World War II spy stories – laxative in German U-Boat crews’ food

Here are eight little known, but interesting, stories from the period of World War II, about how the Norwegian resistance movement poisoned the German U-Boot crew stationed in France, how the Czechs unconsciously showed Germans the weaknesses of the French Maginot Line, and how the Americans wanted to destroy the German battleship with a bomb attached to a cat.

1. Norwegian sardines for U-Boat crews

When the Nazis occupied Norway in 1940, a large and efficient resistance movement emerged in the country within a few months, which quickly began sabotage activities against the occupant.

Many Norwegians were involved in fishing and it was a real blow to them that the Germans decided to give them all the sardines they had caught. The resistance movement, which had its people even in the German headquarters, quickly found out that Norwegian sardines were being sent to the French port of Saint-Nazaire on the ocean. This port was the base for the German U-Boats, who at that time were destroying the Allied fleet in the North Atlantic. Food brought to that region was probably supposed to become a victuals for sailors.

The Norwegian interview quickly contacted the British and asked them to supply as much castor oil as possible, a strong laxative. After receiving the transport, a large part of sardines packed in France was flooded with this oil (fortunately, the smell of fish masked the taste of oil). The cargo of “enriched” sardines was sent directly to the hands of German seamen in France.

Neither the Norwegian resistance nor the Allies ever learned exactly what the effect of this sabotage was. It can be assumed, however, that the operation was successful and the German U-Boot crews for some time had a slightly reduced combat capacity.

German U-Boat in St. Nazaire, 1941
Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia Commons

German diplomat’s debt

Rudolf von Scheliha was an older German aristocrat who worked at the German embassy in Warsaw before World War II. He was known to be quite wealthy, but he was still in debt, mainly due to his expensive romance and love of gambling.

Rudolf von Scheliha
Министерство обороны Российской Федерации via Wikimedia Commons

In 1938, he was recruited by a Soviet secret service who, in exchange for providing secret information, promised to help the diplomat get out of his debts. After losing 50,000 zlotys in an all-night game, von Schelih left for Berlin and returned to Warsaw after finding evidence of Hitler’s planned takeover of Czechoslovakia, Austria and attack on Poland.

Already in Poland, the diplomat contacted the Soviet intelligence officers and demanded $10,000 from them for the above information. This amount was supposed to be the repayment of the debt, but the Soviets offered him only $1000 and the transaction did not come to fruition in the end. After a week Soviet intelligence contacted the German again, ordering him to meet in the Tatra Mountains. Von Scheliha met the Soviet officer in an abandoned mountain chalet, where he heard the final offer from Moscow – $6500, and was advised to sell the money on the black market, which would allow Thim to get more Polish currency for it.

The agent also told him that he had been instructed to kill the German on the spot if the offer was rejected. Von Scheliha accepted the Soviet conditions, got the money and handed over the documents to the liaison. Since then, the Soviet Union has known about Hitler’s plans to conquer central Europe. Interestingly, von Scheliha himself was killed in 1942 by the Gestapo because he helped his Polish and Jewish friends to avoid persecution.


3. Plans for the Maginot Line in the Czech safe

The Maginot Line was 320 kilometers long, running from Switzerland to Belgium, a fortification system that was supposed to protect France in the event of German aggression. It consisted of bunkers, concrete forts, barbed wire entanglements, as well as communication systems, hospitals, garages, and even apartments for soldiers. Even Winston Churchill spoke very favourably about the Maginot Line, and after the inspection of the fortifications he wrote a note to the British War Ministry in which he wrote that “the French front cannot be taken by surprise (…) it cannot be broken in any way, unless at the expense of an unprecedented number of victims in people”.

When writing this, Churchill did not realize that the German intelligence already had detailed plans for the Maginot Line, and after the outbreak of the war, it was only a matter of time to get it.

After two years of efforts, Abwehr managed to recruit French Captain Georges Froge, who was in charge of the distribution of supplies to the Maginot Line. Froge was known for his sympathy for Hitler and for the fact that he was constantly indebted. German agents encouraged him to cooperate with large sums of money, and the French captain thanked them by providing maps and other documents concerning the Maginot Line itself as well as numbers of military units that were stationed there.

The information provided by Froge to the Germans was extremely valuable to them, but it was nothing compared to what Abwehr found in the archives of the Czech General Staff after the Third Reich troops entered Czechoslovakia. It turned out that before the war the Czechs wanted to build a similar system of fortifications for the Maginot Line. The French allowed them to watch everything and take notes. When one of the Prague safes was opened, the agents saw the exact plan of all the objects on the French fortification line. The Maginot line was defeated even before the first shot…

One of bunkers on the Maginot Line
Wikimedia Commons

4. 16-year-old assassin in defence of Polish Jews

When the Third Reich defeated Poland in 1939, members of the Einsatzgruppen – special death squads whose task was to trace and kill Polish Jews, priests and all educated Poles – were sent to Poland. Einsatzgruppen carried out mass executions, sometimes using his specially trained dogs to tear people apart at the doorsteps of their own homes. The Germans carried out one of the biggest massacres in history.

At this difficult time, underground organizations were born on the territory of occupied Poland, whose task was to fight against the German armed forces. One of the more than half a million people who resisted the occupation was a Polish 22-year-old Jewish woman named Niut Teitelbaum. Described as beautiful and bright, the girl used to say “I am Jewish, my place is next to those fighting against the Nazis for the honour of my nation and for a free Poland!

One of the most famous actions of Niuta was getting to Warsaw Gestapo headquarters and killing an SS officer. The girl went through the door telling the guards that she had to talk to one of the officers there “on a very unusual matter” with a view to getting pregnant. Extremely amused soldiers not only allowed her to pass, but also revealed the number of the room where the SS man was to stay. Niuta quietly walked through the whole building, found an officer, shot him in the head while sitting at his desk and left. When she was leaving, the guards said goodbye to her with a smile.

Another time, Niuta executed another SS officer in his own home. When she found him sleeping on the bed, instead of instantly shooting him, she first woke him up slightly and only then killed him with a shot in the head. She wanted the last thing a German criminal would see in this life to be the face of the girl who took it away from him.

Niuta Teitelbaum was captured by the Gestapo in July 1943, after about 3 years of activity in the underground state. After many weeks of atrocious interrogations, she was executed. She was probably the only woman in the resistance movement during World War II who deliberately entered the building occupied by the Nazis.

Murderers from Einsatzgruppen hunting for Polish Jews, September1939
Das Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia Commons

5. The Allies knew about the Ardennes offensive

In 1934, Japanese Lieutenant Hiroshi Oshima was sent to Berlin as a deputy military attaché. As early as 1938, he attained a new general rank and was appointed ambassador.

Charismatic Oshima maintained close contacts with many high-ranking Nazis, including Adolf Hitler. The German leader trusted the Japanese ambassador and often provided him with the highest level of secret information. Oshima, as a faithful servant of the Emperor, sent everything he could hear to Tokyo every evening by teletype. In September 1944, the ambassador spoke to Hitler, who was in a good mood at the time, despite the fact that the Allies had already captured the beaches of Normandy and started marching eastwards. Fuhrer explained to Oshima that the German forces would withdraw behind the Sigfrid Line, which would stabilize the situation on the front.

The most important information was given a moment later. Hitler said directly that he was preparing a 5-million-strong army from all over Europe to launch an offensive on the western front of unprecedented proportions. Oshima, who like the Allies and German commanders thought that the Third Reich could only defend itself desperately, was very surprised by the words of the fuhrer. He did not know that the operation plan ‘Wacht am Rein’ (guard on the Rhine), means the offensive in Ardennes, was already in an advanced stage. Hitler confirmed to Oshima that the attack was to take place in November (the offensive was finally launched in December).

Neither the Japanese nor his German interlocutor knew that the Japanese diplomatic code had been broken by American cryptologists. The message sent by Oshima was intercepted by a strictly secret American monitoring base in Ethiopia. The secret report was then handed over to several civil and military officials, including General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Allied Chief of Staff.

The American intelligence report warning of the German offensive in Ardennes was completely ignored. When, at dawn of December 16, the forces of the Third Reich launched their offensive, the Allies were completely unprepared for it and suffered considerable losses. How the “Rhine guard” was stopped, is another story.

Ambassador Oshima and Adolf Hitler in 1942
Wikimedia Commons

6. The Americans are warning Stalin of the German invasion.

It was the beginning of August 1940, when the German Luftwaffe was preparing for an air operation against Britain. At the same time Sam E. Woods, an American commercial attaché in Berlin, opened a recently received envelope in his office where he found a ticket to one of Berlin’s cinemas. Woods did not know from whom he had received the mysterious shipment, but he did know that he had just experienced one of the ways of communication used in the conspiracy.

After arriving at the cinema Woods recognized a man sitting next to him. There was his German friend, a man who skillfully camouflaged his aversion to the Nazis. The informant slowly put an envelope into the pocket of the American, in which the information about the absolute highest level of secrecy was written – on Hitler’s order, the Wehrmacht mobilized for a huge invasion of the USSR.

The message was quickly forwarded to the American command, which ordered Woods to maintain contact with the informant. In the following weeks, Woods facilitated the provision of further valuable information to the Americans. The directive issued by Hitler ordering the forces of the Third Reich to start preparations for Operation Barbarossa was even gained.

It was hard for the American command to believe this shocking information because it was suspected that Hitler would invade the militarily weaker UK. In addition, the USSR and the Third Reich had previously concluded an agreement on friendship, which resulted in the conquest and division of Poland in 1939. Nevertheless, the note of the planned aggression by Germany was handed over to President Roosevelt.

At that time, representatives of American diplomacy tried to relax relations between the USSR and the Third Reich. This was one of the reasons why, at one of the strictly secret meetings, Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles gave the Soviet Ambassador Konstantin Umanski information about the upcoming invasion. The Ambassador’s reaction was completely different from that of the Americans, and Umanski strongly criticised Welles for having dared to tell him “such a ridiculous message”.

When the warning reached Stalin, the Soviet dictator completely ignored it. The Red Army was not fully prepared for defensive action when, on June 2, 1941, 5,000,000 German soldiers launched the largest land operation of the Second World War and crossed the border of a recent ally. As we know from history, the march of the Third Reich armed forces to the east was stopped only much later near Moscow and then near Stalingrad.

Germans are watching an aircraft captured during Operation Barbarossa from the Soviet Union
The collections of the Polish Archive via Wikimedia Commons


7. Artificial submarines for the Royal Navy

In 1942 the commander of the British Navy in the Mediterranean Sea, Admiral Andrew C. Cunningham, had a serious problem. In the Pacific the Japanese captured the “Gibraltar of the East”, meaning Singapore, and additionally the imperial navy managed to sink two British cruisers, the aircraft carrier “Hermes” and two battleships- “Prince of Wales” and “Repulse”. Cunningham had to send his ships eastwards, leaving far too weak a force to protect the 5,500-kilometre long communication route between Gibraltar and Egypt. The threat was serious, because Italian attacks by light, modern ships were on the increase in the area.

Jasper Maskelyne
Source: book “Maskelyne’s Book of Magic”, Wikimedia Commons

The Admiral said that the Italians would have been stopped by a submarine flotilla, but he did not have as many units at his disposal. However, he had a crazy idea of how to solve this problem.

Cunningham called on Major Jasper Maskelyne, who was a former illusionist and then a British agent. The Admiral ordered him to create a fleet of fake, natural-sized submarines that could imitate real vessels and thus confuse the Germans and Italians with the real forces of the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean.

Although the task was difficult, Maskelyne managed to do it, and on one of the Egyptian desert islands he created four “ships” using fuel barrels, canvas, pipes, cables, the remains of destroyed railway carriages and other handy materials. The models were equipped with guns and anchors and could be assembled and transported by land on trucks.

The fake submarines looked so realistic that even British pilots reported a mysterious vessel observed in coastal waters. It can be said that the bold plan was successful, because one of the mock-ups was even attacked and destroyed by the Luftwaffe.


8. Cat parachutist vs. German battleship Tirpitz

One of the greatest concerns of the British Navy command during World War II was the fact that since January 1942 the largest unit of Kriegsmarine, the battleship Tirpitz, had been cruising in Norway and was a huge threat to the supply convoys that supplied arms to the USSR. Anchored in a hard-to-reach dock, too far from the Allied bombers’ bases, the battleship could have terrorized the Murmansk route with almost impunity. The Royal Navy was stubbornly looking for a way to destroy Tirpitz, but no plan was good enough.

Meanwhile, in Washington, Stanley P. Lovell, director of Research and Development for the OSS, was visited by a mysterious man who introduced himself as a cat expert. He came and firmly stated that he had a plan to destroy Tirpitz. According to him, in order to get rid of the troublesome battleship, it was necessary to use a cat, tie it to a parachute, attach a bomb to it and then drop it on a German ship. As we know, cats always land on four paws and in addition do not like the water, so if you give such a cat the opportunity to maneuver during the flight with a parachute, the cat could turn to the target and thus fly into the battleship and detonate the bomb. In order to cheat the German anti-aircraft batteries, the plane with the cat had to be characterized as German and the discharge had to be carried out quietly.

This plan, although stupid and crazy, was nevertheless supported by an American senator and a test of such a “cat bomb” was carried out in the vicinity of Washington. The attempt ended in a complete disaster, because the thrown cat quickly lost consciousness and fell as it was flying.

The Americans instantly lost enthusiasm for the solution and the plan for the cat bomb was burned. The Tirpitz finally surrendered not to a cat, but to a squadron of heavy Lancaster bombers that sank the ship in November 1944.

Battleship “Tirpitz”
Wikimedia Commons


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