A Maclean’s Flashback


In the greatest farce in secret-service history Franz von Papen and Karl Boy-Ed hatched a comic opera plot to carry the Kaiser's war to Canada

McKENZIE PORTER July 15 1950
A Maclean’s Flashback


In the greatest farce in secret-service history Franz von Papen and Karl Boy-Ed hatched a comic opera plot to carry the Kaiser's war to Canada

McKENZIE PORTER July 15 1950


A Maclean’s Flashback


In the greatest farce in secret-service history Franz von Papen and Karl Boy-Ed hatched a comic opera plot to carry the Kaiser's war to Canada

TOWARD the end of 1915, when World War I was bogging down in the mud of Europe, bloody battles against German armed forces would have scarred Canadian soil if Captain Franz von Papen, then military attaché to the Kaiser’s ambassador in Washington, had realized plans to invade this country.

But his ambitious project, involving the seizure of a bridgehead at Windsor, Ont., by 165,000 Teutonic-Americans, revolution by Irish republicans, uprisings in Vancouver of Hindu stevedores, assault landings on the Pacific coast by German marines, and simultaneous destruction of railways, bridges, factories and canals from British Columbia to Nova Scotia, turned to vapor in the sorriest farce ever recorded by secret-service historians.

Cherished by the German War Cabinet for nearly 12 months the operation was abandoned only after intrigue, blundering, cowardice and avarice reduced its preliminary moves to fiasco and pointed up Von Papen as a tactical imbecile whose methods had obviously been culled from some yellow-jacket melodrama.

Yet Von Papen went on to become Chancellor of Germany before Hitler, to win a surprising worldwide reputation as “the crafty fox” of European diplomacy. Sentenced as a war criminal after World War II he was recently released from imprisonment in Germany, a broken old man of 70, to await what he once described as “the German warrior’s supreme disgrace—to die in bed.”

. The overture to Von Papen’s plot against Canada took the form of four sabotage and one insurrectionist sorties between December 1914 and September 1915. These underground actions occupied more than 100 conspirators in varying degrees of stupidity and cost nearly $2 millions. They were commanded by Von Papen from the then neutral safety of the United States at a time when considerable pro-German and anti-British sentiment was still manifest. They produced only the following meagre results: one CPR railroad bridge between New Brunswick and Maine damaged; one overall factory at Walkerville, Ont., destroyed.

The coup against Canada was concocted at the outbreak of war in 1914 by Von Papen, largely in No. 123, West 15th Street, New York City. This old-fashioned mansion with the brownstone stoop became known as “Number 123” and was a rendezvous for the rag, tag and bobtail of a German organization engaged in the clandestine disruption of munitions supplies from the U. S. to the Allies.

Mox Had a Private Army

THE HOUSE was stuffed with blueprints, maps, photographs, small arms and disguises. Explosives were stored in the basements. It was also richly furnished and equipped with a fine kitchen and wine cellar. Two exotic maids, Januska, a Hungarian, and Rose, a mulatto, doubled with the chatelaine, a plump baroness, Martha Held, as hostesses to spies and saboteurs in need of relaxa-

Entry and exit were made in the Oppenheim tradition through a back basement door lay a bizarre and cosmopolitan procession of visitors. Among them were Balkan, Irish and Hindu revolutionaries seeking secret German funds and arms with which to harass British and Allied efforts abroad and to achieve their own ends in the confusion of war.

There was also a collection of drug addicts, homosexuals, prostitutes, spendthrifts and traitors to a dozen European countries who were enticed into the German sabotage conspiracy against the U. S.

on promise of gain and cunningly held under threat of exposure. They were the shadows, couriers, stool pigeons, fingermen, pickpockets and other small fry of the organization recruited by a blond and monkey-faced little character known as Mox who was reputedly a printer by day and by night an assassin adept at giving his victims the appearance of suicides.

Mox’s riffraff were cynically and ruthlessly exploited by the German master spy, Naval Captain Franz von Rintelen, who in six months engineered the explosion at sea of nearly 50 Allied munitions ships, organized strikes on the American waterfront, almost fired an anti-U. S. rebellion in Mexico and laid the long-term plans for the Black Tom and Kingsland disasters of 1916 and 1917. (Black Tom was a New York quay stacked with shells for Russia which was completely destroyed by German saboteurs with a loss of more than $100 millions. Kingsland, the New Jersey subsidiary plant of the Montreal-owned Canadian Car and Foundry Company, was blown up by saboteurs and damage was estimated at $20 millions. )

The Spies and Their Sweethearts

VON RINTELEN made only odd visits to No. 123. With other successful agents in the U. S. he served under Colonel Walter Nicolai, head of the German Secret Service proper. They had no diplomatic immunity and knew that, on discovery, they would be repudiated by their government.

Left alone they were highly effective. But they were eventually betrayed by the Byzantine palace politics which have always weakened German intelligence. There were half a dozen competing German intelligence units, each a private empire ruled from Berlin, each confusing the others with duplicatory endeavor.

One of these was run by Arthur Zimmerman, the German Foreign Minister. Zimmerman assigned Von Papen, the German military attaché, and Captain Karl Boy-Ed, the German naval attaché, to secret warfare behind their diplomatic cloaks.

The two attachés were cronies. At the outset they muscled in on Von Rintelen’s organization at No. 123. Its lurid atmosphere appealed to their adolescent conception of secret service. Von Rintelen spotted them immediately for dilettantes more suited to embassy ballrooms than cloak-anddagger duties, but he was powerless to prevent them moving in on his setup and eventually wrecking it.

When World War I broke out Von Papen and Boy-Ed moved from Washington to New York because its polyglot population offered obvious advantages. They set up as a front an office at 60 Wall Street, ostensibly an advertising agency. But No. 123 was their favorite base.

They paired off with girls of dubious loyalties. Von Papen’s girl was Mena Edwards, then the celebrated model for a camera company’s ads, and known as the Eastman Girl. Boy-Ed’s companion was a French girl named Vera who shared a room with Mena Edwards.

They were all constantly tailed by the British Secret Service, which was directed in New York by Sir William Wiseman, who moved about the city as Walter Wisdom, of W. Wisdom Films. He employed as shadows members of an anti-German Czech organization headed brilliantly by Emanuel Victor Voska, a former sculptor of tombstones. At this time U. S. counter-espionage was in its infancy. Its officers were hamstrung in operations against Germans by their neutrality. But Wiseman placed in the hands of the Americans all the information which suited his own purpose. If they didn’t act upon it he gave facts out to the Press. The result was often effective anti-German propaganda which tended to hasten U. S. entry into the war in 1917.

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Boy-Ed was engaged early in 1915 trying to get German Army reservists resident in the U. S. back to their regiments in Europe through the British naval blockade with fake passports in neutral liners. He was unsuccessful and Von Papen planned to use these stranded men for an invasion of Canada. His ambassador, Count Johann von Bernstorff, was sceptical. But Foreign Minister Zimmerman in Berlin approved his preparations.

Von Papen was then in his middle thirties. He had a horsey face plus toothbrush mustache and monocle. He could raise his left eyebrow three and one half inches. He had started his military career in a humble regiment but marriage to the daughter of an Alsatian millionaire had enabled him to buy himself into a crack Prussian brigade and thus get seconded to diplomatic duties.

With his wife’s money he had bought himself race horses, art treasures, a Schloss (small castle), and one of the best champagne bins in Europe. In Washington he charmed society parties with his clipped egotistical conversation. He detested the “common man.”

Battalions From the Bunds

On Jan. 3, 1915, Arthur Zimmerman sent the following cipher telegram to Ambassador Bernstorff in Washington: “Secret: Reference my 357. General staff anxious vigorous measures should be taken destroy Canadian Pacific for purpose causing lengthy interruptions of traffic. Acquaint military attache with above and furnish sums required for enterprise.”

It was one of hundreds of such telegrams demanding concrete results from Von Papen in Canada. Von Papen could draw on a fund of $50 millions held for sabotage and espionage by the German commercial attache, Dr. Heinrich F. Albert. But up till this time Von Papen had been occupied with his more grandiose scheme.

He knew that about 165,000 Germanic people lived on the populous rim of the Great Lakes. They had been organized before the war into Bunds for beer festivals. Von Papen had secured 20,000 rifles and stored them in a Detroit warehouse. He now distributed these to the Bunds and ordered them to smarten up on drill and marksmanship.

Through Boy-Ed he got a promise that when the time was ripe the German Navy would land shock troops and marines on the Canadian Pacific coast. He was in touch with Hindu nationalists planning armed mutiny in India from an apartment at 364 West 120th Street, New York City, and with Irish Republicans operating under command of Sir Roger Casement (later executed by the British) and meeting in New York’s Spanish Club. Each of these groups claimed to have powerful contacts in Canada.

Von Papen planned that one day the Bunds would suddenly emerge as fighting battalions, cross the Detroit River, seize a bridgehead around Windsor and hold it. This, with landings in the west, Hindu and Irish troubles, and persistent sabotage, would so occupy the

Canadian Army that further reinforcements for Britain would be impossible.

Only when he had drawn up in detail the order of battle for his ghost army did Von Papen proceed to soften up Canada with terrorism.

The man he selected for the first adventure was Werner Horn, a German reserve officer who had come up from Guatemala and was living in New York under an assumed name while awaiting transport home. On Dec. 30, 1914, Horn left No. 123 dressed in the shabby overalls of a laborer. In his straw tool bag he carried explosives and detonators. He entrained for Vanceboro, Me., on the New Brunswick border. And he was tailed by one of Voska’s Czechs in the pay of the British.

Next morning Horn booked a room in a Vanceboro hotel. During the day he went to the station and asked questions about train times. Beyond the station was a long trestle rail bridge spanning the St. Croix River. That evening it was bitterly cold and the Czech agent shivered as he watched Horn, bag in hand, casually head out across the bridge smoking a cigar.

Horn crossed the international line and hooked his dynamite bag to the guard rail. He put his ear to the track, evidently to see whether a train was coming. He then cut down a 50-foot fuse to one that would burn only three minutes, lit it with his cigar, and strolled back to the U. S.

The explosion blew a chunk out of the guard rail but left track and piers intact. The Czech shadow tipped off the Vanceboro police. In the first few minutes of New Years Day, 1915, Horn was arrested in his hotel room as he was rubbing snow from the window ledge into his frozen fingers.

Later when he was interrogated by U. S. intelligence officers they asked why he had ridden to Vanceboro in a parlor car while dressed in a laborer’s soiled overalls. Horn replied proudly: “I am a German officer. German officers always travel first class.” He did not incriminate Von Papen.

Von Papen signaled the German Foreign Office that the St. Croix bridge operation had been a great success. Blithely he proceeded to the next step in what he called “bringing Canada to her knees.”

In the Heidleburg Café, San Francisco, Deputy German Consul Wilhelm von Brincken, over a stein of beer, offered R. J. van Koolbergen, a resident of Vancouver, a Dutchman by birth but a naturalized British subject, $3,000 to blow the CPR Selkirk tunnel, near Revelstoke. B.C.

$5,000 For a Phony Clipping

Van Koolbergen took no sides in the war. Nor did he choose to take risks. But he was always ready to take $3,000. After accepting $100 on account from Von Brincken he immediately squealed to the British Consul in San Francisco, A. Carnegie Ross. Ross at once informed the Canadian authori-

Canadian intelligence then evolved a plan to get evidence on Von Brincken which would leave the U. S. with no alternative but to arrest him. The idea was that Van Koolbergen should be enabled to collect his $3,000 and that Von Brincken should be arrested by the American police at the moment it was handed over.

A phony story was planted in Vancouver newspapers to the effect that the Selkirk Tunnel through the Rockies had caved in. Van Koolbergen, armed with a clipping, went back to San Francisco to collect. But he knew that if the Canadian plan succeeded he would have no title to the money. So he deliberately misinformed the Canadians about the '■“ne of his meeting with Von Brincken.

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The next day Von Brincken and Van Koolbergen met in the lobby of the Palace Hotel. The Canadian agents and U. S. police were waiting for them to turn up elsewhere. There was a haggle about money. At last Von Brincken took out a roll of $1,750 in bills, paid Van Koolbergen $1,500 and kept the remaining $250 as commission. And Van Koolbergen vanished.

Down at No. 123 Von Papen told Boy-Ed that he was about to follow through with another “devastating blow at the west.” Von Rintelen who chanced to be there winced.

Von Papen traveled by drawingroom car to Seattle where Von Brincken put him in touch with a Hindu nationalist called Ram Chandra, then studying at the University of California. Ram Chandra was certain that several thousand Hindus employed at Vancouver docks loading war materials would be glad to pass the time until the end of the year—when their fullscale mutiny was to coincide with German invasion—blowing up sections of the CPR.

Explosives weresentfrom No. 123and cached with 50 rifles fitted with Maxim silencers near Blaine on the CanadianU. S. western border.

But the day in May, 1915, before the weapons and dynamite were to be smuggled across the Canadian border and handed to a Vancouver Hindu leader, Ram Singh, there was a national sensation in the U. S. The Annie Larsen, a U. S. tramp steamer, sheepishly put into Hoquiam, Wash., loaded with 10,000 rifles, which Von Papen firmly believed were at that moment in India. The Annie Larsen was promptly seized by the port authorities.

This time Von Papen had been let down by his friend Boy-Ed. Von Papen had acquired the rifles for Indian mutineers and Boy-Ed had arranged for them to be shipped from San Diego illicitly in the Annie Larsen. At barren Socorro Island in the Pacific the rifles were to be transferred to a German tanker, the Maverick, which would then land them by night on the coast of India.

Boy-Ed got his sailing dates mixed. The Annie Larsen arrived at the lonely Pacific rendezvous weeks ahead of time. Since there was no water on the island, Annie Larsen’s crew, after waiting in vain for Maverick to turn up, were threatened with death by thirst. So her skipper sensibly returned home and gave himself up.

The Battlefield of Windsor

Hindu matters were at once a hot potato and Von Papen quickly forgot the Vancouver plot. But his spirits didn’t sag. “Now that I have struck at the flanks I shall strike Canada in the belly,” he told Boy-Ed one evening soon ¡liter at No. 123.

Von Papen’s favorite in the Great Lakes Bunds was Albert Kaltschmidt, a German-American who owned a small engineering shop in Detroit. Von Papen had already paid Kaltschmidt $25,000 to meet underground weapon training costs. Now Kaltschmidt was to command his first action.

In June, 1915, Kaltschmidt called to his office his lieutenants, Walter Scholz, Carl Schmidt and Charles Francis Respa. “We are ordered to do something for our dear Fatherland,” he said. “You must not care anything for the Canadians and Americans. In the end they will only trample on your

He then invited in from a back room one William Lefler, a Canadian of

German descent and pro - German views, who was caretaker of the Peabody overall factory in Walkerville, near Windsor, Ont., which made nothing more harmful than soldiers’ fatigue suits. It was zero hour.

On June 21 Respa and his sister, Mrs. Carl Schmidt, wife of the other lieutenant, crossed from Detroit to Windsor in darkness carrying explosives and time clocks in two cheap suitcases. At the Peabody factory Respa handed Lefler dynamite and one of the clocks. Respa and his sister then placed the remainder of the explosives against the wall of the Windsor Armories, where Canadian troops were billeted, and scurried back to the U. S.

The Peabody factory was wrecked, without loss of life, at 3 a.m. The bomb against the armories failed to go off. Lefler, the caretaker of the factory, was at once suspected and arrested. He incriminated Respa, Kaltschmidt and the others who were arrested and

Franz von Papen’s cable to Berlin was exultant. To Boy-Ed he said, “The big day draws near.”

When a Spy Squealed

Von Papen was now using No. 123 so carelessly that its purpose was known to the British Secret Service. Voska, the Czech, had installed one of his men among its raffish denizens. Von Papen expressed his contempt for the fledgling U. S. counter-espionage in the words “these idiotic Yankees.” But they were closing in on him. He lost a secret cipher to a pretty English girl agent and continued to use it for two weeks. One of the Voska Czechs was able to latch on to commercial attaché Heinrich Albert and lift his satchel full of secret documents as he traveled on the El.

In consequence Von Rintelen had to flee the country on a Swiss passport only to be detained by the British when his neutral ship called at Falmouth for inspection. In his obsession with Canada Von Papen was blind to the fact that his every move was known and only his diplomatic status was saving him from arrest.

In September, 1915, he turned his attention to the Welland Canal, a vital 27-mile waterway between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. The destruction of this link in Great Lakes communications was to be the penultimate master stroke before invasion brought the coup de grâce to Canada.

He gave this job to Paul Koenig, a thick-necked ruffian who hung around No. 123, and to Richard Emil Leyendecker.

On Sept. 27 Koenig and Leyendecker arrived in Buffalo. They were met by other agents who had been reconnoitering the intricate locks two miles north of Thorold, Ont., on the Welland Canal. A sum of $500,000 was available to them if needed. Sir William Wiseman, the British Secret Service chief in New York, knew all this and he was, of course, in touch with Canadian Military Intelligence.

Koenig went over to Canada to inspect the canal and was shocked to find every inch guarded. He hurried back to his confederates and told them he thought the heat was on. The precise plan they had in mind was never known but it is believed it involved purchase of a steamer, filling her holds with nitroglycerin, sailing her into the most vulnerable lock and blowing her apart.

A period of waiting set in. Koenig’s further tours along the canal showed the guard was thickening daily. Members of the party suddenly realized they were being shadowed. The tension was

so great that they began to lose heart and started snapping at one another.

Finally one of the spies, George Fuchs, cracked up. During a quarrel with Koenig over $15 he had a nervous breakdown, rushed out, and gave himself up. The entire party was arrested and charged with conspiracy to violate the neutrality laws of the United States.

Von Papen’s name came out and he was ordered to leave the country by the U. S. State Department. Boy-Ed was banished at the same time.

Von Papen embarked in the neutral Holland-America liner Noordam on Dec. 23, 1915. He had 26 steamer trunks, five cases of champagne and a safe conduct through the British blockade.

Ten days later British patrols boarded the Noordam at Falmouth and seized Von Papen’s baggage. He protested he was protected by his diplomatic safe conduct. “That,” said the young British naval officer, “applies to your person. You will be permitted to continue in your clothing only by the good grace of the Royal Navy.” Von Papen’s final jackass act had been to pack all his documents in the belief he would get through the blockade.

Among thousands of incriminating papers in his trunks were four bushel baskets of cheque stubs all made out to specified people like Werner Horn, Von Brincken, Ram Chandra and Kaltschmidt. Altogether he had spent $1,500,000 on his Canadian reign of terror.

This evidence collapsed Von Papen’s entire setup in the U. S. Werner Horn, who was serving 18 months in Atlanta Penitentiary, Ga., for carrying dynamite without a permit, was tried in New Brunswick for dynamiting the St. Croix bridge, and sentenced to 10 years in Dorchester Pfenitentiary. In 1921, after he had lost his reason, Horn was deported to Germany, never to be heard of again.

Von Bopp and Von Brincken, German Consul and Vice-Consul, were arrested and tried in San Francisco along with Ram Singh, who had waited in vain for rifles for his Vancouver Hindus, and Ram Chandra, who failed to get them across the border after losing Von Papen’s support. Ram Singh, believing it was his compatriot, not Von Papen, who had betrayed him, shot Ram Chandra dead in the courtroom. A U. S. cop at once shot Ram Singh dead.

Von Rintelen’s more subtle and courageous agents managed to blow up Black Tom quay in 1916 and in January, 1917, the Kingsland plant. But then Mena Edwards, the Eastman Girl, Von Papen’s old paramour, panicked and betrayed them. The last of the menials scuttled from No. 123 like beetles from under a stone.

By the end of January, 1917, every known German agent who had escaped arrest in the U. S. was recuperating from nervous strain in Mexico City—benevolently watched by more of Sir William Wiseman’s boys.

In the senior officers’ prison camp at Donington Hall, England, Von Rintelen was taking tea with a front-line German colonel when news reached them that in Palestine a Colonel Franz von Papen had fled before the advance of General Allenby, leaving behind hundreds of confidential documents which had still further bearing on German saboteurs in North America.

“What regiment does that fool come from?” asked the colonel at Donington Hall.

“First Regiment of Uhlans of the Guard, sir,” said Von Rintelen, wearily passing a hand over his eyes.

“Ah,” said the front-line colonel sadly, “that explains everything.” ★