Military Review

John Cairncross's finest hour

John Cairncross's finest hourThe British press 5 in October 1995 of the year reported the death of 82-year-old retired UN official John Cairncross. Soon this news was picked up by the media all over the world. Newspaper reports said that the fifth member of the famous Cambridge Five, an agent group of Soviet foreign intelligence, which supplied the Soviet Union with important strategic information from London during World War II, passed away. It was especially emphasized that the information of Cairncross helped the Soviet military command to win the Battle of Kursk, change the course of military actions in favor of the USSR and finally predetermine the outcome of the Great Patriotic War, and with it the outcome of the Second World War. This event did not go unnoticed in the Russian press, which devoted a number of articles to Kernkross.

In July of this year, 70 celebrated the historic battle at Kursk, the special contribution to the victory in which belonged to the humble Scot John Kernkross.


John Alexander Kerkland Kerncross was born on July 25 of 1913 in Glasgow (Scotland) into a large family of a small shopkeeper, a hardware dealer, and a teacher. The family was not rich, but his father, stubborn and ambitious, like all Scots, has ensured that all his children received a good education. After graduating from higher education, two older brothers John taught at the universities of Glasgow and Cambridge, and later entered the civil service. John's sisters became schoolteachers. John was the youngest child in the family, therefore the most beloved. Before 15, he studied at a local school, and then studied for two years at the Hamilton Academy, which was equated with a college in Scotland. In 1930, John enters the University of Glasgow, where he intensively studies political economy, German and French, and English philology.

The persistence of a young Scotsman who could only rely on himself, and not on noble relatives, was noticed by the university management, and in 1933, he was sent to continue his studies and improve his French language skills at the famous Sorbonne in Paris. Here, during a year of university studies, he received a Ph.D. in philology, after which, in October, he entered 1934 with the right to receive a scholarship to graduate school at Cambridge Trinity College. In February, a young man in Paris 1934 witnessed the attacks of the French Nazis, who carried out a noisy demonstration on the Place de la Concorde: they shouted out anti-communist slogans, threatened to crack down on all the “red” and “aliens”, vigorously welcomed Hitler’s victory in Germany and the establishment of a fascist regime in country. These scenes of rampant right made a deep impression on John Cairncross, who became a staunch opponent of Nazism.

Studying in Trinity College, where he studied in depth the work of the great French playwright Moliere, brought him to the left-wing students, united in the Socialist Student Union. John’s training curator was Anthony Blunt, a member of the Cambridge Intelligence Group. Under his influence, John joined the British Communist Party. While studying at Trinity College, he visited Germany in 1935 to improve his German language skills. His left convictions turned into a firm conviction that Hitler can only be stopped by the joint efforts of England and the Soviet Union.

In 1936, Cairncross brilliantly defended his thesis on the work of Moliere, and translated a number of his works into English.


After graduating from Trinity College with a Bachelor of Arts degree, Kernkross successfully passed the exams for diplomatic service. He was first in the list of examinees and was hired by the British Foreign Office as the third secretary of his American section. John did not mention his membership in the British Communist Party.

In 1937, Blunt, who had friendly relations with Cairncross, recommended him as a candidate for recruitment to NKVD’s London illegal residency officer, Arnold Deutsch. Blunt described John as a promising assistant, capable of obtaining intelligence information of interest to the Center, including in the United States. The intelligence leadership, however, was in no hurry to recruit, instructing Deutsch to explore more deeply and thoroughly the personal and business qualities and political convictions of Cairncross.

It should be noted here that in 1934, Deutsch joined the first Cambridge Five member, Kim Philby, in collaboration with Soviet intelligence. Then, on the recommendation of Philby to cooperate with the Soviet intelligence, steel became Donald MacLaine, Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt. When Blunt recommended Deutsch pay attention to Cairncross, the latter did not rush. He rechecked Cairncross through other connections in Cambridge student circles, which also gave him a positive response.

Even the first contacts of Deutsch with Cairncross showed that John really is an ideologically close person to us, a friend of the Soviet Union. Considering the Scottish youth, Deutsch first of all engaged in his preparation for work as an agent of illegal intelligence, bearing in mind that these people, in addition to ideological affinity, are obliged to possess deep conspiracy skills, know the techniques and rules of undercover work. Kerncross, on the recommendation of Deutsch, withdrew from the Communist Party and broke off contacts with its members.

John Kernkross was assigned the operational pseudonym "Sheet" (he had several operational pseudonyms, but we will use this). In one of the operational letters to the Deutsch Center wrote:

The "leaf" comes from a Scottish petty-bourgeois family. Since life is hard for the Scots, they are very hardworking and thrifty. The Scots do not like the British. The “sheet” inherited some of these traits. He is a pedantic, efficient, diligent and thrifty person. He is a very educated, serious and committed communist. He immediately expressed his willingness to work with us and takes our business very responsibly. The “leaf” is a modest, sometimes naive and slightly provincial person. He is trusting, outwardly very simple and sweet. Normal for women. Disciplined and careful. He trusts us completely, and we are a great authority for him. ”


In April, 1937, six months after joining the MFA, J. Kernkross was recruited. Since September of the same year, he began to supply Soviet intelligence with top-secret documents, mainly on German subjects.

In April, 1938, the “List” was communicated to the head of the “legal” residency in London, Grigory Grappen (operational pseudonym “Sam”). But in November of the same year, "Sam" was recalled to Moscow and arrested "for contact with the Trotskyists." An employee of “legal” residency, Anatoly Gorsky, received a “list” of communication.

At the UK Foreign Office, Cairncross worked until the end of 1938, when he was transferred from White Hall to the Treasury Department. Explaining the reasons for the dismissal of Liszt from the Foreign Ministry, Gorsky wrote to the Center in an operational letter: “He himself claims that he was dismissed from there only because he did not graduate from Public School, and this is in the British Foreign Ministry — the stronghold of snobbery and reaction — is considered a stain, able to ruin a novice career even with the most brilliant abilities. “Stewart” (pseudonym of Donald MacLaine. - Auth.) Once told me that “Liszt” was fired only because of the incompetent but titled masses, he stood out and came to the court. I believe that this explanation can be fully believed. "

Although Cairncross’s intelligence services were significantly narrowed at the Ministry of Finance, he managed to hand over to Soviet intelligence a number of documents of interest, including a report prepared for the country's leadership on Germany’s economic cooperation with Britain and the United States. From Liszt’s documents, it followed that the United States and Great Britain were arming Germany strenuously to direct its aggression against the Soviet Union. Only from October 1924 and until the end of 1929, the German industry received over one billion dollars through US banks (at today's dollar rate, this amount can be easily multiplied by ten. - Auth.). By the beginning of the 1930-s in Germany there were branches of over sixty American companies. Germany has concluded cartel agreements on the division of markets with the United States over 160, with Berlin playing the leading role in these agreements. Trade with the Nazis continued until the final defeat of the Third Reich, despite the fact that in December 1941, Germany declared war on the United States, and American ships were delivered from German bombs and torpedoes, delivering weapons and food to Europe for Great Britain and the USSR. This policy of American capital was not, of course, accidental.


At the beginning of 1940, on the instructions of the USSR People's Commissar of Internal Affairs Beria, the NKVD residency in London was liquidated as not causing political trust. This was connected with the flight to the USA of the resident of the NKVD in Spain, Alexander Orlov (“Swede”), who previously headed the illegal residency of the NKVD in London and was directly involved in working with the Cambridge Group. After Orlov fled to the USA, the connection with the Cambridge Five was temporarily stopped and resumed only in December 1940 after re-coming to London as head of the “legal” residency of Anatoly Gorsky, previously recalled to Moscow.

Gorsky (operational nickname "Vadim") was given the main task - to restore communication with the "Cambridge Five". As soon as possible, "Vadim" decided it, however, he had to meet with Kerncross and other members of the "five" literally under the roar of German bombs aviation, which regularly bombed the British capital.

At a meeting with Vadim and Liszt in December 1940, the operative found out that he had been working as personal secretary to Lord Maurice Hanky ​​since July of the same year, who served as chairman of the British Science Committee, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Minister without a portfolio of the military office. Lord Hanky ​​oversaw the conduct of war, led the work of the special services of Great Britain, was the chairman of a dozen commissions that dealt with issues of defense, security, scientific research, etc. The post of Lord’s personal secretary led the Liszt to an extremely important channel of secret information and significantly expanded its intelligence capabilities. Thus, from January to May 1941, numerous materials were received from the source, indicating that the Soviet Union would be the next victim of the German attack. Only in May 1941 of the year, in particular, from the “List” received the text of a telegram sent by the British ambassador in Ankara, in which it was said about the transfer of German warships to the Black Sea; Excerpts from a review of British intelligence by the SIS from 4 to 11 in May on German plans for the USSR; information about the dislocation of the Luftwaffe near the Soviet-Polish border and a number of other extremely important materials. The report on the work of the resident with the source, sent to the 31 Center in May 1941, stated that the materials received from him made 60 films.

At the end of 1940, the head of the scientific and technical intelligence of the NKVD, Leonid Kvasnikov, sent out a number of foreign residencies an instruction to obtain information about the possible work being done in these countries weapons. This problem was new, unexplored. The first to respond was the London residency. In September, 1941 of the year, Liszt conveyed to its curator a report from the Uranium Committee to Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The document sent to the Center said about the beginning of work on the creation of an atomic bomb in the United Kingdom and the United States (the Tube Ellois project), reported on its proposed design and transferring the center of gravity of costly research and possible production to the United States in connection with the military situation in Europe. This document later played an important role in the fact that Moscow took the problem of creating atomic weapons seriously, and in the postwar period the Soviet Union was able to create an atomic bomb as soon as possible and thereby put an end to the US monopoly in this area.

John Cairncross in the last years of his life.

However, in connection with the transformation of the apparatus of Lord Hanky ​​and his transfer to another post, there was a question about the further work with Liszt. He himself told the curator that he intended to get a job in the British radio interception and decryption service. This intention of Liszt was approved by the Center, which in this case could gain access to the ciphered reports of British intelligence about the plans of the German command in relation to the USSR. Liszt managed to get a job at the Government School of Codes and Ciphers in Bletchley Park, which trained personnel for the British decryption service, and after graduating from school, in its top secret department of ISOS (Oliver Streychi's source of intelligence). This deciphering secret service was named after the legendary British cryptanalyst of the First World War, Oliver Strachey, who managed to unlock the codes of the countries of the Fourth Union, including the German ones. Subsequently, he was the leading expert of the British Ministry of Foreign Affairs on codes and ciphers, and during the Second World War he headed the ISOS.

As a specialist in the field of German, as well as a interpreter and rector of intercepted German communications, Liszt for more than a year passed on to the employees of the London residency the extremely important materials of the British special services.

Among the decrypted documents that “List” had access to, there were a lot of materials concerning the plans of the German high command on the Eastern Front. In this regard, it is necessary to emphasize that despite the fact that during the war years the Soviet Union and Great Britain were allies in the anti-Hitler coalition, the British did not inform us of the intercepted and deciphered German materials concerning the USSR. However, thanks to "List" the State Defense Committee was aware of the plans of the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front. His information was highly appreciated by the Soviet military command.


However, Liszt’s finest hour came in 1943. The British deciphered almost all the materials sent to the troops by the German General Staff, as well as the naval and aviation headquarters. The station received the most important documents from Liszt immediately to Moscow.

In April, 1943 of the year, Liszt, provided extremely important information that during the summer military campaign Germany intends to take revenge for the defeat at Stalingrad and launch a large-scale offensive in the region of Kursk and Orel (Operation Citadel).

Thus, based on the information of “List” of the NKGB of the USSR, 7 of May 1943 of the year sent a special message No. 136 / M to the State Defense Committee on the obtained intelligence data concerning the German plan of the offensive operation “Citadel” and the German command assessing the combat readiness of the Soviet troops in the Kursk-Belgorod sector.

A little later, Liszt informed the Center that Hitler had allocated 50 Wehrmacht divisions to carry out the Citadel offensive. He indicated the approximate dates of the offensive, as well as the technical characteristics of the new German tanks "Tiger", "Panther" and self-propelled guns "Ferdinand", which Hitler relied on in the summer campaign of 1943. In addition, ciphers of callsigns from fascist aviation based on airfields located in the temporarily occupied Soviet territory were received from List. In May 1943, the front-line agents of the Bryansk Front confirmed the information received from List. And finally, on June 23, 1943, the 4th intelligence and sabotage department of the NKGB and the intelligence department of the General Staff obtained clarifying data on this subject.

This information, repeatedly overlapped from various sources, convinced Stalin of their authenticity. The Soviet High Command decided to move to a deliberate defense on the Kursk salient in order to wear down the enemy. Immediately before the start of Operation Kutuzov, as the Battle of Kursk was called in the documents of the Soviet command, Soviet aircraft launched powerful bombing attacks on enemy airfields throughout the Soviet-German front, destroying hundreds of others on the ground before 500.

The Battle of Kursk ended with the complete defeat of Hitler's troops. After the defeat of the Wehrmacht under Orel and Kursk, Germany lost the ability to conduct offensive operations on the Soviet-German front, and the strategic initiative in the war finally passed into the hands of the Soviet military command. Began the liberation of the USSR from the Nazi invaders. The contribution of Liszt to the victory of the Soviet weapon in the Battle of Kursk was appreciated. He was awarded the Order of the Red Banner for his active work in obtaining important information, which was highly appreciated by the Center.

5 August 1943, the capital of the Soviet Union, was Moscow the first in the Great Patriotic War to salute the heroes of the Battle of Kursk - in all respects the fateful battle that marked the beginning of the defeat of the Nazi troops and finally determined for them the outcome of the war in the East.

In the list of winners of one of the largest stories The Great Patriotic War of battles rightful place belongs to the fighters of the "invisible front", in particular - "List".


At the end of 1943 of the year, Liszt was transferred to work in the British intelligence service SIS. This decision was caused by the deterioration of the health agent. Since childhood, he saw very faintly with his left eye. In addition, work in the interpretation service has sharply impaired the vision of the right eye. The residency took steps to help the agent with the treatment, but the results were not very encouraging, and doctors recommended changing the nature of the work.

After moving to the SIS "List" worked first in the fifth, then - in the first management of the British secret intelligence service. He studied and analyzed the intercepted messages of German intelligence officers operating in the USSR and the Balkans, as well as reports of British agents from these countries. In the first management "List" was engaged in the analysis of the political information of British intelligence. During this time, he handed over to his Soviet curators a list of British agents in the Balkans, which was implemented by the Center after the victory of the people's democratic revolution in these countries.

Of great interest to the Soviet intelligence presented them the information presented in the special message of the SIS to the British leadership from October 28 of the year 1944. The document dealt with the secret instructions of the Gestapo chief, Himmler, on the establishment in Germany in the event of the entry of the Soviet troops into the underground resistance army. However, thanks to the measures taken in advance by the Soviet command, the guerrilla movement in Germany, as is known, did not take place, which was a certain merit of Liszt.

For their contribution to the struggle of the Soviet people against the fascist invaders, Liszt has repeatedly been thanked by the leadership of the foreign intelligence agencies of the state security organs. In response to this, in October 1944, he wrote to the Center: “I am delighted that you found my help worthy of attention, and I am proud that I made some contribution to the cause of victory, which led to the almost complete purification of the Soviet land from invaders” .

Considering that John Cairncross collaborated with Soviet intelligence for ideological reasons and did not receive any material remuneration from her, as well as due to the deterioration of his health in March 1945, he received a life pension in the amount of 1000 pounds sterling. However, the agent refused to receive it, explaining that with sufficient material security.


With the end of the war, Cairncross was transferred to work at the Ministry of Supply, where there were no secret materials of interest to Soviet intelligence. Contacts of Soviet intelligence with him began to be episodic. 23 October 1951, Cairncross, at a meeting with an operative, said that he was interrogated by a representative of British counterintelligence, who was interested in the nature of his relationship with another member of the Cambridge Five, Donald MacLaine, who, along with Guy Burges, was forced to flee to Moscow due to the threat of failure. The counterintelligence officer was also interested in Cairncross’s past membership in the British Communist Party.

Cairncross has already been prepared by the station for questions of this kind. On her recommendation, he replied that he was greeting Donald MacLaine when he was working at the British Foreign Office. He did not deny his membership in the party while he was in college, noting, however, that after graduating from Trinity College he had no ties with her. This time the counterintelligence officer was satisfied with the answers from the agent and asked no other questions. The interrogation in counterintelligence did not affect the position of Cairncross in the Ministry of Supply, he did not note any suspicious moments around him.

In connection with the interrogation of Cairncross at MI-5, the Center decided to temporarily suspend the work with him. Examined the question of its safe withdrawal abroad. The agent was discontinued, the control meeting was scheduled for January 23, 1952. However, this meeting Cairncross did not come out. Communication with him was only restored in early March of 1952. On it, Cairncross said that he was again called into counterintelligence, which, like the first time, was interested in his membership in the British Communist Party. After interrogation, he was again transferred to work at the Ministry of Finance, giving a plot not related to secret materials. Cairncross told the operative that, apparently, counterintelligence would not leave him alone and would again interrogate him. At the suggestion of the curator to go to the USSR in the event of a complication of the situation, Kernkross answered negatively, stating that MI-5 had no grounds for his arrest.

After meeting in March 1952, the Soviet foreign intelligence finally lost contact with Cairncross. Attempts to restore it were unsuccessful. The center decided to find out the fate of Cairncross through a member of the "Cambridge Five" Kim Philby, who held a prominent position in British intelligence and by that time had not yet come under the attention of British intelligence services. It was found that during a search at Burgess’s apartment, counterintelligence found a memorandum written by Cairncross hand containing intelligence information. The agent fell into serious suspicion, but he was able to prove that it was a memorandum from one government official to another, which had nothing to do with a foreign state.

MI-5 did not have serious grounds for arresting Cairncross, but he was dismissed from the Ministry of Finance just in case. The whereabouts of the agent Philby was not aware.

British counterintelligence questioned Cairncross several times. After the failure of Philby and his withdrawal to the USSR in 1963, she had accumulated enough material about the kind of information Kernkross could pass on to her curators from Soviet intelligence. In 1964, in exchange for immunity from prosecution, he told representatives of the British counterintelligence about his work on Soviet intelligence during the war years, stressing that he had collaborated with her as with the country's special service — the British ally in the anti-Hitler coalition. At the same time, he was aware that his testimony could no longer harm anyone. As a result, Cairncross was not prosecuted.

After MI-5 completed the trial, Kernkross was allowed to go to Canada for teaching. In 1967, he joined the UN Food Program, worked and lived in Italy. In 1970, John Cairncross settled in France and lived there in Provence as a private individual.

In the 1981 year, responding to a request in parliament, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher publicly admitted that John Kernkross worked for Soviet intelligence. She also informed members of parliament that, over the years, he was given permission to return with his wife to England. John Cairncross settled down in the west of the country and began writing memoirs. In October 1995, he passed away. Cairncross's memoirs were published shortly after his death.
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  1. pensioner
    pensioner 26 October 2013 10: 20
    Somehow a long time ago I saw in the magazine "Science and Life" (like) the only joint photo of all members of the "Cambridge Five". Now I looked, I did not find it. Holy people! However, like those who completely disinterestedly passed on to us atomic secrets from America. An absolutely inconceivable situation in the modern world, built according to the laws of self-interest.
  2. Snoop
    Snoop 26 October 2013 14: 32
    Because these people lived for the idea of ​​building a just world, it may be utopian, but it is noble. Then, many recruited abroad worked for Soviet intelligence not because of attendants, but for ideological reasons. Such agents are most reliable.
    Kim Philby also became famous as a writer. I read his books that I liked.
  3. Obliterator
    Obliterator 26 October 2013 23: 24
    Quote: retired
    Somehow a long time ago I saw in the magazine "Science and Life" (like) the only joint photo of all members of the "Cambridge Five". Now I looked, I did not find it. Holy people! However, like those who completely disinterestedly passed on to us atomic secrets from America. An absolutely inconceivable situation in the modern world, built according to the laws of self-interest.

    In the modern world, there are also agents who work not for money, but for an idea. I’m not sure about foreign intelligence (but I hope), but this is the case in the criminal investigation department.
  4. Rinat 1
    Rinat 1 27 October 2013 17: 24
    Thanks to these people who helped us defeat fascism! We must not forget those people who worked for the idea and not for the grandmother as is now accepted
    1. poquello
      poquello 27 October 2013 22: 19
      Quote: Rinat 1
      Thanks to these people who helped us defeat fascism! We must not forget those people who worked for the idea and not for the grandmother as is now accepted

      And thanks to those who work for us for money.
  5. Aleksandr2
    Aleksandr2 29 October 2013 12: 04
    It's time to end the British Empire