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Armies of Spies

by Joseph Gollomb
1939, MacMillan 213 pages
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Written on the eve of World War II, Joseph Gollomb’s Armies of Spies correctly anticipated the enormous scope and effectively successful activities of the Fifth Columnists in nations slated for Nazi invasion. Composed of ideological supporters of the fascist philosophy and directed by the German intelligence agencies, these Fifth Column movements were instrumental in realizing Nazi blueprints for military conquest during the war, as well as postwar continuation and enlargement of those plans. Much of the book consists of Gollomb’s analysis of the Third Reich’s various programs of subversion around the world. The foundation of his work is his analysis of the transformational nature of espionage under the Nazis. Rather than simple clandestine operatives concerned with purloining information and communicating it to their controlling agencies, the “spy” operating on behalf of the Third Reich became a member of a “combatant secret service.”

Espionage and covert operations were the essence and core of the Third Reich from its inception. Indeed, Hitler got his start in political affairs as a spy and undercover operative for the Reichswehr—the German army between the World Wars. On page 30, Gollomb describes Hitler’s work as a spook infiltrating German revolutionaries and identifying them for subsequent retribution.

“ . . . His biographer, [Konrad] Heiden, describes it more fully. ‘He belonged to the so-called Intelligence Service, which is a discreet expression for espionage. At that time, it was primarily a matter of political intelligence, by which must be understood not politics in the wide sense of the word, but of ferreting out former partisans who were to be shot.’”

The Nazi Party itself began as a Reichswehr intelligence front. Also on page 30, Gollomb writes:

“In the course of his assignment, Hitler covered a meeting of a small group who called themselves the German Workers Party. Here he heard Gottfried Feder expound a program to which Hitler instantly, wholeheartedly subscribed. He became Number Seven on the membership roll of the party. Small as the group was, it became the nucleus of the first cell to embody Hitler’s vast project. . . .”

Expanding on this operational base, Hitler conceived of infiltration, agitation and covert operations as a touchstone of his methodology of conquest. On page 28, Gollomb describes Hitler’s inspiration:

“ . . . Hitler remembered how his hero, Frederick the Great, boasted that for every cook in his armies he had a hundred spies. Bismarck, another of Hitler’s heroes, prepared Prussia’s invasion of France by sending ahead of his armies not a hundred spies but literally an army of them, thirty thousand pairs of eyes and ears, men and women playing roles as peddlers and chambermaids, salesmen and prostitutes, shop clerks and secretaries, lawyers and clergy, frock-coated gentlemen and smartly gowned women to ply their charms—men to woo women in all walks of life, women to seduce men. Thirty thousand spies overran France in advance of the military and so undermined it that when the troops of Prussia marched into the country it collapsed like a termite-ridden structure. . . .”

Realizing this project, Hitler transformed his intelligence agencies into “combatant secret services”—armies of spies. On page 34, Gollomb describes this metamorphosis.

“ . . . Today, the function of the spy is vastly enlarged. He works for destruction in time of peace, even though there is no declaration of war between his country and his victim. So much has his function changed that the term for modern espionage has also changed. It is now ‘combatant secret service.’ How much has Hitler to do with this change? Consider some figures. In 1932, the year before he took over Germany officially, there were seven espionage trials in France. In 1937, four years after he took power, the number of espionage trials in France multiplied more than twentyfold, to one hundred and forty-eight. In the forty years between the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War and 1920, fewer than nineteen hundred spies were caught in all the major countries of the world put together, and this includes the World War. In the ensuing eighteen years the number of spies caught in the same countries was twenty-two times as many as in the forty years preceeding. . . . . By 1917-1918, the budget for German espionage had risen to $6,000,000 a month, but that was in time of war. What Germany is spending today [1938] can be gathered only from indications, but figures, laboriously garnered by those who cannot afford to be careless with them, point to an expenditure by Germany of $8,640,000 a month for ‘combatant secret service’ in seven countries only; and this at a time when Germany is officially ‘at peace.’. . .”

This thorough application of infiltration, covert action and subversion had dramatic results. (Falange by Alan Chase is an extensive account of the use of Hitler’s methodology in Spain and the Spanish-speaking world. In France, the devastating effects of the Fifth Column were recorded by Pierre Cot in Triumph of Treason. Both Under Cover by John Roy Carlson and Sayers and Kahn’s Sabotage document the activities of the Fifth Column in the United States.) On page 36, Gollomb sets forth the organizational methodology of Nazi covert operations.

“ . . . And its achievements have been correspondingly impressive. It is history, for instance, that the war in Spain did not just happen to break out, nor has it been primarily a Spanish affair. For years it had been prepared by German sapper-spies or, as the French call them, saboteurs. Then there were Austria and Czechoslovakia.”

“Corresponding to the company unit, say in infantry, saboteur-spies work in groupings which the French have named after the word for nest, nid. The average nid consists—again to use other terms the French have developed—of about one hundred moutons, eighty dupeurs, and twenty baladeurs, all working under an agent fixe. Moutons specialize in industrial sabotage. Dupeurs confine themselves to military and semimilitary information and work. Baladeurs, or ‘strollers,’ are free lances, who go wherever their superior equipment prompts them to go. Unknown to any of the nid are trafiquants, spies sent from Berlin to watch their own spies, to see that there is efficiency and no graft or double agent trafficking with the enemy.”

Further analyzing operational categories of Nazi covert operatives, Gollomb writes on pages 36 and 37:

“Saboteur-spies are of two categories, ‘termites’ and ‘torpedoes,’ with a third category exclusively German, known officially as ‘Harbor Service.’ ‘Termites’ confine themselves to ‘psychological work.’ They encourage disaffected individuals and groups, organizations and inflammable minorities. They spread rumors that gnaw at a nation’s credit structure, whispering campaigns against banks and on stock exchanges. They circulate stories and on stock exchanges. They circulate stories and analyses that breed worry. They distribute printed matter of all kinds and photographs that have been either specially staged or bear captions that do the work of disseminating despair. They subsidize newspapers with advertisements, copy, or outright cash. They try to do the same with radio and newsreels. . . .”

Gollomb describes the “torpedoes,” and how they follow the “termites.” On page 37, we read:

“ . . . From two to eighteen months after ‘termites’ begin their work, the ‘torpedoes’ move in. As their name would indicate, the character of their work is not ‘psychological’ but physical. They concentrate on key industries, lines of communication and transport, hydroelectric systems, power-distribution lines, railroad terminals and centers, bridges, canals, aviation fields, airplane factories, ammunition works and arsenals, mines, and stored supplies of raw material and manufactured goods. . . .”

No strangers to biological warfare, Hitler’s “torpedoes” employed microorganisms as weapons of war. Gollomb discusses this on pages 37 and 38:

“Numerically small but a disproportionately effective section of the torpedo army is the bacteriological corps. This devotes its attention to grain-growing belts, stock-raising centers, water-supply systems, and concentrations of infantry. An unimpressive-looking group of men, less than a dozen in number, carrying valises and pretending to be this or that, may be carrying enough test tubes filled with cultures to spread plan blights, animal plagues, and material to pollute drinking water to an extent that would affect great areas. They also distribute disease-bearing vermin in barracks. . . .”

Assassination is another of the functions of the “torpedoes,” as described by Gollomb on page 38:

“ . . . Another numerically small but highly important division of the torpedo army has charge of engineering those ‘incidents’ that launch wars, declared or undeclared. The same dynamic section also attends to assassinations of key figures as important as former Chancellor Austria Dr. Engelbert Dollfuss, and Premier Jon Duca of Rumania. . . .”

The “Harbor Service” comprises the third major category of Nazi saboteur-spies. On pages 38 and 39, we read:

“ ‘Harbor Service,’ to which I referred as the third category of spies used by Germany in addition to ‘termites’ and ‘torpedoes,’ was at first confined really to harbors like New York, London, Petrograd, Marseilles, and Rio de Janeiro. Then with thorough German consistency the name was retained for the same kind of work in such land-locked cities as Madrid, Paris, Vienna, Prague, and other capitals of the world. ‘Harbor Service’ confined itself to work on individuals who came and went on German ships, then later by air and other modes of transport. . . . .”

A primary function of the “Harbor Service” was the identification and neutralization of dissident German nationals in foreign countries.

Gollomb’s text holds important lessons for the contemporary observer. Long before fascism becomes evident to the casual observer, its clandestine destruction of democratic institutions is already hard at work through covert action. This insidious process must be recognized to be effectively resisted. Dismissing fascist subversion as “conspiracy theory” only furthers the process of disintegration.