Ruislip Spies

Discussion in 'Postwar' started by CL1, Apr 23, 2022.

  1. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery Patron

    Photos of the Kroger house including the house across the road which was used to spy on the spies


    When the Krogers - whose real names were Morris and Lona Cohen, and who were both American citizens - moved in as a cover for their clandestine operations they must quickly have spotted the one gap in security. The house across the way partially overlooked their front door.
    The spies in a suburban bungalow
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  2. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    I remember the breaking up of this spying group.The Portland Ring Spies.

    A deep set story of intrigue with many offshoots. Involved in the case was a "Canadian" named "Lonsdale", in fact a Soviet spy who had stolen the identity of a Canadian toddler. The toddler had died and the spy had applied successfully for a passport in the dead toddler's name. This loophole was said to be eliminated in the UK but later has appeared being used by the police in tracking certain civil dissent, much to the anger of the parents of babies who had died and their identities were stolen.

    Ii appears that the Cohens were operating a short wave transmitter from a cellar of the bungalow without being detected
     
  3. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery Patron

    Harry I spoke to a neighbour who said the cellar has been blocked up now.But you never know we these things.
    Its not far from RAF Northolt or the NATO HQ at Northwood
    It is a dead end road with an alley at the end and you can see how it would have been the perfect place to be anonymous.
     
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  4. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery Patron

    Portland spy ring

    What is the Portland spy ring?
    [​IMG]The arrest, trial and conviction in 1961 of five Soviet spies, three of whom were ‘illegals’ living in London under deep cover, marked one of the Service’s most significant post-war counter espionage successes.

    Harry Houghton was a former Royal Navy master-at-arms who in the 1950s worked as clerk to the British Naval Attaché in Warsaw. While there, Polish Intelligence recruited him as a spy, later to pass on his case to the Russians. Investigation some years later indicated that he became a spy in 1951, probably having made the first contact himself. Once recruited he was prolific in what he passed on to his controllers: between January and November 1952 alone he passed 99 secret documents including a Manual of Naval Intelligence.

    In 1953, having returned to the UK, Houghton began work in the Navy’s Underwater Detection Establishment (UDE) in Portland and picked up his spying career with the help of a work colleague, Ethel Gee, who had access to material of a higher classification. Both lived off the proceeds of spying for many years before they were discovered.

    Houghton and Gee would travel up to London at weekends together as husband and wife, often taking in a show, to meet their KGB contact and hand over naval plans and film of other material they had stolen. When this all came to light in 1960, thanks to a Polish defector, their contact was found to be one Gordon Lonsdale, ostensibly a small-scale Canadian businessman whose real name was Konon Molody, a KGB illegal operating under an adopted identity.

    [​IMG]On January 7th 1960, a sustained MI5 surveillance operation culminated in the arrest by SB officers of Houghton, Gee and Lonsdale near the Old Vic theatre in London. All three were found to be in possession of secret naval documents. Simultaneously two others, Helen and Peter Kroger, were arrested in Ruislip. The Krogers, also Russian ‘illegals’, had been living under deep cover as antiquarian booksellers, and sending the material Lonsdale gathered back to Moscow from their bungalow – the network’s communications hub.

    It is not clear just how much sensitive information had been leaked to the Russians by this group over the years. However, Lonsdale claimed that Houghton had passed 350 test pamphlets on anti-submarine equipment, including some relating to the UK’s nuclear submarine fleet, which gives some indication of the volume and nature of the compromised material. Ultimately, the Admiralty believe the intelligence passed to Moscow from Portland helped in the manufacture of a new and more silent generation of Soviet submarines.

    Both Houghton and Gee were tried and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment each. They married in prison and were eventually released early. Lonsdale and the Krogers were all exchanged in prisoner swaps with Russia before serving their full sentences.

    While still in prison in the UK, however, Lonsdale was interviewed at length by MI5 officer Charles Elwell. During these interviews, Lonsdale talked with surprising candour about his life as an illegal spy. He claimed to have joined the KGB in 1940, serving with Russian guerrilla groups behind the German lines. He was captured in 1944 and saved from execution by advancing Soviet troops. In 1949 he joined the ‘Illegal’ branch of the KGB, rising to the rank of colonel. He also spoke of the possible risk he faced on return to Moscow if the KGB suspected him of any wrong-doing. For example, despite Elwell’s best efforts to persuade him, he declined to disclose the identities of his other agents in the UK, fearing certain death when he returned if he did so. However, his opinion of Houghton’s competence as an agent was relatively scathing.[​IMG]

    During their negotiations, Elwell offered to try and influence the Home Office to reduce his lengthy prison sentence. At one point Lonsdale offered his services as a double agent, in return for money, a new identity and permission to return to Moscow. Ultimately, to the great disappointment of Elwell, Lonsdale’s demands could not be met, and it will never be known whether his offer was too good to be true: he was instead returned to Moscow in 1964 in exchange for Greville Wynne, a British citizen held by the Russians as a spy. Some years later, like the Krogers, he was honoured on a Russian postage stamp.
     
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  5. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery Patron

    How Russian spies stole nuclear secrets in Dorset: The story of the Portland spy ring

    Portland spy ring - Russia stole nuclear secrets in Dorset

    The Portland spy ring - a timeline of key dates
    1. 1951 - Harry Houghton becomes a spy
      In the 1950s, Harry Houghton worked as a British Naval Attaché in Warsaw. In 1951, he was recruited by Polish intelligence, probably after approaching them himself. He was later handed to the Russians.

    2. 1952 - Houghton 'prolific' at passing secrets
      Between January and November 1952, Houghton became "prolific" at feeding intelligence to his Soviet handlers, according to the MI5 history. In this time alone, he shared 99 secret documents with them, including a manual of naval intelligence.


    3. 1953 - Portland becomes the target
      Houghton returned to the UK and started work at what was then the navy's Underwater Detection Establishment base in Portland, Dorset. He continued his spying and stepped it up a gear when he began an affair with Ethel Gee, a colleague who had access to more sensitive documents.

    4. 1955 - Missed opportunity to catch Houghton
      Houghton's then wife contacted the admiralty with her suspicions about her husband in 1955. The navy spoke to the security services but nothing was done. Declassified files revealed MI5 believe they could have caught Houghton in 1955 if they had taken the allegations more seriously and interviewed him. Houghton also beat his wife and even tried to kill her by pushing her off a cliff because she knew too much, the documents also showed, according to The Guardian in 2019. Houghton and his then wife separated in 1955 and later divorced.

    5. 1960 - Spy ring detected
      A Polish defector passed the British information which allowed them to investigate the Portland spy ring. Houghton and Gee would travel to London together at weekends, pretending to be husband and wife. They would meet Gordon Lonsdale - a Canadian businessman whose real name was Konon Molody. He was a KGB 'illegal' - an undeclared spy with a false identity. He was running Houghton and Gee for the Russians. On January 7, 1960 Special Branch officers arrested Houghton, Gee and Lonsdale near the Old Vic theatre in London. They were found to be in possession of secret navy documents. Meanwhile, Helen and Peter Kroger were arrested in Ruislip. They were also 'illegals' - spies posing as booksellers to send secrets back to Russia from their bungalow.

    6. 1962 - Lovers swap letters in prison
      Houghton and Gee were locked up for 15 years. They swapped letters in prison, with Gee telling Houghton - "the short time I spent with you was the happiest time of my life". Gee always said she acted out of love for Houghton.

    7. 1964 - Lonsdale returns to Moscow in spy swap
      Lonsdale was interviewed in prison by MI5 officer Charles Elwell. He revealed how he had first joined the KGB in 1940, during the Second World War. In 1949 he joined the 'illegal' branch and became a colonel, building a fake life as Gordon Lonsdale. Elwell tried to convince him to reveal his other agents in Britain - Lonsdale refused but did offer at one point to return to Moscow and act as a double agent. The UK Government would not meet his demands to do so. He was "scathing" about Houghton's abilities as a spy. Eventually, Lonsdale returned to Moscow in a spy swap in 1964, with Greville Wynne, a British citizen held by the Russians as a spy, heading the other way.

    8. 1970 - Houghton and Gee released
      The lovers at the heart of the Portland spy ring were released from prison early in 1970. Houghton was 65 and Gee 56. In 1971 they got married
    Enter Ethel Gee
    In 1953, having returned to the UK, Houghton began work in the Navy’s Underwater Detection Establishment (UDE) in Portland, right here in Dorset. Most people know Portland as home to a prison, a lighthouse and not much else. But in the 1960s it became the centre of a spying scandal.

    Houghton was the main spy. But if he had never got involved with Ethel Gee, he wouldn't have been able to steal the Portland navy base's juiciest secrets.

    Gee had access to material of a higher classification. Assessments in the years since the secrets were smuggled suggest the Soviet Union were able to develop faster and quieter submarines because of the information Houghton and Gee gave to the KGB. Their spying had real effects in the Cold War.

    Both lived off the proceeds of spying for many years before they were discovered. So how were they eventually caught out?

    Catching the Portland spy ring
    Houghton and Gee would travel up to London at weekends together, posing as husband and wife, often taking in a show, to meet their KGB contact and hand over naval plans and film of other material they had stolen. Their routine went undetected for years.

    That's despite the best efforts of Houghton's then wife, who in 1955 raised the alarm. She contacted the navy with her suspicions. The navy spoke to Britain's spy chiefs. Nothing was done.

    Unfortunately for Houghton's wife, that meant his behaviour continued. As we said, he was no heroic spy - he would beat his wife and even tried to kill her by pushing her off a cliff. He only failed because passers-by interrupted him. He told his then spouse, she "knew too much".

    In files declassified back in 2019, bosses at Britain's Security Service - the official name for MI5 - admitted they could have caught Houghton in 1956. They should have investigated his wife's claims and interviewed him.

    Instead, his spying only came to light in 1960. British spooks became aware of his activities because of a tip off from a Polish defector, who told them secrets were arriving in Moscow about the navy.
    This is when the proper spies enter the story. All those trips to London were to pass secrets to Gordon Lonsdale. To the outside world, Lonsdale was a Canadian businessman. In reality, he was Konon Molody, an 'illegal' KGB agent.

    In the world of spies, you can be an official operative - usually you'd be based at your country's embassy, for example, at the Russian embassy in London. You wouldn't tell the British you were a spy, but they would know you could be. You would have an official cover job at the embassy.

    An 'illegal' spy is off the books - this type of spy builds a fake identity and goes out into the world, with no obvious ties to the country you're spying for. Lonsdale had spent years building his cover, so he could move around freely, without surveillance from the British or Americans.

    He was highly trained and had been a KGB illegal since 1949. He had risen to the rank of colonel and was thought to have many agents reporting to him across Britain. He never revealed their identities, aside from Houghton - who was caught in the act. Using the information from the Polish defector, MI5 followed Houghton, Gee and Lonsdale. They found two other people likely to be involved - the Krogers, a couple Lonsdale visited at their bungalow in Ruislip.

    The Krogers were also illegals. Their communications hub, hidden in their quiet bungalow, allowed Lonsdale to pass Houghton and Gee's secrets - smuggled up to him in London from Dorset - all the way back to his bosses in the Kremlin. MI5 watched and watched. Eventually, they were ready to pounce.

    The Security Service have no powers of arrest so Special Branch officers, police with security clearance, were drafted in. They arrested Houghton, Gee and Lonsdale at one of their London meets. All three were found with comprising secret documents on them. They were detained near the Old Vic theatre.At the same time, the British authorities arrested the Krogers. The Portland spy ring had been broken.

    But even all these years later it is not clear just how much sensitive information had been leaked to the Russians by this group over the years. However, Lonsdale claimed that Houghton had passed 350 test pamphlets on anti-submarine equipment, including some relating to the UK’s nuclear submarine fleet.

    Houghton and Gee had passed the Russians nuclear secrets. And they improved their submarines as a result, the navy's top officers believed.
     
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  6. PsyWar.Org

    PsyWar.Org Archive monkey

    And also the American bases at West Ruislip and Eastcote - the latter formerly occupied by GC&CS.

    Was it actually a cellar or was it really the large void between the concrete slab base and the floorboards? Lots of houses and bungalows of the period in Ruislip and Eastcote had these quite deep voids. If memory serves about three feet deep from the base to the floorboards.
     
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  7. alieneyes

    alieneyes Senior Member

    There was a real Gordon Arnold Lonsdale, a Finnish-Canadian from Cobalt, Ontario.

    As the story goes, the real Lonsdale returned to Europe and died of scarlet fever. His passport was obtained by the Soviet intelligence and Molodny became Lonsdale.

    I have no evidence for this next statement, mostly because I've never tried to look it up. Moldodny was asked to drop his trousers after being caught by the men and women of MI 5. The real Lonsdale had been circumsized. The impostor had not.

    Regards,

    Dave
     
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  8. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery Patron

    Dave after the sad news re TD this made me laugh out loud
    thank you ,as you knew him well ,TD would have laughed out loud too

    regards
    Clive
     
  9. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Dave

    I think the Lonsdale you are referring to, was the Canadian toddler.
     
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  10. alieneyes

    alieneyes Senior Member

    Hi Harry,

    Yes, indeed. The thought of being the officer assigned to ask Molodny to drop his trousers does my wayward stomach no good.

    Soviet intelligence was very good at obtaining Canadian passports. I'm reminded of one William Pappin, passport officer charged with issuing a false passport to a Soviet agent in 1946. During the Spanish Civil War the Canadian passports of deceased Republican volunteers were obtained and sent on to Moscow.

    The Igor Gouzenko mess goes into all this in detail.

    Regards,

    Dave
     
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