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Rising Sun*
01-18-2012, 04:39 AM
Russian spy Gevork Vartanyan, who allegedly stopped Otto Skorzeny from killing Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt at the Tehran conference, dies

Gevork Vartanyan, who has died aged 87, worked for Soviet intelligence for more than half a century and played an important part in thwarting a Nazi plot to assassinate Churchill, Stalin and President Roosevelt at the Tehran Conference in 1943.

The three Allied leaders convened at Tehran in November that year to discuss strategy, the principal item on the agenda being the opening of a second front in Western Europe. The Abwehr, Germany’s military intelligence service, had learnt of the time and place of the conference the previous month, having deciphered the American naval code, and the operation to assassinate the Allied leaders, code-named Long Jump, was put in the hands of one of their most trusted agents, Otto Skorzeny.

The operation was betrayed, however, when a Soviet intelligence officer, Nikolai Kuznetsov, posing as a German Oberleutnant called Paul Siebert, forged a friendship with an SS Sturmbannführer, Ulrich von Ortel. One evening von Ortel got drunk with Kuznetsov and boasted about Long Jump, revealing that special teams were being trained for the task in Copenhagen.

Security at the conference was principally the responsibility of the Soviets. Under the Russian-Persian Treaty of Friendship of 1921, the Soviet Union had sent troops into northern Persia in August 1941 to curb the operations of German agents. Britain, meanwhile, had deployed troops in the south to guarantee the flow of British-American lend-lease supplies to the USSR from the Persian Gulf.

The Conference itself (code-named Eureka) was held in the Soviet Embassy. One of the buildings in the compound was converted for use as a residence for President Roosevelt, since the American mission was in the suburbs and not considered secure. A tunnel was constructed between the Soviet embassy and the British embassy across the street. The area was heavily guarded.

Vartanyan later recalled: “Tehran at that time was flooded with refugees from war-ravaged Europe. For the most part, these were wealthy people trying to escape the risks of the war. There were about 20,000 Germans in Iran, and Nazi agents were hiding among them. They were aided by the pre-war patronage extended to the Germans by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who openly sympathised with Hitler. The German field station in [Persia], headed by Franz Meyer, was very powerful.”

In 1940-41 Vartanyan’s team of seven intelligence officers (who called themselves “the light cavalry” because they travelled about the city mainly by bicycle) had identified more than 400 Nazi agents, all of whom had been arrested by Soviet troops. Meyer was eventually discovered working as a gravedigger at an Armenian cemetery and arrested by the British.

In their efforts to foil the assassination plot, Vartanyan’s group located six Nazi radio operators shortly before the conference opened on November 28 1943. The German assassins had been dropped by parachute near the town of Qom, 40 miles from Tehran: “We followed them to Tehran, where the Nazi field station had readied a villa for their stay. They were travelling by camel, and were loaded with weapons. While we were watching the group, we established that th ey had contacted Berlin by radio, and recorded their communication.

“When we decrypted these radio messages, we learnt that the Germans were preparing to land a second group of subversives for a terrorist act — the assassination or abduction of the 'Big Three’. The second group was supposed to be led by Skorzeny himself . ”

All the members of the first group were arrested and forced to contact their handlers under Soviet supervision. “We deliberately gave a radio operator an opportunity to report the failure of the mission,” said Vartanyan, “and the Germans decided against sending the main group under Skorzeny to Tehran. In this way, the success of our group in locating the Nazi advance party and our subsequent actions thwarted an attempt to assassinate the 'Big Three’.”

Gevork Andreyevich Vartanyan was born on February 17 1924 in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. His father was a businessman of Armenian origin, and himself worked for Soviet intelligence in Persia from 1930 to the early Fifties, managing an active network of agents. Gevork Andreyevich was recruited into the intelligence service at the age of only 16, and in 1955 graduated from the Institute of Foreign Languages at Yerevan, Armenia — during the course of his long career he came to be fluent in eight languages.

In 1942, using the name Amir, Vartanyan succeeded in taking a course in Tehran (set up under the guise of an amateur radio club) for British spies who would be disseminated in the Soviet republics of Central Asia and the Transcaucasian area. After being accepted as a trainee, Vartanyan made a list of the students at the school, thus exposing an important potential network; many of them were subsequently arrested on Soviet territory and turned to become double agents.

Vartanyan later observed: “The British, true to form, continued to do mean things to us despite the fact of their being allies. They established a special group and organised a school where they trained subversives and spies to be dropped over the territory of the Soviet Union. And in that school I went through a six-month training and so I am grateful to the British intelligence.”

The fact that the two nations were allies did not, of course, preclude espionage. During the Tehran Conference, Stalin observed Roosevelt passing a handwritten note to Churchill, and instructed his head of intelligence in Persia, Ivan Ivanovich Agayants, to get hold of a copy. He succeeded. It read: “Sir, your fly is open.”

In 2003, relying on declassified documents, Yuri Lvovich Kuznets published a book called Tehran-43 or Operation Long Jump, which detailed Vartanyan’s role at the Tehran Conference. A Soviet film, Tegeran-43, which featured the French actor Alain Delon, was released in 1981.

Most of Vartanyan’s work, however, remains secret to this day. After the war he worked alongside his wife, Goar; they had met when she was 13, and he recruited her when she became an adult. They married in 1946, and, according to the SVR (successor to the KGB), they worked undercover together for 30 years in Europe, Asia and the United States. They returned to the Soviet Union in 1986, Goar retiring shortly afterwards. Vartanyan continued to work for the service until 1992.

He was appointed a Hero of the Soviet Union in 1984; his wife received the Order of the Red Banner.

In 2007 Churchill’s granddaughter Celia Sandys met Vartanyan in Moscow while she was contributing to a Russian-British television documentary about relations between the two countries. At the meeting Vartanyan raised a glass of Armenian brandy to “the great troika — Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt”, adding: “It is thanks to them that we live in peace today.” He said that Stalin had sent Armenian brandy to Churchill “by the case”.

At the end of his life Vartanyan reflected: “We were lucky — we never met a single traitor. For us underground agents, betrayal is the worst evil. If an agent observes all the security rules and behaves properly in society, no counter-intelligence will spot him or her. Like sappers, underground agents err only once.”

Gevork Vartanyan, born February 17 1924, died January 10 2012.

http://www.pathfinderonline.co.uk/articles/wwii/item/995-russian-spy-gevork-vartanyan-who-allegedly-stopped-otto-skorzeny-from-killing-stalin-churchill-and-roosevelt-at-the-tehran-conference-dies

flamethrowerguy
01-19-2012, 03:58 AM
Vartanyan was only 19 years old when he helped to prevent Unternehmen Großer Sprung...impressive!

Rising Sun*
01-19-2012, 05:51 AM
Vartanyan was only 19 years old when he helped to prevent Unternehmen Großer Sprung...impressive!

Interesting point. I didn't do the arithmetic.

Anything is possible in war, but it seems unlikely that a 19 year old would have the necessary experience to be put in command of, and to command, such an operation.

I think I'll go behind the obituaries I've read.

Nickdfresh
01-19-2012, 07:06 AM
It does sound a bit dramatic and outlandish to me. I'd like to see other evidence that Abwehr was able to read American radio transcripts in real time...

paspartoo
01-21-2012, 05:15 AM
The Abwehr, Germany’s military intelligence service, had learnt of the time and place of the conference the previous month, having deciphered the American naval code

This sounds a bit off.First of all the Abwehr was military intelligence not a codebreaking agency.Naval codes were tackled by the B-Dienst and the ''American Naval Code'' is too general to reach a conclusion.If it was one of the strip ciphers ( M-94, M-138) used by the US armed forces it is entirely plausible.

Rising Sun*
01-21-2012, 06:24 AM
This sounds a bit off.First of all the Abwehr was military intelligence not a codebreaking agency.Naval codes were tackled by the B-Dienst and the ''American Naval Code'' is too general to reach a conclusion.If it was one of the strip ciphers ( M-94, M-138) used by the US armed forces it is entirely plausible.

Perhaps the reference to Abwehr is just another example of a failure to understand German military organisation, as was the hour long documentary I watched last night which continually referred to the Heer as the Wehrmacht, as almost everyone does.

Be that as it may, my understanding is that Roosevelt flew to Tehran after taking USS Iowa to Egypt or thereabouts. Would the USN have been transmitting a full itinerary which could have been decoded by the Germans?

paspartoo
01-21-2012, 06:56 AM
Perhaps the reference to Abwehr is just another example of a failure to understand German military organisation, as was the hour long documentary I watched last night which continually referred to the Heer as the Wehrmacht, as almost everyone does.

Be that as it may, my understanding is that Roosevelt flew to Tehran after taking USS Iowa to Egypt or thereabouts. Would the USN have been transmitting a full itinerary which could have been decoded by the Germans?

Well it depends on the code used .I assume that such important messages would be sent through Sigaba which was secure.However if they used their standard military strip ciphers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M-94) then it could be possible as the Germans had success against them.

woundwort
01-22-2012, 04:16 AM
Anything is possible in war, but it seems unlikely that a 19 year old would have the necessary experience to be put in command of, and to command, such an operation.

This assumes rationality on behalf of his superiors, and a supreme commander who hadn't purged a majority of his senior generals in 1937, and continued to do so after war with Germany started.

Rising Sun*
01-22-2012, 06:56 AM
This assumes rationality on behalf of his superiors, and a supreme commander who hadn't purged a majority of his senior generals in 1937, and continued to do so after war with Germany started.

Fair point, but Gevork's father was also a spy in the same place at the same time and might seem to have been a more likely candidate to run the operation.

I'm willing to accept that Gevork's work uncovered important elements of the kill plot, but I'm wondering if his actions might have been embellished for propaganda purposes.

Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be any detail on the internet in English which goes much beyond the obituaries.

woundwort
01-22-2012, 06:37 PM
That's true, Rising Sun. I still am inclined to quite believe that such a punk recruit was placed in charge of sensitive operations due to Stalin's mecurial nature... however, as I recall, the actual chance of the plot being realized was remote. Yet, I would agree that there may have been a great deal of embelishment, and would expect it was done in order to present the GRU as having saved Roosevelt and Churchill.

It would be interesting to see what Robert Conquest had to say about him and pa'.

From what little I know of Canaris, I wouldn't be surprised if the Abwehr had slipped details to the Allies.

woundwort
01-23-2012, 07:20 AM
Thinking further, I see Otto Skorzeny was in charge of Operation Long Jump: placed there by the Old Fellow because of his fame following the snatching of Mussolini from Campo Imperatore after he was democratically removed by the Council of Fascism (!)

Although Skorzeny was an accomplished brawler and composite thug, personal accounts from other officers showed someone was less-than-able when it came to planning. He hadn't been to officer training (?) and is reported to have jumped onboard the gliders extracting Mussolini from the plateau so to return to Austria as a hero.

Considering that he also was responsible for the immediately ill-fated Operation Greif which tried to place non-English speaking Germans in US uniforms during the Battle of the Bulge, and suggested kamikazi missions, I'll repeat my above suspicion that Long Jump was doomed from the outset.

Truce
01-23-2012, 11:41 AM
immediately ill fated Operation Greif which tried to place non-English speaking Germans in US uniforms during the Battle of the Bulge

Correct me if I am wrong; I thought the Greif Commandos were Skorzeny's English speaking soldiers, familiar with American slang etc and briefly successful at stirring up havoc behind the lines in the Ardennes?

woundwort
01-23-2012, 01:57 PM
We both are correct, Truce. There undoubtedly would have been English speaking German soldiers - and I'd hazard a guess these were amongst the miserable success-rate - but a lot were merely taught to repeat it mechanically after brief TEFL courses delivered by German Americans, making it more obvious they were simulacra.

Skorzeny's grand ideas of fielding highly-trained soldiers in convincing uniforms was stymied by the reluctance of commanders to provide such men or captured uniforms because of their knowledge that such actions flew in the face of every military convention - and this was a military hardly adverse to war crimes - meaning the men could be shot on sight.

Truce
01-23-2012, 06:42 PM
Ok, makes sense. Thanks for clarifying! :cool:

woundwort
01-24-2012, 03:22 AM
Returning to Long Jump, recall that because of apparent narrowly-foiled plot, Roosevelt was discouraged from making the commute between the US and Soviet compounds, and took a residence at the latter... which the Soviets proceeded to bug.

So, whilst Vartanian would have been in some position of authority, I wonder if the bigging-up of him was down to an attempt to get Roosevelt under surveillance.

Rising Sun*
01-24-2012, 05:42 AM
So, whilst Vartanian would have been in some position of authority, I wonder if the bigging-up of him was down to an attempt to get Roosevelt under surveillance.

Be interesting to see if the contemporary documents, from both sides, support that. Secondary sources I've found through painstaking research (i.e. the magic of Google ;) :D ) suggest Operation Long Jump might have been more of a Soviet invention to bug Roosevelt than a German operation to do anything.

Page 203 at http://books.google.com.au/books?id=XHs2-DmdIRIC&pg=PA203&dq=Dealing+with+the+devil:+Anglo-Soviet+intelligence+cooperation+during+the++Skorze ny&hl=en&ei=G5QeT8K8GKzEmQXtqfigDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=book-thumbnail&resnum=1&ved=0CDMQ6wEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false It's a pity p.204 isn't available on the internet.

From page 288 and note footnote 29. http://books.google.com.au/books?id=rUIauNFQnngC&pg=PA296&dq=1943+tehran+long+jump+skorzeny&hl=en&sa=X&ei=FpUeT4CjN8znmAXRo_C_Dg&ved=0CDYQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=1943%20tehran%20long%20jump%20skorzeny&f=false

Footnote 204 at page 363 at http://books.google.com.au/books?id=vceInEkXX74C&pg=PA363&dq=1943+tehran+long+jump+skorzeny&hl=en&sa=X&ei=FpUeT4CjN8znmAXRo_C_Dg&ved=0CEUQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=1943%20tehran%20long%20jump%20skorzeny&f=false

Linking Skorzeny's rescue of Mussolini to Long Jump ignores the fact that Mussolini's rescue was an extraction, not a suicide mission as killing the Big Three in Tehran probably would have been. This lends some support to his reported refusal or denial of Long Jump in the documents above.

woundwort
01-24-2012, 07:21 AM
My point about the Gran Sasso raid was that there are suicide missions (in which the participants will be do everything they can to fight their way out) and there are kamikazi missions. Judging by Skorzeny's fighting record, he certainly wasn't adverse to taking-part in the former... Gran Sasso, for all the goals of a successful extraction of living cargo and couriers, was not without a degree of risk.

Skorzeny _did_ suggest kamikazi missions. I recall as account from a Waffen SS officer who described this as repulsive to all his moral code and anathema to a Christian Europe. Irony is an oft misused word where paradoxical or unfortunate coincidence is more appropriate, but to hear this display of moral outrage from the Waffen SS was hugely ironic... it just is that I didn't feel like laughing.

Lettuce sea and say there was an initial reconnoitre mission sent to Iran. Skorzeny was scheduled to be landed in a second team, which could explain his reluctance to continue. I forget which Admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy who submitted himself to one of the final kamikazi missions, but such displays are relatively uncommon from commanders who use junior members as human bombs.

Rising Sun*
01-24-2012, 07:49 AM
I forget which Admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy who submitted himself to one of the final kamikazi missions,

Matome Ugaki? Whose final triumph was to fly as a passenger into the ocean, which was as pointless as most other deaths in ultimately pointless wars.


but such displays are relatively uncommon from commanders who use junior members as human bombs.

As evidenced more recently by the absence of the likes of Osama bin Laden, Hezbollah leaders etc among the ranks of suicide bombers.

But that's not much different to old men and rich men and powerful men and their occasional female counterparts in all nations sending hordes of others to fight and die in defence of, or to advance, the things that matter to and benefit old men and rich men etc. Which, each in their own way, was exactly what the Big Three, Hitler, Mussolini, Hirohito and their respective supporters were engaged in in WWII.