The Red Orchestra was the name given to a network of communist, Soviet-affiliated spies during World War II. The group provided intelligence to the Soviet government, but also functioned as a resistance organization against the Nazis. During its three years in operation, the Red Orchestra smuggled key German secrets and documents to Allied forces, and rescued several political prisoners, mostly communist dissidents.
Leopold Trepper, a Polish-born Jew and communist activist, joined the Soviet Red Army Intelligence Service in the mid-1930s. He was later assigned to the Peoples Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), a fledgling Soviet secret police and espionage agency. Before World War II began in Europe, Trepper established a network of communist sympathizers and leftist political activists. When the war began in 1939, Trepper turned his network into a spy ring, bent on gathering Nazi secrets and other intelligence useful to the Soviet army.
Trepper's network, the Red Orchestra, soon had operating divisions, or rings, in Nazi occupied France, Belgium, Holland, and neutral Switzerland. Each ring had varying successes. The French unit provided information to Resistance fighters and infiltrated several Nazi offices in Paris, stealing documents and radio equipment. Red Orchestra agents infiltrated the German military intelligence Abwehr headquarters in Paris and successfully tapped its phones. This permitted agents to intercept intelligence information transmitted directly from Berlin.
The greatest espionage achievement of the organization, however, was that of the Swiss ring, nicknamed Lucy. The Red Orchestra unit received leaked information and a document relating to the Nazi plan to invade the Soviet Union. These documents, which included the proposed date for the launch of the offensive, were turned over to the Soviet army and government, but were wholly ignored.
Trepper's network began to crumble in 1942, when several Red Orchestra agents were arrested in Belgium. Later that year, the Gestapo tracked down Trepper himself and arrested him in Paris. The Gestapo managed to find and eliminate many Red Orchestra agents. Some rings continued to operate throughout the war, but on a smaller scale. Trepper escaped his Nazi captors and tried to rebuild his group, but by 1944 the Red Orchestra network had been largely dissolved.
█ FURTHER READING:
Tarrant, V. E. The Red Orchestra, the Soviet Spy Network Inside Nazi Europe. New York: Bantam, 1996.