A Window into the Minds of Abwehr Officers - Die Nachhut

Over the course of the last year, I've written a few blog posts in which an Abwehr officer named Walter Schulze-Bernett played a role.

From June 1940 to June 1941, Schulze-Bernett was head of Gruppe I, Ast Netherlands in The Hague, a key period when Germany was throwing spies at the UK in preparation for Operation Sealion. Whilst researching the blog on Harm Knol Bruins, I came across an article written by Schulze-Bernett on the Venlo Incident entitled: Der Grenzzwischenfall bei Venlo/Holland (The Border Incident near Venlo/Holland).

The article is reproduced on a site devoted to George Elser, a German worker who organized the the Bürgerbräukeller assassination attempt on Hitler on 8 November 1939 in Munich. The author of the site, Peter Koblank, also has a sub-page devoted to the Venlo Incident, on which is the link for Schulze-Bernett's article.

The most intriguing thing about Schulze-Bernett's article is its provenance. According to Koblank, the article was published in a magazine called "Die Nachhut" [The Rearguard].

Quelle: Walter Schulze-Bernett, Der Grenzzwischenfall bei Venlo/Holland, in: Die Nachhut, Nr. 23/24 vom 15.5.1973, München 1973; Schreibfehler, auch bei Personen- und Ortsnamen, wurden originalgetreu übernommen sowie einige [Kommentare] eingefügt. [Spelling mistakes, also with personal and place names, were copied true to original as well as some [comments] inserted.]

Die Nachhut - cover
image is of the 3 Wise Monkeys
(hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil)
(from Google Books)
Die Nachhut
I did bit of research.... and Die Nachhut was a publication of AGEA (Arbeitsgemeinschaft ehemaliger Abwehrangehöriger - essentially "Working Group of former Members of the Abwehr").

From 1967 to 1975, the group published 32 editions of Die Nachhut in pamphlet form. Articles came from various former members of the Abwehr scattered in cities throughout Europe. Contributions included reviews of intelligence books, articles as well as tables including death dates for former members of the Abwehr.

The periodical sounds quite fascinating and initially I thought that it was only available in libraries/archives in Germany but the AG der GedenkstättenBibliotheken (AGGB-Katalog) notes that The Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust & Genocide in London has a complete set!

It would be intriguing to examine the 32 editions and see if any of the key Abwehr personnel from Ast I in Hamburg had offered contributions. At the very least, Die Nachhut might list the death dates for some of these individuals.

I'll be taking a blog posting hiatus over the holidays - back with a post on 8 January 2020...

Mythos Elser site - devoted to Georg Elser
Wikipedia - AGEA
AGGB Katalog site - lists libraries/archives holding Die Nachhut


Anonymous said…
You have a really interesting blog. My compliments to you. I should like to share a couple of comments about this intriguing archive of Die Nachhut - a periodical containing articles by former members of the Abwehr. In all the books I have read, I have never seen reference to this publication. It is important because we have some memoirs by (or even books about) members of the WW2 UK security services but relatively few from the German side written by its members, at least in English. There are a few in German.
Two parts
1. The Venlo incident is intriguing. One of those captured had the entire MI6/SIS "order of battle" for Europe on his person when he was abducted. That is to say, the places where MI6 had offices and the names and ranks and responsibilities of the officers. When the Nazis rolled across Europe they were quite confident they had put MI6 out of business on the Continent. However, unbeknownst to them, a certain Claude Dansey (aka Colonel Z), the assistant chief of MI6, had been creating another secret network in Europe from the early 1930s. This operated during the war and with great success. [See: http://www.mythoselser.de/texts/best.htm, which refers.] Now the interesting bit. There has long been a suggestion that the two MI6 officers abducted, Major Stevens and Captain Payne Best, may have been deliberately sacrificed, so as to ensure the German secret services obtained the order of battle, and by so doing, were induced to believe there were no MI6 assets left on the continent. I believe this is rather too far fetched: there are too many variables for such a caper to be thought to have any change of working successfully. Moreover, the SIS would have to known that the Germans were intending to snatch Stevens and Payne Best - and that would suggest SIS had information from within the German secret services. But, one still unexplained aspect, one of many, is why one of the officers had with him the order of battle, which should never have left his office.
Anonymous said…
Part 2
2. From early 1942 to April, 1944, the Abwehr section in the Netherlands mounted possibly their most successful counter-intelligence operation against the British clandestine sabotage and intelligence organisation, SOE. This operation is known as Englandspiel (England Game) and also Operation North Pole (Ger: Unternehmen Nordpol). It was run by Lieutenant Colonel Hermann Giskes (28 September 1896 – 28 August 1977) stationed in the occupied Netherlands and head of Abwehr Section IIIF.
In the 1950s, Col. Giskes published he own account of this caper, "London Calling North Pole: The True Revelations of a German Spy". It was republished a few years ago. It would be intriguing to see if Englandspiel was mentioned in Die Nachhut.
There is, as one would expect, much unexplained about Englandspiel. Leo Marks, the SOE code maker, noticed irregularities in the messages being received from the SOE agents in the field in the Netherlands. Upon investigation he noted other oddities, such as that the aircraft supplying materiel and agents flew unmolested into the Netherlands and back to the UK. [It is important at this juncture to recall that at the time of the initial compromise, SOE communications were handled by MI6.] Leo Marks concerns, as he noted in his memoir, "Between Silk and Cyanide", were fobbed off and actually ignored. He came to the view, possibly as a result of comments by his superiors, that they knew the Netherlands SOE networks were compromised (because SIS would have known of missing security checks and other irregularities in the messages coming out of the field), but that for whatever reasons, the SOE and SIS hierarchy permitted the German deception to continue. This involved sending much materiel to the Germans but also dozens of agents to their deaths at the hands of the German security forces. I recall also that two agents did escape but we thought traitors on their return to the UK and their warnings ignored as attempts by the Germans at deception. The suggestion has been that the British did all this quite deliberately but a coherent motivation has never been established.
Soon after the war ended, Netherlands government conducted an enquiry in to this affair. A letter between two senior UK civil servants about the Dutch enquiry and the Englandspiel affair emerged a few years ago, having been found in the UK archives. The wording is intriguing in that both writers seem to know that there is more to Englandspiel than they want to tell the Dutch enquiry and there is information they wish to conceal. I cannot recall the exact wording - I'll see if I can find it - but it is along the lines that there are things done in wartime they would not ordinarily be done and that the UK may have known all along what was going on. This is also quite likely. As we now know, Bletchley was regularly breaking the Abwehr Enigma and so, SIS which oversaw Bletchley, may have known from that direction too.
In all events, it would be interesting to see if Col. Giskes, who later went for Western intelligence in post-war Germany, is mentioned in Die Nachhut.
Thank you for reading. My apologies for my stilted English.
Giselle Jakobs said…
Apologies for the delay in responding! I blame it on Covid-19... Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I'm going to have to take some time to process it and may blog out it later. It's now in my "To Research" list.

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