Guenther Rumrich was born to a secretary of the imperial Austrian Consulate General in June 1911 in Chicago. At the age of 2, his dad transferred to Germany, one year later moved to Budapest, and lived with his parents and sister in Italy and in Russia. Between 1919 and 1928 Guenther was educated in Czechoslovakia and Germany. In April of 1929, Guenther applied for a US passport, at Prague, then returned to the US five months later.
In 1930 Guenther joined the United States Army and worked at the general dispensary on Whitehall Street and the Surgeons’ Office on Governors Island, New York, until he went Absent Without Leave, or AWOL, five months later. Eventually, he surrendered himself back to the military, taking a two-thirds salary pay-cut and served six months in prison. After his time served in prison he returned to duty at the same dispensary he previously worked at and a station hospital at Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn. 33 months after joining the Army he was promoted to Sergeant.
He reenlisted after being discharged on April 27, 1933 and was stationed to a hospital at Fort Clayton in the Panama Canal Zone, then Fort Missoula, Montana. On January 2, 1936 Guenther Rumrich went AWOL again, this time, having no intentions in returning to the Army. Guenther then ended up in Brooklyn, where he started working a series of low-level jobs such as a dishwasher for a restaurant, a language instructor at the Berlitz school of languages, as well as a technician with a chemical manufacturing company in Manhattan.
He met his wife in Montana and settled in an apartment in the Bronx, in 1937. One day, Rumrich came across a book written by Colonel Walter Nicolai, head of the German foreign military intelligence service during the World War I, called Geheime Macht. Impressed by the Colonel’s words of wisdom, Rumrich decided to contact Nicolai through the German daily newspaper, Voelkischer Beobachter, in attempt to offer his services to Germany. He described himself as a, “high official in the United States Army with access to important military information”.
Using methods from Nicolai’s memoir, Rumrichs’ messages were conveyed by using advertisements in the New York Times public notices sections addressed to Theodore Koener saying, “Letter received, please send reply and address to Sanders, Hamburg 1, PO 629 Germany”. He posted the advertisement on May 3, 1936 and met with a German Abwehr agent in a New York city restaurant, where he was quickly recruited by Germany to be a spy.
Information acquired In 1937, drawing from his medical knowledge and his leveraging his unfettered access to medical information, Rumrich acquired information regarding the venereal disease that persisted among the US military troops. Exposing the militaries combat readiness to Germany made the US very vulnerable. Rumrich used Army troop medical status as intelligence, and provided it to Germany. Having served in several medical units in New York City, Panama, and Montana, Guenther Rumrich had knowledge of valuable sensitive information that was crucial to the war, as well as where the information was located, and how easily he could acquire it.
Due to the lax security protocols in those years, and the lack of experience with people carrying false passports, Rumrich called the medical section at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, claiming the identity of an Army medical corps specialist needing some important statistics delivered to him at the Manhattan hotel, an unsecured location. Within days the information was sent to Europe. Accomplishing this task impressed the intelligent officials in Germany, so they assigned another task to Guenther. The next task was to obtain blank passports.
These blank passports were extremely valuable to both the Germans and the Russians and obtaining those blank passports made it possible for more spies, to cross into the U. S. borders unnoticed. Using sophisticated facilities would make the passports seem even more genuine to the unsuspecting eye. But little did Rumrich know, that this next risky operation increased his chances of getting caught. Between 1930 and 1940, traveling overseas was not common, so immigration personnel were not adequately trained to identify false passports.
Following the US detection of Guetner’s espionage, the Department of State boosted security efforts, making stealing passports almost impossible. While hiding in New York City, Rumrich identified himself as Weston, the assistant to Secretary of State. He and disguised his voice, and ordered 35 blank passports on behalf of the the supposed assistant Secretary of State, staying at McAlpin hotel, another unsecured location. Rumrich was unable to complete the passport request, because the actual official, Cordell Hull, was in DC at the time and the state department had no assistant by the name of Weston.
The clerk instead sent passport applications to the hotel under close supervision by State Department investigators. Rumrich was arrested as soon as he took possession of the package on Feb 14, 1938 Truth revealed after interrogation After Rumrich was caught, he was interrogated by an agent named Leon Turrou, 38, working in the FBI’s New York field office at the time. The interview started with a series of questions eventually leading up to Rumrich spilling the information about the network of spies he was associated with in this spy ring.
Rumrich begin telling how he started his spying career, and his methods of keeping in touch with the Abwehr officials in Europe. From that information, the FBI found leads to other spies in the United States and Canada. He also began to talk about the successes and ease with which he could obtain secret information from the military. Rumrich spoke about the instructions given to him by the Abwehr and certain methods he used to accomplish his missions.
Rumrich gave out all the names of the people he did business with such as: Karl Schleuter, Maurer, Drechel, and Lorentz leading up to a Pfeiffer, an Abwehr intelligence officer assigned to Germany at the time. He also revealed two people serving in the US Navy that he attempted to recruit as spies. One served as a department employee with access to code and cipher information and the other was a Seaman in Newport News, Virginia. He recruited an Army Private by the name of Erich Glaster, assigned to the 18th Reconnaissance Squadron.
Glaster supplied Rumrich with important Army, Air Force, and Navy codes and ciphers. Glasters information was relayed via Johanna Hoffmann, a hairdresser. Rumrich frequently went to Bars and taverns to strike up conversations with unsuspecting Sailors to pick up useful information and the latest gossip. He would later put pieces of disparate information together, which later turned out to be, used as intelligence on ship destinations and descriptions, warship movement and construction, and volumes, types, and destinations of cargos moving in and out of the port of New York City.
Rumrich also confessed he had stolen copies of valuable intelligence, such as: confidential ship-to-shore communication codes, information concerning the Navy’s Atlantic fleet movements, and contingency plans for installation of anti-aircraft weapons in the New York metro areas. Network The searching of Rumrich’s home revealed many names in his network including the names of Ignatz Greibl and Willy Lonkowski and many more. These men were the first that were introduced to Rumrich after he signed up to work for Germany.
Those two were known as “key agents” to Abwehrs U. S. Operations. In the years following his recruitment, Guether’s network expanded. Each member served in their given capaciites, to move information around in the network. After Rumrich started serving Germany he was introduced to two agents working for the Abwehr by the names of Ignatz Griebl and Willy Lonkowski. Griebl was mostly supported by his wife through his spying career and he had the reputation as the one to keep people together. During his interrogation with the FBI questions were answered cleverly, not allowing any useful information to slip out allowing him to be let go.
Willy Lonkowski used to be an aircraft mechanic during the first world war. His mission in 1927 was to steal U. S. aircraft industry secrets as well as getting details of new Infantry weapons from inside sources. Willys’ role for the spy ring was to pack information and have it ready for shipping. In another part of town Werner Georg Gudenburg and Otto Herman Voss worked together. They would find information on fireproof planes and the worlds most advanced power air cooled motor as well as other information regarding United States aircraft.
That information was sent to Germany through Lonkowski, along with the information collected by other operatives. Finally, the head of the Abwehr Bremen station by the name of Erich Pfeiffe was responsible for directing and overseeing the espionage network progress. Joanna Hoffman, was a hairdresser on one of the ocean liners traveling between Europe and New York. She was responsible for transporting letters, secrets, intelligence, money, and instructions to and from her intelligence bosses.
She not only was responsible for transporting ordinance between Europe and the United States, but also acquiring information by secretly opening and resealing envelopes in a way that concealed the letters had been tampered with. The names to those individuals were revealed after Rumrich was caught, even more after Joanna arrived back to the United states. By the time news got out to Germany, a lot of the suspects scattered, leaving only a few to be captured. Without Guenther Rumrichs statement, and willingness to cooperate, we might have not been able to win the war.
Despite the fact, that crucial information was lost to the Germans, this series of events enabled the United States to respond by increasing security measures such as enforcing immigration Act of 1924, to restrict the continuous flow of human traffic that could cause harm to the country as well as set annual quotas based on the immigrant’s country of birth (United states Policy and its impact on European Jews. ). In one of my other classes, we learned about the first jet engines being build, and that there was a “race” between a British and a German developer, to make the first Jet plane.
At the time, I always found it interesting how the first person to develop the engine was not able to successfully make the first flyable jet, but instead, another developer from Germany around the same time, developed a functional jet engine that could propel the first flyable Jet airplane. After reading these articles about spies working mainly in aircraft factories, and their attempts to steal blueprints and secret information, it makes sense now how the Germans were able to the first operational fighter jet.