Operation Jungle The Failed British secret service mission in the Baltic States 1945-1956

The WW2 alliance between Great Britain, US and the Soviet Union was an unusual alliance based rather on circumstances and practical need rather than true friendship and cooperation. Soon after the end of the war, the western leaders found out that they have encountered a new much dangerous rival the Soviet Union. A gigantic nation, with large army that had seized control over all Eastern Europe, getting its grip on China and East Asia and entering the Middle East. The danger to western world from Stalin was far more greater than Hitler can ever possess.  So it did not took long for British secret service SIS (MI6) and American CIA to devise plans to spy on Soviet Union and attempt to sabotage it from the inside. And the occupied Baltic States was the perfect spot for such operations. And so begun an infamous and forgotten British spy affair in the Baltic states.

Intelligence across the Baltic sea was reconnected at 1943. It was difficult and controversial at the start, for Soviet Union was still officially the British ally and most of the Baltic agents were anti-communists. Many thought that to stop another Soviet Occupation was to intensify the cooperation with Germans a much shared thought that time. Others hoped that Britain will cancel its alliance with the Soviets and come to help the Baltic states. Already at the start the British failed the Baltic hopes. Estonian resistance member Evald Aruvald recalled that they had passed to British details of their strength and positions at the front, and they in turn passed this information to the Soviets. It was a great damage to the Estonian fight against the Soviets that they regarded as their main enemy.

The British involvement in the Baltic resistance movement started with Alexander “Sandy” McKibbin, born in per-revolutionary Russia and the timber merchant in pre-war Estonia and also a SIS spy. During the war he worked in SIS station at Stockholm. His main job was to spy on Nazis in the Baltic states, that had occupied them on 1941 and was fighting losing defensive battle against the advancing Soviet forces. The Lithuanian underground fighters who were hoping to restore the national independence contacted the McKibbin in Sweden who signed him up. Soviets were equal enemies to Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians just as the Nazis. Soviet Union had first occupied the Baltic states at 1940, then Germany at 1941 and again Soviets at 1944 entered the Baltic states. Patriots and nationalists had no other choice to fight a three-way war.

For the British the Baltic independence was not a basic necessity to fight for. But, they were interested on what is happening in the occupied Baltic states to know if the Soviets are planning a further Push westwards. On 15 October  1945. the SIS sent a boat from Sweden to Latvia with four agents on reconnaissance mission. Unfortunately the boat capsized and the agents were captured and tortured.  Their ciphers and radio transmitters fell into hands of Jānis Lukašēvičs a Latvian KGB officer. Instead of just waiting for more spies to come and hunt them was too risky. Instead the KGB devised a plan to use the captured information and equipment to lure more British spies into the trap. The plan was called Lursen – S, although it is usually called the “Red Web” from the British author Tom Bower book title released in 1989 as the first detailed publication about these dark events. The British journalist Edward Lucas has made further studies in this matter in his book “Deception” on 2012.

In March 1946. Lukaševičs forced a Latvian Augusts Bergmanis who had operated a radio for the British during the war to start sending messages again, claiming that the agents have given their codes and radios before  capture.  The British responded and sent two agents in 1946 to find out what happened to previous operation. But their transmitter was broken and SIS instructed them to contact with existing – KGB controlled operator. Now KGB controlled the entire British secret network. Instead of just arresting them Lukaševičs ordered to wait and keep contacts with the agents. The SIS instructed their agents who now were watched by the KGB to meet other British agents on the ground. That lead to more clues. Two stranded British agents in Latvia were arrested, a Latvian Fēliks Rumnieks was sent to make contacts with the KGB and work as the double agent and was arrested and confessed everything.

In Lithuania the KGB devised a similar sinister scheme. An American born Lithuanian Juozas Albinas Markulis was a resistance organization leader, in fact a traitor since 1944. He summoned a meeting of all the partisan leaders of Lithuania in 1947. Since Markulis had contacts with the British the majority of leaders went straight into KGB trap. In Latvia Lukaševičs also arranged a meeting in Riga between the Latvian resistance senior leaders and the representatives of “Latvian government in exile” and “British secret agent”. The unsuspecting man met the “agent” informed him about every detail of their operations and were arrested and never seen again.

In 1948 18 June the US president Harry Truman tasked the newly created CIA with propaganda, economic warfare, preventive direct action, sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and subversion against the hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance movements, guerrillas and refugee liberation groups and support the indigenous anti-communist elements in the threatened countries in the world. That was a kick-start for American and later British secret war against the Soviet Union. After the first Soviet Nuclear Bomb tests, the War in Korea sparked great interests in Soviet Affairs. But the Western diplomats were kept in their embassies and barred from any inside information and outside world had little knowledge about what is happening behind Iron Curtain. So it was SIS and CIA tasks to do it.

The Baltic states were ideal spot for spying. The population was mainly anti-communist, the partisan movements in the forest supposedly numbered many tens of thousands. The region was accessible by boat and plane it was a forward bastion for Soviet expansion to the West, if an attack on the West would be imminent then the signs in the Baltic states would be unmistakeable.The human resources were vast, as Germany, Britain and US was filled with Baltic emigre’s a highly motivated ant-communist fighters. So the SIS secret “Operation Jungle” and CIA “Operation Tilestone” was born.

CIA placed a training camp in Kaufbeuren Germany for Baltic recruits, the SIS made a training school at 110 Old Church St, Chelsea. One of the leaders was colonel Alfons Rebane an ex Estonian Waffen SS legion officer. The trainees were taught to land from small boats, parachuting, unarmed combat and survival techniques and radio operation. However, the idea that these agents could find useful information about the Soviet forces and perform combat operations inside Soviet Union was dubious and far-fetched. Despite that British and American spymasters were pushing for it not considering the fact that they had little knowledge about the real strength of the Baltic resistance and the fact that it could be a trap. Also nobody suspected that the head of the SIS section number 9, in charge of all British anti-Soviet operations was a Soviet spy. In 1947. he moved to US where he was liaison  officer between SIS and CIA.

So KGB knew everything from the start. KGB officer Lukaševičs organized a bogus escape of a seasoned agent called Vidvuds Šveics in 1948. He contacted SIS and claimed himself as the representative of the Latvian resistance. SIS believed him. They placed him as the head of six-strong group (two from each three countries) trained by SIS. They even gave him a list of local sympathizers the ones that KGB was eager to catch. When his team landed in Lithuanian beach, Šveics separated from others and alerted the border guards, who killed both Estonians and one of the Latvians. The others fled. Šveics sent a message to SIS about his miraculous escape. By the year all the all the operation network was under the Soviet control, but the British spymasters still believed its safe and intact. Next landing in 1949, in Latvia was successful, but agents were arrested by KGB agents posing as resistance fighters.

Meanwhile in US the Americans had almost zero knowledge about the Soviet Union, its geography and military strength. Incoming intelligence was mostly trivial, spotty, garbled and out of date. The Western powers believed that Soviets can reach the English channel in few weeks and drop nuclear weapons on US already in 1949. So the parachuted thousands o emigre’s from the Baltic Sea to Black Sea. They even recruited former Nazi officers and war criminals who had great experience dealing with the Soviets.

CIA recruited Lithuanian resistance leader Lukša, who made cooperation with resistance leaders at home. However the KGB had Lithuanian resistance under control. When both SIS and CIA started to notice leak in their operation they blamed each other. But it was too late as the Baltic resistance in 1949, was mostly crushed. The mass deportations, forced collectivization had destroyed the partisan food supplies. Those who still resisted were placed under extreme torture.

However the SIS was still sending agents to Latvia. Because of the traitor, they were arrested, another Estonian who was supposed to contact them swallowed a cyanide capsule before capture. Another SIS group in 1952 was caught because of badly forged passports.  An Estonian agent Mart Mannik landed in Latvia and made it to Estonia, where local KGB officers lured him in trap a Tallinn suburbs and captured him.

Similar American and British operations ended same way in Romania, Ukraine and Albania and first alarms were raised over the Baltic mission that officially was considerate successful. However the British spy chiefs kept everything in secret and denied any problems. CIA director Walter Bedell Smith ordered to make a report on the CIA Baltic mission and the report was alarmingly negative. However, the Americans believed even if the missions are unsuccessful they cause a lot of stir and headaches for the Soviet leaders. So they send another group to Latvia in 1952 two were caught, one committed  suicide the other escaped. He had a chance of alarming the CIA about the defeat of the partisans and KGB full control, he  had radio equipment to do that. Instead he found his old girlfriend and spent all the money on her and when he was captured the Soviets determined that he did not transmit any substantial intelligence.

KGB mastermind Lukaševičs sent another agent to the west Jānis Ērglis, who had long combat experience against the partisans, now he was impersonating one. SIS again trusted him, trained him and sent him back to Latvia with four agents. They never returned to London. KGB even scammed one million rubles from SIS as support money to partisans. But, the KGB made a mistake when London requested a sample from Tobol river near the reactor where Soviets produced plutonium for their nukes. The very idea that forest partisans could cross entire Soviet Union to highly guarded installation was at least bizarre.However the KGB reacted equally incompetently. The KGB technicians produced “river water” of such lethal radioactivity that it could only been produced inside the core of the reactor. Once it was analyzed in London it was finally clear that something was seriously wrong.

CIA commissioned a independent investigation and closed its operation on 1954. British “Operation Jungle” lasted until 1956. The last message read: “We can no longer help you. Will be sending no further physical or material help. All safe houses are blown … This is our last message until better times. We will listen to you until 30 June. Thereafter God help you.” By that time the partisan movement was numbered to only few thousand demoralized beaten man who had lost hope for Third World War the western assistance and hopes for liberation. When Western world just stood by when Soviet tanks crushed Hungarian democratic revolution the trust and hope for the west was all gone.

Only few British and American agents survived the Soviet torture and imprisonment. Some spent rest of their life’s in occupied Baltic states in poor conditions, few man were released in exchange. Soviets made propaganda movies about captured western agents helping the nationalist bandits. In western world the failure was kept in secrecy for many years until last three decades after Soviet collapse has revealed, the great cost of Western intelligence service incompetence. Many men lost their life’s in Russia, Ukraine, Baltic States, Romania, Albania and China because of flawed belief that sending an armed commandos to help  national resistance could help to topple the Soviet Union. In most cases these agents fell for fake resistance members and Soviets had double agents even in their main command ranks at home. It should not be overestimated that the Operation Jungle was done for Baltic freedom, the Baltic resistance was mainly used as a tool for British an American spy games . These failed spy games also cost many life’s of Baltic freedom fighters who naively trusted the westerners who were naive themselves.

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