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Those who fought the Nazi occupation.

Updated on December 7, 2013


The organised resistance in occupied Europe against the Nazi's, is usually believed to centre around the brave efforts of the French, Norwegian and other Western European cells. Much of the opposition to the occupation came from various groups supported by the Allies. These groups sought to cause the maximum amount of damage to undermine the effectiveness of the Nazi war machine.

These partisan cells would gather intelligence, hide downed pilots, assassinate high ranking targets and disrupt the occupation as much as they could. After the fall of Nazism and the defeat of the Axis powers, a Europe in turmoil became the ideological battle ground for Democracy versus Socialism. Because of the Cold War, we seem to criminally overlook the part that hundreds of Soviet agents played in the heart of the covert battle against the Nazi regime.


Europe 1940

Nazi occupied Europe
Nazi occupied Europe


The Soviet espionage network was initially set up to keep track of military movements and social change, we must remember than Stalin's Soviet Union had a pact with Nazi Germany until Hitler started his blitzkrieg on the USSR. The Soviet intelligence community was under the impression that if the Nazi's became more aggressive they could use their operatives to gather intelligence from neutral states. The Wehrmacht surprised most of Europe with its ability to smash the defensive power of the opposing forces. The quick advance of the German armed forces left many Soviet operatives in occupied territory. This increased the level of danger these operatives worked under, but also allowed them to gather a much better level of military intelligence.



It was very difficult for Soviet agents to operate within the borders of Germany and Austria as the Nazi party of Germany had been systematically removing any citizen with a Leftward looking political agenda. The usually pro-Marxist groups such as trade unions had been suppressed and replaced with a loyal National Socialist alternative. Thousands of Socialists and ardent Communists had been sent off to concentration camps, deported from the country or murdered in violent purges by the thuggish Brown shirts. As promised in numerous speeches and his written statement of intent "Mein Kampf", Adolf Hitler made clear his determination to eliminating the scourge of Marxist/Leninism from the lives of his German people, and upon coming to power his thugs were quick to fulfill his wish.

Despite the murderous efforts of the Brown shirts and the Gestapo, some Communist groups with links to the USSR where able to operate from within the Reich. One such group lead by Leopold Trepper, was able to have contact with remaining Socialists inside the main Reich.Trepper was able to use his front company to forge links with Germany's military elite and gain valuable information on the state of the Nazi war machine.

The Red Orchestra used communists who had fled from the Nazi's into neighbouring states, students, clergy, disgruntled aristocrats, displaced Jews and anybody who could gather intelligence while under the noses of the Gestapo. The network was setup without any defined command structure as it was meant purely for intelligence gathering, the initial loose structure allowed them to escape much of the German secret polices efforts to stop them. The Soviets trained agents in the basics of espionage, they were taught the code cyphers and how to operate the radios. They were then given a cover identity and sent into a foreign country to report on economic and social developments.

It was not until the Nazi invasion of the USSR in 1941 that the Red Orchestra started to show its worth. Using its sleeper agents the brave men and women risked their lives to supply the Soviets with valuable intelligence which helped the Red Army counter the massive gains of the Wehrmachts initial offensive. The Soviet spies sent details of deployments and ingratiated themselves with the military elite of the Germans, so they could gather more classified information and see the inner conflicts that arose in Reich politics. Trepper and his group of agents were the most successful of these agents, their false business interests gave them an air of respectability and allayed in suspicions of Marxist leanings.





The Soviet agent's were able to tell the Soviet high command of the Nazi troop movements leading up to the Nazi advance into Soviet territory. Although their intelligence was ignored by Stalin, they had supplied good information back to their leaders. After the invasion began the job of the Soviet backed cells became a lot harder. Soon the ruthlessly efficient agencies of the Nazi regime picked up on the levels of Radio messages between the Agents and Moscow..The Gestapo and other law enforcement realised there were active agents still inside Germany and it's greater Reich.

The German secret police used all the means and resources at their disposal to rout out the Soviet resistance. By using three mobile radio receivers the Nazi's attempted to triangulate the position of their enemy, by pinpointing their location by signal strength. The Trepper group managed a few months of effective espionage work before they had to close down its German operations. They relocated to France, so they could link up with other resistance groups and use their equipment.

The cells were under the constant threat of capture, to be a prisoner of the Gestapo would mean a grisly and brutal end. A number of Soviet operatives were captured and tortured by the the Gestapo, and they were often subjected to barbaric torture in an effort to give up their co-conspirators. An ominous raid on the home of a suspected spy by the Gestapo or Abwehr, usually led to the loss of finger nails or unwanted dental work.



Soviet spies in Nazi Germany

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All three major Soviet groups eventually succumbed to either capture or closure. For two years the groups were able to offer valuable intelligence to the USSR and liaise with members of the French resistance. The intelligence ring was able to help the Red Army with the locations of reserve Axis troops, fuel dumps, weapon caches and tanks. As the Red Army gained the upper hand on the Eastern Front, the effectiveness of the Red Orchestra decreased. The German security forces were determined to crush the spy ring, and the pressure was intense on the Soviet agents. By 1943 even Trepper was caught by the Nazi regime, he was persuaded to supply false information to the Soviets. There is much debate on whether Trepper betrayed his colleagues in the field, or he continued to disrupt the Nazi's even while compromised.


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    • Asp52 profile imageAUTHOR

      Andrew Stewart 

      5 years ago from England

      I think we could all understand your wife's grandfather's disappointment at the failure of the Soviet Elite's total lack of cohesion and planning. They were so under prepared for their attempts of sabotage and espionage that they lasted so long due to sheer luck. I think that personality clashes within the cell's would have made the job even more difficult. I am surprised at how arrogant the Nazi Generals were to believe they could speak so freely on the deployments of troops and tank's, but I suppose good wine and food always loosen's lips.

      Surviving in a Nazi occupied state would have been no easy task and the fact some good quality information seem's to have made it back to Soviet intelligence officers is quite frankly amazing. What amazes me more was Stalin ignoring the rumours of troop build ups for invasion. From biographies I have read he was paranoid about his own citizens more than the threats fascist Germany posed.

      Thanks for the additional information and comment, I think a lot of what happened in the Eastern campaign is still a bit of a mystery.

    • CHRIS57 profile image

      CHRIS57 

      5 years ago from Northern Germany

      Interesting summary on the "Rote Kapelle".

      Many myths and legends were created on the effectivity of the red orchestra espionage operations. I believe, much of it is exaggerated, mostly because there was no such organization as the red orchestra. Whatever Leo Trepper may have directed, all organizations were independently operating resistance groups in the Netherlands, Belgium, France or Germany.

      The value of intelligence information was also questionable, because information was treated with great suspicion by Stalin. It was the special character of Stalin, the not aligned interests of the NKVD and GRU and the nature of the resistance groups (being uncontrolled idealists), that helped to marginalize the impact of intelligence information.

      The resistance groups were no real professionals which made discovery fairly easy. Wrong use of radio transmission devices, simple radio triangulation led to discovery.

      A personal note: The grandfather of my wife was the Soviet intelligence officer who was supposed to manage the German branch (Schulze-Boysen, Harnack group). His main task however was the evacuation of Soviet citizens, diplomats... after 1941. But he understood the importance and value of the intelligence provided. Some of his personal notes and letters are full of disappointment on the negligence in Moscow. The name of the officer: Alexander Korotkov (contact: Alexander Erdberg).

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