Friday, September 30, 2016

Fullbore Friday

I like well hidden history, especially those with good shoes.

There are many stories out there that we are only now hearing about ... and this is one. From
In May 1919, with World War I recently over but with the Russian Revolution turning into a full-scale "Red Terror," the head of MI6, Sir Mansfield Cumming, known as "C," had a desperate problem.

A British agent - Paul Dukes - had infiltrated spies into the Bolshevik government and made copies of top secret documents, but he was cut off in Petrograd (present-day St Petersburg).

Dukes, a 30-year-old concert pianist from Bridgwater, Somerset, was a master of disguise, hence his admiring soubriquets such as "The New Scarlet Pimpernel" and "The Man with A Hundred Faces."

The only MI6 agent ever to be knighted for his services in the field, Dukes was, as Ferguson writes: "The sort of spy we all wanted to be."

The Government in London desperately needed a personal briefing from him about the situation in Russia, as well as the documents in his possession. But how to get him out?

Cumming asked a 29-year-old naval lieutenant, Augustus "Gus" Agar, to undertake a seemingly suicidal mission to rescue him.
An expert in skippering high-speed Coastal Motor Boats (CMBs), Agar was asked to come up with a plan to cross into Russian territorial waters in the Gulf of Finland and spirit Dukes out of the country, before the Russian secret police, the Cheka, were able to capture him.

The task was awesome. The borders had been sealed and a succession of couriers who had tried to cross them had been captured; six were betrayed, tortured and shot in one fortnight alone. So a high-speed boat landing at a pre-arranged rendezvous on the coastline near Petrograd was planned instead.

CMBs were 40ft long, had a crew of three, carried two Lewis machine guns and a single torpedo. They had hydroplane hulls, hence their nickname "skimmers," but were made of plywood so were almost defenceless against enemy fire.

The fastest naval vessels afloat, they were ideal for slipping past the huge array of defences in the Gulf of Finland - except for the deafening noise they made when they reached their top speed of 45mph.

Protecting the sea approach to Petrograd was the forbidding island fortress of Kronstadt and its 15 forts - nine to the north, six to the south - with enough guns to halt any enemy fleet.

Furthermore, the forts were connected by a hidden breakwater that MI6 told Agar was only three feet under the surface and which, since CMBs drew 2ft 9in of water, meant that his two vessels would have only three inches to spare at normal speed.
Although the Gulf of Finland is 250 miles long, it is only 30 miles wide, and with gunboat patrols, floating and fixed mines, searchlights, submarines and seaplanes, it seemed impassable to any but the most intrepid sailor.

Cumming explained the mission to Agar in his office in Whitehall, and ordered him to choose only unmarried men with no immediate dependents for his seven-man team; Agar himself had been orphaned at the age of 12, and although he had a sweetheart they were not then engaged.

Cumming also warned Agar that in the event of capture he could expect no help, or even official recognition, from the British Government.

His unit would be in plain clothes, although Royal Navy uniforms and caps would be donned in the event of capture, to protect them from being shot as spies.
If the story sounds interesting, click the link above for an extended summary, or you can get the details in Operation Kronstadt: The True Story of Honor, Espionage, and the Rescue of Britain's Greatest Spy The Man with a Hundred Faces by Harry Ferguson.

Wouldn't it make a great movie ... if Hollywood still made movies of this type?

Wrong heroes, I guess.

Originally posted JUL10.

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