was a Soviet
spy, credited for providing the intelligence
that saved Moscow
from falling to the Germans
Richard Sorge was born in 1895 in Baku, Georgia, to an expatriate German mining engineer and a local Russian mother. Three years later the family returned to Germany, where Sorge grew up. He joined the German Army at the outbreak of the First World War, where he served with distinction on the Eastern Front. Injured by shrapnel he was invalided back to Germany, where he formed a relationship with a nurse, attended university in Berlin and Kiel and became a journalist. Her girlfriend's father introduced him to Marxism, and he then joined the fledging German Communist Party.
In 1925 he travelled to the Soviet Union to work as a spy for Comintern. In the guise of a journalist Sorge visited several European countries, including England, to monitor various labour movements and Communist parties. The rising popularity of the anti-Bolshevisk NSDAP party prompted the Comintern to send Sorge back to Germany in 1929 to collect intelligence. Under orders to shun contact with his former fellow travellers, Sorge joined the Nazi party, and worked as a journalist for the newspaper Getreide Zeitung.
However as soon as he got a name for himself and Adolf Hitler was close to becoming chancellor, his paper sent him to China. There he was able to consort with several international journalists, monitored conflicts between the Japanese and Chinese armies, and as a self-taught expert in Chinese agriculture, and meet members of the Chinese Communist Party.
After Adolf Hitler became Fuehrer in 1933, the Soviet Union instructed Richard Sorge to establish a spy network in Japan. He briefly returned to Germany and secured employment as a Tokyo correspondent for several German publications, including Frankfurter Zeitung, Borsen Zeitung and the Tagliche Rundschau. In Tokyo Sorge cultivate contacts at the German embassy and in the Japanese government, and he gathered information about Japan's foreign policy becoming allied with Germany. He even managed to get advanced knowledge of Pearl Harbour and Operation Barbarossa, and pinpointed the exact date of the proposed German invasion of the Soviet Union, but despite passing this gem on to Joseph Stalin seemingly nothing was done by the Soviets to prevent a German attack. Stalin's comment that Richard Sorge was a little shit who had set himself up with some small factories and brothels in Japan all but illustrates his low regard for the intelligence his activities had generated.
Fortunately, his information that Japan had no intention of attacking the Soviet Union in 1941 allowed General Georgy Zhukov to deploy his Siberian-based divisions from the east to the defence of Moscow, that probably saved the Soviet Union from defeat.
Richard Sorge's spy team in Japan consisted of German cryptographer Max Klausen who he had recruited in China; Branko Vukelic, a Yugoslav born journalist working for a French magazine; Ozaki Hotsumi, a Japanese journalist for Asahi Shimbun; and, Miyagi Yotoku, a Japanese journalist for the Japan Advertiser. All were Comintern agents.
The Kempetai, the Japanese secret police, were actively intercepting Sorge's transmissions to the Soviet Union. Ozaki Hotsumi was arrested on October 14, 1941, and under torture betrayed Richard Sorge's identity. Sorge was arrested four days later and was incarcerated in Sugamo Prison. The Soviet Union rejected a Japanese offer to exchange them for Japanese prisoners of war, and both Ozaki and Sorge were hanged on November 7, 1944.
The Soviet Union first acknowledged Richard Sorge and his story in 1964. He was posthumously declared a "Hero of the Soviet Union", had a Moscow street named in his memory, and his portrait was featured on a Russian postage stamp.