In the world of Sidney Reilly, most every story is viewed as apocryphal. Without a doubt, he was the most creative, dashing and daring spy in modern history but his tales are so thrilling that it is hard to believe them all to be true.
Along with his romantic seductions and ingenious business scams, his escapes are legendary. He made numerous escapes from the Soviet CHEKA, but perhaps his most incredible escape occurred before the first World War.
In 1909, Britain was very anxious about Germany’s war machine. Little was known about the Kaiser’s weapons buildup but the belief was that it was prodigious and growing. Reilly was dispatched to determine the extent of Germany’s weaponry and its war plans.
Before traveling to Germany, Reilly learned welding as a skill at a Sheffield engineering firm. When he landed in Germany, he sought a job at the enormous Krupp armaments plant in Essen, Germany. He created a new identity for himself as Karl Hahn, a Baltic shipyard worker. Demonstrating his welding talents he secured a job as a welder. Because he noticed that there were fewer guards on duty at night, he volunteered to join the plant’s fire brigade which required him to work the night shift. He was able to convince his foreman that the brigade needed plant schematics in order to indicate the locations and positions of fire hydrants and extinguishers. The foreman agreed and made them available in his office for members of the brigade to consult. Reilly, however, used them to determine the location of the weapons plans as well as entrances and exits around the facility.
The plan was for him to sneak into the drawing office to photograph the weapons plans and so in the early hours of the morning he made his way to the office and picked the locks to gain entry. He was surprised by one of the guards but was able to subdue the man and strangled him to death. He was now concerned that the guard’s absence would be noticed and felt his window of opportunity was closing. Thus instead of photographing the plans, he simply store them, running out of the building and escaping by way of a train to a safe house in Dortmund. From there he hopped a ship back to England with German agents searching for him everywhere.
For Sidney Reilly, this was just one of his many adventures but in the annals of espionage, it is one of history’s greatest escapes.