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A World War One Escape - The Epic Adventures of Lieutenant Wilhelm Canaris.

Updated on May 10, 2013

The Andes Mountains, a formidable barrier.

Not to be taken lightly!
Not to be taken lightly! | Source

Talcahuano Naval Base

An official naval ceremony at the Naval Base. The classic white structure houses the Admiralty.
An official naval ceremony at the Naval Base. The classic white structure houses the Admiralty. | Source

Setting the scene.

On the 14th March, 1915, SMS Dresden was scuttled in Cumberland Bay in the Juan Fernandez Islands, by order of her Captain, Emil Fritz Lüdecke, rather than surrender to the British Navy ships that had the Dresden cornered.

After that, the Dresden’s crew was interned on Quiriquina Island by the Chilean authorities. Their place of confinement was a short distance from the important Talcahuano Naval Base. The vigilance was rather relaxed, and several of the officers frequently obtained permission, on parole, to visit nearby Concepcion, where a relatively numerous German community resided.

Bay of Concepcion Chile

The Bay of Concepcion, showing the Quiriquina Island
The Bay of Concepcion, showing the Quiriquina Island | Source

Main Plaza at Concepcion around 1914

Downtown Concepcion, circa 1914, Lieutenant Canaris would have walked here.
Downtown Concepcion, circa 1914, Lieutenant Canaris would have walked here. | Source

The Cathedral at Concepcion, 1914

Lieutenant Canaris would have visited this Cathedral!
Lieutenant Canaris would have visited this Cathedral! | Source

Lieutenant Wilhelm Canaris, the SMS Dresden's Intelligence Officer.

This promising young officer had already done a tour of duty in Latin America, on another ship, and spoke Spanish, English and French quite fluently. His stay in the Talcahuano area allowed him to improve his fluency in Spanish even more, and his visits to Concepcion allowed him to establish numerous important contacts. The scene was set, therefore, for an escape!

German intelligence networks in Argentine and Chile.

The German community in Argentine had been increasing steadily in number since the 1880s, as a result of the political unrest and poor living conditions in the Vaterland. This growth in German nationals had been followed by a constant increase in the respective consulates and vice-consulates, with their corresponding office staff, which had sprung up to satisfy the diverse needs of all these people.

These institutions supplied another need as well, that of personnel involved in intelligence activities. At the start of WW1, the intelligence networks were in working order, and actively promoting the German cause.

The same was true of the German immigrants in Chile, where the government actually issued a law, called “Ley de inmigración selectiva” (Law of selective immigration), in 1845. The plan was to receive people whose native culture provided them with good work ethics, and to settle them in the region between Valdivia and Puerto Montt. This was done very successfully with various Central European nationals, of which the majority were German.

German merchants also settled in Valparaiso and were part of the development of the saltpeter mines in the extreme North, and of the development of the Kosmos shipping line that played an important role in providing German warships with coal and provisions during WW1.

The German intelligence networks in Chile were set up in a similar way to the ones in Argentine, and with this last element firmly in place, the scene was set for all manner of irregular activities that were beneficial to the German cause. We have already referred to an excellent example in the person of Albert Pagels, and his heroic efforts to help the doomed SMS Dresden. (See the article previous to this one, about the flight and capture of the Dresden).

The Farmland around Osorno.

The settlers proved to be extremely hard working and productive!
The settlers proved to be extremely hard working and productive! | Source

A Foot Bridge within the city of Osorno

This bridge was there when I was living in Osorno.
This bridge was there when I was living in Osorno. | Source

The adventure starts!

Agents of the German Embassy in Buenos Aires obtained an authentic Chilean passport in the name of one Reed Rosas, a widow who was a humble salesman of Anglo-Chilean descent.

In August of 1915, Wilhelm Canaris started out on his trip back home, by taking a train from Concepcion to Osorno, over 500kms away. There he was received by the 48 year old German consul, who was an enterprising merchant and a bit of an adventurer. With the help of this official, Canaris was able to stay with a family on the outskirts of Osorno, before transferring to another family on a farm in the vicinity of Puyehue. This meant that Canaris was working his way ever closer to the border between Chile and Argentine.

Countryside near Puyehue.

This time the sun was shining on this rich and lovely scenery!
This time the sun was shining on this rich and lovely scenery! | Source

The mountain passes over the Andes Range.

There is a whole history of adventurous crossings of the Andes passes, as there are many of them, of varying degrees of altitude, ruggedness and difficulty. It is a geographical fact that towards the Southern end of continental Chile, the range of mountains thins out somewhat, leaving gaps between the high peaks that make the crossings more accessible.

Many of these passes cannot be kept open during the winter months, but Canaris had avoided this obstacle due to the fact that by the time he arrived at the farm in the Puyehue area, Winter was receding and Spring was on its way.

Map of the Lakes and Passes

This shows the Puyehue Lake and the Cardenal Samoré Pass. Also the Nahuel-Huapi Lake on the Argentine side.
This shows the Puyehue Lake and the Cardenal Samoré Pass. Also the Nahuel-Huapi Lake on the Argentine side. | Source

Lieutenant Canaris enters Argentine, and so on to Europe!

He seems to have crossed the formidable Andes by what is now the Cardenal Samoré Pass, which was originally called Puyehue Pass. This Pass is marked on the map shown above, and you can also see the Puyehue Lake. The Nahuel-Huapi Lake is on the Argentine side.

At that time, the pass had been hewn by hand out of the virgin vegetation, with machetes, and what existed was no more than a track for mule caravans. Canaris finally entered Argentine by this route, alone and on horse back.

He arrived at one of the tips of the big, sprawly, irregular-shaped Nahuel-Huapi Lake, where he was received by another German immigrant, a relative of the family at Puyehue, and he was then ferried by boat to the little Argentine town of San Carlos de Bariloche, which is now a thriving tourist center.

He spent a few days at the hacienda of the Baron von Bulow, and then moved on to the start of the railway that crosses the flat-lands (pampas), at a place called Ingeniero Jacobacci.

(The distance from Bariloche to Ingeniero Jacobacci is about 200kms. The distance from Ingeniero Jacobacci to Buenos Aires is about 700kms.more. Argentine is a really big country.)

He crossed the width of Argentine by train, and once he had arrived at the coast, managed to continue on to Buenos Aires, where he embarked on a Dutch cargo ship that took him to Rotterdam, and from there he finally arrived in Germany!

A track through the virgin forest.

This would be similar to the tracks used by Canaris.
This would be similar to the tracks used by Canaris. | Source

San Carlos de Bariloche - Ingeniero Jacobacci, Argentine

Ingeniero Jacobacci - Atlantic Ocean, Argentina

Aftermath.

After this epic achievement, Wilhelm Canaris was promoted to the rank of Captain, and spent some time at sea. However, he was found to be eminently suited for intelligence work, and sent as Naval attaché to Spain, where he not only made use of his by then totally fluent Spanish, he also continued to use the passport in the name of Reed Rosas, whenever he undertook his undercover activities. If anybody expressed some interest, he would tell them that he came from a small Chilean town called Osorno!

The scene is then set for the years before WW2, and his subsequent participation as head of the Abwehr under Adolf Hitler. In this role, he was the officer in charge of all the German intelligence networks that sprouted in Europe, and very abundantly in the Americas, including the US and all Latin America. He is known in historical records as Admiral Wilhelm Canaris.

But that’s another story, which definitely includes my family!

Three Chilean Historical Monuments, Osorno

A wooden house built by settlers, in Mackenna Street, Osorno
A wooden house built by settlers, in Mackenna Street, Osorno | Source
Settler's house in Mackenna Street, Osorno
Settler's house in Mackenna Street, Osorno | Source
Settler's house in Mackenna Street, Osorno.
Settler's house in Mackenna Street, Osorno. | Source

Personal thoughts about Osorno and the surrounding area.

I lived in Osorno in the years 1951-1952, when my father went there to open a branch of Gibbs and Co., and to direct this branch as General Manager. It was a small, slow place, where most of the inhabitants were extremely well off, although they didn't come to town very often, living mostly on their huge farms that covered the countryside.

German was spoken almost more frequently than Spanish, and I attended the German School, as there was no British school there. My classmates left over the weekend, to go back to their farm life, and generally used their personal small airplanes, which they landed on their own air strips at home.

The place was more modern than it would have been in 1915, when Canaris was there, but not all that different in atmosphere. In one of the streets that followed up from the plaza, there was a row of wooden two-story houses, with the typical architecture of the XIX century German immigrants. These houses were there when I was there, and they were certainly there in 1915. They have now been declared National Historical Monuments, and I have been able to find some photos. I actually went to my first teenage dances in some of these houses, as two of my classmates lived in a couple of them.

The countryside is very rich in vegetation, with wonderful pasture land, all cleared from the virgin forests by the sweat and grind of these German immigrants. The scenery is beautiful, but must have still been very wild and sort of impenetrable with thick forests, when Canaris made his way over to Bariloche.

Three Views of the "Follert House" a Chilean National Historical Monument, Osorno

The Follert House 1.
The Follert House 1. | Source
The Follert House 2
The Follert House 2 | Source
The Follert House 3
The Follert House 3 | Source

Some present day scenes of Osorno.

I have few historical photos, so I’m including some modern ones, which you would mentally have to transpose to all those years ago.

The Cathedral is, to my mind, very Germanic in structure. It is relatively new, as it was destroyed for the fifth time during the 1960 earthquake, but it has a definite air of European architecture.

The building that houses the present day museum is also very European and is preserved as a historical monument.

Osorno, seen from the Lookout.

A view of present day Osorno.
A view of present day Osorno. | Source

The Cathedral of St.Mathew, Osorno

The new Cathedral.
The new Cathedral. | Source

The Cathedral, A View of the interior

Isn't it beautiful?
Isn't it beautiful? | Source

"The Monument of the Bull", on the Plaza in Osorno.

Osorno renders a tribute to the provider of the area's well-being
Osorno renders a tribute to the provider of the area's well-being | Source

The Osorno Volcano, an important element of this wonderful scenery.

The majetic Osorno Volcano presides over much of the area.
The majetic Osorno Volcano presides over much of the area. | Source

A clear view of one of the traditional houses in Osorno

These lovely wooden houses are still there!
These lovely wooden houses are still there! | Source

Last words.

This then is the ambiance in which Canaris, aka Reed Rosas, sheltered all those years ago, after the loss of the SMS Dresden.

His experiences in both Chile and Argentine prepared him magnificently for his future role as spy master and weaver of spy webs! But that is still to come! Stay around; you might be interested in the adventures that follow this same topic!


© 2012 joanveronica (Joan Robertson)

A PRESENT DAY VIEW OF THE CITY OF OSORNO

OSORNO THROUGH THE EYES OF WILHELM CANARIS

What would Wilhelm Canaris think of Osorno and the surrounding area as viewed in the video shown above?

See results

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    • profile image

      Marguerite Martin 7 months ago

      Interesting all, I am from Chile I lived in that area for many years, Now in Santiago. Certain things are not accurate but overall is good.

      Thanks.

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi Peggy, how wonderful to have you visit my Hub! This particular one is one of my favorites, it has it all, adventure, mystery and personal memories of Osorno and the surrounding district! I'm glad you enjoyed it! Happy New Year!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      What an interesting backdrop as to the time and place of when Wilhelm Canaris did his spy activities. Will be interesting to read more. The town of Osorno is beautiful. Voted up and interesting.

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      I'm really happy to have you visit my hub and leave such an appreciative comment. These topics are not so well known and I think they deserve publication. I of course am a bit biased, as I have lived with this historical background all my life. I tend to agree with you, they are interesting! Thanks for the vote, and please give me some feed back on any other of my hubs that you care to read.

    • DS Duby profile image

      DS Duby 4 years ago from United States, Illinois

      This is a very intriguing hub and very well written, you really brought the story to life and the beautiful photos were a definite plus. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of your WW1 and WW2 hubs as well. Thank you for the knowledge. Voted up, interesting and amazing!

    • joanveronica profile image
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      Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi Susana, nice to see you back! Thanks for the visit and the comment, and have a good day!

    • profile image

      Susana 5 years ago

      Interesting article Joan!

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi Thomas, I'm so glad you liked this article on Canaris, the story has always fascinated me! Did you see that there were some articles that came before this one? You need to follow the links back! And I've just published the sequence a few moments ago. Have fun with these reads!

      I certainlyenjoyed writing them all! And thank you for the follow!

    • ThoughtSandwiches profile image

      ThoughtSandwiches 5 years ago from Reno, Nevada

      Joan,

      I am very pleased that I found you!

      Last summer I read a book called, The Game of Foxes (Ladislas Farago) and he mentioned the escape by Canaris to Argentina. I was intrigued then, however, he didn't dwell on this aspect of his career.

      This wonderful hub has filled in the holes in my knowledge! Thank you very much!

      Thomas

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi, shining! It's nice to have you visit my Hub and leave such a lovely comment! I'm glad you liked this one, it was fun to write! Have a good day!

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 5 years ago from Upstate, New York

      Veronica - You provide such informative and well-researched articles. You are an endless wealth of information. Great addition to your other hubs.

    • joanveronica profile image
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      Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi teaches! So nice to hear from you, and thank you for your visit to my hub. Your comment is, as usual, very welcome. Have a nice day and be happy!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      Such a great read on on this journey. Your photos and maps make it a real history lesson. Thanks for sharing.

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi goosegreen, lovely to have you on my Hub! I'm glad you enjoyed the article, I have always found these events really fascinating!

      And yes, Canaris was quite a character, also not a Nazi, and it's so sad he died so tragically. His end was certainly not deserved by the man.

      Thanks for the visit and the comment. Have a good day!

    • joanveronica profile image
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      Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi Pavlo, nice to hear from you again. About the German community in Osorno, that started with the Chilean immigration law in the 19th century, like I wrote in the Hub. not much to do with the war itself. I never really heard of many Germans moving there after WW2, that was more on the side of Argentine.

      Like I explained in my Hub, German families were the moving force in settling the rich area around Osorno. They did all the work, they built those classic wooden houses, they were my school companions in the German school. The German school celebrated its 120th anniversary about eight years back, I was invited to the festivities. (Didn't go). Nothing to do with the two World Wars, just Chile's own efforts!

      Have a nice day!

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

      Pavlo Badovskyi 5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      You write that german was more spoken there then Spanish. Was it because many german people moved to Chili at the end of wW2 or there was a German community there before the WW2?

    • goosegreen profile image

      goosegreen 5 years ago

      Fascinating and good to remember that brave acts are performed by all sides in wartime and non combatants too I have never looked at Canaris pre WW2. Thank you

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi gmarquardt! Nice to have you visit my Hub, I'm glad you liked it, it involved quite a lot of cobbling together! There's usually never a dull moment around happenings in Chile, or maybe it's just my family? Anyway, it's an adventure all the time, I enjoy it very much!

      Thanks for the follow!

    • joanveronica profile image
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      Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi UH, what a great comment you wrote for me! Lovely to have your feedback, and yes, I know some of the details of Admiral Canaris' career, but my focus is from a "non-traditional" angle!

      I'm already planning out the next Hub, so stick around!

      Thanks for the vote and the share!

    • gmarquardt profile image

      gmarquardt 5 years ago from Hill Country, Texas

      Excellent work! A great and interesting read.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Great article, joan! Informative and easy to read-- I especially like the mix of the historical and the personal. The pictures are fantastic. I thought I was looking at Mount Fuji for a second. What a fascinating place. I knew nothing of Canaris activities in World War 1-- and I won't spoil whatever you're coming up with by mentioning that Admiral Canaris... let's just say he was a very interesting man in a very important position. Up and awesome. Shared.

    • joanveronica profile image
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      Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi, Billy, again you are the first to comment! You are very faithful! Thank you for your lovely praise, I'm glad you liked this story, it touches so many places where I passed by further along in time. It leaves a strange feeling to think that these apparently "normal" localities, with average levels of interest, have been the scene to so many coincidences!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      What a fantastic hub! Not only is the story captivating, but the photography is excellent and you did such a nice job of adding maps. Wonderful job my friend!