Thursday, 30 September 2010

On This Day in Scottish Military History #1: The German Spies of Port Gordon

Because of the seventieth anniversary of the Battle of Britain being so widely publicised lately I have decided to start a regular post on the blog with the theme of on this day on Scottish military history. Sometimes the posts will coincide with well known dates of battles we’ll all recognise, sometimes like today the anniversary will be for a lesser known event. The anniversaries will not just be for the Second World War, some will be for the Great War and earlier but all will have a connection to Scotland’s military past.

By 30th September 1940 war had already come close to Port Gordon in Banffshire. The Luftwaffe had raided the nearby coast and the RAF had built an air base at Dallachy, but on this day seventy years ago three German agents actually arrived on the Moray Firth.

Operation Hummer Nord I was an Abwher operation to land spies into the UK. Robert Petter (aka Werner Walti), Karl Drucke and Vera Eriksen were landed off the Scottish coast by a seaplane flying from Stavanger in Norway. They paddled ashore to the mouth of the Burn of Gollachy by rubber dinghy from the plane but lost their bicycles in the process.

They still retained their radio transmitters which were crucial to their mission so instead of cycling inland as they had planned two of them chose to walk to Port Gordon to catch a train. The third started off to Buckie to try to make his own way to London where they were all to meet up again.

Drucke and Eriksen walked to Port Gordon railway station and arrived at seven thirty in the morning. Port Gordon had been used to strangers coming and going from the RAF camp but these two were quite obviously fish out of water.

They didn’t know where they were, they had funny accents, too much money and their feet were wet. Stationmaster John Donald and porter John Geddes knew something wasn’t right so while Geddes distracted them Donald contacted the local policeman

Vera Eriksen was of Russian descent and had a shady past in France and Belgium involving a White Russian spy and a German aristocrat. Karl Drucke was German and couldn’t even speak English. Locals described them afterwards as having guttural accents. They pretended to be refugees but when Constable Robert Grieve arrived he found their papers were wrong.

They were taken to Buckie police station and a search of their luggage was enough to incriminate them. Knives, pistols, wireless equipment, lists of RAF bases, hundreds of pounds in Bank of English notes, a torch saying ‘Made in Bohemia’, and worst of all, a half-eaten German sausage!

A search by the Buckie coastguard soon turned up their dinghy and their fate was sealed.

Robert Petter was slightly more successful. He had managed to get a train from Buckie to Aberdeen and then made it to Edinburgh. He had been noticed by Aberdeen Police boarding the train to Edinburgh and when they heard of the spies at Buckie the Special in Branch were notified and arrested him in Waverley Station.

All three were taken to London and after a trial at the Old Bailey in 1941 Robert Petter and Karl Drucke were hanged in Wandsworth prison. Amazingly Vera Erikson was never put on trial and even managed to escape after being deported back to Germany after the war. To this day no-one knows her fate.

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