He was a German-born spy who served in the trenches during the Great War. Like many others who survived this hell on earth, he admired Communist efforts in Russia to change the world’s ideologies, and joined the Communist Party, for which he worked as an agent for the Comintern in Shanghai. His cover job was as editor at a German news agency.
In 1933 at the age of thirty-eight he was transferred to Tokyo with a cover as correspondent for the great newspaper Frankfurter Zeitung. It was here that Richard Sorge organised the first important spy ring in Japanese history, using Japanese collaborators who collected, by one means or other, highly secret information from Japanese Cabinet sources.
Sorge was I suppose one of the first successful double agents; to prevent suspicion falling on him he pretended to be a loyal Nazi working as an agent for the German embassy, when he was in fact a paid Russian spy working for Russia, Japan’s hereditary enemy.
It was Sorge who provided Moscow with advance information concerning the Anti-Comintern Pact in 1936. His material was so accurate he was only two days out in his prediction of Hitler’s timing in the invasion of Russia in June 1941. As it turned out the information was useless as Stalin typically took not notice, believing Russia invasion-proof.
However, after the German invasion (Operation Barbarossa) had begun, it was essential that the Russians knew if Japan had her own plans to invade Russia with her ally Germany, which would involve Russia in a two-front war. Stalin also needed to know what were the intentions of the United States.
Sorge, using his inexhaustible sources, was able to report that there would be no Japanese attack on the Soviet Union. Naturally he could not be working in two different zones at once, so he was unable to report on the United States, which did in fact enter the War in December 1941 after Pearl Harbor.
Stalin was able to move divisions from Siberia to defend Moscow, thanks to Sorge’s spying activities, but sadly for him in October 1941 Sorge was caught, along with one of his Japanese collaborators, and these two languished in military gaols until November, 1944, when both were hanged. Richard Sorge was forty-nine years old.