5 Incredible Real Life Spies
The concept of espionage has always fascinated people, resulting in a long history of spy-centric books, films, and television shows. Writings as ancient as those of Sun-Tzu have documented espionage techniques and records of individual spies and assassins. This fascination with spies may stem from escapism- a longing to lead exciting, danger-filled lives. Or perhaps it’s the enticement of mystery that comes with tales of espionage.
Secrets in themselves allure interest since we naturally vie to understand the world around us. We like to solve things, to know everything. Here’s a look at the unbelievable lives of five incredible spies throughout history.
5 Sven Somme
In 1944, Norwegian Allied spy, Sven Somme, attempted and succeeded in one of the most daring escapes from the Nazis in World War Two history. Somme was a fisheries officer who joined the Norwegian resistance movement at the beginning of the Nazi occupation of his country in 1941. Somme was captured in 1944 by German forces while photographing a U-boat base. He first tricked the soldiers by saying he was bird-watching, but before he left the coast, they had found his camera and he was sentenced to execution.
The night of his capture he escaped by walking right past the guards, who assumed that he was a civilian out for a walk. Soon he was chased by 900 enemy soldiers and bloodhounds for 200 miles. Along the way, he swung from pine trees to hide his tracks and braved the mountainous Norwegian terrain, bears, and wolves until he reached Sweden. Soon after, he fled to England and was allowed a private audience with the King of Norway for his valiance.
4 Klaus Fuchs
Not only was Klaus Fuchs a Soviet spy, but he was also a notable scientist working on the atomic bomb. It seemed a dangerous combination, especially during the Cold War. The German-born British scientist was a genius young man who excelled in physics and soon began researching plutonium bombs. In 1943, he was among the British scientists designated to the U.S. to work on the atomic bomb.
Fuchs believed that Russian scientists deserved to know what they were up against in the atomic race, so while later working on the Manhattan Project he secretly met with Soviet agents to relate early plans for the hydrogen bomb. Additionally, he offered information from American, British, and Canadian atomic projects. It wasn’t until 1949, four years after he had begun his espionage, that he was confronted by intelligence officers. Fuchs’ capture and confessions triggered the upheaval and capture of several other Soviet spies, including the famous Julius and Ethel Rosenburg.
3 Virginia Hall
Virginia Hall- American, Allied spy, and amputee- was the only civilian woman to be awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for her service in World War Two. Well-read and well-travelled, Hall was eager to join Foreign Services soon after finishing her schooling, but due to an unfortunate hunting incident that resulted in the loss of one of her legs, she could no longer pursue this career.
This physically challenged woman became regarded as the most dangerous Allied spy and was mercilessly hunted by German forces for establishing resistance networks, aiding the escapes of prisoners of war, and transporting money and weapons for Allied operations in France. She escaped France soon after the total German occupation of the country and fled to Spain, where she continued her espionage work until the end of the war when she was celebrated and decorated for her incredible efforts.
2 Shi Pei Pu
Almost all stories of espionage seem incredulous, a bit too insane to be true, but the story of Shi Pei Pu is so bizarre that it would be difficult to make up or even exaggerate. At twenty-six years old, Shi met an employee of the French Embassy in Beijing called Bernard Boursicot, who immediately fell in love with him, believing that Shi was a woman in the guise of a man.
So began a relationship of twenty years. All the while, Boursicot thought Shi was female. Shi went so far as to buy a baby from a hospital and present it to Boursicot, claiming that the child was the son they had had together. During this time, Shi took information and secret documents from Boursicot’s postings in Mongolia and other parts of China.
Over five hundred of these documents were taken and given to officials in Beijing. The clueless Boursicot was arrested in 1983 for giving up these documents, and he soon discovered that Shi was male after he, too, was arrested. After the French public had learned of his relationship with Shi, he attempted suicide but failed, and both men were soon pardoned by French President FranÃ§ois Mitterrand.
1 Sidney Reilly
From his origins, the life of Sidney Reilly is a bemusing, muddled concoction of exaggerated and fabricated stories, most of them created by Reilly himself. It is broadly agreed that Reilly was born in Odessa, a city in modern-day Ukraine. He started out with the surname Rosenblum, the only constant in his tales of his early life.
There are such accounts as Rosenblum battling Brazilian native tribes single-handedly, robbing Italian anarchists, and Rosenblum learning to speak seven languages fluently. It’s not known how much of this is true, and even the stories of his arrival in London are skewed. He soon started an affair with a young woman whose husband died in mysterious circumstances soon after his arrival. After this death, he assumed the monomer of Sydney Reilly and journeyed east to Russia and Asia. Later in life, he participated in a plot to assassinate Vladimir Lenin and depose the Bolshevik government, but this scheme failed.
Throughout the years, Reilly worked with British intelligence, claiming that he had attended a German Army High Command meeting in the First World War, spied on Dutch weapons shipments during the Second Boer War, and flew in the Canadian Royal Flying Corps in World War One. Despite his cleverness and stealth, Reilly was captured by the Soviets and executed near Moscow in 1925. But his legacy lives on. Nicknamed the Ace of Spies, Reilly is considered one of the greatest spies in history and was even the inspiration for James Bond.