© The Boston Globe 2001. Used by permission.
The Secret History of World War II
PART I: THE PERFECT SPY
by Mark Fritz / Globe Staff / March 11, 2001
Page 7 of 9
Continued from page 6
Washington seemed taken aback by Kolbe's warning that Germany would soon deploy a rocket that would slam Allied targets with radio-controlled frequency. Kolbe ticked off locations of factories where components were being built; but OSS gurus couldn't find the plants.
In a later dispatch, Kolbe passed along what Allied troops later confirmed: The rockets were being built underground.
On Sept. 8, 1944, the Nazis fired the world's first operational liquid-fuel rocket, the V-2. More than a thousand more would pummel England. Captured V-2 technology provided the foundation for the superpowers' space programs.
Kolbe said other ''V weapons'' were in the works, but the report Dulles sent Washington intimated that such talk might be propaganda. In January 1945, however, Germany successfully tested a prototype of an intercontinental ballistic missile designed to reach North America.
Allied advances nonetheless thwarted Hitler's bid to take the battle to space. ''German morale is deteriorating even in headquarters,'' Kolbe wrote.
Dulles and Kolbe had become aware of a resistance building within the Third Reich. Kolbe longed to help, but Dulles told him he was too important to risk. Yet Kolbe had ''an impulsive and determined nature'' and contacted the others.
The resistance died with a failed attempt to kill Hitler on July 20, 1944. Kolbe, because he'd missed a resistance meeting at which minutes had been kept, narrowly avoided being swept up in the purge that left thousands dead.
What happened to Kolbe in the chaos of the world war ending and the Cold War beginning is sketchy. The following account is based on interviews with people who knew him, the declassified files, Dulles' personal papers and a 1950 interview that a destitute Kolbe, using his George Wood code name, gave to the lurid men's magazine True.
As the Allied bombardment of Berlin intensified and German troops retreated, Kolbe's boss, Ritter, asked him to spirit a girlfriend, a Berlin singer, to Bavaria, where Nazi officials planned to secretly regroup after the Reich's downfall.
Kolbe tried to convince his future wife, a nurse named Maria Fritsch, to accompany them in a diplomatic staff car. But she refused to leave her hospital post. One of the doctors promised to look after Maria and prevailed upon Kolbe to take the physician's own wife out of town.
The three drove as far west as Stuttgart, but found it hard to find gasoline. They left the singer at the monastery run by Kolbe's old church confidante, Schreiber, and headed to the rail station. From Stuttgart, Kolbe hoped to reach the home of a retired Foreign Office colleague. But he and the doctor's wife were stopped at the station by the Gestapo.
Kolbe, a prickly, and often officious bureaucrat, blustered and bullied his way out of the interrogation by indignantly insisting he was en route to Bern to pick up a diplomatic pouch. The woman, he said, was a Reich official's relative whom he'd been asked to escort to Bavaria.
''He risked his life and was very imaginative in bringing this stuff out of Germany... when people were being watched like hawks,'' Helms says.
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