A Patriot for Whom? Colonel Redl and a question of Identity

Alan Sked looks at the sensational leaking of Austrian military secrets to Russia on the eve of the First World War.

In April 1913 a letter arrived at the Main Post Office in Vienna's Fleischmarkt addressed poste-restante to a Mr Nikon Nizetas. It was postmarked Eydtkunen, a German provincial town near the Russian border. After remaining for the maximum period allowed, it was returned to Eydtkunen and thence to Berlin to be returned to the sender. When it was opened, however, it aroused suspicion: it contained no less than 6,000 Austrian Kronen (today worth about £8,000) and the address of the sender was in Geneva. The letter was therefore passed on to German intelligence who traced the address to a retired French officer who was active in espionage. The Austrians too, were immediately informed and the man who took charge of investigations in Vienna was the head of military counter-intelligence there, Major Max Ronge. He had occupied the post for almost a year, having taken over from Colonel Alfred Redl, who had been temporarily reassigned to active duties as Chief of Staff of the Eighth Army Corps in Prague.

Ronge had the letter, now a little the worse for wear, duplicated and the duplicate returned to the Post Office in the Fleischmarkt to be picked up by the suspected spy, Nizetas. Three police officers were assigned to the Post Office to keep a watch on developments. For weeks, however, nothing happened, save that yet another two letters, containing 8,000 and 7,000 Austrian Kronen respectively arrived for Mr Nizetas, one from Eydtkunen again and one from Berlin, under a cypher indicating St Petersburg. The spy was now suspected therefore of having Russian as well as French connections. Both these letters were of course, left lying to be collected. The first, in fact, was now withdrawn in case it was seen to be an obvious fake.

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