By FOIA Research
on September 14, 2020 // Last updated: September 16, 2020

Hermann Baun

[This article is largely based on the German Wikipedia entry for Hermann Baun]

Hermann Baun (born December 17, 1897 in Odessa, Russian Empire; † December 17, 1951, Germany) was a German Abwehr officer who coordinated espionage close to the front during the Wehrmacht's entire Russian campaign and was the first head of the Gehlen organization, the forerunner of Germany's Federal Intelligence Service (Bundesnachrichtendienst, BND).

Early Years

Baun was born in Odessa as the son of the businessman Carl and Wilhelmine Baun. For his grammar school education he moved to Leipzig, where he received the general university entrance qualification on April 11, 1916. At the age of 18 he joined the German army, was trained as an infantry officer during the First World War and was promoted to lieutenant in the late summer of 1917. He joined missions on the western and eastern fronts and lastly was responsible for enemy reconnaissance as an intelligence officer in an army high command.

Interwar period

At the end of the war, Baun resigned from military service and returned to Odessa, Ukraine. There he married Irma Liebmann on February 5, 1920, and five years later had a son. From 1921 to 1929 Baun worked at the German Consulate in Odessa, where he first headed the welfare office for prisoners of war and civilian prisoners and became consulate secretary in mid-1922. He then served at the German embassy in Kiev, Ukraine, until 1937, where he last worked as an administrative assistant.

Wehrmacht

Subsequently, Baun returned to Germany and was employed in the Wehrmacht on July 1, 1937. After a six-month probationary period as a supplementary officer (E-Offizier), he was permanently employed on January 1, 1938 and promoted to captain. He was immediately transferred to the “Foreign / Defense Office Group” (Amtsgruppe Ausland/Abwehr), presumably because of his excellent Russian and Ukrainian language skills. There he worked in Department I  (Abteilung I) (intelligence gathering)     in Section I H East / North (Referat I H Ost/Nord), responsible for “land forces of eastern enemy states in the north” (Landstreitkräfte östlicher Feindstaaten im Norden). He evaluated open sources, Russian-language literature and press items.

In 1939 he was the person responsible for Poland and evaluated captured Polish intelligence documents. Around 1940 he was promoted to the rank of major and at the same time head of the Russia department within Department I. In June 1941, Baun moved to the vicinity of Warsaw to take over the management of the "Walli I" department. It had the task of collecting intelligence close to the front, evaluating looted documents and questioning prisoners. All enemy intelligence about the Eastern Front came together there. The essential user of Walli I intelligence was the Foreign Army East department (Fremde Heere Ost, FHO). In 1943 Walli I became part of the FHO, which Reinhard Gehlen had been leading since April 1942, and was subordinated to the department. An official assessment from 1943 shows Baun as the key figure in the secret intelligence service against Russia.

Chart showing the hierarchy within Fremde Heere Ost as of September 1944, with Reinhard Gehlen and his adjutant Gerhard Wessel at the top. Following the collapse of the Nazi regime, Gehlen and his consorts offered the U.S. access to the FHO’s intelligence archives, and also to his anti-communist espionage network in the Soviet Union. Subsequently, Gehlen was made the head of the Gehlen Organization, the precursor to Germany’s current foreign secret service, the “Federal News Service” (Bundesnachrichtendienst, BND), which at first consisted entirely of former FHO personnel.

 

Baun's wife Irma and other family members were killed in the bomb attack on Dresden in 1945. On April 4, 1945, Baun and his adjutant Graber met with Gehlen and his deputy, Gerhard Wessel, in Bad Elster. They agreed to offer key personnel and materials to the Americans once the war was over. This meeting is also called the “Pact of Bad Elster” (Pakt von Bad Elster). They gave all the FHO members the code name “Fritz,” the Abwehr members “Otto.”

After the Second World War

On July 29, 1945, the then Lieutenant Colonel Baun voluntarily handed himself to the Americans in Hinterberg near Sonthofen, in the South of Germany, and was held captive in the Allgäu area until September 1945. The Americans, who had specifically searched for Baun, hoped that he would render in-depth knowledge about the Soviet Union, the Red Army and contacts to intact agent networks. Gehlen and other FHO members (“Fritz”) were brought to the USA, where they were questioned extensively. The first preliminary questioning of Baun took place on August 16, 1945, in the interrogation center of the 3rd US Army in Freising, near Munich. On September 20, 1945, Gehlen and three associates were flown from the American Zone of Occupation in Germany to the U.S., to become spies for the U.S. Government. On October 10, 1945, Baun presented the Americans with a concept he had developed for an espionage and counter-espionage organization (code name: Keystone). In November 1945, Baun traveled through the American occupation zone to look for former Abwehr employees (“Otto”). They were accommodated in a small hotel in Oberursel, close to the US Military Intelligence Service Center im Camp King, Oberursel. On December 10, 1945, the US War Department issued a permit for espionage activities of the “Group Baun.” The brigadier general Edwin L. Sibert, G2 of the United States Forces European Theater, was directly responsible for the deployment of Baun. Sibert merged "Fritz" and "Otto members" together in the so-called “Organization X.”

According to Giles Scott-Smith1:

In the summer of 1945 G-2 (US army intelligence) officer John Boker and his superior General Sibert tried to initiate “Operation X” to allow Gehlen’s group to reassemble and show what they could produce. When Gehlen and six others were suddenly flown to Washington for interrogation at US army intelligence headquarters, Sibert continued to gather other Gehlen associates and former Abwehr (German military intelligence) personnel at the US Detention and Interrogation Center in Oberursel. Operation X became Operation Rusty. Following Sibert’s departure in 1946, the G-2 apparatus maintained its hold over the Gehlen Organization via its liaison officers John Deane and Eric Waldman.

In early 1946, Baun’s focus was on counter-espionage in order to identify Soviet espionage in the American zone of occupation. Alfred Bentzinger was commissioned by Baun to set up “Agency 114” (Dienststelle 114) in Karlsruhe.

From April 1, 1946, the focus shifted to military reconnaissance in the Soviet occupation zone. This date was also the official starting signal for “Operation Rusty,” the effort of building up the nucleus for a future German secret service, whose first leader was Baun. In building up the organization, Baun (codename: “Berndt”) at first loosely incorporated former structures of the Wehrmacht's frontline reconnaissance against the Soviet Union, for which he had been responsible during World War II. He set up a staff under his leadership as well as several centrally organized departments. The staff was housed in a separate area within the U.S. Military Intelligence Service Center in Camp King, Oberursel. After August 1946, the Procurement Staff was transferred to a former hotel in Schmitten, 15 kilometers away (code name: “Dustbin”).2 For the staff personnel, Baun mainly relied on former members of the “Walli I” Abwehr control center. The evaluation section of the staff, headed by Gustav-Adolf Tietze, analyzed the reports procured by the field organizations according to novelty value and credibility. The review was divided into four thematic areas: military, economic, political, and counter-espionage/anti-espionage.3

By late summer 1946, he had 124 full-time employees (no source). However, the reactivation of old agent networks of the Abwehr and Walli I did not succeed. The main sources of information were interrogations of returning prisoners of war and refugees. Added to this was a modest telecommunications reconnaissance.4

Gehlen returned from the US in July 1946 and was integrated into Operation Rusty. With him, an evaluation component was added to Operation Rusty, which he led.

Kevin Ruffner provides the following description of Operation Rusty in Eagle and Swastika: CIA and Nazi War Criminals and Collaborators5:

In the summer of 1946, the Army returned Gen. Gehlen and the remaining FHO members to Germany. At this point, Lt. Col. John R. Deane, Jr., the operations officer at the Military Intelligence Service Center published his plans to merge Gehlen's BOLERO group with Baun's already existent staff, known as KEYSTONE. Gehlen would coordinate the functions of both elements of the German organization while he had direct responsibility for the Intelligence Group, which provided evaluations to economic, military, and political reports obtained by agents of Baun's Information Group. The Army designated the entire organization Operation RUSTY, under the overall supervision of Col. Russell Philp, Lt. Col. John R. Deane, Jr., and Capt. Eric Waldman, who preceded Gehlen's return to Germany from Washington.

In February 1947, Gehlen took over the overall management of Operation Rusty, but Baun remained in charge of procurement until April 1947. The relationship between Gehlen and Baun visibly deteriorated, to a degree that Gehlen apparently even considered killing Baun. Der German Welt writes in that regard6:

"Why don't you kill Baun, if you can reconcile that with your conscience?" According to Gerhard Wessel's diary, Reinhard Gehlen said that to his confidant and deputy in March 1948. ... Because Gehlen desperately needed the former employees of Baun's control center to build up his "Gehlen Organization," he had to work with the charismatic but difficult officer. Baun, on the other hand, was quite willing to cooperate, "but had other ideas about a German intelligence service against the East," says military historian Rolf-Dieter Müller.

Baun was ultimately deposed by Gehlen and should henceforth deal with reconnaissance against the Soviet Union (deep reconnaissance / strategic reconnaissance). Activities were to be based in the Middle East, which is why Baun prepared for his departure to Tehran at the end of 1948. On January 31, 1950, he left the Gehlen organization. On December 17, 1951, Baun died on his 54th birthday due to cancer.

Bibliography

  • Kevin C. Ruffner (Ed.), Forging an Intelligence Partnership: CIA and the Origins of the BND, 1945-49, CIA History Staff, Center for the Study of Intelligence, 1999, https://archive.org/stream/GermanNaziAndJapaneseWarCrimesDisclosureFinalReport2007/Nazi-War-Crimes-Disclosure_Forging-A-Partnership_CIA-and-BND_Volume-1-intro.
  • Magnus Pahl, "Hermann Baun (1897–1951) – Gescheiterter Spionagechef," in Helmut Müller-Enbergs, Armin Wagner (Ed.), Spione und Nachrichtenhändler – Geheimdienst-Karrieren in Deutschland 1939–1989 (Berlin: Ch. Links Verlag, 2016), ISBN 978-3-86153-872-1, pp. 38–77.
  • Thomas Wolf, Die Entstehung des BND. Aufbau, Finanzierung, Kontrolle (= Jost Dülffer et al. (Ed.), Veröffentlichungen der Unabhängigen Historikerkommission zur Erforschung der Geschichte des Bundesnachrichtendienstes 1945–1968. Band 9) (Berlin: Ch. Links Verlag, 2018), ISBN 978-3-96289-022-3.