocked, they could then rush a fleet of transports across the North Sea from Germany, to the East Coast of England, either East Anglia or, as in this plan, in Yorkshire. They had in Germany nine embarking stations, with piers and platforms, all ready made, and steel lighters for disembarkation purposes or for actual traversing of the ocean in case of fine weather.
They had taken the average of the weather for years past, and had come to the conclusion that July 13th is, on an average, the finest day in the year; but their attempt would be timed, if possible, to fall on a Bank Holiday when communications were temporarily disorganised. Therefore the nearest Bank Holiday to July 1a3th would probably be that at the beginning of August; it was a coincidence that the present war broke out on that day.
The spies stationed in England were to cut all telephone and telegraph wires, and, where possible, to blow down important bridges and tunnels, and thus to interrupt communications and create confusion.
Their idea of landing on the coast of Yorkshire was based on the following reasons;—
They do not look upon London as strategically the capital of England, but rather upon the great industrial centres of the north Midlands, where, instead of six millions, there are more like fourteen millions of people assembled in the numerous cities and towns, which now almost adjoin each other across that part of the country. .
Their theory was that if they could rush an army of even 90,000 men into Leeds, Sheffield, Halifax, Manchester, and Liverpool without encountering great opposition in the first few hours, they could there establish themselves in such strength that it would require a powerful army to drive them out again.
Bringing a week’s provisions with them, and seizing all the local provisions, they would have enough to sustain them for a considerable time, and the first step of their occupation would be to expel every inhabitant man, woman, and child from the neighbourhood and destroy the towns. Thus, within a few hours, some fourteen millions of people would be starving, and wandering without shelter over the face of the country a disaster which would need a large force to deal with, and would cause entire disruption of our food supplies and of business in the country.
The East Coast of Yorkshire between the Humber and Scarborough lends itself to such an adventure, by providing a good open beach for miles, with open country in front of it, which, in its turn, is protected by a semi-circle of words, which could be easily held by the German covering force. Its left would be protected by the Humber and the right by the Tees, so that the landing could be carried out without interruption.
That was their plan—based on careful investigation by a small army of spies—some five or six years ago, before our naval bases had been established in the north. If they had declared war then, they might have had no serious interference from our Navy during the passage of their transports, which, of course, would be protected on that flank by their entire fleet of warships.
At first glance, it seems too fanciful a plan to commend itself to belief, but in talking it over with German officers, I found they fully believed in it as a practical proposition. They themselves enlarged on the idea of the use that they would thus make of the civil population, and foreshadowed their present brutality by explaining that when war came, it would not be made with kid gloves. The meaning of their commands would be brought home to the people by shooting down civilians if necessary, in order to prove that they were in earnest, and to force the inhabitants through terror to comply with their requirements.
Further investigations on the subject proved that the embarkation arrangements were all planned and prepared for. At any time in the ordinary way of commerce there were numerous large mail steamers always available in their ports to transport numbers even largely in excess of those that would be assembled for such an expedition. Troops could be mobilised in the neighbourhood of the ports, ostensibly for maneuvers, without suspicion being aroused.
It is laid down in German strategical textbooks that the time for making war is not when you have a political cause for it, but when your troops are ready and the enemy is unready; and that to strike the first blow is the best way to declare war.
I recounted all this at the time in a private lecture to officers, illustrated with lantern slides and maps, as a military problem which would be interesting to work out on the actual ground, and it was not really until the report of this leaked into the papers that I realised how nearly I-had `’touched the spot.” For, apart from the various indignant questions with which the Secretary of State for War was badgered in the House of Commons on my account, I was assailed with letters from Germany of most violent abuse from various quarters, high and low, which showed me that I had gone nearer the truth than I had even suspected.
"You are but a brown-paper general," said one, "and if you think that by your foolish talk you are to frighten us from coming, you are not right."
It is difficult to say where exactly a spy’s work ends in war, and that of a scout begins, except that, as a rule, the first is carried out in disguise.
The scout is looked up to as a brave man, and his expedients for gaining information are thought wonderfully clever, so long as he remains in uniform. If he goes a bit further, and finds that he can get his information better by adopting a disguise even at the greater risk to himself through the certainty of being shot if he is found out—then he is looked down upon as a "despicable spy." I don’t see the justice of it myself.
A good spy—no matter which country he serves—is of necessity a brave and valuable fellow.
In our Army we do not make a very wide use of field spies on service, though their partial use at maneuvers has shown what they can do.
In "Aids to Scouting" I have stated: "In the matter of spying we are behind other nations. Spying, in reality, is reconnaissance in disguise. Its effects are so far-reaching that most nations, in order to deter enemies’ spies, threaten them with death if caught."
As an essential part of scouting, I gave a chapter of hints on how to spy, and how to catch other people spying.
CATCHING A SPY.
Spy-catching was once one of my duties, and is perhaps the best form of education towards successful spying. I had been lucky enough to nail three and was complimented by one of the senior officers. on the Commander-in-Chiefs staff. We were riding home together from a big review at the time that he was talking about it, and he remarked, "How do you set about catching a spy ?" I told him of our methods and added that also luck very often came in and helped one.
Just in front of us, in the crowd of vehicles returning from the review-ground, was an open hired Victoria in which sat a foreign-looking gentleman. I remarked that as an instance this was the sort of man I should keep an eye upon, and I should quietly follow him till I found where he lodged and then put a detective on to report his moves.
From our position on horseback close behind him we were able to see that our foreigner was reading a guide book and was studying a map of the fortifications through which we were passing. Suddenly he called to the driver to stop for a moment while he lit a match for his cigarette. The driver pulled up, and so did we. The stranger glanced up to see that the man was not looking round, and then quickly slipped a camera from under the rug which was lying on the seat in front of him, and taking aim at the entrance shaft of a new ammunition store which had just been made for our Navy, he took a snapshot.
Then hurriedly covering up the camera again he proceeded to strike matches and to light his cigarette. Then he gave the word to drive on again.
We followed close behind till we came to where a policeman was regulating the traffic. I rode ahead and gave him his instructions so that the carriage was stopped, and the man was asked to show his permit to take photographs. He had none. The camera was taken into custody and the name and address of the owner taken "with a view to further proceedings."
Unfortunately at that time—it was many years ago—we were badly handicapped by our laws in the matter of arresting and punishing spies. By-laws allowed us to confiscate and smash unauthorised cameras, and that was all.
"Further proceedings," had they been possible, in this case would have been unnecessary, for the suspected gentleman took himself off to the Continent by the very next boat.
But it took a good deal to persuade my staff-officer friend that the whole episode was not one faked up for his special edification.
It is only human to hate to be outwitted by one more clever than yourself, and perhaps that accounts for people disliking spies with a more deadly hatred than that which they bestow on a man who drops bombs from an aeroplane indiscriminately on women and children, or who bombards cathedrals with infernal engines of war.
JAN GROOTBOOM, MY NATIVE SPY.
Nobody could say that my native spy in South Africa, Jan Grootboom, was either a contemptible or mean kind of man. He was described by one who knew him as a "white man in a black skin," and I heartily endorse the description.
Here is an instance of his work as a field spy:—
Jan Grootboom was a Zulu by birth, but having lived much with white men, as a hunter and guide, he had taken to wearing ordinary clothes and spoke English perfectly well: but within him he had all the pluck and cunning of his race.
For scouting against the Matabele it was never wise to take a large party, since it would be sure to attract attention, whereas by going alone with one man, such as Grootboom, one was able to penetrate their lines and to lie hid almost among them, watching their disposition and gaining information as to their numbers, supplies, and whereabouts of their women and cattle, etc.
Now, every night was spent at this work— that is to say, the night was utilised for creeping to their positions, and one watched them during the day. But it was impossible to do this without leaving footmarks and tracks, which the sharp eyes of their scouts were not slow to discover, and it very soon dawned upon them that they were being watched, and consequently they were continually on the lookout to waylay and capture us.
One night Grootboom and I had ridden to the neighbourhood of one of the enemy’s camps, and were lying waiting for the early dawn before we could discover exactly where they were located.
It was during the hour before sunrise that, as a rule, the enemy used to light their fires for cooking their early morning food. One could thus see exactly their position, and could rectify one’s own, so as to find a place where one could lie by during the day and watch their movements.
On this occasion the first fire was lit and then another sparkled up, and yet another, but before half a dozen had been lighted Grootboom suddenly growled under his breath:
"The swine they are laying a trap for us."
I did not understand at the moment what he meant, but he said:—
"Stop here for a bit, and I will go and look."
He slipped off all his clothing and left it lying in a heap, and stole away in the darkness, practically naked. Evidently he was going to visit them to see what was going on.
The worst of spying is that it makes you always suspicious, even of your best friends. So, as soon as Grootboom was gone in one direction, I quietly crept away in another, and got among some rocks in a small kopje, where I should have some kind of a chance if he had any intention of betraying me and returning with a few Matabele to capture me.
For an hour or two I lay there, until presently I saw Grootboom creeping back through the grass alone.
Ashamed of my doubts, I therefore came out and went to our rendezvous, and found him grinning all over with satisfaction while he was putting on his clothes again. He said that he had found as he had expected, an ambush laid for us. The thing that had made him suspicious was that the fires, instead of lighting up all over the hillside at different points about the same time, had been lighted in steady succession one after another, evidently by one man going round. This struck him as suspicious, and he then assumed that it was done to lead us on, if we were anywhere around, to go and examine more closely the locality.
He had crept in towards them by a devious path, from which he was able to perceive a whole party of the Matabele lying low in the grass by the track which we should probably have used in getting there, and they would have pounced upon us and captured us.
To make sure of this suspicion he crept round till near their stronghold, and coming from there he got in among them and chatted away with them, finding out what was their intention with regard to ourselves, and also what were their plans for the near future. Then, having left them, and walked boldly back towards their stronghold’ he crept away amongst some rocks and rejoined me.
His was an example of the work of a field spy which, although in a way it may be cunning and deceitful, at the same time demands the greatest personal courage and astuteness. It is something greater than the ordinary bravery of a soldier in action, who is carried on by the enthusiasm of those around him under the leadership of an officer, and with the competition and admiration of others.
The pluck of the man who goes out alone, unobserved and unapplauded, and at the risk of his life, is surely equally great.
The Boers used field spies freely against us in South Africa.
One English-speaking Boer used to boast how, during the war, he made frequent visits to Johannesburg dressed in the uniform taken from a British major who had been killed in action. He used to ride past the sentries, who, instead of shooting him, merely saluted, and he frequented the clubs and other resorts of the officers, picking up such information as he required from them first hand, till evening came, and he was able to ride back to his commando.
Table of Contents
|Part One. Introduction—The Different Degrees of Spies—Strategical Agents—Tactical Agents—Residential Spies—Officer Agents—Commercial Spying—Germany’s Invasion Plans—Field Spies—Catching a Spy.|
|Part Two. Conveying Information—Secret Signals and Warnings—Spies in War Time—The Pluck of a Spy—Traitorous Spying—The German Spy Organization—The Value of Being Stupid—Concealing a Fort in a Moth’s Head—Butterfly Hunting in Dalmatia.|
|Part Three. How Spies Disguise Themselves—The Sport of Spying—The Value of Hide-and-Seek—Spying on Mountain Troops—Posing as an Artist.|
|Part Four. Fooling a German Sentry—A Spy is Suspicious—Hoodwinking a Turkish Sentry—Tea and a Turk—Sore Feet—Austrian Officers—An Interesting Task.|
|Part Five. An Interesting Task—Encounter with the Police—Success with the Balloon—How to Enter a Fort—How We Got the Secret Light—How the Big River was Swum—Caught at Last—The Escape—Conclusion.|
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