BRAMA, Dec 3, 2003, 1:00 am ET|
On His Majesty's Secret Service
by Tony Leliw
Had Ukrainian-born Sidney Reilly, the inspiration behind Ian Fleming’s spy
character James Bond succeeded in his mission to topple Lenin, history may
have been kinder to his homeland.
The secret agent’s real undercover operation was to find out whether the
fledgling Bolshevik regime could be brought back into the war with Germany,
following the Brest-Litovsk Treaty of 1918.
Sigmund Rosenblum, taken around 1899, later to assume the false identity of Sidney Reilly.
Instead, Reilly, working for the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS),
the forerunner of MI6, took it upon himself to collaborate with
anti-Bolshevik forces, setting up a shadow government to follow a possible
The coup would be staged on September 6 during a joint meeting of the
Executive Council of the Sovnarkum (Council of People’s Commissars) and the
Moscow Soviet at the Bolshoi Theatre.
Reilly’s plan was to humiliate Lenin and Trotsky by having them led through
the streets without their trousers and not shot, thus preventing them being
made into martyrs.
Soviet accounts however differ, suggesting that Reilly really wanted them
shot, immediately on arrest.
Nobody will ever know, as chance would have it, somebody nearly got to Lenin
first, and Reilly’s plan was rumbled.
On August 30, Fanya Kaplan, a member of the Social Revolutionary Party fired
two shots at point blank range at Lenin after he left a meeting at the
Michelson Factory in Moscow.
One missed his heart by less than an inch - the other a jugular vein by a
Although the events were unconnected, it gave the Cheka, the Bolshevik
secret police, the opportunity to implicate all its opponents and punish
them in one foul swoop.
More than a thousand political opponents were rounded up and shot, and
Reilly barely escaped with his life. Condemned to death for his involvement
in the plot by the soviets, his British reward was to be given the Military
Cross for his espionage work.
Former foreign affairs specialist, Andrew Cook, who worked for British
defence ministers George Robertson and John Spellar, believes there was
never any sanctioned plot by the British Government or SIS to overthrow
Lenin, and that Reilly had acted on his own initiative.
From the start of his endeavours, Cook even asked his ex-boss Spellar
whether there really existed an MI6 report on Sidney Reilly. And when he
received a positive answer, he spent the next decade gaining access to more
than 2,000 closed or unpublished documents from British, French, American,
and other foreign intelligence agencies around the world.
Left: Salomon Rosenblum as a teenager.|
He later adopted the Germanic name Sigmund.
Right: One of the last photographs ever taken
of Reilly found in his OGPU file.
The end result for the 42-year-old author was that On His Majesty’s Secret
Service was published last year in Britain and Ukraine. It is being
re-published with more juicy details in Britain and Russia for the first
time in February.
Cook used a string of researchers in 14 countries including Vladislav Kiriya
from Ukraine, to untangle the truth from the myth about the life and origins
of Sidney Reilly.
“Painstaking work by Kiriya and others looking at family records uncovered
that Reilly was born in Kherson to Mikhail and Paulina Rosenblum in 1873,”
“He was the product of an adulterous affair, as Grigory was married to
Paulina Mikhail was a close relative of Grigory’s.
“We discovered this by writing to every Rosenblum in Odessa,” says Cook in
A lucky break came when KGB files suggested that Rosenblum might have lived
at 15 Alexandrovsky Prospect in Odessa as a teenager.
“We know that at number 27 his half-sister Elena lived there until 1919,”
added Cook excitedly, “and a photograph of Boris Rosenblum his
half-brother, son of Mikhail, was also uncovered from family photographs.”
The young Shlomo Rosenblum (the would-be Reilly) was believed to have
attended the 3rd Odessa Gymnasium and the city’s Novorossiysky University.
Involved in fomenting student unrest in Odessa, he came to the attention of
the Imperial Russian Secret Police, the Ochrana. This forced Rosenblum to
flee to France and by the winter of 1895, he found himself in London,
There he not only began to build himself a new life, but also a fresh
identity. He discarded his Ukrainian-Jewish background, befriended a wealthy
semi-invalid called Rev Hugh Thomas and masterminded his death so that he
could marry his young wife Margaret and inherit her fortune.
Having a good knowledge in chemistry and knowing that Thomas suffered from
Bright’s Disease (chronic inflammation of the kidneys) he not only hastened
the old man’s death by giving him doses of arsenic, but he impersonated the
local doctor and signed the death certificate.
Alexandrovsky Prospect, Odessa, in the late 19th century, looking towards Novorossiysky University.
Rosenblum was now called Sidney Reilly, a name taken from an Irish child’s
birth certificate - the real Sidney Reilly probably was born and died a few
hours after his birth.
Knowing several languages and having Russian contacts, Reilly was perfect
spy material for the British Secret Intelligence Service.
“His prime motivation lay not with ideology, but with money and the
pleasures it could bring,” writes Cook in his book. Reilly’s adventures were
He would have four wives one of which was Nadine, who went on to marry
Gustav Nobel of the Nobel Peace Prize family.
Three of his marriages were bigamous and he had a string of mistresses from
New York to Poltava-born, Nadezhda Massino, wife of Petr Ivanovich Zalessky,
a naval lieutenant who took part in the defence of Port Arthur during the
siege of 1904.
Reilly’s demise came when he was lured to Russia, despite warnings from his
colleagues. The head of the OGPU, the Soviet intelligence service, created a
fictitious organisation called the Trust, responsible for co-ordinating
There he was caught and executed on November 5, 1925, on direct orders from
Stalin. His body was then put in a sack so that nobody could identify him,
and placed in a burial pit in the Lubyanka Inner Yard.
Cook travelled to Russia and met Boris Gudz, formerly a OGPU colonel
involved in Operation Trust. Gudz, now aged 101-years-old, knew the officers
deputed to shoot Reilly.
Autopsy records and a picture of Reilly on a mortuary slab was also
authenticated by a top Scotland Yard forensic scientist employed by Cook.
The forensic report, new archive material from Ottoman Empire records
tracing Reilly’s whereabouts in 1908-09 and more pictures appear in the
Ian Fleming, a naval intelligence officer during the Second World War, never
met Reilly gleaning most of his information about him from a former diplomat
Robert Bruce Lockhart, who had worked with him in Russia.
Fleming did go to Russia in the early 1930s but as a Reuters correspondent
to cover the Metro-Vickers trial, dealing with six British engineers accused
“Reilly was the inspiration behind his James Bond figure,” says Cook. “James
Bond being a composite of five or six people, of which the biggest is Ian
Fleming himself, it’s his ultra ego.
“Being desk-bound, Fleming was living his dreams through his character.
Having said that, there were similar traits between Reilly and Bond. Both
were orientalists, connoisseurs of food and wine, womanisers and gamblers.”
Although there is hot speculation as to who will take over Pierce Brosnan as
the new James Bond, Cook believes the actor Sean Connery has been the most
true to Fleming’s character.
“He managed to combine this dark, hard, ruthless image along with the
humour,” says Cook passionately.
Despite his “inspirational” Ukrainian roots, Cook points out that Fleming
gave Bond a Scottish father and a Swiss mother.
Tony Leliw is a London-based journalist whose articles have appeared in respected publications such as the London Evening Standard and The Times, as well as news services in Ukraine and the U.S.
Feature stories by Mr. Leliw that have been published on Brama include : Vilified, slandered and abused for telling the truth about Communism (Oct 1 03),
Malcolm Muggeridge Centenary: the journalist who reported that more than 7 million starved to death in Ukraine (Jul 30 03),
Christian fundamentalism and corruption: a member of the British House of Lords offers her views on the Iraq war and Ukraine (Mar 24 03),
Voting, for a song (May 27 03), and
The road from Ukraine to Westminster and back (Jan 1 03).
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