Usborne True Stories of Spies
Usborne True Stories of Spies

This edition published in 2012 by Usborne Publishing Ltd, Usborne House, 83-85 Saffron Hill, London, EC1N 8RT.

Copyright © 2012, 2007, 2002 Usborne Publishing Ltd. U.E.

This edition first published in America 2007.

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Series Editors: Jane Chisholm and Rosie Dickins

Designed Brian Voakes

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Cover design by Amy Manning

Illustrations by Peter Ross

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ePub ISBN 9781409555216

Batch no. 01868-10



Soviet superspy Konon Molody spends six years in Cold War Britain. His persona – debonair businessman Gordon Lonsdale. His mission – to unearth the secrets of Britain’s nuclear submarines.


Yevno Azef, spy for the Russian secret police, goes undercover with revolutionaries in St. Petersburg in 1904. But how far can he be trusted?


Yugoslavian aristocrat Dusko Popov plays a dangerous game of double-bluff with the German secret service in Lisbon, during World War Two.


Tongues start to wag as Jack Dunlap, a lowly clerk at America’s National Security Agency, splashes out on a flashy new lifestyle.


Will bumbling British agent Sigismund Best and his hapless colleagues stand a chance against the ruthless Nazi Gestapo?


Richard Sorge, German newspaper reporter and communist spy, charms his way into the highest diplomatic circles in 1930s Tokyo.


British businessman Greville Wynne gets more than he bargained for when he meets Soviet Colonel Oleg Penkovsky.


Exotic dancer Mata Hari becomes an amateur spy during World War One, but her attempts at espionage lead her to an all-too professional end.


Britain’s ambassador to Turkey, Sir Hughe Knatchbull- Hugesson, has trouble with his staff. One of them is selling his most closely guarded secrets to the highest bidder.


Bogdan Stashinsky is a committed communist and the Soviet Union’s greatest assassin. But then he falls in love…


This Charming Man…

Everyone liked Gordon Lonsdale – the handsome Canadian seemed to have friends all over London. In the late 1950s his face was familiar in the capital’s best clubs and restaurants, and his car, an expensive white model imported from America, made a splash in a country still recovering from the hardships of World War Two. He lived in a beautiful apartment block called “The White House”, just by Regent’s Park. Here, he gave extravagant parties and charmed a succession of girlfriends attracted to his dark good looks.

Behind the playboy image, though, Lonsdale was a hard-working businessman. He ran a company which leased jukeboxes, vending machines and car security equipment. His work took him all over the country. But there was yet another side to the playboy businessman – one that would have astonished every single girlfriend, business associate and restaurant owner who thought they knew him well. His real name was Konon Trofimovich Molody and he was a Soviet spy.

Molody had led an extraordinary life. He was born in Russia in 1922, but he had been sent to live with an aunt in California when he was only seven years old. Nine years later, he spoke English like a native. Returning to Russia in 1938, he joined the Communist Youth Movement and fought heroically during World War Two. When the war ended Molody was recruited by the KGB, the Soviet Union’s security service. He had a fanatical faith in his country’s communist ideology and a brilliant flair for languages – two major qualifications that would make him an ideal spy.

By the age of thirty two, he had reached the rank of commander and had been sent on numerous foreign missions. In 1954, with Cold War hostility between the Soviets and Western enemies such as the United States and Britain approaching a peak, he was given his most important mission yet.

A new form of warfare had developed after World War Two – submarines carrying nuclear missiles. Such vessels lurked unseen beneath the seas of the world. Impossible to track and destroy, they were capable of inflicting nuclear destruction on their nation’s enemies. Molody was to be sent undercover to Britain, to discover all he could about the Royal Navy’s nuclear submarines, which were among the most advanced in the world. To do this he would have to establish contacts with other Soviet spies, and find members of the British armed services or government who would be prepared to sell him such secret information.

An assignment like this asked a great deal of an agent. Molody was now thirty three. He would have to leave everything he possessed in the Soviet Union behind him, and go to live in a foreign land as a total stranger. He was given a new identity and nationality – that of Gordon Lonsdale. There had been a Canadian named Gordon Lonsdale, but he had disappeared in Finland – possibly murdered – and his doctored passport, and past life history, was now in Molody’s hands. He was sent to Canada in 1954. After a year living his life there as Lonsdale, he arrived in Britain in March 1955. He was to play out his new identity extraordinarily well.

Gordon Lonsdale had two very good friends out in London’s western suburb of Ruislip – Peter and Helen Kroger. A quiet American couple in their 50s, they ran a business dealing in antique books. One time, friends on the street asked them to a dinner party. Helen arrived wearing a long black dress, and their hostess exclaimed: “Why Helen, you look like a Russian spy!” If she hadn’t been laughing so much at her own little joke, she would have seen the Krogers exchange a terrified glance. Helen Kroger was indeed a Russian spy, and so was her husband. Their house at 45 Cranley Drive was a major threat to British security.

Under the kitchen floor was a cavity containing a high-frequency transmitter and a high-speed tape recorder for sending coded messages at more than 240 words a minute. An internal 23m (74ft) antenna stretched into and around the attic. In the sitting room was a radio which could receive signals from anywhere in the world. Beside it stood a typewriter, tape recorder and some headphones. The bathroom could be converted into a photographic darkroom, complete with a gadget for making and reading microdots – a technology which could reduce large photographs to a size smaller than a pinhead.

There were surprises everywhere. A copy of the Bible in the sitting room concealed light-sensitive cellophane for making microdots. In the bedroom was a microscope for studying them. Rolls of microfilm were hidden in a hipflask. In the bathroom, a container of powder unscrewed to reveal a microdot reader rather like a small telescope. A large cigarette lighter on the table concealed a secret compartment full of coded messages.

The Krogers had led lives just as extraordinary as Molody’s. Peter Kroger had been born Morris Cohen, of Russian-Jewish parents in New York. He met and married Helen at the University of Illinois. Her real name was Leona Petka. During the 1930s both had become communists, and Peter had gone to fight against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War. He had returned to the United States and worked for various Soviet trade organizations there before serving in the American army in World War Two.

 After the war the couple began to spy for the Soviet Union, and helped to pass on American atomic bomb secrets to the Russians. They fled from America in 1950, suspecting they were about to be arrested, and surfaced again in Britain in 1954. This time they were known as the Krogers, having taken their identity and backgrounds from a New Zealand couple who had died earlier in the century.

Lonsdale was a frequent visitor to Cranley Drive – he came to dinner at least one Saturday of every month. Of course that was not all he did. The Krogers were Lonsdale’s link with the Soviet Union. It was there, in their quiet suburban house, that the fruits of his spying work were transmitted to the KGB in Moscow.

Lonsdale’s best contact was a Royal Navy clerk at the top-secret Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment in Portland, Dorset. His name was Harry Houghton. He had access to a variety of “classified” (secret) material, and better still for Lonsdale, he had a shady past. In 1951 he had been posted to the British Embassy in Warsaw, Poland. There he had disgraced himself by keeping a mistress and dealing in black market goods. He was sent home with a severe reprimand. Yet despite his suspect character, he had been posted to Portland.

The British authorities were not the only ones keeping tabs on Harry Houghton in Warsaw. The Polish secret service had been watching him too. They told the KGB he was likely to be easily corruptible. The KGB passed on this titbit to Lonsdale, who wasted no time introducing himself.

Lonsdale told Houghton he was Commander Alex Johnson from the American Embassy. As they chatted away, he realized Houghton was just the man he needed. He was willing to do almost anything for money. It was easy to trick him into becoming a traitor. Lonsdale said the Americans needed certain information from him. He need not worry about the Official Secrets Act – a document guaranteeing confidentiality that all armed forces personnel were required to sign – after all, weren’t Britain and the United States on the same side?

When Lonsdale mentioned money, Houghton’s eyes lit up. He also came up with a clever scheme for smuggling documents out of Portland. Houghton had a girlfriend at the base, a middle-aged woman named Ethel “Bunty” Gee. She was a filing clerk with high level security clearance – meaning she handled top secret documents. Although there were spot checks on male employees as they came in and out of the building, to make sure they were carrying no secret documents, female staff were never searched. This bizarre lapse in security meant that Bunty would be a perfect accomplice.

Soon all sorts of files, from charts of navy docks to details of shipbuilding projects, were being smuggled out of Portland. Their contents were dictated onto a tape recorder, then transmitted in high speed radio bursts from Cranley Drive, or they were photographed to be smuggled on to Moscow as microfilm. Then Bunty returned them before anyone noticed they were missing. It all worked like a dream. Lonsdale and the Krogers were able to smuggle secrets on from Houghton and Gee, as well as other military and intelligence organization contacts they had made, for six years.

But all good things come to an end. Houghton may have been Lonsdale’s best source, but he was probably also the most unreliable person the Soviet spy had to deal with.

Routine checks by MI5 – Britain’s counter-intelligence agency – showed that the Portland navy clerk was living way beyond his means. In 1960 his official earnings were only £714 – a modest salary at the best of times. Yet he had just bought a flashy new car, laid out £10,000 on a house, and was spending £20 a month on drink alone. Where was this money coming from? MI5 were determined to find out. Checks on Houghton’s bank account gave nothing away though. Lonsdale paid him in cash, so the police would never be able to trace the source of this new-found wealth back to him.

In July 1960 an MI5 operative started to tail Houghton and Gee. He followed them on a trip to London, to the Old Vic theatre in Waterloo. He watched them meet Gordon Lonsdale, who handed over an envelope in exchange for a grocery bag. Then Houghton and Gee left, taking an odd, roundabout route back to their car. It was all highly suspicious.

Then a month later, Houghton went up to London again. Here he met Lonsdale at the Old Vic, and the two of them retired to a café. The MI5 man slid into the table next to theirs and strained to hear the conversation.

“These will be the first Saturday in each month,” said Lonsdale, “especially the first Saturday in October and November.”

Something was definitely being planned.

They left the café, and the MI5 man followed at a distance. Then, both men crammed into a phone booth. But instead of making a call, Houghton gave Lonsdale a file wrapped in a newspaper. Then they parted. Houghton disappeared into the crowd, but the MI5 man followed Lonsdale, who got into a car and drove off. Another couple of MI5 men followed him in their own car and watched him as he stopped outside a bank. He got out, handed over a brown suitcase to a bank official, and drove off.

After he had gone the MI5 men moved in. They discreetly explained to the bank manager that they were employed by the government on work of a highly sensitive nature, and that they needed to look inside the suitcase. The manager understood, and they found that Lonsdale’s case contained a Russian-made camera, a magnifying glass, two films and an assortment of keys. It was all very curious.

Then there was a lull in investigations. Lonsdale went away to Europe for two months on business, but when he returned from his trip, MI5 agents were waiting for him. They tailed him as he picked up the suitcase from the bank, and then got on a train to Ruislip.

Over the next few weeks, as MI5 watched, a pattern emerged. On the first Saturday of each month, Houghton would meet Lonsdale in London. They would exchange packages, and that evening Lonsdale would go to Ruislip, arriving at the Kroger’s house about 7.15pm. After three months MI5 decided to swoop. The man in charge of the operation was Detective Superintendent George Smith of London’s Special Branch police force.

On January 7, 1961, Harry Houghton made his journey to London. On this occasion Bunty Gee came with him, carrying a big shopping bag. They arrived at Waterloo Station where no less than 15 agents, including George Smith, loitered on the platform disguised as passengers and newspaper sellers. The train was 45 minutes late. Maybe it was the delay that made Smith’s men sloppy, maybe it was the cold. Whatever the reason, they were taken by surprise when the couple reached the station exit and dashed for a bus. Only one man managed to get on the bus with them.

Houghton and Gee had taken a spur-of-the-moment sightseeing trip, and after an hour or two they returned to Waterloo Station and went over to the Old Vic theatre, as they usually did. Here Smith’s men were waiting for them again. Lonsdale was waiting there too, to greet them. When they arrived, he took Gee’s bag, as if making a gentlemanly gesture of carrying it for her. That was enough for Smith. He ran up to all three and said: “I’m a police officer, and you’re all under arrest.”