Istanbul Intrigues » Chapter 11-Dogwood's Bark-OSS Successes in Istanbul
11 Dogwood’s Bark:
OSS Successes in Istanbul
A rich man’s daughter is always beautiful.
The value of the OSS in Istanbul, Macfarland well knew, would rest chiefly on its ability to gather intelligence on Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe. “Most important of all,” Macfarland wrote OSS-Cairo in May 1943, “is action! We are now on the spot with all of them, British, Greeks, and Turks. They have done everything we have asked of them (much to my surprise) and now we must produce. Our whole future here depends now on whether we can deliver the goods.”
Macfarland’s job was to obtain accurate information on Nazi politics, strategy, and troop movements; the products, location, and output of factories in Hitler’s empire; and the willingness of Germany’s satellites to cooperate with the Allies or to surrender. Consequently, Macfarland was delighted to find a ready-made network of agents that only had to be financed and coordinated to start producing the most valuable intelligence. This group, called the “Dogwood” chain after its leader’s code name, would be the most important U.S. spy ring in Europe.
Macfarland himself had no intelligence experience or training apart from a few weeks at OSS headquarters in Washington. The trench-coat and slouch hat garb Macfarland adopted, though a popular fashion, seemed to mark his trade as effectively as a calling card. One colleague
said, “If he had not been a spy, dressed like that, he would have had to become one.” Another commented that Macfarland “must have been a great cover for those really doing the work.” Macfarland later claimed that this was indeed his purpose.
The State Department was loathe to supply cover for the OSS, arguing, “The discovery by the Turkish government that the Foreign Service was being used as a shield for undercover intelligence work could not but have the most unfortunate results.” Such people were not even needed, State argued, since its own staff could easily “report on any matters in which the OSS may have a particular interest.” Given this attitude, OSS people were instead made nominal employees of wartime agencies. Other OSS men went under cover as journalists or as instructors at Robert College. The latter group included Joseph Curtiss, who gathered research materials for OSS analysts back in Washington.
But Macfarland won Ambassador Steinhardt’s confidence by pledging to act cautiously and to keep him well informed. In exchange, Steinhardt gave the OSS use of the diplomatic pouch and contacts with the host government. Macfarland promised the Emniyet’s chief that he would exchange information, ensure that his men behaved properly, and conduct no espionage against Turkey.
Intelligence agents, precisely because of the latitude they enjoy, must possess caution and good sense. The veteran free-lancer Saffet Tozan explained that some spies were adventurers, whose loyalties or judgment were uncertain, while others were naive “missionary types.” People in the first category could cause trouble, but those in the latter set might be victimized by more devious folk.
American intelligence men in Istanbul were inexperienced and more often of the latter type. They found it hard at first to maintain proper security. Macfarland’s putative boss at Lend-Lease was visibly surprised when foreign diplomats asked about his new assistant, because he had not been informed about the OSS chief’s cover arrangements. In July 1943, Macfarland wrote Cairo: “PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE! Instruct everyone to leave out any reference whatsoever to Office of Strategic Services in addressing envelopes. Today there are two more that bear this inscription on the outside.” Far worse was the habit of one of Macfarland’s key subordinates, a heavy drinker, who would enter a bar
and greet colleagues by shouting, “Hello, spies!” British security arrangements were also sometimes imperfect. Following a leak that the designation for Germany in a British code was “1200,” German officials in cafés began singing, “Twelve-hundred land, twelve-hundred land, über alles.” On entering the Park Hotel’s lounge, intelligence agents of any nationality might be met with the pianist’s rendition of a satirical song, “Boo, Boo, Baby, I’m a Spy.”
The Emniyet was never fooled either. It picked up one OSS-Istanbul man as a suspicious character because he was running to keep an appointment. “We know you work for OSS,” an officer told him, “but from now on walk, don’t run.” Sometimes the police sold photographs of Axis agents to the Allies and vice versa. Others were more confused. British Ambassador Knatchbull-Hugessen invited a low-ranking U.S. official to an elaborate, intimate dinner for two. Convinced his guest was an important intelligence agent, Knatchbull-Hugessen tried to draw information from the bewildered American throughout the evening. Finally, the exasperated British diplomat pleaded, “Won’t you trust me with the truth?”
Istanbul was no place for the innocent or unwary. Over 200 people made a living by wholesaling information to both sides and retailing it to journalists. They were happy to relieve the OSS of money for false or, worse, German-planted information. Would-be spies for rent strolled up and down Istiklal Boulevard and around Taksim Square with its neo-baroque monument to the republic. They lounged in Istanbul’s bars, dining places, nightclubs, and dance halls and patrolled the Park Hotel, Abdullah’s Restaurant, and particularly the Taksim Casino.
The music wafting from the cafés and the bells of the crowded trolleys played accompaniment as men weaved through the streets trying to follow or evade each other. Some pastry shops were fronts for espionage operations; the belligerents’ propaganda experts tried to influence what the movie theaters screened. Lemonade sellers were lookouts for the Emniyet; newspaper vendors shouted out the latest war events on every corner. Agents competed to interview newly arrived refugees.
Archibald Walker (code-named “Rose”), who had been gathering information for the OSS since April 1942, was joined by a half-dozen full-time OSS officers. They leased a building a few miles up the Bosporus as a safe house, training center, and photo laboratory. Dean
Woodruff directed the Bulgaria desk and talked to the many travelers and refugees crossing the frontier into Turkey. Frank Stevens was in charge of operations concerning Romania, where he had lived for twenty years as a journalist. His many friendships with Romanian officials helped him arrange regular meetings with their country’s intelligence chief in Istanbul and obtain information even from cabinet ministers. One of the most productive agents was Lieutenant Alekko Georgiades, who covered the parts of northern Greece near the Turkish border.
They all worked very hard. In addition to his own job, Macfarland had to type his own letters and encode and decode messages given the shortage of secretaries and cipher clerks. During its sixteen months of operation, OSS-Istanbul worked twelve-hour days and six-day weeks to produce over 1500 intelligence reports.
Macfarland put the most promising Istanbul contacts under the direction of Archibald Coleman (code-named “Cereus”), who, Macfarland wrote, was “one of the most experienced technicians in undercover operations.” Compared with his colleagues, Coleman was indeed relatively experienced, but his two previous missions had been failures. Sent by the OSS to Mexico, where he had been a Treasury agent in the 1930s, Coleman was quickly uncovered by the Mexicans and they demanded his withdrawal. A few months later, Coleman was moved to Spain. The U.S. ambassador to Spain was afraid, however, that OSS operations might push the Fascist but neutral Franco regime into open support for the Axis. He complained about the OSS’s security, intelligence, and choice of local agents. Although the OSS denied the charges, Coleman was hustled out of Madrid in June 1942. When he arrived in Istanbul almost a year later, under cover as a Saturday Evening Post correspondent, Macfarland put him in charge of the Dogwood project.
“Dogwood” himself was Alfred Schwarz, a Czech businessman of Jewish background and cosmopolitan tastes who had lived in Istanbul since 1928. Schwarz had studied philosophy and psychology in Prague and Vienna. Entering a contest for writing advertising copy, he won first prize and was hired by the sponsoring company to open a branch office in Istanbul. He was so successful that he went into business for himself. The Vatican envoy, Roncalli, became one of Schwarz’s friends, and the two men discussed theology over many a glass of Roncalli’s
favorite Italian wine. Schwarz also befriended several of the German refugee professors.
After the war began, Schwarz became the intermediary between some of the German exiles who were asked to write anti-Nazi broadcasts to Germany, and the British. He also performed tasks for MI-6. Another acquaintance, a Hungarian aristocrat named Luther Kovess, extended Schwarz’s contacts with Hungary.
British intelligence chief Harold Gibson asked Schwarz to work with the newly arrived OSS officers as an adviser on European affairs. Schwarz agreed and signed a contract with Macfarland in April 1943. While Macfarland was deeply impressed with this polished, self-confident European intellectual, Schwarz was shocked by what he saw as American naïveté and ignorance about the continent’s society and politics.
Schwarz chose a friend, Walter Arndt, son of an Istanbul University professor, as his assistant. The young man, though born in Istanbul, had volunteered for the Polish army early in 1939. After its defeat, he spent the next year forging documents for the Warsaw underground under the guise of running a translation bureau. Arndt’s birthplace entitled him to a Turkish passport, but there was no longer any Turkish embassy in Warsaw. Having repudiated his German citizenship and fought against Hitler, Arndt could hardly visit the Turkish embassy in Berlin. He finally got word out through a friendly Turkish student who was returning home, and Arndt’s father obtained the precious document. On reaching Istanbul, Arndt reported to the bureaucratic Polish military attaché. Noting that Arndt was still formally in the Polish army, the officer asked him in an annoyed tone, “Where have you been?”
“This was the earliest I could come,” Arndt replied. “We had a war in Poland and I got into it.” Schwarz asked Arndt to work for his intelligence operation, and the Polish army found this an acceptable duty.
Macfarland decided that Coleman should develop an independent operation apart from the OSS office at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul. It was obviously unwise to ask contacts or agents coming from occupied countries to visit the U.S. consulate to convey information. For those returning home, however, any open contact with Americans could prove fatal. Creating a cover business solved this problem. Schwarz set up a
subsidiary of the U.S. Western Electric Company at his office, where he could meet subagents under commercial camouflage. Balkan businessmen and salesmen were invited to Istanbul to make transactions and then were asked to gather intelligence. Many agreed and were quickly trained; others refused out of fear or because they felt such activity would damage their reputations after the war. As one of them put it, “So many disreputable individuals are engaged in espionage operations.” Working for the Americans, some reasoned, might also make one seem a foreign agent rather than a patriot.
Nonetheless, Schwarz managed to find people who, traveling in occupied countries on their own affairs, would collect intelligence as well. Each one had to be trained hurriedly and, for security reasons, individually in a bewildering variety of disciplines that included coding, concealing messages in seemingly innocent letters, transmitting by radio, selecting and recruiting subagents, organizing networks, thwarting searches, understanding Gestapo methods, enemy order of battle, security, cover, finances, and intelligence objectives.
The Dogwood network used the mail, telephone, and telegraph systems. In addition to Dogwood’s own post office boxes, as many as forty Turkish businesses served as mail drops. An OSS transmitter in Algiers sent Dogwood’s coded instructions to agents in the field. Bulgarian, Romanian, Hungarian, and Swiss diplomatic couriers–for bribes or out of sympathy with the Allies–sometimes carried messages in their official pouches.
In addition, two German refugee doctors became part-time OSS photographers and developed a way of copying documents onto extremely thin, transparent paper similar to cellophane. Since many agents had trouble memorizing complex codes, their ciphers were microfilmed to fit inside hollowed-out keys, pencils, razor blade wrappers, shoes, and clothing.
Enemy infiltration was an important concern. Macfarland wanted trained German-speaking American intelligence officers, but they were not available. Instead, Schwarz and other local agents, without experience, had to use their own judgment in choosing agents. But “even following the most careful security check,” Macfarland later wrote, “the complete integrity of agents thus selected can never be assured.”
Indeed, he admitted, the operation consciously took great risks: “It
was obviously necessary to recruit agents having the possibilities of travel between central Europe and Turkey, which of necessity required that the individuals were persona grata [sic] with the German authorities. Furthermore, in order for them to be particularly useful, they had to have access to German officials or industries on a sufficiently high level to obtain useful intelligence. The fact that an agent had frequent contact with high German officials could be interpreted, however, in two entirely different ways.” A man might equally be “considered a more suspicious character [or] an extremely valuable agent.”
OSS-Istanbul sent its first intelligence reports on August 21, 1943, knowing little about how to write and evaluate them. The Cairo office conducted an on-the-job correspondence school in analyzing the work. “We must develop a critical sense,” said one of its letters. “We have so much information–what we need is [good] information. In every case ask yourself, ‘How did source get this information? Was he in a position to get the facts or is this just imagination or rumor? Can this be either careless exaggeration or deliberate falsehood?’”
It was of course important to keep agents’ identities secret, OSS-Cairo continued, but something about the individual’s background and reliability must always be included in reports. “Information is of no use unless it produces or prevents action. And nobody is going to act on a bald statement of fact without knowing where it comes from.” Cairo also needed to have some knowledge of the sources so that it would not use two reports from the same agent to verify each other.
The Dogwood operation tried to avoid providing details about its sources, but it quickly grew into a structure said to control sixty-seven subagents either directly or through one of thirteen chains. In December 1943, 31 of 117 OSS-Istanbul reports came from this network; it produced 83 in January and 43 in February. Dogwood “looms large in the Istanbul picture,” OSS-Istanbul commented, “having provided for some time both the bulk and what appears to be the best of the secret intelligence from Germany and [Czechoslovakia].” Since Dogwood produced such impressive results, its reports were sent directly to Washington rather than being held in Cairo for evaluation. Schwarz’s team produced dozens of items on the top priorities of the war effort: bombing targets, antiaircraft defenses, troop movements, political developments, and other enemy activities.
Although Allied troops had not penetrated the Reich, British and American planes flew over it daily to bomb strategic factories. The air forces desperately needed all available information on these plants’ locations, outputs, shipping routes, and defenses. Planning new raids required knowing whether earlier attacks had damaged factories or forced the Germans to shift production elsewhere. Allied planners decided to focus on several items whose production was highly concentrated and could not easily be replaced. Rubber, oil and synthetic gasoline, aircraft, and ball-bearing production were at the top of this list. In January 1944 Dogwood’s agents provided important information on them all.
Cut off from natural rubber supplies in South America and Asia, Germany had to make its own rubber to keep the Luftwaffe and ground forces rolling. Dogwood’s agents provided details on the location of artificial rubber factories. Their reports also claimed that production of Messerschmitt fighter planes had been moved from Viennese plants damaged by Allied bombers to three former textile spinning mills about 15 miles from the city.
Allied experts identified ball bearings as a weak point in the German arms and transport industry because two-thirds of them were made at a single complex in Schweinfurt, Germany. A Dogwood source claimed that Allied bombing had so damaged these installations as to force production to be moved elsewhere.
If the information coming from Dogwood’s sources was accurate, the Allies could inflict devastating damage on the German war effort. But if Dogwood’s information came from men under German control, the truly vital factories would be protected and Allied planes might even be lured into traps resulting in heavy losses.
Neither OSS-Istanbul nor the Washington office, however, knew the identity of Dogwood’s subagents. Dogwood insisted on concealing them, fearing leaks from careless OSS personnel or intercepted transmissions. Some OSS officials in Istanbul, kept in the dark about its activities, criticized the operation’s independence and expenditures. One OSS officer wrote a friend in Cairo: “Actually, the stuff is gathered, written and processed by [Schwarz]….[Coleman] almost never sees the reports.” When the British asked for the names of American agents so that they could evaluate individual reports, Macfarland and Coleman refused, arguing this would give too many clues as to the agents’ true identities. The British might even try to steal or control OSS agents.
This attitude, understandable as it was, made it impossible for Allied intelligence analysts to evaluate the reliability of individuals hidden behind code names like “Cassia,” “Stock,” “Jacaranda,” and “Iris.” Special Anglo-American boards in London compared reports with each other and with aerial photographs in order to judge their importance and accuracy. The names of proposed agents were supposed to be checked against British intelligence’s list of German spies compiled through communications intercepts and other means. But this precaution had not been taken for Dogwood’s subagents because the operation did not reveal their identities. Given the OSS’s inexperience, mistrust of the British, lack of a counterintelligence unit in Istanbul, and pride in maintaining an independent operation, the Dogwood ring was insufficiently protected against German penetration.
Some of Dogwood’s intelligence was deemed too vague or disproved by other sources. Most of it, though, was enthusiastically received and used for planning bombing missions. The intelligence chief of the U.S. Fifteenth Air Force, responsible for most Balkan missions, wrote: “The Istanbul reports have been of great value, and the greater the flow from this source the better….OSS-Istanbul has recently been obtaining…valuable data on strategic targets, on enemy aircraft factories and plane dispositions in the Balkans. Time is obviously of the essence in supplying air intelligence to operational units. Accurate intelligence on the number and disposition of enemy aircraft [or] the number and calibre of anti-aircraft guns might represent the difference between a successful mission with light losses and a partially successful mission attended by heavy losses.” Another officer gave Dogwood a rave review, saying the reports were “extremely valuable…fresh, reliable, and relevant,” particularly the ones on the dispersion of Messerschmitt production.
A graphic example of the need for timely intelligence occurred when Dogwood reported a heavy concentration of antiaircraft guns around a Messerschmitt factory in late 1943. The information went to OSS-Cairo and was immediately sent to U.S. Air Corps Intelligence. Unfortunately, a bombing mission had taken off a few minutes earlier to attack that target, having been briefed to expect no serious defenses there. Five planes were lost that otherwise might have safely returned. In retrospect, the earlier information appears to have been enemy disinformation, supplied by a double agent.
By the end of 1943, Macfarland could be proud of his achievements
and particularly of the Dogwood network. Starting from scratch, he had within a few months made numerous contacts in Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Greece, and Austria. The results, including the securing of an address book listing all major German industrial concerns, had been praised by superiors. Interviews with refugees were producing a great deal of useful information, couriers connected Istanbul with the Reich and occupied countries, and OSS caïques sailed the Aegean. Good working relations existed with the British, Turkish, Zionist, Polish, Czech, and Yugoslav intelligence agencies.
But even this was not all that OSS-Istanbul and Dogwood had achieved. They were now working on nothing less than fomenting a coup in Germany, a revolt in Austria, and the shift of Hungary from the Axis to the Allied side.
Following devastating defeats in Stalingrad and North Africa, the hitherto expanding German empire had begun to shrink. It was beset on too many fronts by enemies with superior resources and manpower. Those not blinded by fanaticism could see by early 1943 that Berlin’s fate was sealed. The only questions were how long it would take: How many lives would be needlessly sacrificed; and how much of Germany would be wrecked before the end came?
Helmuth von Moltke, a staff officer and member of Germany’s most famous military family, knew that his country’s defeat was inevitable. As head of a small group of idealists with links to some higher-ranking officers and anti-Nazi politicians, von Moltke came to Istanbul in April 1943 to meet the British and Americans. He was helped by two men there: Paul Leverkuehn, the local Abwehr commander, who had close personal links with members of the anti-Hitler opposition, and Professor Alexander Rustow (code-named “Magnolia”), a German refugee who was liaison between the OSS and the German underground.
Rustow himself had ample evidence of Germany’s changing fortunes. When his own father died, a high-ranking German officer had written Rustow a condolence letter–opened and passed by German censorship–commenting that it was fortunate the old general had not lived to see the army’s current catastrophes. Rustow was struck by the decline of Hitler’s prestige, the poor state of German morale, and the openness with which criticism was now expressed by military commanders.
Nevertheless, Rustow warned his American friends not to expect the Nazi regime’s quick collapse. A good many more Allied victories were needed to destroy the idea of Germany’s invincibility. Bombings might damage the country physically or psychologically, but only an Anglo-American invasion of western Europe would force Hitler to fall from power. And there was another factor to consider: fear of Soviet imperialism united most Germans, whether Nazis or anti-Nazis. They worried that Moscow would wreak a terrible revenge on Germany and impose Stalin’s system on it. The best hope for a quick end to the war was that the Allies could persuade Germans an occupation was inevitable but Soviet rule was avoidable. This was the assessment behind von Moltke’s mission. To save Germany from complete annihilation, his group sought to overthrow Hitler and create a democratic anti-Nazi government when the British and Americans landed. It would welcome their occupation but resist a Soviet one.
While the German opposition’s attitude toward Stalin’s regime was understandable, it posed a tremendous problem for the United States and Britain. As in the case of Hungary, any Anglo-American initiative which could be interpreted as making a deal against their Soviet ally might split the Allies and severely undermine the war effort.
Nevertheless, Schwarz was excited by this opportunity to work with the German opposition toward overthrowing Hitler. “The magnitude of the promise held out by the proposed collaboration can hardly be overstated,” he wrote. “No limited intelligence effort…can offer even a remotely comparable chance of ending the war in the West at one stroke and save perhaps many hundred thousand lives of Allied soldiers and civilians….We are positive that [von Moltke] and his associates…are absolutely reliable and sincere German patriots and that their combined resources…are such that their assistance would make the success of an Allied invasion of western Europe a foregone conclusion.”
Von Moltke asked for a secret meeting with an important American official to discuss these ideas. Macfarland endorsed the initiative, cabling OSS headquarters: “Our Nazi penetration group is getting in touch with top-notch Axis economic and military officials and former diplomats; some are renowned. Proceding very well under the close surveillance of my assistant [Coleman].” Rustow’s assessment was shrewder. The British and Americans were not going to bargain with German officials
or risk a split with the Soviets. “Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin have decided to demand Germany’s unconditional surrender,” he told von Moltke. “Do you think you are going to change their minds?”
The resistance also contacted von Papen himself. It was widely rumored in Istanbul that he was in despair and considered the war lost. In an interview, he told the pro-Ally Jewish editor of an Egyptian newspaper: “The war in its present stage can go on for years and can bring nothing but a total ruin of the world and civilization. This is neither in German nor Allied interests. Only the Bolsheviks would derive some profit from it. It is therefore essential to finish the war by a reasonable peace. The occupied territories ought to be returned to the countries they belonged to.” Talking to Turkey’s foreign minister, von Papen claimed that Germany could hold back an Allied invasion in the west and the Soviets in the east long enough for him to replace Hitler and make peace.
But when Leverkuehn asked von Papen to allow a resistance man to be stationed as a diplomat in Istanbul with the secret task of negotiating with the Allies, the ambassador refused lest Berlin discover the plot. While others were risking their lives in Germany to overthrow Hitler’s regime, von Papen would make no commitment to the resistance despite–or because of–his personal ambition to rule Germany.
When von Moltke returned to Istanbul in November, he was disappointed to discover that the U.S. government would only let him explain his plan to its military attaché in Turkey. Even then, Washington and London did not respond. They were unsure what forces von Moltke actually represented. Moreover, if the German army was encouraged to topple the regime, hold the Russian front, and surrender its country and arms to the British and Americans, Moscow would feel betrayed and continue to advance even against its former allies. As Rustow predicted, Roosevelt and Churchill were unwilling to dilute their unconditional-surrender demand. The heroic resisters were caught in a trap.
Trying to break the logjam, Leverkuehn himself wrote Donovan a personal appeal on German embassy stationery. If the Allies were willing to negotiate with a new government formed after an anti-Hitler coup, Leverkuehn suggested, officers would sabotage German counterattacks on an Allied landing in France. Donovan forwarded this note to Roosevelt with his endorsement.
To strengthen his contention that a broad spectrum of Germans were ready to overthrow Hitler and surrender to the Allies, Donovan had taken the highly unusual step of launching his own diplomatic initiative without White House approval. He used Theodore Morde, one of his former staffers who was now a Reader’s Digest correspondent. Under Donovan’s sponsorship, OSS stations in Cairo and Turkey were ordered to help Morde, though his affiliation was deliberately kept vague.
OSS-Istanbul put Morde in touch with Rustow, who, in turn, contacted von Papen through a mutual friend. Rustow, the exiled democratic scholar, must have found it most unpleasant to chat with the man he hated for delivering Germany to fascism. But he was nonetheless persuasive. Von Papen agreed to meet the mysterious American who carried a Portuguese passport and claimed to be Roosevelt’s representative.
In the midst of making these arrangements, Rustow had a family problem that threatened the project. His son, Dankwart, had just received a draft notice for the German army. It was a ridiculous situation: the son of a leading anti-Nazi being told to join Hitler’s forces. Dankwart tore up the letter. A few days later, the director of the Istanbul German hospital called him to ask why he had not come for a medical exam. “It is up to the doctor to say whether you are fit and I am the doctor. I will make a deal. If you report to me, I will reject you.”
Dankwart asked his father what to do. “I don’t want to elaborate,” said Professor Rustow, “but it is a good idea.” While meeting with von Moltke and von Papen, Rustow did not need any attention focused on his family; he worried that his son’s loss of citizenship would damage his own credibility in trying to save the country. Dankwart went for the physical examination, and the doctor kept his promise.
On October 5, 1943, Rustow accompanied Morde to the German embassy and left him with von Papen. The ambassador had two armed guards ready should the appointment prove to be another assassination attempt. Morde opened the meeting by promising secrecy and pledging that he was neither an intelligence agent nor a trickster. The United States, he continued, wanted the war to end quickly and its peace terms were contained on a single sheet of paper that had been microfilmed.
He dramatically handed von Papen a small piece of film and a magnifying glass. The document’s main point was that the United States would make peace if the Germans turned over Hitler and other leading
Nazis to the Allies for trial. Morde never quite said he represented Roosevelt but certainly strove to leave this impression. Von Papen should think over this proposal, Morde said, and his response would be given to the White House.
Appealing to von Papen’s boundless egoism, Morde said: “You are the one man who can form a new Germany. You are respected, not only in your own country but throughout the world, as one who has Germany’s interests foremost in your heart.” This was, Morde later dryly noted, what the ambassador wanted to hear. Von Papen accepted the compliment, commenting that if he had stayed in power as chancellor there never would have been any war. Von Papen accompanied Morde to the anteroom to rejoin Rustow. The two Germans stiffly bowed to each other; Morde and Rustow left.
A second meeting was held the next day at an intermediary’s house on the resort island of Prinkipo. Von Papen went on a family outing on his yacht; then he left his wife and children for a ninety-minute discussion of “business matters” at a friend’s house. Inside, Morde was waiting.
The moment had come, von Papen had decided, to take his rightful place as Germany’s leader. He asked Morde to convey his ideas only to the president. The ambassador then presented his personal peace terms. Germany should be economic leader of a federated Europe after the war, and Austria must remain part of Germany. Von Papen’s pompous self-image had been reinforced; he thought Roosevelt was endorsing him as Germany’s new leader.
Most of the German people were not really behind the Nazis, von Papen continued, and would welcome a new government as long they believed it possible to avoid harsh terms, Communism, and the partition of Germany. Overthrowing Hitler would be difficult but possible if the Americans gave him an attractive enough incentive to offer his friends. Von Papen added that he would be honored to be in charge of the new government and that Germans admired and trusted him as their leader. He looked forward to hearing Roosevelt’s response. The whole idea, of course, was ridiculous. Von Papen represented no one but himself and was deeply distrusted by anti-Nazis.
Three weeks later, Morde arrived in Washington and came to see presidential adviser Robert Sherwood. Sherwood, who already thought
Morde rather unreliable, was horrified. The White House, he ascertained, knew nothing of this whole harebrained project–although Morde did not mention his OSS connection–and should certainly have nothing to do with it. Morde had acted in an incredibly irresponsible manner, Sherwood concluded, and should be denied a passport so that he could not leave the country again.
Having been rejected at the White House, Morde turned to Donovan, who forwarded his report to Roosevelt with an enthusiastic letter of support. “It contains an idea that your skill and imagination could develop. I don’t pretend to suggest what price should be paid by our government for the hoped-for result. If the plan went through, and if the culprits were delivered and fittingly tried and executed, and if unconditional surrender resulted, it would strengthen your position morally at the peace table.”
These were quite a few “ifs.” Since Roosevelt would not even permit secret negotiations with the resistance through von Moltke, he certainly was not going to countenance them with a man like von Papen. Indeed, the very contact with someone seen as a slippery, pro-Nazi character hurt rather than strengthened Donovan’s overall case. Washington never replied to von Papen at all. Von Moltke was arrested by the Gestapo in February 1944, as he was preparing a return trip to Istanbul, and was later executed. If the von Moltke episode was a tragedy, the contacts with von Papen were something of a farce.
The Nazis had at least some notion about these activities and, as Roosevelt feared, tried to exploit them. Using a captured Soviet spy’s transmitter, Berlin fed Stalin false reports that the British and Americans were pursuing anti-Soviet negotiations with the Nazis. The Soviet media ran stories on von Papen’s peace feelers and a fabricated one on a secret meeting in Spain between the British and von Ribbentrop. It was precisely fear about this kind of German disinformation and Soviet mistrust that had inhibited London and Washington from more serious contacts with the German underground. The United States and Britain did live up to their bargain with Moscow, but Stalin never got over his suspicion that they planned to betray him.
The Dogwood operation had followed Donovan’s orders to build bridges to the German opposition. As Allied armies moved north through Italy and Soviet forces advanced westward, the OSS also worked
behind the scenes to subvert Germany’s empire. Now was the time for an all-out campaign to persuade Berlin’s allies and satellites to leave the Axis. OSS-Istanbul first turned to anti-Nazi Austrians and Hungarians, who would become the source for much of its intelligence.
Despite some later attempts to revise history, many Austrians were as enthusiastic as most Germans toward the Nazi regime. Hitler himself was an Austrian and his compatriots accounted for many of the German agents in the Balkans and some of the most fanatical SS troops. Still, other Austrians did not approve of either their country’s absorption in the Reich or Hitler’s policies. A contemporary Istanbul joke told of three German soldiers ordering coffee in a Greek café. The waiter sarcastically told the chef, “Three cups of poison!” One of the soldiers, who understood Greek, shouted, “Only two, please! I’m Austrian.” As defeat appeared inevitable, Austrians who had previously identified themselves as Germans–and even some Germans who were born in Germany began to claim they were Austrian citizens unwillingly forced into Hitler’s Reich. One anti-Nazi Austrian in Istanbul joked, “It’s amazing how big our country is becoming!”
Beginning in the fall of 1943, OSS-Istanbul began working with a group of brave but naive resisters calling itself the Austrian Committee of Liberation and known at the OSS as the Cassia ring. “Cassia” was Franz Josef Messner, managing director of the Semperit Company’s Vienna operations. Messner’s job made him ideally situated to supply industrial and bombing intelligence. Semperit was one of the Reich’s biggest corporations, with tens of thousands of workers and factories in a half-dozen countries. The Vienna complex specialized in processing rubber, one of the Allies’ main targets.
Ironically, Messner’s first clandestine activity had been on Germany’s behalf. At the war’s outset, he set up a contraband rubber trade between Brazil and Germany. Returning from South America in 1940, Messner was captured by the French and sentenced to death. Before execution could be carried out, however, France surrendered to the Germans and Messner was freed.
Messner’s partners in his new, pro-Allied endeavor included Semperit’s Istanbul representative, along with a priest and several Viennese businessmen. Although the OSS thought the group much larger, it apparently included only about twenty people. Its activities up to then
had been largely limited to distributing leaflets, but its members, despite the constant threat of torture and death, wanted to do more.
As Macfarland and Coleman–with frequent advice from Donovan–developed links with his group, Messner himself came to Istanbul. Worried about being followed by the Germans, he took a clever but simple precaution. Messner visited a seemingly apolitical German teacher at Istanbul’s technical school who was actually one of Schwarz’s chief subagents. Schwarz came to the building well before Messner arrived, and the two men met in their mutual friend’s office.
On February 3, 1944, Messner signed an agreement to cooperate with the OSS “toward the defeat of Nazi Germany and the liberation of Austria.” The Austrians would supply intelligence, prepare for military action, and distribute propaganda. The OSS supplied ciphers, broadcasting instructions, and $6000 in German currency. A Dogwood courier would smuggle a radio set to Budapest for Messner to pick up and take back to Vienna.
American advisers would be parachuted into Austria to help launch armed resistance. The OSS even planned the details of their arrival with the Austrian underground. On a previously designated moonless night, agents and arms would be dropped into a remote area of the country. On hearing a plane’s motors, the resistance reception team would mark the landing site by arranging four white signal beams in a square with a fifth in the center and a red light outside to indicate wind direction. Two kilometers to the east, a flashlight would be switched on at two-second intervals to guide the plane. Macfarland asked Washington to recruit a team of OSS men to go into Austria to work with the resistance.
Parallel plans were under way in Hungary, where Donovan and Macfarland hoped to stage their most successful operation. The Budapest government had already secretly surrendered to the Allies at a clandestine meeting in Istanbul and pronounced itself ready to oppose the Germans. The prime minister was in secret contact with the OSS, intelligence chief General Istvan Ujszaszy was a British agent, and the interior minister was protecting trade union and democratic opposition leaders from arrest. The Hungarians did not fire at overflying Allied planes, and Chief of Staff General Sombathay was lobbying Hitler to permit Hungary’s troops to withdraw from the Russian front for home defense.
If the OSS was able to split Hungary away from the Axis, the Germans would have to divert their attention and troops away from the coming Normandy landing. But the OSS’s activities had gone beyond the scope of merely misinforming the enemy. Its ambition was to make the covert actions in Hungary and Austria the first step in the internal collapse of Hitler’s Reich. Dogwood and OSS-Istanbul now turned their attention to this high-stakes, dangerous endeavor.