Childhood & Early Life
He was born on October 4, 1895, in Sabunchi, a suburb of Baku (at that time a part of the Russian Empire), to Wilhelm Richard Sorge and Nina Semionovna Kobieleva as the youngest of their nine children.
His father was a German while his mother was a Russian. He worked with the ‘Caucasian Oil Company’ as a mining engineer. After his father’s contract expired, the family moved to Germany where he was brought up in a cosmopolitan upper middle class household.
He joined the German Army in October 1914, following the outbreak of ‘First World War’ on July 28, 1914. He was posted in the ‘3rd Guards Corps’ at a field artillery battalion. He was 18 at that time.
In March 1916, he got badly injured when three of his fingers were cut off by shrapnel while serving the Western Front. The incident also broke his legs that caused permanent damage making him limp throughout his life. He became a corporal after a promotion and was awarded the ‘Iron Cross’.
While recovering from injury he got involved in a relationship with a nurse. Greatly motivated by her father, Sorge went through the works of Marx and turned a Communist.
After his recovery, he studied economics in Hamburg, Berlin and Kiel universities. In August 1919, he obtained a Dr. rer. pol. (doctorate in political science) from Hamburg University.
He later joined the ‘Communist Party of Germany’ and participated in different Leftist agitations. He worked as a teacher for a while and also served a coal mine, but lost both his jobs due to his political views.
He moved to the Soviet Union and joined the ‘Comintern’ in Moscow as a junior agent.
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The Soviet intelligence inducted him as an agent and Sorge visited many European nations as a journalist to examine possibilities of communist revolutions.
In 1922 after relocating to Frankfurt, he was delegated to collect intelligence regarding the business community.
In 1923 he participated in the ‘Erste Marxistische Arbeitswoche’, a Marxist conference in Ilmenau in Thuringia, Germany. While working as a journalist, he helped in setting up library of the ‘Institute for Social Research’.
Officially he was inducted in the Comintern’s ‘International Liaison Department’ in 1924 after he relocated to Moscow.
In 1929 he became associated with the ‘Fourth Department’ of the ‘Red Army’ and continued the association throughout his life.
In 1929, he visited the UK to covertly observe the position of the ‘Communist Party of Great Britain’, the economic and political scenario of the country and also the labour movement there.
As per instruction, he went to Germany in November 1929 and joined the ‘Nazi Party’. He took a cover job in ‘Deutsche Getreide-Zeitung’, an agricultural newspaper and as ordered kept away from left-wing activists.
He relocated to Shanghai, China, in1930 where he took a cover job of an editor in a German news service. His job allowed him to travel across the country and that helped him to contact several ‘Chinese Communist Party’ members.
His reporting in January 1932 included the clash of the Chinese and Japanese forces in Shanghai streets. In December 1932 he went back to Moscow and there he penned down a book on Chinese agriculture.
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As instructed by the ‘GRU’ in May 1933, Sorge, codenamed as ‘Ramsay’, was asked to visit Japan with the objective of setting up an intelligence ring there. In this pursuit, he first travelled to Berlin, Germany, to revive his contacts there.
He obtained assignments from newspapers ‘Tägliche Rundschau’ and ‘Berliner Börsen Zeitung’, ‘Geopolitik’, a Nazi journal and also from ‘Frankfurter Zeitung’ so as to get cover as a reporter to visit Japan. In August 1933 he finally went to Japan.
On September 6, 1933, he reached Yokohama. As ordered he refrained from any link with either the Soviet Embassy or the ‘Japanese Communist Party’.
The intelligence ring of Sorge in Japan included Max Clausen, Branko Vukelić, Hotsumi Ozaki and Miyagi Yotoku among others. Anna, wife of Clausen often worked as a messenger within the network.
He successfully created a ring of informers in Japan during 1933 to 1934, who were in touch with senior Japanese politicians. This helped him in getting Japan’s foreign policy information. One of his agents, Ozaki, who developed association with the then Prime minister of Japan, Fumimaro Konoe, was able to copy classifieds for him.
To avoid a possible risk of imprisonment and execution during the ‘Great Purge’ in 1937, Sorge defied the instruction of Stalin and returned to the Soviet Union.
He informed the Soviet intelligence regarding the ‘German-Japanese Pact’ and the ‘Anti-Comintern Pact’.
According to a Soviet press report in 1964, Sorge on June 15, 1941, informed the Soviets through a radio dispatch that the ‘Operation Barbarossa’, a forthcoming attack on USSR by the ‘Axis’ powers, will commence on June 22.
On September 14, 1941, Sorge informed the ‘Red Army’ that Japan was not planning an attack on the Soviets. This probably helped the Soviets to relocate their troops from Far East to the Western Front to combat Nazi Germany during the crucial ‘Battle of Moscow’ that resulted in the first strategic defeat of the Germans.
Around 1941, Sorge came under suspicion of the Germans and on October 18, 1941, he was captured by the Japanese police in Tokyo and confined at the ‘Sugamo Prison’. At first the Japanese suspected him as an ‘Abwehr’ agent, due to his German association.
After denial by the ‘Abwehr’, Sorge admitted being a Soviet agent. However, when the Soviets denied his claim and refused to exchange him with a Japanese spy, Sorge was hanged to death on November 7, 1944.
He was interred in the graveyard of the ‘Sugamo Prison’ and later his remains were shifted to Fuchū, Tokyo’s ‘Tama Cemetery’.