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Hitler's Man in Havana

Heinz Luning and Nazi Espionage in Latin America

Thomas Schoonover

Publication Year: 2008

When Heinz Lüning posed as a Jewish refugee to spy for Hitler’s Abwehr espionage agency, he thought he had discovered the perfect solution to his most pressing problem: how to avoid being drafted into Hitler’s army. Lüning was unsympathetic to Fascist ideology, but the Nazis’ tight control over exit visas gave him no chance to escape Germany. He could enter Hitler’s army either as a soldier . . . or a spy. In 1941, he entered the Abwehr academy for spy training and was given the code name “Lumann.” Soon after, Lüning began the service in Cuba that led to his ultimate fate of being the only German spy executed in Latin America during World War II. Lüning was not the only spy operating in Cuba at the time. Various Allied spies labored in Havana; the FBI controlled eighteen Special Intelligence Service operatives, and the British counterintelligence section subchief Graham Greene supervised Secret Intelligence Service agents; and Ernest Hemingway’s private agents supplied inflated and inaccurate information about submarines and spies to the U.S. ambassador, Spruille Braden. Lüning stumbled into this milieu of heightened suspicion and intrigue. Poorly trained and awkward at his work, he gathered little information worth reporting, was unable to build a working radio and improperly mixed the formulas for his secret inks. Lüning eventually was discovered by British postal censors and unwittingly provided the inspiration for Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana. In chronicling Lüning’s unlikely trajectory from a troubled life in Germany to a Caribbean firing squad, Thomas D. Schoonover makes brilliant use of untapped documentary sources to reveal the workings of the famed Abwehr and the technical and social aspects of Lüning’s spycraft. Using archival sources from three continents, Schoonover offers a narrative rich in atmospheric details to reveal the political upheavals of the time, not only tracking Lüning’s activities but also explaining the broader trends in the region and in local counterespionage. Schoonover argues that ambitious Cuban and U.S. officials turned Lüning’s capture into a grand victory. For at least five months after Lüning’s arrest, U.S. and Cuban leaders—J. Edgar Hoover, Fulgencio Batista, Nelson Rockefeller, General Manuel Benítez, Ambassador Spruille Braden, and others—treated Lüning as a dangerous, key figure for a Nazi espionage network in the Gulf-Caribbean. They reworked his image from low-level bumbler to master spy, using his capture for their own political gain. In the sixty years since Lüning’s execution, very little has been written about Nazi espionage in Latin America, partly due to the reticence of the U.S. government. Revealing these new historical sources for the first time, Schoonover tells a gripping story of Lüning’s life and capture, suggesting that Lüning was everyone’s man in Havana but his own.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front cover

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pp. ix-xiii

Latin America was one of the few parts of the world that was not directly involved in World War II. As air raids and land campaigns laid waste to cities and countryside in Asia, Europe, and Africa, Latin America appeared to have remained at the margins of the drama that engulfed the vast portion of humanity. ...

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pp. xv-xxi

On August 31, 1942, the combined efforts of British, Cuban, and U.S. counterintelligence captured a German Abwehr (intelligence) agent, A-3779, Heinz August Adolf Sirich L


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pp. xxiii-xxiv

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Introduction: Pushed to the Edge of Defeat in 1942

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pp. 3-10

The Lüning episode had characteristics of the contemporary “weapons of mass destruction” phenomenon. It was seized as an opportunity to manipulate opinion and to produce beneficial rewards and consequences for these manipulators. Political, military, and counterespionage leaders sought praise, prestige, and power for their institutions. ...

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1. A Troubled Life

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pp. 11-23

In September 1942, the recently captured Nazi Abwehr agent in Havana Heinz August L

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2. The World He Scarcely Knew

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pp. 25-51

Despite being considered by several Allied officials the most important Nazi spy caught in Latin America during World War II, Heinz L

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3. Back to School! Trained as a Nazi Spy

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pp. 53-61

In July 1941, Hans Joachim Koelln arranged for Lüning to enter the Abwehr academy in Hamburg. From the beginning, Lüning seemed anxious to go to the Western Hemisphere. Later, after he was captured, rumors surfaced about earlier Abwehr service. ...

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4. Tested in Action

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pp. 63-92

Despite a rather dismal record of education in his young life, Lüning had finished the Abwehr academy. This may say more about the Abwehr’s need for agents than Lüning’s maturity or suitability as an agent. Perhaps the Abwehr was more concerned about getting people into Latin America than locating and training qualified agents. ...

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5. Failure and Fatality

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pp. 93-122

To all appearances, the Germans operated an effective, dangerous spy network. The evidence was the catastrophically successful German U-boat campaign in the Gulf-Caribbean from February to November 1942. Presumably, terminating the German spy network in the Caribbean would involve hard work, intrigue, cunning, and humor. ...

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6. Their Man in Havana

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pp. 123-140

On October 25, 1942, Washington, D.C., police motorcycles escorted a vain Cuban chief of police, General Manuel Benítez, through the capital, for a meeting with J. Edgar Hoover. Benítez and Hoover basked in the light of photographers’ flashbulbs as they shared the glory of capturing Germany’s master spy in the Americas. They also shared a cover-up. ...

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7. Graham Greene's Man in Havana

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pp. 141-154

Lüning was reincarnated fifteen years later in the guise of James Wormold, Great Britain’s and Graham Greene’s “man in Havana.” Graham Greene, who served in MI6 and shared responsibility for oversight of British counterespionage in the Caribbean in 1943 and 1944, apparently drew on the importance assigned to Lüning and the large volume of ma-...

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pp. 155-158

Lüning’s brief career served others more effectively than it served him. He was, in fact, first Hitler’s, then Canaris’s, Benítez’s, Batista’s, Braden’s, and Hoover’s man in Havana. After the war, Lüning became Theodore Koop’s, Kurt Singer’s, Klaus-Peter Bochow’s, and Graham Greene’s man in Havana. ...


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pp. 159-185


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pp. 187-207


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pp. 209-218

E-ISBN-13: 9780813173023
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813125015

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2008