Thursday, May 14, 2009

Kurt Frederick Ludwig

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Kurt Frederick Ludwig

Kurt Frederick Ludwig (1903-?) was a German spy and the head of the "Joe K" spy ring in the United States in 1940-41.

The ring was known as Joe K because it was the signature used in letters sent to Berlin addresses giving information on Allied shipping in New York Harbor. Ludwig also used the code name Fouzie and at least 50 to 60 other aliases, both male and female.


1 Early life and career

2 Setting up the ring

3 The search for the spy ring

4 An accident in Times Square

5 Investigation

6 Surveillance

7 Associates

8 Flight and capture

9 Trial and conviction

10 External links


Early life and career

Born in Fremont, Ohio, Ludwig was taken to Germany as a child, and there he grew up and married. He visited the United States several times in the 1920s and 1930s. He was arrested in Austria for espionage in February 1938 just prior to the Anschluss after police had noticed that he had been photographing bridges in the border between Germany and Austria; however, his case was delayed and when time came to act upon his case, the Nazis had taken over Austria the following month. Ludwig then returned to Germany and stayed there until March 1940, when he was ordered to return to the United States to establish a spy ring there.

Setting up the ring

Upon arrival Ludwig went to a boarding house located in Ridgewood, Queens. He set himself up as a leather-goods salesman and proceeded to recruit agents and couriers from various German-American Bund groups in the New York/Brooklyn area in preparation for his espionage activity: he recruited six men and two women for this purpose, several of whom had little practical experience in espionage. One of the two women was Lucy Boehmler, a pretty 18-year old high school graduate from Maspeth, Queens, who joined up because she thought it might be fun.

Money used to fund his operations were paid through the German Consulate in New York.

Ludwig made a practice of visiting docks in New York Harbor and along the New Jersey coast where, from his observations, he could report information to Germany on the identities of the ships and their cargoes. He also visited various U.S. Army posts, and reported on the identities of the individual units of each, as well as their organization and equipment which he felt would be of interest to his superiors. By December, Ludwig had also included information regarding aircraft manufacturing and performance based on his surveillance of aircraft plants in the Long Island area (notably Grumman, to which he assigned the codename "Grace").

Information that the ring had gleaned were sent to Germany, as well as to accommodation addresses in neutral Spain and Portugal through letters containing messages written in invisible ink. Letters of the highest priority were bound for Heinrich Himmler, who was assigned the alias "Manuel Alonzo"; Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the RSHA was "Lothar Frederick". Other recipients were assigned similar codenames.

The search for the spy ring

Authorities in both the U.S. and the United Kingdom were by that time aware that a spy ring was operating out of New York City. The first break came when British Imperial Censorship in Bermuda, run by the British Security Coordination (BSC) actually a cover for the Secret Intelligence Service intercepted a letter written to "Lothar Frederick" and signed by a "Joe K". As it was known that "Lothar" was an alias used by Heydrich, a watch was set for any letter with the Joe K signature. Subsequent letters from Joe K were intercepted, their contents read and recorded, and the envelopes so carefully resealed that their recipients would not detect any evidence of tampering.

Joe K had shown up as the signature on many letters sent to accommodation addresses. In March 1941 BSC chemists detected secret writing in a Joe K letter; the secret message referred to a duplicate letter sent to "Smith" in China. The BSC mail-intercept operation was run in coordination with the FBI even though J. Edgar Hoover, the Director of the FBI, and William Stephenson, the head of the BSC, did not get along. The FBI was able to trace the Smith letter and found that it contained a plan of U.S. defenses in Pearl Harbor.

Despite this break, they were still in the dark as to who were involved in the spy ring, until an unexpected event took place that led eventually to its unravelling and downfall.

An accident in Times Square

On the night of March 18, 1941, two men were reportedly arguing about the proper way to cross an intersection in a busy section of Times Square in New York when one of them, a middle-aged man wearing horn-rimmed spectacles and carrying a brown briefcase, foolishly made the attempt to cross the street against a traffic light.

Meanwhile, Sam Lichtman, a cabdriver from...(and so on)
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