Book Review - Deckname Dr. Rantzau (Cover Name Dr. Rantzau) - Nikolaus Ritter (1972)

Cover -

The Book
Deckname Dr. Rantzau - Die Aufzeichnungen des Nikolaus Ritter, Offizier under Canaris im Geheimen Nachrichtendiesnt. [Cover Name Dr. Rantzau - The Notes of Nikolaus Ritter, Officer under Canaris in the Secret Intelligence Service.] Nikolaus Ritter. Hoffman and Campe. 1972.

I bought this book several years ago but never got around to reading it. Although I did write a post about the book written by Ritter's first wife, Mary Aurora Evans. A few weeks ago, after reading Hitler's Spies & Saboteurs by Wighton and Peis, I got up the energy to plow my way through the German.

Written by German spymaster Major Nikolaus Ritter, the book provides a fascinating glimpse into the German Abwehr, from a German perspective. Some caveats are in order, however. It's pretty clear that Ritter has modified some names and even some events in order to protect the living (e.g. TATE). The book is also based, to a large extent, on his memories and notes taken by his wife (who initially worked as his secretary). It's also clear that Ritter had conversations with Ladislas Farago (author of The Game of the Foxes) and that he also had access to a copy of Masterman's book (The Double-Cross System). The book therefore needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

As a broad overview of the book, Ritter tells the tale of setting up his espionage ring in the United States, and the handing over of technical drawings for the Norden bombsight. He also covers the story of Arthur G. Owens (JOHNNY to the Germans and SNOW to the British), Schmidt and Caroli and touches briefly on the cases of Eriksen, Druekke and Walti. The timelines are a bit off though and can't really be relied on to provide accuracy.

In early 1941, Ritter was reassigned to Africa and a few chapters deal with his attempts to get some agents behind enemy lines in Egypt. He then glosses over the rest of the war before diving into more detail about his incarceration and interrogation at Bad Nenndorf. He does seem to mix up Robin W.G. Stephens and W.E. Hinchley-Cook, blending the two into one person: Steven-Cook.

Regarding his treatment at Bad Nenndorf, Ritter lays his treatment firmly at the feet of Stephens, saying: "Wie der Herr, so's Gescherr". Essentially: "Like master, like servant" or, in this case, "Like commander, like soldier". The misdeeds of the soldier simply mimic the misdeeds of the commander. Ritter draws a stinging comparison between the Nazi Concentration Camps and Bad Nenndorf. The German concentration camp commandants were found guilty of wrong doing because they were held responsible for the actions of their underlings. Interesting to note that Stephens was acquitted of wrong doing even though he was commandant of Bad Nenndorf. He simply denied any knowledge of the wrong doing committed by the warders at Bad Nenndorf.

On the whole, I found this book quite enjoyable. I did get a bit irked after a while with Ritter's careless disregard for the lives of his agents and the dangers into which they were so casually dispatched. His stories tend to focus on the successful agents (e.g. JOHNNY and TATE) whilst ignoring the ones who simply disappeared after being sent to England only to resurface as execution notices in the London newspapers. On p. 63, Ritter says that when he traveled, he never carried anything incriminating, something that his own agents could likely have benefited from as well, rather than being outfitted with obvious disc or grid codes.

Many of the detailed stories told by Ritter mirror the ones presented by Wighton & Peis in Hitler's Spies & Saboteurs, for example, JOHNNY/SNOW and the cafe with the table telephones, the lemon/orange juice confusion in Lisbon and Caroli's dalliance with the Belgian girl. Lending weight to the idea that Ritter was one of the sources consulted by Wighton & Peis.

I found it quite fascinating that when JOHNNY/SNOW and CELERY/BROWN had come to Lisbon in February/March 1941, Ritter says that they offered him £200,000 of gold if he would defect to the British. I don't remember reading anything about that elsewhere, although there are indications that George Sessler, Ritter's assistant, was later offered a significant sum if he would defect.

I did pick up a few other tidbits of information, which are interesting leads:
  • Ritter references a man named Roeder who ran an import/export firm and worked closely with him. Josef Jakobs mentioned a man in Hamburg named Roeder and I'm wondering if they two are identical. Need to do some digging.
  • The story of Walter Simon, an agent sent to England and Ireland is intriguing.
  • Ritter says that forged British identity cards and ration books (modelled on the ones provided by JOHNNY/SNOW) were printed by the Abwehr in Berlin under the watchful eye of a red-haired man code-named Barbarossa. Be interested to know if the Allies ever found this man and questioned him around the poor quality of the forgeries.
  • On p. 240, Ritter quotes Schmidt/TATE when he failed to receive funds from the Germans. Schmidt sent a radio message to the Germans, en clair: "Ich sch... [scheisse] auf den beschissen deutschen Nachrichtendiesnt" - "I shit on the shitty/lousy/crappy German Intelligence Service". I had only ever come across this statement in Ladislas Farago's book, The Game of the Foxes (p. 306). It would appear that the original source is Ritter himself. Interesting to note as well that the quote used by Ritter is different from that used by Farago: "I shit on Germany and its whole fucking secret service".
  • Ritter also mentions Gösta Caroli and how he returned to Sweden after the war. According to Ritter, Caroli was very sick and had totally lost his memory.
Review Score
3.5 out of 5 - I found it a good read, although the book is a bit out of date and necessarily one-sided. It is also primarily based on fallible recollections so can't be used as a source of concrete facts.


Popular posts from this blog

Clara Bauerle is Finally Laid to Rest

Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?

The Truth about Clara Bauerle