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Komintern naval sabotages (Wollweber Group)

Soviet cogitations: 319
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 20 Feb 2010, 11:57
Resident Admiral
Post 02 Oct 2018, 10:18
The Wollweber Group was a secret communist international organization directed by the Soviet NKVD services and officially loyal to the Komintern.
The organization named after its leader Ernst Wollweber, a German national who took part in the failed Wilhelmshaven mutiny in 1918.
The group carried on sabotages and bomb attacks on ships across Europe in late ’30 and was formally named “Organization Against Fascism and in Support of the USSR” (other informal names, alongside the commonly used “Wollweber Group” were “Wollweber League”, “Wollweber Union” and “Union of Seamen”).

Membership of the group was international and involved sailors and workers in harbors.
The operations directed in support to the Republican Side during the Spanish Civil War and against Japanese ships.
The group was active even after the German-Soviet not-belligerence treaty for limited actions during the Winter War, but suffered a blow when the leaders arrested in Sweden.
Ernst Friedrich Wollweber would later survive the WW2 and become Minister of the State Security of the GDR.
A co-leader, the Norwegian Martin R. Hjelment (responsible for the North-Atlantic Area), arrested by Sweden police was passed to Gestapo and executed in 1944.

Despite their leader loss, the Norwegian branch was the most unscathed by the Gestapo hunts, and the local branch later developed into the WWII Resistance movement Osvald-Group.

Sources include the magnificent work done by (c)Alexander Rosin on the russian blog

Mysterious fires have been associated with the earlier operations of Wollweber Group, but none was confirmed and likely to be accidents, these include:
Multiple fires on British liner Bermuda (19086 GRT) (burned in 1931 after two separate fire incidents the shipyard in Belfast).
Fire on passenger ship Duke of Lancaster” (3608 GRT) in Heysham on 27/Nov/31 (ship recovered).

15 May 1932
The French liner George Phillipar (17359 GRT) sunk by fire in the Gulf of Aden. While officially blamed to an accident, there are rumors about a possible action of the very first agents of Wollweber Group. Later French inquiries confirmed the accidental nature of the fire. Interestingly, a Soviet tanker took part at the rescue operations.

?? November 1936
The German merchant Cape Anconia suffered a powerful explosion in Lisbon Harbor and sunk.
24 people killed during the sinking and 8 went missing (four probably just left the ship in time).
Details, actual responsibility, and clear identity of ship are unclear.

?? September 1937
First confirmed action of “Wollweber Group”, attack on the Italian merchant Alfredo Oriani (3105 GRT) ship in Antwerp (Belgium), with a bomb. A local agent carried onboard two incendiary bombs but no explosion occurred likely due mistakes from the operator.

18 November 1937
First successful action and one of the full sinking achieved. The Italian merchant Boccaccio (3097 GRT) (cargo: 2300tons of metal) sunk 29 miles from Brest In open sea. Agents inserted an explosive device in Antwerp (Belgium) and planned for the ship to sink slowly to avoid casualties (1 Italian officer however died).

29 January 1938
Incendiary bomb found on the Polish liner Batoroy (14287 GRT).

?? March 1938
German merchant Saar suffered damages by bomb in the port of Reval. Operation apparently carried on by the Danish Branch of the “Wollweber Group”.

2 March 1938
Japanese merchant Tajima Maru (7296 GRT) suffered an explosion in Breerhaven (Germany) but suffered only minor damages. The bomb placed in Rotterdam by German agents. The ship would later be renamed “Tazima Maru” and sunk in 1944 by American submarine.

19 March 1938
Another rare full sinking occurred when the German merchant Klaus Böge (2340 GRT) sunk in the North Sea, west of Esbjerg. The ship left the Oslo harbor and was sailing to support the Nationalists in Spain apparently with a cargo of explosive (or mineral ore according other source). Interestingly the Norwegian agent shouted from the dock “Rot Front!” while the ship was leaving to her fate.

9 April 1938
Once again the Polish liner Batory (14287 GRT) attacked. Once more, the incendiary bomb found in time and the ship suffered no damage. The ship departed from Copenhagen and known to trade with the Nationalists in Spain.

13 May 1938
Fire by explosion on the German merchant Nordeney in Hamburg.
According other source the bomb was found in time.

22 May 1938
Into the Danish shipyard of Frederikshavn (Denmark), bombs thrown to the newly constructed trawlers Ciergo and Abrego, inflicting damages, both ships destined for delivery to the Nationalist Spain authorities.
While directed by the local “Wollweber Group” the operation also included local Danish communists and local police detained several attackers.

23 June 1938
Arson on the German merchant Hestia, while being stationed in Passarges (nationalist Spain).

27 June 1938
German merchant Feronia suffered damages in the Kiel Damage after bomb explosion.

30 June 1938
Bomb explosion occurred on the Italian merchant Aventino (3861 GRT) while she was sailing between Tripoli and Tunisia in Mediterranean Sea. A number of sources claim ship sunk, but actually suffered only some damage (she sunk 1942 during WW2).

On the very same day, a bomb found on the Italian merchant Felce (5649 GRT) in Taranto harbor (Italy).

24 July 1938
The Japanese merchant Kasii Maru (8408 GRT) suffered heavy damages in the English Channel.
Despite the heavy damages, there were no victims. The explosive placed by the Belgian branch in Antwerp.
While claimed as a total-loss, the ship actually served again, until her sinking in 1944 by US plane.

7 August 1938
The large German passenger ship Reliance (19980 GRT) suffered a fire in Hamburg and become a total loss.
While this loss is not particularly detailed (likely due eventual capture of German agents), it was apparently the largest loss caused by the “Wollweber Group” because the Reliance was beached and never recovered until being scuttled in 1940.

22 September 1938
German merchant Phila heavily damaged in Konigsberg (large hole on the bow) after a bomb.
The bomb apparently carried onboard in Riga Harbor.

?? Autumn 1938
German merchant Deutschland suffered an explosion by bomb in Newfoundland.

4 November 1938
German merchant Vancouver (8269 GRT) suffered an explosion due bomb or limpet mine at Oakland Bay near San Francisco.

On unclear date, apparently still 1938, two other attacks related with “Wollweber Group” with damages inflicted to the Danish merchant Westplein and the Romanian merchant Bessarabia. Unknown details.

In 1939 the “Wollweber Group” made no significant action for two reasons:
1) Orders from Moscow due the Non-aggression Treaty between German and Soviet Union.
2) Heavy losses in terms of arrests by multiple European police, often with heavy participation and intelligence work from the German Gestapo. All members of Belgian and Dutch groups arrested.
The fire onboard French liner Ile de France (43153 GRT) on 18 April 1939 (with damages, later ship rebuilt) sometimes credited in old sources to the Wollweber Group appears very unlikely for the above-mentioned reasons.

March 1940
While not active in naval attacks, the “Wollweber Group” committed two bomb attacks against Finnish train lines during the Winter War in support of the Soviet war operations.

In May 1940
The “Wollweber Group” could mostly operate from the neutral Sweden as main base of operations.

4 June 1941
Mass arrest in Sweden of the local survived branch: 74 arrested and many sentenced. The co-leader of the “Wollweber Group”, the Norwegian Martin R. Hjelment was passed from Sweden police to the Gestapo and then executed in 1944.

August 1941
Possibly the very last action of the “Wollweber Group”, a failed attempt to attack with bomb the Finnish merchant Figge in Swedish harbor. It would be also the only WW2 related operation.

The most unscathed section of the “Wollweber Group” was the Norwegian branch: with the beginning of WW2 they re-organized as local partisan sabotage group named “Osvald Group” (after their leader) with close links to the Norwegian Communist Party and the Soviet Union.
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