A Remarkable Intelligence Story
December 1941 a personable young man named
Alexander Demyanov, descendant of a great
noble family, skied into the German lines
south-west of Moscow and announced that he
represented a pro-Hitler resistance group
committed to restoring the tsars.
The Abwehr embraced him, and a few months later parachuted him back into Russia, codenamed Agent Max. Demyanov soon reported that he had become a wireless operator at Red Army headquarters and, for more than two years thereafter, passed valuable information to Berlin.
Colonel Reinhard Gehlen, chief of German intelligence on the eastern front, cherished Max as his star source. Meanwhile, the spy's dispatches found another fascinated audience - in Britain. Hugh Trevor-Roper, spent the war monitoring the Abwehr for MI6. From 1942 onwards he knew more about Hitler's secret services than anybody in Germany, because he was privy to the identities of all of the double agents controlled by the Twenty Committee (XX - 'double-cross') in London.
Courtesy of Bletchley Park, Trevor-Roper pored over Agent Max's early dispatches - and warned the Soviets they had a huge security leak. When they ignored the tip-off, Trevor-Roper decided that Max must be a double, controlled by Stalin's NKVD. In November 1942 came Stalingrad and Operation Uranus, the Soviets' devastatingly successful double-envelopment of the German 6th Army. Around the same time further north, the Red Army also launched another big offensive, Operation Mars - which proved a bloodstained failure.
This caused the British to conclude that Agent Max could not conceivably be working for Moscow - because he had warned the Germans that Mars was coming, enabling them to shift reinforcements northwards to meet it. Nobody, reasoned these rational men serving a western democracy, could have sacrificed 77,000 Soviet lives to promote a deception. But Stalin did just that. The evidence now seems incontrovertible: that Agent Max was indeed the NKVD's Agent Heine; and that, on the Soviet warlord's personal authority, the Germans were told of Operation Mars to distract them from Uranus. A remarkable intelligence story from WWII.